Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

T2T: Garbage Disposal Cleaner April 24, 2014

I’ve used three lemons in the past week–one for a pasta sauce, one for salad dressing, one on salmon.  Usually I compost the lemon peels, but my garbage disposal was starting to smell, which gives the dishwasher a weird, musty smell as well.  So…the latest T2T (Trash 2 Treasure) is an easy, biodegradable garbage disposal cleaner: tear the lemon peel into a few chunks, cram it down the disposal, run for 30 seconds or so with some cold water flowing, and voila!  Instant freshness (and no worry about contaminating a water source with bleach).

I have tried to drop half a lemon peel in the disposal before, but my disposal didn't like it.  It seems much happier with a few bite-sized pieces.

I have tried to drop half a lemon peel in the disposal before, but my disposal didn’t like it. It seems much happier with a few bite-sized pieces.

I have heard that you can sharpen your garbage disposal blades by putting ice down the disposal, but we honestly don’t use our disposal for much food anyway since we compost–it’s really just the little bits and pieces that get washed down off the plates.


Lauren: The Hard Truth about Composting May 20, 2013

Filed under: Gardens & Compost — lkcook20 @ 7:37 pm
Tags: , ,

I’m not going to lie; I recently took a free class on composting so I could get the $25 compost bin they offer only to people who enroll. But I learned some things as well–mostly that I am too lazy when it comes to my compost. It’s a good thing the class was free. I’d hate to pay money to find out that I need to get off my bottom and do some work. 

Here are my 3 Big Take-Away Tips:

1. Your compost should be moist. So if you own one of those black tumblers like this:

the aeration holes are more for air than rain so you will actually have to water the compost, probably once a week in spring and fall and twice a week in the summer. 

2. You have to turn your compost. Again, once a week in the spring/fall and twice a week in the summer is a good rule of thumb. A compost aerator

is a nifty tool that helps with turning. It works better than a pitch fork or a shovel. It might be worth the $25 investment. Because then maybe you will actually turn the compost. Possibly. 

3. The ratio of green/wet to brown/dry is important. (See Sarah’s previous post for an explanation of green and brown matter.) Most experts recommend a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of brown to green.

We were really good at putting our banana peels in the compost but not as good at adding leaves or newspaper. The instructor of the class explained that she keeps a bag of leaves next to her compost bin and every time she throws in some kitchen scraps, she adds three times that amount of leaves. This insures her ratio is always 3:1. I didn’t save enough leaves to do that, but I have been cutting up some newspaper and adding it.

Note: if adding newspaper, make sure it is printed with vegetable dye.

I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to listen to a nice woman in a bohemian dress tell me I’m essentially being too lazy if it helps me get more of that “black gold” faster!


Sarah: It’s Garden Time! April 24, 2013

Again, Colorado?

Again, Colorado?

My enthusiasm for dirt is brimming up again.  It happens every spring, but I’ve always made do with container gardens at our rental units.  This year is different, though.  This year, we own our own house, and I get a REAL garden, an honest-to-goodness, compost-filled, earthworm-lovin’ garden!


Or at least I will get a real garden as soon as Colorado decides it’s done with winter. We’ve had about 16 or 18 inches between the two storms this past week.


Seed Start Reuse: 1. Poke holes in the bottom of the egg carton for better drainage.
2. Fill with soil.
3. Plant seeds.
4. On nice days, set the tray outside to get sun.



It snowed for three days straight last week, and I almost climbed the walls after being cooped up for that long.  Our Little Bear, in fact, learned to climb the stairs (out of sheer boredom, I imagine).


I shouldn’t complain.  REAL gardeners, after all, rejoice at any winter moisture.  These snows are great for the two grape plants and one cherry tree we planted two weeks ago.  Also, some of you might remember the bad fires here last summer.  Any water now will help our drought and reduce fire risk.




So until the snow melts and our last average frost date comes (that’s May 15th, folks…don’t plant your delicate summer veggies before then), I will content myself with the small garden in the downstairs bedroom where our seed starts are drinking in all the humidity from the diaper laundry that’s hanging out to dry.


