Easy Scrappy Vegetable Broth

Our kitchen compost container is full most days because we eat a lot of vegetables. Even though we give carrots, lettuce, broccoli etc. to our guinea pig, and many other kitchen scraps to our hens, I’m still amazed at how many veggie and fruit scraps still go into the compost pile. But then a discussion in our BuyNothing7 group (a group that challenges people to buy nothing for 7 days, or longer) got me thinking: Before I send my most scrappy vegetables to the compost pile, I should turn them into veggie broth.

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I’m not talking about your big chunks of carrot (that go to the guinea pig) or whole cloves of garlic (which we use up ourselves.) I’m referring to the paper skin on the garlic (which has many uses), the ends of the carrots, the skins off my onions (which also have many uses) and the leaves and bitter hearts of my celery. Throw those scrappiest of scraps into a pot of boiling water, with a bay leaf, your favorite herbs, and a pinch of salt, let it simmer for an hour and you’ve rendered yourself some yummy broth to use as a base for a soup, in chili, or in any recipe that calls for broth.

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Then, you can take your over-cooked vegetables, once you’ve filtered out the broth, and send those to the compost. Scrappy veggie broth in zero waste style!

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Putting Chickens To Work As Compost Sifters

All of our animals have jobs that we feel they have to do to contribute toward the success of our little homestead. Sailor, our dog, keeps the deer and raccoons away. The cat, Willa, is our mouser. The bees pollinate our crops and produce honey. The worms produce beautiful fertilizer. Even the guinea pig, Gusteau, provides pellets that can go directly into our garden.

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Sailor the water dog works hard to tree coons and send the deer bounding away from our gardens.

But it’s the chickens who are the true workhorses on our property. Of course, their eggs are a staple in our diet. But we use their chicken yard as a closed loop composting system where our weeds go in, the scratch them up, add their own fertilizer, and we excavate the yard throughout the year for the beautiful fertilized compost they provide. But here’s one more thing they do for us: The produce a perfectly-sifted specialty compost that we can scatter around our lawns and gardens that rivals any commercial compost out there.

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Here’s how it works. Their yard is penned in by 2-inch chicken wire, and it’s placed up on a hill where the backside of the hen yard has a 3-foot slope behind it. The chickens, daily, dig and scratch near the fence, constructing their dust baths and looking for tasty bits to peck at in the yard materials we throw inside.

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As their scratching activity breaks down the organic matter we throw inside their yard, their scratching serves to sift and push the small composted materials through the wire fence, which acts like a sieve. On the outside of the hen yard, we have a slope of pure black, composted and perfectly-sifted humus fertilizer, ready for the gardens and lawns.

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All I have to do is show up with a bucket every few days, and collect the fluffy sifted compost to use around the property. Thank you, girls, for your hard work! We appreciate your efforts and contribution toward making the world’s most beautiful sifted compost there is.

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8 Rhubarb Uses

Rhubarb has a 4,700-year-old history, its origins coming from a couple of remote regions in Tibet. I’ve simply known rhubarb as a weird-looking sour stalk with an enormous leaf that makes its presence known in many North American gardens around Mother’s Day when we bake our family favorite: strawberry rhubarb pie. As far as fruit pies are concerned, nothing compares.

Strawberry rhubarb pie. © Liesl Clark

Is rhubarb a fruit or a vegetable? It’s actually a veggie, but in this country it took a court case to establish rhubarb officially as a fruit. According to Wikipedia, “Rhubarb is usually considered to be a  vegetable; however, in the United States, a New York court decided in 1947 that since it was used in the United States as a fruit, it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties.”

This year's rhubarb is, well, GIANT. © Liesl Clark

And it’s a versatile “fruit” at that. Aside from dessert (and using it as an umbrella), what else can you do with this weird plant?

1) Put those leaves in your compost. They’ll break down quickly.

2) Hair Dye: Rhubarb root and leaves can be used for hair dye. One recipe here will give you a pink look, the other a beautiful brown.

3) Pot Cleaner: If you want to give your pots an added shine, use rhubarb leaves and the stalk, too. The high oxalic acid content in the leaves renders them toxic, so take care to not ingest them. But they’re fine to handle and use on your pots.

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4) Insecticide: The rhubarb leaf is quite toxic. Even insects steer clear of it. Here are 2 recipes to keep your plants bug free.

Use rhubarb leaves as insecticide. © Liesl Clark

5) Juice: Try your hand at making rhubarb shrub. What? Shrub. It’s an American classic. And it’s bubbly and tasty. You’ll see.

