Showing posts with label Composting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Composting. Show all posts

Jan 21, 2013

2 Simple Steps for Reducing Waste in the Home

Cutway model of a typical compost bin. (Bruce McAdam)
Have you heard about the "Zero Waste Home?" Well, that's not my house. (Something I'm glad for, since the zero waste home seems a bit obsessive-compulsive to me.) But over the past few years, we've definitely cut down on the amount of trash we send to the landfill. And not only is it not hard - it saves us money.


The first important step to reducing household waste is to compost. It's also a must if you have any type of a garden; compost is expensive to purchase and so easy to make.

I keep a small, attractive container on the kitchen counter and empty it nearly every day. Into this container goes:

* fruit and vegetable scraps
* empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls
* paper towels (don't compost any that have cleaning chemicals on them)
* scratch paper my children have drawn on or that I've made lists on
* waxed paper, including the kind butter is wrapped in
* parchment paper(after reusing it several times)
* coffee grounds and filters
* tea bags (only the kind without staples in them)
* egg shells
* "old maids" (popcorn that didn't pop)

My favorite composter.
In addition, we put the following in our composter:

* grass clippings (unless I use them as garden mulch or give them to the chickens)
* clippings from the garden (unless my hubby chips them and I use them as garden mulch)
* cardboard boxes (unless I use them as garden mulch)
* tissue paper
* wrapping paper
* rotten produce from the fridge (no matter how careful I am, we always end up with some)
* weeds that haven't gone to seed
* chicken manure (I have one composter just for manure so I can be sure it's well aged before I use it in the garden)

So, you can see this takes care of pretty much all paper products, garden waste, and some of the kitchen waste. (Learn more about what can be composted over at TLC and Compost Instructions.)

To learn more about how to start your own composting pile(s), read my post here. But it really couldn't be easier; simply pile organic material and let it decompose. If you want it to decompose faster, you can be mindful of what you put in and how often you turn the pile. I've also found things compost faster in well ventilated, rotating compost bins made from black plastic - but even just a pile in a corner of your yard will eventually turn to beautiful compost that enriches the earth. I sometimes also use the old fashioned method of trenching: Just dig a hole somewhere in your yard, put compostable material in it, and cover it up.

Kitchen and garden scraps.

The second easy way we've reduced household waste is to have chickens. Yes, pigs have a reputation for being wonderful "garbage" eaters, but really, chickens are just as good and take up a lot less room. A bonus: the more "garbage" you feed them, the less you'll spend in chicken feed. To the chickens go:

* weeds I don't compost
* garden clippings I don't compost or chip (don't give hens tomato plants, though)
* any leftover food that can't be composted, including
  • meat (yes, chicken, too)
  • meat fats and gristle
  • cheese
  • soured milk
  • pasta
  • bread
  • any veggies or fruit scraps I don't compost (avoid onions and fruit peels in quantity because they make eggs taste "off" and avoid potato peelings because they can poison chickens.)
In my experience chickens don't turn their noses up at any food - and many foods you might think they couldn't or wouldn't eat (like sour, curdled milk), they actually adore.

Other Things We Don't Throw Out

* leaves (rake them where you want them, then let them decompose - they are great for the soil; if you prefer, compost them)
* glass jars (save them for storing dried goods or non-food items like pins or nails in)
* certain plastic containers that once held food (also for storing dried goods; don't use jars that didn't contain food)

We rarely recycle - primarily because recycling uses up a lot of fuel and energy. Besides, why send it off somewhere if we can use it somewhere on our "homestead?"

How do you reduce waste in your household? 

This post featured on Homestead Abundance.

Oct 14, 2011

Reducing Household Waste

Do you ever look at your curbside on trash day and wonder how it is your family throws away so much? I do, and lately I've been making an effort to reduce the amount of stuff we have to pay someone else to haul away.

For me, this isn't a "green" thing. Most of what my family throws away eventually decomposes and improves, anyway. But I am interested in using what we have wisely - and in reducing our garbage bill. But whatever motives you to reduce your garbage, here are a few ideas. Note that I'm not really interested in the zero-waste theory. I find that a bit obsessive. Or compulsive. Or something. People have always thrown some things away. My approach is more moderate, as you will see.

