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Gardening

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Fresh Air Compost Collector

July 5, 2012

Background Research

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, designed by Heather Tomasetti and Tal Chitayat, is a smart-looking, new-fangled container for storing your compostable food scraps.

Image: Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society

First, for those of you who don’t already participate in the wonderful world of composting: what is it, and why should you do it? In a nutshell (ha-ha, see what I did there?), composting is piling up a lot of waste plant matter–fruit and vegetable peelings, moldy bread, browned avocadoes, raked leaves–in a specific way that makes them decompose in the same manner, but at a faster rate, than they naturally would on their own.

Compost Heap, a 39 Day Time-lapse

Not only does this divert them from the general waste stream and thus the landfill, but “finished” (thoroughly broken-down) compost works magic on plants, not only in an eco-positive way, but also in terms of complex plant science. I tried it, and my plants shot up like they were on steroids.

You’ve probably heard of people keeping worms in bins in their homes in order to compost. But you don’t have to do that. You can just save your scraps and bring them to a compost site run by your community, or a neighbor. However, there’s no getting around the fact that saving compost scraps means keeping them at room temperature for at least a few days if not longer, which can have its unpleasant aspects. The purpose of the Fresh Air Compost Collector is to make them less so.

Time-lapse Fruit and Vegetable Decomposition

See? It’s not necessarily gross. It’s natural, and fascinating to your inner biology nerd.

Most indoor compost collectors either have a lid to prevent odors from escaping, or, like the one I used to have, above, use charcoal filters or other devices to absorb them. (Admittedly, the ventilation-promoting, filter-holding, cut-out flowers on the lid are nicely done.)

The Fresh Air Compost Collector, on the other hand, is designed to allow air to circulate around the scraps in order to slow down the rot rate. (The inventors refer to “air flumes,” and there are no such things, but calling them that is kind of adorable on their part.) Oxygen can get in and heat and moisture can get out, so your moist, vegetably, fruity leftovers evaporate a bit, preventing “anaerobic” (oxygen-free) breakdown. That’s what causes quick bacteria and mold growth, evil-smelling slime, and the fruit flies it attracts.

Hypothesis

The Fresh Air Compost Collector will allow me to enjoy composting, relatively undefiled by disgusting smells and unwelcome fruit flies.

Experiment

I got my Fresh Air Compost Collector in January and have been using it ever since. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to work all that well, because I usually believe in the tried, true, and un-chic, and this is pretty stylin’ for a waste receptacle.

I was game to try, though, because it was a pain to deal with my old compost pail. With that one, I was never sure if I was supposed to put a bag inside it to collect the scraps, or drop them directly into the naked pail.

If I just put them in the pail, it would soon absorb their collective noxious stink. But plastic bags would never stay upright enough to catch the scraps when I dumped them in (which almost invariably happened when I was cooking and unwilling to stop, open the pail, and hold up the stinky, slimy bag to get the scraps in while somehow keeping it upright so as to not spill its contents). Paper bags disintegrated when wet. And when I pulled the bags out to bring it to the compost pile, they always dripped putrid, decomposing produce juice on me, either then, or on the way there, or when I dumped their contents into the community container.

So, on to the new one: First of all, the design of this container is deceptively simple. You can’t really perceive this until you use it, but it’s very well thought-out in every detail.

The sides and bottom of the container have ribs that stick out and keep the bag from lying flat against them. Any liquid that might drip evaporates instead of pooling and festering.

 


Image: Picker's Treasures

 

 

 

 

 

The spring-loaded lid, which is full of tiny holes that allow air to circulate but keep out the flies (just like the tin panels of an old-fashioned pie safe), pops open when you press the button, and stays open without having to be held.

A detachable metal frame keeps the bag upright, so you can toss your scraps into it without getting glop all over yourself. The frame is strong, but light and very easy to lift off and click back into place when you put in a new bag.

