Archive | July 2014

Composting for Dummies

Bethany mentioned composting in her awesome post on Monday, so today I will share about our new compost pile.  We just so happened to start informally composting several months ago.  {Read: not an expert.}

I happened to visit Bethany during her last composting phase, I think, although this was years ago now.  I believe there was a plastic bin and some worms involved.  I believe she referred to the composting process as “feeding her pet worms”.

That is one way to do it, yes.  Maybe this is what is making Keith shudder – more mouths to feed.  So much responsibility, and so forth.

So take heart, this composting thing does not have to be complicated.  Here are my pointers:

1.) You can’t really mess this up.

Last summer, I let a patch of morning glory vine really get out of control.  Here it was:

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One afternoon I decided to reclaim my flower patch, so I spent a couple of hours literally rolling the Morning Glory vine into a giant lump.  The lump was so big that I could roll it but not exactly pick it up.  I’d say it was approximately the size of bathtub.  And so there it sat in the middle of the garden the several months.

Do you know what it had turned into by springtime?  Compost, {morning} glorious compost.  (har har)

2) Add some brown, add some green.

Sure, there are some complicated composting methods out there.  Lots to learn about ratios and turning and so forth.  My “Self-sufficient Gardener” book has a whole chapter on it, complete with diagrams.  However, the simplest method I’ve come across is, just dump about equal amounts of green to brown.

Sources of green: watermelon rinds, squash necks, all other veggie waste, fresh grass clippings, morning glory vine.

Sources of brown: dried leaves, dried weeds, dried grass, chicken poop, dryer lints, shredded newspaper, dirt

We’ve been following this formula very loosely for several months and haven’t had any odor problem.  (Except for the time that August threw some dead fish in. That was stinky.  Fish are neither green nor brown matter and don’t go in the compost pile, fyi. )  I suspect we add more green than brown in general, just because we have so many garden scraps, but nothing bad has happened to date.

3) Don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good.

(My life motto these days.)

I spent several months thinking about starting a compost pile but was held back by all the complications.  Forget about all that.  You just need a place to pile the compost, a shovel/hoe/rake, and a container with which to carry the kitchen scraps out to the pile.  After that, just get started.

I looked around for a suitable kitchen container for a while to no avail.  So now I use chip bags or other soon-to-be-trashed items.  Then when they get funky with slightly too old kitchen scraps, I just pitch them.  No need to wash.

Here are our duel compost piles.  Right now, Bin 1 is the compost for use in the garden.  We used a lot of it in the garden this spring, and now as you can see, its grown a healthy layer of grass.   Bin 2 is where we are actively composting.  Once we use up all the compost from Bin 1, we’ll switch.  The door on Bin 2 is removable and fits either bin.

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Having the piles right there on the ground means that the worms and other critters can just make their way in and out as they please.  i.e., no responsibility.  August gives our pile a quick stir with the hoe when we are adding a batch of scraps, but otherwise there’s no maintenance.

For urban composting, I’d probably use some pallets for walls in order to make it match my chicken coop.  But if that’s holding you back, perhaps just find a discreet corner behind the shed or something.  Its just a glorified dirt pile, you can always move it.

4) Chickens get first dibs.

More customized advice for those of us with urban chickens:  I think the chickens are more efficient composters.  So, I’d give them priority on any veggies or fruits you would normally feed them.  Then you can add their poop to the compost pile.

Here at the Johnsons we are composting very haphazardly and its working out just fine.  Our weekly garbage back is much less “messy” and of course I love making something valuable from trash.  Who doesn’t love that?

Moral of the story:

Make a small pile of dirt and dried grass clippings.  Start collecting your kitchen waste and throwing it out there.  The end!

 

Unsubscribing

A little over a year and a half ago, in effort to meet the book reading portion of her Thirty By Thirty checklist, Mary-Hall read and reviewed a book called 7:an experimental mutiny against excess by Jen Hatmaker.  (Read Mary-Hall’s original blog entry by clicking here.)  Coincidentally, about 3 months later my boss and I headed to a conference in Michigan where she had been hired to be one of two key-note speakers for the weekend…Jen being the other one.  I, of course, made several awkward blubbering remarks about how my best friend had just read her book and said it was awesome, etc. etc. but fortunately Jen is just as super and awesome and gracious and hilarious in person as you would expect her to be from her writing, and was completely un-phased by my temporary fan-girl moment.  Anyway.  Before I packed up and headed out, I purchased my own copy of “7” from her product table along with another of her earlier books.

