After my post about our Worm Factory I got an email from a reader that asked if we put all our scraps from the table immediately into the worm condo AND if we microwave them first. I guess microwaving kitchen scraps to soften them up is a common practice.
The answer to both is no. We collect our kitchen scraps in a smaller compost collector because we don’t want to overwhelm our worms and we will very likely be generating more waste than they will be able to handle anyway, at least until we start having generations of worms babies. We also want to soften up our scraps and start the decomp process so that it will be faster and easier for the worms to tackle but we do not have a microwave. Nor do we want one, microwaves are not good for your health.
To that end we first collect food waste in a kitchen compost collector. This allows us to collect any excess food waste that can’t go in the worm bin yet and it gets the compost brewing in the meantime. We chose the Exaco Trading ECO-2000 2.4 Gallon Kitchen Compost Waste Collector for a couple reasons. Firstly because it was one of the biggest ones for the money (less than $20). Yes, I would have preferred a stainless steel or ceramic collector but we are a family of five… the rinky dink one gallon size on those models would be filled in a week… or less. Larger ones cost more than we wanted to invest. And of course any plastic that helps us in our greener living journey overall gets a pass from me.
Right now it sits on top of the worm bin but it could easily go under the sink as well. Our old collector was a big mixing bowl that was open and visible every time you passed by… yuck. I like this system much better. We mix it occasionally with a wooden mixing spoon or I dump it into a bowl and then dump it back in the composter to reverse the top/bottom.
Another aspect of our composting system is the fact that I collect a lot of scraps and freeze them. When I get a nice large bunch I will make my homemade vegetable broth and this is even better than microwaving. The scraps are super soft and I have broth to boot. Easy peasy!
Can you believe how old my son looks?? Egads… he is getting this wide, strong jaw like his Dad and he is looking like a teenager!!! But… I am getting off track…
A couple weeks ago we welcomed some new “pets” into the house… Red Wrigglers (worms). They even have a posh new condo in the kitchen so they are getting royal treatment. They are of course expected to pay their way in the form of wonderfully rich and dark compost for our garden this spring/summer.
When we moved into this house it came with no composting area and we had other things on our mind prior to winter so we gave up composting for awhile. But I started to feel guilty about that as I saw scraps sitting in the garbage so I decided to try my hand at indoor composting for winter months. I started researching it and was intent to just rig up some sort of worm bin using plastic storage tubs we have in the garage but I saw there were some issues with doing it this way as well as it being really ugly.. and our worm bin was going to be in the kitchen, visible to all. So I decided that if this was something I was really going to pursue passionately I needed to go with an efficient and easy system. A commercial worm bin seemed the better option and after reading up the various ones and scouring reviews, I chose… The Worm Factory, specifically the Worm Factory DS5TT 5-Tray Worm Composter – Terra Cotta.
It came in only a few days (free shipping too) and I ordered my worms a few days after that. I tried to get them locally but the only source I could find wasn’t answering any calls so I ended up ordering from the go-to place for composting worms, Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm (via Amazon) where you can get a about 1000 Red Wriggler Worms for $15. They came from Pennsylvania, so almost local. We got them in a couple days and they moved into their new digs. I read several places that worms often try to escape and you should leave the lights on in the room where the bin is for a few nights so they choose to stay but my husband works second shift and gets in late and always turned off the lights. They chose to stay anyway… I guess they like it here.
Anyway the Worm factory we bought has 5 trays. You start by laying a few layers of moist newspaper down on the bottom of the first tray and then cover with the included coir (coconut husk fiber) and some sand or crushed eggshells. We didn’t have any sand so we went with pastured eggshells. Then we filled the remaining space with shredded newspaper (also included) and a couple whole layers of moist newspaper. At one corner we put some food scraps… onion skin, grated carrots, lettuce, etc. It sat like that for a few days before we welcomed our worms. They came in dry soil so we added them and used a spray bottle to moisten things up and after a few days I took this photo which shows they gravitated to the corner with the food (top right). I went ahead and added some more scraps to the lower corner as well.
When I add more scraps I do so in the corners, going in order. After about a month or so I will add the next tray and repeat the whole process. Gradually the worms will seek out new food and will move up to the higher tray (there are little holes for them in the tray bottoms). Or you can take the bottom tray and put in on top and the light will make them move to the lower tray. Repeat until all trays are full. By the time the top tray is being worked, the bottom tray is likely ready for adding to your garden or potted plants.
