In a fundamentally purist sense, wouldn’t it be nice to provide yourself with everything you needed right on your very own back yard? To avoid having to go to the store 100%, and to completely renounce the shackles of co-dependent consumerism. At least when it came to food, that is?

Well, no, it would actually be a lot of work. We have lives, people and we intend to use them. We still import plenty of staple items, including whole-flour wheat, rice, beans.  Also things we don’t have the setup for growing, like mushrooms.

We decided to keep rabbits not only because it provides us with excellent fertilizer and reduces our contribution to cruelty in the animal agriculture industry, we did it to save money. The one constant overhead is the rabbit pellets. It’s not really expensive, but its not really cheap either. And while we’ll never get away from buying pellets completely, we’ve found, through both growing in our own yard and foraging in the neighborhood, that we can cut the feed store bill down a hefty percentage.

This clover patch was sown from seed.  We grew it especially for our rabbits.

Clover patch. Grown to feed bunnies.

Rabbits eating grape leaves.

Our rabbits also love grape leaves, blackberry bushes (thorns and all), rosebushes, willow leaves, bindweed, and grass. We usually just cut whatever’s available and throw it on their plate.

One bit of warning, you do have to make sure whatever you’re feeding them is safe for rabbits, because a lot of things can be poisonous or unhealthy. A simple internet search will provide much better sources than what I am listing here.

Bindweed. A weed that people pull and throw away. But we let it grow and harvest for rabbit consumption.

TIME INVESTMENT: 3 minutes, daily.

Every morning we go out with shears and cut what we need.

Happy farming.

–J

There are a lot of chemicals that go into cleaning supplies, and unless you’re wearing a mask and gloves each time you use them, you’re probably absorbing some of said chemicals.

The funny thing is, it’s really easy to clean without using anything harsh.

Here are my go-to cleaning supplies.

First one is a microfiber cloth.

Microfiber Cloth

Microfiber, freshly laundered!

These things are great.  They’re fantastic for dusting and wiping countertops.  When they get dirty, I throw them in the wash.  We bought a couple packs of three from Fry’s for $4.99.  I think they work better than paper towels for spills, and you don’t end up throwing anything away at the end of the day.

Baking soda.

Baking Soda

Twelve pound bag of baking soda, nearly depleted.

Not only is it great for unclogging drains, but it works wonderfully when you need to scrub things.   Pans, countertops, floors…it’s cheap, it works great, and it won’t scratch.  I use it constantly on my stainless steel pans.  Helps make them nice and shiny.  A bulk bag at Costco is only $7, last time I checked.  I say last time, because a 12lb bag lasts for a really long time.

Vinegar, dish detergent, water, and an empty spray bottle.

Homemade Cleaning Solution

Spray bottle, vinegar, and dish detergent. Add water for instant homemade cleaning solution.

I don’t use Windex.  I just eye it, but the official recipe is 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or dish detergent, and 2 cups of water.  I also use this to clean other areas – bathroom, refrigerator drawers, etc.  Vinegar cuts through grease and disinfects.  Vinegar FTW!

Lemons.

Lemon

Forget making lemonade, clean with it!

For that breezy, citrus-y scent.  I hear-tell that if you hate the vinegar smell, you can add some lemon juice to your mixture above.  The smell doesn’t bother me though, so I haven’t tried it.  What I like about lemons is the way they act like bleach.  Ever had a friend who spritzed lemon juice on their hair in the summer to make it lighter?  I like to use it on my tile countertops (with white grout).  Let the lemon juice sit for a while, then scrub away.  You can also dump the halves down your garbage disposal if it’s getting rank down there.

This is mostly what we use as far as cleaning goes!  It’s cheaper than the store-bought stuff, and probably better for you, too :)

-A

I took this picture from out second story window.  I wish I had an old picture, but when we moved in the entire garden area was a (useless) lawn.  In fact, we have plans to cut out even more lawn and install another set of beds.  The four beds we have is definitely enough to feed the two of us, but we want to diversify more, perhaps grow rabbit food, grow surplus for canning, or perhaps just grow flowers and other drought resistant plants. By the way, the lawn is yellow because we under water it.

taken from a second story window.

