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Blue Bungalow Farm

Heather Zydek writes about life on the east side of Tosa.

Welcome to the Blue Bungalow!

sustainability, vermicomposting, urban homesteading, transition movement, farmers market

Greetings, friends, and welcome to the Blue Bungalow Farm. This blog is an extension of my original weblog, which has been in existence since the winter of 2009. Around that time I grew interested in raising awareness about sustainability, particularly where I live in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. So I launched a blog called "Sustainable Tosa." That blog was instrumental in the organization of the Tosa Farmers Market: through my writing I was able to connect with other folks interested in creating a sustainable farmers market for our city. After much meeting and planning, we kicked-off the market with a preview of the 2010 season on September 26, 2009. Later, in June of 2010, we launched the highly anticipated weekly market in the heart of Wauwatosa's Village. The first season had a very successful run, with over 40 weekly vendors and thousands of patrons. We're now gearing up for an even bigger 2011 season. 

Around the same time I started the Sustainable Tosa blog, I started another blog, called the Blue Bungalow Microfarm. The blog is named for my home: a fairly typical Milwaukee bungalow built in 1918. Since about 2007 I have been slowly working toward turning my drafty old house with its "postage stamp" yard into a sustainable "microfarm." The purpose of the Blue Bungalow blog was and is to serve as a place to document my experiences "transitioning" into sustainable living. At the Blue Bungalow blog, I continue to write about composting, vermicomposting, edible landscaping, indoor gardening, home energy efficiency, urban homesteading, and much more. Now, as I prepare to begin Master Gardener training and hope to further educate others about composting and sustainability, I am launching an extension of my blog here at WauwatosaNow, where I hope to share my humble discoveries with a wider audience.

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Recycling the Christmas Tree

garden journal, composting, recycling

By now most Tosans' Christmas trees are curbside as we await this week's garbage pick-up, when, on our scheduled garbage day, the trees will be hauled away and turned into mulch. In the past I have pruned off the branches of my Christmas trees and saved them for mulching and composting. This year I was busy, so I decided simply to send our dried up balsam fir to the city. My husband dragged the tree out to the curb last weekend. 

I soon began to regret this decision – especially after I came across this list of monthly gardening tips at the Hawks Nursery website. Hawks reminded me not to give up those precious evergreen boughs, as they are very useful in the garden. Thankfully, I found a bit of time to drag the tree to my blueberry patch, where, wearing heavy duty gloves, I cut it to shreds with garden pruners. I then spread the needles around the shrubs, where they will serve as mulch and, hopefully, acidify the soil a bit -- blueberries love acidic soil, and pine is a mild acidifier.
When I got most of the needles off the tree, I replaced what was left of the tree on the curb. (Note: I learned the hard way not to save the trunk and branches as firewood: pine sap tends to explode when heated, which can be dangerous and destructive).
I admit it feels a bit weird to hack apart a Christmas tree. The skeleton that now remains on my curbside is undoubtedly going to make some passersby wonder what the heck we Zydeks do in our house during the Christmas season. On the other hand, recycling my tree is such a beautiful way to continue celebrating Christmas long after December 25 -- that evergreen tree symbolizing eternal life will now also symbolize resurrection as breaks down in the soil, giving new life to other plants.
It's not too late to recycle your tree! Pull it off the curb, clip off the boughs and place them on your garden beds as mulch. Or, save the clippings in a bag and let them age, spreading them as needed during warmer weather or adding them to your compost bin.

Greening Our Home

Green Neighbor, Home Energy Efficiency, Home Energy Inspections, Attic Insulation

As you may recall from previous Blue Bungalow blog posts, we had a home energy inspection in late 2010, conducted by Tim Guillama of Beyond Energy, LLC. A house is inspected to determine how much conditioned air is typically cycled through in an hour. A draftier home will have a higher "air change rate" than a well-sealed home and, thus, higher heating and cooling bills. When our home was inspected this December, Tim determined that our air change rate was about 13.8 per hour. 

Following the inspection, Tim suggested that we have our house and attic insulated. We couldn't afford to do it all at once, so we decided to start by sealing and insulating our attic and basement. We also had our old house exhaust fan replaced with a more energy efficient model. After we had this work done by Insulation Technologies in Milwaukee, Tim returned to our house and again conducted his blower door test to determine the air change rate. It improved from 13.8 changes per hour to about 10.

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Read This Before You Buy Grow Lights

plant lights, indoor gardening

As you may recall, I started Master Gardener training this January through the University of Wisconsin Extension. I'm learning so much each week. For example, did you know that poinsettia leaves are NOT poisonous? Our fantastic instructor, UW-EX Consumer Horticulture Agent Sharon Morrissey, said one of her professors in college demonstrated this fact by consuming poinsettia leaves in front of his students. I also learned that those who grow seedlings indoors need not invest in fancy "grow lights," which frequently cost two or three times more than other fluorescent lights. In order to grow, plants need "red" and "blue" light – that is, bulbs that emit these kinds of rays (not colored red or blue lights but white lights that are tinged with these parts of the light spectrum). To accomplish this with a two-light ballast, you could use one cool-white bulb, which emits blue-tinged light, and one soft-white bulb, which emits red-tinged light. 
As soon as I learned this I went straight to the hardware store and bought a 48", two-bulb shop light ballast for $15 and four 48", T8 bulbs – two cool white and two soft white. Each two pack was about $5. I am going to hang the new light behind my other shop light, under which I'm currently growing lettuce seeds. The first light appears to be working just fine so far, and I've saved a lot of money not purchasing a "real" grow-light system (depending on how elaborate the system they can cost upwards of $100, often far more).
Here's a photo of my basement shop light. Growing underneath are two flats of lettuce atop space-saving mini tables my father-in-law constructed for me. The second shop light will be added after I purchase extra long chains for the ballast so I can bring the bulbs closer to the flats (the chains that came with the shop light are much too short). 
By the way, you don't have to wait until early spring to start seeds. I'm growing lettuce in my basement under lights. These "Pablo" lettuce seeds I received courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange and planted on January 15 seem to be doing well!

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