Stu's View from the Loo

Mon, 08/13/2012 - 13:13 — Compost Stu

As I sit and contemplate the sacred lady mountain from my wooden throne, the cold, distant goddess that fills my vista, I am reminded of the Winter that is almost upon us. My list of chores fills up with anticipation of clear skies and (finally, please…) a bit of drier weather. As the plants and animals slow down, we humans play catch up, tidying up around the edges of our wet wilderness to provide us with a semblance of sanity for the darker months to come.
The reed bed grey water system that has provided countless harvests of cherry tomatoes spilling over the lanky lomandras that border and protect it is in need of a trim, a winter brazilian, bald on top, but wet beneath. I’ve opted for a virtually reed free “reed bed” myself. I have noted in other locations how some aggressive reeds can choke up the beds and render them stinky if maintenance regimes are not up to spec, so I just plant shallow rooted reeds like the pretty Frogmouth (Philydrum lanuginosum) and let nature do the rest. The mechanics of the reed bed suggest that the real function of the reeds is perhaps negligible as far as Nitrogen reduction goes with most of the de-nitrification occurring in anaerobic micro sites amongst the substrate and root materials. They do grow quickly and facilitate evapotranpsiration, but so do other things. I am a fan of trees in reed beds, like Melaleuca quinquinervia, which can build up a root mass that will embrace all of the substrate. When the time comes to re-substrate the reed beds (this should be done every 5 –7 years) simply pull the tree out with the substrate mostly attached and start again.
How do you know if it’s time to re-substrate your reed beds? Have a good look at the water quality coming out. If it is difficult to see the bottom of the container, try a plug flow test. Pour a cup full of bright red dye (food colouring) in the top end of the reed bed and see how long it takes to come out the other end. It should take 5-7 days. If it is much quicker than this then you have preferential flow pathways and the effluent is not being treated as it should be. Poorly treated effluent can reduce the lifespan of your evapotranspiration areas, or trenches in old speak, not to mention your reed beds may get a bit smelly if not looked after.
Adding worms to your reed bed may help too, the worms will assist in the breakdown of the dead plant material on the surface and this will prevent detritus from clogging the reed bed. The best worms to use are Red Tigers, as they can tolerate high levels of moisture (80-90%).

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