Friday, June 27, 2008

Save the bees!

By now, you have probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, the affliction that wiped out 36% of the honeybee hives in 2007. WOW. Honeybees are essential for pollinating over a third of human food crops, including almonds, blueberries, pears, raspberries, etc. Haagen-Dazs, worried that many favorite ice cream flavors may be on the brink of extinction due to a lack of ingredients, has even started a campaign to raise awareness for the dying bees.

What's even more worrying is that other pollinators are starting to die off as well: bumblebees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. These key species are a necessity to our survival on the planet.

While scientists have not determined the exact cause of CCD, suspects include lack of habitat, huge farm monocultures, rampant pesticide use, and compromised immune systems.

So what can we do? We need bees to pollinate our gardens too!

Step 1: Provide habitat and food for the bees & other pollinators in your yard.

  • Provide food: Create an insectary! According to the Melissa Bee Garden, the top 5 plants to attract bees are: borage, lemon balm, tansy, goldenrod, and echium. Also valuable are catmint, salvias, mint, oregano, lavender, garlic, parsley and chives. You could also plant a clover lawn , which attracts bees and doesn't need as much water, fertilizer or mowing.

Bees love my salvia and catmint

  • Provide shelter: Leave dead wood for nesting, and dead plants and leaf litter for shelter. Leave some areas of soil uncovered for ground-nesting insects. Group plantings to help pollinators move through the landscape to avoid predators.

  • Provide water: Running water, ponds and small containers provide drinking and bathing water. Water sources should have a sloping side so pollinators can approach easily without drowning.

Step II: Don't poison

Many scientists believe pesticides and herbicides, spread by farmers, lawn services and gardeners, are contributing to the epidemic of bee deaths.

Step III: Host bees in your back yard!

Become an urban beekeeper, and provide a home for bees while reaping the benefits of their pollination and harvesting their honey.'s what I'm going to do:

  • Plant a clover lawn.
  • Plant 6 more bee-attracting perennials in the fall.
  • Plant borage again next year.
  • Give away at least 3 lemon balms this year (they spring up everywhere)!
  • I would love to become a beekeeper... but that is a few years down the road.

How about you?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

6 tips for maximizing Sun Oven usefulness

As you know, I love my Sun Oven (s). Unlike corn ethanol, nuclear power, coal liquefication, and other boondoggles, they are a way to both lower our carbon footprint and prepare for peak oil. And, relatively speaking, they are cheap and portable! (Compare the cost of a Sun Oven: $250, to the cost of a PV system to run a cooktop and oven: $2000+)

But as with many worthwhile endeavors, using a Sun Oven takes a little bit of experience and planning. As I have started using my Sun Oven almost every day, I've come up with a few ways to maximize their usage.

Now, none of the below tips are essential to using a Sun Oven - you can ignore all of them if you want. But since the SO is part of my strategy to decrease my energy footprint, I try to get as much out of them as I can. Keep in mind that all of these tips apply to the summer only - I haven't much experience cooking in the SO during the winter.

1. Re-think meal planning

I have started planning my grocery shopping around a 4 / 2 / 1 dinner plan. I plan to have the food to make Sun Oven meals 4 days of the week (they also can be made conventionally), 2 cold meals which hopefully can be cooked ahead of time, and 1 conventional meal. So if I am successful, I get 6 meals without very much energy used at all + leftovers heated in the good ole microwave for lunch the next day (microwaves use much less energy than either cooktops or ovens).

2. Adding cold meals to your repetoire

You can use the Sun Oven to pre-cook foods for cold meals throughout the week. Potatoes, beans, hardboiled eggs, bread and rice are good examples of things that can be cooked on one day and incorporated into a meal on another. This can help you out if you are very busy during the week and need to throw together dinner! My husband and I both like meals like cold bean salads, pasta salads, potato salad, pitas and sandwiches.

3. Careful not to increase your "high-energy-impact" foods

I'm a vegetarian who eats fish, dairy and eggs (technically a pescatarian). So when I started cooking more dishes in the Sun Oven that use dairy products and eggs - I had to take a careful look at my eating habits. I don't want to accidentally increase my total energy usage by eating very much more dairy/eggs/fish (which take more energy, grain, water, etc. to make than veggies, beans, or grains.)

4. Maximize sunny days

Be sure to know your weather forecast. When you have a sunny, cloudless day - pounce! On a sunny day in the summer, you can cook (for example) bread, lunch and dinner in a Sun Oven. Or you could cook beans and rice, potatoes, hardboiled eggs, cornbread, bread, etc. to incorporate into meals all week. This is especially helpful if you know cloudy days are coming up. So if you know you are having a sunny day - then cook your bread that day in the SO, instead of the next day in the conventional oven.

This applies especially to people who are at work all day - you can pre-cook beans and rice, potatoes etc. over sunny weekend days (if you have them) and then use that food throughout the week.

5. Get used to cooking dinner at 2 or 3 pm (in the summer)

To be ready in time for dinner between 5:30 and 6:30, the meal needs to be prepared and in the oven by 2:30 (for some things) or by 4:00 (for fish, pizzas, eggs dishes). The SO doesn't "burn" food like a conventional oven does, so you can leave it in there long after it is done, with a few exceptions like pita pizzas and fish, which WILL dry out. The SO is insulated so it will usually keep your meal pretty warm, although that depends on several different factors. You probably need to take 30 seconds or so every 1 or 2 hours to re-adjust the SO to face the sun.

Obviously, this won't work well for people at work all day... you could try preparing the meal the night before and then popping the meal in the SO if you come home for lunch, or ask your responsible kid to put it in the SO when they get home from school.

6. Get creative

It took awhile to realize that I could make baby food in the sun oven! Now once or twice a week I roast sweet potatoes and carrots in my GSO and just store them to use every day.

Here's a sample menu (you can find my actual menus on the right side of my blog under "Sun Oven Journal"):
(GSO = Global Sun Oven, THSO = Tulsi Hybrid Sun Oven)
Monday: GSO - Veggie Quesadilla Stacks
Tuesday: Cold meal: Black bean and corn salad
Wednesday: GSO - Herbed potatoes & cornbread; THSO - Cajun tilapia
Thursday: GSO - Rice, beans, potatoes for future use; THSO - Baby food (Dinner is Potato salad)
Friday: Cooktop - Ravioli
Saturday: GSO: Banana bread; THSO: Pita pizzas
Sunday: GSO - Spinach tofu enchiladas

Feel free to comment with tips that you have for getting the most out of your sun oven!

