We moved into this house almost thirteen years ago. Built in 1949, it had great bones, but some really crappy features, such as chain link fencing, weeds as high as our heads, a wall heater (no ducts!), and a badly installed kitchen tile floor. We've dealt with all of these things as we were able, but the tile floor had to wait until this year; it was so cracked and broken that it looked like a jigsaw puzzle.
It was so badly broken that we could lift up pieces of tile and look underneath, where we saw the plywood subfloor. The grout was coming out piece by piece. We were always a little worried that someone might cut a foot. The cracking started by the refrigerator, but began to spread outward from there, until the entire floor looked like a spider web.
The last few years, the bulk of our 'project' funds went to outdoor improvements, but this year we were determined to do something about the floor. I knew I didn't want tile again, for many reasons: It's cold in the winter, it's hard to clean, and it's rigid and unyielding, giving us bad back and leg aches while cooking, especially during longer kitchen projects. We'd been researching more sustainable flooring materials for quite a while, and long ago decided on cork flooring for the kitchen. Cork has some give, and therefore is easy on the bones. It's warm, even in winter. It's easy to care for. Best of all, it's made of a renewable resource.
50% of the world's cork comes from Portugal. My folks visited the cork oak (Quercus suber) plantations years ago on a visit and were very impressed with the way the orchardists tend to, care for, and harvest the trees. The cork oak pastoral system is called a 'montado.' The primary growth period for these oaks is in spring; in the summer, pigs and goats are shaded by the canopy of trees. In the fall, those same pigs eat the acorns that fall from the trees. The leaf litter helps keep a deep layer of humus on the land, therefore conserving water and adding resources to the soil. The cork is stripped every nine years from the tree, leaving the living tree intact. The cork strippers - tiradors - work in teams of two, stripping the bark by hand with steel axes. (For a video of the process, take a look here.) These laborers are among the highest paid agricultural workers, with healthcare and benefits provided. When my parents were there touring the montados, they were urged to drink wine with corks rather than screwtops. This agricultural symbiotic system has been in place for hundreds of years and provides a living to thousands of people.
So you can see, other than the fact that this product comes most often from across the sea, cork is a renewable resource that can be considered sustainable.
We decided to have Floor Coverings International do the work for us, rather than trying to do it ourselves. There's a difference between being handy and being highly trained! We were very satisfied with the entire process. We learned a lot along the way, from the knowledgeable folks at FCI - like the way our oak floors, original to our 1949 house, were made and installed. And how our tile floor had obviously been installed hastily and, in fact, completely wrongly, right before we bought the house (hence the cracking and breaking). The person that installed our cork floor knew a lot about old houses, and gave us a lot of ideas for how to redo the cabinets and countertops (the cabinets are particleboard, gross, and so ugly). It turns out our countertops are actually lower than standard, leading the floor guy to believe that they had been put in more recently (if you consider the 1970's recent that is).
It's such a pleasure to walk on this new cork floor. It has a tiny bit of give, a slight springiness, and it's comfortably warm to bare feet. The best thing is that we don't have to be embarrassed when people come over; instead we are proud of our new floor!
Chicken update: As you can see from the above photo, I've caved. Today I let all the chickens out to free range.
Here's why: The new chickens were coming down to the floor of the coop very infrequently, spending most of their time in the hen house. This is because the other chickens were being kinda mean. Not Molly, our big Rhode Island Red, who is the Queen Mother. Molly actually protects them, keeping the other chickens in line. But it wasn't enough, and they were getting picked on a lot. I considered just letting those two out to free range, but they'd need to get in and out to lay eggs (not an issue with Ginny, who is definitely not laying anymore). I sat in the coop for an hour this morning watching how everything was going and keeping the old hens away from the young hens and I finally shouted out loud "SCREW IT!" and just opened the door. And wow, it's going great. Everyone is having a good time. The old hens are scratching around in the bark and eating all the bugs; the new hens are reveling in having the coop to themselves, taking dust baths, eating everything in sight, and occasionally heading out to the kale bed in the garden for a nibble (no one has given the tomato plants a second glance). Molly presides over all, making sure everyone is ok. Ginny is hiding, literally, behind the four-foot-tall yarrow. She is not sure this is all such a good idea.
I'm feeling much better about everything. I didn't realize how stressful this chicken situation was - I have been very worried. I think this will keep everyone so busy in their own spots that the fighting will be kept to a minimum. HOWEVER. If tomatoes start getting eaten, it's gonna be a big problem. So Tom and I will probably try to rig up some sort of corral. Stay tuned for more on this!