You are currently browsing redforkhippie’s articles.

So … yeah. Three years between posts. My excuse? We’re just too bloody busy. So busy, in fact, that while we continue to adhere to a more or less environmentally friendly lifestyle, we haven’t really done anything new since that last post. We’re just maintaining.

That said, we have discovered a new product or two, and we’ve seen our efforts pay off in several practical directions. As winter settles over us and my hippie instincts kick into high gear (an annual occurrence for as long as I can remember), I’m feeling inspired to write about the joys of living lightly. A few quick updates:

1. Product endorsement: LED lights have taken a quantum leap forward in terms of quality and price since we bought our first one in 2007. Back then, they were hard to find, expensive (over $30 apiece, plus shipping), and ill-suited for general illumination. Today, LED “bulbs” are much cheaper ($10 to $20), readily available at big-box hardware stores, and will illuminate a room as evenly and effectively as the spiral CFLs we’ve been using since the late ’90s.

2. Solar panels: Still going strong. We still have cheaper power bills than any of our friends, and we’re still delighted with the performance of the system.

3. Chickens: Hot weather and old age took their toll on our flock, so we bought two buff Orpingtons and a barred Rock from an ol’ boy down at Broken Arrow. They’re producing well and seem to be getting along well with our rooster, Bond, who is a remarkably quiet chap.

4. Bees: We had a record honey harvest and captured an incredibly strong, productive Buckfast swarm this spring.

5. Garden: Droughts, heat waves, blossom-end rot, fusarium wilt, and an intolerably busy schedule have more or less destroyed our tomato crops every year. Someday, when I’m not a teacher any more, I will have time to baby my plants and get them through these issues. Until then, the best I can do is support the local farmers’ market.

6. Woodstove: We haven’t had to pay for heat since the ice storm of 2007. Between that and Oklahoma’s frequent tornadoes, we find a steady supply of firewood piled up on curbs, readily available to anyone with a truck, a chainsaw, and a little initiative. I just used some of the money we saved on heat to buy a ridiculously expensive teakettle from Lehman’s.

Advertisements

Apologies for the long delay between posts; it’s been an insane year.

Anyway, we are now getting ready for winter here at the House of the Lifted Lorax. We had more insulation installed in the attic a few weeks ago, so we should be able to stay warmer while consuming less energy this winter.

This afternoon, Ron winterized the chicken tractor by installing a little corrugated plastic around one end to block the wind while letting in the light. Here’s a picture of his handiwork:

I was cleaning the kitchen this afternoon and found a couple of styrofoam trays I’d saved, so I turned them into insulation for the outlets. If you want to try something similar, here’s a quick how-to:

1. Gather your materials. You will need styrofoam trays (the kind that come with meat or mushrooms), an Xacto knife, a pen or pencil, an outlet cover, and — if you want to be really precise — a ruler.

2. Lay the outlet cover on the tray and trace around it with a pencil.

3. Cut along the lines. You can use the ruler if you want. I didn’t bother, because the styrofoam cutout is concealed between the outlet cover and the wall anyway. To install it, just put it under the outlet cover and screw both into the wall. (The notch in the middle is for the screw to go through.)

We had the chimney serviced in September to make sure it was safe and ready for winter. Aside from a few spiders hiding out behind the stove, everything was copacetic.

I was chilly this afternoon, so I burned a little cardboard and a couple of pieces of bark in the stove. It wasn’t a big fire or a particularly hot fire, but it was just enough to warm me up and remind me of the nicer parts of winter: toasted marshmallows, slow-cooked posole in the Dutch oven, and Red Zinger brewed from water heated in the teakettle.

Emily

Apologies for the long delay between posts. Things have been pretty crazy here at the House of the Lifted Lorax this summer, with a lot of travel and a lot of projects to complete.

Our big sustainability news this spring was the addition of three new beehives — one in the backyard and two at organic farms near Bristow.

It’s been a great season for honey, with lots of rain and lots of plants blooming for our girls to work, so we decided to do an early harvest from our biggest hive to make room for some new Bee-O-Pac frames, which are a type of plastic packaging that you install right in the hive to allow for easier collection of comb honey.

We bought an inexpensive plastic extractor and put 10 frames through it this week, ending up with about 30 pounds of honey. I brought the camera along, and we made a digital video of our project, which I posted to YouTube and also turned into a Podcast.

I’m hoping to do more Podcasts about our sustainability efforts in the future, so check back often or subscribe here.

Emily

A classic, in honor of Earth Day.

If you haven’t already, go do something nice for the planet. A few quick, easy ideas:

Replace an incandescent lightbulb with a CFL.
Take a shorter shower.
Shut off the water while you brush your teeth.
Bring your lunch to work in a reusable container instead of ordering takeout.
Consolidate errands to reduce the amount of driving you do.
Walk, bicycle, carpool, or take the bus when possible.
Try a vegetarian or vegan recipe.
Support your local farmers.
Shop at Goodwill.
Recycle.
Precycle.
Buy a Terrapass.
Calculate your environmental footprint.
Unplug the computer when you finish using it to reduce phantom loads.
Take your own reusable cloth bag when you go shopping.
Install a water filter on your kitchen faucet and use it to refill water bottles instead of buying more.

