Friday, July 30, 2010

Recycle Your Lipbalm

This morning I was looking for my comb in the bathroom drawer and realized that I had way too much stuff in there. The bulk of the problem was the numerous lip shimmer and lip tint tubes. Some were never used because they were too dark, too light, too pink, too orange. Others had gone through the wash and were a melted mess inside but were still full (and very clean!) I am on a huge minimalist kick right now, and rather than throwing these out (I can't very well donate them to a thrift store, now can I?) I decided to recycle them. My grandmother used to do this all the time with her broken lipsticks. She would melt them all into a pot (hers was huge though, like the size of a small butter tub) and use a brush to apply them. It took less than 10 minutes to make a little pot of lip balm in a shade that I am really happy with now, and I got rid of all those tubes!

Step 1: Turn up the lip balm, break it off and put it into a stainless steel container. I used a little stainless steel sauce cup.
Step 2: Set the stainless steel cup on a stove burner or other heat source. Low heat until the lip balm begins to melt, then quickly turn it off. The lip balm will continue to melt.
Step 3: Stir. Remove from heat source. Careful, it's hot! Allow to cool a bit.
Step 4: Pour cooled liquid lip balm into pot. (Mine was recycled and sanitized, it was previously a sample face cream pot.) Allow to continue to cool and solidify.
Step 5: Add lid. Viola! Six tubes makes roughly one pot.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Plan Bee

I just finished reading Plan Bee by Susan Brackney.  I love Susan, I discovered her first book, The Lost Soul Companion: A Book of Comfort and Constructive Advice for Black Sheep, Square Pegs, Struggling Artists, and Other Free Spirits, several years ago.  This was not long after my obsession with bees had begun, but at the time I had no idea she had any interest in beekeeping.  So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Susan Brackney who wrote Plan Bee was the same one who wrote The Lost Soul Companion.  Her writing is reader friendly and humorous, and this is a wonderful introductory book for those who are thinking about setting up a hive or just starting out, like me.  Susan's book is a good side dish along with a solid beekeeping manual.  Even though I've read an armload of books on bees and beekeeping, there were still new things that I learned from Susan's book, like how to cover yourself in a bee-kini (yikes!), and I always enjoy reading people's personal experiences.  I liked Marina Marchese's book Honeybee for the same reason.  Interestingly enough, Marina is another artsy-girl-turned-beekeeper.  I am beginning to wonder if the interest in art and beekeeping is related?  

The last time I opened the hive, almost two months ago.
Speaking of bees, mine are long overdue for a hive check, but I still haven't gotten a veil or gloves, and I am definitely not going to try and open up that hive now that it is two bodies deep and most likely has twice as many bees.  Even if I wanted to peek inside, they've glued the lid with their propolis, thus prevented it from coming off easily.  At first I was peeking in everyday, which you probably aren't supposed to do, but I was curious to see what was going on each day.  I would stick my face right into the hive to look deep down in between the frames and not have one bee notice.  The bees never seemed to be bothered by my nosiness, and I would leave them baggies of sugar water to feed from on top of the comb frames. Well, as the numbers started increasing, they began to assign a lot more guards.  I couldn't open the lid without one of them getting in my face, warning me to get the heck out of there.  I didn't press the issue.  

Susan described a similar experience with her bees.  She said her passive Italian honeybees that didn't seem to mind her poking about in their hive suddenly turned on her, stinging each time she would check in on the hive.  She wrote that most likely, her Italian queen had been replaced by a new queen that has mated with a feral "rogue" drone in the area.  This would explain why the bees had suddenly became aggressive.  I don't know if this has happened to my hive, as I haven't actually been stung, just warned by bees flying in my face.  I won't know until I break in and have a look.  

