Sustainability

The Hugelkultur Project

A while back, when we  decided to take on the project of cutting down our 70-foot tall (plus or minus) honey locust tree in the back yard, I began doing research on what in the world we’d do with all the wood.  As you may know, a lot of the smaller branches have become mulch for the garden.  But someone from the Take Back Urban-Homesteading(s) community on Facebook suggested to me to build a ‘hugelkultur.’  A hoogle-whater?  So, of course I Googled it.

I’ll try to save you some time.  A hugelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture” – I think), is basically a raised bed in which wood or other carbon-rich materials is buried.  Some people lay logs directly on the ground, use a tractor to dump a pile of dirt on it and then start planting on their new, hill-shaped bed.  (I like the info in this link).

The advantages of this method of gardening is that the wood, as it rots, acts as a sponge, making it so you don’t have to water much.  Additionally, it releases nutrients over time into the soil, making it so you don’t need to fertilize.  And, as it rots, it leaves plenty of air space in the soil, so you don’t need to till.  Basically, it is a no-maintenance, self-composting bed.  The first year or two, especially with green wood like ours, it will actually draw nitrogen from the soil in order to start decomposition.  But thereafter, it will supposedly do nothing but give back.

Sounds like a good plan to us!  So we decided to give it a try in the boys’ backyard garden bed.  We don’t have lots of spare topsoil just lying around everywhere, nor the desire to buy any, so we thought it would be a better use of what we do have to dig down into the ground and bury the wood with our own topsoil and subsoil.

We dug down a good 12-14 inches.  Then we laid in some of the branches that were too thick to go through the wood chipper.  Then we buried them.  This left us with basically an instant raised bed, as promised.  We used some of the bigger, straighter limbs from the tree to make an edging (not yet complete).  Otherwise the boys would truck that dirt all over the back yard before anything could be planted there.

After an afternoon of being (unnecessarily) compacted by a 22 month old in a Tonka truck pushed by a 4 year old.

Fortunately for us, we have plenty of nitrogen-rich compost, thanks to the chickens.  We mixed a bit of that in to compensate for the initial anticipated nitrogen loss/Tonka truck compaction.  Henry wants carrots, tomatoes and watermelon in his bed this year.  We’ll keep track and let you know how it goes!

Does anyone out there have experience with a hugelkultur?  What about deterrents for little boys and their ride-on toys?  ;)

About these ads
Categories: Garden, Hugelkultur, Simple Living, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

We Call it an Icebox

May 1st, we officially began our experiment.  We unplugged the fridge!  I was encouraged at how on-board Rick really was.  On Saturday night, he even made sure that we had jugs of water in the freezer, in order to be prepared for the first day using our freezer compartment as an icebox.

Yesterday was really only a half day with the new system.  I should have prepared better on Saturday by doing all the cleaning and stuff ahead of time, but I was distracted by trips to the garden center.  So, on Sunday morning, Rick cleaned out the freezer while I went to the grocery store.  When I got home, I cleaned out the fridge and we set up the new system in the former freezer compartment (what will from here on out be referred to as the icebox).  The actual unplugging took place around noon.

Here’s what the icebox looks like now.  This is our full week’s worth of refrigerated food, including two gallons of milk, a few condiments I wasn’t sure about leaving out, some leftover greens that we bought last week, and the eggs for my sister that were already in the fridge before.

I’ve done a little rearranging already, putting the less perishable items like carrots, in the door, and keeping the soft cheeses further back by the frozen water jugs.  Also, that container of left-overs on the very bottom left was promptly eaten by me after cleaning out the bottom of the fridge.  It was after lunch time and I was hungry!

I’ve actually had a hard time resisting the temptation to continually open the icebox to feel if things are cold in there, but I know keeping the door closed is crucial to the success of the experiment.  Rick has suggested getting a thermometer that we can keep in there so we won’t worry, and we’re going to experiment with different ice-jug configurations to make sure we’re making the best use of the space and coolness (is that a word??).  He also suggested that we keep the jugs on a towel or something, that way we won’t have to constantly be wiping down the interior of the icebox, since the jugs will probably sweat as they melt.  For someone who thinks I’m crazy, he seems awfully involved, huh?  I guess it’s not just me after all.

