Landscaping outside of a home with a wheelbarrow and shovel.

How to Start Composting: Outdoors

We know why composting is important and what we can compost, but how do you start your own outdoor compost station?

To start, decide how much you are composting and if you need a bin. Benefits of composting with a bin is that it will keep it neat in your back yard and help to keep critters away. If you do choose a bin, consider the size of the container for how big of a space you’ll need.

Next is location, location, location. Find an area that is well-drained. If you live in the south, you may want to consider a shady spot so the moisture in the pile doesn’t evaporate too quickly.  In the north, you may want to consider a sunny area since it typically is cooler weather in the spring and fall.

Remember to consider the proximity to your house and garden. Since you will more than likely be making at least one trip (if not more) to it daily you will want it to be close enough to the house, but also close enough so you don’t have to make long trips to your garden.

Once you have decided what and where – it is time to start composting! Start off by having the pile touching the ground.

  • On the first layer, place brown items such as leaves, twigs, cardboard (torn up).
  • Then add green materials, such as food wastes or grass. Each layer should be around 5 inches, give or take.
  • Keep repeating layers until you run out.
  • Once you’ve added the layers, keep the materials wet, but not soaking wet.
  • Turn your pile to dry and mix the materials together for breaking down.

Soil and pots for compost gardening.

As time goes and the materials start to break down, you’ll notice the components of it starting to change. Once the materials look and smell like dark dirt as opposed to the items you originally started with, that is when it is ready to be used for your garden.

Why Compost?

Happy Composting!

Woman in front of a garden, tending to it.

What Are the Benefits of Composting?

Composting is a simple way you can better the environment (and potentially your wallet). If you aren’t quite sure how to start composting or if it really makes that big of a difference, then this is the post for you! Over the following weeks of this series we will be talking about the importance of composting and what you can compost, followed by making your own composter! So, let’s dig in!

Why Compost?

Composting has direct benefits for your backyard but also impacts the environment on a larger scale, too!

When you compost, your soil becomes healthier, which naturally promotes better plant health. Because compost adds organic materials back into the soil, it reduces your need for store bought fertilizer. An additional benefit is that soil will contain more nutrients and become more impervious to diseases. The EPA states that increasing organic matter in your dirt by just 1% can triple the soil’s water capacity!1 It’s pretty amazing what impact you can make for your own back yard.

What about on the larger scale though? Overall, composting will result in cleaner oceans and reduce methane emissions, just to name a couple of benefits2It also prevents 30% of all waste from ending up in a landfill3. Not only will you prevent compostable waste from ending up in the landfill you will also become more mindful of what is being thrown out, thus saving on your budget!

Now that we know why we should compost the question becomes:

What can you compost?

The answer… just about anything! But you will want to be mindful since some items may cause unwanted critters. That problem can be solved though by keeping your bin locked.

Easiest things to compost:

  • Leaves
  • Sticks
  • grass
  • Newspaper (black and white)
  • Saw dust
  • Vegetable food scraps

Items you’ll want to avoid:

  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Dairy
  • Fats
  • Diseased plants

If you are looking to compost something but aren’t sure if you can, check out this composting website! It will tell you whether it can be composted and how to do it safely.

Now that you learned (or maybe already knew) about how composting improves your soil/ plants, reduces waste in your home, and produces less landfill waste – you might be considering how to get started with your own compost! Stay tuned for our next post on the topic where I’ll teach you exactly that!

More Eco Friendly Ideas!

  1. Addison County Solid Waste Management District. 18 August 2021. Five Top Reasons to Compost. https://www.addisoncountyrecycles.org/food-scraps/composting/101/why-compost.
  2. Grow Ensemble. 18 August 2021. 20 April 2021. The 15 Benefits of Composting for the Environment, the Economy, & Our Communities. https://growensemble.com/benefits-of-composting/
  3. Green Philly. 18 August 2021. 21 May 2013. 5 Benefits of Composting for Your Urban Garden. https://www.thegreencities.com/lifestyle/5-benefits-of-composting/

Top down view of bee bath with marbles and water.