I still haven't been stung, but I know that I will eventually.  In a weird way I want to be stung so that I can build up immunity, but at the same time I would prefer not to feel the pain.  I haven't been stung since I was about nine.  I've read that seasoned beekeepers look forward to a few stings, because eventually it no longer bothers them.  I've even witnessed someone with MS who purposely had bee stings applied to each of his toes.  It just didn't seem all that fun though.  Lee has promised that next week we can finally get the rest of my beekeeping gear, so we'll see what happens when it arrives.  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leaf Keys

In yesterday's post I included a picture of some tree seedlings I found in my yard, the one on the far left was unidentified.  I had a feeling it was a type of maple, but I was hoping to find some sort of identification system online where you could find the type of tree by the leaf, and I was in luck.  Sort of.  I found a couple of leaf key sites.  What Tree Is It? was a little difficult to navigate, but eventually I got the hang of it.  Key to Leaves of Virginia Trees was easier to use and I came to the same result a lot faster.  By the time I found the Tree Link site, I was a pro at using these leaf keys.  All use the same process of elimination, kind of like the game Animal, Plant, Mineral.  In each trial I ended up with the same result: Red Maple.  I looked up images of Red Maple leaves and found many different results, but there were a few that looked like mine.  The red stem on my treeling seems to be a heavy indicator.  I am going to have a stroll around the neighborhood this evening to see if I can't find the source.

One down, five more to go:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Quick-Fix Fence

Yesterday evening we built a quickie fence to prevent the chickens from pecking (and the dogs from peeing on) plants in the garden.  When I first moved here, one of those giant trampoline things was overwhelming the backyard and it appeared as though it hadn't weathered many storms well.  The covering on the springs was coming up, the safety netting was no longer intact and lying on the ground, it added to the post apocalyptic look of the dead backyard that Lee had abandoned for so long.  Lee's two boys still jump on it though when they visit every other weekend, so unfortunately the unsightly trampoline must stay for a couple more years... Unless of course, [evil grin] luck may have it that next Winter's dose of weather damage puts a nice big hole on the surface.  The fallen netting did come in handy though, just in time and saved itself from a trip to the waste bin.  So did the pile of old wooden stakes in the shed.  We simply cut the netting in half so that it measured about 3 feet tall, stapled a wooden stake to it every six feet, pounded the stakes into the ground, and viola.  When you don't have a lot of cash, you get a lot more creative with things that you would normally toss.

I've always saved yogurt cups, plastic foods tubs, and jars for a variety of things.  Primarily the yogurt cups were used for mixing paint, but presently they make good seedling pots.  Just drill a little hole or hammer a nail through the bottom for drainage.  If you eat yogurt, you may as well save yourself the money you'd spend on those biodegradable peat pots.  Plus you can reuse them more than once so it saves you even more!  In the picture to the left, you can see a variety of the little treelings I have found in the yard and saved from the evil lawn mowing machine.  I am going to try and find a website that helps identify trees later today.  I know that the one to the far right is a Mimosa (Silktree).  The nearest one is about two blocks away, so the birds gifted me with that one.  In the middle I have a little lavender start.  The one on the left I am not sure, it looks like it could be a number of things.  I have quite a few of each of these trees, so if anyone would like some, let me know!

Oh, and while on the subject of reusing things that normally get thrown out, the twist ties that you get on lettuce and other veggies make great tie-backs for garden plants.  I used some to tie the sunflowers to the fence when their heads got too heavy, and also to tie up the tomatoes to their cages.  Even the little ones you get on bread work, but sometimes I have to tie two together.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Garden Delights

The last three days I've missed blogging and my days are beginning to seem incomplete without it.  We had one of those jam-packed weekends full of errand- running that leaves you longing for the peace and solace of mundane Monday.  Ahh, Monday.  It's beginning to become my favorite day of the week.

We did get the lumber for the new chicken coop cottage though.  Next step is to borrow a saw from one of our parents, so construction may not begin until next weekend.  Meanwhile, the garden just keeps on growing and doesn't stop for anything.  It seems to expand to great lengths overnight!  Our squash plants have exploded and the pumpkins are beginning to creep away from their bed into the yard.  It's so exciting!  We also found a stray mystery squash plant that spouted up by the compost heap.  I am hedging my bets on a butternut, but it could also be an acorn or spaghetti, all of which have had their entrails thrown onto the compost heap.
Future Watermelons!

Check out our 13" zucchini!

A little pumpkinling!
Mystery citrus tree & the site of our future mini orchard.

