Sunday, 5 April 2009

Green, frugal recipes for your dog.

By Julie
Towards Sustainability

A large number of people have domestic pets and it makes sense that we want to care for them in the same way that we care for any other member of our family. So, when my family started trying to live more simply and frugally, I looked for ways to include our pets. If I could make foods and products for my family more healthily and cheaper than buying them, surely that applied to our pets as well!

The first aspect I looked at was their diet. Just as I was seeking to eliminate artificial additives from my family's diet, I also wanted to eliminate them from my dogs and cat. A quick glance at the ingredients list on their purchased food was pretty eye-opening, even though we had been buying supposedly 'fresh' food for our dogs (i.e. refrigerated dog food rolls) as opposed to tinned food. In hindsight, I doubt the 'fresh' stuff was any better, it was still full of artificial colours, preservatives, salt, sweeteners (!) and other cheap non-food 'fillers'. It was also quite expensive, especially with two large dogs to feed.

A quick Google search for dog food recipes revealed a plethora of information, including the BARF diet (Bones And Raw Foods, also known as the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods diet, said to mimic the evolutionary diet of dogs and which is totally raw), plus numerous different homemade cooked dog food recipes, as well as a list of foods to avoid feeding dogs, namely:

* onions, shallots etc,
* grapes and raisins,
* chocolate, and
* artificial sweeteners.

Basic recipes should comprise of around 50% protein, 25% carbohydrate (grains) and 25% vegetables, as well as some oils to provide Omega-3's. In the wild, dogs would have gotten the carbohydrate and vegetable component of their diet by eating the stomachs of their prey. Also, be aware that many fresh ground/ minced meats, particularly 'pet quality' meats, quite apart from being made up of 'meat' of dubious origins, have had preservatives added to them to extend their shelf life (generally sulphur dioxide [preservative 220]), which have been linked to thiamine deficiencies in dogs if consumed in large quantities, and they are often sprayed with sodium nitrite to make it look red and fresh (when it isn't).

The recipe I use is one I picked up at the Aussies Living Simply forum a few years ago:

Homemade Dog Food
1 kg/ 2 pounds minced/ ground/ finely chopped meat*
1 cup raw brown rice
1 cup raw pasta
1 cup barley or lentils
2 cups chopped mixed vegetables (NEVER use onions or shallots)
2 cloves minced garlic**
1 spoonful of nutritional yeast (or if you are an Aussie, Vegemite)

* Including a small amount of offal in the mix adds valuable fats and vitamins.
** Small amounts of garlic are said to repel fleas and worms but can be harmful in large doses.

Mix all the ingredients in a large stockpot and cover with water. Simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice and pasta are cooked. Top up the pot with water and allow to cool. Freeze in portions.

Using a bulk pack of 3kg of minced meat and adjusting the rest of the ingredients accordingly, I make enough food for our two large dogs for approximately two weeks. Please not that this recipe doesn't contain a source of calcium so isn't suitable for growing puppies, but our adult dogs are fine on it. They also get uncooked bones to chew on as well, which I buy in bulk cheaply from our butcher.

If you are switching your dog from a commercial diet to homemade, you might want to do it gradually to reduce the chance of upsetting your dog's tummy.

Recipes for other homemade dog foods and treats can be found here and here.


After switching our dogs to home cooked food, the next area I looked at was their coat care. I had changed our family from using commercial shampoos to more natural, organic ones at that stage (and later went "no 'poo"), but natural, organic dog shampoos are very expensive, so I went looking for homemade alternatives.

I found that just like bicarbonate soda (baking soda) is great for washing human hair, it's also fabulous for washing dogs! You can use it both wet or dry.

Dry Dog Shampoo - Sprinkle plain bicarbonate soda over the dog's coat. Brush through the dry coat thoroughly with a soft- bristled brush. The bicarb soda neutralises dog odours, it absorbs dirt and oils in the coat and contains no nasty chemicals! It's terrific for wet days when our dogs come inside at night with that distinctive "wet dog" smell (erk!).

