Smoothies!

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Nothing like using fresh, local fruit to make a smoothie.  Bishop’s Orchards had their own strawberries available at the farm market today…luckily some of them made it home.  My son ate them like they were potato chips on the ride home!

For one smoothie, you need the following:

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1/2 cup fresh strawberries

1/2 banana

1/2 cup yogurt (we use vanilla Greek yogurt)

1/2 cup milk

A couple of ice cubes (if you use frozen strawberries, you can omit these)

Blend all the ingredients together and enjoy!

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The Rooster

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Just discovered someone is a “he”. 

How bad could it be to keep one little rooster?? He’s entertaining to watch and really not that loud.  Never planned on a rooster….we’re in it for the eggs. 

So after mulling it over the last several days since hearing the first crow, we decided to find him a new home. I was so close to keeping him and raising more silkies, but Honey did not appear amused when I said we could build him and his mate a second coop.

Now to find him a home where he will be appreciated and not turned into chicken cordon blue.

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Catching rain drops

It’s a cold, rainy night as I sit here listening to the dog snore, the cat playing with my hair, and watching Water for Elephants.  Fitting weather to think about ways to conserve what’s falling from the sky.

The water bill comes quarterly and over the last five years it has increased a bit.  The most recent one again showed an increase in water usage over the same time period last year.  What can we do to conserve?  Let’s take a look.

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Inside, we already have two low-flow shower heads (one compliments of our recent Energy Audit).  Low-flow these days means having a flow rate of no more than 2.5 gallons per minute.  Prior to 1992 legislation, some showers had a flow rate double the new ones.  The toilet in the new bathroom also has a low flow design, with no more than 1.6 gallons flushed at a time.  Our older bathroom’s toilet doesn’t fare as well.  When the fill valve inside the toilet broke, we replaced it not only with a newer eco-friendly version (BlueSource HydroClean Water saving fill valve) but also replaced the flush handle with a dual flush version.  My family initially thought I was crazy, but they’ve since come around.

Also compliments of the Energy Audit was a new kitchen faucet aerator.  Aerators determine how much water will flow from your faucet, so having a water conserving type will ultimately save water and money.  I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t like the change.  Washing dishes by hand, the lower water pressure felt “funny”.  I had every intention of putting the old aerator back on, but never got around to it.  Now, I’ve adapted.  At least until the (future) new dishwasher!

Outside, I’ve got all kinds of buckets and barrels to collect rain.

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The rain barrel on the deck is a stand-alone for now.  In the near future we will rig it up so that one of the gutters empties into it.  We created it from an idea off the internet, cutting a hole into the top of a garbage can and stretching landscaping fabric under the lid to catch any dirt and bugs.  The spigot was installed into a drilled hole and tightened with a rubber seal.

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We plan on using the same idea on the water bucket for the chicken waterer system.

Here’s to hoping the next water bill is lower!

The Compostables

A few years back we decided to extend our raised bed garden and had a load of loam delivered.  Honestly, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with it, being full of rocks and “dirty” (honey’s description).  It seemed to be more like a load of junk dirt and not the nutrient rich top soil we were hoping for.  We got it for a cheap price, so who can complain.  Three years later and the raised beds are looking pretty good.  Nice and fertile, loose, loamy…I’m happy with how they have improved.

I bought a test kit this year to check for nutrient depletion in the lawn, gardens, and where ever less I thought needed it (okay, I admit I wanted to play scientist!).  The lawn needed more nitrogen, so we picked up some organic fertilizer.  A week later, I tested the garden.  I was expecting to have to do some major amendments to the garden, being that it didn’t have a good start and I slacked off in fertilizing it last year.  I was in shock when I read the results….all components were within the normal range.  That included pH, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.  All I can say is…that compost brewing in the back of the yard is AMAZING!

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I’ve been composting for a long time and find that my current set up works best for me.  In the past, I threw everything (leaves, grass clipping, produce clippings) into a very large (10 by 12 foot) pile and turned it every few weeks.  It was labor intense to turn the pile as it grew in size and ultimately the turning drifted to every few months.  A couple of years ago, I dismantled the large pile, took the wire fencing surrounding it, and made several smaller circular piles.  Each pile now is about three to four feet wide or smaller and about three feet high.  I turn them more frequently in the spring and early summer when I have the most access to grass clipping available.