Emily

April 15th is the last frost date for our planting zone, which means most of the gardeners in Tulsa will be busy getting their hands dirty this weekend.

If you’re planting this weekend, resist the temptation to put your peppers in the garden this early. Most crops will tolerate cool weather, provided the temperature doesn’t dip below freezing, but peppers do best if you wait until nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50s or higher before you plant. Putting them out early won’t kill them, but it definitely stresses the plants, and it doesn’t do anything to speed up their growth; if anything, it slows them down.

I generally wait until early to mid May to plant peppers. Waiting a few weeks doesn’t hurt the plants (provided they’re not rootbound; if they are, just transplant them into bigger containers), and they get off to a much better start if you wait and put them out when it’s warm.

Emily

The House of the Lifted Lorax got a little publicity in yesterday’s Sand Springs Leader. The article isn’t online, but the lead story in the homebuilders’ guide that ran in yesterday’s paper was all about our efforts at sustainability here in Red Fork. The story starts with a well-written little riff about me turning the compost pile, and it goes on to talk about our chickens, bees, lightbulbs, solar panels, Energystar appliances, etc., etc., etc. It’s a pretty lengthy article, with several photographs (including shots of a CFL, an egg, a red wiggler worm crawling around on my hand, and two images — one color and one black and white — of me turning the compost while decked out in tie-dyed hippie regalia) and a list of tips for making your own home more energy-efficient.

If you happen to be in Sand Springs in the next couple of days, you might pick up a copy. The article contains lots of good information.

Emily

If you haven’t done so yet, now would be a good time to think about scheduling a service call for your air conditioner. If you wait until summer hits, you’ll have to pay more for a technician to come out and check on your air conditioner — if you can get somebody at all.

Before you run your air conditioner for the first time, clean or replace the filter. As a general rule, this should be done every three months; if you have pets that shed a lot, you’ll need to do it more often. A clogged filter can seriously drag down your air conditioner’s efficiency, and it can also shorten the life of the system.

Go outside and make sure there are no obstructions around the exterior unit. If the vents are blocked or dirty, remove any obstructions and hose off the unit to make sure there’s no dirt clogging things up. You want air to circulate freely around it for maximum efficiency. When you mow, make sure the mower is not blowing grass into the vents; if it is, turn around and approach the unit from the other direction.

If you have a recurring problem with grass and dirt clogging the vents, you may want to dig a trench two or three feet wide and a couple of inches deep all the way around the unit, place some edging material around it, and lay down mulch cloth and gravel to create a clean space so the vents stay clear.

Have a service technician check the system to make sure it’s in good working order. Make sure the ducts are not leaky, and find out whether they are adequately insulated; if they aren’t, you’ll want to remedy that situation promptly.

Make sure the technician you hire is licensed, bonded and insured, especially if you are in the position of having to replace your system. If you’re buying new equipment, make sure it has the Energystar label — meaning the government recognizes it as energy-efficient — and ask your installer for advice on how to make the system run as efficiently as possible.

Our air conditioner is pretty good, but it’s by far the biggest energy hog in our house. We can’t afford to replace it right now — nor does it really need to be replaced — but we’re planning to keep the thermostat at 78 or above all summer so we don’t waste any more energy than we have to.

Emily

This past weekend, I had occasion to entertain a group of people that included a vegetarian who avoids cheese made with rennet. The recipe, which was my own invention, drew rave reviews from the whole group, including some pretty dedicated carnivores, so I posted it on Red Fork State of Mind. I thought I’d cross-post it here in case you’re trying to shrink your environmental footprint by working a vegan meal into your diet every now and then:

Vegan Lasagna

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1 jar of spaghetti sauce (or make your own with two cans of tomato sauce and your favorite Italian spices)
1 medium yellow squash, sliced
1 green bell pepper
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 c. chopped onion (frozen kind is OK)
1 box frozen spinach
1 bag julienned carrots
Half a can of cheap beer
1 lb. extra firm tofu (NOT silken)
Two bags vegan mozzarella shreds
Chopped garlic to taste — start with about six cloves and adjust to your liking
Olive oil or margarine

In a wok or large skillet, saute onion and pepper in olive oil or margarine until pepper is soft. In a heavy skillet, brown carrots in olive oil or margarine. Add beer and simmer until it evaporates. While carrots cook, add squash and mushrooms to wok and saute until squash is tender. Thaw spinach in the microwave. Add spinach and cooked carrots to wok. Cook until spinach is heated through. Add garlic and cook very briefly (30 seconds or so).

Using two knives in a criss-cross motion, crumble the tofu.