One ergonomically crucial factor for me is that, because of where it needs to be stowed in my kitchen, it has to fit under my all-the-way-open dishwasher door, and at 9” tall (and 11.4″ long by 8.5″ wide), it does.

Whether its 1.3-gallon capacity is a good size for you or not depends on how often you eat fresh fruit and vegetables, and how often you’re able to drop off your saved scraps at a compost pile. The one I go to, the North Brooklyn Compost Project, is only open Saturday mornings, so I have to keep my scraps for up to a week (or longer, if I miss the day–see below).

There have been weeks when it was too small for me (I joined a food coop, got overly ambitious, bought too many vegetables, then got busy with other things and most of them went bad in my fridge).

There have been other times when it was too big (my cat died suddenly, I wasn’t up to cooking for a long time, didn’t bother to grocery shop, and put only coffee grounds and the occasional squozed-out lemon in there).

Aaaaand there have been weeks when I missed the compost drop-off day. By “weeks,” I mean “three weeks in a row.” (In my defense, this happened in the middle of winter.) Then it started to smell, though it never got as bad as my old one did.

But those aren’t fair testing conditions; no composter could deliver fume-free service under such circumstances. In general, the Fresh Air Compost Collector performed as promised: it emitted way fewer smells than my old composting pail, and the only time fruit flies were appeared were that one time when I pushed the limits of biology way too far. Even then, I saw only the beginnings of mold.

 

You’re meant to use compostable liner bags with the Fresh Air Compost Collector, because unlike plastic ones, they “breathe.” Since the bags start biodegrading as soon as you put moist food in them, I was sure they’d break in the container, or on the way to the compost pile. As a precaution–because I don’t like coffee grounds mixed with fermented mango skin and slimy rotten cucumber bits dripping down my legs–I put the bag into a plastic shopping bag for the walk to the compost pile. But it was never actually necessary, even after three weeks. None of the bags has broken yet. Still, I recommend holding the bottom of the bag in such a way that it won’t tear when you pick it up. The speed with which they (and everything in them) break down increases as the temperature gets warmer.

The container can easily be taken apart and put in the dishwasher, though the one time I needed to wash mine (following the three-week-no-compost-pile era), I did it by hand.

Tip: Don’t buy the wrong type/size of bags like I did once, duh. Doggie bags! Rusty Marmalade (RIP) was so disappointed in me.

Conclusion

I’m impressed with this doohickey. The Compost-Scrap-Saving Experience no longer means mess, stink and flies. As all three of those are greatly disliked by humans, no wonder the Fresh Air Compost Collector won a 2012 Green House Design Award. Six months in, I’m still happy with it, and am looking forward to filling it with the remains of this summer’s delicious fruits and vegetables.

The Uncommon Life

How To Repot Succulents

June 8, 2012

In the world of trends, Succulent plants seem to be taking home the crown in the fauna and flora category. And why shouldn’t they? Succulents are hardy, unique, and perfect for the dry summer heat. They don’t ask for much, but a good environment No green thumb needed — follow this quick DIY tutorial to repot your succulents and ready for your front porch or city window.

As Charlotte (you know, the one with the web) would say, Salutations! I’m Blair – the bloggin’ gal from the lifestyle and fashion blog, Wild and Precious and now that I’ve introduced myself lets chat about a way to spruce up that patio of yours!

Mix Your Potting Soil

Potting soil recipe:

  • Potting Soil
  • Coffee Grinds
  • Sand

Did you make mudpies growing up? If so, this might be your favorite part — make your own dirt mixture! When picking out potting soil just get the very most basic stuff. You don’t want anything too rich in additives — Succulents just don’t like that stuff. The goal of your dirt mixture is to get water/food/light/nutrients to and away from the roots in a time appropriate fashion. Mix coffee grinds and a little sand into your dirt before filling your pots. The sand will keep your soil from getting too over saturated with moisture (remember, these type of plants are desert dwellers – they aren’t use to a whole lot of the wet stuff) and the coffee grinds will help fertilize as well as keep away slugs and bugs that would otherwise love to nibble your Succulents down to nothingness.

