Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: May 2016

So May is gardening in earnest!  And, I swear, I didn't think I was ever going to get that garden in! It was so cold and rainy, and I had this pile of plants waiting in the sunroom to go out, and I was going nuts! The only thing that kept me even partially sane was that my neighbor, who raises probably 50+ beautiful, textbook-looking tomato plants every year, just got his in the ground this weekend too.

With everything going in late, I expect some of the harvest to be delayed too. I do have a few really large tomato plants I've been buying one at a time from a guy who reputedly grows some of the heaviest-bearing tomatoes in the area, so we'll see. My container tomatoes, which went in on May 1 and were protected by a makeshift cold frame, are also doing really well.

As you can see at the right, the cold didn't really hinder the herbs. I'm already drying sage and feverfew, which are very important to the overall system. Feverfew, especially, is critical, because I've found that it works for migraine prevention for me better than prescription medications with fewer side effects. (Note: always talk to you doctor, not your blogger, about treating your migraines.)

Overall, the harvest was limited to kale and spinach, of which we harvested 7 oz this month.  That's more than a bag full from the grocery, so definitely a savings.

But I'm so looking forward to June!  I hope that we really get to get into some harvests and start making (saving) some money! Let's get this garden in the black!

Cumulative Totals

Total Expendatures: ($204.08)

Total Harvest Ounces: 15.5
Total Harvest Pounds: 0.96875
Total Value of Harvest: $11.75

Net Savings to Date: ($192.33)
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Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Cycles of Sustainability

I have a confession: Along with many other sustainable living experts, authors, and bloggers, I'm guilty of making it sound like sustainable living can be broken down into a lot of little projects, with a huge focus on gardening, food preservation, and vintage-style domestic arts.

This is true, to some degree. But, if you don't take a systemic view of your lifestyle, you may find that you have simply changed your daily activities without making a noticeable improvement in your life.

Remember our fundamental purpose: sustainable living means responsible use of resources. Resources include food, clothing, land, environment, time, money, health, or anything else that you may have a demand for that exceeds the supply.

To that end, I thought it might be useful to share the overall structure of my year, which I divide into three "seasons."

Season One (January-April): Focus on Earning
The winter months are cold and dreary around here, and, as you are probably painfully aware if you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, I am not exactly a cold-weather person. Therefore, I find it helpful to throw the majority of my energy behind projects that maximize my income, since it's too cold outside to do much in the way of gardening.

Major Activities
  • Work on as much writing for Hilltop Communications as possible.
  • Take on extra teaching assignments.  This winter term, I taught eight credit hours of classes in addition to my primary writing biz.
  • Add photos to the Cucumber Key Photography web site.
  • Continue to sell and work on restocking the Carrot Creations store.
Minor Activities
  • Start garden plants.
  • Do non-vegetable canning, like stock from meat bones.

Season Two (May-August): Focus on Saving
This is my favorite season. Nearly every day brings time in the garden, and I have more time to work on various projects. During this season, I focus on projects that will either generate income or save time or money in the coming months.

Major Activities
  • Keep the garden in full production. 
  • Make as many meals as possible from primarily garden products, reducing expenditures for food and improving health.
  • Preserve as much food as possible, reducing future food bills, speeding future meal production, and improving health.
  • Buy food I don't grow at the farmer's market, with lower in-season prices. Preserve any extra.
  • Institute energy saving projects, like drying laundry on the line, using passive solar heat to warm the house or open window to cool when possible, and taking advantage of long days to avoid using lights throughout the house.
  • Work on writing projects that will sell year-round, for a passive income stream. Right now, my focus is on my book-length projects.
  • Continue to maintain regular writing and photography work.
Minor Activities
  • Split wood for fall home heating, when there are many days we can heat exclusively or primarily with our wood stove.
  • Continue to stock the Carrot Creations store.
  • Catch up on seasonal home projects that weather or time constraints will make impractical later, such as weatherproofing, necessary home improvements, or even just washing and line-drying all the quilts and bedding in the house.
  • Conduct "expenditure audit," looking at things like cell phone plans, video streaming service (Netflix) useage, gym memberships, and the like, and cancelling or altering the things that no longer fit our needs.

Season Three (September-December): Focus on Processing
I've been in academia so long that I almost reflexively think the year begins in September. This is the season that many of the projects I've worked on all year pay off and I have time to think about the next cycle.

