Below are some examples of what we have done with wood ash, packaging, vegetable and meat leftovers (including bones), animal and human waste, and construction debris. Some ideas may be useful even to urban readers.
|Alder wood fire|
As a fertilizer, wood ash reads 0-1-3 and softens acidic soil, which is exactly what our property needs. Hard woods are higher in the desired nutrients than soft woods, according to the U of Oregon extension office. Do not use wood ash on potatoes or the related families of blueberries/azaleas/rhododendrons, which like acidic soil.
- Kitchen and garden scraps can be fed to any of the animals (except citrus, potatoes, and onions) or trenched directly into gardens to enrich the soil. Some items work well in a compost tea or insect repellent. For example, sprays made from onion, red pepper, rhubarb, and tomato leaves repel many pests. Coffee and coffee grounds are best for acid loving plants. In fact, the Botanical Garden in Anchorage plants its potatoes in pots filled ONLY with coffee grounds scrounged from local coffee bars. Banana and orange peels deter aphids, deliver potassium, phosphorous, and some nitrogen. Great around roses. Egg shells deliver calcium – particularly important to tomatoes and squash and the poultry themselves (pulverized) and they deter slugs (but are safe for red wigglers in vermiculture). In the winter, when we have fewer animals and frozen gardens, we keep red wigglers in the cabin in a worm farm and feed the excess vegetable matter to them. I have found that a compost pile doesn't work well for me here, so I just trench yard and kitchen scraps directly into gardens, particularly ones that are resting for a season.
- Meat leftovers: All bones are made into soup stock, then offered to the poultry. After they have picked them clean, the bones are tossed into the wood stove to burn to ash for the gardens (0-12-0 nutrients). I cut up meat fat and chicken skin and feed it occasionally to our ducks and chickens both of which make their happiest discovery noises when they get those snacks. .
and Yard debris: Despite the name, chickweed has never
appealed to my
Rabbits eating raspberry leaves
- Slim straight and curved branches: I have created a "lattice" divider to obscure the view under our porch, have used tall branches for stakes, trellises and teepees for various top heavy plants, and have curved green branches to frame gardens. (Alas, we lack the whip like willows to make wattle fences.)
- Animal waste:
rabbits are one of the few animal manures that can be used fresh
in the garden, and its pellet form makes it easy to distribute when
dry. We store three plastic sleds under our rabbits to make
collection and transportation easy, and we purposely positioned the
greenhouse and two exterior gardens very close to the rabbit
hutches. We raise the animals for meat, and their light bones burn
easily to ash for the garden (0-12-0) nutrients, plus calcium, which
Alaska soils need. I have not yet learned to do anything with the
hides, and am a bit leery of hanging out bloody skins to dry, given
the bear population here. When my husband butchers the animals, we
bag the remains and kayak across the lake, away from people, to deposit them in the bog
We free range chickens and ducks, primarily for their eggs, but we
Chickens in front of the outhouse
Bees produce several types of useful “waste” products: Pollen
can be sold or bartered as an expensive health food product
($25/lb). Bees wax can be made into lip balm and candles. Propolis
can be mixed with alcohol as a tincture. I read that it is
currently being researched as a cancer treatment.
voles, flies, mosquitoes: Every time my husband empties the mosquito
magnet's net bag of dead bugs, my ducks and chickens act like I am serving them
an Atkin's diet buffet. In July, when we get a lot of flies in the
outhouse, I send the chickens in before me. I hear them
tap-tap-tapping the floor, like an avian version of “Whack a Mole”
as they snap up dead (or live) flies.
the average person produces 500 liters of protein rich urine per
year. Most of the time, I save the nighttime accumulation in our
indoor chamber pot, dilute it by five to ten times as much water,
and pour it around the yard or gardens (not directly on leaves of
plants). In winter, I can pour it directly into the snow for
natural winter time dilution. (Note: anyone who is taking medicines
might need to check the effect of those chemicals on plants).
According to my research, it is too cold here for a composting
toilet to work (outside for sure, and even with our cool interior temperatures). However, this might be an option in other parts of the
country where the ambient temperature surrounding the toilet is in
the 70s or above. We just use an outhouse with a big pit and pour lime down there occasionally, to help decomposition.
We burned a lot of the little bits and pieces but repurposed the following:
- Log ends: These have worked well as side tables, benches, foot rests, and steps to shallow porches. We use eight to elevate the freight sled skis so the sled would be easier to dig out in winter. A neighbor took a bunch to prop up his summer guest cabins, which were shifting and leaning from ice heaves and snow weight on the roofs. Thin ones (less than 3 inches) worked well for several years as stepping stones.