 

Prepare Your Pot

As far as picking out pots the world is your oyster. You don’t need anything too big and can even choose to put more than one succulent together in a pot. With your pot(s) picked out fill 1/3 of each pot with sand. Do not try to cut costs (sand is cheap anyway) by bringing home sand from your beach vacation — that stuff is full of salt and your succulents will no longer be… well, succulent. Sand is important in helping move around and drain water. Once you’ve got the sand in, fill with your dirt mixture leaving a small lip of space up top.

Prepare Your Succulent

Before introducing your plants to their new home give the bottom of the existing dirts/roots a bit of a scrunch. Flare the root structure out a bit. This will help it transition better into its new/bigger/better environment. This is something good to remember when planting anything anywhere. If you don’t break up the bundle they are used to having in their temporary store shells, they might be a little too shy to branch out (pun intended) into their new world.

Pot Your Succulent

Now — where to put them? These guys are not fans of the midday sun. They prefer indirect/filtered sunlight and enjoy a nice airflow (I chose to put mine on my front porch which is roofed). As for watering — unlike planting in your garden, you do not want to water these right away after repotting. Give them some time to adjust and then give a good watering about once a week during the warmer months. Don’t ever leave standing water in your pots — it makes them angry.

Wham bam thank you ma’am we have ourselves some repotted Succulents! Call your self hip cause you’ve got the trendiest little plants on the block. Mischief managed!

Thanks for hanging out with me — pop over any time to say hi Wild & Precious. ta ta friends.

Check out more planters and seed kits at UncommonGoods.
Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Moss Terrarium

February 16, 2012

Hypothesis: I’ve killed every houseplant I’ve ever owned. But the moss terrarium is so green and cute, so I want to give my green thumb one more try. Can I keep this fellow alive and maybe even flourishing?

Experiment:

First off, I need to create my terrarium. I grabbed a mixing bowl, a spoon and a squeeze bottle from my kitchen and got to work. Most everything I needed was included in the kit– dirt, moss, bottle & stand. But it did take a little bit of dexterity to get my terrarium up and running. Some assembly is required!

I activated the moss with in a quick warm water bath.

Gave the dirt a quick mix. Doesn’t this look like the beginning of a cake recipe? I know, I know… you just got totally grossed out. But Martha Stewart’s got a pretty impressive dirt cake recipe

Then I used my mixing spoon to spread out the dirt along the bottom of the wine bottle, and layered the moss on top with the included pair of chopsticks.

Here’s my finished terrarium, hanging out next to the last lonely tendril of parsley.

Results: Since the time this picture was taken, my parsley has since died. But my beautiful moss terrarium has stayed green, and I only need to spritz it with a spray bottle a few times a week. I did move my terrarium away from the window. I missed those instructions to keep it out of direct sunlight, and now that it’s hanging out with my favorite Beatles action figures, my terrarium just might make it through the winter.

Conclusion: If you’re worse at gardening than I am, don’t despair. The moss terrarium kit is a chance to redeem yourself and bring a bit of nature indoors.

The Moss Terrarium Bottle is $38, and you can dress yours up with handmade terrarium creatures, $34.

The Uncommon Life

DIY Gifts that Keep On Giving

November 17, 2011

We love the internet – there’s a treasure trove out there of inspiration.  Here’s what’s caught our eye recently in the world of DIY gifts, a trend we’re totally on board with.

(Image courtesy of Design Boom, from Sabine Marcelis)

Our own Jonathan and Kira tested the Beer Making Kit earlier this summer, and it looks like they aren’t the only ones experimenting with DIY distilling: Design Boom brought to our attention Netherlands artist Sabine Marcelis’ “Housewine,” a beautifully simple and functional display of the wine-making process.

