Tuesday, 30 June 2009

You never think it will get you

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

A lot of times we go through life watching the news, talking with friends and thinking about "all those poor people" that are being affected by the happenings of the world. Be it economic, natural disaster or accident there's a lot of things that can happen that will take us off course. Luckily, more often not, we are barely affected in that we are in the majority that watches from the sidelines. That, however, is not always the case.

I spent last week with fever, chills, dizziness and respiratory problems.
I spent last week with Swine Flu.

I lived, obviously, but it was not a pleasurable experience by any means. My son was sick the week prior. He was tested for influenza and it appeared negative, but our doctor advised that he had already had 60 cases in June and that was on the 15th. We also had a young man in my age group (35-40)die just the week prior. H1N1 is in our neighborhood and it is spreading.

I don't say that at all to panic anyone but rather as a statement of fact. It IS here and it IS spreading. The thing I realized last week was that at the rate that it has the potential to spread and if it were more virulent, as is the concern for this fall, that we don't have the kind of preparations that I think we'd like to have in place. Simple things like Acetaminophen that we generally always keep a supply of were hard to find because we don't use them a lot. And we aren't restricted from shopping or going out at all. That is a real concern though for the future if this or some other pandemic necessitates that people are shut into their homes.

I think my wife and I are probably better prepared than many of our neighbors or friends would be if we were to have to go to those lengths, but honestly I take this as a wake up call to myself and I encourage you too as well. Not to panic and not to hoard, but take a look at what your week or two weeks might look like if you were required to stay at home for just that period of time. There are a wealth of great ideas here on this blog. Use us, the writers of this community to help you take stock and identify what you need to do. Have specific questions? Ask them. Need suggestions on how to store things or what kind of stuff you may need for a starter emergency kit? I for one don't have all the answers to the questions that I come up with, but over time I've built a great bunch of resources through others like my fellow writers here.

Please forgive me, but I'm not going to go on for too long tonight. I'm still tired and trying to get back into sorts with myself, I just thought I could take this opportunity to remind all that just because we never think it will get us...sometimes it does.

Peace to you all

Monday, 29 June 2009

Are You Using the Envelope System?

Heather Beauty That Moves

The envelope system for budgeting one's money/cash has been written about very nicely in many places on the web. If you are not familiar with this system please check out some great info at the following places:
The Simple Mom
Envelope System Tutorial

For quite some time I have wanted to implement this system for our family. Part of what has kept me from getting started (procrastination aside) was the lack of an 'envelope' that seemed suitable. Standard paper envelopes would be messy and not very secure, could easily tear, and would need regular replacing which seemed wasteful. Plastic pencil cases (I've seen this suggested) seemed a little large and I honestly couldn't get too excited about purchasing a bunch of plastic cases. Eventually, I came to my crafty senses and found my solution lying right in my own supplies.

Following this tutorial, I made four (to start, I bet I'll think of one or two more categories) cloth, reusable zipper pouches, sewed a strip of linen (leaving the edges raw) to the front, and used rubber stamps with fabric ink to spell the words of my cash spending categories. I carefully chose to make these just a bit larger than our American currency, I wanted them to be just big enough.

I used a 7 inch zipper, and cut my fabric pieces (outside and lining) 4.25" x 9". There is a little squaring-up that takes places after all the pieces are attached to the zipper, this combined with seam allowances made these measurements work really nicely for finished money pouches..

My Categories:
Threads (clothing)
Good Times (dining out, movies, concerts, museums...)

I chose not to use a cash envelope for gas/fuel. Here in the states we can pay at the gas pump with a debit card - having a child in the car it works well to just go ahead and pay this way rather than running into the store with cash for the clerk. Currently, my daughter has been asking to go into the store to pay (if we are using cash), but it is summertime and I just don't see her interest in leaving the warm car lasting through the winter months. ;) So, because I see no long-term pattern here, I skipped making a pouch for petro.

Do any of you use this system? What works for you - what doesn't work? I am so looking forward to the sense of control, organization, and order that I imagine comes with this practice.

As a side note - as I was reading up on this method I read a comment in which someone stated the sense of financial understanding children (even little children) have from being in a family that uses the envelope system - that once the money is gone... it's gone! Such simplicity, of course they get that.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Exiting the Rat Race

by Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin

Back a few years ago, I remember thinking many times that something was missing in my life. I could never put my finger on what it was, and strived for answers. I would buy the latest consumer and electronic goods, upgrade my PC yearly to a faster model, buy the latest PC games to spend endless hours of my free time on. I worked hard and long in my quest to earn more money so that I could afford more material possessions in the vain hope that I would find satisfaction and fulfilment.

It didn't work like many other people stuck in the rat race, and due to my inaction and consumeristic habits, it was as good as it gets. No-one wants to be unfulfilled in life, but sadly many of us are still looking for that "something" that is missing. Credit card balances were through the roof, and I was living a lifestyle beyond my means.

I also found it hard to unwind each day, and realised that my head was swimming with so much stuff that my mind raced a fair bit of the time. I wasn't in touch with my surroundings and sometimes out of tune with the wonderful people I shared my life with, and I certainly was not in tune with the plight of the planet. I was blissfully unaware of my impact on it and to the ecosystems that exist upon it. I had drifted on the tide of a life half lived for far too long.

What a sorry state of affairs! I had an inkling of what might be wrong, so Kim and I started to attend meditation classes so that we could both learn to relax. I really enjoyed the experience, and things began to change. After a meditation session, I felt connected to my inner self in a way I hadn't experienced in my life. That was about three years ago and I felt great.

And then came the day that I went to the cinema to watch a free movie provided by work, and it changed my life. It was as if I awoke from a horrible dream, and if you read some of my personal blog, you will know the rest of the actions I have taken to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

All the actions aside, I think I have rarely described the emotions and personal changed that have taken place with in me. Firstly, I have taken a step back, and had a really hard look at myself and the way I lived before my epiphany. I managed to come to grips with who I was, and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I found that by looking within, rather than searching for answers in the outside world, I found that I was already a whole person and that my life was complete. I found that a simple life had meaning, and it was not about blatant consumerism that the TV blasts at us, day in, day out. In fact, I found myself watching less and less TV, and began the research and learning that ultimately helped my understanding the climate change problem, peak oil, and the ways I could reduce my carbon footprint.

At first my family thought I had lost the plot, but found that their husband and father began to talk about more interesting things, and made them think about things that challenged their own understanding of how our civilisation works. I had another purpose other than the daily grind of work. Not only did I feel fully connected to my family, which brought me great joy, I began to feel connected to the Earth, through my gardening endeavours. I may have said this before, but growing your own food is one of the most uplifting and spiritual things I have ever done, and certainly one of the most rewarding. All of the things that my family and I have done over the last three years have brought us closer together, and we spend more meaningful time together. I now stress less about work, and am more relaxed at home, but more active. I have also lost 10 kg in the process and now know that by looking at my inner self, I changed who I was for the better.

