Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Shiitake logs part two

The left hand side is the drilled hole, the middle is the
dowel before it is hammered in, and the right hand side
is the dowel in place.
 After properly soaking your oak logs, now we move on to step two.  Be sure the logs haven't soaked too long because they will inoculate with something other than shiitake.  I forgot about my logs at one point and then found them with a fuzzy layer.  These logs are probably not any good.  I also need to add in that I did this step for most of my logs a long time ago.  I ended up having extra logs and had to buy more spores for them.  This is not the ideal time to be doing these logs,
Wax over the dowel.
 but the spores could die if they sit around for too long.  Either way, the next step is to fill the dowel holes you drilled in the logs.  Each dowel inoculated with spores is for each hole in the log.  Simply hammer them in to place.  Once they are in place you can recess them a little with a nail set, but this didn't work well for me.  The dowels are very moist and they just squashed when I tried to set them.  Some of them ended up squashed
anyways.  Once they are all in the logs, paint over each one with some beeswax.  You can use other kinds of wax as well, but beeswax is the best option because it is safe for food.  I used an old soup can in a pot of hot water to melt the wax, and then an old paint brush to apply the wax.  You can also wax the ends of the logs to help ensure that the logs are not inoculated by anything else.  Stack your logs in a shaded place and wait.  Don't let them dry out too much because it will kill all of your spores and you won't get anything from the logs.  If you need to water them in the heat of the summer, you should do so.  The earliest you should expect anything is 6 months from when they were set up.  It could take a full year, so don't get discouraged too quickly.  Once they become active, they should last a few years.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Garden stepping stones

 At my house we don't really celebrate all of the traditional holidays.  Me and the man come from different religions, neither of which ever really felt quite right to either of us.  Therefore the holidays tend to not really have much meaning to them other than "spend money."  So what we decided to do was pretty much to make our own holiday/traditions to celebrate that had meaning to us as a family.  This particular celebration we got together to make stepping stones for the garden.  The garden is going to obviously provide the family
with food, but I would also like it to be a place that we can enjoy as a family.  By everyone contributing to the decorating of the garden, I am hoping to make it a place that we can walk through and enjoy the creative work that we have all done together.  By making a few stones each year there will eventually be a long winding path of our journey as a family over the years.  The other part of this sort of holiday that I think is so great is that rather than spending
money and receiving gifts, we all sit down together and work our creative magic.  Everyone brings something different to that table and we all combine the different parts to make our own beautiful designs.  And we will have these for many years rather than some toy that the kids get and grow out of in a year or so.  Plus the adults have as much fun as the kids.   So how do I make my own stones you ask??

Mix one 80 lb bag of regular concrete and divide among 6 molds.  You could probably get twice as many stones out of this much concrete, but we opted to have really thick stones so they would last longer and also because we really didn't have anything else to do with the leftover concrete.  Also don't use quick setting concrete because it takes time to put your design in place.  You don't want it to set in five minutes and your design be incomplete.  Some concrete is also very
coarse which would not be as easy to work with when trying to lay out a design.  Once you have the concrete in the molds start putting your design into place.  When we were doing ours, we noticed a lot of water on top of the concrete. We thought that the concrete must be really soupy but it wasn't at all.  The water just was sitting on top.  We sopped it up with a paper towel and were just fine after that.  It all soaked in eventually anyways.  You can make your design
out of whatever you like.  I used my baby's feet to make impressions and surrounded them with stones.  We also smashed a plate and used the pieces (be careful of sharp edges).  You can get all kinds of glass rocks, marbles, stones and even beads to decorate with.  Be sure to push the pieces in to place so that they stay put once the concrete dries and you start walking on them.  Now just wait for them to dry and put them in your garden path.  Enjoy!
The other project we did as a family was making birdhouses. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cooking in season: Pasta-less zucchini primavera and Raw cucumber appetizer

Pasta-less Zucchini Primavera
1 large zucchini, shredded
1 large tomato, diced
1 handful of green beans, chopped
1 sweet pepper, diced
2-3 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for sauteing
(any other vegetables you may have should work)
In this recipe, the zucchini will function as the pasta to make it a low carb meal.  If you want pasta, use pasta.  It will be good either way.  Put garlic and olive oil into a saute pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes or until garlic browns.  Add in the rest of the vegetables and continue to saute until the vegetables reach your desired texture.  I cook mine for about eight minutes to keep them on the crunchy side.

