Friday, December 26, 2008

Green wishes do come true

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that one of my goals was to build a coldframe.
Well, my farmer, Brian -- from the family that grows the food for the food co-op I belong to "Paige's produce"-- called a few days later to say he read the post and that he had a cold frame that was too small for the farm to use. I could have it if I wanted it. Someone had given it to him, and he would be happy to give it to me.

Sigh. Sometimes wishes do come true. I am so thankful for this opportunity.

Inspired by this new-found coldframe, I picked up the book "Four Season Harvest", by Eliot Coleman. It is fantastic. While I am not foolish enough to think I can grow enough food to feed my family even in winter, it did give me some ideas on how to make the most of the coldframe for seed starting and for growing cold-hardy veggies like spinach and carrots later into the season.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Energy project No. 1: Garage door insulation

All right. I am gearing up for my first energy-efficiency project for the new year. As I mentioned, we want to reduce our annual electricity consumption by 20 percent next year.

Now that the weather is cold, it's become clearer where our heating and cooling Achilles' heels are, and right now, it's the kitchen. Our kitchen is freezing, and it's obvious that the garage is the culprit. Our kitchen is separated from our very cold garage by one measly hollow-core door.

So, first we are going to insulate our garage door. Lowe's sells a kit by Owens Corning that will cost us about $65. The walls of our garage are actually pretty thick, so the garage door itself is likely the biggest culprit for heat transfer.

Second, we are going to replace the hollow-core door leading to the kitchen with a solid one. Cost? Not sure yet. We just started shopping.

I hope to have supplies in hand right after Christmas, and have these projects finished by early in the new year. Have to get those resolutions off to a good start, don't I?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2009 eco-goals

Hubby and I discussed it and if we are serious about getting solar and getting the most for our money, we need to seriously make the ranch much more energy efficient.

When we get our next bill, I will post our annual KWH usage. I know it's high. Our new geothermal furnace, while efficient, uses electricity. And, until last month, we hosted a back-up data system with multiple servers in our basement.

The goal is to reduce our electricity use by 10 percent by June and 20 percent overall by December. The long-term goal is to cut use by 30 percent.

We will go room by room making efficiency improvements. We may switch from compact fluorescent to LED lights where practical. This may mean a new refrigerator and a new washing machine. We'll see.

We will ask the solar installer to come out, do an energy audit, and assess our lot for solar appropriateness. I will call in January. I wouldn't want to get my hopes up only to be told solar wouldn't work for us. Plus, this may yield some handy tips on efficiency.

Our kitchen is not well insulated. We plan to replace the window over the sink with a double-paned Energy Star window, replace the door between the kitchen and the garage with a solid, insulated door. And, insulate the garage door itself to solve this problem. Replace both bathroom windows with Energy Star windows.

Garden Goals:
Produce 150 pounds of veggies and fruit. Plant dwarf sweet cherry or apple trees for future fruit production. Build planter boxes for the front porch, which will be used for a kitchen herb garden. My goals is also to preserve or freeze everything we grow this year. No waste. This will mean I have to learn some new skills, but it should be interesting.

Plant a row for the hungry. I will plant extra veggies and donate it to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. I also hope to get my neighbors involved, by asking everyone in my neighborhood to drop off excess produce at my house twice a week, and I will then drive it to the food bank. I don't know if they will be willing, but it can't hurt to ask.

Add three more rain barrels. If I can find food-grade barrels at low cost, I will attempt to make these myself. If not, I will buy them. Water rates are rising 10 percent next year, which is added incentive.

Make a second composter. One composter isn't enough. We have had to throw away compostable material while we have waited for our current batch to finish. I'm not sure if we did something wrong, but hey, it was our first try.

Foster habitats for native species. The only way I know to do this is a butterfly garden, and making a bat box. I will search the OSU extension office Web site for more tips.

Build a cold-frame greenhouse from salvaged materials. I'm not sure I have the skills to pull this off, but I plan to try anyway.

Other goals:

Further reduce plastic bag use. We need to be super vigilant and remember to take reusable bags with us everywhere. This may mean acquiring many more reusable bags and stashing them everywhere, so no matter where we are, we have a bag. My favorite so far are the DIMPA bags from IKEA. They are strong, cheap, pretty and hold TONS of stuff.

Reduce the amount of garbage we produce. Can we do better? Probably. This means thinking more about packaging, about reusing before we recycle, buying in bulk, etc.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The earth friendly(er) laundry room

I am planning a significant cleaning and makeover of our laundry room. Nothing hard core, just cleaning out all the junk (it's a catch all), moving the washer-dryer, building a folding table out of a vintage 1950s vanity I got for free, and throwing some paint on the walls and some fabric to hide the storage racks. Hubby decided to throw his two cents in.

"I want more drying racks" he said.

Currently we use two large wooden drying racks. They take up A LOT of room. So much that we don't have room for anymore, and I really don't want the precious space I am making by cleaning the room out to be used for more racks.

So, after a little research, I found a solution. A handy wall mount retractable line. Good for the earth, out of the way.

If the budget allows, I may also trade in my current washer for a front-loading model, as I understand they are more energy and water efficient.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Setting Eco-goals for 2009

Thanks to Gene, I got a neat link to an urban farm, where the inhabitants are attempting to be self sufficient food and energy-wise on their urban 1/10th of an acre lot. They are doing amazing things, but what really struck me that we could all do is set eco goals. I set financial goals regularly, and it really helps me meet them. I haven't even thought of setting firm eco goals.

