The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Beetle castings

Beetle castings

I love using stump dirt as potting soil, and last year I concluded that this miraculous substance was probably mushroom compost.  Now I'm going to guess again --- maybe beetle castings?

Beetle in rotting woodThree weeks after Mark cut down a very decayed stump, I started piling the debris in my wheelbarrow to move to a new hugelkultur mound.  Imagine my surprise to find the rotting wood literally wiggling with life!

The most obvious living things in the stump were these impressive beetles.  At least half a dozen were present, which is typical of the Horned Passalus (Odontotaenius disjunctus) since the species is subsocial, with several adults sharing the duties of childcare.

The Horned Passalus eats "decaying wood and/or fungi" (according to, and Sow bugI realized that the round pellets that make up stump dirt do look a lot like castings (aka poop).  I wonder if beetle castings have the same near-mythical properties as worm castings?

Of course, it's not really fair to assume the beetles are entirely responsible for creating stump dirt.  The log was also home to wolf spiders, slugs, sow bugs, wood cockroaches (hiding in galleries in the less decomposed wood), tiny snails, and much smaller inhabitants that I could barely make out with the naked eye.  So the jury's still out on who or what produces stump dirt.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I think that frass is a very good thing, but that the old adage- "variety is the spice of life (and stump dirt)" is very fitting.
Comment by Eric in Japan Fri Jun 1 08:10:52 2012
Can't believe I forgot that awesome word! Much more appropriate than castings in this context. Thanks for the reminder! (And good point about variety.)
Comment by anna Fri Jun 1 09:00:29 2012

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