Tuesday, 31 August 2010

What the World Needs Now

by Gavin, The Greening of Gavin

As Burt Bacharach wrote “What the world needs now, is love sweet love”! Not in the physical sense, but in the community sense. Things like pride of place, which is a sense of community love or to put it in a better way, pride of where you and others around you live.

I have described previously I believe that to live fulfilling and sustainable lifestyle, you need other like minded people to share the journey with you. It is a lonely place to be in if you attempt to down-shift in isolation or take steps to build a sustainable community without others to help and to share the passion and to bounce ideas off of.

I have found that people who attempt to live this kind of lifestyle, usually are involved in at least one community group, sometimes two or three depending on their interests. This is a great way to meet like minded people, learn new skills and to build long lasting friendships. However, with these connections there comes a greater responsibility to other than self.

You have the needs, desires and well-being of others to contend with. I liken it to an extended family, who care about each other, which I believe leads to a deep sense of belonging. Humans want to belong, other wise we would not have congregated into hamlets, village, towns, cities or megalopolises over the last 10,000 years.

With these communal structures in place other needs begin to become fulfilled, like security of food, water, shelter and the like. Even in bad times, a tight knit community looks out for one another.

Now, having a strong and dare I say, loving community structure is a great goal to achieve and it reminds me of the country town I grew up in. I must admit that I had forgotten about the one resource that is sustainable, renewable, abundant and is not peaking - love and compassion:

Personally, I for one will not stop caring for my community, the environment and planet Earth. I believe we can create a sustainable and peaceful future together because I truly believe in human nature.

I know we can show this planet we love it!!!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Wildcrafting and Cheap Entertainment

by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

One of the ways I am expanding my pantry this year is to explore the natural resources in our timber. Look what I found....

Wild plum and elderberry. I found these while taking a walk with the girls on Friday. Last year a friend made me elderberry syrup that I used whenever I felt a cold coming on and I was the only one in the house who didn't really ever get sick last winter. Awesome. I hope to make some syrup of our own for this winter.

The wild plum was unexpected. It is in a place that it should have been obviously blooming in the Spring and we totally missed it. How is that possible? Very excited about the plums.

And.....I have these in flower vases. My girls love to pick flowers and these little beauties are EVERYWHERE. Flowers really do make me smile and a tiny girl with both hands full of flowers for mama makes me smile bigger than I ever imagined was possible.

Here they are riding along side of my walking. Lily is teaching Holly how to "drive".  Taking long walks in our back yard/woods is a wonderfully simple way to spend an evening. We packed some peaches and juice and called it a night.

I think with all the entertainment options for kids and adults alike we can easily forget the free option of a nice walk outside. We did this when we lived cityside too. And while taking these walks in the city we would meet neighbors and find fruit trees, much like we do out here in the country. Right now our neighbors are breeding cows and harvesting silage and hay.

There are hidden resources to be discovered. What are some you have found?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Dutch Oven Baking

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's summertime here, and for me, that means camping. My dad loved being outdoors in the Colorado Rockies - hunting, fishing, and camping - and passed that love on to his children. I now live in Nevada, my sister four hours away in California. Between us lies the Sierra Nevada mountain range - a perfect halfway meeting area for joint camping trips whenever we can manage it.

When we meet, shortly after setting up camp, it's show & tell time - to share any new camping gadget or accessory we've found. A couple of years ago, my latest toy was a small cast iron dutch oven. This is a real one - not a flat-bottomed one designed to be used on a stovetop or inside an oven, but one with feet and a rim around the top to hold the coals. And I wanted to learn to use it as an oven - serving up fresh, hot baked goods in my campsite.

As with all my cast iron cookware, I took the time to season the oven before using it, then clean it without using soap and heat it to make sure it's completely dry after use. It's pretty much non-stick now anyway, but I also grease it well while still cold, each time before baking, just to make sure.

I've turned out some pretty good cornbread, using my regular recipe, and camping pizza is next on the experimentation list. For these photos, I used a pop-open roll of refrigerated cinnamon rolls (a special treat for my nephews).

Maybe someday I'll be able to correctly judge the heat from campfire coals, but for now using charcoal briquettes is my best chance for something edible. Each briquette equals about 15 degrees F (-9.5C) of cooking heat, so for a 350F (177C) oven I need 23-24 briquettes. I count those out into my little starter chimney and get them going first thing. When they're pretty much completely covered with ash, I dump them out to start baking.

A set of tongs is useful for setting the briquettes in place. For baking, you want mostly indirect heat so a 2:1 ratio, top:bottom, is ideal. I evenly space one-third of the coals around on flat ground, set the oven on top of them, and then arrange the remaining two-thirds evenly around the top. If I have the heat right, timing is about the same as in a regular oven. My nose is also a pretty good guide - the smell of cinnamon is soon wafting on the breeze.

When done, a claw hammer makes a good tool for lifting the oven off the coals, and then lifting the hot lid without tipping the coals into the oven. With a metal spatula, I can then tip up an edge of the bread, and lift it out of the oven in one piece (for pizza, I'm thinking I might make lifting handles from a strip of greased foil pressed into the bottom before adding the dough and toppings).

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Summer Season in Review

by Francesca


My garden is showing the first hints of autumn, and since this is my last post at the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op for the month of August, it seems a good opportunity to look back at the summer season. I take my lead here from Amber of, and her neat tradition of “A Month in Review” in which she lists and briefly comments on the main things she's learned during that month. I'd like to do the same today, as some of the things I've learned during this gardening season have come from the readers of this blog.

So, here are some of the things I learned so far:

  1. Intercropping requires careful short-term and long-term planning. I made two main mistakes this year: I intercropped radicchio, chili peppers and carrots, to combine a leaf, a vegetable, and a root vegetable. However, it didn't occur to me that I was growing three plants of the same height, quite close together, and all three with long growing cycles. As a result, the plant stuck in the middle (the chili peppers), which happened to be the one I was most interested in, didn't grow very well. Also, I intercropped perennial flowers of the Asteraceae family, like calendula officinalis, with my vegetables, not considering that the perennials will make it difficult to hoe and work the soil next spring without damaging them.