Aside from coop building, I've been trying to plan out our mini orchard space.  We've gotten a lot of free treelings from pits that had sprouted at the ranch this spring, like a peach that has green skin and super sweet white flesh when it's ripe (have no idea what type it is), a green skinned plum with dark red flesh (again, have no idea what type), and an apricot.  Also, the birds around here are very good at picking up seeds and dropping them in random places, as we have a million baby treelings coming up in the yard.  In fact, so many that I am tempted to start my own tree nursury.  I hate to pull them up or mow them over too, but realistically I know that I can't let them all grow.  Anyone need a pecan tree?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Reading

I thought that when I left Stanislaus County behind for Merced, I'd be giving up the better of the two library systems.  I was thrilled when I went to get my library card at our local branch to find out that I not only have access to Merced County's library stash, but eight other systems as well- Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Porterville, Tulare, and Coalinga-Huron.  It's way better than Stanislaus!  Oh, and now that I live in town the library is just a four block walk down our street.  Yay!

I just got a shipment of books that I had placed on hold from the various libraries all over the inter-library system and can't wait to dive into them.  Most of my stack will provide good fodder for discussions on this site:

1. Plan bee by Susan Brackney
2. Black Plants by Paul Bonine
3. Creating Your Backyard Farm by Nicki Trench
4. Raising Fishworms with Rabbits by Howard Mays

5. Bulbs in the Basement, Geraniums on the Windowsill- How to Gorw & Overwinter 165 Tender Plants by Alice and Brian McGowan
6. How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew by Erin Bried
7. 62 Projects to Make With a Dead Computer and Other Discarded Electronics by Randy Sarafan
8. Good Mail Day- A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler
9. Green Guide for Artists- Nontoxic Recipes, Green Art Ideas & Resources for the Eco-Conscious Artist by Karen Michael
10. Blogging for Bliss- Crafting Your Own Online Journal, A Guide for Crafters, Artists, and Creatives of All Kinds by Tara Frey

So stay tuned for reviews and such on these in future posts.  I'm going to go curl up with one of them now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To-may-toe To-mah-toe, Po-tay-toe Po-tah-toe

Yesterday was our first harvest day.  Lee and I couldn't wait to sample our first tomatoes of the season so I plucked mine off the vine, rubbed it on my shirt, and popped it into my mouth.  Lee just looked at me funny, with a tinge of disgust.
"You didn't wash it."
"So one of the dogs could have peed on it."
"Oh come on, live a little!"
I grabbed his tomato and turned to walk into the house to wash it when I caught Jack, our terrier, hiking his leg up on a weed not far from the tomato plants.  Okay, so maybe that means we really need to get our garden fenced off to keep the dogs out.  Not only that, but silly me, I unintentionally taught our chickens to eat the tomatoes off the vine.  When I was picking the handful we used for dinner last night, our Barred Plymouth Rock named Salt was looking on with curiosity.  I told her that she couldn't have any, and then noticed one that had fallen on the ground.  I handed her the fallen tomato.  Doh.  I forgot that chickens are super intelligent and not the dopey birds we make them out to be.  As soon as she tasted that berry-sweet red orb, she made the association that the ones on the vine were just as good.  She pecked at a half ripe one and I shooed her away.  Lee just shook his head and said, "Now look what you've done."

After dinner (pesto pasta with fresh cherry tomatoes) we started a movie and then Lee decided he wasn't in the mood to sit and watch it.  We took the dogs for a walk and then spent the rest of the evening in the garden until it was too dark to see.  I was quite surprised and pleased that the movie mogul chose gardening over film study, trading in his popcorn for potato digging.  A couple months ago we planted the spouts from a bag of grocery store potatoes and what you see in the picture is the result.  We bought a 5 lb. bag for $1.50 and discovered they were all sprouted when we got home.  We were going to take them back, but then I suggested we just keep it to plant because it would be less trouble and less cost than buying sprouts at the garden center.  We ended up with 15 lbs. of potatoes, so we got 3x the amount we started with.   Home grown potatoes are cool because you get some with really odd shapes that you'd never find in a bag from the store.  Lee thought one looked like a ray gun (quite an imagination he has,) can you find it in the popcorn box on the right side?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Save the Water!