Raw Cucumber Appetizer
2 cucumbers, sliced
1 baguette or skinny loaf of italian bread, sliced
(a big loaf won't work)
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small bunch fresh dill, chopped
16 ozs cream cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
Combine cream cheese, garlic, cilantro, and dill.  Put a spoonful of the cheese mixture on each slice of bread.  Top with a cucumber.  

My flower garden: Chamomile

Chamomile is a pretty little daisy like flower that is commonly known for herbal tea.  They are also very easy to grow in your garden.  You can get German, which is an annual, or Roman, which is a perennial.  Either kind should spread and form a nice ground cover that you can walk on without hurting the plants.  They smell sort of like apples and are calming and relaxing.  They will continue to bloom throughout the summer providing you with tons of flowers to keep you busy harvesting.
I grow Roman chamomile in my flower garden because then I don't have to replant it every year.  I find that growing it from seed is a little difficult because the seeds are so tiny and delicate.  I ended up buying a few plants and they have spread like crazy and I probably won't ever need to buy any more.
I grow chamomile for the herbal tea.  Sometimes you come home from a hard day at work and you just need something warm and relaxing.  By harvesting the flowers all summer, you will end up with quite a stash for the winter.  I have about four plants in my garden and it provides for two of us pretty well.  I will likely get a few more when I have the room though.  In addition to being relaxing, chamomile is also a good anti-inflammatory and good for toothaches, allergies, burns, anemia, fevers, and indigestion. All of these great uses make it worth the effort it takes to harvest the flowers.
Harvesting can be quite tedious.  They are little tiny flowers that bloom all summer so you are never done harvesting them.  I harvest mine currently by cutting each bloom with scissors and dropping them into a paper bag to dry.  I am looking into some of the contraptions they make to harvest with and will likely try one out next year.  They are just like the rakes used to harvest blueberries I think.  Either way, it really is worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Homemade firestarters

 Looking for a good way to get a fire going without using gasoline and use up some junk you have laying around the house?  Of course you are.  Grab an empty cardboard egg crate.  Add a piece of dryer lint to each compartment.  Then add a stick, a dry leaf, maybe some saw dust depending on what you have.  Drizzle whatever wax you have from candles that burned out over the tops of this little pile you have created.  That's it, homemade firestarters.  When you are ready to start a fire, break off an egg compartment
or two if it's a big fire.  Light the starter and put it into the kindling you have ready to burn.  It should start right up very nicely.  These are safe to use for your grill or for an indoor fireplace because you made them up without any chemicals at all.  Happy burning!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kitchen scrap composter

This is a picture of my kitchen scrap composter.  They do make expensive, fancy versions that are probably nicer to look at, but mine only cost about ten dollars.  I chose a garbage can with wheels so that I could move it and a locking lid to keep critters out of it.  Next I drilled holes all around the sides and bottom for aeration.  That's it.  All finished.  When you start filling it up with kitchen scraps, it is a good idea to remember to brown vs green ratio.  I throw newspaper or cardboard in with the scraps to try to maintain the mixture.  By adding just kitchen scraps, you end up with a stinky wet sludge pile that becomes a solid mass that can't compost, so don't forget the browns.  Every now and then you should give your compost a good mix.  I tip my garbage can on its side and roll it around a little bit.  Be sure the lid is locked on tight before you get to rolling it or you may have quite a mess on your feet.  Not everyone may feel the need to compost kitchen scraps separately.  I do this because it keeps the critters away and because I can't get to my compost pile when it's snowing.  During the winter, when the compost freezes, I had the garbage can rolled right up next to the door for easy adding of my scraps.  It won't smell or anything because it is frozen solid.  Just be sure to move it away from the door as soon as things start thawing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My flower garden: Echinacea

Also called purple coneflower, echinacea is a beautiful and very useful flower to add to your garden.  I'm sure you have heard of taking echinacea as a vitamin for good immune health, but there are many other uses.  You don't need to go out and buy supplements either, just grow the flower in your own garden.
Echinacea is a wonderful flower to attract pollinators to your garden.  Butterflies and bees love the flower and I often find them all over mine out in the garden.  They attract many types of beneficial insects to your garden which are vital to maintaining an organic garden.  The seeds are also loved by finches, which eat the seeds and the bugs in your garden.
Echinacea root is loaded with antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.  Western societies use echinacea as an immune system stimulant while traditionally, echinacea is used to treat acne, blood poisoning, cuts and sores, and fever.  The leaves have some of these properties as well, but the greater concentration can be found in the roots.  The roots and leaves are both fairly simple to harvest and store so that you will have plenty you can put in storage to last you all year.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Seed saving: Amish snap peas

