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Friday, January 20, 2017

Crazy Gardener Tricks

January means a certain amount of "twitchiness" among gardeners.  We console ourselves with seed catalogs and plot planning, but, at least in my area, true seed starting can't begin for a few more weeks.

What am I doing to break the tedium?  Well, one project I have is saving and crushing my eggshells.

Eggshells are a great addition to your garden; I like to put some in the holes with my tomatoes when I transplant.  When in the soil, they add calcium, which helps the cellular structure of your plants grow strong.  Sprinkled on top of the soil around the base of your plants, they also help control slugs, because the sharp edges of the little pieces cut their little slug bellies.  (Graphic, I know, but gardening is war, people!)

Because I'm saving these egg shells all winter, I rinse my shells and let them dry thoroughly before crumbling them in my hand and putting them in my jar.  In the summer, I just take the fresh eggshells directly out to the garden and crumble them at the base of the plants.  For this batch, I will crumble them more before spring planting.

It's a quick and easy project to do to get you ready for gardening season; I love the thought of getting out there in the dirt in my bare feet, putting in this year's garden.

The Analysis

Fast:  It doesn't take much more time to rinse, dry, and crumble your eggshells than it does to throw them in the compost bucket.

Cheap:  As you know, my favorite projects turn waste into benefit.

Good:  If this helps ensure a good harvest next year, I'm ready!

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

The 2016 Garden Wrap Up: How Much a Garden Didn't Grow

2016 Cumulative Totals

Expenditures: (-$232.88)

Total ounces of harvest: 1280.5
Total pound of harvest: 80.03125
Total value of harvest: $310.11

Total net saved: $77.23

Ladies and gentlemen, that stunk.

I mean, I had a better garden year the first year we moved into this house, and the garden was a 6' x 8' patch the previous owners dug up, and I still got something like 8 quarts of tomato juice and a few quarts of pickles out of it.

This year, I got bupkis.  And I worked my tail off.  I mean, if I hadn't put the gym membership on hold while I gardened for six months, this wouldn't have been worth it financially at all.  (If you are keeping score, I did cut $150 off my total yearly gym fees this way.)

It was all that stupid oak tree.  I think.  I hope.  My theory is that my garden just didn't get enough sun, so I'd get healthy plants that grew until the tree started to shade the garden, and then they just sort of stopped.  So, that tree is gone, and we'll see what happens.

I'm also going to go back to using a rototiller this year and dressing the garden with manure.  My heart breaks at not being able to make a go of my modified lasagna gardening with the eco-friendly broadfork, but I think maybe my soil is too full of clay to let that happen.

What did work well this year?  Well, I brought in $32.12 worth of greens, mostly from a batch that I planted last February and I'm still getting harvests from.  Greens (kale, in this case), are very shade-friendly, so you do the math on that one.

I also harvested over 5 pounds of blueberries for a retail value of $30.78, which I think is pretty good for three bushes.  The blueberries also sit in the one remaining sunny spot (pre-tree removal) in the yard.

Cucumbers and zucchini were relatively good, but I didn't really get to make pickles.  That said, there was a very solid 6-8 weeks there where I ate a plate of cucumbers for lunch every day and had something zucchini-related for dinner most nights.

So next year is the big test.  I may be exaggerating a big, but with the new, expanded, sunnier garden, I swear I'm going to plant 75 tomato plants.  I told Mr. FC&G that we were going to spend the month of August buying nothing at the grocery but pop, cookies, and canning lids; everything else is coming out of the garden, and I'm going to can around the clock.  We are going to have one of those garden years where I finally get to make those Facebook posts in May that say, "Oh, the new tomatoes are in, so we'd better hurry up and finish eating the canning from last year."

Hey, if the Cubs could win the series, I could hit one out of the park too.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Oh, Jingle, Jingle, Jingle

(Hey, I lied!  I actually feel like a blog post today, mostly because it will allow me to procrastinate from a to-do list of mammoth proportions.  So, enjoy!)

Twas four nights before Christmas, and your faithful blogger is about to lose her mind. I have absolutely zero idea what this has to do with sustainable living, but I'm going to go with it.

I don't know when Christmas stopped being a holiday that took up the last half of December and started being an Olympic decathlon with events like "creative baking," "holiday card design," and "targeted gift purchasing," but every year, the pressure to pull off a spectacular Christmas seems to mount. And, just a reminder, Mr. FC&G and I don't have kids, so we aren't even engaged in the side of things that involves figuring out what the toy of the year is and how to hide it from inquisitive eyes, to say nothing of that super-creepy marketing ploy that is the Elf on the Shelf.  No, we just feel your garden variety pressure, and it is getting out of hand.