6) Make a rhubarb liquor! I just chop up my extra rhubarb and put it in a jar with about a cup or so of added sugar and some vodka. Cover it for at least a month, shake it every few days. The longer you let it infuse with rhubarb flavor, the better. You’ll end up with a pink and yummy sweet and sour hooch for your favorite martini.

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Drink only a drop at a time. This rhubarb hooch is strong!

7) Juice it! I can vouch for the fact that a few tablespoons of fresh rhubarb juice, mixed with carrot juice, orange juice and pomegranate juice is absolutely amazing.

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Strawberry rhubarb yogurt muffins, Photo: Liesl Clark

8) Just keep it on hand, chopped up and in the freezer, for all of your baking needs. We throw bits of in all of our muffins throughout the year.

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That’s ice, not sugar, on our stash of frozen rhubarb.

What rhubarb uses can you add?

Worm Ball Composting

Did you know that earthworms communicate through touch? According to a study in Belgium, worms are communal, they don’t act singularly. So, when they are presented with a problem, like cold temperatures, predators nearby, or a dramatic change in their environment, they gravitate towards each other finding solace in a unique herd mentality. Once a decision is made, they will move en mass to their agreed upon destination.

Worm ball composting is a technique I learned from my friend, Dawa Sherpa, who, for years, farmed worms in his compost in Nepal. I used to have a worm compost bin that was separate from my regular compost, until Dawa showed me how to simply combine the two, creating a fast-and-furious compost system aided by the thousands of worms we added to our three compost bins.

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The key is to have a closed system, so the worms don’t get out. Our red worms are now stuck inside our black bins, because the “floor” of the bins is gravel and they have plenty of organic matter to digest in the bins. We used to have “native” worms in our bins, but interestingly enough, I don’t see many of the native worms in there anymore. The red worms process much more matter in a day, so we’re happy to see their population growing.

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So, what’s a worm ball? It’s what worms do when they’re scared and want to run away from predators. Worm balls are the key to separating out the beautiful composted/worm tailings from the worms themselves. Here are the steps to harvesting your beautiful compost and saving the worms therein:

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A little hill of compost is the trick to getting worms to head for the center.

  1. First, grab a tarp and put it out in the sun.
  2. Dump a bucket of your worm-laden compost in on the tarp and make a dome shaped pile.
  3. Place another empty bucket next to you with a handful of compost in it. This will be your worm bucket.
  4. Take the compost from the sides of your hill and pile it on top, continuing to make it a hill shape. The worms will flee away from the sun to the inner part of your hill. They naturally feel the vibration of your hands moving the dirt on the outside of the hill and they crawl hellbent for the center.
  5. As you collect compost from the outside of the hill and sift through it, place all worms that you find into your worm bucket. Place all compost into your other empty bucket. This is the gold you can save to fertilize your gardens.
  6. As you work through all of the compost on the sides of the hill, you’ll end up with a big worm ball in the center. Take the ball and place it in your worm bucket which you can then return to your worm composter so they continue to eat through your organics. Be sure to have some of their favorite fodder left there for them and enough moisture in your compost bin to help them work their way back inside your compost pile.

    Here’s a video of a handful of worms found in the center of my compost hill:

    If you run across any eggs, be sure to put them back into your compost bin. Here’s what the eggs look like:

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    And this is what they look like in the compost:

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Do you have any worm stories to share?

Shredded Paper Chicken Bedding

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It’s simple. Just ask your friends and neighbors for their shredded paper. Don’t buy wood shavings! You really don’t need to. Since shredded paper can’t be recycled in most municipalities, and your friends will be happy to give you theirs. Or, hit up your office, or friends who work in an office setting. All I can say is, this stuff is great as chicken bedding in a coop.

Shredded Paper Bedding Photo © Liesl Clark

When it’s time to clean out your chicken coop. Put the paper and chicken droppings in your compost bin. It’ll get that bin cooking, adding much-needed nitrogen to your organic waste. My compost bins are a red-worm mega-composting colonies. It doesn’t take long for the dropping-laden shredded paper to turn into this:

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And when you take that beautiful compost out to the garden and dress your veggie beds with it, you’ll get this:

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Corn Mache in January. It grows in the early winter here in the Northwest. Great for salads.

What do you use for chicken bedding? Please let us know!

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Chicken Yard = World’s Best Composter

Our chicken yard serves 2 purposes: It’s the playground for our feathered friends but it’s also a great source of beautiful compost for our gardens. We don’t allow our girls to roam free because of the challenge of predators nearby like bald eagles, red tail hawks, raccoons, and mink. We’ve provided the chickens with enough space to run around, have dust baths, and roost. And since we can’t let them roam about the yard, we bring the yard to them!

If you can't free range your yard birds, bring the yard to them. Grass clippings and leaves line our chicken run. Photo © Liesl Clark

This little chicken farming trick is the best trash hack we’ve brought to our hen yard. Much like the practices of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm, mimicking natural patterns on a domestic scale, we believe our chickens should work for us in producing the best organic matter for our crops and vice versa.

Full circle: Garden waste --> chicken yard --> garden again. Photo © Liesl Clark

When we mow the lawn, the waste from that effort, the grass clippings, are dumped in there for the girls to munch. When we rake the fall leaves, the waste from that practice is thrown in by the wheelbarrowload. Even our garden clippings and weeds go in the hen run. It’s salad for them. The level of the hen yard, after a few months of this is raised significantly, but the endless scratching, pooping, and pecking breaks the organics down at a remarkably fast rate. And the end-product? After only a few weeks of being in the yard, we have the best compost I’ve ever seen. Waste to gold that’ll go on our veggie beds and back on the lawn to be put back to use again. It’s a truly closed loop practice and I revel in the circles I move in daily around the property, completing this life and food-giving cycle of the natural world.

Perfect chicken-generated compost from our coop yard. Photo © Liesl Clark

By the bucketful, we shovel compost out of the hen zone and into the garden, thankful for the girls’ help in turning our yard and garden back into gold. The little bugs and slugs on the backsides of leaves give them endless treats to find as they scratch for them around their yard. They’re just as excited about getting a load of leaves as they are a bucket of school lunch leftovers or algea from our pond. It reduces our chicken feed expenses, too.

Happy girls in their yard full of yard clippings. Photo © Liesl Clark

 

But probably the greatest benefit to bringing the free range to the hens is the quality of the eggs. Our yolks are a fiery orange, pretty similar to what you’d see on a chart for pastured hens, because we’re bringing the greens and proteins right into their yard. The slugs, bugs, snails, and larvae that come with the deep weedy greens we toss in there. Along with our non-GMO organic soy-free feed, these eggs are as healthy as we can get ’em.

Yet another benefit of this practice is that the rainy season chicken yard mud is offset by the mounds of leaves we throw in there. By providing new leaves on the floor of their yard, the mud-factor is reduced greatly and our eggs therefore don’t get soiled. Anyone in the Pacific Northwest will know what I’m talking about.

Happy feet. No mud in the mud season when you can throw grass and leaves in there. Photo © Liesl Clark

Last spring, our newly-transplanted rhubarb amidst daffodils were as glorious as ever, just popping out, thanks to the girls’ gold.

Compost from the composting chicken yard helping newly transplanted rhubarb. Photo © Liesl Clark

And our winter garden has produced greens for months due to the rich infusion they get from our chicken yard.

Homesteaders' dream garden in the middle of winter, thanks to our composting chick yard. Photo © Liesl Clark

What do you throw in your chicken yard? And do you then take the resulting “waste” out into your garden or compost? Please share in the comments below.

25 Uses For Coffee Grounds

25 Wondrous Things to do With Your Coffee Grounds. Photo © Liesl Clark

25 Wondrous Things to do With Your Coffee Grounds. Photo © Liesl Clark

We all love our coffee here in the Northwest, but where I live, on Bainbridge Island, we love our coffee grounds perhaps even more. Nowhere else will you see farmers, home gardeners, landscapers, and vermiculturists fighting over the grounds produced by local cafes. Let’s face it, coffee grounds and plants go well together. I can assure you they’re all using them for #2 and #3 below as coffee grounds fertilizer and worm food, but the other 23 uses are also worth looking into. Some might even surprise you:

1) Turn Your Hydrangeas Blue: Hydrangeas can be blue or purple depending upon your soil Ph. Acidic soil begets blue hydrangeas. Coffee grounds, when brewed, are acidic. Use them as a top dressing on the soil around your hydrangeas, making sure to scratch the coffee grounds into the soil and you’ll enjoy blue bursts of color. I prefer purple, but my soil is acidic anyway, so we get blue.

2) Feed the Worms: We have a worm bin and those squirmies tend to thrive on 80% coffee grounds 10% eggshells and 10% dried leaves.

3) Coffee Grounds in Your Compost: Everyday, we use our coffee grounds as fertilizer. Most people put them in their compost along with their kitchen scraps. They’re a great source of nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.

4) Coffee Grounds Provide Shine to Your Hair: I haven’t tried it, but word is out that if you work some wet grounds into your hair they’ll help create a beautiful shine. They’ll also give you some great brunette highlights. Cover up the grays? Let us know.

5) Coffee Grounds Construction Play: This homeschooling family uses coffee grounds for play with small construction vehicles. The grounds are an interesting replacement for sand or dirt.

6) Coffee Grounds Abrasive Dish Scrub: Use grounds as your scrubbing agent for dirty dishes. I’m serious. When we ran out of scrubbies one day, I just used some grounds to get a scrambled egg pan all cleaned up. It’s like when you’re camping and use sand as your dish-cleaning abrasive.

7) Deodorizer: If your freezer or fridge are smelly and you can’t find the source, put a bowl or 2 of dried coffee grounds in there and the grounds will absorb the odors. Add vanilla for a different scent.

8) Facial Scrub: Just apply slightly wet coffee grounds to your face and exfoliate. Coffee grounds are found in some skin care products. I haven’t tried this yet, but I think my daughter and I will try it on our next natural spa day and post the results.

9) Furniture Scratch Remover: Cover up furniture scratches by rubbing them down with wet coffee grounds that match your furniture’s color. I’ve done this and it works!

10) Easter Egg Dye: Dye your eggs with coffee grounds for a pretty rust brown color. “But they’ll just look like our brown eggs,” you might say. Nope, this brown color is really pretty and looks great when you use it on eggs that have had crayon designs drawn on them.

11) Ant Repellant: Ants don’t like coffee grounds. Sprinkle them along their path. We do this under our deck where the ants live and it really bugs them. (See what I did there?)

12) Coffee Grounds Body Scrub: Scrub them over your body as a gentle exfoliant. But be sure to cover your drain with a mesh drain catcher or towel.

13) Drain Cleaner: If you dilute them and let them go down the drain every once in a while, they reportedly make an excellent drain cleaner.

14) Tool Cleaner: Coffee grounds can help clean up your tools as an abrasive rub and gunk remover. I love this one. While my husband is away, the kids and I are going to do some tool cleaning.

15) Coffee Ground Fossils: Here’s a great tutorial for making cool fossils or pretty imprints with the kiddos.

16) Ice Remover: Use grounds to “salt” your icy sidewalks. Then take your shoes off before treading on your fancy carpets.

17) Blueberry Food: Save your grounds in a bucket all winter long, then make a soup to cast the lot over your blueberries. They love coffee grounds! Spruce and evergreens do too.

18) Dust Buster: Another fave of mine — Sprinkle over your fireplace ashes when cleaning them out to dampen down the ashes.

19) Seed Spacer: Add dried coffee grounds to your tiny seeds like carrot seeds when sowing as they help spread out your seed dispersal when doing it by hand.

20) Slug Repellant: Some slugs are reportedly coffee ground haters. Not ours. But I don’t want to deter you from trying to put a ring around your favorite slug-devoured plants. You don’t likely have enormous slugs like we do that’ll slime their way through a fire pit filled with ashes. They don’t call them banana slugs for nothin’.

21) Mosquito Larvae Killer: I can’t verify this one either but some people say if you pour some grounds into your puddles it’ll kill mosquito larvae. Hmmmm….kill? Doubt it.

22) Vintage Wood Stain: Here’s a simple wood stain recipe using coffee grounds. Good luck.

23) Cockroach Trap: This Old House has an interesting-looking coffee-bait roach trap for you.

24) Treasure Map Paper: Dip some blank white paper into a bowl or sink-full of grounds and some water. Pull it out and let it dry. Then have fun with your map-making.

25) Cat Repellant: Cats apparently don’t like coffee grounds so you can put them around your spots (like your sand box?) where you don’t want cats to, um, do what they do in dirt.

Don’t stop at 25!

26) Meat Marinade: Add a teaspoon of coffee grounds to your steak marinade and impress your favorite coffee lover.

27) Secret Brownie Ingredient: If you’re the boss, add a few grounds to your brownies to give everyone (not for kids!) a boost at work.

Lastly but definitely our favorite, my friend Rebecca’s Grandma Inge’s best coffee grounds reuse tip is to put a bowl of grounds in the car to keep you (and the car) refreshed and perky throughout the day.

How do you use your grounds?