Monday, 28 February 2011

Blithe Tomato

by Francesca @ Fuoriborgo

In response to a number of requests, I'll be posting one final updated version of the List of International Seed Catalogs in a couple of weeks. If you have more suggestions, please leave them in the comments here.

Picture 15

In winter time, when I don't garden, I like to read about gardening. I especially enjoy books written by gardeners who describe and muse about their life as growers. Blithe Tomato by Mike Madison is the most recent such book I've read. It's a wonderful collection of short, essay-like chapters in which the author, who lives in the Sacramento Valley, shares his views and insights on his life as a small farmer, his rural community, and the farmers' markets in the Sacramento Valley.

Madison's experience as a grower in a land so far away from me was very interesting to read: under clear California skies, he sun-dries small Italian paste tomatoes, Principe Borghese, in just a few days, whereas my experiments with sun-drying Pepolino date tomatoes here in Northern Italy resulted in a tray of shriveled tomatoe halves covered in gray mold. His soil is very fertile, but he has his share of problems, too. His area is plagued by gophers, a ubiquitous burrowing rodent that I'd never heard of, and whose damage to his crops and orchards made my loud complaints about our deer and wild boars sound rather wimpy: at least my garden-gobbling pests are large, above-ground creatures that you can't miss!

Woven throughout the book are the author's thought-provoking observations, which go well beyond his work and community, and touch on his personal philosophy. For instance, he discusses trends in fruit and vegetable breeding, and the fact that the most popular varieties of certain crops, most notably corn, but also carrots, apples, beets and grapes, are hybrids containing the sh-2 supersweet gene, which boosts their sugar content, resulting in level of sweetness that drowns out the vegetable's or fruit's original flavor. Does our society really need food that's been artificially or genetically or even naturally sweetened (think of the sugar that often is added to canned vegetables)?

But what struck me most was the chapter where Madison talks about methods of tilling soil in organic farming. Around this time of year, as gardening season approaches, I always suffer from a bad case of rototiller envy, directed at all those farmers out there in their fields with their rototillers and tractors and weed-busters and other mechanical devices, effortlessly ploughing, turning, aerating, fertilizing, and otherwise manipulating their soil, while the only things I have to work my vegetable garden are a few simple hand tools, my two hands, and my back (and these days, not a particularly good back, either...).

I'm a good enough gardener, but I've always tried to make my garden as biodynamic as possible. So I was amused, and encouraged, to see Mike Madison write this:

I've always been skeptical of those organic farmers who are so insufferably self-righteous about not using synthetic chemicals but who drive up and down the place in a tractor spewing carcinogenic diesel smoke all over their crops.
(Blithe Tomato, Mike Madison, p. 94)

Organic gardening starts with the soil, in ways that go beyond the type of manure or fertilizer we use. Madison's words eased my end-of-winter rototiller envy. Though it didn't help my back pain much.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Jack of all trades, master of (at least) one?

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

We had a good collection of very elderly non-fiction books in our home library when I was growing up, mostly gleaned for pennies from charity shops and library sales. Some were encyclopedias, some were old school text books, some were beautifully bound introductions aimed at the 'working man'. My favourite was a learning library comprising of five leather bound books dating from the 1940s. If you worked through all six books, you would have acquired a good working knowledge of six different languages, maths, chemistry, physics, biology, political theory, world history, geography, economics, literature, drama, art and several branches of engineering. Each section had a fairly distinguished bibliography in the event you needed to learn more. There is no modern equivalent of this work and I doubt that there ever will be again.

Our choices are often presented as either/or when it comes to learning. You can be a good all rounder but excel at nothing, or you can be  a world expert with no interests or real knowledge outside of your chosen field. Some people are written off at school age alltogether, as if they are inherently incapable of learning. Polymaths are a rare thing these days and in popular culture anyone who uses their spare time to study a subject in depth or even passionately pursue a hobby is regarded as something of an eccentric. Since I embarked on a more frugal sustainable lifestyle, I have had to learn many new skills. I can now do more for myself than perhaps even I realise; and I have had great fun experimenting. But I have no real indepth expertise in anything; and I am beginning to feel dissatisfied.

Expertise is useful. I have no interest in becoming a master baker, but it is handy to have an expert to consult when my amateur efforts go awry - someone who knows where I went wrong and how to solve it. I would like to return the service in some small way. As I have simplified my life, I have uncovered a need to discover an underlying passion that I can devote myself to fully, as a hobby or as a career. My partner's is his job - he is training as a mental health nurse and he is passionate about all things related to it. At the same time he is obsessed with cars and is also developing his beer making and bread baking skills with gusto. I am quite frankly envious of his passion.