Nowadays, we rarely go out anywhere due to Kim not being very mobile, but we have a fuller lifestyle. We have comfort in knowing that we produce our own solar electricity and hot water, drive less, and have reduced our consumption across the board. We make things together, we grow food together, we cook together, and most of all we have fun together, which is really the simple home truth that people caught in the rat race just don't realise. Living simply, and honesty, like our parents and grandparents, is what a full life was, and still is, all about.

It makes me sad some days, when I realise that it took me 42 years to get it, but my goodness, I am making up for it now. I still work to pay off the house, and actually enjoy work without the stress, and find it a great way to spread the green and simple word. I stopped sweating the small stuff. We are paying off the house and our other debts very quickly, so we should be debt free in about seven years time (maybe a little longer). We don't live in a McMansion (never did anyway), and now live within our means. Credit card debt is gone, with the nasty consumerism troll now living at the bottom of the compost heap like the rotting matter it is.

It feels great to be alive, and to have a goal as big as the planet for the rest of my time on it is more than I could have ever expected. I have found the "something" that I was missing, because it was inside of me all along.

I just didn't know it at the time!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Getting crafty, out and about!

Posted by Compostwoman, The Compostbin

Here are just a few ideas I use when working with children, or just playing in the woods with Compostgirl. Some are ideal for doing on a walk, some are an activity to do in your garden, all of them are fun. Some can be done without adult help.

Nature provides us with so many things. Some of these can be used to decorate our homes, or provide homes for creatures that help to pollinate plants and prey on garden pests. After you have made some natural craft item, using what nature provides to decorate your home, why not give something back, in the form of a bird feeder or minibeast home?

A few safety tips
Before you start, always get permission from the landowner if in any doubt!
Make sure children are well supervised and don’t collect anything poisonous.
Only collect loose, dead or fallen material from the ground.
Don’t pull bits from living plants or trees.
Only take items if there are plenty, and always leave some for the habitat or food source that they may provide.
Don’t touch bracken between July and September – the spores are hazardous.
Supervise children using sharp tools such as scissors, knives,needles, skewers etc.

Make a Mobile
Collect cones, leaves, seeds, nuts, feathers, sticks etc.
Find a stick you like.
Tie or thread the collected treasures on to long pieces of string (if you want to thread them get an adult to help make the holes).
Tie the top end of the string to the stick.
Continue making more strings of treasures (using different length strings can look good), and tie them along the stick until you are happy with the effect.
Then make a loop from string and tie this at the centre of the stick to hang it up with and you have made a natural mobile!

Make a Wild Crown or Bracelet
Take a piece of thinnish card (cereal box card is good) and cut it into strips about 5cm wide by 50cm long (for a crown) or shorter for a bracelet. You can adjust the size to fit and then fix the ends of the card together with glue or tape.
Put a long strip of double-sided sticky tape all the way around the outside of the card strip. Make sure it’s completely covered so that your treasures will stick well.
Now, go for a walk, gathering any nice natural materials that you find and sticking them on the tape as you go. Remember to press them firmly onto the sticky tape on the bracelet or crown so that they don’t fall off easily.
If you prefer, you can go collecting first and then this activity can be done back at home later with all the treasures you have gathered.

Colours from the Wild

Cut some stiff cardboard into squares or rectangles (approx. 10x10cm or 8x10cm) and cover one surface with double-sided sticky tape. Collect small pieces of natural materials to make a textured mosaic on the surface each one. The finished effect can look really beautiful, so why not make them into a collage, or frame them? Or use them to make birthday cards?

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Dollies
Gather a bunch of grass, corn or lavender with good long stalks.
Tie the stems firmly together just under the heads and trim the bottom ends of the stalks with scissors so that they are all level.
About mid way down from the heads tie the bundle again. This is to make the body. Then below this divide the bundle in two – these will be the legs of the dolly. Secure them just a little back from the very ends with string, leaving a short piece that you can bend up for the feet. Now take a smaller bundle of stems and cut off any flower heads and fasten each end. This will be for the dolly’s arms. Using a pencil or a small stick, carefully ease the stalks apart just underneath the ‘head’ of the dolly so that you can push the arms through (you might want to get an adult to help you). Now tie across and around the body and arms of the dolly, to secure them. Your dolly is now finished! Decorate with flowers, leaves or whatever else you fancy. Similar dollies can also be made using thick string or raffia.

Corn (or Grass or Lavender) Plaits
Tie 3 stems of corn (or grass or lavender) just below the heads. Plait the stems until you are happy with the length of your plait. Tie the ends of the stems with string or ribbon and trim.
To make a hoop, bend the head end of the plait round so it is overlapping the stems and the top of the head is just below the ends of the stems. Then tie them together with string or ribbon and make a loop for hanging.

Bark Rubbing
Place a sheet of paper on an interesting tree and rub over the paper with a wax crayon. Find as many different textures as you can and use lots of different colours. Use them to make a picture or collage, then stand back and admire the result!

Feeding the Birds
Collect large open pine cones and/or washed and dried yoghurt cartons.
Tie a length of string around the cone so that you can hang it from a branch or bird table. Smear bird food mixture (see the ‘recipe’ below) into the cracks in the cones (warning – this gets messy!).
Make a hole in the bottom of the yoghurt carton. Tie a knot in a length of string and thread it through the hole with the knot inside, so the pot hangs upside down. Make sure the knot won’t pull through. Now fill up the yoghurt pot with the bird food mixture and leave to set (right way up) in a cool place.

Hang your feeders out in the garden and watch the birds enjoy their treat!

Bird Food Recipe Mix
Check no one is allergic to any ingredient before you start! Make sure you have put plenty of old
newspapers down, and wear old clothes or an apron (and don’t forget to roll up your sleeves!).
For your special birdseed recipe mix you will need:
Birdseed, raisins, grated cheese, and a selection of other suitable seeds if you like, such as pumpkin or sunflower which are both good.
Take 100g of softened vegetable fat or lard (put it somewhere warm for about an hour) and cut it into small pieces.
Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and squash together with your hands (messy!).
You can now shape it into balls around twigs, squish it into pine cones, or fill up yoghurt pots with it.
Leave everything in the fridge to set, and when they’re firm hang them outside for the birds to enjoy.
Don’t forget to wash your hands when you’ve finished!

Making Homes for Minibeasts
Help minibeasts survive in your garden by making them houses!

Ladybirds, beetles and minibeasts of all sorts: These little creatures like small places to roost. Tie bundles of twigs (hollow ones are even better!) tightly together with string. Wedge the bundle in a place on the ground, in the fork of a tree, beneath a hedge or anywhere out of the way in your garden where it won’t be disturbed. Minibeasts will hopefully find it an ideal home over the winter. Red mason bees will particularly like bamboo bundles done like this.

Bumblebees: Take a medium-sized plant pot with just one hole in the bottom and loosely pack it with dry shredded paper, straw or grass. Dig a hole big enough to bury it completely in the ground, ideally in a sunny place in some undisturbed corner with long grass. Bury the plant pot upside down in the earth so that the hole in the bottom is level with the surface of the ground. Carefully fill in around the edges with soil. You can re-cover the top with turf, just as long as the hole is still clear of dirt so that the bees can find it.

