Composting – Sometimes sustainability is about sustainability

When I refer to sustainability on this blog, most of the time I am referring to your energy and the activities that fill or drain you. We recycle, save water, telecommute or carpool and much more to make the environment sustainable. Why not explore ways to make our lives more energetically sustainable as well? But sometimes sustainability is about sustainability – today we will focus on composting.

Ironically, one of the things that puts wind in my sails is environmental sustainability. A hobby that sustains me is making dirt. I know, I am a barrel of laughs, for sure. 

For those of you about to roll your eyes and hit unsubscribe, please hear this – for you, the point of this post is to hear that we each have our own quirks that put wind in our sails. Find out how to spend more time doing yours. If you don’t know what yours is, keep coming back – we will work together to find out what it is for you. 

For those of you who are all in on homemade dirt, let’s DIG IN! (Dig in? See what I did there?! I ALWAYS intend my puns).

Where this came from

Like all kids, I blame my parents. We had a compost pile when I was growing up. It was somewhat less trendy back then, but my mom was a middle school science teacher so weirdo experiments were status quo around our house. 

We had an amazing backyard of landscaping my parents developed over the years and a gorgeous garden. The compost we created nurtured both. 

Fast forward a zilliion years, and I am my parents age. I have reverted to using paper bags from the grocery store. Yes, we have reusable grocery sacks. However, we are also human and forget them sometimes. I also HATE to grocery shop, so I lean heavily on the shop-for-you service that does not have reusable bags. Paper it is. 

But I have a ton of them. Yes, I could take them back to the store for recycling. But I decided to use them to make more compost. Because real talk – the dirt in North Carolina in TERRIBLE. And by dirt I mean clay. We need amendments for DAYS. This gave me a way to get more amendments for free!

How I do it

I combine a few composting methods and incorporate the recycling of the shredded paper into that. 

1 – Shredded paper

You can use any black and white printed mail (plus those paper grocery bags) in composting, plus those paper grocery bags. I shred on a weekly basis and when the bag is full I put it in gardening shed or garage for use in composting. I add a layer of paper shreds to both my Bokashi bucket and compost bins in regular intervals. 

shredded paper
There is something almost meditative about shredding so it also helps my mental health. If it is year end file clean out (read: tons of paper to shred) or I am pressed for time, I pay The Girl to do it.
2 – Bokashi bucket

Bokashi is an anaerobic method of composting – a little different from the pile outside that we will get to next. We have a bucket with a lid in the garage that holds scraps. ALL of the scraps, even things that don’t go in the traditional pile. Think cheese, meat, fish skins… even bones. After I add scraps for the day, I sprinkle bokashi bran and press it down with a paper towel to get out any air. When the bucket is full, it sits for 2 weeks. During that two weeks I pour off “bokashi tea.” More on that in another post – you know how I like a cliffhanger story. After two weeks, I dump the contents of the bokashi bucket into the regular compost bin. Once the bucket is washed out, it is ready for the next round of scraps. 

3 – Composting bins

The bin outside is where the magic happens. There we have two bins that have traditional kitchen scraps and yard waste. Joe Lamp’l has a great resource on his website if you are just getting started with composting. Adding the bokashi bucket to our bins massively accelerates the breakdown that gets my homemade dirt to me faster. Patience is not my jam so I was super excited when I saw how much faster the decomp happened. 

Compost bins
You cannot see them but there are hundreds of fat and happy maggots wiggling around in this bin.

I turn and water the compost weekly. It is neat to see all the rolly pollys and maggots in there getting their work done. Apparently the weird science experiments don’t fall far from the tree. I am my mother’s daughter. 

After about 4-6 weeks (depending on which season we are in, compost breaks down faster in heat), the dirt is ready. 

What do I do with it

The dirt that is made is really pretty. Like the dirt I grew up with in Indiana. 

Side note: For those of you keeping score at home, here is a list of the things I mentioned in this post being excited about:

  • Making dirt
  • Shredding paper
  • Fast decomposition
  • Rolly pollys
  • Maggots
  • Pretty dirt

I am such a catch. Bixby is a really lucky guy. 