The easiest kinds of plants to learn to save seeds for is peas and beans.  If you already save dried peas or beans, do exactly the same thing but save the beans or peas to be used as seeds.  If you are unfamiliar with this process, it is very easy.  The pea pod in the picture is an Amish snap pea.  As the season for them passed, I left quite a few pods on the vine to dry.  Once the vines are completely dead and the pea pods are dried, then collect them.  This may be a month or so after you would normally harvest them to eat.  Then all you need to do to get to the seeds is simply pop open the pod without sending the peas flying everywhere.  Be sure that the peas are completely dry and store in an air tight glass container.  These seeds can store well as long as five years.  Beans and other kinds of peas are saved exactly the same way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My vegetable garden: Zuchetta rampicante (trombino squash)

My garden has a horrible squash vine borer infestation.  I have not been able to grow and kind of squash or pumpkins in at least three years.  I have tried all the methods of getting rid of these pests, and none of them really did any good.  I split open vines and killed the borers one by one.  I started two rounds of squash using one as bait that I pulled out and burned with the intention of leaving the second batch in safety.  I tried row covers.  Then I gave up.  No squash at all last year.  This past winter I learned about zuchetta rampicante.  They are supposed to be naturally squash vine borer resistant.  This is plenty of reason to plant them for me, but they also have many other good reasons to plant them.
Zuchetta is a summer squash that vines and stores like a winter squash.  Rather than growing in a bush like most summer squashes, it is a vining plant grows up trellises and fences.  This may help in its vine borer resistance.  When you pick them, they have the soft skin of a summer squash, but the skin can harden so that they can be stored like a winter squash.  They apparently store so well that you can cut off one end and the cut piece will form a sort of seal so that the rest wont go bad.  The fruits can get up to three feet long and one plant can produce 20 squash.  I read that they taste similar to zucchini, but haven't been able to taste any just yet.  The vines themselves started fairly slow, but are beginning to take off quite quickly up my old grapevine arbor.  I did help them up it a little by tying them to it since there aren't any places for them to grab on the arbor.  I will post an update when I (hopefully) have some squash to show.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Structure for your compost pile

There must be a hundred different structures you can build to house your compost pile.  You can get from very simple like a pile with no structure all the way to a three bin rotation system or a large barrel mixer.  Some people go for the expensive fancy systems because they are nicer to look at or because they don't want to get too dirty.  Others don't care what they look like and even like to play in the dirt, so they go for the simpler no structure or simple structure type of a pile.  Sometimes, you need something more complicated if you have a lot that needs to be composted.  Currently, I have 2 composter types at my house.  A pile of leaves that sometimes has a wire cage around it and a garbage can with holes drilled into it for kitchen scraps.  Very simple, easy to build and easy to manage.
I like the pile because as I work I can just throw everything right there into the pile with no effort, rhyme or reason.  I do have to go back and mix it up as it composts, but not too much.  The wire cage helps to contain the pile somewhat so that it doesn't go everywhere or blow away.  It goes up when there starts to be too many leaves to keep in place in the fall.  When the cage is in my way, I just open it way up or take it down.  This usually means that I am mixing the pile or it's time to throw it on the garden.  Just about every time I have taken the cage down, it goes up in a totally new spot.  That is just one more reason why I like it being so simple.  I can change my mind as to where the best spot for it is whenever I need to.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Solar Cooking Fail

This picture is my attempt at cooking acorn squash in my solar cooker.  I bought nice dark colored squash thinking that this would be best for absorbing the sunlight.  I also thought that at 2:00 in the afternoon there would still be enough sunlight to cook this squash.  I was wrong on either one or both of these ideas.  I'm not sure which, but if I had to guess, the fact that I waited until two to put the squash out was the biggest problem.  Squash like this takes a long time to cook and the sun isn't really that hot much after 4:00ish.  I should have started this between 9:00 and 10:00.  I would think that six hours of cooking is what it needed.  I'm not entirely sure how much effect the lack of pan had on my poor results as well.  I noticed that the black pans both put off and retain quite bit of heat throughout the cooking process.  I'm sure the dark colored squash would get warmer than light colored squash, but probably not warm enough.  I also need to invest in an oven thermometer so that I can see how hot this cooker is really getting.  Cooking beans and squash it doesn't matter a ton if I over or under cooke them just a little bit.  If I start getting into more complicated dishes then I will need to be more precise.  Oh well, I learned a lot through this failure.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Why to save your own seeds

