Monday, February 23, 2009

Full up with winter blues....

It's official! Milo, Maine received 28 inches of snow last night!  What does 28 inches of snow mean in real life terms?

Last night hubby took the dog for his late night walk around 11pm. He said that it was snowing very heavily but was not too deep.  Around 5 am I woke to the sound of snow falling off our metal roof. When I woke I could not see out my bedroom windows because their view was obstructed with fallen snow.  I could not open either the front or the back door.  I was relieved to have electricity.  I could not; however, find the car buried under the snow.

 Hubby went out at 8:30 to plow our drive, the road in front of our property and our neighbor's drive. It took him 3 hours to plow our drive because he got stuck 4 times.  2 hours for our neighbor's drive, stuck twice. Another neighbor helped my husband to dig the plow truck out of the drive with out success.  And the job is not done yet. We are waiting to hear from a friend and whether he can pull the truck out with his tractor.

In the meantime, the rest of the snow falls off the roof obstructing the entire view of our living room window.  This snow has to be shoveled because there is a vent for the monitor heater there.  If we don't clean it out then ,when the snow melts, we will have too much water in the house. To get to this side of the house the snow shoes need to be donned.  Even then I sink up to my knees in the stuff. 

But, Hubby and I have to tag team this job today because Teen is in Bangor visiting his dad and the wee one has a terrible cold and a temp of 101.1.  

Ahhh winter.... how many days til' Spring?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dreaming in green...

No, not the Moola green, the garden green.

Drooling over seed catalogues, outlining garden plans of pieces of graph paper, working and reworking the seed list are  all games of fantasy that I play this time of year.

There are several ways one can approach the garden every year.  Do you buy your seed from a catalogue  and start everything from seed?  Do you just grow some veggies from seed right in the garden but tomato and pepper seeds as seedlings?   Do you save seed?  Is the investment in money in the spring saving you money in the long run?

I'd like to answer this last question anecdotally.  

About 10 years ago I was financially strapped. Because of health reasons, I had to reduce my work hours.  The amount of money that I had to spend on food was not much. I had a community garden plot for about 2 years at this time.  So that spring,  I took a little money from my tax return. The plot rental was 15 dollars. I bought spinach, pole beans, pie pumpkin, beet, carrot, swiss chard. I bought 1 six pack of tomatoes and one pack broccoli  at the farmer's market. In all I probably spent 30 dollars on seed and seedlings.  Some things volunteered in the garden: dill, marigold, chamomile.  Other gardeners would leave extra seeds and seedlings for the taking. The community garden provided the manure,  fish emulsions and hay.  The whole garden was organic. Did I save any money?  Yes I did.  For the most part I was able to bypass the produce section of the grocery store that summer.  The money I would have spent on produce was instead used for meat and staples.  If I were to find myself in the same situation today, I would take that savings and buy an extra pound of dry beans,  barley or rice to stock my larder each week.  I was able to freeze shredded zuchinni ( to put in muffins and soups), broccoli and pole beans in my small apartment refridgerator.  Someone gave me my hot water canner that summer so I put up my first few jars of tomatoes that year.  I also dried herbs.  That garden plot was only 10 feet by 15 feet. By planting things that grew vertically, I was able to get a lot in that small space.  I also made sure to plant nutrient dense foods.

Ideally, it would be great if we could all buy the open pollinated , heirloom seed that are organically grown from ethical seed producers.  But personal financial realities limit those choices for many. So here are a few money saving tips I have learned along the way.

First, If you buy winter squash like butternut, buttercup or pie pumpkin, save their seed.   Because these plants are grown in large fields, the possibility of cross pollination is lower, than squash grown in a home garden.  All you need to do is lay the seed out on a napkin to dry.  Put in an envelope and don't forget to label. Winter squash stores well in a cool room.  Try not to bump them too much or to store them touching or they will get soft spots sooner rather than later. Just make sure to check on them regularly and cook up any that are getting soft spots.

Second, commercially grown potatoes ( as opposed to organically grown) have a growth inhibitor sprayed on them to prevent the eyes growing on them.  However, if you have old potatoes growing eyes then these potatoes  look very much like the seed potato you buy.  Last year, a friend gave us a 50 pound  bag of commercially grown spuds that we were unable to get to.  So we cut them up, allowing 2 eyes per piece, and planted them as an experiment.    We grew a good crop of those potatoes along with the other spuds we grew.  Potentially 5 pounds of potatoes are grown for every pound planted.    I store these in 5 gallon buckets under my bathroom sink. And I save any of the very small potatoes I harvest for seed.

Third, In the fall look for end of the season seed sales.   I always hit the FedCo tent at the Common Ground Fair because they have seed marked down by 30 percent.   I always find new varieties to give a try.  Propagation rates are not always a 100 percent but I have never had an outright crop failure because I used seed over a year old.  I would try  to avoid dollar store seed that is old because I have heard that the propagation rates are poor.

Fourth, know your varieties.  Boston Pickling Cucumber, Black Seeded Simpson lettuce are common heirloom varieties.   That means that you can save their seed.  Is that lettuce starting to bolt?  Let it go to seed.  Save the seed and you'll have seed for next season or  better yet a succession crop.  Let a few of those cucumbers get to the big, yellow stage, clean out the seed and dry as you would squash.

Fifth, Seed and Seedling Swaps.  Do you have perennials that you have to divide in the spring? Bring some of these to a local seed/ seedling swap.  You can find out about this through local gardening clubs and cooperative extensions.

