Archive for the ‘Sustainable life’ Category

From the needle, to the bark, to the pollen, to the nut… Pine Trees have so many uses!

Pine Needles- more that mulch!

Pine Needle Tea has been around for a very long time and offers lots of great health benefits. It is a rich source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. In the earlier settler days, the Native Americans gave the settlers Pine Needle as a preventative and cure for scurvy caused by lack of vitamin C in the diet.

Pine needle tea is especially beneficial for such respiratory problems as colds and congestion. Mainly used to treat coughs and colds, the vitamin C you get from the pine needles is great for every day consumption. A cup of pine needle tea may supply five times as much vitamin C as you would get from one cup of orange juice. According to the Mayo Clinic, recent research indicates that vitamin C may have a wide variety of health benefits including helping to treat urinary tract infections and colds and aiding the absorption of iron. Pine needles are strongly aromatic and even just inhaling the vapors from the tea may break up mucus in the lungs.

While camping this weekend we were surrounded by lots of pine trees. We were very excited to be able to make Pine Needle Tea! Here is how we did it:

  1. Collect a handful of pine needles (look for the younger needles, the new grow this the best to use)
  2. Break them into smaller pieces (breaking the needle also releases the nutrients into the water as it steeps)
  3. Add to boiling water and allow to steep for about 20 mins (longer for more flavor)
  4. You can strain the needles out if desire, but I like to chew on mine after I am finished.

The tea/needles has a strong citrus taste.  You can even add some honey to sweeten it up!

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Pine Bark- this tree is not only used for building!

Both the rough outer bark layer and the main woody part of the tree commonly used as lumber is non-living material. The “inner bark” or “phloem”; the actual living part of the tree is edible. This inner bark carries nutrients from the needles and roots throughout the tree.

Fry the bark for a tasty and very healthy chip! (you can even dry roast for a longer harvest)

To harvest the living bark for food you will need a fresh tree. As soon as the tree falls or is cut down the clock is ticking; wait too many days and the bark will become very difficult to remove from the rest of the tree. However on a fresh live tree the bark is easily removed in large slippery sheets.

The first step is to remove a slab consisting of both the rough outer bark and the living inner bark from the woody trunk of the tree. Simply use a chopping tool to cut a straight line completely through all the layers of bark right down to the hard wood. Then slide the edge of a tool into the cut you made so that it is forced between the bark and wood. Work the edged tool back and forth as you pull the loosened bark with your other hand. The bark is easily removed from the wood since the space between is exceedingly slippery.

The most edible and tasty part of the inner bark is that which is closest to the hard woody part of the tree. The portion of the inner bark closest to the wood of the tree has an almost sweet taste.


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You have heard the expression “You are what you eat” and in this case, I wouldn’t mind it. Who doesnt love a beautiful yellow flower? The Dandelion, also thought of as the common yard weed, is a valuable herb with many culinary and medicinal uses. Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc.

Stop! Don’t Pull it!

The Dandelion plant is a Beneficial Weed for your garden.

The dandelion plant is a beneficial weed, with a wide range of uses, and is even a good companion plant for gardening. Its taproot will bring up nutrients for shallower-rooting plants, and add minerals and nitrogen to soil. It is also known to attract pollinating insects and release ethylene gas which helps fruit to ripen

Cullanary Uses: Salad from my yard!

Every part of the dandelion plant is edible, from the flower to the root! Dandelion greens are wonderful in salads, sauteed or steamed. They taste like chicory and endive, with an intense heartiness overlying a bitter tinge.

Collect dandelion leaves in early spring, when they’re the tastiest, before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. If you harvest year around, blanch to remove bitterness and  make leaves more palatable.  The leaves are higher in beta-carotene than carrots and have more iron and calcium than spinach.

