Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Building Mini Hoop Houses

Posted by Thomas from A Growing Tradition

mini hoop houses 2
This past Sunday night, we experienced our first light frost - a slight taste of the wintry weather to come. Our neighbor found it on the windshield of his car Monday morning and any hope that I may have had for Indian summer is now gone. It's time to wind down much of the garden and winterize the rest. Luckily, all of my veggies were under row cover Sunday night and no noticeable damage was done. I am very pleased with how the Agribon row cover has performed thus far.

Last Friday, I began work on my mini hoop houses and was able to complete them Sunday night. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I wanted to try my hand at a winter garden this year. Since we moved into our home in late July, I've been so focused on getting a fall garden planted and established that in a way, the recent cold weather has kind of taken me by surprised. I'm glad I didn't procrastinate too much on getting these constructed.

I wanted to make mini hoop houses that would fit on top of my raised beds, be movable so that I could cover different crops at different times throughout the year, and allow for easy access to the plants underneath. I also wanted to construct houses that were sturdy enough to withstand the heavy snow storms we routinely encounter here in New England, yet light enough to be lifted by one person. After much thought and second guessing, here is how I constructed my mini hoop houses:

wood frames
1. I started off by constructing the wood frames that would serve as the base for the hoop houses. I used 1 x 3 inch untreated spruce, which were cut into 3 and 6 feet pieces.

metal ties
2. I screwed metal ties to each corner to hold the frame together. The finished base measures 6 ft by 3 ft, the same as my raised beds.

bent conduit
3. I purchased 1/2 inch steel electrical conduit from Home Depot and used a conduit bender to shape the rods into Gothic style arches, making sure that the width of each arch was relatively close to 3 feet, i.e. the width of my frame. A hacksaw was then used to cut them down to the desired height. (I considered using PVC conduit but ultimately decided against it as I did not want to risk the chance of them bending or collapsing under the weigh of snow. The steel conduit is also relatively light.)

metal straps
4. I attached the arches to the wood frame using metal straps. These help to keep the arches perfectly straight. The attached arches also reinforce the base.

mini hoop house frame
5. I attached 3 arches to each frame. I chose to go with a Gothic style arch shape for my hoop houses not only because they more attractive then semi-circle hoops in my opinion, but also because they are proven to be better at deflecting snow and wind guts.

plastic on frame 1
6. I then went to work on attaching 6 mil polyethylene to my finished frame. This grade was chosen primarily for its strength, durability and insulating capacity, while at the same time, sacrificing only slightly the amount of sunlight available to the plants underneath. I started off by using clothes pins to tighten the plastic onto the frame.

plastic on cold frame 2
7. Then I used a hot glue gun to adhere the plastic onto the frame and trimmed off the excess. Initially, I tried using double-sided tape to do this but soon realized that the plastic would not stick to the tape. Then I tried sewing the plastic onto the frames using ordinary kitchen twine - too much work. Using a glue gun turned out to be the best and strongest option. (I tested its strength by pulling on the poly, and instead of releasing from the frame, it ripped).

finished mini hoop houses
8. I decided on two different heights for my hoop houses - 3 feet and 2 feet. A taller hoop house would obviously accommodate taller plants. Specifically, they will be used to give my tomatoes an early start in the spring. The shorter houses are less awkward to handle and lighter to move. Since most winter crops tend to hug the ground, I will most likely stick to the 2 feet or lower height when constructing future hoop houses.

mini hoop house hinges
9. In the garden, I use metal hinges to attach the hoop house to the raised bed. These can be easily removed in the spring and attached to another bed if needed.

opening mini hoop house
10. On the other side of the frame, I attached a metal handle to make lifting the cover a breeze. As you can see, the hinges allow for easy access to the crops grown underneath and also for easy venting.

mini hoop houses
The cost of materials came to about 80 dollars. By far the most difficult and tedious part in the construction process of these hoop houses was attaching the poly to the frame. After hours of hot gluing, they are still not perfect. Yet at the end of the day, I am very happy with my mini hoop houses. Hopefully, they will do their job this winter (weather permitting). So what do you think? Am I crazy?

Footnote: I forgot to mention when I first posted this that I stapled the poly to the wood base!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

How I broke my dependance on credit cards

By Eilleen
(x-posted from my blog: Consumption Rebellion)

Hello everyone,

Earlier this month, a reader from my personal blog asked me how I managed to stop using credit cards. I answered him at the time, but I thought I'd also share my answer here...

