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How to Compost for Your Garden

Let’s face it.  Backyard gardens are in style again.  Whether you live in a rural area with lots of space for plants, a small suburban neighborhood  with a corner of your yard reserved for veggies, or an urban apartment with a few plants in pots.  Everyone is doing it these days.  There are plenty of benefits to growing your own veggies, from knowing there are no pesticides to the freshest tasting produce you’ll ever have.  But, did you know that there is something you can do to make your gardening experience even better? It’s free, too, and takes virtually no effort on your part.  All you’ll need is a bucket in your kitchen and a small corner of your backyard, and you’ve got all of the essentials for making a compost pile.

Compost Pile

Compost Pile

Why You Should Compost

Composting is the single best thing you can do for your garden.  It adds vital nutrients to your soil which helps your plants grow bigger, healthier, and more fruitful.  Sure, you can buy compost, too.  But there are so many reasons to make your own, including:

  1. It’s free
  2. It’s easy
  3. It has a wider variety of ingredients
  4. You know what’s in it

By purchasing compost from a big manufacturer, not only are you spending money on something you could get for free, but you are also usually getting a more limited variety of nutrients, since commercial products are usually from big industries.  So you might get wood compost, or chicken compost, or straw compost, etc.  These are all great, and certainly better than just using fertilizer, but by doing it yourself, you can get much more balanced nutrients for your garden.

So, now you’re probably wondering how to compost, right? I know I’ve told you it’s free, and that it’s easy, but you probably don’t believe me.  Yet.  Trust me, I know.  It seems so overwhelming at first, but once you get started it’s the easiest thing you can do for your garden!

Getting Your Compost Pile Started

To get started with a compost pile, all you need are a small bucket or bowl, veggie scraps, dried yard or plant material, and a corner of your back yard.

There are two basic ways to make compost.  You can do an open-air compost pile, or compost in an enclosed drum or barrel.  I only have experience with open-air composting (I’m too cheap to buy a compost barrel), so that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

Personally, my compost pile is just a big pile in the corner of my yard (like the photo above), but you can also build a small wood box about the same size as a raised garden bed.  Don’t build it too high, though.

Once you have your spot picked out, it’s time to start composting! This is where the bucket and kitchen scraps come in.  I keep a small bucket in my kitchen, and throughout the day, I empty all of my fruit and veggie scraps into it. This means that every time I peel a carrot, I put the peels in the bucket.  When I core an apple, into the bucket it goes.  You get the idea!  Some things you can compost from your kitchen include:

  1. used coffee grounds (and filter)
  2. veggie peels and scraps
  3. fruit scraps
  4. old bread and pasta
  5. tea bags
  6. crushed eggshells

Things you don’t want to include in your compost bucket include meat and dairy products, which will rot and smell in your compost pile.

At the end of each day, Pistache runs our bucket of kitchen scraps out to the compost pile and dumps it. See? I told you.  No effort! Instead of dumping your kitchen waste into a trash can, you dump it into a bucket.  And now it’s useful!

So, that’s the first part of composting.  However, if you only add food scraps (otherwise known as “green matter”) to your compost, it will begin to rot instead of slowly decompose.  It will also smell and attract rodents, which can be a big problem. Then you’ll get frustrated and give up, and we don’t want that.  So, how do you avoid this? By adding brown matter to your compost pile as well.  This is the part that many people forget about, or feel that they don’t have anything to add to the pile.  However, brown matter is almost easier to come by than green matter, believe it or not.  Some things that count as brown matter include:

  1. Dried yard clippings- Every time you mow your lawn, let those clippings dry out for a day or two and then shovel them into your pile.
  2. Leaves that fall off of trees- During the fall, rake up all of your leaves and add them to your compost pile.  Or, as your neighbors for theirs!
  3. Shredded paper products- We all have a constant influx of paper products coming into our homes.  Simply throw those into a shredder and add them to the compost pile.
  4. Straw or pine shavings from your chicken coop- When you clean the coop, add that to your pile as well! This will add a little green matter as well, in the form of chicken poop, which is amazing for a garden.

You want to aim for about 1 part green matter (food stuffs) to 4 parts brown.  At the very least, aim for a 1:1 ratio to ensure that the pile doesn’t begin to rot and smell.