  2. I planted potatoes for the first time in many years (here), and learned from Brenda of Sense of Home how to cure them before storing them here.

  3. When in doubt, it's wise to over-plant. I planted enough tomatoes for eating fresh, but not enough for canning. I knew I was going to be on the road for a whole month, and I was afraid the tomato plants might not make it. As it turned out, they were among the vegetables that did the best during my month away (here). Had I planted more, right now I'd be putting up tomato sauce.

  4. Mulching is a great practice to use while you're on the road, as Sue of Garden Notes suggested in the comments here: it retains moisture and it suppresses weed growth.

  5. Neem oil is a natural remedy that diluted can be successfully used in the garden as a parasiticide and an insecticide, as Theresa of All of Us, and AG Ambroult of Elemental commented (here, with more suggestions on homemade insects repellants).

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned – or rather, re-learned – this season is that when it comes to gardening, you can never stop learning.

What did you learn in your garden this season?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Saving the Freshness of Summer

Here at Chiot's Run we make sure we're enjoying all the fresh tastes of summer. Since we've been trying to eat more seasonally and not spend as much time canning & preserving, I've been making sure to enjoy things as they're at their peak. That means we've been eating sliced fresh tomatoes with every meal.

One of our other favorite fresh summer tastes is pesto. I usually make a batch and we enjoy it on; homemade pasta, pizza, toast, vegetables, etc. My pesto recipe is very simple, I use walnuts or pecans instead of pine nuts because I always have some in the freezer.

1/4 cup of walnuts
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 1/2 cups of fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup good olive oil
3 T. butter
1/4 cup romano cheese
salt & pepper to taste

Add walnuts, garlic and basil to food processor and process until finely chopped. Drizzle with 1/3 cup of good olive oil and process until combined, add 3 Tablespoons of butter and pulse until blended. Empty contents into bowl and stir in cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to rest for a few hours before serving.

This particular batch of pesto was enjoyed over some fresh linguine that I made last night. There's enough left over for something else, I'm thinking make a white lasagne with cheese and pesto and no marinara.

What are you enjoying at the peak of it's fresh flavor?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Generosity vs Frugality?

by Eilleen, Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

I hope your weekend is going well.

A few days ago, I posted in my personal blog about my children's generosity in donating some of their pocket money to help out Olivia, a little girl with cancer.

I have thought about about this incident a little further and thought I'd share. Just a bit of a background. I give my children pocket money as a way to teach them how to manage money - to learn how to set financial goals, delay instant gratification and impulse buys.

So, when my children first took out some of their pocket money to give to Olivia, I have to admit I felt a bit conflicted. While I was overwhelmingly proud of their generosity a small part of me wondered whether I should be encouraging them to continue to save towards their goals first before "giving their money away". I wondered, how can they learn frugality when they make "impulsive" decisions like this?

On reflection, I'm glad I didn't listen to that little voice. For one thing, I realised that as with most things, there will ALWAYS be financial goals to set and reach. However, being rigid on achieving those goals to the exclusion of generosity to others, is....well...rather sad.

Generosity can go hand-in-hand with frugality. One of the things I've learned from the many people here and those who have commented on my blog - that frugality is NOT about being a scrooge - frugality is about making considered choices. Frugality is about ensuring that one has the means to live in accordance with one's values.

So the way I see it, the path to frugality involves a good understanding of yourself and a commitment to your values.

And generosity is about unconditional release of yourself and the sharing of your values with others.

Generosity is an outcome of true frugality.

And in thinking of it that way, I realise that in showing their generosity, my children are already well on the path of learning frugality.

If you would like to know more about Olivia's story, visit this page:

Thursday, 19 August 2010

No Compromise

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Lately the budget has been a bare-minimum-essentials-only kind of budget, which has made me think about what one can go without and what items are not up for negotiation. I am sure the list looks different for each of us as our families are in different seasons and our bodies need different things! Currently I'm going without tv (4 months + now), a car, pets, cell-phone or visits to friends further than my two legs will carry me :) However there are some things I haven't gone without (yet!) and I thought I'd share here!

My No Compromise (Yet!) List:

  • Organic milk (admittedly I drink very little milk, so really this is a once a month purchase at most!)
  • 3 fruits a day and 3 veg a day (although I actually find this cheaper than junk food! My grocery bill this week was $22)
  • A swimming pass - nothing fancy just a local rec centre!
  • A phone card ($5/month) to phone close family members half the world away!
  • A bare bones vitamin regime - Currently taking folic acid with Vit D & Calcium and a Vitamin E; when the budget allows I'll go back up to my 5 vitamins a day!

Looking at my list almost everything relates to health, this could be because I have a long term health condition, so staying in good health includes quite a bit of work on my part! I also can think of a lot of things I now am willing to go without which before were more important, cable TV is one example, magazines are another!

