Sunday, May 26, 2013

Castlewood Canyon State Park

Last week, we decided to explore south of Denver for possible future home sites...especially the area around Elizabeth, Colorado.

Elizabeth is southeast of Denver and east of Castle Rock. It is a much longer commute than Mr. LH would like to have, but in order for us to get more than a tenth of an acre of land with a house, we would need to move farther from town and his commute would have to increase.

We decided to take the back roads to Elizabeth so we could view the northern part of the county. We weren't far outside of Aurora before we were passing through treeless rolling hills, huge swaths of acreage, miles of fencing and horses in pastures. It was beautiful! And all along, we had a view of the Rocky Mountains rising up in the west.

Once we reached the town of Elizabeth, we turned West on 86 and headed toward Franktown and Castle Rock then turned south on 83 in Franktown.

The scenery was still gorgeous and we were taking it all in when we crossed a bridge spanning a canyon. There was a storm moving in so we made plans to come back the following weekend.

As it turns out, the canyon was part of Castlewood Canyon State Park.

The view from the east entrance to the park
Castlewood Canyon State Park is a day park (no overnight camping allowed) and is a short drive from Denver. It features multiple hiking trails, rock climbing opportunities and interesting geological formations.

Elevations range from 6,200 to 6,600 feet. Some of the paths are very level, paved and easy to navigate.

Others can be a little more difficult because of steep terrain and loose rocks, dirt or gravel.

The "Pickles" spotted this lone paw print in the dried mud.

The Cherry Creek flows along the canyon floor.

The "Pickles" couldn't resist playing in the water for a bit.

We interrupted a Bull snake sunning on a rock.

Of course, Mr. LH had to go looking for it...

We kept going off the paved path so The Boy took it upon himself to point out where we SHOULDN'T step (ouch!).

Of course, don't let children run wild. There are no guardrails in most of the areas.

Checking out the caprock formations
Seeing if there are any tadpoles in the pool
The bridge we crossed when we first saw the canyon
There are two sections to the park. There is the west side with it's own entrance. On that side are remnants of an old homstead and the ruins of Castlewood Dam that burst in 1933 sending a 15 foot high wave of water into Denver.

We stayed on the east side.  I would have liked to have visited the homestead and the ruins but that will have to wait for another trip. Visit the Colorado State Parks website for directions to Castlewood Canyon State Park, hours and a downloadable park map.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

4th Grade Science Fair Project: Pesticides & Food

The Girl's school science fair seemed to be waiting until the last minute this year. It was already a week into April by the time she finally announced the Science Fair date. May 14th. One month. Thank goodness we already knew what we would be doing!

I am one of those crazy people who read gardening books all winter when I can't get outside to dig in the dirt. I don't usually have a problem with pests in my garden (except cutworms) but I want to be prepared if the creepy crawlies ever come around so I started researching organic pesticides and DIY pest deterrents.

I don't use commercial pesticides. However, I do know pesticides have a "waiting period" between application and harvest. Someone MUST have studied this and deemed it safe to use pesticides as long as the instructions are followed correctly, right? Well, an article at had me thinking.

The project idea is, pesticide is sprayed (or dusted) onto the leaves or sprinkled on the ground around the plants. Water (from rain or the garden hose) mixes with the pesticide and moves it into the soil. The plants drink the water (that now has pesticides mixed in) and pesticides wind up INSIDE the plant, unable to be washed off. Instead of actually using pesticide, we would use food coloring added to water.

Note: I know this isn't really accurate/scientific. This is only a science project, not an argument for or against the use of pesticides. There are too many variables to deal with for an elementary school project. But my daughter never before even thought about pesticides and their effect on her food. Now she will...always.

If course, The Girl didn't think the whole project was very interesting at first. She wanted to do something with animals. It wasn't until I showed her the photo from that she decided to go with it. I guess it looked colorful and pretty enough to sway her decision.

The photo (at left), demonstrates pesticides moving through your vegetables. We couldn't do a "demonstration" project, though. We needed an experiment. I haven't used pesticides of any kind in years but remembering that "waiting period" between application and harvest Gave me an idea. We could work the "days to harvest" chart somewhere into the project and create a possibly eye-opening experiment.

