1
Sep

What Goes in a Compost Pile?

by Tiffany in Gardening

compost bin

Is composting hard? No, not all. You just need to learn a few basic dos and don’t then you just get out of the way and let nature do it’s thing.

What Goes In Compost:

* Urine: dilute it with water first.

* Chicken manure: ideally from organically reared chickens.

* Comfrey: rich in many nutrients, especially potash, but contains almost no fiber.

* Lawn clippings: but mix them with dry material first, such as damp straw, weeds or leaves, as grass clippings can be too soggy on their own. Or let hem hang out on the lawn for a day or two to dry first.

* Kitchen waste: including tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, cooked pasta, fruit and vegetable trimmings.

* Farmyard manure: again ideally from horses or cows bred on organic farms.

* Seaweed: a great source of trace elements.

* Garden waste: chop it first to help the decomposing process.

* Weeds: especially stinging nettles which are high in nitrogen (treat in the same way as lawn clippings), but they should be young weeds that have not formed seeds or you will be spreading seeds around your garden or year when the compost is finished.

* Bracken: but avoid handling when it is producing spores as it is carcinogenic.

* Straw: should be damp and ideally already partly rotted.

*Woody prunings: shred them first.

* Newspaper, cardboard: use sparingly, shredded or torn up and dampened, and avoid materials with colored inks.

Things to avoid:

* Cat litter or dog excrement: both of these can carry disease.

* Meat and fish scraps: they smell as they rot and may attract rats and other pests.

* Diseased plant material: diseases can spread through the compost.

* Perennial weeds and weeds in seed: they may continue growing in the compost, especially if it is not hot enough to destroy the seeds.

* Plastic, tin, glass and other synthetic materials: they do not decompose.

The ideal method for making compost is to make a heap in one go, but to do this you need to collect bags of waste for several weeks or months. If you add material gradually, it may take at least eight to 12 months before it is ready to use, whereas in summer a newly constructed, complete heap would take around two months to turn to compost. A gradual heap may also not reach high enough temperatures to kill off weeds or diseases.

With either method, it is a good idea to layer the different materials, spreading them evenly and adding water if the material is dry, before covering the heap. Make sure your compost heap does not become too dry or wet. Soggy compost smells bad and takes a long time to break down; dry compost is also slow to decompose as microbes prefer damp conditions. To speed up decomposition, turn the compost with a fork every six to eight weeks.

Maintaining a high temperature is important to kill off weeds and diseases – your pile should be at least 50°C (122°F) (often not possible if composting gradually). If you are using a compost bin it should be at least 1 m3 (1 yd3) in size in order to achieve high temperatures and you can also help by lining the bin with dry autumn leaves or hay.

The compost is ready to use when it is a dark color, smells earthy and the original ingredients have almost gone. Remaining straw, twigs and sticks can be picked or sieved out. The final result can be used on gardens, lawns and house plants. Dig it into the soil or leave it on top for the worms to do the work for you. It is best applied in spring when the weather should be more conducive to its staying in the soil – heavy rain can wash the compost away before the worms can do their bit.

Composting Tips:

* Always protect the compost heap from rain with a waterproof cover.

* Make sure you can remove the bottom layer easily.

* Turn the heap every few months to introduce air into the mix.

* Dampen any dry material such as straw or autumn leaves first to aid its decomposition.

* Shred items tike leaves, newspapers, cardboard and weeds to speed up their decomposition.

* Mix fresh grass mowings and fruit and vegetable leftovers with dry material to stop the pile becoming too sodden.

* Make sure you have broad mixture of materials in the pile and layer them evenly.

* To avoid attracting flies and insects to kitchen waste, make a hole in the centre of your compost pile and bury the waste.

* If you want a quick start to your composting you can purchase compost activators or accelerators containing organic material designed to kick-start your compost.

* If you have large quantities of leaves, it may be worth composting them separately in a wire mesh container or in plastic sacks.

But if you are new to gardening and all this talk of creating your own compost has put you off making a start on your own garden, take heart – there are various green options that do not require you to devote a part of your garden to a decomposing pile of waste. Your local authority may well be running a community composting scheme or composting green waste from its parks and gardens, which it will deliver to you for a small fee, for example.

Creating your own nutrient rich soil is very rewarding. It is turning trash into treasure…food scraps into black gold. The bonus just happens to be that is is extremely easy to do. Happy composting!

