Category Archives: Do-It-Yourself

The Boys’ Bunny Business

Sky Bear & Prasad playing "veterinarian" together

Heat, heat, heat! This has been the hottest Kansas Summer of my lifetime. It’s been over 100 degrees on so many days this Summer, so they have to check on the bunnies often. They cool down by lying against large, frozen water bottles, and staying in the shade.

little rabbit run in process

Prasad's big boy, Forest (Flemish Giant)

It’s been a struggle finding time to bear the extremely hot temps. I finally got the bunny run framed, and most of the wire on. The floor is lined with chicken wire to prevent burrowing by both bunnies and predators. The wall between the two bunnies is heavy rabbit wire (the kids keep saying they’ll be able to give each other kisses through it). The roof will be the final touch, but due to the heat we’re not planning to have it done right away. Until that’s completed, the bunnies will use the run by day, and be locked up at night. It won’t actually be a roof, but a wood framed wire lid that folds open so we can stand up inside and clean easily. Prasad and Sky Bear are responsible for 100% of the cleaning, care and feeding, and they’ve both been doing a great job.

Both bunnies get 2x a day of free hopping time all over the yard (15-20 minutes at a time). What I love most about them is the fact that they follow me everywhere. They like to keep track of humans, and stay by our feet. Sometimes I forget Forest is hopping around, and I’m suddenly started by something against my leg. Very sweet animals who happen to produce the world’s greatest fertilizer pellets!

Sky Bear holding his 3 month old baby, Meadow

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Filed under Chicken & Rabbit Gardening, Do-It-Yourself, Kids, Kids Pictures, Rabbits, River Living, Seasons

Fort Building Update II

moving along!

This fort is feeling like a never ending project, and it’s due to the extreme heat we keep having. Who wants to work outside when it’s broiling? Today we spent the whole day working on it, despite 90+ degree temps with high humidity. We worked mostly in the shade, which was bearable. We survived with a lot of water and several breaks. Daniel got the remainder of the roofing boards (scrap pieces) and roofing paper on. After two heavy rains we were concerned about the roof boards warping, so the tar-paper should help until we get the metal roofing on.

I’m looking forward to finishing up the wood trim and door step so I can move on to more fun things, like shutters and a door. In my mind it’s already stained with shutters and a flower box… looking awesome, of course! It’s turning out to be a very cute structure with a lot of possibilities. It’s my second major building project since the chicken coop, and for some reason this larger house has been a much simpler project.

We’ve been brainstorming a name for the structure. Something having to do with the raised flower/veggie bed frames we used to build the lower section, or possibly referring to its usage as a kids fort.

Amelie loves going inside and hiding behind a wall next to the window. Then she throws balls out the window at Sky or Prasad, laughing hysterically. They’re going to get a lot of use out of this cutie!

Posted by: Jill

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Urban Farm & Garden Update: Late Spring 2011

Potato barrels

Our potatoes are taking off like crazy. We have two experimental barrels this year. Prasad & Sky chose to grow some in their own little garden plots, and those are doing great, too. We’ll get to experience ground versus barrel potatoes, and decide what to repeat for next year. When the plants are towering above the barrels like this, it’s time to add more soil, burying almost half the existing plants. We’ll wait for blossoms to appear, and do a partial harvest of baby potatoes.

Green Beans & Snap Peas

Remember when we first planted these? You can see them here in an older post. The green beans and snap peas have entwined, creating large, happy vines. The peas are already flowering.

Snow Peas

Our snow peas were started much later than the snap peas, which is why they’re so small. We started them directly in the ground with seed from a generous neighbor friend, Kristen. We thought we wouldn’t be able to find snow peas this year, and were thrilled when she contacted me. Thanks so much, Kristen! They took off pretty fast, but we noticed something started nibbling on them. They must be pretty tasty leaves, because nothing else in the garden was being nibbled. Daniel put a little rabbit wire fence around them, and they’ve been doing much better ever since. These are my favorite peas for salads, so we’re hoping they continue to do well.

