Friday, August 28, 2009

Condiments from the garden

I just finished up some Black Bean and Corn Salsa. Its one of my favorite salsas, but a new recipe for canning. The local grocery store had some corn on sale this week and it didn't have much in the way of flavor. That combined with my home canned black beans and home grown tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and garlic made a yummy snack.
Then it was on to the green beans. They've been producing like gang busters and I already have tons in the freezer. When I picked 6 lbs yesterday, I knew what I wanted to do with them. Dilly Beans! They have nice large cloves of garlic in them since that is hubby's favorite. All of these will taste so good this winter! It really is amazing what I'm getting out of the garden this year. Even with a bad year of weather, there are still plenty of veggies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Frugal and Green tip #2 Hang your clothes

Simple huh? People have been drying their clothes like this forever. Many of us have memories of clotheslines in the backyard. But first why should I do this? According to this site it costs almost $14 per 8 loads of laundry dried. That adds up quickly. I found on Wikipedia that for every use it means 4.4 lbs or 2kg of carbon.

Line drying your clothes has other benefits too. Your clothes will last longer. All that lint you've been removing is actually in large part your clothes. They shed part of their fibers every time you put them in the dryer, causing them to wear out faster.

Then there is the smell of your laundry. Instead of a chemically created smell of freshness, you can crawl between sheets that are truly fresh. The sun naturally kills all kinds of bacteria on our clothes as well.

So how do you do this? I know that in some places homeowners associations have banned clotheslines for aesthetic reasons. In my neighborhood, I'm free to do as I wish. In my case I have a line that consists of 2 T posts set in the ground with cement. The lines go from one to the other. You can also get an umbrella line that will swing up when not in use. If you don't want holes in the ground you can run a line from your home to a tree or another building such as a shed.

If you absolutely can't dry outside, no problem. Dry your laundry inside. Folding drying racks are inexpensive and can very often be found at yard sales. You can also hang your clothes on hangers and suspend them from your shower rod. In the winter it gets very cold here. The oil heat I have dries out the air badly. I put the drying rack by a heating vent to speed up the process. This also helps to humidify the air.

When I started to line dry I thought it would take a lot of time and be a major chore. In fact its been quite the opposite. The only increase in time is the few minutes it takes to actually hang the clothes. It really is only a few minutes and I find it quite relaxing. Taking things down takes no more time than pulling them out of the dryer.

It took me a bit to figure out how to hang everything in proper order. I find that grouping like items helps. I have also found that giving your laundry a quick snap before you hang it helps with wrinkles. If you are worried about those crunchy towels you can leave them out overnight. The dew works as a natural softener. Rain does the same thing.

Its not rocket science, so get out and do it!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat

I guess its a good thing I didn't rip all those tomato plants out. For all my crying and whining, I am getting a good number of tomatoes right now. There are a lot out there that will be ready in the next few days as well. The plants look pretty funny. There are a whole lot of red tomatoes hanging from dead looking plants. Then on top, there are pretty tufts of new growth. I'll take some pictures later to give you a look. I'm just very grateful that it isn't late blight. People with that, have not had a choice. They have had to pull everything.
I got a whole canner load of 7 quarts of tomatoes. More than I could have hoped for! They look so pretty!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Frugal and Green tip #1 water heater timer

After writing the post on being frugal and green, I thought it might be a good idea to share tips for things that have helped me along the way.

My first tip will be a water heater timer. For those of us that have hot water tanks, they can be a huge energy hog. While I would love to have a solar hot water tank, it just isn't in the budget right now. Along the way I stumbled across the idea of putting your tank on a timer. This works by shutting off the tank during hours that you aren't using it. Most of us only use our tanks for showers in the morning and possibly dishwashing at night. The rest of the time your heater is just keeping the water hot. It ends up being a huge energy waster.

We decided that we really only needed hot water for showers in the morning. I also decided to use my dishwasher in the morning as well. I already do all my laundry in cold water, so that wasn't an issue for me. In our case the tank is on from 6am until noon. The water stays hot for a very long time all by itself and I've given the kids nice warm baths at 7pm without a problem.

If you are worried about needing more hot water for something out of the ordinary, all you need to do is flip a switch and it turns back on until the next cycle resets it. I'm not sure how much this has saved us, since we have made many changes in the past few years, but I have seen a continued drop in our electric usage. The average is supposed to be in the 5-12% range for water heater usage.

