Wednesday, March 31, 2010
It seems like a lot, but just a couple minutes a day should do well. Just pay attention and write it down! You will be so glad you did. I know that I planted a certain variety of lettuce last year we just didn't eat. We didn't like it. So it gets scratched from our list and new varieties come in. I know that four years ago I was planting brassicas on this date outside, but the last three I haven't gotten them out until May, and that the April planted ones did a lot better than my May ones did. This gives me information so that I make a point to really shoot for April plantings (though obviously the weather is my biggest issue with whether this happens or not) and change something I do (fall tilling, which I couldn't last year, or separate raised bed that needs little cultivation and cares not whether it has rained or not for planting) to make sure they see April sun. I could easily forget how things went without my notes.
Another aspect to the journals, though, is also the beauty. This year I made a point of illustrating my plans for the garden. I tried to make them pretty, but with the little time I have, not as pretty as some are able to do. It helps me see quickly what I am doing, make changes as necessary and will be a pleasant addition to my journal. Right now they grace my wall, making my office a reminder of the sunny days to come. Pictures of my produce are handy for when I want to market on the net what we've been doing, but also just in the beauty of food. In the rat race that is the standard American food system, the beauty of homegrown, whole foods is outstanding, especially in heirloom varieties. It gets lost in mass marketed supermarket foods and drive throughs. There is nothing so beautiful as July's bounty caught on (digital) film.
One last thought is the heritage that is recorded in such journals. My children can see what we were doing for the growing months by looking at my records. I can put down when they started helping, and also teach them to start their own gardens and journals. My oldest loved drawing pictures of the pea sprouts in her tiny patch last year, and seeing them go from seed to peas. It creates something else we can share in our relationship, also something that they can use as they grow. I get a lot of my motivation for what I do from my time spent with my dad and grandparents as a young girl. Both were big on the homesteading movement in the eighties, and I took all of that with me to use as an adult. One of my favorite pictures is part of my dad's gardening journal-a shot of a huge bounty in the back of his pickup truck, full of color. It is my inspiration every year, and a reminder of how important keeping track of my interactions with our farm is.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Since trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, I have seized as many opportunities as I can, and have been willing to learn new skills where I can. Back in February 2009, I attended a Cheese making workshop and since then, have made over 15 different types of cheese.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Gardening season is off to a slow start this year in my part of the world, as March has been an uncharacteristically cold and wet month. And so, instead of cultivating my garden, I've been cultivating my ideas about how I want to sow and plant this year. There are several strategies that one can take when starting a new garden, and I've decided to take an intercropping approach, following principles of permaculture and biodynamic agriculture.
Intercropping means growing one or more crops in the same space during the same growing season, in order to imitate the diversity of natural ecosystems. The idea here is that by creating biodiversity, the different resources of the soil are better utilized, and the chances of single pest outbreaks are limited by a habitat where pest management happens naturally. A garden where biodiversity is maintained doesn't have the neat look that most of us associate with successful gardening. There are no individual crops growing in long rows, but a varied mixture of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits, carefully selected and planted according to specific principles. Here are a few of the key ones:
To favor the healthy growth of a complex habitat, it’s important to select plants that don't compete with each other for space, nutrients, water and sunlight. Sow crops together that have opposite needs: shallow-rooted plants with deep-rooted ones, slow-growing crops with fast-growing ones, tall plants with short ones that like partial shade, and so on.
Another important practice is to companion plant, growing different species of plants together that benefit each other. There are several lists of companion plants available online (for example here and here), though there are some discrepancies, and so – as always with gardening – the best strategy is trial and error.
Here is a little list I've created for my own needs. If anyone has tried companion planting, please pipe up in the comments and tell us about your experiences.
peas, beans, parsley
marigolds, basil, geraniums, sunflowers
peas, potatoes, cucumbers
borage, beans, lettuce
strawberries, carrots, chamomile
tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers
peas, onions, rosemary, sage, marjoram
corn, radishes, lettuce, beans
Sunday, March 28, 2010
I want vegetables now. I always kill my seedlings and I just don't have the space yet to dedicate to the seed flats. I have had success with direct sow, a lot of success, but this just doesn't work with tomato and peppers.....luckily I get plants from wonderful friends and neighbors, but I still want to be self sufficent in this matter. I am still a beginner, a beginner farmer too. I have so much to learn, perhaps more than one lifetime's worth of knowledge was not passed to my generation and learning from books and the Internet is surreal sometimes. There is a lot of trial and error.
