Archive | homesteading RSS feed for this section

How to Start a Compost, Part 2

April 13, 2010

1 Comment

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!

Continue reading...

How to Start a Compost, Part 1

April 12, 2010


If you have a garden, a compost is important. If you are a tightwad like me, and don’t like buying expensive fertilizers, bagged compost, and peat moss every year, a compost pile is REALLY important.

Compost is just a fancy word for decomposed waste. Or, as says, “a combination of decomposed plant and animal materials and other organic materials that are being decomposed largely through aerobic decomposition into a rich black soil.” Right. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Veg Garden1

My garden at planting time, last year.


My garden thrives after amending with compost.

I have “maintained” a compost pile for a few years now. I say “maintained” in quotes because it’s been largely trial and error for me. Everybody makes it look SOOO easy– and indeed it is, kinda– but you have to do it right, or it won’t work. Me– I don’t like babysitting the compost pile; I have so much to do that turning the blasted 200-pound pile over every week never gets done. So I’ll tell you about my woes and wins, and throw a few tips in, as well. Here goes:

  • You do not need to buy ANYTHING. Nothing. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise! You do NOT need that fancy $500 hand-cranking bin, nor the $50 compost starter mix, nor the nice $100 pitchfork. You may buy things if you want. A compost can be a hole in the ground, if you want. Most people like things a little neater (including me) but don’t think that you need to spend a fortune even for that. Keep reading…
  • The compost will not smell bad if you are doing it right. Compost is decaying organic matter, and it needs a few things to decay properly. I call it the Big Three: oxygen, moisture, and friendly compost-making bacteria. If you have too much moisture, or not enough oxygen, it will smell. Believe me, it will smell.
  • The compost bin should be in a sunny area of the yard, in a convenient area near the garden.
  • You can keep your compost going all year ’round, or only in the warm months. I do it only in the warm months, because my son dislikes hauling the compost bucket from the kitchen to the backyard in 3 feet of snow every night. Sheesh. lol.
  • You need a healthy assortment of waste: “green” waste like grass clippings; “brown” waste like leaves and topsoil; “food” waste from the house.
  • Compost ONLY vegetable matter. Do not compost bones, meat, fat, grease, etc. These will disrupt that friendly bacteria that you will soon covet– they are vegetarians, ok?
  • You will learn to love earthworms, and get to know their favorite foods.

OK! Let’s get started! First, you need a compost bin, or a place to dump your loot. I have used the “dump” method as well as a variety of bins. In the next post, I’ll show you how to build a quick and easy bin. Here’s a rundown of the various compost bin styles:

  • The Hole:
    Very ugly. Tends to get quite soggy. Not recommended, but in a compost emergency, it’ll do.
  • The Pile:
    Like The Hole, it’s ugly and messy. But effective. I have The Pile in the back– it’s full of weeds, discarded garden waste, small twigs, etc. It takes a long, long time to decompose. I’m still waiting, actually. The bigger the waste, the longer the wait. There’s a family of rabbits living in there right now. You can create a Pile if you don’t want to use a bin. The Pile works well if you include the Big Three. The main problem (besides ugliness) with The Pile is that the food waste may attract unfriendlys, like rats, raccoons, and other unsavory critters. I only throw large garden waste in The Pile, no food waste.
  • The Wooden Bin:
    I have a wooden bin. I threw it together. It once had a lid, but that decayed after a few winters, and I never replaced it. The bin can be constructed of pallets or plain old 2 x 4s. The Wooden Bin is nice because it keeps critters away (if the slats are narrow enough) and allows for enough oxygen to pass through the mix. It’s very tough to turn over, though. Ugh. Note: do not use pressure-treated lumber for your compost bin. More on that later.
  • The Plastic Bin:
    I use this mostly, right now. It’s not the greatest. I have one large plastic garbage can and two 35-gallon Rubbermaid totes. I drilled holes in the sides and top, but even then, there really isn’t enough oxygen. I sprayed water in them, and the water wouldn’t seep out, so they got waterlogged. The bins are very convenient– compost is easy to turn, and the bins have lids, but the lack of oxygen and the water retention problem makes it a bummer. You can buy one of those expensive plastic bins designed specifically for composts, if you want. I have not tried them. I assume, like Little Tykes toys, that they would fade over time and look awful. But they may work.
  • The Wire Bin:
    In my opinion, this is THE BEST choice. All I did was plug a few metal garden posts into the ground and wrap chicken wire around them. There’s plenty of oxygen, and there’s as much moisture as the surrounding area– and when there’s too much, the extra seeps out through the wire– and it’s relatively easy to turn over.