Ours was installed by an electrician. Hubby does computer work for him, so we bartered for some electrical work and this was one of the small jobs I had him do. If you have someone relatively handy, there are plenty of DIY sites to show you how to install it yourself.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pizza sauce

Yummy! I finally accumulated enough tomatoes to actually make something. When I went to the garden this morning, there were about 15 decent tomatoes on the vines. By decent, I mean they weren't completely rotted. Just with weird parts here and there. So I skinned them and threw them in a pan with onions, lots of garlic, basil salt and pepper. The whole thing will cook down a bit and then I'll freeze it in pint jars. These will of course be like gold, but at least I'll have a few for our pizza nights.

The rest of the garden is starting to really slow down. My bush beans have slowed, but I have another crop almost ready to go. The rest of the potatoes are dying back and will be ready to dig in a few weeks. The zucchini has finally given up and died. The peppers and tomatillos are still going strong.

The fall garden is starting to look good. We're right in the middle of a heat wave right now, but that should be summer's last heat blast. (not that we really had a summer) I suspect after this week we'll see the progression into fall weather and the cool weather crops will really take off. I've got quite a few cabbages, broccoli, beets, chard and lettuce that are doing well even in the heat.

The gardener's heart goes on even after a crazy year. I'm making plans for next year's garden even before this one is done. It will of course be the best one ever. The weather will be perfect. Bugs will be easily controlled. Disease will be absent. I will, of course, have never ending energy to put up bushels of perfect produce to feed my hungry family. I can dream, can't I?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Which came first, the frugal or the green?

This is my contribution to the APLS August Carnival and the topic is Green on the Cheap. You can find the carnival on August 19th at Going Green Mama's blog.

A few years ago, when hubby and I decided I would stay home with the kids, we needed to find a way to save money. I scoured the internet looking for ways to save money. Somewhere along the way, I started to realize that most of these things not only saved money, but the planet as well. Let's look at a list of money saving ideas you might find on the internet.

1. Buy in bulk. Bulk buying does lots of things. It lowers the per pound price. It reduces packaging. It allows you to have a constant supply of certain things, thus reducing the need to drive to the store.

2. Cook from scratch and eat at home. These tips just go together. The meal you make at home from scratch (using bulk items of course) costs far less than anything you would get at a restaurant. You don't have to worry about leftovers being thrown into a styrofoam box. There is no driving involved to get to the dinner table. If you are truly cooking from scratch, there will be very little in the way of packaging to dispose of.

3. Hang your laundry. Why pay to dry your clothes, when Mother Nature will do it for free? Plus, you get the added bonus of sheets with the heavenly smell of the outdoors. For the small amount of time it takes to hang clothes, the savings in energy can be quite significant. In the winter, hang your clothes over a heating vent. You get rewarded with clothes that dry quickly and help humidify that dry winter air.

4. Reset that thermostat. When we lived in apartments, the heat was part of our rent. As a result, we kept the thermometer on 72 or so. Looking back, I'm amazed that I could live like that. When we bought our house, we had to buy oil to heat it. Oil is expensive. Oil is nasty, polluting stuff. Once, the oil delivery man let the hose overflow. It got into my flower bed and killed everything in it. Yuck. Now, we lower the thermometer every year. Last winter we had it at 64 during the day and 54 at night. This year we want to have it at 62 and 52. Huge energy savings.
The AC is the same. We have central air, but you might not realize it if you come to our house. It is only used a few days of the year and even when on, is set at 75, mostly just to get the humidity out of the air.

5. Grow your own fruits and veggies. Anyone who reads my blog regularly, know how much I love this one. Gardening doesn't have to be pricey. You don't need fancy beds, pricey fertilizers and insecticides. Done right, it can be quite inexpensive. Start a compost pile. It reduces what is going into the landfills and produces wonderful fertilizer for free! You don't need a fancy contraption, just a pile. Find an out of the way place and fill it up with all your scraps and lawn clippings. Start your plants from seed. Most things in the garden are quite easy to start from seed. The fussiest would be tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Buy those from a local farmer and start the rest directly in the ground. You'll be amazed at what you get.