So I'd love it if we yet again played a little game! What do you not compromise on in your budget and why? Has this changed as you've grown on your simple, green & frugal journey?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Simple Soda Syrups

By Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow

Due to just being around people in general, soda pop made its way into our house. For years I have been battling to get it back out. Rather than throw my hands up in despair while my husband and children begged for it (mostly just on the days they were terribly bored with iced tea or the occasional juice), I figured out a substitute. I hate to see anything thrown out, and I love creative uses of anything else. This led to soda syrups, which we use with sparkling water in a ratio of roughly 3 to 1. These syrups impart more than enough flavor to a drink, and yet are far, far, FAR less sugar (even if they are still a syrup!) than a normal soda, and have none of that "other stuff". I have been using whatever I have left over from canning other preserves, plus the wonderful fruit finds from our local grocery store and markets-ours has a big cart it tosses "going to spoil soon" fruit in for pennies on the dollar. These mixes of fruit (right now mostly stone fruit) make wonderful syrups. We have also been making herbal and foraged syrups. What follows is my basic recipes. These are fabulous added to iced teas in place of sugar, as well. They could be made with honey, but my pocket book prefers I stay away from that until we have our own source. I include the lemon juice in all the recipes because I do not know the specific varieties of some of these fruits, or their precise age and it is my safety net. Plus, lemon is good with any fruit :)

Basic fruit syrup:
Clean, pit/seed and chop up your fruit-whatever kinds. You can mix and match or do all the same.
Put them in a pot with a little water to keep them from scorching while you cook them down. I cook mine around 15-20 minutes, and mash them while while cooking to release as much juice as possible.
Once it looks like they are sufficiently mushy and pulpy, strain the entire mixture into a separate pan, like you would for jelly or cheese (I use a plain, white cotton dish towel and hang it from my cabinets over a bowl). Let it drip until it drips no more. Do not squeeze, unless you want cloudy syrup-which isn't a really big deal. It tastes the same, but you may end up with little pieces of pulp in your glass, too.
Measure out how much juice you have into a stock pot, and add the same amount of sugar-this is a syrup, folks! Bring the whole thing up to a boil and boil just long enough for the sugar to fully dissolve and incorporate. Add 1/4 c lemon juice per batch of syrup.
Fill your sterilized canning jars (you could easily keep this in quarts, though we use pints and half pints as I like to change up my flavors a lot), clean the rims, top with sterilized lids, and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
We have used grapes, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, strawberries and canteloupe in all sorts of concoctions for this this summer, and I have a watermelon waiting to become watermelon and watermelon mint soon.

For an herbal syrup (our fave right now is chocolate mint, we are making an almond flavored one from peach leaves today): Take two cups of fresh picked leaves, tear and bruise them, and add two cups of water.
Place in a pan and boil your leaves to basically make a tea-5-10 minutes depending on how strong you want it. Taste it!
Strain out the leaves and add 2 cups of sugar to the liquid. Boil this until the sugar fully incorporates.
Follow the canning instructions above.

These are great in coffee, as well. There are wonderful posts around the net on using foraged items like elderflower and Queen Anne's Lace (just omit the pectin recommended here to make it a syrup) in syrups, as well.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Planning for Spring

written by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin

There were a few big ticket items on this weekends agenda. 

As the moon was a waxing crescent (I plant by the moons phases), it was an ideal time to start sowing most of my leafy and flowing vegetables for spring planting.  Due to the investment in a greenhouse in early March this year, I will be able to extend my growing season and get ahead of the game by about two months.

Last spring, I didn't get much started until early November and my harvest tally suffered dramatically.  I reckon that I had a reduction of about 25% from the previous year, however I had planted just as many seedlings.  The season was just not long enough for them.  One big bonus were the pumpkins, which gave us a massive crop in a small space.  We still have 3 Queensland Blue pumpkins in storage.

So what did I plant?  Glad you asked, and here is the list.
  • Cucumber - spacemaster
  • Cucumber - sweet and striped
  • Zucchini - Black Beauty
  • Tomatillo - Purple
  • Pumpkin - Australian Butter
  • Pumpkin - Turks Turban
  • Rainbow Chard
  • Eggplant - mixed
  • Tomato - Tommy Toe
  • Tomato - Purple Russian
  • Tomato - Black Russian
  • Tomato - Amish Paste
  • Tomato - Broad Ripple Yellow Current
  • Tomato - Tigerella
  • Lettuce - Mizuna
  • Lettuce - Meslun Mix
  • Lettuce - Italian Lollo mix
  • Celery
  • Wild Arugla

These are all sown in punnets, with my 10 yo son Ben helping out.  However this is only the beginning of my warm season crop.  There will also be carrots, beetroot, spring onions, basil, coriander, and many other as the space in the garden becomes available.

Obviously, from the current state of my garden in this post, it is fully planted out with my winter crops which will continue to grow for a few more months.  This will give me time to harden the new seedlings, transplant them to bigger pots from the punnets, and get them well established when the beds are available.

I hope to be able to sow extras each month up until about November so that I have a fairly continuous supply over the summer.  I also plan to put the more heat sensitive plants like lettuce in big pots that I will locate on the southern, shaded side of the yard.  Maybe this will stop them wilting in the strong sun and bolting to seed quickly as they normally tend to do.

The second big task was the soap making, where we made five kilograms of home made soap from vegetable oil, which was fully described in a short 16 minute video in this post titled, "Soap Making".  It was great fun to make the video as well, and you should have soon the blooper reel that I cut out.  Trying to keep a straight face on camera, when my wife is giggling in the background is no mean feat.

Anyway, that was my sustainable living weekend.  What did you do that helped you onwards on you sustainable journey?

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Maintenance Free

by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

Well, not really. I used to joke in graduate school architecture classes that "maintenance free" means you can't fix it, you have to replace it when something goes wrong and usually pay someone a lot of money to do so. That's why people selling materials and services often push the maintenance free products.

Our life is not maintenance free. Our lives are simpler for this.

We love old houses. Much the reason I love them is that the materials were built to last if maintained. A piece of siding fails? Replace just that piece. A wooden shingle gets damaged? Replace just that one shingle. Plaster? Patch. People knew how to do the work or they figured it out. Sure there were a few super wealthy individuals who had massive grounds and servants and people who too care of these things, but they were the minority. And likely, they still knew how to do the things.

Then cars came along. At first it was the same principle that applied. People could fix their own cars when something went wrong. Things got fixed, cars lasted longer. They were built to be repaired and maintained.

