Archive for April, 2012

Moby 65 Gallon Rain Collection BarrelIn the summer of 2008, I lived in Cedar Rapids, IA during a devastating flood.  I joined in the mostly futile sand-bagging effort of downtown business and watched the water creep up from the river.  Sometimes it seemed to rise very slowly, other times you’d turn around and the leading edge had leapt a quarter block closer to your feet.  I had never before seen water as a threat – in 2003 the flooding in Iowa City filled the basement of the home my friends and I were renting knee-high, but it was never more than an inconvenience to us. But in 2008 I watched the flood force two of my friends out of their businesses, and then watched it take months and years for people I knew or knew of who had lost homes, property, and hope recover after the water had subsided.

In 2010 I was volunteering for the Indian Creek Nature Center and was struck by information that the center’s director, Rich Patterson, shared with us about how simple efforts like reducing water run-off from businesses and residences could have significantly reduced the power of the flood waters.  If the roofs, parking lots and streets of our cities hadn’t been pouring water directly into the river via our sewer system it could have had significant impact on how swollen the river became.

How much impact?  Consider my modest house – it’s just 1200 square feet and 2 stories so we’ll keep it simple and round the size of my roof down to 600 square feet (not accounting for pitch).  For every 1” of rain that falls on my roof, 374 gallons of water are shed.

How do you calculate that rough number?  Square footage of roof x inches of rainfall x .673 = gallons of run-off.  Run the numbers and see what impact your home has each time it rains.

I was impressed, impressed enough that I decided I should make an effort to reduce that number, so I bought two 65 gallon Moby rain barrels at the next Nature Center fundraiser.  While my two rain barrels won’t capture all of the water coming off my roof every time it rains, and I don’t always empty them fully between storms, they do make a significant dent.  The overflow hoses installed on them are also directed towards the roots of a water loving crabapple tree and a bunch of crab grass I can’t control in my back yard rather than the city sewer system.

Best of all, it was an easy change to make.

Putting the Rain Barrel together is easy

The rain barrels are a cinch to assemble, you just need a screwdriver

- Use a bit of plumber’s tape to create a tight seal on the screw in spout at the base of the unit by hand.

- Insert a plug into the extra hole in the base (there are two options for the spout).

- Install the screen on the barrel lid with 4 screws into pre-formed holes.

- Attach the overflow hose with a hose clamp.

- Place the lid on the barrel and secure it with two zip strips.


View of the rain barrel from the topThen it’s a matter of situating the barrels near an existing ran gutter.  You will probably need to adjust your down spouts by removing a section or cutting an existing piece so that the spout ends a few inches above the lid of the barrel, then slide the barrel under the spout so that water flows through the mesh grid.  It helps to elevate the barrel so that you get a bit of gravity behind your water flow when you attach a hose to the spout if you plan to water your yard or garden.  I just used a few bricks with mine, which seems to work out well, but there are several more sophisticated options available.

When I first got my rain barrels I did a hack job of getting the downspouts directed to the barrels.  Since then I’ve had my gutters replaced and I had the contractors build the rain barrels directly into the system on opposite corners of my house.  Now they look great, but it took us three tries before the installation crew understood where the rain barrels were supposed to go.  Sadly, they didn’t seem familiar with the concept – so I’d recommend that if you want to tie your barrels into a new gutter system you walk the installer through exactly what you want.

My rain barrels are situated on the NE and SW corners of my house so that I have access to water gardens in both my front and back yards.  I’m not the most diligent gardener, but even I was able to see a difference in how much less I used the hose tied to the city water system since I started using my rain barrels.  Add a third eco-friendly boost to your project by checking for a local source of rain barrels and reduce the carbon footprint from transporting goods.  Rain Barrels Iowa is one source in the Midwest.

I am not sure if it is a result of a few of my formative years being spent attending a think tank for adolescents or if it is my penchant for conversation or even my inability to pay attention to anything for longer than about 3 minutes but I am a huge believe in stream of consciousness thinking. Some may call it going around your butt to get to your elbow. Others may call it taking the long road home. Whatever the case it is the exact method at which I arrive at most of my ideas and plans. And gardening as a tiny houser is no different.

So how does one get from tiny house to garden? Well, I’m glad you asked.

The foundation of the Tiny r(E)volution is stewardship. It is about being fiscally responsible, ecologically responsible, emotionally responsible, and relationally responsible. And somewhere between fiscally responsible and ecologically responsible is the idea of gardening and growing ones own food. It simply makes sense. It saves money on grocery bills while providing incredible sources of natural vitamins and minerals free of chemicals and pesticides. But then the questions arise. I live in a tiny house. I have no land. How do I grow a garden? This is the most logical point where my thoughts turn from traditional plot gardening to container gardening. Want the good news? Almost any vegetable that will grow in a typical backyard garden can also do well in a container. Some vegetables that are especially well-suited for container gardening are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, bush beans, lettuce, spinach, summer squash, radishes, and herbs. In the right environment others are cabbage, kale, broccoli and cauliflower. See, here is the secret. You don’t need 40 acres or a tiller to garden. In fact, you need very little.

When deciding to abandon traditional gardening (for whatever reason) in lieu of container garden, you will need to think about many of the same things you’d be thinking about if you were gardening on a piece of land; healthy soil, sunlight, water, compost or fertilizer, and pest management. Of course, when container gardening, it is also important to consider what types of containers you will use. And so that is why I am listing below my Top 5 favorite ways to “container garden” when living in a tiny house.

A Planting Tower. Found on the The Casual Gardener blog written by my friend Shawna Coronado, the Planting Tower is a wonderful way to reuse old plastic containers or planters to create a cascading or ascending tower (depending on how you see the glass; half full or half empty) suitable for flowers, edibles, or almost anything in between. Shawna also has a great video tutorial on how to make a tower on your own. So if you are wanting to grow up next to a fence, on a porch post, or even against your tiny house, this is a great idea and an easy one as well!

