Saturday, July 31, 2010

Up To My Ears In Compost!

We love to compost around here. You might even call us composting fools. We can't get enough of the "black gold." Sometimes I feel like we should be the poster family for compost. We currently have four areas devoted to composting in our backyard. What a difference from our non-composting-selves only a year and a half ago! When we started composting in Arlington (read more about that here), I don't think we had any idea how composting would just become second nature to us - to all of us. Our three year old's main job other than helping to clean the bedroom is to take out the compost. Due to our vigilant composting and recycling, the picture below shows the amount of trash our family of 5 generated over a one week period. In contrast, our single next door neighbor more often than not has TWO full trash bins out every week.

One week's worth of trash for our family of five!

We even know gardeners that don't compost! Composting is just such a natural extension of gardening, and helps to bring us to that hallowed closed-loop system you hear so much about these days. You grow the food, to feed your body, and put the food waste products into the compost bin, to make the soil that will feed the food you grow. Perfection! We really started composting as an experiment ("May as well give it a shot!"), but it's quickly become big business around here. I think some people don't compost because when you read some of the manuals (yes, they make manuals!) it can seem very scientific or confusing. Certain percentages of green/brown, etc., etc. We don't follow any special formula. We just throw almost everything into the bin. Garden waste, spoiled fruits or vegetables (no meat or dairy - they attract vermin), straw, hay, leaves, grasses, weeds, sawdust, plain cardboard or shredded paper, chicken poop, and egg shells. We even add a few things some newbies may not have heard of before like dryer lint, ashes from the chimenea, hair (from brushes or haircuts), and even the junk collected out of the vacuum cleaner. Additionally, some grocery chains are starting to print their weekly specials with soy ink on recycled paper - making them completely compostable. I sometimes get their extras at the end of the sale and shred them, place them in the coop as part of the chicken litter, and every few months clean out the coop and add the mess into the compost pile, too.

I figured I'd take you all on a tour of our backyard composting, hopefully spurring some of you who haven't yet tried, or for some reason stopped many years ago and are thinking about beginning again, a nudge. It is truly so easy and is a wonderful (free!) way to make beautiful amendments for your garden beds, container plants, or ornamental landscape beds. You can even put finished compost out on your lawn to help green it up and make it lush. Seeing as we have no front lawn (and the chickens have taken over the small back yard), our compost goes straight to helping produce more food.

Composting for us starts in the kitchen. We've tried out many compost "collectors," but finally settled on an old, large plastic juice jug. It holds about a gallon, and our family routinely fills it up about every two days. It's not pretty, but it gets the job done. We keep it in the fridge so it doesn't start to stink or attract fruit flys.

Kitchen refuse bin

We used to take our kitchen waste and place it straight in an outdoor compost bin. However, now that we have acquired chickens, we're trying out something new. Now this waste goes straight to an area beside the coop. We just throw it right on the ground. The chickens love to scratch through these treats. They eat the vast majority of it. What they don't eat or poop out gets left to decompose. And it does this very quickly. About every other day I go to this area and spend 30 seconds with a rake making it into a pile again. The chickens return to scratch, spreading it out while looking for bugs. My 2 foot wide by 1 foot tall pile gets obliterated in a matter of minutes to just a few inches tall and about 5 feet wide. The chickens have a blast while also reducing our costs for their feed.

Compost by the chicken coop. That bag near the middle is a supposed compostable Sun Chips bag, but it's taking forever - we've had it just over 4 months - probably because the pile doesn't get very hot. In a hotter pile it would decompose much faster, I'm sure.

This small pile sits right next to a much larger pile (3.5' tall x 8' wide) of shredded cedar and hardwood mulch we got for free from a local tree cutting company (note the edge of this pile in the top right of the above photo). I add a bit of this to the "chicken pile" every few days as well. This also decomposes, though slower, and adds some bulk to the kitchen waste.

Free mulch pile slowly decomposing, too.

Note the closeup of the amazing soil being generated between the compost, mulch, and chicken poop.