How to Create Your Own Bee Bath

Bees are essential for the world’s survival. They are a big contributor to plant pollination and without them, it is said we would not survive. So what can you do to help save the bees? Besides having wildflowers, dandelions, and other flowers in your yard, you can create your own bee bath.

The back of a bee flying onto an orange flower.
A bee flying onto an orange flower.

A bee bath is a little area with shallow water that allows for our little friends to come and cool off and get a drink of water. With the hot summer days, it could be treacherous for bees to find a place to stay hydrated. Most pools of water will be too deep and if they slip in, they will risk drowning.

All the things you need to make a bee bath: pots with trays, paint brushes, paint, marbles, and an area to paint.

What you need to make a bee bath:

  • A shallow plate
  • Rocks or marbles
  • Water
  • Paint (for decoration)

For our bee baths, we chose clay pot trays to use and marbles, but you can use any shallow plate. You can choose to paint or decorate it or just leave it as is.

After you decide on your plate, add some rocks and marbles to allow for a standing place for their tired legs. Place in your garden and fill with water without covering the rocks or marbles. And that’s it!

Painted terracotta pots with trays.
Painted terracotta pot.
Bee Bath made from Terracotta painted pots.
Check out this how to video for more!

Get Rid of Bugs Safely!

This simple and quick little project can go a long way for bee survival, especially during the hazy days of summer.

Woman organizing dishes in the kitchen cabinet.

Organizing Your Home with a Monthly Walk Through

The best remedy for a busy household is a routine that sticks. You might be thinking of your morning or nightly routine, and that is definitely part of it. However, the routine I’m thinking of is when it comes to your home. That’s right – I’m talking about home organization. It’s amazing what a monthly check in can do for your home and your sanity!

So, let’s break this down and discover some great options for keeping your home in order.

The monthly walk through can sound intimidating, I get it. Bear with me. If you can find a few hours toward to beginning or the end of the month to walk through your home and process the items – you’ve won half the battle. Schedule this in advance if you have kids or a busy schedule to where someone helps you or watches your kids for a bit. It can change as the months do – make it work for you.

How to get the most out of your walk through:

  • Set a couple boxes out for donation or sale (depends on how much you must sort through)
  • Set out a trash bag
  • Use a designated area for items in the wrong place or that need to be relocated
  • Grab some post its (To label or write out where you want something to go later)
  • Motivation: caffeine, music, having guests at your home, clearing more space for family, etc.
  • Focus on the room you’re in until your done with it
  • Ask yourself: “Have this been used or worn in a year?” “Is this in the most practical place it could be?” “Do I need this or really want it?” Etc.

As you go through each room you don’t have to pull things out of closets, drawers, or under the bed. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start with clutter or items sitting out. Then after you’ve done this system for a while you can dig deeper into the details, or you may already have things pretty organized. Start where you’re at and let yourself progress. You’ll find not only will your home become more organized, but you’ll be downsizing some of your stuff.

Once you’re able to go through your home fully you should have 3 areas/ bins/ boxes. One for donations/sale, one for items that can relocate to another room or place, and trash items. Follow up after your monthly organization by going ahead and putting these items in their new place.

Click For Cleaning Tips!

I hope that you can implement this strategy and that it serves you and your family well.  Happy organizing!

6 Shade Ideas for Your Yard This Summer

We’ve entered the part of summer that is just hot no matter what you do. You may have spent the season hoping for some relief, but it’s not too late to make a dream relaxation spot in your yard! I’ll be looking at some shade ideas that you can do yourself or purchase. Not only can shades be great for you and your family outside, but they can also potentially save energy if they cover part of your home, too!

Let’s check out some cool ways to stay shaded!

Sun sailSun sails are a cute, modern way to protect an area from the sun. They are rather inexpensive but offer decent protection. Check out some options here. The trick to making one is getting your measurements right for the area that needs fabric and researching what fabric would do best. Here’s a sun sail how to you might be interested in.