This year I hope to uncover at least one thing that captures my attention to the point of obsession. The only way to do that of course it to continue to read and experiment widely, perhaps more widely than I have in even in recent years. If there is something that captivates you - whether that be composting, fruit growing, car mechanics, astronomy, languages or music, then find the time to devote to it and share it with others. The internet has opened up the opportunities for self study in most fields - though it pays to be discerning - and there are online communities devoted to every subject you could wish to immerse yourself in. There is distinct pleasure to be had in being an amateur, there is yet another pleasure to be found in knowing a subject inside out and becoming masterful - and (at least I hope that) there is no reason that you can't experience both in a lifetime.

Friday, 25 February 2011

One Hundred Simple, Green or Frugal Ways To Make A Difference Part I

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I've been thinking a lot lately about giving back, largely because I ran a little charity program over the holidays where I asked readers of my blog to donate something warm {could be something they made or something they purchased} to a special program I had recently volunteered with {ChinaKidz}, which cared for palliative care & special needs orphans in China. The results were simply incredible, with each child receiving parcel after parcel of warm clothes. If you're interested in viewing the photos they can be viewed here. Many of my readers from my own blog & this co-op wrote to me afterwards and shared that they often find it very hard to find simple or frugal ways to help people in need and participating in this project really was a simple & frugal way for them to give back, but now they need other ideas.

So I thought today I'd begin a new series about the many many ways you can give back and/or support a worthy cause which fit in with our simple, frugal and green lifestyle and choices. And the truth is, I certainly don't have all the answers, so I'd love if readers contributed some ideas too!

One Hundred Simple, Green & Frugal Ways To Give Back: Part One

1. Knit a scarf, hat or a pair of gloves for the homeless
2. Volunteer to teach ESL to newcomers to your country
3. Host international students for the holidays
4. If you have chickens, see if a women's shelter or homeless centre will accept egg donations
5. Teach a knitting class to people with special needs or experiencing hardship {many women's shelters are keen to find volunteer knitting teachers!}
6. Donate your no-longer-needed items to charity shops
7. Take your old books and magazines to shelters, recreation centres or medical clinics
8. Volunteer to paint a shelter
9. Become a block parent
10. Volunteer in your local school - many schools are desperate for people to read with children
11. Make some soup or baked goods for someone who is isolated or sick.
12. Help someone plant their first vegetable garden {many people don't know where to begin with seeds and find it a tad scary!}
13. Buy someone a compost bin!
14. Sponsor a child in the developing world.
15. Host a bake sale and give the proceeds to your favourite charity.
16. Collect blankets from your friends, religious organization or work & take them to a homeless shelter
17. Volunteer to be a Big Brother or Big Sister
18. Volunteer with your local Child Protective Services, they often look for safe adults to become mentors for children in care.
19. Host an alternative baby shower - ask everyone to bring something to donate to shelters or low-income families
20. Donate breast milk to a legal/certified milk bank in your country
21. Send something to a child in an orphanage
22. Volunteer to clean someones house for them
23. Make up a green cleaning hamper and give it to someone (with instructions) who would like to try green cleaning
24. If you have a car, offer to take others with you when you go grocery shopping!
25. Donate some food to food banks in your community!

Now I'd love to hear your suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Sweetest Time

Here at Chiot's Run the first warmup in the spring signals the start of sugaring season. Early last week we had a day that warmed above freezing so we went out and put taps in all of our maple trees (about 25 taps total). Our predictions were correct and the sap started flowing in some of the trees immediately.
A Little Valentine's SweetnessA Little Valentine's Sweetness
Tapping your maple trees is a wonderful way to get back outside in the spring weather. The season starts before you can do much of anything else in the garden. It really helps cure my cabin fever. Many people think that you can only tap sugar maples, but that is not the case. Most types of maples can be tapped. You'll get a little less syrup as the sap has a little less sugar in it. None of our trees are sugar maples, and our final syrup is fantastic! Of course you have to live in an area with the right climate and you have to have days above freezing and nights below freezing.
A Little Valentine's Sweetness
If you're interested in sugaring your maples I'd recommend it. It's really not that difficult, basically you collect sap from maple trees, boil it down, finish to a certain temperature, strain and enjoy. I'd highly recommend getting a book like Backyard Sugarin' to read through before you begin. I'd also highly recomend reading the book Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup, it only the how to of making maple syrup, but some history and an explanation of the beauty of the process. OSU has a great article about hobby maple syrup production that is very in depth if you want to get started right away and don't want to get a book (and it's FREE).
A Little Valentine's Sweetness
You can purchase supplies at on-line, if you don't need tons of supplies Tap My Trees is a great place. I go my local Lehman's store to purchase what I need, you may also be able to find a local store if you check around. There are a bunch of places on-line so search around, I'm guessing if you live in an area where you can tap your trees you'll be able to find supplies locally.
Finishing Off Maple Syrup
We already collected 25 gallons of sap, then the weather turned cold and the sap stopped flowing. It will start again when it warms and we'll keep collecting sap until the trees bud out. Last year we were able to get over a gallon of syrup from our 10-15 trees, hopefully this year we'll get more if the season is longer!

Do you or have you considered tapping your maple trees?

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, 21 February 2011

Quick Garden Checklist

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Our weather this time of year can be this one day.

