So one day a number of months back, Ann asked a fellow customer at the Alameda Farmers' Market if she wouldn't mind parting with her carrot tops to help feed some local chickens.  After some conversation, the woman asked for our address so she could deliver us her vegetable peelings.

Now we often get big bags of scraps deposited on our front porch, with peelings from carrots, zucchini, potatoes, fruit, etc. and often egg shells.  The problem is that the chickens have a hard time pecking at the large uncooked peelings.  

So I have taken it on myself to dump it all in our food processor to chop it up into peck-sized pieces.  I call my creation, "Chicken slaw."  Doesn't it look appetizing? The chickens like it quite a bit.

We also are appreciative of other donations we receive toward the chicken-feeding effort.  We get carrot tops and lettuce that is past its prime from various neighbors.  We sometimes get jars filled with snails (good protein!).  We recently received our first batch of spent barley from a beer brewer, and the chickens loved it.

We've been doing our best to reduce our water usage, and just took another big step: rainwater catchment barrels.  As the San Francisco Chronicle reported last week, California is on par this year for its worst drought ever.  In the East Bay, we've had water use restrictions and billing surcharges since August.

The idea of rain barrels is to harvest and store the rainwater that is routed down a building's downspouts and use it at a later time.  Since we are also expanding our food-producing garden extensively, it will be even more helpful to have extra water on hand to keep it irrigated.

The first step was to find a source of 55-gallon food-grade (HDPE) plastic barrels.  That type of barrels is used to distribute all kinds of items, including food ingredients (particularly liquids or foods packed in liquids).  Sometimes the barrels will be sent back and re-used after they are emptied, but they are often just thrown away.  For our purposes, it was also important to get barrels that had not contained toxic substances. They also have to be strong enough to be filled with water, so trash cans generally won't work.

We found some barrels for sale onCraigslist in the $20+ range but since we wanted a number of them, we hoped to do better.  After a lot of calling around (and talking to a lot of confused people), the only free sources we could find were car washes, which receive their soap in them.

The next step was to convert them to rain barrels.  I worked with our neighbor Michael to determine the best approach, and we came up with something pretty simple.  There are a number of great DIY write-ups online (some listed below), so I'm not going to go into too much detail on ours.

Basically, we:
  1. Cut off the top of the barrel to give us access to the inside.  The barrels we got have a nice wide lip wider than the rest of the barrel, so flipping the lid over then gives it a nice fit.
  2. Cut a hole near the bottom of the barrel and fasten a hose bib (spigot).
  3. Cut a hole near the top for overflow.
  4. Cut a hole in the lid for the water to enter.  I went to the trouble of buying some plastic drain pieces to make it a little prettier, but that's not necessary.
  5. Cover all openings with fiberglass mesh to keep mosquitos out.
The final step was "installing" the barrels.  They need to be positioned by downspouts and then the downspouts need to be adjusted to feed into the barrels.  The barrels should also be raised to make it easier get the water out.  You probably want enough room to get a water can under the spigot.  If using a hose, extra height will give extra pressure.  We're putting ours up on cinder blocks.

We've converted two barrels so far, and the total cost for parts came out to about $20 per barrel.