The folks at Urban Homestead's goal is to cut their monthly electricity use in half. They also set a food production goal for their garden. I am going to follow suit. I will post my goals and progress on the sidebar on this blog. It should be an interesting experiment.

"Urban Homestead"

I will post more concrete goals after more consideration, but
For starters, I want to reduce my electricity usage by at least 10-20 percent. I will likely accomplish this by zapping vampire electricity used by all of our appliances and computer gear. Beyond that, I may invest in LED lights where possible, to further reduce usage. I also plan to get an energy audit from the solar installer later this year, so I can seriously reduce usage to make the most out of any solar power system I buy. This may involve something like a ConServ refrigerator.

Also, I would like to triple my usable garden space. The current garden plan will likely accomplish this, but I may tweak it to see if I can get more sunny space to grow veggies. I also plan to build several growing boxes for the front porch, to house herbs and greens. I also purchased several small coldframes for seed starting and may make another out of salvaged wood and windows from the Habitat for Humanity restore.

My food growing goal for 2009 is 150 pounds of fruits and vegetables from the garden. Since I haven't been keeping track, I have no idea if this is easy or hard, but you have to start somewhere, right? I want to keep a garden journal as well, so I know what does and doesn't produce.

To reduce my water consumption, I want to add three more rain barrels to the garden area this spring. I may make these myself to save money. This should also reduce the need to use city water to irrigate my new larger garden beds. I may also investigate purchasing a front-loading washer, as these are supposedly more energy and water friendly.

I would like to add more square yards of laundry line in the backyard. This would help with electricity use.

Those are my initial thoughts.

Solar tax credits

Good news for solar and for us. Looks like the 30 percent tax credit on solar power installations has gotten even better. Now, it's 30 percent of whatever you spend, with no cap, as opposed to the $2,000 cap in place before. And it's good until 2016. I'm thrilled. we are hoping to get solar panels in 2010, and this will really help us out.

"Solar tax credits"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sustainable living

I have been thinking a lot about sustainability lately. Not just for the earth, but also when it comes to finance. Maybe all the bad news on Wall Street got the ball rolling. I freaked out a bit when I watched my retirement accounts lose more than $75,000.

What does it mean to live sustainably?

It should be no surprise to green folks that what's good for the earth is good for the pocketbook. With the exception of the solar panels I hope to buy some day. That's JUST for the earth. But on all other fronts, living sustainably has the dual benefit of helping the planet and saving money, plus the ethereal benefit of mental well being and the confidence of being self sufficient.

My big question? How self-sufficient and sustainable can I possibly be on such a small piece of land? In the middle of the city? I don't know the answer yet, but in the next couple of years I hope there is a steep learning curve.

Maximizing my garden space I believe is the first step. The more food I can produce on my small semi-suburban plot, the better I will feel. The second part of this is managing to can, preserve, or freeze as much of that as I can. I'm still working on that one.

I also read a story about a new plan in Cincinnati to sell small undevelop-able plots of urban land to people who want to use them as gardens. I hope this catches on and spreads to my town, because hubby and I had discussed finding vacant plots to buy for this very purpose.

Those are my random thoughts for today. If you have any ideas about sustainable everyday living, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, November 3, 2008

No spend month

The hubby and I have declared November a No Spend month. It's technically a spend $400 month, but who's counting? We are allowed only $400 for all of our food, gas, entertainment, etc. this month. Anything that isn't a recurring monthly bill. I wrote a bit about it here:
"One month money crash diet"

We're hoping this will help us be more conscientious about our financial lives, which in turn, affects our impact on the environment. If you aren't buying extra stuff or taking extra car trips, you have put less carbon into the atmosphere AND preserve the contents of your bank account.

Also, we are in good shape with the house projects. My main goals were to finish digging the front flower beds and paint the house before winter, and we accomplished both. It was very hard work, but it's very satisfying to have it finished. (so we can start a new to-do list in spring...). I have made an executive decision. In the spring, I will be renting a sod cutter. I have more beds to dig and I am DONE doing them by hand, so I will spend the $100 or so to rent a sod cutter for the day. It'll make the job go much faster.

I have also found a local mulch supplier who will deliver the massive mountain of mulch I am going to need for the new beds I've dug. It's only marginally cheaper than buying bagged mulch, but it's much easier than running back and forth to the store and why waste all those plastic mulch bags?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Painting the house this weekend

Finally. I am giving my house a new paint color this weekend. I admit I am not using eco-friendly paint. I was thoroughly unimpressed by the performance of Sherwin Williams' Harmony paint a few months back and on a big job like painting a while house, I don't want to take any chances. Plus, that paint stunk to high heaven !
So yes, this is my guilty confession.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Planning the butterfly garden

I've decided that I want all of the flowers in my new bed to attract and harbor butterflies. I started doing some research and boy, it isn't easy to design a new butterfly garden! You have to have a combination of nectar and larvae plants (meaning a place for butterflies to eat, and a place to lay eggs) and you need to make sure you have planted varieties that bloom at different times, so you have someplace for them to go from Spring until Fall. I'm using the Ohio Extension office Web site.

I'm glad I decided to wait until Spring to plant, so I have time to work this out.