7 Reasons for Hope

Since I tend to read about half of the articles over at Life After the Oil Crash every day, I can occasionally get... down. So I decided to try to focus on the positive today and think of 7 reasons for hope.

1. History
We humans survived very well without electricity and oil for thousands of years. We managed to cover the Earth and expand our population up to about 2 billion people. We had Shakespeare, Beethoven, Monet, good food, trade in numerous goods, and architecture without fossil fuels.

2. Permaculture
We can learn from other cultures and nature to implement low-impact, low-work systems for agriculture and animal husbandry. We can multiply the yields we get, organically, while decreasing our soil erosion and energy usage.

3. Solar cooking and heating, and hot water
Humans have (almost) always needed to use energy, usually from wood, to achive warmth in the winter and cooking throughout the year. However, now we have the technology and tools, and materials laying around, to create passive solar heating and solar cooking devices. This gives me hope that we won't completely deforest our country. It also gives me hope that hot showers might be here to stay.

4. Salvaging
Our global industrial economy, while being incredibly destructive and polluting, has also been incredibly productive. We have much more useful "stuff" lying around than did our ancestors. We should have enough clothing, books, dishware, garden tools, and blankets for everyone for decades to come. We have wood cookstoves and cast iron cookware that can be salvaged and pressed into use. We have wheels, bicycles, and carts for transport.

5. Hygiene
From all the hype about medical advances, you might think we need open heart surgery and Prozac to stay healthy. Not so. It's been estimated that the vast majority of benefits derived from medical advances have been from simple hygiene, sanitation, clean water, anesthetics, and immunizations. These are, or can be, fairly low-tech and fairly low-energy.

6. Equality
Is it just my impression, or have the men of the world often found some reason to oppress the women? Whether it be because of the sins of Eve, our so-called fragility or their sexual jealousy, it seems as if we have spent a large amount of history without voice or power. Now, we have achieved a measure of equality (at least in the US and Europe, and many other countries). We have education, valuable skills, and experience in asserting our opinions. While some women choose to rule the home roost, others take pride in running businesses or taking political power. Our men, I believe, see us as their equals and I believe we can keep it that way.

7. Lifeboats
You, dear readers, are the lifeboats. Anyone developing sustainability libraries, skills and techniques, who have gardens and who use low-energy technologies, are the hope for the future. You will be able to teach your neighbors and families new and lighter ways to live. You may be able to save lives or prevent trees from being cut for wood. You will be able to make a difference.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Disaster strikes Hausfrau's garden!

Diagnoses and organic advice welcome!

I went out to water the tomatoes this morning and found, sadly, that 3 of my tomatoes have been infested with SOMETHING that is turning the leaves yellow, curled, and with small holes. It appears to be spreading from the base of the plant. The tomato fruits seem to be unharmed. I didn't see any actual buggies (like hornworms), but there did appear to be a little "webbing" on the leaves. Most of the plant still looks green and healthy, but a good 1/4 of it is hideous!

Is this just aphids or what? I went and sprayed with an oil/detergent mix, and then I fertilized. Other advice??

Also, I have noticed that although my pumpkin plants are HUGE, the fruits set, but then they seem to wither. What is wrong? Can I fix this??

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Hausfrau Manifesto

"Things are different today.
I hear every mother say
Cooking fresh food for her husband's just a drag.
So she buys an instant cake
And she buys a frozen steak.
And goes running for the shelter of her mother's little helper."
- "Mother's Little Helper", Rolling Stones

Wait a second - you mean that's NOT fresh food? :)

Our foremothers grew kitchen gardens, cooked, preserved the harvest, baked, sewed, and mended - on TOP of raising a family. Those responsibilities required real skills, passed down from generation to generation. If Mama wasn't good in the kitchen, you didn't eat good food. There were no other choices - no fast food, no grocery stores stocked with ready-made items. Women were the key to a full belly and a happy home. Frankly, I don't know how they did it!

In the last 40 years, the titles of homemaker, housewife, or hausfrau lost a lot of respect. Now, women call themselves "stay at home Moms" instead of housewives. This name recenters the focus on the children instead of the household duties and caring for the whole family. I believe this is because our economy has been able to make many of the household chores much easier or completely unnecessary. Without the requirement for specialized knowledge and skills, the housewife became more of a purchaser and user of household products - a consumer.

A consumer of appliances like clothes washers, dryers, dishwashers, vacuums. Products like ready-made yogurt, cheese, bread, canned vegetables, fast food, frozen dinners and instant cakes. A consumer of professional services like housekeeping, yardcare, daycare, and nanny.

Instead of the now-outdated hausfrau responsibilities, the stay-at-home Mom had the freedom and time to focus all her energy on the raising and education of her children. Instead of housewife responsibilities, a career woman was free to pursue her interest and talent in law, medicine, or business.

But this historical innovation, where all our needs are met by a global economy, fueled by oil-dependent agriculture and factories, is about to end.

In the coming years, with energy and food becoming more scarce and expensive, as budgets strain, and the global production line breaks down, a person who takes charge of the duties of cooking, gardening, childrearing, and homemaking - man or woman - will become more of a necessity to family life. I think that the Hausfrau will return to being an honored "career", as more skills are needed to complete the Hausfrau responsibilities.

Unfortunately, many of the Hausfraus of today did not learn all the necessary skills at her mother's knees. Our mothers believed those days were over, and schooling only reinforced that belief. I mean, how many of you learned how to make yogurt or cheese? Bake from scratch? I didn't.

As energy and food becomes more scarce and expensive, and the world re-shapes itself, a Hausfrau (and her husband or partner and their children) MAY need to learn many of the following skills in a new, low-energy way:

  • Childbirth

  • Breastfeeding

  • Teaching / homeschooling her children

  • Cooking and baking

  • Making formerly ready-made foods like cheese, bread, and yogurt

  • Gardening and preserving

  • Sewing and mending

  • Cleaning laundry and dishes
  • Tending to minor medical emergencies

  • Supporting her sisters, daughters, and neighbors in times of need

  • Notice how I'm not mentioning cleaning windows or dusting?