Now, many other bloggers who are opining about their Christmas tasks are going to blame the pressure on Facebook, with its uncanny ability to catalog all of your friends' most perfect milliseconds of life and throw them in your face at the moment you are about to start hurling bakeware across your kitchen.  ("Wait, little Billy, stop and hold that toy from Aunt Beth just so while I get a photo of you with the Christmas tree in the background. That should make all my friends insanely jealous of my perfect life, which, of course, is the true meaning of Christmas!")

No, this pressure goes back to Christmas carols, a fact of which I am now painfully aware since the radio station that I depended upon to play 80s New Wave decided to convert to the city's "Christmas Station" starting the day after Halloween.  I swear, if they back this holiday up any further, I'm going to be forced to sing Jingle Bells while I'm cleaning up from the Fourth of July cookout.

Anyway, listen to some of these things:

(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays (1954)
I met a man who lives in Tennessee
And he was headin' for
Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie

Think about that. The distance between Nashville, TN, and Harrisburg, PA, is 720 miles, or over 10 hours in the car, not counting rest stops. I don't know about you, but my pumpkin pie, although pretty darn good, isn't worth driving from the neighboring town for, let alone hauling butt for 11 hours in the car. It's tasty, but it always gets that crack down the middle.

Sleigh Ride (1949)
There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy
When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie
It'll almost be like a picture print by Currier and Ives.
These wonderful things are the things
We remember all through our lives.

Currier and Ives, people!  We're supposed to create a Christmas that is so good that it doesn't just get recorded on our phones but is actually worthy of a lithograph!  I can't do that!  And again with the pumpkin pie - although, I must say, my coffee is pretty kick-ass, especially if you like your brew strong enough to strip paint off the walls and keep you up for three days.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963)
There'll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow.
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long long ago!

OK, so now I see why we're starting this holiday at Halloween, because that's clearly the only reasonable time to toast marshmallows and tell ghost stories.  But tales of the glories?  What would you like to hear about? The time that I actually got the fudge to set up on the first try? (And what, exactly, is a "soft ball stage?")  See, I'm supposed to throw a Christmas so good that we have guests coming in at all hours, traipsing up and down the street signing carols, and it still will pale in comparison to past Christmases, which we will fondly recall.  ("I don't know, Jen, this pumpkin pie is good, but it isn't as good as that year you got everyone to come in from Nashville just for a piece.")

So I don't know, folks. These kinds of blog posts are supposed to end with some cheery pronouncement that "it's all worth it." But I have to go - I need to finish the calligraphy on the envelopes of my Christmas cards and try to take a perfect, soft-focus picture of the Christmas tree to post to Facebook.  Then, I apparently need to investigate some new pie recipes, because mine just aren't bringing the crowds to the door.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Taking a Short Break

Not a very Christmassy scene, eh?  But if you think I'm going to post a photo of the snow currently outside my window instead of my recent view, you're nuts!

Just wanted to let my loyal readers know that FC&G will be on a short hiatus until New Year's. (Unless I get my garden spreadsheets caught up, that is.)

I need a little time to think about the direction of this blog and how best to use this tool.  If you have comments or suggestions, I'm open to them!

Until then, my best wishes for the warmest holiday season!
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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Fast, Cheap, and Good Sustainability Gift Guide

Shameless self-promotion time!  If you're looking for sustainable living gifts this holiday season and want to support a small business at the same time, I present some of the offerings from the businesses owned by the author of this blog and her hard-working hubby.  (Of course, these are not affiliate links, but they do translate to profit for me.)

I would be remiss if I didn't start off with the book that this blog made possible.  Spanning the first three or so years of the blog, this book includes updates versions of our most popular posts in areas like recipes, food preservation, gardening, textile arts, household helps, and sustainable living philosophy.  It is available through my publishing-related Etsy site, where you will also find my other three books.

180 pp.
$10.00 (on sale)

Fast, Cheap, and Good

Fleece socks are a natural sustainable living choice, because the warmer your feet are, the less you are inclined to spend on heating the house.  We have a variety of fleece socks for men and women in our Carrot Creations Fleece Shop.  One customer calls our socks "like a hug for your feet." (Note: Our socks are sized to fit snugly, so you can wear them under boots.  If you want slipper socks, please size up.)