Basically, a "days to harvest" chart shows how many days to wait before harvesting your crop.  In the experiment, we would "apply pesticide" (food coloring) and check the results after the allotted number of days needed to wait until harvest time.

Our research was done with a trip to the hardware store. We snapped photos of the fronts and backs of several different pesticides (we didn't buy any) as well as a close-up of the active ingredient label. Then we searched for the "days to harvest" chart for each and took a picture of it for reference. The number of days to wait before harvesting crops varied with each pesticide and with each crop. And as we found on one pesticide, if you live in California, there were different rules/instructions.

We wanted to be sure our plant specimen lasted at least 7 days - preferably until the science fair itself which was 14 days away. For that reason, I thought using a lettuce leaf (as shown in the photo above) was probably not going to work. Instead, we cut off the base from a head of leaf lettuce and placed the entire core in a bowl of water.

2 weeks later, the core had sprouted a bunch of new leaves. We already had some sprouted lettuce cores that were about 8 weeks old (we use them to feed our tortoise) so we knew this new batch of lettuce would last as long as we needed it to...unless the food coloring destroyed it.

The food coloring would only be added to the water on first day. This was our "pesticide application". On the following days, only water would be added if needed and The Girl would take a picture and record any changes.

Theoretically, the food color should move through the plant becoming first saturated by color, then gradually being "washed" away by additional water. That way, we could see if the number of days to harvest was enough time to allow the pesticide to leave the plant.

Note: Once again...I KNOW this is not very accurate. I am well aware the food coloring COULD stain the lettuce leave leaving permanent coloring and giving a false result. Fruit juice would stain, too. If you have a better option that an elementary school child could safely use, please share it.

It was a pretty interesting experiment and gave very unexpected results. I would be curious to see how the experiment would have turned out if The Girl used a different vegetable...maybe a root crop or a cucumber.  I also would have preferred having 2 lettuce cores in the experiment. One "treated" with "pesticide" and one left "untreated" as a control just so we could more easily tell the color difference. The final lettuce looked horrible at the core but the leaves looked like they were still very bright green. (It made me wonder about the filtering capabilities of a lettuce core)

The Girl wound up with 2nd place. She was happy to have a ribbon...and red is one of her new favorite colors. Besides, it matched her display board.

We agreed the 1st place winner (one of her best friends) had a VERY good experiment and deserved to win first place. She tested the effectiveness of various food saver/storage products to see which would work the best to keep mold from developing on cream cheese.

Final Notes:

  • We do wonder what kind of testing California has done on these pesticides to make their rules for using it so much stricter.  If someone in California had determined the pesticides to be so dangerous as to not be used on certain foods AT All (see chart above), why is the pesticide still being allowed in other states?
  • We noticed the Ortho Bug B Gon Max and the Ortho Home Defense Max both used the same active ingredient, Bifenthrin. Although the vegetable pesticide was a spray and the home defense pesticide was in granular form, the spray for your FOOD had A HIGHER PERCENTAGE of the active ingredient. And the Home Defense granules actually say "For residential home perimeter use only". So...I guess that means you're not supposed to apply it around your veggies?

Last word, just because I HAVE to say something about it...every pesticide bottle had some serious cautions and warnings on them. Things like:

  • "Harmful if swallowed."
  • "Harmful if absorbed through skin."
  • "Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through skin."
  • "Causes eye irritation."
  • "Extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates." 
  • "May kill honeybees and other bees."
  • "Do not apply this product in a way that will contact any person or pet, either directly or through drift. Keep people and pets out of the area during application."

These are just the cautions and warnings. I didn't see a list on the labels of possible side effects of exposure. I'd rather take the chance that a bug is going to nibble on my food rather than douse my veggies with poisons.

I  found it rather funny interesting reading the "storage & disposal" section of this label. (I wish I had taken a picture of the whole thing):

What I can read says, "Storage: Keep from freezing. Keep pesticide in original container. Do not put into food or drink containers. Avoid contamination of food and foodstuffs..."

