Burlap Placemats

While on our visit to Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin back in December, we were told that burlap bags worked great as covers for compost bins.  Our tour guide told us that they obtained all of their burlap bags from local coffee roasters for little to no cost at all.

It just so happens that there is a local coffee roaster housed just two store fronts down from my husband’s fitness business, so we decided to investigate and I’ll be darned that they literally had closets full of burlap!  The owner said that there is one local farmer that comes regularly to pick up some of her extra bags, but other than that she was just waiting for someone to take them off her hands because she hated to just throw them out.

Well, my husband walked out of there with a tower of burlap sacks, towering far above his over six foot frame.  While we did use a few of the coffee bags to cover our compost bins, we were left with a lot extra stock.  So, I started to look through my crafting books for different things to do with burlap and I came upon one of my Amanda Blake Soule favorites, The Creative Family.  In this book, Amanda discusses the use of burlap to introduce children to sewing.  The wide spaces in the burlap make for easy needlework for young children.

After feeling inspired, as I so often do after reading Amanda’s books, the girls and I got to work.  The girls each took turns sewing using roughly 1 X 2 foot pieces of burlap (I simply cut up one coffee bag), embroidery floss, an embroidery hoop and a large needle.

After the girls reached a point where they were satisfied with their work, I removed the hoop and used my sewing machine to sew on a bit of fabric to the back of the burlap.

This quick project (It only took about 45 minutes from start to finish…including clean up.) ended up turning out quite well and the girls now have their very own hand crafted snack-time placemats.

Now I just need to come up with some more projects to use up the other twenty burlap bags I have 🙂  If anyone has any crafty ideas, please feel free to leave a comment.  I would love to come up with some more ideas.

2012 Seed Starting Day

Ever since we started our garden three summers ago, the third weekend in February marked our “Seed Starting Day” for the year’s garden.  This past Saturday marked this occasion and a wonderful day was had by all.  As I said last week, I was feeling the need to get in the soil and grow something, so I was very happy to see that day pop up on our calendar!

We normally start the morning off with some sort of yummy breakfast, made with products from last year’s harvest.  This year I made pumpkin scones, and they were delicious!  (This recipe to follow in a post later this week.)

Then the girls drew pictures of what they thought would happen to the seeds once they were planted.

Here is my five year old daughter’s drawing.  She said, “This is a picture of a pot, with the plant marker and a few sprouts coming up.  The sun and rain are coming down on the sprouts.”  Such the gardening expert!

This is the drawing my two year old completed.  She said, “This is a plant with a rainbow.” She is on her way to garden expert status very, very soon I’m sure.

This year for our seed starting mix, we took a five gallon bucket and filled it up half way with compost from last summer.  We then mixed in one small package of coir (coconut husk fiber), which helps to retain moisture much like a peat mixture does.

We mixed away until we had a nice ground mixture, perfect for seed starting.

Then my husband and girls got busy planting tomato seeds (Amish Paste, Martino’s Roma, Speckled Roman, and Italian Heirloom…all my favorite tomatoes to make tomato sauce with in August), basil seeds and Butterfly Weed seeds.  The girls were really able to contribute to the effort this year and it was awe inspiring to see those little hands working the earth, and instinctively knowing how to plant these small seeds so that they will later grow to provide us with a bounty of vegetables.

We keep our seeds in our craft room in our basement.  My husband hooks up fluorescent shop lights that can be moved up as the plants grow.  He also hooks the lights up to a timer so that the plants can get 14-16 hours of light per day.  We also put an oscillating floor fan in there with the seeds to help prevent mold or fungus from growing on the surface of the soil.

“But what’s the point?”

        “I do other things, some of which are really quite extraordinary,” the Earthworm said, brightening.

     “Such as what?” asked James.

     “Well,” the Earthworm said, “Next time you stand in a field or in a garden and look around you, then just remember this: that every grain of soil upon the surface of the land, every tiny little bit of soil that you can see, has actually passed through the body of an Earthworm during the last few years.”

