Monday, February 23, 2009


videoWe returned to the dump on Sunday to get more manure for the garden. This time, we dug around for a better spot in the heap, and came across a spot where we could access the steaming hot composting manure in the middle. While perhaps this compost isn't completely finished, it seems that it's been hot enough for long enough to kill most nasties that would be living in it, and the dump seems to add sawdust and other carbonaceous matter to the heap from time to time to aid the process. We plan to dig it into the beds and let it sit for another month before we plant things.

Getting our manure from the dump means we have no way of knowing how long the compost has been aging, how hot it's been for how long, etc. On the other hand, it's not hard to tell the difference between raw and composted manure. I think the hot stuff is much more decomposed than the dry stuff we got close to the surface last time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Box of Rusty Hangers

So Tristan found this box of rusty hangers months ago and felt compelled to bring them home. I figured we would never find a use for them, and they would just sit in the carport until our next move. This weekend when we were attempting to assemble our as-yet non-functioning drip system, I had a stroke of genius. I broke out the tin snips, chopped up a bunch of hangers, and bent them into stakes to hold the irrigation tubing in place. Now if only the tubing worked as well as the stakes...

Oyster Mushrooms

We ordered an oyster mushroom kit, and instead of growing it in the cake it arrives as we did with the shiitakes, we innoculated coffee grounds with the mycelium. It's been maybe two weeks since we set this up, and you can see that the mycelium is developing a stronghold now.


Our housemate got us a subscription to Mother Earth News for the holidays, and we have been thoroughly enjoying it. A few issues ago, the magazine had an article called Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread. We are already avid bread-bakers, but we loved the article's idea of keeping a slow-rising batch of dough in the fridge, so that with weekend prep, all you have to do is lop off a hunk of dough and pop it in the oven when you need a fresh loaf. We picked up a plastic food-grade tray from the restaurant supply store, which fits unobtrusively in our fridge. We have been baking little "personal sized" loafs, which are perfect for a ploughman's lunch or taking with you on the go.

The recipe was for white bread, and we prefer whole wheat, so Tristan modified the recipe for a whole-wheat version:

12 c. w.w. flour
7 c. water
2 heaping T. yeast
2 T. salt
few "glugs" oil (Tristan refuses to measure this for some reason)

The trick to this recipe is using a lot of yeast, so that it will still be active when you pull it out of the refrigerator.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

SPURT stream drip (drip drip drip part 2)

So today we started connecting bits of our drip system, and we got a rude awakening. We ran a 1/2" mainline down the length of the garden, and in the first bed we ran 2 12' lengths of 1/4" tubing, with holes spaced a foot apart. Well. When we turned on the water, what appeared before us was an exponentially decreasing water pattern. The first hole spurted water several feet in the air, while the last hole was completely dry.

We did a variety of experiments to attempt to remedy this, and none of them worked. It seems as though we should have bought the much more expensive pressure compensating tubing, which maintains even water pressure at each emitter. Is this the only solution? Is this a situation where our DIY determination and cunning cannot save us?

Help, please!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Corkscrew Scarf

I finally finished this corkscrew scarf, a late Chanukah present for my mother. It was knit lengthwise on circular needles. The pattern, which is super cool and was designed by my coworker's sister, uses the natural curl of the stockinette stitch in combination with rapid stitch increases to create the corkscrew shape. It was fun to knit, and I hope my mom thinks it will be fun to wear. That is, if I ever get it in the mail...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


A few tulip leaves have begun to poke through the ground in the herb spiral. Can it be that spring is just around the corner?

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Garden Progress

We've broken major ground on our new garden. Our landlady told us to do whatever we wanted with the yard, and so we're converting a large chunk of the fairly barren yard into a vegetable garden. If all goes according to plan, this year our garden will be large enough to supply the majority of our food needs throughout the summer and well into the winter.

It's too early to plant here in zone 5, but the ground isn't frozen anymore and we're taking advantage of this time to get new beds dug and amended. Here's the progress we've made so far...

Today was also the day to start onion seeds indoors. We tried to grow onion from seed last year, but we never got to see how they turned out because we had to move and abandon the garden. I suspect they didn't get very large because I think we started them too late and didn't transplant them on time. This year, we're off to a good start. February 15th is the recommended start date for onion seeds in our area, according to several different sources. Pictures will follow when the buggers sprout.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Drip drip drip

Tristan and I will be installing our first drip irrigation system this year. Last year we watered by hand, and not only is that a pain, but it wastes a lot of water (due to evaporation and runoff). The downside to drip irrigation is mainly cost, and our impermanence in this garden as renters. The landlady may choose to buy the improvements from us, but she very well may not. We decided that it's worth it to save the time and the water, plus the learning experience. We spent about $35 today on 300' of 1/4" tubing and a few parts, and will spend a bit more on larger tubing. (We think we some some at the re-store, so we're hoping to get a deal on that part.) Could we maybe get some of this stuff for free? Probably, but this is complicated enough as it is, and it's a large garden, so we're going with regular old store-bought components on this one. It's not a prohibitively expensive undertaking anyway.