Firstly, a bit about me: I tend to be more "future-focussed" - I love planning and thinking up goals for myself. Sometimes in the journey to achieve particular goals, I pick up skills or knowledge along the way but I am so focussed on the goal that I am not even conscious that I've picked up those skills or knowledge.

For me not having credit cards was one of those things. Giving up my credit cards was a side-effect in my journey to become a more ethical consumer. It was not, at the time, my end goal. Of course, now that I'm in "maintenance" mode for my consumption habits (rather than "change" mode), I can see now the importance of not having credit cards.

I guess the first step for me was when I decided to not buy anything brand-new for a year. That was the year when I made a conscious acknowledgement that I was an over-consumer - that I bought too many things that I didn't really need or even really want. I acknowledged that I had too much stuff and the stuff didn't make me happy.

I found that trying to cut back my consumption (by deliberately leaving credit cards and bank cards at home, or setting a budget) didn't work. Oh it would work for a few days - maybe even a few weeks, but then old habits would creep back in and I would end up buying stuff again.

Looking back, I can see that it mirrored classic addiction symptoms and cycles - with the exception that I never bought stuff to the point where it was obvious that I had a problem. In fact, my consumption habits were very similar to everybody else! (hmmm a case of normalised addiction perhaps?)

Everyone I knew could empathise with the maxed out credit every now and then. Like everyone else, I got into debt, but not so much debt that my wage could not service that debt. Everyone I knew went to end-of-year/christmas/boxing day etc sales. Everyone I knew would go crazy over a "bargain". Everyone I knew would every now and then, complain about lack of storage and/or too much stuff.

In the end, I had enough and I decided to just stop. Oh not stop completely but I stopped a major source of my buying - I stopped buying brand new. I set myself a goal for a year.

At first, I sought to maintain my consumption habits by buying lots and lots of second-hand items. This worked for a little while, but I found myself not reaching the same "highs". It was a lot harder work to buy second-hand. I had to look around. I had to learn how to see the potential in items when they're not being displayed at their best. There was less "hype" around second-hand items so I couldn't get carried away by the enthusiasm of the crowd.

Most relevant in this subject not all second-hand sources would take credit cards. I HAD to learn how to carry cash and to bargain (when appropriate). I had NO CHOICE but to learn to walk away when I didn't have enough cash to buy that second-hand item.

My foray into second-hand buying gave me good skills (indeed, I am thankful for it because it enabled me to furnish my entire house for under $1,000) but in the end, it came down to the fact that the second-hand market simply could not meet my over-consumption habits.

And that's when I learned how to create. If the second-hand market could not give what I wanted, then I learned to how to make what I wanted. Now I learned how to do this during my no buying brand-new year, and for that I'm truly thankful because I think this could have become another source of over-consumption for me. But no, the option of buying brand new supplies would mean breaking my challenge, so I learned how to source second-hand supplies for my creations.

When I created things, I realised how much work was involved in making the stuff. I realised how I was not truly paying for the labour costs for most of the things I bought. It really brought home to me the depth of human exploitation I participated in by buying my goods for "a bargain".

And that when I learned how to just make-do. If I was not willing to put in the work to make something exactly the way I want it, then I learned to accept the next best thing, or learned to do without it all together.

In the meantime, I am now wandering around the place with these credit cards in my pocket.... and I had not used them in months. In fact, the only time I used them was when I was reminded to use them.

In my quest to consume in accordance with my values, I had learned how to buy things, only when I had cash for them. I learned how to walk away from items I really wanted but didn't have enough cash for (and walking away got easier as time went on). I learned how to make things so I didn't have to buy so much. I learned how to live without certain items or accept the next best thing.

And by learning how to do all that, I no longer needed my credit cards.

Late last year (and over two years from when I stopped buying brand-new), I finally closed my credit card account. I wasn't using it and was only paying account keeping fees for it. I've started to build my nest egg.

My nest egg, is not, by all means perfect. My posts on how I've lost it - once I lost most of it for real, and another when it got lost by mistake - show that I'm still learning how to build a nest egg and how to keep it secure. But the fact of the matter is, without the constant debt of credit cards, I am actually in a position to build a nest egg in the first place... and I feel that's the most important step in the first place.

I hope you are all having a wonderful day..