There are plenty of reasons to save your own seeds.  The first reason that comes to mind for me is that if you save your own seeds, then you don't have buy any next year.  Seeds can get to be expensive to buy every year and being on a homestead is not hugely profitable.  Every expense you can cut, you should.
By using seeds from plants that you grew on your land helps the plants adapt to you.  When you save seeds, you save the seeds from the healthiest plants and therefore the ones that did the best on your land.  This makes your plants that much stronger and healthier every year.  The stronger and healthier they are, the less attention they need from you and the easier it is for those plants to fight off disease and infestation.
When you save your own seeds you have to initially buy seeds from companies that have not genetically modified them.  If seeds are modified, then you cannot get them to reproduce properly, meaning they are not worth even trying to grow because even if they do grow, they are sterile and will not fruit.  There are many other reasons not to buy genetically modified seeds, but that is a chat for another day.  Buying seeds that are not modified in any way will produce stronger plants.  If you think about it, non-modified, natural plants have been around growing for many, many years.  They may have mutated naturally to be stronger or more disease resistant, but it was not done in a lab.  When plants have been around for many years and have been allowed to grow and change naturally rather than having random genes thrown at them, they are far more stable.  They change only in ways that mother nature wants them to change are therefore are far more likely to survive against disease, infestation, drought, and other hazards.
Doing anything you can to have stronger plants will save you time and money.  It takes a lot to grow plants that aren't in the best health, and you will be constantly fighting to keep them alive.  Why not start them off right with your own saved seeds that never been genetically modified?  That way you can give them the best chance at growing healthy and give yourself more time [and money] to relax and enjoy your homestead.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cooking in season: Refrigerator Pickles and Zucchini Barley "Garbage" Soup

Refrigerator Pickles
12 3-4 inch pickling cucumbers, sliced
2 cups water
1 3/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
8 cloves chopped garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir and let set at room temperature for two hours. Remove the cucumbers and place into jars. Top with liquid until covered and seal tightly. Refrigerate for ten days before eating. Use within one month.
There can also be many variations to this recipe. If you want it spicy, add something like ancho peppers or crushed red peppers. If you like dill pickles, add fresh dill ad dill seeds. You can add pickling spice if you like that. Basically whatever you want to try, go ahead and add to your pickles. I am also going to try this recipe with green beans and see how that tastes. Be creative.

Refrigerator Green Beans
5 oz. green or wax beans
1 pint jar with lid
1 clove garlic, peeled and quartered
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 small dried chile
1/8 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Arrange beans vertically in pint jar to see how many fit. Remove beans
and trim them to fit lengthwise in jars, leaving at least 1/2 inch
empty space at top of jar. Arrange trimmed beans in jar.
Stuff garlic, coriander seeds, chile, peppercorns, and bay leaf around beans.
Bring vinegar, wine, sugar, and salt to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.
Pour mixture over beans. Screw on lid and let sit until cooled to room
temperature. Refrigerate for 2 days or up to 6 months before eating.

Zucchini Barley "Garbage" Soup
Garbage soup is very similar to garbage pizza. Whatever you have leftover to cook with you throw into the soup. For this version of soup, I added zucchini, squash, tomato, mushroom, garlic and barley. I chopped it all up and threw it into a pot of water. Cook on low for a few hours, depending on how cooked you like your vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you like it spicy, add crushed red pepper or whatever you like really. Again, be creative.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

