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A three-part food disposal system. September 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. There’s nothing as demoralizing as wasting food, but we all do it. It’s not just a shame, but a sin, when people all over the globe, people in our own cities, are going hungry. Yet we’ve all had the experience of opening our vegetable drawer and finding produce that’s past its prime, or discovering a container of leftovers that makes us go “Eeeeewww!!!,” or looking forward to our morning toast and finding a moldy loaf of bread (sob).

No worries, this food needn’t go to waste. Our friend Ben and I have a three-part food-disposal system that takes care of pretty much everything. Well, actually, I guess it’s four-part. The first line of defense is our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our yellow-naped Amazon parrot Plutarch. They do a pretty decent job of eating scraps of cheese, veggies, chips, nuts, and the like.

The second line of defense is our flock of six heritage-breed chickens. They’ll eat that moldy bread, overripe tomato, leftover rice or pasta, wilted greens, or what-have-you with relish. The only thing I’ve ever seen chickens reject is zucchini. If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.

Then there’s our earthworm composter. Earthworms also love leftover fruits, salad greens, and veggies, but they’ll also eat things like coffee grounds and tea bags, turning them into rich fertilizer for greenhouse and garden plants.

Finally, there are our compost bins. We can put anything in them, with these exceptions: diseased plants, meat, dairy, grease. Diseased plants will contaminate the compost, infecting whatever you put it on, while the other contaminants will attract rats and other vermin to your compost bins. I’d also advise against putting weeds, especially weeds that can harm you like poison ivy or aggressive weeds like thistle that can spread throughout your garden, in your compost bins. Sometimes, the trash can is the only option.

However, between pets, chickens, earthworms, and the compost bin, a lot of potentially wasted food gets returned to the earth and enjoyed. I love to cook and use fresh seasonal produce, but I never feel guilty about eating out. OFB and I make a point of bringing every single thing we don’t eat home. I’ll bring a meal home that’s big enough for the two of us for another supper. OFB will bring his leftover French fries and half a bun home for the always-thrilled chickens. With our pets, our chickens, our earthworms, our compost bins, and, well okay, ourselves, there’s never an excuse to waste food. As our beloved hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “Waste not, want not.”

‘Til next time,



Trash to treasure. June 21, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, critters, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Just yesterday, a friend wailed “What am I going to do? I love fresh food, but it goes bad so fast, and then I have to throw it out. I hate wasting food. Now I feel so guilty!” Our friend Ben has heard versions of this complaint many times over the years. Today, I’m going to tell you what we do about it here at Hawk’s Haven.

Like all households, ours generates trash. Food gets old; paper pours in; we accumulate our share of bottles, cans, plastic, and aluminum. But it’s unusual for our trash service to pick up even one bag a week from us. That’s because we’ve worked out a system here that reduces our guilt as much as it reduces our trash. Mind you, this isn’t because we spend our lives trying to cope with our garbage. We’re lucky in two ways: First, we have recycling pickup here once a week, and we take full advantage of that. And second, we have almost an acre here, and we have chickens. Our friend Ben is convinced that chickens are the secret weapon in the trash wars, as you’ll see. But even if you don’t have chickens, you can still offload your trash—and your guilt. Here are some of the ways we do it:

1. Make a compost pile. Silence Dogood and I (and doubtless our neighbors, too) prefer the sight of a neatly contained, intentional-looking compost pile rather than an amorphous mound spilling over in the yard. So we created a tidy, cool-looking three-bin system for—ta da!!!—nothing. If you’ve seen those hundred-plus-dollar plastic bins in stores and catalogs, you’ll be able to appreciate our feeling of triumph. And making our bin system is so easy. All you do is head out to a store that has stacks of discard pallets by their trash bins. Choose pallets that are attractive, in good shape, and uniform in size. You’ll need three pallets for the first bin and two for each additional bin. Once you get them home, set up a three-sided box with an open front (fourth side) and wire the pallets together with sturdy metal wire. One side of this bin serves as the first side of your next bin, so you wire on two additional pallets to make a second open box, and so on. The wooden bins are neat and attractive, and the open slat structure allows more air to reach your compost pile, heating it up faster so it “cooks” the raw materials you toss into it into finished compost faster. Yes, you may have to get new pallets and put up new bins every decade, but really, it’s not exactly a big deal.