Also, I've decided I'm renting a sod cutter in the spring, to build the rest of the beds. No more hand digging for me. I'd be old and gray before I got all the beds dug and planted.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

yard finished

After about 8-9 hours of actual digging, the sod is finally removed and the outline of the new flower bed is complete. Yay! It was hard work, but didn't take as long as I had anticipated. Last night, I added peat moss and mulch soil conditioners.

My plan to do the rock wall around it this year is scrapped. We can't afford it, especially now that we have to pay $307 to get a tree branch removed. One of our silver maples was significantly damaged in the recent windstorm that knocked out our power and it's dangling over the Bean's room, so it's got to go. That was about half of what I budgeted for the rock wall, so it'll just have to wait until spring.

The beds will be planted with a butterfly garden and flowers, as well as secret hidden veggie plants in the spring. So for this season, my work is done...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ike blew out our power, 1000 miles from the coast!

Well, we just got power back at our house. The remains of Ike blew through here at 75 miles per hour plus Sunday night, and knocked out power to all of central Ohio. Even I was surprised. Our power just came on this morning.

I'm upset because I had just stocked the freezer with homemade pasta sauce from my garden, shredded fresh garden veggies, a whole lasagna I was planning to make later. Basically, my grocery budget and grocery challenge are blown this month because of this storm.

We had to drive 40 miles south to find an open restaurant yesterday, then we camped out at our sister's, who has power, for dinner. I have been living on bananas and peanut butter with crackers and water since Sunday. I'm over it.

It reminds me that I either need to get a generator OR I need to get a gas stove so I can still cook when the power is out.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

DAy three of digging

This is what 3 days and $90 worth of peat moss and sod looks like. I have about 50 percent of the main bed de-sodded, turned and mulched. Not too bad. It may take less time than I thought. Then again, I am SOOO tired of shoveling. It really is hard work.

Removing sod sucks

Now I understand why the neighbors looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was digging the new flowerbeds myself. Digging up sod is hard work. And it kind of sucks. Phew. Good thing I am dedicated. I really want new flowerbeds (aka sneaky secret garden veggie patches hidden behind flowers), and frankly I am too cheap and too broke to pay someone to dig them for me. So yeah. My MO is to just do a small patch at a time every single night. I remove the sod on the patch, turn it and then mulch and peat moss it. And little by little, it's getting done. If I thought about the entire project, I'd just get overwhelmed and stop. Only the front beds need to be done this fall, then I will implement the garden plan little by little each year until it's done, probably in two years total, including the new patios in the back.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Started on the garden plan yesterday

Phew. removing sod and digging new flowerbeds is A LOT of work. Geesh. I did manage to get one existing bed cleaned up, turned and mulched. I also expanded that bed one foot and turned and mulched the strawberry patch. All of this took about 2 and a half hours. I think if I work on digging the new beds about an hour a day, I'll have it all done by the end of the month.

I'm not sure if I'll get the stone done. I'm not sure we can afford it right now. This month is already shaping up to be pretty tight money wise, so the stone may have to wait until spring. I really want to paint the house in October, so that is number one priority. I have to do it when the weather is right, and when I don't have veggies and flowers growing by the side of the house, so it'd be harder to do that in the spring than the flower bed stone walls.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gardeners: Plant a row for the hungry

I had never heard of this program until today. Basically, you donate extra produce from your garden to local food banks, who are happy to have fresh produce. What a great idea! I will definitely participate next year, and may even try to persuade the neighborhood association to go along with it!

"Plant a row for the hungry"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Orleans North

Well, several adults, 3 cats and one dog are on their way to our house, evacuating Hurricane Gustav. We were expecting two more adults and a six-month-old baby, but they are hunkering down in Memphis instead.

I am sad for New Orleans, my former home, and sad for my friends who just finished all of their Katrina repairs. Here we go again.

Today I hugged the Bean and I told him how thankful I was that we were safe and happy and didn't have to evacuate and start all over again.

It was hard enough once. We didn't want to do it again. (FYI, I was driven out of Nola by Katrina and had to start life over again in Ohio, and spent 9 grueling months battling insurance companies and trying against all odds to sell our house.)

That said, I cleaned the house tonight, went to the farm market for some sweet corn today, and am about to go set up a queen size futon bed in the basement. Our basement is gigantic, all finished and the same size as the upstairs. This way, everyone will have their own bathroom and their own space and no one will have to listen to my Bean scream at night!

I pray it doesn't hit New Orleans again.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Garden plan

I have ambitious plans to beautify the outside of our house. Part of this is to eliminate grass,because I hate mowing, and since all of the full sun on our property is in the front, build beds large enough that I can secretly grow vegetables behind the flowers without raising the ire of the neighbors.

And then there's covering up those glamorous sink holes that showed up last year!
Here is the plan. The dark areas are the new beds. Now that the roof is finished, my goal is to dig the beds during the month of September. If all goes well, I will be able to buy stone and lay the stone retaining walls around the beds as well.

The dark parts of the diagram are the new flower beds. There should be enough room to plant some perennials for a butterfly garden, and then a hidden strawberry patch, herb garden, and watermelon patch, and some zucchini plants. From the street, all you will be able to see are flowers, if all goes according to plan.

It's like a stealth agriculture plan! I'm such an anarchist...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sad thing happened today.

