Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Composting...

2:38 pm - 42 degrees - overcast...

We live in the Pacific Northwest.  Around here the word “composting” may as well be synonymous with “recycling”. 

Composting is nature’s way of recycling.  It is a method of converting garden trash, kitchen scraps, and other organic wastes into humus – a partly decayed form of organic matter that is an important ingredient of rich soil.

Composting doesn’t have to be difficult, nor does it require a strong back, large acreage, livestock waste or expensive bins.  There are many variations in composting techniques, but the basic idea is to let the biological action of bacteria and fungi heat the interior of the compost pile to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, killing week seeds and disease organisms.  The most efficient way to produce compost is in a bin or container to keep the material from spilling out.

What Belongs In Your Compost Bin --- You know you can compost fruit and vegetable scraps from your kitchen, but there are dozens of organic-based items that can also go into your compost bin that you may not have thought of.
-      Coffee grounds
-      Coffee filters
-      Teabags
-      Crushed eggshells
-      Paper bags and cardboard, including cereal boxes
-      Stale bread, cereal, and plain crackers
-      Expired herbs and spices
-      Hair from your brush, and from your pet’s brushes
-      Dropping from pet rabbits, chickens, cows and horses
-      Paper roll tubes
-      Freezer burned vegetables and fruit
-      Old bills and other shredded documents
-      Newspaper
-      Houseplants that didn’t make it
-      Wood ash
 
Any paper items from your home or office, so long as the paper is not glossy and is free from staples, paperclips or plastic, can be shredded or torn up and placed into the compost bin.  The smaller the pieces, the faster it will break down inside of the bin.  Even your Christmas tree can be run through a wood chipper and then added to your compost bin.

What Doesn’t Belong In Your Compost Bin --- We’ve covered what should go into your compost pile or bin, what shouldn’t is just as important, if not more important, as the possibility of introducing pathogens to your soil could be dangerous to you and your family for years.  Most importantly, chemicals or metals of any kind, should never be incorporated into your compost or soil.  Here are some other, less obvious, items to exclude from composting.
-      Meat of all kinds
-      Dairy products
-      Fecal matter from dogs, cats, pigs or reptiles
-      Fats, grease, lard or oils
-      Diseased plants
-      Dryer lint
-      Contents of your vacuum bags
-      Glossy paper, including newspaper inserts
-      Yard clippings or trimming treated with pesticides
-      Coal or charcoal ash

There’s some debate amongst composting experts when it comes to pasta and bread items.  The belief is that while these types of items are typically fine to add to your compost bin, the fact is they’re more likely to attract scavenging animals such as rats and raccoons.  However, a tightly sealed or raised off of the ground bin, will reduce the number of visitors.

You may be tempted to throw in diseased plants but that would be opening yourself up to all kinds of trouble later on down the line.  The bacteria or virus responsible for the disease will likely survive the composting process, which means you could infect your entire garden when you spread your compost the following year.

Regularly aerating or turning over the contents of your compost bin will ensure air has access to the decaying organic matter.  The air will help prevent mold from setting in, and will also work to accelerate the decomposition process by providing oxygen to the thousands of tiny organisms doing all the work.

Some gardeners prefer to have two or more compost bins, at varying stages of the process, in order to ensure a steady supply of compost is at their fingertips, at all times.  Trust me, the first time you scoop and spread your very own dark, rich compost, and better yet, see what it does for your garden, you too will understand our deep love of compost here in the Pacific Northwest.


Five Types of Compost Bins That Turn Trash Into Treasure

Sunken Garbage Can --- makes a convenient compost bin when space is limited.  Punch holes in bottom of can for drainage and fill with alternating layers of material.  Cover with screening to keep out insects and scavengers.  Perforated drainpipe in center provides aeration.
 
Photo Source: Back To Basics
 
Screened Compost Bin --- is made of chicken wire and light lumber.  It is easily disassembled for turning compost.  Two L-shaped sections fasten with hooks and eyes.  To use, simply unfasten hooks and eyes, remove sides, and set up in position to receive the turned compost.


Photo Source: Back To Basics

Wire Mesh Cylinder --- is one of the simplest of all compost bins to construct.  Use mesh with heavy gauge wire; support with stakes driven into the ground.  Often used for autumn leaves, it can handle any type of compost.

Photo Source: Back To Basics

Rotating Drum --- tumbles compost each time drum is turned, mixing and aerating it.  Material is loaded through a hatch.  These compact, durable units are available commercially and can also be built at home.
 
Photo Source: Back To Basics

Three-Stage Bin --- turns out a near-continuous supply of compost.  Positioned sided by side makes turning compost easy.
 
Photo Source: Back To Basics

We will be composting using the three-stage bin style.  Instead of making bins, we’re going to be using old orchard crates that we got for free from a fruit processing plant.
 
 
We managed to get 21 orchard boxes on the flatbed trailer...
this will be my new raised garden

Over the weekend I got the first bin in place and started my compost pile!
 

In fact we’re going to be using those old orchard crates to make a raised garden on that flat area behind my compost bins (separate post coming soon).

Monday, December 30, 2013

Work Weekend...

8:34 pm - 42 degrees - light wind...

Everyone is finally starting to get better and we had gorgeous weather over the weekend (still no snow) so we took full advantage and spent the weekend outside, cleaning up around the yard.

 
Our main focus was cleaning up all the small debris everywhere so we had three small burn piles going.  The yard looks so much better now!



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mountain Traffic...

11:57 am - 42 degrees - foggy...


What A Day {What A Week!}...

11:55 am - 42 degrees - foggy...

Oh how sickness changes things!  All of our plans for the past week were quickly shot down when Caitlyn got sick... followed by Jack... then me... and finally Tony.  That horrible cold that has been going around has wiped out the whole family which resulted in a double ear infection and a case of bronchitis.  Needless to say it has been a very long and miserable week.  And we’re still not operating at 100% yet.

Besides being sick on and off since Thanksgiving... I’ve had a hard time getting into the holiday spirit this year and I think the weather is a major reason why.  There is no snow outside.  None!  Zip!  Zilch!  It doesn’t look like it should be winter let alone Christmas time.  Where is all of our snow?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Red The Elf...

11:43 am - 35 degrees - blue sky and sunshine with 28+ mph winds (currently have 3+ inches of snow)...

It’s the most wonderful time of year!  I must admit that I love Christmas time.  I love seeing all the homes decorated in their glistening white lights and beautiful wreaths hanging on the doors.  I love gathering with family and friends at holiday parties, picking out presents for our loved ones, and I love all of our family traditions and the wonderful memories they create.

One of those fun traditions is Red the Elf.  He is a mischievous little guy, and he travels all over the house keeping an eye on the kids while having a bit of fun himself. 

Here are some pictures of what Red’s been up to lately...
 
4 year-old son: "Holy smokes Mom!
Red is stuck in the Christmas tree!"

4 year-old son: "Mom! Red made Caitlyn's lunch! Or...I guess he kind of
tried to." (laughs) "Silly Red, she can't eat all those kisses by herself! He
must have packed those for me."

8 year-old daughter: "Jack! Woof, Red & Rex
are having a sack race in my room! And I think
Red is trying to cheat! He's grabbing Rex's bag!"

4 year-old son: "Mom, I found Red! He's on a train ride!"

8 year-old daughter: "Uh oh Jack! I think Red is trying to tell
 you something! Take the hint dude!"

4 year-old son:  "Mom!  Red is hanging upside
down in the Christmas tree!  Doesn't he know that
is dangerous!!!"

8 year-old daughter:  "Uh Mom!  I think Red made the dinosaurs really mad."
 
This post is for the kid in all of us.  :)

A Simple Trip To Town...

11:17 am - 35 degrees - blue sky and sunshine with 28+ mph winds (currently have 3+ inches of snow)...

...isn’t so simple – especially in the winter time. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - I don’t like driving in the snow!  Well maybe I would if it wasn’t on a one lane curvy mountain road (that’s skirting the edge of the mountain in numerous areas) with a 100+ foot drop off most of the way.  Which let me tell you can be extremely nerve wracking when you’re rig goes sliding towards that drop-off.  You can see from previous posted pictures {click here} that there isn’t a guard rail or anything to stop the rig from going over.  So maybe I would like driving in the snow if it was flat... and I knew that I wouldn’t be going over a cliff.

Besides the nerve wracking drive itself, there is always the very real possibility of getting stuck.  So when there’s snow on the ground (regardless if it’s an inch or a foot), before I ever head out, I always make sure that I have a snow shovel, tire chains, extra food, blankets, snow shoes, and snow gear for everyone in the car.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

This year we have been experiencing colder than normal temperatures with a little bit of snow and a lot of ice.  Due to the icy conditions on the roads, our kids are on their third snow day already!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Molasses Cookies...

12:00 pm - 14 degrees - windy and snowing with a wind chill of 6 degrees...

This is the perfect holiday cookie!  There’s something about ginger, cloves and cinnamon that makes me think it’s Christmas!  Just the aroma of these baking in the oven brings back lots of happy holiday memories!


~Molasses Cookies~
1 egg (room temperature)
3/4 cup butter or ¾ cup shortening plus 3 teaspoons water*
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter (or shortening).  Add egg and beat until light and fluffy.  Add the molasses and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice.  Stir together.  Mix the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture.

Chill the dough for several hours.  {Note:  Most molasses cookie recipes say to chill the dough, but I never do and the cookies still turn out great!  So I personally think this step is optional.}

After the dough has chilled (or not, in my case), roll the dough into 1” balls and then roll the balls in sugar.  Place the balls of dough onto an ungreased parchment lined baking sheet 2” apart (they will spread).

Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Do not allow the cookies to brown or they will become hard!  Allow the cookies to remain on the baking sheet for 2 minutes after removing from the oven.  Then transfer cookies from the baking sheet onto wire racks to cool.   Yields:  2
dozen cookies

~ Enjoy!
 
 
*P.S. Here’s a side note on Butter VS Shortening in baking...  In general, you can substitute shortening for butter in equal amounts in baking recipes (not the frosting or icing, though – yuck!).  Shortening yields higher, lighter-textured baked goods, which is sometimes preferable to butter (depending on what you’re making).

Butter naturally has some water in it; shortening doesn’t.  Cookies made with shortening and no extra water added, for example, are higher and lighter, while butter cookies are flatter and crispier.  This is because butter has a lower melting point than shortening, causing them to spread faster and more in the short time it takes to bake a cookie.  If you use shortening, but want an effect closer to butter, add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons water for every ¼ cup of shortening.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We've Got Snow...

4:06 pm - 29 degrees - slight breeze with a wind chill of 26...

The rain finally turned to snow yesterday and we ended up with just under 2 inches.  With the cold temps this week (high teens and low 20s) I think its going to stay for a while.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Heavy Rains...

3:40 pm - 46 degrees - 40+ mph winds - heavy rains...

It looks like our little dry spell is over.  It started raining late last night and since then we have gotten 5.58 inches of rain.

Here are so photos from along our driveway of all the water runoff.  Sorry for the poor quality photos, I was snapping pictures from inside the car through the heavy rain. 




numerous large rocks have loosened and fallen into the driveway

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