Sixth, the reason for vegetable gardening is to grow your own food.  Does your neighbor always have a bumper crop of tomatoes while yours are wilting on the vine? But, you grow great corn. How about working with a neighbor.  Have your neighbor grow extra tomatoes while you grow extra corn and then split the harvest.  Not only does this put some tomatoes in your cupboard but it also builds community which is something that will be more important the further we get into these  troubling times.

Seventh, start as much of your seedlings from seed.  One seed packet of heirloom tomatoes goes for about 2.50 3.00 a packet of seed. But you get many more tomatoes than the 6 pack of seedlings you get at the local greenhouse.  If you get heirloom variety you can save the seed and not spend ANY money on tomato seed next year.  A Big savings in the long run.

Eighth, Do not forget the lowly worm.  I am a convert to vermicomposting.  They eat your food scraps, they poop, they make compost (frass).  They provide good fertilizer for your garden.

Ninth, if you don't already, consider organic gardening .  Healthy Soil = Healthy food.  The application of chemical fertilizers does not feed the soil which in the long run depletes the soil of good micro-organisms.  Good soil is a long term investment you can count on.

Do you have any money saving gardening tips?

Friday, February 13, 2009


Have you heard of Free Rice?  We have been doing it for a while.  It is one of the things the Teen does during his homeschooled day.

Well now there is Free kibble.  How cool is that?  Just hit the kitty on the right.   

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Independence Day Challenge

It has been awhile since I have posted an Independence Days Challenge update.   It is a quiet  time of year but there are still things that can be done  around the homestead to become more independent.  

Planted:  I planted kitty greens for the cats.

Harvested: our young hens are starting to lay.  4 eggs last week and 1 egg so far this week. Lentil sprouts

Manage reserves:  spring cleaning, using up winter squash, working on ways to manage our space better here.   We would like to  build an addition at some point but we should make better use of the space we do have first.  So on the to do list for the spring is to move my knitting machines ( that I use for income) into the spare room next to the workshop and set up a wool studio.  This will move clutter out of the main living space and keep felines and kids out of my work. We will be replacing the front door and three big windows in the front of the house this summer.   This will help to keep the front room warmer. WE will eventually use those windows to build a permanent green house. So we are managing the budget to plan this small rehab project.

Prepped:  I received a bulk food order from my buying club last week.  50 pounds hard red winter wheat, 1 gallon blackstrap molasses, 10 pounds raisins, 1 pound chamomile flowers, 1 pound nutmeg, 1 pound ground clove, 1 gallon of shampoo, 1 gallon conditioner, 10 pounds whole wheat pasta, assorted herbal teas. I found snow pants for the wee one in the next size up for next year. I had to return a Christmas gift back to Target and was able to hit the 50% off rack and found a good amount of shirts and pants for the wee one in some larger sizes. I buy the kids clothes this way because I can take advantage of good finds/ deals at thrift stores, yardsales.  It saves  money and I can make sure that I have good quality ( rugged) clothing for the kids.  I placed the seed orders and I have drawn out the garden plan for this year.

Local foods: My neighbor has been selling us eggs until our ladies started laying.

Reduced Reuse:  Still feeding the worms. De-
cluttering and donating stuff to the local thrift store.

cook something new:  Potato Poppers ( I LOVE the cookbook Laurel's Kitchen)

Learn something new:  I received the book The Herbal Medicine- Makers Handbook by James Greenfor my birthday.  I would like to take the herbal correspondence course through Blessed Maine Herbs this spring so I thought I would tap into that auto-didactic side of my nature.

Pay it Forward: Donated money to the share the plate at church for our congregations food pantry. I am putting some seed aside for a friend and her garden.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reasons for hope

Well, the gloom and doom is thick and heavy these days.  Let's see, last week our nation lost 100,000 jobs. China is reporting cases of bird flu in humans. Kentucky is in the deep freeze.   There are so many cases of corruption and disconnect from reality from business leaders; it would be comical, if it weren't so infuriating. With promises of great change there is still more of the same.  Change takes time. Change is hard. There is hope in change. This is what I tell myself.

I think it is terrible that we are going through this contraction in our economy.  Many folks have lost their homes, jobs.  Many communities have been destroyed with the deluge of foreclosures. Many local governments are struggling with fewer dollars.  Even for those that still have jobs and homes, the sense of security that comes with having employment and housing are not as secure as we once thought.

I've read many commentaries that suggest that the change we are going through will make us a poorer nation. We are all going to have to get accustomed to working harder, having less. Use it up, wear it out, make do, do without. But  (there is always a but) when we come out on the other side of this financial disaster; this is my hope, we are wiser, frugal and in tune with what is really important. And, we understand the collective responsibility we have to our community.

Think about it this way.  Median household incomes have not risen with the pace of inflation. Higher education, healthcare, and housing had inflated faster than we were able to pay.  We put infants, weeks old, in daycare.  We stopped eating dinner with our children. We spent beyond our means in order to have the new widescreen and Hummer. We are a nation of obese people who do not know that baby carrots are pulled out of the ground as mature, but not pretty, picture perfect orange roots and cut down to size. We sold our souls to Walmart instead of nurturing our own communities. Are you going to miss any of this?  Not me.

So this is my hope.  That we get real.  That we realign our thinking to what is really important. Family, community, knowing what is enough. It is going to be painful. Every change is. But (there is always a but) we need to learn this.  We face challenges greater than a deep recession.  The specters of climate change and peak oil are popping their heads over the horizon.  If we can get local, learn how to grow our own food, have strong families and communities we can mitigate the hardships.  Simple enough.