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Getting Ready to Unplug

I’m not crazy.  Really.  I’m not.  I just read a lot of green-type articles and blogs, and I think .  I think a lot.  When I mentioned my latest idea to Rick, he became very quiet.  You know, the kind of quiet where someone clearly thinks you’re off your rocker, but is trying to figure out how to say so and if it’s really true?

Perhaps it’s because he’s experienced with my “thinking episodes.”  He calls it a ‘wild hair,’ or my ‘latest project.’  But I know he hasn’t forgotten how those nagging little thoughts of mine plague me until I drag him and the rest of my family into some project or other that the rest of society at large would consider crazy.

Consider for example when I started thinking about chickens.  In our back yard.  In the city.  Or when I started thinking about bees.  BEES!  Now we have a coop, eight hens, and an empty bee hive waiting for a second try with a new swarm.

Then there was the time I started thinking about the microwave.  I’m pretty sure this is what Rick’s mind flashed to when I mentioned to him this latest “wild hair.”  You see, lately I’ve been thinking about our fridge.  I’ve I’ve thought about it a lot actually over the last few years.  Our fridge was here in our house when we moved in.  So we knew it was at least 8 years old… and recently, I can’t seem to stop thinking about how much energy it’s using.  As the appliance that consumes the most energy in American homes, the refrigerator, running 24/7, I have been concerned about all the kilowatts leaching out of our meter.

I called the manufacturer of our refrigerator, model and serial numbers in hand.  I was surprised to learn that our fridge was not as old as I thought.  Made in June of 2001.  But I was dismayed at the big 863 kWh that it was consuming.  New refrigerators of the same size and style are consuming less than half than that.  Ours is consuming more than the old 15 cubic foot chest freezer from 1984 in the garage – that consumes a whopping 601 kWh, nearly fifty-percent more than what a similar modern freezer consumes.  This seems like a big problem to me.

Initially I thought the solution to this problem would be for us to get a new fridge and a new freezer.  See that was my first thought (i.e. not crazy!!).  But we don’t really have the $600 to shell out for a new freezer, let alone $800-1400 for a new fridge.  Then I started paying attention to what our fridge was actually doing.  The freezer on top usually stores the frozen CSA veggies and random meats brought in from the chest freezer for the current week’s dinners.  The refrigerator only really contains our eggs, dairy, condiments, and an excess of greens and celery.  Sometimes there are left-overs in there for a day or two (max, we’re good left-over-eaters around here).  I defrost foods on the counter the day I need them.

In other words, we’re not really using much space in the fridge, and some of the things we have in there don’t really even need refrigeration.  Eggs are shelf stable for quite a long time, and in Europe, they are even sold on the grocery shelves unrefrigerated.  Many condiments are shelf stable as well, despite warnings to “refrigerate after opening.”   And, around our home, lots of them get used up way before they’d ever spoil in the cabinet (peanut butter and jelly, soy sauce or sesame oil, for example).  So my second thought was to look for a smaller fridge.  An apartment-sized or even a dorm-sized fridge.  But I found out that they consume a lot of energy as well.  Nearly what a large fridge consumes.  And they have a pretty hefty price tag, even on craigslist.

Now I was questioning what we really needed.  For basically just storing our milk, yogurt, half and half, and the occasional bowl of left-over noodles or extra head of kale, what did we need?  Do you see where I’m going here?

I’m thinking about going without a fridge.  Let me say it again, so you know it’s not a typo… I’m thinking about going without a fridge.

So you can see why I was surprised that Rick didn’t immediately pass out when I mentioned to him a few weeks ago that I’ve been thinking about the fridge.  I have to give him a lot of credit.  He silently listened to my idea.  I explained my idea, talking fast because I could hear the doubt oozing through his silence.  We have coolers and I had an idea about using the top freezer portion of the fridge as sort of an ice box.  His next question, an incredulous statement really, was “you really expect me to run out to the freezer during the freezing-cold winter to swap-out ice packs because you don’t want to use the fridge?”  but he had answered his own question.  In the winter it would be cold.  We could keep things outside the back door on the patio.