Slugs, snails and woodlice: Make a big pile of leaves in a shady and quiet corner of your garden, and watch all the little wigglers move in!

Beetles, centipedes and millipedes: Make a nice mixed pile of logs and twigs in a shady corner (you might want to ask an adult for help with carrying and positioning bigger pieces). You could put your pile of leaves next to it!

I hope this post has given you some ideas for things to do outside!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Austerity Parties

By Kate
Living The Frugal Life

Originally uploaded by Inkyhack

I left home two years before I graduated from high school. So I know what it's like to have no money and to live on a shoestring budget without any safety net. Fortunately, I can look back and say that on the whole it was a positive experience. I took on a lot of responsibility for myself at an early age, and nothing disastrous came of it.

One of the things I remember fondly from those years was a recurring event that some of my friends would host. These friends were all older than me, but I was drawn to bohemian types, so they didn't have much money either. About once a month they'd host what they called austerity parties. This was back in the late 80s, in a large liberal university town, so it was partly an ironic joke and partly dead serious.

These parties took place in cramped little apartments, or sometimes in parks. There were never enough chairs, so people sat wherever they could. The atmosphere of cheap fun was invariably festive, and of course it was always potluck. Some guests even dressed up in Hooverville attire, or brought their contributions in large tin cans. I remember bean dishes, collard greens, bread pudding, boiled potatoes with butter, and lots of vegetable dishes from various cultures. The friend of mine who often hosted it was vegetarian, but some dishes showed up with small amounts of meat in them. If there was wine, it was in a jug. The food was surprisingly good for the most part.

After everyone had eaten enough, someone usually broke out Monopoly, or some other board game. Someone else would bring out a guitar or put on some Italian opera. Others just carried on talking and socializing. Conversation was rich and lively. Some people who came obviously had no need to cut corners, but they had no pretenses and enjoyed the celebration of frugality anyway. Everyone had a blast, and always wanted to know where and when the next austerity party was going to be held. I remember once that it was someone's birthday, and when a friend had asked what she wanted as a gift, she had answered. But the gift giver wasn't sure whether she'd said she wanted some "Plato," or some "Play-Doh." She was intellectual enough to read Plato, but also creative enough that she might really have wanted Play-Doh. So she got to unwrap a slim used volume of Plato, and homemade batches of Play-Doh in several colors. Everyone roared with laughter, and to be honest, I can't remember which gift was the one she had really wanted.

I've been thinking back over those austerity parties in recent times. I wonder if the magic of them was that most of us really were living on tiny budgets, but determined to enjoy life anyway. Instead of trying to hide the fact that we were poor, we decided to embrace it and have fun with other people in the same situation, or with those who were willing to meet us at the economic level we could afford. I'm really grateful that I fell in with such a crowd at that age. If I had socialized with people who prioritized appearances and the display of whatever wealth they had, I might have ended up with a good deal of debt early in life. I deeply admired these people and their ability to have fun doing something so outrageous as celebrating their own poverty. Of course, this was strictly financial poverty, not an intellectual or cultural impoverishment. It seemed terribly sophisticated and counter-cultural to me at the time. I found such a lifestyle and an attitude quite novel, but worth imitating.

I suppose I've been thinking back on those austerity parties lately because of the economic situation we are in at a national and even global level. Perhaps such a defiant celebration in the face of recession and growing poverty has something to offer us now. It is difficult to be optimistic when the news seems so unrelentingly bad. But communal festivity is good for the spirit. There is comfort in the company of others who are in the same situation, in seeing them unbowed and celebrating. If frugality is the new black, then perhaps the austerity party should be revived.

What dish would you bring to an austerity party potluck? Would you dress up as a hobo? What would make it a fun evening for you and your family?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Teaching my children about money

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I have written before about children and consumerism. Consumerism is alive and well in my children's playground. Children seem to be so much aware of products, brand names, and the power of money.

Readers of my personal blog would know that I have recently started giving my daughter pocket money. I have decided to use pocket money as a means to teach them how to manage money and how to delay gratification for greater gain. I hope by teaching them about money, they are more able to cope with our consumerist culture.

Some background first...

I had decided some time ago that my children won't get pocket money until they are able to recognise notes and coins and and understand basic addition and subtraction (in 1s, 5s and 10s). For my daughter this meant that she has not had pocket money until now - at the age of (in her words) "6 years and 3 quarters" she is finally able to show me that she knows her notes and coins and can add and subtract fairly well.

I had also decided not to tie pocket money to chores. Simple reason is that I just don't see the two of them as related. She (and her brother) have always done chores fact, it was only recently that my daughter realised that what they do are called "chores"!! Both of my children have been doing age-appropriate chores since they were about 3 years old. Its a normal and almost unconscious part of our lives (and I quite like it that way). It also helps me because I can teach her about money without having to think about chores either.

(Note the rest is xposted from my personal blog)

For me, my daughter has "earned" her pocket money by becoming proficient at the very basics of it - the adding and subtracting by 1s, 5s and 10s. Next step for us is for her to now learn how to managing that money. For me, that means learning about financial goal setting, saving and using alternatives.

Financial Goal-Setting

So as a first step, I asked her: "If you had money, what would you buy?" She told me she would buy a stick insect. So I wrote on a piece of paper stick insect, small aquarium and rocks = $65.

Then I asked her "If you had money to buy something little once a week, what would you buy?" And she told me that she would buy food from the canteen once a week (she's currently not allowed to do this). So I got the food list from the canteen and wrote all the foods she would buy and it all added up to $5.

Talking about Saving

I then told her that I will give her $6 a week for pocket money. This meant that she has $5 for the foods she would buy AND have $1 saved over which she can use to save for her stick insect - which would cost $65 after she's bought the aquarium, the rocks etc. This meant she would get her stick insect next year!

Looking at alternatives

As you can imagine, my daughter didn't like the idea of waiting that long for her stick insect. So the clever girl then said "I can look on Freecycle for the aquarium and the rocks....that's free."

She also said that she can get rocks from the garden and wash them, if she can't get those on freecycle.

And even more alternatives

After all this, I told her this brings the cost of her stick insect to $20. Which meant that she can have her stick insect by Christmas instead of next year. She still felt this was too long to wait, so I then sat down with her and said you can save for your stick insect by looking at what foods you can do without in the canteen. I told her she can save money if she brought her lunch from school instead.

She still didn't like this and said she wanted to buy something at the canteen with her friends. I told her that now its a matter of priority and that whatever she decides, that's okay. I told her that she can either wait till Christmas or have fun with her school friends.

After much thinking my clever girl came back and said, "I can still buy from the canteen and be with my friends but just not buy as much so I still can save money."

So I sat back down with her and went through the food list and in the end, she decided that she will just buy the chicken nuggets and not everything else. Instead, she will bring food from home to go with her chicken nuggets.

This meant that she now will only spend $3 a week of her $6 pocket money. Which meant she will get her stick insect in 7 weeks instead of Christmas. This is still a "long time" for her but we've agreed that there may be times when she will decide that she can bring all her lunch one week and so all her pocket money for that one week will go towards her stick insect.