Bucket ‘o Food. Another good friend of mine, Mike Canarsie, writes a full-on container gardening blog and because he lives in LA has a lot to say about non-conventional ways to grow your groceries. One of my favorite (and one of the easiest) is his self-watering container garden. Comprised of 5-gallon buckets the self-watering containers are both easy to find and easy to make. Use your imagination by spray painting the buckets (with no-VOC paint or non-toxic paint) and find a spot to “landscape” them in.

Painted Cans. Last season I decided we were going to try an herb garden using gallon sized cans that once stored green beans. We got dozens of the cans from a local church who had just hosted a seasonal meal and had lots of tins and cans to be discarded. I got the idea from Gayla Trail’s book, You Grow Girl. If it is edibles you want to grow you may not want to paint them as illustrated but rather peel off the label, soak them in warm, soapy water, and leave them a wonderful aluminum color. You can also use self-tapping screws to screw them onto a fence, into a wall, or just place them on a ledge!

Get Wooly! Perhaps though you want to bring some of that delicious, edible, life into your tiny house. Perhaps you have a wall just begging for some living art. I can’t think of a better way to have a kitchen herb garden or even some sweet, seasonal berries than by using a Living Wall Planter from WoolyPocket. These amazing, mountable pockets are ideal for plants for a few reasons. They are easy to hang. They are easy to water. (In fact, you just water the back panel with a wine bottle or a long spout watering can. The water then wicks down directly to the roots.) They are self-watering. They allow for strong roots. The pockets are eco-friendly (Made from 100% recycled plastic bottles; PET).

A Pallet of Green. Fern Richardson is a published author, a fantastic blogger, a crafty gal, and an amazing balcony gardener. It was from her Life On The Balcony that I first saw pallet gardens. A bit more difficult to put together but still quite affordable and easy for tiny house spaces, the pallet garden is good for almost anything; flowers and edibles alike. With just a bit of stapling, some soil conditioning, and, of course, some plant selection and you can have the biggest garden this size of tiny with almost no effort!


Teaching Kids the 3 Rs - Reduce, Reuse, RecycleRecycling is important. Everyone benefits from taking care of our planet and saving money and resources. That alone is enough to motivate everyone into participating in a recycling program or a swapping group or something similar. Learning about recycling different materials and how each person can play a part in preserving and protecting the earth is key to survival methinks.

Why recycle?

Let’s think for a moment about how much garbage our family generates each week. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in the United States alone, each person generates 4.5 pounds of solid waste each day! So when you multiply that by the number of people in your family and then think about it as it pertains to the number of families in your neighborhood, number of neighborhoods in your city/town, cities/towns in your state, etc, it’s quite easy to see that there is just too much waste for our landfills to handle. Let’s face it. We live in a disposable world!

I think back to my days growing up. At 33 years old it wasn’t that long ago that I was living in my parents house and throwing away everything from toilet tissue to fruit roll-up packages. We consumed and trashed, day after day. But by in large the message of recycling was a well-kept secret. Heck! Earth Day had just been started 8 years prior to my birth. No one ever expected our planet to get where it is today. Things are different now. We are educated. We are wiser. We are more conscious. And in order for this trend to continue we must educate our children. But how?

Perhaps the most obvious thing to do is to raise our children teaching them about recycling and reducing and recycling. Knowledge is key! Kids are exploratory by nature and always want to learn so childhood is a perfect time to teach them how to recycle. We need to all teach our children proper stewardship and that the earth is our home and must be nurtured and treated with respect.

To that end I have come up with a few tips to help teach kids the 3 R’s of waste management; Reuse, Reduce & Recycle.


  • Start out with a tagline. In our house we use, “Easy in. Easy out.” Just as easy as it was for us to buy it and bring it in we can take it out and take it out correctly. No extra energy needed.
  • Consider packaging. All kids love “their own.” But do you really need to buy individual packages of snacks? Could you not buy a bulk container and then put it in a food safe storage container? The container gets washed and reused.
  • Just say NO! Nancy Reagan may have been referring to drugs but these days we are referring to plastic bags. They are simply unnecessary and other than becoming bathroom trash bags, they server no real purpose beyond the 7-minute trip home from the store. Let your kids have their own reusable grocery bag that you can fill with “their” snacks and such at the grocery.
  • Grow your own food.  This is fairly self explanatory. Growing a garden means NO packaging and when you do so organically you can enjoy food straight from the ground. It is like living in a concession stand.


  • Trash = Treasure. Remember the old adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Well, it doesn’t have to be old. Let’s teach our children that we can use what others consider waste. Perhaps you can think of a craft or an art project using discarded items. Maybe this will help.
  • Your nose won’t know. Why not try using cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. Or what about handkerchiefs instead of disposable kleenex?
  • Donate. Twice a year help your child go through his/her clothes and toys to see what he/she no longer wants/needs and encourage them to donate it reminding them that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!”
  • Go with a nappy. Buy cloth diapers instead of disposable ones as they are better for the baby’s health as well as the environment.


  • Waste not, want not. Designate cans for recycling and for normal garbage. Teach your kids what is recyclable and where to put it for recycling.
  • Money makes the world go ’round. Have your child separate recyclables and put them in the appropriate receptacles. If they do a good job reward them with a treat or a few quarters. Remember, money is a motivator!
  • Earth Day, every day! Even though we should make every day Earth Day try to remember the date and plan an activity or participate in a community-wide celebration with your family.

No one is perfect. We all have to focus on being better stewards or our planet. What are some tips you use as a parent to reinforce the message of reduce, reuse, and recycle?