     “It’s not possible!” said James.

     “My dear boy, it’s a fact.”

     “But what’s the point?”

     “What do you mean, what’s the point?”

     “Why do you do it?”

     “We do it for the farmers.  It makes the soil nice and light and crumbly so that things will grow well in it.  If you really want to know, the farmers couldn’t do without us.  We are essential.  We are vital.  So it is only natural that the farmer should love us.”

                 Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

 Yesterday was a cloudy, dreary day, so the girls and I found ourselves snuggled in bed reading for much of the afternoon.   My five year old recently became obsessed with having chapter books read aloud to her, and our piece of the day yesterday was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

While reading, I had to smile because the two small girls lying next to me never cease to amaze me.  When I came to the above passage, my five year old said to me, “Oh Mom, James must be joking with the Earthworm because everyone knows that worms make soil!  It is like our worm compost bin.”  And then she rolled her precious little eyes at the silliness of the whole idea that this character is playing at the fact that he doesn’t know of the important role of worms.

Sadly enough though, we as a modern culture have completely forgotten about the important role of the earthworm, and his amazing ability to enrich our soil.  We have moved so far past our agrarian roots that many people today are like James and ask, “But what’s the point?”

Here in our household we love the worms, love them.  In fact my youngest calls the worms in our compost bin her pets!  We have had an outdoor worm bin for about three years now, but always struggled when it came to keeping those little fellas alive when the cold temps of our winters hit.  So this year we set out on a mission to bring the worms and our compost inside.

My goal was to still be able to create amazing compost (by letting our little red wigglers do their work), while avoiding any nasty odor and mess.  It took a little bit of trial and error, but we finally found something that seems to be working quite well.  Here’s what we did:

  1.  I took a large plastic garbage can from my local hardware store and set it in an open space in my basement.
  2.  I then put 3 bricks in the bottom of this garbage can.  (This bottom bin will act as a collection reservoir for any liquid that drains away from the compost.  We have had our bins set up for just over 2 months now and have not had to empty the bottom can yet.)
  3. Then I took a second plastic garbage can (with a tight fitting lid), and flipped it over upside down.
  4. I took the largest drill bit I had and drilled about 20 holes in the bottom of the can.  I also drilled holes around the bottom 4 inches on the sides of the can.
  5. I then nested the can with the drilled holes inside the other can with the bricks in it.
  6. Next I shredded all of my utility bills from last year and poured all of that shred into the can.  [This step is very important and will help to keep the bin from smelling gross.  You need to be sure to balance out your green matter (nitrogen) and your brown matter (carbon).]
  7. Then I added some veggie scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds.
  8. Next we added our worms.  (The worms you want to get are red wigglers.  They can be purchased on any number of websites, but I would recommend talking with a local farmer.  These little guys reproduce like crazy and many farmers would be willing to just pass some along to you.  We actually purchased some of our worms while we were visiting Growing Power, an amazing urban farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  More about this amazing place in an upcoming post!)
  9. After adding your worms, give everything a good stir.  (As you can see we have quite the interesting stir stick…ha!  One of my husband’s students made this lovely piece for him, and we are putting it to good use.)
  10. Lastly, fit the lid on the can tightly.  I took a utility knife and cut two vents in the top of the lid.  They are just large enough so a bit of air can get in, but small enough so that no little critters can get in.

Items you CAN put in your compost bin:

  • Veggie and fruit scraps
  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grounds and coffee filters
  • Stale bread (just be sure there is no dairy in it/on it)
  • Tea leaves and tea bags (you will want to pop out the staple if there is one)
  • Any cardboard (without a wax finish)…Egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, etc.
  • Any paper/newspaper (without a gloss finish)

Items you CANNOT put in your compost bin:

  • Any animal product/protein (including dairy)
  • Plastic
  • Staples

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!  I would be happy to offer any additional assistance.  Have fun!