Friday, November 18, 2011

Build Your Own Composter

I'm often asked what are the best composting containers.  I've tried a lot of them.  And while the best one for you will depend on your situation (how much time, space and plant material you have at your disposal), my favorite is a home-made wire mesh bin.  The Master Gardeners in El Paso County first showed me how to build it, so when I moved to Austin a few years ago, I asked my dad to help me build one.  It's a very easy container to make, and it works very well.  So if you're looking to expand your composting activities, or even if you're just starting out, consider building this bin.

My favorite type of compost bin.
To make this type of bin, you'll need 10' of hardware cloth, which you can get at most home improvement stores.  You need a piece that is 10' long, 36" tall and has half-inch square mesh.  (Don't use chicken wire, it's not sturdy enough). You should be able to purchase a piece of hardware cloth that is exactly this size.  You may also see it in 40' or even 100' lengths.  But you only need 10', so don't buy more than you need (not a fun thing to store).  

Straighten and flatten the mesh, which is rolled up when you purchase it.

 While you're at the hardware store picking up your wire mesh, you should also purchase a two-by-four, two door latches (hook and eye type), some screws, and some metal washers.  If you don't have a saw at home, ask the hardware store to cut your two-by-four.  You'll need two pieces, three-feet long each.  Attach the two-by-fours to each end of the hardware cloth (a staple gun works well, but screws and metal washers work even better) and secure one door latch to the top and the other to the bottom of the two-by-fours. 

If using screws, you'll also need metal washers to tack down the wire.

Hardware cloth attached to 2' x 4' with both staples and screws, to hold it down really well.

You'll probably need to snip off the small pieces of wire at the end of the mesh.

Now you can pull your bin into a circle, where the two-by-fours meet, and latch the door latches to create your bin.  It will be a little unsteady while it's empty, so you might need someone to help the first time you fill it.   This bin is 3' feet tall and a little over 3' feet in diameter--the perfect size to keep your compost cooking. 

Looks are deceiving-the bin doesn't easily stand on its own until you put some plant material in it.

If you'd like, you may also use a large piece of pvc pipe, with holes drilled along the side, in the middle, so that you can get water down into the pile a little better.  When it's time to turn the pile, just unhook the door latches and peel the wire mesh away.  Then set the bin back up a few feet from the pile, and shovel the plant material back into the empty bin--no need for a three-bin system.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do You Know About Wastewater Averaging?

If you don't, you may have a higher water bill next year.  

Most water utility companies, including the City of Austin Water Utilities, determine the amount that you pay for wastewater by averaging three of your "winter" water bills.  My parents taught me this fact a few years ago when I bought my first house, but it's surprising how many people don't know about wastewater averaging.  The premise is that you don't really use water outside during the winter, so all the water you use during that time must be being used inside the house.  And since most of household water is used for washing, flushing toilets, etc, most of it will continue on down to the sewer system, and thus be wastewater. do you find out when your wastewater averaging cycle is?  First, you'll need to have a copy of your water bill handy, so that you can find your "read dates."  Next, go to the wastewater averaging page on the City of Austin water utilities website, click on the calendar icon and then choose your read date and find out your three-month period.

For example, my next read date (from my last water bill) is 11/14/2011, so my wastewater averaging period is from mid-December to mid-March.  

My wastewater averaging period is from December to March.  Yours may be different.

In years past, the utility dropped the highest-use month and averaged the lowest two.  But starting this year, all three months from your cycle will be used to determine your average.  So if you can conserve water during your averaging cycle, you'll reduce your water bill for the entire following year!  But the best part is, if you institute household water conservation measures now, you're more likely to continue those measures all year long.  I sure did.  I started to really pay attention to how I used water.  And one wasteful habit that I discovered was leaving the water running while I soaped my hands up to wash them.  Now, I turn the water off with the back of my hand, soap and scrub, then turn the water back on to rinse.  So far, I haven't noticed anyone else turning off  the water while they wash their hands.  So let's all start a revolution, like someone did back when everyone used to leave the water on while they brushed their teeth.  Small changes like this can make a huge difference on your water bill and also in our environment.

As a special note I'd like to mention that there was an error on this topic reported on at least one of the local news stations last night.  The report was pointing out the new rule that all three months (not just the lowest two) will be used to find your average. The report incorrectly stated that your average is based on the next three months.  Although that might be true for you, your averaging period may not start until December, like me.  So be sure to check the utilities wastewater averaging website to find your exact time period.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learn about growing your own fruit!

Fruits and Berries- Planning, Pruning & Care
Saturday, November 5, 2011, 10am-12pm
Deep Eddy Community Garden, 300 ½ Atlanta Dr., Austin TX  78703

Want to grow your own apples, peaches, and berries?  Learn varieties which excel in this area.  Discover how large the hole for planting should be and if amendments are required.  Basic pruning techniques and general fruit and berry care included in talk.  For more information, contact the Master Gardeners Help Line at (512)854-9600.  This free seminar is presented by the Travis County Master Gardeners, a volunteer arm of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Travis County.