Archive for the ‘Around the House’ Category
I love the glow of candle light. It casts a warm comfortable feeling over the entire room. From the first hint of fall’s chill until buds burst in the warm spring air there are candles burning in my little farmhouse.
They are on my mantel, set in a collection of thrift store candle holders on my hearth, on the window sill of my kitchen, in my bedroom and even along side my bath tub. It’s amazing how much that little flickering flame of light can calm and restore and bring peace at the end of a busy day.
But, what once was a necessity for lighting a room, reading a newspaper, or illuminating a path has become almost a luxury. Years ago I could buy candles for a few dollars, but now they cost more than I spend on a bag of chicken feed. Being the frugal farmer that I am however, I have found a few tricks to keep my love affair with candles without breaking the bank.
One is to use the department store gift cards I receive in the mail. You know the ones I’m talking about…where they give you $10 off of a purchase to entice you into the store, hoping you’ll spend more. I’m too savvy for their ploys, though. I am usually able to find 3” pillars, or jarred candles or 6 votives for just under the minimum $10 (which I am still able to use my card to purchase). More times than not I walk out of the store with a beautiful scented candle for no money at all. How’s that for farm girl frugality?
My second method to keeping the candle flames flickering is to save all the little bits and pieces of burned down candle wax. I keep them in a ziplock bag. When I have gathered enough pieces of the same color (or similar color) I melt them down to make new candles. I save all the old jars from any jarred candles because they are made of tempered glass and safe for pouring hot wax into.
For just a few dollars in a package of wick and a $2.00 pot I bought at the thrift store I can make a new candle in less than 30-minutes and enjoy the glow of my recycled wax for hours. How great is that!
To make your own candles out of bits and pieces all you need is a stainless steel pot (one you don’t mind getting covered with wax), a larger pot, an old jarred candle jar and a package of wick.
Now—fill the larger pot half way with water and set it on a medium flame. Cut the wick 1-inch taller than the jar, tie a knot at one end, wrap it around a pencil or chop stick a few times so it sets nicely on the bottom of the jar.
Place the wax bits in the smaller pot and set it inside the larger pot. Let the wax melt, stirring occasionally at first, then constantly as the wax gets hotter. When all the wax has melted, gently pour it into the prepared jar. Let it set overnight. When you’re ready to burn the new candle, cut the wick to ¼-inch and light it.
Voila! That’s all it takes to keep the candle glow burning.
My mornings have taken on a new rhythm now that I am working full-time again. The slow leisurely pace of morning is gone. Most of my chores are done before the rest of world thinks of getting up. I feel at home with the new routine, keeping up with fall preps and the farm humming. Change is afoot and not just in the weather. I have plans, folks, plans to finish the greenhouse, plans to plant a winter garden full of greens and roots, plans to start an herb garden of kitchen and medicinals. There will be room for new chicks in the barn and perhaps a pig in the freezer.
Fall is not quite in full swing, but nights are dipping into the 40’s. I wake in the cool foggy morning to a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal, choke full of fruit and nuts. I cook it over my stove rather than in the microwave, it only takes a few minutes. People think I’m crazy that I don’t use those little brown packages that cook up in 30-seconds or so. But, I like cooking over a stove, any stove—gas, electric, wood. I do have a microwave I just never use it for cooking. And—who needs it anyway. Oatmeal is simply adding oats and milk and fruit and nuts and sugar and cinnamon to a pot, and there you have it, an amazing hearty breakfast full of carbs and energy, enough to keep you going through swinging a hammer or stacking a load of firewood.
Tonight I’m off to town to the library’s annual book sale. I’m sure the place will be packed, it always is. The sale has become a kind of ritual for me, a thing I do every season…adding to my growing library. I will comb the stacks, make my selections, sit on the floor and decide what to buy. And, when I am finished I’ll head over to the small café across the street for a wonderful bowl of homemade clam chowder. It’s not like most people would spend a Friday evening, but it is mine.