At the very bottom of the unit is a slanted collection tray for the compost tea. This was another reason I wanted this particular composter. I read several reviews from people who tried using storage tubs and they claim the amount of compost tea they got from the Worm Factory was double. It has a nifty spigot on the bottom so you can collect the tea easily.
We are still early in the game but so far there is no odor whatsoever. It looks good sitting in the kitchen (IMO) and it is soooo easy to use. I am glad we went with this system. There is also no need for guilt about buying new plastic because the Worm Factory is made from post consumer recycled plastic. Yeah! Plus it is also helping us compost and encouraging us to grow our own food.. which we plan to do on our backyard deck this year, since we have so little space. I am also collecting and using newspaper instead of sending it to the recycling center. We seem to have enough for composting and for my son’s Bearded Dragons (yes we have two now) just with the little junk papers and community news that gets put on our mailboxes.
If you want to compost but live in an apartment or a small space or you just want to keep winter compost going strong by doing it indoors I recommend this system highly. I will post regularly about issues we may have… like potential fruit flies and the like. We may even move this unit outdoors as the weather warms because it can go inside or out if left in a shady, cooler, spot. Either way I cannot wait to get my hands on some of that black gold this spring!
Also another recommendation is this wonderful book on composting with worm bins, Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System. I read it YEARS ago and never acted on it. Lucky for me I kept it in storage until I needed it!
Are you composting yet?
I have always been more than a little interested in self sufficiency. And I do mean always. When I was little I used to empty my closet of its considerable toy and clothing stash and put empty cardboard boxes in it so I could pretend I was homeless and living off the land. When I was older I used to pour over books like The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. Then I got a dose of reality when I did in fact move to a farm and it was MUCH tougher than I ever bargained for. Yeah, a horse getting out of the barn in the middle of the night, in winter, when you are 8 months pregnant is not fun. It wasn’t long before I moved back to the city. But the longing for a self sufficient life never went away and I began to wonder if things could have been different if I weren’t so far away from town, if I weren’t pregnant and suffering from cancer at the same time, if my husband was actually home and not on the road 25 days a month as he used to be. I still read those self sufficiency books and memoires. Heck I read The Hunger Games (an awesome book BTW) this week and even it reminded me of that long held dream. Reading inspirational stories of small scale and urban homesteaders gives me incentive to one day try again.
A couple weeks ago I asked about self sufficiency skills on the Natural Family Living Facebook page and got lots of great answers from moms who are practicing a variety of these skills at home. Angela was one of those moms and she generously put up with my barrage of questions. All photos in this post are hers.
Tiffany: So tell us a bit about yourself… how many are in your family, where do you live, how much land do you have, etc.
Angela: My name is Angela, and I’m a 31-year old homemaker. I have an amazing husband, a beautiful daughter, who is 3.5 years old, and a baby due in June 2011. We moved from Arizona to Oregon five years ago and just two years ago we moved to our current home on 0.38 acres. Our property backs up to 9 acres of semi-secluded green space, so we have the feeling of having much more land than we actually do.
Tiffany: Did you fall into homesteading because you wanted to be self sufficient, was it finances that motivated you, how did you end up living this lifestyle?
Angela: Homesteading and self-sufficiency sort of found us, I suppose. We always had a desire to have our own garden, and that is how it all started. I began learning more about food, our food supply, health, household chemicals, etc., and the more I learned, the more self-sufficient I’ve wanted to become. My husband has always wanted to “live off the grid” but for slightly different reasons. He enjoys the independence and freedom it provides. Once we got the ball rolling, the snowball effect took hold, and now we want to do as much for ourselves as we can. What we can’t grow, we buy from local farmers. We find supporting our small, local farms and our community nearly as rewarding as being self-
sufficient. I have made so many wonderful friends and contacts that way, too.
As of late, finances have played a role in the growth of our homestead. We foresaw some tough times coming, so we decided to expand the garden and add chickens and ducks for eggs and meat. It has really come in handy, too. One month we only had $50 in our grocery budget, and we were still able to eat like kings.
Tiffany: What do you grow on your land? Do you preserve foods?
Angela: We grow organic vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms. We also have a mini orchard consisting of several varieties of apples, two varieties of Asian pear, Italian prune, almonds, olives, Meyer lemons, naval oranges, figs, persimmons, peaches, nectarines, three varieties of pears, and three varieties of cherries. All but two of our orchard trees are grafted on dwarf rootstock and pruning will help to keep them, and their fruit, at manageable heights. Additionally, we grow six varieties of grapes, goji berries, kiwis, elderberries, huckleberries, lignon berries, red currant, green currant, strawberries, 21 blueberry bushes, gooseberries, tayberries, several varieties of raspberries, boysenberries, and blackberries grow wild in the green space. To pollinate the orchard trees and early-blooming fruits, we keep mason bees.
