Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Best of FC&G: Update on Ersatz Cotton Balls

I've been going through the "classic" FC&G posts with the idea of releasing some of the best in book form, and I realize that many of our current readers may have joined us mid-conversation and not had time to read all the back posts they might like.  Therefore, I'm going to occasionally release a "best of" post that updates an older column.

Today, we have what I call "ersatz cotton ball," or make-up removers.  I was very proud of this project back in January 2010 when I came up with the idea.  I'm even prouder of it now, at the end of 2014.  Many of the fleece make-up removers that I made over four years ago are still white and still in service.  I've cut a few extra from time to time as I get a scrap of fleece that is suited for nothing else, and I've thrown a few away that were indelibly stained.  But overall, most of my stash is still in service.

Best of all, I've purchased about one bag of cotton balls a year for the past five years, instead of four or five per year without the wipes.  You can see the original post for the original math; things have only gotten more expensive since then, so the savings is even greater.

Have you tried this idea?

Original Post
Hi, my name is Jennifer, and I have a fleece addiction.

Let me back up a bit.  In previous posts, I talked about finding sustainable replacements for the kind of disposable items that are so annoying to pay for.  For me, one of these is cotton balls.

I know, I know.  They aren't that expensive.  But cotton balls are one of those inherently disposable items that slowly leach money from your wallet while they add to the landfill.  So, since I use cotton balls primarily as makeup removers, enter the ersatz cotton ball.

This requires another slight digression:  I love the remnant fabric bin at my local fabric store, and winter is the time that this bin is filled with fleece.  After everyone spent Christmas making homemade Snuggies, that bin is full of mis-cuts, unwanted yardage, and the ends of bolts.  So, if you aren't ultra-picky about the patterns you buy (and make no mistake, there are some cute ones and some wonderful solids in there), you can usually pick up fleece remnants ranging up to a yard and a half in length, all for 50 to 70 percent off.

I have been raiding the remnant bin for months to find pieces with which to make fleece socks, so I happened to have some white fleece ends left over, but any color would do.  Simply cut your fleece remnant into 2"x2" squares, and there you have it -- make up remover pads, otherwise known as ersatz cotton balls.  Fleece doesn't fray, so you don't have to worry about hemming, which makes this a fine no-sew project.

 Yep, it's that easy!

I hang a mesh laundry bag on the back of the bathroom door, and when I have a reasonable bag full of dirties, I toss them in the white load.  I don't up the amount of detergent I use, and the weight of these is so negligible that I don't think my machine is adding more than a few cents extra water.  In the summer, I'll be hanging that mesh bag out on the clothes line to dry, so they will dry for free.  Best of all, I can use these again and again.

The Analysis

Fast:  I think it took me 10 minutes to make a jar full of ersatz cotton balls, enough to last me a while.  On a busy grocery day, it could take me that long to slog my way down the make-up aisle to get cotton balls.

Cheap:  I raided my own fleece stash and used pieces too small for anything else, but assuming you buy light-colored fleece for this project, you should be able to make all you need for about a quarter of a yard.  If you get your yardage from the remnant bin, you should not be spending more than 50 to 75 cents.

The closest analog to these is disposable make-up remover pads, which Rite-Aid has for $1.69 for 80; jumbo cotton balls should come in for about the same price for 100.  Assuming four to five purchases of each over the course of a year, you will spend $8.45 on your makeup remover pads if you buy the disposable, compared to about 75 cents for the reusable kind.  That leave $7.70 of pure savings, plus the warm fuzzy of knowing you didn't contribute these bits to the landfill.

Good:  I would say these are just as soft or softer than cotton balls, and they remove makeup just as well
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Quick Singapore Noodles

Recently, I had the pleasure of having Singapore noodles at a local Thai restaurant.  This dish was right up my alley, being rice noodles and veggies in a yellow curry sauce, so I knew I had to try to replicate it.

It was also a great chance to create a low-cost, vegetarian dinner that comes together quickly, thanks to the purchase of just one packaged item. In this recipe, I used whole wheat spaghetti in place of the rice noodles, and I used Trader Joe's yellow curry sauce, along with fresh garden veggies.

Quick Singapore Noodles
Whole wheat spaghetti -- enough for four portions, boiled
1 bottle Trader Joe's yellow curry sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
4-8 ounces of carrots, cubed
1 large handful kale, roughly chopped
1 T. olive oil

In large sautee pan, cook chopped onions in olive oil until translucent and carrots until soft.  Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti.

When onions and carrots are cooked to taste, add noodles, curry sauce, and kale.  Cook until kale is wilted and sauce is hot.

Serves 4

The Analysis
Fast:  This took about 30 minutes from the time I hit the garden to pull the carrots until I put the dish on the table

Cheap:  Very inexpensive.  The most expensive element is the prepared curry sauce, and that cost is spread over four servings.