To use it wet, mix up the bicarb with water at a ratio of about 1 part bicarb to 4 parts water, and use as you would shampoo. Rinse thoroughly.

You can finish off with a homemade flea repellent spray if you wish:

Flea repellent spray #1 - Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a clean spray bottle. Spray onto coat the dog's coat and allow to dry. Repeat every few days.

Flea repellent spray #2 - Bring about 1 litre (1 quart) of water to the boil, then remove from heat, add one sliced lemon to it and leave to steep overnight. Strain and store in a clean spray bottle, spray the dog's coat daily or as needed (the limonene in lemons supposed to repel fleas).


For those little "accidents", you can also use trusty vinegar and bicarb soda to clean urine stains on the carpet. For fresh accidents on carpet, blot immediately with towels to remove as much as possible, then blot with a 50:50 mixture or white vinegar and water, using clean towels. For dried stains, gently apply a 50:50 mixture of water and white vinegar to the stain and allow it to dry. When dry, sprinkle liberally with bicarb soda and then vacuum thoroughly. For persistent stains or smells, follow up with another application of bicarb soda, then mix 1/2 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide with a teaspoon of dish washing detergent. Don a pair of rubber gloves, and then slowly pour the hydrogen peroxide mixture over the bicarb soda, dissolving it and rubbing it into the carpet well with your gloved hands. When dry, vacuum thoroughly.

I'm sure there are many, many other green and frugal tips out there - feel free to share your favourite in the comments section!

** I'm going to be away from the computer for a day or so, so please don't think I'm rude if I don't respond to any comments immediately :-) **

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Healing Cottonwood Salve

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

A well stocked medicine cabinet should include some homemade soothing, and healing ointments and salves. Making your own salve allows you to control the ingredients, and keeps the expense down. A common salve that is easy to make is Calendula salve, but I'm going to show you how to make Cottonwood Salve today.

Supplies needed:
Dormant Cottonwood Buds
Olive Oil (organic, extra virgin is best for your skin)
wide mouth jar to make infused oil
assorted small jars and lids for salve
double boiler or a small and large kettle and canning rings

A popular European and Native American remedy for burns, it is just as useful today. Containing salicylates (think aspirin) it is also useful for pain, sprains and inflamation. Known for its natural antiseptic properties, it also helps with tissue regeneration.

Commonly known as Cottonwood or Balsam Poplar, Populus balsamifera, Populus trichocarpa.
A tall vigorous tree, look for it next to rivers, lakes and streams or in any moist area. If you are not sure if you have found the right tree, rub a leaf between your fingers, and an aromatic sweet scent will tell you if you have hit paydirt. But, mark the location, as the buds need to be gathered while the tree is dormant, in late winter through early spring.

How to gather buds from a 100' tree? Let Mother Nature help you. With cottonwood being a somewhat brittle tree, winter wind and ice storms will take their toll, and bring down limbs for you. I am not too keen on widespread wildcrafting, because if everybody is out foraging, the natural landscape will suffer, but Cottonwood trees are prolific and can take losing a cup of buds here and there. Look for tight, pointy buds that haven't started to open yet. They should be a little sticky and very aromatic. The scent is heavenly.

There are many ways to make infusions. The easiest is to place your buds in a wide mouth jar and completely cover with oil, so the buds do not mold. I prefer not to use heat, and I leave the buds in oil for a year, in the dry pantry. If you are in a hurry, you can heat the oil and buds gently and strain when the oil smells strong enough to you.

Cottonwood buds are antioxidant so no vitamin E or gum benzoin is needed. Good olive oil also is not prone to rancidity, so this infused oil keeps at least a year or more and is useful in itself. The addition of beeswax adds to the keeping qualities of the cottonwood, so you can expect this salve to keep several years.

Cast of characters: Beeswax, and infused cottonwood oil.

Decanted oil, I used wide mouth pint canning jars. That way I know at a glance how much oil I have, so I can measure my beeswax accordingly.