But the next day it may be look like this.

When we get sunny dry days, even though it is too early yet for planting much in the way of garden, it's a good time to get some of the other things on our garden list done.

Garden Checklist for February in my area:

Divide or move plants like rhubarb, horseradish, hops, and caneberries.

Collect scion wood for grafting such as apples and pears.

Prune grape vines and take cuttings if you want to increase your plants.

Take a quick walk around all your garden areas and remove any junk such as boards, pots, plastic mulch. Basically look for things that slugs can be hiding under. By removing these items before planting you will be exposing the slugs and their eggs that have overwintered with all that protection. Hopefully a frost or two and/or birds will help set them back. If you keep a flock of chickens or ducks this would be a good time to turn them loose in the garden area.

Double check your seeds and order new if needed. If you're finding you had poor germination results last year, it may be a time to revisit your seed storage methods. While freezing is optimum, a dark, cool and dry place works very well, and has served gardeners for years before freezers were ever invented. Many times seed catalogs list seed life in the growing information box - check that out before you stock up on seeds. Territorial Seeds is a catalog that comes to mind.

If you haven't already, order potatoes, onions, and bareroot fruit trees, and berries.

Purchase amendments that you will need when the weather breaks so you can get started right away.

Inspect garden tools and equipment for needed repairs.

Sit back and enjoy your quiet time, once spring has sprung there will be no respite.

Happy Gardening!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Experiments with Culture

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I've got six bale-topped bottles lined up in front of me, sterilizing bleach water in the sink behind me, when my husband walks in to make himself something for dinner. "Could you please wait a couple more minutes, until I'm finished?" I ask, and he heads back into the living room. I'm bottling a batch of kombucha and, as with all fermented or cultured foods, care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination with rogue bacterias. And we do share our home with quite a few different cultures that need care and feeding just like the animals.

My kitchen alchemy experiments started with cabbage. Living then above 10,000 feet, my gardening attempts never produced very much, but one year I ended up with way more cabbage than I thought I could eat fresh. With salt and a bit of time, however, I watched fascinated as the cabbage transformed into sauerkraut. And it was so good! I'd only tasted supermarket stuff dumped out of a can - this was crunchy and fresh-tasting instead of tinny and limp. I still try to make a batch each fall. There's a half-gallon jar of fresh, never canned, kraut in my refrigerator right now.

Next up, after I'd moved to Nevada, was a sourdough culture, shared with me by an elderly neighbor twenty years ago. I don't know how long she'd kept it going, she's been gone for quite a few years now. But I've dutifully kept it fed and healthy ever since.

I'm not the only one fermenting and culturing stuff around here, either. I gave my husband a little 2-gallon beer-making kit one Christmas. He caught the fermenting fever and now, every couple of months, we have a five-gallon fermentation bucket bubbling away on the corner of the kitchen counter. Last fall, he made a batch of beer using our first home-grown hops harvest. As soon as the beer was finished and bottled, we crushed a bushel of gleaned apples for a batch of hard cider. When a friend offered me the four cases of empty Grolsch beer bottles stored in her garage, I was there in a heartbeat. With new neoprene gaskets, it's easy to use the same bottles over and over - just fill and snap closed.

Once I had access to apple cider alcohol, trying my hand at cider vinegar seemed a logical next step. Every fall, we like to make the trip across the Sierras to Apple Hill, a day spent wandering around the area checking out the harvests, craft fairs, and shops. One of my favorite places has lots of flavored vinegars for sale. I got to talking with the owner about vinegar-making, and he was kind enough to give me some vinegar mother from one of his barrels. It now lives in a jar in my top cupboard. Every once in a while, when I'm down in the cellar, I'll bring up a bottle of cider to feed "mother".

After reading about kombucha, a fizzy beverage cultured from sweetened tea, I thought I'd like to try making it. I asked for the culture on my local Freecycle website, and had two responses within a day. When I went out to pick up the culture, that nice lady also offered me some kefir grains. The kefir I keep alive by making a batch occasionally, and storing it in the refrigerator between times. The kombucha, I love! A gallon jar makes enough for six bottles plus a bit more to add to the next batch, and I've had a batch going pretty much continuously for the past year.

Last summer, with a glut of fresh cucumbers, I decided to try fermenting them into sour pickles. This one is definitely a keeper! I moved the crock full of pickles into the cellar last fall. I have to pull a layer of scum off the top of the liquid every week to 10 days, but that's no problem as I'm down there that often anyway. It holds together almost like a firm gel, so I just pinch it to pull it out and toss it. Every couple of weeks I bring a big pickle up to keep in a jar in the refrigerator, cutting off slices as needed. They're so much better, and crisper, than the salty, vinegary dill pickles I used to make.

Just about the only cultures I don't keep going on a regular basis are yogurt and buttermilk. I've heard it's best to start those with fresh cultures every so often anyway, and both are easy enough to come by in the store. One of these days, I might have to try cheese-making. My fellow blogger here, Gavin, has piqued my interest with his posts. A home just can't have too much culture, can it?