I can’t say our yard is the best looking yard in America (some people may even find it detestable), but it’s always a work in progress, and falls somewhere in that pivotal compromise of looks, functionality, and budget.

Garden at ground level

We’re growing trees in raised beds cut from ordinary wood.

Not sure how long they’ll last, but it was quick and dirty at the time, and…look, our sapling is already producing!

Apriums on year one!

I imagine when the woods finally rots (3-10 years?) we’ll refurbish it with decorative retaining wall bricks.

We installed the rocks a year ago.  It was a natural weed control initiative, and an attempt to beautify our unused land.  We like it.  But it was hard work, and I even went to the doctor about inflamed shoulders after I was done.  Anyway, install weed barrier cloth fabric first, then add the rocks.

Rocks. Natural weed control, though it does reduce your grow space. Plan accordingly.

I guess the purpose of this post was to demonstrate one way to integrate your garden and producing trees into an aesthetic landscape.  I know some people have done it better, and in fact we’re still working on ours.

And one more landscaping feat I’m particularly proud of.  A carrot tire.

Carrot Tire

Good hunting.

 

J

And we’re back!  We’ve been busy lately with our jobs and side projects, but we’re still very much here and always expanding our sustainability projects.  We’ll be trying to keep to a posting schedule of 1x/week from here on out.  There’s a lot to update on!

So we’ve started keeping meat rabbits.  I did a lot of research before we jumped into this.  Though the quails were a nice little gourmet meal, you don’t get very much meat off of them, so you have to butcher quite a to feed a family.  Rabbits are quiet, don’t take up a lot of space, and are easy to feed.  Plus, their poop is great fertilizer – it doesn’t need to be aged before being thrown on the garden (though I recommend you make sure the urine is evaporated).

We modified our first hutch for rabbits, and constructed a second one (see Rabbit Hutch Complete).  This design is working okay for rabbits.  I’m brainstorming some ideas right now for better functionality and to have a more natural setting for the rabbits, while keeping in mind space restrictions.  We have two does, and one buck.

This is Mudder.

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She just finished weaning a litter of ten, and is getting a well-deserved break!

Cookie, our other doe.

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Cookie is a little bit…special. I’ve tried taking her out, but she just sits there, frozen. May be a bit inbred…

Bigwig, our buck.

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Hoi, hoi u embleer Hrair, M’salon ule hraka vair.

Mudder is a meat rabbit mutt – ½ satin and ½ rex.  She’s amazing, consistently bearing litters of 8-12 and doing a great job of caring for them.  She hadn’t a lot of human interaction before we acquired her, so she’s a little shy, but she’s warmed up a bit.

Cookie is a Californian, a breed bred for their meat.  To be honest, she’s a bit dull.  We’ve talked about possibly replacing her in the future.  She doesn’t bear very large litters, and she doesn’t seem to notice when she’s squishing her babies.

Bigwig is also a Californian.  He’s huge, friendly, and does his job well.

There are several breeds that are known for being good meat rabbits – meaning they have a high meat to bone ratio, get to slaughter weight quickly, and are efficient users of their feed.  You can use any type of rabbit, honestly, but you’ll get best results with meat rabbits.  The most popular types where I live are Californians and New Zealands.  Don’t get Flemish Giants.  They may be tempting because of their size, but their bones are huge, so you end up not getting a lot of bang for your buck.  We got Mudder from someone on the meatrabbits list on Yahoo! and the other two were craigslist buys.  Each were $20.

We buy 50lb bags of feed from our local feed store for $14/bag.  We’re also growing a lot of things the rabbits can eat, as well as foraging.  We feed them rosebushes, grape leaves, fruit tree branches, grass clippings from our lawn, clover, raspberry and blackberry branches, dandelions, veggies, and bindweed (grows as a weed in our lawn and beds).  We’re also planting alfalfa to feed them.  Post to come detailing rabbit feeding!

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We have clover and raspberry bushes growing in here.

We have trays beneath to catch their poop, and worm bins below Bigwig’s pen.

I’ll go into more detail about the slaughtering and butchering process in another post.  The rabbit meat itself I’ve found is very similar to chicken (so much so that my husband keeps accidentally calling it “chicken”) and can be used in anything chicken is used in.  It’s a bit drier, so you have to be careful not to overcook it.

