Taking Care of Yourself Just Feels Good
In the beginning, Diane and David Blackett simply wanted to give their two young children the opportunity to pick berries in their Denver backyard. Four summers later, that first small communion with nature has blossomed into abundant varieties of homegrown fruits and vegetables, two composting piles for soil nourishment, a beehive filled with 12,000 Italian bees spinning honey, and three chickens for farm-fresh eggs — all dotting the property surrounding their small, three-bedroom bungalow within Denver’s city limits.
Connected to the Land
Diane Blackett says she was ready to implant in her children a sense of appreciation for the land, particularly now that her family would be living in a more forgivable climate, after moving to Denver in 2008 from Tucson, Arizona.
“When we moved to Denver, I realized my kids just were not in touch with the seasons,” said Blackett. “We really liked the idea of growing our own vegetables. We were buying organic, but it was so expensive. But more than that, it was having a connection to nature, a connection to the past. You know, everything is so technologically advanced these days. This is a way to feel connected to the land. You’re aware of things like the seasons and the weather.”
Blackett says she got her grand inspiration for living off her land after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s 2007 best-selling novel, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” a nonfiction account of the author’s own attempts to live off the land and only buy locally for one year. It was not long before the chicken coop, the composting piles and the beehive joined the Blacketts’ vegetable garden.
“My husband and I thought about how there is such a karmic cost to food, and it would be valuable to let the kids know where their food comes from,” Blackett said.
Spark of Interest
Proponents of this increasingly popular way of life recognize it by varying names: urban homesteading, micro-farming and living off the grid. At its core, the trend is about living self-sufficiently in your own home, depending very little on the outside world for resources and, in so doing, significantly limiting your household’s carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from a person’s activities or for products and transport during a given period).
The means for becoming self-sufficient are diverse but primarily consist of using alternative energies, such as solar or wind, to power properties; incorporating environmentally friendly methods for waste and water; and raising small farm animals, such as chickens and goats.
The Web is teeming with sites, primarily blogs, that offer a large community and education for those with the goal of self-sufficient living. Often, a homeowner at first may have been focused on using green energy and getting “off the grid,” but that first step often breeds even further self-sufficiency, such as growing food and raising small livestock.
The motives pushing the movement forward run the gamut from economic to environmental to a general concern for availability of resources during difficult times. For example, the debt ceiling debate in summer 2011 and subsequent fear over the U.S. economy led to blog posts, such as an August 8 entry on the website Off the Grid Living that cited the benefits of self-sufficient living because, “We are usually better off than most people when a disaster hits.”
Learning How to Become Self-Sufficient
Learning opportunities and resources are growing beyond the blogosphere. After relocating, Blackett heard about educational courses offered by the Denver Botanic Gardens and took several, learning about native plant life and soil before seriously digging into her garden.
Sarah Olson, the adult education manager for the Denver Botanic Gardens, says the nonprofit has experienced great success with its many courses, and the most popular have been those on rearing chickens and other small livestock, beekeeping, organic gardens, and canning and preserving.
“Recently, we’ve seen a surge for anything related to urban homesteading,” said Olson. “[Since 2007] there’s been a real turn, a real recognition in our culture of the many benefits of living off your own land and then an acknowledgment of it through education.”
The center provides an average of 25 varying courses per month, with each class containing about 15 people. Olson says the turnout is diverse in terms of urban, suburban and rural homeowners.
“We have a very large mix. It’s really all over the place,” Olson said. “Some people drive three hours to take one of our classes.”
Olson says an evolution happens, which is to say that someone will take just one course on learning how to grow tomatoes, which then expands to a class on composting and then on keeping a backyard chicken coop. “All of them are so interrelated,” said Olson.
Madeline Dobbs, director of development and marketing with the American Public Gardens Association, says many of the APGA’s 500-plus public gardens members provide educational opportunities for, at least, organic food growing. Dobbs attributes that first spark of interest to an increase of edible garden programs tied into celebrity chefs offering education not only of how to grow the produce but also how to prepare it.