In every homestead’s attempt to become more self-sustaining water is a crucial and sometimes elusive commodity. But, using simple rainwater collection systems and reusing gray water from the washing machine on flowers, shrubs and trees, can go a long way to help offset what comes from municipalities.
Southern California is technically a desert. Our annual rainfall hovers around 10 to 15-inches per year. Sometimes we get more, but more times than not it’s less. Sometimes plants in a vegetable garden or flowerbed need more water than is provided through normal rainfall. Or, maybe your area is not known for frequent or steady rainfall throughout the growing season. In those situations most gardeners just turn on an outside faucet to water the garden, drawing on community water supplies, or from a private well.
But, what if you had another way to not only water the garden, berry patch or orchard, but save money as well? With below normal rainfall and droughts in some parts of the country people are looking for other ways to provide gardens with the moisture they need without using what may become a precious supply of fresh water.
One method is to use the wastewater, usually referred to as gray water, produced in the home. But, what is gray water?
Gray water is all the non-toilet wastewater produced in the average household including the water from bathtubs, showers, sinks, washing machines, and dishwashers. Although gray water does not need extensive chemical or biological treatment before it can be used in the garden as irrigation water, it still must be used carefully because it usually contains grease, hair, detergent, cosmetics, dead skin, food particles and small amounts of fecal matter.
How much gray water can be used in the home garden?
First, collect only as much waste water as you will need to meet the water requirements of your garden. The rest should go into your sewer or septic system.
A good rule-of-thumb for deciding how much gray water to use on your garden is that a square foot of well-drained, loamy soil can handle about a half gallon of gray water per week. In other words, if your garden area is 500 square feet, then you can put up to 250 gallons of gray water on your garden each week.
If you can be choosy about the gray water you recycle on your garden, then use shower and bathtub water first, followed in decreasing order of desirability by water from the bathroom sink, utility sink, washing machine, kitchen sink and dishwasher. Water from the kitchen sink and dishwasher is the least desirable because of the larger proportion of grease, food particles and other materials it will contain. If there is no way you can avoid using water from the kitchen sink and dishwasher, try to limit the amount of grease and solid food particles that go down the drain (non-meat food scraps should be composted rather then put down the garbage disposal). NEVER recycle water from a washing machine that has been used to wash baby diapers because it may contain fecal matter.
What about soaps and detergents? Will they harm the soil and plants?
Soaps and detergents are biodegradable, but they can cause problems when gray water is used over a long period. The main problem with most laundry detergents is that they contain sodium salts which, if present in large amounts, can damage the soil structure, can create an alkaline condition, and can also damage plants.
Avoid detergents that advertise “softening power,” because they will have a large amount of sodium-based compounds. The phosphates in detergents can be good for plant growth, but unfortunately, the detergents highest in phosphates usually contain the greatest amount of sodium. If you re-use washing machine water, cut down or eliminate the amount of bleach you use and do not use detergents or additives that contain boron, which is especially toxic to plants.
When doing your household cleaning, use ammonia, or products that contain ammonia, instead of chlorine as the cleaning agent.
What precautions should I take to protect the soil from damage when I use gray water over a long period of time?
A big danger in using gray water is the build-up of sodium in the soil. You can find out if the sodium levels are high by testing the pH of your soil. A pH of 7.5 or above indicates that your soil has become loaded with sodium. You can correct or avoid this problem by spreading gypsum on the soil at a rate of two pounds per 100 square feet about once a month. Rainfall, or alternating gray water applications with fresh water, will help leach sodium and excess salts out of the soil.
The best solution though is to use detergents that are sodium free or low in sodium.
Is there any danger of spreading disease by using gray water in the garden?
