Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Green Computing

by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin

It is most ironic that I chose to write about this subject today, because since 3am this morning, I have not had an Internet connection.  The ADSL is down in areas of our state, so my ISP tells me.  Both my wife and I feel like we are missing a part of ourselves, and it feels really weird not being connected to the greater global community.  It just goes to show how reliant one can get to being jacked in to the ‘net 24/7.  So, I apologise up front for the tardiness of this post, which was supposed to hit the site on Monday 30th, March.  Better late than never, and I hope you enjoy it.

So, back to the subject at hand.   The use of computers in this modern day and age as a means of communications and knowledge is invaluable, however it doesn’t mean you have to waste energy or resources whilst enjoying your computer experience.  Here are some tips that I have learned from my career in the IT industry, which should help you green up your computing needs.

Laptops are 90% more energy efficient than desktop computers are, because they have to be!  Since laptops need to run on battery for as long as possible, manufacturers continually build them better each year with energy-saving features such as automatic sleep modes, hard drive shutdown, and low energy LCD screens. 

Inkjet printers are 90% more energy efficient than laser printers.  You can also refill the ink cartridges yourself and save on landfill and money.  Laser printers may have a higher quality output and are faster, but most people don’t realise how much energy they use.  A laser printer consumes 17 times more power than an Inkjet printer, and 3 times as much energy as a desktop computer and monitor.  What’s worse is that a typical laser printer uses a third of its full power when it is on standby.  Only laser printers manufactured in the last few years have low standby ratings.

If you are in the market to buy a printer, have a think about choosing a Multifunction Device (MFD).  Most can print, fax, scan and copy, and use much less energy than having a separate machine for each function.  I have an inkjet MFD and it only uses 32 watts when printing or scanning.

Share printers in the home or office environment.  Most operating systems allow you to share out a central printer and allow other computers to print from it via your home network.  We have four PC’s at home that print from a single printer in my office.  It certainly beats having to have a printer for each computer!

Speaking of printing, the paper you choose also makes a difference to the environment as well.  Recycled paper is well manufactured these days and rarely jams in printers like it used to.  When office paper is made from recycled content, it uses about half the energy than to make virgin paper from trees.  I try and use at least 70% recycled content in my office paper and use duplex mode on my printer as the default setting to save paper.  I also recycle all office paper waste, and printer cartridges that no longer function correctly.

Before printing, use the print preview to make sure that your document looks like you expect it should before printing.  That way you will save on wasted paper.

Ditch the screen saver.  Screen savers do not save energy – in fact, they use just as much energy as working on a spreadsheet does!  Screen savers were invented to keep the image of your document from being ‘burned’ into your green screen monitor (very old school), during long hours of inactivity.  Burning is no longer an issue for today’s modern CRT and LCD monitors.  An even better solution came along; sleep mode.

If you do have a desktop PC, enable a the power saving scheme that gives you the most energy efficient outcome.  Here is a snapshot of my power scheme under Windows XP.  It is found in the Control Panel – Power Options.

Power Saving

Most operating systems have similar functionality with which you can adjust the power settings of various components. 

Cathode Ray Tube monitors use about 5 times the energy than a new LCD monitor does.  If you are still running a CRT monitor, have a think about upgrading to a LCD.  You may be surprised to know that the prices of LCDs have dropped dramatically in the last few years.  However, just be aware that the bigger the LCD screen, the more power it uses.

Don’t forget to recycle or donate your old computing equipment if you upgrade.  It takes 12 times the amount of energy your computer uses in one year to manufacture it.  Also, when a CRT monitor is crushed in landfill it releases up to 4kg of poisonous lead into the surrounding environment!  Most cities have PC recycling facilities and a simple query on your favourite search engine should reveal their location.  If you can’t find a recycler, and your old equipment still works, think about donating it to charity or your local school.  I am sure they would be more than happy to take it off of your hands.

It is an common urban myth that your computer will break more easily if you turn it off often.  Today’s PCs are designed to handle at least 20,000 power cycles before their hard drives begin to wear down.  That’s equivalent to turning your PC on and off seven times a day for eight years solid!  PC hardware has come a long way since the early 90’s.  There is no reason not to turn your PC off when not in use. 

An easy way to power all of your office equipment off at once is to plug everything into a power strip.  Most office equipment leaks power (also known as vampire, phantom or standby power), even when it is turned off.  Transformers draw energy even when not under load.  My office equipment still draws 22 watts, even with everything turned off.  Power strips that have surge protection and a master switch are a great investment.  The master switch is especially good when you power points are in hard to reach places.  If you use small mobile devices like a PC tablet or Pocket PC, remember to unplug or turn off the charger when not in use.

If you do want to turn your PC off over lunch, think about hibernating the operating system.  Hibernation is a quick way of shutting down and restarting you PC to exactly where you left if.  It saves all of the information currently in memory direct to your hard drive.  That way your desktop is quickly restored upon power-up.  I use it all the time at work, and it only takes 45 seconds to restore my desktop from where I left off in the previous session.  Also, don’t forget to turn off your monitor if away from your desk for more than 15 minutes.  Even in sleep mode they still use energy.

Do you realise how hard it is to research an article about green computing to ensure your claims are valid and mostly accurate without the use of the internet?  I didn’t realise how reliant I have become on this global tool when writing my blog posts.  Thankfully I had a few PC manuals and “how to be green” books in my library to confirm my claims.  Thank goodness for the power of books!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Harvest Time - Pumpkin

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

are my most favourite vegetables. We have a lot of visitors from overseas (WWOOFers on our farm) and it's amazing how few of them are familiar with this wonderful vegetable. I think they're more commonly known as "squash" in the US, is that right?

Here in Australia it's Autumn - harvest time. We're harvesting lots of pumpkins, with still more to come through into early Winter.

So I thought I'd share some of my favourite recipes with those who are also harvesting. And for those who aren't - here's some inspiration to plant pumpkins soon!

Pumpkin Risotto
1 whole small Jap pumpkin, cubed in 2cm pieces
1 medium brown onion, diced
2L+ boiling water with 1.5 tblspn Massell Chicken-style stock powder
4 cups white rice
1/2 tsp dried Italian herbs or 1 tbsn fresh

Dice onion and pumpkin, saute in a large, heavy-based pot in a little olive oil until golden and softening. Add the rice and stir for approximately 1 minute. Add about 1L of the water with stock powder added. Stir until absorbed.
Add remaining water and half-cover pot over medium heat so rice absorbs water, stirring often. Have extra water at hand to keep risotto moist and stop it sticking to the base of the pot.
When risotto is soft and creamy, add some freshly ground pepper. Serve with some steamed green vegies and grated cheese.

Pumpkin Soup
1 whole large Jap pumpkin
3 large potatoes, peeled
2 large brown onions, peeled & quartered
few large cloves garlic, peeled
Massel Vegetable Stock Powder

Roast pumpkin, onion and garlic in a little olive oil until browned. Boil potatoes, diced, in about 3L of water with 2 tbspn stock powder. When potatoes are soft, pour in roasted vegetables and boil for a further 10 mintues. Blend with stick mixer. Add freshly ground black pepper. If soup is too thick (depends on the pumpkin), add a splash of milk if you wish. Serve with bread. Freezes well. Pumpkin and lentil soup, with added cooked red lentils and some extra spice is a wonderful variation on this recipe. You can also add sweetcorn, cannellini beans, croutons, cream and other ingredients to make the most of the abundant harvest.