1. Compost everything possible. I'll bet that even if you're already composting, you're not composting everything you could be. Some examples of less-often composted items includes: toilet paper rolls, paper napkins, cardboard boxes of all sizes, waxed paper, pet and people hair, non-slick junk mail, popcorn kernels that didn't pop, weeds (unless they've gone to seed), and non-plastic Q-tips. Don't have a composter? Dig a hole in the ground and bury compostable materials; that's the old school way. *

2. Buy from bulk bins. Some stores allow you to bring in your own containers, weight them, and fill them with items from bulk bins. This is a bit of trouble if you do "big" grocery shopping, but it makes the pantry more organized and it reduces the amount of waste coming from your kitchen. If you can't bring in your own containers, use store-provided paper bags, which can go into the compost bin.

3. Reuse or give away. Old peanut butter and coffee jars are terrific for holding and organizing a wide assortment of items, from snack foods to nails. Children's clothes too small? Refashion them into clothes that fit, or give them away to someone who can use them. You get the idea.

4. Can your own foods. Store bought canned goods are convenient, but all those cans take up quite a bit of space in the garbage can. With home canned goods, the jars are used over and over again; you only throw away (or recycle) the small, flat lids.

5. Rethink food storage. Whenever possible, use reusable containers (ideally, glass) for storing leftover food, or repeatedly re-use plastic freezer bags.

6. Replace paper towels and napkins with cloth.

7. Learn to use all the food you buy. Make a weekly or bi-monthly list of dishes you'll serve and post it on the fridge; learn my super-easy method here. Make sure to use all leftovers, use up the edible parts of the food you buy, and organize your fridge to end food waste.

8. Avoid produce in plastic. First of all, do you really want fresh food wrapped in chemically-created plastic? And how can you tell how fresh (or not) the food is? Plus, you just have to throw all that plastic away.

9. Avoid processed foods. Not only are they unhealthy, but they create way more trash.

10. Give your children used paper for drawing and crafts. Whether it's junk mail or paper from your computer's printer, if it's not printed on two sides, it's still useable! Once your children have used up the paper, compost it.

11. Spend a month really paying attention to what ends up in the trash can, then brain storm ways to reduce your most persistent "offenders." Don't feel you have to make a whole bunch of changes at once. Try one idea a month, if needed.

* You may notice recycling, in the modern sense, is not on my list at all. That's because recycling uses up an inordinate amount of energy - and many towns only recycle a portion of what residents put out for recycling. The rest goes to the land fill.

How do you reduce your household waste?

Jul 29, 2011

Homemade Fruit Fly Trap that Really Works

Now that I have my handy-dandy kitchen compost bin (which I love, by the way!) I find I occasionally get fruit flies in the house. Here is a cheap, easy way to get rid of the pesky fruit flies:

First, pick a container. You can use a small bowl or a pint jar. I prefer my old-fashioned looking fruit fly trap (pictured on the right); unlike a bowl, the contents don't spill out easily, and unlike a pint jar, it looks more attractive on the kitchen counter.

Then fill the container. Pour about a cup of apple cider vinegar into the bowl, jar, or trap. To this, add just a drop or two of dish soap (I use Dawn). The smell of the apple cider vinegar attracts fruit flies, and the dish soap sticks to the critters so they can't fly. They will drown in the mixture.

To prevent fruit flies in the first place, take out the compost (or garbage) more frequently. Fruit fly eggs lay in wait in many fruits; the longer the fruit scraps are in your kitchen, the more likely it is those eggs will hatch.

It's also helpful to thoroughly wash your kitchen bin once in a while. One reason I love my stainless steel kitchen compost bin is that I can pop it into the dishwasher without fear of it being damaged. If you have a fancier bin - like those made of porcelain - you'll have to hand wash it. You might also consider using quick-to-compost bin liners - though I have to admit I can't quite make myself spend money on these.