Enter the haybales. I read about this here and here. Basically you place 4-6 bales in a square and then top with plastic or old windows. Our neighbor delivered to us all the old storms off their house last fall. Wonderful!
So here is the first haybale green house/ cold frame. We have 5 weeks until last frost date so I'm not going to bother starting cold weather stuff that I can just directly seed right now. I am going to try...tomatoes. Brave, daring, and maybe a little naive. That about sums up my entire adult life!
Once the cold season has passed and the plants can stand alone, the bales break down and make excellent cover mulch. I did this last year with cut long grass and had major weed problems- to address this I read here that heavily watering the bales so they sprout, then letting them dry out again, kills the seed sprouts and fixes the weed sprouting issue once they are spread as mulch. I also used old paper feed bags as a biodegradable landscape paper under the mulch. Excellent for weed control and they completely break down by the fall turning.
One of the other things I am going to try this year is dead fish as fertilizer. We had a fish kill in our pond and pulled out HUGE grass carp. Lily is 3 feet tall. The fish is the same size she is, maybe a little longer. Wow.
I will not be using those though, the smaller fish will break down easier and were scooped up with other organic matter from the pond. It will all be wonderful soil nutrition. I'm not going to use nearly as much as we actually have though, just a few buckets full as a trial. I know they will be great, but the guy who runs the tiller (my Dearest husband!) is concerned that they will tangle up in the tines. It is a small walk behind model but I have put on my wish list a pull behind for the tractor. He's also concerned about attracting wild predators. I don't know about that. I would think that compost heaps and gardens in general attract wild animals, but once the fish are tilled in it shouldn't be a problem. Right?
This is the other garden bed that will get the fish treatment. I can't wait for the soil to dry out and be workable but we have a warm dry stretch next week and if we can catch the end of it and till then, I think we'll be good to go.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
"It smells like wet dirt in here," Aries says when he gets home from work. No wonder - I'm in the kitchen wetting down four trays of little pots filled with potting soil. It's time to start seeds for my tomato, pepper, eggplant, and other garden transplants.
Earlier, I'd stopped by a nearby Hispanic market to buy dried chamomile flowers. In Spanish, chamomile is called manzanilla (man-za-NEE-ya), translating to little apple. If you're familiar with the distinctive aroma of chamomile tea, you'll understand the reason behind the name. They carry teas and spices in bulk cellophane packets, at a much better price (½ ounce for 89¢) than buying a box of teabags in the regular supermarket. I'd dumped the half-ounce packet of the chamomile into two quarts water, brought it to a boil, then turned off the heat and covered it to let steep until cool. I want a really strong brew, and two quarts will be enough to thoroughly soak the top of the soil on all the pots after the seeds are in. I don't even remember where I learned about using chamomile to prevent damping off. I've been using it on my indoor seed-starts for years.
Damping off is when just sprouted seedlings suddenly shrivel right at the soil line, fall over, and die. It's caused by a fungus in the warm damp soil the seeds need to germinate. I try to keep my seed-starting soil clean (and that's a major reason you don't want to use dirt right out of the garden to start seeds), but since I reuse the pots, six-packs, and labels (a Sharpie pen on pieces of a plastic bleach bottle) each year, I don't want to take any chances with losing my seedlings. A dousing with strong chamomile tea works great for me. When all seeds are nestled into the damp soil in the pots, I strain the dark-brown cooled tea and gently water the seeds in with it, taking care not to wash too much soil over the seeds. I'll do it once more after they start come up if I see any start to flop over. And now, we're off and growing!
Friday, March 26, 2010
Living The Frugal Life
I couldn't resist this. I've been working my way through online videos of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's various shows. I'm a bona fide sucker for traditional British foods, especially those with evocative or unusual names. So when he mentioned lardy cake, it hardly mattered what was in it or how it tasted. The name alone was sufficient to lure me. It turned out vaguely like an American sticky bun, but much more interesting, and less sweet overall. Really, I only say that it's like a sticky bun because that's the closest thing Americans would know, but resemblances fall apart pretty quickly.