You can also eat dandelion flowers, or use them to make wine. Collect them in a sunny meadow, just before mid-spring, when the most flowers bloom. Some continue to flower right into the fall. Use only the flowerís yellow parts. The green sepals at the flowerís base are bitter. The flowers add color, texture, and an unusual bittersweet flavor to salads. You can also sautÈ them, dip them in batter and fry them into fritters, or steam them with other vegetables. They have a meaty texture that contrasts with other lighter vegetables in a stir-fry dish or a casserole.
The taproot is edible all year, but is best from late fall to early spring. Use it as a cooked vegetable, especially in soups. Pre-boiling and changing the water, or long, slow simmering mellows this root. Sweet vegetables best complement dandelion roots. Sauteing the roots in olive oil also improves them, creating a robust flavor.

Medicinal Uses:

The Dandelion plant provides you with many vitamins: B-1, B-2, B-5, B-6, B-12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.

Dandelion may be used for a wide range of conditions requiring mild diuretic treatment, such as poor digestion, liver disorders, and high blood pressure. Dandelion root is one of the safest and most popular herbal remedies.

The decoction is a traditional tonic. Using this will strengthen the entire body, especially the liver and gallbladder. It helps promote the flow of bile, reduces inflammation of the bile duct, and helps get rid of gall stones. It’s good for chronic hepatitis, it reduces liver swelling and jaundice, and it helps indigestion caused by insufficient bile. The root and leaf tea act on the kidneys as a gentle diuretic, increasing urine production by promoting the excretion of salts and water from the kidney and improving the way they cleanse the blood and recycle nutrients.

The root‘s inulin is a sugar that doesn’t bring out the rapid production of insulin, as refined sugars do. It helps mature-onset diabetes, by normalize blood sugar levels and improve lipid profiles. The root is also believed to have mild laxative effects and is often used to improve digestion. Research suggests that dandelion root may improve the health and function of natural bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have also reported that dandelion root may help improve liver and gallbladder function.

Dandelion leaf infusion also good a good accompaniment to your evenings. All the digestive glands and organs respond to this herb’s stimulation and encourage the production of proper levels of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. Even after the plant gets bitter, a strong infusion, is rich in vitamins and minerals, and helps people who are run-down.

Fresh or dried dandelion herb is also used as a mild appetite stimulant and to improve upset stomach

There are no poisonous look-alikes, however, some may develop an allergic reaction when in contact with the Dandelion. If you have an allergy to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigold, chamomile, yarrow, daisies, or iodine, you should avoid dandelion.

A few of our favorite dandelion recipes…

Dandelion coffee aka dandelion tea, is an infusion or herbal tea, and coffee substitute, made from the root of the dandelion plant. It is an excellent caffeine free coffee substitute that tastes very similar to regular coffee known to be high in anti-oxidants.

  1. Harvest the Dandelion: Cut the roots off the bunch with a knife. (If you choose bunches with lots of dandelion greens, you’ll be sure to get larger, better quality roots.) Save the leaves to use in cooked dishes and dandelion salad recipes, or for making dandelion wine.
  2. Prepare the Root: Start by cutting the roots into chunks and soaking batches of them in water repeatedly until the water runs clear when drained. Place the root pieces into a food processor and grind them up to resemble coarse meal.
  3. Roasting the Root: Spread these ground root pieces evenly on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven at 250 degrees F for about 2 hours. Stirring the roots periodically during the roasting period will help them cook evenly and ensure they don’t burn. (May leave the door open so any extra moisture can escape)
  4. Coffee Time: When they’ve cooled a bit after roasting, grind the dandelion roots in a coffee grinder or food processor to the texture of regular coffee for use in your automatic coffee maker.

Dandelion Pesto

  • 1 bunch of freshly harvested dandelions
  • ½ cup of pine nuts
  • ½ cup of walnuts
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (or salt to taste)

Blend all ingredients in food processor until thoroughly mixed. Serve like you would any pesto, with crackers, veggies, etc.

Dandelion-Infused Honey

  • 1 cup freshly picked dandelion flowers
  • 1 cup raw honey

Rinse off flowers and trim excess stems. Place honey and flowers in a jar and mix thoroughly. Let the flowers soak up honey for three or more days. Use as jam. Spread on bread, crackers, etc.