2. Use it. We keep a plastic bucket under our kitchen sink with a lidded plastic container inside, and we throw all our kitchen scraps into it. None of those fancy, expensive ceramic or stainless countertop compost containers for us! We don’t care how high-end it is, we don’t want to look at it. Here’s what you can add to your kitchen compost bucket: raw veggie and fruit scraps, plus fruits and veggies that have gone bad; eggshells; coffee grounds and tea bags; stale or moldy bread and crackers. Here’s what you can’t add to it: meat and bones, fat, cheese, dairy products, leftovers and plate scrapings. All these can attract vermin (a euphemism for rats, among other things) to your compost pile, and nobody wants that. (We hope.) But don’t despair—there are ways to recycle these, too. We’ll get to them in a minute. Once your kitchen bucket fills up, cart it out and dump it in the compost heap, and repeat. Your compost pile is also the place to put weeds (if they haven’t gone to seed), shredded leaves, and grass clippings (if you don’t put them back on your lawn with a mulching mower, as you should). We tend to keep a weather eye out for bags of grass clippings and leaves when we’re driving around, and if we see any, we “rescue” them and bring them home for our compost bins. For us, finding a bag of grass clippings or leaves abandoned at the curb is like striking gold. Future food for our plants!

3. Don’t forget the critters. Getting back to those chickens. Chickens are omnivores like us, which means they’ll eat pretty much anything. In addition to fruits, veggies, weeds, and greens in pretty much any condition, they love all baked goods, rice, pasta, crackers and chips, dairy products in any condition, and leftovers. (Our friend Ben would not dream of giving chocolate—or, for that matter, any type of non-fruit dessert except maybe a doughnut or a piece of pie crust—to any animal, since chocolate is poison to animals and sugar can’t be great for them, either, but we rarely eat desserts, and when we do, leftovers aren’t usually a problem!) Our golden retriever, Molly, is also a big fan of pretty much all food (she will draw the line at undressed lettuce), and we will give her modest portions of raw fruits and veggies, cheese and yogurt, rice, and leftovers, but we try not to give her rich or fattening food. We figure the chickens could use the extra calories to make luscious eggs! Our indoor and outdoor cats are also big fans of dairy products and sweet breads (in, of course, moderation; pumpkin bread is a particular favorite). And both the dog and cats love it when we end up with a cracked egg. We break it raw into the dish and they can’t eat it fast enough. It’s so good for their coats! Our parrots also love pretty much anything we eat, and often get fruits, veggies, cheese, bread, and pasta in the course of our cooking. But parrots, dogs, and cats (and our bunny and all bunnies, for that matter) should never be given any food that’s not fresh enough for human consumption, so give them scraps while you’re cooking but add those discard fruits, veggies, and the like to the compost bucket.

4. Feed the worms. One of our favorite things here at Hawk’s Haven is our earthworm composter. Yup, the darned things are expensive, like rain barrels and plastic composters, but after years of lusting after one, we finally broke down and bought it (from Worm’s Way; see the link on the blogroll at right). And we’ve been just thrilled. The worms thrive on kitchen scraps and make the richest, most incredible worm castings for us to add to our garden beds and container plantings. Oh, wow. if you haven’t ever used worm castings, you can’t conceive of the difference they make in terms of plant growth. And if you buy castings, they’re (shock surprise) expensive. We figure we earned back the cost of the worm composter in the first year. Talk about black gold!

5. Them dry bones. If you eat meat, you can feed the scraps to the dog and cats and give the dog those big bones. (Never give an animal chicken or fish bones, or they could choke or pierce their throat lining or an internal organ. But, after using them to make soup stock, you could dry them in a slow oven, then grind them into powder and mix them into your pet’s food for extra calcium and trace minerals.)

