Category Archives: gardening

#7 ~ Write Another Magazine Article and Have it Published

Writing is something that I’ve always done but didn’t realize I really enjoyed until recently.  After I started this blog I began thinking more and more about writing for an audience.  I can upload pictures and write down recipes, but if nobody looks at them, or reads them, then they are just taking up virtual space.  Sometimes when I post things I know that they aren’t going to be very popular posts, but typically, I try to share information that will be helpful or interesting to my readers, and to people who just stumble in for a visit. 

A Tomato in Every Pot and Compost in Every Backyard

Last year I was asked by the editors of Edible Grande Traverse to write an article about my experiences with farm to school.  I was honored.  Edible Grande Traverse is a local publication, but its readership is far greater than mine.  After the article was published, Barb and Charlie (the owner/operator/editors of the magazine) told me that they would like me to write for them again.  Last weekend the Winter 2011 issue hit the streets; my second article, “A Tomato In Every Pot and Compost in Every Backyard” is in it.

Hopefully, this won’t be my last!

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Stuff I Love ~ My Ecomower

 

Reel Mower

Ecomower

Ecomower is a relatively new term.  Apparently, I’ve been ecomowing for years without knowing it. 

I bought my Scott’s reel mower a long time ago. Who’da thunk, I was ahead of the band wagon on this one!  I love it.  It’s quiet.  It’s cheap and clean because it doesn’t use any gas.  I don’t have to breathe exhaust fumes or have dirt and dust blown at me.  My mower is good exercise.  I even feel safe letting the kids push it around.  (I wouldn’t let them push around those deathtrap gas mowers.) 

stringy weeds

The bunnies LOVE plantain.

Ok, so it doesn’t do a great job with long weeds like those seedy pods on the plantain or dandelion flowers, but as long as I keep up on the lawn, it does a good job.  Besides, the chickens and bunnies help keep the taller weeds in check; they love plantains and dandelions.  I can’t say that I’d use my push mower if I had a VERY large lawn, but if I had a bigger yard, I’d probably have more gardens.  Or more fruit trees.  Or, a goat.  So, I guess even if I had a VERY large lawn, I would probably still use my ecomower.

This post is a part of Simple Lives Thursday.  Hop on over to see what everyone else is up to this week and find some great ways to simplify your life!

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Fiona

Meet Fiona. 

Palomino Rabbit

Fiona enjoying some time in the yard.

Many of you will look at this post and think, “Aw, how cute!”  That is the natural instinct when one sees a bunny.  They are fluffy and sweet.  Generally, they are gentle and quiet.  If you are a gardener, you may be thinking, “What a pest!” or “Great fertilizer.”  But, as fellow blogger Annette of Sustainable Eats writes: Bunnies are Fluffy and So Much More

Some of you will read this post and decide not to come back.  That is because Fiona is the first step in my venture towards meat independence and another step towards more sustainable food.  I started by shopping at the Farmers’ Market.  I joined a CSA.  I got chickens and planted a garden.  I ordered, paid for and received half a hog from my friend Joan at Olds Farm and signed up for a raw goat milk share. (Mr. Hippie isn’t ready to let me get a goat.  Yet.)   I make yogurt, cheese and bread.  All these things help reduce my carbon footprint and my food miles.  They increase my self-sufficiency and make me feel better about where my food is coming from.

I have a friend who is a vegetarian because she doesn’t feel right eating meat if she can’t kill it herself.  She should feel that way.  We all should.  We come from a long line of hunter-gatherers.  We are designed to hunt and kill our own meat.  Somewhere down the line agriculture was developed.  This was a good thing.   It provided food security and allowed us to settle down and form commmunities.   Homo Sapiens  has been very succesful.  We are intelligent and learn fairly quickly how to do things as efficiently as possible. We learned to work together and trade with our neighbors for the things we didn’t have.  All these innovations have made life easier although I wouldn’t argue that it is simpler.  Most of us never kill an animal for food.  Some of us, mostly children, don’t realize that a hamburger was once a living, breathing entity.  There is such a disconnect between us and our food that we don’t have to think about the unpleasantry of actually killing the animal that provides sustenance.  We even have different names for slaughtered animals than we do for livestock.  Pigs are pork, cows are beef.  Even deer become venison. 

This post is not a rant about the ugliness of industrial agriculture or the wrongs of factory farms.  This is not a post to try and convince you that you should raise your own rabbits or chickens.  I know that not everyone can or will do that.   This post is about me making a conscious choice to know where my food comes from.  When three of our four chickens turned out to be roosters, I needed to make a decision.  I could find them foster homes or I could eat them.  Like my vegetarian friend that won’t eat meat because she can’t kill it, I knew that if I couldn’t eat those roos, I had no point eating chicken at all.  How can I justify walking into a grocery store to buy a plucked, cleaned chicken and eat it when I can’t eat my own?  I’ll admit that I didn’t personally slaughter those chickens.  I wasn’t ready yet but it was a first step which brought me closer to where I am now.

 Bunnies are fluffy and cute but throughout history they have been prized as a source of meat.  According to David Taylor in his Rabbit Handbook, “By medieval times, rabbits were much valued for their meat, skin and fur.  . . .  A fine buck rabbit fetched as high a price as a suckling pig.”  I buy rabbit meat from the Farmers’ Market.  I know where it came from and that it was treated well.  I also know that it is lean, high in protein and very “green”.  Rabbits are very efficient converters of plant material to meat so they put very little strain on our already stressed out food system.  But, rabbit meat is fairly expensive to buy.  It is often considered a gourmet or specialty meat so it demands a high market price.  I can raise my own rabbits for a relatively small investment. 

Fiona is a Palomino rabbit, a variety recommended for meat production.  Fiona will probably never be eaten but she is breeding stock for future rabbit meat.  Fiona is not old enough yet to sart breeding so this venture is on hold until then, but the foundation is in place.  Until then, I do have another source of fertilizer for my ever-expanding garden.  We went to the fair yesterday and picked out a young buck.  Nibbler is a “mutt” but has nice coloring, a good shape and will grow to a good size for a meat rabbit.  We’ll pick him up on Sunday, so you can meet him soon.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.  Hop on over and check out what everyone is doing.

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Random Drivel

If you are a regular reader, you have by now realized that I’ve been on a little hiatus.  Things are getting a little crazy around here and I haven’t had much time to devote to a “real” post. 

The craziness began with an amazing trip to Detroit (yes, I said “amazing” and “Detroit” in the same sentence) for the 5th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference.  I was too cheap to spring for an internet connection while I was there so blogging was out.  Not to mention the fact that I was busy for three days and spent every spare moment with my family.  I have an amazing opportunity to write about the conference for one of my favorite local publications, but I’ll save that for its own post once an article has been written, approved (hopefully) and gone to print. 

When I returned from the conference I went straight back to work.  It was/is end-of-the-year-assessment time and I had missed three prime days.  Add to that the half day I missed last week to have a lost filling drilled out and temporarily replaced and now I’m knee-deep in paperwork and running out of days to finish it all.

In all my spare time, I’ve been working in the garden a ton; helping with Girls on the Run; finding and starting a summer job at the Mercato in exchange for my summer CSA share from 9 Bean Rows and trying to finish up the final details for the Coop Loop.   There are lots of exciting developments and eventually I’ll tell you more, but I’m still working on sifting my compost heap.  I love you all, but a girl has to prioritize. 

 I’ve had lots of thoughts and ideas, but  I haven’t had the time and energy to sit down and compose something meaningful to share.  I’ll be back to a more manageable schedule soon.  Until then you’ll have to make do with this collection of random drivel.

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Filed under Coop Loop, gardening, Miscellaneous

Missed Opportunity

I’ve been waiting for asparagus to appear.  I’ve seen posts from other Michigan bloggers with pics of tender spring asparagus.  I finally found some in my little asparagus “bed”.  About two days too late I think. 
The only asparagus in the patch.
Too late.

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April Can Jam

‘Round here, spring takes a long time to arrive.  You can coax some things out of the ground if you have cold frames or hoop-houses or if you’re really lucky, a green house but the average frost-free date for our growing region is still far, far away.  So while I start seedlings indoors under lights and dream of the day I can set them into the garden, not much is really growing.  Even the perennial fruits and vegetables need more time before I can sample them.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to visit Food in Jars this morning and discover that next month’s Can Jam ingredient will be . . . (Insert drumroll here.)  Herbs!  Even I have those!! 

All winter I dig thyme out from under the snow and this year I managed to keep a rosemary alive in the porch so that I could prune sprigs from it when I needed them.  In addition to those I have other herbs returning from the dead after a long winter sleep.  I ran around with the camera to see what was awake. I found my chives:

Chives

The chives will revive quickly, but maybe they should have been canned with the alliums?

Some lavender:

Lavender

I have lots of lavender and some ideas . . .

A couple spindly sage plants:

Sage

I've actually raked around the sage already, but it looks too sad to can right now.

Oregano:

Oregano

I have so much oregano that I pull it out by the roots and compost it, so this might be a wise choice.

Winter savory:

Winter Savory

I don't even use this much in my cooking, so I can't imagine I'll can it, but ya never know.

Tarragon:

Potted tarragon

Tarragon is my least favorite herb (Well, except for cilantro, but that is a story for another day.) but Mr. Hippie loves it on potatoes.

Lots of thyme:

Thyme

Thyme

Catmint:

Catmint

I'm not sure what on earth I would do with canned catmint. Bait cats?

And of course, the rosemary:

Potted rosemary

This is the longest I've managed to keep a rosemary alive! They always seem to die off on me right before spring.

I have some lemon balm and mint too, but they were too small and hard to find to photograph.   Everything is small now, but there are several weeks before the posts need to be up so I am hopeful that there will be plenty of herbs to choose from.

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How to Raise Worms

As I may have mentioned before, I am very cheap frugal.  Our city doesn’t provide garbage service so each household is responsible for contracting their own service.  There are four or five different companies that provide service to my street (and unfortunately, four or five trucks that drive down my alley every week because of it) so there are a lot of options for trash pick-up.  Most of the companies offer recycling as part of their fee but they only take number one and two plastic so I haul all my recycling to a drop-off site that takes batteries, small corded appliances, glass, cardboard and paper, metal and ALL plastic including numbers 1-7, plastic bags and STYROFOAM.  Recycling all that “junk” eliminates a huge chunk of my garbage output.  Compost takes care of another chunk. 

Because I compost and recycle most of my garbage, my family of four creates less than one eight-gallon garbage can full of trash a week.  So, why would I pay $10 or $20 a month to have that little bag hauled away every week?   A couple of the garbage companies offer a “pay for what you use” plan for garbage.   You buy the color-coded bags from them (ten bags for $25) and only put out the garbage when you fill the bags.  I can fit three or four of my little garbage bags into one of their big bags.  If you do the math, that works out to about $2.50 every three-four weeks.  This ends up costing me under $50 a year instead of $120 or more.  So, even if I didn’t use my compost in the garden, it is worth its weight in gold!

Many people have tried their hands at composting only to find that they don’t have the space for a big pile, or can’t manage turning the pile, or just can’t get the balance of carbon (brown things) and nitrogen (green things) to work out for optimal composting.  I was am one of those people.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still compost.  I have this giant pile in the back corner of the yard:

Compost heap

Compost heap buried under snow.

And I have these two (soon to be three) compost containers: 

Duelling Composters

The one on the right is full and working. The left one is nearly full. I'm going to get a third and make a three-bin compost system.

But, several years ago I was introduced to vermicomposting.   I have been in love with it ever since.  Vermicomposting is a fancy name for “worm farming”.  Yes, I am a worm farmer.  I usually keep a worm bin at school and one at home.  Right now I have both bins at home, but plan to return the old bin to school in the spring.  In the summer I keep the bins in a shady area of the yard but for now they are in my “dining room”.  (The realtor called it a dining room, but he was being generous.  It is actually a wide hallway between the kitchen and the back entryway and more of a mudroom.)  I’d keep the worms indoors all year, but for me they are just easier to deal with outside.  I never have to worry about  fruit flies, and I get six square feet of floor space back.

There are lots of things I love about worm farming.  The biggest reason is obvious: worms eat my garbage.  Mary Appelhof wrote a book by the same title.  Worms eat garbage all day every day.  A pound of worms will eat a half a pound of garbage a day, or three-and-a-half pounds of garbage a week.  Worms are more efficient than a compost pile.  Worms eat garbage and turn it into rich compost in a very short time span.  This compost is called “castings” which is just a fancy word for worm poop.   Castings can be added to houseplants or garden beds.

As I mentioned before, I often keep my bin inside.  This makes vermicompost much more manageable for people with small yards.  Even an apartment owner could compost using this system.  I keep my bin out in open sight, but a bin could easily be tucked into a closet or cupboard.  So convenience is a big reason I love my bins; you never have to leave the kitchen to compost if you keep the bin close by.   You’re probably thinking, “Don’t they stink?”  No, they don’t.  A properly maintained bin smells like soil.

The best thing about a worm bin is that it requires no turning.  To get compost from a pile or bin in a reasonable time frame, the pile needs to be stirred or turned.  If you have a small pile, this isn’t too difficult, but small piles aren’t as efficient as large piles.  Large piles are faster, but are a real pain to turn.   Worms actually prefer that you don’t turn them. 

So, now that you know why you should have worms, let’s find out how to raise them.  There are a number of resources on the internet to help you get started, but let me walk you through the basics.  First you need to provide suitable habitat for your worms.  There are many vermicompost systems available for sale and for a fee, I’d be happy to build one for you but it’s pretty easy to do yourself.  You’ll need a plastic storage contanier and two lids, a drill and a 1/8th inch bit.  The plastic tub must be opaque; worms don’t like light.

Rubbermaid tub and two lids

Scavenging extra lids can be a problem. I had these two left over from when I built my newest, deluxe, three-tiered worm bin.

Flip the tub upside down and drill drainage holes in the bottom of the tub.  Make sure you drill the holes in the low spots of the tub or liquid will pool in the bottom and create less than ideal conditions for your worms. 

Bottom of the bin with drainage holes drilled in it.

Once you have drilled the holes in the tub, turn it right-side-up and put ONE of the lids on it.  Drill holes in the top to provide air flow to your worms. 

Finished worm bin lid

Worm bin top with air holes drilled in it.

Now that you have a container for your worms, you need to fill it.  Worms need bedding.  Remember when you cleaned out your filing cabinet and shredded all your old documents??   Go get them and use them to fill the bin most of the way.  If you don’t have any old documents or junk mail to shred, you can use shredded newspaper or cardboard. 

Upcycling your junk mail

Finished worm bin with bedding added.

Many sites will advise against using colored paper in your worm bin because the inks can be bad for the worms.  I have never had trouble with it, but I don’t add a lot of colored paper; in small doses, colored papers are fine.   (Note: Don’t shred the plastic windows from your junk mail into your worm bin unless you want to pick plastic ribbons out of your castings until the end of time.)

You are probably wondering what’s up with the extra lid.  Unless you want water and worm tea dripping out the bottom of your worm bin all over the floor, you will need to invert it and place it under the bin as a saucer to catch drips.  If you keep the bin outside, you won’t need the extra lid.  If you haven’t been able to scavenge an extra lid, you can place your bin inside another tub or rig some other way to catch the drips.  However, the extra lid is the easiest method.

Finished worm bin

The finished worm bin. This particular worm bin was auctioned off at the Family Wisdom Conference's Wise Woman Ladies Night.

Worms, like humans, are mostly water.  The environment needs to be damp.  If it isn’t, your worms will lose moisture through their skins, become dehydrated and die.  We’ve all seen those poor worms dried out on the sidewalk after a rain; no good worm farmer wants to do that to his stock.  To create the right humidity, dampen the bedding but DO NOT flood it.  The bedding should feel like a wrung out sponge after you have added the water.  If your bedding is too damp, either squeeze most of the excess out, let some drain out the holes before you add your worms, or add enough dry paper to the bin to absorb the excess moisture.   If your tub starts to accumulate too much moisture, the worms will start trying to escape just like earthworms do after a rainstorm.  Once your bin is established, you generally won’t need to add too much water but if the box ever seems dry, sprinkle a little water in until it seems damp enough.  Most of the kitchen scraps you add are mostly water and will keep your box adequately moist.  Adding a piece of cardboard, a piece of burlap or an opened newspaper to the top of your compost helps retain moisture, but I rarely do this.

Now that you have a container and bedding, you are ready to start.  Worms don’t have teeth.  They have gizzards instead.  In order to function properly, a worm’s gizzard needs small stones in it.  A handful of sand or dirt from your yard sprinkled onto the bedding will provide enough stones for your worms to get started.

Next, add some food for your worms.  The worms will eat the paper you have provided for bedding, but they prefer rotten food.  Rotten is the key word here.  The worms actually eat the mold and fungus that consumes the food so the more rotten your food is, the better it is for the worms.  If you don’t have any rotten scraps, fresh ones will do; they’ll rot soon enough.  Don’t add too much food to your bin at first.  Your worms will need time to adjust to their new surroundings.  Once your worms become established, they will reproduce and will be able to eat more garbage.  The more you feed them, the more worms you will have.

You are finally ready for your worms!  Believe it or not, there are many, many types of worms.  The common earthworm, nightcrawlers or bait worms you buy at a fishing shop are not good for your bin.  They don’t eat enough garbage and will probably die and smell up your bin.  Your worm bin needs red wiggler worms.  There are many sources for worms online.  Most of these sources are very pricey.  If you are in the Traverse City area, I’d be happy to sell you a pound of mine for $20, but at the moment I am not set-up to ship worms and I wouldn’t want them dying in the mail. 

That’s it.  You’re done.

Now that you have your bin set up and the worms have moved in, what should you feed them??

  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps and waste
  • Spoiled food from the refrigerator
  • Shredded up junk mail
  • Eggshells
  • Nutshells
  • Old socks and non-synthetic clothing (No, really.  I once fed my worms a cotton sweater.)
  • Weeds and trimmings from garden or houseplants

Things you should never feed your worms:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Greasy items
  • anything that wouldn’t biodegrade on its own
  • cat or dog waste

After a while, the bedding and food scraps in your bin will be unrecognizable because they will have been turned into rich castings.  When this happens, you will need to harvest your castings because worm castings are toxic to worms.  What?  You wouldn’t want to swim in your feces, would you? 

Check back soon for a post on harvesting your castings!

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