The last two areas sit on the opposite side of the yard from the coop. This is where we compost larger yard waste (small tree limbs, leaves, dead garden plants, straw, etc - in the wood bin) and other kitchen waste, chicken poop, and the more uncommon vacuum waste, hair, and ashes (in the black plastic bin).

Inside view of wood bin

Inside view of plastic bin. That gross mass in the middle is from the vacuum (ewww!), and yes, to the left of the vacuum mass that does appear to be a beautiful red necklace with a charm attached. I think an older (or younger?) brother has been getting into his sister's jewelry. I need to investigate this!

So that's it, ladies and gentlemen. There is minimal rhyme or reason to our composting madness, yet it indeed turns into compost every single time. It may not happen as quickly as the manuals declare, but it does happen. Don't be afraid. Seriously do it. You'll greatly reduce what you send to the landfill, and you'll potentially save hundreds (thousands?) of dollars over your composting life by not having to go to a big box store to buy it. You won't regret it! -Carrie

Friday, July 30, 2010

An Ova-tion for Swoope!

I guess the golf balls helped!

Yes, folks, you read that right! It's official - we have our first egg! (Imagine a beam of light shining down on the coop with angels singing in chorus...) I actually got goosebumps when I came upon it yesterday evening! An almost inexcusable 76 days after bringing home our 5-6 month old hens - one small white egg, about the size of a golf ball. It was from Swoope, our Brown Leghorn. The other two lay brown eggs, and leghorns lay white, so she's our gal. She has been kind of squawky recently, but we were gone for a few hours yesterday morning and the chickens were "cooped up" as it were, so that's probably when it happened. She appears no worse for the wear. Needless to say, it was a big day around here. No eggs this morning though, I think she's taking a well deserved break. Hopefully the other (much larger) two will catch on soon!

Swoope taking a dust bath while basking in the evening sun.
The perfect end to a momentous day!

Please excuse the somewhat blurry pictures. I was so overjoyed I just didn't take the time to focus the camera! Also, thanks to my dad for the sweet post title. You're a genius! -Carrie

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Around the Homestead...

Here are some recent pictures from around the old homestead. Enjoy!

Sun tea, brewing in, you guessed it, the sun!
Jason makes this about every other day.

Action shot of chickens eating a custom blended mix of grains, fruit, etc. I try to give them something like this about twice a week. Probably completely unnecessary but it makes me feel good!

Swoope waiting for said mix....

Jason bringing it to her.
He honestly feels like we wait on them hand and foot!

Three new 4'x8' beds! I'm so excited about these and will do a post on them in a few weeks. Still trying to fill them at least partially with free (or almost free) materials. Will get a delivery of blended veggie growing soil towards the end of August. Stay tuned!

Lone strawberry in our strawberry pot. We get a paltry one or two a week!

Attempting to cook a pizza in Jason's solar oven. Still needs some tweaking, though. It's never gotten over 200 degrees inside. After about two hours we had to take the pizza out and finish it in the oven.

Sweet little lizard on a growing cantaloupe. -Carrie

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nest Box Giveaway

Just read from Leigh over at 5 Acres & a Dream that Life on a Southern Farm is having a giveaway of a hand made two hole chicken nesting box. Seeing as our chickens still haven't started laying (they are now between 30-34 weeks old!), I figured I could use all of the help I can get. Maybe they want fancier laying digs?!? Wish me luck on winning, and feel free to enter, too. -Carrie

Automated America

A while ago I asked the question, “Do you think we are too busy as a society?” Here’s another, “Do you think we’ve all gotten a little lazy?”

I walk into my local Big Box Supercenter and half the people are well past the sizes that they should be. More and more you see people maneuvering around in motorized carts, and while I know some legitimately need them, by and far I believe they are enabling the overweight to get “overweighter.”

Evolution takes hundreds and hundreds of years to make major changes to a species. The human race has managed to reinvent ourselves in about a hundred years, and the advent of petroleum in our lives has introduced a slew of issues our culture and bodies were not prepared to deal with. For instance, our bodies are hard wired to store extra energy we take in because we simply didn’t know when the next meal would be. Today’s farming techniques uses copious amounts of fossil fuels to produce consistent crops year round and at far greater yields. An acre of corn used to produce 20 bushels of corn and today pushes close to 200. This surplus is transformed and mutated into cheap cupcakes, Twinkies, and soda.

