Saturday, 31 July 2010


by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Bear with me - this isn't the post I thought I'd be writing this time around, but sometimes rolling with the changes can be ok too. For some of you, trying to learn to live a new, frugal, lifestyle, everything probably seems so new and different. Trying to replace old habits with new ones is hard - doing such mundane things as planning and packing healthy lunches, or learning to grow or perserve your own food can take all the concentration, determination, and effort you can give it.

I've been living like that for quite a while now. I've learned what I need and the ways to go about getting it. It can be so easy, once you've figured out what works for you, to get complacent and lazy, even. You get into a rut, and find it can even be quite comfortable. That's where we are right now, and it could be so easy to just vegetate there, but that's really not my style.

I bust out of my ruts, usually, by traveling. I love seeing new things, experiencing different cultures, learning new ways of looking at our world. My husband, on the other hand, doesn't see things the same way however. Right out of college in the 70's, he did the whole see-Europe-with-a-backpack-and-a-Eurailpass bit for a summer, and when he got back to the States said he'd never get on a plane again. And I understood - he'd tried it, and he didn't like it. Ok, I can accept that.

But in return, I told him before we got married that he also had to accept the converse about me. I love the experience of culture shock, the nervousness of trying something new and different - it can be stressful, but for me, it's a good, energizing type of stress. So our pre-marital agreement was: I won't bug him to go with me; he can't say anything when I go without him.

And so now, here I am, 1,000 miles away from home. I don't have access to my home computer, nor the photos I'd though about using for my turn to post here. Sometimes, I can get really adventurous, ending up writing home from internet cafes where the keyboard is strange, but this time around I'm visiting family. Mom lives in Denver, so I flew out to stay with her. It just so happens, though, that she was planning on going camping with my sister, down in southwestern Colorado, near where a brother lives. So, adapting again, I'm now writing this post on Mom's laptop, borrowing internet access from another camping friend. I also get to go visit some friends I haven't seen for 25 years too. It feels good, getting a new outlook on life. And then, in a week, I'll be back in my familiar groove once again, but refreshed too. What do you do when your life needs a bit of a reset? When out of your comfort zone, do you feel good stress or bad stress?

Friday, 30 July 2010


by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

A while ago we had the chance to spend a little time with my husband's oldest friend. In his mid-forties now, this friend is a charming, energetic, and creative entrepreneur who has built several businesses to astonishing financial success at a fairly young age. He came from a very large family of modest means and though he always had food to eat and decent clothes, he always felt poor by comparison to my husband's average middle class family. Today he's worth millions, but he's always got five new ideas he's excited about, one of which will likely play out and make him another pile of money. I like this man who is so smart and seems so "real."  He's also on the brink of a contentious and messy divorce, his second.

Now I don't mean to criticize this person in particular; as I said, I like him.  But I don't know any other people that I'd consider truly rich by even American standards.  And I want to use the wealthy as a lens to look at the wider culture of my own country.  I think this man exemplifies something that most of us are saddled with - a drive for more money, to possess more things, to enjoy more experiences that involve airplane flights, and distant hotels.  Simply put, we all want "more" - however we happen to define that.  The difference between most of us and my husband's friend is that by any rational standard, he's made enough money several times over to do all of those things.  He can literally afford to do whatever he wants.  He says he'd love to have time to teach his two children how to garden.  But what he does is continue to make more money.  That highlights for me the absence of any concept of enough in our culture.  We may not even be able to articulate what it is we long for.  But longing, acquisitiveness, desire, covetousness are so deeply inculcated in our culture that the very concept of "enough" is foreign, strange to us.  Even when we amass huge amounts of money, we seem to have no sense of satiety, contentedness, of simply having enough to be happy.  Contentment is rare, and if you are content with little, this is somehow suspect, as though it were a fault rather than a remarkable achievement.

I think about this quite a lot.  I don't mean to say that I live an ascetic life of austerity and meager pleasures.  Of course there are things I would still like to have - a hoop house or greenhouse, and a better dresser than the one I bought for my first dorm room.  And goodness knows we've committed to spending quite a bit of money to put in a passive solar heating system.  I can't say that we'd have no use for another $5,000 in our annual budget.

But I do believe that I understand better now - in a visceral sense - what some of humanity's greatest teachers have pointed at:

"Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity." - The Tao te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

"Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship." - Buddha

"The best things in life are nearest. Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life." - Robert Louis Stevenson

"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone." - Henry David Thoreau

"He has the most who is most content with the least." - Diogenes

Each of these quotes by great thinkers had crossed my path by the time I was in my mid-twenties.  I understood them all on a superficial level.  But I did not really believe them.  I actively did not want to embrace beliefs that I thought would lead to living happily with less. I could not grasp these ideas as truths that made sense in my own life. In short, I had no sense of enough.

I do now, and I give a lot of credit to the sustainability movement for helping me reach that understanding.  But I've also seen from my own direct experience that the richest people I know are not the happiest.  The happiest people I know are not people who were born well off or who spent their youth working to amass a lot of money.  The people who have seemed both happy and "rich" to me have been utterly indifferent to status or markers of wealth - their own or anyone else's. They seemed somehow to stand outside of the material drive of our culture.  It was the literal work of their hands, their moral courage, their appreciation for what they had, their unfailing ability to find the good in other people and take them on their own terms that made an impression upon me.  Each of those people embodied a zeal for life that made them cherish each day they were given.