Let's hope she can stick to what is effectively her first budget!! I know that there may be times when she'll slip up but I think saving up to get to $20 is a small enough amount as a first goal.

For now she's just so proud to be a "grown up" about money and I have to admit I've also very proud of her thought processes so far with it.

(Update: on the day of her pocket money, my daughter decided that instead of buying chicken nuggets ($3), she can buy chips ($1) instead. So she has now saved $5 instead of $3 - if she keeps it up, then she'll have her stick insect next month!)

If you have any stories about pocket money, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

How do we change?

Little by little!

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

In my last post, I shared how small changes really do add up when on a downshifting journey. I have had many people contact me personally about the post, sharing that they enjoyed it, but in their situation they felt they simply can't make changes. They asked me to share some more suggestions as to where to begin on a journey towards a more simple, green and frugal life. So today I thought I'd put together some sort of list with ideas of where to begin. I believe that we all help each other so if you add any suggestions, I'll put them into the post!

Remember, the key is to start small and build. No one becomes a simple, frugal and green expert overnight. I still have a long way to go and I've been on this journey for a year.

In The Home

Get yourself some sturdy bags (handmake them if you can, or support a handmade business) to bring to the shops with you instead of taking plastic bags.

Switch your lightbulbs to energy efficient light bulbs

Hang your laundry to dry

Switch to eco friendly soap, washing up liquid, shampoo/conditioner, laundry detergent.

Learn how to make your own soap, detergent, shampoo

Get rid of cleaning products and use vinegar, water, baking soda etc.

Get rid of paper towels and use a reuseable towel instead

Try growing herbs, basic fruit/veg.

Stop buying books and either borrow or go to the library


Limit activities to 1 or 2 paid classes/hobbies

Limit the number of Birthday parties they attend - 1 a month worked for us!

Get them involved in growing, cooking, chores around the home

Take your kids outside, making use of parks & nature instead of spending time at paid activities like jungle gyms, the cinema etc.

Play sports with friends instead of sitting infront of the TV

Join a toy library

Make presents for friends and family

Make videos, games, books birthday presents for your children not weekly or monthly treats

Get clothes and books from second hand shops

Have a clothes and book swap with friends

Use cloths instead of buying baby wipes

Use cloth nappies instead of disposables - even start with 1 or 2 cloth nappies a day



Try buying local - look at coops and farmer's markets in your area

Switch to organic if you can, choose which foods are the priority for your family to be organic

Buy fresh fruits & veggies

Get an allotment

Stop buying processed foods

Make your own baby food

Switch to drinking water instead of juice or pop

Make a food budget and stick to it

Take a calculator with you on your shop

Get into the habit of checking your cart & putting things back before you

Understand the difference between need and want

Buy in season

Make your own meals

In General

Try no spending days - give yourself a couple days a week where you don't spend anything - not on coffee, petrol etc

Try to use your car as little as possible. See if you can not use it 2 days a week

Join a car share organization

Get a bus pass

Bike, walk, hike as many places as you can

Make use of open/free days for the theatre, museums, galleries etc.

Join or start a book club

Volunteer (this saves money on socializing and let's you give back to your community)

Join or start a knitting/sewing club

Hold pot lucks/bring and share dinner parties with friends

Join free cycle - donate and receive free items

Regularly check your utility companies for any reduction in rates

Schedule time at home, time to relax and simply enjoy your family. Life doesn't have to be a mad rush from one place to another - a weekend spent at home is not a bad thing!

These are just a few suggestions of how to begin a more simple, green and frugal life. You can't start everything at once, consider wisely what you can do and simply start. Over time add in one new suggestion a week or month and you will quickly see the positive changes adding up!

Please feel free to share your suggestions!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Got Lettuce?

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
A story in our local newspaper the other day told about the lengths a local gardener had gone to in order to protect his plants from marauding birds and critters. I wish I had some way to link to the photos - he'd built a net and plastic pipe "house" over his entire garden. I haven't quite gone to that extreme (but I'm thinking it did look like a good idea), but when your garden is an oasis in a sea of sagebrush and sand it does tend to attract everything in the neighborhood.

This Spring, after quail had eaten all my peas and lettuces down to the ground, I suspended netting over my entire "early" bed and replanted. I'm happy to report that it worked - so well in fact, that I now have a bumper crop of lettuces and greens. I'm enjoying lots of fresh-picked salads and wilted greens side dishes, but I've also discovered a new treat.

I've been making green smoothies. There are lots of specific recipes on the internet (search either "green smoothie" or "raw food") but to generalize just blend a fruit or two (strawberries with a banana are my current favorite, but canned peaches are a close second) with 1/2 cup of water (throw in a few ice cubes too), and then add a couple heaping handfuls of some lettuces or other fresh greens and blend again. Yum! I plan to play with vegetable-based versions too - using canned tomatoes (and a splash of hot sauce?). Either way, I've found green smoothies make a great breakfast treat or mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Windfall, and how to split wood by hand

It's just the beginning of summer here, but we are busy preparing for winter. We heat and cook with wood during the fall, winter and spring. Two thirds of our property is heavily wooded, always supplying plenty of storm damaged wood that needs cleaning up. We stockpile wood whenever the opportunity arises, so we have a steady supply of well seasoned wood. Seasoned wood burns cleaner and puts out more heat. Burning green, or unseasoned wood is uneconomical, polluting and potentially dangerous as burning green or wet wood causes creosote to build up in your chimney, which can cause chimney fires.

Even though we have an ample supply of wood in our own forest, if someone offers us free firewood, we take it. This wood for the wood splitting tutorial is from a "wild" cherry that a friend had cut down to open up more space for an expanded garden. Unfortunately for them, they decided to only have the stump of this tree ground down to soil level, instead of removal. Many deciduous trees will coppice, which means this tree is still alive under the soil level and may send up shoots. Or, if the tree is dead, a tremendous amount of nitrogen is used to decompose that stump and the roots under ground. Not very conducive to growing a bountiful garden. Better to spend the money and have the stump(s) removed. In this area when the pioneers cleared the forest for crops, they burned the stumps and roots in situ. Not a good practice today, but it was the only way in those days.

I won't go into the nuances of using a wood splitter powered by gasoline or hydraulics, since I don't know any. The running joke around here when someone asks, "Where is your wood splitter?" I usually reply, "Oh, he's on the couch..." Not everyone owns a wood splitter and they are expensive to rent, so in this post I will share a few tips and tools that will make a hard job a little easier. Learning to do things by hand is not a bad thing. And who knows? Maybe in the future we will all be doing things by hand and using an alternative heating and cooking source like wood.

Tools that are helpful:

Splitting maul, which is basically a sledge hammer with a wedge shaped peen on one side. My husband uses a 10 pound maul, but that is too heavy for me. I split wood like a girl! My maul is a 6 pounder, and I use a wedge with that.

Wedge, either made out of steel of plastic. These come in very handy with a tough, or limby piece of wood.

Axe, single bit or double. My axe is a single bit, and was a present from my hubby... .

Safety glasses, if you're using a maul and metal wedge like I do, a blow that glances off the wedge may cause shards of metal to fly off the wedge. It's just a good idea to have these around.

