Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy Holidays 2010!

Ah, the holidays! Time for family, food, travel, and chaos in general. We left the cats at home and packed up the Element for the trip to Wisco. Much more room than the trip back with our 8ft Christmas tree.
Dinner at the Great Dane. Wisconsin Cheddar Mac n Cheese, of course. And like any good German restaurant, it's served with a pretzel.

Me and my little brother.

Like any good aunt, I gave the two littlest one chocolate. I did make them stay in the kitchen so none got on the carpet.
Chocolate is always a hit.

This was the "Shake Your Booty" dance.

Here's the Muppet!

First gift. (Spoiler alert, it's a tent)

I love these kids.
Life when boxes are just as good as the gifts.
Baby Jesus was a cowboy.
No explanation needed. Although, after this holiday season, I could go without cheese (and sausage) for quite a while.
And last but definitely not least - Ugly Sweater Party!
I'd like to think that I won. But Coco the Dog and Tyson, the littlest guy, were in a close tie for second.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cheese, Beer, and Holiday Cheer

The old fashioned party was a smashin success. This weekend we had our Wisconsin-themed Christmas party. At Thanksgiving we brought back a bunch of cheese, sausage, and beer for the party. Sam made venison stew. Jason and Kelly had a Tom and Jerry taste off, and I made our delicious version of the brandy old fashioned sweet. Our neighbors and a few friends stopped by for the evening.
Sam working on the delicious venison stew.
After simmering all afternoon, the venison was so tender. The stew had some spice and was really good.
Danny modeling both the Tom and Jerry and the old fashioned. Quiet on this end of the living room.
A little more action over here.
Mark keeping his backside warm.
I believe this was a discussion on the greatest illustrator ever. Norman Rockwell won.
Nera recovering in her fortress of solitude under the tree.
Thanks to everybody that stopped by, we had lots of fun. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pretty Cool

So I noticed a huge jump in blog hits after I posted the first composter review, but never looked into it. Turns out that our post was featured on the re-nest blog. So it turns out other people are interested in our compost, never thought I would say that. Well I guess that warrants a composter update. I have decided that all of the compost produced this winter is getting piled in one spot in the garden. At this rate, by spring we are going to have a huge pile.
Here is the typical week for the composter. Wednesdays are when I take garbage out so it is day 0 for the composter. I fill it daily from Wednesday to Sunday evening. It is pretty full at this point. I don't add anything Monday or Tuesday and just accumulate scraps for those days. Wednesday morning I dump the compost in the bottom tray in the garden and transfer from the top chamber. Then the accumulated scraps are added to start things off again. So we are looking at a week in the top and a week in the bottom. We consistently add coffee grounds, apple cores, banana peels, egg shells, and toilet paper tubes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lazy Weekend

I know it's not even technically winter, but I'm cold and ready for spring. It got cold and snowy last weekend so we stayed pretty close to home.
The birds found seed beneath the snow.
The cats found sun.
and Sam had help studying and working on Christmas cards.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Garlic?

The Christmas decorating is pretty much finished. All of the soft ornaments are on the bottom branches and every morning Nera places them around the house.
Last weekend I turned one of the beds and planted garlic. The garlic will be between our hot peppers. Since the hot peppers don't really get big until later in the summer, the garlic will be finished. I turned in some of the fresh compost which is looking quite good.
For those who care, the composter is working great. We are producing one container per week and everything that can go in is. Last weekend a bunch of fish scraps went in. This morning the feed consisted of a few toilet paper rolls, banana peels, bean cuttings, egg shells, coffee grounds, apple cores, and a ton of those corn starch packing peanuts. I have started a pile in the garden so hopefully next spring we can have a good visualization of how much has been produced.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Last week we made our annual pilgrimage back to Wisconsin for lots of food, cheese, and beer. In the element we fit:
9 balsam wreaths,
8 festive bows,
7 kinds of cheese,
6 pounds of sausage,
5 cases of beer,
4 bundles of bows,
3 bottles of wine,
2 crappy colds, and
1 8 ft. Christmas tree
After Thanksgiving dinner I was so full I needed help digesting food. Our nieces and nephew helped by bouncing on my stomach. They are so fun to play with, but were typhoid Marys with colds. I think we managed to pass it on to everyone in my family the next day.
The medium sized dog costumes still fit Portland well. I am a little weary as to what presents he is going to leave us.
We picked out a nice 8 ft. balsam tree. Nera and Sam decorated it last night,
and undecorated it,
and rearranged the ornaments.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Composter Update

I thought I would do a quick post about the composter since I have gotten lots of responses about it. Week one went great. Week two I started trying other things and got the balance off. I tried leaves and other paper items as brown. I also composted lots of apple and tomato parts. It smelled pretty bad even for the garage. I can only imagine what that would smell like in the house. Well, a little more baking soda and sawdust and everything came back under control pretty quickly.
Here is typical feed for the composter.
Egg shells, garlic pieces, tomato guts, rotten blue berries, moldy sour cream, and a couple toilet paper roll tubes.
Here is the week two compost. Overall it looks pretty good. Oddly enough the dry leaves didn't compost all that well. I put them in whole, mulched probably would be better. I threw in a couple whole peat pots from last season. These sat outside all year and didn't do anything. The few I crumbled up went away. The few I threw in whole really didn't.
Additional lessons after week two. When possible put in small pieces of whatever. When in doubt error on the side of too much baking soda, for smell.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This and That

