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Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Composting Story

   Years ago we made the move away from chemical fertilizer and pesticides,this increased the amount of compost production greatly.Living in a very traditional small farming community that has dumped lime and fertilizer on gardens for years this strange practice from this new comer caught quite a few stares from passing cars and trucks.The bigger our piles got the more I tried to keep them manageable and neat.My first pile was made from old pallets found in a storage shed turned on edge and tied together with wire.Wire rings made from left over sections of fencing worked well however it made them difficult to turn.When my neighbor,who has a mowing service,asked if I would mind if he occasionally dumped some clippings on site the piles quickly grew in size.Not long after that I started buying cut off lumber from a man with a saw mill up the road,the eight and ten foot boards were cheap and made large boxes when notched and stacked.Fall came that year and the trees were giving us all the leaves we could shred along with droppings from the chicken coop and kitchen waste these boxes filled up.The amount of compost we were making covered my main garden 70'x100' with a two inch layer and we still had enough left over to use as mulch over the gardening season.
   This year we broke down and purchased a tractor with a front end loader,now turning these piles would be a snap,one problem,the boxes had to be taken apart in order to get in with the tractor.I started looking around and pulled out some cedar post we had cut last year and decided it was time for a new design.I took the tiller and turned the ground where I wanted the bins located and set my first three post.With the help of my girls we went through a pile of boards from the old bins.We set our last few post and started putting up the boards leaving one side open.Now I have two compost bins back to back 9'x8'x36" that we can drive into in order to fill,turn,and empty with ease.Time to start getting busy filling these so we can create more of that wonderful soil building additive that gives back as much as we put in to it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

ThE WonDeRfUL WoRlD of LaUnDrY

Last year I started making my own laundry detergent and I'm quite satisfied with both the cleaning power and the cost.  The added bonus is that I don't have loads of plastic bottles cluttering up the recycling bin (and they never seem to last as many loads as they advertise anyway).  My recipe?

1 box borax
1 box laundry booster (Arm & Hammer)
3 bars of ivory soap, grated
essential oil for fragrance (optional)

One heaping tablespoon is all it takes for a full load in the washing machine, and it works beautifully in the newer high efficiency models as well.  One batch lasts my family a little more than 2 months (family of 4). 

Next chapter in laundry....  the dryer went out about 2 weeks ago.  This one is a used one that we bought several months after moving here.  My mother just about had a stroke when I told her we were drying on the line.  My mother grew up living simply out of necessity and can't understand why anyone would hang clothes out if there is a perfectly good dryer to do the job for you.  She also used to think that "green living" was for people that lived in green houses.  We did try line drying exclusively, but after several months my skin would get irritated, especially with my jeans from the scratchy line-dried clothes.  So we abandoned the line for a used dryer, and that poor sucker finally gave out the week before last.

After that, I only line dried occasionally because it was never convenient (but when is laundry ever convenient anyway).  A couple of years later Steve installed one of those whirly, space saving line dryers in the backyard.  I still only used it occasionally, and mostly for sheets and so forth.  My excuse was that I was working full time I'm not in the habit of hanging out clothes in the dark.  Truth be told, the dryer was usually full of a load all day that I would have to fluff again anyway just to get the wrinkles out.

So my dependence on the clothes dryer hinged on my ability to produce soft, fluffy clothes that line drying did not.  So when the dryer blew the other week, before rushing out to buy a new (or used) one I researched online some homemade fabric softeners.  I came up with this recipe courtesy of 

2 cups of inexpensive hair conditioner
3 cups of white vinegar
6 cups of water

I mixed the three ingredients up in a gallon jug and used the name brand fabric softener ball that came with my machine.  Presto.  It did work.  Now behold, I did not get the fluffy results of an electric dryer but at least my skin is not irritated and the bath towels don't double as sandpaper.  So, for now it's working.  Just remember to shake it up every time you go to fill the ball.

There was one last drawback to hanging out clothes that I'm not crazy about that I haven't addressed yet.  Because of my busy schedule, I'm not always able to hang clothes out when it's sunny or get home in time before it starts raining.  Out of necessity, I was forced to hang up some clothes last week that had not quite dried on a cold, overcast day on hangers in our laundry/pantry/mud/craft room.  In this multipurpose room, Steve had already hung up some white metal shelves used for closets up on the walls for storage that he bought at an auction very cheap (storing our mason jars and canning pots, also purchased at auctions or thrift stores).  They were the perfect distance from the wall for a hanger and you could hang your clothes perpendicular to the line rather than on the line.  The shelves are up higher so there is plenty of room to hang jeans, etc. with the hangers with clips on them.  Best part is that an extra step is saved when those clothes that hang up are already on hangers!  And I can hang clothes out in any weather at any time of day, no worries about the rain.

