Thursday, 9 July 2009

Hybrid Miles from the Car You Already Own


This may make you think less of me but I proudly own a hybrid SUV. I know that hybrid and sports utility vehicle aren't concepts people think of in conjunction with one another but I needed the functionality of a SUV and I wanted to do my part for the environment. When I purchased my Ford Escape Hybrid I was about to move to Colorado, the winters there are killer. You know how I know? When visiting I saw quite a few Priuses and similar small non hybrid vehicles stranded on the side of the road. Some of them did the slip and slide in the ice and some of them got stuck in the snow. Either way I knew I didn't want that to be me! I also wanted a vehicle that would grow with me- you know a family, kids, dogs etc and one that could haul stuff around. Ultimately I want to own and work some land. A small SUV would fit all of those needs and it has quite successfully. To make it a bit more green we leave it parked most of the time and get around on foot or bike.

But you don't have to own a hybrid to save some money on gas and do your part for the environment.

One of the first things I did after buying a hybrid was research hypermiling. It's become a whole subculture of people dedicated to getting the most gas mileage out of any car. There are those that purport to get 100 mpg on Accords! Personally I think those people are a bit to intense for me but by practicing some of the hypermiling techniques I've been able to get almost 40 mpg on a car that is estimated to get 30 mpg highway and 32 mpg in the city. Some others are routinely getting 40-45 mpg on similar models.

The basic techniques are:

1. Stop speeding: The harder you press the gas pedal, the more gas you’re using. If you’re driving over the speed limit, you might save time, but you’re definitely wasting gas and money. Slow down a little if you can so that you’re driving at or just below the actual speed limit. (This is big I got 38 mpg by only going 60 mph on the highway instead of the 75 mph speed limit. Yes it felt weird but it didn't take me all the much longer and since I wasn't worried about getting somewhere RIGHT NOW I was calmer and enjoyed the drive more)

2. Coast instead of braking: When you see a stop sign up ahead or a traffic light turning yellow, immediately take your foot off the gas and let your vehicle slow down by itself. If you wait until the last possible minute to brake, then you’re wasting all the gas you used when you could have been slowing down. (In a hybrid the energy created by braking is harnessed to power the electric engine but I still try to brake as little as possible. It drives the people behind me nuts though...)

3. Cruise Control: The feathering of your foot on the gas pedal that naturally occurs wastes more gas. By putting in on cruise control the car can use the gas more economically while still going the desired speed but you still have to go slower to see any real gas savings. (An exception to this is uphill, cruise control will keeping you going a consistent speed but to save on gas should actually slow down going up hill)

4. Put your car in neutral: Coasting with your car in neutral takes the burden off your gas pedal preventing you from wasting fuel. If you’re not driving in heavy traffic, experiment with this effective money saver. ( I don't do this because I just don't like the idea. The nice thing about having a hybrid is that I don't need to, in bumper to bumper traffic the electric engine will pretty much take over.)

5. Lighten the load: The heavier your car is, the harder it has to work to propel itself forward. Empty out your trunk and backseat of ice chests, beach chairs, and other items that you’re not using to lighten the load. (I don't keep anything in the car that I won't need that day. It took a lot of thought at first but now my car is cleaner and lighter. The only exception is in the winter I keep a snow shovel.)

6. Drafting: This technique comes with a warning sign: according to many hypermiling experts, it is incredibly dangerous. A “deliberate form of tailgating,” the forced auto stop involves turning off your car’s engine and then following closely behind the vehicle in front of you “in order to take advantage of the reduced wind resistance in [the other car's] immediate wake.” (Yeah... I don't do this either. You can draft without turning the engine off but getting that close to a semi freaks me out. You would have very little reaction time if something were to happen.)

7. Find a route that’s easy on your vehicle: A story in the Washington Post discusses the benefits of “optimiz[ing] your route” when implementing hypermiling tricks. Instead of taking the scenic route to work, which could include more hills, twists, and dips, try finding a route that features level roads and less traffic lights or stop signs.

8. Roll down the windows if you’re not on the highway: After the scorching hot temperatures of the summer have retreated, stop blasting the air conditioner and roll down your windows. According to, “It is generally accepted that air-conditioning increases fuel consumption by about 10 percent but winding down the windows increases drag, which is also an enemy of good fuel consumption.” If you’re going to be on the highway, keeping your A/C on low is still a good idea, but if you’re taking a joy ride, think about getting a little fresh air. (This one is hard for me because I cannot stand to be hot, but I do it... most of the time...)