Monday, September 1st, 2014

6 Comments

27
Aug

Go Primal – Wear Your Baby

by Tiffany in Birth & Baby

Baby in slingYou seem to hear about baby wearing everywhere these days. Moms at the park are talking about it and everywhere you turn a new celebrity mom or dad is wearing their baby and making it the next “hip” thing to do. So what is all the buzz about?  Only the latest, greatest, way to carry your baby. Or actually a time honored tradition passed on from moms of old…

Natural families often practice some method of attachment parenting and wearing your baby close to you in a sling, wrap or other baby carrier is often a big part of that. In ancient days women wore their babies to keep them close and safe while they traveled, hunted, foraged, or farmed. Natural moms of today also carry their babies close to them while they work and play. Even breastfeeding is made easier when your baby is cuddled against you in a sling or wrap.

Ring slings and wraps are adjustable, allowing the most flexibility and freedom in how you wear the baby. They can be easily worn by people of different heights (and widths) making it easy for dad or grandma to wear the baby too. You can even get shorter or longer tails depending upon your size. Wrap slings are simply one panel of fabric that is wrapped around the body and tied (or tucked) creating a pouch for baby. The baby can be worn in front, in back, on the hip, facing in, facing out, or lying down. Ring slings are wrap slings that secure by threading one end of the sling through a ring, like a belt, instead of knotting. Some ring slings come with padding on the edges (also called rails) so that the baby doesn’t get red marks on their legs and to provide greater stability. It is easy and discreet to nurse while wearing a ring or wrap sling though it can take a little bit practice to learn how to adjust and wear, but instructions and even video tutorials are available.

Pouches and tube slings have less of a learning curve. Slide it over one shoulder, slide the baby in, adjust the sling so that baby doesn’t fall out and so all the fabric isn’t bunched on your shoulder, and you’re off and running. Pouch and tube slings are not adjustable as they are one or more pieces of fabric sewn together into a single unit. Baby can still be worn in all the ways as a wrap sling, though baby may outgrow the sling before mom is ready to stop. But what mom needs an excuse to have more than one sling or wrap right?

Asian style carriers use less fabric. The baby is supported in a rectangle of fabric and it is secured to the body with four straps: the two at the lower corners tie at the waist and support most of the baby’s weight and the two at the upper corners cross around mom’s shoulders and tie in front. Baby can be worn facing in or out and on the back, hip or front. As there is less fabric, nursing may be more problematic but they are very stylish.

There are many choices in which type(s) of sling is right for you. Try them on at stores or ask your friends if you can try theirs out for a day or two and see which feels comfortable to you. Ask family and friends and online acquaintances for recommendations. There are even discussion forums and groups dedicated to helping you find the right sling for you. It just couldn’t get any easier.

For more reasons why babywearing is awesome check out my previous article… 10 Amazing Benefits of Babywearing. Enjoy!

10 Amazing Benefits of Babywearing

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

7 Comments

20
Aug

10 Tips for Taking Great Photos of Children

by Tiffany in Children

I am not a professional photographer but I do love to take photos. I especially love taking pictures of my kids. In fact they were what motivated me to buy a DSLR camera. I wanted more professional looking photos (as opposed to candids) but I didn’t have the money to be hiring a photographer several times a year for important events and portraits. It seemed a no brainer to buy a decent but low end digital camera, purchase a few lenses (off-brand), and then learn a trick or two until I could take photos I would proudly hang on my walls. And I do hang canvas photos of my kids throughout our home. When we have guests I often get comments about the gorgeous “professional” photos.

The best photos tell a story and they give the viewer a glimpse of the child’s unique personality. By getting creative with poses, settings, lighting, and background you give your boring photos some pizazz and create something worthy of being framed or set on canvas and then proudly displayed. You are also helping to document a child’s life. Years from now they can look back at the photos you have taken and see a visual storybook that shares the very essence of the little people they were and the unique person they grew up to be. Photos tell stories… they tell the story of the first day of school, the story of their one and only fifth birthday, and the story of their first school dance. More than just capturing the moment, your photos should give insight into the actual person being photographed and what was being felt at the moment you clicked your camera. What stories do your photos tell? I hope they tell great ones! This post has lots of tips for helping the amateur or hobbyist photographer take better photos of children.

1. Crop Your Photos

10 Tips for Taking Great Photos of Children

Many pictures we take of our kids end up being less than stellar because of the background. Perhaps you have a messy room, a cluttered kitchen, or a big tree overpowering your photo. One way to avoid this is to frame the picture in such a way that the area behind your child is free of clutter and then crop the photo to hone in on the subject alone. Or perhaps you want the subject of the photo to be an amazing smile or some other feature of your child and you want to isolate that in the photo. Simply crop the photo to show only what you want to show. Easy!