Personally, I don't want to be a full-time Hausfrau - I enjoy my other part-time career. I rather hope that we don't ALL return to the old breadwinner - housewife model. I believe that we will be able to forge a new and more flexible arrangement. So many women have other talents, interests, knowledge and experience outside of hausfrau-dom that it would be a shame to never get to use these skills. Why shouldn't we?

If the industrial global economy can no longer meet our needs, the family unit will have to meet our own. And that's where the Hausfrau steps in with her capable hands and skillful mind. Since many of the traditional Hausfrau skills have been "lost", we will have to re-learn them and teach each other. So here's to the other Hausfraus out there that I am learning from every day! Thanks for all the information and support!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thanks for the cucumber trellis!

My Dad has always been a handy person to have around. In the last 6 years, he and my Mom have helped us build or renovate a bathroom, a brick patio, an arbor, and an extra wall. He never hesitates to get right to work.

So Sunday my parents came to visit and I mentioned that I have wanted to build a cucumber trellis for the last 3 months. Why a cucumber trellis?

  • Keeps cucumbers from eating the nearby jalapeno and eggplant
  • Raises cucumbers up for easier picking
  • Keeps cucumber off ground - less easy for resident mice to eat
  • Reduces chances of cucumbers rotting on the ground
  • Saves room for other plants

Here's what my Dad came up with from scraps of lumber and materials we had around the house (in an hour!!):

He used the following to make the cucumber trellis:

  • 3 pieces of 2x2x8 feet long lumber
  • 3 pieces of 2x4x4 feet long lumber
  • 2 8- foot lengths of "hardware cloth"
  • Screws and staples
  • Tools: Screwdriver, hammer and wire cutter

Apparently, you can also make a "tent" that cucumbers can crawl up on both sides by hooking 2 of these things together at the top with a bolt at either side. (This works for when you have no convenient fence to lean your trellis on.) Then you can interplant lettuce underneath the tent, where they will benefit from the shade. Maybe next year...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Park N Ride

Subtitle: A flexible and fast short-term solution to our transit disaster

I'm so proud of my husband! He and two other co-workers have arranged to meet 3 days a week to carpool to work. Currently, he drives about 30 miles round trip each day in his '99 Jetta (~29 mpg), while his co-workers drive about twice that, and have pickup trucks (~10 mpg?).

The key to this arrangement is a Park N' Ride. A Park N' Ride is usually just a parking lot in a key location, usually a suburb, suited to leaving your car for bus transport or for car pools. These really don't formally exist here in OKC, since we have a puny transit system in a giant-sized city. OKC is actually the number 3 sized city in the country by actual square mileage. It is one huge suburb, with a small downtown and a few business centers here and there throughout the city.

Here in OKC, it is hard to rely on public transit, especially if it doesn't go anywhere near your workplace. Bike lanes or paths are what you might call "non-existant" (unless you want to ride round and round Lake Hefner).

So my husband & friends have decided to improvise by arranging a mini-Park N' Ride at a church that is right off the highway on the way to work. The church was VERY helpful when they called. This arrangement means that people won't be going "out of their way" to meet up. Hopefully, this will work. I know one of the co-workers is paying about $300/month in gas. Ouch!

Church parking lots are a perfect location for park and rides since they are often in visible places and their lots are NEVER full during the working day. Many businesses also have over-built parking lots that would work well too. I can even envision this being an institutionalized thing where Large Business X arranges a Park N Ride with Churches Y and Z in key locations.

So what's to stop you, your family, or your work, from arranging something similar? It takes a little more effort to find the right location and call them for permission, but carpooling can cut your gas costs/ carbon emissions by 50 - 75%. Put it to you this way: if you carpool with one friend - gas goes from $3.80 to $1.90 per gallon. With two friends, gas goes from $3.80 to $1.20/gallon. Try it!

Great pumpkin

So. Never having grown pumpkins before, I did not realize that they grew to be as big as Mount Rushmore. I don't know if you can tell from this picture, but the three pumpkins pictured here are taking up about 50 square feet of space. Luckily most of it was just wood mulch that wasn't productive anyway.

If I don't get a few pumpkins off this sucker, I may as well hang up my hat. Needless to say I will not be foliar feeding the pumpkin patch.

I got very adventurous at one point and made a variety salad. What was in it? Chard, salad burnet, sorrel, lamb's quarters, and nasturtium. Hey, is this lambs quarters? I hope so, because I ate some. It was pretty tasty sauteed.

I'm about to give up on spinach. Why bother when dandelions and lambs quarters are easier and just as nutritious? Just a thought. I will plant some spinach this fall, if it overwinters great, if not I won't be planting again in the spring.

I did harvest three small tomatoes this week, along with some cherry tomatoes that have been coming in for a little while. Isn't my colandar cute? I got it at a garage sale for 50 cents. Such a bargain. Also, this week, a beet, beet greens, some carrots, basil, parsley, and onion. Oh, and a baby zucchini. The banana, poblano, and jalapeno peppers are coming in too. But, the zukes, cukes, and buttercups are all still very tiny. What do I need to do to get them to grow their fruits bigger?

The sheet mulch and just plain mulch are working pretty well to suppress weeds. I do wander around the garden every other evening picking random weeds for about 5 minutes, and I had to seriously weed the lettuce/onion area after the greens bolted, but really not too bad, as far as weeding chores go.

PS. Cooked a peach cobbler and pita pizzas yesterday in the Sun Oven (s). Having two came in handy! Peach cobbler = yummy. Warning: Don't cook your pita pizzas longer than an hour. Otherwise they will get very, very dry. Still edible, and not burnt, but a lot like pizzas left out overnight :) instead of freshly baked.

The humble Solatube

A runner up to my recent list of 10 innovations to save the world.... the Solatube.

Akin to the skylight, but less prone to leaks, and much less expensive, more flexible, and easier to install. Downside: Unlike the skylight, there is no "view" outside. Ours is sited in our kitchen and reduces the need for artificial lighting during the daytime by 50- 100% (depending on the weather and what I'm doing). These have been around for awhile, so the technology is not new.

It was extremely handy to have during the Great Power Outage of '07. It cost about $500 to install, (although you can buy and install them yourself) and will probably never "pay" me back completely, (unless the grid really does go down) but I would do it all over again! At the time, I could barely justify the expense. But I really do like to have daylight.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Baker Creek Seeds Pt II

If anyone is interested....this is the list of seeds I received in the Baker Creek Rare Seeds "Southern" surprise value package, which cost $80. It took me 1/2 an hour just to write down all the seed names! I have no idea where I am going to plant even a quarter of these, but I can't say I don't have variety!!

Basil - Genovese
Onion - Tropeana Lunga
Australian Brown
Lettuce - Asian Red
Tom Thumb
Ground Cherry
Cabbage - Early Jersey Wakefield
Pepper - Golden Marconi
Red Marconi
Serrano Tampequino
Romano Hot
Thai Denchai Hot
Sweet Chocolate
Chard - Five Color Silver beet
Pak Choy - Shanghai Green
New Zealand Spinach
- Black Diamond Yellow Belly
Collards - Georgia
Endive - De Louiviers
Brussels Sprouts - Long Island Improved
American Melon - Banana
Honey Rock
Cucumber - Thai “Petch Tsai”
Japanese Long
Radish - Daikon
Pink Beauty
Pea - Oregon Sugar Pod II
Cowpea - Red Ripper
Mississippi Silver Hull
Beet - Bull’s Blood
Carrot- Lunar White
St. Valery
Tomato - Black Zebra
Great White
Orange Banana
White Currant
Tomatillo Purple
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Arkansas Traveler
German Red Strawberry
Egg Yolk
Cherokee Purple
Corn - County Gentleman
Hickory King
Eggplant - Louisiana Long Green
Ping Tung
Artichoke - Green Globe
Gourd - Thai Bonanza Loofa
Winter Squash - Table Gold Acorn
Sorghum - MultiColored
Pumpkin - Thai Large
Asian Melon - Metki Dark Green Serpent
Early Silver Line
Rutabaga - American Silver Top
Leek - Carentan
Gourd - Serpente Di Sicilia
Parsnip - Harris Model
Hollow Crown
Turnip - Purple Top While Globe
Okra - Burgundy
Kohlrabi - Early Purple Vienna
Broccoli - Rapini
Amaranth - Golden Giant
Sesame - 7 Blend
Zucchini - Grey
Crookneck Early Golden
Beans - Rattlesnake Pole
Chinese Red Noodle
Hyacinth Bean
Golden Wax
Jackson Wonder Bush
Thai Red Seeded Long
Kentucky Wonder

Monday, June 16, 2008

Creating an insectary

In my garden, I have an insectary composed of plants that offer beneficial insects a place to live, breed, and eat. Beneficial insects will eat the old nasty buggies that threaten to decimate the garden. And you need some beneficial insects, like bees, to pollinate some veggies. Plus, plants that attract beneficials are often pretty.

My main influences for this subject are Gaia's Garden, by Toby Hemenway and Great Garden Companions, by Sally Cunningham.

The important things to remember are diversity, hardiness, and bloom period. Diversity, because different plants do better in different years and different plants attract different beneficial insects. Hardiness, in the sense of being tough, so you don't have to pay attention to them. And bloom period, because you always want something blooming in the garden to attract the good fellas, so it's important to have plants that have long bloom periods or have different plants that bloom in the spring, summer, or fall.

I prefer perennials and self-seeding annuals because they are easier. These plants, which are supposed to host beneficial insects, are currently scattered throughout my garden: Cilantro, Lemon balm, Chives, Parsley, Marigolds, Borage, Dandelions, Thyme, Rosemary, Mint, and Clover. In fact, Cilantro is a little bit too scattered through my garden. I actually have to fight my way through it to get to the rain barrel.

Since I don't have enough projects planned for the fall, I decided to plant a specific perennial insectary at the end of each garden bed, and also incorporate one in each new garden bed that I plant. My future insectary will include: Yarrow, Echinacea, Liatris, and Coreopsis. These are all plants that do well under drought-like conditions (they are often recommended in xeriscaping books), but tolerate a fair bit of rain, and also have long bloom periods. Here is a website for those of you who don't have a nursery that sells xeriscape plants nearby.

I will keep you updated on my progress and the results of the insectary. Hopefully, it will reduce the need to spray soapy water on my tomatoes :).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sun Oven Smackdown

Global Sun Oven (GSO - pictured, left) or Tulsi Hybrid Sun Oven (THSO - pictured, right)? Today, we compare.

I got my GSO at LATOC for about $200, and the THSO off of Amazon for about $250.

Ease of setup and storage:
They both set up in a minute or so (not counting travel time). They are both a bit awkward for a 110 lb woman to carry through a doorway. The THSO is more secure in a suitcase-style setup, but is heavier and has 2 awkward side-reflector panels that I don't know how to store yet. They are both easy to position aimed at the sun, but work differently. The THSO uses an adjustable lid to aim at the sun. With the GSO, you actually raise and lower the whole box, while a self-leveling device keeps your food stable inside.

The THSO is wider and can accomodate a full size lasagna, full pizza or cookie sheet. However, it is not deep and cannot fit a 2-qt pot. The THSO does come with it's own stainless steel 4 cooking pans, which look cheap because they have been painted black, but seem to work well. The GSO is deeper, and you can fit taller items like stockpots, but you can only make half-size lasagnas.

They both need dark colored pots/pans with lids to cook the best, or dark colored sheets/pans for baking. The GSO warms up much faster and seems to reach higher temperatures (325+ degrees). This is great for items that take more cooking like beans and potatoes, will cook banana bread in between 1-2 hours. I have only seen the THSO get up to 250 degrees. The THSO is fine for fish, warming up canned veggies, cooking cut-up beets, and pita pizzas. Since the GSO seems to warm up faster, I prefer it even on cloudy days, but the THSO does have a backup electrical capacity, which I have not yet used.

The THSO has a base that sits upon the ground, while the GSO is positioned by ratcheting up a inch-round leg. The THSO is much more stable, although I have noticed the add-on side reflectors have flown off in high wind. Also the THSO thermometer is not attached to the box so it is always falling over. The GSO must be stablized with several bricks during our regular Oklahoma wind-fests.

Hilarity of Users Manual
The THSO wins hands down on this one. Sun BD is an Indian company.... The document begins
"Congratulations, on becoming the owner of this technological solar cooking marvel, which will open a whole new world of safer and healthier life support for your family and the world. " It goes on to explain the importance of solar cooking for your manly vigor and glorious skin complexion. Apparently, there are 23 key benefits of the THSO. #21 is: Food with lesser oil can be cooked, solves obesity problem. #23 is: Enhances charm and beauty of family members, specially women folk.

Overall, the THSO is handier for cooking more types of food, but the GSO seems to work a little better.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I've come out of the Peak Oil closet

I have been encouraging my family to do Peak Oil preparation for a while now - gardening, storing food, being eco-friendly - but have not really brought up the ACTUAL P-word until just last week.

Until I invited my Mom to come read my blog! Welcome Mom! Now you can see just how crazy I really am. Of course, when I told her that she just said, "You're my daughter, and I love you." Ah, acceptance. Now my in-laws, wellllll they're another story. Of course, my husband's grandparents - they garden and can like nobody's business. I don't even need to talk peak oil to them.

Now, it should be easier than ever, with the news of riots and food bank shortages and strikes and blockades and such, to bring up the topic with your family. The more your family members are preparing individually, the less you will have to care for them when TSHTF! Although you never know, your BIL and family may be on your couch for a few years if they lose the house.

NYT today reports that gardening is increasingly popular, with seed stores reporting that sales are up and gardeners are increasing the area devoted to vegetables. Hey, the masses are starting to catch on! Best get your tools and supplies now before the price is driven up just like everything else :).

Although I have talked to my parents about Peak Oil now, I am still not very open about some things. For instance, I still move my P-cloths to the back bathroom when friends/family/clients are coming over. I'm just not ready to share that crunchy side just yet. Oh, and the front yard only has 3 pepper plants in it - hardly a revolutionary statement. Yes, and I haven't discussed the Diva with my SIL yet - but maybe I should.

Anyway, it feels good to come out of the closet and let it all hang out. Now I just need to go install that clothesline in the front yard....

Sustainable Backyard

Whee! A giveaway to Mother Earth News! The new-and-improved back-to-it's-roots Mother Earth News!

Go to the Sustainable Backyard and check her and her 100-posts out!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mice scare

Until recently, I had about 100 lbs of rice and 25 lbs of pinto beans sitting on the floor, still in their original bags, by the Peak Oil closet. That is, until we heard the scurrying of little feet overhead in our attic. That was the day I decided to buy some plastic buckets.

Of course, nothing is simple, so I had to do some research and find out what "food grade" really means. From what I can figure out "HDPE" and the #2 recycle symbol indicate that the bucket is food grade. Which means that the bright orange buckets from Home Depot are, too! Easy fix, but not inexpensive.

I did my eco-duty and called 5 different bakeries to try to get some free buckets (and to recycle), but they were all out at the moment. If only I had thought ahead and started calling a month ago! So I just sucked it up and went to Home Depot. Today, my rice and beans are secure in their newly-washed buckets. Luckily, when we transferred the goods, there was no evidence of bug or mice infestation.

Now I have decided to just ask at the bakery every Saturday when we do our food shopping. Because I still have a few other bags of food I need to secure. :) And you can never have enough buckets.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

As predicted

Weird, how things are coming together to play out exactly as so many peak oil activists have predicted. The funny thing is that one year ago reality today would have been (and was) widely ridiculed. The news today (Wed 11th) is especially unsettling.
  • Oil soars to near $140 a gallon
  • Food prices soar 50% - 100% for some items
  • Protests
  • Strikes
  • Blockades
  • Shortages
  • Riots

First in the developing (poor) parts of the world, then in parts of the world where unions have power or people are suffering more (parts of Europe, UK, Spain).... eventually coming to a theater near you.

For me, I plan to go buy a clothesline today and some buckets for storing food. :)

Top actions to promote now

What can we do to help our neighbors and neighborhoods - with our current knowledge of the peak oil situation? How do we prioritize what to publicize?

We are already starting to see some of the early effects of peak oil: more expensive gas, electricity, and food. People are starting to feel the pain. So, how can we help people deal with this? What are the changes they can make that will have the biggest impact for them?

Really, I'm asking YOU. I have my own ideas, but I'm open to new ones. To some people, these ideas are simply common sense, to others they are extremely radical. Either way, the following actions are cheap and can be fast to implement and see results, but not necessarily easy. I don't know if they would have the biggest impact - what are your thoughts?

1. Carpool, bike, or bus.
2. Clothesline.
3. Cook and bake from scratch.
4. Shut off or reduce use of the A/C.
5. Make your own solar oven, and use it.
6. Stop using hot water for clothes washing, and take 3-minute showers.
7. Entertain and vacation at home.
8. Grow some food.

So how can we (as individuals, community organizations, businesses and governments) facilitate and support these 8 action items?

1. Carpool, bike, or bus.

  • Make Park n' Rides (for carpooling or busing) available at convenient areas.
  • Encourage your church or community centers to provide Park n' Rides.
  • Start a carpool at your work.
  • Promote existing carpool services.
  • Designate or create bike lanes.
  • Expand bus services.
  • Install bike racks at your place of business.

2. Clothesline.

  • Make HOA or city regulations against clotheslines illegal.
  • Provide cheap or free clotheslines or clothesline installations.
  • Promote clotheslines as patriotic.

3. Cook and bake from scratch

  • Offer cooking / baking classes
  • Promote cooking /baking contests
  • Cook and bake for your friends and co-workers

4. Shut off the A/C

  • All govt. offices and schools set at 80 degrees, or just shut it off entirely and open windows up !
  • Shade govt. offices and schools with vines or trees.
  • Promote shading with handouts at nurseries in the fall and spring.
  • Offer assistance with planting correctly sited trees.
5. Solar ovens

  • Offer solar cooking classes
  • Make home-made solar ovens (cheap) and deploy them
  • Feature solar cooking books/displays at libraries
  • Encourage businesses to sell solar ovens
  • Feature solar ovens cooking at highly visible spots
  • Make solar cooked food for friends and family or group functions

6. Stop using hot water for clothes washing, and take 3-minute showers

  • Hey, how much effort could this take? Get an egg timer!

7. Entertain and vacation at home

  • Start a potluck with your friends
  • Promote local OKC attractions like the museums, festivals, galleries, etc.
  • Have a STAYcation - vacation at or near home

8. Grow some food

  • This one CAN be cheap, but definitely not that easy!
  • Start highly visible community gardens
  • Master Gardeners - start offering classes
  • Start with either easy vegetables or high-value vegetables
  • Start programs at schools and institutions - make it part of the curriculum
  • Grow your own garden - on the lawn
  • Encourage edible landscaping
  • Plant edible landscaping at schools, govt offices, prisons, any place that is publicly owned (many plants such as pecans, sage, rosemary, grapes, are easy to grow in our climate and don't require much maintenance)

Ideas, lying around

Milton Friedman famously said "Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around."

We certainly don't want Mr. Friedman's ideas to be the ones that are adopted - radical privitization, slashing of social services, disregard for the masses of humanity.

Instead, peak oil activists are anticipating the crisis point of peak oil - when things become too bad to be ignored - when governments are having difficulty fulfilling basic functions under the "business as usual" model - or just when people wake up and realize the future is not more of the same, that the ideas we have been sold are a cruel hoax.

Peak oil activists are anticipating this point, and preparing ideas to have conveniently lying around. Ideas like retrofitting our homes, organic agriculture, victory gardens, government bikes, etc. We need to have solid, but flexible, plans in place, ready to implement in place of the corporate /profits as usual model. This applies to governments, businesses, and regular citizens.

What might these ideas look like for the government of Oklahoma City? I like to divide it into 5 areas:

1. Stop wasting time, energy and money on projects that have no future. Stop tax windfalls for gas and oil. Stop new highway development. Stop destroying rail architecture. Stop wastes like trying to attract pro-sports teams.
2. Encourage more citizen action in areas of energy conservation, food growing, and alternative energy generation. This can be done through education, dedicated resources, land grants, financial incentives, and removing government obstacles. Laws could be passed to encourage businesses to form carpools, install bike racks, etc. Laws could be passed to encourage use of clotheslines, front yard gardening, etc.
3. Leading the way in areas of energy conservation and alternative energy generation. At this point, these things make good economic sense - insulation, efficient windows, solar water heating, purchasing hybrid vehicles, encouraging workers to live near where they work, biking to work, providing decent public transportation, etc.
4. Mitigate changes underway. Start planting trees! A city with more trees is a city with less runoff, with more shade and less need for A/C, more greenery to improve the view, more free fruits and nuts for the citizens, more preservation of topsoil, and easier biking and walking. Prepare for more need for social services! Radical action might need to be taken to accomodate joblessness, homelessness, and hunger.
5. Prepare for the worst. Where's the disaster plan? Is the city preparing to function in the case of rolling blackouts? Being cut off from goods by a trucker strike? Citizen unrest in the face of massive change? How about a long-term energy descent plan? What will the city do to function when gas is $8 a gallon? Is the city just going to give up and die, or will it try to fulfill it's duties to the people? What functions will it try to keep, which will it abandon, which new ones will it adopt?

Monday, June 9, 2008

10 (ancient) innovations to save the world

When I say "innovations" I don't necessarily mean NEW ideas. As you know, there's nothing new under the sun. But there are definitely ideas that are new to the masses, and new to our post-industrial society, which has become so completely dependent on our intricately linked, fossil fueled lifestyle and infrastructure.

When I say "save the world", I mean hopefully, help us transition to a lower energy society without too much pain and suffering.

So without further ado, here is the completely unauthorized and unprioritized list of exceptionally useful post-peak innovations.

1. Passive Solar Design-
Structures which are properly designed, facing south, and with appropriate amounts of glass, insulation, and thermal mass, require hardly any heating. If integrated when the structure is built, it should cost nothing extra but yield massive payback.

2. Bikes -
Proven to expand the range of the human 3.5 times without increased effort, they require little energy to maintain and none to fuel.

3. Clotheslines -
The original solar appliance, it replaces the energy hogging clothes dryer and improves the smell of your clothes without nasty chemicals. Also works when the power grid is down.

4. Permaculture -
The design system that reduces energy consumption, integrates nature's inputs, and multiplies your return for the same amount of effort. A powerful tool which integrates the other innovations.

5. The Solar Oven -
The gift that keeps on giving, it cooks your food with no fossil fuels or wood required, and no pollution emitted.

6. Vegetable Gardening -
A revolutionary act in this day and age, producing your own food means that you know how it was grown, where it came from, and that it required little to no fossil fuel energy to grow.

7. Root cellars -
A very common sight throughout history, humans produced food during the growing season and saved it for winter consumption by placing it in cool underground conditions. Root cellars, both traditionally styled and newly designed, have the potential to replace one of our most energy intensive appliances (refrigerators).

8. Fermentation -
Another food preservation method, humans have used natural fermentation to both extend the life of food and to increase it's nutritional value. Familiar fermented products include beer, wine, yogurt, and sauerkraut.

9. Solar Hot Water -
A wonderful luxury, hot water makes hygiene pleasant. Solar water heaters are simple, have few moving parts, and replace the #2 user of fossil fuels in the home. They usually have a 5-7 year payback at current fuel prices, and could pay back much quicker when rates rise.

10. Preventive and Herbal Medicine -
After a brief experimentation with utterly invasive and pathologically blinded pharmaco-hospito-insurance - based medicine, many people are rediscovering the benefits of nutritious food, excercise, and ancient forms of non-energy intensive health care, such as chiropractic, herbs, acupuncture, and massage.

Submit your own ideas for the list! Innovations should be proven, affordable, no or low energy usage, and extremely useful ;).


There's a particular form of gardening called "guerilla gardening", defined as gardening on land not owned by you, without permission. The point of it is to improve the land either by productive vegetable gardening or by beautifying the area - to the benefit of everyone - without waiting for consent from the person/entity who neglected it in the first place. I love this concept. I think it epitomizes what needs to happen here in the face of climate change and peak oil energy descent: taking matters into our own hands; improving the world, without permission.

If we wait for some Manhattan Project or intelligent (!) coordinated (!) government action, we are lost. Small groups of people experimenting with new ways of life, with simple technologies, spreading different ways to do things, and becoming a critical mass of people demanding change - this sounds more likely to get things done. It's not a Grand Plan. It's messy and experimental and incremental.

The point is that there is not going to be "one right way" to fix these problems. There are so many different pieces of the puzzle. If we can, we should work with what we have and use the least amount of effort to get the most return. There will be different solutions for different geographies, different solutions for different ages, and for different economic classes, and for different weather patterns. The tomato that thrives in Georgia will wither in Wisconsin; the sun oven that is a miracle in Arizona may stink in Seattle.

So don't wait for a savior. Get done what you can, and don't be afraid to think like a revolutionary - you'll get more done that way. And who knows, it might even be exciting.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Houses for sale!!

The home next door and the home across from me are for sale, listed at $149K and $135K, respectively.

If you or anyone you know would like to live near the Frau, join forces and blitz our lawns together, come on down to NW OKC!

Locations are within walking distance to eateries, Target, Homeland, Walgreen's, the Belle Isle library, the Smitty Park playground and walking track, elementary and middle schools, and Penn Square Mall. 2-minute access to NW Expy and I-44.

Pass it on!

Solar cooking class

I am really into this solar cooking thing. Yesterday I cooked Spinach Tofu enchiladas, the day before it was Apricot-Pecan bread. I am even disappointed when it is too cloudy out to cook outside in the solar oven (like today).

My gosh! I have to cook right before the meal, how inconvenient! I have to heat up the house when it's already 78 degrees in here, how awful! I have to increase my carbon footprint, what a bummer!

Anyway, I wanted to check out an idea I had: hosting a solar cooking "class" here at the ole' homestead in North OKC. Soon I will have two types of solar cookers (Global Sun Oven and Tulsi Sun Hybrid), so I could put them on display (if it's sunny we could cook something), along with the Cooking with Sunshine book, let people check the sun ovens out if they are thinking of buying one. Also offer some basic tips, talk about equipment and safety and cooking times, and give away some solar cooked Apricot-Pecan bread (quite tasty if I do say so myself).

The only small problem is that I don't have any of the home-made solar cookers. Maybe someone would volunteer to display theirs. Anyway, that's about as far as I've gotten. Do you think anyone on the ok-sus list would be interested?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mid sized solutions

So we're in a bit of a pickle, hmm? We've backed ourselves into a corner where we live in the middle of nowhere and drive 10 miles to the nearest grocery store. We didn't think about gas when it was cheap, and now we think about it way too much.

What are some possible solutions to the "high" (cheap in relation to what we get from it) price of gas?

  1. Increase the efficiency of your car's gas mileage. Inflate your tires to the proper pressure, don't rapidly accelerate or slam on the brakes.
  2. Car-pool.
  3. Get a used, higher efficiency car. Consumer Reports just came out with a great list of cars under $20K and under $10K. Cars under $10K included the 2000 Honda Insight (51 mpg) and the 2000 - 05 Toyota Echo (38 mpg)
  4. Move closer to work and services.
  5. Walk and bike more.
  6. Take public transport.
  7. Downsize to one car.
  8. Consolidate several errands into one trip.
  9. Work from home 1 or 2 days a week (or more).
  10. Get a job closer to home.
  11. Get your entertainment at home or in your neighborhood instead of going out.
  12. Bag a lunch instead of going out to eat at work.
  13. Ask your work to sponsor a car-pooling service.
  14. Ask your local church to offer "Park n' Ride" car lot for car-poolers.
  15. Ask your city to improve their public transport.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


It's common for many people to ridicule certain segments of the population for their sense of "entitlement". I don't know, maybe in some cases they are right. I DO know that a vast majority of Americans feel they have a RIGHT to cheap gas. Read any recent article on the high price of gas and there will be someone expressing their frustration. "We're getting taken to the cleaners". "They keep raising the prices". "They're cheating us".

These people just don't get it. Which is not surprising, considering that even with all the news, there's no content, no context. Here's the situation: Prior to this peak-oil plateau, the suppliers were in the driver's seat. Demand was steadily growing, and the suppliers decided when to extract oil, based on market signals. Now, the suppliers have lost control. They are pumping as much as they technically can. This was made abundantly clear when Saudi Arabia turned down Pres. Bush II's recent groveling. OPEC cannot produce any more than they currently are. That reveals a dirty secret: the demand side is driving the price increase.

Every person, every business, every industry, who buys gasoline is driving the price increase. The more you/we buy, the less there is. The more you/we buy, the more the price goes up. Each consumer is competing with each other for access to that precious liquid.

We are not used to thinking of ourselves in this manner. In our minds, what we do is our own business. It has no impact on others. Our purchase of something does not deprive someone else of that purchase. It does not create pollution and extract precious resources from the earth. It does not create a problem in the landfill when we throw it away.

I wonder if this particular crisis will begin to make us realize that we do have an impact on other people, as the "have nots", who were previously "haves", begin to resent the oh-so-obvious waste of fuel: those vehicles that get a sub-par mpg. It may become as obscene as lighting a 100 dollar bill on fire and waving it in a starving person's face, or dumping a beautiful steak in the gutter.

Everyone out there driving a tank or with a three hour commute - you are taking up more than your fair share. YOU are driving up the price for everyone else. And soon.... other people will begin to realize it as well. The Hummer will no longer be a status symbol. It will be the sign of a pariah. "Damnit, gas is just too expensive now! I can barely afford to drive this tank 3 hours to work and back!"

Oh, but SUV's are such an easy target. The rest of us, who just drive regular cars to work.... we're also taking up more than our fair share, in relation to the rest of the world. In reality, if we hope to stop climate change, the fair share that we need to use is less than one ton of carbon dioxide per person per year - and that counts everything - electricity, gas, the embodied energy of the food we eat and the consumer goods that we buy.

So sadly, this is necessary. But it's too bad so few will understand how the process works and will keep blaming OPEC, Exxon Mobil, and the gas stations for the high prices. None of whom are innocent, but they are not trying to gouge us any more than any capitalist would. If you want to see who's driving the high prices.... just look in the mirror.

So stop being a victim and start being part of the solution. It may hurt. OK, it will hurt. And I do feel sorry for many of the people who are hurt by the high gas prices. But get over it and find a solution. Quit complaining. You caused this problem. I caused this problem. We caused it, just by mindlessly participating in our culture's insane assumption that gas would be cheap forever and ever, amen. And now we need to solve it.

Personal Book List

When I started this project (avoiding discomfort and death from Peak Oil while helping preserve our future), I was a total novice. Yes, I was interested in environmental issues and had watched my parents garden as a kid. Yes, I had been striving towards financial independence for five years. Other than that, I had never really gardened, never planted a fruit tree, and definitely never heard of permaculture or solar ovens.

Here are some of the books that have helped me the most in making this transition to preparing for a lower-energy lifestyle:


Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

A unified theory of everything :).

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

The original Peak Oil book, from an environmentalist's perspective.

Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Fascinating to read, she moves to Tennessee and starts gardening and eating locally. A book to give family members who are environmentalists ready to move to the next step.

Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov

From the man who witnessed the Soviet collapse, commentary on the impending American collapse. Cutting wit and occasional laugh-out-loud funny.

World Made by Hand by James H. Kunstler

A fiction book that helps us visualize future living arrangements and social organization. So it doesn't have any inspiring female characters, nothing's perfect.

Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway

Wonderful book of permaculture possibilities for small landscapes and gardens.

Getting Started

Designing and Maintaining your Edible Landscape Naturally by Robert Kourik

A treasure trove of information on permaculture techniques and edible landscaping.

Gardening when it counts by Steve Solomon

A different take than some of the gardening classics.

Crisis Preparedness Handbook by Jack Spigarelli

Great info on storing food. I'm not sure, he may be a conservative (lol).

Great Gardening Companions by Sally Cunningham

A fun book on planting flowers and herbs with your veggies.

Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden by Lewis Hill

Get some perennials in your garden!

Cooking with Sunshine by Lorraine Anderson

Not strictly necessary if you have a professionally built sun oven, but still interesting and inspiring all the same. Never made a quiche before I got this book.

When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein

Lots of miscellaneous information.


Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

The most useful financial book I've ever read - the original that all the Automatic Millionaire and Dave Ramsey's are based on.

Books that Have Useful Skills that I have not yet learned

The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins

I know you think it's gross. But in time we will have to deal with what to do with our waste products.

Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel

When I actually have roots to store, I will turn to this book.

Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

Looking forward to starting to use this one! How to / Recipes for every type of fermented product, from kimchi, to yoghurt, to beer and wine.

Seed to Seed

Saving seed. I still think it's complicated.

Monday, June 2, 2008

How to choose

With limited funds and limited energy, yet limitless choices and limitless needs to prepare for peak oil and climate change, how does one prepare? How does one pick what to buy and what to do?

First of all, the biggest preparation is mental. Just knowing and accepting in advance, understanding what is going on, can keep you from panic. And panic is the worst emotion in a crisis situation... especially if it seems like the situation keeps getting worse. Another emotion to get over with now is despair. When the world changes so radically, life can seem hopeless, not to mention pointless. Have something to care about, and hold on to it. For some, it's social justice and helping others prepare. For others, it's their family. For me personally, it's my son.

Adjusting your mindset to gradually let go many of the things we have been conditioned to strive for, to think of as normal, can keep your anger level down as things deteriorate. Let go of expectations. Things like, you know, retirement. Air conditioning. Cable television.

It's probably pretty safe to prepare for problems that are already occurring. For example, we get frequent blackouts (well, maybe five times a year). And, of course, energy prices keep climbing. And Oklahoma is definitely a target for natural disasters like tornados, ice storms. So it's a pretty safe bet to go with FEMA recommendations for preparedness, have a "Bug-out bag", have alternative sources of light and cooking (this could be a camp stove or a sun oven or even a grill), an insulated ice chest for keeping food cold, a pack of cards, a car kit in case you are caught out on the road, two weeks of food and water, etc. This is stuff to do even if you don't know anything about peak oil.

Another fairly safe bet is to hit up all the low-hanging fruit for reducing your energy bill/carbon impact. CFL's, clotheslines, biking, insulation, adjusting the thermostat. Changing your habits can be pretty cheap, can even save you money, but won't necessarily be easy.

There are many approaches to preparing to peak oil. I'd say here are some of the most common:
1. Preparing for your prediction of the future
2. Sticking to the basics
3. Prepare - doing what you love
4. Prepare - doing what is cheapest
5. Prepare - for what you fear the most (here's where the gun aficionados come in :)

One approach is to visualize the sort of future you predict. What is most likely, in your mind? What is a worst case scenario? Will electricity, water supplies be interrupted? Will food shipments be scarce? Will everything cost ten times as much? Do you worry about evacuating from your home, or gangs of cannibals? Prepare accordingly.

Another approach is to go with the basics. What do you really NEED to survive and be safe? Food, water, shelter, warmth, cooking. Look beyond the normal. You don't necessarily need a fireplace to be warm - you might just need thermal underwear, a hat, and sleeping bags. Then look at what you need to feel comfortable. Little luxuries like a solar shower and a manual coffee grinder could be just the ticket to feeling snug as a bug in a rug.

Another approach is to go with what you love. Do you love gardening? Do you love getting to know new people? Do you love books and learning new skills? Are you in a health care field, do you love helping people? Then by all means turn your skills to a peak oil focus! One person cannot do everything, especially not all at once. Build your skills one by one and start with your strengths and interests.

My personal approach was a little haphazard. I was most afraid of going hungry so I really focused on storing up food and learning how to garden. First, we moved to Oklahoma to cut down on expenses, be able to save more and be near family. Then I planted my fruit trees, grape vines, and got my beds going (several false starts on that front). Then I started storing up just regular food (cans of vegetables, bags of rice and beans). Then I moved on to bigger investments (grain mill, solar oven). Right now I can hear alarm bells going off so I do as much as I can get to. I hedge everything like crazy and get a little something for any scenario I can imagine - tents and sleeping bags for evacuating, but also insulation for the house.

Anyway, those are just some thoughts on how to prioritize.

Lazy Composting

I have a compost pile, that has been in place for years now, from which I have never really extracted any soil. It's an amazing accomplishment. Mainly, I just hate digging from the bottom while the stuff on top has not yet finished composting.

So, I am going to build a second pile, and let the first one finish itself off so I can just move the whole thing. Next, in the fall I am going to build a pile specifically for leaves and make leaf mold, for mulching next year. It's got to be way cheaper than buying 6 bales of straw again. And finally, I usually just like to bury half the kitchen scraps right in the garden spots that aren't currently planted .... the fancy term is trench composting. It works great! I always find beautiful black soil when I check on it later, and only some things don't decompose well (namely citrus rinds and eggshells).