Recycled water from the bath, shower, or washing machine can contain organisms causing diseases in humans. However, when gray water is poured onto soil that has an abundance of organic matter, the potentially harmful bacteria and viruses die quickly. If any should survive, it is unlikely that they would be taken up by the roots of garden plants and transferred to the edible portion of food plants. Nevertheless, for safety, you could use gray water primarily to irrigate lawns and ornamental plants, and sparingly on fruits and vegetables.
How should I apply gray water to the soil?
Whether you carry your gray water to the garden by hand in buckets or modify your household plumbing for direct delivery of water to the area where it is needed, a number of guidelines should be followed in applying the water. They include:
If possible, use gray water for your ornamental plants and shrubs and use what fresh water is available for your vegetable garden. If you need to use gray water for irrigating food plants, restrict its application to the soil around plants such as corn, tomatoes, broccoli, or other vegetables of which only the above ground part is eaten. Do not apply gray water to leafy vegetables or root crops.
Apply gray water directly to the soil surface. Do not use an overhead sprinkler, or allow the recycled water to splash off the soil and contact the above-ground portion of the plants. If you have a drip irrigation system, do not use gray water in it since any solid matter it might contain could clog the emitters in the pipe.
Pour gray water on flat garden areas; avoid steep slopes where runoff could be a problem.
Apply wastewater over a broad area; avoid concentrating it on one particular site.
When possible, rotate applications of gray water with fresh water. The fresh water will help leach out any soil contaminants that might be building up.
Apply thick compost mulches to areas where you use gray water. They will speed the natural decomposition of waste residues.
Use gray water on well-established plants only. Seedlings can not withstand the impurities of the waste water.
Do not use gray water, which is alkaline, on acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas. Be sure to rotate your use of gray water with fresh water on lawns and fruit trees.
How can I get gray water from the house to the garden?
Gray water can be transported to the garden several ways, the most basic being to bucket the water from the sinks and bathtub into pails and hand carry it to the garden. More sophisticated systems involve siphoning or pumping water from the bathtub or other deep basins (sumps) to the yard through a garden hose, or removing the trap from the bathroom sink drain pipe and putting a five-gallon, or larger, bucket beneath the sink.
When using gray water from the washing machine first drain it into a large bucket (at least 35 gallon) or trashcan fitted with a hose bib so you can attach a hose to carry water to planted areas. Do not attach a hose directly to the washing machine drain. The potential backflow can cause damage to your washer.
For more information on waste water recycling and supplies check out this website http://www.oasisdesign.net/index.htm.
The past few weeks have been the hottest on record for many parts of the country and my area is no exception. The pinch of a high water bill can send an already tight household budget over the proverbial waterfall.
Here in California water is a precious commodity, one that we fight over, protect and conserve on a daily basis. Many strides have been made in water efficient appliances, but there is still more we can do regardless of where in the country you live. Homeowners can go native with landscape plants or use micro sprinklers that direct water to the roots of a plant rather than water the surrounding area, or install low-flow toilets and showerheads. In the garden we can “put the drops on the crops” with the use of drip irrigation and micro sprinklers.
But with a dry summer such as we’re in amplifies just how fragile our water systems really are. Much of the water that flows from rivers to streams to creeks comes from winter snow pack in mountains that may be hundreds of miles away. When this water source is cut availability to many populations is reduced creating a supply and demand situation, sometimes meaning reductions in use.
Reservoirs and water banking help even out the highs and lows of supply, but many areas still rely on natural rainfall to provide the necessary water to crops and livestock. This uncertainly makes it important to become as water wise as possible—wet year or dry year.
To become more water efficient inside and outside try implementing these helpful water tips:
- Take shorter showers or use only a few inches of water in the tub
- Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth
- Use a broom or a blower to clean sidewalks and driveways
- Adjust sprinklers to water only planted areas and not walkways or the driveway
- Wash only full loads of laundry
- Use grey water on non-edible plants and trees
- Run the dishwasher only when full
- Fix leaky faucets and toilets
- Adjust automatic waterers to prevent overflow
- Use water from cooking on potted plants
- Mulch flowerbeds and gardens to help retain moisture
- Research the water requirements for plants to prevent over watering
- Empty water from troughs and fonts on plants when cleaning and changing
As we see the effects lack of water has on our crops and our food system it is in our best interest to look at saving more water and storing more water on a larger scale for the long term, it is important to become more water wise day by day.