And then I put them on my bookshelf at home.

And didn’t pick up either of them for over a year.

Until two days ago.

Keith was deep into a book of his own and the house was full of the peaceful sounds of birds chirping outside (plus an occasional chicken squwak or two) and the cat purring and the hum of passers-by outside headed to eat popsicles and fancy burgers from one of the fabulous joints at the end of our street.  Basically, and all around reading haven, and so I went into our library and carefully considered the many books on the shelves I’ve never read.  And from the middle of the “H” author section, “7” called my name and I’m ever so glad it did.

The short synopsis of the book is that the author went on seven different “fasts,” each one a month long, focused on simplifying life for the purpose of allowing Christ to reveal areas in her life that needed re-aligning.  It’s hilariously written, but the depth behind it has had me in tears on more than one occasion.  It’s the kind of book that made me want to make some changes, some of which may or may not happen. Changes like going more green. I spent about 20 minutes researching the possibility of setting up a self-waterer system for my chickens that involves the water we collect in our rain barrel.  (The jury is still out  whether or not that is a safe thing for the chickens to drink so I’ll need to do lots more research first.)  I’d love to finally try a CSA (community supported agriculture). I’m also motivated to clean out some of the like-new-condition housewares from our shed and find an organization that works with refugees instead of donating them to GoodWill or selling them on Craigslist.  I’m considering instituting a personal rule with housewares and clothing that if I buy an item, I give one away.  For example, if I buy a new sweater, I choose a sweater to give to a women’s shelter so that I never exceed the amount of clothing I have now.  I want to try my hand at composting again.  (I can already hear Keith groaning as he reads this.)  While financially our spending and saving are both on the right track, I think there is more we could be doing to plan for retirement.

My brain got overloaded with ideas and so I put the book down for a minute and opened up my laptop to check my email.  I had 13 new ones in the hour since I’d checked it (!) and as I checked the first one, from a marketing list I’m on, I clicked over to an Etsy shop that sold expensive, beautiful leather laptop bags.  Ten minutes later, I found that I was in the midst of an internal dialogue trying to rationalize the purchase of a super cute retro style bathing suit that was “on sale” from another shop that had sent me an email.  (No matter that I haven’t once this summer donned swim attire, have zero plans to go anywhere involving water for the rest of the summer, and that in addition to a few cute, relatively new-ish suits of my own, a friend recently sent me a box of almost-brand-new bathing suits that she wasn’t going to use post having given birth to twins.)  I kept clicking and suddenly realized that 12 out of the 13 emails were marketing emails from stores and that I’d wasted about 45 minutes and been tempted to purchase LOTS of things that I neither needed, or should spend money on.

And then it hit me.

I didn’t have to only eat 7 foods for an entire month (an actual chapter of the book) or sell my home and live in an trailer park or anything crazy drastic.  I could start small.  I could unsubscribe from marking emails that do nothing but flood my inbox, steal my time, and fill me with all sorts of consumerism that really at the end of the day only led to covetous thoughts and discontent with the many many many material things I am blessed with.  So I opened up my trash email folder and started unsubscribing and changing email settings.  When I was finished, I believe I had unsubscribed from a grand total of 47 different emails.  FORTY-SEVEN.  What in the world?  I was baffled at how many times a day I plug in my email address without thinking about the barrage of junk email that will ensue.  The Home Depot Garden Club from when I was comparison shopping rain barrels and hoped there would be a coupon.  CNNSports.com from when I was in a Final Four Bracket Challenge 5 years ago. (Five!  And I’ve just been hitting “Delete” all these years!)  The Red Dress Boutique from when, well, which I don’t even remember signing up for.  Most of them (Papa John’s Pizza, for instance) were no-brainers to pull the plug on.  A few were trickier.  Anthropologie was the hardest to unsubscribe from and I even tried to rationalize not unsubscribing because I actually shop there.  But I realized that I have tons of super cute clothes and I do NOT need the temptation (or the time waste) of browsing their emails daily.  And on and on it went.

I know it’s not drastic or revolutionary.  But I’m excited to see what this electronic purge does to my time management, satisfaction level, spending habits and online productivity.  And who knows.  Maybe it will be the first step in bigger things.  Like a social media fast or a shed clean out.  And I challenge you to figure out from what you need to unsubscribe.  I think we all have something we could use less of in our lives.

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