Pumpkin Fruit Cake
250g butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed pumpkin
2 cups wholemeal flour + 1 tsp baking powder
250g mixed fruit of your choice, diced

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat well one at a time. Add the pumpkin, flour with baking powder and fruit. Mix well and bake at 170 degrees C or until brown on top and inserted skewer comes out clean. *Tip* At harvest time, boil or steam pumpkin, mash and freeze in 1-cup portions in the freezer. Then you have pumpkin for this cake (and other recipes) for months to come.

Pumpkin & Spinach Frittata
900g pumpkin, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbspn olive oil
6 eggs
1/2 cup cream
40g spinach leaves
sprinkle of parmesan & grated cheddar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Bake pumpkin, brushed with oil and garlic, till tender. Line baking dish with paper. Whisk eggs and cream and season. Layer ingredients in dish & bake for 25 minutes.

Pumpkin Lasagne
lasagne sheets
500g chopped pumpkin
olive oil
medium onion, chopped
clove garlic, crushed
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup mozarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup tasty cheese, grated

Cook & mash pumpkin. Add olive oil, onion and garlic. Place a layer of pumpkin, lasagne sheets, half the ricotta... Then lasagne sheets, tomato paste, etc, etc until ingredients are used up and dish is topped with cheese. Bake at 180 degrees C for around 35 minutes or until pasta sheets are cooked through. *Tip* Frozen pumpkin, as suggested for the fruit cake, is fine for this recipe too!

I also use pumpkin in curries, with mashed potato, in quiches, in any casseroles or stews, as roasted small cubes through a green salad or cold roast pumpkin pieces in a salad wrap... As I said, it's my very favourite vegetable! Please feel free to paste or link to your favourite pumpkin recipes in the Comments section! Happy growing and cooking!

Saturday, 28 March 2009

On Self-Sufficiency and Small Steps

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

2008 was a year of big progress on the self-sufficiency home front. We cleared the largest garden bed I'd ever worked (10m x 12.5m). I also got it into my head to get a small backyard laying flock together, to give us eggs and a little help with pest control in the garden. Those were big changes for me last year. While I had the help of my husband in breaking new ground, and building a mobile coop and pen, most of the gardening and day-to-day maintenance fell to me. And I don't come from any type of farming background, so it was a lot to learn.

This year we are tackling other aspects of the self-sufficiency project. We cut down trees both late last year and just this past week to make room for four fruit trees and three different varieties of berries. Later this year, we're seriously considering adding meat rabbits on "pasture" to the mini-homestead, though our lawn has recently gotten smaller as we expanded the big garden bed even further. Whether the rabbits happen or not, we've decided to find a way to keep laying hens over the winter this year. We've ordered asparagus roots, so we also need to get our act together very soon on building some raised beds for them. We're also looking into the possibility of spending quite a bit of money for either a passive solar thermal system to provide heat to our home, or some photo-voltaic panels for electricity. We'd dearly love to turn a corner of our basement into a proper root cellar if we can find the energy to tackle that project by winter.

These projects all take time and effort, and in the case of the solar array, money. I would love to wave a magic wand and have the fruit trees planted, the berry canes burgeoning, the rabbit tractors built and stocked with a breeding trio, a site set up and equipped for next year's beehives, the shed modified and a timer installed on the light to keep our hens safe, warm, and laying during the cold weather, a tightly sealed but well ventilated place to stash the fruits of my labor down in the basement. I'd love to have a house that can be kept at least minimally comfortable with passive solar heating when it's well below freezing at the warmest hour of the day. I would love to have all these things in place, and the routine already familiar so that I could move on to whatever is next on the long road to self-sufficiency.

But progress is incremental. Each one of these projects involves a lot of work, and never done as quickly as I'd like. If I couldn't in all honesty tell myself that cutting down the trees, dealing with the debris, planting the fruit trees and berries, building the asparagus beds and planting the asparagus are all once-and-done chores, I don't think I could hack it. I need to feel that the effort I put forth is going to count for something, achieve something, and pay us back over the long term. The temptation is always there to compare our situation to someone else's. Someone with mature fruit trees, and acreage enough for big animals, a woodlot to supply a woodstove, a thousand canning jars and half of those sitting filled with homemade goodness. The thing that struck me today though, as I was working outside, is that there are a lot of people who might envy what I have. I've got a nice flat backyard with fairly decent soil, good southern exposure, and enough rainfall to ignore my transplants after the first week or so. Within limits we still have some discretionary money to spend on this self-sufficiency wish list. True, two-thirds of an acre isn't as much as I'd like to have to support us. But we're learning how to make the most of it, one year at a time.

I suppose what I'm getting at, in my usual roundabout way, is that we all have to start from somewhere. Most of us start wherever we happen to be. This time last year, I had a tiny little patch of garden and had never kept chickens or canned anything in my life. I'd never grown potatoes or soup beans or popcorn. I didn't know that ground cherries and purslane will volunteer enthusiastically in my garden. Maybe by this time next year I'll be drilling holes through the foundation of our house to install the ventilation pipes in our root cellar.

If transitioning to a life that includes providing some of your own food seems daunting to you, well, I can relate. It is daunting if we think about all the things we'd like to put in place right away. Too much work and too much change to tackle all at once, and maybe too much expense in one fell swoop. My suggestion is to take what steps you can. Maybe you can't feed yourself in a high-rise apartment, or on a tiny, sloping, shaded city lot. But there's probably one or two steps you could take more or less right now to get started. So get started. Maybe it's a worm bin. Maybe it's a window box of herbs or greens. Maybe it's planting one fruit tree because that's all you have time to tend with a house full of young children. Whatever it is may seem insignificant, but if it's in pursuit of your dream, it's a step worth taking. After you've taken those steps and adjusted your routine to whatever changes they bring, there'll probably be another step that suggests itself as the next logical move.

I'm finding that there are real benefits to this slow march of progress. I've been clearing the debris away from where we took down the white pine a few days ago. With the tree gone, the space looks a lot bigger. I can see that there's much more than enough room for the blueberries I'd planned to put in there. So now my thoughts will turn to finding an edible plant that can thrive in the partial shade of the slatted fence bordering that area. It takes quite a lot of time to really get to know a piece of land. Change a corner by cutting down a tree, and everything needs to be re-evaluated. But this isn't the sort of thing I could capitalize on if I were trying to tackle too many projects at once. My attention would be too divided. So I'm grateful, sometimes, for the limited pace of change.

If you think longingly of homegrown vegetables or a shelf full of homemade jams, it's okay to dream big and start small at the same time. It's fine to admire the acreage, skills, and bounty of Matron of Husbandry. But it's also fine to start with just one potted cherry tomato plant on your back porch. It's well to remind ourselves of what astonishing things can be achieved on small urban lots. But it's also important to remember that no one is totally self-sufficient, and that no great strides are made in self-sufficiency overnight. It's natural to long for a piece of earth to belong to when you rent (I did for decades). But remember that skills are transportable, even if gardens are not; and it's always good to practice on a rental.

Dream big. Start small. Keep plugging away. And may each small step bring you the satisfaction and motivation to take the next one.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Australian damper bread baked over campfire coals

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I love bush camping. I love the quiet. For me, bush camping replenishes my soul. Bush camping was probably my very first introduction to a simple life (except I never thought of it that way of course). It was through bush camping that I learned how to cook over a campfire.

One of the best things about bush camping is making damper. Damper bread is very similar to soda bread and was traditionally made by stockmen (Aussie version of "cowboys") who often trekked through very remote areas of Australia for months at a time with only very basic rations. Thus, the ingredients are also very basic (and very easy to make):

3 cups of flour
1 tsp of baking powder
Pinch of salt
About 80g of butter
1 cup of cold water

Choose a spot where you can make a fairly wide fire pit. On one side of the pit, build up your campfire.

Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Rub butter in until you get a breadcrumb-like texture. Make a well and add 1 cup of cold water. Mix the whole thing with a knife until everything is wet. Take out of bowl and shape into a nice round loaf.

Now place the bread in a camp oven or wrap in alfoil. By this stage, your fire would've burned down. You may now want to transfer some of the fire on to the other side of the pit (so you can continue to cook other food or just to keep warm). Leave plenty of the coals from the "old fire".

Dig a little shallow well from the old fire. Place camp oven or alfoil-covered bread on top of hot coals. Being a woodfire, time can vary but I would recommend checking it around the 15-20 min mark to see if it's done.

You can also try damper using a normal oven. Bake at around 180 degrees Celsius (or around 350 degrees Fahrenheit) for about 20-30 mins.

Slather with lots of butter or even sprinkle some cheese.

Picture courtesy of

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Harnessing the Power of Nature

Green barrel, originally uploaded by VanWhelan.

One of the benefits to my (N.'s) job is getting to listen to discussions on current research in water management. The scope of that general topic is endlessly wide, and, while I don't find it all fascinating, every once in awhile something really strikes home with me. This week it was a discussion given by a civil engineer about the affects of the use of rain barrels in storm water management. 

This gentleman is part of a program that gave out specially designed rain barrels for free to residents within a certain watershed in order to determine if this was an effective way to prevent excess rainwater from entering the storm water system. Residents participated on a voluntary basis and the rain barrels were installed for them to ensure it was done correctly. The original idea was that the barrels would capture the fast flowing rain water, and then through a slow leak valve at the bottom it would empty into the ground.

What they determined was rather surprising: they actually had a problem with gardeners! You see, the barrels were designed to fill during rain events and then slowly leak out of a specially designed valve over the course of a couple days. This way the water didn't rush into a stream they were trying to restore and cause damage to the fragile ecosystem. It would also allow the water to be naturally infiltrated into the groundwater supply. So what's their beef with gardeners? Instead of releasing the water, gardeners would keep the water stored in the rain barrel for use in irrigation. Because of this, barrels were much more likely to overflow defeating their original purpose (in the eyes of the civil engineers at least). 

Honestly, I never thought about rain barrels as a way to manage storm water overflow. I looked at them as a way to capture a naturally occurring resource and use it at a later date. This doesn't mean that rain barrels can't serve both purposes. One gentleman said he and his wife were constantly battling over the rain barrel; his-wife the gardener-won.  As a compromise they purchased another. They are still capturing all of the rain which prevents pollutants from getting into our surface water and excessive erosion in our stream beds, but now they are reusing some for the garden and slowly infiltrating the rest to replenish ground water supplies.

Life is always about adaption and compromise.  Do you use a rain barrel? Rain garden? If so, how effective do you think they are?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Frugal & Sustainable Weightloss

By Frugal Trenches

This might not seem like a topic for a simple, green, frugal co-op but lately I've been pondering just how timely and relevant this issue is. To live a simple, green & frugal life it is ever so helpful to be as healthy as we can be, we owe it to ourselves, our partners and children. Many people will at some point in their lives gain weight for a variety of reasons and therefore many of us will be in a position where we would like to shed a pound or two! Lately I've watched several friends spend thousands of dollars trying to get fit, both going into debt in order to do so! I also have a couple of friends who say they can't lose weight because they can't afford it. I think many people have begun believing a myth the weight loss industry wants us to believe: you need to buy something special and spend $$ in order to fight the flab! This couldn't be further from the truth. So, today I decided to share with you all some healthy, frugal & fun ways to get rid of unwanted weight or shape up without breaking the bank - you may even save a penny or two! Please remember this is simply a list of what works for me, not medical advice, so please consult a Dr before you begin any new weightloss journey.

1. Make the time each day for a walk, a 30 minute walk each morning, or on your lunch break or even after work will work wonders! Eventually try to increase this to 45 minutes to an hour.

2. Start a food diary & be honest - have a good look at what you are really eating and see if you can find any patterns or areas where you could make changes.

3. Focus on getting your 5 a day - that means a mix of 5 fruits & veggies a day (minimum) with protein, dairy & good carbs!

4. Get as much FREE support as you can - go to your Dr, nurse or public health department. See if you can get a referral to a dietitian if you are really struggling or having food cravings etc.

5. Learn what a portion is! So many people eat 3 or 4x a standard portion size and wonder why they can't lose weight. Again a dietitian should help!

6. Get some books from the library with good recipes in them to keep yourself motivated and encouraged.

7. Get into the garden and get your house tidy! Gardening and cleaning are great forms of exercise! If you need to get moving when you are cleaning, try putting on some music and dancing around to it! Just remember you may want to close your curtains ;-) In fact, the week I painted my lounge I lost 5 lbs without trying!

8. Get on your bike (remember the helmet!). If you don't have a bike see if you can borrow a friends, get one on freecycle or save up for one! Always remember those helmets!

9. Phone your local council and find out all the info on your local pools, rec centres etc. Many offer free or subsidized sessions, see if there are any special promotions on or if they've received any funding that you could tap into. For example my local gym has lottery funded sessions with a personal trainer for free. You can only go once a week for 30 minutes but it is a great program!

10. Try to make your meals from scratch. You will then know what is going into them, how much butter, creams etc. I make a big batch of homemade soup each week, it costs me about £1 = $1.75 to make and I get 6 healthy sized portions. This is a good healthy, frugal meal which helps me keep my calories in check!

11. Make use of any free internet tools but remember to keep the focus on your health! We all have different bodies with different needs and I don't believe in a one size fits all approach!

12. Buddy up with a friend or work colleague, see if you can start a walking group at work or try to get together with a friend a couple times a week to encourage each other, run or walk with each other.

13. Remember what you loved doing as a child - did you love playing tennis or sprinting. See if you can incorporate what you love into your weekly budget!

14. GET OUTDOORS - most of us have times in our lives where we feel like we spend the majority of our lives behind a desk, so try to make the most of the time you have off work to get outdoors! Like the picture at the start of the post, there are so many beautiful places to explore. Get a book out from the library about the city you live in or find out from your local council what walks are in your area and make use of them. Treat yourselves like tourists at the weekend and get out and enjoy what is all around you!

15. Finally, my personal motto is Forgive Yourself And Move On! We will all have the odd day or two when we eat too much and move too little, but honestly that is life. There will be birthday parties, work events etc, there will be days where everything seems to be going against you. When you let these days get you down, you begin to feel like you have to throw in the towel. Instead try to learn from those days, how did you feel, what coping mechanisms did you employ and brush it off as just another day.

A healthy, simple & frugal life is a way of life, not something you do to simply get rid of 10 or 20 lbs. Making positive changes to live a healthier life doesn't necessarily happen instantly, like everything in life we need to view weight loss as a journey rather than a race!

I'd love to hear from you. What tips do you have for healthy weightloss or trying to become more fit?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The best tool for your organic garden is... a good book!

by Marc @ GardenDesk

I enjoy gardening tools. A good co-linear hoe, a sharp digging fork and a sturdy trowel are all great to have while working in the garden. As good as it is to have great gardening tools though, the best thing to invest in to help increase your harvest this year is a good gardening book or books!

I have collected around a hundred gardening books over the years and regularly go to the surrounding libraries to check out the newest ones. I have spent much of this winter re-visiting my old favorites to hone my knowledge and plan for the best season yet! By doing this, I've identified my 25 most favorite gardening books. These are the ones that I return to again and again. They often have dirt or grass stain on them because they were out in the garden with me as a handy reference the first time I tried something new.