Cars now carry us to and from every place we need to go, sometimes just a few blocks at a time. Big machines pick-up building materials and load them onto trucks like a child with his Lincoln Logs. Plastics are poured and molded in seconds to replace the wooden objects we took hours to make just 20 years ago. Mundane tasks like washing the laundry not only got our clothes clean, but kept us healthy through exercise. Not to be hypocrites - we are relative newbies on this journey to get back in touch with our roots. We still use a washing machine (though rarely use a dryer), we still use cars (though we use bikes when possible), we still use the air conditioning (though very rarely – it is a common occurrence for it to be over 90 in the house), and we still love unhealthy food (both of us could lose some weight but agree that it's nothing a vacation at an Amish Resort wouldn't fix).

A good hard day’s work used to involve several hours of physical labor followed by the satisfaction of seeing your fields grow and crops multiply. Years ago, when we were a nation of farmers, we had to toil daily to work our land and from what I’m seeing on my little fraction of an acre, the land doesn’t “give” you anything. You have to work to get those veggies! Today we teach our children to go get good educations so that they can become doctors and lawyers, engineers and architects, all for the pleasure of working under the air conditioning and going to Disney every year with the family. I’m not saying we should be teaching our children to become ditch diggers, but there’s nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty and as I’ve stated before, it’s healthy for you. Maybe even a little spiritual. -Jason

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's going on here?

Have you ever wondered what your child is eating at school? I rarely see parents eating lunch at school with their kids, so you may be surprised to learn that your kid isn’t eating the healthy meal you may think. One resource you should know about is This site gives the nutritional values of foods served by participating school districts, including Dallas'. However, the sugars are not included in these facts. Not to worry, there is a great link to see the amount of sugar cubes it takes to make your favorite drinks – it’s These are great tools for showing your kids the nutrition facts of their lunch.

In Dallas during the 2009-2010 school year, they gave us a couple of entrees to choose from. To help complete the lunch, we picked up to two sides, and milk (flavored or plain). Juice is also an option, but you are not allowed to have a side with the juice unless it’s pudding! How bizarre?!? Here’s something else that is bizarre… All the kids who went through the lunch line were not required to buy the supposedly “healthy” lunch entrees. There was nothing preventing them from picking the junk food that is served alongside the main fare. What was uncommon was to see someone with a salad! There are four things you can buy for additional money: water, cookies, chips, and ice cream. You may only purchase one of the latter three. In a nearby school district I went to, you could purchase any combination of sweets without restriction. And you should see what some parents actually give their kids for lunch! I know one kid who gets a bag of chips, a juice box, and a cheese and cracker pack.

This is not how it’s always going to be though. Dallas ISD is completing a transformation this year that began in 2001. They have decided to change the menu to something healthier in the fall of 2010! Gone are the hamburgers, nachos, and fries. Bring in the beans, the salads, and rice. Elementary schools will see the biggest changes with high schools being effected the least.

Children are not the only ones who have problems with choices. Parents have neglected to teach their children how to take their kids to school in an Earth friendly way. Every day I see TONS of cars. While my parents do take me to school by car sometimes, it’s not uncommon for us to walk, either. What I don’t see is any bike riding! Are you listening dad? I want bike riding! If a child’s school is like three or four miles away, then I would understand taking a vehicle, but if you live only a mile away, you really shouldn’t be taking a vehicle unless you are carpooling or if you are handicapped.

Speaking of walking and biking, where do I get my physical education? It’s P.E. and recess. Recess is really something I should be excited about... if it happens at all. One six week period, I didn’t have physical education at all! That really made me mad. My health education is part of P.E. for me. To tell you the truth, most of my health education comes from home.

