Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where am I?

Quick update here:

Moving into the new house went well, and we're loving everything about it so far. Based on our desire to make some big changes and do lots of urban farming at the new house, I've started a new blog with my husband about our adventures. You should check it out:

I'm not ready to say that I'm totally giving up on this blog yet, but I probably won't be posting here very frequently.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Backyard Dreamin'

In a mere three weeks my husband and I will become homeowners. Ok, technically we bought a condo 5 years ago. We've done a great job of making it our own, and I do love the place. A part of me will certainly miss it. But ever since we've become passionate about local food, and started to grow our own vegetables, it has become clear to us that no space could really be our home without room to garden.

So we're going to pack up our things, drag them across town, and settle into a new home. There are so many things that I love about our new house, but I've gotta admit, the backyard is my favorite.
It is large enough to accomodate even our ambitious gardening plans, it has a collection of lovely shade trees close to the house, and plenty of open space in the back for some sun-worshipping plants.

We've been playing around with different arrangements of raised vegetable beds and flower planters. I'm even sketching up ideas for a chicken coop to house a few residents next spring. We've been dreaming of enough garden, patio, tree planting, blogging, and rainwater collection plans to keep us busy for a VERY long time. I suppose we might as well keep dreaming now, because dreaming up ideas is the easy part.

Monday, September 12, 2011

We're Moving!

Things have been kinda hectic, but I wanted to share a quick post about some big plans. My husband and I bought a house! We're about one month away from the closing date, and we're getting really excited. The house isn't much bigger than our condo, but that's not really why we wanted a house. What we really wanted was a yard; and we sure got it. The new house sits on a 0.40 acre lot, so we'll have tons of room to garden.

We've been spending time drawing up garden layouts, researching plants and trees (and chickens!) to put together our own little urban homestead. Food can't possibly come from a source more local than your own backyard!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Trouble With Multi-Tasking

As I've mentioned before, I frequently start new knitting projects before finishing others. I'll set some projects aside, to work on whatever I'm feeling good about that day. I knit for fun, so I try to keep it fun; no rules.

Well, remember this sweater?

I started it long ago, set it aside for a while (about a year), then almost completely forgot about it. Well, I pulled it out again a couple of weeks ago, and now I have this:

Yay! A finished sweater! I love it, but it is currently too hot to wear it. At least I finished it in time for the state fair.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Countdown to the State Fair

Summer is upon us. This means that I've been busy and my knitting has been sort of neglected. But I can't do that any longer, because it's time to prepare for the state fair!

You probably remember that I entered several items in the fair last year. I really had fun and I'm excited to enter again this year.

I have quite a few works in progress that I plan to finish before the drop off deadline. Last night I finished these two:

Rainbow Wool Eater Blanket - This was mostly finished for quite a while. Unfortunately I ran out of the red yarn on the very last round. I finally bought another skein, finished crocheting, and weaved in all of the ends.

Furry Green Monster - This guy has been sitting around my condo without a face for months. I finally stitched on a face. I think he's adorable!

I'll be finishing up some more items in the upcoming weeks. I don't know how many fair entries I'll end up with, so you'll have to stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

They Are (Not) Who We Thought They Were

I've got what you've all been waiting for: Another worm post!

I've been composting for about 4 months, and the worms have been doing remarkably well. The population has boomed, we've taken a batch of finished compost to the garden, and the bin can now process all of the compostable food scraps that we typically generate in our house.

But there has been an interesting development. It turns out that I've got a mixed species worm bin. When I purchased my worms, I thought I was buying a bunch of these guys:

Eisenia fetida (Red Wriggler)

They have a striped appearance and the band around their bodies (the clitellum) is very pronounced. It actually looks like it is swollen. They move around relatively slowly and they are ideal for composting bins because they tolerate temperatures between 40 to 90 degrees F, they prefer about 70 to 80 degrees F, they do well in confined spaces and they eat approximately half their body weight per day.

