Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beating the Heat

As I write this at 6:20 a.m., it is already 70 degrees, and my part of Ohio is headed for a high of 100 to 104 degrees today, depending on who you ask.  A heatwave is upon us.

It is tempting to be more cavalier about a heat wave than about an ice storm (at least for me), but either temperature extreme can be equally challenging for your sustainable and frugal lifestyle.  So what are we to do?

First, shade your garden!  What you see at the right is Mr. FC&G's homemade sunshade for the cucumbers and the more delicate plants.  Luckily, most of our gardens get dappled shade in the heat of the afternoon, but this one corner gets full sun all day long.  That is nice for plant growth most of the time, but today it could be dangerous.  With some camo netting, a few posts, and an old chaise lounge (nice...), we have an ugly but serviceable sunshade.  And you know, I'll take shade over beauty all day long today.

Second, water your little darlings, but not in the heat of the day.  If you are reading this in the early morning, you may have a chance to sneak out and water some roots (not the leaves -- they'll burn), but if not, just remember to soak them really well tonight to prepare for tomorrow.  Feel free to laugh at the neighbors watering their grass -- today is all about keeping the crops happy.  Brown grass just means less mowing.

Third, move your container garden.  I juggled mine around a bit last night since I anticipate being at a client meeting off-site all day, but Mr. FC&G is home and may pull some of the delicate container plants into the sunroom where they can enjoy the shade.

Finally, take care of you.  I'll spare you the common sense recommendations to be sure to drink lots of water and avoid outdoor exercise.  However, remember that today is all about keeping your AC running, so try to put as little stress on the rest of your electrical load as possible.  Today is not your day for laundry, baking, extra task lighting, or anything else.  Put the air on the highest level you find comfortable, go to the coolest room of the house, and make yourself a nice glass of iced tea.  And then just wait out the heat wave, like you'll be waiting out the inevitable ice storm come February.
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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Quick Canning Tale

Seven quarts of beautiful homemade stock, pressure canned, sealed, and ready to head downstairs into the pantry.  Except, for a moment there, I thought I was going to have stock on the ceiling of the kitchen, not in the downstairs pantry.

I have been learning to pressure can, and so far my attempts at canned corn and applesauce, both last year, have been successful and easy.  Canning stock was also easy, but I am always a little wary of canning things that are primarily liquid because of the tendency for them to boil in the jar.

I followed my canner's instruction manual to the letter, and after allowing the pressure gauge to return to zero and removing the weight to release all the steam, it said I could remove the lid.

When I did so, the burst of cooler air into the heated canner made the lids of the jars heave.  They expanded and then contracted, releasing the air in the headspace to create a vacuum, but they did this over and over and over.  Plink. Plunk. Plink. Plunk.  All while the stock bubbled in the jar.

"Put the lid back on!  Put the lid back on!" I yelled at Mr. FC&G.  Apparently, even the specified waiting time and the steam venting procedure were not enough for this batch of stock.  So we put the lid back on and went to watch a movie, checking on the jars later before we went to bed.  Then they were cool, sealed,  and ready to remove.

So that's it.  Pressure canning isn't hard, but from now on I'm joining the club of those who do their canning late at night and then take the jars out the following morning.  I don't need that kind of drama in my kitchen.
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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Garden Experiments

Remember "Random Acres?"  This was my patch of potatoes and onions that were left in the ground after failing to produce last year, and which seemed to be growing well.

And here's the proof!  Although we have been raiding this patch of last year's onions pretty regularly for onions that look more like leeks (but still taste perfectly yummy), I was finally able to pull a real, full-sized onion.  And let me tell you, it was good:  sweet and really meaty in texture.  I don't think it harmed the baby onion set at all to spend the winter in the ground, although I do think that its survival had more to do with the mild winter and a good layer of mulch than it did with good onion-growing technique.

I know I'm not the only one experimenting.  Several of my friends have started their first square-foot gardens this year, and I love to see the Facebook posts of these darling little 4x4 gardens, so lovingly crafted, with all the care evident in the creation of the frame and the filling with perfect soil.  They are starting to post picture of their first veggies, too, and it is wonderful to see people so gleeful at harvesting a dinner salad from their own garden, perhaps the first food they have ever created for themselves in their lives.