School is big opportunity to learn not only what we should do, but what we shouldn’t do as well. I look forward to going to middle school where I can learn about the environment and how to take care of it. -Will

Monday, July 26, 2010

Will work for bike

I’m a cheapskate. Sorry to blurt that out to all of creation, but I am. Step 5 of a 12 step program is to admit the situation. Actually, it’s not entirely my fault. I come from a long, long line of cheapskates; though, back in the day they were called other nasty names like ‘Frugal’ and ‘Living within your means.’ It’s in my blood.

We keep our eyes out for various things we need which are cheap or sub-cheap. Of course we hit garage sales, yard sales, estate sales, and the like, but we don’t feel like we have to pay for stuff either in order to realize value in it. You may have seen our previous post about the windows (HERE) we picked up on the side of the road (which also keeps them out of the landfill.) We’ve acquired so many things offered for free or extremely cheap from a mother’s group with 300 families in it, and & continue to be great places to find free items from like minded people who see the value of giving things a second life.

Recently added to our inventory are two bicycles which were advertised for sale which I acquired without monetary transfer. I did this by asking the simple question, “Are you open to bartering?” In both situations, I used my skills as a landscape contractor and designer to take care of problems which they had. They got what they wanted, I got what I wanted, and my bank account was no worse for it. One word of caution, based on experience… before a complex barter begins, I would advise establishing the monetary value of the goods and services in case things don’t go according to plan. This falls into the ‘Better safe than sorry’ category and will help keep the trade on an equal playing field. -Jason

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Arachnophobics - Don't Scroll Down!

Wow! Talk about taking my breath away! I went out to the coop yesterday evening to lock up the chickens - and snap! I couldn't believe my eyes. My heart could barely take it either! This is what I found nestled in the corner made by the coop & the fence....

After getting my wits together, and a quick visit to Google, I found it to be a female Black & Yellow Garden Spider. Garden Spider - sounds almost lovely and idyllic (at least as spiders go)! But this lady is a monster! About 2 inches long! And the most amazing web - it looks like she's weaving a shirt the thing is so thick! I just couldn't believe it. Apparently these are relatively common, but I've never seen anything like it - at least not outside of a zoo. I thought perhaps she'd pose a threat to the chickens (let alone us), but supposedly they are harmless. Seems almost impossible to believe.

If you happen to find spiders fascinating and want more information - check out this Wikipedia link. - Carrie

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Green Ingenuity: Compost Pile Heats Water for Shower

We are going to start a new series here, perhaps once or twice a month, highlighting "green ingenuity" - things you may not have heard of before that make a great contribution to solving problems or challenges of the world, all with a green bent.

I came across this amazing video a few days ago while doing some research. Why didn't I think of something like this? Here's a video from YouTube of Brian Kerkvliet at Inspiration Farms. They made a compost pile around a long hose. As the compost decomposed, enough heat was generated to provide 500 hot showers over the life of the pile. Very ingenious. I definitely want to try this some day. Hope you all find it as cool as I did. - Carrie

Friday, July 23, 2010

Slow Mo

Do you think we are too busy as a society? I’ve noticed over the past couple of weeks, that I tend to use my car when I try to fit more into my day. I wonder if God meant for us to live like this. Should we be so busy that there’s no time to reflect and ponder things like grandpa used to do, sipping tea on the back patio in the evening. It seems in our culture, the faster you go, the less green you get.

Think about it… what is the expected wait time for an order at a fast food restaurant? What is the mileage of your car when you speed versus sooth travel at 60 mph? How much time do you trade to grow your own veggies as opposed to just purchasing them? Preserving food when in season, cooking food using solar power, watering plants using rain barrels all qualify as slower means of managing our daily lives, but better options for the environment AND more importantly us.

Any way you slice or dice this issue, it all comes down to living a different lifestyle. But here’s the kicker… living that different lifestyle isn’t the hard part. People around the world do it every day. The hard part is living that lifestyle in the midst of a radically different culture. -Jason

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ode to a Small House

I vacuumed the house last night. Woohoo! But that’s not the spectacular part. Are you ready for it? I vacuumed the entire house last night – the bedrooms, bathroom, hallway, living room, dining room, and kitchen - and never even had to unplug the machine! That is just how small our house is. And it’s one of the numerous reasons why I love it here. Many people can’t believe it when I tell them we live in a 1000 square foot house with three children and only two bedrooms. I probably wouldn’t have believed it myself just two short years ago. I know that compared to much of the world, we live like kings. However, in America, where the average home size has more than doubled since the 1950s while the number of people living in the house has decreased, I think we’re seen by some as oddballs. We initially moved here out of necessity, not choice. But we have now made a conscious decision to stay here, and while it may not be for everyone, we are confident this is where we need to be for our family.