Composting correctly is like making a good ice box cake.  20130517_192243Poured in layers, the chocolate and vanilla pudding are separated by just the right amount of graham cracker crumbs and allowed to set in the frig long enough to cut perfectly.  The ingredients for the compost pile should be in the right amounts as well.  The main compost ingredients are carbon-rich sources (“brown”), nitrogen-rich sources (“green”), water, turning, and time.  Carbon sources  include: dried fall leaves, corn stalks, shredded paper, paper towel tubes, shavings, sawdust, cardboard.  Nitrogen sources include: fresh grass clippings, vegetable and fruit waste, weeds (some say not if they’ve gone to seed), manure (not dog, cat or us), garden plants at the end of the season.  The right ratio depends on what you are adding to the pile.  The carbon-to-nitrogen ratio on the Grow it Organically website includes lots more ingredients and the ratio needed for your pile.

In the fall, I save all the leaves in the compost fence rings or just along the back fence.  I let them sit all winter until I need them come spring.  Once the lawn starts getting mowed in the spring, I start my layering process.  I layer into each ring about 6 inches of leaves, then add about two inches of fresh mowed lawn clippings.  The only additive I apply to my lawn is organic fertilizer when needed, so I know that my compost won’t have any extra chemicals added.  Occasionally, my brown layers have included shavings from past caged pets and our current chickens.  The chicken shavings have the added manure mixed in…so it’s carbon with a kick!  I turn them every couple of weeks, usually letting nature keep them damp.  During dry spells, I do hose down the piles so that the decomposition process will continue.  Once a pile has reached the top of the fence, I stop adding to it and let it “cure”.  I repeat with a new compost pile and continue on throughout the season.  Come fall, usually at least one or two piles are done enough to be spread on the garden beds for the winter.  The other piles are left to winter over and come spring are ready to be added to the garden, spread around the raspberries and grapes, or anywhere else needed in the yard.

I used to add kitchen scraps (mainly fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grounds, tea bags, old bread) to the piles.  Last year, I finally purchased my first compost tumbler which is now home to all kitchen garbage.  VLUU L200  / Samsung L200To keep the brown/green ratio consistent, I do add in shredded paper, shavings, and some leaves from time to time.  I hose it occasionally to keep it moist and spin the tumbler every time I add ingredients.  I bought my tumbler from Amazon for about $100 and love it.  I found it fairly easy to put together and so far has been pretty sturdy, especially since I’ve dragged it to three different places since I’ve had it.  It has two different compartments, one for adding materials the other for curing.  The added bonus of using kitchen scraps is having less in the garbage pail to haul out to the curb!

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Our new additions LOVE the compost piles and have started scratching through them!

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Next up I will be trying my luck with vermiculture.  Should be interesting to work with worms!

Doing with less (energy, that is)

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I’m always looking for ways to save money.  My latest obsession is trying to find ways to cut my energy costs, not only to save money but to use less fossil fuels.  According to David Gershon, Green Living Handbook, we waste up to 75 percent energy.  In an attempt to get a lower UI bill, I’ve been trying to incorporate some of his suggestions, as well as some of my own.

I started off my endeavor a couple of months ago by buying drying racks for my laundry.  100_1625I figured that the dryer uses up a good chunk of the electricity in the house, so cutting back on drying may help lower my bill a bit.  The racks are easy enough to use and hold a couple of loads of laundry at a time.  I don’t particularly like the “crunchy” feel of my laundry so I use a homemade fabric softener and only hang my laundry until it is almost dry, then put it in the dryer for about 15 minutes to finish off and soften up.  Compared to the 45 minutes or so needed for my laundry to dry, I’m ahead of the game.  Only major issue….getting the rest of the family to use the racks.  Sometimes my daughter will hang certain items, but usually they all use the dryer.  I find myself hanging their clothes out of the washer every once in a while.  I would do more, but I gave up doing their laundry a few years ago when I had so many loads in one weekend I could have sworn I had extra kids hidden in the house somewhere!