What I do to "sales mail" that sneak past my "No Junk Mail" sign..
Origami Crane. Photo by me.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Transition time in the garden

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Living in the Cascade foothills of the Pacific Northwest, gives us a little leeway in gardening. We normally don't get slammed with weather extremes. Our seasons are defined, but moderate, and if you ask a webfooter - they will most likely say we have 9 months of rain, and 3 months of summer. As a general rule, when the fall rains come, that is it - you can expect that it will pretty much be wet until April, May or July 4th.

Ever mindful that I need to be moving into gear for winter, I can still allow for others to make the transition too. We are totally sick of broccoli, the freezer is full, we have gorged on it fresh, and finally have turned our backs on it. But, to the delight of the insects still in the gathering mode, every sunny day and a bit of pollen and nectar helps a little. This is the time we start to eat from the hardier brassicas in the garden, kales and cabbages are rounding out the diet now. So each day I pull a broccoli plant that the bees are done with, and feed it to our hens. The few aphids that have taken up residence will be demolished by the layers, to be turned into eggs. We grow a lot of brassicas, and feeding the plant residues to the hens, or sheep gives us another "rotation" if you will. By letting the animals' digestive system work it wonders on the plants and turn the plant material into nutrient rich manure, we are spared some of the disease that plagues brassica growers who turn the plant residue into the ground as a way to get rid of it.

While I may have soft spot in my heart for the bees, the deer that like to munch in my garden are another story! For the most part, my Australian Shepherds are pretty effective at keeping the deer at bay. But, with the days getting shorter, the lap dogs guard dogs much prefer to be in the house with us during dinner time, and it just so happens that deer dinner time is the same as ours. So we have to employ a little ingenuity. In our climate, we can store a big share of our root crops in the row where they grew. After frost has killed the tops of the plants, I mulch the rows with soil to prevent freezing and dig as needed. However, until that time occurs, I need to do something to deter the deer. The easiest and most cost effective solution for us has to been to use deer fencing as a barrier on the ground. It is lightweight and easily moved and thwarts the deer enough to cause them to look elsewhere for feeding. When it is time to do my soil mulch, I can fold the netting back, mulch and then replace the netting just for good measure for the winter. The deer do not seem to dig through the mulch, but the elk will, so this allows us to keep our root crops relatively safe.

None too soon, as you can see, the deer are ever present.

While I would dearly like to get my cedar bean poles stored, I want to leave the pods on the vines as long as possible for seed saving.

My flint corn is also drying down, so in areas like this, I under-sow a cover crop. The cover crop gets established, and I am not in a hurry to harvest immature plants so I can get the cover crop in.

In areas like the potato patch, I wait to sow the cover crop after harvest. Winter rye is very hardy and even can be frost seeded. By breaking up the tasks of putting the garden to bed, we aren't so harried, and can harvest crops at the peak of maturity.

This is also the time to put away any garden tools, and other equipment that will not be used until spring. We clean and put away tools, and set items aside that need repairs over the winter. Nothing is more frustrating than to pick up a tool next spring and find that you have to start out with a repair job. Kind of like cooking before you have your kitchen in order, it takes the enthusiasm right out of a job for me.

I feel better being somewhat organized in the rush of winter prep - what do you have to do to prepare your garden in your area for winter?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Keeping Track of Your Harvests

by: ChiotsRun

When it comes to growing food for yourself, it's easy to get overwhelmed and feel like no matter how much you're growing it's not enough, particularly if you only have a small garden space. I often feel like I'm not growing as much as I could and if I could only be better at succession planting, or cold weather gardening I could provide even more of my food.

Last year I didn't keep track of our garden harvests, except for the tomatoes, so I have no idea how much of our food actually came from our garden. This year I've been keeping track in a spreadsheet system that I set up (it even has a bar graph that charts the totals of all the different kinds of vegetables). Keeping track of my harvests has really helped show me that even though I don't have much garden space, I'm still providing a lot of food for us. (If you would like to download the Garden Harvest Spreadsheet head over to my blog, the beautiful one pictures is a MAC program, but there's a less pretty Excel version as well)

I was very discouraged at the end of September. The weather cooled much earlier than normal which means that none of my fall crops will mature. I was thinking back over the month and I felt like I hadn't harvested hardly anything. So I sat down to write my monthly harvest totals blog post for my blog and much to my surprise, my September garden harvest totals were only 10 lbs less than my August totals. I was able to harvest 142 lbs of food from our gardens in the month of September.

