Monday, January 21, 2013

Worm Food That Doesn't Involve Dead Bodies

We received the perfect gift this Christmas: a compost bin! And I don't mean that sarcastically. In fact, we asked for a compost bin! We've waited awhile to get it up and running since it's still winter but got too excited. This weekend had such nice, sunny weather that we got a little antsy to get the new bin up and running... and replace our nasty -yet thrifty- compost silo.
Yummy. You can see pumpkin from October.
Thankfully it didn't take too long. My husband moved the old compost-filled silo into a wheelbarrow. We then placed the new compost bin in the silo's place (no assembly required = extra bonus). Then we simply took turns to dish the old compost into the new bin.
You see only him, but I swear we took turns.
Surprisingly, our compost filled up most of the bin. It won't stay that way for too long though. The compost bin is more efficient than the compost silo. We are supposed to turn it three times a week to get compost within just 6 weeks. During that time it will shrink in size.
Looks as if it's always been there.
I began to see parts of our future gardening compost during my turns to shovel. Sure it was in between some moldy grass here some mushy tomato there; but it just made me so excited for the upcoming spring! I'm going to despise most of it thanks to my allergies, but I really can't wait to begin our garden. There will be more veggies, more flowers, more herbs... it's going to be beautiful!

Until then, my excitement will go into what else I can add to the compost. I mean the possibilities are endless since we now have a closed, rotating bin. Here's just a few things that we will add to our previous plant-based compost:
- Coffee Grinds (thanks to our new EkoBrew for the Keurig)
- Vegetable Leftovers (outside of bad veggies from the garden)
- Fruit Leftovers
- Shredded Paper
- Torn-up Cardboard
- Eggshells
- Hair from hair brushes (worth a try, just need to scatter it apparently)
- Pet Hair
- Dryer Lint
- Corn Stalks & Cobs

The main goal is to have a good amount of nitrogen and carbon. Oh, and did I mention worms? Thankfully, my husband was able to find a few compost-lovin' guys in the yard and tossed them into the bin. Another thing that makes this bin so awesome is that there's a way to collect what's called compost tea. By spraying this on your plants, you can help them fight off disease. Just another reason to love the awesome power of decomposition.

It's just like what Ms. Frizzle said: "it doesn't have to be delicious to be nutritious." And if you have no idea what I'm talking about then you need to read this to your children. Happy Rotting!

Friday, January 18, 2013

It's All About Proper Drainage

Well, that sounds gross. But it's true. After dealing with a drought for months, our area received a down pour of rain last weekend. In fact we got more than 5 inches of rain within a 48 hour period.

I promise Katsumi didn't develop freckles. That's how a wet Shiba looks.
We dealt with a decent flood in 2011 but this is the first time we had a heavy amount of rain during a short period of time in our new home. A new home that has a full basement. A full basement that contains several valuables like cleaning equipment & our deep freezer. Needless to say it's very important to us that it remains dry.

Thankfully (and it was a key selling point) our seller waterproofed the basement & installed two new sump pumps about 2 months before we bought the house. We were told we were very lucky since most homes in our little river city don't even have a basement much less sump pumps.

So as I said, last weekend was the first test for our home. The seller also previously made sure water flowed away from the house. That was our first clue that we received quite a bit of rain...

That's just after the first 12 hours. My garden is a pool!
I've heard our sump pumps in action before, but they are a novelty to me. My childhood home only had a crawlspace. And despite being along a river, we never needed sump pumps. I'm also a bit skittish so I as always pick up hearing the click & motor sound of our sump pumps.

So last weekend the rain came a' tumblin' down. And our sump pumps turned on again... and again... and again... and again. I was home most of the weekend by myself (which is never a good idea) and became obsessive with hearing the sump pumps. Eventually on Sunday night, I had to see what our basement looked like. At first, I was shocked.
Water right next to a sump pump. Something doesn't add right here.
So if you know anything about basements, you'll know this isn't a big deal. But for everyone else & pre-Sunday me: Holy Poseidon, how scary is this?! Five inches is a lot of rain, but that's nothing compared to legitimate flooding! What would we do if we had another flood season?!