6. Oiling the machine. What about leftover grease and oil? Silence just read in her favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Country (there’s also a link to this on the blogroll at right), that you can reuse oil that’s been used to cook carbs like doughnuts and fries two or three times, as long as you filter it through a coffee filter after each use to remove solids and impurities and store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. The Cook’s Country team found that it was a lost cause to try to save oil that had been used for frying meat, fish, etc., even if you filtered it. Mind you, Silence and I both abhor grease, so luscious as fried food is, we don’t make it at home. But if you do, see if you know anyone who makes their own biodiesel fuel; they’d probably be happy to take that used cooking oil or grease off your hands.

7. Read it? Shred it! We put any non-glossy trash paper, as in bills, junk mail, scrap copier and note paper, and the like, through the paper shredder and then use the shreds in the earthworm composter and to line the chicken nest boxes.

8. Burn, baby, burn. Newspapers, cardboard, and soft paper (such as brown paper that’s used for wrapping) become fire-starters in our fire pit. We also recycle the endless pick-up sticks our trees are constantly dropping on the yard by using them as kindling. It makes it a lot easier to spend 10 or 15 minutes picking up dropped twigs every morning if you know you’ll be able to use them later to make fabulous fires!

9. Go for regifting. No, our friend Ben is not recommending that you hand off tacky, appalling gifts to your nearest and dearest. But I’m always horrified to see perfectly good furniture, appliances, and the like sitting out on the curb for the trash. Would it have killed them to take that stuff to Goodwill?!! (Often, Goodwill and Salvation Army will pick up larger items if you call them.) Please take the time to pack up your old clothes and outmoded stuff and take it to a thrift store rather than letting it pile up in a landfill. Less fortunate people could use your discards. That goes for books, magazines, videos, and the like, too. Our local library has boxes for these items. You can drop them off and they become part of the “free” stash that anyone can take. It’s so much better than just throwing stuff out! Don’t forget Freecycle and Craigslist, either. It’s amazing what people will come and take if they don’t have to pay for it! 

10. Save waste water. Did I mention that commercial rain barrels were expensive? One of our friend Ben’s pet peeves is how costly any alternative, i.e., environmentally friendly, object is, as though the manufacturers felt that only the elite would bother with recycling, solar lights, and the rest, so they might as well soak consumers for every penny. Grrrrrrr!!!! People, wake up! ALL of us would use these products if you’d just make them affordable to us. And the earth and everyone on it would benefit if we did! But you don’t have to buy a $189 (that’s the cheapo model) plastic rainbarrel to take advantage of roof runoff. Where we live, people sell 55-gallon plastic drums out of their yards for about $5. Make sure you buy some that have been used to hold food or other harmless substances, not chemicals. Then position them under your downspouts and cut the downspouts off just above the drums. Cut a square opening in the top of each drum so the water can come in from the downspout, and cover it with a square of screening. Put a tap about an inch from the bottom of each drum with an on/off valve and a short length of hose attached. You can connect a hose to the short hose, or simply run it into a bucket. Instant irrigation water, with no agricultural runoff or herbicides, pesticides, etc. from neighbors’ lawns!

Doing all these things really helps us reduce our trash load and take advantage of resources that might otherwise be lost or end up in landfills. But we could do more, and wish we were. We’d love to recycle our greywater (from the shower, sinks and washing machine—we don’t have a dishwasher, thank goodness). But at least we know that water’s going into our yard via our septic system as opposed to being carried off by a sewer. And then there’s the issue of human and pet wastes. If we had a basement, we’d install a composting toilet, but our immediate proximity to our creek, Hawk Run, makes that an impossible dream. And we know there’s something called a Doggie Dooley that you bury in the ground and put your pet waste in, and it composts it. Of course, like plastic compost bins, rain barrels, and earthworm composters, it’s outrageously expensive. But we’re considering getting one next time we have some spare cash, anyway. It would make us all feel better!

Okay, your turn. Please share your trash-reducing tactics with us. We’d really appreciate it!!!