A crow flew into our yard and spent the day sitting under our dogwood tree. I could tell something wasn't right. He was alone and wouldn't fly away. Well, I just came home and he's dead. I think I'm supposed to call the health department and have him tested for West Nile Virus. At least that's what I've read. Poor little guy.

The cool part about a chemical-free garden

I went out into the garden today and saw two praying mantis. One was about 6 inches tall, the other, about 2 inches tall. I love them. They are so cool. I thought that if I used pesticides I wouldn't have such a magnificent creature in the garden. Just another plus.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Picked 12 lbs of roma tomatoes today.

Mmmm. MMMM. This is the best time of year, when those industrious little plants start really putting out. We picked 12 pounds of romas tonight and I've already made them into spaghetti sauce. We're eating noodles now, and the leftovers will be frozen for winter. we should also have enough left on the vine to make another batch probably next week.

I hope to have a much better garden next year. The wheels are already turning.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

pound pound...

Well, the roofers are here. Part of me does feel guilty watching all of those asphalt shingles go into the dumpster. But what can I do? If I can't afford the eco roof, I can't afford it right? It goes against all of my morals to buy something I really can't afford. So, alas, I watch the dumpster fill up.

As a weird penance, I've started collecting recyclables on my walks with baby Bean. I carry a grocery sack and put all the not too icky plastic bottles and cans in there and bring them home to my recycle bin. That probably makes me crazy, but hey, civic pride right? Gotta keep the neighborhood clean.

It's also been hard keeping hubby into the composter, now that he knows it's gonna take a while. I keep having to remind him not to throw those coffee grounds into the trash. Just because the compost won't be ready for this year's veggie garden doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hired a roofer-- finally. it's like I couldn't give my money away.

I finally hired a roofer yesterday. I like them a lot (so far)!. For a while, I felt like I couldn't even give my money away. I've had 4 estimates. Of course, I called more roofers than that and many didn't even show up to do an estimate. I thought the housing downturn meant more contractors looking for work. I guess not!

Three weeks ago I had actually hired a roofer, the one recommended by my neighbor, and he never came by to pick up the deposit. Geesh. Is there something wrong with my cold hard cash?

I have two other projects that are on hold waiting for the roof, so my entire summer project list has been on hold. I keep promising the neighbors that yes, I do have a plan for making the front of the house presentable, nay, even look fabulous, but they are starting to not believe me!

I can't put my landscape plan into place until the roofers are done, because I can't have old shingles falling all over my flowerbeds.

Maybe this will get the show on the road.

Our yard looks awful because after we got our geothermal furnace and re-sodded the grass, we had two weeks of heavy rain,and parts of the yard where the furnace lines run sunk in. So i have a wavy, awful looking yard!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Still no compost...

Well, it's been 2 months or so since we got the composter and we still don't have a batch of compost. It's y fault. I know it's working, because the thing seems like a bottomles pit. I put a lot in, but it never seems to fill up. We messed up because we put really large items in there. We don't have the energy to grind up all of our compost-headed veggies into tiny bits, so it takes longer to compost. I also realized that we forgot to take the plugs out of the base, which means extra liquid was staying in the drum rather than draining into the compost tea collector.

Oh well, we're new at this!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Economics of green home improvement

I told y'all about the recycled metal dream room: Price tag $22,800. Well, the quotes came in for a 30 year traditional asphalt shingle roof: $7,900. How can greener options compete when there is such a price differential?

Even I, who make an effort to go green, have to pick the traditional option. As much as I hate the thought of all my current shingles going to the landfill, I feel I have no choice. I need a new roof and simply can't afford the green one.

Oh well, that will mean less time to save up for those solar panels!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wal-Mart and plastic bags

I (gasp) went to Wal-Mart last night. Not my preferred shopping venue, but when I need things like shampoo and bubble bath, I stock up there because it's soooo much cheaper than anywhere else. Hey, if you are going to upgrade a 1957 ranch to energy super-star status, you need to save money to do it.
Anyway, I have reusable shopping bags-- even a couple of the Wal-Mart kind.The problem is they are impossible to use at WalMart. The way the bagging center is set up, the cashier has to bag your stuff, there isn't even a place for you to bag if you want to. And, there is no way to even set up your bags so the cashier can use them. It really bothers me, because I know every time I shop there, I am going to end up with a dozen plastic bags, many with only one item in them. I did ameliorate the too little stuff in one bag problem by transferring items from one bag into another, loading them up as much as possible before the cashier turned the bag turnstyle again.

On other fronts, the composting is going well. I still have yet to get any compost out of the thingee, but mostly because we are always throwing more in. I know it's working because the composter isn't even half full and we have thrown sooo much in there. If it weren't decaying, I'd say we'd filled it 4 times over all ready in volume of items. It feels nice to know that isn't going into the local landfill, and I can't wait to add some compost to my garden.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

"Green" roof too expensive

Well, turns out the green option, the recycled metal roof, is just too expensive, about $7,000 over our budget. It cost $22,800 to do our 1400 sq foot house! At first I was heartbroken, but I guess I have to choose my battles. Get a normal roof, then save up for solar panels and spend some more money on energy efficiency projects. When you are on a budget, you really can't win them all.

Monday, June 30, 2008

pop cans on the roof?