I’ve been cheering on the different plants as they come up.  The peas are early sprouters, apparently, real overachievers.  I can relate to that. I hope they don’t burn themselves out (I can relate to that, too).  The beets and corn have taken a bit longer, but they seem to be the competitive sort as they’re racing to catch up to the peas.  The tomato shoots are tiny and fragile, but they’re numerous, which is excellent, since it’s entirely possible I will inadvertently kill a few when transplanting.


I haven’t seen any sign of the bell peppers or acorn squash, but I’m hoping they are just late bloomers like me.

Also, an excellent reuse for clothespins!  Just label them with a sharpie.

Also, an excellent reuse for clothespins! Just label them with a Sharpie.

When the snow melts, I have big plans for killing my front lawn (see a future post) and working on a few raised beds for the back yard.  In the meantime, I’m hoping the earthworms are holed up cozily somewhere preparing for their big summer job in the garden!


Sarah: Leftover-Vegetable Stock December 19, 2012

Replace THIS

Replace THIS

with THIS!

with THIS!

And for our next Deprocessed December recipe, here’s something that I use frequently as a soup base, to cook rice for extra nutrients and flavor, and to thin mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes or other vegetables: vegetable stock.

A lot of recipes call for chicken or beef or vegetable stock.  For most recipes, I substitute vegetable stock for chicken or beef just because of the environmental benefits of eating less meat, but no matter what type of soup stock you’re buying, it gets pricey.  You can expect to pay at least $3.00 for a 32 oz. container (about 4 c.).

My favorite butternut squash soup recipe (see upcoming post) calls for 4 cups of stock, for instance.  Lauren’s recently-posted recipe for Spiced Stuffed Acorn Squash asks for 2 c. of the stuff.  Even though I use stock a lot in my cooking, I have a hard time putting it into my grocery cart because I figure I’m basically paying for water with flavoring.

Instead, clean out the refrigerator!

I used to compost all the extra vegetables rolling around (or mushing around) in the bottom of my refrigerator’s vegetable drawer (see previous post about our prolific composting habits).  But there’s a better thing to do with the limp celery and the carrots that are on their way out, and this allows you to control the amount of salt and type of ingredients in your cooking.

Leftover-Vegetable Stock


  • Leftover Vegetables (nothing actually rotten, just veggies that can’t pass for fresh): carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms, parsley, kale, onions, garlic, parsnips, leeks (I would avoid starchy veggies like potatoes and sweet potatoes because they will thicken the soup and you won’t get a clear broth)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 6 – 8 c. of water (depending on number of veggies and size of pot)
  • spices (I used leftover fresh thyme that was drying out in my fridge and needed to be composted)


  1. Fill a stockpot with water and turn heat on medium-high.
  2. Chop veggies into large pieces (quarter the onions, halve the mushrooms, etc.) and put in pot.
  3. Stir in salt.
  4. Boil for an hour or until the liquid turns golden-brown.
  5. Scoop out the veggies and compost them.  Then freeze the broth that’s left (I recommend cutting the tops off of whipping cream or half and half contains and washing them out, then freezing stock in these–cover with tinfoil.  They’re a convenient size for the freezer and it’s a great reuse of something you usually chuck in the garbage!).

After two hours of being in the kitchen, I had vegetable broth made with the wilted veggies, stew made with the good veggies (enough for 4 meals), and pureed carrots for Little Bear (I’ve been making all her food, and I swear it’s easier than cooking for myself–I’ll tell you more in an upcoming post).  I had also washed all the dishes while the broth and stew were boiling away.  “I am,” I told my husband, “a domestic goddess today.”  He did not disagree.

Frozen carrots and limp celery...yum.

Frozen carrots and limp celery…yum.

Use pre-compost heap to make stock.

Use pre-compost heap to make stock.

While making stock with the limp vegetables, I used the good parts to make vegetable stew.

While making stock with the limp vegetables, I used the good parts to make vegetable stew.

And to make it a three-for-one, I also made pureed carrots for Little Bear while stewing my veggies.  I like to make the most out of my kitchen time.

And to make it a three-for-one, I also made pureed carrots for Little Bear while stewing my veggies. I like to make the most out of my kitchen time.


Sarah: What NOT to Compost November 1, 2012

I keep this container in my kitchen to hold kitchen compost. What’s in your compost?

A blog about suburban homesteading wouldn’t be able to hold its head up without at least one or two entries on compost.  This is my second post on compost (the previous one was about building the compost bin itself), and I never imagined that I would have so much to say about rotting organic matter.