6. Use it up and wear it out. One winter I was looking for fabric to make more cloth napkins for our family. I didn't want to go out in the snow to the store, so I was going through my stash of fabric. Next to it was a pile of Hubby's old polo shirts. They had stains, were faded or were otherwise unwearable. I didn't have the heart to throw them away, but wasnt' sure what to do with them. It occured to me that they would make wonderful napkins. I cut the sleeves and top off and made 2 rough squares from the body of the shirts. I hemmed the sides and ended up with 8 napkins from 4 shirts. The kids think its very funny to wipe their faces on Daddy's shirts.

In the end, being green isn't about replacing everything you own with the latest new green gadget. If you follow the tenets to Reduce and Reuse first, you will end up saving yourself lots of money in the long run. Look back to how our Grandparent's did things. They would be horrified at what we waste our money on. Live simply and lightly on the earth.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Minestrone soup AKA My garden exploded soup

Yesterday I went into my garden to walk through and pick a few things. We'd had a few cool days and it seemed like things were slowing down. That combined with the Early Blight had left me feeling underwhelmed with my garden. Little did I know what awaited me. There was produce everywhere! I had tomatoes, zucchini, onions, cabbage, cucumbers and swiss chard. In order to use up all of this bounty, I decided to make and can up soup. I start with raw veggies so that they don't cook to death during the pressure canning process.
I layered onions, garlic, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes, swiss chard,green beans and a few dried white beans. Then added some Italian seasoning (basil, marjoram, oregano and rosemary). The jars look really full when you're done. I'm sorry that I don't have exact measurements. In a pan I heated up some stock to boiling. For this batch I used some turkey broth that I had canned up, but you could use any kind that you like, or probably even water.
The stock was poured into the jars and they were lidded and then put into the pressure canner. I canned them at 10 lbs of pressure for 75 minutes.
When they came out they looked beautiful. I made the same soup last year and we loved it. When you heat it up just cook some pasta in a seperate pan and then put them together to serve. Healthy, delicious and only cost a few pennies. How can you beat that?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sustainablility in my little world

Sustainable. We're hearing a lot about that these days. It means different things to different people. Where you live, what you do for a living and your own personal beliefs will affect your feelings on the subject. These factors will also affect what you may be able to do to effect sustainablility in your own life.
If you had told me a few years ago that I would have chickens in my front yard, I would have laughed hysterically. But, to me, in my quest for sustainable life, chickens are a very real thing. They're also pretty fun to have. Our world is in a constant state of change. Our beliefs are also changing all the time.
Before I had children, I never really thought about it very much. Then we had kids and bought a house. Suddenly, much more was possible. Suddenly, my thoughts turned to having a world that my kids could grow up in. In my case, the change was gradual. I went from a career woman to a nursing mother who made her own baby food.
After my second child, we decided it was better to have me stay home full time. Then we decided to homeschool. In our quest to sustain our family and be financially stable we stumbled on this desire to be sustainable for our world as well. The woman who said she would never have a veggie garden. The nurse who hated dirty fingers, started to change. It all started with a few tomatoes my mother planted when we bought the house from excess seedlings she had started. Every year I did something new. The garden grew, we added fruit trees and bushes. Herbs joined the flowers in the front. Then came the chickens in all their glory.
Am I done? Not even close. I love all the wonder created from a simple suburban yard. I love all the food that I put into my family from a few simple seeds. I love knowing that I don't have to rely so much on the corporate food system as much as I once did. To me, sustainable is adding things a little bit at a time. I could never have done this all at once. It would have been overwhelming and unsustainable for my life. I try not to compare myself to others, except to use them as a goal to strive for. We're all at different stages of our lives and in our thoughts and beliefs. What do you think of sustainability and are there any changes you are making in your life to adopt sustainable practices?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Do I make you uncomfortable?

I've been seriously wanting to ask people this when I go their houses. Not my close friends, but others I don't know as well.

Yesterday we went to a birthday party for an adorable little boy on our street who was turning 1. Hubby got there before me as I was at another party with Morgan. Hubby likes to tease people and started teasing the hostess that she needed recycling for the multitude of soda cans and water bottles. When I arrived she was quick to point out that she had started a bag to recycle, because she felt that I would be upset if she didn't. I was horrified. Yes, I recycle and try to do what I can, but I certainly don't want to make others feel like they are somehow less because they don't.