Good:  This was a pretty close copy of the Thai restaurant version.  I liked the dish better with whole wheat noodles than with the rice noodles, but obviously you can play with using any noodle you like.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Saving Bean Seeds

This year, we had a bumper crop of pole beans that I grew on a tepee-like structure on the edge of the garden.  I was not very organized about letting some of the bean pods mature to save seeds, but when I went to cut down the vines, I was pleased to see many pods near the base that I had missed, leaving me with lots of seed for next year.

Saving bean seeds is one of the easiest ways to start saving seed for your next garden, thus preserving heirloom lines and saving you money.  For beans like this (either pole beans or bush varieties), simply wait until the seeds are mature inside the pod.  You can tell because you will be able to both see and feel the bean seeds as "bumps" in the pod.  At this stage, some people call these beans "shellies" or "shell-outs."

Ideally, you harvest your shellies when the pod is dry, but I had to take a few handsful when they were still green and let them dry on the kitchen counter.  When they are dry, pop open the pods and pop out the seed.

Bonus tip:  When you cut down your bean vines, don't pull up the roots; cut the vines off at the soil line.  The roots of legumes like beans and peas fix nitrogen in the soil in little nodules on their roots.  Leaving the roots in the soil means richer soil next year.

The Analysis
Fast:  Just as fast as harvesting beans to eat!

Cheap:  Saving your own seed will save you the seed cost of your crop next year.

Good:  Saving seed also helps us preserve biodiversity of garden crops, as you will be continuing a line of heirloom seeds that slowly becomes adapted to your microclimate.
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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How Much Does a Garden Grow: September 2014

As expected, September was a much slower garden month than was August.  With only $65 worth of produce harvested, it is starting to look like this year's garden will be of a smaller monetary value than last year.

However, I'm not disappointed, because the variety of produce has been much better.  As I've mentioned, last year's garden pretty much lived on the production of cucumbers and zucchini.  That was very helpful, but it didn't give quite the variety we might have wanted.  This year was much better. 

This year, we had much more in the way of tomatoes.  I plan an entire post about the tomatoes once they finish up, but as of now, these are the varieties that gave me 10 pounds (160 ounces) or more:
  • Cuor di Bue: 187 ounces from one plant
  • San Marzano: 191 ounces from one plant
  • Steakhouse: 158 ounces from three plants (very close!)
As I will detail in a future post, the best performers by far came from my good friend in Tennessee.  I now need to figure out whether it was the early start or the growing method while young that made the difference.  One thing is for sure:  I'm growing these varieties again.  Also, I'm definitely using Neptune's Harvest (an organic seaweed fertilizer) while they are young.

Also notable on the tomato front was the production from volunteer tomatoes.  Granted, I did have nearly a dozen volunteers in containers and in what I called "volunteer row," a semi-shaded garden row that I didn't have anything else planned for.  Nonetheless, I got 117 ounces of volunteer tomatoes to date, and they are still growing both outside and in containers in the sunroom.  

Other important crops this month were peppers, carrots, and potatoes.  Carrots and potatoes add very little value to our overall savings tally, but they are very important to us as far as nutrition.

Cumulative Totals
Total Ounces Harvest: 2,408.5
Pounds: 150.53125

Total Value of Harvest: $574.47
Expenditures: -286.13

Total: $288.34
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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Should You Grow Tomatoes in Grow Boxes?

This year, our good friends gave us some tomato boxes that they were no longer using.  (You can see the ones for sale here.)  I was excited about trying them, because tomato boxes seem to be a great way for gardeners with little space to grow full-size tomatoes, and I wanted to give it a try and report to my FC&G readers.

We got the boxes around the first of June, so we were a little late in planting in them.  Nonetheless, I put three cucumber vines that I thinned from the garden into one, and two volunteer tomatoes into the other.  For soil, I used sifted compost alone, with no soil amendments, because I was too late and too lazy to go get peat moss or any kind of soil lightener.  You can see what the boxes looked like by the middle of July in the photo.

First, the bad news.  My cucumbers didn't make it, and that didn't have anything to do with the boxes.  I got two or three cucumbers off the vines before they succumbed to a cucumber beetle attack that I fought over Fourth of July weekend.  The poor things didn't have a chance, although I think the limited amount of soil in the boxes also meant that there was nowhere for the roots to spread to help nourish the plant while it battled the invaders.

The tomatoes were a different story.  Although I only got maybe a half a dozen fruits off my two tomato plants, the vines were healthy and happy.  In fact, they are still setting fruit.  With a frost scheduled for this weekend, I will be considering whether I need to try to bring the boxes indoors or if the heat sink created by the house wall is enough to protect them from one cold night.

So, I'm going to go ahead and pronounce the grow boxes a moderate success, although I may update my analysis when I do a final tomato tally for the year.  I'll know more when I finally pull these vines and see what the roots look like, but I certainly plan to use the boxes for tomatoes again.  Who knows, once I get good at growing in boxes, maybe I'll be more ready for the day that we retire to the south!

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