Our orchard is still young (planted just two years ago), so we haven’t had much fruit yet, and my daughter devours all the ripe fruit. She’s so voracious, we feel lucky if we get even a half dozen blueberries each. I’m hopeful that next year we will have enough fruit to preserve…though, like the trees, my daughter (and her appetite) is growing, so we’ll see.
This year we had 28 tomato plants, and despite the cool, wet summer weather, we were able to put up several gallons of tomatoes for sauce and about a gallon of salsa (the rest was devoured the day it was made or given away to friends). The fruit from the Principe Borghese tomatoes was dehydrated, so we have about two gallons of sun-dried tomatoes. Extra veggies get fermented or frozen, though I do hope to do more canning next year. Last year we had so many potatoes we gave away bags of them AND still had enough to get us through till summer. We planted half as many this year (we’ll still have enough to get us through spring) and used the extra space for onions and garlic. The onions were a flop because we didn’t harvest and cure them correctly, but the garlic is delicious and we have enough to last us for another couple months. Since neither my husband nor I have much prior experience, we find that every year is a learning experience and there is always something we don’t grow or cure quite right.
Tiffany: Do you raise animals for food?
Angela: Currently we have 18 layer hens that have 1/8 acre to forage on. We feed them a corn- and soy-free locally-grown organic whole grain mix with fish meal that I blend together myself, and they get oyster shells on a free-feed basis. During this past summer, they were allowed to free range throughout the green space and the neighbors’ yards (they loved their two-legged visitors), but after one neighbor found a gift of nine eggs in his backyard, we decided to clip their wings. They also did quite a number on our garden beds and the seedlings, making it nearly impossible to grow a fall garden. This year we raised three ducks for meat…well, they were meant to be layers, but all of them turned out to be male, so we sent our feathered friends off to the processors. In the spring, we are going to try our hands at raising heritage breed turkeys for meat and (depending on how much time and money we have) we may raise a batch of red broiler meat chickens in a chicken tractor. We are also planning on building honeybee hives on the property either this spring or the next.
Tiffany: What other things do you do yourself? (aka bread, yogurt, etc.)
Angela: In an effort to avoid unnecessary chemicals, sugars and preservatives, I make raw milk yogurt, kefir and the occasional batch of butter, kombucha tea, ginger beer, wild-yeasted sourdough bread, fermented vegetables, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning products (which are actually just baking soda and vinegar), body lotion (olive oil or coconut oil with the occasional essential oil added). I’d like to start taking up cheese making again…my previous attempts at mozzarella ended up as some tasty ricotta. In the past, we brewed and bottled our own beer. Currently, I’m looking into making my own bar soap and dishwasher soap, too.
Tiffany: Do you try to stay local with things you cannot provide yourself?
Angela: Absolutely. Every year we buy ¼ of a grass-fed, antibiotic-free cow for a local farmer. All our other pasture-raised meats come from Harmony J.A.C.K. farms in Scio, Oregon. I also buy raw milk from a friend in a neighboring town. During the fall and winter months, we order our fruits and veggies from Azure Standard. They either grow the food themselves in greenhouses on their farm in Dufur, Oregon or bring it in from Washington. Azure is also our supplier of organic whole grains for our hens.
Tiffany: What has been the most rewarding thing about this lifestyle?
Angela: The pride of knowing we can do it ourselves has been our greatest reward. We are not reliant on big companies anymore and we spend a fraction of what we used to at the store. It is also a wonderful feeling knowing that we are living more in line with nature instead of in opposition to it. Mother Nature is amazing and it feels wonderful to know that we are being good stewards of the earth.
Tiffany: What do you hope your children will learn along the way?
Angela: I hope they learn self-sufficiency, independence and interdependence, and I hope they will have a deep respect for and connection to this beautiful earth we live on. My children will grow up knowing that our sort of lifestyle is very doable and highly rewarding. I also feel that living this lifestyle is the greatest antidote to consumerism and the marketing tactics of large corporations. They will know what is truly important in life, and it’s not the latest technology gadget, the latest fashions or fancy cars. I also sincerely hope they learn how to respect their bodies by eating nutrient-dense, organically-grown and humanely-raised food. Their health is their greatest asset in life.
Many thanks Angela for sharing with us and being an inspiration for wanna-be homesteaders!
