Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Frugal Angst

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Spring cleaning is a good time to purge, and for me it is a good time to reassess my hoarding frugal re-purposing strategies. My parents were adults during the Depression and WWII when rationing was necessary. Subsequently, everything was saved. I grew up watching my mom wash and dry plastic bags for re-use. So much so, it is second nature for me to just automatically save everything that comes my way. My hubby is the same way, socks beyond repair become grease rags, coffee cans can hold nuts and bolts, and old jeans can become patching material for new jeans.

I'm in the camp though that I don't think I can ever get enough canning jars since I use them so much. The collection above is about a day and half worth of scratch cooking from the freezer and pantry. So I of course save all my jars, and use my rusty rings and used lids for freezer storage items. These are destined to go back to storage for summer time preservation.

Lately though, I have been going through lots of stuff I have saved, you know, like magazines I can't live without etc. Straddling the old way of information gleaning and the Internet has been giving me conniptions. I find comfort in my old quilt magazines, but I know if I needed a patchwork pattern I would never even begin to look through 25 years of magazines - I would consult one of my quilt books or just draft my own pattern. I donated them to a senior center where at least the photos of quilts would bring joy a few more times to someone. I no longer had that need. My quilt bucket list is already too long... . For me letting go is the hard part. Saving something for someday, some doomer scenario or just plain to save it is one of my bad habits.

So systematically I am retraining myself, to not save every useful container that comes my way. Our waste stream is pretty small, since we don't really purchase much, but still, I think I have enough yogurt containers for now. Besides magazines I went through our storage areas and recycled all those yogurt and sour cream containers that are just too useful. Keeping back a storage box of each is enough I think.

So what do you think, is frugality causing more hoarding? Or is it a necessary evil of frugality to have lots of stuff?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Beginning Beekeeping

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Have you heard about how much trouble honeybees are in?  Bees aren't just a means to obtaining honey, bees are actually responsible for the pollination of most plants which provide food for us.  They play a vital role in the survival of our society!

Bees face many challenges, and beekeepers can help increase healthy honeybee populations.  In pesticide-free areas especially, even if you don't want to be a beekeeper, you might like to offer some of your land (or rooftop even) for someone else's hives.  As well as producing honey, having bees on site helps increase the productivity of gardens, farms and orchards.

For awhile we have wanted to have our own bee hives.  As well as pasture land, we have rainforest, a large mixed orchard, a macadamia grove, wild food and flower gardens and numerous wind/privacy breaks of native trees.  We have had some hives here for a few years that belong to someone else, but for various reasons we decided to learn more about the honey bee business ourselves...


First I got a few library books, which explained some basic beekeeping info.  We still had many questions, though, so we asked a friend for advice.  He is part of a beekeeping club locally and was a wealth of info.  We asked more people we knew with hives and got some conflicting information, but also a lot of local knowledge.  We found out what we'd need to buy, and what we could borrow.

Some equipment we bought through our friend in the beekeeping club, and some we bought online.  We did look for local secondhand items, but there was nothing around.  It cost us about $900 to buy a full suit, tools (lever, smoker, brush, uncapping comb), two brood boxes (the bottom box where the Queen lives and babies bees are made) and two top boxes (where the honey for us is made and retreived).  There's also frames, wax sheets (to speed the process up), a queen excluder and possibly more bits and pieces I haven't noticed!  It was quite an investment, but we hope that the money will be recouped in honey before too long.  How fast the hives are filled with honey really depends on the weather.  I've heard that locally, hives have filled more quickly in the past couple of months than they have in years.  Weather events like cyclones affect honey collection around here.  We have the advantage of the bees having multiple sources of food, so supply is affected less than with hives situated in a monoculture orchard, for example.  Our permaculture-inspired property of course enjoys the benefits of having many thousands of bees here as well!

We have been doing a bit of maintenance on the hives which are here (with permission) now that we have a full bee-keeping suit and smoker.  The colonies are strong, and the honey is a nice mixed blend - good news for us as we set up our first hives.

Below are a few resources we've found useful so far.  I will post more of our honey journey once we've set up the hives!

Beekeepers' Associations (Australia)
Bee Facts
Become a Beekeeper *

* Check with your local department of agriculture or primary industries to find out about regulations and licences required where you live.

Monday, 5 March 2012

There Is Nothing Like A Walk In The Woods

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I've been a mother to two for six months. Adopting two children who have quickly become the lights of my life! As they are older, there is much pressure to do (though I'm sure this internal & external pressure can occur even if one has a wee babe in arms). I don't have many mummy friends, being only the second of all my friends to become a mother, the other had her first baby last year. The parents at the school gate are older and always seem so much more put together than I am. Their children seem to be masters at everything: yoga, ballet, tap, gymnastics, soccer, hockey, music, swimming and skating. They busily discuss how filled each weekend is with friend's Birthdays, which must be celebrated, and skiing and tutors and, and, and...For the first few weeks, or months, I wondered if I was doing my children a disservice. What if that tutor would make all the difference? What if not being able to skate yet becomes a sore point? What if they never catch up after such a rocky start in life? But slowly, one day, when on a long Sunday walk through the woods with a friend I realized something profound - my children are masters at nothing except being children. They know how to run, skip, hop and jump. They love collecting sticks (& counting them!), they like to giggle, laugh, tickle and be tickled. They like to explore and jump in puddles and visit farms and visit the ducks. And for them that is the good life.

