Prepping, homesteading and living the simple, green, independent life.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Global Warming Fail

 This is what my neighbour's yard looked like yesterday:

Luckily the side of my house that has the garden was sheltered from the snow but this has got me wondering about building cold frames for the garden.

Actual cold frames can be pretty expensive so I was thinking of using window well covers like the one on the left.  These are wedged shaped and are meant to go over a basement window so it doesn't have a back.  This would be fine for me since my garden is against my home's foundation, but for others you'd need to close off the back or use two back-to-back. 

Another idea that came to me would be too get a clear plastic storage bin of the "Rubbermaid" type.  These are less expensive than the other options but the plastic isn't very clear; though greenhouses that use 6 mil plastic vapour barrier have the same level of clarity and the plants seem to do fine in those.  Anybody have some experience with coldframes that can chime in?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Welcome to the Waterpik Experience!

A few days back my wife mentioned that the showerhead was getting clogged again and that we'd need to soak it in vinegar again.

Our last waterbill is still on my mind so when she told me this I thought, "What a great excuse to get a new water-saving showerhead!".

The model that had gotten blocked was a water-saving model and I had recently read that older models were prone to blocking in areas with hard water.  Newer ones also have rubber outlets so if they ever scale up you just rub them with your finger and it unblocks them and they're supposedly more efficient.

We picked up the Waterpik Ecoflow from Canadian Tire (on sale this week for only $23.)

What I really like about this one is that it has a shut-off button so you can turn the shower off without closing the faucet and losing your temperature setting.  This allows you to get wet, shut off the water, lather up and then turn the water back on to rinse off.

The package claims you'll save up to 77% water by using the shut-off button.

When my wife brought it home she wanted me to install it right away, but feeling lazy I intended to only read the instruction so I'd at least look productive.

"Welcome to the Waterpik Experience", the instructions exclaimed before assuring me that installation can be done by hand in just a few minutes.

With my aversion to physical labour satisfied and a sudden urge to see first hand the "Waterpik experience (TM)", I decided to give it a try.

The original showerhead came off easy enough, though I did need a wrench to initially loosen it.  The next step was to just screw on the new showerhead and attach it to the hose.  Pretty simple I have to say.

I turned on the shower and there was a small leak in the two connections so I used a wrench to tighten them and scratched up the plastic couplings (Grr...).

After this it was still leaking so I went back to check the instructions and noticed that the rubber washers had fallen out of the hose.

I unscrewed the showerhead and installed the washers (scratching the plastic further).  I decided to just tighten them by hand this time to see if it lived up the claim of "no tools required".

I have to say I'm pretty impressed.  It was pretty easy to install and if you do it right you probably won't need tools.  If you avoid the mistakes I did the whole process can probably be done under 5 minutes.

According to our last water bill we're looking at close to $1000 a year for water charges.  With that expense my wife and I have been talking about getting a new high-efficiency washer which would probably pay for itself in a few years.

With a new shower head, dual-flush toilets and soon a new washer we're curious to see what our next waterbill will be like!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Simple Living: CDs and DVDs

If like me, you were a teen in the 90's, you probably have a huge stack of CDs like I do.

I would also bet that, like me, you rarely listen to any of those CDs. Over the last few years I've also noticed the same thing with my DVDs.

I had a whole shelf of CDs and DVD but never touched 99% of them except to dust them . Okay, I don't actually dust, but you get my point. They had become a nuisance that took up a lot of room, so I decided to do something about it.

First thing I did was get rid of those I had no intention of ever listening or watching again.  I brought the DVDs to Blockbuster Video which bought them for over $60.  There isn't much demand anymore for used CDs so I just dumped them off at Value Village.

I then bought a couple of those huge CD binders that can hold over 300 CDs.  One binder was for music the other for movies.

After all the disks were in the binders however I was left with a huge pile of CD and DVD cases.  I removed the paper inserts from the cases and sent the plastic shells to the recycling bin.  I still had some emotional attachment to them so I kept the paper inserts in a box.  That way "just incase" I can put them back together by buying new cases but I'll probably get rid of them soon too.

By this point my stuff which took up a whole wall unit was now only taking up half a shelf and a small box in the basement.

Also, while I was in the mood, I decided to put all my CDs on my computer.  After converting the music flies I backed them all up on DVDs.  All my 200+ albums fit on 4 DVDs!

Today I rarely buy CDs; perhaps only one a year.  I do love purchasing music through iTunes for my iPod though.  I'm seriously considering getting rid of my remaining CDs and just going iTunes.  It's much more convenient, cheaper, better for the environment and it doesn't take up shelf space!

DVDs are also following the same path.  I used to buy at least one a month but I'm down to maybe 4 a year. I have to REALLY enjoy a movie and be sure that I'll watch it repeatedly for me to buy it now.  In fact, soon I'll just download copies of the movies I really like and "rent" online the ones I'll only watch once.

In a few years I'll probably also feel this way about books and video games.

Then I'll have plenty of shelf space and nothing to put on them; maybe I'll drop off the shelves at Value Village too!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Newest Excitement In My Life: Dual-Flush Toilet!