Hearing protection, I am from the era that grew up using machinery without ear plugs. Now I can't go without them, just trying to save the hearing I do have. Again this is if you are using a metal wedge with a maul, if you are able to split the wood with just an axe, it is not noisy at all.

Cut your tree into firewood lengths to fit your stove. 16 inch is common and a full cord of 16 inch wood is a good (tight) stack that measures 4' x 4' x 8', which would really means three face cords 16" x 4' x 8'.

Trees split easier from the top down, so scrutinize your cut round to determine the top of the tree. Sometimes you can tell by the taper of the wood (smaller at top) or by the limb growth, which faces up. Place your wedge at the edge of the wood, and between the limbs, this will give you a good start. Cherry is notoriously hard to split because of the bark, and this tree was wind whipped and very limby. A tough nut to crack for sure, but very good wood for those cold winter nights.

You've heard the expression - "Tighter than bark to a tree." I think they must have been referring to a cherry tree. The bark on trees is like skin, but cherry bark is especially tight and can be used to make vessels and baskets.

As you can see the wedge is doing it's job.

The wood is very wet, and by splitting into stove size pieces you can expose more wood to the air and facilitate drying or seasoning.
When the wedge falls free, you can finish the split with an axe or your maul. In this case the axe is a sharper tool, and cuts through the the bark easier.
Just a little English on the axe and the pieces break free.

If you can get your teenager to split wood for you, all the better.
She likes to split wood, well, the easy pieces anyway.

Split and ready for stacking and drying. All woods have different properties, where heating and cooking are concerned. This cherry will be saved and probably used to hold a fire overnight when it gets unusually cold. Once stored it will keep indefinitely and only get better with age.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Sustainable Caffinated Drinks: Mate and Tea

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

If you are trying to eat (and drink) locally and sustainably, you may have come across an issue: caffeine. To drink it or not to drink it. It is certainly not within a 100 mile diet for me!

However, I love sipping my cup of joe in the morning as I read comments, emails, and news. It is a highlight of my day. So I haven't given up coffee completely - we buy locally-roasted, fair trade, shade grown, organic coffee, which is about as good as you can get without growing your own.

I have also researched how to grow coffee, and will share my research in another post. But today I'd like to share what I've learned about two other forms of caffeine. I trade off drinking these as my afternoon pick-me-up...


I traveled throughout Argentina back in 2001-2 - it happened to be just when the Argentinian economy collapsed. The trip certainly changed my world view, as I saw a country break down economically and politically overnight. But one thing that I noticed is that despite the difficult times, Argentines still came together over coffee and maté. In fact, it became very important for people to come together and help one another during that time. I hope we will do the same in our culture when times are rough.

According to the Yerba Maté Association of the Americas (I love the internet), maté tea contains antioxidants, sustains energy, improves mental clarity, boosts the immune system, may help induce weight loss, inhibits diabetes, and reduces cholesterol. There’s a study for everything, so who knows how much of that is true, but it does seem to help me feel better when I'm sick!

If maté is a bit bitter to you, try adding some ginger, dried raspberries, or some other tasty complementary flavor.

Pic: Traditionally mate is served in a hollowed gourd, and drunk through a silver straw which has a filter on the bottom. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Alfonso Hernandez, on Wikipedia.)


Our good friend Wikipedia has an entire entry devoted to the Benefits of Tea. It includes anti-cancer properties, increasing metabolism, boosting immune system and mental alertness, lowering chances of cognitive impairment, lowering stress, reducing bad breath, and several other benefits.

According to the BBC, drinking tea is healthier than water. Of course there is a study for everything, but I do believe it increases my mental alertness and lowers my stress level. The latter benefit could have a lot to do with just taking the time for myself to drink tea!

Importation of Tea

Matt and I try to buy tea that is fair trade and organically grown. However, tea tends to come from far away places, requiring a lot of fossil fuels to get them into our cupboard. China and India together produce 50% of the world’s tea, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

Growing Tea

So, I looked up how to grow tea. Turns out that it is fairly easy to grow. The same plant produces black, green, or oolong tea - the difference is in the preparation of the leaves. Even better, tea comes from a Camellia bush that has beautiful white flowers. So guess what we put in the ground this spring!

The shrub is hardy to zone 8, but in cooler areas it can be grown indoors, in a greenhouse, or in a pot that comes inside during the cold winter days. According to the above article, you can’t harvest the leaves until the plant is three years old, so you may want to purchase a mature plant rather than starting from seed.

I've written an entire article about growing tea if you would like to learn more. It's really not difficult.

Pic: Camellia sinensis. (Photo is in Public Domain, originally appearing in Kohler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, by Franz Eugen Kohler, in 1887.)

Growing Maté

Maté is a little more difficult to grow. It is an understory evergreen holly tree that grows to 20-30 feet when fully mature. Germination apparently takes several months, as it does for many trees. Also, you must grow it in zone 9 or above, though growing indoors or in a greenhouse may be an option.

Here is where I’ve found Ilex paraguariensis seeds:

There is not a whole lot of information out there about how to grow maté - it could be that most of it is in Spanish! If you know more about how to grow it, please leave a comment.


Pic: Ilex paraguariensis. (Photo is in Public Domain, originally appearing in Kohler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, by Franz Eugen Kohler, in 1887.)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Low Cost Lasagna Beds

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

One of the things that I've begun doing this year is to expand on my outreach efforts to new gardeners in my community. It's not that I'm an expert on all things garden related, by no means do I fit that bill. I have however learned a lot of things through trial and error and this spring my wife and I attended a two and a half month training program called the Master Gardener program. I learned a lot of new information and it's really helped with my efforts.

In talking to neighbors and friends, a few of which have been affected by the global economic down turn, one of their concerns is that starting a garden can be a costly adventure. That is particularly true here in northern Utah where we call home. We are very near to the shore of the Great Salt Lake and because of that our soil is salty and alkaline. Add to that the fact that it is a sedimentary soil that over thousands of years has become hard pack clay and it's not what most would call the optimum conditions for starting a new garden. Because of these factors and because Mel Bartholomew of Square foot gardening fame began his whole movement in Utah just a half hour from where we live, raised bed gardening is very big here. It's not cheap to get started though, so I felt concerned with telling people that were already tight on money that they should spend a good size chunk of it on starting a raised bed. At the same time, I know that most people starting gardens directly in the ground have a couple of years of amending the soil ahead of them before they really starting seeing the "fruits" of their labors.

Enter the "Lasagna Garden". I picked up a book at our local thrift store last summer about a garden called a lasagna garden. It wasn't what it sounded like, a garden to grow lasagna ingredients, but rather was a raised bed garden that could be started with little investment and promised little effort for good return. The basics of what this is all about is building a garden bed from miscellaneous organic materials and letting them essentially compost in place to build a fertile soil that can support a garden.

I hate to suggest anyone try something that I haven't done myself so last fall, as a part of our "liberate the lawn" efforts in the back yard, we decided to give it a shot as a sort of experimental garden plot for this year. We already had plans to build a new raised bed there, so it was easy to just modify our plans to go with this new idea. We built the raised beds along our fence line using the same type of recycled concrete blocks that we'd used for the rest of our yard landscaping and, after breaking up the ground a bit with a pitch fork, layered the bottom of the bed with cardboard pieces that were gotten for free from work.