I’d like to start this post by explaining why compost is so important.  It’s a pretty basic way to be environmentally conscious, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort.  You probably know that, according to the EPA, organic waste and yard trimmings account for 27% of landfill waste.  Furthermore, when organic waste is composted in landfills, it can’t properly decompose, so it creates methane instead of breaking down properly (thereby contributing to greenhouse gasses).  Also, you end up having to buy fertilizer (because what we need is more chemicals?) for your beds and gardens instead of having cheap, easy, self-generated compost.

Okay…so I haven’t personally tried composting all of these, but I will be trying them now! According to others, it can be done…

Composting is pretty simple: dump organic matter into a pile to return it from whence it came.  We did this for several years and it always worked.  However, my recent research has revealed that they key to composting quickly is ratios: 2/3 brown matter like leaves, coffee grounds, sawdust, egg shells, wood shavings, paper, etc. and 1/3 green matter like veggies, fruits, grass clippings, etc.  Basically, dump your kitchen stuff in a pile and cover it over with crunched up leaves every now and then.

As I have been researching compost, I have also compiled a rather lengthy list of things you can compost.  There are some surprises on it (Fingernail clippings? Do people take the time to do that?  Should I?).  For more about things you can compost, look here, here, or here.  However, there are things you shouldn’t compost, as I discovered.

Our Little Bear was a little under three months old when my guilt over using plastic/chemical-filled disposable diapers finally triumphed over my exhaustion and overwhelmed-ness (since we had moved and remodeled a house this summer, I allowed myself a little environmental slack at first regarding the diaper issue…after all, we didn’t even have a changing table set up for a time).

Coincidentally, right about the time my guilt had grown to a size impossible to ignore, a friend gave us a large stash of g-Diapers.  The g-Diaper is a hybrid between disposables and cloth–the inner liner is disposable, and the outer cover is washable.  “Perfect!” I thought. “This will be a great transition for us.”

I was delighted to see advertised on the front of the package: “Biodegradable Liners” and “Flush” or “Compost” as options for disposal.  When Keith came home for lunch and took Little Bear upstairs to change her, I called up after him, “Save that diaper–I’m going to just toss it in the compost pile.”

“It’s a poopy one,” he called back.  “I don’t think we should compost it.”

“Of course we should.  The package said so.”

“Can’t you, like, get diseases from that?” he asked.

“She’s a baby!  She’s only had milk!  What diseases could we get?  Besides, it said compost,” I replied.

“I’m just not sure about this,” he said.  I’m not proud of what happened next.

“You keep shooting down all my ideas lately,” I wailed.  I think I might even have had tears in my eyes.  I won’t describe how the conversation devolved at this point.

Suffice it to say that we argued about compostable diapers for, yes, a full 30 minutes until Keith finally got the bright idea of looking at the package.

“Wet ones, Sarah.  It says you can compost wet ones.”  It did, indeed, say “Wet gRefills only.”

“Oh.”  Apparently, sleep deprivation turns normal, rational human beings into whiny, stubborn fools.  We later agreed to not mention this sad incident to anyone except all of our closest internet friends via this blog.

We’ve been composting only wet gRefills since then, washing our other cloth diapers (more on cloth diapering later), and flushing the poopy liners.  So far, my guilt has been mostly assuaged.  So far, our toilet and septic system have held up.  So far the gRefills seem to be composting in the bin.

I’ll keep you (com)posted on how this all turns out.


Sarah: Beautiful, Beautiful Compost October 14, 2012

Step 1: Go dumpster-diving. Rescue 7 wooden pallets for a 2 section bin or 10 pallets for a 3 section bin.

During a brief stint as a horticulturist, I discovered the beauty of compost.


By horticulturist, I mean that I worked as a seasonal clerk in one of the local plant nurseries.  And by beauty, I mean the lovely, smelly, rotten, earthy mush that somehow becomes new plant  life.  It’s not for the fainthearted.  But you have to admit that it is a pretty remarkable transformation.


Unfortunately, at the outset of my compost fascination, we lived in a small apartment.  Admittedly, I knew of people doing worm compost in their apartments, but I couldn’t figure out anywhere to put the worm compost bin that wouldn’t make the entire apartment smell.