Tomatoes

The tomatoes have gone insane! If you look back at our Early Spring post you can see how much they’ve grown. We’ve had a lot of rain, followed by sun and heat so they’re very happy so far. We’ve had no problems with staking, but when they’re taller we plan to add wood poles for extra support. Our tomatillo plants don’t have any cages, just poles, and they’re doing great, so far. They’ve got blooms, and so do all our peppers!

Zucchini

We thought this little guy was history a few weeks ago. It was tiny when we planted it on a small hill, and it got trampled a few times before the fence was up. I think it was down to two small, very sad look leaves. Now it’s thriving and blooming. I am a zucchini fanatic, so cannot wait!

Our front yard was tilled, and we planted a large strawberry patch, watermelon, and Russian Giant sunflowers. All three are taking off like crazy. Despite living in the Sunflower State, we’ve never been able to grow Sunflowers from seed. Our front yard plants are taking off, and we’ll have to post pics soon!

Summer heat is coming. We’ve had several humid days in the 90’s. The challenge in our climate comes during the intense heat & drought periods of Summer. We’re hoping the loamy soil helps significantly, and that we don’t have to irrigate excessively. It’s something we have to pay close attention to, or we could lose all our yummy crops. If all goes well, I’m pretty sure we’ll have enough food to feed several families!

Complete List of what we’re growing this year:

Potatoes (barrel & ground), 14 Tomatoes, 9 multi-colored Cherry tomatoes, 2 types of peas (snow & snap), Green Beans, 2 Blueberry bushes, 50 Strawberry plants, 1 Zucchini, 2 Cucumber, 1 Bush Cucumber, 4 Jalapeno peppers, 6 mixed pepper plants (red, yellow & green), Garlic, Onion, 9 Eggplant, 8 Tomatillos, Kale, Broccoli, Sunflower, Watermelon, 2 Peach trees, 1 self-pollinating Apple tree, Cilantro

Plus, don’t forget we have a duck & 3 hens laying eggs every day. By August we’ll have 6 more starting to lay. It’s a wonderful feeling when your food comes from right outside your back door.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Blueberries, Chickens, Do-It-Yourself, Ducks, Eggs, Food, Fruit Trees, In Season, Natural Food, Organic Food, River Living, Seasons, Shashwat, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening, Weather

Fort Building Update

looking inside...

Sky looking South toward the river levee

We’ve been moving along on the kids’ fort. You can see the four layers of old garden bed frames we started with at the bottom, and we’ve been using scrap wood we had on hand, as well as new wood to build the rest. The newer wood is mostly cut from untreated dog-eared fence boards, which are very cheap. The roof will have additional framing before we install it, and of course we’ll be building a small door, shutters, and a flower box.We’ll be staining the wood, and paint the door and shutters. We plan on incorporating some decorative branches and logs into the structure, either on the roof, around the windows, or wherever feels right. It’s nestled under the trees, and is barely noticeable.

Sky and Prasad will be doing all the sanding on the cut edges. They’re both very excited about their little second home, and keep going outside to sweep out the floor (under trees with no roof = a floor full of leaves and twigs). They’ve already played “restaurant” inside, and asked whether or not it’s okay to jump out of the windows. Of course, the answer was “no” but I’m glad they at least asked!

It’s turning out to be a solid structure, and will probably last a very long time. In a few years, the boys will be too old for a fort and Amelie will enjoy it. After that, we could use it as the perfect garden shed or goat house (if they ever approve of keeping little Nigerian pygmy goats in our city). Most likely, the shed idea will happen. I’ve always wanted one just for gardening since we don’t have a garage or barn.