I haven't reached that earthly state of bliss. I don't live in the way that those I most admire did.  There are still material things I want.   I know that I say these things from a position of incredible privilege by global and historical standards - that what I reckon as a very modest life is unimaginable luxury to millions of people.  But I have enough in my sights.  I believe it's a place I can get to, and genuinely admire those who have reached that state.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A gardener on the road

by Francesca

I was on the road for almost three weeks this month, first in a country I'd always wanted to visit, Portugal (here), and then in a region I love, Tuscany (here). But my vegetable garden did not share my enthusiasm for travel. By the time I returned home, it had become a forest of healthy weeds threatening to choke my weakened plants. Traveling when you have a vegetable garden is an issue.

neglected lettuce
~ what remained of my lettuce and carrot patch ~

A vegetable garden needs constant care and attention during the hot summer months: watering, weeding, harvesting ripe vegetables and removing unhealthy ones, checking for pests and diseases - these are just some of a gardener's daily tasks. And although you can install automatic irrigation systems to take care of the watering, everything else needs to be done by hand with a watchful eye.

neglected tomatoes
~ my unruly tomato plants invaded by weeds ~

I love gardening, and I spend many winter months eagerly waiting for that magic spring day when I can start preparing the soil for sowing and transplanting seedlings. During the summer months, I cherish the time early in the morning or late evening that I spend with my plants in the garden. And what a special joy it is to walk back to the house with a heavy basket full of vegetables I've grown, and to know that my family will eat good and healthy food! So every summer, when my garden is in full production and I have to leave it, I'm torn.

neglected basil
~ luckily, my basil and strawberries were among the plants that survived ~

This year I was lucky, and found the damage of three weeks of travel, during which a neighbor girl watered my garden every other day, wasn't as bad as it looked: I'd lost my string beans, eggplants, zucchini, cucumbers and, naturally, all the different varieties of lettuce. But my herbs, tomatoes, strawberries and chards are alive. And of course, I may have more nice surprises waiting for me underground: I'm really curious to see what happened to my carrots, garlic, onions and potatoes during the weeks of neglect.

How do you handle going away on vacation and keeping your garden alive and healthy in the meanwhile?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Making Bone Meal at Home

by: Chiot's Run

I'm always trying to find ways to make things instead of purchasing them. I sometimes buy bone meal for the garden. I like to use it when I plant garlic, onions and other bulbing plants. I don't like to buy the stuff at the store, because I know it comes from animals that have lived in CAFO's and have been fed antibiotics and hormones. Since I buy my chickens at the local farm, they're pastured and happy and healthy as can be. I try to make the best use of them when I buy them, they are expensive and I don't like to waste anything. When we get done eating a chicken, this is what we have left.

Usually I bury these bones somewhere in the garden, or put them in the compost pile. They do take a while to break down though, so I thought I could make my own bone meal instead. I simply put the bones in a blender and I had bone meal. Not quite as fine as the stuff you buy, but much healthier for my garden.

I feel good knowing that nothing is going to waste and the bone meal I'm using in my garden is the best quality.

What do you do with your chicken bones? Have you ever made your own bone meal?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Fall & winter gardening in summer

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

If your climate allows, now is the time to be getting your fall and winter vegetable garden planted in preparation for those shorter days that are inevitable as summer slips by. Fall and winter gardening is about harvesting not growing - so it is important that the plants get some growth on them before the shorter days of September arrive.

While we wait all winter for warmer weather so we can start our seeds, now the sun is here with a vengeance and the heat that was coveted just a while ago, is now hindering seed starting efforts. Cool weather crops get a little balky when soil temperatures reach 85 degrees F, but with a little effort we can mimic the cooler weather of late spring and early summer and still get the plants going.

For vegetables I want to transplant, I provide shade for my flats, or at the very least morning sun only, and protection from afternoon sun. After our cool, wet spring when it was time to start my fall and winter brassicas - we got our first heat wave - the thermometer hovered just below the century mark for a week - all the while when I watered I worried about actually stewing my seeds it was so warm. But shade and daily watering did the trick. Our greenhouses are oriented north and south, and by placing my flats outside on the north end of the greenhouse, the plants receive bright indirect light, and are shaded by the greenhouse somewhat. Now the seedlings can handle a little sun for growth, but since they are in black plastic flats I have to keep a careful watch on them for any signs of heat or drying out.

The other conundrum is direct seeding in hot soil - seeds like to germinate when the soil and air conditions are right- warmth and moisture are what seeds really, really want. Providing that in the garden in the right combination is harder by our hand than that of Mother Nature's. Have you ever noticed the flush of new weeds seeds germinated after a summer rain, compared to the mediocre showing of weeds after irrigating your garden? Some stalwart candidates always show up near drip lines or where you water, but after a rain, everyone shows up at the party. I swear, during our dry summers when it finally does rain, I can hear the plants sigh with relief. They like water on every surface - not just at their roots. Maybe a comparison for us would be a spit bath as opposed to a shower - not the same by any means.

It may seem counter-intuitive to add a blanket in oppressive heat, but actually my lightweight row cover that I use for daikon radish and salad turnips actually reflects the light and helps the seeds germinate as if it was a cooler. And with seeds like carrots and parsnips that take a long time to germinate but want cool, moist soil but no crust, the row cover works very well, because it bears the brunt of the pounding water droplets, allowing water through while keeping a soil crust from forming.

If you don't use row covers, and just plain don't want to use the product, there are other methods too. One that works especially well is to irrigate the area you want to plant very well, and when it is dry enough to work, plant your seeds. For fine seeds that take up to 3 weeks to germinate, covering the furrow with potting soil or seed starting mix works good too. The peat moss in the potting soil holds moisture and doesn't crust allowing the tiny seedling to emerge. I have also heard of using boards or cardboard too, to keep in moisture, the seeds don't need light to germinate, and the board will keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge.

I am sure there are many more ideas out there, but these are just a few that I have had success with. Happy Fall gardening!!