DISCLOSURE:This post may contain affiliate links. I earn from qualified purchases. Thank you for supporting Little House In Colorado.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spring Has Finally Sprung

Although most of the deciduous trees still look dormant all across the state, lawns are turning green, dandelions are popping up everywhere and the sun pops out long enough to warm things up a bit. It looks as though the worst of the weather might FINALLY be past us allowing Spring to show itself.

Because of that, I started making my worm composter. I needed worms for the composter and not wanting to deal with a company online, I contacted Nick's Garden Center in Aurora to see if they had any available. Thankfully they did, giving me an excuse to go there to spend the afternoon browsing everything they had available.

I've always enjoys the garden centers at Lowe's and Home Depot but Nick's is so much better. It looks small from the road, but that place just keeps going and going and going! It's HUGE! And chances are, they have what you're looking for.

Trees, shrubs, fruits and veggies...

All kinds of flowers...

Fountains and statuary...

I love this peacock!
Need a pot in a particular color? Search for it here. Each section of shelves holds a different color in all kinds of designs. You can even mix and match with bases if you want.

This is one of the many greenhouses on site - and, according to a happy employee, filled with overstock of what was up front in the main parts of the store. (You can still shop from this area - it's a lot calmer in the greenhouses than in the main part of the store)

There are several ponds on site. You can even sign up for a pond building workshop or a pond-less waterfall building workshop.

Select the koi you want for your pond...

Get tadpoles and snails, too...

How about mulch? Choose from all kinds!

Of course, we managed to remember our worms...along with a few other goodies. It only took us 2 hours at Nick's to finally get to the cash register to buy them...

I didn't get to see everything Nick's had to offer.... Guess I have to go back next weekend :)

Note: Nick's Garden Center did not pay me to write this. I doubt they know this blog exists. I just really, really, really like it there...can you tell? And FYI, Nick's is a locally owned small business. Just one more reason to shop there.

DISCLOSURE:This post may contain affiliate links. I earn from qualified purchases. Thank you for supporting Little House In Colorado.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Making Our Worm Farm

I have wanted to try vermicomposting for awhile. Vermicomposting uses worms to break down and compost your organic food scraps turning them into worm castings (worm poop) that can be harvested and mixed into your soil.

Since we rent our house and can’t have a regular compost pin (or two or three) outside, I thought a worm bin might be the way to go, but ready made materials for vermicomposting were EXPENSIVE!  I began looking into DIY ways to get my worm farm going.

While searching the Colorado State University Extension website one day, I came across an article on vermicomposting. It led me to another site with a DIY worm bin made from two 10-Gallon Rubbermaid storage containers. Knowing we were on a tight budget, and knowing the worms themselves were going to cost quite a bit ($28 = for a pound of WORMS??? Ribeyes would be cheaper!), I kept my eye out for some cheap bins at the thrift store. It took a few visits, but as luck would have it, on back to back weeks, I was able to get my 10-gallon Rubbermaid bins. One for 99 cents and one for $1.50 (no, they’re not very consistent with their pricing).

Following the instructions for the DIY worm bin, I drilled ventilation holes all along the top and drainage holes in the base of one bin. Then I drilled ventilation/overflow holes in the sides of the 2nd bin which would be on the bottom, the leachate bin..

The first bin went into the second bin.  I shredded newspaper, soaked it and squeezed it out then added it to the bottom of the bin, then topped it with dirt and some weeds - not many, though because I didn't was them to start to heat up the bin while they decomposed (food scraps would be added later). Then in went more dirt, more damp newspaper shreds, and finally a piece of cardboard to cover the top. Of course, the lid went on top of all this. You can see there is still PLENTY of room left in the bin.

All that was needed now were the worms…

Worms could be ordered online from a lot of different places, but I wound up contacting my local garden store, Nick’s Garden Center, to see if they offered worms. At the time of this writing, Nick's sells boxes of approximately 300 worms for $14.99.  Since they weren't measured by pound as they are on other sites, I couldn't really compare the price. Some places say one pound of worms is 500 worms and others say it is 1000 worms. Maybe it all depends on the size of the worms, how much dirt is packed with them, the packaging, etc. 