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Food Crisis

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Plato said that society is "just a few meals away from babarism." And I guess it is more true in our modern age than ever before. Apparently, the British M15 use a 'four meals away from anarchy' scale to evaluate threats.

I typed 'food crisis 2011' into a search engine and got over 54 million results. Okay, so I don't watch or listen to much news, but I the last person to hear about this?

I don't really understand enough about the global food market, but
it seems like there are predictions of ramifications for all of us this time, not just those nations forced to import food or those having issues growing their own at the moment. It seems everything is so out of balance that the crisis will be felt globally. Usually, because we live in a wealthy country, we seem to just absorb the cost when grain prices double overnight (as rice did a couple of years ago, and wheat has before too). But what about when more than one crop is affected? And what about our neighbours?

It seems to me that there are several causes to consider:
Our government doesn't value the agricultural industry
A lot of our country's farms are foreign owned
Peak Oil
Climate Change (or a lot of bad weather, if you don't subscribe to the climate change theory)

And there are things we can all do:
Eat local - grow your own if you can
Eat less meat (or stick to grass-fed, wild and other, more sustainable, choices)

Food shortages have been an ongoing global issue for much of modern history. But I bet there wasn't over 54 million search engine results until 2011, when the majority of the western world is facing something most of us have only witnessed through the media to date...

How do you feel about the current food crisis situation? What are you doing personally to prepare? What about your local community - is simple, green, frugal catching on?

Further Reading:
Food Security
Local Food
Peak Oil
Climate Change
Transition Network

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Reducing Food Waste

by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin

Recently, I read that over 30% of all household garbage is food waste; peel, plate scraps, rotten food, tea bags, etc.  Now this figure does not include food waste from Supermarkets, agriculture and the food industry in general.  In landfill these organic scraps become buried under tonnes of other waste and earth in an oxygen deprived environment.  As they breakdown they produce methane which is 25 time more potent than CO2 as a Green House Gas.  Not to mention the pure arrogance of being able to throw away food when over a billion people across the world don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  It makes me feel sick and sad.

So if this issue is so big, what are some of the solutions?  Well a few that I can thing of that can help you to divert food waste from landfill are really common sense and easy to implement   The most obvious is to reduce food waste at the start of the cycle.  By this, I mean when you go grocery shopping.  Here are a few tips;

  • Take a list.  By using a list you will most probably only buy the food items you really need, and in compiling the list you would have checked upon your existing stores at home and just be topping up.
  • Don’t shop on an empty stomach.  From personal experience, you buy more food when you are hungry, and usually it is food that you just don’t need.  It is like impulse buying that kicks in due to hunger pains.
  • Grow your own food.  Plant a vegetable garden and reap the rewards, financially, physically and mentally.  It has been proven that people that grow their own waste very little of their own produce.  Maybe it is pride, or the thought of all that effort you took from seed to table.
So by limiting food waste at the beginning of the cycle reduces waste overall. 
During the storage phase, there are other solutions to minimise waste.  Here are some thoughts that might help
  • Menu planning.  Planning each meal may sound a bit anal, but it helps you to utilise the food you have at hand.  Each item in your fridge (where most food spoils) will be accounted for and will usually be used before going furry.
  • Use the crisper.  Your fridge has different compartment for different types of food.  The crisper is the best place for fruit and vegetables and usually last at least two weeks longer than in other parts of the fridge.
  • Use stuff on hand.  Before you go opening another jar of jam, check to see if you have one already open in the fridge.  No use breaking the seal to find that you still have one that is three quarters full.

Finally, what to do with leftovers?  Leftovers are one of my favourite meals.  They can be put into containers and frozen for lunches during the week.  They can be used in other meals.  Cooked too many vegetables?  Try making a bubble and squeak.  Too much Christmas Ham?  Make a pea and ham soup, or freeze chunks of it for use in a few months time when you crave some hammy goodness.  Cooked too much soup?  Well freeze it so you can enjoy it later.  There are so many things you can do with leftover food. 

If worst comes to worst, at least your pets can enjoy a good feed, or maybe even the chickens can have a nosh up if you keep them.  Nothing goes to waste around here at my house.  If the dog won’t eat it, the chooks, or worms or compost bins probably will.  The only organic things we throw into the landfill bin are small bones, but only after we have used them to make a stock!

In summary, using some of these methods will help you to reduce your organic waste, and save you a few dollars in the process.  Waste not, want not! 

Monday, 14 February 2011

List of International Seed Catalogs ~ updated!

by Francesca

Thank you very much again for all your input and help in compiling an SGF International Seed Catalog List with links to the sites!

Below is the updated and final list of catalogs by country, in no particular order, based on your recommendations. Some of these catalogs don't ship abroad because of customs restrictions on importing seeds, but the aim of this list is to become a useful reference tool for gardeners around the world, primarily to find good and reliable seed supplies in their own area.