In a greased baking dish, place a layer of lasagna noodles, a layer of vegetables, a layer of sauce, a layer of vegan mozzarella, and a layer of crumbled tofu. Repeat until all ingredients are used up.

Bake at 350 for about an hour.

Extra-firm tofu is a healthful and less expensive alternative to ricotta cheese, which has a very similar texture and flavor. Lasagna is a very forgiving dish, which means you could start with this recipe and riff on it to your heart’s content. The squash seemed to be the key to the whole thing, but I think zucchini would work as well as yellow squash. If you don’t need it to be truly vegan, use real butter.

Adopting a small flock of hens last spring was one of the most rewarding steps we’ve taken toward sustainability here at the House of the Lifted Lorax.

We got our chicks from the feed store and raised them in a large guinea pig cage with a deep plastic bottom and a heat lamp suspended above it. This was a good setup, but a large washtub or plastic storage tub with deep sides would have served us just as well and probably would have been less messy. (The girls got very good at flinging litter out of their cage as they learned to scratch for imaginary bugs.)

A brooder should be deep enough to protect very young chicks from drafts and heatproof enough that it doesn’t pose a fire hazard when you hang a heat lamp above it to keep the chicks warm. You can control the temperature in the brooder by adjusting the height of the heat lamp and/or switching to a higher or lower wattage lightbulb.

The temperature should be around 100 degrees when the chicks are very young. Lower the temperature gradually as they grow; by the time they’re six weeks old, they should be fine at room temperature.

The brooder needs some kind of litter (pine shavings are great); a perch; a feeder; a water dispenser; and a screen or hardware cloth lid to provide ventilation while preventing the chicks from jumping out.

Check the chicks’ food and water at least twice a day, replacing the water as necessary to keep it clean. When the chicks first came in, I changed their litter every couple of days. As they got older, I found it necessary to change the litter at least once a day to keep the brooder clean and dry. Chicks are very good at spilling water, so try to find a dispenser that won’t tip over easily.

When the chicks are about two months old, you can move them outdoors. We use a chicken tractor — a type of portable henhouse — to protect our girls from predators while giving them access to fresh pasture every day. This is a great system, as it allows us to move the hens around to prepare our garden plot before planting time. Hens are good at removing weeds, controlling pests, and fertilizing and aerating the soil.

In addition to grass and weeds, our hens eat vegetable scraps, stale bread, crackers, lawn clippings, bugs, and anything else they can put their beaks on. We supplement their diet with commercially prepared feed. A growth-formula feed is good for young chicks, but once they start laying eggs, you should probably switch them to layer crumbles or pellets. For a treat, we give our hens some chops (chopped, dried corn kernels) now and then.

Our hens started laying eggs in mid-July, when they were not quite five months old. That’s a little later than normal, but we had record rainfall last summer, and the lack of sunlight may have slowed them down.

Six hens will produce an average of four eggs a day during sunny weather. They will also supply you with weed control, pest control, and constant entertainment … and once you’ve tasted fresh eggs, you’ll never settle for the store-bought kind again.

Given the nasty environmental impact of big factory farms and the innate cruelty involved in large-scale production methods, there’s something very satisfying about raising your own eggs in the backyard.

Emily

I’m not a vegetarian at the moment, although I have been off and on in the past, to varying degrees. I would never advise anyone to attempt a wholesale change in his diet overnight — it’s too extreme, too difficult, and too daunting a prospect to be sustainable for most of us — but eating less meat is a quick way to reduce your carbon footprint, so it’s certainly worth considering.

I’ve set a personal goal of trying one new lacto-ovo-vegetarian recipe and one new vegan recipe each week. I’ll post the best recipes here in case you want to play along at home.

Where possible, I’ll use local, seasonal ingredients, but this evening, I thought I’d give the environment a break by using up things I had on hand rather than making a special trip across town just to pick up ingredients for dinner … so I found a couple of falafel recipes and used them as a basis for improvisation. I was pretty happy with the results:

falafel.jpg

Falafel

1 can chickpeas
Five or six baby carrots
Two ribs of celery, cut into chunks
Five or six cloves of garlic
1/4 c. chopped onion (I used frozen, and it worked fine)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. paprika
A little ground red pepper
3 tbsp. dried parsley
1/4 c. flour
Canola oil for frying

Put all ingredients except oil in food processor and process until smooth. Remove batteries from smoke alarm. Turn on exhaust fan. (These are important steps in my house, as I seem to set off the smoke detector every time I fry anything.) Pour about a half-inch of oil into a heavy skillet and heat for a few minutes. Form falafel mixture into 1-inch balls, flatten a bit to make small patties, and fry in hot oil until browned and crispy on both sides. Makes about 30 pieces.

Falafel is fine by itself, but you can also serve it with tahini sauce (2 parts tahini, 1 part water, and 2 parts lemon juice) for dipping, or stuff pita pockets with falafel, tomatoes, cucumbers, and tahini or tzatziki sauce to make a great sandwich.

(Recipe cross-posted from Red Fork State of Mind.)

Emily