Although "cake" usually denotes something that includes egg and is leavened chemically, this concoction has no egg and is made with yeasted bread dough. The first time I made lardy cakes, I had no lard on hand. So I substituted non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening, which actually turned the lardy cakes into a vegan preparation. (I know! I won't tell anyone if you won't.) The second time I took a stab at actually rendering my own lard, which quickly convinced me that purchased lard is one of the best deals going. Rendering lard is an extremely stinky process. I started it indoors, but quickly decided to move the process outside. Fortunately at least two of my purveyors of local, ethically raised pork also offer lard for sale. I'm buying it from now on.
This will seem a rather involved recipe if you're not a bread baker. Just remember that "involved" doesn't signify "difficult." The recipe calls for a pre-ferment, which means it'll need to be started at least one day before you'd like to bake and serve these treats. There's plenty of room for creativity and personal preferences in terms of spicing and which dried fruits you choose to use. You can play around with it, but I listed the spices I used in this recipe. The fruit is also flexible, but I used 1 1/2 cups diced apricot, 1 1/2 cups dried currants and 1 cup dried cranberries. I thought this combination of flavors turned out really well.
1½ cups (35 cl) warm water (110-115 degrees F/43-45 C)
½ tsp. active dry yeast
3½ cups (83 cl) all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil, for bowl
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the warm water and the yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the flour and mix on low speed for about 2 minutes; the pre-ferment should feel like a very wet dough.
3. Place the pre-ferment in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. If you wish, store the pre-ferment, refrigerated, up to 1 week, or freeze in plastic for up to 3 months. Bring the pre-ferment to room temperature before using.
1½ (35 cl) cups warm water (110-115 degrees F/43-45 C)
5 tsps. active dry yeast
Pre-fermented dough, about 3½ cups
4 cups (95 cl or 610 g) bread flour
1 tbsp. salt
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Vegetable oil, for bowl
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the warm water and the yeast. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the pre-fermented dough, separated into small pieces. Mix on low speed until combined, about 2 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Add to yeast mixture, and mix on low speed, 1 minute. Change attachment to dough hook, and mix on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and just sticks to your fingers when squeezed, about 8 minutes.
3. Lightly flour a work surface. Turn out dough, and knead 4 or 5 turns into a ball. Place the dough, smooth side up, in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled in bulk and is slightly blistered and satiny, about 1 hour.
4. Punch dough down, and fold over 4 or 5 times. Place folded side facedown in bowl. Cover, and let rise again in a warm place until doubled in bulk and satiny, about 50 minutes. Divide dough in half, and wrap in plastic until ready to use.
Shaping and seasoning
All-purpose flour, for dusting
4 tsp. ground allspice
1 tbsp. ground cardamom
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ freshly ground whole nutmeg
1 1/3 cups (31 cl) cane sugar or lightly packed brown sugar
8 ounces (225 g) lard or non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
4 cups (95 cl) mixed dried fruit, such as diced apricots, cranberries, and currants
1. Combine the spices with the sugar and blend until an even mixture is achieved. In another bowl, combine the dried fruit.
2. Work with one half of the dough at a time. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out half of the dough into an oblong rectangle, measuring about 20” by 10” (50x 25 cm). Arrange the dough so that one short end is nearest you, and the dough stretches away from you. Make two light impressions horizontally in the dough, demarcating equal thirds of the rolled out dough.
3. Spread 4 ounces of lard over the two-thirds of dough farthest away from you, leaving a 1/2-inch border around perimeter. Sprinkle one quarter of the sugar and spice mixture over the lard. Sprinkle half of the combined dried fruits over the sugar. Using the palms of your hands, gently press the fruit into dough.
4. Fold the nearest (bare) third of the dough over the middle third of the dough. Pull the dough gently towards you and fold over again to cover the last third of the dough. Gently press down on the outer edges of the dough with your fingers to create a seal.
5. Dust the work surface with more flour and let the dough stand for 20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or a very slightly damp clean towel.
6. Roll the dough very gently with a rolling pin, elongating and widening the existing rectangle to about 15” by 7” (38x18 cm). Arrange the dough again so that the short end of the rectangle is towards you, and demarcate three equal sections. Scatter one quarter of the sugar mixture over the two sections of the dough farthest from you. Fold it over in thirds like a letter, and sealing the side edges, as you did in step 2. Let the dough rest on a well floured surface for 20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or a very slightly damp clean towel.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Repeat step 2 one more time, but without adding any more of the sugar mixture, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into 2 equal pieces, then cut each long piece into 6 equal slices. (Alternately, you may cut the dough into larger pieces of any number you desire.) Arrange each piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment, or place each piece in its own aluminum baking tin. Let these pieces rise for 25 minutes.