ABSeeds (large selection of chilli seeds)
The Real Seed Catalogue


Seed Savers Exchange
Sustainable Seed Co (large selection of organic and heirloom seeds)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Burpee Gardening
Seeds from Italy
Territorial Seed Company
Eden Organic Nursery (seeds from around the world)
Seeds of Change
Fedco Seeds
Abundant Life Seeds
Peaceful Valley Farm
Horizon Herbs
High Mowing Organic Seeds
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Victory Seeds
Wood Prairie Farm
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Gourmet Seed


Kings Seeds
New Zealand Tree Seeds


Heritage Harvest Seeds
Salt Spring Seeds


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Banishing drudgery

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Many of the activities encompassed under the simple living banner - all that gardening, growing, decluttering, brewing, sewing, knitting, (natural) cleaning, community work, animal husbandry, holistic child rearing, cooking and fermenting - can look a little like hard work. I know that most of the people I come into contact with in my everyday life have absolutely no interest in pursuing any of these activities, let alone a number of them, to create a satisfying, sustainable, frugal lifestyle. Whilst I love most of these activities; I sometimes panic that the domestic sphere will be the sum of my life and I will not attain all of the other goals I have. If you are finding this life is becoming hard work, it might be time to reassess why you are here at this stage of your journey.

I have been taking the last few weeks to assess where I am going in life. In the midst of all the cutting back we have done to pay off debt, I sometimes feel my life slips into drudge territory. I have had to reconsider what my ultimate goals are. Some of the things I have realised are important and had to change in my own life are:
  • Clutter. With a blank slate (and work surfaces), it is much easier to see where you want to devote your time and energy. 
  • Make everyday activities as attractive as possible. In my case I hate washing up, but paring down my kitchen equipment to the barest minimum, throwing in some hand crocheted dishcloths and decanting my washing up liquid into a pretty glass bottle has made the job infinitely more tolerable.
  • Make room for beauty. I am in the process of decluttering our living space; and am realising just how much ugliness there is amongst our possessions. Obsessing over utility and thrift over all other considerations is a recipe for unhappiness; make sure that you take the time and effort to make your environment soothing and beautiful, whatever that means to you.
  • Make time to pursue goals outside of the domestic sphere. In my case learning French has been a goal for several years. I am now attempting to rearrange my life that I might have the time to do this. 
  • Cut expenditure sensibly. Do not cut your grocery budget, or entertainment budget back so far that you feel impoverished. Unless there is a very good reason too, do not hack your budget to the point that all of the sources of joy in your life are obliterated. 
  • Spend money when it needs to be spent. If something in your life is not working and there is no frugal solution, budget and spend the money.  Whether that be sturdy storage boxes, new tools or a new outfit - if it will improve the quality of your life and you have the money, spend it.
  • Reconnect with your original motivations. If your most passionate goal has been to pay of debt, then read and watch and connect with people also passionate about that subject. If sustainability is the dearest thing to your heart, connect with people who are living the greenest lives they can. Whatever fills you with enthusiasm, begin there.
Frugality, simplicity and ecology are not bywords for drudgery, miserliness or misery. They should instead embody creativity and resourcefulness, and unswerving focus on that which is truly important and good in your life and in the world. If you feel deprived, or stuck in a rut, take a step back. Where are you now? Where are you going? What can you do today to add a little more joy to your life? Arrange your life so that it embodies these qualities, brings you great joy and gives you a future to look forward to.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Pocket money, income, "rich", "poor"...

by Eilleen

Hello everyone,

I was talking to someone a few months ago and he asked me "if you don't tie pocket money to chores, then how will your kids ever learn that money needs to be earned?" (see here for my approach to pocket money) We ended up having a long rambling conversation about income and what it means to be financially "rich" or "poor".

Now on the subject of kids learning that money needs to be earned.....To be honest, I actually don't think this is an issue. I believe that its more important to impart the love of work for its personal and social benefits rather than the income it can bring. I believe that one should work because it makes one feel good and allows one to participate more effectively in their community. I think if you love to work, then you will get an income...and the level of income should not be an indicator of whether you are "rich" or "poor".

I think what defines "rich" or "poor" is not so much the level of income but the level of spending.*

Knowing how to spend money wisely is hard work! I think its actually harder work than earning money. Looking back, I've had an income for over 20 years. That income has steadily grown from casual wage to minimum wage to the level it is now....and when I look back, I have been "rich" and "poor" in those 20 years, regardless of my income level.

I have been "rich" when I had less debt and a very clear commitment to my goals. I was rich when I was still at school on a casual wage and I wanted to buy a TV, VCR and stereo. I was rich when I was on minimum wage, living realistically within my budget, whilst saving up for a deposit on a house. I am rich now as a sole income earner for my family, with very clear priorities for my spending and savings whilst resisting the urge to accept offers from the bank to borrow more so I can have things now.