Dandelion Syrup

  • Dandelion flowers (taraxacum)
  • Mineral water
  • Sugar
  • Lemon

Quantities depend on how many flowers you gather and prepare. Gather as many dandelion flowers as you’ll have the courage to prepare, at least 100 flowers. The exact quantity is not important as you will adjust the quantity of water anyway. The syrup can be prepared in various ways, the idea being to infuse water with the flowers and to add enough sugar for the syrup to be sterile but still soluble.

  1. Washing & Preparing: Start by washing the flowers and cut their base to help detach the yellow petals from the green leaves. We only use the petals. You can also do this entirely by hand but the knife speeds it up.
  2. Infuse: In a saucepan, cover the dandelion petals with water. Mix well until all petals are covered.  Bring to a boil, cover and let infuse in the fridge overnight.
  3. Filter: Pour the mixture through a fine sieve and press with a spoon to extract all juice from the boiled petals. Add a little lemon juice to the taste.
  4. Sweetness: Weigh the liquid. For each gram or pound of liquid, take 0.95 gram or pound sugar. (Too much sugar will prevent the syrup from diluting properly. Too little and it might become contaminated by bacteria.)
  5. Mix & Store: Mix well and heat slowly until all sugar is dissolved. Filter again and store in a bottle.

Some people use more sugar, add a little pectin and cook it a bit longer to turn this syrup into a Dandelion flower jam.

Morning Zing Smoothie (from Raw Family)

  • ½ bunch dandelion greens
  • 2 stalks celery
  • ½ inch fresh ginger root
  • 2 peaches
  • ½ pineapple
  • 2 cups water

Blend in blender until smooth! Enjoy!

Dandelion Flower Fritters

  • 1 egg
  • 1 c milk
  • 1 c flour
  • handful of dandelion flowers
  • *optional –if you like your fritters sweet, add a little maple syrup or honey

Mix together the egg and milk, adding the flour to create the batter. Dredge each dandelion flower in the batter Drop each one, flower side down,  into a skillet with oil and fry. When they’ve lightly browned, flip them over and brown them on the other side.

For a sweet treat, drizzle them with maple syrup, honey, jam, or powdered sugar.  For savory fritters try dipping in mustard or adding some savory herbs to the batter.

Dandelion Cooking Tips & Tricks

  1. One way to kill the bitterness is to blend them with fruit in a green smoothie.
  2. The other way is to process them with some sort of fat, i.e. nuts, oils, and avocados.
  3. Although edible all season, picking dandelion leaves in the early spring or late fall (after the first frost) will get you greens that are less bitter.

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A rain barrel system is a way to collect and reuse the rain from your roof. Composed of a 55 gallon drum, a hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to keep debris and insects out, and other off-the-shelf items, a rain barrel is relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can sit conveniently under any residential gutter down spout.

Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer. With rain barrels, you can collect the water that would otherwise disperse into the ground from your gutter and use it later when you need it the most! A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. Especially if you live in the south or a dry area, rain water collection will be

Ready-made rain barrels can be purchased from numerous companies, but also can be made very easily.

Materials you will need:

  • One 55-gallon drum
  • One 4″ diameter atrium grate
  • One ½” PVC male adapter (will be attached to bottom of rain barrel)
  • One 3″ vinyl gutter elbow
  • Waterproof sealant (i.e. plumbers goop, silicone sealant, or pvc cement)
  • One 3/4″ x ½” PVC male adapter (will be attached to end of hose and readily adapted to fit standard garden hose)
  • Teflon tape

Creating the barrel:

  1. Using a 3/4″ bit (or hole saw), drill a hole through the barrel about an inch from the bottom (as the bottom rim ends and the barrel sides begin to form)
  2. Screw the ½” PVC male adapter into this newly drilled hole. (For a tight seal, unscrew the adapter, wrap with the teflon tape and cover with the waterproof sealant- allow to sit for 24 hours to dry)
  3. Attach 3 1/2 foot vinyl hose to the PVC male adapter. (From here if you wanted to go directly into the garden you could attach a soaker hose that would run along your beds)
  4. Using the atrium grate as a template for size, mark a circle at the center of the top of the drum.  Drill a ½” hole in the inside of the marked circle. Use a router, jig or coping saw to further cut within the marked circle until the hole is large enough to accommodate the atrium grate (the atrium grate is used to filter out large debris). Make sure not to make the hole too big–you want the flange of the atrium grate to fit securely on the top of the barrel without falling in. Placing a scrap piece of fine mesh window screen inside or outside of the grate will provide filtering of finer debris and mosquito control
  5. The rain barrel is designed to take advantage of gravity. Water will flow from the vinyl hose when the hose is below the barrel. Therefore, place the barrel on cinder blocks or a sturdy wooden crate at least 15 inches from the ground.
  6. Modify the down spout with a gutter elbow to divert water into the top of the barrel

NOTES: Step 4 (using atrium gate) can be by-passed if your gutter filters water prior to entering rain barrel. Most gutter systems have screens to trap leaves and other debris. If you choose to do this, make sure that down spout is placed directly over the outlet at the top of the barrel.

If your barrel will be close your foundation, you want to prevent overflow and can install an overflow valve on the barrel.

Using a ½” bit or saw, cut out a notch at the top of the barrel rim (aligned so that it is above the outlet at the bottom of barrel). The notch should be large enough so that the PVC coupler will firmly snap into place. Attach this to some clear plastic tubing that will hang down along side the barrel.

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No need to run out and purchase those expensive beauty products. Go “shopping” in your kitchen! Pull from your pantry for your own needs. Not only are these a natural approach to beauty and eliminating toxins and chemicals we are putting into our body, by utilizing what we already have we are reducing the amount of trash and waste we consume with the plastic bottles and packaging each product uses.

Lots of great, easy tips and tricks found right at home!

Dry Lips and Skin:

For hands rub some olive oil and dry thyme into the skin. This will help remove dead cells helps your hands get smooth.

For lips rub cocoa butter or fresh cucumber on your lips several times a day. Cocoa butter is great for your skin and wont leave it feeling “sticky.”


Dab cooled brewed tea onto face, good for pimple control.

Dandruff & Itchy Scalp:

Massage plain yogurt into scalp and leave for 15 minutes. Rinse.

Nails & Cuticles:

For healthy nails and cuticles, regularly soak them in olive oil for 30 minutes.

Makeup Remover:

Olive oil can be used to remove eye makeup (use cold pressed extra virgin olive)

Pour a bit of sesame oil on a cotton ball and wipe gently across eye lids to remove waterproof mascara.

Swollen or Puffy Eyes:

Either let two teabags cool and put them on your eyelids for about ten minutes. Or soak two small pieces of cloth with tea and do the same thing.

Extra Shine in Your Hair:

Mix 1 tsp of honey into 1 quart of warm water and use as a rinse after shampooing (rinse away shampoo first). Do not wash out the honey/water mix, leave in hair and style as usual.

Foot Baths:

Bath 1: Combine green tea, peppermint, bath salt and eucalyptus oil

Bath 2: Take 1 cup Lemon Juice, Cinnamon (for smell), 2 tablespoons (or less) olive oil, 1/4 cup of milk, and water (no specific amount) you can make a wash that leaves skin refreshed and fragrant.

Wrinkle Remover:

Green Thompson seedless grapes! It has one of the ingredients in those big time expensive wrinkle creams. All you do is cut a grape in half and gently crush it on your face and neck. Make sure that you get the “crows-feet” and the lines around your mouth. Leave it on for twenty minutes or so and rinse with tepid water and pat dry.

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Homemade Laundry Detergent

Making your own laundry detergent at home is not only simple, it is a great way to reduce the amount of phosphates and other harsh chemicals we are adding to the environment every time we wash a load of clothes.

Dry laundry detergent

  • 2 cups Borax
  • 2 cups Washing Soda
  • 1 regular sized bar Ivory Soap (Don’t use heavily perfumed soaps.)