Unfortunately times have changed. In the "good 'ol days", wisdom about gardening and other life skills would be passed down from generation to generation by family elders and neighbors. This doesn't happen as much anymore, so when I wanted to start organic vegetable gardening some 20 years ago, all I had to rely on were books written by wise and seasoned gardeners. Now days, we also have the Internet and some great blogs to learn from. I'm glad that bloggers are willing to share their knowledge as Paul discussed last week. I do caution you however to not rely solely on garden blogs for you information. You can't usually take the computer with you out to the garden. There have been times when I read something great on a blog out of my growing season and couldn't find it again later when it was time to use that knowledge. There have been more times when I referred back to something I read in one of my books. It was easy to find by looking in the index or by locating my bookmark that I left there months earlier.

Not only have books helped me to learn the "how-to's" of gardening, they have helped me understand things like why organic gardening techniques are better. Through reading I have been able to study under gardening greats such as J.I. Rodale and Mel Bartholomew and gardening couple legends like Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, Ed and Carolyn Robinson (The Have More Plan), and Scott and Helen Nearing (The Good Life books).

So what about you? Am I preaching to the choir? Do you learn only by doing, or do you agree that reading good gardening books can help make you a good gardener? This really extends to all the other aspects of simple living and the other topics we discuss here at Simple Green Frugal Co-op.

If you agree that books are important, I'll leave you with one last question to ponder. The question is this; Other than the Bible or religious books, what is the one book that has been the most significant to you? The book that has helped you the most with gardening or cooking or homemaking or simple living or ________?

This is a difficult question for me. Since I just came up with 25 most significant books, I'll have to think some more to decide which one is number one. What about you? If you have such a book, please share it with the rest of us since it can possibly help us too. Please tell us the book and what area of your life it has helped.

Keep Reading and Keep Growing!


Monday, 23 March 2009

Energy Efficiency and Saving Money

By Gavin

The Greening of Gavin

Two and a half years ago, my summer electricity bill was $726 from January to March. That is an average of 47.6 kilowatt hours (kWh) and $8 per day and a big hit to our budget at the time. Our last electricity bill was $32 in credit with an average of –0.5 kWh. The difference was so vast that I thought it would be great to tell my story on how we went about this remarkable energy efficiency program, and how we saved a small fortune in the process.

Back in April 2007 after having become aware of our large use of electricity over the previous quarter, we decided to take some drastic action to reduce our electricity consumption. Each week we decided to do at least one thing over a period of three months to improve our consumption habits and attempt to reduce our usage by at least half. We chose to spend a maximum of $100 on the project.

Week 1. The Baseline Reading

I began with a baseline our electricity usage for the week. If you can’t measure it, you can’t change the associated behaviours that cause energy wastage. We didn’t do anything different than we normally did. Lights blazing, computers whirring, and all the TV’s on in nearly every room. The pool pump was running for about 5 hours a day. I did some research during the week and learnt that the average Australian home used only 16 kWh of power a day. To our amazement we were using over 31 kWh a day during April. Mind you, we had six people living in our home at the time, but our usage had only one place to go and that was down!

Week 2. Awareness.

This week Kim and I began the campaign to educate our four wonderful, yet wasteful children. We began small and started to replace our incandescent light bulbs around the house with Compact Fluorescent lights (CFL). I also started to turn my PC off at night. Beforehand, I had run it all night downloading videos from the US and UK. I now only turn it on during for about 3 hours in the evening to write my blog. Lights were now turned off when there was no-one in the room. This habit took a long time to form for everyone. We also bought a kettle for our gas stove and retired the electric kettle that was rated at 2400 watts because it used far too much energy.

Week 3. Standby power.

This week I borrowed a Power-Mate meter from work, which is used to measure appliance energy usage, and figured out that my entertainment system was drawing 25 watts of power when everything was presumably turned off. By simply turning off the power board at the wall we saved nearly 4 kWh per week. The next piece of equipment I tested was my PC. It drew 17 watts in Standby, so off that went at the wall. We also replaced some more incandescent lights with CFL’s

Week 4. The Solar Powered Clothes Dryer.

We discovered something that we had forgotten about that was lurking down the back of the house. It was the trusty old Hills Hoist clothes line. We began to utilise this seldom used appliance that remarkably dries clothes by the Sun. Amazing technology! As we began to use the Hills Hoist more and more, we saved power by not using the Electric clothes dryer (rated at 1950 watts!). I replaced a few more CFL’s

Week 5. No More Pool Pump.

I did something I never thought I would do. I turned off the pool pump, and guess what? The pool stayed clean all week without it! Something as simple as that could save us 4 to 6 kWh a day! Why did I not think of it earlier? (because it was a silly thing to do, read on)

Week 6. Oh no, not the beer fridge!

This week was another simple thing that anyone could do, if they have the courage. Turn off the second fridge. It was only a small bar fridge but it made a big difference. And do you know what? We haven’t missed it one little bit. I believe that an Esky (ice box) full of ice is cheaper to run when you really need a cold beer with friends. Another 1.5 kWh a day down the gurgler.

Week 7 to 10. A Sustainable Result.

We had made the biggest impact in the previous week and now we were just after smaller reductions a week, just through awareness. It worked well and we began to spend more time together as a family talking about creating a sustainable future. We actually started reading books and magazines to continue our thirst for knowledge about all things sustainable. What a great knock-on effect.

Week 11. The pump is broken!

I went to clean my pool manually as we had a bit of a storm during the week, and the pool pump just hummed and did not start. I had to pull it apart and move the little plastic flywheel at the back to free up the motor brushes. The pool guy said that I should have run the pump for at least an hour a day, just to make chlorine (my pool is salt-water) and to stop the pump from freezing again. I admitted defeat and now have the pump on for 1 hour a day in the non summer months. Add one kWh back on per day!

The Result

Our first 15 weeks of our energy efficiency project gave us a fantastic result. The weekly average for electricity was 14.9 kWh per day for the week. That was a reduction of 52.1% from our baseline week, without spending too much money. The only expenditure for this part of the project was for the CFL's and I haven't replaced one since I bought them over two and a half years ago. Since we embarked on this little challenge, we now average a sustainable 12 kWh per day and have replaced a broken refrigerator and chest freezer with a more energy efficient twin door model. We have also invested in a Solar PV system that generates most of our electricity needs and feeds any excess energy back into the power grid. I had to take a loan out to by the PV system, but the savings brought on by energy efficiency and excess power generation is actually paying off most of the loan for me! We will have the loan paid off in half the contracted period, which I think is a cool way of paying for my Solar power station!

So with simple changes in behaviour and minimal outlay (before Solar PV of course), you too can save a lot of cash and go a long way to doing your bit to reduce your carbon footprint if your energy comes from a carbon intensive source. Not only did we reach our target, but we did it without any discomfort whatsoever and had fun doing in the process.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Homemade Ginger Beer

by Julie
Towards Sustainability

We ditched commercial soft drinks at home couple of years ago now, in an effort to eat more healthily and reduce our waste. At that point I started making fruit cordials and ginger beer instead, and they are so simple, I don't know why I wasn't doing it before then.

Homemade ginger beer is something everyone's Mum seemed to make when we were kids, but I hadn't had any for years when I got around to making my first plant. What a shame though, it is delicious! So refreshing on a hot day or after a good gardening session :-) Be aware that because the yeasts in it ferment in order to produce the soda-type bubbles, it is very slightly alcoholic, so don't offer it to non-alcohol drinkers, and watch how much the kids drink! I limit my kids to 1 glass of a sugary drink per day - including cordial, ginger beer and pure fruit juices - anyway as I feel that a lot of refined sugar in their diet is unhealthy.