Here's the truth, the six months has taught me a lot (though I have so much more to learn - oh how I hope the gaps close soon!), but most importantly it has taught me to listen to them, to push out the noise as much as you possibly can and just be. It has made me more and more committed to a simple life, a life not found by rushing to people's Birthdays each weekend, or spending each evening hurrying from one activity to the next. Yes, balance is important. Yes, hobbies can bring such joy. And slowly but surely my children are finding out what their interests are - for my daughter it is art, my son is a little actor (we are working on his confidence and I hope one day he will be at a place where he can join a small local theatre group). But more than that, if you ask my children what makes them happy they will answer: time with our family, going to the woods, knitting together and playing games. All of which are simple. All of which are free. All of which centre around just spending time together. And slowly but surely I'm learning the age old wisdom that there really is nothing at all like a walk in the woods with those that you love. The best things really are things that money can't buy.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Seed Swap

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
My yellow crocus buds are starting to show some color, the tips of the earliest daffodils and tulips are breaking through the surface, and a few robins have shown up to glean the last of the Russian olives still clinging to the bare branches. Spring is on the way!

And that means it's time to start thinking about starting some garden seeds - inside for the tomatoes and peppers, and maybe a few lettuces and hardy greens outside. I have quite a few of my own seeds, gathered from last year's plants. Over time, it means many of the vegetables I grow are now perfectly adapted to my own local climate. Other gardeners in my area do the same.

By trading seeds, we can insure that the time and effort we've put into saving and perpetuating our locally-adapted seeds isn't lost should disease or animals ravage our own garden. With luck, someone else's plot survived.

A local greenhouse hosts an annual seed swap each Spring. Everyone is welcome to come and get seeds. There's an optional donation jar for those that don't have any seeds to trade, but no one is turned away or denied the chance to grow their own garden.

The greenhouse provides long tables, protected from the wind, little envelopes, and plenty of pencils to label your choices. Some folks show up just long enough to drop off their contributions, others spend an hour or more there, answering questions about the things they brought, trading advice about their best growing or harvesting methods. Cool season crops, such as the brassicas, greens, and peas fill one table, tomatoes and peppers another. Flowers have their own area, and assorted vegetables line the last table.

Some gardeners make their own little seed envelopes, complete with information labels or growing instructions. Others just bring little baggies or envelopes of seeds to pour out on the paper plates provided, others bring bring platefuls already labeled. Little spoon/straws make the perfect utensils to scoop loose seeds into an envelope, some people just push a few from plate onto a piece of paper and fold up their own carrier.

Some have winnowed and cleaned their seeds. Others might bring in an entire seed stalk or a couple of dried peppers, and break them apart on the spot. Some seeds have specific variety names, others are just generic, still others are just vague descriptions of something that might have volunteered in their garden and seemed to thrive in our high-desert climate.

Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware (except it's all free). Sometimes, especially with the corns, pumpkins and squashes, you're taking your chances on what you'll actually end up with in this year's garden. So many of those seeds cross-pollinate so easily, and while it wouldn't affect the appearance of last year's crop, the seeds harvested then and planted this year might turn out completely different.

But it's a great way to build community, meet with like-minded folks, share tips and learn, and get more people interested in growing their own food. Why not start a seed swap in your community?

Thursday, 1 March 2012


 Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Two years ago I was given two pink Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) tubers. I was told that they tasted like lemony potatoes and were quite good boiled, but my friend was more concerned with their pest resistance and yield than culinary applications. I had been given two tubers and planted them out in a small pot on the patio. Triffid like foliage ensued and died back in late summer. They are attractive, branching plants with trefoil like foliage and beautiful flowers if they reach stage, which unfortunately they didn't. I tipped out the pot in September to find a few handfuls of grape sized tubers, certainly nothing to be enthused about.

I kept the tubers to have one last go this year, this time in the open ground of our allotment, placing them about 40 cm apart and 10 cm deep. They were very slow to spring up, shoots finally appeared at the beginning of June. Once the foliage does appear they spread quickly and need to be earthed up like potatoes. They need a long growing season and ours never flowered. Tuber formation is apparently dependent upon day length - when I lifted one of the plants in October after the foliage had died back, there were a handful of small tubers and I thought they had failed. One month of shortening days later, we brought home several pounds of pretty pink tubers varying in size from a walnut to a small egg!

They are keeping well in the salad drawer the fridge. Small Oca roasted whole become squishy and extra lemony...and slightly insect grub like if I am to be completely honest. This may put you off, or you may want to use it as a selling point to young children who like to pretend that spaghetti is worms and tapioca is frogspawn. Larger roasted Oca resemble lemony waxy potatoes. I have added them to stews with other roots vegetables and they retain the delicate lemon flavour. Their crunchy waxy texture is similar to water chestnuts when sliced and added to a stir fry. They are delicious and very versatile.

This year we will be planting a whole bed of them in place of potatoes. Being native to the Andes, they are relatively resistant to UK pests and diseases, only a handful of them were damaged by worms last year compared with our decimated potato crop.The tubers can be left in the ground over winter, or stored at home in cool conditions and replanted in spring. I am a lazy gardener, or at least time constrained; and Oca look after themselves and were one of our few successes this year. If you can source the tubers I recommend giving them a go.