Major Activities
  • Process orders in the Carrot Creations Christmas rush. Crochet like a mad woman to continue to keep existing stock in the store as high as possible by replacing items as they sell.
  • Plan meals around canned, frozen, and still-growing garden products and other such preserved food (like chickens purchased "in season" over the summer at harvest time). Attempt to keep grocery bill low by relying on food in stock.
  • Pick up teaching load again.  Typically, my fall semester load is lighter than my winter/spring one, but that can change according to need.
  • Continue to write and photograph.
  • Institute heat-saving and -generating measures around the house, like use of the wood stove, venting the dryer inside, using passive solar heat, and getting those freshly sunned quilts out of the closet.
Minor Activities
  • Generate ideas for future writing projects.  Keep a OneNote file on each so that I can work on them year round as time permits.
  • Focus on non-food sustainability projects like rebatching soap.

And that's the system.  Is there a project or practice you'd like to see me detail in a future post?  Let me know in the comments or on the Facebook post.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What Happens to the Regrown Romaine?

I never imagined the degree to which my post on regrowing romaine would capture people's imagination.  It is well on the way to being the most popular post I've written, along with the post on the fleece unquilt.  This makes me happy, because, taken together, it indicates that there are a lot of people interested in making the most of things that others would throw away.

So, here are some answers to questions I've received from readers:

Q: Do you have to regrow your romaine heart in dirt?

A: The post on regrowing romaine has been picked up by several other blogs, and many of them indicate you can regrow a romaine heart in water.  You probably can.  However, I choose to put the cut off heart in soil because plants generate some of their nutrients from the soil.  I want the healthiest product available, so it's no big deal to just jam the heart into some soil and watch it grow.

Q: Does the heart root?

A:  Yes, if you place the heart in dirt, it will start to develop roots.  This allows it to grow longer and produce healthier leaves.

Q: If you cut off the new leaves, will it keep producing more?

A:  Probably not.  None of the specimens I've tried have kept growing after I've cut off the new growth. I think this stands to reason.  Romaine is not a "cut and come again" style of green that you can trim and expect to regenerate.  Instead, romaine is a head lettuce, and the intention is for the grower to cut the head at the end of the season.  We are getting something of a "bonus" head of romaine by using this trick.

Q: What is the flavor like?

A:  Pretty good, actually.  Sometimes, I find that the new head is just slightly more bitter than the "mother" that it is coming from, but I find that appealing.  I like greens with some bite to them.  If you try a leaf and decide that you have a bit too much astringency for your taste, you can always use the resulting head as a "pot herb," stirring chopped up leaves into rice or soup just before serving. That adds some much-needed nutrients to your meal while changing texture and flavor to be more mild.
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Monday, May 2, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: April 2016

Finally!  We're back into production!

I'm hoping to write a post this week about the cycles of savings and income in our household, but it should come as no shock when I note that late spring, summer, and early fall are the prime times to save money on the garden.  In fact, that's where this column got it's start: I wanted to see just how much I was saving over retail with my garden, once factoring in the expenditures.

April starts the garden investment in earnest, and this month the expenditures stand at a total of $85.08.  That will go up quite a bit (probably to the $200 range) very shortly as I buy the last of the plants and seeds for the year.

The exciting thing, though, is seeing the harvest start to come in and reduce the expenditures on our way to showing a net decrease in our food bill.  This month, it was all about the baby kale (and a bit of baby romaine).  I harvested 5.5 ounces of greens for a net value of $4.84.  This is about the weight and value of a bag of prewashed organic greens from the store, so it isn't making a huge dent in the food bill yet, but it is certainly brightening up a few meals.  I've enjoyed a great deal of this in wraps that I've made for lunches; baby kale makes a great addition to some Swiss cheese for a nice vegetarian wrap, and you already know that I've put it on some pizzas.

I'm pretty sure the majority of the harvest through May will be greens as well, as I have kale, romaine, and mesclun already started, and I want to get some arugula started as well.

But for now, I'm plenty happy with my start to savings!

Cumulative Totals

Expenditures: $85.08

Harvest Total Oz.: 8.5 oz.
Harvest Total Lb.: .53125 lb.
Harvest Total Value: $5.59

Net Annual Savings:  -$79.49
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