Posted by: Jill

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From Raised Beds to Kids Fort

starting the base and floor

Sky and Prasad watching

moving along...

plywood floor attached

Surprisingly, raised garden bed frames are perfect for building a kids fort/ playhouse. A few weeks ago when we decided to replace all our 8′ long treated raised beds with untreated wood (due to the harsh chemicals in treated wood lurching into our crops), we wondered what we’d do with all that expensive wood. The boys have been begging for a wooden fort nestled under the Elm trees, so it seemed to be a logical use for them. We went out this morning and purchased other boards for the framing and floor. We’ll stack three more of the old, treated garden bed frames on top of this one, followed by some new siding boards, a roof, and voila! Instant (well, almost instant) kids cabin in the trees. It’ll have a door, window & flower box, and front stoop. It should be plenty of space for the boys to hide out and store things. We think Amelie will also love it for years to come. Time to start framing the walls!

Posted by: Jill

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The Debt-Free Pipe Dream

A long, dry but pertinent post we hope will help others

Wouldn’t it be smart if the “American Dream” were more about financial freedom and becoming debt-free, than acquiring a lot of possessions we don’t need for an amount of money most of us don’t have? Instead of being the ‘land of the free’, most of us are enslaved to banks. We weren’t always this way as a country. My maternal grandfather owned everything he had, and didn’t carry debt on anything. He was proud of it, and never understood why anyone would want to be beholden to a financial institution. He lived simply, had everything he needed, and was always a good provider for his family. He wasn’t a carpenter, but built an entire addition onto his house with his own hands that included a bedroom, bathroom and enlarged kitchen. He had no help, except for the electrician. When the addition was completed, he had no debts to pay off… how many people can say that today? I think of his independent spirit a lot, especially when it comes to finances.

The world we live in today doesn’t support how my grandfather chose to live. If you live within city limits, we probably have so many zoning requirements, permit fees, time limits, and very specific codes about how things have to be built. It’s intimidating, so one might easily decide against building anything themselves and leave it up to an expensive remodeling company. It’s daunting, but at the very least I’d look into doing part of the work myself. Today’s world teaches people that if they can pay someone to do something, even if you could manage it yourself, pay them because it will save time and trouble. What they don’t say is that the time you take would be well spent because you’d have more pride in your independence & self-reliance, and far more money in your pocket. That last one is big, and should be a huge consideration in our Drowning in Debt society. I’m not saying everyone should take on monumental home improvements, but there are so many things we don’t know how to do any more, resulting in a very dependent population.

Comparatively speaking, we’ve never considered ourselves to be drowning in debts as a family. But we don’t like comparing ourselves to the general population. If we did that, we’d probably say were were doing fine and just stay in debt. We used credit cards for big things, like adoption travel expenses and unexpected repairs. We even had a 2nd mortgage on our last home due to our finished basement project. Due to our move, that debt is gone, and we had a major reduction in the mortgage payment  (shaved off by 2/3). As a result, this last year we paid all our credit cards off. We cancelled them all, except one that Daniel keeps for business/court purposes. That one is paid off monthly, and never carries a balance. If we want something, but can’t afford it at the time, we wait and save for it. That’s the old-fashioned way, and the smartest most common sense way. Strangely, it’s been an adjustment to our “want it now, therefore should have it now” mentality– that thinking is ingrained in every American’s mind since birth; instant gratification. Even the less materially minded of us have that type of mindset. It’s important to become aware of it, and keep it in check.

What’s next? Credit cards weren’t the only ball & chain. We still have a mortgage and two car debts. Fortunately, one auto loan (Daniel’s commuter car) was financed at 0% interest, and we’ll have it paid off in a couple of years. After that, we plan to pay cash for our cars. With far fewer expenses, we’re setting money aside now in order to be able to buy a car later, and when the time comes we’ll buy only what we can afford. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Our second car (the mini-van) is used around town only, so has very low mileage. The loan payment is high, so we’re considering our options at this time- selling and using the cash to buy a less expensive car that we actually own, trading down, etc. The thought of zero car debt is tantalizing and liberating. With each debt we cut out of our lives, we don’t only free up our finances for savings and other endeavors, we liberate our psyche from the imprisonment we’ve created for ourselves. We truly are enslaved when we have debts of any kind. What’s worth more, that inner sense of peace and freedom, or stuff?