Next I filled the bed with layers of organic material like I was putting together a sort of organic compost lasagna. I took pictures of the process.

To fill the bed, I pulled over a thin layer of soil from the existing raised bed that I was tying into. Onto that I added layers of material like straw, homemade compost, grass clippings, composted chicken manure, course sawdust that was used as chicken bedding, coffee grounds from the local coffee shop and some left over peat and vermiculite that I happened to have on hand at the end of the season.

I filled it very full knowing that it would sink and left it to sit over the winter. The fall rains soaked it, the winter snows insulated it and by early this spring we had what was beginning to look a lot like soil. A few months later and I dug into into it to plant my first crops; a mix of different plants that I hope will give me a good idea of if this benefits some more than others. I've planted watermelons, casaba melon, tomatoes, bush cucumbers, peppers and eggplants in it. The soil was soft and friable and I needed so tools at all to plant the starts.This picture was taken a little less than a month ago. So far, I am VERY impressed with the results of this method. The rich organic matter of this bed drain well, while at the same time holding a good amount of water. Below the surface, the soil looks to be very rich and fertile. This is the first time I've been able to get watermelons to grow well at all, and I'm already starting to set fruit on my pepper plants.

If your feeling a pinch in your pocketbook, or maybe have friends that are, this is a nearly zero cost alternative to building a raised bed garden that can support a lot of garden and can be worked very easily. It seems to be a good alternative and is certainly one that I look forward to exploring further.

All the best to you all.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Homemade labneh (yoghurt cheese).

By Julie, Towards Sustainability

Homemade labneh - essentially a tangy cream cheese - is so incredibly easy to make, you'll never buy cream cheese again! It's also very versatile; it can be used many ways in both savoury and sweet dishes.

Step 1:
Make or obtain some fresh plain yoghurt (the quantity doesn't matter).

Step 2:
Line a sieve or colander with a very clean open-weave cloth such as muslin, cheesecloth, or an unused Chux-type cloth (I used a clean dishcloth saved for that purpose in the photos). Pour the yoghurt into the cloth and place the sieve or colander over a bowl.

Step 3:
Wrap the cloth over the top of the yoghurt and place a saucer on top, and a weight (such as a jar) on top to speed the straining process, and place in the refrigerator.

Step 4:
After around 24 hours (sooner or later, depending on how much yoghurt you used and how dry you want the cheese), remove the weight and wrapping and tip the cheese out into a clean bowl. Ta da: basic labneh!

Note: The yellowish liquid left in the draining bowl is whey - save it for use in cooking (substitute it for buttermilk for example) or for making lacto-fermented vegetables. It can also be frozen for several months.

Now that you have your labneh, you can dress it up or down anyway you like!

Try using it as a dip: mix in chopped fresh herbs for example (in the photo below I've added chives and parsley) or diced cucumber, crushed garlic, lemon juice, chopped mint and salt and pepper to make a variation on the traditional Tzatziki dip.

You could leave it plain and drizzle it with sweet chilli sauce, a la Sweet Chilly Philly.

Or use as a sweet spread: add honey and cinnamon (orange zest is nice too) and spread on toasted fresh bread (or Gavin's bread rolls). Or mix in a little of your favourite jam or pureed berries.

How about draining it until it is very dry, add chopped herbs and roll it into walnut-sized balls. Eat fresh or store in a jar in the refrigerator covered with olive oil to use on a mezze plate. As a variation, omit the herbs and roll the balls in your favourite Middle Eastern spice mix, Dukkah (yum!) or sesame seeds.

These are just the tip of the iceburg, so to speak, as you can see, it's very quick, easy and delish. If you use organic yoghurt or make it yourself, it won't contain any chemical nasties either, which a bonus.

If you already make labneh, what's your favourite way to eat it? I'm always looking for new variations!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Home Made Bread Rolls

by Gavin, The Greening of Gavin

A while back, My wife Kim decided to make some wholemeal bread rolls for lunch. She though of it because she notice that there was a dough making setting on the bread maker, and wanted to see if we could make our own rolls cheaper than buying them. Usually we would have bought these from our local baker, but as we were trying to be frugal we decided to give it a go.

Firstly, we already had some pre-mixed bread making flour, that we had already used in the bread maker. The flour was fine, but the loaves always came out a little bit too stodgy for our liking. The bread was not firm inside, and was a bugger to cut into slices smaller than a door stop. However, if you left the bread for a day it was easier to cut. But we wanted to eat it the same day we made it!

On the back of the bread mix bag were suggestions for modifying the recipe for moulded products i.e. bread rolls or pizza dough, so I gave it a go. I measured up 560 gms of bread mix, 370 ml of warm water, and 3 teaspoons of bread making yeast. I placed the ingredients into the bread maker bowl, in the order of water, flour, yeast, set the bread maker to the dough setting and pressed start. The cycle took about an hour and 30 minutes. I think that it has one rising phases in this cycle. Once completed, I took the dough out and placed it on a floured board and let it sit for 10 minutes so it was easier to handle. Then Kim worked her magic.

She cut the dough into eight equal portions, and then did a little kneading thing (she remembered how to do this from her college days) and then rolled the top of the dough ball into some quick oats (porridge oats) to decorate the tops. She placed the unbaked rolls onto two pizza trays, oat side up, which had been sprayed with vegetable oil, and I placed warm damp tea towels over the trays. Here are the unrisen rolls.

As it is winter here, the dough would not rise by itself, so we put the gas oven on the "keep warm" setting for 5 minutes, then turned it off. This gave us the right temperature to make the rolls rise. So, into the warm oven with tea towels on top of the trays, and we left them for 30 minutes to rise. Here are the risen rolls.

After the dough had risen, I took the rolls out of the oven and uncovered them. They had nearly doubled in size and were in between the size of a dinner roll and a lunch roll. Just right we thought. Then I heated up our fan forced gas oven to 190C (374F) and after about 5 minutes put the rolls into bake. We baked the rolls for 18 minutes and left them to cool on the side.

Of course we couldn't wait the 5 minute cooling time before sampling a steaming wholemeal roll spread with butter. It was so delicious, and both Kim and I said at the same time, "Why didn't we try this before!". We both laughed and kept eating the tasty morsel. Here are the finished rolls. Don't they look yummy.

Since that day, we have made bread rolls many more times, and have found that they go so quickly (into our tummy's). Ben has had some in his school lunch box, and we eat them when we have a stew or casserole for dinner. It certainly beats making bread in the bread maker or buying them from the baker and I figured out that it costs about 7 cents per roll if you cost up the flour, electricity and gas. Pretty good seeing that you can't buy 6 rolls for less than $3 in the supermarket, or 50 cents each at the bakery.

Our success gave us the idea of making a hybrid loaf of bread. What I mean by that is, make the dough in the bread maker, and cook the dough in the gas oven in a proper bread tin. Don't get me wrong, the bread maker cooks a decent loaf of bread, but it doesn't look like a loaf of bread as it is a very tall loaf with a small top. So we made that the next day. Here is the result, and it tasted much better than store bought bread.

