Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 Garden Plans and Goals

Well, I've gone and done it. Yesterday I started my onion seeds and planted a few more pots of lettuce and spinach to grow indoors. Now the garden is all I can think of. I find myself throughout the day wandering to the patio door and looking out over the back garden. It's still covered in snow, but I can still see the hugelbeet that I put in a low spot in the yard. I'm reading blog posts and watching Wisconsin Vegetable Gardener videos. I'm fantasizing about ripe tomatoes that practically fall off the plant into your hand.

To keep myself from going crazy, I've been planning. Here are my plans and goals for the coming garden season.

* Expand the gardening space. There is a large area in the back yard under a tree that has grown up in weeds. That area will be dug up and planted in lettuce, since it's mostly shaded and not much else will grow there. I'll dig at least one more garden bed in the main garden.

* Venture into the wonderful world of edible landscaping. The previous owners endowed us with incredible perennial flowers. They really did an awesome job; there's always something blooming. However, the strip between the driveway and hedges is a bit sparse. I plan to sneak in some Rainbow swiss chard, some frilly red lettuces, Burgundy okra, and chives. At a going-out-of-business sale I found giant matching planters for $5 each. I will put one on each side of the driveway by the street. I plan to plant a Burgundy okra (thriller) in each, surrounded by a lime green and red speckled lettuce (filler) with Milkmaid Nasturtiums (spiller).

* Start a reasonable number of transplants. Last year I assumed I would kill almost all of my seedlings. So I over-planted. I had hundreds of tomato seedlings (around 300), 50 peppers, 50 eggplants. Definitely didn't have enough space for that many (Although it was wonderful to supply my parents with all they needed and to walk around the market I work at and give people free seedlings). This year I will start a more reasonable number, and also start some kale, lettuce, basil, etc seedlings to get a jump start on the cool season.

* Get a longer harvest. Get some cold-hardy goodies in early, and keep on planting season appropriate plants until August or September. This past year I didn't start getting a harvest until the end of May, and I'd like to get some early spring greens this year.

* Plan the garden well, and keep planting to fill in spaces as needed so there isn't a lot of wasted space like last year. I have over 100 veggie and herb varieties, and multiple packs of some of them; there is no fear of running out of seeds. I can plant with abandon.

* Dehydrate lots of yummy things for teas. I enjoy herbal teas so this could save me a lot of money over the year. Last year I dehydrated a fair amount of violet leaves and flowers, as they grow over most of the lawn. This year I plan to dehydrate some herbs I'm planting, as well as some "weeds" that are good in teas. I'm still debating about mint. I adore mint teas, but I know that it is invasive.

* Plant a heck of a lot more lettuce. I had some failures in the garden last year, and chalked most of them up to beginner's lessons. The thing I can't forgive myself for is how little lettuce I grew. I planted it later than I should have, didn't plant nearly enough, and then tried to plant most of it when the weather was too hot. Nothing germinated in the summer. Then for some reason, instead of planting a bunch for fall harvest, I planted lots of radishes and beets, but no more lettuce. We ate a few salads a week for a couple months. Not this year. This year I'm eating lettuce until it comes out my ears.

* Not waste a bit of the produce grown. I have a fancy new dehydrator, and I am hoping to learn how to can this year. Put up as much as I can for the winter. If I get a glut of something that I don't want to can, dehydrate and powder it to add to my veggie powder jar.

* Here is a rough list of what I'm growing this year: two types of eggplant, 3 sweet peppers; 4 hot peppers (including Jamaican Hot Chocolate Habaneros!), 7 tomatoes (inc Black from Tula and Brandywine), 3 types of cucumber (including Crystal Apple), 5 beet, 3 swiss chard, 4 types carrots, turnips, 10 types radishes, 5 types of beans (including Scarlet Runner and Calypso/yin-yang beans), spinach, kale, mustard, 10 types lettuce, chives, cilantro, 3 types of basil, onions, Burgundy okra, milkmaid nasturtiums, and more random things that I may or may not plant. Whew.

What are your plans and goals for the garden? What are you growing?

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Weird Composting

I compost as warfare. The battle is against climate change and landfills and big business that promises to solve all of our problems if we just open our wallets. Our consumptive society buys with abandon and then throws "away". Composting fights this mindset and creates a new one.

I compost because it's free. I don't have to work at my job to earn the money for fertilizer in my garden (and the work of composting is actually meditative and pleasant). I don't have to throw away organic matter. I don't have to run the trash down to the curb every week (I take it down once a month, and even then it's not full).  I am not contributing to the landfills as much as I would be otherwise. I am building the organic matter in my soil instead of just taking from it. I am connected to my soil and my compost bin. I think about what I am disposing of instead of mindlessly filling the garbage tin. I think about every item that is thrown away, and as a result I become horrified by how much packaging stuff comes in. Even though I can't compost plastic, thinking about the plastic that has to be recycled makes me want to buy fewer things or opt to buy from a thrift store and remember to carry a tote bag just so I don't have so much plastic! When I have to look at food that goes bad before I eat it, I am more mindful to not waste food.