You can use a cheese grader, food processor, or even the microwave. Best part about it, it makes for an easy clean up 😉 If you put it in the microwave, do it for 90 secs. It will come out looking like a fluffy meringue. When you have finished microwaving the bar of soap it will be quite dry and brittle, which is exactly what you want.

Finish by adding the dried soap fluff along with a cup of Borax and Washing Soda to a Vita-Mix or blendor and mixing it on medium speed until thoroughly powdered and combined. Store in an airtight plastic container.

The Washing Soda is usually available at walmart however, may prove difficult to find in some areas, but it can be purchased online easily if you can’t locate it locally.

To make liquid detergent

  • 1 quart Water (boiling)
  • 2 cups Bar soap (grated)
  • 2 cups Borax
  • 2 cups Washing Soda

Use a cheese grater or food processor to grate your soap. Bring your water to a boil and then add the grated soap and stir until the soap is melted.
Pour the soap water into a bucket and add the Borax and Washing Soda. Stir well until all is dissolved.
Add 2 gallons of water, stir until well mixed.

Store in an old, clean laundry detergent bottle (or pail for mixing- but keep covered between uses) Use 1/4 cup for each load of laundry. Stir or shake the soap each time you use it.

*Soap will be lumpy, goopy and gel-like. This is normal. Just give it a good stir before using. Make sure soap is covered with a lid when not in use.


You can add between 10 to 15 drops of essential oil (per 2 gallons) to your homemade laundry detergent. Add once the soap has cooled to room temperature. Stir well and cover.

Essential oil ideas: lavender, rosemary, tea tree oil

Homemade Household Cleaners

all-purpose cleaner

There are many recipes for simple household cleaners. Give them all a try and see which one you prefer. Combine your ingredients in a spray bottle and your off! Add some lemon, or essential oils for added scents. (Lavender is my favorite!)

  • 1 tsp. liquid soap
  • 1 qt warm water
  • few tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar


  • 2 tablespoons Borax
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups hot water


  • ½ part vinegar
  • ½ part water
  • Add some lemon juice for scent

glass cleaner (Use newspaper to wipe off – it eliminates streaks)

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white or cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol
  • 1 to 2 drops of essential oil (optional)

floor cleaner

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • ¼ cup washing soda
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil based soap (Murphy’s Oil, Castile Soap)
  • 2gallon hot water

oven cleaner

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil soap (Murphy’s Oil, Castile Soap)
  • 2 tablespoons borax

Combine in a spray bottle with warm water. Spray on oven and leave for 20 minutes and scrub off

bathroom cleaner

  • Baking soda
  • vinegar

Toilet bowl: Sprinkle baking soda in bowl, then squirt with vinegar and scrub. Cleans & deodorizes.

Tub & tile: Will remove film buildup on the tub. Apply vinegar on a sponge and wipe tiles. Use baking soda as you would a scouring powder. Rinse thoroughly

Homemade Miscellaneous Cleaners


  • 3 tablespoons of baking soda
  • one tablespoon of salt
  • boiling water

Combine ingredients in an aluminum foil lined dish and let soak until tarnish melts away

furniture polish

  • 2 parts olive oil
  • 1 part lemon juice

Mix and apply to furniture with a soft cloth and wipe dry.

* To remove water stains on furniture, dab white toothpaste into stain. Allow paste to dry and then remove and buff with cloth

air fresheners

Baking soda or Vinegar with some lemon juice in a small bowl will absorb any household odors. To prevent cooking odors, simmer vinegar on the stove while cooking. (1 tbsp in 1 cup water) To get smells like fish and onion or garlic off utensils and cutting boards, wipe them with vinegar and wash in soapy water.

dish disposal smells: slice a lemon or lime (or use the left over rines from any citrus, ie orange, lemon, lime) put into the disposal and turn on. Run water while it is chopping. Also to sharpen the blades, add a few cubes of ice.

wall paper remover

Mix equal parts of white vinegar and hot water, apply with sponge over the old wallpaper to soften the adhesive. Open room windows or use a fan to dissipate the pungent vinegar smell.

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No yard, no worries! You can still compost all your left over food and even paper.