“Increasingly, people have an awareness of where their foods come from and of living a healthier lifestyle,” said Dobbs.
Echoing Olson’s sentiment, Dobbs cites the interrelatedness of education. “These types of courses are creating interest for sustainability, such as green building and leading a more sustainable lifestyle.”
Life off the Grid
The shared sensibility or common denominator that is driving this trend may simply be the sense of accomplishment it engenders, says Chris Worcester, an off-the-gridder since 1977. Worcester owns Solar Wind Works in Truckee, California, a consultant and installer of various alternative energy solutions for homes and small businesses.
“It just feels good to take care of yourself,” said Worcester, who pays virtually zero for energy costs on his home after implementing such methods as solar and wood-fired hot water and a waterless composting toilet.
“You have control over your life and it’s healthy,” Worcester said. “You might not have money to go buy organic at the store, but by golly, you sure can grow it for very little money.”
Blackett jokes about what probably are some of her neighbors’ impressions of her little city farm on her property of less than an acre. “I think they think I’m a big hick,” said Blackett, laughing.
Conversely, the family’s lifestyle has influenced other neighbors, she says, particularly after the happy reception she received from passing out her homegrown, sun-dried heirloom tomatoes. “I’ve talked to at least four people I know who are now growing tomatoes in a little garden,” said Blackett.
Six Steps for Living Self-Sufficiently
Self-sufficient living, or “urban homesteading” as some people have coined it, is catching on around the country because of a whole host of factors: the unstable U.S. economy, environmental concerns or just wanting to get closer to your own land.
Whether your property is in a city or subdivision, many homeowners are out in the backyard collecting eggs from their small chicken coops or canning their summer’s vegetable harvest for the winter. Numerous blogs and websites provide a community and guidance for those looking to kick-start their life off the grid. According to Jules Dervaes of UrbanHomesteading.com, homeowners who want to live more self-sufficiently should consider these elements.
1. Grow your own fruit and vegetables. A city dweller living on less than half an acre can grow 50 percent of his diet organically.
2. Use alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal in partnership with energy efficiency and conservation to reduce usage.
3. Raise small farm animals (chickens, goats) for fertilizer and food.
4. Practice waste-reduction methods such as composting and repurposing waste materials.
5. Practice water conservation and recovery, such as collecting rainwater.
6. Develop back-to-basics homemaking skills, including food preservation and preparation.
Whether you’ve just moved into a new home, or want to make some redecorating choices in your existing space, you may want to hire an interior decorator to help you get the job done. But before you hire a designer to transform a room or area in your home, there are several questions you should ask to ensure that you’re connecting with the right designer to carry out your home decorating vision.
Be sure to ask your interior designer about her credentials and qualifications when it comes to home design. Find out what school the designer attended and inquire about any professional affiliations she may have, so that you’ll feel at ease with the training and expertise that the designer will bring to your home project.
Ask the interior designer if you can see some of the work he’s done for other clients in portfolio form. Most interior designers will have both an online and print portfolio these days, so you should be able to log onto the designer’s website at any time to view previous work that may be similar to the job you want done.
Even though you’ve seen the designers portfolio and credentials, be sure to ask how long the designer has been working professionally. The more experience the designer has, the more comfortable you may feel allowing them to complete major home projects, such as knocking out a wall or replacing floors.
During your initial consultation, ask your interior designer if they want to take on an entire home project or are willing to work on only one room or area. Some designers will only accept a project if they design for the entire home, so make sure you are clear on this before signing any contracts.
Let your interior designer know what your budget is and ask whether the home remodeling project you want completed will fit within this budget. This way, you’ll know exactly how much money you need before any work is done.
Ask the designer how much of a deposit is required before work can begin. Inquire about how you can pay for services, so that you can set up a workable payment plan.
Ask your interior designer how long the home decor project will take so that you and your family can make the proper adjustments. Work of this type usually takes longer than anticipated, so prepare for the project to extend at least two weeks more than projected.