As what I was suggesting started to sink it, I think I heard a muttering or two of “my wife really is crazy” and a sort of stifled laugh.  But there was some weird resignation coming through the phone.  I broke the news to him while he was at work, you see.  Safer that way, I figured, and it would give the idea a little time to stew in his head before he got home and could really talk about it. I was afraid he’d dismiss the idea out of hand.

When he got home I had my argument all ready.  It would be an experiment.  For just a month.  One month.  And we’d keep the freezers.  And it wasn’t as if we couldn’t use refrigeration… the ice box idea was just a old-fashioned, lower energy form of that.  I promised that we’d only unplug the frige for now, and if it wasn’t working we could just plug it back in and bag the whole thing.  Rick asked surprisingly few questions.  He sort of shrugged.  I asked if he told his co-worker of my idea, and when he admitted that he had, he told me his coworker’s response was, “Do you encourage her?”  I think he must have confessed that he does, so he really didn’t have a lot of argument against it.

After a few minutes, he asked about the summer, when the CSA is in full force and we have more veggies than we know what to do with.  Won’t they all just wilt and go to waste without a fridge to keep them in?  I had thought about this and confessed I didn’t have a total solution… yet.  But my tentative plan was that since I wasn’t going to be working on the farm this year or driving an hour each way every week, I’d have six extra hours and a lot more energy on farm day to get veggies washed and put up properly before anything wilted.  We’d put the things we were going to save for the winter in the freezer the day they came into the house instead of waiting a day or two, and we could use coolers for the melons.  Rick eyed me suspiciously.  But he said I could try it in May if I wanted.  We’d tackle the summer if we decided to continue the experiment.

I have read a bit about going without a fridge in the past, and since deciding to embark on this project.  Proponents like Sharon Astyk and Greenpa give me a lot of hope.  I’ve read the arguments that Deanna at the Crunchy Chicken makes against unplugging the fridge too.  But I think that this really can work for us.  Sharon Astyk has a fairly simple system going that I plan to emulate.  No, we won’t be drinking gallons of milk in a single day.  We’re not the first to try something like this.  And if things work, we’ll probably unplug the fridge for good.  We’ll turn that space into a pantry area to store our canned goods, and we’ll save money for a new, energy-efficient freezer.

Crunchy asks if it’s cheating to use a freezer in your effort to not use a fridge, but the truth of it, at least in my eyes, is that it’s not.  I see them as two different tools.  (You really should read  all the comments on that thread, by the way – you might just get converted by Sharon & Greenpa).  Rick hunts and that is the greenest, healthiest, most organic and humane way to get meat.  Not to mention most economical.  But it would be a waste if we couldn’t freeze it.  The CSA share provides more local, organic veggies than we can eat in a summer.  But local fresh veggies are a rarity here during Colorado winters, and what ever you can find is usually very expensive.  So canning, drying and freezing summer’s excess is another economical, practical, and efficient way to eat well all winter.   And, sadly, even our very out-of-date freezer is running more efficiently than our less out-of-date fridge.

So, let the experiment begin.  I hope you follow along with me in May as we try unplugging the fridge.  If anyone out there has done something like this in the past I’d love to hear your experiences.

Categories: Food, Independence Days, Simple Living, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Gardening and Culture: Are Food Gardens Just for the Poor?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about gardening and different cultures in America.  As you know, I’ve been reading City Farmer by Lorraine Johnson.  In chapter two of the book, Johnson talks a lot about gardens at the White House.  Not only the one planted by Michelle Obama in 2009 in response to the Eat the View petition, but the also the many various gardens planted there throughout the history of the White House, both for the pleasure of the first family and for patriotism.  Despite many people’s view that the Obama’s garden is just another exercise in “green-washing” (especially since the President seems to be alright with living in Monsanto’s back pocket), the first lady’s organic garden does seem to be having a positive effect.  People are asking how they can do it too.  It gives a little ammunition against HOA’s that prevent vegetable gardens, and inspires many people for whom garden would not otherwise be on their radar.