When is Your Compost Ready?

Your compost pile is finished when it looks like rich, brown soil.  There should be no noticeable materials left in the soil when it’s ready. If there are any kitchen scraps visible in your pile, stir them in and wait for them to decompose.  Remember, every time that you add new matter to your compost pile, you’re starting over at day one.  It might be a good idea to keep two piles.  Feed one the new matter, and let the other one “cook.” This way, you can get two compost harvests in a year.  Once it’s done, you can till it into your garden bed or layer it on like mulch.  Wait a few weeks before planting in it, to make sure it’s fully ready, and you’ll have amazing garden soil for your new plants!

This is pretty much everything you need to know to start your own compost pile.  If you start today, you’ll have the makings for perfect garden soil for next year’s garden!


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Life’s a Garden (Dig it!)

This weekend was the first weekend that Cage Free Dad was home after his 2-month-long training course out-of-state.  Needless to say, Pistache and I were very excited to spend time with him! Not only that, we had many projects to complete now that he was back to help.  The most important was to start our veggie garden! We’ve been really looking forward to our garden this year, after using last year as a learning experience (hello, fertilizer and compost!)

Not only did we do a lot more to our soil this year, but we also re-thought our growing plans.  Last year, we thought it would be fun to grow a wide variety of plants so we’d have lots of different veggies to eat all season.  However, the few plants that did produce last year, didn’t produce enough to keep us from buying veggies at the store.  So, this year we decided that instead of coming up with a long list of plants to grow, we’d rather fill our (much larger) garden bed with just a small variety but a lot of each plant.


The final planting verdict in our bed this year (which is about 10×20) includes:

  • 8 jalepeno plants
  • 8 okra plants (a little early)
  • 14 tomato plants
  • 4 cucumber plants
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 4 chives
  • small patch of carrots

We’ve got a separate bed in a different part of the yard that includes 5 strawberry plants as well.  All in all, I’m excited for our prospects this year! I’m envisioning lots of fresh and canned tomatoes and pickles, as well as salsa and fresh carrots on the table this summer. Yum!

If this bed is a success this year, we’ve already got plans to make another bed the same size for next growing season, and we’ll add green beans and purple hull peas to the mix as well.  So, let’s keep our fingers crossed for a great growing season and a successful garden!

Have you planted your garden yet? What are you growing?


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An Open Letter to the President and Congress Regarding the Sequestration

I’d like to take an opportunity right now to address the President (although I know this will never end up on his desk) and the elected officials in Congress, regarding the extreme across the boards budget cuts that have to be signed into law before midnight.  Now, I’ll warn you right away that I am not politically minded at all, so forgive me if I don’t know the jargon.

Regardless of my political knowledge, I still have some very powerful emotions regarding the goings on (or lack thereof) at the White House currently.  In fact, I have spent the last week reading about these possible budget cuts, keeping the faith that there would be an 11th hour save. 

See, my problem is that we as Americans, have voted all of you into office with the expectation that you are working in our best interest.  That means that when a crisis is on the horizon, you don’t bicker and toss around petty insults.  You don’t act like children and blame the other party for this devastating event that is about to occur.  And you certainly don’t leave town for a long weekend without finishing your job.  Do you know what would happen to most Americans if they took off in the middle of an important project just because they were frustrated? Do you know what would happen to most Americans if they refused to compromise with their co-workers?  Most Americans are not allowed to act like my 4 year old when it comes to things they don’t like.  You were hired to do a job and you’re expected to do it, whether you like it or not.  

As our elected officials, you should not be exempt from these same workplace rules.  You were hired by regular Americans, so you should be treated like them, too.  That means doing your job, whether you like it or not! It means canceling your weekend trip to the coast.  It means staying until the job is done right.

I keep reading about how this sequestration was never supposed to happen.  That it was a worst-case scenario designed to motivate everyone to work together.  So, what I’m getting from this is that Congress and the President are gambling with our money.  I have to say, that is a very dangerous game to play.  If you’re going to gamble, you use your money, not ours! While I don’t mind doing my part to help the country, a 20% pay decrease for my household will be devastating, even if it’s just for a couple of months.  So, instead of holding my money over your opponents’ heads, why don’t you do your civic duty, the job we essentially hired you to do, and look out for the average American? Many of us have actually suggested that you cut your pay instead of ours.  After all, we’ve all done our jobs.  You’re the ones who have failed.  So, why are we the ones getting punished?