My flower garden: Angelica

As I had mentioned before, a flower garden can be a form of organic pest control if you plant the right flowers.  So what are the right kinds of flowers to plant?  Angelica is the first flower I started in my garden.  Initially, I chose this flower because I wanted some perennials that could grow in partial shade and attract beneficial insects, and these were on sale.  It turns out that these were a great choice for me.
Angelica is a biennial plant which means that it will grow for about two seasons.  It likes partial shade and loamy soil (although mine is growing quite well in the clay that I have).  They like cool moist climates and can get from 4-6 feet tall.  The small flowers are white or greenish white and grow in large clusters.  It is part of the Apiaceae family along with dill, caraway, queen anne's lace and chevril.  There are also a couple of poisonous plants that are very similar to these plants, so be careful if you find it wild.  
Angelica can be eaten in many ways.  The leaves have a sort of celery flavor and can be used in place of lovage in many recipes.  The stalks are slightly sweet almost licorice like and are often candied when harvested young.  The stalks are also good to flavor liquor and the leaves go well with rhubarb.  Even the roots can be eaten.  Check out this site for a couple of angelica recipes.  
Angelica is also part of the grouping Dong-quai, second most common herb used in China, second to ginseng.  Angelica contains compounds called coumarins.  Coumarins can be used to reduce swelling, especially in the lymph nodes and associated with arthritis.  Angelica can be used for women to help relieve symptoms of PMS and hot flashes.  You should not take angelica if you are pregnant!  Angelica contains bergapten, which can be used to treat skin conditions and linalool and borneol which are antibacterial and antifungal.  The boiled roots can be used to speed up healing.  It also increases immunity and circulation, stimulates appetite, relaxes muscles and many other things.  
When I bought my first few angelica plants, I did not know any of this.  All I really knew about it was that it was good for attracting beneficial insects.  It's tiny flowers make it easy for small bugs like parasitic wasps to get to the pollen.  Parasitic wasps are good for your garden because they use big bugs like tomato horn worm to grow their babies.  This is turn kills the tomato horn worm, organically protecting your garden from them.  There are also many pollinators that will be attracted to your flower garden and angelica.  I was happy to see that they bloomed in early spring which helps to get the pollinators to your garden right away.  I now need to add some flowers that will bloom right after the angelica to keep the pollinators around.  
Now that I know all I do about angelica, I will be able to take full advantage of the plants next year.  I plan on saving seed (I'll talk about this later) and learning how to use all the parts of the angelica plant to their full potential.  I can't believe I was so lucky to stumble across such a great plant! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wooden handled tool care

 If you have any older wooden tools or have accidentally left new wooden tools outside for too long then you need to know how to revive the handles.  It is a very simple process and it will make your tools last much longer.  First you need to smooth out the wood.  If it is  really bad, then take some sandpaper  to it until it is pretty smooth.  If it isn't too bad, then steel wool should do the trick.  Once it is smooth, apply 3 coats of teak oil or whichever type of oil it is that you want to use.  I like teak oil because it is
durable and environmentally friendly.  Between the coats of oil, go over the handle with the steel wool again.  That's it, good as new.  Ideally you want to go through this process every spring when you first take your tools out for the year.  It doesn't hurt to apply an additional coat of oil every month or so.  This should keep those handles in great shape for many years to come.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What to put in a compost pile

Now that you have a spot set up for your compost pile, what do you put in it?  You need a good mixture of green and brown materials.  Green materials are things like grass clippings and fruit and vegetable scraps.  Brown materials are leaves and papers.  This combination is again to support the bacteria you are trying to get to work for you.  They need certain nutrients that are available from the different materials.  Carbon is in the browns and the greens are for nitrogen.  The suggested ratio is 25 parts carbon to one part nitrogen.  If you have too much nitrogen, don't worry, it will just smell a little funny.  If you have too much carbon, the pile won't break down very well.  You can always add other things to your pile like wood ash, seaweed, or shells if you need other nutrients for your soil but these are the basics.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Solar cooker cooking: Sweet potatoes, Garbanzo beans

This is my solar cooker all set up.  I have two sweet potatoes in this makeshift pan cooking.  Notice it is a black pan in order to help absorb heat.  It is actually two round black pans, one being used as a lid to help increase the heat.  Once you put the food and pans into the cooker, place the glass over the top.  I had to use a brick to hold it in place because I used an old storm window which was too big for the box.  The box top is also not terribly flat and the weight helps make a tight seal.  You can probably alter most recipes so that you can use this cooker for them, it will just be a bit of a learning curve like anything else.  I started with baked sweet potatoes because it is ok if you over or under cook them a little bit.  These took 6 hours and came out nice and soft.  I went out part way through and changed the angle of the cooker so that it was pointing at the sun.  I noticed that it had started to be shaded which is not any good for cooking.  I have also made beans in this cooker since.  I just did garbanzo beans in water to be used for another recipe.  This took 8 hours and they came out great as well.  It just takes a little planning in advance and this cooker is an excellent addition to my "kitchen."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Solar clothes dryer

The less electricity you use, the less you have to pay for.  The less you have to pay for, the less you have to work at your 9-5 job, even though I'm sure you love it.  The less you have to work at your 9-5 job, the more time you have to work on your homestead.  The more ways you find to save money on things you don't really need, the closer you are to giving up that job entirely.  So what I'm saying is that you should give up your clothes dryer for a solar powered version.
A dryer uses about 4 kW per hour to run.  A kWh on my electric bill costs about 14 cents.  If you do 5 loads of clothes per week, it is costing you $11.20 per month to run your dryer.  That is $134.40 per year to dry your clothes.  That may not seen like it is really very much, but it is free to just hang up your clothes.  It also leads to much less wear and tear on your clothes which means they will last much longer and you won't have to buy new ones as often.
Is it really worth the effort? It may not be to someone living in the city, but if your ultimate goal is to build a house and live off grid, then yes it is.  Off grid means that you are relying on wind or solar power to run your house.  You are no longer looking at dollar value placed on running the dryer, but how much electricity you will need and how much you have available.  If your house runs on solar, and it has been a cloudy week, what do you really want to use that electricity for?  Drying clothes or maybe running your fridge?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Tool sharpening

When I moved into my current house, there were a large amount of tools left behind in the garage.  They had not been used or cared for in a while.  They continued to sit unused until recently when I decided that I wanted to be a farmer.  I had no money so the old beat up tools came out and I used them as they were.  Very ineffective.
I had a brainstorm this year, thanks to another blog.  What if I were to clean up and sharpen all the tools so they were like new again.  I still wont have to buy tools, but they will be in perfect working order and will last me many more years to come.  So I decided that they first step was to learn how to sharpen everything.  I had a huge stump in the yard that needed some axing, so we started with that.
First clamp the axe down to a bench vice.
Then go over the blade with a file.  This is a rough sharpen that takes all of the larger nicks and dents out of the blade.  Like a rough sandpaper does to a piece of wood.  Whenever you use the file, go over it with a wire brush to keep it free of metal pieces and in good working condition.
Next get out your two sided sharpening stone.  Go over the blade with first the rough side to take out the smaller nicks, and then the fine side to give it a nice smooth finish.
If you keep up on the sharpening stone, doing it briefly every time you use the axe, the axe should stay nice and sharp.  You shouldn't have to use the file hardly ever.  Only if you hit a big rock or something else that would damage the blade beyond normal use.  This new sharp axe is going to be a million times better than that old dull axe.
For a much more precise version of tool sharpening, try this website.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why homestead for Independence Day

Happy 4th of July!!  As you finish up your celebrations tonight think about what independence and Independence day really means.  To be independent means to take care of yourself, making your own rules and providing for your own needs.  To truly appreciate what our ancestors fought for, we should not fail to take advantage of what they gained for us.  Don't forget to take care of yourself, make your own rules and provide for your own needs.  This was obviously very important to them, shouldn't it be important to you, too?  Think about your life and how independent you really are or even could be if you needed to be.  How much of your independence have you really given up?  By the way, this is not meant to be depressing, but rather inspirational.  To help in the celebration, try to regain some of your independence.  Learn a useful craft, plant a garden, build something for yourself.  Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Balsamic vinegar fruit fly trap

I always seem to have a terrible fruit fly problem at this time of the year.  One day everything is fine and the next the kitchen is crawling with the pesky little things.  I had never been able to get rid of them until halfway through this year.  Balsamic
vinegar.  Put some into a little bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.  Poke a few holes into the top of the plastic big enough so that they can get in.  Then they can't get out.  My bowl filled up the very first day and the fruit fly count is dwindling.  Very exciting.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Where to put your compost pile

The first step in composting is to choose a good spot.  The bacteria living in your pile that are breaking it down for you need warmth and moisture to do their jobs.  Therefore, choose a location where you get a little of both.  If you put the pile in the middle of a sunny field, it will likely dry out, kill the bacteria, and not compost quickly.  It will also likely get too much rain and that can kill the bacteria too.  Don't put it under total cover either.  You want it to get some sun to warm it up and some water from the rain so you don't have to water it yourself.  My pile is at the edge of the tree cover in my yard, right at the border of my garden.  That way it is in the sun part of the day but can still get rained on.  Another option is to put it anywhere you have some room in the sun, water it when it gets dry, and cover it with a tarp to retain the moisture.  I always go for the choice with the least effort and I think that tarps are ugly.  One other consideration for location is effort to get things to and from the pile.  I mentioned that my pile was at the edge of my garden.  This makes for less work in the spring when I am the busiest.  I have to walk further in the fall when I am raking leaves, but that time of the year isn't as busy so I don't mind.
If you notice, the old compost pile is in the middle of where you would find all of the fallen leaves.  This made sense when I was raking leaves, but then when it came time to move the finished compost, I realized what a pain it was to move all that heavy compost across the yard.  There was a second compost pile under the pine trees, but that was a mistake as well.  Whenever I went to the pile I was attacked by hundreds of hungry mosquitos.  So now the pile is out at the edge of the tree line where I hope it will be able to stay.