I am shopping around for a new roof. we need one desperately. I found an Ohio company, Classic Metal Roofing, that makes a recycled aluminum roof. I think it's made from old pop cans. They claim it reduces attic heat gain by up to 34 percent, and can lower home energy costs by up to 25 percent. It's made from 95 percent recycled aluminum. It fits over your existing roofing, so the old shingles don't got to the landfill, and it's guaranteed for 40 years.

No word yet on how much it costs. I am going to call the dealer today and ask for an estimate. I hope it isn't out of our price range. It sound too go to be true!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

strawberry count: 12 quarts!

I can't believe it. My very very small strawberry patch has yielded 12 quarts and there are more berries to pick! Looks like I have a garden winner I can stick with.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fresh organic strawberries-homegrown!

That patch of strawberries I planted last spring finally paid off. I have collected 5 quarts from my 1 foot wide by 3 foot long strawberry patch, so far. And there are still more to pick. My hubby had some and said they were the best strawberries he has ever tasted. I have to agree. We ate a bunch, but I am determined not to waste any homegrown produce this year, so I froze about 2 quarts today. For the $6 I spent on plants, you can't beat it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Boy. We are trying to be green but the garbage bags keep piling up. It's the baby. We are trying to use reusable cloth diapers, but let's face it. They don't work all that well. Half the time they leak, and when you are already working on less than 2 hours of sleep at a time for 7 weeks, the last thing you want is to wake up a couple more times because the baby soaked through his diaper and is screaming. So, that means we are only using the cloth diapers about 30 percent of the time, or about 4 a day, on average. That means we're generating a lot of garbage thanks to disposable diapers.
I'd estimate that our total garbage production has doubled since we came home from the hospital. Who would guess something so small could pee and poop so much!

On a more positive note, we love the composter. It's been a seamless transition. We leave a large bowl on the counter and throw our greens, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc. into the bowl. at the end of the day we put it in the composter. It's been about 2 weeks. Still no compost yet, but it does take time. I did add a compost starter to the mix. I know something is working, because the volume of materials I added to the container has already gone down, a sign that the compost cycle is working.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

e-statements, plastic bags and the environment

I ran across an interesting factoid today:

"If the average American household (which receives 19 paper bills and statements, and mails seven payments a month) went paperless, it would save 6.6 pounds of paper, 63 gallons of water and 4.5 gallons of gasoline each year, as well as prevent the release of 170 pounds of harmful greenhouse gases, according to the Pay It Green Alliance, a coalition of financial services companies aimed at reducing paper use."

Reducing junk mail, switching to e-billing have been on my to do list for a while, but I just haven't gotten around to it. This is a motivator. Every little step helps!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Suburban yard farms? I knew I wasn't the only one!

I ran across this article/video in the Wall Street Journal about folks tearing up their lawns to plant veggies. Sigh. I wish I could get away with that here!

Yard veggies

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Finally got out in the yard today

Spring has sprung in central Ohio. Actually, it sprung 2 weeks ago, so of course all of the neighbors' yards were immaculate on the first warm day and like a bad seed, I had long grass and tons of leaves littering my front lawn. My neighbors are nice and won't admit to me that yes, we are the bad seeds in the hood when it comes to lawn care. We're simply too lacsidasical with our raking and mowing!

I admit it's true. But, despite lack of sleep and crying babes, I managed to mow the front and back yards today, dig out a dead rose bush, and put 6 bags of leaves and branches out on the curb (They are made into compost by the city...). Phew. Not too bad, even if I am a little late!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Year's Resolution no. 2: Start composting

Finally! I ordered the compost bin and am anxiously awaiting its arrival. It will allow me to get a start, albeit a late one, on my New Year's Resolution no. 2, which is to start composting all of our kitchen waste. We chose the Envirocycle composter, which sells for about $139. It's a decent size, holding 7 cubic feet of compost. It also stores compost tea on the bottom, which is a high-quality fertilizer for veggies and houseplants.

I can't wait to get composting!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Recycle your kitchen? Why not?

I ran across this interesting article in the NY Times. Apparently you can buy a recycled kitchen. when the uber rich move in to a new house they often tear out perfectly good top of the line kitchens just so they can replace it with something more to their liking. Now, a company is selling the old kitchen fixtures and donating the money to charity. A stroke of brilliance!

Recycled kitchens

Monday, April 7, 2008

The baby bean has arrived

Our new bean arrived Tuesday April 1, after 25 hours of labor. Trust me, there is a reason they call it labor and not tickle party. Phew. Hopefully we'll be able to keep on the green track while raising this little guy. So far so good: used baby clothes, sharing baby furniture and stuff with other couples with kids. But we'll see. There are still many more years to go!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why I'm so into home improvement projects...

A lovely fellow just commented about my enthusiasm for home improvement projects. I have to say I wasn't always so driven to get things done. Our first house, in New Orleans, I was always making plans but never actually putting them into action. I had a to-do list a mile long, but something else always seemed more important.

Then there was a hurricane. Yep, and nothing was done. I had to do all of the projects on that to-do list just so I could sell it. And it really upset me that the house looked so beautiful when I was finished, yet I wouldn't actually get to live in it enjoy all of the work I'd put into it. I vowed I wouldn't make that mistake with this house.

So far, two years in I've stuck with that resolution. The to-do list actually gets done, and while our home is very modern and probably isn't decorated to everyone's taste, it sure is coming along nicely. When I look at the before photos, I'm amazed at how much we've accomplished in 2 short years. Of course, there's still plenty more to be done....