The Wire Bin works best for me.

I have heard lots of opinions on when your compost should be garden-ready. There’s some “instant compost” flukes out there that I have heard about. I don’t know about them. It generally takes a year for me. I start this year’s compost for use next year. I always spread the compost before spring tilling time. I have a huge yard, with loads of leaves, grass clippings, and kids who eat a lot of veggies. So your mileage may vary. All I know is that a compost is usually ready in 12-14 months. So you’d better get going!

Compost soil, also known as humus, is rich, black, and loamy. It should smell earthy, not like sewage or mildew.


The rich humus of compost contrasting with the brown topsoil.

So this ends the Part 1 of How to Start a Compost. In the next articles, I’ll show you how to construct a Wire Bin, give some tips, and show you what to do with your composted humus when you have it.

Continue reading...

Diatomaceous Earth for Human Consumption

March 20, 2010

1 Comment

NOTE: This is NOT a health blog. I am NOT a medical professional or nutrition expert. This is an experiment I’ve been trying. My post here is NOT medical advice. Get the advice of a professional before taking any kind of ANYTHING, OK? You might hurt yourself!

It came! Four big jugs of food-grade diatomaceous earth!


We’re incorporating it into our daily diet. Food-grade diatomaceous earth, also known as Fossil Shell Flour, is supposed to be good for you, I hear. I got it for the animals who have regular problems with worms and ticks (we live near a wooded area and there are a ton of stray animals around here).

Apparently, according to various websites the silica in diatomaceous earth supposedly helps strengthen bones and the joints, cleanses the digestive system and also keeps it clear of parasites, and cleanses out the blood of fatty deposits. Now, I don’t think it’s a miracle, wonder-working infomercial fix that will make you leap tall buildings in a single bound But it is natural . The food grade kind is supposed to be OK for consumption. And we’ll never get worms, that’s for sure! LOL. Right now, we mix 1/2 teaspoon in with orange juice every day. You can’t taste it. Eventually, we’ll work more of it into our diet– it can be sprinkled into soups, stews, oatmeal, etc. It has no taste and it’s the consistency of flour. I’m thinking I’ll mix it into the canned cat food for the cats, too. In case you are interested, I bought my diatomaceous earth at Earth-Works (not a paid link and they are not a sponsor in any way, shape or form).

In other news, I’m checking out refined sugar. I just found out that one website says that refined sugar is processed with dead cattle bone ash! That is DISGUSTING! Is this true?! I never liked refined sugar before, anyway. I wish sugar alternatives weren’t so darned expensive, but I’m not getting refined sugar any more. We’re trying out stevia for the coffee. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I start baking… I use molasses a lot in a lot of recipes, but it won’t work for many things. If any of you guys have any ideas, be sure to let me know.

UPDATE: Well, we took the DE and I didn’t notice any big change in my joints. It did cause a bit of constipation, so we had to drink tons of water. We have stopped using it in our OJ for now. I sprinkle DE around my patio furniture to keep insects from nesting in it.

REMEMBER: This is NOT a health blog. I am NOT a medical professional or nutrition expert. This is an experiment I’ve been trying. My post here is NOT medical advice. Get the advice of a professional before taking any kind of ANYTHING, OK? You might hurt yourself!

Continue reading...

Offbeat Design is Right!

January 19, 2010

1 Comment

When I was young– back in the late 70s and early 80s– there was a craze for families to get “back to nature.” Not to be swinging from the trees, mind you, but to leave the dirty urban centers with their high taxes, crime, and chaos, and live free in the wilderness. We moved away from suburbia in the mid-80s, to a very rural parcel of land on top of a mountain. My few years spent there deeply affected my viewpoint of homesteading. My family didn’t go far enough– I would have liked to live an almost sparse, Amish-type of life: devoid of DuranDuran, Cyndi Lauper *shudder*, weight loss products (and public schooling) and such, but my dad was an electronics man with his own shop… and therefore we didn’t live entirely off the land. But they had hopes of building an underground house (my dad was concerned about nuclear war- this was when things between the US and USSR were very heated). I think I would have loved that– a cozy cave to snuggle in!