- 2” thick polystyrene insulation: a winter toilet seat for us (the air holes make it temperature neutral) and insulation for our batteries and bee hives
- Wooden Pallets: We strapped the bee hive to one (and surrounded it with bear mats), Used another as a wide step in front of the food shed
Exterior bear bars on shed doors
Shower house construction
- Planks: We used leftover planks of various widths for shelves everywhere we could conceive of one being useful. For example, a plank above the outhouse door (inside) stores lightweight paper goods. We turned the dead space below windows into low book cases. We use several short ones to kick under the ski plane skis so they don't freeze to the snow or ice below, and drop two down into an augured hole in the frozen lake with nylon ropes to use as tie downs to protect the plane from high winds. Others work as temporary, late winter shelves in my south facing windows for seedlings.
- Plywood: bear shutters for all first floor windows
- Sawdust: Blueberries are the only plants I know that actually like sawdust. Otherwise, mixed with "green" debris in the compost pile (which didn't do too well for me).
- Plastic and glass containers: We re-purpose a number of containers. Plastic vinegar bottles are bungie corded around birch trees to catch sap in May. Gallon and half gallon jugs water and feed animals. Small glass containers save seeds and store dried herbs and spices. Tall, wide mouthed glass jars hold long nails. Rubber and plastic gaskets don't last long in Alaska, but drippy drink containers with one large opening can be re-purposed for storing grains or other dry goods.
- Cardboard toilet paper rolls become chew toys for the rabbits, protect seedlings that suffer from cut worms, or function as fire starters. My mom always used them for rolled up electrical cords.
- Cardboard boxes: We flatten large cardboard to line rabbit and poultry nesting boxes (under straw, for extra insulation), and garden underlayment to reduce weeds. Intact, we use large ones as storage bins and yard debris carriers. Small ones function as drawer dividers for items like electric cords and knives,.
- Metal cans: We don't have much use for opened, metal cans, so we just fly them back to town dumpsters since Alaska is pretty bad about recycling. However, see www.instructables.com for clever uses for various size cans. For example, I made a small rocket stove with a coffee can and five soup sized cans.
- Fuel drums: We perforate them for burn barrels and grey water barrels (under the cabin and shower house). I have put several under the guy wires of our power tower in which I planted climbing vines, like scarlet runner beans, after the gasoline had evaporated, but let's face it: they are not very attractive.
- Food grade drums: We installed gutters and water barrels along most buildings. For example, we bought empty 55 gallon drums (of malt) from a beer supply store for $10. Other food grade drums can be cut down for large water bowls and little pools for animals. In warm climates, you might be able to use them to house fish or use them for aquaponic agriculture. We use about a dozen, plastic 35 gallon drums to float our wooden dock, and that has lasted well for five years, even without removal for winter.
- Paper can be composted or used in lasagna gardening techniques or given to the rabbits, which like to tear it up, particularly for their nesting boxes. Shiny, colored paper we burn with the trash.
- Burned trash: It is logical for us to buy bulk items, like 50 lb bags of flour and sugar, which reduce some volume of trash. But there is quite a bit that we need to burn, such as all that plastic packaging surrounding just about everything one buys in the U.S (what a wasteful contrast, compared to many other countries). Paper products that burn cleanly, go into a fire pit and that ash can be spread in the garden. Benzene derived plastic trash is burned in a burn barrel, and that ash is stored in a beat up metal row boat at the back of our property.
- Like many people, I bring my own shopping bags to stores. I bought (and now crochet) cotton bags. At home, I store my produce in them, hanging them on cup hooks in the kitchen. When I deplete the contents of a bag, I move it to the plane for our next trip to town.
- Old gasoline is stored in small quantities in wide-mouthed bottles, which we use for cleaning oil-based paint brushes.
Mail, newspapers, wine/beer bottles:
- Even when we lived in a city, we did our banking on line and had been vigilant about cutting down on junk mail. The worst sources were my bank (They sold our name to nine different lists!), any retail store I shopped on line, my husband's and my universities and AAA (which was nearly impossible to stop their affiliate mails). Ask your customer service (or alumni) contact about getting off all lists!
- We read news on-line, so the bulk of my city recycling (newspapers) is gone.
- We make our own wine and beer, stored in kegs, so we no longer have glass bottles.
- Living as we do, I have become acutely aware of "my inputs and my outputs." I think that recycling is a fine thing, but in some cities, it is a "feel good" exercise that does little to cover the carbon cost of transporting stuff to the recycling center. Reduced consumption may be a more effective step, and, with bulk stores and Internet news, that is not very hard to accomplish.
I welcome any other suggestions for re-using, re-purposing, and disposing of garbage, trash, and debris.
If you enjoyed these helpful hints, please feel free to link this article to your favorite social media site. Thanks, Laura