Posts Tagged With: Green

Tips for Using Your Push Mower

I realize that in some parts of the country, there is still snow on the ground.  Down here in central Texas, though, I just finished mowing the lawn for the second time.  Whew!  I’m grateful that our backyard here is modest, since even this “mild” spring weather is hot to me.

Here are some tips in case you are new to using a push-reel mower and finding it difficult.

Push mower

1. Clean the yard first.  Our power mower could chop up sticks, but twigs will get caught in the reel of the push mower, bringing you to a stop and you’ll have to reverse the blades to get it out before you continue mowing.  Frequent starts and stops require a lot more energy than maintaining momentum.  A few minutes spent looking for sticks and rocks and small kids’ toys, anything that might get caught in the mower’s blades, and removing them from the grass before you get started is time well spent.

2.  Set your blades higher.  Longer grass uses less water, and higher blades will promote that, taking just a little off the top.  If you cut the grass shorter, it might need more passes of the mower, which can double (or more) the time you spend mowing.

3.  Mow more often.  While longer grass is good for water conservation, let it get too long and you’ll have trouble getting the push mower through it at all.  This is especially true of thick lawns or lawns with hills.  Our new lawn has a bit of a rise in one area and that grass is harder to mow.  If we were to “let it go” it would be very difficult to cut with the push mower.

4.  Use a trimmer for the edges.  I’ve had a  hard time getting the push mower to do a good job cutting the grass at the edges of the lawn where it meets with the fence or the patio.  Instead of struggling over those areas over and over, I just mow as close as I can and then clean up the edges with the trimmer.

5.  Mow in sections.  Our front yard here is about the same size as it was in Colorado, but the grass here is thick and harder to get the mower through.  It makes the job tough for me in the heat (I know!  Wimpy Colorado girl in Texas!).  Instead of sweating my way through the whole job at once, I break it into two or three more manageable chunks.  The mower is lightweight so it’s no big deal to walk it back to the backyard while I take a break, get a drink or water my garlic.  Then after I’m refreshed, I take on the next section of lawn.  I can still get the job done, both front and back yards, in under an hour including the breaks.

About these ads
Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thrifty Thursday: DIY Swiffer Cloths

We have hard flooring throughout our house here.  Tile in the kitchen and bath and wood floors everywhere else.  There is a great tool for keeping those floors clean, most of you know it; the Swiffer.  But those Swiffer cloths get expensive.

My solution: mirco-fiber towels.  I have a couple of micro-fiber towels that will fit perfectly onto the head of my Swiffer.

And when I need to spot clean something with a mop?  I just get the cloth wet, wring it out and poof! – a Swiffer wet mop.

Micro Fiber Cloth

Go forth and attack your dust bunnies!

Categories: DIY, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

What to Expect from the Lazy Homesteader in 2013

I’ve thought pretty hard about the “resolutions” I want to share on the blog for this year.  I’ve had a hard time thinking of specific goals, and I’m not really into the “lose twenty pounds” type of resolutions.  I’ve decided that instead of goals I wanted to focus on some themes that are both personal to me and yet very applicable to the homesteading way of life.

This year, you can expect to see posts (hopefully weekly, realistically a couple of times a month) having to do with one or two of the following themes.

Rick hikng with C on his backCommunity – In 2012, I established a monthly potluck to help build community.  I made some new friends and built connections.  In 2013 I want to do this more.  I want more connection, more real relationships.  I have realized that no one can live this life alone.  We need each other and I want more of it.  I have a challenge in mind for this theme this year.  I’m excited about it, though it’s going to be a tough one.

Preparedness – Colorado had the worst wild-fire of all time in 2012.  There were hurricanes on the East coast.  For much of the country, there were record heat waves and drought.  Across the country there were poor harvest and food prices are on the rise.  I’m not a panicky or prepper or anything like that, but I have started thinking about the benefits of being prepared in a real emergency.

Thrift – Expect to see more DIY posts this year.  From homemade to making-do to doing without, I plan to share more thrifty ideas this year.