Moving into other areas, I considered the vampire watts of the electronics we have.  We have two televisions in the house with associated entertainment boxes sucking up wattage as they sit in standby.  So I plugged each component (TV, DVD, gaming consoles) into a surge protector to be turned off when not in use (cable box stays on separately all the time because of the DVR).  I showed the family the new set up and must admit, they do occasionally shut off the surge protector (not all the time, but….).

Lights are a tough one to keep up with.  We all are guilty of leaving on lights.  Even as I type this, I see the kitchen lights left on (thank you, honey, for shutting them off!).  Gotta keep thinking about that lower electric bill….

With the above strategies, I noticed a $15 drop from February to March.  Considering that the furnace was still running during this time AND the chicks heat lamp was burning for about two weeks, I’ll graciously accept the success!

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Blower door test

Continuing on, I scheduled an energy audit.  The cost was $99 and they spent about 2 1/2 hours in my home, conducting a blower door test, replacing shower heads and faucet aerators, installing (up to 40, if needed) compact fluorescent bulbs, sealing some areas of potential  leakage, identifying older appliances and making recommendations, and offering rebates for newer appliances.  When they were finished, I was given a summary of the visit.  According to the summary, my estimated annual energy costs (electricity and oil) was $3800.  After the visit, I should expect a $200 improvement.  If I took their recommendations into account, my savings would be a total of $700/year. The breakdown of recommendations included replacing the dehumidifier, refrigerator, and washer; applying more insulation in the attic; and installing new heating and central cooling systems.  Each item came with a payback in years (the cooling system with 156 year payback was definitely out!).  Rebates were offered for replacing the older appliances within four months of the energy audit with an ENERGY STAR equivalent (a new frig is tempting!)  The handbook they gave at the end of the visit also contained 101+ ways to cut energy costs.  Ideas included ENERGY STAR purchases, turning off the water heater when away, and clever placement of fans and lights.  The technicians that did the work were very professional and knowledgeable, showed up on time, and went over the booklet they left with me thoroughly.

Next up are the computers.  We have a desktop but seldom use it.  I put it on a surge protector as well and keep if off.  The laptops all have power down options as does the printer.  The best way I found to minimize laptop usage is to stack a few books in front of the kids!  With summer coming, we’ll be making lots of library runs.

After all the additional strategies, I found my electricity from March to April went up a little.  Disappointed, I attributed some of it to 24 hour/day heat lamp for the chicks for the entire month and power tools in use for the coop building.  With that behind us, I’m hoping again to see a drop in the next bill.

With summer coming, I know the air conditioning will be in use.  I had the unit serviced last year and keep up with the filter changes.  We do stall off using it with fans around the house.  We have the window unit fans that help keep the house cool, as well as a ceiling fan in the kitchen.  Interestingly, I read that using cups of ice in front of the fans can simulate air conditioning.  Need to try that one this summer.

We looked into programmable thermostats and amazon (as always) has some good choices.  Honeywell has a good reputation, with different choices ranging in price from $24 for a basic programmable model to $140 for a more deluxe touchscreen model.  I’m all for good reviews and middle of the road pricing, so on order is a Honeywell 7 day programmable thermostat.  It claims to be easy to install and many of the reviewers back this up.  If trouble happens, I always have my favorite brother the H-VAC journeyman!

My last energy thought is whether to buy a dishwasher or keep up with the good ole’ fashion hand washing.  I’ve put in my 5 years of dish washing servitude since buying this house and am ready for a change.  Being the environmental mom, I choose to use paper or plastic plates, cups, or utensils VERY SELDOM (like maybe once a year).  I’ve been told by a certain child that if I had a dishwasher, she would help me with the dishes more.  With the way she washes, I’m sure they will be cleaner! So research I did, and I found most sites I browsed pushed for ENERGY STAR dish washers as using less energy, water, and obviously less time. I particularly liked The Huffington Post’s blog on what is better, by hand or dishwasher.  The editor brought up an interesting study done in EatingWell magazine regarding the very subject.    “…washing a load of dishes (12 place settings) by hand uses on average 27 gallons of water and 2.5 kilowatt-hours of energy to heat the water — equivalent to running a hair dryer for two and a half hours.  By comparison, an energy-efficient dishwasher uses about four gallons of water and 1 kWh of energy per load (Ruopp, 2012).”  Well, that decides it…I’ll be appliance shopping soon.  I know two kids that will be very happy!