I took a couple days off this week to get some house projects done before we head to Wisconsin for thanksgiving. The green tomatoes mostly have ripened. This might be the last tomato salad of the year. I have a few small basil plants growing in the garage so it was extra good.
One of our goals for the next year is to get the furnace room and toilet looking more like a second bathroom. There is only so much we will be able to do with the current setup, but here goes. First on the list is more storage. There is some serious wasted space in here that can't be allowable in these houses.
I build a cabinet for the back wall. Boy, nothing like a tight fit. Notice it is sized to fit a case of beer, hmmm like I planned it.
I hung the shelves with a French cleat so we can pull it out easily if needed.
The convertible got put away for the year.
Since we now have much more sunlight to the garden and the hoop house worked well last year, I built another. Next year one of the beds will be dedicated to flowers so we didn't actually gain any space. Luckily Jerad keeps a supply of Ipe handy so I can wander over and get more. This is full build for the raised beds. We now have 6 4'x8' boxes which will have to do.
Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Naturemill Composter Review

I finally broke down and purchased a hippie appliance that I have been watching for a couple years. The NatureMill company has a series of home composters. All of the previous models had some issues with design or construction quality so I waited for the latest version to be out a year before I got one. Cities like Toronto and San Fransisco have curb side composting programs, most do not. According to the EPA, kitchen waste is the number 1 least recycled potential item. A third to half of all household waste can be composted. We recycle, but especially as we are trying to eat better, lots of vegetable scraps get thrown away. Compost piles are cheap, but we don't have a good spot for a compost pile, they aren't for many food scraps, and I don't want to carry scraps out there in the winter. So a home composter seemed like a good solution.
The naturemill unit is basically a low density polyethylene cooler. You know those cheap white ones. It is much thicker and nicer and is recycled and recyclable. The unit comprises of an upper mixing chamber and a lower curing chamber. The compostable items go in the top, it mixes every 4 hours. A pump continuously circulates air and then discharges through an activated charcoal filter so it doesn't smell too much. The unit also heats the mixer to 140F for rapid breakdown. The process is supposed to take two weeks, one week in the upper chamber and one in the lower. I got the Pro XE version which has a heavy duty mode. I got one from their direct outlet so it was much cheaper than a straight purchase. There aren't too many people that detail their experience so here goes.
This is the type of items we typically throw out. We started with coffee grounds, a banana peel, a rotten tomato, some tomato scraps, and an apple core. They suggest cutting up any stringy or long pieces so it doesn't tangle in the mixer.
Day 0 (Starting the unit): The scraps go in the top along with a cup of starter soil from the garden. Since kitchen scraps are usually full of water and nitrogen (green) heavy, the pH is balanced with some baking soda and the brown fraction balanced with saw dust pellets. Some pellets were provided to start up. I have an unlimited supply of saw dust from Jerad's shop, but will experiment with other brown replacement items.
Day 1: Not much left already.
Day 2: Yesterday I through in a few items similar to the initial batch.
Day 2 (loaded): More coffee grounds, apple cores, and some rotten lettuce and old baked beans.
Day 3: The breakdown process results in lots of water vapor. At this point we had a steaming pile of compost.
Day 3 (loaded): Ok, it seemed to be working with regular items so I gave it a challenge. An old flower bouquet and some bills went in along with banana peels and the wood pellets.
Day 4: It did pretty well with everything. Although I cut them down, the stems from the flowers probably weren't the best thing since the woody parts take a long time to break down.
Day 4 (loaded): I heard that paper towel and toilet paper rolls are good compost items. I also threw in some newspaper ads. The flower stems were still visible. At this point the machine was pretty full. They state that this unit is suitable for households of 5 and can take 5 lbs of food per day. Although we had people over this weekend and generated lots of scraps, the two of us managed to fill it up quickly.
Day 5: When loaded to the brim some of the stuff builds up on the edges. I scraped the sides down.
Day 5 (loaded): Just to see what happens I kept loading.
Day 6: Almost everything had broken down except for the glossy newspaper which didn't do anything.
Day 7: The instructions say that it takes two weeks to make a batch of compost. They weren't real specific about, is that two weeks in the top or total? Since we filled it up in a couple days and nothing was recognizable after a week, I am going to do one week in top and one in the bottom. I pushed the transfer button and everything went down below. Enough stuff sticks to the sides so you don't need to add new cultures after emptying.
Here is what the bottom tray looks like. The only recognizable pieces were the newspaper pieces and some of the stems from the flowers. So in the first week toilet paper rolls worked well as alternate brown, glossy newspaper ads did not. Real woody stuff like flower stems should probably just get thrown on the garden. Apple cores, banana peels, meat, and dairy weren't a problem at all. The white cup catches compost tea that drips down from the top chamber and can be put on the compost or used to water plants. I am going to let this hang on in the bottom, which is warm and humid, for a week to continue breaking down. Next week this will go outside and the process continues.
I have been pretty amazed at the amount of scraps we put into this thing, now that we consciously choose too. I have noticed that our garbage weighs lots less. If we continue to produce a batch in a week or two, it won't be a stretch to predict 8-10 cf of compost a year out of this thing. Since the composting process reduces the volume by 75%, that is a lot less garbage leaving our house.
Last night we accidental forgot to put a bunch of sweet and sour chicken in the refrigerator. Ever compost sweet and sour chicken, it went in this morning along with some old guacamole. Kind of cool.