Now, we take it to the shop or call an expert. The knowledge is specialized. If the work is too expensive, we junk the car or house and buy a new one or move. Disposable. Same with household appliances, they used to be built to be repaired. Buying a new one was a huge deal, fixing the simple engines were cheap and made sense.Now its just easier to send it to the landfill and buy a new one at a big box store. People often throw away perfectly working ones just to upgrade because it is so cheap to do so. We also put our trust and faith in people who are selling us things. We have to trust that they are doing so honestly and that the people we hire are doing the work competently, not that the average person would be able to tell. If you do the work yourself and research and choose your own product, you only have yourself to blame. Your motivation for quality is different. Yes, there are excellent and honest contractors and salespeople and the like, but how can you know until it is too late? The money is spent and more will be spent to repair and replace if something goes wrong early. I see this so often with new houses and new construction projects that I no longer laugh, it is tragic and an epidemic.

We recently applied the same ideology that we applied to our our vehicles. It started out that all of our cars and our farm truck needed major work this past year. It depleted our savings and our resources and got to a point that when the oil needed to be changed and the brake pads started squealing, the answer was to park it and drive just our one car. Until that car had the brakes do out too. The farm truck gets horrible mileage. Driving that was super expensive, plus I needed it at home to haul feed. We had access to excellent and honest mechanics, but just had no money for it.

Then I read a friend's blog where she said that replacing your own brake pads was easy and not expensive. That she could do it herself. Huh? So I suggested it to my dear husband who really really wanted to learn this particular set of skills. I know he had hoped to learn on our farm tractor, but here was a very real need.

So he started with the brake pads. Then the next car had need of those AND a new master cylinder. Success! So then he changed the oil and air filters. He dis some maintenance on the farm truck too. We spent a couple hundred dollars on work that would have collectively cost us thousands that we didn't have. The reality of it was that we would have tried to put it off until we could pay for it and then the whole brake systems would have needed to be replaced or worse. In the meantime we'd be spending more money to drive broken vehicles or the farm truck, not really safe.

By doing the work ourselves, by gaining this knowledge and confidence we CAN keep up our investments of home and auto. We can drive and live in safety and comfort and not defer or delay repairs. We can fix and electrical short, patch plaster, fix the dishwasher and washing machines. We don't have to replace when the warranty runs out and the machine breaks the very next day (though that is still really annoying.) 

With the Internet, these things are easily accessible. There are e-How's and parts can be ordered. There are forums with experts who answer questions. There are pictures and videos. It is all accessible to us.

In the past year, in addition to our recent car repairs, we have fixed both our new dryer and washing machines, the refrigerator twice (saving our food too),  the hot water heater (no small feat since it is a tankless), the free dishwasher we got, and the kitchen sink. None of these fixes were expensive or even difficult, but replacing the items with exact models would have been collectively over $4,000. I think we spent less than $100. Some of these items were just days past their warranties, so less than 2 years old and the hot water heater was in warranty but we lived so far away from a licensed technician that it would have cost us $300 just to have him drive here. The folks at the water heater company talked my husband through the repair over the phone after overnighting the part.

What can you do next time something breaks? Will it break your bank?

Saturday, 14 August 2010

A Frugal Virtue - Patience

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I was not brought up in a particularly frugal household.  I come from a middle of the road, middle-class American family.  My parents made decent money most of the time, though there were periods when my father was laid off.  They didn't tend to indulge in big, extravagant purchases, but neither did they sock away every penny.  Looking back, I know that a lot of money trickled through my parents' fingers by way of waste, and a steady stream of small but frivolous purchases.  I wasn't taught the skills of living frugally at home, so I had to learn frugality as an adult. 

I suppose that even most people who are raised in a frugal home must do the same thing, since most of us tend to rebel at least a little from our parents.  It took me a while to apply myself seriously to the study of frugality.  I went through a learning phase, really not so very long ago, when I read the books and actively looked for all sorts of frugal tips, techniques, and advice.  All those things are useful.  But I also found that there were a few larger, overarching values or virtues that profoundly shape a frugal life.  One of those is patience, or the ability to delay gratification.

Patience is regarded as a virtue in the Catholic faith I was brought up in, and by many other major religions.  It's not highly regarded or promoted in western culture though.  Our entire capitalist economy and in particular the credit boom of the '90s encouraged all of us to buy it now! don't delay! hurry! give yourself a break!  In trying to live a frugal life, we have to swim hard against that tide, and struggle counter to the cult of instant gratification.  It's a hard thing to learn patience, especially least at first.  It's not a skill easily acquired, or at least it wasn't for me.  After all, most skills need practice, and when the skill you're trying to develop is patience, well... by definition, those who most lack it are going to have the hardest time developing it.  I was one of them.  It seems incredible to me now, but even waiting until my vegetables were ready for harvest was difficult for me a few years back.

Patience is indeed a virtue, and one worth deliberately cultivating if you wish to live a frugal life.  I still wrestle once in awhile with the impulse to just go out and buy something I've taken it into my head to want.  But slowly it has become easier and easier to accept that I don't need to have everything immediately.  Age helps.  I've gotten this far without whatever it is that I think I want, so how important could it really be?

Patience allows me to request books that interest me through the inter-library loan program, when my own library doesn't have a copy, rather than buying them myself.  No small benefit for households that read as much as we do.

Patience often allows me to wait for something to turn up at an annual church rummage sale, or on a craigslist listing, at a yard sale, etc. Now, when that rummage sale comes around on the calendar and the very two items I've had on my list for months are priced at about $1 each, the satisfaction is enormous.

Patience helps me believe that many tiny changes and efforts will have big effects in the long term.  It's a form of faith, and confidence in the future.  Without patience, would I ever see the benefit of saving a few pennies each day by using cloth napkins instead of buying paper?

And yes, patience helps me wait for the potato and garlic and tomato crops to ripen in their turns.   The garden teaches patience and many other virtues if we but allow it.