Sun sails add a touch of relaxation!
Sun sails add a touch of relaxation!

Palapa – If you’re in a coastal area, this is perfect –  Palapa has that island vibe. You can find it at most home improvement stores. Palapas umbrellas are popular. You could make your own, or add palapas to whatever shade project you’re interested in.

Trees – Obviously these take time to grow, but you can choose something that grows fast or purchase something that’s already grown to a certain size. This can provide some good shade that will only grow.

Plants with trellis – A trellis is a great idea for gardeners. The trellis itself will block some of the sunlight, but you can look up vines or plans that climb so that it will cover them well. Here are some great options for climbing plants! Be careful not to put the trellis too close to your home, as it may encourage the vine/ plant to grow onto your home. Though vines look lovely on a home, they are actually bad for the siding on your home and can attract bugs to your home.

Patio curtains – There are many ways to implement curtain shades. You can hang them from anywhere vertically to help the angle of the sun. You can hang them from a deck, a pergola, or install your own base and hang them from there.

Pergola – Thesecan be expensive but make a great atmosphere in your yard. Though they are a little bit more involved, they can make a great project! Try on of these free pergola plans!

Keep Cool With This Post!

I hope these ideas inspire you to choose an option and maybe even make it a project for you and your family! Stay cool!

Back to School Tips for Your Family

School has started for many kids or is soon to start, and I want to help you dream of all the ways to get organized. After a year and a half of different/flexible home and school schedules – most are back to regular pacing at school. I want to help you return easily to the swing of things. I hope these tips help you and your family have a smooth transition and help you all succeed.

Let’s get started!

Set up a drop station

Organization is such a powerful discipline. It takes a little time on the front end but saves you time in the long run. Drop stations can be a variety of things, but mostly they have:

  • Area for shoes, backpack, jacket
  • A whiteboard/paper with a calendar and/or schedule for the family
  • Place for the mail
  • Small place to sit
  • Charging station for school laptops/ tablets

You can set up the area for what fits your situation best. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just make it practical for you. The aim is to have an area that reduces clutter, keeps everyday items in one place, and reminds everyone what’s planned for the day/week/month.

This is a great drop station!

Lunches

It can be tough to stay consistent and creative with meals. For packing lunches, try packing for two or three days at a time. That way it will still be fresh, but you’re not having to do it every night.

Also, you can get your child to help you pack their lunch if they aren’t old enough to do it all themselves. Let your kids get a fun lunch box or two to help them get excited to help you pack! For older kids, encourage them to write out healthy things they’d be interested in for the week so you can ensure you have those items, and they can ready themselves to pack it.

For a quick planning tip, try a combo of the following:

  • Protein (meat, peanut butter, protein bar, etc..)
  • Fruit/ veggie (tangerines, apples, banana, etc.)
  • Drink
  • Healthy side item (nuts, popcorn, yogurt, baked chips, etc..)
  • Possible dessert
  • Don’t forget the ice pack!

Homework

Many people suggest doing homework in increments to help your child stay on task. You can do 15 – 30-minute increments and encourage breaks based on age and what feels best for your child.

It’s quite beneficial if your child uses a planner – that way you both can keep up on what needs to be done. Plus, you can help show them study skills and how to take notes in a way that caters to how they learn.

Lastly, if a particular subject is hard for your kid or kids – try rewarding them for it. You can also try starting with that homework, so the hard work is done first. Get more ideas on how to help your kids with homework here.

Reading with your child can help keep them engaged.
Reading with your child can help keep them engaged.

Supplies

Supply lists usually are specific to your child’s school, but you can also pick up items that apply to their interests. Try to nurture their favorite subject or hobby with some extra supplies that allow them to practice whatever it is.

When picking up items, try bargain stores as they often put out good deals for the season. You might also go in with some friends a get bulk items online to save some of bigger cost items. Check out more money saving tips here.

