Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shipping Pallet Compost Bin and Unrelated Notes

Our compost bin isn't anything special.  I based it off of the one detailed in Joseph Jenkin's the Humanure Handbook, an absolute must-read for anyone interested in composting.  Seven shipping pallets (heat treated instead of fumigated with methyl-bromide [look for  "HT"  or   "MT" on your salvaged pallets!]) are arranged to make three separate piles and braced together with a minimal amount of scrap wood.  The middle pile is for cover and bulking material, mostly a 60/40 mix of wood shavings and peat moss.  The cover is used to, well, cover up fresh compost as it goes onto the pile, thus stifling any unpleasant odors, helping to keep a good green/brown ration, and keeping good air and water flow throughout the pile.  We use this bulking material in our composting toilet, so it's been very important for us to keep to that 60/40 ratio, and to keep it dry.

We started our compost pile in the empty section to the left.  We started by digging a shallow ditch and piling some straw in the bottom.  For the last year or so we've been throwing food scraps, dead garden plants, compost from our toilet and straw from the chicken coop into the pile, mixed in with cover mix.  Once the pile reached a critical mass, we bungee-corded another pallet to the front, enclosing the bin.  

The first pile is just about full, so it's time for us to start another pile in the third section of the bin.  While the second pile is building, the first pile will be curing for a full year.  Because our toilet waste is going into the pile, we want to give the compost plenty of time to kill any fecal-coliform bacteria.  Since this is our first round, I'll be testing the soil in a year to make sure we've done a good job.  If all goes well, we'll spread the pile all over the garden and roto-till it into the soil, thus completing the food-waste-food cycle that all of friends don't want us to talk to them about.  Especially when we're dropping off fresh produce.

Note #1

Perhaps you've noticed our lack of blog activity this year.  The truth of the matter is that not everything we do on a weekly basis is particularly interesting or homestead-related.  Instead of forcing it, we've decided to only post about things that seem post worthy, even if it means intermittent activity.   All killer, no filler, as they say.

Note #2

We're cuurently working on our biggest project to date.  Think the house was a large undertaking?  Three years worth of around-the-clock work?  Well this time we're making something way bigger and more complex... HUMAN LIFE.  At least it doesn't need to be permitted...

Christy's pregnant!  Come October, there'll be one more resident of Mellish Fields West.  We're scrambling a bit to get some loose ends taken care of, (which has a lot to do with our blog neglect), but this new chapter is already starting out to be exciting, productive and a little terrifying.  If there's one thing we've proved over these last few years, though, it's that we do a pretty good job once we get in way over our heads.   Adventures abound!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Keeping our Chickens Happy

In between downpours, we've been getting a couple of dry, sunny days lately.  They've provided us with nice opportunities to open up our windows to get some fresh air in the house, and attend to some outdoor chores that have looked miserable in the rain.  Best of all, it's given us a chance to let our chicken flock out for some supervised free-range time.

A few months ago we had a couple of consecutive bald eagle attacks, the second one leaving us down one hen.  That triggered chicken lock-down, meaning Günther and his girls have been confined to their protected run.  We so over built their run, with fencing running 1' beneath the ground around the entire perimeter, 8' high fencing all around, the coop being 2' 6'' off the ground and most importantly a web of bungee cords spanning over the run, that we have no worries of anything getting them inside Chicken Fort Knox (CFK.... the opposite of KFC).  

Since they haven't had an opportunity to scrounge around for food, I've taken to bringing a five gallon bucket to the kitchen I work in.  Everyone in there knows what does and doesn't go in "the chicken bucket" (yes to veggie trimmings, no to onions, garlic and meat), and every other day I have a nice big feast to dump in the run.  The most popular scraps tend to be tomato, strawberry and bread bits.  Everyone in the kitchen has grown fond of the chicken bucket, and tell me they feel bad throwing away food when it's not there.  If you have a friendly little restaurant near you, it can't hurt to ask them if you could bring in a chicken bucket.  A busser from the restuarant gave me the idea by bringing in his own pig bucket, which has a lot less restrictions!  It's certainly saved us a bit on feed, broadened our cooped-up flock's diet and kept some food out of dumpster.  Win, win, win.

Today, and once last week, with the sunshining, we opened up the run and let the chickens wander freely.  They mostly stick together, weeding our trees and herb bed, running and flapping their wings.  Günther is a little more paranoid these days, keeping an eye on the sky and freaking out at the sight of a crow or far away goose.  We've learned a lot of his vocabulary and can distinguish between his food calls, warning grunts or idle chatter.  Günther makes a warning grunt and I search the sky.  If I see an eagle, I round everyone into the coop and play time is over.  When the chickens see me coming at them, flapping my arms, they all run for the coop.  It's a pretty easy routine.  We're not comfortable enough to leave them unattended, I still see our pair of eagle neighbors regularly, but it's a nice opportunity for us to lounge outside for a few hours.  Hopefully in the summer time our eagle sightings will have decreased enough for the flock to spend their days idlely picking around the house.  In the meantime, I've been enjoying our excursions.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs

Christy and I just got back from spending a week in New Orleans, eating our way from jazz club to jazz club all day and night.  It's a hell of a city!  We brought back some pralines for our friends and mild hangovers for ourselves, but I think the best thing we took away was the idea of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club.

Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs started as a way for impoverished African communities in the mid 1800s to band together, paying dues to provide health care for people who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it and help out community members in times of need, while providing a platform for social get togethers.  The groups would throw parties and have parades; it's from the band that followed parades that we get the term "second line".  Amongst their charitable help would be to pool funeral expenses, and organizing the jazz funerals New Orleans is famous for.  It's still a thriving culture today, though more of the dues go into costumes and parties than joint healthcare.

Building community, providing assistance for people in need, throwing parties and having a good time.... why the hell isn't everyone doing this, we started thinking to ourselves!

Over the next few months we're going to work on putting together our own, local Social Aid and Pleasure Group.  Here's how I've got it outlined:

-Member dues are $15 per month, paid annually
-Half of all dues will go into an account to finance get togethers and parties.
-The other half will go into a donation account.
-Every other month, a member will get an allowance to throw a party for everyone.  If we have 25 members that's a $375 party budget, for renting a space if needed, or cooking food, paying a band, whatever.  The parties will have to be awesome, and if we get some local business owners into the mix, we might be able to stretch that budget by getting discount rental rates or food donations.  It will be an event everyone looks forward to.
-Once a year, members vote on where the donation account goes.  At 25 members, we'll have $2,250 to give to someone or something in need in the community.  Perhaps someone has medical bills they're having trouble with, maybe a local park needs an upgrade.  Members can nominate any cause they think we could help.  If we have fundraisers periodically throughout the year, we can put that money directly into the donation account.

It's an event for the community to look forward to, an opportunity for people to throw that big party they keep meaning to, a way to get to know the socially active and concerned people around you and  a chance to feel good about helping the community out.  I'm really into this idea!

Thoughts?  Suggestions?  Do you have something like this in your community?

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Very Mellish Christmas

As this will be our first Christmas in our house, we couldn't wait to tart it up.  Actually, I started stringing up lights before Thanksgiving.  After a wonderful Thanksgiving with some awesome friends, we all sat around and cut paper snowflakes which are now hanging from our bedroom loft, as is a strand of Christmas lights.  Lights went up around our big bank of windows.  We continued our tradition of building our own Christmas tree, using the steel frame I welded last year which has holes drilled throughout it, which we fill with branches trimmed from various evergreen trees around the house.  Our fake real tree.

The house has been so comfy, we sometimes have to remind ourselves how cold we were last winter.  This winter we're spending a substantial amount of time cuddled up on the couch, reading books and feeding the wood stove.  Add to that a couple of purring cats and some rum in our eggnogs, and we're now, more than ever, enjoying the fruits of our labors.  My mother and sister will be here for the holiday, as will Christy's grandmother.  What better way to break in a house?

Although our blog has not been reflecting it, we have been productive lately, and we look forward to sharing some of our winter projects.  Christy has been plugging away at our kitchen island for a while now, and it's looking great.  A burly steel frame with bold, clean lines, stained wood sides with copper accents made of salvaged door kick-plates, and topped off with some gorgeous live-edge cherry wood we milled up.  I'm working up the courage to start the reading nook, and we've been bit-by-bit furnishing and decorating all over the place.

In the meantime, though, Happy Holidays from MFW, I hope you're all as cozy as we are!