8. Bake cakes until golden and puffed, about 22-25 minutes. If baking larger pieces, they may take 35 minutes or more to bake. Let cool slightly before serving.
Repeat these steps with the second half of the dough. Each half portion of the dough makes 12 individual servings of lardy cake, 24 total portions from this recipe. Lardy cakes will keep for a few days, wrapped in aluminum foil, but are best eaten fresh the day they are baked. You can reheat the cake before serving in a low oven, wrapped in aluminum foil.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
One of the most popular posts on my blog is a post about making my deodorant. Hundreds of people visit it each day - still, a year after I wrote it! And I must say making my own deodorant is one of THE easiest changes I've ever made on the path of sustainability.
Why Make Your Own Deodorant?
- Aluminum is a neurotoxin, and is found in most antiperspirants. It has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease, respiratory illnesses, reduced renal function, and DNA damage. Find out more here, here and here.
- The parabens in many antiperspirants may be linked to breast cancer, and there are possible complications associated with SLS in deodorants.
- It's really, really cheap.
- It's really, really easy.
Since I learned about aluminum in normal antiperspirant about 20 years ago, I have been searching for the best non-toxic deodorant. For whatever reason, most “natural” deodorants just don’t work for me at all.
But several years ago I found Alvera Aloe & Almond Deodorant. It works and smells lovely. It’s not tested on animals and it has ingredients I can pronounce. The problem: not very many stores carry it. So over the years I’ve gone from natural store to natural store looking for it, I’ve stocked up from time to time, I’ve had stores order it, and I’ve ordered it online, but all that is time consuming, frustrating, and resource-depleting. I did this for years!
That is, until the week my husband was in the hospital a little over a year ago. I brought him a bag from home that included a brush, shaving supplies, … and our only stick of deodorant. So, after stepping out of a nice clean shower at home, I desperately searched for an alternative. I reasoned to myself that if baking soda works on my hair, why not try it on my underarms? Afterall, it’s an ingredient in many deodorants…. So I used it like baby powder, just a splash.
And it was the best deodorant I’ve ever used. No kidding.
The following day, I didn’t need to re-apply. Amazing!!
But then… on day 3, I realized my left underarm was itching a bit. So I did some online research, and found that straight baking soda might be too strong. Apparently, you need just a tiny bit. In my various hours of research, I came upon a solution: mixing baking soda with cornstarch. The cornstarch actually works as a light antiperspirant, and the baking soda deodorizes.
I’ve been using it for over a year now, and I love it. Absolutely love it.
- In a reusable and resealable container, mix 1 part baking soda with 6 parts cornstarch.
- Close the container and shake vigorously for about a minute, to thoroughly mix the two powders.
- Then dab a small amount to the skin of your armpits with a soft cotton cloth, cotton ball, or cosmetic applicator. Apply as if you were lightly applying baby powder or cosmetic powder.
- If this recipe is too harsh on your skin (it would only be that way for people with extra sensitive skin), you can mix 1 part baking soda with 6 parts coconut oil. I use this variation, and it works equally well, though sometimes I need to reapply in the middle of a particularly sweaty day. I just keep a small container at work, just like I used to have a stick of deodorant.
- If you decide that straight baking soda isn’t right for you, you might try “The Rock” or use one of the recipes here, here or here for homemade deodorant.
- The application should last at least a day – for me it lasts at least 2 days!
- This method hasn’t left any stains or residues on my white or black clothing. It seems to do better than normal deodorant in that regard! (Still, of course use caution with expensive and/or hard-to-clean items, as you would with any deodorant.)
- A nice way to store your deodorant powder is in an antique cosmetic jar (above), which you can pick up at a garage sale or thrift store.
- Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) is aluminum free.
- Curious how conventional antiperspirants work? Find out here.
Do You Make Your Own Deodorant?
If you do, how do you make it? And if you don't, would you consider trying it?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Last year we sugared our maple trees for the first time. I would have done it earlier, but I always thought you needed sugar maples to make syrup - not so. We have a back yard full of red maples. They have less sugar in the sap so it takes a little more sap, and the final product can be cloudy, but it still tastes as delicious as syrup from sugar maples. We also started late in the season, so we only got a few days of sugaring in before the trees budded out. We ended the season with a two pints of syrup and a passion for sugaring!