It’s been awhile since I brought you all up to speed on our farm happenings and for that I apologize. It always amazes me how life can take over and you are doing good just to put one foot in front of the other. And — if anyone tells you getting a kid off to college is a fun bonding experience they are dead wrong.
So — here we go — the update.
The meat chicks are about 5-weeks old now and I have to say honestly I am not thrilled with their progress. I tacked on an order of 15 with my friend Angela who buys from a different hatchery than I usually use. In the first four days after their arrival I lost 3 for no apparent reason. They are slower growing than what I’m use to and I may need to keep them longer to get them to a decent butchering weight.
They are out in the barn now, which has had its own problems. First, I came home from running errands, walked in the barn to check on everyone and realized I was missing 4 chicks. As I looked around I noticed one in the nursery that borders my property. I was able to catch him and return him to his friends, but never did find the other 3. Then a few days later I found one dead on the floor of the barn and another one injured, which I put down this morning. In all my years of raising meat chickens I have NEVER had so many problems and lost so many chicks. It’s a sad commentary indeed to lose half your flock of birds to mostly dumb luck. I don’t like it at all!
On a brighter note…the greenhouse I have so desperately wanted for years is well on its way to completion. Normally I would have taken it upon myself and a few begged for hands and build it myself, but this time I wanted instant gratification and was happy to pay for it (for a reasonable price). Jordan set the foundation piers in just half a day. When the cement had hardened overnight he came back and built the floor; a deck type flooring with spaces in between the boards so the dirt could fall through. One week and a new baby later he returned with a friend to build the walls and install the antique windows and door I had collected. I will attach the siding myself over the next few weeks and when Brianne is firmly settled in her new college housing Jordan will come back to put the roof on. Hopefully, all will be finished by September, in time to start a few winter veggies and some flowers. Three cheers for a long growing season!
On the veggie front we are not faring very well this year. We have had a raft of damage from rabbits, birds, squirrels and rats. My beautiful pumpkin patch, which looked like it was going to produce a nice selection of field and pie pumpkins, was wiped out one foggy day a few weeks ago. I did plant new seeds hoping they will ripen in the 90 – 100 days stated on the package. We’ll see. The squirrels decimated my peach crop, again! Even with the protective netting and now something is going at my tomatoes. It is what it is folks, and with Brianne leaving in just 25 days I’m loathed to replant anything until I have time and will be home enough to tend the beds. So now I’m leaning towards a nice fall garden that, with luck, should take us into December before the weather gets too cold.
Last week we traveled to the state fair so Brianne could compete one last time in a competition she qualified for at last years county fair. It was strange to be there with no animals. But, even stranger was the energy and vibe of the livestock barns. There didn’t seem to be the camaraderie and friendly competition overtones we’ve seen in past years. All of her friends are gone (aged out of their respective programs) and the new comers are people we don’t know. The competition was on Sunday so Friday we drove over to Petaluma and visited the Baker Creek Seed Bank. It was great to see row after row of their heirloom veggies, made me want to buy a whole new garden right then and there, but I held off. I still have seeds from this year and I want to use what I can in a fall garden before buying new. I did satiate my urge and buy a few packets of hollyhocks to plant around the greenhouse and one pumpkin I just had to have. If you’ve read this blog for long you know my love (or obsession) for those orange globes no matter how big or small. On Saturday we visited four of the cheese factories/shops on the Sonoma Cheese Trail I wrote about before. It’s a long list and with the distance between them, shopping in the area and having lunch those four took us all day. But, it was wonderful to taste cheeses that are not available in any of my local shops. The whole area is very food oriented and we enjoyed seeing shops and restaurants proudly serve local grown and local made. One shop in particular caught our fancy…Petaluma Pies. All their pies (sweet and savory) are made fresh daily from ingredients grown in the county. We savored the sweet peach and plump berry right from the oven smothered with hand-churned vanilla ice-cream on their outdoor patio after a long day of driving and shopping. Perfect, and perfectly wonderful.