Anyway, to start off you first need to make a ginger beer "plant", to get the yeasts beginning to ferment:

Ginger Beer Plant

Pour 300 ml (1/2 pint) of tepid, chlorine-free water (filtered or rainwater) into a clean bottle or jar, and add:
* a large pinch of dried yeast OR 3-4 organic sultanas (there are wild yeasts living on their skins),
* 1 heaped dessertspoon of dried powdered ginger, and
* 1 heaped dessertspoon of sugar (I use raw sugar or honey for a richer flavour).

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Cover with something that will keep the critters out but allow natural yeasts present in the air access the "plant", such as a doily, milk bottle cover, or a piece of muslin or tulle fastened with a rubber band.

Each day for seven days, add a teaspoon of ginger and a teaspoon of sugar and stir to dissolve. Your plant should froth very slightly on top after a few days, this is a sign that the yeasts are doing their work. After seven days, your plant should now be ready to use!

After you have strained the plant to make the ginger beer (see recipe below), divide the residue in half. Use half to make a new plant for yourself, and the rest to make a new plant to gift to your friends, family or neighbours. When they are all happily growing their own plants, you can discard the other half to your compost heap or worm farm.

To make a new plant, rinse out your container, add the halved reside to another 300ml (1/2 pint) of tepid water, with a heaped dessertspoon of sugar, and stir to dissolve. Treat this the same as a new plant: add another teaspoon of dried ginger and a teaspoon of sugar each day for seven days.

Now that your plant has grown for a week, you can make your ginger beer and bottle it:

Ginger Beer

Firstly, strain your ginger beer plant through some clean muslin or similar, into a jar, reserving both the liquid and the strained plant.

To 5 litres (5 quarts) of water in a large saucepan, add 3 cups of sugar (again, honey or molasses will give richer colour and flavour). Heat gently and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the juice of two lemons, and the finely grated zest of one of the lemons, plus the liquid from the strained ginger beer plant. Mix well.

Bottle into clean, plastic bottles, capping loosely*. Leave to sit on your kitchen bench or in your pantry for 5-7 days, to allow them to ferment a little. You will notice little bubbles rising to the top or clinging to the sides of the bottles after a few days. Refrigerate at that point, and enjoy :-)

*It is important that you cap the bottles loosely, because the ginger beer will ferment over the next week, producing the characteristic carbon dioxide bubbles which gives the ginger beer it's lovely zing. If you cap the bottles tightly you run the risk of the carbon dioxide building up pressure in the bottles, and overflowing and fizzing all over your kitchen bench, or possibly even exploding! Not pretty ;-) I also prefer to reuse cleaned plastic soda bottles, just to be on the safe side, as they have more 'give' than glass bottles.

It's easy, cheap and tastes great, so have go :-)

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Food safety at home

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

There is plenty of food safety issues that have been in the news lately, so I won't go into all that, but I do want to share how we handle food safety on our farmstead and in our kitchen. My husband has a compromised immune system so good habits are important.

We raise most of our food, and maintain our own watershed, so we are the "they" that has to keep things safe for ourselves. We consume raw dairy products, drink spring water, eat foodstuffs prepared with raw eggs, and graze in the garden freely. All are things that are frowned upon in modern day society. And, unfortunately modern day industrial food practices can be unsafe, even with all the laws and procedures that must be followed. First, everyone has to be on board, when productivity is the only factor, quality may go down. After all, if the milk is contaminated, it can be pasteurized right? Well, I suppose, if you want a simple answer to a complicated question. The milker will never see the person who drinks the milk, and neither will the farmer. But on a smallholding, the farmer and consumer are one and the same.

On our farm we follow rules I learned as child and I am passing on to my child, and anyone who works with us. It begins at the beginning, of course. A hen's goal in life is to lay an egg that will hatch into chick, for that to happen, she needs clean surroundings, and a clean place to lay her gift. If left to her own devices, she would seek out the safest, cleanest place she could for her nest. If I confine her for her safety, or for my convenience, I must provide her with good food, clean feeders and waterers and a clean nest box to lay her eggs in.

It would do me no good to deny the hen these simple things, because ultimately I need to keep my own "chick" safe. Gathering eggs can be fun or drudgery and it can be dangerous if the nest boxes aren't kept clean. When I gather eggs, I am gathering eggs, I don't stop and pick a salad for dinner on the way back to the house. I put the eggs away, wash up and then go back out and pick greens. Mostly it is just a little thinking, and a lot of hand washing on my part. But, after awhile it becomes habit. The same with milking, when I go to milk, I do not stop and pet the barn cats or let them in the milk bucket, I do my milk chores and get the milk to the house to process it as soon as I'm done milking. Stall cleaning, and general barn chores are a different ball of wax.

Ditto with the feed and water, it must be kept clean to keep the stock healthy and the stock handlers healthy too. It is also a good idea to not let your chickens roost on your hay or water troughs that your ruminants use. However, it is OK for your chickens to scratch through manure, just not the other way around. Birds follow herbivores.

We follow the same principles in the barn. Pitchforks for the hay are only used for hay or spreading clean bedding. Never for mucking out stalls. Think of these pitchforks as the utensils for the stock, they must be kept clean. We always have them stored in a bale of straw or hay, never on the ground. Parasites can be spread by using a manure fork for a hay fork.

Pitchforks and shovels for mucking out are never near the hay, and can be stored touching the ground. If someone new is helping us out, we make sure we go over these simple rules and explain the differences in the tools, and the how's and why's of using these tools.

The same goes for our wheelbarrows. We have separate wheelbarrows for mucking and wheelbarrows that are just used for bringing in vegetables from the garden. The uses are not interchangeable.

This is the food wheelbarrow pictured with the spading fork. Everyone knows not to just grab the nearest wheelbarrow or fork to do a job.

Since we do use composted animal manure/bedding for our fertilizer program, we follow the same guidelines while spreading compost.

Our compost is aged at least a year, and if spread by hand we use our manure forks and wheelbarrows. Spreading fresh manure is usually not recommended, but if you do use it, plan for at least 90 days from application to harvest of edible crops.

Most of all, keeping things clean in the first place is the easiest. But if you want to wash your vegetables, food grade hydrogen peroxide is easy to use. In some areas you can purchase a 3% solution or if not, you can mix it yourself. I purchase 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide from Azure Standard and keep it on hand, mostly for washing salad greens. To make a 3% solution from 35% hydrogen peroxide, mix 1 ounce of hydrogen peroxide to 11 ounces of water. Use 1/4 cup of this dilution to a sink full of water to wash your vegetables in.

Most of all we want to enjoy the fruits of our labors and working together. By setting a few rules that we can all follow, we can enjoy our work and the rewards it brings us!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Leeks for the Lazy Gardener

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Most home gardeners growing leeks start them from seed each year, or just buy transplants. Some smaller varieties are said to mature in 90 days, but the big inch-or-more wide ones like you'll find in the markets take almost 200 days to grow to that size. In order to get a pencil-sized leek seedling ready to set out in April, you'd have to start the seeds in January, tending and transplanting and keeping them under lights. That's too much work for me. I prefer to let my leeks start themselves.

Leeks, if left to themselves, are actually hardy multiplying perennials. Many members of the allium plant family are, and I take advantage of that fact so that we can eat home-grown onions year-round. I have a permanent allium bed around one corner of my garden. In that bed, I grow perennial clumps of bunching onions for Summer scallions (background right), plus clumps of walking onions (background left; sometimes called top-set or Egyptian) for the earliest Spring scallions (I've started eating those this week - I've written more about them over on my Firesign Farm blog). I always replant some to replace each of the clumps I use each year. The center part of that background bed is my leek nursery; this year's eating crop, set out last year and over-wintered, is in the foreground.