Those of us who choose the frugal path will likely walk that path for years.  Our goals may vary from paying off a mortgage or saving enough to buy a home without one.  We may have children to provide for, or elders to care for.  They all take discipline over the long term.  Patience and frugality are bound up with one another. Patience allows us to hold to our path when it looks unending.  It allows us to persevere when we question why we do what we do, and when we wonder whether our efforts are bringing us closer to our goals.

 Is patience a skill you've mastered?  What other skills or virtues help you live the life you want?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Salvage Operations

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" was the Depression era mantra. "Reduce, reuse, recycle" popular when I came of age. The idea never really goes away, and with the resurgence of the simple, frugal mindset in today's economic distress it seems more important than ever.

Salvage operations can run the gamut from huge to tiny, depending on what you have, what you can find, and what kind of space you have to store those finds. A few years ago, a 1940's-era trailer park below us was taken out in order to build a new strip mall. We watched as the residents left, and the trailers still movable were taken out. I checked with the project manager about salvaging what was left. Other than the office building, wrapped for hazardous asbestos remediation, he told me to help myself. They were going to bulldoze everything, and had to pay for everything hauled away by weight. If we wanted to "lighten their load," we had a couple of weeks to quietly help ourselves.

Wire fencing we rolled up - fencing always comes in handy around gardens and chickens. A few dry-stacked cinder block walls and cement patio blocks also found their way up to our place. The few remaining trailers, too decrepit to move, were pretty heavily vandalized by local teens, but we did find a couple of exterior doors we could use. One now graces our chicken coop, its sliding window providing welcome summertime ventilation.

Even more important, to us, were the trees in between the now-empty spaces. We gave a friend with access to a tree spade first chance at them, but he could only take out a couple because of the crisscrossed mess of electric, gas, and water pipes buried over the years. Then, it was our turn. We heat with wood - chunks of 50-year old apple, sycamore, and locust soon added to our firewood stacks.

Of course, you don't need a truck or lots of land to salvage things for reuse. Many of my canning jars came from Freecycle offerings. Mom had her junk drawer in her house in the suburbs; Dad had an old coffee tin filled with odd little bits of hardware out in the garage. When I inherited my mother-in-law's button box, she'd obviously cut sets of buttons from worn clothing, then tied them together with bits of string. Even the rubber bands from the daily newspaper and twist ties from bread wrappers have their spots in my kitchen drawer; plastic freezer bags are washed and hung up to dry over my sink.

Just a couple of caveats: anyone that's seen the reality TV shows about hoarders knows that sometimes people can go too far. Creative people are most at risk of this mindset - they're the ones that can come up with all kinds of reasons something "might" be nice to have. You have to balance what you find with what you really can use (fabric stash-busting, anyone?). And beware that upholstered piece of furniture out on the curb - it might not be such a good find after all. You certainly wouldn't want to bring bedbugs or other pests into your home just because it's free.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Natural Insect & Disease Control - an ebook (and some local wisdom)

by Francesca

stink bug 2

The other day, I noticed that my chard patch got infested by some bugs. Several leaves had turned yellow, and many others had large brown spots. Looking closely at my chard, it wasn't difficult to find the likely culprit: hiding right among the stems I could spot many good-sized brown bugs!

When disease or insects attack my vegetable garden, I often simply uproot and destroy the affected plants for fear that they might spread to the rest of the garden. But there are exceptions, and my poor chard was one of them: it's one of the few crops that survived my summer travels (here), and moreover it will continue producing for several months, until springtime. I needed to treat my chard. So I turned to the Internet.

After a little research, I found the best book on natural insect and disease control I've ever come across, entirely published online in Google books. What an amazing resource! The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Disease and Insect Control edited by Barbara W Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley, allowed me first of all to determine that the “brown bugs” in my garden were “brown stink bugs”. This book also suggested ways to prevent them, or - as last resort - to control them by dusting the affected plants with pyrethrin powder, a natural organic compound with potent insecticidal properties. I happened to have pyrethrin powder, but because this book is mainly about North American insects and diseases, I wanted to be sure that my bugs were definitely stink bugs. So I asked my neighbors.

stink bugs

Farmers for generations, my neighbors have taught me most of what I know about gardening, and always have the answer to my gardening troubles. In the rare cases when they don't, they have at least a couple of suggestions, which normally solve the problem. My 86 year old neighbor unhesitatingly confirmed the diagnosis I'd made with the help of the ebook, but didn't agree with the treatment. “Oh, no! You just remove them one by one, and squish them dead.” he said. “They are very prolific, you know” he added to make his statement more urgent.

And so I went to find my gardening gloves. And my pyrethrin.

What steps to you take when insects or disease infest your garden?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Finding Inspiration

by Chiot's Run

Sometimes gardening can get to be a bit of a drag, it's hard work and hot work this time of year and it's easy to get discouraged. My gardens are far from where I want them to be and sometimes I feel stuck. When this happens, I need inspiration to make me look at things in a new way and to encourage me to keep going. Sometimes leafing through a beautiful garden book, or visiting a nice garden is all I need to restore my gardening spirit. It can be a lovely garden down the street, or a nice botanical garden far away.

I really enjoy reading about Thomas Jefferson and his love of gardening and I've always wanted to visit Monticello. Seeing photos of his gardens have always inspired me, and I was finally able to make a trip to see them. One of the things that I found very inspirational in his gardens was his use of natural materials throughout the garden. I really enjoyed seeing saplings and twigs used to support beans, peas, tomatoes and squash. I'm definitely inspired to do more of this in my garden. My gardens are surrounded by woods, so I have an endless supply of saplings and twigs.

His gardens are beautiful and beneficial and really inspirational. If you haven't read about his gardens or seen them I'd highly recommend it. I'll be posting a slide show of my visit on my blog later this week. (here it is for all interested)

I came home from my journey renewed and ready to tackle my garden once again. Ready to work on making my gardens more beautiful than they already are and inspired to use as many natural materials as I can for fencing and plant supports. By doing this I will not only be saving money, but using natural local materials is a great way to make your gardening even lighter on the planet!