The tubing we bought does not have holes in it (cheaper). So Tristan slapped together a jig to hold the tubing and measure 1 foot intervals, and we drilled holes in the stuff. The next step will be to procure 1/2" tubing and connect everything together. Then we can test it out and see how it works! I'm guessing this shouldn't take us more than a few hours to put together.

This project is a little bit daunting for us because we don't know a lot about water flow and, you know, physics. But we found some helpful information online, at and After a little reading, it doesn't seem so impossible. There will definitely be more drip discussion to come.

Free Mulch and Manure

Our local recycling center has a vast mountain range of "green waste"--piles of wood chips and manure in varying stages of decomposition. This stuff is free for the taking, so this year we will be using it exclusively (well, plus our own compost and wormcastings) for the garden. So don't spend a fortune on soil amendments and mulch until you find out if your community has a similar resource.

Oh, and since we're city folk without a pickup truck, we picked up some rubbermaid tubs at the goodwill to fill with manure. An old sheet or a tarp also works well for less smelly stuff like mulch.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Best Free Find Ever

Yesterday I picked up what has turned out to be the best free item I have ever managed to get my hands on. Some very generous people offered up their bedframe on craigslist--free to a good home. Apparently they got 50 responses to their ad in 2 days, and somehow I managed to be the chosen recipient. Serendipitously, our bed frame broke the same day I was told I could have the frame. I new the bed was a four poster, but had not seen a picture of it. When I finally laid eyes on it, I was amazed. See for yourself:

Thank you, thank you to the craigslist gods for this incredible bed! This just goes to show you that there are generous people out there.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Hot Pita Balloon

The compost collective I mentioned earlier inspired me to take more steps to share resources with my friends and neighbors. I put the call out on Facebook to see who might be interested in trading some of the homemade goodies we like to make for things they like to make, or things they know how to do, or for money if all else fails. We're starting slow, but I'm hopeful that we may eventually build a neighborhood economy of sorts.

Today, I baked bread for those who were interested. I made regular whole wheat loaves, and also pita for a friend who is limiting carbs in his diet. (I'm not sure, but I think pita is better because there's less carbs per serving, since it's flat?)

I put the still warm pita on the stovetop in a plastic bag to keep it soft, and the hot air from the pita made a "hot pita balloon", as my friend Zevin called it. Pretty nifty.

And here's how I make pita, in case you want to try it:

makes 8 pitas

4 c. whole wheat flour
2.5 c. warm water
1 T yeast
2 tsp. salt
2 T oil (or thereabouts. didn't measure exactly)

Mix flour and salt. Suspend yeast in water until yeast falls to bottom. Add water/yeast mixture to dry ingredients, and add oil. Mix well. Let sit for 20 minutes, and then knead well. Let rise til doubled in bulk. Punch down and let rise again. Fold bread 2-3 times, and cut into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and flatten with a rolling pin until somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch in thickness. Bake in a 425 degree oven, on a baking stone. Each pita only takes 5 minutes or so to cook, and needs to be flipped halfway through. To keep soft, store in a plastic bag.

Rocket Stove Demo

Just found this exclusive file footage of our rocket stove lurking on my computer. I don't think I ever posted it. Here is our rocket stove in action. Thanks to Stuart for the camerawork/commentary.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Tiny Egg

One of our chickens laid this tiny egg. We're wondering if maybe one of them is actually just starting to lay. I'm worried it could be the chicken that got attacked, and that maybe it's a sign that she's not ok. Gar I dunno. She seems fine. Gonna have to observe them closely this weekend.

Chicken Attack


We had a close call with our chickens last weekend. The scary, neglected dogs that live across the street escaped from their prison and ran amuck, apparently getting their hands on one of our hens before moving on to other adventures. I went outside to find a yard full of feathers, and freaked out, assuming the worst. Well, our little hen seems just fine. She doesn't have a scratch on her as far as we can tell, but she is missing a lot of back feathers and all but 2 or 3 tail feathers. A week later, she's acting fine. This weekend I will try to observe her to make sure she is still laying.

First All-Grain Beer

We started our first all-grain beer 2 weeks ago. Previously, we always used malt syrup to make our beer, because we didn't have a container big enough to do our own mash (where you extract that sugar from barley itself). Then we found this old keg, and converted it into a 15-gallon mash pot.