So, if you haven't tried it yet, I urge you to give bread making a go. It is extremely satisfying and the finished product is very tasty. If you do bake your own bread, let us know your basic method via a comment. There are so many simple ways to make our daily bread, don't you think?

Friday, 12 June 2009

Indoor compost bin

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I really enjoy reading all the gardening posts here on the Co-op. I'm just about to start my journey on learning how to grow veges and its great to read everyone's tips and experiences with gardening.

While I have not really been gardening, one thing I have done for years has been to compost. To be honest, I didn't really know what I was doing. I just put organic scraps (minus meat scraps!) into a black bin...and that's it. The bin never got full and after about 2 years, we just dug out the bottom part of the bin and spread the soil on to the (non-edible) garden. Reading through Compostwoman's article on composting, I realise now that the composting I've been doing is called the "cold" method. And I now know that's entirely normal for the compost bin to never get full and for it to take up to 2 years to get some soil out of the compost bin. For a wannabe gardener like me, I find knowing this reassuring.

Anyway, for those who are starting their journey into gardening, I thought I'd share my indoor compost bin with you which I make out of newspaper. You can see it next to my sink in this picture (circled in green):

I get the free local community newspaper once a fortnight and after I've read it, I fold the sheets into my compost bin. The origami fold that I use is shown here:

But instead of using an A4 sheet, I use two layers of newspaper broadsheets. Once its full (which it is in the picture below), I just pick it up and throw it in my compost:

Sometimes, I empty contents into the compost and put it in the recycling bin instead. But I only do that 'cause I wasn't exactly sure how to use my compost bin. Now that I know about the "hot" method, I might just start throwing it the compost bin all the time. ( that its winter, will the hot method work?)

Anyway, as I said, I'm only just starting my journey into vege gardening. If you have any tips at all for me I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Why Garden?

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I know that some people imagine gardening to be an arcane practice that only those steeped in earthy mysticism can successfully perform. Others might see it as the extravagant lifestyle choice of Smith & Hawken clad mavens. Still others dismiss it as crunchy-granola, hippy-dip folly. Harried folks just trying raise the kids while working full time simply write it off as something for those with more free time than they've got.

But here's the deal: Gardening can be very frugal. It can substitute for a gym membership in terms of the exercise it will provide you. Yet I don't want to promote the idea that gardening consists of backbreaking labor. Many garden tasks can be downright meditative; pulling weeds, for instance. For many people gardening is a form of stress reduction. Less stress equals more health, and health is always the first wealth. And gardening can put the highest quality food available anywhere, at any price, on your table for pennies on the dollar. Beyond just trimming the grocery budget, producing some of your own food helps to insulate you from the turmoil of an economy that seems to be going steadily downhill. If you know you can eat no matter what, that's one crisis that you don't have to worry about.

There's another way that gardening is frugal. When you earn your food with the sweat of your brow, rather than a swipe of a plastic card, waste is much, much harder to accept. I first remember coming across this idea in print, at the end of Joan Dye Gussow's This Organic Life. She wrote about harvesting her tiny carrots:
December 30, 1999 - I realize today as I wash the last of the just-dug carrots in the sink - cleaning up even the littlest ones because the crop was so bad this year - that what this is all really about is using up, making do, cutting down, even more than it's about eating locally. It's about fighting to model self-restraint in a society built upon encouraging lack of it. Why are we surprised when our children shoot each other over sneakers when we, their parents and grandparents, have been trying to live out the lesson that we must yield to our impulses because if we don't the economy might falter? Who but me would clean these tiny carrots? Who would try to salvage every last one against the winter that is coming and will come, and will require me to buy food in order to get through it?
I read this passage years ago, and something about it lodged in my memory, but it didn't truly become alive to me until the first time my husband and I pressed our own apple cider. We had spent hours scrubbing our homegrown apples clean, grinding them by hand, and pressing them manually in an old apple press. While my husband was pouring the cider from the collecting bucket into a sterilized plastic jug, the jug wobbled and threatened to tip over. I was genuinely alarmed. "Don't spill any!" I barked at him. The prospect of losing even a dribble of that cider was simply appalling after the hours of labor we had put into producing it. A farmer friend who was pressing her own apples and pears along with us, summed it up: "Food really becomes precious when you put all this work into it." She was right.

The end result of food becoming precious is that wasting food becomes anathema: the wastage of genuine care. And we all know there's not enough of that to go around in the world today. Since becoming more serious about gardening, and since getting to know many of my small scale, local food producers, I've come to realize that I want all of my food to be this precious. I want to eat food that either I or someone else actually gave a damn about, because I know in my bones that it is better for me, for my local community, and for the environment as a whole. Very little such food is available at the grocery store. There I find commodities, almost never anything that is precious. If we are what we eat, I don't want to eat those things. The vegetables and pantry goods are poor enough in spirit, whatever marketing term du jour might be slapped on the label. The factory farmed animal products represent another level of commoditization entirely. The misery that lies thinly concealed in those "foods" is nothing I want to consume.

One recurring "problem" with gardening is the inevitable surplus of produce. Oh, yes. It will happen, novice gardener though you may be. It might be your lettuce, or zucchini, or tomatoes, or green beans. It will change form from one year to the next. But happen it will. The predicament of course, is an asset in disguise. The solutions range from getting serious about food preservation or bartering with neighbors (both of which will further insulate you from inflation and an uncertain economy), to donating to a soup kitchen or food bank (which will make your community - and by extension you - a little more food secure), and to finding a market for your excess (which will put a little ready cash in your pocket). Needless to say, the horror of food waste mentioned above won't allow you to let the food rot in the backyard.

If the high quality of produce or the prospect of saving money doesn't move you, what about a chance to leave your children and grandchildren a viable environment, a life not horribly overshadowed by the spectre of starvation, or ecological disaster, or the civil unrest brought about by such things? In Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton's recent book A Nation of Farmers, they argue - convincingly, I might add - that enough people farming on a small scale (i.e. gardening) might save the world from the worst repercussions of global climate change and peak oil. Industrial agriculture is responsible for a significant percentage of greenhouse gas emissions just on the production end. Packaging and delivering that food to people accounts for another significant chunk of our climate changing gases. The fact that 28-50% of that oil-drenched food (depending on which source you believe) is subsequently wasted and thrown away in the US should be a national shame. Meanwhile, the fertile soils of gardens are capable of sequestering truly impressive amounts of carbon while reducing the fuel costs of feeding ourselves. Microscale agriculture can also easily avoid the worst abuses of arable land commonly perpetrated by industrial agriculture, and it produces far more abundantly per acre at the same time. The supply of food from a backyard garden is not subject to fuel shortages, power grid failures, or contaminated food recalls. Much of what was once the best farmland in America is now carved up into the sub-acre lots of suburbia. In the times that are coming, that will come, can we really afford to ignore what remains of that precious resource?