Inquire about all aspects of the contract between you and the interior designer so that there are no misunderstandings during the decorating process. Ask about any terms that you’re not clear on and get clarification on the ones that you understand well.
Ask the designer if you need to hire your own construction crew. In many cases, the interior designer has a group of go-to contractors for projects, but you’ll need to know this before any work is done so that you can hire additional professionals and budget accordingly.
Talk to your interior designer about the way the home design project will be conducted. Ask the professional if they work best by being the leader on a project, or welcome lots of input from the homeowner, so that you’ll know whether you and the designer can work together
It’s easy to consider bees and birds when gardening – we see plenty of them if we grow the right plants – but what about bats? Emerging from their roosts at dusk and returning by dawn, they can often go unnoticed.
My partner is a huge fan of bats. On warm, summer evenings we take our bat detector and a bag of chips to the canal and sit on a bench, waiting for pipistrelles and Daubenton’s to emerge from their roosts. We’ve also been on guided bat walks and taken part in surveys, picking up the different sound frequencies emitted by noctules, Leisler’s and lesser horseshoe bats. If you’re in Cornwall this summer, I can recommend the bat walks at the Lost Gardens of Heligan. When I was there I felt quite separated from my hectic city life, standing at the edge of the water in total darkness with bats swirling around me.
Like so much of our wildlife, bats are having a hard time. This is mostly due to the widespread use of pesticides in agriculture. British bats feed exclusively on insects, so spraying crops to kill ‘pests’ dramatically reduces the amount of food available to them.
Luckily, there’s a lot gardeners can do to help. If you garden for amphibians, birds, bees and butterflies, you will have already created a fantastic bat habitat. You can boost local insect populations by not using bug sprays and being less tidy in autumn (providing insects with somewhere to shelter over winter will ensure they survive to breed in spring). Planting native trees and shrubs will also provide food and shelter for insects.
Many bat species eat moths, so grow nectar-rich plants, including honeysuckle, night-scented stock and evening primrose, to attract them. Crane flies are also an important food source. (This pleases me. I have loads of crane flies in my garden, and am looking forward to lots more after watching one laying eggs in my lawn last week.)
Bats typically roost in caves, tall trees, roofs of houses and barns, but they will choose anywhere they deem suitable. My cousin often has bats roosting in his outdoor fuse box, while one used to sleep in the folds of curtains hanging in the classroom my mum used to teach in. Erecting a bat box and growing trees may encourage them to roost in your garden. Females will choose warm ‘maternity’ roosts to birth and raise their young, while cooler sites are used for hibernation. They navigate around using echolocation, so need linear corridors along which to travel. If you have the space, why not a plant long, straight hedge for them?
If you do have bats roosting in your home or garden, remember that bats and their roosts are protected whether occupied or not, so if you want to get rid of that conifer blocking all the light to your veg patch, but you think there are bats roosting in it, make sure you call the National Bat Helpline first for advice on 0845 1300 228.
Source BBC World Magazine@BBC.com Author
There’s a mouse living in my compost bin. I first saw it one evening the other week, when I added a fresh layer of tomato side shoots and yellowing leaves. It leapt out of the bin and charged through the border. That frog looks just like a mouse, I thought (it was dark).
Then last weekend, as I took the fork to gently turn the compost, it leapt out and ran off again, only this time I could see it was a mouse (a wood mouse I think, not a house mouse). I let out a faint scream of surprise, spent around 20 seconds worrying what the neighbours would think, and then relaxed, happy with our new arrival.
My bumblebees (RIP) were rescued from friends who were landscaping their garden; some of my frogs were rescued from a kitchen drain and the rest I picked up from a lady who filled in her pond and advertised the frogs on Freecycle, having kept them in a jar all day. The mouse came all by itself.
I’m impressed the mouse found my garden. It’s not like a normal garden, with neighbouring plots separated by fences and hedges – things that make it easy to travel between them. It backs on to a cycle path, has walls on either side and is surrounded by concrete. Yet here it is, a mouse, living in my compost bin.