You can start with a worm bin. GROSS!?! Worms? Real live worms? Yes, they eat your food and produce waste which breaks down the material in your bin much faster. Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food waste rapidly, while producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless. You can do create your bin in a 5 gallon bucket or an 8-10 gallon plastic storage bin (with a lid of course) and tuck it under your sink or in your laundry room.

How do I create my own?

Ventilation: Your bin should be well-ventilated, with several 1/8 inch holes 4 inches  from the bottom (otherwise the worms will stay at the bottom of the bin and you may drown your worms). For example, you can build a worm bin out of a large plastic tub with several dozen small holes drilled out on the bottom and sides. (You can also use a wooden box for your bin) If you find your contents are getting too wet, drill more holes. Make sure to raise the bin on bricks, wooden blocks, or even plastic containers and place a tray underneath to capture excess liquid. (This is used as liquid plant fertilizer.)

Cover: The bin should have a cover to prevent light from getting in and to prevent the compost from drying out. If you use a plastic bin or bucket use the lid that comes with it (don’t forget to dril some holes in the top) You could also use a sheet of dark plastic or burlap sacking placed loosely on top of the bedding as a sufficient cover.

Prepare the box for worms. Prepare bedding for the worms by shredding Newspaper into 1 inch strips. (You can also use  thin strips of unbleached corrugated cardboard, straw, dry grass, or some similar material.) Worms need bedding that is moist but not soggy. Moisten the newspaper by soaking it in water and then squeezing out the excess water. Cover the bottom of the bin with 3-4 inches of moist newspaper, fluffed up. (Do not press down on the newspaper. The worms need lots of loose, fluffy bedding in which to move through and get enough air.) If you have any old leaves or leaf litter, that can be added also. Throw in a handful of dirt for “grit” to help the worms digest their food. Feed and care for the worms. Sprinkle the surface with water every other day, and  feed your worms vegetable scraps at least once a week. Feeding lightly and often will produce more worms (which is good when starting a new bin) and large amounts fed less often will fatten your worms (good for fishing). Add more cardboard, shredded newspaper, hay, or other fibrous material once a month, or as needed. Your worms will reduce everything in your bin quickly. You will start with a full bin of compost or paper/cardboard, and soon it will be half full. This is the time to add fibrous material.

What kind and how many worms do I need?

Get worms. There are several varieties of worms that that are bred and sold commercially for vermicomposting; just digging up earthworms from your backyard is not recommended. The Internet or local gardening club is your best bet for finding a worm vendor near you. The worms most often used, Eisenia foetida (Red Wigglers), are about 4 inches long, mainly red along the body with a yellow tail. Another variety to consider are Eisenia hortensis, known as “European Night crawlers.” They do not reproduce quite as fast as the red wigglers, but grow to be larger, eat coarser paper and cardboard better, and seem to be heartier. They are also better fishing worms when they do reach full size.

How many? One pound of worms can handle 1/2 pound of food scraps per day.  For example, if your food waste averages 1/2 lb. per day, you will need 1 lb. of worms or a 2:1 ratio. There are roughly 500 worms in one pound. If you start out with less than one pound, don’t worry they multiply very quickly. Just adjust the amount that you feed them for your worm population. For a 5-gallon composter, 1 lb. of worms is plenty to start with. The larger you make the container, the more worms it can sustain.

What can I put in my compost bucket?

Any non-meat, non-dairy, not-greasy food you have on hand. Fruit and vegetable peels, leftover cooked veggies, rice, or plain pasta, coffee grounds, tea bags — all of it can go into your worm bin. They are not very picky 🙂

My worms are doing the job! Now what?

Harvest your compost. After about 2 months, your worms will have completed a large portion of their job in your compost bin. When you add bedding, pull the existing compost and bedding to one side of the composter and add new bedding on the now empty side. Also, add your food scraps only on the new half. This will encourage the worms to migrate to the “fresh” side and will make it easier to scoop out your finished compost on the old side. There are still likely to be worms present in the harvested compost, so gently pick them out and return them to their home.

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