9. Don’t leave the car running: People used to believe it was better to keep the car running for really short errands but it just wastes gas.

10. Keep up with maintenance- obviously a well tuned car will run more efficiently. But make sure you look at your cars maintenance schedule. If you go to a place like Jiffy Lube they will tell you to get an oil change every 3,500 miles but that may not be true. My hybrid only needs an oil change every 10,000 miles.

11. Check your tire pressure and tire balance: Tires that are beginning to lose air and go flat put more stress on your engine, making it work harder and burn more fuel. If your tires aren’t balanced correctly, you could end up wearing out certain tires faster than others, causing them to lose air and forcing your engine to work harder. (An added bonus is that doing this will extend the life of your tires)

Some techniques are easier then others, for me slowing down is hard, but I find by keeping the fuel consumption screen up on my hybrid I am more motivated to slow down because I get instant and constant feedback on my fuel consumption.

Have you ever tried hypermiling? What kind of results have you gotten?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

No Spending Days

By: Frugal Trenches

Lately I've had a few people suggest I share one of my frugal systems with you all! Heather did a great post on the envelope system here on the co-op last week, so I thought it might be relevant to show what else you can do to help you be frugal with your pennies!

No Spending Days.

I know it sounds simple, I bet a lot of us think we don't spend that often, but in reality with drive through, pharmacies and department stores on every corner, not to mention those coffee shops, I'm amazed at how often we actually spend money. When I was starting my no spending days (which a reader introduced me to), I remember really struggling to not spend money on any day, yes it was small things like a tomato here and there for a recipe, the odd newspaper, a Birthday card or coffee during my lunch break at work. When I started adding up those small spends, I couldn't believe how much it worked out to over the course of a week, month and year. When I mentioned it to some friends of mine they said they felt in modern society you do need to spend most days, well that was all the encouragement I needed to show people you don't.

So just how do no spending days work?

- You set yourself a target, for example to start no spending 2 days a week. Circle those days on the calendar, put it in your diary, wake up and remember today is a no spending day.

- On a no spending day you do not buy anything, not for yourself or your partner or your children.

- On a no spending day you will have to go without whatever it is you forget/want/need such as groceries, magazines, gum, bottle of wine, coffee, lunch out, bus tickets etc.

I am amazed (as were my readers who decided to accept the challenge) how much money I saved, mainly because by having to wait to purchase things it made me choose not to purchase them and save my money instead. I also found planning became more routine, so preparing lunch, snacks, drinks ahead of time really meant I wasn't tempted to buy. I was also resolute that I would succeed in my challenge and save even more money so that I could achieve my downshifting dreams.

When I first began 1 no spending day a week was hard, oh so hard, now I can quite easily manage 4-5 no spending days a week. Is it always easy? No. Do I always succeed? Not at all, but I now have another frugal tool up my sleeve that helps me save money, reduce my consumer tendencies and lead a more simple life. In fact I think I need to set myself a new no spending day challenge!

Have you ever tried no spending days? Would you be able to try to set aside 2-3 days a week where you don't spend?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

A different spin on kraut

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Normally when people mention sauerkraut, we think cabbage. And lacto-fermented vegetables are becoming more mainstream thanks to the Weston Price organization or the cookbook Nourishing Traditions. But, any type of vegetable can be pickled in this way, using salt, whey and water. The lacto-fermentation makes the vegetables more digestable and helps to make their vitamins and minerals more easily assimilated.

Our first cabbages of the summer always become a summer slaw we love. But I have been overwhelmed with greens of all types, mustards, kales, spinach and lettuces. I already have succession plantings of some of these greens coming on too, so what to do? I started digging through my preserving books, and lo and behold, in All About Pickling by Ortho Books (gag), I found pickle recipes for quick pickled greens. O-Shinko was the easiest and the recipe called for spinach, salt and water. Another recipe was for lettuce kraut. I was in business. And what could be better, cabbage is a heavy feeder and much easier to raise when you have a high fertility garden. Whereas, lettuce and spinach on the other hand, are simple to grow in large quantities, and don't require as many inputs and time as getting a head of cabbage to mature. SIMPLE - GREEN- FRUGAL!

The lettuce and spinach kraut recipes called for 10 or 20 pounds of leaves, so I fell back on the quart size recipe from Nourishing Traditions and made two batches at a time as I needed to pull pre-bolting greens from the garden.