This year we started the season early by ordering more spiles and brushing up on our skills by reading a few books before the season started. If you're interested in sugaring your maples I'd recommend reading: Backyard Sugarin': A Complete How-To Guide or Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup or this article from the Ohio State University Extension. These are all geared towards small scale home sugaring operations, explaining how to do it without spending much money.
We tapped our trees on February 21 this year. It was a beautiful sunny day and the temperatures climbed slightly above freezing. Not quite prime sugaring season yet, but we wanted to get some of our trees tapped since tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be close to 40. We were just going to put one tap in the tree we can see from the kitchen window, so we could watch it. When it started flowing we would install the rest of the taps. As soon as we tapped the tree a little drop of sap appeared on the end of the spile. It was warm enough yesterday to start the sap flowing.
Since the sap was flowing we put in all 12 taps that we had on hand, then a few days later we added 10 more taps. The first day, the taps produced about a gallon of sap by dusk. We stored the sap outside in a few huge canning kettles to keep it cold so it wouldn't spoil. The weather was not great for a few days, but then at the beginning of March it started warming up during the day producing good sap flow. It was sunny and warm during the day (well 40 degrees which is warm this time of year).
The mornings were frosty, with temps down in the teens. All the sap that was flowing the day before stopped and was frozen in the spiles. It didn’t take long for them to thaw out with the sun and warmth and start flowing again. These are prime sugaring temps; you want it to be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.
With the sap flowing nicely, we started boiling constantly to keep up. We averaged 7 gallons of sap per day from our 20 taps. Mr Chiots collected the sap several times a day. Since we're using mason jars they're not that big and need emptied several times a day. We use them since that's what we have on hand and I'm not a big fan of my food touching any plastic.
After collecting the sap, it's brought inside to warm up a bit. I strain it through a coffee filter into a big stock pot on the stove, this strains out any wood chips, sticks and any other dirt. We warm the sap in this stock pot and when it’s boiling we transfer it to big kettle that’s boiling outside (or another kettle on the stove). We do this to keep the big pot at a rolling boil, if you keep pouring cold sap into the boiling sap it will take longer to reduce into syrup.
After boiling it down and finishing it off, we strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth and we have delicious homemade maple syrup. (read through one of the books listed above for info on finishing syrup, need to be at a certain temp).
Our sugaring season is over for 2010, it was a short one. We ended up with over a gallon of syrup. Sugaring is a fun relaxing hobby. We've really enjoyed the process and will continue doing it for years to come. There's something so satisfying about making your own maple syrup!
You can see the two different colors of syrup we got from our two batches. It’s so delicious, hard to believe we made it at home. One thing is for certain, not a drop of this will go to waste! When you take such a hands on approach to making your own food you really appreciate it because you know the effort that goes into it.
Anyone of you sugaring your maples, birch, or shagbark hickory trees?
for more photos & explanation of our sugaring process check out my posts on my blog:
Tap, Tap, Tap, Maple Sap
Prime Sugaring Weather
Finishing Off our Maple Syrup
Monday, March 22, 2010
With moderate weather returning, I am finding myself working outside much more these days. We eat a large breakfast and snack throughout the day, so I need to have some things made ahead so we can come in, grab a bite and get back outside.
Cooking from scratch can seem daunting at first, but I view it as a method, rather than a recipe. If I keep my pantry well stocked with tasty basics and good ingredients, it's easy to put something together in a hurry. Not being a girlie girl, I'm a farmer first, cook last, so simplicity is the name of the game in my kitchen. Good hearty farm table fare. With that in mind, here is my method for a quick potato salad.
I try to keep on hand a bowl of potatoes boiled in their jackets. They are precooked, and ready for many applications. Each summer I make bread and butter pickles with lots of uses in mind. The brine from the pickles becomes the quick salad dressing for my potato salad. Vinegar and spices, how could I go wrong. After the pickles have all been fished out of the jar, there is always left over brine, and it is perfect for adding flavor to salads, etc. So keep that leftover brine and mentally go over your recipes - you can use it for many things.
I leave the jackets on the potatoes, but you can peel them if you like. If I make this salad for company, I chop the pickles, but if it is just for us, the pickle slices stay intact. In fact, I don't make pickle relish anymore, finding it easier to chop the rustic slices if I need a relish type texture. A huge time saver in the fall, when I am dealing with many things to harvest.
Have your pickle brine ready, if you follow this method, I'll soon explain that little tidbit.