Basically from here the last step is distributing it around the yard. A thin layer of compost goes around bushes, in the garden and over areas I want to develop for planting in future years. 

I love that garbage we were going to throw out anyway can be made useful again. This can be morphed into a metaphor in life too. What garbage are you carrying around? If you set it down and occasionally turned it over to consider it, would it eventually be benign enough for you to use in a productive way?

By |2020-06-17T17:46:33-04:00January 13th, 2020|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

About That Trash Can in the Garden

I have gotten a few questions from those of you who read about the irrigation project who were wondering why the heck I have a trash can in the middle of the space I am trying to cultivate into a garden. Its nothing fancy or forward thinking – its taters. According to the interwebs, potatoes can be grown in a trash can so I just had to give it a try. We had to replace our kitchen trash can so I hoarded it from the garbage man (don’t tell Paul, let this be our secret).

There are special bags you can buy to do this, but I wanted to try it the DIY way and so far it has been going fine – other than looking like I have a trash can in the middle of my back yard, of course. I don’t think our HOA has seen it yet.

Garden irrigation project
By |2019-11-30T16:26:44-05:00June 23rd, 2019|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

Seed Cemetery

Plant some seeds, they said. It is EASY, they said. Pa made it seem so easy on Little House on the Prairie (well, once they found the professor who bought corn in Mankato in the ditch where he crashed, the planting part was easy)! Friends, it is not. Well, not for me it wasn’t.

I took a seed starting class at Guilford Garden Center in February. I am almost hesitant to put a link to their site in this post because my results are so terrible. But alas, I have some things I will try next year, and Christina at the Garden Center talks a lot about gardening being about learning. Boy did I learn!

In the class, we were given the trays, sterile soil, a few seed packets, and plant markers. We watered the soil and between the 10 of us in the class, we took turns introducing our seeds and teaching our classmates about the seeds. What this means in reality is we poured seeds from the packets Christina gave us onto paper plates for our classmates to share, then read seed packet information out loud for everyone. It was a great way to learn how to read said seed packet and understand how to translate the information into practice. Plus we were able to leave with 17 different kinds of vegetables and flowers planted in rows of our 2 trays! All for only $25.

We watered, covered with the plastic lids and watched. And watered and watched. I got heat mats, watered, and watched. And watered and watched. I added lamps, then watered and watched. And watered and watched.

It was really neat to see the progress, and I started making lists and diagrams about where in the yard I was going to put all the new plants I was growing. Then there was some sort of mass suicide in my trays and everyone shriveled up and died.

seed cemetery
Where my seeds go to die. At least until Lucille thinks she sees her ball under one of the trays.

From what I understand, there is a chance a seed or two is still viable. Joe Lamp’l (aka Joe Gardener) recommends just set the trays out and let Nature take her course. So that is what I have done. Part shade because I don’t know what is where – note the plant tags that have all slid around.

Key learnings for next year:

1 – Take the lid off as soon as first shoots come through. I think the death was more related to dampening off than purple capes and Koolaid.

2 – Get brighter bulbs for lamps. I used regular lamps, not grow lights so I will see what kind of stronger bulb I can find next year. Hanging grow lights are not an option for me at this point.

Dangerous Wildlife

We live “out in the county” as is said (translation: outside of the city limits), and we do see some interesting wildlife. There is a weekly update on coyote sightings on our Nextdoor app, we already talked about the deer that eat all my flowers, plus snakes and birds, and of course, Lucille. What I did not realize is that the most dangerous wildlife I needed to be aware of was Bixby. Yes, my husband.

Bixby and Lucille looking harmless
Yeah, they look harmless, don’t they!?

There are certain tools around the house that I am not allowed to use. The chain saw, for example. I am not the swiftest of foot so to add heavy machinery to that is not always our best yes (translation: I don’t want to get hurt, and Bixby does not want to have to take me to the ER). He was suspiciously panicked when he came home while I was working on the irrigation project carrying around a drill whilst wearing safety glasses. The weed eater falls into the caution category – I am not totally grounded from it, but if it is all humanly possible, Bixby does it. The problem is that I am not quite as particular with how low I am taking down the edges, often leaving dirt. I am sorry to Dean, who ran the landscaping company I worked for during a short break from college. I am a terrible edger.

