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What To Do With an Attached Garage

February 23, 2012

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Originally I planned on making this great big kitchen in there. But then I realized it was less expensive to rebuild the existing kitchen in the house.

Then, I figured I would make this huge master bedroom suite, with a bathroom!! We are six people and the house has a mere 1 full bath and a tiny half-bath. It’s just not enough bathrooms. Additionally, the four bedrooms are oddly shaped. One is 10×12, two are 8×14 (that’s a tough dimension to work with when you have a 6-foot long bed, believe me), and another is a huge 15×17! The original builder, Mr. Rogers, did a great job building this home but when it came to the sizes of the room… well, FAIL. So we have three too-small bedrooms with one bedroom that is too large.

Anyway, I think I will have to forsake the master bedroom suite thing. I think I will have to convert the garage into a huge “conservatory,” kind of a combo music room and family room. Every single person in the family plays instruments, most of us two or more instruments. Do you have ANY idea how much space instruments consume?! TONS! And now my son is begging for a drum set! Gah!

Glorious space.....

We can’t put anything in the basement. It floods. Terribly. There’s no attic space and you know now how small and impractical the bedroom spaces are… currently, all the instruments are crammed into corners in the living room and dining room– the DOZENS of acoustic guitars (yes, dozens), amplifiers, keyboards, microphones, track recorders, pedals, tapes, etc etc etc. I’m drowning in music supplies!!!

So I have resolved that I have to create a WHOLE room devoted to musical instruments. Wow. maybe I can shoehorn another bathroom in there… I hope…

If you had an attached garage, to what would you convert it? And don’t tell me you’d use it to park your car, what a silly thing! 😉

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10 Things About My New Kitchen I Am Thankful For

June 14, 2011


I’m taking my dear friend Carole’s suggestion. After a particularly harried day fussing over a plumbing cob job problem, Carole said, “Go get a cup of coffee and look at before and after pics of your kitchen and cheer yourself up…” Hey, who am I to pass up a cup of coffee??

So I did. And I figured I’d write about the amazing things about my new kitchen that I am SO thankful for. Our kitchen renovation was a BIG job. I don’t think I’d ever tackled anything so intense, except maybe childbirth, lol. Even the 2007 living room renovation paled in comparison to last summer’s big kitchen blitz. We and some folks from our church rebuilt everything on our own– electrical, plumbing, heating system, insulation, drywall, flooring, cabinets and counters, and appliances. Whew, it was a very intense year. In case you missed all the tremendous fun from last year, you can check out some of my blog posts here.

Here are 10 things for which I am very thankful.

1. We’d gutted the kitchen and dining room to the bare bones. I am thankful for that because I’m a rather fussy person. I don’t like to inherit another person’s “disaster.” Old houses are almost never disasters– old houses are exceptional in that they are solidly built with superior craftsmanship and quality materials. In this, they have new construction beat. However, the common “disasters” that strike an old home is usually sub-par remodeling or neglect. My house has suffered from both, but especially from terrible “remodels” in some of the rooms. Much of my turmoil comes from fixing previous remodels. So I like to gut the walls and start from scratch. I don’t like patching up previous owners’ disasters. And I also like to see exactly what’s behind the walls. I’m still looking for those gold dubloons somewhere.

Kitchen Gutted

2. I am thankful for my dishwasher. My daughter and I STILL give thanks regularly for it. We used to wash loads and loads of dishes by hand. When I used to babysit kids, I was washing dishes for ten people three times a day.


I got a cheap dishwasher, too– the kind without the electronic panel and no fancy features. I’d heard that fancy dishwashers break easily. I got this cheapo model in case it died early– then I wouldn’t feel so bad if it broke on me. But it’s been going like a champ. And we LOVE it.

3. I am thankful for my vinyl plank flooring. My first choice was hardwoods (whose isn’t?!) but it was too expensive and I didn’t think I could install something like that myself. So I opted for easy care vinyl plank flooring. It really is very easy to take care of, and doesn’t look too bad!

DR flooring2

4. I am thankful for my kitchen window. I love this window. It’s so big, more than twice the size of the previous window. I can see the entire backyard through this thing. And when I open it, all the breezes come in. I love the woodwork and the pendant light!