I have been "poor" when I had too much debt and no idea what to spend my money on. I was poor when I earned higher than the national average income and I got two credit cards with high limits. I was poor when I was promoted to an "executive" and I got myself into debt in order to live up to what I thought was the lifestyle that was expected of me. I was poor when I wanted things "now" rather saving up for them.

So for me, rich or poor doesn't have anything to do with what I was earning but had everything to do with my commitment to spend wisely in order to achieve greater goals.

What about you? Have you experienced "rich" and "poor"?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Diagnosing nutritional deficiencies in plants

by Amy of My Suburban Homestead 

I'm taking the master gardener course through Oregon State University and I wrote a series of posts a short while ago about diagnosing nutritional deficiencies in plants. Here is the first of these series for you to check out, with links to the remainder of this series at the bottom.

I've just started getting into the subject of diagnosing fertilizer or nutrient problems in plants in the master gardener course that I am taking. The subject is very complicated and not easy to figure out.
In addition, if you are lacking in one fertilizer, it is likely that you are lacking in other fertilizers, so many of these diagnoses might not be exclusive.
The very first thing you should do is ask yourself the following questions if you think you have a nutritional deficiency in your soil.
Is your pH optimal? For a vegetable garden, the optimal pH range is 6.2-6.8 for most vegetables. If your pH is outside of this range, many plant nutrients will  not be available to plants. In this case, you should focus your effort on altering your pH.
Is your soil wet and compacted? If so, the roots cannot grow enough to reach the nutrients that they need.
Is it late in the season? If so, the nutrients are likely transferring to the roots in preparation for dormancy. In this case, yellowing is normal.
Want to see what else I've written about while taking the master gardener course? Click here.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Seed Starting 101

by Chiot's Run

"Judge every day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you sow."
-Robert Louis Stevenson

Here at Chiot's Run I start all of my vegetables and many of my herbs and plants from seed. I do this not only to save money, but because enjoy doing it. It's a great way to help get through those long cold dark winter months here in NE Ohio. I also enjoy the wonder that comes from seeing tiny seeds grow into big beautiful plants.

Another reason I grow everything from seed myself is because I want to know what goes into my food. There isn't an organic greenhouse around here from which I can purchase organic seedlings. That means that the ones I buy are coated with chemical fertilizers and insecticides, which is not OK with me when it comes to my food, or any other plants in my garden.

Last spring I did a Seed Starting 101 Series on my blog with ten in depth posts dealing with the different aspects of seed starting. I won't re-post them here because the comment section of each post is filled with fabulous information from other seasoned gardeners. If you have never done it and are looking to give it a whirl head on over and read through this series. If you start all you plants from seed and are an expert head on over and add some advice to the comment section.

The Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
Getting Started
Soil Mix
The Needs of Seeds
My Workflow
Diseases and Problems
Hardening Off
Learn More Each Season

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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, 7 February 2011

Rejuvenating Popcorn

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

It's hard to grow corn reliably in our cool, mountain setting but we do love an occasional bowl of popcorn as a treat. So it is one of the things we buy to stock the pantry. However, not using popcorn too often usually results in un-popped corn or old maids as we call them. I'm getting a little long in the tooth, so finding one of those by mistake while watching a movie with rapt attention could mean a trip to the dentist.

But, there is a way around that and still have your popcorn too. Dry storage is great for items that need to be dry, but popcorn needs a little bit of moisture to pop properly.

To rejuvenate our popcorn, I just pour water in a clean storage jar, pour it out completely so it just remains damp and pour in the corn. Over a few days, the kernels will absorb the moisture and will be ready to pop. Store in a cool dry place or refrigerator and you're good to go on movie night.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Cast Iron Care

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I love my cast iron skillets and pots. I have 10" skillet, 10" pot with lid that fits both, and an 8" skillet in my kitchen, plus an 8" footed camp oven in with my camping gear. With proper care, cast iron cookware lasts a lifetime - even centuries, if you're lucky enough to inherit the family heirloom pots and pans.

Cast iron is porous. To develop the coveted non-stick black coating on the cooking surface, the pores need to be sealed up, called seasoning. Once seasoned, and with proper care, the coating builds up with use, and your pan just keeps getting better and better. Soap, however, dissolves the non-stick coating, so if your pan has been washed with soap it will need to be re-seasoned. A new, or new-to-you, pan should be washed well, but just this once.

To season a cast iron pan, heat it on a stove burner until warm, and then rub the inside liberally with vegetable oil (or you can use a solid fat, such as lard or clean bacon grease). You want to thoroughly coat the surface, but with no pooling of the oil - the plan is to seal the surface, not set it on fire. Then put your pan in a warm (200ยบ) oven for an hour or two. Again, wipe out any pools of oil, and you should be good to go. Historical note: I can't vouch for this, but one of my old books suggests boiling potato peelings in a cast iron pot for an hour to season it - might work, sealing the pores with potato starch - but I'll stick with my tried and true, oil and heat, method.