Step 2: Learn to use a drill.

Fortunately, I was able to feed my compost obsession by sealing all our rotting fruits, coffee grounds, house plant leaves, and veggies into previously-used plastic yogurt containers and passing them off at church.


At this time, our group of 20-and-30-year-olds was attempting a community garden, which wasn’t really successful due to the inconvenient location of the garden and the busyness of everyone’s schedules, but all of us were very good at generating rotting vegetable matter.


Step 3: Screw the pallets together leaving the front open (for easy shoveling out and turning over of compost). Set aside 2 separate pallets for the front panels.

Exchanging pounds of compost in the church parking lot is a little absurd.  On the other hand, it seems like it could be a theological metaphor–something about dumping our rotten stuff and praying that it’s somehow transformed into something much better.


Keith and I were the best rotten-vegetable-matter generators.  The other 20-and-30-year olds were very impressed with our healthy eating.  Actually, we generated compost because we were overly optimistic about the number of vegetables we would manage to cook during the week, and so we routinely had to clean out vegetable sludge from the drawers of our refrigerator (see my upcoming post on What NOT to compost).


Step 4: Over the two separate front pallets, staple chicken wire. These two pallets will be set in place as the front but will be held on by looped wire instead of by screws.


After recently moving to a house of our own, one of the first things we did was start a compost pile.  We tried two or three different locations in the yard before settling on one halfway between the house and the back fence.  Lesson one: if your compost pile is too far from your house, you will not want to make the trek out to dump the compost.


Once the location had been determined (and the other small, abandoned compost heaps had been removed from their various positions), it was time to build a compost bin.  Now this step wasn’t strictly necessary because a heap of compost composts itself just fine without being contained.  But a heap of rotting plant matter is a bit unsightly, and to maintain neighborly relations, it’s best to keep your compost from becoming a compost blob, so we set out to build a bin.



There are some great plans for compost bins on the internet.  One of the blogs I read about compost bins reviewed some different types of bins.  The author finally chose to use plans from Lowe’s to build his…for the low price of $350!


Step 5: Roll chicken wire around inside and outside of the pallets and staple into place. This keeps critters from getting in but still allows your compost to breathe. We found the chicken wire in a dumpster, but you can also buy it cheaply at a used building materials store.

What we finally ended up with probably won’t last quite as long as his, and it doesn’t look quite as nice as his, but I figure that it’s going to be holding rotting plant refuse.


End result: 7 wooden pallets, a roll of chicken wire, two old window screens, and some old hinges make a pretty sturdy containment system with two sections–for the thrifty price of $6.37 cents.



I also feel pretty good about saving 7 wooden pallets, a roll of chicken wire, two old window screens, and some old hinges from the landfill.

Step 6: Using old hinges (these are from cabinets we replaced in our house), attach screens to the top of the bin for easy open-and-close lids. We bought the screens from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for $3.00 each. They were the one material we purchased.


Keith felt a little less good about my dumpster-diving habits when I had to call him at work last spring and ask him to bring his truck to pick up the 4 pallets I had found (which, surprisingly, wouldn’t fit in my small Nissan Altima).  I stood guard by the dumpster until he came.  I thought it too risky to leave such valuable materials by themselves.  Who knew how many other dumpster-diving compost-bin-builders there might be to swoop in and steal my find?


The other 3 pallets came from a construction site.  The very kind supervisor waved aside my refusal to accept his help loading them into the back of the very small Nissan Altima.  “My wife,” he said, looking pointedly at my belly, “was also very stubborn when she was pregnant.  Just let me do it.”


Step 7: Set the two front panels in place and hold closed with twists of wire. This way, you can remove them to shovel compost out or turn compost over. To dump your daily compost, just open the screens!

Little Bear helps us build our compost bin by entertaining herself. We’re instilling sustainability values early on.

It only took us three half-hour sessions to build the compost bin.  This is good.  When the wood pallets decompose, it won’t take us long to reconstruct it.


Also, because we have a baby, projects that can be done in half-hour increments are probably the only kind of projects we will accomplish anyway.  We dream of upping our project time to 45-minute increments…then again, we also dream of sleeping for an uninterrupted 8 hours at a time.  I guess you just have to celebrate the small victories in the meantime.







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