But why would home owners associations ban vegetable gardens to begin with?  I wonder that a lot.  A few years back as we were digging into our own earth, setting up our first compost bins, and telling people we had chickens in our back yard, we got a lot of funny looks.  Urban homesteading was still a relatively unknown concept around these parts (to my mind anyway), and although a lot of people thought what we were doing was cool, most people felt they couldn’t do it themselves.  One friend exclaimed “You can have a garden in the city?!”  It was our turn to be shocked.  Granted, this friend lived in a suburb with strict HOA regulations, and they might not have been allowed to do the same, but our response was, “Sure, you can grow food wherever there is dirt.” So with some people, particularly in our generation, possibly there is just a level of ignorance that is dissipating over time with this issue.

But another friend’s response made me wonder if there is more at work, keeping some people from getting that compost under their fingernails.  In the midst of all our learning a few years back I had a friend that would constantly tell me to my face how great she thought everything we were doing was, and even ask me for advice about things.  She even got to the point where she bought a huge, expensive composter and a couple cherry tomato plants for her back yard.  But I found out that all the while, she assumed that we did the things we did because we were “poor.”

This friend lived in a big, expensive house in a new sub-division on the outskirts of metro-civilazation.  She had a Starbucks allowance, a shiny new SUV, a son in Montessori school and her hair and nails were always done.  Erica at NWEdible would call her a YuppieHippie.  That’s just not the way I roll.  I get my hair done when I can no longer stand it anymore (maybe every 6 months?), our SUV is going on 12 years old, is used to haul compost and roadkill and just rolled 140k on the odometer.  And the house is small.  These are all the same for me now as they were when Rick and I had two incomes.  And we were gardening then too.  So I was shocked to say the least about her assumption.  Also, gardening and chicken coop building is not always cheap.  Our CSA share and buying whole, locally raised, organic hogs and beef certainly weren’t either.

I generally think of gardening and self-sustainability as something that informed and educated people do.  I think about cities in the Northwest with bike lanes and wind power and wish our state would catch up.  I think about solar panels and how much they cost and what they’d save.  I guess I viewed urban homesteading as something that you don’t do because you’re poor and have no other choice, but as something you do because you want to make a better choice.

Not that we were rolling in the dough.  Far from it.  There have been some pretty lean months in the last five years for us.  But… hadn’t my friend just bought that $400 compost bin?  Certainly she had to know this is not just for the poor, right?  This made me think.  Why would she assume we were poor (well besides the roadkill ;) )?

Johnson addresses this in her book as well.  As many families immigrated to the U.S., they brought seeds and gardening knowledge with them.  They planted their gardens where they lived and kept up with the old ways, unaffected by social status and motivated to provide good, fresh food for their family.  But their children, who were likely looked at as poor, being recent immigrants, were quick to dump the old ways and buy their food from the supermarkets.  In many minds, growing your own food was a sign or symbol of not having the means to buy the same things.

I generally picture people immigrating in centuries past.  In Colorado, while we have plenty of immigrants from Mexico and other places, I tend to think about immigration in terms of Ellis Island and my husband’s great-grandparents from Slovakia.  His great-grandfather coming to America ten years before this great-grandmother, saving his hard-earned money to get her and their children here.  It would never occur to me to think of modern-day immigrants in this way.  But in some places, California for example, there are many hispanic families that have lived in the U.S. for generations as well as many recently immigrated Mexican families.  And their culture is extremely different.  My mom’s husband, though born in San Diego, is often mistaken for a Mexican, to the point where he carries his passport and all his i.d. when visiting his family in California, so he’s not taken for an immigrant or an illegal.

As I sat and thought about my friend’s view of our choices, I realized that she is from a state that is still flush with recent immigrants.  And it’s likely that she was brought up seeing the immigrant families planting gardens, while her family never did.  And the truth of the matter is that many immigrant families are poor when they get here.  Perhaps many of the HOAs in those new, expensive sub-divisions are set up just to keep the images of the poor, front yard veggie gardens separated from the green, water guzzling postage-stamp lawns that symbolize American success.

Have you experienced this?  Do you or did you view gardening and self-sustainability as a sign of status or culture?  Has anyone made assumptions about your choices based on their views?  Is gardening cultural?  Does your perception of the culture or status of gardening affect your own efforts towards sustainability?  What about HOAs – do you live where one restricts your ability to garden?  Should they have the right to do this?