I've gotten the same thing from others who apologize that they are serving me something that isn't organic. It is so upsetting to me that I would make people uncomfortable about their hospitality by my very presence. This is certainly not my intention. Yes, I would love for people to adopt the same principles that we try to have, but I would never judge them for it.

I know this isn't unique to me. I was speaking to my friend L and she was telling me a similar tale about a party that she had attended with her family. While we would all like to be ambassadors for the environment, feeling like you have to keep up with the Green Joneses should not be the goal. Does anyone else find this when you visit others? How do you deal with it?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

All local meal and boy is it yummy

Everyday during this part of summer we eat local. There is nothing better than the meal you make from those veggies grown from seed in your own garden. We're also enjoying our local farmer's market for all things local. Its a new thing to our little town and is doing better than anyone could have hoped for. They have all kinds of neat things besides local produce. Our market has homemade soaps and lotions, granola, cookies and bars and so many new things each week it makes your head spin.

Last week we went to the market and had an all local meal. First up was the cucumber salad from my own garden. We've been eating a lot of that this summer. Preserved pickles aren't a big favorite at my house. We tend to like fresher for our cukes.
Next up was the corn on the cob from the farm down the street. We get lots of wonderful things from them all year, but right now our favorite is the corn. I would love to grow my own, but don't have the space to do it right. Instead I opt to grow as much of the rest of our veggies as I can and get the corn from the farm. They have a pick your own option for the corn as well and I am thinking that I might see if I can squeeze some into the freezer for a few months.
Lastly was the locally caught cod. We're very lucky to live in New England, just miles from Cape
Cod. The Farmer's Market in town has some local guys that have cod, haddock, clams and lobsters for sale. Sooo good. I have to say that hubby has been quite impressed with the yum factor from our local eating lately. He tends to think I'm a little nuts about the whole thing, but lately he's been just as enthusiastic as I have been. I think I may have converted him.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Summer fun

We've been enjoying our shortened summer while we can! Here are my babies at a friend's pool. The weather has been more summer like for the past few weeks and we're trying to take advantage as much as possible. When Noah had his 8 year physical last week, the doctor asked what he had done all summer. His response was "swimming, swimming and more swimming". He keeps telling me that I gave birth to a fish.

As for the garden, its still iffy from the wacky weather, but could be worse. I was supposed to be teaching a class on pressure canning tomatoes next week. Since there are no tomatoes to can, we'll be doing dried beans instead. Same basic procedure, just a different product. I love having my own canned beans on hand. No worry about what is in them and in the can itself. They're also quite handy to have for a quick meal. I'll post pics of the process next week.

Get out and enjoy that summer weather!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


They aren't big and they aren't perfect but they are ripe. Since I posted about the blight our weather has dried out a bit. As a result the progression of the blight has slowed significantly. We're supposed to get more rain Wednesday, but this is after quite a few hot and rainless days. If it stays relatively dry, I should be able to get a decent crop. Keep your fingers crossed!

The rest of the garden is doing very well. We are eating from the garden every day and putting veggies up for the winter as well. I love pulling beans from the freezer, tomatoes off the shelf or soup made from homegrown veggies in the middle of winter. Which reminds me, its almost time to make minestrone soup!

Saturday, August 1, 2009


In my case it appears to be Early Blight as opposed to the Late Blight that is in the process of wiping out the tomato crop in the rest of the Northeast.

I've had Early Blight before, but usually it holds off until September or so. The frost usually kills them way before the blight.
We've just had so much rain. I don't know a single person who isn't affected by it. One friend has lost 70 tomato plants. I raised these from seed. They are from heirloom seed. Apparently I need to try a blight resistant hybrid next year.
It's even affecting the fruit. I don't know if you can see the brown around the stem. The tomato is rotting off the stem.
These are not ripening, they're rotting on the vine.

I've been putting off facing the inevitable. It's time to rip the entire mess out and have a good cry. There will be no fresh tomatoes from my garden this year. I'm thinking that next year I'll build a new bed with fresh soil. Hybrids will probably be on the menu for disease resistance. The spores need to work their way out of my soil. Despite careful rotation (these tomatoes are where the squash were last year), my soil is infected throughout the garden. It will take a good 3-4 years to get the spores out of the soil.