Food Connections – This is the thing that sent me down the homesteading path all those years ago; being connected to our food.  I have plans to share about sustainable food sources, processing your own meat (including wild game and hunting), and of course the garden.  This year I am going to explore as many aspects of food connection as I can.  I hope to close some of the gaps we’ve had in our own food sources as well.

Grace – This year I plan to go easier on myself.  You guys know I love a crazy goal.  But I also need a little more balance, and my kids certainly need a sane mommy.  So I plan to cut myself a little slack this year.  I’ve realized that this journey to being green and crunchy and self-sufficient is just that, a journey.  I don’t have to do it all at once.  It’s ok to take small steps and find what is feasible for our family.  I’m not throwing the baby out with the grey water or anything, but I am going to focus more on things like simplicity, peace, and well, the categories mentioned above.  :)

I’m really looking forward to 2013 and what it will bring.  And I’m excited to share our homestead with you as always.

Categories: Community, DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pros and Cons of a Push-Reel Mower

Like many people around the country last week, we mowed our lawn for the first time this season.  The difference between us and our neighbors, however, is I talked on the phone while I did it.

We have a push-reel mower.

Last summer, I sold my husband’s shiny, red, super-charged, front-wheel-drive, 9 billion horsepower, mulching power mower for this little green machine powered by ye ole chevrolegs.

Now I love this thing, and truth be told, Rick hates it.  He teases me all the time about how I’m saving approximately 6 gallons of gas a year.  If that.  And, pretty much, he leaves the mowing to me now, where before it used to be solely his domain.  I think he’s embarrassed.  But I like it anyway.

In case you have been considering getting one yourself, here are the pros and cons (yes, there are some) of a push-reel mower…

The top five things I love about the push-reel mower:

  1. It’s quiet.  I really did talk on the phone while I was mowing the lawn last week.  My mom asked me, what that sound was, and I said, “Oh, I’m mowing the lawn.”  Then we both laughed.  I was talking on the phone while mowing the lawn.  Preposterous!  I could mow at six in the morning or ten at night and the neighbors would never know.  It’s the stealth mower.  I actually like the sound it makes.
  2. It uses no fuel or oil and takes little to no maintenance.  By the time my neighbor is done checking his oil and fuel and pumping and priming, reconnecting the spark plug and whatever else, I’m ¾ the way done mowing my lawn.  One time, no joke, with the old power mower I stood outside for like 15 minutes trying to start the thing before I realized the spark plug was disconnected (hubby did this for safety’s sake).  The neighbor had to come over and point it out. 
  3. It’s lightweight.  All the power it uses comes from your legs and arms pushing this machine; it’s easy to maneuver and I can easily lift it up the couple of steps to our front yard and takes up very little space in the garage.  With the old machine, I could barely get it up the steps, and had to go up all backwards and strategic.  It was super heavy and could chop off my arm – the little label on the side said so.
  4. There is NO string pulling to start it up.
  5. There is no exhaust.  No stinky fumes makes me feel all green and hip and environmentally conscious.  And also the lack of fumes keeps me from feeling sick.  I know six gallons (or whatever) of gas per year is not much, but I don’t mind mowing the lawn now, because I don’t get a headache from the noise/fume combo.

Five things I don’t love:

  1. You can’t mow over sticks.  The power mower mulched and could chop up a stick or a twig that had fallen from the tree in the front yard, but the push mower can’t.  I send the boys out in the yard before I mow with the mission to pick up all the sticks.  If I accidentally mow over a stick, I have to stop to get it out of the mower, because it will jam the blades.
  2. Sharpening the blades will be a challenge.  Not many places know how to sharpen the blades of a push-reel mower anymore, and those who do charge a lot for it – almost as much as the mower cost.  Since the blades will stay sharp a long time though, we at least have a while to learn how to do it ourselves.
  3. It doesn’t always get every piece of grass in one pass.  Because of this, it is really important to overlap or mow two ways.  Otherwise your lawn looks like it’s received a haircut from a barber half in the bag.
  4. The neighbors look at us funny.  When I first bought the mower, I thought people would think we were so cool – all hip and eco-friendly.  Turns out, they either think we are crazy or too poor for a “real” mower.  Hmm… this must be why Rick is embarrassed to use it.
  5. You can’t be a lazy lawn keeper.  If your grass gets too long, the push mower is a real bear to use.  In fact, there was a time last summer, when we first got the mower, that we had to borrow our neighbor’s power mower because we had waited a couple of weeks too long to mow and the push mower, literally, couldn’t cut it.  Lesson learned.