One of the things I've had to adjust to with this living-in-town gig is having a water bill.  At the ranch, our water came from a well.  We didn't have meters to tell us how much we were using because the water was completely free.  (Well, not completely free, as the cost of a well can be quite dear, but that's usually just a one time fee.)  Something I certainly took for granted.  When we got our water bill a couple weeks ago, it was over $160.00!  This has been a really good lesson though, it's taught me to be more mindful and really cut back on my water usage in general.  I've learned that the yard and garden can survive on one watering every 3-4 days, as opposed to every other day like I was doing before.  I am also a bit sad to realize that I was being extremely wasteful with the water at the ranch compared to now.  I would often turn the sprinkler on and forget about it.  Even though there was no water bill, I realize now that you still have to watch your usage because wells don't last forever.  Eventually they run dry, and not being careful with water can only make that happen faster.  This is something I will certainly remember when we move back to the country in the future.

The Fortune Cookie Says...

We went out for lunch yesterday, and this was Lee's fortune:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Let's Plow!

This is our makeshift chicken tractor. It was quick, easy, and practically free to make! Plus, most of the materials were upcycled.

We did the silly thing of ordering our chicks back in March before a coop was built, thinking that we had a good four to six weeks to build one while the peeps brooded inside under their heat lamp. Well I really should have known better, nothing ever goes as planned and too many other things crop up here and there. Before we knew it, our six weeks were up and we were still coop-less.

Now, we had every intention of building a really high class cottage-style coop complete with nesting boxes that had an exterior hatch to retrieve eggs, we just didn't have the time to put it together in a weekend. The chickies had certainly outgrown their brooding box and were trying out their wings at every given opportunity. I had to do some quick thinking. Also, we had just gotten done catching up on bills, so most of our funds were temporarily drained. I had to think of a way to find some cheap or free lumber, or come up with a building plan that didn't require a lot of lumber. What I ended up doing was both.

I stumbled upon an old twinsize IKEA boxspring mattress in the garage that was headed for the trash. The exterior frame was the perfect size for the bottom of the A-Frame that we built, and it was reinforced and really strong. Viola, no hammer or nails needed for that part.

The first thing I did was take the boxspring apart. I removed every staple. Next, I took off the canvas lining and padding, which I later used as a cover for the perch side. Then Lee and I popped off the cross boards, which were used to build the A-Frame. We didn't use a saw, just a hammer and nails to put it together. We bought a roll of chicken wire for about $12 and used a staple gun to attach it. The whole project took less than a day and the chickies were in their new home by the evening! Even though it's not much to look at, it's worked well for us the last three months. With a bit more time we could have made it look prettier, but we only intended this to be a temporary coop.

We have loftier plans for a chicken coop cottage inspired by some fancy bunny hutch cottages I saw at Fairyale Town in Sacramento:
I've already gotten the plans drawn up, but we aren't going to be able to put it all together in one go, or in one pay period.  We decided to spread the cost out over a few weeks so that we could actually make it the way we really wanted it.  I'm going to build the skeleton out of 2x4's first, then add the siding, the roof, and at last the decor bits.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Come On In!

Welcome to Crafty Acres. I've been a backyard homesteader for about six months and I've been sharing my trials and tribulations with a close group of friends through email updates. I wasn't expecting my emails to be such a hit, but my friends have kept asking for more and so this blog was born. I hope to chronicle the transformation of our backyard into a mini-farm, as well share crafting ideas, recipes, home projects, and just about anything else that earns me the merit badge of "self sufficiency."

I grew up on a 20 acre ranch, and lived on that very same ranch (save for a few failed attempts at living in some big cities) until I was 35. Then all of a sudden last year, I fell in love. We all know that love can make you do some pretty crazy things. Well, earlier this year in February I did the most crazy thing I ever thought possible…

I moved into town.

Getting used to town life has been an adventure, but I have always been up for a challenge. Transforming our 1/10 acre backyard into a mini- farm has been a lot of fun, but a heck of a lot of work… and there’s still a long way to go, especially when money is tight.

I’ve always been a crafty girl, so I’ve found many a way to stretch a dollar and upcycle things headed for the waste bin. Many of my gardening, home and kitchen crafts are a result of these awesome skills. Join me as I take on these pursuits in the near future: learning to preserve and can, build a chicken coop cottage, start a worm bin, and plant a mini- orchard, and somewhere further along down the line I plan to rustle up some angora bunnies (since an Alpaca is out of the question) and learn to spin yarn.

Glad to have you along for the journey. I hope my ideas and lofty future plans are an inspiration for you, if not a fun and entertaining read!