Natural consequences.  

Every adult has learned this lesson during their childhood.  Even my 4 year old understands the concept.  If she doesn’t pick up her toys, they end up broken and in the garbage.  If the average American does a poor job at work, he is docked pay.  But somehow, even though you’ve done a poor job, your pay is not being docked.  Your hours are not being cut.  You are not facing any of the consequences.  Instead, your making us face them for you.  Personally, I vote that you lose 20% of your pay, and face a tax increase yourself (something we already faced as middle-class Americans 2 months ago which also cut into our expendable income), and tell us how you like it.  I’m betting you’d have already come up with a solution to the problem in that case.  

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Goings On in the Cage Free Home

This past month in our house has been so hectic, and while I’ve had a lot on my mind, I’ve struggled to find the time to sit down and write it all out.  First off, Cage Free Dad left for a two-month training course which is 10 hours away.  Pistache and I miss him like crazy but we’re keeping ourselves busy until his return.

In fact, I have had some grand plans for his absence, with the hope of him returning home in late March in shock over how much I have accomplished on my own.  Hopefully, it can all get finished in time! However, I realized yesterday while trying to hang curtains all by myself that there are some serious physical limitations to being short! (Erm…not to mention my lack of knowledge in the tool department.) So…hopefully I can manage to accomplish all of my goals in the next 5 weeks.

So far this month I have managed to get most of the yard cleaned up before the rain hit and since then we have been indoors finishing projects here.  The home is still fairly new to us, so I’ve been busy hanging curtains (of course), putting up chair rail, finding places for all of our pictures, and getting some serious organization accomplished.  But finally, the forecast is showing some sun instead of rain, so I can get outside and get to work on some of these outdoor projects!

On the agenda:

  • Clear off fence-line of miscellaneous plants and weeds
  • Find and plant blackberry bushes
  • Find and plant 2 fruit trees (same fruit, so they can pollinate)
  • Find and plant some mosquito repelling plants such as citronella, catnip, and beebalm
  • “Break ground” on our basic chicken coop plans

And yes, you read that last one right! While chickens were on our list for new homesteading things to try this year, we had planned to buy some chicks once Cage Free Dad returned home.  However, last week I was offered *free* chicks, that will be available in about 20 days.  I’m really excited about the opportunity, but it also means I’ll be responsible for building a chicken coop and brooder.  Disclaimer: I’ve never built anything in my life.  Plus, you already know I struggled to hang up curtains on my own!  So, if I can accomplish this entire list in the next 30 days, I’ll go ahead and change my name to Superwoman!

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  In the meantime, wish me luck (and strength)!

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Let’s Talk About Neocate Formula, and the Changes They’ve Made

Again, this is a post that doesn’t fit with my regular topics, but it is one close to my heart, and I have been following one of the little boys affected for four years (since he was born).  Affectionately dubbed “TNT”, this little boy is suffering from multiple life-threatening allergies.  Pistache has food allergies that worry me every day, but as soon as I start getting irritated about her diet restrictions, I think about TNT and feel a little better about our own situation.  That’s because TNT is allergic to just about every type of food with any nutritional value.  Meats, fruits, dairies, nuts, and even vegetables.  This isn’t an issue that can be solved easily.  In fact, there is only one form of nutrition that has kept him alive and growing these last few years, and now something has changed and he can’t even tolerate that anymore.NeocateJrPrebiotics

It might look like a fluke if it was just him that was suffering, like perhaps he’d just developed an allergy to this formula suddenly.  Except, his mom is now in contact with at least 15 other families that are now suddenly experiencing the same thing.

All of these families have children being kept alive by Neocate formula.   Neocate, a UK based company owned by Nutritia, specializes in something called an “Elemental” formula.  These formulas are produced to help children with multiple severe food allergies to things such as dairy, soy, goats milk, almond milk, coconut milk, etc.  Everything makes these children sick, except Neocate Junior Formula.  Until now.  These children are suddenly getting sick off of the one thing that used to keep them alive.