So, in no official order, I give you just a few of the awesome things about living in a small house:
  • See above. Cleaning, while still not my favorite thing in the world, is a relative snap – and not near as time consuming as it used to be.
  • Less money spent on upkeep for the house. i.e. There is only one toilet to fix instead of three or four.
  • Three words: Smallest...Mortgage…Ever!
  • Lower utility bills – Electric was $40 in May & $71 in June – our previous house (2250 sq ft) had bills of $190 & $275, respectively.
  • Our property taxes here are $4,000 less than our old house, and we’ve only moved one mile away.
  • We always know where the kids are, and know they can hear us when we call them out of their bedroom. Now, getting them to respond is another issue, but at least they don’t have the “But I didn’t hear you!” excuse at their disposal.
  • Smaller lot = less upkeep on the landscape.
  • Less clutter. While I sometimes look around and don’t feel this way, we have drastically reduced the amount of “stuff” we own. Moving from 2250 square feet, to 1500 (for only a few months), down to 1000, we had no choice but to hold numerous garage sales to get rid of items we knew we wouldn’t have the room for. Not only did we make a bit of money, but we are free of the weight of all of those frivolous items. Now most things in our house have a definite purpose and are used on a mostly daily basis. It’s also easier to find what you’re looking for if you’re not having to search in the basement, the garage attic, the house attic, and under every bed and in every closet for a single item.
While we do plan on being here for a while, I’ve already set my sights on an even smaller abode, such as the 'B-53' - a 743 square foot vision of beauty from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company shown below.

Now 743 square feet may sound tiny to some, but in reality it is a monster! Jay Shafer, at Tumbleweed, has house plans as small as 67 square feet available for purchase. Seriously! For more small house inspiration try or

While I don’t see us moving to a house this small until the kids are in college, I look forward to trying to convince Jason that this is where we need to be in our retirement years! He’s still not quite on board, but I have some tricks up my sleeves! –Carrie

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Need to Vent

I love my house. It’s small and efficient. I can cook a three course meal, get the mail, sweep the floors and never have to leave the toilet. It’s small. By being small and under the large pecan tree, it stays relatively cool in the summer. The deciduous tree allows the sun through in the winter, and warms the house by day. The house is a little small at times too, but I prefer to look at that as bringing the family closer together. More on this tomorrow…

We purchased this house about three years ago as a fixer-upper and investment property. It was a foreclosure and looked like a foreclosure, inside and out. So we set out to remodel our little rental not knowing that one day it would be our lifeboat as I’ve come to call it. After living here for the past year and a half, there is one problem that we’ve never been able to mitigate. Our kitchen is always hot. This has little to do with cooking in there and everything to do with fact that there’s no vent. Yes that’s right, the people who put the A/C system in forgot to put a vent in the hottest room of the house…or so we thought.

This afternoon, in my quest to improve the efficiency of my A/C system, I climbed into our attic to check for leaks in the ducts. I want all of the cold air I’m paying for to make it into my house you see, and not into the attic. “Let’s see…” I’m thinking, “That duct is running to the kids’ room. That one is running to mine. Those two are running to the living room… Where the heck is that one leading to? Unless…..”

Pilot hole with vent hole next to it.

To test my theory I tapped next to the area. Those in the house confirmed the tapping came from above the kitchen. Good sign. A drilled hole next to the vent in the attic revealed…you guessed it folks. In the course of remodeling this home, someone covered up the air duct! What a find! Tonight, for the first time in years, we actually got to make a July dinner without looking like it was done in Lucifer’s kitchen. It’s the little things in life which make me happy! -Jason

My new vent!