Natural Perspectives: Community helps out for garden

Vic has been running summer birding workshops through Irvine Valley College and is preparing to leave on the big finale trip of the summer to the eastern Sierras. I'm going as an extra volunteer driver for one of the college vans on this four-day trip, but I have no time to think about that now.

I've been swamped with planning for the new Huntington Beach Community Garden. After our "making stone soup" column on that topic a couple of weeks ago, the garden group received a rush of new memberships. The spaces are now all reserved. The garden committee is hoping to open up a few more spots but must wait until Southern California Edison reviews the plot plans.

The most exciting thing to me is how our community has responded to the garden group's request for help. One man called Annette Parsons with an offer of free equipment use. He has a "ditch witch" that will dig trenches for the irrigation lines. Another man called, saying that he will try to get two ship-to-shore containers from the longshoreman workers' union in Long Beach. And several people bought bricks in the garden group's "Buy a Brick" fundraising campaign.

The bricks will be used to make a pathway from the entrance at the end of Atlanta Avenue to the garden plots under the power lines. Memorial bricks will be laser-engraved, with a choice of several colors of brick. Two sizes are available, a 4-by-8-inch brick with three lines of text, and an 8-by-8-inch brick with six lines of text and room for a corporate logo. For more information, call Annette at (714) 317-5921 or visit the group's website at to access an order form.

The garden group needs to raise a lot of money before anyone can plant a seed. It will take approximately $40,000 to install the garden infrastructure. In addition to sale of memorial bricks, the group is considering sale of a gardening calendar. I put together a mock-up of a 12-month calendar with garden-related quotations, a list of what vegetables can be planted in any given month and a close-up photo of flowers or vegetables for each month. I chose photos with strong patterns, something that would look good on a wall.

My favorite quotation for the calendar was an old Chinese proverb: "All gardeners know better than other gardeners." There must be as many ways to garden as there are people on Earth, and everyone thinks their way is best. The nice thing is that everyone is free to garden in his or her own way. Things grow, or they don't.

But the fundraising committee thought that producing a calendar this early in our organization's life might be difficult. And the cost estimate for design, layout and printing was prohibitive. We would need an underwriter to the tune of about $4,000 to get a run of calendars produced. We'd make a nice profit if we could sell them all, but….what if they didn't sell? Since we don't have enough money to produce the calendars, it all becomes moot.

In between committee meetings, I'm trying to keep my home garden growing. And I'm failing sadly in that regard. It's nearly the end of July, and as usual, I haven't finished my summer planting. I did get a second planting of Blue Lake pole beans into the ground this week, and the soil is prepared for some Cherokee Trail of Tears black beans. I may not be getting as much done as I'd like, but it's still the best garden I've ever grown at this house.

Vic and I wrote last week about using spent brewers grain in our compost pile. I'm happy to report that our bin has now reached a toasty 120 degrees Fahrenheit and is decomposing nicely, thanks to the free source of grain from the Huntington Beach Beer Company. But I got a surprise when I opened my bin yesterday.

Eeek, the top of my compost pile was moving. It was positively writhing with critters I didn't recognize. All I was certain of was that they weren't worms and they weren't housefly maggots.

Then I remembered what John Manning had told me. He sees black soldier fly larvae in his compost heap, which he said was a good thing. I did a quick Google search on images, and there they were. What I had was a teeming mass of black soldier fly larvae in my compost bin. They are four times bigger than housefly larvae. At first, I was totally grossed out. But then I read more about them.

I learned that these larvae emit a chemical signal that keeps houseflies away. Sweet. And chickens love to eat them. Doubly sweet. I scooped up several dozen larvae and fed them to my delighted hens.

The adult black soldier flies look more like wasps than flies. They have no mouthparts, so they can't bite. They have no interest in food. Their sole purpose is to reproduce and make more larvae. Interestingly, the larvae are excellent consumers of waste.

In my reading, I learned that someone has developed a composting toilet for use in the Third World. It is powered, if you will, by black soldier fly larvae that do all of the work of composting. When they're ready to pupate, the larvae crawl up a specially designed ramp, where they fall into a collecting bucket. The householder then feeds the larvae to their talapia or chickens. Yeah, I'm not going down that road.

I put my larvae on show today. Two 10-year-old neighborhood girls, Olivia and Chrissie, asked me if they could collect insects in our yard. "Insects," they said, not bugs. I was impressed. But even though my garden is organic, there weren't any insects other than a few aphids. So I asked them if they'd like to feed my chickens. Naturally, they said yes. I showed them the black soldier fly larvae in the compost bin. We scooped some out and the hens gobbled them down. The girls said I was "so cool" and that we were BFFL. Apparently, that stands for Best Friends For Life. LOL.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World