Breeding and babies post to come as well!

I’ve definitely enjoyed keeping rabbits so far.  The initial set-up is quite a bit of work, and slaughtering the first couple times was difficult.  But the reward is worth it – fresh, home-grown meat without chemicals, hormones, or unclean conditions.

-A

We were a little haphazard with our winter planting this year.  The weather was off and our greenhouse got infested with slugs (I have since designed a slug-proof greenhouse we will be building this summer!)..  We frantically planted seeds as our seedlings frantically died off.

As a result, somehow microgreens got mixed up with swiss chard, and I ended up thinking beets were swiss chard.  It wasn’t my intention to plant beets.  I don’t like them.  Freakishly red, weird textured, bland tasting.

So I was surprised to see large bulbs on the bottom of my “swiss chard”.  We harvested them, looked up a couple recipes, and decided to roast them in the oven with a light coating of olive oil.

Just pulled from the garden and rinsed.

Close-up!

Separated into bulbs and greens.

We ate the bulbs with malt vinegar.

Roasted bulbs with malt vinegar.

WOW.  Fresh beets do not equal canned beets.  Delectable, sweet, with a texture like a juicy potato.  And not only that, but we ate the greens as well, pan fried with a bit of olive oil and soy sauce.  Delicious!  Tasted very much like swiss chard except sweeter.

Sauteed greens.

I’d highly recommend planting them.  They do well in well-drained soil and are a cool-weather crop.

Oh, and they turn your pee pink.  Double-plus win!

-A

FRUIT TREES

We started Project Tree when we first bought the home a few years ago. Our thinking was something like “How hard can it be?” And while it turns out this is a pretty low maintenance operation, I learned that like everything else I ever try to do, I generally don’t know what the hell I’m doing. We’ve killed a few trees, stunted the growth of others, and prevented others from producing for a season.

I’m probably going to have to come back to this tree thing in several posts, to cover troubleshooting, initial planting, watering, fertilization, pollination, and pruning, but I’ll start us out with what we’ve got going, and what we have to look forward to.

The tour
Here’s the breakdown. We have a pluot, orange, lemon, avocado, loquat, and two apple trees, all on our average/small sized back yard. Fruit trees are typically smaller than shade trees, and come in dwarf varieties if necessary.

Loquat tree in a…trash bin. I encourage you to buy something more attractive if it’s in your budget.

Lemon tree sapling in a strawberry patch.

Think carefully about what you’ll use your lemons for if you’re thinking about getting one. I run into so many people who give lemons away at harvest because they can’t manage them all. We plan on using them for cleaning solutions in addition to food.

Apple Trees (left) and avocado tree (right). All thriving with monthly fertilization and minimal watering.

Notice the raised brick beds? The clay soil is absolutely disagreeable, and in the most uncharming way. Above ground you get better drainage, better soil (Which you bought and filled yourself), better control of what goes into your trees roots, and an attractive landscape. The only downside to the half circles next to the fence is that you will eventually will have to share with our neighbors, so I hope you like them.

Pluot tree. The one tree we have that can thrive in the clay. This guy is directly in the ground. Notice the brick bordering? That is its 3ft growing space. It keeps the area clear for watering and fertilization.

Pluots growing

…we’ve killed a loquat, plum, peach, almond, and avocado tree, mostly because of the clay soil we tried planting them in. Clay is very compact, obdurate can-barely-be-called-soil matter with poor drainage and for roots is like trying to go through concrete.

Orange tree in a raised bed

 

This orange tree (Washington Navel) is doing…ok. Do you notice how the leaves are moderately yellow and smallish? We are hoping for dark green, broader leaves. The yellow is expected in the early spring, but it looked like this all of last year, and it dropped all of its oranges. We tried several things to no avail, and almost resolved that the real problem was that we bought it at Walmart. We’re posting to you about this so you hopefully can learn from our mistakes. There are a few things that could be the problem.