This particular photo was taken in my backyard. I wanted to frame my daughter’s angelic face and clutched hands and make them the focus of the shot so I cropped out the rest of the photo.

#2 The Rule of Thirds

Adorable young boy

Most newbie photographers like to center their subject but one of the most important rules for better photographs is to use the rule of thirds. It just provides more visually interesting pictures. Divide your imaginary image into thirds vertically and horizontally and place your subject along the intersecting lines. Although not a text book example the photo above shows how you can off center the subject or place them along the imaginary lines that would divide the photo into thirds. I like how you get some of the creamy brown background (which was the dirt from a baseball diamond) in the photo and I find the picture looks better visually instead of a centered image.


#3 Capture Emotion

jumping on bed

Since you are trying to tell a story with your photos it is always a pleasure to capture moments of emotion. Certainly your child goes through life with moments of pure happiness, sadness, bliss, tantrums, fear, etc. Those moments are what make us human. Does your photo convey what they were feeling when you took the shot? Does it tell a story on its own?

In the photo above my two boys were “caught” jumping on the bed during the holidays.

#4 Location is Everything

Young boy walking through grasslands meadow

One of the best ways to take better photos is to get in your car and drive someplace visually interesting and shoot there. Your community likely has many places that are great for photos so there is no reason you need to stay at home and shoot there. Take your mini photo shoot on location!

The photo above was taken at a state park in the tall grass near the entrance. We took many photos that day but this one was of the first and captured beautifully the area we were visiting and enjoying that day and how my little guy felt to be out in the great outdoors.

#5 Don’t Say Cheese – Capture Natural Smiles

Young girl smiling

Some of the best shots are taken when your kids are not posing or even aware that the camera is there. When we ask our children to stop, stand still, and say cheese, we often get awkward faces and smiles. I prefer getting shots of their natural smiles that light up their faces and give me a glimpse into their unique personality. MUCH better than cheese faces!

#6 Capture Their Personality

parker boa

Can you sum up the major aspects of a child’s personality with one photo? It may be a tall order but it is certainly possible. The trick is to catch them doing what they love to do and all those things that make them uniquely them will shine through. I love this photo of my youngest son because it is so HIM!

#7 Take Interesting Photos

paige dolls

When choosing a setting, background, or pose try to think about what will make that shot visually interesting. Instead of taking a photo next to a blank wall can the child lean on it or sit beside it instead? Instead of a boring white wall can you go outside and take a photo next to an old gate or the brick wall of your garage? Get creative and take visually interesting photos. Once you have some practice you will start to develop and eye for this. I love this photo of my daughter because it is unusual and shows some of her favorite toys.

Bonus Tip: Follow photographers on Pinterest and save your fave photos to a photo inspiration board!

#8 Capture Their Favorite Place and Things

payton zoo

One goal of photography is to capture the essence of childhood and a great way to do this to take pictures of the things and places they love. Do you have a photo of your child with their favorite stuffed animal? Do you have a photo of your child at their favorite park? You will always want to remember those things by capturing them. The picture above was taken at one my kid’s favorite places. The zoo!

#9 Use Simple Backgrounds

climbing tree

You probably don’t have professional backdrops but you can still choose a simple background that will add visual appeal while not overpowering the subject.

I like to take photos against painted walls and then blur the background so you can’t tell its a wall. I also like taking pictures with brick walls in the background. I have also been known to drape a sheet on an existing wall to make my own backdrop. I also LOVE making nature my backdrop.

#10 Always Be Prepared to Shoot!

Having fun in the garden

Some of the most interesting photos will be ones you hadn’t planned on taking. Perhaps you see your kids blowing bubbles outside and you have to run and grab your camera or perhaps they run outside to run around in an unexpected rain shower. Always be prepared to take great shots by having your camera nearby. I rarely go anywhere without mine these days.

The other BIG tip I have is to get a good photo editing program and buy some “actions”. These are often sold by professional photographers and they replicate the steps that professionals use to edit their images with the click of a button. I have Photoshop CS5 and the cheaper Photoshop Elements. There are actions available for both.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

5 Comments

19
Aug

Easy Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

by Tiffany in Recipes

086

I love tacos. In fact I love all Mexican food. I also love the crockpot. I use it all year long but it is especially helpful in the summer when I don’t want to heat the house. These days though I need recipes that only require 4 hours, instead of 6-8 as typical. I just don’t have the time for that. Making chicken or beef for tacos is perfect. I just cook on high for 3-4 hours and voila…a  delicious home cooked meal that took 10 minutes (or less) to prepare. Quick and easy. This recipe can be used for chicken breasts or beef and it tastes delicious either way, lots of flavor. Most times we just use Bibb lettuce instead of taco shells but every now and then we will use organic corn tortillas.