I started with a few of my biggest home-grown leeks years ago, transplanting a couple of the last plants left each year and then just letting them come back year after year until I need them. But if your local market has leeks with the root section still intact you can use those too. In fact, you can have your leek and plant it too. Just cut off the root section and bury it somewhere it can grow undisturbed for a year or more. The following year the root will send up a seed stalk, and also some little leeklets. Every year thereafter, if left undisturbed, the clump of leeklets will increase. I let the seed stalks grow too. They add a nice ornamental edging to that corner of the garden.

Early each Spring, I transplant a clump or two of the biggest set of leeklets into my regular garden, setting the plants in at least 6 - 8 inches deep (pruning by poultry, as seen here, not recommended - I need to clip some wings). In June, each transplant will send up a seed stalk, and I break off the flower bud on the top. By August a new leek plant has grown up alongside the broken stalk. By October, the remains of the seed stalk have dried up and are easily pulled out, leaving only a big beautiful leek plant. The leeks continue to grow, slowly, into at least December. They then spend the rest of the winter out in the garden - either buried in snow, or as is usually the case, exposed to the wind and below zero temperatures in the barren ground. The long-season leeks, the kind you want to be using for this type of over-winter growing anyway, are extremely hardy.

I might dig a few during the darkest days of winter, but usually that time of year I'm cooking with my globe onions from storage. But now, with my yellow onions almost gone, the leeks I transplanted a year ago are an especially welcome addition to our meals. Besides, their lighter and mellower flavor just seems to go better in Spring dishes. We'll eat fresh leeks for the next couple of months. By then, they'll be gone and it will be warm enough for the corn and bean plantings to rotate into that bed. The last couple of leeks get moved over to the nursery section to grow and multiply for future plantings. If you've got a little space for a permanent leek nursery, try this method and you'll never have to buy plants or contend with seeds again.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Time to guide the change.

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

Why is it that we take this time every day to share our thoughts? Is there nothing else that we have to do? Sleep perhaps? Chase kids, plant veggies or tend to chores perhaps? Of course there is, so why do we do it? Maybe we're just egoists? Could it be that we just love to hear ourselves opine on all the wonderful things that we're doing and talk about our successes and such? Or perhaps there's more to it?

Is it possible that so many people take time from their days to share with the world the lessons they've learned and the thoughts they have for a much more benevolent reason? I like to think so. In fact, I'd like to count myself among them.

Many if not all of the writers here, when you read about their journeys to this point, didn't come to it from a position of wanting to start teaching people or to enter into dialogues about the issues we face as a society. They felt compelled to write for some other reason. Perhaps to keep track of their progress, or to keep a journal of their thoughts. Most began as a way of chronicling their evolution from a previous state of disconnection from the world around them. That's a large part of how I started in fact. The thing of it is as we grow, as we move forward and evolve, we take others with us.

My own evolution was greatly influenced by the other reader/writers out there and the things that they were doing. It opened up for me a new way of thinking about what could be done in my life. It inspired me to try new things and in turn I found myself sharing those things with others. A chain had begun.

So what does this have to do with Simple Green Frugal topics right? Everything friends, everything. All that we're doing here is to use a digital means of sharing our thoughts and actions to people around the world. It's really no different than taking time to share some of what your doing with your community and your neighbors. Maybe you could offer to teach someone a few things about natural cleaners or how to start a garden. You'd be amazed at how many people that thought they would never care about this information are really taking a second look. We are in a time of change. A time of change that can only come around once in a generation. It's our duty, I feel, to help guide it to a place where we will all be better off.

So I thought I'd take this opportunity to challenge you to make a commitment to share what you know; to offer your thoughts freely, start a dialogue of your own right in your own backyard. It's great that we all care so much for our children, our planet and our future. Now let's really do something about it and help to guide this time of change.

I wish you all the best in your journeys

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

My Struggle With Saving The World

Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

I went to high school during the Cold War. There was a fear of nuclear war then - not unlike the fear of terrorism in the 90s, only it was EVERYWHERE. Because in the case of a nuclear war, no one was safe. Life on Earth could essentially be obliterated.

So that was a good motivation for me to begin my lifelong quest to learn how to save the world. I created a sister school committee in my high school, and we traveled to the (then) USSR to promote peace and understanding. The Cold War ended soon afterward - I'm sure it had something to do with my small work! ; )

Seeking Solutions In School
It took me 9 years to finish my undergraduate degree in college, because for the life of me I could not figure out the perfect way to save the world! I went from environmental studies to language studies to Middle Eastern studies to literature to dance (how I thought dance would save the world I have no idea), and then I finally settled on Cultural Anthropology. In a way, it incorporates all of these things. Here I could study and preserve dying cultures, I could figure out what is wrong with the thriving cultures, I could do a number of things.

That sustained me almost until I finished my degree. When I decided writing books was not enough. I wanted to use a more widespread medium. And so it was that I came to realize that I was good at photography and art. And so... I traveled to Manhattan for a second undergraduate degree in art. And I learned to convey ideas.

Graduating From The School of Visual Arts, NY

But the art world, I found, was insular and small, and it was much about preaching to the choir. Obviously that was not going to save the world, so I went to Los Angeles to work in the film world. Ah, there was my mass audience, there was the way to get the message to the world. Pretty soon I realized I couldn't save the world by working on talk shows about reality television, or independent films, or pretty much anything but a very few select projects that were hard to come by.

Of course I needed to learn how to make films myself! And so I went to film school, and learned how to make the most world-changing of media: documentary films. Aha! Finally, that was it.

Me (center) On the set of The West Wing

Seeking Solutions In Work
I worked on documentaries right out of college. Good ones. Lucrative and potentially world changing for sure. Do you know that documentaries are usually created over a period of 2-5 years? And that in that time, you work 12-16 hours per day, 5-7 days/week?

World changing, but completely and utterly personally depleting. And also, unfortunately, quite environmentally depleting - far too many resources are used in films. I won't tell you more about it, because it has the potential to ruin film for you all, dear readers!

Is that the way it has to be? To save the world I have to destroy part of it and myself?

In an extreme way, I reacted against this: Two years ago I left my film career and home of 10 years, and moved with my new husband to the country. We rented a home in Northern California wine country, on 1/2 acre surrounded by vineyards on every side. Our hope was to begin living a truly sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle.

Our First Zucchinis

We spent many grueling +100F days creating a food garden big enough to sustain us. We learned to make all our own food, preserved for the winter, began making our own cleaning and personal products, reduced our water and electric resource use substantially, our waste was minimal... and I'm sure I'm forgetting other things....

But it wasn't the personal sustainability that would change the world, and it wasn't what I ultimately found most rewarding...

You see, I also began writing, cataloging our journey in an online form for others to read and learn from. It became addicting, self-fulfilling ... and -gasp- world changing. Indeed, on a small scale, but it was something good and sustainable and very powerful.

For the life of me, I could not find a way to make it a career.

Matt and I moved back to my hometown in the city. And here I searched for a career: world changing, self-fulfilling, and lucrative. No small task to be sure!

I started a business with other people who are looking to accomplish these 3 things (world changing, self-fulfilling, and lucrative). It has yet to be any of the 3, as we are still in the start up phase where I'm working too hard for no money and haven't done a thing to change the world yet. Frustrating to be sure, but there is potential. (We have a website, and a blog if you'd like to check them out!)

Here I Am Now

Are Solutions To Be Found?
Well, I've been out of high school for 20 years. Have I saved the world yet? I haven't. I have positively impacted many lives through film and writing. I have also done a fair amount of volunteer work throughout my life, changing individual lives here and there.

I wonder at times if there is a big, fundamental way to change the world. Or is it through small steps? Inch by inch, row by row, person by person... is this how the world changes? Can a person really hope to change the world, or can they just focus on doing their small part and hope others do their parts as well?