I wanted to make a firm salve, and the general salve recipe is 1 oz of beeswax to 5 oz of oil. Firm salves form a protective barrier, softer salves (less beeswax) will allow for more absorbency of the herbal properties. If this is your first salve making experience, use half the recommended amount of beeswax, when the wax and oil have melted, pour a little into one of your containers and let it set up. If you like the consistency, you're done. If it is too soft, reheat and add the rest of the beeswax and continue.
To get my beeswax down to a manageable size, I chopped it with a hatchet. I use beeswax in my some of my soap recipes too, so I can eyeball 1 oz sizes. I do weigh the beeswax though, after I have it in smaller pieces.

I made a double boiler with a large kettle, and some canning rings. The oil and beeswax should be gently heated to preserve the herbal qualities of the cottonwood.

While the oil and wax is heating, wash and dry your jars and have them ready for pouring. For this batch, I used an assortment of jars: 4 oz jelly jars, wide mouth 1/2 pint, recycled mustard jars (for the barn) and a real salve jar so I can share some salve as a gift. Always try to have a extra jar or two, I always do this when I am canning too, just so I don't have to go looking for one more jar when I have hot food waiting. Put down some newpaper too, if you pour like I do.

Pour the warm oil into your jars...

While the salve is cooling, you can wipe your pan to clean it. If the salve in the pan starts to harden just put the pan back in the water bath to remelt and wipe again, and then you can wash with warm soapy water.

When the salve has cooled, you can scrape the paper, (if you're as messy as me) and the jar threads and add the cleanings to your jars. Let cool overnight, or all day and wipe the rims clean and put the lids on for long term storage. Too soon and it may sweat and add moisture to your jars.

Once you have made and used some of this salve, you will love it!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Buying ethically Vs frugality?

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Last year, I had to travel for work. I really don't like like travelling for work and resist it when I can. However, this occassion stood out for me in more ways than one and thought I'd share... (xposted from my personal blog)

This morning I sat on an airplane on my way to a work meeting and I picked up the Airline's inflight magazine and had a bit of a chuckle when I realised that the entire magazine was dedicated to the theme of "GOING GREEN". In it, there was a run down of the different types of petrol cars use and the carbon footprint, changes top business men have made in their personal lives to go "Greener" etc etc. All very superficial (concentrating on the "Being Seen to be Green" as opposed to actually "Being Green") and all very ironic given that there was no mention (at least what I can find during the 30 mins I spent reading the mag) of the carbon footprint of this airline or even air travel in general, and steps towards offsetting it.

Another article on that magazine was about a reporter who decided to "try out" being ethical in their eating habits for a weekend. In the end, she concluded that ethical eating was "too expensive and too time-consuming". Okay, so no suprises there given the whole superficiality of the magazine and the superficiality of her commitment to ethical eating.

Having said that, her conclusion is no doubt a common opinion amongst many many people. The thing though is that changing consumption habits (whether its food or things or whatever) takes time and commitment before one can start seeing that it doesn't *have* to be expensive or time-consuming.

Expensive ethical consumption happens when you try to fit a lifetime of consumption habits and try to make it fit an ethical framework. It is no doubt the reason why so many people get taken aback the first time they venture into a Fairtrade shop - immediately you can see them thinking "well, geez, if it costs this much, then I wouldn't be able to buy X and Y or buy ten Xs". I think the fallacy of this thinking is not the cost of the item but the second part of this thinking - "the I wouldn't be able to buy X and Y". Ethical consumption is not just about buying ethical items but actually looking at your whole life and realising that we are over-consuming. And that it is over consumption that has lead us down the path of exploitation. It is what has made our lifestyles unethical in the first place.

Curbing over-consumption, is actually the first step and hardest step towards ethical consumption. The rest then falls from that. By curbing our over consumption, then we are able ?to afford the things that really do matter to us... that is the things that we would buy joyfully as opposed to to buying them because its what we've done and what those around us have done for so many years. And as part of joyful consumption we would be able to buy those things that were produced/manufactured and retailed in an ethical way.

But yes, curbing over-consumption is hard. We have built our identities, our relationships with others and our society on this habit. Breaking it would involve (as I have found) questioning our identities, and finding alternative ways in relating to others. It may even mean (at first) feeling even more isolated from the rest of our over-consuming society. But then the rewards at the end of the long road are worth it. Instead of feeling helpless against the problems of exploitation, we are now empowered. Instead of feeling frantic and pressured to buy, we are now buying (or not buying) joyfully and on OUR terms.