(Image courtesy of My Baking Addiction)

Another recent trend that’s right at home with UncommonGoods is indoor gardening, and now that flu season is upon us, a great way to stay healthy is by adding herbs to your repertoire of recipes. Consider making Jamie of My Baking Addiction’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil Herb Dip. The Dip includes oregano and basil, which can both be grown in our recycled Grow Bottles!

(Image courtesy of Astronomy Today Sky Guide; photo by Jenny Rollo)

While UncommonGoods specializes in gifts that are great for the home, we’ve also got goods that are out of this world – the Planisphere Watch tells the time and maps the night sky.  If you’re interested in DIY astronomy, check out Astronomy Today’s Sky Guide, a handy tool for tracking otherworldly occurrences.

Design

Comments of the Week

November 11, 2011

We’ve wrapped up our Uncommon Ceramics Design Challenge, and our community voting app is once again filled with fab finds submitted by our buyers. They’ve picked some great products this week, and it looks like our community is super excited about two categories: baby goods and gardening gifts!

The first miniature marvel up for voting is a pair of cool shades. Baby Aviator Sunnies look like grown-up glasses, but are made just for kids.

We agree with Michelle, and also want to add that these sunnies don’t just look cute while protecting little eyes from UVA and UVB rays, they’re also extra durable. The frames are made of rubber and the lenses are impact and shatter-resistant acrylic material, so they’re baby proof.

David pointed out that dropping the glasses isn’t the only thing parents have to worry about. Babies are also pretty great at sticking weird things in their mouths.

We won’t make any claims to the nutritious value or flavor of these aviators, but we can confirm that they are BPA and phthalate-free, so baby can gum, suck, and teeth on them without inducing parental fear.

Another baby good, the Nappy Mat, has gotten a mixed response.

While Nicole seems a bit bummed about too many bundles of joy in the world, JoBeth’s comments lead us to believe that she supports procreation (and organic, recycled goods).

Now switching gears from growing children to growing plants, the Seed Pot Maker is also getting some great feedback.

While Christina may not know many amateur horticulturists, Liane and Mary think this wooden wonder could make a great gift.

Do you agree with Liane’s theory that gardeners will eat this new design up? Is Mary right that it’s a great niche gift for someone special? Or, do side with Christina? We’d love to hear what you think of the Seed Pot Maker, these baby gift ideas, and the other items up for review in our community voting app this week!

Design

Cute as a Bug!

September 1, 2011

Ciara said: “I love it. It’s rustic, not too cheesy, cute. It’s functional and a real conversation starter. Plus, it’s handmade in the USA!”

This delightful dwelling is as cute as the ladybugs it houses! Painted and shingled by hand, this creative garden accent is now up for voting. If you agree with Ciara, visit our community voting app and tell us what you love about the Ladybug House.

Or, if you prefer butterflies to beetles, check out the Wooden Butterfly House, also up for voting this week.

The Uncommon Life

What a Crock…of Compost!

April 14, 2011

Earth Month is in full swing, and we’re excited to see so many of our readers pledging to make positive changes!

The response to our Compost Crock Giveaway was fantastic, and we want to thank everyone who entered. Congratulations to our winners:

Jennifer, who won the Simplify crock with her Facebook pledge, says that she “Just started composting!!”

Candra posted her comment, “I already compost, and pledge to continue! I am really getting interested in vermiculture, and plan to start later this year, too” and won the Grow crock.

Ceramic Countertop Compost Container

Speaking of vermiculture, take a look at our Worm Factory, and check out FindWorms.com to learn more!

Or go worm hunting on a rainy day with the help of the Blunt Umbrella. Not able to venture outdoors at the moment? Read up on some of the talented UncommonGoods artists helping to keep the planet green, like Beth Mueller, creator of the compost crocks, and Marty Stevens-Heebner, who’s recycled paper handbags are environmentally friendly and fashionable!

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