I really like Nick’s Garden Center and they are locally owned so I decided I would buy my worms from them. Besides, it gave me an excuse to go there and see everything else they have available.

The Saturday after I put together my worm bin, I headed over to Nicks, taking the rest of the family with me. It wasn't the crazy madhouse Mother’s Day weekend we've encountered before, but as it turns out, it was their Spring open house. There was more than enough of a crowd to deal with.

We asked an associate to point us toward the worms. Once there, we ran into a "Master Composter" who answered some questions for me about composting with worms vs. a regular compost pile. Apparently, while worm compost is good, it is rather limited in the number of carbon and nitrogen types vs. what you might find in a well mixed compost pile.  He also explained that while newspaper makes a good bedding material for the worms. they  really like corrugated cardboard. You could also use torn up empty toilet paper tubes, but corrugated cardboard is better.

Worm Bin: $2.49 and about 30 minutes
Worms: 2 boxes @ $14.99/box (approximately 600 worms total) = $29.98 (FYI, The 2 boxes of worms came to about 1.6 lbs of worms, dirt and packaging)

Total Worm Composter Cost: $32.47

My kitchen scraps will no longer going to waste. My kids will enjoy harvesting the castings and my plants will thrive.

UPDATE 6/12/2014: It's been over a year since we made our worm bin and WOW! It is really thriving! The worms have really taken off and multiplied!

I have also started to roll my food scraps in newspaper before placing it in the bin. I got the idea from this pin on Pinterest. Supposedly, it helps to cut down on fruit flies. I haven't had much of a problem with bugs since I moved the bin from outside to my basement.

I have noticed the bin gets really moist. I should probably drill more ventilation holes, but until I get to it I have been keeping the lid partially open one night a week.

The bottom should also be drained fairly regularly. Mine would collect a lot of liquid and start to get smelly. The quantity of liquid could be because the bin contents were so moist and therefore may not be a problem going forward.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Swedish Meatballs and Sour Cream Sauce

During a trip to IKEA, The Boy was doing his usual I-don't-want-to-be-here routine and being rather miserable...until we got to the food. There were meatball samples available. The Boy loves free samples. He had 2 meatballs, declared himself sufficiently recovered and in a good mood and decided we MUST make these at home.

My menu was already in place through the rest of the month so I decided we would have Swedish Meatballs for dinner on May 1st. As it turns out, that was a good idea. We awoke on May 1st to yet another snow storm.  Meatballs would make a nice warm meal to enjoy that evening.

This recipe for Swedish Meatballs is fantastic! 

Swedish Meatballs & Sauce
Adapted from The Amazing Swedish Meatball on

For the Meatballs:

1 pound Ground Beef
1/2 pound Ground Pork
1/2 cup Chopped Onion
3/4 cup Bread Crumbs
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 TBS. Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Pepper

For The Sauce:

1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Paprika
1 to 1 1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp. Pepper
2 cups Boiling Water
3/4 cup Sour Cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking oil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the meatball ingredients. Mix well with your hands. Shape into walnut-size balls, and place on baking dish.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven. Turn frequently so they brown evenly on all sides.
  4. In a saucepan, combine oil, flour, paprika, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until sizzling. Stir in hot water until smooth. Add in sour cream. Stir until smooth and heated through.
  5. When meatballs have cooked 30 minutes, pour the sauce over the top, and return to the oven for 20 minutes.

I have served these with both mashed potatoes and rice. Both are delicious!

UPDATE: Since the meatballs are the big time-killer here, I usually make a double or even triple recipe of the meatballs (especially if I find ground pork on sale) and flash freeze the uncooked meatballs. Then I place them into large gallon zip top freezer bags for later dinners.

DISCLOSURE:This post may contain affiliate links. I earn from qualified purchases. Thank you for supporting Little House In Colorado.