Ethical buying does not have to be opposed to a frugal philosophy. Indeed, I have found that a frugal philosophy enables me buy ethically... and buying ethically helps me live a more simple, green and frugal life.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Talking tomatoes

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

I’m taking the easy way out today and grouping a couple of posts from my personal blog this week into one entry here. It got a good bit of interaction going over there, and since I don’t get nearly the number of hits that this blog gets, I’m sure that there’s an audience here that hasn’t read these posts. If you have, I thank you for stopping by and apologize for the repeat, but I think it’s worth the conversation and input from others that this site can generate so I’m going with it.

Earlier this week, I asked if there were any questions that any of my readers had that I might be able to help them answer. Someone posed the following question and it started a good dialogue.

I'm curious about your tomato growing method. I think you planted your tomatoes close together (1 ft) and used your trellis system for support. What have been your experiences with growing indeterminate tomatoes in this fashion? Can you talk a little about pruning specifically for your growing method? ~Eric

I think if there’s one thing people first associate with the successful home garden it’s the sweet goodness of a sun ripened tomato.

Well Eric was absolutely right, I do grow my tomatoes in very close proximity (1 sq ft), and yes I am very big on trellising. But to leave it at that would be making the process much too simple, so let me explain.In the pictures above and below, there are two sections of tomato trellising. The tomato above is in the box that is in the back, the one below is in the box in the middle in case you weren't sure. This is last year’s trellis that I tried out. I didn't like it, and am modifying my framework trellis system to have a center beam that I can hold tomatoes on for this year, but this illustrates the method just fine. I do grow the tomatoes in 1 sq foot of garden space, but I have thus far only grown indeterminate plants and they take to this very well. Let me digress for a moment in case you don’t know the difference between the Indeterminate and Determinate Tomatoes. To simplify it, determinate ones will grow to a mature full size plant, usually bushy and not very tall and will then ripen large numbers of fruits that all come ripe at a determined time. Indeterminate tomatoes are exactly the opposite. They will tend to vine, some getting as long as 8-12 feet long and will produce smaller quantities of fruits throughout the growing season. Generally speaking a tomato plant can grow just fine in 6-8 inches of soil, in one square foot of garden bed. The reason they don't is because if they're not trellised they require greater rooting space for structural support for themselves. With the tomato plant trained to a trellis, the support needs are met and the plant just needs to grow. This reduces the space needs of the roots and is one of the reasons I choose to grow mine UP.When I am training the indeterminate tomatoes to grow up, I use a rebar stake that has been notched with a hack saw and tie a string to it. I stick it in the ground right next to the root ball and then run the string up to the top of the overhead beam of my trellis, whatever that is. As the plant grows, it naturally gets "leggy" at the topmost part. As this get's long enough, I just gently wind it around the string which stays in place. You don't want to weave it too tightly or it will strangle the plant, just let the plant know where the string is and guide it around. Here's a close up of one of my San Marzano plants and you can see the string with the plant wound around it.
Now, here's the caveat. This works well for indeterminate tomatoes because they have that natural vineing tendency that I mentioned, determinant tomatoes do not. As I said, they are more naturally inclined to bush and produce a lot of fruit for one harvest than to continue to crank them out over time. This year we are going to grow a good selection of these types as well, and I will not be trellising them. At least not like the other ones. I may work out a loose cage type thing or something to keep them in check, but I am not going to worry about them getting tall. It's not in their nature.
Whatever the means of support you choose to use for your indeterminate tomatoes, they should be pruned. I do make sure to try and prune them pretty consistently. This isn't directly related to trellising, at least not in that I need to do it to get them to grow up or anything. The reason I prune is to maximize the yield as well to limit exposure to diseases. The basics are to pinch off all suckers. (These are usually the branch looking stems that crow out from the crotch formed by the leaves and the stem. They rarely set fruit and if they do it is usually inferior. Secondly, I trim off any old or dying leaves or leaves that touch the ground. Many of the blights and pathogens that tomatoes can get come from soil contact.