5. I am thankful for my wood countertops. I bought them online and had them delivered, can you believe it?! 350 pounds of countertops! Laminate might have been a little cheaper, but it would have been too much work to custom make it to fit my large space. The wood is just so wonderful. I am just starting to relax a little about the countertops. Before, I was rather hyper about any scratch or swelling. But now I’m not as fussy, because if the wood gets a scratch or swells, I can simply sand it down and recoat the surface with oil.


6. I love my dining room. 🙂


7. I am SO thankful for insulation. Maybe that sounds kind of weird, but if you have ever lived in an old, uninsulated house, you know exactly what I mean. The insulated walls make the house so, so much more comfortable. I can’t wait to have the upstairs insulated.


8. I am thankful for new electric. For several years, we had no electricity in many of the rooms. After we gutted the living room in 2007 and saw the condition of the 100-year-old knob-and-tube wiring, I disconnected it for fear of fire. We were without electric in the kitchen except for a small ceiling light and one outlet. It was a pretty miserable room to be in, so dark and ugly.

When we gutted the kitchen and dining room, I wired new electricity throughout the house. I also wired Ethernet. Of course, in some of the upstairs bedrooms we only have one working outlet and a switch-operated ceiling light, but it’s one NEW outlet and a NEW light operated by a switch (before, the ceiling lights were pull-chain, ugh). I am very, very thankful for our new electric. I sleep so much better at night now.


9. I am thankful for drywall. I adore the inventor of drywall. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. There are some “hard core” old home owners who install plaster and lathe in their homes, but not me. Plaster is dusty, dirty, ugly, it cracks, it’s lumpy and bumpy and did I say it’s dusty? It also smells. :-p I like my drywall.

DR ceiling sheetrock

10. I’m thankful for my new cabinets. They cost me a verrry pretty penny, but I love them. They are solid plywood. Beautiful doors. I love the color and they are so durable.


Can you believe I’ve counted to ten already?! I could keep going on and on!

In case you’re wondering, this is what the old kitchen looked like.

Ugliest Kitchen1

Ugliest Kitchen2

Now you see why I am so thankful. 🙂

It’s rather easy to see only the things that go wrong when you have an old house (mostly because things are always going wrong in an old house!!). But there’s a lot of marvelous benefits to living in an old home. And I am grateful to have a home. I shudder when I remember apartment living!

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The Tweeners

February 10, 2011


I’m a tweener right now. Probably most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are! A “tweener” is what I call a person who is stuck between one weather season going out and another struggling to get in. In other words– we’ve reached the end of our tolerance for one season, and are eager to get into the next! While I like the snow and even the cold, I am sick of the ice and ice dams. Yet, I am torn, because I am one of the very rare people who dislike spring. Spring is wet, soggy, damp, cold, muddy. I am chilled more in spring weather then I am in the winter! I think it’s because spring is so clammy and damp. I dislike it. So I’m a tweener. Ready to see the winter go, but not really eager to see muddy spring come. Hmmm….


So far, spring is nowhere in sight...

In other news, we got approved for a home equity loan! HURRAY! I used credit cards and cash for the renovation expenses last summer. The cards had good promotional rates, which have now ended. So we applied for a loan and got approved. I like the scheduled payments, I like the routine. I’m praying with all my heart that we can get this loan paid off very soon, because we have the entire UPSTAIRS of the house to do yet!! Then, we tackle the exterior– we’ll need a new roof, new siding…. *sigh*

I am relatively new to home equity loans. Any kind of loan, especially on my beloved home, makes me nervous. It’s all out of pocket, all on our own. It is a REALLY gratifying feeling, though, to see your home’s value skyrocket because you sweated it out one summer. I am so proud of my kids, who helped with our renovations– thanks to our persistent work, we increased the value of our home AND “earned” money enough to refinance everything with a little extra, too. No wonder it’s called sweat equity! I am so thankful for my kids. I couldn’t have done this without them. And now, of course, comes the paying it all off!!! Which reminds me, I better get back to work….

