Compost – a better land fill

In 2014 we were staying with my mom while saving up for a house, and there was a large backyard used mainly for the exercise of mowing the lawn. But then, I learned about composting. It was incredible. The onion skins, the carrot tops, the apple cores that were filling up the trash can every day and making it all stinky could instead be thrown out into the backyard. After the labor of raking up a yardful of leaves, instead of stuffing them into brown paper bags for yard waste pickup, they could just be piled up in the backyard messily.

Even though my mom’s not a gardener, composting piles were immediately useful as there were some dips in the yard and a couple of holes where shrubs had been dug up and wouldn’t be replaced. All the compostable material went right into those spaces. It would mound up for a while, but then it would break down or compact. Then more could be heaped on top and eventually that would flatten out also. Of course, this is similar to the concept of sanitary landfills, but without having to put all the produce trimmings in plastic bags first and then sealing them underground forever where they wouldn’t benefit the soil.

Fast forward a couple of years to this February. My husband and I had just bought our own house. One of the very first projects on my agenda was to set up a compost bin so I could have plenty of rich humus for future gardening projects. Being frugal, I found some hardware cloth that had been abandoned in the back yard, secured it into a cylinder shape with some twist ties (my husband has a whole collection that he’s saved), shoveled the grass off of its new location, and “planted” it. Success! All the food scraps we had, all the yard waste, I just threw it in there for our first five months without ever turning it, watering it, or whatever else it is that people do with compost piles.

From the outside it hasn’t looked like much has happened and I didn’t really expect much when finally turning / moving the compost to a new bin this weekend. But I was hoping, and was rewarded with this.

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Rich on the inside!

Although the outside was dry and didn’t sustain any kind of life, some of the inside was rich, moist, and full of bugs helping to break it down further. So now I understand why you’re supposed to turn the pile, to get some of that other material on the inside and benefiting from this goodness. Maybe in the future I’ll turn it more than once every five months. We’ll see.

As for the new compost bin, I needed one that was just a little larger. Strolling around the neighborhood during bulk pickup week turned to my advantage when I found a perfect-sized portion of chickenwire, which I’ve used as my new enclosure.

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The new compost pile

You can see a bit of the mess I made shoveling out another section of grass and some of the heavy clay soil underneath. I should probably add that back into the compost. The pallet was used for a gardening project earlier in this year, but it had bugs around it that looked like termites so into the compost it went too! At least it’ll help serve as a support. The new bin is about half-filled from the contents of the other full compost bin. And I’ll start filling up the old bin again (it’s closer to the house) while this one breaks down. If I wasn’t so lazy, I just might have compost for the fall garden. But, meh, I’ll settle for spring. 🙂

Interested in learning more about composting in your backyard? Zero Waste Chef has a great post on Composting for the Lazy.

The Reused Water Bottle

You hear a lot about using reusable water bottles instead of disposables, but most of the time it’s quickly followed up with an evaluation of the best reusable water bottle to buy. Creating new reusables tends to use more resources than single disposables, so there’s a break-even point at which your investment becomes better for the environment than continuing to use disposables.

Want to get to the break-even point instantly? The greenest water bottle that you can buy is the one you already own. Maybe it’s sitting in your recycling bin at this moment. Maybe it’s at the thrift shop. Or maybe it’s a kombucha bottle that someone else drank from and struck your fancy (as mine is). In the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle priority list, reuse comes before recycling every time. You save one container from disposal or recycling costs and another one from the expense of being created.

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My beautiful water bottle

I’ve been using this bottle for the past year. It’s enhanced by a coozie from my college days that was just sitting around and doing nothing. Sure, I browsed Etsy looking at the billions of lovely creations that could have graced my bottle to provide the much needed grip, but I had to be honest with myself and admit they weren’t needed with this alternative.

Some zero waste advocates are just following the trends and using the movement as an excuse to buy new stuff, but don’t be fooled. Many zero waste swaps are super frugal or even free. The next time you’re tempted by some zero waste instagram pics, look around at what you already have and hang onto your money for the things that are really important to you. For most people, that isn’t a super fancy water bottle, or a particular kind of jar just to store trash in.

P.S. – If you’re still buying disposable water bottles, take a moment to calculate how much money you spend in a year on just water. Once you do that, the switch should be obvious.

The Garden After 3 Months

It’s been a month since my last garden update, making it three months since we moved into this new home and started attempting to grow some food. It’s been storming a lot lately, so it’s great that the plants haven’t been damaged by the harsh weather. Plus with all the rain, I haven’t had to water much.

Lately I’ve also been reading articles and blog posts about people just starting their veggie garden now, and there’s always a brief moment where I think to myself “Wow, they must be crazy!” Living here in central Texas, the clock is already counting the days until the sun becomes insanely menacing and kills the garden for the summer. So without further ado, let’s get to business.

Squash Bed

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Yellow squash blooming

It was only about a month ago that I planted this found pallet with a bag of compost, yellow squash, and a couple of nasturtiums. There are plenty of leaves, I haven’t seen any insects yet, and I think that little guy at the bottom center of this picture may be the beginning of my first-ever homegrown squash.

Melon Bed

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Various melons and nasturtiums leafing out

I planted three varieties of melon in this bed–cantaloupe, canary melon, and watermelon–and expected them to be sprawling out of the bed more by now. But it’s okay, they may just be waiting for the warm weather that’s coming very soon.

You can see from this picture that my bright idea to use these hollow-frame doors for the garden beds turned out to be a rather poor idea. They’re not holding up to the weather as well as the plants are. Lesson learned: even with the best intentions upcycles sometimes quickly become downcycles.

Cucumber Bed

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Cucumber vines taking full advantage of the tomato cages
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An infant cucumber!
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Holey radish leaves

The cucumber plants look pretty healthy so far. They’re vining out everwhere and I’ve seen at least a couple of baby cucumbers. The radishes that were planted in the bed haven’t fared so well, but I didn’t expect much from them since they’re a cool season crop and were primarily here as a companion plant for the cucumbers. I did get to eat a few of the radish leaves before insects got to them, and the roots are pretty much non-existent.

Tomato Bed

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This is what happens when you grow tomatoes without support.
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Adolescent tomatoes

I’ve gradually been eating the onions from this bed. They’re not big-bulbed, but they’re still oniony and with plenty of greens. The tomato plants have been crowding them out anyway.

Speaking of tomatoes, I bet these two plants have a gazillion little tomatoes growing on them. I can’t bring myself to cut any of them off, so we’ll just have to wait and see if the plants have the strength to bring all of these babies to adulthood. I’m eager to try a truly fresh tomato for the first time.

The real star of the show in this bed, though, is the borage. I didn’t know what this was before this year, but it is beautiful. And surprisingly huge. The leaves are supposed to taste a bit like cucumber and they really do! A bit fuzzy, but you can either just deal with it or cook them so the fuzz texture goes away. I hear they’re also prolific self-seeders so there just might be even more borage in my future.

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Flowering borage
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Borage flower

Lemon Tree

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Meyer lemon at 1 year 6 months of age

My first Meyer lemon plant is still sprouting more leaves, so I think it’s going to make a come back. It’s still many, many years from fruiting though (if it ever does). Sadly, it looks like the other lemon plant didn’t make it. It maybe time to start a couple more, which means it’s lemonade time!

Front Yard

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Small transplanted Jalapeno and tomato plants with a couple of marigolds in between (and grass and weeds)
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Front bed in progress

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve started pulling some of the grass and weeds from the area by my house. My mom brought some rounded brick pavers she didn’t want anymore, which has blocked off a section of grass-free zone. I mulched lightly with some newspaper ads and planted some marigold and zinnia next to the couple of rosemary plants that I added almost immediately after moving in.

Digging up the beds a bit has unearthed tons of small stones, and I’ve already started on adding a row of these stones right next to the house, both for walking on and to keep bugs slightly further away from the structure.

Up front, I also transplanted a couple more tomato plants and a jalapeno plant. Not sure yet how well these will grow since they’re on the north side of the house, but any greenery up front will add to the curb appeal.

Coming Soon

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Lonely bell pepper infant

I have a large hollow brick so this weekend this little guy can go outside and be amongst friends. If there’s one thing I’ve learned gardening, it’s that plants hate being pampered and are most likely to thrive if you let them do their own thing. Maybe I’ll get better at gardening eventually, but why worry if they do just as well on their own.

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Rosemary babies

I’d read online that rosemary is very reluctant to start from seed, so I wasn’t expecting much. But they must have liked some of the warm weather we had when they were planted because these sprouted right up. Then again… we’ll see how long they survive.

Well, that’s it. There are so many other foods I wanted to plant, but I’m still a novice and shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself. As the storms ease up, I’ll need to be extra vigilant about insects who want my delicious veggies for themselves. No way, insects! They’re all mine!

The Thrift Life

Thrift – the quality of using money and other resources carefully and not wastefully

Thrift is one of the core principles by which I live my life. I’m not hardcore thrift, but here are a few examples of thriftiness that I do practice.

Socks

When a sock is beyond repair, its partner doesn’t need to be thrown out. Here I paired a lonely sock with one I picked up at the Really, Really Free Market. I may never buy socks again. And as for the holey sock, it may still have some use for the elastic–a hair band or cushy rubber band replacement. Or at worst just a rag.

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(You may also notice the DIY insoles that should help these shoes to last longer.)

T-Shirts

I reuse all my old t-shirts by making them into tshirt yarn and transforming them into rugs, bowls, and more. I’ve even stockpiled extra shirts from the RRFM when I needed more to complete a project.

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Braided Tshirt Rag Rug #3

Buying Bulk

Rice. Lentils. Laundry detergent. Eggs. Spinach. I make the best use of resources by reusing the containers that I already have instead of disposable packaging. (This is a work in progress.)

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Cooking Food

By cooking dried beans or making my own bread, I can avoid both single-use packaging and food waste, plus save money.

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Growing Food From Seed

Getting food right from my backyard? I need to do more of this.

Small carrot fresh-picked in the backyard garden

Library

Want something to read? Something to watch or listen to? Looking for an air-conditioned free place to hang out in the summer? I use my library for all these things.

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Furniture

Furniture shouldn’t be disposable. I buy second-hand and am not afraid to reupholster furniture that I already have to make it last longer.

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Personal Care Products

The deodorant recipe below may not have worked out for me, but a simple deodorant powder works for me just fine. I’ve been doing the baking soda wash and apple cider vinegar rinse as a replacement for conventional shampoo and vinegar. For some products like eye shadow and blush, I’ve found that it’s just as easy to do without.

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And More

These are just a few of many examples of thrift. How does thrift surface in your life?

Sidenote: although “thrift” is in the name, it’s no accident that I didn’t mention thrift shopping. Thrift isn’t about shopping. That’s just a fallback for when I can’t make do without, repurpose something else to fill the need, and can’t or am too lazy to make it myself.

2015 Lookback: A Year of Tshirt Reuse

I went into 2015 excited about attempting to go zero waste and making use of existing resources. January 2015 was my first visit to the Really, Really Free Market to find treasures among piles and piles of unwanted tshirts.

Austin Really Really Free Market

I got home that day with a beach bag stuffed full of tshirts in my favorite colors. As I had started earlier with my own worn out shirts, these also gradually were transformed into tshirt yarn. It was a slow process for me because I wasn’t content to cut off and discard hem, seams, or collar, instead painstakingly removing all the stitches to make full use of the fabric. Once I had an assortment of yarn colors that looked like they might be okay together, I braided them and stitched them round following this braided rag rug tutorial. That first one was fairly small, but I was amazed and proud to have made my very own rug.

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Braided Rag Rug #1

I quickly moved on to another, slightly larger and with different color scheme. Trying for something even more ambitious, I handstitched it so the thread was (mostly) not visible from the front side. It does look a bit better but was a ton of work. The only reason I might try this again in the future would be to use up all my tiny spools of cheap thread in various colors since they aren’t useful for machine-stitching.

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Braided Rag Rug #2

Next up was a twined potholder on a cardboard frame, following the instructions from Bobbie Irwin’s book Twist & Twine from the library. The cardboard frame was a hassle and wasn’t holding up while working on it, so for the second potholder the frame was chopsticks tied to a metal grated tray. Still not perfect, and the pale blue/pink color scheme didn’t provide enough contrast to show off the work I had put into the pattern, but two potholders was plenty.

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Twined Potholders #1 and #2

But by this time I was excited enough to have made a purchase of a set of (not new) crochet hooks online. My enthusiasm waned a little when I opened the grossly excessive packaging they were mailed in, but it was already done. After starting off with some practice crochet on a normal length of thread that I had around, a tshirt yarn crochet bowl was the next item on the agenda. It was so cute that I wanted to make more, but most of my tshirt yarn was already cut too thickly to work well for bowls this small.

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Small Crochet Bowl

Fortunately, I had a larger crochet hook (Size N) as part of the set and was ready to make the big version. My primary goal was to use up many of the smaller pieces of yarn from the arm and chest sections of the shirts and even collars, sewn together into one continuous yarn and then crocheted so that the seams wouldn’t be visible. This basket might not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it works great for storing my fabric yoyos, both completed and in progress.

With these easier crochet experiments complete, it was time to get on with my next rug experiment–the crocheted rag rug. Every tutorial I’ve read says that crocheting in the round is easier for beginners attempting to make rag rugs, but I didn’t believe them. Starting a round and then increasing at the right time is complicated. And I was right! For me at least, making regular turns for a rectangular piece is so much easier than round. This blue beauty is now sitting next to my bed ready to give my feet just a little more cushion in the morning.

Trying to use up some of my plentiful tshirt yarn, I made one final braided rag rug of the year. This is my favorite so far and as you can see from that last picture it’s also the largest. To get an interesting color combination, I used both a couple of standard yarn balls from tshirt bodies and one ball made from various shorter pieces sewn together. This will definitely be my modus operandi for future attempts.

For those of you interested in hopping on the tshirt yarn bandwagon, here are a few tips:

  • Choose 100% cotton tshirts when possible so any random scraps left over can be composted (although almost all shirts have non-compostable polyester stitching).
  • Choose tshirts with a small or no logo. The printed area doesn’t form into yarn like the rest of the shirt, and you’ll have to force it while braiding, crocheting, or twining.
  • Skip the shirts that have a side seam if you have a choice. You want the main body of the shirt to give you as long a continuous smooth yarn as possible.
  • If making a braided rag rug, be very very careful to start stitching in the right direction so the rug will grow away from the sewing machine. I think I got that one wrong every time, ugh!
  • If using a sewing machine, take time to look through the manual and understand as much as possible how it works to prevent any issues. And clean your machine more regularly than I do to keep it in good condition.
  • Don’t be afraid to try again. I learned a lot of things about working with colors from these experiments, and my most recent rag rug is by far my favorite.
  • Crocheting with thick tshirt yarn can be strenuous. Take breaks and don’t expect to do a large project all in one go.
  • If making a round rug, set it down regularly and check for lumps or curling to determine if the next rings need to be tighter or looser respectively. (I’ve so far been too lazy to actually remove any existing stitching to fix it, but that’s probably not a bad idea either.)

All in all, I’ll declare my tshirt reuse plans for 2015 a smashing success! In the future I’d like to try something like Prarie Peasant’s knitted rag rug (I’ve been gifted a knitting set that previously belonged to a relative of my sister’s boyfriend so nothing to buy!) or one of the more complex braided rag rugs that also requires absolutely no sewing. I have a different big project for next year, though, so time to put away all my leftover yarn for when the urge hits again.

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Leftover tshirt yarn balls

The Mostly Not New Minimalist Wallet

Wallets are important. They hold your ID, cash, credit, and any other essentials to be kept on your person all the time. And even if everyone else is inseparable from their phones, it’s my wallet that is the only item that absolutely never gets left behind when I’m out or at work.

So a couple of years ago, I was desparately trying to make do with a wallet that was falling apart even though it had never really suited me. The wallet was fairly slim but included was a zippered coin purse section and keyring that did nothing more for me than wear a more defined outline in my back pocket.

Finally, it was relegated to the trash bin while I was still trying to find a replacement. My husband had a couple of extra wallets, but both were bifolds and thicker than I was accustomed to or willing to put up with. I ended up creating a temporary pocket wallet from a used sheet of paper I didn’t need anymore. It was effective, and the technical documentation suited my style. Unfortunately, as might be guessed, it didn’t last long.

An Etsy seller at the time, that was my next venue when looking for replacements. I had a couple of favorites on my wishlist, and after wearing out more temporary paper wallets and a couple of additional attempts using cardstock (and repeated applications of scotch tape), I finally got a minimalist wallet from Etsy for Christmas.

Minimalist wallet by RaggedEdge

Unfortunately, as soon as I tried to use it, it was a disappointment. Cash didn’t fit in there well or too many cards and yet my main complaint was that it wasn’t minimalist enough. See all that extra area on the sides that just exist for stitching? I had gotten so spoiled by my super slim impromptu wallets that this just wouldn’t cut it for me.

Enter innovation.

Paper obviously wasn’t a suitable material, but there were plenty of other resources available that might work. After careful consideration, a piece of fabric from a pair of retired jeans seemed like the perfect material. The material was slightly stretchy (from before I hopped on the less plastic bandwagon) and denim definitely matched my aesthetic sensibilities.

With a bit of measuring so my cards would be held snuggly in place , a quick cut, and then some hand-stitching to make the seam, it was perfect! This wallet hugs my cards securely with minimal extra bulk, and dollars fit well if folded in thirds so they’re not wider than the cards.

Sure, the edges look a little raggedy in a couple of places and every few months I trim a few bits of fringe that have made their way free. I’ve gotten a few compliments on it regardless. And overall I think this wallet will last for several more years. With the only new part involved being a bit of thread, this makes just one more example of the best solution not being to buy new.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the rubber band, that’s in no way an essential part of the wallet. I just like to keep one on hand to open jars easily, secure a loose container or bag, or to otherwise save my life in a MacGyver situation. One fits just perfectly wrapped twice around my beautiful wallet.