Drizzle a little olive oil over the potatoes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add half a diced onion.
Grate the other half of the onion over the potato salad. (This really adds flavor, since it will add onion juice to your salad. I wear safety glasses for this step. Refrigerating the onion overnight also will help take away some of the bite of the onion.)
Before your eyes start burning, add the brine, the vinegar will help cut the aromatics from the grated onion.
Stir to mix, and refrigerate for several hours to let the flavors meld. The salad is tasty this way, but it is a good way to use that extra aioli or boiled eggs too. And of course, mayonnaise if you prefer!
A simple meal, with simple on-hand ingredients, that can be customized to match what's in your pantry.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
The last month has been particularly busy for me. Work events have meant that I have had to work many more hours than I usually do. In the past, when such times in my life have crept up, I know that I would compensate by buying more convenience foods and buying housework/gardening services. Those times were certainly not simple, green or frugal!
And while I admit, I have bought *some* convenience foods this last month, I have not been as wasteful this time round...only because I am finally starting to do one of the hardest things I ever had to do - I'm finally asking for help.
Independence is highly valued in our world. We admire those who seem to be able to do it all - seemingly without help. But as I strive to simplify my life, I am realising that this "independence" is coming at a cost - literally. Not asking for help means that we shift our dependence from people to corporations and unsustainable practices. Not asking for help means that my money is being used to create the facade of independence and in some ways creates even more pressure for me to work even more to maintain this facade.
I also find it difficult to ask for help, as one feels not only "dependent" but also "obligated". I know this is something that I struggle with constantly. When I wrote about this issue in my personal blog, a reader there gave me a wonderful piece of advice: "Allow people the privelege of helping you." Asking for help does not have to be an obligation but a gift. I know that I often feel flattered and useful when I help others, so it is time to give that gift back!
A couple of weeks ago, I threw a hedge-trimming party. I have a very very big and very long hedge that serves as the fence. Its an awful job keeping it under control. It takes approximately 2 solid days to do it by myself....or $1,200 (AUD) to pay someone to do it. I finally swallowed my pride and asked my friends and neighbours to help me. I asked my friends and workmates if I could borrow their equipment - hedge trimmers, ladders, extension cords etc. Between 6 of us, we managed to trim my hedge in only 1.5 hours. Not only did we get the job done, but we had so much fun chatting and afterwards, eating together.
Another benefit of asking for help is that it does help build and strengthen my community. Where I live, many of my neighbours and friends have very different ideas and views from me. They are not necessarily commited to a simple or green path. However, what we do have in common are shared experiences that comes from living near each other, going to school together or having children who play together. Asking for help to keep my garden neat was a good way for my community to come together for a common purpose and gave us all a good basis to break through our very different views. I have learnt that there is joy to be found in learning how to build a supportive community with people who are very different from me.
As I write this post, I am sipping a cup of tea and looking out towards my garden and my trimmed hedge. And for the first time in my life, I am happy to finally acknowledge: "I am dependent on others".
I hope you have had a wonderful weekend.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden
Home educating on a budget may seem like a challenge at first, especially if you are attempting to gather as many resources as your average classroom. There is no need to rush out and buy a lot of equipment that you may not need. First, sit down and write a “wish list”, then highlight the items you feel are most necessary to begin.
There are many alternatives to expensive educational resources. Below are some ideas to help you save money in setting up your home learning space.
- Buy furniture which has multiple uses. Consider a large, second-hand dining table over individual desks, for example. Use open shelving rather than cupboards for storing supplies and books. This allows the children to see what is available for their use and is less expensive. I have used two bolt-together galvanised steel five-shelf units to hold the many games, puzzles, construction kits and so on that I have gathered over the years. The children can see everything on the shelves and they remain tidy and uncluttered compared to a cupboard. They cost $15 each from the hardware store. I also have a 2.5m high, 1.2m wide shelving unit in white melamine, that’s tougher than your average chipboard one as it was once display shelving in a shop. This one holds many files, folders, books and boxes and cost me $30 from a second-hand furniture store.
- Consider a $2 inflatable globe from a discount store before investing in an expensive atlas or globe. My children have learned more world geography from their “beach ball globe” than from any other maps or books we own. Atlases often come on sale at the start of the school year or in book club catalogues. Hold out until you get a quality, inexpensive one. Or suggest one as a gift idea from a grandparent or other family member.
