Sunday, May 3, 2015

Gardening with Self Watering Containers- 100% recycled, 100% FREE

We have been juggling about fourteen different little gardening or yard related projects over the last couple of weeks.

Rather than try to report progress as it happens on a daily basis (which can be quite chaotic) I will focus on reviewing one project at a time. Today- our self watering containers. As I mentioned in earlier posts, we are experimenting with a few different gardening techniques this season. I will be gardening out of containers, using the vertical gardening concept, and straw bale gardening.

The allure of container gardens (especially when vertical too)- to me- and I think to many tiny house people or renters for that matter-- is that space is completely maximized. I see so many tiny houses tucked neatly into a backyard space with little room for much else. I have also lived in an apartment and experienced the woes of not having a yard of my own at all. But! With container gardens, all you need is space enough for a 5 gallon bucket in a sunny spot, and some simple fencing or lattice for the plant to grow upward. A small balcony, a bay window, or a little walkway area can be turned into a lush and fruitful space. 

Self watering containers are very simple, requiring a couple of five gallon buckets, some pvc piping, rocks, soil, and then a few plants of your choice. Here is an article explaining in more detail. I snagged the image right here from that article as well. 

Once again, I was able to complete this project at no cost to me. We have family and friends in the food prep business (hospital kitchen, a market, a sub shop) and many food items come in 5 gallon buckets before they are further prepped at the location, so they have plenty on a regular basis. 

We collected buckets for free, and also perused behind Dan's Dad's store, where we found several lengths of used PVC pipe that would be perfect. Once the materials were collected it was straightforward work.

We paired up buckets and, using a jig saw, cut holes in the top buckets for the PVC piping. One for the soil "wick" and one for adding more water. We used a drill to add plenty of holes to the bucket and perforate the PVC piping to ensure good water flow. 

As for rocks, I simply walked around the yard and picked up whatever looked good. When it came to soil for the plant, I happened to have a large bin full of the richest soil around. Last fall when we decided to clean up around the cement foundation, we scraped an area clean that used to be an indoor floor. Everything we shoveled off was years and years of leaves, branches, animal droppings, and a lot of other plant matter that had turned to a rich black soil. As we were shoveling it away, I thought to myself, this is nice stuff, let's throw it in that empty bin over there. At the time, I had no idea what I would use it for, but figured it would come in handy for the next season. It sure did!! The only thing I had to buy were my seeds. 

Now, we have four containers that we placed up on the roof to take advantage of a perfectly good growing space and provide organic matter and shade to the roof area, further helping to keep us cool inside. In each bucket I have planted a strawberry (thanks, Adam!) a leek, and a cucumber plant. We will be building some basic lattice for the cucumber to crawl across, that way it won't be laying right on the black rubber of the roof. 

Vining plants work especially great with this container concept. The root system of the plant is the only part that needs soil, and that uses fairly little in comparison to the sprawling greens is produces. If those vines are guided up a lattice or other vertical route, you can pull it quite a bit of produce for very few square feet of your ground space. 

I'm excited to watch our roof get overtaken with the big bright green leaves of cucumber plants! 
Next up, I will be talking about our 100% recycled trellis and garden bed, and also the straw bale gardening.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Bunny Hutch: 99.9% Recycled FREE Materials

Over the last two weekends, Dan and I have been working on a gold elite status mutli-level bunny hutch made completely of materials we had laying around, left over, or collected for free from others. 

Whoop! Whoop! Nothing like turning "trash" to treasure!

The only thing we paid for were the hinges and the slide lock for the hutch side door. So, this magnificent fur baby summer home, which would probably cost us about $300-400- based on size and "accessories" alone- cost about $4. Of course, it also took about 10 hours of our time, some planning, some patience, and a review of all materials--but over the course of two lovely weekends, it really seems more like a pleasure than a chore....and the end result has lasting value.

The hutch features a ton of venting for great airflow to keep things cool. A top level complete with snoozing loft, slatted flooring, and ramp access to a 9 square foot base level, half shaded by a flat roof that doubles as a drop in access door. That way, if they decide they do not want to be in the upper level when I need to grab them, I can access them from below as well. We are just going to throw a few cinder blocks--or maybe a cool little yard statue-- on top of the drop in panel. The buns will only be out during the day as well. 

All of the wood came from our various build leftovers and pallets that we have collected. The screen came from a few rolls I had made a point to save and hang on to for two years! They were for the small garden I grew in Cumberland for two years. I carefully dismantled and stored the fencing, not knowing what I would use it for, but feeling good that I didn't just say, aw to heck with it, and put the whole mess on the curb. 