I will say that in 20 years of searching, I'd hoped to have found the perfect way to change lives and substantially change the world. But life is complicated, the world is full of billions of people with different motivations. I'm now sure there is no perfect answer.

Try as I might, I can't stop searching, looking, hoping. But in the meantime, I do what I can. I live my life as sustainably as possible, I help others do the same, I participate in making my own local community stronger, and I am still seeking work that works to change the world.

Maybe it is in all these small ways that we all begin to save the world... I would love to know what you think!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

How Do You Dry Your Ziploc Bags?

Beauty That Moves
I feel like this post is the simplest of simple ideas. So simple in fact, that I feel a little funny sharing it. Is it even post worthy? Well, sure... why not. Sometimes the most basic ideas are the best place to start. And sometimes they are the very things that have been overlooked for too long, put on the back burner to take care of someday. Sometimes we need just the right inspiration/motivation to finally take care of that item on the list... I know I certainly do.

Ziploc bags. Most of us use them for one reason or another, very few of us throw them away. For years I wanted one of those fancy wooden bag drying racks, but never felt like paying the price (they aren't crazy expensive, just not something I didn't want to spend money on). The round design also made me wonder where I would keep the baggie filled rack in my small kitchen. It seemed it would need to sit on the counter, precious space I cannot spare.

So, I asked my husband if he would check out our scrap wood pile for supplies to make us a rack of our own, one that was designed in a rectangular fashion rather than round. It seemed like the most practical place to dry the bags and store the rack was right over the kitchen sink, on the windowsill.

In less than an hour he delivered the rack I had waited years for (it's the little things), to my kitchen. It works perfectly for us, stays out of the way and holds plenty of bags as well as the resident guinea pig's water bottle as it drys. :)

There are of course many other ways to dry ziploc bags... please share a method that is working for you!

Monday, 16 March 2009

On sowing Parsnips

Posted by Compostwoman from The Compostbin

Parsnips are an excellent, versitile winter root vegetable which are popular in the UK. We are just lifting the last of the 2008 parsnip crop from the ground here at Compost Mansions, to freeze and to eat now. We have been eating them since November!

Parsnips are easy to grow once they "get going" but it can be hard to get the seed started as it is slow to germinate, dislikes cold, wet weather and the emerging plants can get swamped by weeds....

A good indication that it is time, is to look at your lawn:- if the grass has started to grow the soil temperature will be above 5-6 degrees centigrade and you can sow/plant hardier seeds direct in the ground, or plant out tubers such as potatoes. BUT If you have a heavy clay soil wait!. Seeds sown in wet or cold soil tend to rot and die. Waiting for a few more weeks won’t hurt, ( honest!)

A black or clear plastic covering over soil will warm it up, so you can sow some seeds outside a little earlier than usual. Spread plastic sheeting over the areas where you plan to sow the seeds. Weigh down the sides so it can't blow away in winter winds. After 3 - 4 weeks, the soil should be warm enough for seed sowing. I use big sheets of Geotextile ( weed sheet) which we have a huge roll of, so we have 4 sheets which cover the 4 plots in the veg garden all winter. We turn them back to let the weed seeds germinate in Jan, then cover the weeds up to kill them off ready for digging and planting in March :-)

Although parsnips seed can withstand cold weather, it is notoriously slow to germinate and in practice I have found it better to wait and sow in March when it is warmer here in the UK. Parsnips are sown in spring, for harvest in winter/early spring the following year.

Parsnips like rich, slightly heavy soil, well dug but NOT recently manured (as, like carrots, they will fork if the soil is TOO rich)

As soon as you can dig the bed over and produce a fine tilth, the conditions are fine for planting parsnip seed in the ground ( if the weather allows you to get a fine tilth, its warm and dry enough!)

Parsnips take a long time to grow BUT you can get a worthwhile crop even if they are sown in late spring. MAKE SURE you use fresh this year seed, because parsnip seeds do not keep well. If you HAVE to use last years seed, pre sprout it to check for viability ( put on damp kitchen paper and watch it sprout, then snip the paper up so a bit has a sprouted seed on it and then plant the paper)

Follow the instruction on the seed packet about how/where to sow, and you may as well be generous as the seed doesn't keep well....usually for sowing in situ in the ground, it is suggested to sow several seeds per "station" spaced out along the row. Also it is a good idea to mark the row with fast germinating seed such as radish, so you can see where you have been! (and have a tasty, quick cropping food)

I plant some seed outside but at least half of my parsnips are now planted in kitchen/toilet roll tube inners (we usually grow about 60 or so...) I sprinkle the seed on the surface of the growing medium and sprinkle just a little bit more on top, as a general rule a seed should be covered about the same depth as the size of seed...

These tubes MUST be transplanted COMPLETE into the ground AS SOON as the seed has germinated ...

If you leave it too long the tap root emerges from the bottom of the tube and, when transplanted, may be damaged. This won't hurt the plant BUT you will get a smaller, forked root!

So, make sure you have the parsnip bed ready for planting, if you decide to follow the "tube" idea!

The good thing about the cardboard tube trick is it is easy to plant a tube where a few parsnip seeds DIDN'T come up, which were planted directly in the ground. AND with the tube you can see where they are, so it is easier weeding!

Also you plant the roll as well, so there is a little collar to stop you hoeing the baby parsnip plant, along with the weeds.

I have found this works really well for me. I would be very interested to know what other people think...oh, and it works for other seeds, such as beans, peas, brassicas etc ( but not carrots!)

Next time, digging out and using your compost....

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Magical Seeds

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Few things in nature hold as much magic as seeds. With seeds, we can discover the full life cycle of plants. We can observe how plants reproduce through watching them flower, go to seed and self-seed.

To save seeds from your garden or wildflowers, collect them at maturity during the late morning on a dry day. Clean them to store in a cool, dark, dry place for re-sowing. If you have enough seeds sprinkle them around the garden to see when they come up again. Collecting your own seeds will save on seed costs, create a connection with nature through the seasons, and improve your gardening success rate as the seeds adapt to your locale. For more detailed instructions on cleaning seeds to store and save, look to resources such as the International Seed Saving Institute’s Guide. Another good resource is The Seed Saver’s Handbook by Michel and Jude Fanton, available through the Seed Savers Network.

Various types of plants have different methods for sowing and saving seed:

Annuals usually grow from seed through part of a year, then seeds are saved and stored or lay dormant in the ground until the following year. Examples of annuals are lettuce, peas, spinach, corn, beans and marigolds. Most seeds you will save will be from Annual plants.

Biennial plants produce vegetative growth through the first warm period, then slow down through a period of cold weather and flower in the second warm period, typically spring. Common examples are the cabbage, kale, carrot, parsnip and turnips. To collect seeds from these, you will need to wait about eighteen months.

Perennial plants survive for more than two years. They are a very important part of a long-term garden. Some annuals and biennials such as capsicums, chillies, eggplants and kale can behave as perennials in warm climates.

Another way to save seeds is from the kitchen. Ripe pumpkins, tomatoes, capsicums, melons, papaya, and most other fruit provide fresh, free seeds. Usually one dries and stores the seeds to plant in the appropriate season, but our children have had many successful pumpkin vines and papaya trees grow with seed fresh from the cutting board. If the fruit or vegetable comes from a hybrid plant, which many commercial crops are, the fruit that grows from it will not grow true to type. But it will probably be edible and if space in the garden isn’t an issue, you’ve nothing to lose!

More ‘free’ seeds can often be found in the pantry – many dried beans will germinate, for example. We’ve tried borlotti, lima and cannellini beans, and black-eyed peas. Beans can be eaten as a young pod, shelled when mature, or left on the vine to dry. Bird feed is another cheap source of seeds to experiment with. A large bag of sunflower seeds is only a couple of dollars and contains enough to fill even the largest garden with giant sunflowers. Or you can share them amongst friends so that others might delight in the magic of seeds.

