Monday, March 30, 2009

Thinking about Stuff

This series of videos help me stay grounded when faced with more stuff. My kid's stuff. Stuff gifted to me. My stuff from relatives. My stuff that breaks. My stuff that I cannot recycle. When I have to get stuff for others. Go to The Story of Stuff for the full animation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ramsey County compost sites open March 30th

For those living in Ramsey County Minnesota, Tuesday is a big day. The county yard waste sites reopen (may be delayed if the predicted snow hits). While I do make use of most of my garden waste/leaves for my hen operation and own backyard compost, these county collection points are useful for woodies and items that are trickier to compost at home- such as thick tomato stems.

I tend to grow a largish pile of brush over the winter due to the branches I collect from these same yard waste sites for use as winter decoration in both my yard and at community plantings. The photo above shows a Midway business and community members adding branches like these to a planter. The branches all end up back at the yard waste site in the spring.

The urban/suburban brush collected at Ramsey County goes to St. Paul's District Energy, which supplies heating, cooling and electricity to downtown St. Paul all created from that biomass.

That's a tight closed cycle for these decorative woody branches used in the Midway.

St. Paul yard --> Yard Waste Site --> St. Paul Yard--> Yard Waste Site -->District Energy in downtown St.Paul ---> heat & energy to St. Paul business & homes

ahhh, sustainability.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot Humus

The compost piles are steaming! I was pleasantly surprised when I checked under the hood last week. Planting in the Twin Cities is still around the corner, but now is a perfect time to get a jump on your compost duties. If you had a full compost pile waiting through the winter in Minnesota, a thorough turning is now needed as well provides an opportunity to adjust the browns/greens ratio or moisture content.

Getting backyard compost to decompose well can be elusive, especially if kitchen scraps are your main source of organics. Kitchen scraps are considered "greens". Active composting will only happen if the "browns" are in far excess compared to the greens, such as 20:1 ratio. So planning your "brown" supply is the key. In my yard its the dried leaves stored from autumn. The chicken manure that also goes into my compost adds the bit of nitrogen that really makes the compost heat up.

Can't do the "browns" planning and stuck with only "greens"? No matter. Indoor vermicomposting can do the trick.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A portion of the White House lawn to be torn up for a food garden

This has been a well publicized grassroots effort, but the President and Michelle Obama are bringing back a White House garden! Many reports have been filed already, see Kitchen Gardens International whose efforts should be celebrated! The White House lawn has ample space, most of it under utilized lawn.

There are spaces like this all around our communities, even in the city. Kentucky bluegrass, the most common lawn species, is the biggest crop we Americans have planted. Lawn is great where you might want a patch to picnic, or want to toss a ball around. However, the far majority of our lawns are generally not even walked upon except when mowing. If a grassy space is not used for games or leisure there are "higher and better" uses for such real estate, especially in denser urban neighborhoods. Plantings to retain stormwater, plantings for wildlife, and food gardens are few thoughts. Isn't this true about your neighborhood?

An example of upgrading from grass can be found in SE Como Minneapolis at the art installation and care business Museum Services Inc. In 2002, Museum Services was very receptive to the neighborhood's suggestion of converting their football field sized front yard into a community garden. This garden has now served over 80 households for 6 years!

The White House lawn is not the only folks considering a new garden in 2009. Community Gardens are experiencing record number of inquires. Master Gardeners report more questions about vegetable growing. Seed companies are reporting increased sales this early in the season.

Grow everywhere! Need a visual? Look up Farmadelphia.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Organic or conventional chicken feed?

This is a question I did not believe I needed to think about. Organic, of course, as I would prefer my dollars pay for sustainably raised grain. However, after trying a variety of different feeds for my small backyard flock (from 3 different farm stores), I have determined there is a more important feature of chicken feed - whether its in pellets or "mash". Mash is very powder-like. Hens make a mess of mash. A fair percent just ends up on the floor, never to be eaten, which then requires clean-up. In a small urban henhouse, cleanliness is the rule. Chicken feed scattered everywhere is a recipe for rodents. Rodents can even be attracted to the compost bin when spilled feed is added. So pellets it must be. The hens are much less prone to toss pellets into the far corners of the henhouse, and any that do get spilled are easily pecked right back up. Trouble is that I have yet to source an organic feed that comes in pellets.

So for now the hens get conventional feed. This is not a permanent situation though. I actually would prefer to eliminate corn from their diet entirely. Humans have created the corn diet for chickens, just like we have a corn diet for ourselves, cows, pigs and every other domestic and farmed animal. A long-time goal around here is to expand our vermiculture to also feed our hens. We are not the first to try this and we realize will be a while before we have enough worms to feed and compost. In fact, we may have to reclaim additional food waste to actually achieve this goal as the current population of worms and hens is taking care of our trimmings at present. Needing more food waste is a delightful problem to have for those of us who are concerned about organic waste in landfills and the methane it creates.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let the gardening season begin!

Today I planted peas. Yes, St. Patty's Day is ridiculously early for outdoor planting in Minnesota and I know its a gamble. But that is OK for a number of reasons.
  1. The first plantings go into large containers. These are above ground and can take advantage of solar gain to warm up earlier than the ground. I can place the containers in locations that get a full day of sun.
  2. I plant peas multiple times in the Spring. This allows for extended harvest, and if I lose the first planting there are more to come.
  3. Its only a dozen seeds.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Aquaponics and more at the Community Garden Resource Fair

I plan to be at this event. I will be listening carefully about home scale aquaponics. Aquaponics are a fish tank that have hydroponic vegetation growing above the tank. The fish fertilize the plants, and the plants cleanup the water for the fish. They can be designed so you can harvest from the top and bottom! Just what an urban homestead needs. Ask me more after this event:

5th Annual Community Garden Resource Fair
When: March 28, 2009 9am to 4pm
Where: Unity Church-Unitarian, 732 Holly Ave, St Paul

Keynote: Paula Westmoreland, Permaculture Research Institute-Cold Climate
  • Aquaponics 101
  • The Urban Barnyard
  • Doing More with Less: Superabundant Small Gardens
  • Preserving Food Safely
  • Breaching Barriers to Just Food
  • Farm Dreams: Assessing Risks and Resources to Start a Farm Business
  • Organic Soil Building
  • Creative Consensus Building for Community Gardens
Kids Activities, Music, Resource Fair, Seed pick-up.....
& closing the day with a Town Hall Meeting on local food systems! Stay tuned for more Resource Fair details!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Newspaper Pots

Here is another way to kick the plastic habit- make your own newspaper seedling pots! So much of the horticultural industry is based on plastics, a big drag on its sustainability. If you are starting your own seeds, give this technique a try! This link is to a video.