I feel like the push mower and the power mower take about the same amount of physical effort to use.  The push mower is all pushing, which isn’t that much work (hey if I can handle that giant cart thingy at Target I can handle the mower).  The power mower took more effort for me in the starting, holding down the lever thing, and then holding it back from running my flowers down (since it pulled itself).  I think the trade-off of putting the kids on stick patrol and enduring funny looks is a pretty good one.  Plus, I can catch up with my mom on the phone while I’m at it.  ;)

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Remedial Composting

When I did my composting boot camp posts we were under a few feet of snow here in Denver.  I was unable to get outside and get any useful pictures of the compost bin in progress for you.  But over the last two weekends, mother nature has been much more cooperative.  We were able to get out to the bins, and coupled with the spring garden cleaning we did, we had plenty of stuff to add to it.

Both bins were pretty full.  The bin on the right had been covered, and I was hoping that it would be full of finished compost, ready to go.

Instead, it was nearly done.  But there were a lot of sticks and twigs in it from the tree last summer that hadn’t broken down yet.  Rick raked it all out of the bin, while Henry and I collected as many sticks as we could.  The plan is to power compost this stuff so it’ll be ready to go into beds by April or early May.

Here is a close up of that almost ready compost:

It looked pretty good, but there were still a lot of big pieces that I wanted to get broken down before we put it in the garden.

The left side of the bin is where we added our kitchen scraps all winter, fall garden materials and sod this spring that we removed from the edges of our flower and herb beds where it was encroaching.  We didn’t turn the pile over the winter at all, and it had many fabulous layers.

See all that beautiful finished compost at the bottom?  That is what I want!  But there is an awful lot of other stuff on top of it.  So we used the now empty bin on the right side to mix up the stuff on the left side all the way down to the finished stuff, which we will keep separate.

We started moving it over…

Not pictured is a bunch of dried grass and leaves and yard clippings that will get mixed in with the layers.  It’s off to the left of the frame.  We had more stuff than we could immediately fit into the bins without doing this process first.

So we tossed part of that top layer of grass and sod into the empty bin on the right, and part of it got tossed in front of the bin, so we could mix in other layers too.  As we moved layers over, we had H grab big armfuls of dry leaves and dry grass to mix in with the stuff coming from the left bin.

As the right-hand-side pile grew, we put the front boards back in to keep it contained.

We watered the pile with the hose as we went.  Remember, it takes water, air, carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) to make a great compost pile.  It was a hot day and the week was supposed to be plenty hot, so I wasn’t worried about making it too wet.

Where the layers were already very wet from the winter snows, we added lots of dry stuff.  If anything was too big, we tried to break it up as well.  The layer from last year’s garden was pretty wet, so it was good to mix in some dry brown material as we went. We were trying to balance it out. 

Also as we got to the middle layers we mixed in some of that first stuff that went over the side of the bin.  The idea it to get it somewhat uniform, so it all rots together, as opposed to the layers we originally had.

You never know what you’ll find in your compost bin.  I found this perfectly grown beet with a weird, crunchy, light-starved top.  It grew somewhere, way down in the pile.

We continued layering and watering and mixing and putting the boards of the compost bin back up until we had reached that finished compost down at the bottom of the left bin.  Then we pulled all that great, finished compost out of the bottom of the bin.

Now we had two piles.  Finished compost on the left, nearly finished compost on the right, and an empty bin.

We could use all that compost on the left, but I really didn’t have a place ready for it yet.  I decided to layer it back in with the nearly done stuff on the right with some of the top soil that we had from the bed edging.