- Look at alternatives before investing in sets of encyclopedias. In today’s technological age there is up-to-date information on many topics available on the Internet, which many families have access to at home or at their local library. Sites like wikipedia and those designs specifically for educators like askjeeves will most likely provide answers to most questions that young ones come up with. Encyclopedias on CD rom are also a cheaper version that the book sets. Libraries usually have at least one set of quality encyclopedias. Second-hand sets are readily available and even a ten-year old set won’t be too out of date if you can buy it at a reasonable price. Childcraft sets rarely date in their content and we have found many versions of these second-hand – at garage sales, library sales and op. shops.
- Art and craft supplies are especially important for littlies. I buy a lot of mine from an educational supplier in bulk. I buy 2 litre bottles of poster paint cheaper than I can buy 500ml at the local discount store. I also buy glue in bulk and refill glue applicators and pots with brushes or glue spatulas. I use powder paint and powder glue for big art projects as it works out to be much cheaper. We use recycled paper and quality pencils and crayons for day-to-day art play. I have found that it is more worthwhile buying one set of Stockmar crayons or Lyra pencils every few years (or more) than buying the cheaper pencils on sale at the supermarket. I buy coloured paper and other mediums for them to use for special projects and gifts. Our clay comes in 10kg packages from art suppliers or “recycled” clay from the local potters club, and we make our own playdough with simple kitchen ingredients. I’ve also bought playdough in bulk because it is only slightly more expensive than making it myself, and has a longer shelf life in our hot summers.
- Buy exercise books, writing pencils, computer paper, folders and more at the back-to-school sales and keep a supply handy for when the children need these. Cover books yourself rather than buying those with covers depicting favourite characters, they are too expensive.
- Buy the minimum number of books you can for your child’s learning. Wait until they have used the curriculum for awhile before deciding to invest in a whole series. Borrow reading books from the library rather than buying them all new. And take literature lists to second-hand book stores as often these titles are readily available in used condition having been prescribed school readers. While you are at the second hand book stores, check out the reference section and for any quality books that are not too out-dated.
- Make your own games. Learning games are fun and they work! There are many websites to get you started with making games. Learning games can be in the form of board games, card games or physical games. They can include music, sports equipment, flash cards or dice. You are limited only by your imagination. And the kids have plenty of that, so get them involved!
- Plan some low-cost excursions or consider annual passes to local museums or wildlife parks if you think you will get value for your dollar. Often you need only go twice to recoup your membership costs, and there are a lot of extra benefits. These annual tickets are a great gift idea for someone wanting to give to your whole family.
The golden rule in the beginning is WAIT. As time progresses you will know what your family’s needs are and you may hear from other homeschoolers where the bargains are. You don’t need to build a school in your home to start on your home based learning journey. If you are feeling inadequate, write a list of all the resources available in your community - include the library, council, tourist centre, parks, galleries, museums, natural resources (beach, forest, river etc), people, schools and so on. You will be surprised at the range of activities just waiting to be enjoyed as part of your home education journey.
Here are some online resources which might save you some money…
School Express US site - lots of free printables and more
Classics for Kids Free lesson plans for four classical composers, timelines, biographies and more - get your music from the local library or $2 shop CDs and enjoy!
SparkleBox - 1000s of printables!
Donna Young Want to be organised? Like free printables? You’ll love Donna Young.
An Old Fashioned Education Christian and Classical Education Resources - so many subjects and all free resources!
Skwirk Free, interactive and Australian! Three points!
The Learning Page This has been around for years, and we’ve used the free printables many times. Lovely stuff!
The Magic of a Million Activity Book Download for free!
Worksheet Factory These are fantastic for creating your own worksheets to concentrate on a specific area of maths which may need revision, without having to handwrite the problems for your child! There are several programs available for free trial.
Pocket Basics The Pocket Basics books have been highly recommended. This page offers a variety of valuable downloads for…. Free!
Puzzlemaker Great fun for those who enjoy word puzzles. Create an activity book which suits their skill level perfectly.
Educational Press This is fantastic - so many options and levels and you can create your own board games etc. at home.
Enchanted Learning Over 20000 pages of printables.
The Well-Bred Sentence Studying grammar? Everything you need to know about sentence construction and punctuation.
Craft Creations Free Projects for card making enthusiasts.
International Children’s Digital Library Children’s literature to encourage a global community.
Please leave a comment with some of your frugal education ideas and links!