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The Evil Deer

January 22, 2011


I hate deer. Yep. If you saw Bambi in the theatre as a child, and were shocked to hear someone cheering on the hunter, that was probably me. Me, or some other Upstate New Yorker. Because most Upstaters- no matter their political or religious differences– all seem to be in perfect harmony with our hatred for deer.

Oh SURE, deer are cute, especially the young ones. But heck, even baby alligators are cute. I don’t see any alligator-huggers out there.

Deer eat everything I plant in my yard. EVERYTHING. They have an entire forest up the hill and in the back from which to graze, yet they find my apple trees and red oak and my arbor vitae much more appealing. Look at the damage to my arbor vitae. 🙁 I could cry.




They basically denuded the shrubs of their leaves. 🙁 🙁 Those things cost $25 each, and I planted a row of them as a privacy shield from the busy parking lot next door, where they have lots of social gatherings and trucks pulling in and out. Well, so much for the privacy fence. 🙁 To give you an idea of the extent of the damage, this is what the shrubs looked like last year before the eating machines with springs got to them:


Yeah, we get floods here, too. The water drainage is poor (clay soil), the water table is high, and we’ve had our basement washed out a couple of times for us! We had to do it ourselves).

So I’m a little discouraged sometimes about the yard and gardens. It has been 13 years of hard, hard labor to try to make this small parcel of weedy, overgrown land into something cultivated and livable. But it’s been a vicious upward battle, believe me. Between neighbor kids chopping down my trees, the deer, the flooding, the pest invasions, the other neighbors diverting their runoff into my yard…. it’s been a battle JUST to have a couple of small gardens and trees. I have probably planted about 2 dozen trees on this property, only to have FIVE survive.

The deer have also been eating my new grape vine by the vegetable garden.

Yes, we have tried repellent. I have tried tin pie pans, soap, garlic/egg spray, dried blood, human hair, running outside and screaming at the top of my lungs… I’m seriously considering a 10-foot wooden fence. But then, they just might chew through it, and that’ll be another couple thousand $$ down the hole.


Oh well, spring is coming. I’ll be able to see the full extent of the damage and work on it then. Know of any good commercial deer repellents?

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Things I Want To Do This Year

January 3, 2011


Don’t get me wrong! I’m not making New Year’s resolutions! Several years ago, I resolved not to make them, and I don’t want to break my winning streak! But now that it’s January and soon February will be nipping at us, my mind turns to projects to be done for this year. I don’t always get them all done, but some I do. Late winter is the perfect time to assess the projects, because I generally have nothing else to work on!

Clean up the vegetable garden.
We totally let the gardens go last summer. The renovation consumed all our energy, and therefore the gardens were a mess by autumn. I never tilled them, either. We have a lot of work to do back there this summer.


Finish the kitchen projects.
My window seat/bench is still unfinished.

It requires a lot of piddly, meticulous sawing, so I have put it off for the winter. It’s TOO cold to work in the garage. The area is a disaster, because the family really has no place to store boots, coats, etc in an organized area. But it must wait.

Get new clothes.
The teens have worn out their clothes. That, and they wore a lot of different outfits during the renovation (which were consequently ruined, GRRR). So while they have several pairs of work clothes now, the good clothing has depleted. Good thing the kids like their t-shirts. And they aren’t too proud to wear fun or goofy shirts. One of my readers sent me a hilarious Chuck Norris t-shirt, after reading that we loved these kinds of shirts. Haha!!!

Pay off the renovation debt.
I incurred several thousand dollars of debt for the renovation. I want to pay it all off this year. Yes, it’s a big goal, but if I am careful, I may be able to do it. We’ll see. I have hope of renovating the upstairs (not insulated, and it feels it!), getting new windows, creating a family room from the attached garage, and getting central heat…. but all that must wait until I pay off the debt. So I’m very motivated!

Start an herb garden.
We’re going to make our own teas and grow medicinal herbs this year. I have assigned a daughter to do some research, and I will bankroll the project. The kids drink a lot of tea, and it’s so expensive. Here’s hoping we can create our own tasty teas this year.

I think that’s enough for now. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew, or I will grow discouraged. What projects do you have in mind to do this year?

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Chestnuts Roasting On A….

