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.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tree Day 2010

Last weekend Roe Circle engaged in another community yard cleanup. These cleanup days are escalating and each time getting bigger pieces of equipment. This time we rented a 45ft lift to trim trees. Each of us had been watching the dead limbs grow and just waiting for one to fall on a car. Since we already had one drop through a skylight this year, it was time to clean things up.
Eric and Elise supplied monkey pancaked and sausage for breakfast to give everyone strength.
The oaks around the circle we pretty easy to get since we could drive to them. Jerad and I had a little more difficulty getting to the elms over our house. Bearhugging a log while Jerad cuts, looking directly into a skylight is a little nerve racking.

We had to stop for more sausage at lunchtime. It was a good day to sit outside eating bratwurst and drinking Oktoberfest.
Next came the leaning pine tree.
Turns out it works better if you cut it.
We used Mark's yard for staging and he worked the whole weekend cutting branches down to get them in the trailer.
We ended up generating about three piles this size.
A file photo for reference. Notice all of the trees behind me.
Most of those trees were either garabage trees or growing into our power lines. Instead of keeping any, I opted to loose them all so we can plant something nice.
Wow, it's pretty big back here. The garden will go nuts next year since these were blocking all of the sunshine.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Garden Summary 2010

Even though there are a few mustard greens left in the garden, the 2010 growing season is in the bag. This year was much more productive than last.
This year we switched from a standard garden to raised beds. I started all the seeds inside and had plenty of extra to go around. The hoop house worked so well I am going to built a second one for next year. We, for the most part, kept all the crops separate. The tomatoes and peppers got huge and had great production.
April April

This year we planted:
Tomatoes: Mr. Stripey (3), Yellow Brandywine (3), and Romas (2)
Peppers: Green Bell (2), Yellow Bell (2), Jalapeno(2), Chili (1), and Cayanne(1)
Cucumber: English (3)
Summer squash (3)
Bush Beans (6)
The most southern beds were shaded and not as productive as the unshaded beds for the tomatoes and peppers.
Here's how the yield turned out.
Tomatoes: Mr Stripey (30 full grown, 3 little late season), yellow brandywine (12), Romas (154 full grown, 13 little late season)
Peppers: Green bell (8 full grown, 35 small late season), yellow bell (6), jalapenos (70 full grown, 50 small late season), chili (41 full grown, 17 small late season), cayenne (27)
Cucumbers (36)
Summer squash (3)
Basil (6 large bunches dried)
Beans (84)
Radishes (11)
Salad greens (2)
Carrots (32 small)
Things that worked, tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers. Things that didn't work so well, sweet peppers, summer squash, beets, leaks, salad greens, and spinach.
Since we cleared out a majority of the trees blocking half of the garden I am hoping we have a better year next. I am starting to get a feel of what we eat and what grows well. I think the first of January I will be starting seeds for next year, wow it won't be long.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Public Service Announcement

This post doesn't have a whole lot to do with the house, I ran into something I think everyone should know about. We recently acquired a few more bicycles and our garage was starting to look like a bike shop. Several were in good condition, but not being used. If you check craigslist bicycles, even really nice ones, are cheap and there was no chance of selling ours. I started looking into places that accept bicycle donations and ran across the 816 bicycle collective. This is a group of interesting people that fix up bicycles for donation to people that otherwise wouldn't have transportation. I stopped by the other evening and I would encourage anyone to donate extra bikes or lend a hand. They are located down off of troost, go around to the back of the building. You can't miss it. If it was anything like last night there will be little kids everywhere riding bikes, colorful buildings, dogs on the roof, and bicycles everywhere under various states of repair. I have a soft spot for these type of community run activities like the Kansas Center for Urban Agriculture, that only exist to help people. It's very cool, go check it out.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ok, It's Finally Fall

The weather is cool and we might turn on the heat this week. Ok, I will admit it is finally fall. This past weekend Sam went to Milwaukee for a concert and I collected leaves with the Roecirclites.
Sunday I ran 50 miles at the Blue Springs 50/50. The day was pretty nice until the wind picked up. It was a leg course and half of the legs were into the wind. Normally I don't take good pictures during long races. This one I ate and drank much more than I ever have and guess what, felt pretty good.
Me finishing and still looking human. I set a new PR of 8:33.
Sam got a new haircut last week. I thought I would include a picture because it looks really good.
Cold weather means cleaning out the garden. I need to can this week to get rid of some of the peppers. Anybody know what to do with lots of green tomatoes?
A few are pretty big.
Next weekend is Sam's big adventure race. Her mountain bike bruises are healing so it is time for a fresh set.