And if you're thinking, "Now I know I don't want a compost bin in my kitchen!" let me assure you that I only get fruit flies about once a year - and getting rid of them is a snap. Beautiful, free compost for my garden is well worth the tiny bit of time it takes me to deal with fruit flies!

Feb 4, 2011

Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century

I see it everywhere. People in all walks of life are developing an interest in being more self sufficient. Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's a desire for a more simple, traditional life. Maybe it's a longing to be more in tune with nature. But whether you live in the city and want to grow food on your rooftop, live in the suburbs and want to raise chickens, or live in the country and want to make your property a small farm, Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century by father/son writing duo Dick and James Strawbridge, offers lots of inspiration, both in the writing and in the abundant full color photos.

No single book on self sufficiency can be entirely adequate for the curious mind, but what I really enjoyed about the Strawbridge's book is their writing comes from practical experience. For many years, they've owned and operated Newhouse Farm in Cornwall, England, and I loved getting a peak at what works for them - from their electricity-producing water wheel, to their rainwater harvesting system, to their gorgeous and practical garden, to their critters. And while their book is clearly modeled after John Seymour's classic The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It (read my review of Seymour's book here), Strawbridge's book is more practical for modern life.

The book begins by considering the basics of self sufficiency: Food, shelter, and energy. Throughout, we get glimpses of life at Newhouse Farm, but the authors also offer ideas and illustrations for being more self sufficient in an urban and suburban setting. Next, we settle in to ideas about how to make our homes more energy efficient, including using passive solar gain (basically, large windows facing south), and heat recovery. There's even brief information on building earth homes or houses lined with straw bales. Energy options are next, and an introduction to many possibilities is included. Their view of solar energy is realistic, but they offer ideas about where it can be useful. They even offer basic instructions for building a solar shower. They also cover wind and water energy in fair detail; at Newhouse, they use a combination of all these energy sources. In addition, there are ideas for safe rainwater usage, compost toilets, and making and using biofuel.

The next section of the book covers gardening, and while the techniques used at Newhouse seem pretty traditional, the authors offer some ideas on forest gardens, no dig gardening, and growing plants only in water (hydroponics). They offer all the info needed to start traditional composting - and they include a method of composting cooked meat, fish, and dairy products. There's even a page detailing how to make an all natural, balanced fertilizer from comfrey, a type of herb. The authors also offer an intelligent chart for rotating crops, as well as information on using a greenhouse, hoop house, and cold frame, gardening in urban areas, building a raised bed, doing worm composting, sowing seeds, and basic but useful information on growing various types of vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

The next section is most useful for those with land. It offers insights into working large areas, including making natural boundaries, growing fodder for animals, storing large amounts of crops, and managing wooded areas. Lessons in animal husbandry are offered next, and while the information is brief (8 pages tops per type of animal), it's pretty informative. If you want to begin raising hens, for example, you'll find all the necessary information on how to begin: How to buy, offering housing, watering, feeding, making a hen tractor, increasing your flock, and butchering the birds. There are also sections on turkeys, geese and ducks, pigs, sheep, goats, bees, and cows. A very brief section also mentions wild game and fish, offering illustrated instructions on skinning, drawing, and butchering a rabbit.

For those new to preserving food, the next section of the book offers an overview. The authors cover making butter, yogurt, cream, cheese, and bread; pickling; preserves; drying herbs, vegetables, and fruit (mostly by solar means); curing meat and fish; smoking (including making smokers); and making hard cider, beer, and wine. Unfortunately, there are a few odd-ball statements, like: "Preserving vegetables at home by canning is not advisable...Our advice is to only can fruit, and preserve your vegetables by freezing them," but since this book isn't a canning manual, one hopes readers will look elsewhere for thorough canning information.

The least helpful part of the book, in my opinion, is the section on "natural remedies." The information seems much too vague to me. For example, there are instructions on making "revitalizing infusions" - just for general health, I suppose. Specific information on using herbs and plants to treat ailments is absent entirely. Finally, there is a brief section on "green cleaners," like baking soda and vinegar, and a section offering very basic information on working with wood, basketry, and similar skills.