The great thing about mice is that they have an important role in the lifecycle of bumblebees. Many species of bumblebee nest in old mouse holes. It’s thought that they’re attracted by the smell, and the strong whiff of mouse could even deter wax moths from finding and laying eggs inside the nest. So I’m hoping that, if this mouse sticks around, bumblebees might be encouraged to nest in my garden too.
I don’t know if I have one mouse or a family (though I suspect it’s only a matter of time before there are more of them). I emptied the bin a few weeks ago and there was no sign of a nest (just the usual giant slugs, earwigs and some ant eggs). I’m not sure how I’ll feel if it does start a family – my garden isn’t big enough to support many – but for now I’m happy. Perhaps it’s just a lone mouse scouting for a hibernation site. It might spend the winter in the compost bin making the whole heap smell of mouse, ready for nest-searching bumblebee queens in spring. I hope so.
Source BBC World Magazine@BBC.com
Green walls provide a cool, bright and bold display in any room in the house. Their different tones and hues accentuate a wide range of furniture and accessories, as well as bringing the outdoors in. Calming green also creates a soothing, serene feel in the home. It works well accented with pale blues, snowy whites and deep, rich shades such as chocolate brown. With its refreshing hue, green is sure to enhance the mood and feel of your home.
Grass green walls accent and complement dark wood such as a mahogany china cabinet or buffet. The rich brown furniture coupled with the intense shade of grass green holds the design together and allows the two very different hues to enhance one another. Grass green also provides a playful yet mature look in any room. Its intensity instantly brightens the space and livens up the room. For example, bright green paint in a child’s bathroom creates a visually appealing design. Don’t forget about the fifth wall of the home: the ceiling. A playful shade of green such as grass green defines the ceiling and adds an unexpected design display in bedrooms, dining and living spaces. Paint the walls below a shade lighter for a unified design.
Calming shades of green such as sage are ideal in the bedroom when you want a more subdued design. The shade lends itself to a room for relaxing and unwinding and is therefore ideal in bedrooms and bathrooms. Sage green goes well with a wide range of colors and textures. Incorporate a pair of sage green curtains against a sage wall to echo the color throughout the room and create a calming sanctuary. Play up the cool shade of green with colorful pillows and throws. Against the sage green, incorporate pale blues such as a collection of vases or figurines. This two-color palette creates a fresh feel in the space.
Pale greens such as mint work well to open up a small space and create the illusion of a larger room. Mint greens don’t overpower or dominate a room, but instead allow decorative elements of the room such as accessories, furniture and artwork to stand out. Pale shades of green such as mint green incorporated on the walls as well as on molding instantly brighten the room and draw your eye into the space. Adding graphic prints pillows and rugs helps to break up the room to ensure that an all pale green space does not become overly monotonous.
If you are looking for a new decorating style for your home, one great look to consider is that of Japanese decorating. Adopting an Eastern mindset when decorating allows you to use interesting colors, textures and furnishings to create an uncluttered, peaceful space.
Redo your flooring. If your budget allows for this major of a cost, you can replace carpet or tile with highly polished bamboo flooring to form the basis for your new Japanese interior.
Paint. Choosing off whites or neutral colors for your walls creates a harmonic background and a sense of order in your Japanese decorating. This orderliness is a key element of Japanese design, allowing you to achieve your design goals.
Clear out the clutter. Throw away, give away or put away all the little bits and pieces that fill your space. Balance and peacefulness are two of the pillars of Japanese decorating and cannot be present in a room full of stuff.
Invite nature into your space. You can add an orchid, a small fountain or a bamboo plant to create an authentic Japanese interior. Including nature in your Japanese decorating adds an element of serenity that is vital to Japanese design.
Add one major focal point. Whether you choose to paint one pillar with red lacquer or hang a tatami mat on the wall, allow yourself only one accent piece to maintain the Japanese feel of your room. Placing the focal point in the center of the room will draw visitors in and invite them to share the Japanese feeling of your space.