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Tacos

2 pounds boneless chuck roast (or 3-4 large skinless chicken breasts)
1 packet taco seasoning or 3-4 Tablespoons DIY blend
1 jar salsa (we use mild for the kiddos)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I like Amy’s Organic)
Fresh tomatoes (chopped)
Sour cream
Lettuce (shredded)
Avocado (chopped)
Cheese (shredded)

Put your meat in the crockpot and cover with the taco seasoning, salsa, and mushroom soup. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, until it can be easily shredded. Spoon the taco meat onto lettuce or taco shells and top with sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, and avocado. Yum!

Leftovers can used for taco salad the next day!

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

No Comments

15
Aug

Back to School Shopping for all Seasons

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

Back to School Shopping for all Seasons

It’s that time.  Time to go back to school and get all of the supplies you will need for the coming school year. It might be tempting to buy clothes for all weather scenarios that might arise during the school year. If you did that, though, it would probably be a mistake. You’ll just end up spending more money than you need to. In fact if you wait until the back to school season to do most or all of your school related shopping then you ARE spending too much money. I know, I know everyone is having back-to-school sales right? This is the best time for shopping according to store adverts and media but is it really?

If you have already finished your school shopping no worries, you can pick up a tip or two for next year. Try these tips to effectively buy back to school clothing.

How to Shop for Back to School Clothes

1. Think about what you NEED. Take an inventory of what still fits, what is stained/distressed, and what you actually need for each child. Then once you have that base information you can fill in gaps. Also only get one or two special outfits for the first day/week of school. Kids just don’t need a new outfit for each day of school.

2. Make a clothing buying calendar. Use the aforementioned inventory to figure out what is absolutely necessary for clothing and figure out the best times to buy. Sweaters and coats are best purchased after the season because they’ll be cheaper that way. You can split up your purchases to use them as gifts for birthdays and holidays. This way it will help fill out your gift giving and you’ll also save money by not buying everything all at once.

3. Utilize consignment shops for buying and even selling clothing that your children have outgrown. Consignment credits can go a long way towards buying newer clothing for your kids.

4. Remember, the kids are going to keep growing. Buying for the whole year could leave you with clothes never worn because your child had a growth spurt you were not anticipating.

5. Swap clothes. If you have friends with kids a little older and a little younger than your own, then work out a clothing swap with them. You can do this at the change of each season even, to keep rotating the clothes out of the house. The more families that participate the more choices you have. Have a clothing swap party.

6. Wait until after Labor Day to shop. Those back to school sales aren’t as great as they might seem. It’s great for school supplies, if you need to stock up on glue and crayons, but clothing, not so much. So wait until after Labor Day to get the savings.

7. Buy clothes that can be worn during many seasons…think layers. A nice polo shirt can be worn over a long sleeve shirt in the colder months. A summer dress or jean skirt paired with some leggings will get extra wears.

8. Check into online deals with places like Zulily. They have great gear at low prices, the catch is that you have to follow what they have available because it changes weekly. Not only can you get clothing for great prices you can even get them free if you refer others. Share deals via email or social media (like Facebook and Pinterest) and when other click through and purchase you get $15 in credit. I personally have found that it is actually pretty easy to rack up lots of money in credit and thus get lots of free clothing, shoes, sporting goods, kitchen items etc for the whole family.

9. Shop those clearance racks. Snatch up that out-of-season sweater in a size up from what your child is currently wearing to make sure you get extra wears out of it.

10. Don’t forget about the thrift shops. You can get some nice high end items very cheaply, to help fill in any wardrobe to make it through the entire year in style. If your kids wear uniforms or have a dress code such as polos and khakis then thrift stores can be a real jackpot for you. If the schools in your areas have strict dress codes then the donations at area thrift stores will be rich in this type of clothing all year long. Make sure to check them out frequently in December when families are donating more often to get last minute tax write-offs. Also make sure to shop half price days!

Back to school shopping is often a cause for anxiety. I recently heard that the average family spends $700 per child per year for back to school stuff. Yikes! That can really break the bank so a little planning can go a long way. If you plan things out and shop sales and shop the seasons instead of buying all at once, then you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and a lot of money.

Below is a picture of two of my cuties on their first day. I only spent $130 for the year on back to school stuff and most of that was supplies, for three kids. They are set for the entire school year but I will have an eye on the next school year very soon…

How do you save money on back to school purchases?

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Friday, August 15th, 2014

5 Comments