No soap! Do not use soap, detergent, coated Brillo pads, or any kind of de-greaser! Plain water works just fine! (Can you tell I had this conversation repeatedly with my husband when we were newlyweds? After twenty years, and a few ruined meals and re-seasoning sessions, I think I finally have him trained). Don't leave cooked food in a cast iron pan - the acids in some foods can pit cast iron, and the iron absorbed by the food can cause a metallic taste if left overlong. Transfer food to a storage container or serving dish, and then clean your pan right away. It doesn't need to be soaked in a sinkful of water for an hour, either. Scrape or wipe out as much food as possible, set it in the sink, and run some water into the pan, preferably while it's still warm. I keep a long-handled nylon-bristled dishwashing brush for cleaning my cast iron - just swoop around the inside of the pan, and rinse. If you really *need* some scrubbing power, pour in some salt or sand, moisten with oil, rub in with a dishcloth (or plain steel wool), and rinse (this method will also remove rust). As an absolutely last resort, I've read that you can fill the pan with warm water, drop in a couple of denture tablets and let set for an hour, and then rinse, without having to re-season it - not so sure about this one.

Drying the pan immediately is crucial too. Rust is the enemy of cast iron. Just like my grandma did, I dump out as much water as possible, and then put the pan back on the burner (or on the top shelf of my oven if I'm baking something), until all the dampness is completely gone from the inside of the pan. Let it cool before storing.

To keep rust away, cast iron is best stored so that no moisture can get inside. For my covered kitchen pan, I put the lid on the pan upside-down, a rolled towel between pan and lid on one side to provide an air vent. For my camping pot, I do the same, along with crumpled newsprint inside to absorb any chance moisture, and then loosely tie it in an untreated cotton canvas bag (also to keep any ashes on the outside of the pan from getting all over the rest of my camping kit). The skillets live in the drawer beneath my oven. If you use a pot rack, and wish to hang your cast iron, first make sure that your rack, plus its attachment to wall or ceiling, can withstand the weight. If, by chance, you do get rust on your cast iron, try removing it with the sand and oil treatment described above. Using naval jelly is a last resort remedy for removing rust - wash well and re-season before use.

I prefer to not use any silicon-based non-stick sprays on my cast iron. Over time and use, a black natural non-stick coating builds up inside the pan. I do keep canola oil in a little refillable dispenser (ok, it's an old rubber French's mustard bottle with a pop-off lid and a twist-close spout) and use a little squirt of oil before cooking most things, tilting the pan cover the bottom as it heats up. Over time, a black scaly crud will build up on the outside of the pan. This doesn't affect either the food or the pan, but if you just have to get rid of it, wait until autumn. Find someplace that still allows burning leaves, and bury your pan in the pile before setting it afire. Dig the pan out of the cooled ashes, wash, and re-season before use. You can also burn the coating off a pan in the embers of a campfire, but resinous woods such as pine can leave an aftertaste if any gets inside the pan.

One last note: All of a cast iron pan gets hot, and holds heat longer than most other cookware. So always use felted wool or heavy-duty cotton pot holders until you're sure the handle is cool. I found out the hard way that cheap, polyester-filled handle holders melt, taking a hot panful of skillet-sizzled cornbread out of the oven - I had to pick and scrape off the ugly little bits of white melted fluff. I also have melted little ridges into the plastic handles of my spatulas, leaving them resting upside-down against the edge of the skillet. Let's be careful out there.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Realistic Budgets

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Every now and then I think I can trim more off my budget and I try to convince myself that I don't really need to have as many items budgeted for in my monthly plan. Little conversations will run through my head, the more determined side convincing myself I don't really need to keep adding to my health fund because I so rarely get sick. That same voice would seem so sensible when it suggests I don't need a clothing jar because I don't need new clothes. And yet again the voice rears it's ugly head when it tells me mad money is just a frivolous spend. Only what the weaker voice didn't state loudly enough is that mad money is great fall back money, new clothes may be needed if your winter boots break in half and medication may need to be bought if you suffer from eczema.

Living the frugal life can be a worthy pursuit, but if you aren't careful it can make life more complicated instead of helping you simplify. Sometimes in my effort to have as simple a budget as possible I have actually made my life more difficult. Overspending because you haven't spent enough, pulling money from the wrong place, dipping into other funds and feeling overwhelmed are in direct contrast to the simplicity the frugal life can bring. And when you aren't realistic about your needs & aren't actively and practically planning for the worst - you can be in a situation which is a bit like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I use a jar system to allocate my money and the truth is, whether I like it or not, whether I add in $1 or $50 a week I need to budget each week & month for all of my costs. Even if I wish I could eliminate more in every season of my life I need money jars which represent the truth. And right now my *truth* is I need jars for:

Grocery Shopping
Pet Costs

And while health and clothing usually don't entail monthly spends, knowing there's some money rattling around in a jar to help deal with inconveniences like itchy skin & boots which split in half {and are much needed items since we have yet another 2 months of snow storms ahead of us} helps me live a simple, green & frugal life!