It is important to remember that Self Sufficiency for the 21st Century isn't the place to learn how to do everything mentioned in the book. Rather, it's a place from which to draw workable ideas, learn the basics of important skills, and learn from two men who live an essentially self sufficient life. After reading this book, I think you'll be inspired to do further research into how you can live a more self sufficient life.

For those who dream of owning a small farm or those wanting to find ways to make life in the suburbs or country side more simple and self sufficient, this book is an great addition to the bookshelf.

Mar 3, 2010

Super Charging Your Compost Pile

Last week I laid out some quick and easy ways to compost your garden and kitchen scraps. If you follow only the advice given in that post, you'll be well on your way to recycling the good old fashioned way, while providing your garden with compost that would cost a tidy sum in the store. If you're anything like me, soon you'll find yourself almost gleeful when you discover half rotted broccoli in the back of the fridge: "Compost material!"

But most gardeners find they can't make compost as quickly as they'd like - so this post focuses on super charging your composter. If you follow these steps, you should end up with finished compost within two to four weeks.

Know Your Greens and Browns
Perhaps the most important way to make compost quickly is to know the difference between browns and greens. In the composting world, browns are high carbon materials and greens are nitrogenous materials. In order to keep the composter hot and decomposing, most experts suggest placing three parts brown to one part green inside it. Add more browns and the pile will decompose much more slowly; add more greens and you'll end up with a slimy, smelly pile that decomposes even slower.

Dry leaves
Straw and hay
Plant clippings (except grass)
Wood ash
Shredded papers
Sawdust or wood chips
Corn cobs and stalks

Fruit and vegetable scraps
Dry grass clippings
Seaweed and kelp
Chicken manure
Coffee and tea grounds

Frequent turning is also a must for faster finished compost. Turning gives fresh oxygen to the pile, which in turn gives the pile bacteria needed to eat up organic matter. This is why turn handle composters are nice; give them a full five or six rotations daily. If you don't have a turning composter, you'll need to turn the pile with a garden fork. As you do so, break up any clumps and move dry materials toward the center of the pile.

Let it Drink
To decompose quickly, compost piles should be moist but not soggy. If you can pick up a handful of compost material and squeeze water from it, you need to keep the pile more dry. Try adding some dry brown leaves or hay to the mix, and keep the pile covered with a tarp if it's been raining a lot. If your pile is dry, add a little water from the hose and check the moisture level each day. (Even better than ordinary water is water you've cooked veggies - not meats - in.)

Keep it Small
The smaller the pieces of material you add to the composter, the faster they will decompose. Chop up kitchen materials before putting them in the composter or kitchen composter. Put leaves through a lawn mower or chipper. Put corn cobs and branches through the chipper, too.

No matter what you do, your compost pile will likely be too cold to decompose effectively during the winter months (unless you live in an area that's warm all year round). Feel free to keep adding contents to the pile, bearing in mind your brown to green ratio, but don't expect the pile to produced a finished product for spring planting.

There's little scientific evidence that compost activators actually work, but many gardeners swear by them. I, personally, have never had much luck with activators, but recently the owners of a seed store told me alfalfa meal works well. According to these avid gardeners, it contains both protein and nitrogen, which helps break down the composting materials. You can buy alfalfa meal at gardening centers.

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Feb 23, 2010

Composting the Easy, Cheap Way

Composting is all the rage right now, and while I hate to be so trendy, I must admit I'm a huge fan of turning garbage into something useful for the garden. If you compost, you can turn tons of stuff you'd normally throw in the trash or put down the disposal into soil that's so rich you'd pay quite a sum for it at a gardening center. Composting is also super-duper easy - and you don't need an expensive composter to get started.

Composting on the Cheap

The cheapest method of composting is also the original method: Set aside a corner of the yard and pile waste there. Eventually, it will turn into compost. There are things you can do to speed up the decomposition process - I'll discuss them in a later post - but for now, you can just start piling compostable materials in your yard. (Don't worry about smell; if you compost correctly, your pile shouldn't smell disagreeable.)