Accent the new home with color, pattern and texture to create your own personal design touch. Bring in loved items to accessorize the home and personalize your space. Inexpensive accessories help keep the budget low while providing a commanding presence and stimulating impact to the home. With a few simple tips, your home is brightened to welcome you each and every day.
Just because your new house has limited square footage doesn’t mean you have to scale down on decorating ideas. Small spaces often have limited storage, so why not declutter with a set of colorful lockers. Installed in a mudroom or entrance to the home, lockers house personal belongings and accessories like shoes and scarves. Accent small spaces with pieces of furniture that doubles as a functional accent and decorative piece. Small pedestal tables flanking a bed not only serve as the nightstand but also have space below for storage baskets and other items. Flooring in small spaces needs to be light and easy to clean and maintain to keep the small space looking vibrant. Flooring material such as ceramic is not only easy to clean—but the wide range of neutral hues instantly brightens up the space and fits any style of home.
Incorporate color through the new house with wallpaper. Wallpaper comes in a wide range of patterns, textures and colors to liven up any room in the home. Dramatic patterns like a trellis look attractive on one wall of a living room to provide a focal point to the space. Create a makeshift headboard by wallpapering behind the bed with a patterned, graphic design. Instantly add height to the new house by painting the space in creamy whites and tans. Dark, dramatic colors in hues of navy and olive offer an intimate feel to spaces like offices and libraries. Accent dark painted walls with splashes of chartreuse and white to offset the dark design and prevent the deep shade from overtaking the room.
Accent the new home with decorative accessories such as a collection of vases or figurines. Resting over a fireplace mantle, collections of cherished items create your own personal design touch to the new home. Bring in a sculptural element to the home with a set of over-sized mirrors. Hung in an entryway or family room, mirrors provide a reflective surface that creates the feeling of expansiveness. To keep the design cost-effective, accent tables like a side table with a fresh bouquet of flowers. Simple pieces, such as a bowl of colorful oranges or lemons placed over a dining table, offer colorful design touches—but without breaking the budget.
Just because you’ve got a small space to work with doesn’t mean that your interior design has to be drab, boring and dull. Utilize the space you have to take advantage of what you’ve got. A key element in making good use of a small space is to double up the job that everything in it does.
Dining Table Desk Combo
Putting a dining table in a small house or even just a small room can be difficult. You should look for a table that can easily double as a desk for the computer or for your home business or your homework. Look for a drop-leaf table that can be used as a desk when the leaves are down, and a dining table when you pull the leaves up.
You can likely save quite a bit of floor space in a small family room by mounting your television on the wall. Getting rid of the entertainment center or armoire where the TV was formerly housed gives the room more space for you to go about your various activities while keeping the television as a focal point of the room.
A decorative and functional addition to a small space is translucent panels. These panels can be used as a room divider to offer more privacy on both sides. The translucent panels keep the room from feeling too confined because of the light that shines through them.
A small space offers the chance to introduce patterns into your design. Patterns such as stripes or geometric shapes on the wall bring a sense of rhythm to a room. The eye naturally follows the pattern, which psychologically serves to expand the size of the room by giving the illusion that more space is being used than actually is.
A very efficient yet decoratively interesting way to utilize the space inside a small bedroom actually involves taking up square footage. Install bookcases along the length of the wall behind your bed. Curtains will be used to hide the bookcases, which can be used to store clothing, toiletries and knickknacks as well as books. By using up the space behind the bed, you can actually increase the available square footage by getting rid of the other furniture that currently contains your clothing.
Using Color to Increase Size
Using paint colors to help the interior design of a room seem more expansive is an old decorating trick that works every time. Paler colors seem to recede from the viewer, thereby making the room seem larger. And the shinier you can paint the walls, the better. Shiny surfaces also have the psychological effect of expanding the surrounding space, according to Mary Gilliati in “The Decorating Book.”
Using Colors to Increase Coziness
You may want to use color to achieve the opposite effect. Make a small room seem cozier rather than size-challenged by using rich, warm colors in your design. This includes adding cozy-creating items like sofa pillows and upholstery.