Other friends are experimenting with different ways of being sustainable, and I love to hear tales of batches of freezer jam, homemade chicken stock, and new clothes lines going up in back yards.  I think there is a growing population of those of us taking back our own livelihoods, and I am excited.

So, I want to hear more:  What are you experimenting with this summer that makes your life more sustainable?
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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Welcome, Preppers!

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!  I checked my blog stats yesterday and was flattered and honored to discover that no less august a publication than Survival Blog had mentioned me!  If you found your way here via Survival Blog, welcome aboard and please hang around as we explore ways to live sustainably, independently, and as ready as possible for any emergency.

If you are here because you consider yourself a prepper (or hope to be one), these are some of the pieces I've written on the subject:

Prepping 101: What is Prepping?
Prepping 101: Garden Crop Selection for Prepping
Prepping 101: Weekend Challenge
Sustainable Bookshelf: Survival Mom

And a mini-series on our own experience with a catastrophic weather event:

On Being Prepared: Part I
On Being Prepared: Part II

As you can see if you read through this blog, I focus on prepping for some of the little emergencies of life, which I think is an approach compatible with my larger goal of sustainable living and independence.  The advanced preppers among us are already prepared for the big disasters:  global hyperinflation, major weather change or disasters, political unrest, and the like.  I hope, if you are one of these folks, you stick around and give us your expert assessment of some of the FC&G ideas.

For the rest of us, I believe in a lifestyle that makes each of us as self-sufficient as possible.  The more you learn to do, the better prepared you are for any emergency, and the more fulfilling your life will be.  I hope we never have any of the big disasters mentioned above; if we do, we have a better chance of weathering them, and if we don't, our efforts for independence will make our lives that much richer.

Welcome aboard to our new readers!  I'm glad you're here, because new friends are one of the best renewable resources we can have!

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Vent Fan for Cooler Upstairs Rooms

If you have been reading this blog for any time, you are familiar with the fact that our upstairs bedroom has the worst air circulation in the whole house, rendering it as much as 10 degrees warmer than the foyer thermostat year round.  This is a real bonus in the winter, when I can crow about keeping the nighttime house heat on 57; we simply run a fire downstairs if we are going to sit there, and otherwise we cuddle up in our warm bed in our 60-something-degree bedroom.

The summer, however, is another story.  While everyone else is enjoying cool nights in the mid-60s, we are starting to swelter.  We turn the whole-house AC down, and we still resort to a window air conditioner to make things manageable.

This year, however, Mr. FC&G is trying one of these little beauties.  This is a fan that lays on top of your vent register, and it draws the air out of your ductwork into the room.  Since we know that the room below our bedroom is the coldest in the house, it is to our benefit to draw that pool of cold air straight up into the bedroom.

So far, we have not yet put our auxiliary AC unit in our bedroom window, and we are currently running the whole-house AC at night only, turning it off during the day.  The house has thus far stayed plenty cool, and I anticipate the bills will be somewhat lower.

The Analysis

Fast:  Just lay this fan on the register, plug it in, and let it go.

Cheap:  I anticipate that this inexpensive unit will at least pay for itself in savings.

Good:  A cooler bedroom in summer means a happier FC&G family!
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How Much Does a Garden Grow: May 2012

OK, now we're talking!

Obviously, I am writing this in the first part of June, when the garden has really started to explode with produce coming in.  Just this weekend, I had my first day of 2012 during which I harvested more than a pound of veggies, so the garden season has begun in earnest to make a dent in the budget.

By the end of May, however, things had just gotten started producing.  As far as expenditures, I spent $25.14 on some extra seeds and some herb plants to replace those that didn't start well from seed or that didn't make it through the winter, like rosemary and basil.

As far as harvest, I brought in 3 ounces of assorted organic lettuces, and I have a new price for these:  my most recent price check shows $0.60 per ounce on such things if you purchase them organic, so that will be my price going forward until the next price check.  I also brought in 12 ounces of onions from our experimental patch, with a comparable price of $0.09 per ounce (on a phenomenal sale for organic onions, but I have to be fair).

The most interesting item is the first ounce of blueberries, which came in on May 31.  Blueberries are an item that is widely recommended to be purchased organic due to pesticide use in conventional growing, and the prices show it.  Organic blueberries are $0.50 per ounce at Trader Joe's, and I bet they taste nothing like these sweet little tidbits from our bushes.  More of that will show up in June.