How do you keep your budget organized and on track? How do you make cut backs that are realistic? What are your budget necessities?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Farm eggs

by Francesca

farm eggs 2

We buy our eggs from our farmer neighbors, who keep laying hens in a large chicken coop by the side of our house. These eggs are so fresh that they're often still warm when we get them. Each egg is different in color, texture and size, depending on the age of the hens, their diet, and the time of year. Young hens lay smaller eggs. Sometimes our neighbor warns us to handle them with extra care because the shell is thin and frail, and he'll need to add some calcium to the chicken's forage.

farm eggs 3

These eggs are never clean, but our neighbors have taught us not to wash them before storing them. In fact, eggshells (when they're intact, and come from healthy animals living in sanitary conditions) are coated on the outside with a cuticle, a protein-like covering, which helps protect the contents of the shell from dehydration, and from bacterial infection through the shell's pores. Washing eggs removes this cuticle, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter the egg.


Eggs must be refrigerated. In wintertime, we store our eggs in a basket hanging in an unheated part of the house (centuries-old stone houses are refrigerator-cold in the winter!), but in the summer we keep them in the fridge, stored in a sealed container to avoid possible contamination.

farm eggs 3

Just before we use our eggs, we wash them carefully. Health experts advise to use eggs within two weeks of the time they were laid, and to cook them thoroughly (and not to eat them raw).

Further reading on egg facts and safety here, here and here.

Please don't forget to add the name of your favorite seed company in your country to the list of international seed catalogs here!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Beyond Earth Hour in the Office

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

As many westerners work in office blocks and high rises and Earth Hour 2011 is fast approaching us, many companies now turn off their lights in high-rise office building in cities all around the world as a show of their environmental credibility. Great work, but something is usually missing, and simply turning the lights off for one hour a year is not good enough.  This year we need to go beyond Earth Hour and make the good deeds we perform on this event something much more sustainable. 

Which leads me to the subject of today's post.  Office Vampires, in the form of millions of personal computers (PCs) are left on, sucking the grid dry during the long dark nights and are a massive contributor to the carbon emissions of many large companies. These emissions can be avoided by enforcing energy policies and behavioural changes, but only if workers are informed of the consequences of their inaction. When examined individually, PCs may not appear to be the biggest energy hog in the office, but when you consider the sheer volume of PCs in the world, the energy and greenhouse gas implications are enormous.

Picture this: A green minded gent (yours truly) arrives at work at 0700 Monday morning and curiously thinks, “I wonder how many PCs were left turned on over the weekend?”. The curious green minded gent then proceeds to do a basic energy audit and discovers 64 out of a possible 75 PCs still turned on with their monitors in standby mode with no one on the floor but himself! What a surprise to the green gent, who actually thought that his work colleagues cared about the planet they lived on.

So to do the sums, the green gent needed to make a few assumptions. If most people leave work at 5pm Friday and return at 8am Monday, that would be 63 hours that the PCs were sucking power without any worker using them. If the average power usage of each PC including monitor, with decent power management enabled was about 54 watt-hours, multiplied by 64 PCs, then multiplied by 63 hours of idleness. That is a whopping 217.7 kWh of electricity wasted over the weekend which is more than the green gent uses at home in an entire month! In the state of Victoria, Australia, that is the equivalent to 265 kg of CO2-e. 

So assuming that every floor in the building have basically the same layout, that the workers have the same lax behaviours, and the building had 50 floors, that would be 10,885 kWh of electricity or 13.2 tonnes of CO2-e released into the atmosphere each weekend. With 52 weekends in a year, the waste would amount to 556,020 kWh of electricity or 690 tonnes of CO2-e each year! The impact is amplified in this country due to our dirty coal based energy supply.  Assuming that the cost per kilowatt hour is 19 cents, that works out to be a grand total of $105,644 of lost profit.  You simply cannot ignore losses like that!

That is just one large building in one city out of many millions of buildings world wide. The mind boggles at the incredible savings in money and greenhouse gas pollution that could be made simply and easily, by each worker turning their PC off before they go home at night. 

Now you could add all the micorwave ovens left on for the clock in all the kitchens on all the floors, and the electronic air freshener sprays with in each toilet, the phone chargers left plugged in, not to mention all the lights left on, the rapid boil hot water systems, and the air conditioning keeping the building cool for cockroaches.  Maybe every floor of every building needs a big green switch to shut down everything that doesn't need to be left on on a timer.  Now that would be very energy efficient.

According to Gartner, every year the information and telecom technology industry generates 2% of the world’s carbon emissions - the same as a year’s worth of air traffic. Moreover, PCs and monitors account for 39% of these emissions, equivalent to the emissions of approximately 46 million cars.

So next time you put your jacket on to leave for home, take a minute of your time to turn off your PC and again at the wall switch. You will be making a massive contribution to avoiding catastrophic climate change. This simple gesture will be noticed by others, who then in turn will follow your lead, and before you know it the dreaded Vampires will be no longer live in your office, ne'er a garlic bulb in sight!