Overwatering – citrus trees don’t like wet feet. They prefer a good soaking, and then to be left alone several days to dry out.
Underwatering – This is the part I got frustrated with. I know I have both over-watered and under-watered this tree in its life to date. The correct balance is about 1-3 times a week, depending on how hot it is.
Not enough iron-Yellow leaves but an otherwise healthy looking tree may indicate an iron deficiency. You can buy iron supplements to sprinkle in, and that’s what we’ve been doing, receiving moderate improvement. Baby steps.
Soil acidity-Looking online, some websites say the acidity of the soil is one of the most important factors to plant and tree growth. Furthermore, different species prefer different levels of acidity. Orange trees – a little more acidic (5.5-6.5). We add coffee grounds to the soil for this, but I’ve heard that Epsom salt is a good idea (1/2 tbsp diluted every 2-3 months). Work towards changing pH level carefully and slowly, over the course of several seasons.
Fertilization-Citrus trees and avocado trees need a special fertilizer that is designed for them. This is something we’ve acknowledge that we pretty much have to buy.
Disease- admittedly we have less experience with this, because we haven’t dealt with it yet. I wish you the same luck.

Happy to say that our orange tree is doing great now, with several orange buds growing. We’ll have to prune some off so that it can focus on growing fewer bigger oranges.

 

Orange bud close up

-J

It’s done, and I have the 7 megapixel shot to prove it!

Finished Hutch

It really helps to have the right tools for this thing.  Let’s see, to get started:

An electric drill (AC!! We used a battery powered one last time and had to quit several evenings only because we ran out of charge)
jigsaw
rotary saw
level
measuring tape
a ton of screws of different sizes

Devin thinks building the rabbit hutch is boring

We got a new rabbit.  A Californian doe.  Our buck is a Californian too so we’ll have pure breeds in case someone wants to pick up a pet from us.

She loves it. So roomy in here!

Anyway, we resorted to making our own, not only because it’s cheaper, but because you can’t really find a good double-decker design on the market.  With limited square space, going vertical is a very good idea.

The upgrades from the last one:  the color.  Andrea pick the last one and it almost caused a divorce.  Terracotta my left hemisphere.  Also, bigger shelter, a 10 degree roof slope instead of 30 degrees, which is more than plenty in a climate that gets no snow.  And as you can see below, we’ve installed bins at the base that we intend to use for vermicomposting.

our last hutch of 2 years is holding up just fine

TIME INVESTMENT: Approximately 16 hours.  I wish I had tracked the number of hours spent building this for you, but I didn’t think that far ahead.  I would say a solid two days (8 hour shifts) sounds about right, counting extra trips back to the hardware store in case you also  just don’t know how to buy everything at once.

For detailed instruction on how to construct this hutch, click on the “quail hutch” tag to the left.

Next time I think I’ll post on fruit trees.  See you then!

-J

We just started getting into meat rabbits (a post for a later date, when I can speak…err…write more confidently on the matter).  Raising animals for meat always seems to be a sensitive subject, and this was brought again sharply into my thoughts today when I was backed into a bit of a conversational corner regarding our new acquisitions.  So I thought I’d share with you an essay I wrote regarding the matter…

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Behind the Curtain

Sustainability.  Whether because of rising temperatures or rising prices, more and more people are looking for ways to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprints.  No longer is it considered embarrassingly agrarian to cultivate a vegetable garden, now magazines and news articles tout the benefits.  My husband and I have hopped onto the bandwagon wholeheartedly, our backyard a mess of garden beds, fruit trees, and the occasional chicken.  And then there’s the hutch off to the side of the house, filled with adorable little brown birds.

“What do you use the quails for?” I’m often asked.

“Well, we eat their eggs…” I reply.  Sometimes, depending on who has asked, and gauging their potential reaction, I stop there.  We nod, smile, and continue on to other topics.  Other times, if I sense a sympathetic soul, I forge on ahead.  “…and we eat them.”

I’ve judged wrongly before.  My conversation partner cringes, and before I know it, I’m digging my own social faux pas grave.  “We knock them out before we kill them, it’s very humane.”  “They live happy lives before they die.” “They’re really tasty!”  I can literally feel myself sinking, their estimation of my civility placing me somewhere above a murderer but not by much.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hello readers,

In an effort to provide more frequent updates to you on sustainability activities, I’ll be adding myself as a poster to this blog.  For the past two years I’ve worked in the background of our backyard operation.  You might have seen pictures of me before – the guy with his hands and knees in the mud while his wife talks to the chickens and puts dresses on the dog.  But I’ve decided: No More.  I won’t play second fiddle to this orchestra anymore.