Everyone knows you can compost kitchen scraps and leaves. There are so many more things that can go into the compost bin. It may not make for perfectly balanced compost, but the way I see it, if I have organic matter at my disposal, it should go into my soil, not into a landfill. Here's a list of some of the weird things I've started putting into my compost.

* Toilet paper tubes. I just cut them up a bit.
* Newspaper. Shredded, it is the perfect "brown" for winter when I have a shortage of leaves and dried grass.
* Coffee grounds and filters.
* Tea and tea bags.
* Paper grocery bags, shredded.
* Coffee cups, cut up. Some coffee cup lids are compostable.(I almost always have my reusable mug, but every now and then I forget it).
* Grocery lists, recipes that I jot down, torn up.
* Cardboard egg cartons. I purposely opt for cardboard over styrofoam for just this reason.
* Dryer lint.
* Dustpan contents. After I sweep the floors, I dump the contents into the compost (exception: when I've broken glass). Dust is just a hodgepodge of human skin/hair, pet dander/hair, dirt, pebbles, dead insects, food particles, etc.
* Pet hair.
* Hair trimmings (Occupational benefit if you're a hair dresser?).
* Yarn trimmings, cotton or wool. I use larger pieces of yarn for making scrapghans, but for pieces under 6 inches, they go into the compost bin.
* Old washclothes/dish towels that are too ragged for the rag bin.
* Paper towels/napkins or kleenex. Eventually I will be 100% paper free (as it is I only buy a roll of paper towels about 2-3 times a year), but til then, it goes into the compost.
* All kitchen wastes other than meat or grease. Bones that are soft after making a couple batches of stock go into the compost. Bones can also be buried deep into the garden bed to decompose without fear of animals digging them up. Egg shells are awesome for tomatoes.
* Finger/toenail clippings.
* Dead floral arrangements and dead leaves from houseplants.
* Junk mail, shredded.
* Old financial papers that no longer need to be saved. Cut or tear these into small pieces and use as a brown in your compost. The added bonus is that would-be identity thieves aren't going to look in your compost bin.
* Pizza boxes, cut up.
* Cardboard Q-tips, cotton balls.
* Wine corks.
* Stale herbs/spices
* Moldy bread, on the rare occasion it molds before I dry it for bread crumbs.
* sales flyers
* Neighbor's yard waste. (Only if they aren't sprayers)
* Ragged cotton or wool clothing. Socks, underwear, t-shirts, etc. Remove any metal or elastic from the clothes and cut it up as fine as you feel like.

What weird things do you compost?

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Preparing for an Uncertain Future

It is so easy to plan for the future when we have a clear picture of what lies ahead. I've found that I always have an easier time saving money when I know what it's for. When I don't know what exactly I'm saving for, it makes it a little too easy to spend money on non-essentials.

Of course, nothing is ever set in stone. I bought my house a year later than I was planning because the car gave up the ghost and I used part of my down payment money to buy another. I'm still waiting on a couple repairs on the house happened. We rarely see the lay-offs coming, or the recessions (or we underestimate them), or the illness, or the death in the family, or the fire...However, these are the situations that we need to prepare for, even while hoping they don't happen.

First, as you've read in every personal finance book everywhere, build up an emergency fund. When you hit a bump in the road, it helps to have something to fall back on. Even if you can only build a modest balance, it can help you overcome the unexpected, such as an illness that leads to a tiny pay check. Keep the money in a savings account so you can easily access it and it isn't at high-risk of being lost.

Keep food in the house. I'm always surprised at how many people have to shop for groceries every week because they only have enough food for that week's meals. It makes sense to have at least a modest stockpile of food. Winter storms can make it dangerous to drive to town, or even a couple of miles to the grocery store. If you get sick, it is comforting to have food at home so you don't have to get dressed and drive to the store. In case of job loss, a stocked pantry can be a life saver, giving you the comfort of knowing you can feed your family while you continue to look for a job.

Learn new skills that are of multiple benefits. Gardening is a fun and relaxing hobby, but it can also supply food in times of crisis. If you lost your job, you could use your gardening skills to bring in a little extra money by tending garden for people on vacation or older people. Cooking from scratch is enjoyable, allows for maximum variety, is usually healthier, and can save you a load of money. Foraging is fun, but can provide medicine and food in both times of plenty and of need.

Hone your frugal skills before you need them. If you suddenly find that you must be frugal, you can not only feel frustrated but overwhelmed. Practice frugal tactics before a financial crisis so you can easily amp up your frugal practices when needed. Learn to cook from scratch. Learn how to darn socks and do basic clothing repair. Learn basic car maintenance.

Take the occasional No-Spend Challenge. You go for a set amount of time without spending money, whether for a weekend or a month. You save the money you would have spent. You also learn so much. You learn how to make pizza at home, how to substitute ingredients in recipes. You experiment with new coffee flavors by adding spices from the spice rack. You learn that you're spouse is awesome at Scrabble (or terrible). You learn how much you love taking walks around the neighborhood or find that you really enjoy biking to work. Most importantly, you learn that you can survive without spending money. Over the next few months, you find that you don't spend as much, because you know how to have fun without spending money. If a time comes when you lose a job, or you have a massive medical bill that requires a large chunk of your income, you can easily go back to your spending-free or reduced-spending ways to make it through.

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