When buying seeds, heirloom or heritage varieties are preferable for many reasons. Old varieties are more interesting and better suited to the organic vegetable garden. Did you know that carrots come in colours other than orange? You can grow your own red, white, yellow or purple carrots at home! There are also purple peas and beans, multi-coloured corn, capsicums of various colours and shapes, and pumpkins and tomatoes that will amaze! These non-hybrid seeds are most often available by mail order rather than in your local store.

Sprouting is another way to witness the wonder of seed germination. It’s something you can do in any season and any location. All you need is a jar, some cheesecloth, a rubber band and some seeds to sprout - like alfalfa, mung beans or radish. You can buy these in health shops or with the vegetable seeds in stores. Rinse the seeds, and then soak overnight in water. Strain and rinse again in the morning, placing the jar upside-down or inverted on a saucer so it can drain well. Continue to rinse twice a day, always keeping the jar inverted so that there is no excess water on your sprouts. After around four days, your sprouts should be ready for eating and can be stored in the fridge.

A bean vine can also be started in a glass jar. Take a wide glass jar, some cotton wool and a few bean seeds. Soak the beans for a few hours. Place the cotton inside the jar and poke the beans at regular intervals between the glass and cotton around the jar. Add enough water so that the cotton is moist. Put the lid on the jar and you will not have to water your beans for them to grow. Place in a sunny position and your beans will grow roots and sprout leaves. If you turn the jar upside-down, within a day the seedlings will change the direction they grow in so that the roots are facing down. After a couple of days, you can turn it up the right way again and your bean vines will adapt so that the roots are growing down once more. Children will see that gravity, water and light affect plants. Once you’ve finished your observations, this seedling can go out into the garden to fulfil its purpose.

Because seeds hold so much magic and wonder, many tales have been told about them. Jack and the Beanstalk first springs to mind. There are stories from all around the world with seeds as a symbol for life, regeneration and new beginnings. I encourage you to explore the wonder of seeds with children – begin their journeys as gardeners with the simplest of wonders.

Friday, 13 March 2009

The Chest Freezer: A Good Frugal Tool for You?

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

I'm afraid this week has been busier than usual for me, so I'm resorting to a repost of a popular page from my own blog. Recycling is good, right? I hope this will help some of you consider the various issues around owning a chest freezer. There are a few follow on pages concerning chest freezers at Living the Frugal Life if you want to read more.

I love having a chest freezer. We've bought it less than two years ago and it's become an integral part of my food storage and meal planning system. In addition to my meager forays into canning vegetables, I've been socking away garden produce in my chest freezer for the last few months. So even while I've been following the $50 per Month Grocery Challenge, we've actually been adding to our food stores.

A while back, My Money Blog posted about our exact situation: having an extra chest freezer in the garage. I wanted to add to that discussion. If frugality is your prime concern, there are many things to think about before making the decision to buy a chest freezer. Some factors are obvious. If you're in an efficiency apartment or a very small home, space considerations probably rule out a chest freezer. But for most of us, the question comes down to costs vs. savings.

Over the next few days, I'm going to walk through the issues around owning a chest freezer. Naturally, if you're in the market for a freezer you'd want to consider several options:

Sizing your freezer. Think carefully about how big a freezer you want. If your family is large, and you cook from scratch most of the time, it makes sense to get a large freezer. If it's just you and one other person, choose a smaller model. The potential monthly savings goes down with the number of people you need to feed. So your costs must also go down if you want to come out ahead. Though it's tempting to buy large, having a large stock of stored food that doesn't get eaten up doesn't save you anything at all. A small family can store a large supply of meat and vegetables in a small freezer. My husband and I bought half a hog and half a lamb, and though it took us a long while to eat through all that meat, the meat itself took up a surprisingly small amount of space. As a rule of thumb, chances are good that you could get by with less freezer than you think.

Of course, if you fill your freezer with a lot of purchased ready-to-eat meals and frozen dinners, you're allocating a significant amount of dead space to packaging. So consider how densely stored your food is going to be. Volume per volume, pre-packaged food will give you fewer servings than unprocessed meats, fruits, and vegetables. If you make your own prepared foods to freeze (such as quiche, casseroles, etc.), you're unlikely to use up much extra space around them for packaging.

Energy efficiency. There are many stand alone freezers out there. Chest freezers are usually recommended over uprights because they are more efficient. This is due to a law of physics: cold air is heavier than warm air. Open an upright freezer and all the cold air falls out at your feet. Open a chest freezer, and the cold air more or less stays put where it is. If you're paying for your electricity, or if you only generate your own in small quantities, it'll probably pay for you to get a well insulated chest freezer, if you're going to buy any freezer at all. On top of that, it would be wise to choose a model that does better than the average in terms of electricity usage. The EnergyStar website has a good tool for evaluating all EnergyStar rated freezers. It would be a good place to begin looking for an individual model.

Shopping around for the best price. If you're reading this post, you have access to the internet, which gives you a wealth of opportunities to compare prices for durable consumer goods. Once you've narrowed down your choice of freezer models, shop around for the best price. Be sure to include any differences in sales tax and shipping or delivery costs. Then spend a little extra time speaking directly with any local vendors of this freezer who might not have an online presence. If you find a competitive price locally, be sure to ask if they could offer you a discount for paying cash. 'Cause you're not putting this on the credit card, right?

In order to make a smart decision about a potential purchase, we need to get down to brass tacks. In other words, we need to know what it will cost us. So the first task is to come up with an actual monthly cost of ownership.

Cost of buying the freezer itself. This is going to make a difference not only in the amount of money you have to lay out up front (because of course there's absolutely no question of putting this purchase on a credit card), but also in figuring out what it's going to cost you to have the freezer on a monthly basis. Of course, this isn't literally true. Once you've bought the freezer there wouldn't be any further cost if you left it in the garage unplugged. But for the purposes of evaluating the purchasing decision, we need to divide the purchase price by the life expectancy of the appliance. Ten years is the average life expectancy for a chest freezer. When you figure out the price, be sure to include any sales tax you would pay, as well as delivery charges if any. Then just divide the total cost by 120 (12 months x 10 years). This is your monthly cost of ownership.

Monthly electricity costs. Now you need to know how much you'll pay in electricity to keep the freezer cold. It so happens that the EnergyStar website also includes a nifty spreadsheet that will let you calculate the cost to run your freezer to a very high degree of accuracy. To use it though, you'll first need to know how much you pay the electricity company per kilowatt hour. If your bill looks like mine, figuring this out is very confusing. But somewhere on your bill there should be a total dollar amount for the month, as well as the kilowatt hours you actually used. Simply divide the dollars by the kilowatt hours, and you'll have the amount you're paying per kilowatt hour this month. It may vary slightly from month to month. If you want to track this figure to find your average cost per kilowatt hour for several month, go for it. But the calculation from any given month gives you something to work with. Plug that number into the spreadsheet, along with other details on the model of freezer you're considering. This will give you a figure for your monthly cost to keep the freezer running.

Now add the monthly cost of ownership to the monthly electricity cost to run it. This is your actual cost of keeping your chest freezer running. It's also the amount of money you need to save in food costs each month in order to just break even. Any savings over and above that amount will be money in your pocket.

Related posts on chest freezers:
How To Save, Or Not, With a Chest Freezer
So Now You've Got a Chest Freezer
The Candlewax of Frugality (defrosting and cleaning a chest freezer)
Make the Most of Old Man Winter (energy saving tip)