Rick and I grabbed shovels and tossed both piles into the empty bin.

We watered it and then covered it with heavy black plastic. Over the next few weeks, it should cook down to great, useable compost ready to feed this springs’ gardens.

We did all of this work on the 11th.  I’ve checked the left-hand bin pretty regularly. Some days I uncover it and watered it; I’ve mixed it again once with a rake and my hands (so I could feel how wet and warm it was/wasn’t) since then already.  I want to keep it hot and damp, but not too wet.  Like a wrung out sponge or chocolate cake.  We’ve been adding our kitchen scraps and other yard waste to the bin on the right.

That is what composting looks like in action… the down and dirty work of spring cleaning.  ;)

Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

Green Cleaners in the Kitchen

The kitchen is the urban homestead’s work horse.  And boy do I ever give my old porcelain sink a workout.  It gets pretty stained and dingy and needs a good deep cleaning every week.  Like the bathroom, I basically use white vinegar and baking soda to get the job done.

I start by rinsing the sink, and then I sprinkle baking soda in (again, like many people use Comet).  I drink coffee and my sink gets easily stained.  I grab a sponge and start scrubbing.  Baking soda is actually pretty abrasive and it cuts odors.  Just a little water on your sponge makes this pretty effective.

After the scrub down, I rinse the sink again, plug it and pour in a little white vinegar to take care of any staining that I couldn’t get with the baking soda.  I leave it to soak there while I take care of the back of the sink.  I use a butter knife wrapped in a dishcloth with a little baking soda to get the edges and hard to reach places.

Or for areas that need more muscle, I use a knife/sponge combo.  Like the crack between the sink and the wall, under the window sill.  It’s impossible to get my hand back there – the butter knife does the trick.

By the time I’m done with all of that, the vinegar has done its job in the sink.  So I drain it and move on to the rest of the kitchen.

I use baking soda to scrub my stove top, and dish soap that cuts grease to clean the back of the stove and the toaster oven.  For the counters I have vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle that I spray over all the counters, let sit for a bit and then wipe off.

But recently, I had a stain on my counter that white vinegar couldn’t take care of.  Bleach didn’t cut it either.  It was rust from our cast iron griddle.  What got it finally was lemon juice.

Lemons are powerful.  They can cook shrimp or fish in their juice, they kill germs and bacteria, and the are amazing bleaching agents.  I have proof.  First I squeezed a bit of juice on the stain and rubbed it around.  Then I let it sit for a couple minutes.

I was afraid it wasn’t working.  I sprinkled on some baking soda.  Salt would have been better but I already had the soda out.  It made it all fizzy, and probably neutralized the acid a bit, but I wanted its scrubbing power and figured it had set there, full strength long enough.

So I scrubbed it, and scrubbed it.  And…. it worked.

Then I threw the old, dead, juice-less lemon into the garbage disposal and ran it with water to make it smell nice.  Kitchen cleaned.

What do you use to clean your kitchen?

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Green Cleaners in the Bathroom

This week’s boot camp is about green cleaners.  Lots of urban homesteaders are into doing things with less chemicals, more frugally, and more self-reliance.  Using or making some green cleaners around the house is a great skill to add to the homesteading arsenal.

The thing is, I don’t really use any cleaners in the house.  I use good old baking soda and white vinegar, and lemon juice.  And I think these have been talked about an awful lot on the internet already.  So while I can wax on about how effective these normal household items are to clean with, I am not sure I have much new information to offer as far as ingredients go.  Here it is, none the less.

I can tell you that these things really do work in Colorado where the water is hard and full of minerals that build up on everything.  Like my shower head, all covered in calcium build-up (or is that lime scale? or…  ??):

To get that puppy clean, first I tried just straight up vinegar with a grout brush.  Which did a pretty good job.

But I kind of needed something that would stick a bit better so that the vinegar could sit and work at it for me.  I’m all for scrubbing if it means I don’t have to use CLR, but if I can not scrub, that’s even better.  So I mixed some vinegar with some corn starch.  And poured the gloopy paste all over the shower head.  And then, while I let that sit, I used some on the tub faucet that is always sticking and tough to pull the shower lever thingy on (wow – the technical terms in this post are astounding).  Then, after I got impatient, I rinsed the shower head off… pretty good, eh?