So I put in my work request to have Bixby take down the creeping phlox after it bloomed. It takes the dead flowers off and helps promote growth, plus it looks better. So the next time he mowed, he knocked it out. I verbalized my gratitude to provide positive reinforcement as all pet husband training manuals say to do. Then when I went to get the mail one day I saw this carnage:

mowed down gladiolas
The photo is about the missing half of the gladiola, not about the crappy grass / dirt patch and exposed drainage pipe. Don’t judge.

Apparently he got carried away with the phlox – note THERE IS NO PHLOX IN THIS WHOLE PHOTO – and took out half the glad before he realized what was happening. Then to top it off – he did not tell me AND left the leaf carcasses to rot. For better or worse, friends. Better or worse.

By |2019-11-30T16:33:52-05:00June 5th, 2019|Mental Well-being|1 Comment

Thrill on Blueberry Hill, Indeed


Remember how the deer ate my flowers? They definitely heard about my yard from the birds. Apparently, the word is out in the Nature-hood that my garden is THE place to be. A few years ago the birds started eating all of the blueberries off the bushes before I can get ANY! Well, NOT ANY MORE!!




Ahem. Anyway – I wanted some o’ dem berries. So I consulted my local garden expert, and her solution was a snake. I looked at her like she had 10 heads. Then she showed me the inflatable snakes she had in her fruit trees. I figured it was worth a try.

Available on Amazon – check! (and cheap – double check!)

Easily inflatable – check!

Helped The Boy and I conspire together to scare the crap out of The Girl – BONUS CHECK!

Lucille approved – BEST CHECK EVER!
blow up snake in a tree
Sssssssssnake at work.
By |2019-11-30T16:34:45-05:00June 4th, 2019|Environmental Surroundings|0 Comments

Garden Project – Irrigation

I have such great ideas. Then reality hits. This was a doozy, y’all. Like over ten months in the making doozy. It is like an episode of The Golden Girls when Sophia says, “Picture this! Sicily 1922...”

Last summer (and really every summer for the last 7 years or so) the garden has died because we don’t keep up with the watering. North Carolina is like the surface of the sun. Ironically it is swampy humid at times, yet the clay soil dries it out and cracks. Even cacti and succulents have died in the dried out clay in our yard. Welp, 2019 was going to be the year that I was going to change that!

It started as all things do – with a bright idea found on the internet. Homemade irrigation systems were WAY too expensive so I wanted to go the DIY route. Plus I fancy myself quite a DIY diva.

Step 1: Fall of 2018 I posted a notice that I was looking for janky hoses and social media came through!

Step 2: Put “Make drip irrigation with old hose” to my to do list and find a good website to give instructions.

Step 3: Wait for 8 months.

Step 4: Once weather turns crazy hot and I am tired of watering after 2 weeks, I try to drill holes whilst throwing the tennis ball for Lucille.

home irrigation system

Step 5: Connect drip hose (the one with holes drilled in it) to the good hose connected to the spigot. We had to use a 2nd hose because the spigot is too far from away to connect directly.

Step 6: Weave hose through garden so holes are in general vicinity of where you have plants that you want to be watered.

Step 7: Watch the wheels fall off of the project. Cry.

The old hose I got through the Nextdoor app and left in a wad in the yard through the fall and winter and most of the spring somehow got kinks in it. Weird. When I turned the water on – nada aqua. And I could not unkink the hose because someone had drilled holes in it. More weird. Then Lucille kept running through the garden with her ball trying to get me to throw it while I was getting more and more frustrated by the second.

This is not where I cried – I was still staying calm at this point. I got out a new hose and started again with the hole drilling (whilst ball throwing – there are no photos of this because I was feeling much less amused by it). The more observant of you readers will notice at this point the color of the hose turns from red to green.