The summer of clearing the slate...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the garden plan. Months ago I had outlined a very ambitious planting plan. It fell by the wayside due to the exhaustion of late pregnancy. No one warns you about that. Maybe because no woman would have children if she really knew what she was getting into.

Anyway. That, combined with my desire to plant fruit trees at some point, has led to a new plan. This will be the year I clear the palette. This will be our third summer in this house. We've done a lot of work on it, but most of it has been to the interior or to the systems that keep everything running.

This summer, it's all about the outdoors.
I'm going to expand and build up all of the flower beds (including building low border walls of natural stone)
I'm going to have someone come and yank out all of the evergreen shrubs and the roots. They're in all my prime full-sun spots, and frankly, I think the last lady got a little too crazy planting shrubs.
I'm going to paint the outside of the house (some awesome, mid-century pastel color)
And, I'm going to get some fill dirt and even out the lawn. the geothermal really did a number on our grass.

So, I may not be able to have to cucumbers and asparagus patch of my dreams this year, but this will lay the foundation for bigger and better (organic) things down the road.

Friday, March 28, 2008

plastic bags everywhere...

Ugh. They're like a scourge on the earth. I managed to acquire 3 new plastic bags today, despite packing all of my reusable shopping bags. The first, at a restaurant where my for here order magically turned into to go. The second, at Target, even after I said I didn't need a bag. I guess it's just habit to throw stuff in there and hand it to you. And the last, at the grocery, when I ran out of bags. I'm trying. I feel like I'm failing, but...

Also, looks like we'll have enough money to order that composter I have my eyes on. But not this week. I'm going to the hospital next week to have my baby bean, and don't want it to be delivered while I'm away. So maybe the week after that...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wading pool veggie gardens

I just ran across the fascinating project. Looks like you can do intensive veggie gardening in unusable spaces by planting in those shallow plastic kiddie pools we all had in the 1970s!

Kiddie pool urban gardening

Green living--in the 1940s?

I ran across this today. It's some food for thought. We talk a lot about carbon credits and such but it seems like the 1940s had its own green revolution, and we could learn a few lessons by turning back the clock...

The WWII green revolution

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Can being green make you rich?

A worthy question. I read a lot of personal finance books, so I was intrigued when I ran across this article by David Bach (of Rich Couples Finish Rich fame). He has written a new book about how going green can make you rich and this article is a rundown of the ways you can save or make money by being more environmentally aware.

It's interesting that such a high-profile writer is taking on this topic. Of course, some of the suggestions are things us eco-geeks have been doing for years, like freecycling and donating used goods, but it may be worth a read anyway.

Green = Rich?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Turning your backyard into an orchard

Several of you commented about my desire to turn my backyard into an orchard. Here is the link to the NY Times article about this topic. It totally spoke to me. Enjoy!

The backyard orchard

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A composter...finally?

I think I have finally decided on a composter. It costs about $150, is round, and in addition to compost, produces and collects compost tea that you can use to fortify your veggie garden and your houseplants. Next week, come payday, I'll see if we have enough left over after bills to order it.

Also, I saw an awesome article in the NY Times about backyard orchards. It really spoke to me because I have often looked out my back window at all the weird, useless shrubs I inherited and thought of pulling them out and planting something that will produce food. I am really getting into the idea that I should turn as much of my landscape as possible into agriculture. And my backyard would be a great place for some dwarf cherry trees and some raspberry bushes. I can almost taste the pies now.

On that note, I realized that my ambitious veggie garden plan will have to wait until next year. To pull it off this season, I would have had to start the seeds already. And considering I'm a bout 38 weeks preggo and could pop at any time, and completely exhausted as a result, it just didn't happen this year. Boo. At least I still have my farm co-op to look forward to. And, now that I have a plan, I can really spend the summer getting my garden beds in tip top shape.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Babies = Batteries

I never would have guessed that baby stuff required so many batteries-- the mobile, the swing, the toys... It never ends. I didn't want to be a scourge on the earth so I have spent the last couple of weeks shopping for rechargeable batteries. I finally decided on a Rayovac charger that fits multiple battery sizes. This is my first foray into rechargeable batteries, so I can only hope I made a decent choice. Of course, even if it sucks I'll keep using it because I'm too stubborn to throw away batteries every six weeks!

Our quest to do only second-hand baby stuff also failed. It all ended at the "shower" my friends insisted on throwing me. They bought us way too much stuff. And the used crib my MIL gave me? Covered in lead paint, so I had to buy a new one anyway-- all the used baby stores were sold out. Ugh. I did make a valiant effort. And we did get a lot of clothes used and we are borrowing a lot of other equipment from friends, so I guess it wasn't a total loss...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Eco-Moms change the world?

I found this article in the NY Times today. (You may need to register). It's about groups of suburban upscale moms who meet to drink wine and talk about environmental issues! Who would have guessed. The soccer moms are on the bandwagon.


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Garbage, part 2

I just found out that Columbus,OH, has a curbside recycling rate of only about 3 percent. Only 11,342 households in the city -- out of about 350,000-- recycle at curbside. Ugh. Our mayor even says this is "pitiful."

This explains all those cans full of garbage I see every week.