Last week I got my quarterly municipal water bill: $240!

That's about $1000 a year I'm paying for water which dries out my skin and reeks of chlorine.

This was ample motivation for me to finally get around to installing a dual-flush adapter to our existing toilets.

I picked this thing up at Canadian Tire for around $35 and it was VERY easy to install.  All I needed was a wrench to remove the old handle; the rest just goes in by hand.

Here's what it looks like out of the box:

The blue circles on the left is the water-water saving fill valve I installed a couple weeks back.  The white part on the right is the new dual-flush adapter and the white box on the left is the button which replaces the flush-handle.

Although it was easy to install, it took me almost an hour to adjust if so the "quick flush" option worked properly, but it was well worth it.

This is what the toilet looks like now with the buttons where the handle would be:

Now it takes 6 liters to flush "solids" (same as before) but it only uses about 2 liters to flush "liquids" using the "quick flush" option.

Watching the water level drop using the quick flush it only dropped about 3 inches, about a third of the water in the tank, but that isn't the best part...

The instructions that come with this device gives you tips on how to make your toilet more efficient.  One things it recommends is cleaning out the flush jets under the rim of the bowl with a wire.  When I couldn't get the adjustment right I decided to try this out and it made a big difference.

In fact it works so well, I find that I can flush "solids" with the quick-flush option!

This means that we'll reduce our water use by over 60% and it is estimated that toilets make up 30% of water used in the average home.

Now I have mixed feelings about receiving my next water bill; I'm not looking forward to paying it but I can't wait to see how much we've reduced our water use!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Quick and Easy Square Foot Garden

Here's my little garden that I did last week.  It's a modified square foot garden where instead of a 4 x 4 bed this is 1 x 28.

I have a small 50x 50 lot so there isn't room for anything much larger.

The walls of the bed are plastic fake stones.  They're $15 for 9 feet at Walmart and Canadian Tire.  I got 3 of them which I figure is cheaper than the wood I was planning to make it out of. I do plan on hammering wooden stakes in the outside ground to make them a little more stable.

They were super easy to set up too; took like 20 minutes.  I put cardboard on the bottom of the bed to get rid of the grass.  After the cardboard kills off the grass it will breakdown into the soil.

I tried to use "Mel's Mix" (the fellow who developed Square Foot Gardening) of  1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat moss though mine is a little heavy on the peat moss.

That's peat moss on the left, vermiculite in the middle, and compost on the right.  I put it all on the tarp because not only does it keep your lawn neat, but it makes it easier to mix.  All you do is lift up each side and corner and it all rolls on top of itself.  If the tarp isn't too heavy you can just pick it all up and dump it in your garden bed.

I then used sticks around the house to mark off the one foot squares.

Each square has a different plant/vegetable.  I rotated it by root veggie/leaf veggie/herb/flower/ fruit veggie.

As you may be able to see I've got downspouts and rain barrels on each end of the garden.  I plan on installing a drip hose on them to help water the garden later.

I think I'll also install planter boxes on my front and back porches to plant more veggies and my wife is excited about putting a dwarf cherry tree in the front yard.

This is my first attempt at gardening so hopefully everything works out all right. So far it looks good because one week later I've already got radishes sprouting!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Simple Living: Getting Rid of "Stuff"

"The stuff you own, owns you."

I know that saying sounds bizarre and maybe a little paranoid but in many ways it's true.

In my the back of my mind I'm always thinking, "I have to clean up and organize; my house is too cluttered.".  It's a little thing but it's one more stress in my life and it takes time away from more important things.

Cleaning and organizing is just a temporary fix though. Eventually the "stuff" will get out of place and you have to go through the process again.  The only permanent solution is to get rid of stuff and only keep essentials (or better still, don't buy it in the first place).

Getting rid of stuff actually feels very liberating!

Not only does it make your house more tidy, but by only keeping what you truly need and use you're also evaluating your own life and thinking about what's important to you. You may think "I can't live without that", but by getting rid of stuff you're proving to yourself that you can!

My advice to get started is to go through all the storage boxes in your house.

This is why I actually love moving; you evaluate all your stuff twice over.  When you pack the moving boxes you think, "is it worth packing or should I junk it?".  Then when you unpack in your new home you tend to first unpack only the stuff you really need.

If you haven't opened a moving box after more than a year, you should really ask yourself if you truly need whatever is in that box. That also goes for any other box, bag, shelf or storage area in your home.

There are also many option to get rid of the junk besides just throwing it in the garbage:

1) Charities

Places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill or Value Village sell these used items for charity funds.  Just pack the stuff and drop it off.  Some charities will give a tax receipt for drop offs or a coupon for use in their shop and some will even come to pick up the stuff!

2) Freecycle

Freecycle is like on-line classified ads which features only free stuff. It's all done by volunteers and is usually done through email lists or online forums.  Naturally to prevent people abusing the system you're not allowed to re-sell the items you get for free.

We've gotten quite a few things through our local freecycle and it's a great way to build a sense of community.

3) Garage Sale

A little more work than the other options but at least you'll get some money out of it.  The downside though is that you'll probably still have stuff left which means you'll still have to get rid of it somehow.