Categories: Community, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

Why I Blog and How I Became an Urban Homesteader

Four years ago, at the beginning of March, I started this blog.  At first I began tentatively, not sure who would ever read what I had to say, unsure of if I even had anything to say at all.  Unsure of what my blog was about (I hadn’t even really read other blogs), I titled it “Journeys and Adventures” and just sort of typed whatever came to mind, the latest happenings in our lives, reviews of articles I read or documentaries I watched.

I quickly noticed a theme.  I wanted to be a farmer.  But I lived (live!) in a city.  During my first month of writing I covered the garden or buying our first chicks in at least every-other post.  I did not know anything about “urban homesteading” or that people called themselves this or that other people we like me at all – playing farmer on little patches of earth, where ever their feet had landed them in life.

There were lots of Monday morning posts chronicling the progress of our garden over the weekend or the construction of our chicken coop.  And I began to understand that this was therapy – the gardening, the chickens, and the writing about it.  I took more pictures, I squeezed more into the dirt we had.  I found more dirt and eeked out more spaces to grow things.  I dreamed of a bee hive.  But this space remained a sort or personal journal.

One day, as Rick was reading, he asked why I didn’t make the blog public, since only friends and family had access to it at this point.  I thought about it for a while and decided I was afraid to put myself out in the open to any and everyone.  But he encouraged me to do it, convinced that people would like what I had to say, and enjoy reading about our crazy adventures in playing at urban farming.  So I did, and I decided to change the name of the blog too, so that it would reflect more of what it was now about.

I thought about the name change for a long time, mulling over terms like green, dirt, crunchy, city, suburbs, farming, etc.  Through lots of reading, I discovered the term urban homesteading and found it described what we were doing.  I still thought we virtually were alone in doing it, but I knew the phrase was the right one for our family and our journey.

A search engine led a writer for the Denver Post to my blog, and he contacted me, wanting an interview for a story he was doing on urban homesteaders.  Because I was skeptical (hey! I didn’t know this guy), I refused to be interviewed without Rick home, so I missed my chance.  Timing was off and he couldn’t come on the day Rick could be here.  But I was so excited when the article came out.  I discovered we were NOT alone.  There were people in my own neighborhood doing this.  People all over Denver!

Now look:

There is a reason I’m taking the time to write this trip down memory lane.  It’s not because it was my blog-iversary. It’s because today is the third Day of Action for Urban Homesteaders across the internet.

Back in February of this year the Dervaes family of Pasadena, CA trademarked the terms “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.”  I am not linking to who the Dervaes family is, but in short, they are a father and three grown children growing lots of food in a small area in California.  They are a family church, with the father being the pastor and to my knowledge, the children are the members.  A church of what is pretty unclear.  From what little I know of them, they’ve done a lot with their space and many in the urban homesteading community admired them.  I never really read much about them until now.

So the big deal?  They sent out cease and desist letters to bloggers, businesses and organizations (even a library) who were using the two trademarked terms.  They want credit with links every time the phrases are typed.  I’ve seen the letters.  They sent one to Denver Urban Homesteading, our local indoor farmers market, and had their Facebook page (and main marketing tool) shut down.  Problem is they don’t have the legal grounds to do this.  They didn’t invent the phrases, nor were they the first to use them.  And their trademark does not give them the right to restrict the use of the English language in the way they claim.  I know this because I know the owner of Denver Urban Homesteading.  James, the person I worked with on Denver’s inaugural chicken coop tour (with the Denver Botanic Garden’s) last year, and the one I helped to make the Free the Chickens video with, also just happens to be a lawyer.  Apparently the Derveas picked on the wrong homesteader.

Bloggers and urban homesteaders across the country have been outraged by the actions of people who were supposed to be leaders within our community.  A Facebook page was created and quickly grew to over 6000 fans supporting the canceling of the trademarks and begging the Dervaes family to, at the very least, help us understand.  There have even been claims that the Dervaes’ are plagiarizing others‘ work (some of it used to support their claim to the trademarked phrases?).  But the D-family closed all the comments on their many blogs.  They temporarily took down their facebook page.  They refused to answer email and letters.  The only communication was denial of any wrong doing and to claim they were being persecuted, they were under attack.  They did not (and still don’t) approve of the fact their letters were put out in the open.  A quick Google search will lead you to the letter if you want to read it.