If you'd like the pile to look a bit more tidy, you can create an actual bin to throw waste into. Pound four wooden or metal stakes into the soil and tie chicken wire to them with zip ties. Or make the bin round by using more stakes. It's a time-honored method. Just make sure the bin isn't too small or too large. Optimally, it should be no more than four feet - and no less than three feet - in diameter. Remember, too, it needs to be short enough you can easily throw a bucket of "garbage" into it and stir the contents of the pile. Three feet is a good height for quick composting.

If you have any old garbage cans laying around, you can easily turn those into composters, too. Just drill holes all over the bottom and sides of the cans (for air circulation). Dark colored cans works best, since they will get hotter faster, aiding the decomposition process.

If you're willing to spend slightly more, the Internet is full of nice-looking plans for larger wire and wood compost bins. Popular Mechanics also offers ideas on making your own tumbling compost bin, and here are some similar plans. Tumbling composters are a bit easier to use than ordinary piles because you don't have to stir heavy contents with a fork or shovel; this means you should get finished compost sooner.

I recently upgraded to a ready-made tumbling composter, pictured above. I shopped carefully for something affordable that I thought would be better than the old-garbage-can composter I already had, and so far I'm loving it!

Location Matters

Where you put your composter can make a big difference in how quickly you get finished compost from it. Make it close to the house, if you can, so you'll be more apt to carry scraps there using your kitchen composter. The compost pile should also be in a sunny location (because it will get hotter faster, thereby decomposing its contents faster).

Not EVERYTHING Should Go Into the Composter

Although one of the perks of composting is that it's the ultimate in recycling of "garbage," not everything should go in the compost pile.

The following are terrific in the composter:

Fruit and vegetable scraps
Coffee grounds
Coffee filters
Tea grounds (including tea bags without metal staples)
Egg shells
Corn stalks and cobs
Nut shells
Popcorn without butter or other flavorings on it
Grass clippings (dry them out first)
Dry brown leaves
Weeds that haven't gone to seed
Garden clippings
Wood chips or sawdust
Wood ashes
Shredded paper and cardboard (avoid paper with colored ink)
Pine needles
Manure (horse, cow, rabbit, pig, goat, or chicken, preferably aged)
Paper napkins (as long as they don't have offensive materials on them)
Cut flowers that have died

Do not put the following into the compost pile, or you will attract pests, an icky smell, and a slow-to-decompose mass of garbage:

Table scraps (because it's too easy to toss in bits of not-good-to-compost things)
Coal ash
Colored paper
Diseased plants
Weeds and other plants that have gone to seed
Pet droppings
Human waste

Next week, I'll type about how to get that compost bin really cooking, making you ready-to-go composter every few weeks.
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Feb 2, 2010

5 Reasons I Love My Kitchen Composter

If you read this blog regularly, you know I love to garden. That's why I started composting; it's a cheap way to replenish soil in my garden. But composting also offers a way to avoid food waste (if it goes bad before you can eat it, you can probably compost it) and recycle things we'd normally toss in the trash (like coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit peelings, and garden clippings).

I'll be posting soon about creating cheap and easy compost piles, but right now I want to recommend a little gadget for your kitchen.

I used to put my kitchen scraps in an empty coffee can or plastic bag, then transport them to the compost pile every day. That works fine, but it is a little bit of a pain. Then, for my birthday, my hubby bought me a kitchen compost bucket. I love it because:

* it's attractive and can sit on the counter without being an eye sore.
* it's large enough I can go several days without emptying it.
* it's not so large it takes up valuable counter space.
* it has a build in (replaceable) carbon filter, so it never smells.

And while many kitchen compost bins are pricey, I found mine at World Market for $29.99. (I've seen this exact bucket elsewhere for $50 and up!) They also have a kitchen composter for only $14.99, but it's ceramic and therefore more breakable.

So if you want to make your garden soil better - or you just want to recycle your kitchen scraps - I can't recommend a kitchen composter enough.

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