For each quart of kraut you will need:

Enough tender greens to fill a wide mouth quart jar
1 tablespoon good quality sea salt
4 tablespoons of whey (optional, if whey is not available use an additional tablespoon of salt)

Procedure: I found it easier to just layer a small amount of salt and leaves and keep alternating and pushing the leaves down until the jar was almost full. I added the whey and made sure the leaves were covered. Put on an airtight lid and let ferment on the counter for about 3 days, and then move to the refrigerator.

I did find that if I mixed tougher greens (kale) with tender greens (spinach or lettuce) the tender greens were ready sooner and if I waited they became mushier than we cared for. So I have been making kraut mixes with kale, cabbage leaves, and chard or lettuce, mustards, spinach and a few lambsquarters for good measure. The tender greens are ready in a few days and the cabbage type take a little longer. Just test and see how you like the texture, if the kraut is too crunchy, just cover and wait a few more days.

These pickled greens are great as a cool, summer side dish, or as the condiment on sandwiches.

This cabbage is from last year, we cut the head off in the winter and expected it to bolt, but it has started to grow as if it is it's first season. The leaves are tender, and I need this space cleared for the next crop, so I won't see if it will make a second head or not, but it will make excellent quick kraut. Sweet and tender, we have been eating leaves from these plants braised with chicken broth and balsamic vinegar, but time to go, so kraut it will be.

This Lacinato Rainbow kale is also from last year, and I need to remove the plant, so in the kraut jar it will go.

I always like being able to find new uses for the food we grow, while I can compost it, or feed it to the livestock, I like finding one more way to bring it to the table in nutritious way.

Have you discovered a new use for anything in your garden this year?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Growing Herbs to Dry

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
When we rebuilt the deck a few years ago, I took out the junipers in front of our picture window (they burn like gasoline in a wildfire situation, so not a good plant to have next to your house, anyway) and started a kitchen herb garden there instead. But that looked too raggedy too much of the year, so I also potholed spring bulbs here and there and tossed some old wildflower seeds out there too. Now it looks more like a cottage garden, with the oregano, marjoram, tarragon, sage, two kinds of chives, and a little rosemary holding their own. The mints and lemon balm do better over in a shadier spot. Basil gets set out into the vegetable garden each year, and parsley and dill self-seed here and there. The lovage is such a monster that it gets a separate spot on the edge of the garden, along with the anise. Thyme is the only one I haven't found the perfect spot for yet.

I snip and use fresh-picked herbs in my kitchen all summer long, but also dry them for winter cooking and teas. Right now, the marjoram and oregano are starting to form flower buds. The flavor oils in herbs reach their peak just before they flower, so it's time to start harvesting and drying them. Grabbing handfuls of stems, I cut the plants down to a couple of inches above the ground. They'll put out new growth, so I might get two or three more cuttings before fall.

After swishing them around in a sinkful of cool water, and picking through to remove faded leaves and rogue bits of other plants, I shake most of the water off the stems and tumble them into the dish drainer to drip-dry some more. Once the stems are dry, I make bundles with the butt end of the stems rubber-banded together. Using a rubber band is an important part. Although herb bundles tied with string look very pretty and "country-fied", it doesn't work very well. As the stems dry they shrink, fall out of the string loop, and shatter on the floor. If you really want the look of tied herb bundles in your kitchen, tie the string loop over the rubber band. I slip the pointy end of a drapery hook through the rubber band (paper clips bent into an "S" work well too), and hang the herbs up to dry on the edge of a high shelf (a folding clothes-drying rack makes a good hanging spot too).

Another very important part: label the bundles when you first hang them up. I just weave a bit of paper into the tops of the stems. Once dried, herbs can look remarkably similar. Getting mint mixed in with the oregano will make for some very interesting batches of spaghetti sauce next winter. If you like the look of the hanging herbs, you can use them right from the bundles but in my house they'd get dusty and cobwebby, and besides, harvesting brittle bits from the bundles makes a mess and leaves them looking rather ratty.

So once dried, I crumble the leaves off the large stems into a metal colander. Breaking them up with my hands and shaking the colander over a sheet of newspaper, the leaf bits fall through and the smaller stems stay in the colander (sage leaves are best rubbed through a wire mesh strainer). Dumping out any leftovers from the year before, I then pack the herbs into recycled yeast and bouillon jars. The dark brown of the glass helps preserve both flavor and color, and I think things just taste better when stored in glass.