There are a lot of good resources online if you'd like more information. I thought I’d include a few of them here for easy access.

• The first one is a great page all about pruning tomato plants. I don't tie mine up like they do, but there's really no hard and fast way to do this so give it a read.

• This page is a .pdf provided by the Colorado state extension Master Gardener program that goes into all kinds of information on Tomatoes. It is VERY good information!
Depending on the variety of indeterminate tomato that you choose to grow, it may well end up growing up over your trellis anyway. There’s nothing wrong with this at all. However, one thing that you will want to keep in mind is when your first frost date is so that you can make a heading cut by removing the endmost section of the stem; doing this will help to force the plant to ripen all fruit that are already set on the plant.
I’d like to ask some of our more experienced readers to take an opportunity to add to this topic in the comments section, or to correct me if you feel I’ve misspoken.

Very best of luck to you all this season!
Grow on!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Importance of Living Locally

Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

The Benefits Of Supporting A Local Economy

As the economy ebbs and flows - but mostly ebbs - many economists, politicians, bankers, and people like you and I are taking a step back to figure out not only how to survive this economic downturn, but also how to prevent being hit so hard in the future. There is a lot of talk about Wall Street versus Main Street, and where our stimulus money to should go, where our concentration of effort should lie.

In my neighborhood, I see businesses struggling. I see new condominium complexes empty. I see architects, planners, and restaurants closing their doors for good. And low-overhead businesses like "check cashing" moving into their place. It is a sad thing to see.

In the larger economy, for example, I see banks that made big mistakes with credit closing their doors, or being propped up by our tax money. Yet the local and regional banks that had better credit screening are doing ok. And that makes me think the larger companies were too out of touch with their customers and what was happening locally.

We live in a global system and I'm not saying we need to move completely from a global to a local economy, but it is, I think, worth moving a lot closer toward a local economic system. For one thing, I as a consumer have more control and more say over what happens in my neighborhood. My dollar means more to my local co-op than it does to a national grocery store chain. And as such, that local co-op works harder to provide the things I want. And they in turn support the local suppliers that bring high quality, seasonal items to their store.

Local businesses also tend to employ local workers, which also helps to bolster the local economy. Additionally, they are more likely to donate goods, services, and funds to local non-profits that benefit the local community.

This local economic system creates a positive feedback loop that allows each of us to have more control of what we buy and sell, and it keeps money going through our local economy. Studies have shown for every $100 spent at a global business, $14 remains in the local economy; where at a local business, $45 remains in the local economy. Three times as many dollars stay in our local economic system, to help make it more robust - even in tough global economic times.

The Importance Of Living Locally

There are many books and articles written about this subject - I've just scratched the surface here, but I wanted to move on, because living locally is not just about buying locally. For a community to sustain itself, we all need to become active in our communities.

Living Locally includes:
  1. Participating in local voting and politics,
  2. Gathering like-minded folks together to become more powerful - both culturally and politically,
  3. Working with our local schools to make them better,
  4. Helping those who are less well off financially or emotionally than we are,
  5. Supporting local businesses and services,
  6. Participating in local transportation systems,
  7. Utilizing the benefits of local programs provided for us,
  8. Rallying others to live locally - by word of mouth, writing, inspiring with our own actions,
  9. Getting to know our neighborhoods by becoming a part of them - walking, biking, noticing our surroundings, saying hello, being neighborly, attending events, and more,
  10. Working locally if you can,
  11. Volunteering locally,
  12. Participating in local economic systems like: bartering/trading, garage sales, giving things away to neighbors and local organizations that need them, and utilizing local currency systems if your neighborhood has them,
  13. Using, helping take care of, and helping increase the number of local parks and other green spaces,
  14. Supporting local farms and helping make them become more sustainable,
  15. If you own a local business, participating locally in these same ways - and any other way you can - and work in cooperation with other local businesses to your mutual benefit.
All of these steps create a higher quality of life for you and I, as they buffer us from global economic and climactic fluctuations.

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