It appears that in May 2012, the company changed their recipe, and now many of these children cannot tolerate the formula at all.  Parent’s are being told to “prepare for the worst,” and a few of these children have even been admitted to the hospital since starting on the Neocate formula produced after May 2012.

Something needs to be done, here, and fast.  This is a life or death situation, and it’s affecting innocent children who have already suffered more than any person ever should.  So help get the word out.  Tell your news stations, contact anyone you know of that might have the power to make this story national.  Because until it’s national, these children do not have enough people fighting in their corner.

You can read some of the personal stories of these affected children in the links below.  This is not an exaggerated post.  This is not something to be taken lightly.  Please help TNT, and help his friends that are also affected by this serious condition.
You can read about Lidija here
Read about Penny here

And you can read a little more about TNT here
Other Media regarding this topic is still limited:
The Impending Neocate Disaster

There are many other families affected by this.  Not all of them have gone public.  These are the three stories I have heard. Please help these kids.  If you can donate money to help these families buy up the old cans of Neocate, they are all very grateful.  Even if you can just tell your local news teams, congressmen, doctors, and celebrities that can help make this national news.  Anything helps at this point.  These children need medical attention that is not covered by most insurance plans, they need formula, and they need Neocate to reverse their recipe so that these children have time to grow.


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Cage Free Mom on Facebook

Did you know Cage Free Mom is now on Facebook? Keep up with posts, get fun tips, and extra photos by following me on Facebook at

Be sure to tell your friends!





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Out with the Old, in with the New

The end of 2012 is fast approaching and every year at this time, I find myself reminiscing on the year before.  Of course, I realize I’m not unique in that aspect.  Every blogger on the internet is probably writing a post today about the past year, as well as their hopes, goals, and resolutions for the year ahead.  I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m clearly no different.

This past year has been one of many rewards for years of sacrifice and hard work.  Cage Free Dad and I have been struggling for years to get to this point in our lives, living paycheck to paycheck, putting off buying things as simple as new socks in order to get to this point.  Finally, after four years of struggling to make it in the big civilian world, he has the job of his dreams, and we’ve purchased our first house.  I must say, for all of you still struggling and eating Ramen Noodles, it’s worth the wait! (Although…splurge on some groceries now and then, please!)

So, we’re now wrapping up 2012 and moving into 2013, and I’ve got some big hopes for this year! I won’t get into all of it, but I certainly hope that this year continues to reward us for all of that hard work.  Starting next month, we’ll begin working on our garden plot and setting aside a good home for some chickens.  As for me, personally, I can get a little more specific.

First, and most importantly, I will put my writing back on the front burner.  I have been so busy with my design business over the last few years that I lost track of what I really want to do in the long run.  I love designing and crocheting, but honestly, I don’t see myself still doing it in 10 or 20 years.  Writing, on the other hand, has always been something to fall back on.  This year, instead of it being my fall back, it will be my main focus.  In fact, something that has not been publicly known before now, is that I am writing a book.  There, I said it.  Now it’s out there for the whole world to see. Yes, let me be a dreamer and imagine the whole world reading this blog.  And all of you can hold me accountable.  By the end of this year, I want to have what can certainly be referred to as a book, rather than a few pages of notes and plenty of ideas.

My other “resolution,” if it must go by that name, is to focus on my health and fitness.  I spent 2011 focusing on weight loss with great results, but the stress and lifestyle of the last year kept me from focusing on it at all.  This year, I want to get back into a healthy lifestyle and focus on staying fit rather than the weight loss that I focused on before.  I have a new bike, and some pilates videos, so I’ll form a workout routine centered around these.  First off, though, I’ll find a doctor, since for the first time in years I have health insurance and the means to pay for a check up.  I’ve battled with asthma for years, so if I can get a new inhaler I’ll feel much more comfortable bike riding and running.

So, those are my goals and resolutions for 2013.  Needless to say, if I’m focused on writing and natural living again, you’ll be hearing from me more often here on the blog.  I’ll be sharing with all of you as our garden progresses, and I can’t wait to share pictures when we get our chickens!

Do you make new year’s resolutions? What are you resolving to do this year?  No matter what your goals, I hope we all have a wonderful year!



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