I didn't have enough dark glass jars for all my herbs however, so my tea herbs are in old clear-glass juice canning jars. To protect them from the light, I lined the inside of the jars with paper folded to fit. All my jars are labeled with writing on the lids, but to make these look nicer (and easier to find what I'm looking for), I designed a "master" label on the computer, changed the font color on some, searched Microsoft clipart online to find representative little graphics, and printed out each label/liner. I love the way they look up there.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Creative Garden

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

One of the most important aspects of having a garden is spending time there. By observing, touching and appreciating our gardens we have more success simply because we’re there to notice what it needs.

Time in the garden need not be only about planting, feeding, watering and harvesting. Another way to enjoy your garden is through art.

The garden itself is often seen as a form of art. Using plants’ colour, texture, shape and size the gardener creates a landscape of beauty. By adding accessories, either natural (such as stones) or man-made, we enhance and individualise our growing spaces. By looking at others’ gardens, parklands, nature, books and magazines from the library or garden web sites, we can collate ideas of what appeals to us and from there gradually shape our garden through the addition of new plants or other items.

Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.
~ Elizabeth Murray ~

Throughout history gardens have also influenced artists’ paintings, photographs and words. Famous garden artists include Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet and Georgia O’Keefe. Of course for many children, their first artworks include flowers, trees, butterflies and other natural beauty.

Nature and the garden offer free and sustainable art supplies: flowers, leaves, gourds, bark, sticks, seeds and pods are suitable for drawing, pressing, drying, painting, decorating, paper-making, using in sculptures or useful creations, using for dying textiles and more. There are many books and web sites dedicated to nature craft projects.

Designing a garden on paper, or using a computer program, is a useful creative process. A design can save you time, money and disappointment. Garden designs are a great learning tool for children too – measuring space, calculating costs and brainstorming alternatives to reduce, re-use and recycle.

Gardens are also ideal galleries. From painted flowerpots to giant-sized sculptures, imagination and creativity are at ease in any garden from window box to courtyard to farmyard… Our vegetable gardens grow inside greenhouses. In one greenhouse we added wind chimes, chipped crockery and mosaic items. They were clutter inside our home but provide joy out there in the jungle of greenery that is our tropical food garden.

Our thirteen-year-old, Imogen, loves to grow plants in pots. On a low, upturned broken concrete tank she has a collection of recycled containers including a fish bowl and broken teapot housing her various cacti and succulents. Her experiments with tree seedlings and strawberry runners live amongst the exotic display. Around the base Imogen has gathered her beloved potted roses, and scattered in between are rocks, shells, unfinished carving projects and more. At a glance, it’s a mess, but upon closer inspection I see her appreciation for beauty, love of nature and artistic flair shine through.

We would like to build an herb spiral – a pyramid-shaped pile of rocks from our creek planted with herbs grown from cuttings and seeds. The moisture-loving mint will ramble at the bottom and right up top the thyme, rosemary and lavender will escape the wet soil they dislike. There will be room among the herbs for some of our favourite garden art, such as pottery from the thrift store which is too unusual to be practical in the kitchen, but ideal for scooping a bit of water or protecting a frog. Or toadstools made from clay and protected with a coat of builder’s sealing agent. Perhaps even some dragonflies made of bent wire and glass beads from broken costume jewelery…

Next we could create a pond. I’ve seen simple ones built with recycled vessels or a piece of black plastic lining. By adding rocks, logs and plants of various colours and textures, the perfect environment is assembled for a few small fish. Or we might wait for the wildlife to discover this gift – frogs, birds, insects and lizards all appreciate garden ponds.

While we’re decorating for the wildlife, we might build some bird feeders together. Seed for wild birds can be purchased locally. We could also plant some of that seed and grow fresh seed heads for our feathered friends to enjoy. I’ve seen bird feeders made from fallen timber, gourds, commercial building materials and various recycled items. Our large family could try several designs to see what the birds prefer.

Some birds that visit we don’t want to encourage. Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are Australian birds who can destroy a whole crop of fruit in one day. They often pierce a small hole in the fruit, devour the seeds, and let the rest fall, wasted, to the ground. They also bite off branches and leaves from trees in order to trim their beaks. In urban areas, they can destroy timber features of houses and fences. Maybe we’ll create a scarecrow? I notice that when any of us are outdoors, the Cockatoos don’t descend on the fruiting trees and vines. And those pesky crows don’t bother our young poultry when a human is on guard. A scarecrow would be a fun project, and he or she wouldn’t mind standing on guard in the rain!

I hope your growing space can be the muse for engaging artists of all ages.

Kids Gardening
About Giverny
Garden Crafts for Kids: 50 Great Reasons to Get Your Hands Dirty - Diane Rhoades