After listing all of the things I harvested my spirits were lifted and I realized why it's important to keep track of the harvest. They not only remind me how much of a difference I can make by growing a little of my own food, but they help keep me motivated to garden despite setbacks because it helps me look at the big picture. This method works well for me, I'm at my computer a lot during the day since I work from home, so I always keep my Garden Harvest Spreadsheet open, when I head out to the garden to harvest, I come back in, weigh it and enter it into the spreadsheet.

Are you in the habit of keeping track of your garden harvests? If so, what method works for you?

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Organization and Frugality

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

When I was working full time in the corporate world, I struggled to get organized. Yes I was perfectly able to present at conferences, organize and manage national projects and run a team, but I would come home and just feel like I was in a constant mess. It was not that my home was messy, to the naked eye I seemed to have it all put together - I had a good job, a nice clean flat in central London, career prospects and a great quality of life. Oh how wrong they were. Behind the scenes I was never sure what food would be on the plate come dinner time, what I had in the freezer, what my weekends would look like (for example would I be tucked behind a laptop and unable to do more than a quick 20 minute walk to the shop for a frozen meal to heat up), was so busy that it was easier to buy than mend, I didn't have the time for so much as a quick chat with friends let alone volunteering or enjoying hobbies. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed daily. Looking back, I was spending money purely because I couldn't get organized, I didn't have the time, energy or inclination. Eventually I knew I needed to make some changes, I knew the dream was to give up the corporate world and downshift, but I also knew I shouldn't and couldn't go on living the way I was until I was in the place for big changes. I thought I'd share some easy, small steps that really helped me get organized and become more frugal thereby making the dream of downshifting all the more possible!

1. Budgeting - However much I didn't want to address this, I knew I had to. I set up a realistic budget which allowed me to complete a good grocery shop, have healthy foods ready to eat when I returned from a 14 hour work day and thereby saving me a good $20 a week and giving me more energy. Please note, I started my grocery budget higher than it is now, I knew I needed to make small changes so I would increase my confidence and skills. £30 a week allowed me to buy good food and stop running to the take-away!

2.Meal Planning - I know I'm highly motivated by what I "feel like" and I'd always found that meal planning didn't work for me because I was often home later than anticipated, meaning starting to cook was the last thing on my mind. So I created a menu plan that worked for me - I would simply list 7 main meals that I had the ingredients for, they were a mix of easy meals such as homemade soup with a roll and veggie sticks to more complex meals like homemade kale & potato bake with homemade meatballs and peas. Having a small list of 7 meals to choose from made menu planning work for me.

3. Scheduling exercise - I love to exercise, I would say that it helps me eat healthy, feel less stress and keep a good emotional state. Only I would have all these ideas of hitting the gym, but end up running 4 hours late due to meetings which over-ran and missed trains and the gym would then be closed or I was simply too exhausted. I started by scheduling walking to work 2 mornings a week - the walk took 75 minutes, but I found there was less that could interfere and it was a plan I could work around. I could choose the mornings that fit into my work schedule and within a very short time frame I found it made a difference.

4. Baking & Food Prep Day - I began once a month spending 1/2 a day at the weekend making a few baked goods and several meals which helped, during the busy weekdays, keep my healthy eating on track! I started with small goals; I remember month one I made homemade soup (and froze it into 4 portions), homemade chili (which gave me 6 portions), cut up fruit & veggies to keep in the fridge for healthy snacks and finished off by making homemade biscuits and homemade rolls. Instantly I felt less stressed!

5. I gave myself a "general goals list" each weekend - This motivated me to find some time to learn something new, spend time budgeting, get some exercising in and yet still understanding the limitations in this season of my life! My general weekend list included:

Phone 1 friend to catch up
Get together with a friend for coffee or a drink or meal/walk/cinema
Spend 1 hour doing paperwork or balancing checkbook
Grocery Shop
Plan 7 Meals
Get at least 2 hours exercise
Spend time enjoying a hobby (reading, knitting, photography)
Do something for someone else

This general list allowed me to prioritize things that were important to me, while still understanding that in this season of my life I was often working 5-7 hours each day at the weekend.

I have to say, as soon as I got organized and became more frugal, it gave me the confidence to really turn my life around, the skills to plan and the tools to get out of debt! Together these new found skills got me out of the corporate world and allowed me to really start living my life. I've never felt better and my frugal tools seem to increase daily!

I'd love to hear from you, what easy organizational skills do you use to help you make frugal choices? Have these impacted on your quality of life and lifestyle?