Our lovely long weekend here in Central Ohio was a chilly one. I broke out some heavier blankets and cuddled up with a couple good books, one of which was Made From Scratch – Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life. This book sat on my wish list for a long time and then in usual fashion, I had to choose a wishlist selection to put me over the free shipping threshold at Amazon. I was in dire need of more Amazing Grass, so I picked up this book in the bargain. I sat down with my “Amazing” spinach, strawberry, banana smoothie and started reading about a handmade life.
This book is a practical guide about self sufficiency in a modern society. As the author stated stated, imagine American Gothic and replace the pitchfork with a computer mouse. LOVE that. But in all honesty I think the introduction slightly misrepresented the life of the author, Jenna Woginrich. I imagined she was living in an inner city apartment, striving to be more self sufficient in the heart of a downtown metropolis. But alas I read on to find she was actually renting a farm and she owns sled dogs she uses in winter for mushing. While I was 100% enchanted by her story and her life… it isn’t exactly modern living for the majority ya know?
But even though I don’t live in the wilds of a mountain region in Idaho I still found much of the information useful. I also put down the book with a burning desire to learn to play the fiddle. The book covers chickens, growing your own food, beekeeping, cooking the old fashioned way, using old and vintage stuff instead of new, making your own clothes, owning working dogs, and livestock.
The chapter on raising chickens was so inspirational. I have always wanted to own chickens and have my own source of eggs. It is on my someday list. My favorite chapters were on buying used and classic items. Products made 50 years ago or more were made to last and if they broke they were made to be repaired. Nowadays products are designed to have a short useful life. That is how corporations can count on your repeat business. They know the product you buy will only last a short amount of time and many make it difficult or impossible to repair so that buying new is the easiest option. I am all over buying used and buying vintage. I love my hand crank nut grinder and my vintage refrigerator dishes. Some of the dishes we eat our scrambled eggs on are over 100 years old. They don’t make stuff like they used to.
The author enjoyed drinking her home brewed coffee from green jadeite mugs (my grandmother had those!) and I love my Pyrex and Fire King. I just scored some of both at an auction this weekend. I got some beautiful lime green and pink gooseberry bowls and casserole dishes that are still vibrant in color. The little things make me happy. ;)
Other chapters on raising rabbits or keeping bees were interesting but not on my wish list. I think a part of modern self sufficiency is finding people in your community to provide the things you can’t provide yourself. Sewing clothing is on my wish list though. I have made stuff for the kids and for our home but I haven’t sewn anything for myself since I was 16. I need to start sewing more. I walked away from this book with a big to-do list. Each month I want to learn some new skill or way to become just a bit more self sufficient and less reliant on society to meet my needs. As the author mentioned, it gives you a sense of accomplishment and pride like nothing else can.
Book: Made From Scratch – Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life
Well, it is that time. Time for spring cleaning. This week I did a lot of thinking about what exactly I need to do and I will have my hands full for sure. This is that once a year time when my house gets scrubbed until it looks like brand new inside and out. I’m talking about being on my hands and knees with a toothbrush in hand. ;) I also use this time to get organized (or try), fill up Freecycle donation boxes, gather stuff to host a yard sale, and make my own yard sale wish list. This year I need to spring clean especially bad. This spring marks one year in my house and we were in such a rush to move in after more than a month in a hotel that we didn’t clean much upon moving in and the house had been empty for well over a year.
I have boxes of stuff in my basement that I never opened and went through. I have an unorganized laundry room (read: clothes all over floor), my bed linen closet is a horror, I have many walls that need a coat of zero VOC paint, a light on a vaulted ceiling has been burnt out since we moved in, my kitchen cupboards are so stuffed they won’t close, and dagnabbit I can’t find my darn sewing machine and I want to sew some stuff! This is the tip of the iceberg.
So…I am putting my feet to the flame here. I am starting a big green spring clean and I will chronicle the journey here and yes I will be posting BEFORE pictures so you can know my shame. :(
What I plan to accomplish:
1. A clean home using green and natural cleaning products.
2. An organized home with less clutter.
3. A more simplistic home with less stuff I don’t need.
4. A clear idea and list of stuff I DO need. Then I plan to shop at yard sales, estate sales, and thrift stores as much as I possibly can and not buy new.
5. More organized play/fun/crafting/art areas set up for myself and the kids so we won’t be constantly running out of supplies or making such a mess. And of course more fun is good too. :) We also need areas for homeschool projects.
Want to join me? Blog along with me and document your own “Big Green Spring Clean!”. Feel free to grab the banner at the top of this post if you want to. I have a smaller one too. Let’s see what we can accomplish together…