Sharon Astyk also claims, incidentally, that the sex is better when you garden. Gene Logsdon, one of America's foremost agrarian writers, asserts that successful farming or homesteading couples exude a "sensuality" that hints at what goes on behind closed doors. So there's a host of good reasons to take up gardening, either as a hobby or as a more serious commitment: healthy eating, exercise, frugality, greater food security, the environment, hope for the future. But if none of those convince you, do it for the sex.

Those of you reading in the southern hemisphere, it's time to start thinking about seed catalogs and where you'll plant in a few short months. Those of you reading in the northern hemisphere, it's probably not too late to squeeze in a batch of fast growing and cold tolerant crops this year. So get to it!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Homemade Soap- Better or Worse than chemical laden store bought brands?

by Badhuman

Clothes Line V, originally uploaded by Shilashon.

I like to read product reviews before I try something but I always wonder how long they used the product before reviewing. I know I'm guilty of trying something a couple times and then offering up my opinion only to find after weeks or months of use that I don't really like it as much as I thought I did. So I decided to give an updated review on the various soaps that my husband and I have been using for the past year and a half.

We first made our own bar soap in February of 2008. It's a relatively simple process but it is time consuming and you will want to purchase equipment explicitly for soap making so you don't get lye in your soup pot! We found ours at a local thrift shop. Our first batch was unscented and my husband and many of our friends found the lack of smell disconcerting. I still don't really understand why the absence of smell is a problem but for the second batch we made this winter (one batch lasted the two of us a year) we added citrus essential oil. I can smell it but just barely, it is enough that my husband is happy. We use it for hand soap, body soap, and shampoo. At first my hair which is thick and curly went a little crazy and I had to use leave in conditioner to tame the frizz but after a couple weeks it calmed down and my hair is now wash and wear again. I think the bar soap is pretty much perfect for all uses but my husband disagrees and would prefer a liquid soap for body and hands. Eventually we will give that a try.

Soap wasn't our first attempt at personal toiletries though, shaving cream was. Another simple but time consuming project this lasts a very long time. My husband is in fact still using that first batch made in February of 08. It makes a thick and creamy shaving cream that works well with straight razors but doesn't foam up they way a storebought brand would. My husband did need to purchase a shaving cream brush to apply it to his face and neck. I'm not entirely sure why, I think it helps smooth it out on his face for more consisten coverage. I stopped using shaving cream entirely and just use soap and water.

In stark contrast to these successes have been our utter failure at finding an effective eco friendly or homemade dish washer detergent. We've tried Method, Seventh Generation, Phosphate Free Palmolive and a mix of borax and washing soda with varying degrees of success. None of them worked really well and none of them gave consistent results in different dish washers. My best advice is unfortunately to experiment and find out what works for you.

What we do use borax, washing soda and grated fels naptha soap for is laundry soap. Mix

1 cup grated Fels Naptha Soap
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup 20 mule team borax

You can use the same ingredients and make a liquid laundry soap but the powdered version takes up a lot less space to store and is certainly easier to prepare. I use 1 tbs for a regular load of laundry, 2 tbs for J.'s heavy duty (and often really dirty) work clothes. I use cold water for everything and line dry it. The clothes come out clean with a faint "soapy" smell. We've been using this for almost six months now and I don't see any need to switch. Unlike the soap and shaving cream this is super easy to make. And all three cost pennies on the dollar to make versus what it would cost to purchase at the store.

Do you make any of your own soaps?

Garden Fare

Don - A View From the Green Barn

As I was planning out my vegetable garden this year, I was forced to think seriously about what I would plant and why I would plant particular things. How do I choose what I will grow? Since I am relatively new to having a veg garden, I don't have decades of eating and enjoying the "fruits" of my garden, but also I don't have the experience of knowing what is easy to grow and what might prove difficult. As I pored over the millions of seed catalogues and studied various blogs, I started to formulate a plan.

Here is what I came up with for my veg patch this year:

Tomatoes: I have three types of tomatoes, heirloom brandywines, hybrid better boys, and romas. I chose these three because I wanted to see what all the hoopla about the brandywines is all about, the better boys, because they get large and we like to fry them in olive oil while they are green, and the romas, because we like to make salads with tomatoes in them and it just feels good to use a tomato with an Italian name.

Pole beans: I have never tried growing pole beans, I have done the bush variety and we ate a lot of fresh green beans last summer! This year, I decided to do a Three Sisters garden, based on the Chippewa Native Americans' gardening model. I have about ten pole beans in the ground and about two feet long, getting ready to grow up the corn stalks as they shoot skyward.

Squash: This is the third sister of the three mentioned earlier. I have several varieties of squash growing. Most are for eating, some are for craft ideas. I have a yellow squash, some zucchini, two types of pumpkin, one is the Cinderella pumpkin and the other is the typical jack o lantern type. I also have some luffa as well as some birdhouse gourds taking up space.

Peppers: I have a nice variety of peppers growing this year. I have three different types of bell peppers, green, yellow and red. I also have some banana peppers as well as three types of hot peppers. I also am trying to grow some black peppers for my daughter to use in her flower arrangements for her wedding.

Corn: I chose a white and yellow combo sweet corn for the Three Sisters garden. I'll let you know how that turns out. I also have two short rows of popcorn growing way out back. I hope they are far enough apart so the pollen doesn't get mixed up!

Herb bed: Cilantro, parsley, rosemary, basil, marjoram, chives, thyme and sage are all growing happily in the herb bed. I have a dill plant mixed in with the corn and beans. I also have three rows of green onions.

That sounds like a lot of stuff! However, if you are a gardener, you know that you often wish you had planted more of some things and less of others. I have a feeling that I will wish I had planted more sweet corn.

What have you planted this year and how is it going? (or for you all who are down under, how did it go?)

I will give photo updates next time.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Reuse household containers in the garden

By Marc @ GardenDesk

It is always important to recycle what we can. Just as good, if not better, is reusing or re purposing what otherwise would become garbage. A big item in this category for me is using gallon plastic milk or water jugs in the garden. They are handy just to carry water to a plant in need, but my favorite way to use them as waterers is by turning them into drip waterers. Two years ago, those jugs are the only thing that got us through the worst drought in my lifetime.

In addition to using jugs as waterers, I like to use them for frost protection in early spring. One way is as makeshift wall-o-waters.

I fill up four or five jugs with water and surround a new seedling. The sun warms the water in the jugs during the day which provides the plant with warmth. Some of that heat is retained at night even, which helps the plant get through a cold night.

For even more protection from cold or frost, I cut the bottom out of the jugs and individually place them directly over the plants as cloches.

If I worry about too much heat building up, I leave the cap off.

That way, I can also peak inside without removing the jug.

I don't use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, but occasionally I mix up some strong compost tea for added nutrition. Gallon jugs are also good to use for this.

On GardenDesk I recently posted how I just added an area in my yard for extra tomatoes that will need a large amount of liquid compost.

I'm sure there are many other uses for jugs in the garden, but these are the few that came to mind. I encourage you to re-use other items in the garden too. It is fun to be creative, help the environment and save money all at the same time. I'd love to hear how you re-purpose items in for use in your garden.

Keep Growing!