Where do you find inspiration when your gardening spirit it low?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Frugal canning - time & money

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's that time of year when the garden abundance is staring you in the face and the thought of filling your shelves with home canned food is now a reality.

But, if you're just starting out, canning is an expensive proposition. Canners, jars, lids, raw ingredients, and misc tools start to add up, not to mention your time and labor. Many times the items that make the most impact on our budgets are the little things, not the big dollar items that with a good deal represent a large one-time savings. Say that steal on the practically new pressure canner at an estate sale is hard to argue with, but where the money really adds up is the continual purchase of lids, etc., over the years. One new option now is to buy re-usuable lids, they are expensive but should be a one-time purchase. Another way to save money is to can some items in larger quantities.

For instance in my kitchen for our family of three, I can most of my tomato sauce in quarts and some pints, depending on what my sauce yield is. Let's say, my batch may yield 5 1/2 quarts of sauce, so in that instance I would can either 5 quarts and one pint, or maybe depending on my pint tally I might can 3 quarts and 5 pints. And even though we have pizza once a week and I only use one cup or 1/2 pint of tomato sauce for my marinara sauce, I never can my sauce in 1/2 pint jars, because I have to purchase many more lids and jars to do that. Besides saving money on jar and lid purchases, by being frugal this way, that many more lids won't be manufactured, and have to be recycled. To get around the large quantity problem of having an opened quart of tomato purée, I repackage the remainder in half pint jars, one will go in the fridge for the next week's pizza and the other two will go in the freezer for either pizza or when I need a cup of tomato sauce for another recipe. By then I have a little space in the freezer, so I can tuck a jar in here or there, and I am mindful that I have those jars in freezer needing to be used.

I also try to use regular mouth lids and jars where they are appropriate. Too many years of being judged at the county fair by strict judges who suffered through the Depression, in many cases the money just wasn't available, they had no choice. Wide mouth jars and lids were deemed fitting for hard to pack items such as peaches and pears or foods that contained fats that would be hard to clean. I priced lids yesterday while I was at the store, and the price difference between wide mouth and regular ranged from $.65 to $.99 per dozen lids. It doesn't sound like much, but these days aren't really so different for many, fifty cents here and there does add up. So those lessons have stuck with me, I appreciate all my jars sizes and their many uses, and I cringe when I see all wide-mouth jars. Sorry, old ingrained habits and ideals are hard to break.

The other intangible in canning and home food production is time. We are aware of it, but when we aren't receiving a paycheck for our work, but a jewel-toned jar instead - we tend to gloss over how much time it really takes to preserve food at home. When preserving season hits in earnest we are all stretched for time, whether you work at home or away - any time savings is a gift. If I can fill 7 jars instead of 28, in the case of quarts vs. 1/2 pints, I have just put some money in my time piggy bank, not to mention I just saved a dollar in lid purchases.

Ahh, a little of summer preserved for the dark days. What do you do to save time preserving the season's bounty?

Sunday, 8 August 2010

When you wander off the simple, green, frugal path...

by Eilleen, Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

Readers of my personal blog would know that I have been having a hard time lately. I am now at the tail end of wrapping up my divorce and things have finally sunk in that I really am now a single parent. While the simple and frugal path has helped me at the beginning of this big life change - (indeed, I was astounded at how easily I was able to adjust to an income a third of what I was used to) now that the big upheavals are behind me and the dust is settling, I found myself craving "easy" and "normality".

And so over the last few months, I found myself opting for more and more takeaway and convenience meals. Buying things that "everyone else" has....I even bought a TV, even though I didn't really watch it! Buying presents (just like everyone else does) and buying DVDs so that my kids can watch something (on the brand new TV) while I sit and absorb the enormity of the changes in my life.

Unfortunately...and like my life previously.... I found that "buying normality" doesn't work. And there is nothing "easy" about over-consuming. In fact, the further I wandered off my values the more unsettled I became.

The problem with an over-consumerist lifestyle - once you have embarked on it - is that its pretty hard to stop. So many concepts are heavily marketed and attached to a consumerist lifestyle. Concepts like "normality" and "easy" - in short "the life you want to have". And even though I know that these are all illusions, they are very very tempting illusions anyway.

So where am I going with this?

This blog was created to inspire and help people live a simpler, greener and more frugal life. So many people have told me in my personal blog that sometimes reading blogs like these can be intimidating because people seem to do it so easily (oh there's that word again).

But as you can see, my own journey to a simpler life has not been easy. I was able to achieve it for a few years and for a long time, I experienced the quiet joy of finally living within my own values. Then slowly, slowly, I just....stopped.

I do have a more selfish motive for writing about my journey. I have found that blogging helps me take those little steps back towards a simpler path....and it helps me remain accountable. :)

So what little steps am I taking? Well, I have started with a budget challenge (that also involved a bit of decluttering) and I have also started sewing again. I am really grateful for Frugal Trench's post below this one because its reminding me of even more little steps to take.

For now I am here very very far from a simple, green or frugal life. Just like that time years and years ago, when I stopped buying brand new for the first time, I have a long way to trek to get back onto the simple path. But I know that with my little steps, I will get there.

"Looking for Reality" by Alice / Cornelia Kopp

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Little Simple, Green & Frugal Game

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I recently ran a series called 100 ways to save money on my blog, I did it because each day I receive emails asking where to start. The reality is there are so many ways to embrace a more simple, green & frugal life, but it can seem overwhelming, particularly if life is proving stressful. Part of what has helped me over the years, is learning from others about what works for them; while we all may be in different seasons in our lives, with different budgets, other's small tips have made the world of difference to me. So today, I thought we'd play a little game to encourage each other! The game is sharing what 1 tip you would recommend to be more frugal, what 1 tip you would recommend to be more green and what 1 tip you would recommend to live a more simple life! Here are my three....