We picked through the wood we had and after establishing a basic frame with the stronger pieces of wood (2x4s), the rest of the process was more organic. I really enjoyed working with Dan, building something once again. The whole experience was further bolstered by the fact that we were making something we needed from things we already had on hand. Not only were we slowly cleaning up our scraps, we were producing something of serious value. Down at the local hardware store, a hutch about half the size of this one was going for $179! 

When we finished the hutch, we laid down fencing to block any digging, then set the hutch in place. Then, we immediately put the bunnies in there, excited to see their reactions and just genuinely appreciated what our time and tenacity had produced. In the past, I would have looked up how to do this and then marched out to the big box store and bought all materials brand new, undoubtedly purchasing more than I need for some supplies simply because it only comes in one quantity. (Why do I have to buy 5000 staples?!) I look forward to approaching so many more projects with this mentality: "I can't spend money on can it be done?" Up next? The container gardens!

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

When It Rains, It Pours...In A Good Way

What a contrast from my last post! We went from not having much going on to a whole lot in the last seven days or so!

I'm revved up and ready to tackle a bunch of things on the to do list, so I'll keep the post short and sweet. I'm sure I'll have some rapid fire posts to break up and share all that we have been working on recently.

The Valley Breeze featured us in there April 15-21 issue. It was pretty cool to see our picture on the front page right at the top! We think Sandy did a great job portraying our message and we hope it inspires others to think about lessening their impact. Check it out if you can!

On April 16th, Dan and I presented (okay I did) at the 5th Annual Massachusetts Sustainable Communities Conference! We had a great time and a great group. It was really exhilarating to be surrounded by so many like minded people, and to have the honor of speaking was the cherry on top!

After the conference, I felt that familiar coasting feeling I used to get after completing a big demo for work. Between the Food Manager studying and certification and getting the tiny house presentation put together and practicing what I wanted to say- I was feeling the pressure. 

Then, the next day, what usually happens-- happened. I got a huge surge of energy and the gusto to tackle some nagging projects. I have been wanting to clean out and organize not only our closet, but our two main kitchen cabinets.  The closet just needed some vacuuming and tidying while the kitchen cabinets were a clean out and total re-organization. I was getting fed up with how we originally stored items in there. We have really fallen into a good rhythm in this tiny house of ours, and now that I understand our most common practices/habits, I felt I could organize the spaces more efficiently. 

This past weekend, we did some more long awaited chores and much needed yard clean up. Being spring and all, we wanted to do some "deep" cleaning. Which loosely translates to: let's clean some of the stuff that we barely ever clean. The toilet bench storage fit that bill. The wood shavings don't always make it right into the bucket, so over time, loose shavings build up. We emptied everything out, and swept out all the shavings. 

Through these cleanings, I actually found several useful items I had no idea about. HAHA I know, it seems impossible right? How could you NOT know what you have in just 128 square feet?! Well, even in small places, you can lose track of things. I was planning on henna-ing my sisters hair for her birthday. I had purchased the brown shade, but then decided I wanted to mix in some red after the fact. I was debating on ordering more henna. I'm glad I procrastinated there... I found a jar of dark red henna that I had ordered by accident quite a while ago. SCORE! While doing the kitchen clean up, I found two jars of a very expensive spice blend that I was just about to go buy on my next grocery run. In the closet, I relocated my stash of used gift bags/tissue paper (yep, really came in handy for the sister birthday), and a second box of contacts! I thought I was running out soon. 

This is only about 30% of what fits in there...

We also started evaluating all the goods we have accrued through the last two years or so. Now that I'm doing the entrepreneur thing (aka not earning money at the moment)- coming up with low cost or FREE solutions to our needs has become a seriously fun, cerebral, and very rewarding hobby. Our first 100% recycled build project is a bunny hutch. We want the buns to be able to enjoy some time outdoors during the day, burn off some energy, and hopefully blow away a bunch of hair. haha The less that falls off inside, the happier I'll be.

We rounded up quite a few goods from our various stashes. We will be able to create a deluxe double level bunny hutch for ZERO dollars. Yup, zero. We also have collected just about everything we need for our self-watering container garden set up- again zero dollars. I will have more posts coming up on both of these projects! 

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Look at all the loot! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Hurry Up and Wait...

My usual blogging energy- along with most other types- has been diverted these last few weeks.