So I spent a long time gazing at these photos when I found them at This site is so cool! This is an underground home built in Switzerland, at the foothills of the Alps! Oh it’s so beautiful! But so unconventional!

I wouldn’t mind living in the ground one bit. It’s definitely more temperate. And you don’t have to worry about painting your wood siding every five years. :-p Would you do it?

Continue reading...

Is It Illegal to Collect Rainwater?

July 1, 2009


Short answer: YES.

Long answer: Depends on what state you live, and depends on the outcome of new bills coming through the U.S. Congress, as they seem to making up new and stupid ones every day….

From what I have ascertained so far, it is illegal to collect rainwater in the following states:

  • Utah
  • Washington State
  • New Mexico
  • Colorado– although I JUST saw a news story published this week that says this has changed. BUT it appears that city dwellers who rely on municipal water cannot collect rainwater.

I also heard that in 1998 the UN past a resolution that all water on the planet is to be commercial, to be bought or sold like, you know, an XBox or something. GRRR. Now I have not confirmed this, but if anyone has any input, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll check it out. Also, there was a “water war” in Bolivia after the country privatized their water resources, and then a company from the U.S. (Bechtel) won a contract for the resources. Immediately, the company had the collection of rainwater outlawed because they wanted a complete monopoly on the resource. People colecting rainwater cut in to their profits.

Now, some of the water laws, especially for the western states, go way back– back to when the area was owned by Spain. Water is a precious resource over there. BUT, this law is being stretched. The laws state that you can’t divert streams or suck lakes dry for your own use. Sure, I understand that– evil people were crooks and stole the water resources. Bad. OK. But some states are suddenly interpreting this to mean that people can’t collect rain in rain barrels?! That’s dumb. The government does NOT own the rain. It’s ridiculous for the government to PRESUME to be able to CONTROL the rain and it’s diversions, as well. If those old water laws are now being interpreted so as to place more restrictions and heavier burdens on citizens, and line the pockets of Big Business and their Government Buddies, that’s tyranny. That’s all there is to it.

You know, we Americans ARE the government. We abide by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Dare I say that we do not have to obey de facto laws and we have the right to redress the government for grievances. These things are really going waaaay too far in this country.

Continue reading...

A House Made From Garbage

March 20, 2009


No! It’s not MY house I’m talking about.

Although it could be….

nah, MY house was made from good stuff. 150 year-old stuff. It’s actually turning into garbage now.

Anyway, this is about a rather cool and very eccentric house called the Nit Wit Ridge house. There’s a whole slew of photos on a Flickr page about it from someone who visited the place. It’s pretty wild– toilet seats for windows, a statue made from a chipped enamel bowl, a lovely metal chain-link fence that graces the, uh, beautiful front yard. Talk about salvage!

garbage house

The place was made by Arthur Harold Beal, alias Capt Nit Wit or Der Tinkerpaw, and it is located, unsurprisingly, in California. He started it in 1928 (I just KNEW it started during the Great Depression, even before I read that). For 51 years, Der Tinkerpaw has been collecting another man’s junk to build his treasure palace. Hey, must be easy on the budget. Some of the things are pretty inventive. I give him kudos for creativity!

Tours of the place are free (yay!). Check the news link above for more details, if this is a must-see place to go. If you go, be sure to take photos and send them my way. It makes me feel SO much better about my rickety old place! At least I have REAL windows and not toilet seats for my fresh air! LOL

hat tip to Just Cool Design for the story.

Continue reading...

The Paper Towel Duel

November 25, 2008


Just in time for the holidays, I decided to do my own little experiment with paper towels. Now as a frugal lady, I don’t use paper towels a great deal– I use washcloths and then I launder the washcloths. But I need to keep paper towels around the house for things like cleaning out the cat litter box, wiping the car’s oil dipstick, cleaning up hairballs, etc. These are things I consider unsanitary and do not want to have circulating through my laundry.