To live a more frugal life my one recommendation to start would be....commit to no-spending days! Nominate two days each week where you don't spend anything, that means you don't buy newspapers, gum, groceries, lunch, buy your bus pass, pay to go to the gym etc. Obviously if you have memberships that's different as it isn't costing you anything on those days, but commit to two days a week where no money leaves your wallet, purse etc. This will really help you see how little purchases which are usually unplanned, effect your budget and will help you live a more frugal life by taming the temptation to spend!

To live a greener lifestyle my one recommendation to start would be...always try to buy everything (or as much as you can) second hand, that includes clothing, kitchenware, books, gifts, toys, garden ware etc. The reason this works for me, is it really stops me making as many unplanned purchases as it takes time to find what is needed and it is greener as you are reusing what has already been made/used and not adding to the "chain" of more things needing to be produced. I keep a small list on my refrigerator door with things it would be handy to find, that might be a book I love which I'd like to own or new canning jars. I allow myself time to find them and trust that I will. I have been waiting for a particular recipe book for over a year, and two weeks ago I found it for about $2 (instead of $20!).

To live a simpler lifestyle my one recommendation to start would be...commit to set evenings at home and one day (or most of one day) each weekend. I began doing this five years ago, committing to Monday evenings, Wednesday evenings and Friday evenings (after our "let's celebrate the weekend swim") as well as from about 1pm Sundays at home. Caring for four children, with busy school and extra-curricular activities was impacting on simplicity, a few small changes and prioritization helped. Knowing we had Sunday afternoons & evenings to draw, read, craft, go for a walk, listen to music and not go anywhere (I also limited errands in the home) was so restful, add to that three evenings a week where after the busyness of school & homework we could walk to the park, play board games, read stories etc well it just made life more simple and easier. I think we often feel that going to the movies, meeting up with friends, going out for dinner and the like, will make us feel better, and I think in the moment it does, but long term, coming up with a more restful and relaxed home life really does help you life a simpler life, where you have time to establish a good routine, keep up with the household and just rest.

So those are my three recommendations?
I'd love if you added what your three tips would be! I'm sure you'll teach me something I can implement to take another step on this journey!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Peach Salsa

by Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow

Peaches are, by far, one of my favorite fruits to preserve. I mean, I really love canning most fruits, but the things I can do with a peach-wow. One of my most requested recipes right now (and by far one of my favorites) is my peach salsa. I am planning on buying another load of peaches to make more salsa, jam and syrup next week, but took a week off this week to do some pressure canning of summer squash and beans. In the meantime, this is how I make my salsa-I love simple. I have seen other recipes that include extra spices or veggies that just take away from the simple, stunning flavor of this salsa.

Peach Salsa
6 c pitted peaches, diced
1 1/4 c diced onion
4 jalapeno peppers, diced (seed these if you don't want it too spicy. I personally like only a little edge)
1 bell pepper, preferably red, diced and seeded (though an color will suffice)
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro or 1/4 c dried
3/4 c white vinegar
2 T honey

Combine all and mix thoroughly. Raw pack into cleaned, sterilized jars and hot water bath for 20 minutes (more if you are too far above sea level).

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

A friend of mine gave me a couple of kilograms of Cumquats last Friday.  I was not sure about what to do with them all, so I did a bit of research.

A Cumquat is a very small citrus, that grows well in colder climates.  It also grows well in pots or a large container.  Wikipedia states;

"The Round Kumquat (also Marumi Kumquat or Morgani Kumquat) is an evergreen tree, producing edible golden-yellow coloured fruit. The fruit is small and usually round but can be oval shaped. The peel has a sweet flavour but the fruit has a sour centre. The fruit can be eaten raw but is mainly used to make marmalade and jelly. It is grown as an ornamental plant and can be used in bonsai. This plant symbolises good luck in China and other Asian countries, where it is sometimes given as a gift during the Lunar New Year. It's more commonly cultivated than most other kumquats as it is cold tolerant. It can be kept as a houseplant."
Now when they mean sour, well all I can say is that sour is not the word for this fruit.  My tongue is still stinging from the first time I ate one.  The peel is actually sweeter than the centre!

I have kept some aside for marmalade to go with the other citrus I have grown, however I turned a kilo of them (2.2lbs) into something I have been meaning to try for a long time.  Cumquat Brandy!

Here is the recipe;

Cumquat Brandy

You need:
Cumquats, sugar and a bottle of brandy.

  • 1kg cumquats
  • 500g sugar (you can use 375g sugar if preferred, or more than 500g for a sweeter liqueur)
  • 1 bottle brandy
Prick the cumquats all over with a skewer or darning needle. Place in a large jar with the sugar and brandy. Shake or stir each day until sugar is dissolved (about 10 days).

Leave 6 months before using brandy, at which point the cumquats can also be consumed.
Now, I am yet to try it, but I reckon that it should taste just like Cointreau.  Well here is hoping anyway.  I will let you know in six months time!

Has anyone else tried this type of home made liqueur?  I am dying to find out if it will be worth the wait.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

How We Raise Our Pigs

by Danelle at My Total Perspective Vortex

A couple months back I engaged in a comments discussion about pork. The idea that pork, pork fat, and all things bacon related are bad for your health is very ingrained into our local Midwestern American culture and others too.

It's not entirely true.

It's not the pork. Rather, its not entirely the pig's fault. I'll preface this to say that if you ate all bacon all the time, you might be very very happy but not very healthy...or you'd die a very happy death. Mmmmm, bacon. Everything is better in moderation. Now, that said, I'd like to share with you some things I have learned over the past two years about pigs, bacon, and food.
Our Berkshire pig on his first day at our farm....
Breed affects behaviour, temperament, farrowing skills- all which matter to the farmer, but not as much to the consumer. We raised Yorkshires (what is typically grown in confinement and ends up in the conventional grocery stores) last year and Berkshire (heritage) this year.  The Yorks were still incredibly tasty at harvest BUT they didn't eat clover or play as much. That said, some breeds pasture better than others, which is why we chose Berkshire to raise this year. Plus Berks make better and more lard.