It’s not perfect or anything, and probably if I had been a little more patient, it would have been, but I think it was decent. What’s even better is the mix worked on the tub faucet puller thing.

On to the rest of the bathroom!  Here is what I use:

Like the package says, there are hundreds of uses for baking soda.  That’s why I have a huge bag of it.  In the bathroom, I use it like most people use Comet.  I use it to scrub down the sink and tiles and tub.  And it works.

So what about the throne?  Well, lots of homesteaders are either into saving water or have male persons in the house.  Or both.  And so the toilet often gets stained from letting the yellow mellow.  And in our house, that hard water alone can leave a ring.  The best cleaning tool I have for cleaning a stained toilet is a pumice stone.

The first time I used it, I was scared to death.  I thought for sure I was going to scratch the porcelain and end up with a horrid looking toilet that I was going to end up replacing.  But that was needless worry.  It worked great.  And as far as I can tell, it didn’t scratch a thing.  First I don my rubber gloves and do a scrub with the toilet brush and a flush so the water in there is clean.  I don’t put any cleaners in there.  Then I grab the pumice stone.

I scrub around the water line, in the hole and under the rim.  It gets everything off.  You can see that the corners of my stone are getting rounded off.  The stone crumbles instead of scratching the bowl.  It works.  The toilet is sparkling.  After that, I will throw a splash of vinegar in the toilet and use the toilet brush again, for good measure.  Clean as a… well, not a whistle, but you get the idea.

I also use vinegar and water mixed in a spray bottle to clean the mirror with a lint-free cloth.  And to clean the floor. And to spray down the shower walls.

How do you clean your bathroom?

Categories: DIY, Simple Living, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Composting Basics Part II: Hot, Cool, and Greens vs. Browns

If you read yesterday’s urban homestead boot camp post, Composting Basics Part I, you remember that I said I love compost.  Besides what it can do for you (you know turning “trash” into garden treasure, restoring and maintaining soil health, balance soil pH and neutralize chemicals, etc.), I love the way it does it.  I know it’s probably a little weird to love decomposition, but I do.

Yesterday, I told you that there are a lot of choices when it comes to bins, piles, and systems.  Worm bins and Bokashis are pretty specialized and self-contained systems.  I really don’t have much experience with either.   But I have used both a  pile and a bin.

A pile is best for “cool” composting.  It’s great if you aren’t in a rush for your finished compost, and if you don’t want to think much about it.  It doesn’t take a lot to build one.  And a pile probably won’t generate much heat, hence being “cool.”  Plan a year to two years for harvesting.  With this method, you basically just throw your kitchen scraps, yard waste and what-have-you into a big pile, and let it do its thing.  You can help it along by turning/stirring/forking it a couple of times a year, and by chopping up the browns you put into it.  Some people use a chipper or run over their browns with their lawn mowers before adding them to their piles.

You can cool compost in a bin too.  A bin will speed things up for you a bit more.  You will get more heat with a bin, and more heat means faster decomposition.

Right now, our family is “hot” composting.  A hot compost bin decomposes things very fast.  One pallet bin gave us over 80 gallons of finished compost in about 8 months last year.  For hot compost, you layer in your organic waste, give it a good soaking with the hose, and cover it (we use thick black plastic).  As it rots it generates heat, cooking the organic waste.  The heat actually comes from micro-organisms digesting everything. It can get hot enough to kill weed seeds.

The key here is you don’t want it to get too hot.  You want it to rot quickly and kill the bad stuff, but you don’t want to  kill off the good guys.  So you need to rotate it.  Or maybe aerate it is a good word.  Two bins make this nice as you can flip it from one bin to the other.  Sometimes, during the summer, we open it up, put out the half-finished compost, let the chickens scratch through it for a day or two and then scoop it all back in, water and cover again.  If you have a tumbler, there’s no need to use a pitch fork at all, just spin it.