November 19, 2010

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Who eats chestnuts anymore?

And who has a roaring fire anymore?

It’s this time of the year that I long for an open fire, SOME kind of open fire. When I was younger, my family purchased a home with a huge stone fireplace. One of our favorite things to do was to sit in front of it. And that was exactly the problem– all of us sitting in front of it. No room for all of us! A fireplace does not give off much heat, as a lot of the heat goes right up the chimney. Fireplaces also suck up the oxygen in a room, creating a draft. And of course, house fires start in chimneys; you must carefully maintain your chimney very year. So the flames were very cozy-looking, but not very warm. And all that wood chopping, stacking, loading, ash removal…


We have only one chimney left, and it’s merely a vent for the gas appliances. When we convert our garage into a family/music room, I’m going to install a vented gas logs fireplace. I’ve done a bit of studying, and the vented are best. They draw air in from the outdoors, and vent the combustion gases outdoors.

Well, this year I still have only the electric space heater to cozy up to. But soon I’ll have my nice gas fireplace! 😀

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Energy Efficiency is Finally “In”!

April 22, 2010


Some of you readers know about my unusual background: in the mid-80s, my folks ditched the corrupting influences and expenses of suburban life to go live on a mountain. As a teenager, I helped log trees for firewood, harvested edible weeds for eating, and learned how to make my own clothing, conserve energy and water, and etc. We never got “off the grid,” so to speak, but we learned to be frugal, be wise with what we had, to create as little waste as possible, and to learn to live off the land and our own resources. We eventually sold the property as we kids grew older, but it was a really rich experience for me then. It was unique, too– while the rest of society was looking toward Yuppiedom, we were becoming Hillbillies, lol.

Well, we didn't exactly go THAT far...

But today, saving energy and reducing waste is BIG! I’m so glad to be able to be a part of it. I have long believed that we must be good stewards of God’s good earth and of all the good things He’s given us. We’ve really tried to incorporate good stewardship with what we do here in this house and yard. We try to keep an eye toward future technology, but only future technology that helps us to serve God better, to be smarter in our consumer choices, and to reduce waste and inefficiency.

With that said, it was my extreme pleasure to ask a few questions of home safety expert John Drengenberg, the Consumer Safety Director at Underwriter Laboratories (UL). Since we are going to be renovating this summer (kitchen, dining room, and installing new plumbing and electrical wiring), I asked John’s advice regarding these things. I tried to keep you guys in mind, based on comments and articles you have brought up in the past.

Here are the questions I presented:

1. I’ve seen ads on the Internet for a small rooftop windmill device that the homeowner can install on their house roof. Are these for real, and could they truly generate enough energy for the homeowner to make this worth their time and effort?

2. Regarding “vampire” electronics, those appliances that use power even when they are “off” (such as televisions and DVD players): my readers and I hate these things. Is the manufacturer required to label the appliance as an energy hog? How/where can we find a list of appliances that do not continue to suck energy even when off?

3. How accurate is the Energy Star rating? I’d heard through the grapevine that the majority of appliances were receiving the rating, even when these appliances were not truly energy-efficient. Is this true?

4. I’m renovating my kitchen this summer (I have an 1855 house and the last plumbing and electricity updates were in the 1940s). It’s a 100% DIY project- we’re doing the electric, plumbing, installing cabinets, etc ourselves. My readers are going to experience everything we do as I blog about it. I’m looking for ways to make my home more energy efficient, and also have an eye toward the future (appliances, wiring, design). Do you have any recommendations as to what I can do or include in my kitchen to make it (and my home) energy efficient?

Check out John’s answers to my questions in the video. And John– THANK YOU so much for taking the time to answer my questions! Your information is so helpful. 😀

If you go to the Underwriter Laboratories website, you can find a ton of information about energy-efficiency, buying and using products safer for the environment and families, and get information about terrific community projects. There are videos, too. I have found the folks to be very generous with their advice and attention– do check them out whether you are remodeling or not. I know you will find something helpful.

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My Organic Seeds Arrived

April 21, 2010

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UPDATE! See what High Mowing Seeds has to say about my shipping and packaging complaint. WHOA!!! They rock!