There are a lot of ideas I hope to experiment with, and a lot of things I could talk about on this introductory post, but the past few trials I’ve endured in the past few weeks brings one topic especially to mind: FAILURE.

For every success we share, I have to say there is a failure.  I’ve been pampering and coddling a selection of seedlings through the late winter, each struggling for survival in the extended cold spell we’ve had.  Finally the sun rises and I place them in the shelving cabinet outside.  What happens?  Overnight an army (ok, it was more like a gang) of slugs sacked the plants, cutting almost all of them off at the head, and left nothing but a trail of snot-which begged the question: is slug slime compostable?

Anyway, I had nothing to plant mid-April, and against my current for SELF-sufficiency, had to scoot over to Lowe’s and buy a grip of seedlings, so that we would at least have some roasted peppers this summer.  At least I had the option-some fanatics believe that the day will come when we only can rely on ourselves.  But don’t worry, I’m not one of them and I’m not one to preach.

It’s a way of life, whether it’s for your health or to save money or for the environment or simply to have better tasting food, the world would be a better place if everyone did at least one thing that was sustainable.  Even a single tomato plant would be an excellent start.

This weekend we started building a second rabbit hutch, which proves my point to you that some weeks are going to be harder than others.  But if you pride your home and your work, and you strive for a greener, cheaper lifestyle, I think you will find there is a lot of fun to be had.

Building another rabbit hutch

Look forward to talking to you soon

Brewing sake from scratch, though enjoyable, turned out to be more of a chore than expected.  So when we went to brew beer, we did a little research and decided to buy the Mr. Beer Deluxe Edition Home Microbrewery System.

So…this is not brewing beer from scratch.

Yes, it comes in cans

You get this cute plastic beer keg to brew beer in, plus the ingredients for your first batch (which is just ok, admittedly – the ones we tried later were better).  After further research, we joined the Mr. Beer club on their website, which allows you to get $5.00 shipping as long as you buy $30 worth every few months.  It works out to about $0.70 – $1.00 per beer, which is pretty darn cheap if you like a good beer.  Each batch is supposed to make 20 bottles, but we find we squeeze out 22 on average.

Brewing beer with this kit consists of only a few steps.  You follow the directions for each recipe, but they mostly consist of mixing what’s in the can with water, heating it up, mixing it with more water, and dropping the yeast in.  This tends to take about half an hour.  Two-three weeks later, you bring it out and bottle it.  We use old beer bottles for our brew, washed out and sanitized (reduce, reuse, recycle!).  The capping equipment we already have from our sake.  Bottling takes us about forty-five minutes and also involves adding sugar to the bottles for carbonation.  Depending on the recipe, you let it sit for another four weeks to six months, and then you are ready to enjoy!

This one is actually an apple cider, which is why theres no head on it

Time-wise this has worked out pretty well for us.  We always check the flavor profile and reviews before buying recipes on the site, and are now considering a little experimentation with our beers.  It’s not brewing beer from scratch though, so depending on how much of a purist you are, this may not be for you.  Cost-wise, this has also worked for us.  It’s cheaper than buying the beers we really like at the store, and it’s fun to have a little something we brewed ourselves (sort of).  In addition, we always manage to hit a sale on the Mr. Beer site before we buy.

We’re considering trying to brew from scratch at some point so we can do a comparison.

TIME INVESTMENT: Approximately 1.5 hours per 22 bottles

COST: $30 for the kit, $15+ per recipe, $15 for capper (if you don’t have one already), and $3.75 for a bag of errr…a lot of caps…
$48.75 to get going and brew your first batch

In the end, it’s a money-wise venture for premium beer lovers.  It feels a little chintzy when you’re pouring things out of cans and adding water, but this is counter-balanced by the fact that the beer is actually tasty, and you can still say you home-brewed it without quite lying.

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