So exactly what do you put in your compost bin?

“The greens” vs. “the browns.”  General advice is that for cool composting you need a 40/60 mix of the two, with more browns.  For hot composting, the ratio is even greater, closer to a 5 to 1 ratio or more of browns to greens. But what are they?

Greens include:

  • fruits and vegetables, whole, pieces, peelings and scraps 
  • moldy food
  • chicken, rabbit, goat poop and other manure from herbivores
  • alfalfa pellets
  • coffee grounds and used tea leaves
  • green leaves or grass clippings
  • hair
  • weeds (if they have mature seeds, make sure they are hot composted, otherwise not)
  • algae and water from fish tanks
  • urine

Browns include:

  • egg shells
  • dried leaves and grass clippings
  • straw
  • wood chips
  • saw dust
  • dryer lint
  • paper, including shredded paper, newspaper, tissue and paper towels
  • cardboard
  • coffee filters and tea bags
  • cotton fabric or string, wool
  • cotton balls and swabs (the kind with cardboard sticks)
  • any plant with woody stalks or stems, including corn cobs
  • nut shells
  • end of season plants

The greens provide nitrogen and the browns give carbon.  The only things I don’t compost are dog/cat poop, human feces, and bones.  All of them can be composted but they can make your pile smelly and attract animals to your pile.

The problem a lot of people have is that the ratios are talking about weight, not volume.  The browns are generally dry and weigh a lot less than the soggy wet greens, so you need a lot more of them.  I have to admit that I don’t really pay close attention to the exact ratios.  I tend to think of the greens as “wet” and the browns as “dry.”  Sort of like the browns are a sponge and the greens are the stuff I’m using to get the sponge wet with.  It’s totally simplistic, but it works somehow.  Even with the hot composting, I just think “Is there enough?  I better put more.”

There are all sorts of cute counter top containers for compost.  I keep a big stainless steel bowl on my counter to catch all of our kitchen scraps, our greens.  I used to use a porcelain one, but it got ruined, so stick with stainless steel.  When it is full or before bedtime, we take the bowl out to the pile.  I cover the bowl with a plate in the summer if fruit flies are a problem.

Most people don’t have a problem coming up with enough greens.  Browns can be tougher.  It helps to keep a source of browns nearby.  Yard waste is perfect.  We beg leaves off the neighbors in the fall.  In the summer, instead of putting grass clippings in as a green, we [have our neighbor who collects his] spread them around the chicken area.  The hens use them as littler and for a couple of weeks until they are completely dry.  Then we rake them up and toss them in the pile.  Dried leaves, straw, dead plants, wood shavings and shredded paper all work.  Usually, as long as you keep plastic out of it, the bathroom trash is all compost-able.

In addition to your greens and browns, you pile will need air and water.  Keep your pile moist – like a wrung out sponge, or chocolate cake.  We cover ours to keep the moisture in during the summer.  And we turn it and mix it.  It gets quite hot in the middle, so we move the middle to the outside edges and the edges in to the center to cook.  Then we water it some more and cover it back up.  Some people add soil or finished compost to their pile.  If your soil is healthy, it has all kinds of good micro organisms that help with decomposing your pile.  It’s sort of like adding yogurt to hot milk to make more yogurt.

What about the smell?  As long as you aren’t adding milk, meat or carnivore poop to your pile/bin, your compost should not smell foul at all.  If your pile has any odor other than a good soil smell, you probably need to turn it, add browns, or both.  Sometimes our bin gets an ammonia smell.  This usually happens after we’ve added the contents of the chicken coop to the pile and it’s had a chance to get going.  Chicken manure is very rich in nitrogen.  Adding in more browns and mixing it up, getting the inside to the outside and vice-versa, takes care of it.

When your compost is done, it should look like great soil.  No big bits or pieces of anything, light and fluffy, not soggy at all.  The compost shown above still has bits of egg shell and wood shavings (the browns take the longest to decompose) but I would put it in my garden like this anyway.

Happy composting!

Categories: Compost, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com. The Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,418 other followers

%d bloggers like this: