Monday, March 31, 2008


The girls stayed up late last night after our reading time. They were being so quiet I hardly noticed. When Daniel went in to check on them he found these wonderful drawings. We just had to share. Ellen has made a list or chart filled with good guys and bad guys. There are 53 of them all together. We asked her to go back and number them so that we could get some help from the blog world. We thought it would be fun if the kids out there could help her come up with some names for the guys. So ask your kids to think of a name for a good guy and a bad guy. Please respond in the comment section. We can't wait to hear from you!

This is Arianna's beautiful face drawing. She has done tons of these and given them to friends and family. We are also accepting names for this face.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Basic Worm Composting and Compost Tea

Last year we started composting with worms. I posted a few of these pictures last November when we harvested the first batch of vermicompost from our worm bins and added it to some of our garden. I'm posting the photos again to show how rich the castings look compared to our sandy soil. The second picture just shows what these little red wrigglers actually look like.

These are my worm bins that I keep on our front porch. I started with the blue one then decided to give them some more room to spread out and added another bin. They will actually reproduce really fast so if I can keep them alive we'll keep getting more worms!

It's very easy to assemble the bins.

First, you just drill holes for air all around the box. I used these plastic bins but a lot of people build small wooden boxes for their worms.

Then you add the bedding. You can use some dirt, compost, or more commonly people use shredded newspaper sprayed with a little water.

Then you add your worms. The red wigglers can be bought online or from a local bait shop (just make sure you are getting the composting worms (red wigglers)and not nightcrawlers).

Then you start feeding them. They eat kitchen scraps--rotting fruit and veggies, coffee and filters, tea and bags, and any grains. They don't eat animal products. Cover the worms and food scraps with more bedding. In a few weeks the worms will eat through the scraps and will leave behind beautiful, rich, fertilizer that you can add to houseplants or anywhere.

This is a terrible picture since you can't even see any of the worms but this is what the inside of the bin looks like.
About a month or so ago I started making compost tea with the vermicompost. The tea is made by putting some of the worm compost in a tea bag and letting it sit for several days. There are many ways to do it but I decided to use a fish pump to aerate the water as this was recommended to produce the best tea. The finished product is used to water or spray on the beds as a fertilizer. It helps to prevent foliar diseases when sprayed on leaves,and it increases plant growth and helps make nutrients more available to plants when added to the soil.

Here's what my tea bucket looks like before I add water and the pump. The mesh "bag" is actually flexible window screen. It is filled with about 2 cups of vermicompost and tied together with a thin string then attached to a stick so it will be suspended while sitting in the bucket.

This is what it looks like after I add the fish pump and water. There are 4 hoses that are pumping air. I also add a little molasses for the beneficial bacteria to eat. After 3 days I pour the tea into a watering can and pour it on our plants and seedlings. I've been making it once a week for the past 3 weeks.

When I first started the worm compost I was a little freaked out by the worms. But now I feel completely the opposite. I love them. I put my bare hands in the bin filled with bugs and worms all the time. I think it is really amazing how they can turn our trash into such treasure! They are amazing creatures.

This is a very simple explanation and I'm sure I left a lot out. There is tons of info on the web giving detailed instructions on how to start worm composting and brewing compost tea. If you are is at your fingertips!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Garden at Easter

These first few pictures are of the beds we've had planted for a little while. I think we started the lettuces about a month ago. Some of them we got as plants from home depot but most of them we started from seed. We have some romaine, red leafy, green leafy, swiss chard, kale, spinach and broccoli. This fist picture shows the four trays of plants we are still waiting to plant. We bought a few more strawberries and red cabbage while at the local feed and seed shop buying seed potatoes and more onion sets. We've also got some basil, tomatoes, eggplant and some flowers started in the trays.

Here you can see the red clover that we planted a few months ago in between and around some plants. It should help to add some nutrients to the soil. The garlic was started in November and is looking great.

This year we are taking on some major landscaping in the backyard. We have those four smaller beds that I just showed and we've started a new big bed. Well I shouldn't really say we since Daniel has done most of the work out there. He loves being out moving dirt, stones and mulch. Anyway, he has flattened out a large part of the yard. It was on a slope and now he has leveled it out and built a retaining wall. "We've" mulched around all the beds and some in the new area. This area will be a garden plot that we are waiting a little bit longer to plant in. We will be adding our compost to small areas for plants and using the mulch as walkways.

We had a little help from friends this weekend. We actually got most of this recycled concrete from their driveway. Over a couple of days, Daniel and Hector worked to manually break the concrete and haul it over to our house. Then Daniel had to break it up to smaller shapes to fit into the spaces and make a wall. I was very impressed at his ability to quickly turn a driveway into a beautiful wall. It looks awsomel and once again it was all free.

We had a lot of help from Ellen. She was such a great worker. Anytime she was able to help she was more than willing. She used a hammer and this pickax to get rid of unwanted corners just like her daddy showed her. She wasn't just posing for this. There were many times she was really doing it! She and Arianna (and lots of other friends who have been over here in the last few weeks) have absolutely loved this big dirt pit. They come in filthy every day after digging, chasing, building, and even tumbling in the dirt for hours.

Here you can see how he used his hammer to shape the blocks into pieces that would fit together.

We are creating a walkway inside the bed with the mulch so we can get to our new plants. We are also using it around the beds as a border.

It was a beautiful Easter weekend. We really enjoyed working together as a family in the backyard. We also had a small egg hunt for the girls. The girls loved finding the eggs filled with chocolates and coins. They then hid the eggs for us a few times in the yard. I think they liked hiding them about as much as finding them.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Good friends and the mountains

Some people may think I'm crazy. We just got back from our beach trip and I'm off to the mountains with the girls.

This time we left Daniel at home to meet up at a cabin near Gatlinburg area and the Smokey Mountain National Park with my dear friend Claire and her children Drew and Nora. They lived close to us when we lived in Indianapolis and quickly became some of our closest friends. Claire and I would go out several times a month for MNOs (mom's night out) and we would have playdates at least once a week with her family and the Weidenbachs too. (Shael couldn't make it on the trip but I think we'll convince her for the next one.) I have missed her terribly ever since we moved to SC a year and a half ago. And the girls still talk about Drew and Nora often.

Let me go back to what I was saying before about being crazy...driving 5-7 hours alone with the kids, staying in a small cabin with 2 moms and 4 kids under six. Well, if you've ever had a good friend that you really missed and were desperate to see again you'd understand why we went to the trouble. As Claire wrote, good friends are the spice of life. Of course, we could have gone several more months or years without seeing each other. If you know me you'll understand, I couldn't wait any longer. My friends are very important to me and my emotional health. I think they are for all of us and especially those of us who thrive when spending quality time with people. Thanks Claire for making the was worth it!

The first night...Party time in the hot tub. The kids thought this was the best part of the vacation I think. The tub had groovy lights and a little water fall that as soon as it lit up the kids started jumping around and singing "party time." They continued to ask us all the next day about when their next party time would be.
After 18 months apart still best friends!

The second day we drove through the Smokies and into the National park. We saw tons of deer, more than I've ever seen. We took a short half mile hike to some old cabins in Cade's Cove. Oh, have I said yet that it was pooring down rain almost the entire trip? I should add that in here. Since we were planning on lots of outdoor adventure this made a big difference in the way things went while we were there. It's difficult to be on vacation in the rain. With 4 kids and 2 moms it can be pretty challenging. Our cabin wasn't small (when we first got there we were very impressed with how spacious it felt) but after having everyone inside for a while it did start to feel smaller:) We shared yummy cooked meals inside, read stories and played with the few toys we brought. The hot tub was also an added bonus since it was covered outside. The kids did find some creative ways to be outside between storms.

Hiking in the rain.

Spending a vacation with good friends...there's really not much better than this, right?! In the evenings after the kids were in bed Claire and I relaxed together and stayed up way too late catching up for the year we were apart. The last night we even ventured out into the hot tub alone and had a wonderful time. We thought the cabin was appropriately named "Wines Retreat."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hunting Island Part 2

Part 1 of our beach trip is posted below. Here is part 2.
Here is Ellen at the top of the light house. Her expression says it all. Last year no one went up the light house because one has to be so tall. This year Ellen was so tall but Arianna sadly was not. There are lots of proud making moments for me as a parent. And without digressing into my parenting philosophy or what I do and don't appreciate in children I'll simply say that Arianna walked away carrying both her disappointment and frustration without tantrum or one word of complaint. This occurred naturally without any prompting or forewarning. I just wanted to squeeze her to death. She showed restraint and self-control in a challenging situation. It never ceases to amaze me just how proud I can be as a parent and what small events trigger the reaction. No doubt I miss more than I ought. But I was preoccupied with her inner strength for the rest of the day. We have her on the body-stretcher for next year.

Here is the view of the light house from below. There is a reconstructed house foundation and several other buildings that held tools and such. A small rail was built to deliver goods to the outpost and fresh water was collected from the roof and stored in a large underground cistern. It seems it was a lonely and isolated life for the person or family charged with maintaining the flame.
Here are the girls in one of the light house buildings now full of light house history. We picked our favorites. They are beautiful structures-the beauty emanating largely from their functionality. Art of course ought imitate nature (I won't defend that).
On the way to the light house we traveled through the woods via trail. During low tide it is possible to take the beach back to the campground and so that is what we did. What we found was the reality of the ever shifting surface of this small island and the rapid forest loss which results. Without intervention, as the sand shifts with currents, the waves erode away soil leaving trees to die and eventually fall. What used to be forest becomes beach and later ocean. The next few pictures are of our hike back to the campground.

It was a very simple reminder that life is a precarious event beholden to much larger forces. Here the forest grew and thrived only to be washed away as conditions changed. The trees followed all the rules to the best of their ability doing everything in their power to succeed. But their success or failure wasn't so much under their control as it was that of winds and waters they could do little to nothing to avoid. Is there an analogy for us? If anything all one can do is be the best at what one is and leave the rest to...

Here you can see the root ball of this palmetto. There is another trail on the island which takes one into the marshy tide-waters which are mostly grassy fields with the occasional clump of shrub and tree where the ground rises above sea level. Much of the trail is on boardwalk due to the daily high tide which covers most of the fields in water. The Spanish moss, wind-swept gnarled trees, and endless streams create a beautiful landscape but not the kind one feels very comfortable walking into. The girls kindly posed but I failed to capture the true beauty of the surrounding scene.

Finally, we went into the small town of Beaufort on our last full day. Normally we wouldn't have ventured back into town on a camping trip but the wind was so strong and cold we just felt like we needed to do some sight seeing. Beaufort is a beautiful historical city which is now largely given over to the pursuits of wealthy retired folks (as a qualification my comments only reflect our brief tour of the gentrified downtown). The shops are quaint and expensive. We hiked around town and found this old Beaufort Artillery which was built in 1798 to house a local artillery which served in the Revolutionary war. It's a fascinating looking fortress with cannons set up throughout. The artillery houses the Beaufort History Museum which was unfortunately closed.
We packed things up and headed home on our fourth day. Nothing like sleeping in a tiny dome, eating by campfire, heating by campfire, and feeling sand in everything to make one long for home. On the way we passed this group of buzzards enjoying a hefty deer carcass. As is usual the picture doesn't do justice to the bird's size. They were soaring overhead, perched in trees, and bickering over position as they picked at the hide. Haven't you ever wondered, when you see them floating above, whether they ever successfully find anything? I have. They do apparently. Plenty.
So ends another family vacation. Much was left out and too much was said. But we had a wonderful time together and count the days till we can get away again.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hunting Island Part 1

We just got back from a Spring Break trip camping for 3 days and 3 nights at Hunting Island State Park. It was another wonderful vacation. Below are some pics and descriptions. I will post a second batch here before long to conclude the trip.

We camped very near the beach which has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are the beauty of the ocean, the palm trees, and the close proximity and access to the beach. The disadvantage is that incoming wind, from off the ocean, is not blocked or filtered by forest. Next year we may camp in the woods to avoid the strong wind. Inside the tent was warm and cozy but it is not a roomy enclosure for leisurely fun. It is almost purely for sleeping given the tight quarters. That meant when we were not hiking or playing "out" at the beach we were chilling by the fire.
Camp life was pretty simple. No toys or other things to distract us we are always left to pile onto one another and laugh for extended periods until someone gets hurt. I always like that about camping: the way one is compelled by necessity to enjoy everyone else almost all the time. The girls were high spirits and energy. They helped prepare food, and they are becoming quite the fire making/ fire poking/ fire maintaining experts. We received congrats from a neighbor RVer, who had apparently been watching us, for cooking all our meals over the fire. We ate grits, oatmeal, burritos, pasta, cereal, and fried some tofu-dogs, coffee.
Here we are sitting around the fire pit. We did a lot of this. Food tastes SO good when camping. It's as if one's senses become hightened via the depravity of sensory overload so common in daily life. We all found ourselves appreciating simple meals and simple tastes.

Here the girls are cleaning the tent out. Oh were it this easy to clean the house or to get them to clean.
The beach was beautiful. The picture behind the title of the blog was taken from our campsite. Here Arianna found this huge conch. I know very little about the mollusks but we were happy to find this guy among others on the beach. She, the conch, was promptly put back to continue her sublime life. We also found sand dollars (alive), sea urchins, and many 0ther shells. Jennifer was the only shark tooth finder: a coveted award.
In the mornings the girls and I walked to an inlet where a small creek had carved a sandy ravine and the marshy grasses met the forest. We saw deer their eating along the forest border 2 out of 3 mornings. But we didn't get near as close to them as I did a large raccoon who enjoyed a half a bowl of Jay food (Jay is our dog) before I realized what the noise of crunching was in the middle of the night.We did a lot of this. Walking, looking, discovering. Behind us you see a vast beach. The reason for this is that the beach was recently rebuilt. Ole Mother Nature doesn't seem to be quite the conservationist we expect from each other. Due to the placement of the surrounding land and resultant sea currents Hunting Island has been rapidly eroding. This year we had tons more beach because someone spent a lot of money putting it back. The barrier we are walking on is one attempt to limit the effects of beach erosion. More on this later.
We also played tag on this set of boulders which are covered in muscles and barnacles. The boulders were placed there to stall the eroding process. Another very human attempt to restrain much stronger forces. I am not making any kind of moral judgment. We do this all the time. Try and shore up what little stability we have with small gestures toward preservation. I think all the barnacles are appreciative. I was reminded though of youthfully disrupting an ant pile with a water hose and watching as the ants, against all hope and all odds, try, one by one, to make things better: carrying dirt clods, rescuing babies, every bit of energy focused on repair. And for many circumstances in life this certainly the correct response. At first I thought it a perfectly human quality to persist with futility but too many examples exist in nature of the same. No, it would be a truly human quality to know when to walk away, to desist, to let go. Catastrophes are natural. Tragedies are all to human. At the heart of many a tragedy is not letting go, not moving on (think Oedipus) while not realizing that larger and unknown forces are in charge. Meandering in this way raises all sorts of interesting questions-but they are perennial. The anti-erosion strategies on Hunting Island are a mere token of a more general problematic type of phenomena.
The dilemma appears wherever a form of life is threatened.

One day we took a hike on the nature trail which led to the Hunting Island Light House. The forest here is absolutely gorgeous. The ground is covered with beautiful palm plants and young palm trees emanating a rich emerald green while the upper layer of trees are crawling with vines and Spanish moss. Very enchanting. Even in taking these pictures we knew we wouldn't be able to capture the real beauty of the place. You'll just have to go their yourself.The girls ran, jumped, and skipped the whole way. It was a long hike but well worth it.
When we got to the end of our hike we had the lighthouse to enjoy. Here is a picture of the lighthouse from the beach. In the next set I will cover our trip back home where we witnessed the devastating effects of beach erosion as well as our trip into Beaufort. Check back soon.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Manure Mania

Added Note: Horses are Arianna's thing right now. She was enthralled. She had a horse themed birthday and has been drawing them incessantly. So it was exciting to watch her watch and pet them. My favorite quote was: "Dad, dad, one of the horses heads is as big as my WHOLE body."

If one wants to improve one's soil it doesn't get much better than manure. Our soil needs extra attention. Science tells us that the Atlantic ocean used to break just where Columbia SC was built. We live in what is known as the sand hills. For all we know our yard used to be underwater or beach. And sand doesn't hold much water nor has there been millennia of heavy amounts of decomposing matter in our sandy yard. But we want to create conditions where our garden can thrive and need to do it for free. We are composting yard and food scraps, along with leaves and such. Jennifer has started the worm-compost (vermicompost) which is another step toward healthy soil. You also might have seen the large pile of wood chips we are composting for the same purpose. Today we added another element. POOP!

Jennifer spent some time calling around and found a stable outside of town which we visited today. Some research was needed to make sure the stable didn't use any inorganic materials to clean the stables. The folks at the stable were incredibly helpful and friendly-they seemed completely unaffected by the fact that we were stealing this black gold. In fact they welcomed it. A stable hand told us the horses poop 50 to 100 pounds a day. They shovel it up and redistribute it back onto their fields but told us we could come as much as we wanted. So, we plan on taking advantage of this opportunity. For comparison I think I remember that bags of mushroom compost cost around $4.50 a bag. We probably brought home 5 or 6 bags worth. And that is just the beginning.

Big corporations were bypassed, local relations were enhanced, no money was transacted, and we got some exercise without a gym membership. A win win for the Kruideniers. We are also becoming more aware of the life process which we think is really cool. And, we will remember the poo when we are carrying in baskets of food this summer. It's going to make growing food a much more successful project.

So, if your thinking about growing or looking for ways to enhance your growing get out the local phone directory and start calling your stable. Some of the best soil amendments are being pooped for free at a stable near you.

BEWARE-There is a bit of the evangelist in my blood. Read on at your own risk.
Growing our own food decentralizes power, builds local relations, gives citizens control over their sustenance, and keeps a knowledge of food production in the hands of those who need it (the eaters). To the degree that we lack control over our food we lack freedom. A decentralized food production system will be much harder to destroy in time of natural or human catastrophe. Local food production develops local breeds that work in local environments creating variety. Variation in turn creates statistically better chances of avoiding massive die-off from disease avoiding the risks associated with large corporate agri-mono-culture. Feel free to share your experiences and experiments with us.