The seedlings in our tiny window green house are getting big and a bit stringy. Apparently, I didn't need to be in any sort of rush. With the last few days being nice and warm, and all this bare ground taunting me, I am all but jumping out of my skin to get started on growing food this year. I am currently enjoying a couple of different gardening books and taking several notes.

We also need to sand and seal our siding before we continue on finishing the last back wall. The pallet siding has been aging somewhat nicely. I'm sure it would turn into a lovely patchwork of weathered gray if we left it, but I'm not really a fan of that. It's hard to believe that even a place this small could take so long to fully finish, but hey, we have been doing this as an integral part of a pretty full life, so I need to remind myself to cut some slack.

Bunny Buns! Still not as pretty as I'd like, but they sure are cute!

As mentioned, I have put just about all of my energy and focus into my new gluten free, dairy free food making venture. I am getting great results with my breads and developing other snack type foods as well. I have about 5 solid flavors of bread as well as a couple different cookies, kale chips, and a g-free/d-free crunchy cracker type thing that reminds me of a cross between Goldfish and Cheeze-its. I hesitate to make these because I simply cannot stop eating them!

My last day of employment was the last day of February making for a clean start in March. Since that time, I have earned my TIPS certification, determined a list of all forms and applications I will need, found a DOH certified kitchen I can use, decided upon a business name, worked out multiple rough draft logos, completed the Food Manager course and just yesterday became a Certified Food Manager! Not bad for roughly a month of "not working", eh?

Walter wanted to try one...

Anyways- keeping it short and sweet this post since I don't have much tiny house related news to share. Once the soil warms up, I'll be full of things to share once again! Roof top gardening, micro space gardening, urine as a fertilizer, stawbale techniques, and hopefully we will be setting up a rain water catchment system this summer. 

I will leave you with some photos of the food and some photos of the buns using my new camera. I have learned quite a lot about the camera so far, thanks to the dummies book! And I am looking forward to capturing some stunning images of this beautiful farm! 

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Our Tiny Indoor Greenhouse - Under $25

New outdoor light!

This past weekend we put together a temporary green house setup for seedlings!

I'm already a few weeks late, but hey, the plants will still grow! I'll just get my harvests a little later than the rest. I've been doing a lot of reading on different gardening techniques, with a focus on gardening that takes up minimal ground space and provides other benefits to growth and thriving. Vertical gardening has caught my eye and I cannot wait to grow some plants upward! There are many great benefits to growing upward.

Some Benefits to Vertical Gardening:
-minimal ground space used
-more efficient watering directly to the root systems, less wet leaves
-minimal ground cover leaving less places for pests to take cover and wreak havoc
-less chance for destroying your plants as they sprawl on the ground
-physical support system for the plant, allowing for 2-3x more growth and produce  

I also have some fun visions of setting up a semi-living roof. Most everything will be in containers, whether on the roof or on the ground. We recognize and respect that this is not our permanent space and want to be able to easily dismantle and leave the area as close to the way we found it as possible- when the time comes. Additional benefits to a living roof include some level of climate control. We have a black top roof that is sitting in the beating sun all summer long with zero trees or other relief. Even a few beds of soil  as a mass and some bushy plants for shades could greatly help our cooling efforts. The vertical gardening will also be strategically placed in front of the house to shade the utility closet most of the day. Now that we have very expensive batteries in there that cannot over heat, providing shade is a high priority this summer. Needless to say, I'm quite excited to experiment and grow food once again! Hooray! 

We bought some basic hardware at the big box store ($12) that will allow us to put up temporary shelves in the spring. They are simple racking bars with slats for arms to lock in at different heights. When not in use, they easily tuck away behind the curtains. The pine board we had under the house. Instead of the pricey seed starter containers, I got some tinfoil pans and covers for about $2.00. Some all natural seed starters ($6) fit nicely in each one. Now just add soil, seeds, and water! I ordered some heirloom seeds from a great group called the Seed Savers Exchange.

In other news, our outdoor light has been broken for about a month. I should clarify- the wire hanging off the side of the house with a cheap light bulb fixture coming right off the end, no longer had a working light bulb. We bought a basic mount fixture and flood lights. The back half of the farm, and the county for that matter, is lit up. JEEZE. I'm not sure I like how bright they are...and they pull 8 amps! Wooh! That's hefty. Our fridge pulls 3 amps when it kicks on. 

Finally- a little note about my week days. I've been baking up a storm and hope to develop a line of gluten free breads! I'm doing the research in the kitchen and on the business side. I've started putting together a list of the forms, licenses, and certifications I will need to get. Some of the breads have turned out surprisingly well, and I find myself more excited and hopeful than I have been in a long time. 

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