A Lacto Story

This week in the Flog:

  • A story about the power of lacto
  • Also, how awesome is cockroach composting!

Lacto lacto lacto lacto lacto lacto lacto if you haven’t tried this stuff, do it. Stop procrastinating, stop lounging around your garden thinking about how nice it would be if your chicken coop didn’t stink like poop, stop getting the 3pm lazies after eating your lunch, stop living with clogged sinks, stop wasting fertilizer because your plants don’t have access to it before it’s washed away in the next rain. Stop all that, wiiiiiiiith LACTO!

Verbal diarrhea aside, this lacto is really great stuff. I’ll share a personal story with you on the subject. My wife, 1.5YO boy and I live in an apartment (I’m the ultimate unconventional farmer, living in an apartment with my farm of balcony veggies, Opi the bearded dragon lizard, Floflo the little-dog-who-is-afraid-of-Opi, Roachies who are roaches, wormies who are african nightcrawlers, and a million microbes known as Gross by my wife). We have 2 balconies on which I grow plants and undertake strange microbial and invertebrate experiments.

Once I cleaned out the cockroach tank after nearly 8 months of not cleaning it. This is the beauty of TUF’s ‘deep bedding’ method for keeping animals. It was initially designed for keeping a natural (and SMELL-FREE if you can believe that, which you can’t but seriously it’s true) piggery but it can be applied to any animal really, invertebrates included. The bedding sorta ‘soaks-up’ the leftover food and hard bits that can’t be eaten by the roaches. No need to clean the tank, the microbes in the bedding take care of all the bits that would normally sit on the floor rotting away. A few applications with compost tea ensures a nice healthy microbial population.

Back to the story – this bedding has 8 months worth of kitchen scrap leftovers in it right. Now roaches eat almost everything, but sometimes they can be a bit finicky, or overfed, or whatever and bits go into the bedding and sink down (sometimes I help by turning them in). Kitchen scrap-wise, nothing is off the table. Meat, fish, oils, milk, cheeseburger, whatever, it goes in the roach tank. My idea was I wanted something that takes care of EVERYTHING we don’t finish at dinner. So in this bedding there are things like an entire catfish skeleton, head included, entire chicken carcasses (mostly if not totally bones obviously), shrimp and clam bits, entire crab gut/shell remains, etc. You get the idea. We didn’t hold back.

The system worked perfectly! Around 10,000 roaches, all kinds of disgusting food scraps going into it, zero cleaning, and there was NO SMELL from the tank. Trust me it’s a small balcony I would notice. More importantly my wife would notice. Of course this is awesome, and there could be amazing applications of this in food waste disposal, food production (roaches make great meals for animals), and more. But I just wanted awesome compost. Time to harvest my awesome compost!

Problem is, it’s full of cockroach egg cases! This species of cockroaches reproduces by making ‘ootheca’, or cases full of eggs, which hatch out. About 20 eggs per case, and about a billion cases in the bedding. Here is an example of what the bedding surface looks like before cleaning. Each of those little dark bean looking things is an egg case:

Cockroach Composting - Part 2

Close-up of the substrate…except you can’t see the substrate for all the egg cases.

Note not all cockroaches reproduce this way, you can find a different species which won’t give you this problem. Obviously the whole cockroach composting methodology is still new.

How did I, in my brilliance, decide to deal with the egg cases? I decided, hey the bedding is already in a black plastic garbage bag, why don’t I tie a few knots in it to make it anaerobic, leave it out on the balcony in the sun where it will heat to incredible temperatures, and let that bake the contents into sterility. What was I thinking?

Now imagine, you have this wonderful subterranean environment full of rich nutrients like chicken and fish carcasses, milk and egg remnants, and all the aerobic microbes feeding on all this stuff. You utterly destroy the balance by putting it in a ridiculously hot, anaerobic environment. All those ‘rich nutrients’ are now disgusting, rotting, putrid, horrifically smelling soupy messes.

Two days in, and I could barely set foot on the balcony. The smell through the plastic bag was unbearable – have you ever had a rotten egg explode in your hand? Or combined milk and eggs and left them in the sun? Or found a rotting cow carcass in the woods? Or accidentally gotten a big mouthful or rotten fish or other seafood? Well I’ve experienced all those, and I can tell you this was as bad a smell as several of those combined. Not all of them, but several, hah. I had to do something. Neighbors were getting restless. The pitchforks were being sharpened and torches lit. It was time for: lacto!

Untying the knots and opening the bag was not fun, I can tell you. The smell felt like it was going to melt my face and leave a putrid green stained skull in it’s wake. I felt like a stink bomb version of Wiley the Coyote. Very few smells in my life have made my eyes physically water but this was one of them.

I had to spray this bag with lacto. With it open, I was really in danger of inciting a riot. I immediately grabbed the spray bottle of lacto that I keep around the house to take care of stinky shoes, mold and mildew, dog odors, etc. This is simply a mix of 1-2 tbsp lacto serum in 500ml (half a quart) of water, stored in the fridge. I keep it in a basic pump action spray bottle, nothing fancy. So I opened the bag, blinked through the tears and sprayed the crap outta the contents of the bag. Then I tied up the bag again.

After taking some time to recover from the nuclear level smell exposure, I returned to the balcony. Now, this was about 30 minutes later. Not a smell. Nothing. No smell on the balcony. Simple as that, smell gone. I knew this would happen that’s why I used the lacto, but the awesomeness of it still impressed me. My balcony was livable again!! Now, I opened the bag up for repeated doses, and yeah, the smell was pretty terrible still when you opened it up and disturbed the contents, but nothing like what it was before.

A few applications, and a day later I was able to transfer the contents into the compost pile without my stomach turning and my eyes watering. Still a smell, yes, but nothing, not anything remotely close, to the smell just the day before. That’s powerful stuff!

Oh, and no hoards of roaches pouring out of the pile later on. I guess my method worked, despite the somewhat disastrous side effects.

  • Leonie Stubbs

    G’day Patrick,

    Apart from anything else, I think your wife deserves a medal! However that is not the reason I am writing. I have some Lacto serum in my refrigerator and am in the process of making my own yoghurt. Do you think I could add some lacto at the fermentation stage to improve the microbial count?

    Regards, Leonie

    • Patrick

      Lol, yeah she definitely does deserve a medal. And yep, you can add lacto to your yoghurt, it should help the bacterial count for sure.

  • eman

    Sir, pwede bang makadalaw sa inyo at sa farm nyo? Interested po ang grupo namin sa Laguna na matuto sa inyo. Paki email po sa akin ang contact person/number nyo at ang inyong location para madiscuss po natin ito. Thank you po!

    • Patrick

      Sige, mag-email ako yung number ni Gil.

  • Dave

    Hi Patrick,
    Haha, that was laugh out loud funny!
    Thanks to your work, I (and a friend) started using the lacto and have become fascinated.
    I haven’t had to risk my life like you have 😉 but it’s been great for taming the kitchen trash can.
    And I look forward to trying it in the chicken coop.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Patrick

      Hahaha yeah, pretty funny story..Now that the smell is gone… lol

      Yeah, use it on your chicken coop! It’s going to work wonders there!

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