Windows -o- rama

Our new Energy Star windows started going in yesterday. Granted, it's been slow-going. Our installer's helper didn't show up yesterday (he suspects a Superbowl hangover...), so they guy had to work all by himself. I have no idea how he managed to get the windows in and out alone. But, he did manage to do all of the bedrooms in one day. So those are finished. Today, we were rained out. So hopefully tomorrow, work will resume and all will be said and done by the end of the week.

I'm stoked. Our windows are so bad, that if these new ones make even half the difference I suspect they will, it will be a noticeable improvement. Of course, it's too soon to tell if they'll be better in extreme cold because on Feb. 4 it's 60 degrees and raining. In Ohio. Tell that to all those folks who don't believe in global warming...

Friday, February 1, 2008


It's garbage day. And looking out my window I wonder how the hell they do it. My neighbors. Two people in each house, just like us, and yet every week they have a giant pile of garbage on the curb. EVERY week. I maybe put my can out once every two weeks, and then it's not usually full. Certainly not full to the point that the lid won't close, like both of these neighbors. (we have the same size cans, standard city issue.)

I just don't understand how houses with the same number of people as ours can produce so much more garbage. I'm too chicken to poke around the cans and see what's in there~! But boy, part of me wants to.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

First trip to Aldi's...

I went to Aldi's the discount grocery store for the first time this week. Boy was it cheap! Of course, the produce section didn't net me much more than a bag o taters, but that's OK. I think what I like most is that you HAVE to bring your own bags. Otherwise, you just have to carry all your stuff out. It was a good kick in the pants to remember to pack mine.

Also, it's almost time to sign up again for our farm co-op (Paige's Produce). Last year, we got way more food every week than we could eat. A lot of it went to waste. I'm seriously thinking of investing in a very small chest freezer. That way I could store more of the co-op veggies and more of the things we grow ourselves in the garden. So much went to waste last year. And now that it's winter, I'd like to have all those tomatoes and ears of corn we couldn't eat in July!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dreaming of compost...

I must be losing my mind. Last night I actually had a dream about making compost. Okay. Maybe it's a reminder that I haven't done anything about THAT New Year's resolution.

The plastic bags? Yes, I'm making an effort. But the compost is still stuck in bin indecision land. I've ruled out worm composting, at least for now. With a kid on the way I'm not sure I can concentrate on keeping thousands of wigglers alive in addition to a 7.5 lbs pink needy human.

In my dream, I just used a plastic trash can with a lid, threw in some compost accelerator, and turned it with a shovel every week or so. I think this is the way I'm going to go. After all, maybe my brain was trying to tell me something...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reusable grocery bags...

In keeping with my New Year's Resolution to use fewer plastic grocery bags, I stayed up late last night making heavy-duty reusable grocery bags from some vintage 1984 Transformers fabric and some lovely retro Batman fabric I picked up used a while back. I lined the bags with a super heavy duty canvas duck cloth, so they are nigh indestructible, and gave each deep side gussets so that they'll hold a lot of stuff.

Turns out I made a lot more than I can use, so I'm going to put the extras up for sale on Etsy

I hope having these on hand will help me reduce my plastic bag dependence. I know I have cut down substantially since I made my resolution, yet I still manage to come home with more plastic bags than I had hoped, mostly due to poor planning or unplanned trips to the store. Oh well, it's a process!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Second-hand babies and family pressure

As you know, our first little one will be arriving in April. Early on, the SO and I decided we'd buy as much as we could used and second hand. After all, kid stuff is expensive, but they grow so fast they can't even really use it for that long. Why spend the money?

We got a used crib and stroller, a large laundry basket full of second-hand onesies and such (all for less than $1 each), some play mats, and some free used toy boxes. So far, I think we've spent about $120, and we have just about everything we need. Only a few things left: a car seat, a crib mattress, and some Happy Heiny's-- they are the new fangled reusable diapers.

Yet, I'm getting a lot of pressure from family and friends to have a baby shower. They all want to buy us stuff. I've politely ducked most of this, but the pressure is mounting. I've been to showers before. It's a bunch of women sitting around in a circle watching some girl open presents. That's great for some people, but it makes me really uncomfortable. I've never been comfortable getting lots of gifts.

At first I dodged by agreeing to have a normal party for the people we know. But now, I'm not even sure I want to do that. But this seems to raise a strange reaction of anger and tears from people I know. I mean. Do people really like feeling obligated to show up on a Sunday afternoon with presents??? I'm still conflicted.

So conflicted that I partially relented. I went to Target and registered. But it's probably the weirdest registry anyone has ever seen: most everything costs less than $5, and it's all for odds and ends like pacifiers, bottles, etc. But, that's the stuff we need that I can't buy used. I feel like the biggest weirdo in the world. Of course, I haven't told anyone about the registry, because I'm still debating.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The secret life of stuff

I ran across this awesome Web site today. It has a 15 minute flash video explaining the life cycle of the things we buy. It's very compelling. I hope you like it.

The story of stuff

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's garden planning time... already!

The first of the season's garden seed catalogs came in the mail yesterday. Three years ago, I never would have guessed that'd I'd be excited about seed catalogs. Something about the move to Ohio has changed me-- I think it's the magic dirt. Anything I plant does really well here, unlike in New Orleans, where gardening was a constant battle against sweltering heat, giant insects, and finding a vegetable-- any vegetable- capable of growing in subtropical zone 9.