Routine

A lot of people have some type of routine with their kids, but adding to it, or giving it an adjustment can help during the school year.

Only you can decide what works best in your home as far as routines. It really depends on your life, resources, and children. When it comes to routines think about what your goals are, what your children are motivated by, and what adds fun and lessens stress to your morning/evening.  Then think of practical ways you can implement those things.

Ex: Maybe your kids have the opportunity to get up on their own to an alarm clock 20 minutes before you check on them, and if they are up and onto eating breakfast, dressing, going to the bathroom etc. they get a reward after doing so for 5 days in a row.

More Back to School Tips!

I hope that this gets your wheels turning and aids you in preparing your child or children for the year. Remember, it doesn’t have to be strict or perfect implementation and it won’t be, but having that aim makes everyone more productive regardless.

Gravel Driveway Repair and Preventative Care

Gravel driveways are a great, budget friendly option. Like everything else, they’ll need some maintenance and upkeep. There are plenty of things you can do to both avoid and fix problems as they arise. I’ll be looking at some of the options.

Drainage is the most important component of a gravel driveway. If your driveway has major drainage issues – you may need to do some back tracking. It could be that your driveway wasn’t put together correctly. More than likely though, the repair and upkeep addressed in this post will help you fix most issues.

Preventative –

  • Making a crownmost expert sites recommend this strategy to keep drainage moving downward. All you have to do is rake gravel to a peak in the center of your driveway. It doesn’t need to be super high, just enough to encourage the water to flow down the middle instead of down the sides.
  • Trenches and edging – These are great ideas that will give water a safe place to go. You can try digging shallow trenches on both sides of your driveway. You may also try doing a little rain garden or any type of edging that will keep your gravel in place and move the water to the end of your driveway.
  • Drains – Some people also put drains on either side of their driveway, these are more involved, but may be a perfect solution for you. Some people will install them on the sides as edging with metal or plastic grids overtop the thin drains. The most common drains are culvert pipes or French drains which are both dug underground (usually) to redistribute water.

Problem areas – 

  • Potholes – These can be tricky. Essentially, they are an issue of trapped water. A great do it yourself site, suggests a helpful process.
    • First, they recommend digging the hole out wide and deep enough, so the edges are solid. This way the gravel hole will hold for the filler.
    • Once it’s clear, you can fill with thinner/ crushed gravel.
    • Next, tamp/push down the gravel with a steel or wooden tool.
    • To finish, fill the remaining area with regular gravel to the top off the hole, plus some extra to blend it out.
    • Lastly, smooth out the gravel so everything blends well.
  • Clogged culverts– Sometimes debris and rocks can clog your pipes which prevent its whole process. There are plenty of tools you can purchase for this, or you can rig your own system. This home site recommends using something to push the debris while also spraying water down the pipe. 

Start Your Gravel Driveway Today!

I hope this helps get you started in planning how to maintain and take care of your gravel driveway. Ask a professional for help if you find a big issue or just want help making sure you do things well. May your driveway stay in good shape with this information!

Man spraying outside of mobile home for bugs with a natural spray.

Natural Remedies for Keeping Bugs Out of Your Space

Being outside is probably one of my favorite things. However, summer can make the outside and even the inside of my home breeding ground for an array of insects.

As I’ve started a veggie garden and have pets running inside and out – I’ve wanted to find natural, safe ways to get rid of bugs so as not to harm the animals, plants, or people. I’ve found that even though these remedies may not act as fast, they are still perfectly efficient. Plus, many of these homemade options are cheaper than a heavy-duty alternative. Obviously, huge infestations or structural issues with your home will need a professional, but for your small to moderate bug issues – try the ideas below!

Make your own natural remedies to protect your home from pests!