I decided to go 100% non-Monsanto, 100% organic with the garden this year. No funky seeds, no funky fertilizers, no funky pesticides. It’s expensive to go organic, lol. My seeds from High Mowing Seeds, a small seed distributor in Vermont, came in.

I’m really happy with the selection of seeds, and am looking forward to planting them… but I’m a little disappointed by the packaging and shipping. I spent a whopping $11 for shipping. For that price, I nearly expected a valet to come to my front door, to roll out the red carpet and unload the packages into my gardening shed. OK, maybe a $3 sturdy box. But this is what I got:


Maybe I’m being a tad fussy…. I’m used to paying HALF that amount in shipping and getting TWICE as good a package. The seed packets were all smashed into this thin little envelope. I haven’t yet checked all the seeds in the envelopes to see if they are crunched. I have a husband who works for the post office, so I know how packages get a severe beating through the mail system. I’m kinda disappointed. Hopefully, the seed quality will be spectacular and more than make up for the pitiable shipping.


Anyway, they are here. I’m really looking forward to planting leeks and kale this year! And cabbage! I’m trying out a lot of new things this year:

  • Giant Chard
  • Red Cabbage
  • Cucumber
  • Siberian Kale
  • Collards
  • A large selection of lettuces
  • Leek
  • Muskmelon
  • Snow pea
  • Spinach
  • Yellow squash
  • Zucchini
  • Roma Tomato
  • Rutabaga
  • Basil

They had no Romaine lettuce, so I need to obtain that from another company. I also plan on getting marigolds to keep the slugs at bay. And I’ve got some potatoes ready; the kids may want some pumpkins and I do want sunflowers again this year. Sunflowers do well here. This is what we got the last time we planted them.


It’s been cooler at nights again (high 30s), so I have to delay the seed planting until it’s a bit warmer. We also have to till the beds yet. The Hubs and I spent an afternoon replacing the rotted old wooden boards with new ones.


Lumber prices are CRAZY. Why are they jacking up the prices THIS year?!?! Don’t they know I have a ton of work to do?! :-p These six 2 x 6 x 12s cost me $60. Ridiculous. I could only replace one bed. *whine snivel*

Well, I’m going to be pulling out some plaster and lathe this weekend. Just a little. I’m going to be testing out my plumbing skills with the washing machine set up. Mmmmm… I’ll have more on that later. Please PRAY for me!

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How to Start a Compost, Part 3

April 19, 2010


This is the final post in my How to Start a Compost series. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 to get up to speed. I’ve already covered the essential compost general guidelines, some sage compost advice, and instructed you ow to build a simple Wire Bin. Now, I’m going to throw some lists at you.

    What to Do When Your Compost is Ready:

  • Your compost should be ready in 12-14 months. This can really vary a lot, depending on what you put in there, how often you turned it, how wet the weather has been, etc. But 1 year is a general estimate.
  • I always start a new compost pile in the spring, so that when I am ready to start next year’s garden, the compost is ready. You can add the compost to your garden beds either at spring tilling time, or fall tilling time. (I don’t do fall tilling, by the way).
  • Prepare your garden beds: pull out the weeds, the rocks, etc.
  • Grab your shovel and wheelbarrow and shovel out the compost from the bin. The humus should be loamy and rich-looking.
  • Dump the compost into the garden. Spread evenly. Roto-til or hand turn the garden soil. Water lightly.
  • That’s it! Plant your garden when you’re ready.

The composted compost (called humus) is dark, rich, and loamy.

    What to Add to a Compost Pile:

  • Any household vegetable food waste, such as: carrot tops, discarded vegetable peels, wasted vegetables that the kids refused to eat, etc etc
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds, leftover tea, or coffee
  • Dryer lint
  • Hair. Yes, hair! Spread it out well so it won’t clump in the pile. You can even add your fingernail clippings… if you want…
  • Grass clippings. Make sure the grass is not loaded with pesticides or chemicals.
  • Leaves, they are full of nitrogen.
  • Earthworms. Have the kids dig them up and plop them in. Earthworms love coffee, by the way. They are wonderful critters!
    What NOT to Add to a Compost Pile:

  • Meat waste
  • Newspapers (some ink has chemicals may disrupt the happy bacteria revelry)
  • Dog and cat food (contains meat and preservatives)
  • Corn cobs (they take FOREVER to compost!!)
  • Peach pits (see corn cobs)
  • Weeds! (They will germinate in the rich soil and you will wind up planting them in your garden next year)
  • Milk products– no cheese, yogurt, milk, nothing.
  • Oils (vegetable, grease, etc)
  • Bones
  • Silverware (can you believe that we actually find forks and spoons in the compost pile?! All the kids say they have NO IDEA how silverware gets in there! :S hmm)

So there you have it! Composting can be pretty fun. Sure, you’re getting your hands dirty. But just think of how happy you are making the worms, the bacteria, the garden plants! And think of happy you will be when you sink your teeth into those luscious tomatoes that thrived in such rich soil. 🙂

tn_Tilled 1

Humus is tilled in to the bed, bed is weeded and raked, and ready for seeds.

Thanks for reading! Happy composting.

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How to Start a Compost, Part 2

April 13, 2010

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Starting a new garden? Got a limpid garden? Do you have weak, impoverished soil? Boy oh boy, do I have news for you! It’s time to play in the dirt! Compost is fun, folks! In case you missed the riveting Part 1 in this series, go ahead and read it.

This post is going to be How to Make a Wire Bin, and will be filled with tips and stories of what’s worked for me these years. First, you’ve gotta getta bin.

The Wire Bin
Heavy-duty gloves
Tin snips or cable cutters
Four metal garden stakes or 2 x 4 posts**
Chicken wire, about 15 feet length or so
Twine or heavy-duty garden twisty ties for stakes, or metal staples for posts

Your Wire Bin will probably look a lot neater.

Of course, you can go much fancier, but don’t you really want to get a compost going right now? Sure, you do. Throw together a quick bin and get the compost going. Then you can start constructing your St. Peter’s Basilica of Compost Bins later, and take your time at it. Compost takes about a year to get ready, so time is of the essence.

1. Stake out an area in your yard that receives sun for at least half the day. Hammer the four stakes in the shape of a square. If you have a large yard with a lot of leaves and grass clippings to add, each side of the square should be approximately 4 to 5 feet, with a stake at each corner.

2. Starting at one stake, take the twisty tie and secure the chicken wire to the stake. Or, if you are using wooden posts, tack the wire onto the post using the staples. Go all the way around the square.

3. Now, you can leave the front part of the square open, as I do, or you can loosely secure the wire to the front for easy access later. Just keep in mind that in a year, you need to get all the stuff OUT of the bin.

4. Dump in your waste. Experts say it’s best to try to layer the stuff: leaves, then grass clippings, then food waste. etc. I do not layer. I just dump *whatever* in. It’s been working so far. This is nature we’re talking about– it’s well able to what it needs to do without much pampering from a human.

5. You can add stuff like compost starter to the mix, if you want. But a shovelful of garden soil or cow manure will do. The purpose for this is to give the compost a little kick-start with that wonderful aerobic bacteria that will be making your waste into humus (prepared compost). I have never added anything, and have done fine. The garden soil is a good idea, and I’ll be trying that this year.

**Do not use pressure-treated wood. PTW is coated with chemicals (such as arsenic) that will leach into the soil and into your vegetables.

    Tips for a Really Good Compost Pile:

  • Add earthworms to your pile. Earthworms are marvelous for compost. They help aerate the mix and their, uh, poop, is a great addition to any compost pile!
  • During dry spells, water the compost pile. Just a little.
  • Every month or so, turn the mix over, or stir it up best you can. I actually NEVER do this, because the pile is so heavy. My compost turns out OK. But turning may help make the compost decompose quicker. Use a shovel or pitchfork to mix the waste. Watch out for innocent earthworm bystanders.
  • Add only vegetable matter to the mix, never meats, fats, or grease. This will disrupt the bacteria revelry going on. And meats and grease may attract skunks, raccoons, and rats.

Gardens love compost!

In the next and final installment is this series, I’ll talk about what to add to your compost bin, and what NOT to add, and what to do when you finally have your compost ready for adding to the garden. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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