I did get one pleasant surprise though. The sunflower quilt I made for Brianne arrived from the quilters before we left for state fair. I’ll take a weekend and attach the binding and stitch it down, hopefully in time for her move to college.
The dog days of summer have hit the mid-point here and our weather has been all over the place; cool and foggy, stormy with a few light thunder showers, but now we’ve hit a typical So Cal heat wave (not unlike the rest of the country) with temps in the mid-90s. Not many farm chores get done in the heat. We wait until the cool of evening or scurry around in the early morning hours before the suns rays can beat down on our little place. Most of our time is spent filling water troughs and watering plants, it’s a circular dance that seems to go on forever.
This whole summer scenario has gotten me thinking about how much I wish fall was here. I like summer don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something about a crisp fall morning or the way the evening sunset throws a golden glow over the whole farm that makes me want to hunker down in front of a warm fire with a hearty stew and a chunk of home baked bread smothered in butter. Those days are months away, I know, but a girl can dream can’t she.
When I woke today it smelled of a fading storm, remnants of some far off monsoon, made myself a glass of tea, turned on the garden water, killed a chicken, cooked breakfast, readied myself for work, wrote, cleaned, and did laundry. Just an average day on a small farm at the edge of town. Gotta love it. Right?
Fall is on its way, I can feel it.
Some day a bright young thing working in a basement lab using cheap hardware store parts might come up with a better way of obtaining free energy, but until that time comes clotheslines are the next best thing!
IN THE MEANTIME…LET’S CELEBRATE — The first week in June is International Clothesline Week and was created to encourage people to hang their clothes on a line to dry instead of using electricity or gas sucking clothes dryers.
For nearly 10 years, thousands of people and communities worldwide have participated in International Clothesline Week, and many communities have revised their regulations to allow clotheslines. Now that’s what I call changing the world for the better!
Do you remember your mom hanging clothes out to dry? Do you remember seeing all the bright colors flapping in the breeze? Can you smell the fresh spring day while taking them down? Even in winter clothes were hung out to dry, sometimes coming in so frozen they could stand on their own.
Now most people use dryers exclusively and world-wide that adds up to a lot of dryers!
Opt for Breeze Power, Sun Power, HUMAN Power!
Did you know…Over 80% of households use a clothes dryer, drawing huge amounts of precious energy! If every household spent even one day hanging their clothes out to dry it would save a huge amount of energy and equal a huge savings in dollars. More importantly less dryer use translates into fewer pollutants and fewer health consequences associated with coal driven electricity.
Nala Kitty found a warm spot on the bedroom floor; sun beaming in from a cloudless sky.
Beekeeping is an art form that dates back thousands of years. It was a DIY project undertaken by both farm families and commercial enterprises. It is said that one hive will produce enough honey to supply a family for one year with enough left over to sell. That’s why small honey production has been a staple on small farms or homesteads for centuries.
Anyone can produce honey at home. Many different kinds of hives can be used. But, for the suburban homesteader city ordinances and zoning codes could be your biggest hurdle so check those out first. If you are lucky enough to be able to house a hive check out this inexpensive and simple design called the Honey Cow by Instructables.com
The Honey Cow is designed to mimic nature as much as possible. Unlike commercial hives that have frames, a foundation or excluders the Honey Cow only has top bars, allowing the bees to do naturally what they would do in a fallen log: build beautiful, natural combs.
It’s easy to make and manage, which makes it perfect for the beginner beekeeper. Plus it’s less intrusive to the bees.
To make your own Honey Cow check out the step-by-step instructions at instructables.com