2012 Tally to Date

1.5625 lbs. total harvested
$3.38 value of harvest for May
$7.04 value of harvest for 2012
$185.39 expenditures for 2012
-$178.35 loss to date
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Thursday, June 7, 2012

DIY Garden Staples

Garden staples are amazingly handy.  These little pieces of bent wire are just the things to hold down the edge of a pop-up greenhouse or floating row cover or to tack down the edge of some fencing.  I use many of these in my gardening, and I always need more.

Except -- they are pieces of bent wire!  I found some on for just shy of $4 for 20, but I know I have paid more through gardening stores.  It is a small price, but I find it is the little expenses that really start to drain your budget.

Recently, I found Mr. FC&G outside making his own garden staples.  Just take an old coat hanger -- heavy weight works best overall, but the lighter ones are good for tacking garden fabric -- and cut about a 7 inch length using wire snips.  Bend (with the help of pliers if needed) until you have two 3-inch legs and a flat top about an inch across.  (You can choose to round your top if that suits your application better, but the commercial ones I have sport a flat top.)

Voila!  Garden staples!

The Analysis

Fast:  Mr. FC&G knocked out about 10 of these in a few minutes.  It does take a little time, but it is pleasant time spent sitting in the sun.

Cheap:  Free other than effort.  He chose coat hangers that were on my laundry rack and in my way, and likely these were ones that came home from the store or the cleaners at some unspecified point in our lives. I think we have every hanger we have ever been given.

Good:  OK, so we saved $2 making 10 staples.  I'd rather not spend the money on trivia like garden staples and eventually have more vacations in Key West!

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How Did You Get Those Carrots?

When I posted a picture of the first carrots of the year to Facebook this weekend, it sparked a conversation with a friend about how I got carrots this early, and most specifically, how I got these to overwinter.  The truth is, my garden seems to be finishing some unfinished business it started last year.

Last Fourth of July, I planted carrots in one of my raised beds alongside my leeks, hoping to get a late fall crop out of them.  Unfortunately, by the time late fall came around, they had done almost nothing.  The carrots were little and wispy, almost like they had started growing and then stopped (which they probably had, given the stupid weather we had last year).

Well, I'll be darned if I was going to pull them up or lose them to a freeze, so Mr. FC&G, bless his heart and his junk pile, built the stupidest-looking cold frame ever out of old doors and the base of an old bed.  Take a look:

As I mentioned at the time, thank heavens we have an opaque fence surrounding the backyard microfarm, or the neighbors would think we are more insane than they already do.  That was one ugly sucker, but I'll tell you this:  it worked.  I harvested leeks all winter long, and in February, I threw some leek seeds in there that are growing right now.  And about March, my carrots started to grow again.

What you see above is a quarter pound of some of the best carrots we have grown in years.  They are basically full-length (a triumph in clay soil, even in a raised bed), and they were ever-so-sweet.  We grated them up and had them as carrot salad with some fresh dill, right alongside a nice stew for my meat-eating husband.  He earned it, given his ingenuity with a pile of junk.
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Friday, June 1, 2012

Seven Blueberries

For going on three years now, I've tried to grow blueberries.  The first challenge was the Ohio soil; our soil is not particularly acidic, so blueberries don't naturally thrive in many places.  I believe I have successfully solved that problem with regular thick mulchings of pine needles, which I understand need to be applied at a depth of more than three inches before they begin to affect soil pH.

Then, it was the hard winter of 2010-11.  The rolling ice storms did nothing to help my tender bushes, and I lost a few in the process.

Then, last year, it was the critters.  One day I went out and thought that I would be picking blueberries the next day, and the next day I found that the birds and critters had the same idea, only they get up earlier than I do.  The bushes were bare.  My parents solved that problem this year by giving us a pop-up blueberry "tent" that covers our bushes and protects them until they finish fruiting.

So there you have it:  above you will see the beginnings of our blueberry "crop" for the year.  Yesterday I brought in 7 blueberries.  There are probably a few handfuls out there on my three little bushes, enough to have as a couple of snacks to brighten our afternoons.  But we finally have blueberries, and I will take it.
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