Monthly Archives: May 2014

Composting Made Easy – Three Simple Methods

It breaks my heart a little when I see food being dumping in the trash can.  Especially when it’s excellent worm food.

I think people chose to contribute their leftovers to a landfill instead of using it to feed earthworms and help heal their land because composting seems complicated, difficult or even stinky.  When you do an internet search about composting, there are an overwhelming number of ways to do this.  You need so much green material to so much brown.  You need to turn it every x days.  Build this or buy that.  It’s enough to make you give up and just throw your food to the landfill.

Well, I’m here to beg you to STOP!  Composting is so easy.  To prove it to yourself, drop a banana peel outside and watch it disappear in a week.  Or, leave some lettuce in your crisper drawer in your fridge.  That lettuce will start composting even though you haven’t added the proper “brown” Material.

Here are three (simple) ways to compost:

1.  On my parent’s small parcel of land, they used four straw bales to create sides, then they dump their compostable waste to the center.  This includes any yard waste and kitchen waste.
2.  When I lived in a townhouse, I had a micro sized backyard with neighbors all around and no privacy.  So it was important that whatever I did, didn’t smell and wasn’t incredibly ugly.  So I took an old tote and drilled holes around the sides, in the bottom and through the lid.  These totes are inexpensive at about $5 to $10 depending on size.  I had to replace it every two years, as the sun would make the plastic brittle and break.

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When I didn’t have a drill handy one year, I used a sharp kitchen knife to cut holes.  These holes allow airflow, water flow and for the beautiful earthworms to get in there and turn your waste into black gold.

I also talked to a man who lived where keeping a compost pile was strongly frowned upon.  He used garbage can that had some hole drilled in.  His neighbors thought he had a bin with waste to go to a landfill (which was more acceptable than the actual earth saving compost he had brewing inside).

I would stir this every once in awhile (but I don’t really think i needed to).  When I planted anything, I would use some of the beautiful black gold to supplement my soil.  If it ever started to stink, I would add some grass clippings, tree trimmings, or if you are desperate, buy some straw.

This method worked so well, I used to put some old meat scraps in there (sparingly).  I would put them in the bottom of the pile, and what do you know!? They decomposed away.  I would not do this often, but I just wanted to illustrate that all those rules declared are more like guidelines for you to play with.  Things rot (compost) and you will figure it out.

3.  Now, most of my kitchen scraps go out to my chickens.  But there are a few things that they are not interested in, such as banana peels and coffee grounds.

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I use a sheet composting method for that.  I simply pick up some straw that is covering my plants (if you don’t have mulch on your plants, dig a little hole to throw your scraps in or just put it on the surface), and throw my scraps down, always in a different spot.  And I’m done.  The earthworms and bacteria do their job and I am left with beautiful, happy plants with out any headaches.

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Sometimes, I will even get compost that decides to sprout instead of rot down.  That is where my garlic plantings came from this year.

Garlic

Garlic

I have parsnips (that I though was celery) that sprouted, too.

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Parsnip

While my way of composting is probably not best by any means, it is better than not composting at all.  So please compost.  It will help your garden and your environment.

 

Chicken Share from our Neighbors

For the past three years, my husband and I have purchased a chicken share from an awesome local family farm, Ledamete Grass Farm.  We selected to get a share of five whole chickens once a month over the Summer and into the Fall.  We picked up our first share last Thursday afternoon, and had chicken for dinner on Friday.  It was so yummy after not having any of their chicken for a month (we stocked up to get us through the winter). Even buying them directly from the farmer is more expensive than those “organic chickens” for sale at the grocery store, but I don’t care.  These chickens are worth every penny and then some to me.  Here’s why:

  • The taste is superior.  We have had the “natural” chickens from another local provider.  Please note, the word “natural” means nothing when it comes to your food.  This label can contain GMO’s and other yucky chemicals.  There is so much more flavor to these CSA chickens.  Having them back on our kitchen table after a short hiatus was a celebration for our taste buds.
  • The chicken has more nutrition.  I know it sounds silly, but it is easy to tell the superiority of these chickens on their skin alone.  The chicken’s skin is thicker and has a beautiful yellow hue.  A range of feed, including forage and bugs leave the skin this color.  I have to believe that this equates to a more nutritious meal.  In fact, Joel Salatin, who raises animals on grass, had his chickens tested at a local university for their nutritional density.  The scientists rechecked their equipment to make sure it was functioning properly since the nutrition in these chickens (in vitamins and minerals) was off the charts.
  • The chickens live happy lives.  These chickens are only raised during the warm months when they can eat, scratch and frolic outside like a chicken should.  When fresh chicken is available in mass quantities during freezing months, it is not raised in a sustainable model.  At that point, the chickens do not have grass, bugs and ample ground to scratch and are being raised mostly on grain.  Please be aware, DO NOT buy any chickens or eggs that were feed 100% vegetarian diet.  Chickens are omnivores.  If there is a bug around they will eat it.  If you see this on a package, you know this chicken was never allowed to see the world outside their chicken house.
  • You are voting strongly with your dollar.  I don’t like GMOs in my food.  I don’t like chickens raised in battery cages with no access to the outdoors.  But instead of focusing on all of these evils (and I do believe this is evil), I focus on the positive actions I can take to make sure I am supporting a food system I believe in.  Not only does my money help to make this sustainable and healthy system stronger, it goes to local farmers who reinvest in our area.  This makes our area a healthier, better place to live.  When you buy from the big manufacturers, you are supporting a system that creates stinky, vile landscapes.  When you visit the farm, the landscape is picturesque.  The grass is green and their animals are happy.  It doesn’t smell.  It is a joy to pick up the chickens monthly.  At which point, you can (at our treasured farm), purchase other items a la cart.  You can buy things like homemade soap, pork products, and beef.
  • You get to know the people raising your food.  This has been a real bonus for me.  I am so lucky that I found a farm that not only raises food in a way I can get behind, but also is run by amazing people.  I pull up, and they know me and my husband by name.  We are always greeted with a smile.  They ask about my son, and we chat for bit.  When we pick up our chickens, it feels more like visiting a friend than running an errand.  They even gave me some advice about integrating my newest layers in with my older layers.  The people who dedicate their lives to working the land and raising food sustainably are overwhelmingly awesome people.  (NOTE: I have never met anything but great sustainable-type farmers, but I hate to say every single one is a certain way).
  • It costs more to raise chickens right. My costs for raising my layers are a lot higher than I initially suspected they may be.  A 50 lb bag of food is $15.  If I want organic, to guarantee no GMO’s or yucky pesticides, it is $30.  That’s twice the cost.  (the price is lower on the yuck grain due to agricultural subsidies, which organic farmers are not as privy to.  So you actually are paying a lot for the regular feed by way of tax dollars)

So, yes, I pay more for my chicken in dollars, but I pay far less in the long run.  Because I eat their chicken, I know I am supporting a way of life, a landscape and a livelihood with which I agree.  I love the chicken and so does my family.  Buying our chickens from Ledamete Grass Farm is a good decision for me, my family, and my community.

In the coming weeks, I will outline how I easily cook a full chicken (with VERY little hands on time) and turn it into several meals including a nutrient dense chicken broth.

I wrote the date on the label, so I would know which chickens to pull from the freezer when we are ready to eat them.

I wrote the date on the label, so I would know which chickens to pull from the freezer when we are ready to eat them.

Let Your Eco Flag Fly! (and save money at the same time)

How can you harness solar power, save money AND have great smelling clothes?  Hang your clothes outside to dry!

20140527_095745 It is estimated that running your dryer for an hour on medium will cost you approximately $0.70.  For us, that’s one load.  We have about three loads of clothing, one load of sheets, one load of towels and two loads of diapers a week.  That’s 7 loads or $4.90 a week.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up overtime.  Over a year, that’s about $250 annually.