Pigs relaxing in the shade.
What DOES matter is 1) what they are fed and 2)where and how they are housed and 3)how they are butchered.

Feed: Corn and soy mix with added amino acids- that's standard. Most feed has GMO grain in it. We feed ours Reichart's Dairy Air goat dairy whey, 4-H grain mix, and veggies when we can. Finished on walnut, apple, squash, and whey or milk. They also sometime get buckets of canning scraps (NOT table scraps, pigs can contract the same diseases that humans can so they never get food that has been in contact with human saliva, ever.), like peach skins and bruise cuts, tomato cores, and corn cobs. We are working with a local co-op to make us a special grain mix that they can prove has no GMO grain in it and working to analyze the rest of their diet to see if we can eliminate soy altogether. We might have that balance done for next year's run.

Pigs eating goat cheese whey.
We hand mix the grain with water in 5 gallon buckets before giving it to them. Wet slop is easier for them to eat and it minimizes loss for us from wind blowing and excited pigs. We've tried it both dry and wet. The pigs prefer wet. It also aids in hydrating them and making sure they get clean water when it is very hot and dry like it is right now. They don't move around as much in the heat so getting them fluid is really important.

Water. Access at all times to CLEAN water. Not well water. Very important. Seriously. VERY important. Most well water in Iowa (where we live) is seriously and dangerously contaminated. If people can't drink it, neither should meat you will consume.  We run a hose out their waterer from our house water. We check it everyday to make sure it is full and clean.

Pigs eating clover and dandelions.

Housing. Open air and sunlight? How much room does each pig have in the enclosure? Ours have 2000+ square feet per pig. Confinement can be 6-8 square feet per pig. There are lots of arrangements that are in between. Hoop buildings where the pigs are still indoors but have more room and can run around together, smaller pasture arrangements, larger herds on pasture......all variables.We have 18 pigs on one acre. It is bordered on two sides by stands of trees, to the south and west. These trees provide windbreak and shade at the hottest parts of the day. Shelter from storms and harsh wind or sun are required, we have a couple options for them: a tarp pulled over a hoop that is open on both ends and a metal hoop building with a solid end at one side and hay bales stacked on the other.

Windfall apples.
Medications. This question is rarely asked by customers. All anybody cares about are antibiotics and hormones- which are VERY important things to care about, but they are not the only things to care about. We do not give our pigs hormones. Ever. If a pig gets sick we might treat that pig with an antibiotic, but it is NOT practice for us to give them medications just to make them grow bigger.

Pigs have to be wormed. It is a different wormer for pigs on pasture because they are exposed to different worms, lungworm is more common in pastured pigs for example. Confinement pigs are given lots of full spectrum, according to our local vet.  Some people don't bother and the parasite load of the pig is just...hard to imagine. Lungworm can kill a pig by suffocation. So we choose to worm them. I will even go as far to say that it is cruel not to worm the pigs.  Death by suffocation is not something that can be prevented by good diet or animal health. Their wormer is a really small does that gets mixed in their feed when we see it is needed. In the time we have had this group, we've wormed twice based on visual queues that worms might be present.

Vaccines. Most livestock vax's are way safer than human vax, our pigs have been vaccinated once for a respiratory disease that has 80% livestock death and is common in our region, transmitted by wild birds and more of a threat to pastured animals.Some farmers choose to give more, some none at all. If it matters to you, ask.

Our pigs get to live about 6 months to a year. We harvest them when they reach a target weight (around 250 pounds). We hand measure them to estimate this.  This year we have separated out 4 to be harvested at a time and we can then treat this small bunch to more apples, fruit, nuts, and whey.

We use a local, family run meat locker. The animals are killed humanely, and they only take small groups at a time. They also use a hot water carcass wash versus a lactic acid or celery wash. Their process for curing is better too, they use less nitrates and more time. So the processor matters a LOT in the process of making your meat healthier and better for you. It's not enough to claim grass fed or pasture raised if the animal goes through a nasty slaughter house with poor processing.

Slices of cottage bacon that required extra lard to fry, even in my inherited 100+ years old well seasoned cast iron skillet.

There is a lot to pork that matters. It is not just buying directly from the farmer, but all these other factors that go into making safe healthy meat. Honestly, we learned much of this in the last 18 months while becoming "pig farmers".

Then it comes home to the consumer. How it is cooked matters. How it is stored matters. Having a good product is just the beginning.

I never thought I would ever cook with lard. Or fat back. Or many of the other parts of pigs that have names that sound like if you eat them you'll get a fat back too. Lard is better for you than processed veggie oils. My family has better health now that we use olive and grapeseed oil, butter, lard, and coconut oil instead of Crisco, corn, or canola (rapeseed) oil. Better cholesterol levels, better sugar levels, and better overall health. We don't worry about weight gain or irritable bowel and even the severe ulcers I had are no longer a problem. No, its not all credited to our pork, but a general better lifestyle and healthy approach to whole foods, local foods, and natural fats and oils.

Good pork, and humane meat animal raising practices are out there. If you want it, go out and get it. Support those who do it the way you want so they can keep doing it that way.

I also don't claim to be an expert. We've been running pigs out here only two summers, but I can try and answer any questions you may have about our pigs or pork in general.

*edited to add: manuer run off and watershed. These are also important considerations for us. We have a small group on a large grassy pasture, one acre located in a section of about 10 acres. We also have an eleven acre pond and a creek. Neither have shown any contamination or fish kill from run off. We had been told that running pigs on grass pasture would destroy the ground, but while they do root around, their section is still mostly green grasses and clover. The trucks that installed the fences detsroyed more ground than the pigs have. This is also one of our reasons for rotation. The pasture used to be corn/bean rotation so we are restoring it by putting animals on it.