Sunday, October 17, 2010

Goin' & growin'

Lawrence started off the day by apologizing for going to four football games in the past six weekends.  But I don't care if he goes to TWELVE football games in six weekends!!  This is OUR time now, time to do what we WANT to do, rather than what we HAVE to do.  We partially renovated two houses and built a third, which we then partially renovated after we took possession of it.  This process has paid handsome dividends, but it ate up much of our free time for the better part of two years!  Now is playtime!

Myself, I'd rather die than sit and watch the Houston Texans play ball, but I've finally, finally got time to indulge an interest that has been on the back burner for years now: growing things. 

It's actually not a development of  a new interest so much as a return to roots, pun intended.  I grew up in large part on my maternal family's extensive acreages.  Gardening and living off the land to the extent possible were ways of life.  There was no such term as "eco" this, that, or the other thing in those years - what is considered "eco" now was "normal" then.

Of course, that was one country, forty years, and eight climate zones ago, so I've got a hell of a learning curve to climb if I want to re-establish any part of that lifestyle!  I began the ascent yesterday by picking up both a composter and a rain barrel at an outreach event orchestrated by the City of Houston, in which they sold the devices to citizens below retail cost.

Y'all line up now for those barrels and composters.  I got there early and there were still at least a hundred people ahead of me in the line.  Downtown Houston skyline and a gorgeous fall sky in the background.

The Earth Machine (made in Canada, eh?) was designed to sit directly on the ground, for maximum involvement of insects and worms in the composting process.  However, sitting anything the slightest bit edible on the ground in greater Houston usually attracts an organism that could never be described as beneficial:

One of at least a dozen rats I've killed in my Texas houses over the years, this one from 2005.  Heh heh... I used to post this photo on internet dating sites.  Cleared out the squeamish guys really fast.  Joking aside, we have an intense rat problem here. 

I lined the bottom of the Earth Machine with hardware cloth. That way the worms and bugs can get in, but hopefully rodents will be excluded.
I don't yet know what conditions will result in the optimal composting in Galveston County Texas, but here's how the learning process is beginning.

After getting the composter leveled and staked down, one is supposed to add a "carbon" layer.  Because we have few leaves or straw here in brand-new suburbia, I'm crossing my fingers and using hardwood mulch.
OK, here's the pre-mixing addition of all the scraps that have been stinking up my kitchen counter for a week while they waited for me to acquire this thing.  All scrap foodstuffs can be added except anything that contains meat, fat, or oil.  You're supposed to shoot for an approximate ratio of 1:1 "nitrogen" components (rotting food) and "carbon" components.
Once the scraps are added, the top goes back on until the next load needs to be added.  It was only at this point that I realized my greatest adversary might not be rats - it might instead be our dog, for whom a rotten banana constitutes culinary nirvana.  I attempted to weight down the hardware cloth and sides of the Earth Machine using my "carbon" buckets to deter her from scratching around the base. 

The earth will not be saved through the use of 55-gallon Systerns or anything remotely resembling them, but one has to start somewhere when one is fiddling with conservation-minded endeavors.  At prevailing costs, this thing could be made to pay for itself in potable water savings over its lifetime, but just barely.

I raised it up about eight inches to give it a little more head, and to make connecting the hose easier.

You just hacksaw off your downspout and reposition the elbow above the top of the Systern.  Aesthetically, the thing almost looks like it was installed here when the house was built. The color is exactly the same as our house trim.

Because I put this on a house corner, I angled the overflow hose toward the existing splash pad for the twin downspout, but I will block the twin so that the run-off from both roof sections goes into the Systern.
After we installed this baby-step, The Engineer got a wild hair and started considering what would be involved if we were to install a REAL cistern.  We calculated that, because our sprawling one-story has such a huge footprint, just the rear two-thirds of our roof sheds three times as much rainwater as we consume annually via municipal supply!  So he's now investigating the costs and benefits of actually installing an underground tank.  We'll see how that goes. 

We finished the day with happy sunburns similar in color to the western sky:

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