With all-grain beer, you do all of the processing yourself, and start with completely unprocessed ingredients (we used unprocessed hops for this batch as well). It's also cheaper but about $10 a 5-gallon batch. It's ALSO a heck of a lot more complicated. We started making this batch around 6pm, and finished around 1:30 AM (well, Tristan finished. I was asleep by then.) Coaxing the sugars out of the barley is a long process of raising the mash to various temperatures designed to break down different components of the grain. We did this part of the process in a cooler, adding the amount of hot water specified by the recipe to bring the entire mash to a particular temperature. We found it didn't work as expected, and the temperature was constantly lower than we wanted it to be. Maybe it's due to the altitude, or maybe the recipe was no good. Regardless, we somehow got the sugars out of the barley anyway, and things were just fine in the end.

After the temperature-adjustment waltz, we had to strain the mash into the keg for an hour-long boil (this part is the same as making beer the easier way). Straining the liquid out of the cooler proved extremely difficult. We used a clean metal scouring sponge cupped around the cooler drain to keep the barley from escaping, but this quickly clogged, and any attempt to readjust resulted in the sponge slipping and the keg filling with barley. We got it after a few tries, but we're going to have to find a better system for this part of the process.

At this point, I went to bed, and I assume Tristan put that pot on the boil, added the hops, and waited an hour. Then we let the wort cool overnight, and in the morning transferred it to a bucket and pitched the yeast. We did the primary fermentation in a bucket instead of a carboy because, according to the recipe, there will be half a gallon of sediment left at the end, and thus you start out with 5.5 gallons of wort--too much for the carboy.

We'll keep you posted on this batch as it progresses. The primary fermentation (pictured) is just finished and we are going to rack the beer into a carboy tomorrow. It smells delish, but no idea how it tastes yet. It should be a busy weekend for beer, as we have one batch that needs bottling and one that needs racking, and we may get a new batch of beer or cider underway.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Compost "Collective"

Our friends have recently begun to ask us if they can save their kitchen scraps and then contribute them to our compost pile. Many of our friends are in college or grad school, move around a lot, house-sit, etc. It's hard for them to commit to a compost heap or even a worm bin in most cases.

So, a compost "collective" has sprung up rather organically (pun intended) in our circle of friends. I'm really psyched about this. It's a great way for people to share resources with each other. They have kitchen scraps they don't want to send to the landfill, and we have a yard to dump them in, and a garden to put the finished compost in.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Our housemate ordered a Shiitake mushroom kit from the internets. Actually, this is the replacement kit, as the first one didn't work. This seems to be a common experience, from what I can tell...Anyway, it comes as a big compacted blog of sawdust covered in white mycelium and brown...something. After a complicated process of refrigeration and soaking in rainwater, you keep the mushroom "log" misted several times daily, and wait. Our first flush of mushrooms yielded about 6 shiitakes. Mushrooms grow incredibly quickly, and they are fascinating to watch. Our second flush, pictured here in progress, looks as though it will be quite a bit bigger. We're new to growing mushrooms, and we're not sure it's cost effective ($40 for app. 4 flushes per kit) but it's really fun, and they make a great centerpiece. We want to learn more about keeping the mushrooms alive after they've eaten all the sawdust food. Fungi are particular, so although we'll probably try to innoculate another growing medium after this one is spent, it may not work. Mushroom experts?

Oh, and our housemate just ordered an oyster mushroom kit that supposedly grows on coffee grounds. He was planning to bring home the grounds from the restaurant he works at, only to find that a coworker had already labeled the trash bag of grounds with her name. Gotta love it. We'll keep you updated on that one!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Worm Bin Maintenance

This weekend I finally got up the guts to take a long, hard look inside the worm bin. I'm not afraid of worms, but I am disconcerted by the mold and other wee beasties I have seen in there. So rather than acting like an ostrich and sticking my head in the proverbial sand, I decided to stick it in the worm castings.

The bin actually looked pretty healthy, but aside from a few hard to eat eggshells and large chunks of very old bread, the worms were out of eats. I took the opportunity to give them a fresh layer of bedding as well. I used shredded paper that I have been toting home from the office, dunked it in water, squeezed, fluffed, y voila! Then we added some dumpstered salad greens that were a little past their prime.

We also harvested a large amount of "compost tea"--the liquid that drains out of the worm bin. This stuff is great for your plants, in small doses. While I was draining the compost tea, I noticed that there were a fair amount of worms stuck in the watery mess, so I broke out an old colander and rescued the vast majority of them. I wonder how long some of them had been wriggling around in there...