So I anxiously waited for my husband to call saying he got out of work. He could fix it. He always fixes stuff. He can fix anything. I was just worried about the cost. Sure enough he finally called. I told him he would need to look at the basement & texted him a photo. He didn't respond before he got home. After a quick walk around the basement he stopped by the puddle & said, "just what I thought. We have fantastic sump pumps!"

... Er... what?

Sure enough he's right. The ground forced the water through small cracks in the basement floor. It was such a small amount of water that it couldn't flow into the corners of the basement. We have crevasses outlining the entire basement that flows water into the sump pump drain. If there would of been more water, it could of gone through the system. But it didn't thanks to how water drains away from the foundation. And the rest of the basement is so well sealed that there was only one spot.

Needless to say, I've learned a lot about sump pumps last weekend. They are a great thing thing to have in a basement. Especially new ones. We really got lucky on that part of our home. But there quite a few projects ahead...

Oh and 10. That's how many times I wrote sump pumps. Well, 11 now. I have an unhealthy obsession.
Last note: bulbs are already sprouting! It's only January, right?

Monday, January 7, 2013

DIY Gift: Lip Balm & Why My Husband Refuses To Wash Dishes From Now On

It maybe after the Holidays, but I still wanted to provide ways that you can create great gifts for a loved one. Maybe save the idea for next year or use it as a way to get brownie points for Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day. You never need an excuse to give a small gift that you made.

One new idea we tried this year was DIY herbal lip balm. I've been enamored with Rose Mountain Herbs for quite some time now. Not only do they sell great, healthy products but they also provide a blog and YouTube Channel that inspires your inner herbalist. Have I said enough good things about this company yet? Are you still reading this? Hope so.

Well, their YouTube channel has a great tutorial on how to make lip balm. It seemed so simple we thought we would try it out.

First off, you will need:
1/2 C Calendula Oil
1 oz Bees Wax
1/2 teaspoon lavender oil
20+ lip balm tubes (we did have left over lip balm)

It was so fun trying out this recipe! But I highly suggest you use specific cookware just for wax products. We'll get to that later. But basically you start off with melting the one ounce of wax. I did this by cutting off an ounce, shaving it, then place in a double boiler. Shavings will melt quicker than just a block. While it's melting, go ahead and take the caps of of the lip balm tubes or tins.

After the wax is completely melted into a liquid, you pour in the cup of calendula oil. Next step: don't freak out when the wax slightly solidifies like this:

The wax slightly solidified because the oil was room temperature. So just keep the heat up so the wax can melt back down to a full liquid. This is also when you add the 1/2 teaspoon of lavender oil. You can actually use a 1/2 teaspoon of any kind of essential oil for flavoring. I might use mint oil next time.

After everything is all smooth & mixed, you then have a very short amount of time to pour the balm into the tubes. To make it easier for us, we poured the balm into a measuring cup with a spout. Then poured it into each tube and let it dry.
The only issue I had was that it appears the wax dried before it could get to the very bottom of the tube. It didn't take too long for the entire tube to dry. We labeled and presto! 20 lip balm tubes to go out as stocking stuffers!

Now for the downside. Due to this little experiment we had a double boiler pan, spoon, and measuring cup that were seriously coated in wax and oil. I did my best with hot water to wash it out before my husband came home, but I wasn't able to get it all. He wasn't impressed. Needless to say you should try to to all this with older kitchen equipment or purchase cheap tools that can be dedicated just to wax projects.

Everyone that received lip balm for Christmas love it. And we were able to make it with local beeswax purchased at the Farmer's Market along with lavender oil I made with lavender branches my in-laws gave to me. Next year I hope to have enough dried calendula to make my own calendula oil too! What other essential oils do you think I should add for flavor?