An anecdotal story: years ago, my parents went from exclusively using their dryer to hanging all their clothes to line dry.  The electric bill for the two of them, who do much less laundry than our household, decreased by $10/month.  Not too shabby.

What about during the winter? During the winter, we hang our clothes inside.  We bought folding racks (which you can use for your undies if you are embarrassed to hang them outside).

I liked the lighting best outside, we usually have this inside.

I liked the lighting best outside, we usually have this inside.

We also hang them from a line we strung from the ceiling in our basement.  We very rarely use the dryer.

In college, I saved in more money per load by hanging my clothing to dry.  I would wash it at the laundromat, and dry it in my apartment.  I used the a drying rack and the  furniture.  I saved over $1 a load.

Now, it does take some more time, but it is worth it. This is an affordable and easy way to harness the power of the sun.

Reusable Coffee Filter

My mission is to make life simple.  Buy less, use less, throw less away.  Every morning, my husband and I (whoever gets up first) would use a paper coffee filter.  Yes, it’s not much in the way of waste, but it is a piece of the larger puzzle.

When we ran out of paper coffee filters, I knew I would be replacing it with a reusable one.

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So here are the details:

Where did I get it?  the grocery store

How much did it cost?  $2.50.  That is ALL.  Not expensive saying I don’t have to worry about running out of coffee filters and I don’t have to buy them again.  I was happily surprised at the low price.

Is it easy to use?  Incredibly easy.  I dump the old grounds into our compost container (which I then put on our blueberries and strawberries as those plants like acidity). Then, I rinse it out and it is ready to go.  I would say it takes about 15 more seconds of work than our old method.  And once a week, I give it a good scrub down with hot soapy water ( this will take 2 minutes, maybe)

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All in all, I am very happy with our reusable coffee filter and would recommend it to friends and family.  It’s simple and that’s our goal!!

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Update on Our Girls – The Hens

Yesterday, I was interviewed by our local newspaper about keeping chickens.  This has inspired me to write a post about our chickens:

As of right now, we have ten chickens in total.  We had one more pass away due to unknown causes.  It was our White Sultan.  I talked about her in my “Day Old Chick” post.

At this point all of our girls are laying eggs and we get between six and ten eggs daily.  The eggs are a variety of colors, sizes, and surprisingly shapes!

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We have three Easter Eggers who provide us with those super cool blue eggs.  In the picture below, you can see two of our Easter Eggers.  They are the brown ones.  

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In the next picture you can see one of our two Fayoumis.  She is the one with the white head.  Fayoumis were bred for hot areas, but both girls survived the winter happily.  They are the most wild of our flock and really like a large area to investigate and forage.  They are very skittish and stand-offish, but they are fun to watch.  They lay small white eggs which are rather round.

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Our Dominque is the in picture below.  She is very small and docile.  She is a heritage breed.  This means she has been around for a long time, and was used for meat and eggs.  The feathers were also used for stuffing.  She provides us with brown eggs which seem to be longer and narrower than most of the other eggs.
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We also have either three Jersey Giants (who turned out to be runts) or 3 Black Australorps.  I believe the company we bought these birds from sent us the wrong bird twice.  These birds are incredibly small for what I have read Jersey Giants to be.  Any which way, they are good layers and friendly.  They are very curious and not afraid of much.  They are always looking for a snack and seem to be the top hens in our coop. They lay brown eggs.

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Our Silver-Laced Wyandotte is lovingly named “Psycho”.  She was quite nutty as a young chick, but has mellowed in her older age.  This bread is also heritage.  By keeping these heritage breeds, we help to keep diversity in our livestock.  Even though I don’t breed them, keeping them results in a demand, which breeders will fill.  If we only used prolific layers or bird that were good for meat, we would be down to two breeds: Leghorns for laying and Cornish Crosses for meat.   This is one of the reasons I like to keep a wide array of chickens on our patch.