As for the mortgage, our largest debt, we moved into a much less expensive house last year, so we’re dealing with a more surmountable mountain now. By moving, we owe less than half of what we did last year.. imagine cutting your present mortgage by almost 60%! We’re shaving off the debt fast by paying hundreds more on the mortgage every month, and should have it paid off well before the term ends. There is a bright light at the end of the mortgage tunnel when you make even small principal-only payments, but people are rarely told about what a difference it makes (it shaves off years, even decades). My mother owns her own home, free and clear. She always tells me home ownership is the greatest gift I can give myself, especially when I’m older. We don’t want to be in our sixties making mortgage payments, but ours should be paid off well before then.

So, for those considering shaving off debt, expenses, simplifying financially, or getting out of the debt cycle completely, here’s our Annual breakdown of the Peebles 2010-2011 journey:

  • Moved and lowered mortgage by 66%
  • Reduced utility bills (and our footprint) by 35%-40% because of much smaller house. Living happily without a dishwasher, microwave or blow dryer, reducing showers, hanging laundry outdoors, and being more responsible with electrical usage
  • Maintained same income first six months and used that to pay off debts in that time frame
  • Food savings: Making lists, menus, and better planning saves a lot of money for a big family. Having chicken eggs from home, plus we’re on our way to having a lot of our own food from the garden. It’s a huge help (both financially and ecologically) being vegetarian, too.
  • Fuel savings: Communing less to work by staying home 2-3 days/week. We have this option now that we have fewer financial obligations. We also drive less as a family, use our bikes, and make fewer trips to the store
  • We stopped what we call hobby shopping- wandering through stores just to buy something, even when we don’t need anything. Impulse buys have come to a halt. Hobby Shopping should be classified as an official disease in our country!
  • Cash only: It wasn’t intentional, but somehow we both ended up carrying cash around this year instead of using debit cards. We highly recommend doing this if you want to curb spending. Seeing bills in your wallet keeps you from spending them as frivolously, and gives you a more tangible sense of what you have to spend
  • DIY savings: Saved money by repairing lawnmower and toilet ourselves, building three fences, landscaping, creating a new gravel driveway, planting our own trees, interior painting, and old kitchen floor removal.
  • Sold a lot of unwanted items on Craigslist
  • Paid for our bathroom renovation and new kitchen floor with cash we saved, not with credit.
  • Purchased new, gently used/recycled items often. Shopped antique, consignment and second-hand stores a lot for kids clothing and discovered how many chain stores donate and sell brand new goods to those shops. We saved at least 50% this year on extraneous expenses all because of recycled goods.
  • Hardly working: With far less to worry about, and significantly fewer work hours (Daniel is down to working about 20-25 hours/week as a self-employed attorney). He still makes more money than we need, and live a very comfortable lifestyle. We both have more time together, and are in better mental and physical health

There is probably far more to add to our list, but this sums it up well. Most people believe that getting out of debt and having more financial freedom means they need more income. It can feel like an impossible pipe dream. We used to wrack our brains for years thinking up solutions. Of course each household varies, depending upon individual circumstances, the level of debt, etc. It usually doesn’t occur to people that it would help considerably if we just changed our lifestyle, habits, thoughts and beliefs about what our needs are and what we can do for ourselves. Or maybe people just don’t want to change anything, and avoid this very liberating philosophy: We do not need more debts, more stuff, more jobs or income to solve the problem. This type of thinking feels almost upside down at first, but we’ve discovered first-hand how true it is. Being in debt isn’t really about money at all, it’s about the attachment our psyche has to the material world, and the importance we place upon it. When we can start asking ourselves what we need, and what truly makes us happy, all the extraneous things we don’t need (that enslave and tie us down) can fall away and we become free.