Bugs in general –

  • Lavender – you can spray a lavender mixture around your home or keep dried bits of it around to repel annoying bugs like flies and mosquitoes. Another great herb to ward off flies is basil!
  • Catnip – put a few plants around your porch, deck, and outdoor spaces to deter mosquitoes. Check out more bug repellent ideas from this home improvement website
  • Coffee grounds – Placing these around common entry points of your home will discourage pests that don’t like strong smells. Be mindful of leaving these out in areas where you have your pets.
  • Purchasing/ keeping helpful bugs – you might want to introduce some bugs that take care of other pests naturally (if they aren’t already present in your yard). Praying mantis are an example of these types of bugs. They eat fruit flies, aphids, and spiders.
  • Citrus – tons of solutions can be made from citrus to keep bugs away. For example, you can mix citrus of your choice with witch hazel or vinegar and water.
  • Earth based / or natural store made solutions – there are plenty of human and pet safe sprays you can buy that do the same thing as the toxic sprays, such as Neem oil. It may take them a little longer to do the job, but you keep everyone safe.

Ants –

  • Cleaning with vinegar is a good option to ward off or keep your kitchen or food preparation areas free of ants.

Stink bugs / fruit flies –

  • Dish soap can repel both of these critters. Mix  dish soap with apple cider vinegar in a small dish to attract and catch fruit flies.

Carpenter bees – According to a bee and removal company, these bees love untreated or wet wood, so, a great way to prevent them is to seal or stain the wood around your home.

  • You can also try a plethora of natural sprays. One easy one it to try using peppermint essential oil mixed with water and white vinegar. This will lure them out so you can seal the area.
  • Carpenters also aren’t a fan of noise. You can play music right by their nests and this can push them out for good.

I hope that these options take care of your pest issues and give you and your family an amazing, safe time outside and in! Do you have any great natural remedy ideas? Let us know at mediacontent@vmf.com.  Happy summer!

Kids enjoying summer

7 Refreshing Ways to Cool Off in Summer

Summer is here and it’s time to get out and enjoy those long days! I am not the best with heat and humidity – so I fully understand how important it is to stay cool. Not only is it nice to get some relief from the sun – it’s important to stay hydrated and keep your body from overheating. Below are some fun and refreshing ways to cool off this summer. Let’s jump in!

  1. Stay hydrated – This one is obvious, but often the key to staying hydrated is already having drank a good amount of water before going out in the sun. It will also help to drink steadily out in the sun and slowly after as well. It’s also quicker and easier for your body to convert room temperature water than ice cold water. This means room temperature water hydrates you quicker.
  2. Stay in/covered for the hottest part of the day – This is a great way to protect yourself from overheating and getting burnt. Usually somewhere between 11AM– and 2PM-3PM are the harshest sun exposure times. This is prime time in the summer. I don’t suggest missing out, just think of a shady place you could spend this part of the day or taking breaks if you’re out in the open for a while during this time bracket. You might go inside for a bit or build a shade structure over your yard.
  3. Recipes for great drinks – a tasty drink can make everything better! Search recipes for your favorite refreshers! I suggest a watermelon drink with lime and mint. Yum! Tasty summer drinks
  4. Cool snack ideas – Get some inspiration from these recipes on Pinterest! Eating cold snacks is a perfect idea for summer! If you know you’ll be outside for a while, try eating less, or light foods or even water-based foods. This could be deli meats, fruits, granola, salads, etc. All of these options can help your stomach settle well while also still fueling up.
  5. Keep your feet cool – putting your feel in water, kicking off your shoes, or finding a place for your feet to be shaded helps cool the rest of your body. I love sandals and wear them all summer long!
  6. Bandana or neck towel – Similarly, keeping your neck cool is important. This can also help you if you are overheated. It can bring you quickly back to relief and can help if you have nausea from the heat. Soak your neck accessory with water or sneak a few ice cubes in and put on the back of your neck for instant relief.
  7. Wear loose fitting and light fabrics – When I get hot the worst thing is a fabric sticking to me! It feels like you can’t escape the sweating. However, if you wear loose and cool fabrics you’ve got space for air to get in! Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat!

What are some of your favorite tricks to staying refreshed in the summer?

More Summer Fun!