I've definitely got Red Wrigglers in there but, after composting for a while, I started to notice these guys:

Perionyx excavatus (Blue Worms)

These guys don't have the striped apprearance, their clitellum is flush with their bodies, and they have an iridescent blue/purple shine in the light. They tend to be longer and skinnier than my Red Wrigglers. The biggest difference that I've noticed is that these guys are fast! They also like to be between 70 to 80 degrees F, but they can't tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees F. They multiply very quickly, which is probably why I didn't notice them at first. I probably started with just a few, but now I've got a bunch. They're also good composters, but they are supposedly more prone to wandering. I haven't had this problem yet, so they must be reasonably happy staying inside the bin.

So where did they come from? Apparently worm farmers typically have their worm beds "contaminated" with these little guys. I use the word "contaminated" because there is some debate in the worm composting community (yep, it exists) as to whether or not these guys are good for a worm bin. People who keep outdoor bins don't like them, because they die off below 50 degrees F. Other people have trouble with them escaping the worm bin due to their wandering nature. A few people are just "creeped out" by how fast they crawl around.

So these guys must have tagged along with my worm order. As far as I'm concerned, no big deal. My bin won't drop below 50 degrees F, my blue worms have been staying inside the bin, and people who are easily "creeped out" by some worms probably shouldn't keep a box of them anyway. As long as they're keeping some of my garbage out of the landfill, and giving me free fertilizer for my garden, a little biodiversity is fine with me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Gardening!

I have great news to share! Greg and I will be able to do more gardening than we had expected, because now we have more space in which to grow things! We recently learned that the Community Garden has a limit of two plots per household. Not one, but two! As long as you have the time and desire to garden a second plot, and you wait for your fair turn on the waiting list, you can have a second plot. Oh, happy day!

So far, all we've done is pull some weeds from the second plot. It will still require a little bit of preparation before we can plant things. Then we've got to decide what to plant! We spent months planning our first gardening plot, but now this one has landed in our laps right amidst the growing season. Should we grow more of the same crops that we've planted? Should we pick out some new crops? Too many decisions!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First Harvest

Sunday was an exciting day. We arrived home from a fun weekend away, then decided we should check on our garden. Things are looking really good and I'm happy to announce that we actually picked a small handful of leaf lettuce. It was only half an ounce, and it's gone already, but it was a wonderful beginning to what I hope will be a productive growing season!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why I Garden

As I've probably mentioned, my husband and I live in a third story condo without an inch of soil to call our own. Knowing that, growing a garden doesn't seem like the most logical thing to do. So why the heck are we doing it?

First off, how are we doing it? Well, the Parks and Recreation department of our city has a Community Gardening program. After a short time on the waiting list, we were assigned an 8-foot by 12-foot plot. The garden is about a 15 minute drive from the suburbs, so we make a trip downtown several times a week to tend to our little patch of growing space.

But why? There's plenty of food at the grocery store, right? Of course there is. There is no shortage of produce. It doesn't matter if it's completely out of season or if it's some tropical crop that could never grow in Iowa. There it sits in the produce case, just waiting for us to take it to our kitchen.

If you start examining the stickers on that produce, you'll see that there are some rather well-traveled fruits and veggies out there. Did you know that Chile is over 5,000 miles away from here? Compared to that, driving to a garden downtown doesn't seem so troublesome.

Nothing against Chile, but we've got great soil right here in Iowa! It's capable of producing so much more than grass and commodity crops. So I'm happy that we are able to take 96 square feet of space that used to be covered with grass and turn it into beans, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, spinach, and so much more fresh, local food for our own kitchen.

I can't say that we never purchase produce from the grocery store. But armed with a tiny garden of our own, a great local farmer's market, a pressure canner, and a chest freezer, maybe we'll be able to change that sometime soon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What I've been up to...

Wow, time has really flown by since my last post! Let's see what I've been doing.

Work: Too much. We were already short staffed, and then another person quit. Fortunately we'll have a new intern start in a couple of weeks. Until then, I'll be just trying to keep my head above water.

School: My class this semester hasn't been terribly demanding. In fact, the class that I'm taking is down right easy. This is a wonderful thing considering my crazy work schedule. I'm taking the final exam this week, then starting a summer class in early June.

PE Exam: Getting ready to reapply for the October exam date. Then I'll start the stressing out and studying all over again.

Knitting: Mostly socks. Don't really have the attention span for larger projects at the moment. I had some big plans for the state fair, but I'm not sure how much I'll actually get done.

Gardening: We have planted several cool weather crops already. The garden is filling up with tiny radishes, spinach, kale, chard, peas, onions, carrots, and lettuce. Loving the opportunity to go get my hands dirty for non-construction related reasons.

Vermicomposting: My worms are doing exactly what worms are supposed to do. They've been eating, pooping, and making more worms. I've just started filling up my next tier with food scraps and allowing the lower tier to finish decomposing. The worms should start slowly migrating to the upper tier and leave the finished compost behind. These guys have been thankfully low maintenance.

Geocaching: Greg and I have been getting outside to collect a few geocaches a couple of times a week. We're really having fun and getting some exercise at the same time! We're even doing some biking again.

So, as you can see, there hasn't been much time for blogging. Oh well, you all understand, right? ;)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


So, I’m super excited about a new hobby. Greg and I are geocaching! For a full explanation of what the heck we’re doing, I recommend you go here: If you’d rather have the three sentence version, here it is.


Geocaching is a GPS “treasure hunt” taking place all over the world. People hide containers called “caches” anywhere they like, and post the GPS coordinates on a website for others to go find it. The contents of the caches aren’t actually valuable, but the real treasure is the experience of hunting for it.


Anyhow, it’s a really neat way to get outside and see some places you haven’t seen before. We actually bought our handheld GPS unit late last fall, but winter arrived before we had much opportunity to use it. We’ve found about a dozen caches so far this spring and I’m sure we’ll be finding lots more in the months to come. This is so much fun!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Worm Bin Tour

This is my vermicomposting bin. It sits in our kitchen right next to the trash can. The bin is about 18 inches by 18 inches square and about 16 inches tall, but the tray with the worms is only about 6 inches deep.

The lid on the top is meant to keep light out of the bin. Even without the lid the worms will stay in the bin, because they are much happier inside than they would be if they crawled out. The lid doesn't snap on, so air can easily flow in and out of the bin. When I lift off the lid, here's what you see. That is a pile of moistened shredded newspaper. It helps keep the bin moist enough, and eventually the worms will eat all of this paper.

If I pull the paper back, you can see the layer of food scraps. Here you can see some slices of an apple and a couple of coffee filters. There were some worms crawling around this stuff, but most of them hid as soon as I pulled back the newspaper.

And here is one of the residents of the bin. These worms are called red wrigglers. These are surface dwelling worms, not soil dwelling worms. They are much smaller than a typical earthworm. In nature, you'd usually find these worms in piles of manure or decaying leaves. These worms are ideal for indoor vermicomposting because they are comfortable between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, they reproduce quickly, and they don't mind living in confined spaces.

Things are continuing to go well in the compost bin. I found something that I think is a worm cocoon. If I'm right, one or two baby worms will hatch in a couple of weeks. And I saw some worm behavior this morning that indicates I may have more cocoons fairly soon.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Vermicomposting: Update 2

The worms seem to be settled into their new home. They spend most of their time amongst the oldest food scraps in the bin. We added some more food scraps, but they’re still pretty fresh. I suspect the worms will let them age a bit before they start moving toward the new food. So far it seems like we produce more food scraps than the bin can handle. As the worms reproduce, we should be able to give them more food.


I’m sure that we lost some of them from their cross-country trip, but the ones that survived look pretty healthy. They’ve rehydrated and I’ve seen them munching on the food scraps. We haven’t had any try to escape the bin, so we must have given them a satisfactory home. Now I just hope that they are happy enough to make some baby worms!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Vermicomposting: Update 1

Today is my first day of truly vermicomposting! My husband and I purchased a Worm Factory 360 which arrived in our home one week ago. We ordered 1 pound of red wriggler composting worms (roughly 1,000 worms) from a worm farm in Pennsylvania and started saving up our produce scraps. Two days ago we filled the Worm Factory with our food scraps and plenty of moist bedding (mostly shredded newspaper). Then today our worms arrived. We placed them in our bin, and TADA, it's vermicomposting!

It will take a little while for the worms to get used to their new home. They were shipped in some dry moss, so they looked pretty dehydrated. When we placed them in the bin this morning, some were moving around more than others. We gave them a spritzing of water and I'm hoping that they can all perk up and start exploring the bin today.

Their first meal consists of a variety of goodies. There's some broccoli stalk, carrot peels, bell pepper stems, celery trimmings, orange peels, egg shells, used coffee grounds (with the filters), and used tea leaves (with the tea bags). That's all organic waste that would normally end up inside a plastic trash bag then dumped into a landfill. Landfills don't aerate, so the food takes longer to decompose, and the trash bag takes much longer to break down. Inside the compost bin, the worms should turn it into soil in just a few months.

In case you can't tell, I'm really excited about this project! I'll be sure to check in with more updates soon.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Going a Little (Worm) Crazy

As a citizen of this planet, I like to do my part to conserve the resources that we have available to us. My husband and I recycle our cans, bottles, and paper, even though we have to haul them to a recycling center ourselves. We try to remember to use reusable shopping bags (I can't promise that we don't forget sometimes). We also try to keep our gas consumption low. We own a few vehicles, so we choose to use our more fuel efficient vehicles as often as we can. This includes our Honda scooter (100+ mpg) when the weather permits.

But of course, there is always more that we could do. Our latest conservation adventure is vermicomposting! Vermicomposting is a process that utilizes worms to break down organic garbage like paper and food scraps. We recently purchased a Worm Factory 360. This will be our worm’s home, and it looks like this.

This plastic bin allows air to flow through the unit, promoting aerobic (odorless) decomposition right in your home. The worms live in the bin, eat your paper and food scraps, and leave behind worm castings for your garden or houseplants. We placed an order for 1000 red wrigglers (composting worms) and we are expecting them to arrive this week. I hope they like their new home and enjoy eating my garbage!

Monday, February 7, 2011

So Much for That Plan...

And the PE countdown is gone. I knew this was a real possibility, but I was really hoping it wouldn't happen. My application to take the PE in April was denied. Thanks to an unfortunate technicality, I'm one month short of the professional experience requirement to take the exam.

I'm bummed, but I'm making the best of it. My grad school has been really great about getting me signed up for a class at the last minute. And I'll just apply for the October exam date this fall.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Countdown with Me!

If you glance a bit to your right, you'll see that I've added a PE Exam countdown to the blog. Now you'll all be able to see how many more days you'll have to listen to me whine about the exam. Don't worry folks, it will all be over in --->

Friday, January 7, 2011

Feeling A Bit Puzzled

Well, here it is, 2011. I'm going to keep my resolution post simple.

I just want to pass the PE Exam. That's it. Sure it would be great to become more organized, lose some weight, yada yada yada... But as long as I pass the PE, I will consider 2011 to be a success.

I cracked open my massive review book for my first attempt at real studying this week. I'll admit that I felt a little lost. I've always been a good student, but this is a whole new challenge. Where the heck do you start when you need to brush up on 8 years worth of acquired knowledge in just 3 months??? My current strategy is to just start somewhere, anywhere. I picked a topic, and tried to work some problems. That's ok, but I really ought to have a more systematic approach. Perhaps I'll do some planning this weekend.