Through all of this, over the last month-plus, I’ve stayed silent.  All this uproar literally struck fear into my heart.  I called my mom, nearly in tears.  I told my BFF.  I temporarily changed my blog name.  I followed fellow bloggers as they posted and united in two previous Days of Action (read my favorite post on all of this here, from Northwest Edible Life).  But I was afraid.  This blog holds my heart.  Like I said it is my therapy.  And it’s my personal journal.  And it holds videos of my boys’ first steps and first words.  I don’t want to loose any of it.  Not over words.

But I’ve collected my thoughts.  I’ve decided I can’t be silent because all of this is too important to me.

So, today, on this Urban Homesteader’s third Day of Action, I’m asking for your help.  Please go to Change.org and sign the online petition to Cancel Trademarks on Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading.

This petition is addressed to Jules Dervaes, and despite fears that he won’t listen to this community, the petition can be used to help support our cause in other ways.  It is a petition, a protest, and a plea to the Dervaes family.  Whether or not they listen, legal actions are also being taken.  Because like all the others, I too, am an Urban Homesteader.  Thanks.

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Food, Garden, Independence Days, Simple Living, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Cleaning Up the Toilet

Around this place we are always taking steps, some big and some small, to try to live greener.  We have an old house, build in 1925.  I’m not sure when the plumbing was redone, but our toilet seems newish – for a house built in 1925.  It’s a normal toilet, 1.6 gallons per flush (average, now days, I think), no dual flush or anything fancy.

In a small effort to conserve water we have, in the past, put a brick in the tank, but this resulted in the toilet not having enough oomph to flush when it was really needed.  We took the brick out.  Then we tried the “when it’s yellow, let it mellow, when it’s brown, flush it down” method of saving water.  But this resulted in much more toilet cleaning.  Either because we have super-pee or because of Colorado’s hard water.  But we were getting a dark ring in the toilet that way, so we’ve nearly abandoned it, except first thing in the morning and last whiz before bed, when Rick and I will both go before we flush.

Now we’re considering collecting grey water from the shower and the boys’ baths to use to flush.  Our shower-head for sure wastes a lot of water, and the bath faucet drips while the shower is going, so I think we could easily put a dish pan or bucket in the shower and collect enough water for the day’s toileting.  Then when we went, we’d just dump the water from the tub into the pot and watch it go down.  At least that water would get “used” twice. I’ve never tried this, but it seems good in theory.

Or we could, eventually, spring for a fancy dual-flush toilet.  But then we have to figure out what to do with the old one – recycle it?  And really a new toilet is not in the budget and is pretty far down on the list of things that need replacement or repairs in this place. Or they make conversion kits but I heard they don’t work well and they cost nearly as much as a new pot.

Any advice or ideas?  Have you ever tried using grey water to flush?  What do you do to conserve water in the bathroom?

Categories: Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

DIY Pallet Compost Bin

This weekend Rick and I decided to move our compost bin.  Rick built it last year out of seven pallets he was able to scavenge.  I looked through all my old photos and posts and can only find a few random pictures with it in the background and no photos of its construction.  But that’s ok, because it wasn’t that great.

I mean it worked, we had two full wheel barrows full of compost (we put it in the neighbor’s garden), but the bin was poorly located, and too hard to move.  First off, we put it too close to the house.  It was really convenient for taking compost scraps to the bins from the kitchen, but it did attract some mice which wanted to move right in next door (in our house) when the weather turned chilly.

Basically the old bin was a two-bin system.  One side held compost that was almost ready and we added scraps to the other side.  Two of the pallets were hinged so we could open the bins and rotate things around as needed, but the whole thing was a bit unsteady and just awkward.  Here’s the best picture of it that I could find (that’s our neighbor, Haylee, in front of it helping Henry with his garden last spring).  See the vertical boards back there?