The burning question: What to plant this year. My first two years in this house I stuck with basics. I planted 6 cherry tomato plants, 6 roma tomato plants, three zucchini plants, and 6 green pepper plants. It's not that I have an affinity for these. It's just that the local school has a fundraising plant sale and this is what they sell. The first year, we got 1 measly zuchini, 20 pounds of roma tomatoes, no green peppers, and enough cherry tomatoes for me to snack on while mowing the lawn and mulching.

I rearranged the plants in the second year and got bumper crops of all of them. I mean bumper. Baskets and baskets of veggies, so much so that I had to go buy a special cookbook featuring those vegetables. We got so much we couldn't use it all OR give all of it away so many tomatoes and such just rotted on the vine. (Time to buy a chest freezer?) Between that and our farm co-op share, we didn't buy a single vegetable all summer. Except maybe some potatoes and spinach.

Bear in mind that the only space we have for gardens are traditional, front of the house flower beds. Our backyard is all shade. I'd till up my entire front yard and plant if I could, but the neighbors would have heart attacks. So we've learned to do a lot with a little space.

This year, I'm not going to let hard-won fruit rot on the vine. Here's this year's rough plan:

- Potatoes: I'm going to plant three varieties of potatoes in garbage cans in my back yard. Why garbage cans, you ask? Because that way you know where to dig when it's time to get a potato. Put them in the ground and you'll spend all day digging holes looking for them. My grandpa used to plant them in garbage cans and with great success. Now I'm going to try it.
- Peanuts. The hubby loves them, so I'm going to plant a few in some containers on the front porch. If I stick it in a pot, it'll look decorative and minimize the ire of the neighbors.
- Tomatoes. I'm going to cut our crop in half, to 3 roma and 3 cherry plants. That should cut our annual yield to something more manageable-- like 20 pounds instead of last year's 40!
-Zucchini. Plant one and it takes over. So this year I'm literally only planting ONE. That should be enough for salads and the occasional loaf of zucchini bread.
-Watermelon. Mmmm. Mmmm. Who doesn't love watermelon? I wouldn't normally have enough room for this, but I found a dwarf vine that is only 3 feet long, so where the zucchini once stood, the watermelon will now be king.
-Greens. We love basil, cilantro and spinach, so I'm going to dedicate last year's green pepper space to these three crops and see if it goes anywhere.
-Strawberries. We planted a bunch of strawberry plants last year. They should be ready to spit out some fruit this year. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

I'm not sure if this is too ambitious a plan, considering we have our first baby on the way. But my mom assures me I'll feel fine when it's time to plant in May.

Veggie gardens may seem passe, but they really do save you a lot of money on groceries. We like that ours has supplied us with months of organic, delicious veggies for two years in a row. You can't beat that.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Geothermal savings and plastic grocery bags

It's still too early to get a final tally on the potential savings we're garnering from our new furnace, but the early results do look good. For both November and December we spent $200 less on home heating than in the same months last year. So, it looks like the early savings tally for the geothermal furnace is $400. Not too shabby.

The bad news is I'm up to 5 plastic grocery bags and it's only Jan. 8. So sad. But it would have been worse had I not paid $1 for a reusable bag at the local grocery store the other day. That saved me three bags right away. This week, I'm planning to make some reusable grocery bags from some vintage fabric I found at the thrift store. I'm hoping to make 6 paper-grocery-bag sized bags out of the fabric I have. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Window shopping- literally

The hubby and I went window shopping today. We finally got tired of having sheets of ice on the insides of our windows when it gets cold. Even though we weren't planning on it, at least not yet, we purchased nine Energy Star rated windows for our house from a company that is based in and makes the windows right here in our hometown.

We chose simple sliding windows with low e argon gas between the panes and a U rating of .30. Energy Star windows generally have a U rating (the equivalent of an R rating for insulation) or .25 to 1.25. We were happy with that range.

Frankly, they weren't as expensive as I thought they would be. I was expecting to pay between $7,000 and $15,000 for replacement windows. Our tally? $5700, including installation and a very nice lifetime warranty. We did get a 35 percent discount because the company was attending a home and garden show this weekend. They apparently offer that special to all those who buy during show weeks, even though we weren't anywhere near the show.

Installation is in 7 to 9 weeks. Since we weren't planning on this expense, we will have to be a bit spartan in our living the next couple of months, but I'm happy to do it. You can lost up to 50 percent of your heating through the windows, so it's money well spent. Plus, it knocks another big project off of the "big" eco-ranch to-do list. All that's left? The roof, and some solar panels.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Geothermal works great. But then there's the windows...

Well, our new geothermal furnace is pumping along nicely, filling the house with nice warm air. Our last natural gas bill was only $9, far less than the $300 plus a month we paid with our 1957 gas furnace chugging along in the basement.
But now that the furnace is nice, it's made it very clear that we need to replace our windows ASAP if we are going to save any energy. We still have the original single-pane aluminim frame 1950s windows in this house. We got our second snow of the year today, and as usual, the inside of the glass is covered in a nice sheet of ice. Inside. So, every minute we run the furnace, we're sending all of that heat out into the ether because our windows are terrible.

I have no idea how much replacement windows cost or even if anyone will come and do that work in the middle of winter, but this Saturday, I'm heading out for an Energy Star window shopping adventure to see if we can afford it. New windows were on the list of to-do projects, but I was planning to wait a couple of years. I don't think we can afford to wait that long.