20140522_095640  I enjoy all of the breeds we have,  When we add more to our flock we will be adding Easter Eggers for the cool blue eggs (which they lay frequently) and their fun personalities.  I will also be adding more heritage breed birds, although I’m not sure which ones.

Lessons learned: I will never by the ornamental chickens.  They end up getting picked on by the other birds and it seems their life is not as happy as it could be.  I also don’t think we will be getting any more Fayoumis.  While I am enjoying them while they are here, their egg production is minimal and they are not as fun as our other four breeds.

Homemade Peanut Butter

You can buy peanut butter in two ways at the grocery story, all chemically with added oils, salt and sugar.  Or you can buy the natural stuff.  It’s $5 a jar and has some weird oil on top.  I actually don’t mind the oil, but for about $2, you can makes your own.  You can add as much or as little salt in as you like. It is so easy.  I’m a little embarrassed to even post it.

First you buy peanuts.  I buy them in bulk.

I then fill my food processor.

I turn it on.

I check it too see how it’s going.  It looks like it’s still a little chunkier than I like.

So I turn it back on until get my desired consistency.

I put it in jars and put it in the fridge.  I’m not sure how long it keeps.  I have never had it go bad on me, I’ve had it in the fridge for over 4 months.

And most importantly, you must have your son taste test your peanut butter.

He seems to approve.

You are now done.  I find it odd that this does not have any separation of the oil, like the natural peanut butter does.  You can also add some honey or maple syrup to mix if you would enjoy a slightly sweeter peanut butter.

How easy was that!?

All About Black Locusts

For our anniversary, I surprised my husband with ten Black Locust trees.  While they really don’t provide food, they provide a host of other wonderful benefits.

One of our seedling Locust trees.  It has only been in the a week, and it is already leafing out this much!

One of our seedling Locust trees. It has only been in the a week, and it is already leafing out this much!

Description:  Black locust is a tree which is native Southeastern United States.  The tree is very easy to grow, so easy that some consider it invasive.  However, it is very easy to control its spread.  These trees are part of the legume  family (Latin: Fabaceae).  One of the neat properties of legumes is their nitrogen fixing super powers.  They have host bacteria in their root nodules which magically, seemingly at least, convert the Nitrogen in the air to a form a Nitrogen that is usable to the plants.  Soybean, peas, and lentils are a few more examples of these magic Nitrogen-fixing plants.

In perfect conditions, this tree can grow up to 80 feet tall and has a spread of about 25 to 30 feet.  They are not long-lived for a tree and most die before their 100th birthday.

In early summer, they produce lovely white flowers upon which bees and hummingbirds feast.  Black pods contain seeds that are enjoyed by squirrels, morning doves, wild turkeys, and rabbits.

Why plant?  As I mentioned above, they are nitrogen fixers, so they will help improve your soil.  Like all trees, it helps prevent erosion.  And it is a biomass accumulator which means it grows quickly, and adds a lot of organic matter to your soil in a short time, essentially healing the land.  Black locusts also tolerate juglone (the chemical from the Black Walnut tree which can make other plants very unhappy) happily, So they are a good addition to your Black Walnut stand.  And even though you can’t eat the tree, it has many other uses:

Firewood: Black Locust is a very hard and dense tree.  This is ideal firewood.

Fence Posts/ raised garden beds:  Some farmers will use black locust trees as fence posts.  They directly affix the fence to the tree.  Others will harvest the trees to use as posts or for sides of their raised garden beds.  The rot resistance properties of Black Locusts ensure a long life for the structures that are constantly exposes to wet dirt.  The trees, themselves, contain anti-fungal chemicals.  Please note, if you want to nail anything to black locust lumber, it is important to do so before it dries completely.  Once it dries, it will be very difficult to get any hardware in or out of the lumber.

Tools: Some people like to hand craft the lumber for tool handles or other handmade things.

Black locusts are easy to propagate (so I’ve read).  You can use their seeds or the suckers they send up.  You can also “Pollard” them, which makes for responsible harvesting.  Pollarding is when you cut the tree down, and the tree’s root stock sends up new shoots in it’s place.  So your root stock keeps on coming back.

Here is a wonderful video that Paul Wheaton over at Permies.com put together:

Be Aware: As I mentioned above, these trees are considered invasive, so be aware of the suckers sent up from the roots.  They also have thorns (but are easily avoided and really cause no pain with a little awareness) and are deadly to horses.

We are planning on continuing to plant, propagate and use our locust trees for years to come.

 

 

Day Old Chicks

Please note, this post is from my old blog and was written in October 2013.  I have made edits in Italics.

Right now, we have 5 chickens that were born in the beginning of June.  So they are just under 5 months old.  we have three Easter Eggers, a Silver Laced Wyandotte and a Jersey Giant (who we now believe is a Black Australorp).  The Jersey Giant is my favorite, so I named her Betty. We also named the Silver Laced Wyandotte Psycho.  Well, she actually named herself through her crazy actions.

They are still not producing eggs, but when they do we probably will not be getting enough eggs.  So we decided to beef up our stock.  We received them two days ago.  We ordered 2 Dominiques, 2 Jersey Giants(again, they turned out to be Black Australorps), 2 Fayoumis and one White Sultan (she died of unknown causes).  The White Sultan is really good at nothing except for looking pretty.  So that is our chicken that is strictly a pet.

The first thing we did was set up their brooder. This is the place they are going to live for the next 5 weeks or more, depending on weather.  The brooder is an old wading pool I found in the garbage.  The wading pool is especially good because is has no corners for them to get piled up in.  We hung a heat lamp from the ceiling.  My husband used to have many snakes (yuck – we still have one), this is one of his left over heat lamps. And a feeder and a waterer we bought from Tractor Supply.  We used pine shavings for bedding, as the acidity neutralizes their stinkiness, and Chris built a simple roost for them out of 2×4’s, as seen in later pictures.


I picked the girls up from the Post Office, and brought them straight home.  Upon opening the box they came in, we saw one of our chicks had died.  These things happen when you have living things, but it is never fun.  We think it was one of the Dominiques (it was).

I took them out of the box, one by one, dipped their beak in their water, and let them enjoy their new surroundings.  At first they all huddled under the heat lamp to warm up from their cool flight.

Then they started to spread out, get something to eat and start to explore. The picture below shows the Dominque eating while one of the Fayoumi’s looks on from the right, and the Jersey Giant hangs out on her left.


We added some water to their food.  At this point in their lives, hydration is very important.  I’m going to have to clean the whole food dispenser out in a few days to prevent any mold growth.

The Fayoumi is a little camera shy.  You can see that they have brown fluff with leopard spots.

My Dominique is quite the camera hog.  Or maybe just curious.  Whenever I put my camera down to take their picture she came running up front and center.

 

The White Sultan which I have yet to name, was camera shy.  I picked her up so I could show her off.  I read they were originally in gardens as an ornamental touch.  So she is my walking flower.  You can see the feathers on her feet already!


This morning, Jaxy came downstairs to hang out with the babies.  He loves them!  Also, you can see in the lower right corner, I added some grit, just some small gravel in the top of an old lid.

When they get older, they are filthy.  They create so much dust, I was very excited to get them out of our home.  When they got a little older, we ended up having to put some fencing around the pool to keep them from escaping.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Laundry Detergent is so expensive.  Especially when you have cloth diapers to do.  Daily.  Thankfully, it is super easy to make your own.  It took me about 45 minutes to make 5 gallons of Laundry Detergent.  I think it cost me less than $7. Pretty amazing savings.

Here are the ingredients you need:

Rules of 2:

2 cups of Borax

2 cups of Washing Soda

2 bars of Ivory soap (you can also use Fels Naptha, only use one bar)

You also need a bucket (of the 5 gallon variety):

First, grate the soap.  You can use your food processor.  I did this while Jaxson was sleeping, so I grated this by hand:

I grated it directly into a pot. This saves a step and a dish.  It’s all about keeping it simple.