So when we tried to move it, it was all wobbly and heavy and kinda… well, you get the idea.  We decided we needed something better.  We built the bin Sunday afternoon reusing some of the same pallets and some scraps of lumber we had in the garage.  The new bin, with horizontal side boards, is in the chicken yard where they can have easy access to the goodies it will contain, and if it attracts mice, the chickens will take care of those for us too.  We’ll most likely build a second bin next to this one, as it was really easy (and we also generate too much yard waste for just one bin).

Here’s what we came up with, along with a “How-To” incase you want/need to build your own.

The design is based on a New Zealand Hot Box, modified to reuse the pallets we already had.  It’s roughly 3 feet high and about 4 feet square.  The size is, of course, dependent on the pallets you have.

Materials Needed:

  • (3) pallets in decent shape. Try to find ones with the top deckboards closer together, not further apart.
  • (4) 3′-6″ 2×2″ pieces of lumber.  We ripped a leftover cedar 4×4 post into fourths lengthwise.
  • At least (18) screws
  • (6) 1×6″ boards, approx. 4′ long each.  We had leftover fence pickets this size.  You could use (9) 1×4’s instead.
  • a saw, claw hammer, drill, measuring tape, sledge-hammer and helper

Directions:

Photo A

  • Use a hammer to knock the bottom deckboards off of the pallets.  Click on Photo A to see labeled parts of the pallet.
  • You may also have to saw the center projection of the runner boards off on the sides of the pallet that will become the back of the bin.
  • Using the saw, cut the ends of the 2×2″ stakes into a point.  These will be driven into the ground.  Two stakes will be used as corner stakes in the rear.  The other two will support the sides and make slots for the front boards.  See Photo B.
  • Photo D

    Photo C

    Measure the length of the pallet you plan to use for the rear of the bin.  With a helper drive a stake into the ground about 6 inches on each side of the rear. The stakes should be on the outside edge of the pallet.  Screw the rear pallet’s runners to the stakes (Photo C).  The wood on the pallets we used was quite hard, so we had to drill pilot holes first.

  • Have your helper hold the one side pallet in place while you measure and drive in the front support stake, making sure the side pallet is square to the rear.  The front support stake should be inside the pallet, butted up against the top deckboards and about 1 to 1½ inches from the runner that will be the front of the bin (Photo D).  Screw the side pallet’s runner to the back corner stake (again the rear stake should be on the outside edge of the pallet).  Repeat with the other side, making sure it is also square to the rear.
  • Photo E

    Finally measure the distance between the two side pallets.  This will be the length you will need to cut the 1×6″ boards into the removable front slats.  Fill your bin with compost and slide the slats into the slot created between the front support stakes and the front runners on the side pallets (Photo E).  These slats can be removed when you want to turn the pile or use your compost.  These bins are easy to make and if you want a second or third bin to rotate your compost, it would be very easy to build additional bins adjacent to the first.

To see more of my Do-It-Yourself projects click the DIY category on the right.

Categories: Compost, DIY, Garden, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

Saying No to GMO

So we finally got our seeds ordered this week for the garden.  I’m excited, since it means spring is around the corner.  And, because it’s the first time we’ve ordered seeds.  We usually go to the local garden center, but their selection of organic, non-GMO seeds has been pretty limited in the last few years.  And beyond organic, non-GMO is very important to us.

There has been a lot of buzz recently about GMOs.  President Obama approved Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, Round Up Ready sugar beets and a new biotech corn for ethanol production.  This is sad and scary news for all of us. Many of my readers know about GMOs and why they would want to avoid them, but I know there are quite a few people who don’t know anything about this issue.  So I thought I’d shed some light and share my knowledge of the subject, which contributes to the reasons for many of our own food choices.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and companies like Monsanto have produced and patented these organisms, mainly seeds.  The seeds have been genetically modified to be able to withstand harsh herbicides like Round Up, so that fields can be sprayed with the chemicals which will then kill the weeds but not the crop.  Sounds like a plan, right.  Except they are seeds.

Let’s set aside the health effects of eating foods and food products made with these GMOs for just a minute and look at the idea of patented seeds.   Currently there are patents on certain GMO grain crops like corn, canola, and soy.  Think for a minute what that means – when these crops grow up, mother nature does to these seeds what she does to all seeds – throws them to the wind, feeds them to the birds, and mice, and squirrels.  She doesn’t know these seeds are patented.

