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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

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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

Here is a quick, free way to eliminate tiny drafts around the house. I learned it from my mom when I was about 4, and I’ve never forgotten it:

1. Save the polystyrene trays that are used to package meat, mushrooms, and other foods. (Polystyrene egg carton lids will work for this purpose.)
2. Take the plastic cover off an electrical outlet.
3. Use the cover as a pattern to make a polystyrene cutout the same shape and size as the cover.
4. Put the cover back on the outlet, wedging the polystyrene cutout between the cover and the wall.

Do this on all your outlets — especially those on exterior walls — to help reduce heat loss.

This seems insignificant, but it really helps, it doesn’t cost anything, and it’s an easy way to recycle polystyrene that otherwise would end up in a landfill.

If you have a lot of styrofoam trays, you could even make some of these for your friends.

Big ice storms that knock down branches and destroy power lines are really terrible … unless, y’know, you happen to own a woodstove, a chainsaw, and a pickup truck:

wood1.jpg

wood2.jpg

We’ll have to rent a splitter to bust up some of the really huge pieces, but we’re not crying about it. Four ricks of free firewood, all laid in for next year, and all Ron had to do was spend a couple of afternoons driving around the neighborhood, gathering it off the curbs. It’s all too green to burn right now, but by next winter, it will be seasoned and ready to go.

If you have access to a truck and a saw, you can be a big help to your neighbors (and every taxpayer in your community) by removing branches from curbs in exchange for the firewood after a storm. Most people don’t have a fireplace or woodstove … so if you do, they’ll be happy for you to come and haul away their storm debris in exchange for the wood.

Emily

There’s really no excuse for anybody to clutter up the landfills with perfectly good organic material. I started my first compost bin about eight years ago in a plastic tub under my kitchen sink in a small, second-story apartment, and I’ve been composting ever since.

Most people use one of two basic composting techniques: Thermophilic composting or vermicomposting.

Thermophilic composting works best when you have a backyard with a space roughly one meter deep and two meters wide. Start the pile with roughly equal parts “greens” (nitrogen-based materials such as fresh grass clippings, manure, or vegetable scraps) and “browns” (carbon-based materials such as dry leaves, dry grass clippings, or straw). Layer the materials so that you have a pile roughly one meter high, one meter deep, and one meter wide, with greens on the bottom and browns on the top, leaving a one-square-meter space next to the pile. Use a garden hose to moisten the pile to roughly the consistency of a wrung-out washcloth.

At this point, you can just leave the pile alone, and over time, it will break down. But a hot pile is faster and more fun to watch. To heat it up, simply aerate it by using a pitchfork to turn the pile, one forkful at a time, into the empty space next to it, adding water as necessary to maintain the appropriate moisture level.

If your brown-to-green ratio and your moisture level are correct, in a few days, you will start to notice that the middle of the pile is giving off heat — and if the weather is cool, you may even see a little steam.

The heat is produced by thermophilic, or heat-loving, bacteria that grow inside a well-balanced, properly aerated pile.

If you’re in an apartment or house without yard space, you can still make compost. You just need to get some worms to help.

To build a vermicomposting (worm) bin, take a good-sized plastic tub with a tight-fitting lid (10-gallon Rubbermaid tubs are great for this) and drill holes in the sides and bottom for aeration and drainage. Place a quart or so of kitchen scraps in the bottom of the tub. Add a small handful of potting soil for grit (this aids the worms’ digestion) and a layer of moistened peat moss, wood shavings, or shredded newspaper for bedding.

NOTE: I have not had good luck with cedar shavings in worm bins. They’re too aromatic for the worms. Aspen is a better choice.

Dump in a half-pound or so of red wiggler worms (it is VERY important that you stick to this species, as it is one of the few that can not only survive but thrive in a worm bin), put the lid on the bin, and place a tray under it to collect any excess moisture that drains out of it. It’s a good idea to elevate it slightly so it can drain properly into the tray.

Whenever you have vegetable scraps from the kitchen, add them to the bin, cover them with a layer of shavings or shredded newspaper, and spray thoroughly with the water bottle as necessary to keep the bin damp.

To harvest finished compost, simply move all the compost to one side of the bin and place a handful of vegetable scraps and fresh bedding in the other side. The worms will naturally migrate to the food, at which point you can take out the finished compost and use it to grow herbs and flowers on your patio.

Never place meat, dairy, or grains in your compost pile or bin; they tend to create problems with odors, vermin, or both. Also, manure is great in a compost pile, but DO NOT use dog or cat waste, as they yield potentially pathogenic compost that is considered unsafe to use on food crops.

If the pile or bin smells nasty, try reducing the moisture level and/or increasing the amount of “brown” materials, as odors are usually the result of excess moisture or nitrogen.

City Farmer has great advice on composting; click here for detailed instructions on vermicomposting or here for instructions on building a backyard bin.