Also, I have paper products during the holiday season when I am more inclined to have lots of company over, making lots of little messes. So I purchase paper towels, paper napkins, etc. These days I am in “paper products” mode. I’ve been checking out the many brands (btw, MUST stores have so many brands?!) and their prices. I have been wondering for a while which paper towel is more economical and effective– a “fancy” name brand, or the generic, store brand? Here’s what I found out!

*AAAAAAND in this corner! It’s the Bounty one-sheet working wonder! In the other corner, it’s the cheapo Decorator Towels Walmart brand!*

*ding ding*

Papertowels 1

(please ignore my horrid orange laminate countertops. I DID NOT install them. And yes, we do need a new kitchen! 😀 )

OK, on with the show. Here are the prices of the paper towels at my local grocery store:

Bounty: 138 sheets per roll (63.2 square feet) $2.19/roll
price per sheet: 1.590 cents

Store Brand: 90 sheets per roll (75.6 square feet) $1.79/roll
price per sheet: 1.990 cents

First off, you can see that Bounty is less expensive when you are going per sheet. Yet the Store Brand has fewer sheets and more square feet per roll. How can this be? Well, the Bounty roll has smaller sheets. As a matter of fact, the Bounty sheets are half the size of the Store Brand sheets. And even though there is more square footage with the Store Brand roll, the Bounty roll is bulkier and thicker. The Store Brand sheets are thinner and resemble the paper napkins you get at McDonald’s– kind of rough and stiff; the Bounty sheets are much thicker and have a cloth-like feel to them. You’ll also notice that the Store Brand sheets have pretty butterflies. Not to be influenced by pretty pink and blue butterflies, I purged that from my mind and concentrated solely on the important matter at hand: which was a better deal?

Papertowels 3

Judging thus the consistency and thickness of the sheets, I predict that the Bounty roll will absorb more liquid into a denser area, whereas the Store Brand will cause the liquid to expand out into the sheet more. Now for the experiment!

I decided to set globs of soy sauce on my counter to test each sheet. I’ll have you know that I wasted .047711 cents of soy sauce right there. Consider it my sacrifice for science.

Papertowels 4

And why do scientists use the same ol’ boring circles of liquid mess? I decided to make my liquid messes in the shape of Mickey Mouse for added human interest to our rather sterile and impartial scientific experiment. (Here’s hoping Disney doesn’t sue me for copyright infringement).

Papertowels 5

Ah, so here you see the sheets at work. They performed much as I hypothesized they would. Bounty picks up the liquid in a denser area; the Store Brand splays out the liquid. That line you see in the Store Brand sheet is the “glue” line that holds the sheet to the roll. It is always on the first 3 or 4 sheets of a new roll. Bounty doesn’t have that line, btw. I lifted up the sheets to see which sheet was more absorbent.

Below you will see how the Store Brand sheet performed. It didn’t absorb as much of the liquid. When I lifted the sheet, the liquid dripped off the sheet and back onto the counter.

Papertowels 8

The Bounty sheet absorbed much more of the liquid. You can also see that more of the sheet is saturated with soy sauce.

Papertowels 6

To be honest, I was surprised that the Bounty sheet picked up so much and the Store Brand picked up so little. I ended my experiment by sopping up every bit of the liquid that I could and comparing the sheets.

Papertowels 7

Hmmm. So my conclusion is that Bounty paper towels are actually a better deal. The roll itself is more expensive than the Store Brand, but there are more Bounty sheets per roll. Despite that there is less square footage than the Store Brand, the Bounty sheet performed better than the Store Brand. So, my final conclusions in table form:

More expensive per roll, at $2.19/roll
Less expensive per sheet, at 1.590 cents
More sheets per roll, at 138 sheets
Fewer square footage per sheet and per roll, at 63.2 square feet per roll
Performs better than Store Brand

Store Brand:
Less expensive per roll, at $1.79/roll
More expensive per sheet, at 1.990 cents
Fewer sheets per roll, at 90 sheets
More square footage per sheet and per roll, at 75.6 square feet
Not as good a deal as the Bounty roll

Thus concludes my great experiment. I hope you have found this information profitable in some way. You probably won’t get rich saving all that money on Bounty paper towels, but you may be able to buy an extra jar of soy sauce after a few months.