So Farmer A is growing patented GMO corn.  And when his corn is ripe, a few birds come and pick at his corn, eating some.  And they fly a few miles away, and poop out the seeds.  Seeds that have been genetically modified, and those modification carry through the generation of seeds.  But they poop on Farmer B’s land, he doesn’t know, and he hasn’t paid for GMO seeds.

The next spring, Farmer B tills his land and plants his non-GMO crop of corn from seeds he saved for generations.  But those seeds the birds pooped out spring up too.  The company that Farmer A uses to get his corn from, knows Farmer B is down the road.  So they send out someone to take a sample of  Farmer B’s crop (without his permission) and sure enough, his crop turns up as GM positive – their genetically modified corn is growing right there, in his field.  He didn’t buy it from them – he must have stolen it.  And then they sue the pants off Farmer B and win because they own the rights to that seed – to that genetic strain- and he literally loses the farm.  Farmer A is not allowed to save seed, and Farmer B can’t steal it.  The company owns all rights to that seed and it’s future generations.

This is not far-fetched.  It’s happening today, in America.  The problem with patented seeds is that we humans can’t control everything.  Wind and birds and all of nature happens.  For more info on this check out fooddemocracynow.org or watch the documentary, The Future of Food.

So back to health, and how this affects you, the consumer, the eater.  Well, you can just read labels, right?  No.  Sorry.  The USDA and FDA doesn’t require that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such.  You’ve probably been eating GMOs for a long time now.  But it’s not like you sit around munching nothing but corn all day, right?  Well maybe, or maybe not.  In this case, you can check the label – corn and soy are in everything these days.  Really.

According to the USDA, in 2009, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 90% of canola grown is GMO, and there are also commercially produced GM varieties of sugar beets, squash and Hawaiian Papaya. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store.*

GMOs are used to feed cattle, to make soda, in your cereal, your bread… you name it.  If it has high fructose corn syrup (and many other ingredients I can’t type or pronounce) it’s made from corn.  So a fast food meal – the burger, the coke, the fries cooked in canola oil, all corn and probably all GMO at that.

With Obama’s recent approval of alfalfa and sugar beets, two crops along with corn, that feed the majority of America’s commercially produced meat animals, we are in for more trouble.  And try keeping alfalfa seeds contained in a Kansas windstorm.  Yikes!

Ok, ok, they are hard to avoid, right.  But are GMOs safe?  Well the Non-GMO Project web site states:

In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale.

A few independent studies have been done on the subject.  Generally independent studies have been blocked by Monsanto and other producers of GMOs, but what has been found leads to questions over GMO safety.  Here’s a link studying  The Effects of Diets containing GM potatoes on Rats done in 1999, as well as an article siting many more recent studies that have been done.

It is possible to avoid GMOs, but it takes some research and planning and sometimes giving up a favorite snack.  Especially helpful is the True Food Shoppers Guide (a download-able iPhone app or printable guide).

Here is an article that I found very helpful as well, concerning ways to avoid GMO foods.  “Making My Family GO GMO Free”.  One of the simplest steps is to buy organic, or direct from a local farmer, whom you can ask what he’s growing.  You can also look for labels certifying that products are GMO free.

A while back I was told that the PLU codes on produce were used to indicate organic, conventional and GMO foods, however this is not exactly true, since using the five digit codes are optional.  (see PLU Codes Don’t Indicate GMO Produce and The Myth of PLU Codes and GMO Foods).

If you grow your own garden, like us, please be aware that Monsanto recently purchased a number of seed companies, so you’ll want to know what to look for when buying the seeds you’ll use this spring.  I found this resource most helpful: http://inspirationgreen.com/

I know this post is a bit preachy for me – but it’s a subject that I’ve been very concerned about for a while, and I couldn’t think how to share this info another way.  I hope you look further into this subject and take action (write a letter or sign a petition to help ban GMOs in America).

For more ways to take action go to:

http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/  and
http://www.nongmoproject.org/
Also check out http://truefoodnow.org/

*from http://www.nongmoproject.org/
Categories: Community, Food, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Proudly powered by WordPress Theme: Adventure Journal by Contexture International.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,425 other followers

%d bloggers like this: