Monday, October 27, 2014

Mock Pickled Peppers

I positively adore pickled peppers. I love them on salads, sandwiches, pizza, with eggs, with a fork straight out of the jar. I can't imagine living without them. Unfortunately, the cost of a jar of pickled peppers is ridiculous. Sometimes I manage to find a great price and stock up (like at my favorite salvage grocery store), but I can go through a whole jar in a couple days. It's sick, really.

Fortunately I've found a fantastic way to save a little money while getting my fix. I reuse the brine to make a batch of mock pickled peppers. While they are not technically pickled, they have the same flavor and are free or almost so, depending on whether the peppers come from my garden or the market.

After I polish off a jar of pickled peppers, I simply dump in some dehydrated peppers from the pantry. I always have a wide assortment of peppers dehydrated and at the ready: jalapenos, bells, Hungarian Wax (my favorite), Jimmy Nardellos, and serranos. I chose whatever type of pepper I think will go best with the flavors in the leftover brine. If a brine is super flavorful, I may use bell peppers, but I find that Hungarian Wax peppers add the perfect amount of spice. Eyeball how much brine you have, then add about 1/3 that amount in dehydrated peppers. Just dump them into the jar, close the lid, give it a good shake and leave it in the frig for a day or so. The dehydrated peppers will rehydrate and soak up all of that flavorful brine. These are delicious and almost as good as the original peppers.

If you don't have a dehydrator, fresh peppers work too. Cut them into rings or slices. Since they won't be soaking up as much fluid as the dehydrated peppers, you can cram in as many peppers as will be submerged. For these, it will take a little longer for the flavors to mingle. Allow a week at least before trying them.
If you have leftover cucumber pickles, you can add dehydrated cucumbers for the same effect (this is my favorite way to use up big, overripe cukes that are dehydrated out of sheer desperation during harvest season). Any other dehydrated vegetable you have lying around could be tossed into some reused brine.

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This Week...Beyond Money 10/20 - 10/26

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

* I potted up 4 pepper plants to overwinter and plant again next year: one of the Jimmy Nardello plants, 1 serrano pepper, 2 jalapeno. These were my top performers. I did not pot up one of the unnamed hot peppers. While they were all wildly prolific, they didn't taste that great.
* I forgot to open the blinds a couple of very busy days and all of the lettuces indoors died. I replanted the container to: arugula, kale, lettuce, spinach, mustard, swiss chard and basil. As of Sunday night, they have sprouted nicely. Hopefully I don't murder this batch. I need some winter greens.
* Harvested a few dozen carrots (most of them little finger), several radishes, 4 cups of mixed salad greens and edible flowers, dozens of small peppers, some green tomatoes to allow to ripen on the counter, 1 c green beans of various types.

Cooking and Groceries:
* I redeemed my birthday coupon for a free half gallon of store-brand ice cream from my job. I got Chocolate Moose Tracks. Awesome birthday gift from my boss. LOL
* I bought a couple of pepperoni rolls from my job for $.44 each. These have pepperoni, cheese and spices are a filling lunch by themselves. I used these for a day that we would be gone from the house from 5:30 AM til 6:30 PM. $.88, plus a couple apples from the orchard makes for a $1 lunch for two. Cheap, relatively healthy and keeps us from scary fast food.
* I bought more apples (at the 300lb mark now!). My mum and sister went to an orchard I love. They had seconds for $14/bushel (so about $.31/lb). Looking at them, I have no idea why they were seconds. They are beautiful and unblemished. They are Rome's which is my favorite apple so I'm thrilled. Rome's are great for crisps, which I make like crazy during the autumn.
* I had a coupon for $1 off $5 worth of produce from the grocery. I found celery on manager's special for $.75 each (marked down from $1.80) and got three. Potatoes were $1.88 for a 10-lb bag. Two heads of lettuce were bagged together for $.99. Total for produce: $4.12. I also had a coupon for a free loaf of bread with $10 purchase.
* We went salvage grocery shopping. Got lots of great deals and stocked up to help keep winter grocery bills manageable without the garden.
* One night we had stir fry with 100% veg from the garden. I served it with rice cooked in homemade chicken stock. By cooking the rice in stock instead of water, it's more nutritious, more filling and we are perfectly content with no meat in the stir fry. Saves a lot of money.

Food Preservation:
* Dehydrated a load of apples. Dehydrated crab apples for crab apple candy (which are absolutely awesome!). All you do is quarter and core them (very labor intensive, just warning you), toss in sugar and dehydrate til chewy. Wow!

* For my mum's birthday, we bought her canning supplies and two Butternut trees. Practical, and she'll love it.
* We had dinner with my parents, sisters and Grandpa. It was a wonderful evening.

* I went for a run late one night (10 PM). It had rained hard all day, so the air was clean and perfect. It wasn't hot, but it wasn't cold. I  loved watching the tree branches float across the low-hanging clouds drifting by the stars. I fell absolutely in love with everything.
* One day was just absolutely perfect so we worked out in the garden just as an excuse to be out there.
* There were several evenings that were just so perfect we had to go out for walks. So lovely.

* I passed up "deals" that weren't really deals. I found a pack of the pretty green canning jars. It was a six pack that was missing 3 of the jars....marked down 20%...seriously? Also, there was a sale on bacon that made it $1 cheaper than I usually find it if you bought 5. However, if I bought it, I would have to drive back home across the city, before driving back past the store to go visit my parents that day. It would have saved $5 on the bacon, but cost me $5-6 in gas, plus the wasted time. Not worth it.
* Trucker needed new socks. We darn socks and mend holes while they are small as long as possible, but his current set was getting pretty old. I bought a few 10-packs of the same socks (store brand that was $3 less per pack) so that when we do laundry it's easy to match.  As they wear out beyond darning, we can throw away one sock (or get creative with it!) instead of a pair. In this way, we can stretch socks out for years.
* Trucker makes cash tips at his job, so we use that for general living expenses instead of using the card or stopping at the ATM. As he's been giving me cash, I've been squirreling it away for savings. I  had $160 saved up that I deposited this morning into our savings account.
* While we walked, twice we found piles of change. I don't know why people do that, but I'm fine with snagging it. Once we found 22 pennies; the other time we found 16 cents. Yes, picking up change isn't going to drastically change our lives, but it's still worth doing. It takes about an extra second to reach down and pick up a penny. You could do that 60 times a minute. So, hypothetically, if you picked up pennies every second of every minute for an hour, you'd make $36/hr, tax free. That's more than I make at my job, so I consider it worthwhile. The time I found the 22 pennies, it took about 5 seconds to pick up the extras. I could have done that 12 times in a minute, so my hourly rate that time was $158/hr. We save our change all year for a special weekend trip, so we are always happy when we find change.
* Used the library extensively. Checked out several books and two movies. We got a brand new branch this month right down the road from our home. It's a bare-bones branch as an experiment. If it gets used a lot, there's a chance they'll expand it in a few years, so we are trying to do our part to see that they do!
* I keep a blanket downstairs for covering up while at the computer. Since I work in a bakery, I get chilled rather easily when not directly in front of an oven. I've also gotten out the nice thick socks. In this way, we can avoid turning on the furnace.

Waste Reduction:
* Planned so as to avoid wasting any leftovers.
* We had used up as much of the hand soap (purchased during a holiday sale for $.25/bottle) as would come out of the pump. I used the rest for a bubble bath. Frugal indulgence, and I used up the last of it.
* When I dehydrated the apples, I used my apple peeler-corer-slicer gizmo (purchased for $2.50 during a half off sale at a thrift store). I was left with a lot of peels, so I dehydrated those to use in teas in winter.

* I worked overtime 1 hr this week to help out a coworker. Not a ton of money, but a little something. The extra pay is earmarked to get out of state to visit an ailing relative.
* The uniform at work changed. While we used to be able to wear nice jeans, it is now khakis or black pants. Before hitting the thrift stores to scoop up new pants, I checked some boxes in the closet and found 2 pr of black pants and 2 pr of khakis that I can now fit in (I've lost 25 pounds since I started running). No need to buy any, and I saved myself $10 (at least) on the uniform.
* Trucker got two free cinnamon rolls from his job that were a bit dry and therefore weren't able to be sold. We made a bit more icing to drizzle on them and they were delicious.
* When he closed one night, he was able to take home some things that didn't sell: 2 english muffins (that I used for two mornings' breakfast sandwiches), 2 muffins, a couple cookies and a scone. We took the desserts with us to my parents house for dinner.

* Heavy stockpile for the pantry from the salvage grocery store. Between the best-price store buys and the food from the garden we preserve, we never have less than a 6 month supply of food, even right before the harvest starts coming in. Granted, if we were eating exclusively from the stockpile, by month 4 it would be getting boring, and by 5 months it would be positively bland, but we wouldn't starve.

Future: (New section....anything that is getting me closer to where I want to be on my 5-, 10-, and 20-year plans)
* I went with a friend, my mother and sister to a talk on urban homesteading at a local library. It was a free event. It was given by a local urban farmer/homesteader that I'm familiar with. I've visited her beautiful property and loved it, so it was great to get to hear her talk. I got to ask a few questions to help me as I answer some questions for myself about where I want to go from here while I am still living in the city.
* I'm taking a free permaculture design course through the Regenerative Leadership Institute. It's unaccredited, but I'm taking it for the education, not for credits. I listened to one of the lessons and took notes.

What did you do this week?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Salvage Grocery Shopping...take 2

Yesterday we went to our favorite salvage grocery store since we were in town (It's 1.5 hrs away, but only 10 minutes from my family). We stocked up on a lot to make winter grocery bills more manageable, especially since we aren't sure how often we'll be able to make the trip once the roads are nasty.
 As usual, we found some fantastic deals, some things that we would never buy and others that were more costly than the regular grocery store. You have to know your prices; keeping a cost book can be extremely helpful when shopping at salvage groceries. Sometimes you'll find a hundred of a good deal and can get enough to last months. Sometimes you only find one. It's always an adventure!

One thing with salvage's all packaged foods. There aren't produce bins, there's no local-bakery-outlet, there's no bulk meat counter. This is all packaged. There are certainly some GM ingredients in some of the items. And yes, I know that in a perfect world, I would eat no packaged foods and make everything from scratch. I would buy everything direct from the farmer and would only eat perfectly balanced meals. But this is the real world. We both work full time and have projects we work on from home. We try to spend quality time together and with family and friends. Sometimes packaged foods are eaten. Sometimes we cave to cravings. Sometimes we eat convenience foods. However, we eat as much from foraging and the garden as possible and dehydrate a few hundred pounds each year. We cook as much from scratch as we can. We make our own convenience foods in the form of cooking a giant batch of chili and freezing meal-sized portions, or cooking 5 lbs of ground beef and freezing in 1/2 lb portions for quick and easy tacos. We also are on a lower income (as are many readers) and just don't have the money to buy organic/free range/ecologically produced/chemical free/package free everything direct from the farmer. We produce as much healthy and ethical food as possible and buy as much of the same from local farmers, but we're not in a place where we can do it 100%. Shopping at salvage groceries allows a little cushion to buy bacon from our favorite farmer for $2 more a pound instead of getting the cheapest store brand on sale with no thought to how it was produced or by whom. It allows a bit extra to buy tomatoes at the market when ours don't produce well. At the end of the day, all we are ever trying to do is live the highest quality life possible given our circumstances. There is no need to feel like a failure if you cannot do everything exactly as you'd like to. Just do your best and look for creative options to give you flexibility, like shopping at salvage groceries.

This salvage grocer is our favorite for one main reason: They get the outlets from natural food stores as well as regular grocery stores. That means that sometimes we score organics for less than grocery store brand on sale. The usual shoppers tend to go for the familiar brands, meaning that the "weird hippie" brand foods are often priced lower.

So...on to the scores! I'm including the price we'd pay at the regular store with smart shopping using sales and sometimes coupons. I'm also including commentary on why we purchased certain items or whether they are a "luxury" we wouldn't have otherwise.

Honey Bunches of Oats 14.5 oz box (1).....$1.79 (We aim to never spend more than $2/box for cereal, which is an occasional sale price at the regular grocery store, but not common anymore. Trucker eats oatmeal most mornings, but does still eat some cereal)
Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Yogurt 12.5 oz box (2).....$1.49 each
Honey Kix 12 oz (2).....$1.49 each
Special K 12 oz (1).....$1.49
Cinnamon Toasters 10 oz (8).....$.33 each (whenever we find cereal priced below $.50/box we buy extra and distribute to other families)

Pace Garlic and Lime Salsa Verde 16 (2).....$.49 each (Cheapest we ever see salsa around here is $1/jar)
Roasted Green Chili Peppers 16 oz (2).....$.99 each (I adore pickled peppers, but only get them on the rare occasions when they are $1/jar or less)
Los Palmos green enchilada sauce 10 oz (1).....$.49 each (usually over $1/can at regular stores)
Herdez salsa verde 7 oz (2).....$.39 each
Rotel tomatoes and chiles 10 oz (2).....$.59 each (usually $1+/can; we use this occasionally in chili. This year we will have to buy more tomato products than usual because we were only able to put up about 20 lbs of dehydrated tomatoes this year. It was a bad tomato year here)

Bumblebee Clam Chowder 15 oz (1).....$.69 (this is a convenience food for days when I'm working all day and Trucker needs a quick meal when working on a project)
Marie Callender's Vegetable Soup 15 oz (1).....$.69

Mueller's Ridged Jumbo elbows pasta 16 oz (3).....$.69 each ($1/lb is the cheapest we ever find here)
Mueller's Ridged Ziti pasta 16 oz (1).....$.69
Barilla Multigrain spaghetti 14.5 oz (3).....$.79 each
Skinner spaghetti 16 oz (1).....$.59
Mahatma extra long grain enriched rice 3 lb (1).....$1.49
Hunt's meat pasta sauce 24 oz (1).....$.99 (like I said, we'll run out of garden tomatoes really early this year)
Barilla Pasta sauce 24 oz (1).....$.99

Peppadew Mustard 9.5 oz (2).....$.59 each (this is my favorite mustard ever)
Grey Poupon Dijon mustard 8 oz (1).....$.79
Spectrum Organic Mayo 16 oz (1).....$.49 (cheaper than store brand conventional on sale)
Heinz Hot and Spicy Ketchup 14 oz (2).....$.69 each (this is about the same price as regular on sale, but maybe will taste better, we'll see)
Del Monte canned carrots or mixed vegetables 8.25 oz cans (2)......$.39 each (we dehydrate a lot of produce, but we do tend to run low by spring)

Tazo Chocolate Chai Latte concentrate 1 qt (6).....$.79 each (I love chai, and yes I could make my own concentrate, but I haven't found the time lately...this works and keeps me from ever splurging on a chai when we go out)
Tazo Chocolate Chai Latte concentrate 1 qt (1).....$.39 (This was the only one priced this low, but I looked for more and would have put the others back if I'd found any cheaper)
Oregon Chai concentrate 1 qt (1).....$.39
Twinings Orange and Cinnamon Spice tea 20 bags (1).....$1.49 (At 7.5 cents per tea bag that is used twice, tea is one of our most frugal drinks. We especially enjoy turning on the tea kettle every evening in autumn and winter)
Bigelow Orange and Spice tea 20 bags (2).....$1.49 each
Bigelow Plantation Mint tea 20 bags (1).....$1.49
French Market Coffee+Chicory Blend 12 oz (1)....$2.49 (this is a favorite indulgence and lowers our caffeine consumption. I forage a lot of dandelion coffee to cut with our regular coffee, but it is very labor intensive and I could never produce enough for an entire year)
LavAzza Italian Coffee 8.8 oz (2).....$2.49 (this is a little higher than we usually pay for Maxwell House coffee when it goes on a fantastic sale every 4 months. We like good coffee, but cannot justify paying full price for good stuff considering how much we consume)
Life is Good coffee 11 oz (2).....$2.49 (We were visiting my grandpa and didn't want to drink all of his coffee. We talked about stopping at a gas station for nasty coffee at $1.25/mug when we used our travel mugs, but then we'd want to stop again for more before heading back home later that night. We decided to bring in one of the packages of coffee and brewed a pot while we were there. He loved it so we left the rest of the bag for him to enjoy for the next week or so. It still cost us half the cost of buying it at the gas station, it was tastier and we got to give my grandpa an indulgence he would rarely get)
Koolaid packets (11).....$.10 each (This is a rare thing....mainly as a mixer for vodka when we're feeling trashy...or if friends with kids come over....but then there's no vodka. Also, every now and then in summer I start craving a slurpee type drink, but I'm scared to death of the mold in the machine and the high fructose corn syrup and the cost. So I make a super concentrated koolaid with a bit of regular sugar and blend with ice. Costs me around $.15 for 2 servings)

Tone's Cinnamon Sticks, approximately 82 sticks per container (2).....$2.49 (I have never purchased whole cinnamon sticks because they are cost prohibitive. I'm beyond thrilled. Trucker had to talk me out of buying 20 containers....because I totally would have)

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing 12 oz (6).....$.20 (Yes, I could and sometimes do make my own salad dressing. However, I really stick to basic non-cream-based dressings, and sometimes I just want something quick and easy. Plus at this cost, I could not make it cheaper until I start making my own vinegar)
Naturally Delicious Peppercorn Parmesan dressing 16 oz (1).....$.20
Ken's Poppyseed dressing 16 oz (1).....$.20 (My parent's favorite dressing, so I like to have it when they come over)
Kraft Zesty Italian dressing 16 oz (3).....$.20 (This stuff makes an awesome marinade for chicken before grilling-my mum's trick)
Kraft Thousand Island dressing 16 oz (2).....$.20
Kraft Catalina dressing 16 oz (1).....$.20
Kraft Zesty Lime dressing 8 oz (1).....$.10

Sour Patch kids (1).....$.49 (Generally, I try to provide Trucker with lots of yummy and healthy snacks like dried apples and other fruit. At the end of the day, he's a grown man and if he wants a bit of nasty-sweet candy, I'm not going to tell him he can't. If I make it forbidden fruit, he's going to fiend it more)
Bag full of energy bars.....$3.99 (this included 30 bars, so it was 13.3 cents each. These are used mainly for hiking, but also on road trips. We keep a few in each vehicle in case of emergency or if we forget to bring lunch, we have a little something without resorting to eating out. We got 15 Go Organic! double chocolate bars, 1 Promax double fudge brownie bar, 2 Power Protein bars, and 12 Clif Shot Blocks for running)

Smart Sense Dishwasher detergent 75 oz (1).....$2.99 (we usually hand wash dishes, but I use the dishwasher when I have marathon cooking days. Frankly, I hate washing dishes and would not do big cooking days if at the end when I was already exhausted I had to wash dishes for 45 minutes. We still have a box at home, but since I rarely find it on sale, I started shopping when I opened the last box)
Arm & Hammer laundry detergent 60 loads (3).....$2.99 each (this is half the price we usually pay on sale with double coupon. I do plan to eventually start making my own, but with so much going on lately, have not had a chance to give it a go)
Grout sealer (1).....$.99 (One of the projects I am going to do this winter while I'm trapped indoors is redo all of the grout in the bathroom-showers and floor. I stockpiled materials for different projects all summer while thrifting and yard saling so that I don't have to spend the money or go out in bad weather to the store to buy supplies)
Cologne (2).....$1.99 (Trucker likes this stuff better than the dollar store brand)
Temptations cat treats 7 oz (1).....$.99 (every now and then Ray cat gets a treat...however, it is rare and she is still lean and athletic)

So, total we spent $86.30 on all of this. We shop here every 3-4 months, so this comes out to $20-25 a month and significantly lowers the costs of general shopping in between.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This Week...Beyond Money 10/13 - 10/19

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

* Only getting a few little things now: a few beans, an edible flower here and there.
* The indoor peppers are giving me a nice number of peppers each week. Very exciting.

Cooking and Groceries:
* Bought some manager's special meat. Pork chops for $1.65/lb. I bought a 1.10 lb ready-to-cook meatloaf for $2.70. Yes, it's a convenience food. Yes, I also paid $2.70/lb for some bread crumbs. However, I know that we have some busy/stressful days coming up. Having this meatloaf ready to throw in the oven just may be enough to keep us from yielding to ordering a pizza or stopping at a restaurant after a long day at work. Also, 1.1 lbs is enough for dinner one night and part of lunch the next day for us, so it is a relatively affordable convenience food. I don't have issues with convenience per se, only when it interferes with taste, health and finance.
* Bought a big loaf of everything bread at work that was $2.99. My discount brought it down to $2.70. There was a coupon available for a dollar off of a store-baked loaf, so the final cost was $1.70. This made it about the price of one of those weird fluffy pre-sliced factory loaves, but tastier and there was more.
* I spent $10 at the grocery: 4 packages of tortillas at $.50 each (marked down from $2.99/pack), 2 bags of tortilla chips for $1 each (planning ahead for making taco dip soon..), a large bottle of extra virgin olive oil for $4 (clearance rack), and two small cupcakes for $.50 each (marked down from $1.19) as a surprise dessert for Trucker after he'd had a long day at work. I got 10% off everything except the olive oil with my employee discount (that was the one item that wasn't store brand).

Food Preservation:
* Dehydrated more apples.

* Got coffee with my friend at Trucker's job. My coffee was free since I got regular coffee (per his boss) and Trucker bought her drink.
* Went to Trucker's job for a cup of (free) coffee and writing. Got me out of the house and I didn't have to turn on the heat for those hours while I was gone (as well as not needing to have lights on or my laptop sipping electricity).

* We walked to go out with our friends one night. It was only about a mile and a half round trip, but it the weather was lovely.
* I picked wildflowers to decorate the house. Ray cat loved smelling them. She's a big fan of flowers which makes me love her even more.

* Paid off one of my debts. This frees up $75 a month in the budget. I will put this money towards the debt snowball. The last year was rough on us, but some good job changes (more money!) and careful spending (lower expenses) are translating into some real progress for us.

Waste Reduction:
* Composted everything that could go in there.
* More apple-core sauce.

* I found out that my new job gives a $25 grocery gift certificate for Christmas. Not a huge thing, but with careful planning I'll get a lot of groceries with it.
* My boss gave me a birthday card with a coupon for a free half gallon of store-brand ice cream. Sweet!

* Put a few jars of dehydrated food into storage.

What did you do this week? Any new projects to brag on or tips to share?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Planting Garlic

Italian Purple Stripe
Garlic is one of my all-time favorite veggies. I love the flavor and I appreciate the incredible health benefits of garlic. However, the cost of garlic can be prohibitive when using it in the volume I like. That's why I started growing my own.

Hardneck garlic. Notice the single layer of large
cloves around the central stalk.
Planting garlic is incredibly frugal and insanely easy. It is one of the easiest gardening projects I've undertaken (unlike garlic's cousin onion which I've given up on for the time being). You can buy a single bulb at the market and turn it into 4-8 new bulbs, with some leftover to eat beforehand. You can get a few different harvests from garlic, depending on what type you plant, allowing you to try new things. Garlic helps to repel pests from the garden, so planting a border or planting throughout the beds may help to keep pests from preying on your other veggies or flowers.

The best part of all is choice. At the grocery store you get...garlic. When you grow your own, you can grow Music (high yield, easy to peel with a strong, lasting garlic flavor), Purple Glazer (great for baking), or Chinese Pink (early with a mellow flavor). In can grow the type of garlic you most like to eat/cook with instead of just getting whatever the grocer sells you.

Softneck garlic. Notice the multiple layers of cloves.
First...get yourself some good garlic. You can order it through a reputable seed catalog if you'd like, and especially if there is a certain variety you want to try. This is high quality garlic for planting, but will cost more and you'll have to pay shipping. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can gamble with grocery store garlic. Sometimes store-bought garlic is sprayed to keep it from sprouting which is the exact opposite of what you want it to do. Some grocery stores don't do this, and if you regularly have garlic purchased from a particular store that sprouts, you can assume it will grow okay. In my opinion the best way to get "seed" garlic is to go to a local farmers market where the farmers only sell what they grow. I've never heard of a small truck farmer spraying their garlic with anti-sprouting chem. Often, they will supply you with lots of details about the variety, how it tastes and how to best cook/use it. Also, since it is grown locally, if it looks great, it will most likely do great in your climate. It is also priced somewhere between the cheap stuff at the grocery and the expensive stuff in catalogs.

Mixture of cloves. I chose the largest cloves to plant.
There are two types of garlic, plus elephant garlic. Softneck garlic produce more cloves than hardneck, but they are smaller. Softneck garlic stores longer and can be braided. It grows better in milder climates. Hardneck garlic produces fewer but larger cloves. It doesn't store quite as long as softneck and can't be braided. It grows best in cooler climates. The big benefit to hardnecks, I think, is that it sends up a scape. The scape is a crunchy, flavorful seedstalk that can be eaten as a vegetable. It gives you a garlicy harvest a month or so early and is one of my favorite veggies. Elephant garlic looks like garlic, but is closer related to a leek than to garlic. It has huge, milder cloves. It is grown similarly to regular garlic, but a few inches deeper (6 inches deep) and a foot apart because it grows so much bigger. I like to grow a mixture of different varieties of hardneck and softneck garlic for diversity in flavor, storability and in case weather causes issues for one variety.

Plant garlic in fall for the biggest harvest, about 2-8 weeks before the first hard frost of the year. I've seen gardening sites/books vary greatly on this date, so I assume that as long as it's got some time to get established before the ground freezes, you're fine. I plant in mid-October in Zone 5b and had a fantastic harvest last year. You can also plant it in spring, about 4-6 weeks before the last frost, although spring-planted garlic doesn't get as big as fall-planted (but any garlic is better than none).

There is a great variety of sizes in a single bulb.
Plant the biggest ones.
The day you are going to plant, gently break apart your garlic bulbs.  You can remove the outer papery covering to get the cloves separated, but don't remove any more of the covering than you have to. Once you've broken apart your bulb, select the biggest cloves in the bunch. Chosing the biggest cloves ensures a bigger bulb next summer. Look them over for any blemishes: mold, rot, cuts, or removed papery covering.

Don't throw away the smaller or blemished cloves! These are perfectly edible and should be enjoyed. After I plant my larger cloves, I remove the papery covering from the smaller cloves, trimming away any bad spots. I put them in a jar in the refrigerator to use within the next couple of weeks. The inner covering can be added to stock (Avoid the outer layers to avoid getting dirt in your stock). Outer coverings can be composted. No waste!

Soaking garlic in water and baking soda.
You can soak the cloves or not. Again, there is a lot of talk about whether or not it is better to soak before planting, but it probably makes less of a difference than the debate wouldn indicate. Some people soak in manure or compost tea. Some soak in a vinegar, baking soda and alcohol mixture. Some soak 2 hours, some soak every night.The first year I grew them, I didn't soak them at all and they grew fine. This year I soaked them for 1/2 hour in a baking soda and water mixture. I doubt it will have any affect, but we'll see.

Plant garlic about 4 inches apart.
The ideal soil is a good loam, but don't let imperfect soil deter you. I grew garlic well in my clay to clay-loam soil with no issue. Prep your bed by working in some good compost. Smooth the bed, then dig furrows 4-6 inches apart. Plant the garlic cloves 4-6 inches apart with the pointy side sticking up and the root side down. Cover with 4 inches of soil.

Garlic in autumn. The leaves die back when
it freezes, but come right back in spring.
Over the next few weeks, if the weather doesn't turn really cold, the garlic shoots should pop up (Don't worry if they don't sprout yet; they'll be fine in spring) These little shoots are so beautiful in late autumn when the rest of the garden has been put to bed and the threat of winter looms. Mulch heavily with shredded leaves or straw (I always go with leaves because it's free and sourced on site), piling them up deeper as the shoots grow. When a freeze is coming, pile a bit more on and leave til spring.

In the early days of spring, you'll see them start to grow again. Sometimes they'll even pop up through the snow-another beautiful sight! Keep the beds well weeded for the biggest bulbs possible. Water them every 3-5 days, unless it rains.

Garlic scape harvest.
Garlic scapes on hardneck garlic.
If you are growing hardneck garlic, you'll get a scape. It is a round stalk that comes up through the middle of the leaves, straight at first, then curling. There is an arrow-point at the end. If left on, this will turn into a flower and you'll get bulbils to plant. However, leaving them on may take some of the energy away from big bulbs, so there is a trade off. I harvest them when they curl once by cutting the entire scape at the point where it meets the leaves. This allows the plant to put all its energy towards big bulbs and gives me a garlicy harvest a month early. The scapes are absolutely delicious. These can be added to soups, salads, mashed potatoes or they can be steamed or stir fried. They can be added to quiche or omelets.

Garlic bed in early summer.
Garlic in summer. The stalks are thickening up.
Towards the end of summer (depending on your climate), the leaves will start to die back. Once the leaves are yellow and falling over, harvest the bulbs. Don't wait too long as this will decrease their storage life. Use a garden fork to dig 6 inches away from the leaves. Gently brush away soil from the bulb, but don't scrub or wash them. Allow them to cure by sitting or hanging outside in an airy, dry spot for a couple of weeks. If it rains, bring them inside (warning: this will make your entire house smell like garlic. If this is an issue, put them in the garage or shed). At this point the soil will have dried and you can brush off a bit more of the dirt, again, gently. If you have softneck garlic, you can braid it. Hardneck varieties should be trimmed so the stem is only about 2 inches long. Store in a dry area.

Garlic harvest. Not bad for the first time!
In a couple of months when it's time to replant, select your biggest bulbs and repeat the whole process. Some people say that the longer you grow garlic in your microclimate, the bigger the bulbs will become. At any rate, you'll save a lot of money over buying garlic at the store and you get the supreme pleasure of flavoring your food with homegrown garlic. What could be better?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Week...Beyond Money 10/6 - 10/12

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
* Harvested a few beans, a few tomatoes, 2 cups of mixed greens (mixed with edible flowers-milkmaid nasturtium and male zucchini flowers since it's so late in the season), a tiny radish.
* The potted pepper plants I brought inside have gone nuts. I had thoroughly harvested it before bringing it in, but already harvested several full-sized jalapenos and there are more almost ready.

* Trucker brought home 3 bagels and 2 scones from his job that would otherwise have been thrown away.
* I had some leftover pie dough from making quiche last week. I used it to make two caramel apple galettes (using some goat's milk caramel I got on clearance for $1/bottle, marked down from $3.50/bottle) and two mini apple pies. I used apples from the orchard and in the pies I used some apple core sauce.
* I stopped at a grocery store that has fantastic produce prices. I got 16 lbs of pears for $.29/lb. Purple skinned garlic was $.50/head so I bought 8 for planting. While I was there, I bought several half pound packages of "ends and pieces" bacon. It is a decent quality bacon, but cheaper per pound than the store brand on sale. The half pound packages are perfect for our two-person household. It's the perfect amount for BLTs or to cook up to use throughout the week on salads, sandwiches, soups and omelets.

Food Preservation:
* I dehydrated 1.5 loads of apples one day. Another day I dehydrated tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, and apples (3 dehydrator loads total).
* I froze some apple core sauce.

* Went out with some friends for pizza. We all split a large pizza so it only cost a few dollars apiece instead of ordering a meal each.
* Trucker and I had a rare day off together so we took a day trip. We hopped on the highway and stopped whenever we saw something interesting. Lunch at a chinese buffet with a BOGO coupon=$8 lunch. We stopped at a pottery store (buying nothing but I was drooling over the mixing bowls) and several antique stores. Trucker and I both have certain things we look for at antique stores. Many antique items are still useful and will last a lifetime. We like to get tools and kitchen utensils from antique stores. I got a mixing bowl. It's a smaller mixing bowl and has a chip on the rim and some hairline cracks that don't affect it's ability to hold water (yet). I bought it because it was beautiful and cost $.99 because of the blemishes. It will work just fine for me for now and was much cheaper than the other bowls I was oogling.

* I got out into the garden a few days to just be. It's chilly now, so there isn't as much to do in the garden, but I still like looking at it.

* I avoided shopping as much as possible.
* We carpooled to work one day when our hours lined up to make it practical. Each time we do so, we save around $3 in gas since Trucker would otherwise be driving the gas guzzler truck.
* I drive the car to work and Trucker drives the truck (obviously...). His job is 5 miles from home and mine is 15 miles. Since mine is farther away, I take the car since it gets 30+ mpg versus the truck's 10-12.

Waste Reduction:
* When we made bacon, I refilled my bacon fat jar. Bacon fat is the most flavorful, delicious cooking fat I have ever used, and it's free (since it would otherwise be thrown away).
* Composted as much as possible.
* Used apple cores to make apple core sauce.

* I packed meals for work and drank free coffee in the break room.
* I just received my paperwork to sign up for benefits at the new job. There is a generous employer match for the 401k and I plan to put away as much as they will match. Free money.
* Trucker got free food from his job. When items are about to expire, he is allowed to take them home. We get sandwiches, scones, cookies, bagels and desserts this way. Rarely we'll get yogurt, juice or other items. His boss is fine with this and he shares with his coworkers.
* My new job involves a fair amount of heavy lifting-not so much that I'm in constant pain, but enough that I have noticed a lot more toning in my arms and stomach. Can't beat an active job to get you fit without the gym!
* Steve's boss allows me to drink free coffee when I stop in (it would be tossed out anyway). A couple of evenings I went in for writing or reading and drank a free cup of coffee. I bring my travel mug so I don't cost him the cup/sleeve/lid.

* Put a few jars of dehydrated food away for winter.

What did you do this week?

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