How to Catch Fruit Flies

Fruit flies share 75% of the genes that cause disease in humans, so scientists love studying fruit fly genetics to learn more about scenarios  of  human resistance to disease. But let’s face it, other than in the lab, we really don’t like having these 3mm-long flies in our midst. Females can lay up to 50 eggs per day in your worn-out fruit and in drains and sponges. This time of the year, a kitchen with any overnight wine glasses left unattended will bring about a few hundred fruit flies in no time.

Relief is here, in the form of advice from by big brother. This trick is so simple, and it works. Bryn demonstrated it, and my kitchen has been thanking him ever since.

Make yourself a fruit fly funnel with paper. I just used some scrap paper from an art project my daughter left on the counter.

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Place the funnel in a glass jar with a few tablespoons of wine or vinegar inside. Leftover red wine has worked really well for me. And, that’s it! Just leave the funnel jar on the counter and it will attract the unwanted flies quickly and thoroughly. It’s a bit like Hotel California: The fruit flies can check in any time they want, but they can never leave.

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See the little fly there? Proof! I even poured the wine through the funnel and some of it stained the paper and, frankly, I think that helps to attract more flies. I don’t see any fruit flies flying around my kitchen anymore and this jar is sitting right next to some very ripe fruit.

What are your fruit fly trap ideas?

Zero Offset Vacation Days

Zero Offset Your Carbon-Heavy Vacation Travel with Days Spent at Sustainable Organic Farms. Photo © Liesl Clark

Let’s face it: Flying to Florida from Seattle isn’t the most carbon-free activity. But if we want to see Grammy, we have to go to her. She simply doesn’t fly.

Once we arrived in Florida, we dreamed up a few activities to help offset the jet fuel burn our family of 4 incurred. Hitting the beach, only 100 yards away, was easy — just throw a towel around your shoulders. But be sure to bring a bag for collecting plastics.

Plastics Retrieved En Route to the Beach. It's Easy To Do. Photo © Liesl Clark

Before reaching the beach, we filled our bag with lots of straws and straw sleeves found in juice boxes. Interestingly, we didn’t find too many plastics on the beach as I discovered, a day later, that 2 men drive along the beaches in a little golf cart with a trash picker and retrieve all the debris. I wondered why they couldn’t simply walk?

Here's one they missed. Sunglasses part on the beach. Photo © Liesl Clark

Every day, we filled a bag with plastics while walking along the sidewalks or shore. For our children, the incentive was finding something odd and different. A tiny working flashlight in the shape of an alien was the first day’s reward, then a cute plastic fish the next, and all types of plastic beach toys were recovered, too. We needed a shovel and it didn’t take long to find one. No lack of entertainment when you decide to do a bit of daily good and pick up the world’s plastics. And the Earth always gives back to our little scavengers in interesting ways. Plastic “swords” used in tropical drinks to hold fruit together washed ashore daily to the delight of my son, who started collecting them for his Lego characters.

McWashed Ashore. Sliced apples in a bag? Photo © Liesl Clark

The contents of a bag of McDonald’s apple slices found tucked in the dune vegetation became food for eager sea gulls.

Apple snacks. Courtesy of sea-borne McDonald's fare. Photo © Liesl Clark

In between hours of play amidst the waves and digging in the sand with our newly-found beach toys, it didn’t take much effort during our “plastics recovery” walks to fill a bag a day. If we all did this, just bent down and picked up the straws and plastic caps under foot, we’d feel like we did a form of good, helping to extract the plastics from our shorelines before they head back out to sea.

This leaf wasn't plastic, and it's a pleasure to see a stretch of sand that was plastic-free. Photo © Liesl Clark

But the greatest fun we had was visiting a local organic fruit grove. I spent a little time online and discovered a list of pick your own-type farms in our region and many are organic farms. We hopped in the car and drove inland about 16 miles to find an organic orange grove.

Get to know the places you vacation in a little better by picking local organic produce there. Valencia oranges are in season in February in Western Florida. Photo © Liesl Clark

The kids had never picked oranges and this experience is surely one they won’t forget. In the direct sun, the temperatures were in the 90s and we had to watch the ground for fire ants. With some long fruit picker poles in our hands, we ambled several rows of valencia orange trees into the grove and were overwhelmed by the sweet smell of orange blossoms.

Fruit Picking in Manatee County, FL. Photo © Liesl Clark

These fruit-laden trees grew in what loooked like pure sand, but they’re obviously getting the nutrients and water they need because the oranges are delicious and juicy. It took us 15 minutes in the hot sun to fill a 10-gallon bucket. And with the price of $10/bucket we walked away feeling we got the better end of the deal.

Bucket Full of Valencia Oranges. Photo © Liesl Clark

The children needed an ice cream cone to cool off, so we discovered another U-pick organic farm down the road. This one grew hydroponic strawberries — and we picked our fill of delicious sun-sweetened fruit.

Picking Strawberries at O'Brien Family Farm. Photo © Liesl Clark

And the ice cream cones, of course, were the perfect plastic-free end of day snack, a just reward for our zero offset vacation day efforts.

Ice cream cones are the original plastic-free treat. Photo © Liesl Clark

Patio Umbrella Pea Trellis

Trellises can be made from just about anything with a little height and some expansiveness. When a patio umbrella broke in half recently due to high winds, I saw a nice pea trellis-in-the-making.

A Broken Patio Umbrella Turned Trellis. Photo © Liesl Clark

I couldn’t wait to get these images out because I’m excited about this garden hack, so you have to use your imagination. OK, don’t laugh, the peas are just sprouting but there are signs of promise to come.

Just Sproutin'. Peas are reaching toward their patio umbrella trellis.

The next time you have a patio umbrella that breaks in half, save the inner wooden part for a pea trellis in your garden. Take the canvas off and you’ll see that what remains is the perfect shape, octopod-like, that will serve you for many years. If you want to see how it’ll look with a little more vegetative matter around it, aristonorganic has a great pic to give you some perspective. I think I’ll paint mine a bright red with some leftover paint for some added garden color.

A broken patio umbrella soon to be a pea trellis.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what to do with the fabric of your umbrella, sun-drenched as it is, take it to your nearest The North Face store for recycling through their Clothes the Loop program. They’ll take all of your textiles and shoes for reuse and recycling. Don’t hesitate, because there’s a store discount waiting for you in exchange for your used clothing or textiles.

But I have to show you something pretty incredible. My friend, Michelle, is an extremely talented seamstress. She took one of my worn out patio umbrellas and turned the fabric into a post apocalyptic recycled outfit for her daughter. Seriously! It’s so cool, you have to check this reuse out! 

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.

Embracing Ugly Veggies

Digging around in the garden, today, I had to run into the house to look up a stunning fact. Here it is: Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year, approximately 1.3 billion tons, is wasted. But here’s the hitch — The Food and Agricultural Association claims:

  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.

Fruits and veggies top out the list, not grains, dairy, meat and legumes. It’s the perishables that contribute to (in this country) the over 33 million tons of food each year that ends up in the landfill.

I posit that much of it is ugly veggies, like ours.

This time of year, the veggies in our garden are downright repulsive.

That's Broccoli Folks! © Liesl Clark

That’s Broccoli Folks! © Liesl Clark

The ceaseless rain and a recent freeze, has waterlogged the cauliflower.

Browned Cauli Still Tastes Great © Liesl Clark

Browned Cauli Still Tastes Great © Liesl Clark

Thanks to a few thousand slugs that share the land with us, the slender kale has holes in it.

Holy Kale © Liesl Clark

Holy Kale © Liesl Clark

The finger potatoes and sun chokes cling to the sodden earth like black clods of nutritious grit.

It's What's For Dinner © Liesl Clark

It’s What’s For Dinner © Liesl Clark

Never fear, friends, just lower your standards, and don’t let your ugly veggies get you down. They’re still food. Hideously delicious food.

Roasted Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

Roasted Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

 

Gone are the days of showing off our succulent crops in beautiful baskets on long lost sunny afternoons. No, tonight’s dinner was wrestled free from the muck and slime of a New Year’s dark garden of primal growth that only the diehard will eat. We eat the foul-looking foodstuffs because snubbing our nose at them would contribute to the EPA’s wasted food bottom line. No, we’ll whip up dishes from weird days where clouds and wet shadows prevail over the  sheepish sunlight.

We triumph, quietly, when the kids eat the ugly veggies.

Pizza with Kale and Red Pepper Flakes © Liesl Clark

Pizza with Kale and Red Pepper Flakes © Liesl Clark

So, why be ashamed of the slug holes and dark spots on your rotting heads of cauliflower or snail-slimed leaves of kale when you hear this confession and bear witness to our homely ingredients? Embrace your ugly veggies. They’re food after all.

Washing the Grit From Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

Washing the Grit From Sun Chokes © Liesl Clark

No one’s watching. No one’s comparing their Instagram-perfect patches of deep solstice greens with yours.  Bon appetit!  Go ahead, share your vile veggies with the fates that befall all winter gardens. Welcome them into your kitchen, unsightly as they are.

Snail on Kale © Liesl Clark

Snail on Kale © Liesl Clark

We eat our ugly veggies with pride. How about you?