On a final note, after reflecting upon our last year, we realized if we wish to be free inwardly, our outer reality must reflect that. We can’t expect spiritual upliftment when things in this world weigh upon us and tie us down. We also noticed how getting out of debt and simplifying our lifestyle automatically goes hand-in-hand with becoming more ecologically responsible. Both goals complement and supports one other. I find that intriguing and beautiful! I’m guessing my grandfather is smiling upon us, helping us every step of the way. For all he did, he’s always been such an inspiration to me.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Do-It-Yourself, Family Happenings, Materialism, Order & Balance, Peace, Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Shopping, Simplicity, Thoughts & Insights, Urban Farmsteading

Urban Farm & Garden Update: Early Spring 2011

Pole Beans!

First, I’d like to point out that we have to put in a fence around our veggies. This is because of our Boxer pup, Hanu. He usually leaves the beds alone, but has occasionally trampled over them and pulled out one of our Marigold plants last week. He was the reason I was having such a difficult time actually planting anything a week ago- I was apprehensive out of fear that he would destroy our goodies. I was bummed out for a few days because I can’t stand the look of typical chicken wirey fencing around that large of a space. We’re talking about a 20′ x 60′ foot area- a small portion of our property, but it’s clearly visible from our sun room. I wanted to keep it visually appealing. After some brainstorming, we decided to utilize natural materials that are readily available in the woods behind our property– logs and branches. A nature fence! There is an endless supply of logs next to the river, so it just seemed like the most logical choice. It won’t be completed until this weekend, but I’m LOVING the fluid, gangly, funky feel of it already. It blends beautifully with nature, and the posts will not be cemented in… we want to be able to move and expand the garden easily over time. Instead, they’re put into very deep holes (the soil is like butter and easy to dig out). When they rot, we’ll go back into the woods for a free replacement! I personally love how right-brained it is… there is no measuring required, and it feels like we’re sculpting. Both Daniel and I are having so much fun log hunting and building that we can’t stop admiring it and talking about it. We’re looking forward to diving in more fully this weekend. More pics to come as it develops.

Now, for the garden- So far we have four 4′ x 8′ garden beds, two large rum barrels, and this homemade tee pee trellis for pole beans and snap peas. We wanted snow peas (the flatter variety) but have had no luck finding seed or plants in town. The two plants in the picture are Kentucky pole beans, and the beans get 7″-8″ long. We left an opening on the front of the tee pee so Amelie will be able to sit inside when the plants go wild. We’ll also have a large, rectangular 12′ x 19′ plot for more blueberries, and other larger plant crops. That’s also where Prasad and Sky will have their own little garden squares to plant whatever they want.

Tomatoes!

On the right you can see 9 small tri-colored cherry tomato plants, only three of which have their cages. Behind those are 9 wider, taller cages with a tri-colored variety of large tomatoes. After a lot of research on tomato cages, we opted for a more durable version of the classic metal tomato cage (the wires are much thicker and stronger). We considered building our own out of wood, twigs, or concrete re-bar wire, but these seemed the most do-able for us this year. I didn’t want to spend valuable time building, or bending very hard re-bar to shape. It’s all an experiment, so we’ll see how these do this year.

The far left bed isn’t filled up yet, but it contains 8 tomatillo plants, and 8 eggplants. Another bed (not pictured) has garlic and onions, with red peppers and jalapenos.

The past two weeks we’ve done more digging than ever before. We are very impressed by the soil. It’s extremely rich with organic matter, free from rocks and clay, and doesn’t really need anything added to it. A farming friend told me the proper name for our soil is “Eudora Silt Loam”, and it is Capability Class 1 soil, which is a tiny percent of the world’s soil. We’ve noticed just about anything can grow here, and the soil can be worked easily, wet or dry. No tilling required. And it’s never too muddy after a rain to dig in the dirt due to the extremely fine sand. With our hot, dry Summers, the soil stays moist just a few inches deep, so we won’t have to water as often as one might expect. When I was digging up the soil for the pole beans, I ran into some of the longest, fattest, juiciest earthworms I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly fertile soil, and I can’t say enough about it. If we’re successful at growing our own food, most of the credit will go to the soil.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Collaborative Love, Do-It-Yourself, Food, Natural Food, Organic Food, River Living, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading, Veggie Gardening