Fleece socks, $10.00

The Carrot Creations Fleece Shop

Yoga socks are our most popular item, and it's easy to see why.  They keep your feet cozy during yoga, Pilates, or belly dance class while keeping the balls and heels of your feet free to remain in contact with the mat.  They are also great for wearing under flip flops for pedicures. Available in acrylic, US-grown cotton, organic cotton, and a variety of luxury blends.

Yoga socks, $10.00-$21.00

Carrot Creations

No matter what your favorite team, keep warm in the stadium or gym with our team spirit cowls.  Suitable for men or women.

In this section, check out our writer's gloves: fingerless gloves that keep your hands warm in chilly offices or outdoors, while your fingers stay free to type or text.

Cowls, $10.00

Cowls and Writer's Gloves

And now for something completely different!  Support the health of the coral reefs and the animals that live there.  We offer a variety of sea cucumber-themed t-shirts through our Red Bubble shop that are ideal for academics (think marine biologists) or anyone who loves the ocean.

T-shirts, Price varies by type and size

Sea Cucumber T-shirts

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Stay Sustainable!
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Orzo Masala

We're on a real "skillet dinner" kick here in the FC&G household. The Mr. and I have realized that we are unlikely to eat enough veggies in the winter unless we dump them into a pan full of other yummy things, so we've been experimenting with what we can throw together.

This weekend's experiment was Orzo Masala, and I have to say it turned out pretty good.  It is a great meatless dish, and it can be turned either vegan or meat-loving with very little effort.

Orzo Masala
1 jar Trader Joe's (or other brand) masala simmer sauce
1/2 cup lentils
1 half bag orzo, cooked
(All veggies cut up in small chunks and in whatever amounts you have available.  We had about a cup of each, except for having about a half cup of kale.)

Simmer the lentils in the masala simmer sauce until tender, while cooking the orzo.  You may want to add about a half a jar of water to the simmer sauce to make sure you have enough sauce to cover all of your ingredients.

When the lentils are tender (about 20 minutes), add the orzo and the veggies.  Cook until the peppers have started to become tender.  Serves about 4-6.

For Meat Lovers:  We found that this mix works really well with some nice sausage crumbles added.

For Vegan Option: You will need to use vegan pasta (or rice) and a vegan masala sauce.

The Analysis

Fast:  Skillet dinners are always quick, especially when there are two of you cooking.

Cheap:  We put this together entirely from pantry and fridge staples, plus some dribs and drabs of the remaining garden veggies.

Good:  A healthy and adaptable way to get dinner together.
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Friday, November 11, 2016

Tool Review: Kindling Cracker

This past June, I got seduced by a tool. That's not a metaphor; I just fell in love with this new tool called the Kindling Cracker, which you can buy here. (Note: this is not an affiliate link, and I bought the tool with my own hard-earned money, thank you very much.)

The concept is simple. Instead of trying to split small logs into kindling using an ax (with which I would kill myself) or with a wedge (ditto), the tool constructs a safer way to split these small logs into kindling.  Basically, you have a cast iron frame that holds the log over an upside-down wedge, and then you can hit the log until it splits without having your hands or other body parts in any danger.

The tool was developed by a school-age child who wanted a safer way to contribute to the log splitting duties at her house, and it is indeed safe.  It is marketed as a tool to keep by your woodpile or your outdoor pizza oven, and the directions recommend using a 4-pound mallet to split the wood.  I used a sledge hammer because I use one frequently in the garden (plus it's a better workout), but I think either would work.  It is, indeed, safe enough for a young person to use to help their family out with the chores.

The tool is not without its drawbacks. It is tempting to put a too-large piece of wood in the frame, which will result in it getting caught as it splits. And, if you happen to get a piece of wood with a funky grain or a large knot in it, it won't split into beautifully straight pieces of kindling.  But, you probably already knew at least that last from experience splitting wood without the frame involved.

The best thing about the kindling cracker is that Mr. FC&G doesn't have to shoulder the entire job of splitting our wood by himself.  Oh, he still has to do the (literal) heavy lifting, including using the chain saw and the ax (neither of which were in operation anywhere near me that day, so don't worry about my rather casual work wear). But I can work on kindling and do the hauling of the wood while he works, and then we both can handle the heavy stuff.  And now that the miserable oak tree is down in chunks and ready to cure into firewood for next year, I will have lots of chances to use my new toy.

The Analysis

Fast: Someone stronger than me could make kindling faster, but at least I was getting the job done.

Cheap:  At $89, this is a bit of a luxury, but I think it is worth it, especially if you have responsible young people in your family who are ready to pitch in on this job.

Good:  Heating with wood that you split yourself rather than paying for gas and electric is always a good thing, especially for the pocketbook.
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