Well, so far so good.  I'm not ready yet to say that I absolutely will not go get a new (used) dryer.  But after several rounds of air drying and line drying exclusively I can see that it's totally doable.  I'm also thinking that the spot where the dryer was would make a good spot for a .....

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Steve got me a cheesemaking kit from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company at for Christmas.  Yay, me!  I went to a seminar at the MENF in September and the speaker recommended this company.  The kit he bought was VERY affordable and not intimidating at all:

After reading over the directions about a dozen times, I borrowed a stainless steel pot from my friend Suzi (my next investment), bought some milk and rolled my sleeves up.  What's the worst that could happen?  Right?  The feta cheese was simple to make but the process did involve many hours which worked out perfectly because I was still off work yesterday.  When we finally drained the cubes this morning they have a perfect texture, although a little on the salty side.  The recipe calls for letting the cheese set for a day or two at room temperature and then storing at 50 something degrees or in a light brine.  I'm going to see how the cheese tastes tomorrow and if still too salty hopefully the water will draw some of the salt out.

Yesterday's feta was so successful that I felt ambitious again today.  But being a work day (I'm an elementary school librarian) I didn't have the hours to dedicate to some of the cheeses in my kit, but I thought I'd give some mozzarella a whirl.  All this depended on being able to find citric acid.... score!  At the Amish store in Lexington ( I was able to find a small amount of citric acid for just a couple bucks.  I pulled up the Cheese Queen's 30 min. recipe:  Note:  there is a disclaimer on the top of the recipe that stresses the importance of local milk for mozzarella.  Too late for that since it was already close to dinner and it's a school night, so I used what I had.  All went well, but I should have heeded Cheese Queen's advice.  The mozzarella had trouble holding the curd and the consistency turned out more like ricotta.  Still delish, but a little unexpected.  That's o.k., because I'm still learning.  And, we get to eat the mistakes.

The next time I think I will opt for, a local milk producer next time.  The cost is not really a problem ($5) but I have to think ahead because the nearest store that sells it is about 10 miles away.  Now, I just can't wait until SATURDAY!!!  Yes, that's because I will have some time to try out the cheddar recipe.  Now that I've gotten over the initial fear, I'm looking forward to more adventures in cheese as well as trying my own yogurt.  I found an easy tutorial at this site:, but I'm open to suggestions.  I really don't want to invest in a yogurt maker when I already have all of the materials that this site suggests.

But, stay tuned to see what's next....

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

As we wind down our holiday season, I would like to reflect a little.  Steve, the girls and I spent our first Christmas in New Orleans since 2004.  Almost all of our family lives there, so it's quite different from the cozy foursome that we've had in recent years.  Although we had a great time, enjoyed visiting family and had a chance to eat some wonderful food there are some things we don't miss:  traffic, crowds, and the overconsumption of just about everything.

I was sad to learn that the New Orleans area does not have curbside recycling as it did before Hurricane Katrina.  So those noble folks who would like to recycle have a tough time doing so.  Steve's great aunts actually give their recyclables to his mother on Wednesdays so she can recycle them in her bin on the Northshore of Lake Ponchartrain.

I did notice in the grocery store that there was a fair amount of local produce available such as Louisiana grown sweet potatoes, cabbages and citrus fruit.  I liked the fact that it was labeled as such and right out in the center for customers to choose.

The French Market in the French Quarter has been all redone.  It was very nice with lots of permanent stalls for local artists and produce salesman.  My girls enjoyed perusing the tables of crafts and goodies, this being a new experience for them as they were really too young to remember the last time they were there.

The cost of living is much higher that it is here in rural NC.  Property taxes, homeowners insurance and food costs are significantly higher and makes it refreshing to come home to our 7 acres.  A bit of land to have some chickens and grow some food is all we had ever wanted when we lived there, but in order to have that much land you would have to be a millionaire.  Here we were able to afford such for about the same that you pay for an empty lot down there.

Home sweet home.