Progress was made as water flowed from the early hose holes. But stopped about half way through. I moved it around, found more kinks. Used pliers to unkink. Did not work. This is where tears came in. Over a hole hose project.

Let me tell you about the self-talk that was happening at this point. I was 100% convinced I was a worthless human being because I could not get this to work. I did not want to have to ask my husband to help like a helpless female. I wanted to conquer it, yet who was I kidding with this “I can do it” nonsense.

Let me tell you what an asshole that voice is. I cannot stand her!! These old tapes are exhausting. And I know I am not the only woman (person, probably but men don’t seem to suffer this like women do) who deals with this asshole in her head. We are better than this!

During this whole second hose debacle, Paul was sitting on the porch chilling, not offering notes from the peanut gallery. Basically doing his strong, silent type schtick. But this is why he is perfect for me. Right as I was about to move to Defcon 1 and start destroying things, he wandered out to the garden and introduced me to physics. Apparently we have an incline juuuuuust enough to stop the flow. He moved the hose around, yada yada yada VICTORY!

Each red circle is a spout where water spews from.

I waited a day to make sure it was going to work like I planned, then put the mulch down to cover the hose and hold in the moisture. And mulch makes stuff look so pretty.

What garden projects are on your to do list? What self-talk do you need to nip in the bud?

Oh, Deer.

As you well know, I am a Midwesterner married to a Southerner. He hunts, I pretend meat grows wrapped in cellophane in the case at Lowe’s Foods. So our whole married life I have made snide remarks to him and The Boy when they go out murdering Nature’s creatures. With the exception of one said creature. The one that does this to my flowers. All. Of. My. Flowers.

I want the deer that did this on a kabob.

I am not the best gardener so when I actually grow something in my yard the produces beautiful flowers, I want to enjoy them. If I choose to remove them, it will be to put them in a vase in my house to bring Nature inside. The damn deer seem to wait until the night before I plan to cut them for vases and boom – snack time. You would think that 80 pounds of Labrador Retriever would be a deterrent, but not so much.

Lucille chases deer in our backyard natural area most mornings, but she really only phones in her effort. It is not all out like she means it – not like it is when she is going after a tennis ball fiercely. Our guess is that she is half assing it because she does not know what to do when she catches the deer. This only happened once. She was chasing a deer at early o’clock, caught up to the deer and sort of bonked her head against it, stopping cold, looking around. It was like time stood still. Like when that hottie says yes to a date. Like when your mom says yes to candy before dinner. You have no follow up response, because you thought the answer was no.

Then Lucille turned around and ran back to the house. Ever since then, the deer come over every night for midnight snacks.

Fridays in the Warm Weather Months

Flowers in pot

Often on Fridays during warm weather months you will find me taking my work conference calls outside. Even when it is hot as the surface of the sun, here in the shade of the umbrella it is one of my favorite places to be. Barriers to completing tasks seem smaller and emails seem fewer and shorter when this is my view.

By |2019-11-30T16:39:48-05:00May 17th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Little Ray of Sunshine

Morning sun on flowers makes me so happy

Yesterday morning I was GRUMPY. Not just wearing the Grumpy Pants, but the whole jumpsuit. I was slamming and stomping around to notify my people that I was grumpy, but no one was responding to me or rushing to my side to soothe me. I grabbed my work bag and turned around to get my water bottle and saw this view. I swear I have never seen the sun come through the window like this. I just loved it, and it was so beautiful I had to grab a pic.

A better housekeeper would not have had a pile of papers on the counter in the background. A better photographer would have framed the photo better – note the Instant Pot lid on the left and the janky paper towels off the roll on the right. Today I am neither a good housekeeper nor good photographer, and that is ok because you know what – neither of those people has this photo and I do. And now so do you. Namaste.

Where can you look for the beauty in the the mundane? What in your daily lives can bring you joy? Don’t sweat the small stuff, but do notice the small stuff.

By |2019-11-30T16:38:31-05:00May 15th, 2019|Mental Well-being|0 Comments
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