Cover the soap with water and bring to a gentle boil over low to medium heat.  Continue heat until the soap dissolves in the water.  Keep stirring so you don’t burn the soap.  Another helpful hint: make sure you are using a large enough pot. I speak from experience: too small a pot and  it will boil over leaving an icky mess to clean up.  This is not simple.

In your bucket, dump in the 2 cups of borax

And two cups of the Super Washing Soda:

Dump in your liquefied soap.  Continue to add hot water to the bucket, using a whisk to stir as you go.  My sink has water that is hot enough to make this work.  Some may need to boil water.  You need it hot enough so that it is uncomfortable to put your hand in, but it won’t burn you.

Fill this to the top.  Another helpful tip: Since you need to rinse out that pot, and you need to fill up your bucket, why not fill up the pot with hot water and dump that in your bucket? That’s what I did, at least. A little two-for-one action.

Once that is filled and whisked you have your finished product:

Now we have a problem.  This is one heavy bucket.  Enter attractive man (AKA my husband, Chris) to carry it down to the washer.

We store it using Aluminum foil as a lid.  I’m sure that there are more elegant solutions, but this is solution works for us.  When using it, you can fill up a regular detergent cup.  I would think it’s about half a cup.  Less works too.

You may need to play with the amounts of ingredients depending on the hardness of your water.  You may also find that more or less detergent is necessary for your laundering needs.

 

Ode to the Dandelion

When most folks picture a beautiful lawn in spring time, they picture beautiful green grass with flowers tastefully decorating a few flower beds.  Since we are into simplicity, when I say some thing is tasteful, I generally mean in my mouth, not so much to my eyes.

One of the most tasteful things in my lawn is the beautiful dandelion.  I’m not sure why folks have such a strong dislike of the dandelion.  Aside from the fact that we are told dislike it, it is quite a pretty plant.  The flower is a beautiful happy yellow which turns into a cloud-like bunch of fluff which are ideal for wish making.  Children pick them and give them to their mothers.  And I find them to be aesthetically pleasing.

But they are so much more! In the beginning of spring, when the greens are still tender, you can pick them and eat them as an addition to a salad.  They have a bit of a bitter taste, but the younger you pick them the sweeter they are.  There is a traditional meal in the Pennsylvania Dutch region, that I used to abhor as a child, but with more grown tastes, I enjoy now.  You can enjoy with hot bacon dressing: Hot Bacon Dressing Salad Recipe
The Dandelion greens have phenomenal nutritional density.  They are: high in calcium, high in fiber, a great source of minerals, yummy, and cheap (free) in your yard.  One man made over $900 selling this “weed” he harvested from his garden to fine dinning establishments.  I recently saw it for sale at our local grocery store.
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The yellow flowers are more than just pretty, they can be transformed into wine! This link will take you to a great instructional video on how to do this.
We’re not done with all the wonders of this plant (which some call a weed).  The roots are useful, too!  They make a coffee substitute.  You harvest them and roast them and grind them up to use as tea.  I have not tried this, as harvesting the roots is a lot of work, and I like to use all of other parts of the dandelion so much, I don’t see the use.
Finally, they are awesome for your soil.  That long, thick root which seems impossible to remove fully from the ground helps break up compact soil.  It brings nutrients that are deep in ground up to the leaves.  When the leaves die, these nutrients are now at the top of the surface, and more accessible to the surrounding plants.  Dandelions are an ideal companion plant in your garden.  I wouldn’t plant any, but I would let few flourish to help feed the soil.When I look at the yellow heads popping up in my yard in Spring, I don’t get mad or reach for the weed killer.  I lick my chops for the free greens, give thanks for the beautiful flowers and smile to myself knowing that my lawn is getting healthier naturally.