Continue reading...

Make Your Own Air Freshener

November 18, 2008

1 Comment

I don’t know why I am so focused on air fresheners lately; perhaps it is due to the cold weather settling in, and we are indoors all the time? If there’s one thing about old houses, they do tend to smell. I have a very sensitive nose, so the smells of old lathe-and-plaster, 150-year old mouse nests in the walls, and the wet basement smells drive me near crazy every winter. I’m always trying out new fresheners. I can’t bake apple pies and zucchini breads every day, now can I? On really cold days, besides baking, I sometimes simmer orange peels and cinnamon bark on the stove. There is something really wonderful about oranges and cinnamon on cold, snowy days; but I don’t always have a fresh supply of either.

I saw this hilarious video at Dine-o-meter blog. Oh my word, this is terrific! It’s all a funny spoof, but making the air freshener is for real. The video is done by Jolene Sugarbaker, and it’s great! LOL. I checked out Jolene’s site (is it just me, or is Jolene really a GUY??) and “she’s” been doing this since 1993! How could I have possibly missed this?! This is really fun. My son watched the video, and this looks like a really fun craft project.

I haven’t seen any of those scented oils at the Dollar Store; but then again, I haven’t ever looked. This look like a frugal, fun way to make your own scented air freshener! LOL. I also like Jolene’s suggestion of prettying up the jars with baubles, kind of like how kids decorate hoto digital frames with sequins and such. Maybe I’ll have the kids make a video of them doing the craft, and I’ll post about how our version runs. I am curious as to how well this sceneted freshener would work– my house is pretty big and pretty smelly…

Continue reading...

The Underground Chicken Movement

October 11, 2008


What lies stealthily behind those innocent looking suburb and urban fences across the United States? Henhouses! With CHICKENS! It’s an illicit movement rapidly spreading across the country, ruffling the feathers of city ordinance boards.

The Worldwatch Institute reports that a growing number of US city-dwellers are raising their own chickens, often in defiance of local ordinances.

Citing unsanctioned henhouses in Denver, Boston, and other cities, Worldwatch’s Ben Block notes that an “underground ‘urban chicken’ movement has swept across the United States in recent years,” flouting authorities’ concerns about noise, odors, and public health.

But in some cities, such as Ann Arbor, Mich., Ft. Collins, Colo., South Portland, Maine, and Madison, Wisc., owners of these clandestine coops have successfully changed the laws to allow them to keep a limited number of hens. (Roosters, whose characteristic crowing can disturb neighbors, are usually more restricted, but they’re not needed for hens to lay unfertilized eggs.)

I have been trying to convince my husband that we need chickens. After all the exposure of the corrupt and dirty food factory industries and CAFOs (such as salmonella poisoning, Mad Cow disease, melamine in dairy, etc), I am ready to start raising my own poultry and limit our consumption of beef and pork. Mr. M says he doesn’t think our area is zoned for poultry. However, one neighbor of ours has a few horses, and another neighbor runs a small wildlife refuge with peacocks, geese, and a rooster.

Which reminds me: Did you know that roosters do not only crow at sunrise? Nay! I can tell you from experience that roosters crow ALL day and ALL night, and very loudly, too! But I defend the right of my neighbor to keep her chickens, I do!

Many large US cities, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and Seattle apparently never thought to ban the domesticated fowl within city limits. These cities have served as an incubator of sorts for the emerging movement, in which urban henkeepers post online tips on building coops, caring for the birds, and fending off raccoons and other predators.

Zoning ordinances are for the people, not the people for zoning ordinances. If the residents want to change the city’s pecking orders, they should be allowed to do so.

I also tend to believe that the real ‘fowl’ play is coming from the state and local governments, who are not too pleased that people are strating to take their own food supply into their own hands. The food industry is BIG business.

So UP WITH CHICKENS! Chicken-keepers, unite! A chicken in every pot! For those who think we’re going back to the “trust us, the food supply is perfectly safe” schpiel, you’re cuckoo!

Continue reading...