Chickens and Water

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It’s almost two months since I’ve become an official “chicken momma” and I’ve learned the following when it comes to water:

  • As babies, they are so cute to watch when they learn to drink from a dish
  • The dish quickly turns into an official waterer when we discover that one can swim in the dish
  • When chicks finally learn to fly up to something, inevitably it is to the top of their waterer…and cleaning OUT the waterer three times per day is just the beginning!
  • If you leave water in a shallow open container, yes someone WILL tip it over
  • When you are trying to teach them to get water from the “nipples” in the new watering system, your legs WILL fall asleep in that crouched position before someone walks over to figure out why you are making a stream of water
  • If you stay in the above position long enough, you will be pecked at…repeatedly

With that said, I finally installed the watering “system” for my chickens.  Summer is just around the corner and I want them to have access to lots of fresh water.  I browsed lots of sites and eventually went with the watering system components bought from Amazon.  To make my waterer, you will need the following:

  • Oasis Fountainhead, On-demand Poultry Waterer (bought from Amazon, it basically is a section of PVC pipe with “nipples” drilled into it
  • Poultry Waterer Bulhead Fitting Assemby (again, from Amazon, this is a spigot assembly to be attached to a bucket
  • a sturdy bucket (cheap “plasticy” ones only crack when you drill into them, something I QUICKLY learned) I got mine from Home Depot
  • a small section of hose (I bought 10 feet in case I needed to change the placement of the waterer
  • Something to suspend the bucket so that gravity can do its thing

The first two items were sold by Coop Queen  and they included diagrams and steps easy enough for my semi-skillful self to follow.

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The bulkhead fitting had to be fitted into a drilled hole in the bucket.  Determined to do it myself, I started looking for the necessary tools, but had to concede to defeat when I couldn’t locate the correct drill bit size.  Calling in the professional (a.k.a “honey”) he skillfully drilled the hole in bucket #1 and handed it to me to thread in the bulkhead.  I quickly learned that all buckets are not created equal as it cracked across the bottom.  Calling it a night early, I dragged my tired self inside and half wondered why “honey” did not immediately follow.  Twenty minutes and a new Home Depot bucket later (bucket #2), I had a water tight container for my chickens.

It took me a couple of weeks (and a Personal Day) to finally finish installing the waterer.  I wasn’t sure what to do about attaching the bucket to the coop until I browsed some sites and came up with this….

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I rummaged the basement and dug out a couple of shelf brackets (there is something to be said for not throwing away stuff!).  With a couple of small pieces of wood vertically attached to the run, I attached the brackets with screws and placed an old piece of wood  on top.  To keep the bucket from tipping off, I “bungied” (yet, it is a word…at least in my world) it to the wire and filled it up.  The hose runs down through the chicken wire and to the waterer with nipples.

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Starting off with removing the water container from the run, I hoped that eventually they would notice the new device and inspect it.  After the second trip outside to visit and see the progress, it quickly became clear that I did not have dumb chickens.  One of the Reds strolled herself into the coop, drank from the coop waterer, and strolled herself back out.  Goodbye, coop waterer.  Hello, achy legs.  After 5 full minutes (that is a long time in one position at my not-so-young-anymore age) I finally had one taker.  First trying to dig the water out of the grass clipping below, she realized that she needed to concentrate ABOVE.  Pecking at a nipple, she got what she was looking for.  But then…she walked away.  I can only hope that (a) she remembers what she just did and (b) she spreads the word.

Anyway, the waterer is in place, I can feel my legs again, and if all else fails they can open their beaks and catch rain water.

Happy Wednesday!