Tennesseetransitions


Frugal Friday and An Environmental Disaster
April 22, 2016, 10:55 PM
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Michael and I, along with my best friend, have just returned on from a 12-day trip to California. We don’t travel much, but this trip made me realize that travel is expensive, not only in terms of money but also in terms of energy use (both human and fossil fueled) and making concessions about my own values. I thought I’d share some extraordinary frugal things we did to make this ‘cross country trip more affordable, as well as some things that were incredibly expensive in terms of harm to the earth.

The friend that went with us has a close elderly friend that is no longer able to travel, after many years of doing so extensively. When she heard that we were wanting to make this trip she insisted we use her ‘frequent flyer miles’ to pay for the tickets. There were just enough miles to pay for our three round-trip tickets (by flying mid-week) so the most expensive part of the trip didn’t cost us a dime! We did however have to pay that very unfrugal $25 per checked bag (or $35 for each traveler’s second bag) but we worked it to our advantage by checking Michael’s best friend (his banjo) and packing around the instrument in the case with all his underwear and tee shirts! I also checked one suitcase, sharing it with him for the rest of his personal things. My friend and I then shared a second case, for a total cost of only $50 for all 3 of us. We were also allowed one free carry on bag as well as a laptop, purse or backpack  I layered my laptop amongst the safety of the clothing in the checked bag, which left plenty of room in my carry-on for all that I wanted to take. But here’s what we learned: if the flights are full (and they all were, both ways) the airlines ask you to voluntarily check your carry-on bags, compliments of the airlines.  We simply transferred meds, snacks and immediate needs items to our backpacks and never had to worry about hauling those carry on bags from gate to gate during layovers. Then, when we arrived at our final destination our luggage was among the first off and corralled together, both checked and unchecked. Sweet!

About those snacks: we stayed in a hotel the first night we arrived and the night before we left, saving a full $20 each night by booking ahead on line. I saw the online price of $99, but called to reserve the room and was told it was $119. So I politely declined and booked thru the website. The wonderful accommodations there included a full breakfast, with fresh fruits and bagels, along with waffles, etc. We ate our fill in the hotel breakfast room quite early both mornings, and then took the liberty of taking a piece of fruit and a bagel with us, which we enjoyed mid-flight much later in the morning. That held us over until an early dinner time both days. Upshot being we only had to purchase one meal on those travel days. Was that dishonest to take the fruit? I didn’t see any signage against it, and the breakfast room attendant didn’t say a word, so I think not. Michael and I also learned that to share a cup of airport coffee was much cheaper than buying two individual cups- only 50 cents more for the very large cup. Savings on airport coffee alone: $4.20.

It turns out those hotel stays were a bonus too: about 6 weeks ago we had paid a $600 medical bill that the hospital had insisted our insurance had refused to cover. Two weeks before the trip, we received a $600 limit debit card in the mail from them, saying a mistake had been made and they were reimbursing us because we had ‘overpaid’. What a travel bonus that was! We paid for the two nights in the hotel, many many of our meals and more with that card and came home with $150 still on it! To make this trip even more unbelievably affordable, we cashed in our accumulated credit card ‘points’ to completely cover the cost for 12 days rental on a brand new Toyota Corolla and we cashed in our the coins from our ‘savings pot’ and got $234.40 before we left (making sure to take the coins to our bank for free counting, rather than to a counting machine that is handier but charges 10% of the total, saving us $23.44 in the deal! 

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OK, now the negatives of our travel: Trash. Aluminum cans. Paper. Styrofoam. Plastic. Compostables. Times 100! I’ve recycled and composted and avoided these items for so long that it’s become second nature to do so; it was with great distress that I threw away more of this crap than I want to admit. Michael and I had also forgotten to bring our personal water bottles, but I finally broke down and bought a cheap one that at least stopped the constant flow of disposable water receptacles. But the trash we participated in generating was nothing compared to the environmental degradation that was caused by our flights! I’m going to have to give a great deal of thought now to ever flying again. I want very much to travel to Cuba in the future though and I’ve learned that now you can take a ferry from Miami to Havana, so if I go, I’ll likely rent a Prius and drive to Miami, then take the ferry. That sure won’t work for any other country so that’s why I’ll have to do some major soul searching about it. No matter where or how I travel in the future though,  I’ll always remember to take my own water bottle, as well as a personal tea/coffee mug too so I wouldn’t be forced to use disposable ones again. Add to this short list my own spork  and a cloth shopping bag. After a short while there, I did begin refusing all plastic bags, and just carried my items open handed to the car. We bought post cards each day, filled them out and mailed them on the spot to loved ones with stamps I’d purchased beforehand. This offered the impact of a little hand written souvenir, as we had no room in  our suitcases for much more than we came with anyway.  We did share towels and shampoo, soaps and everything else we could think of but I’m not kidding myself thinking that this trip wasn’t a personal environmental disaster.

So there you have it…our travel was lean on money but high on environmental costs. We had a fabulous time, took lots of pictures, and made life time memories. But I personally took note of our country full of trash, waste, homelessness, poverty and massive traffic jams as well. My hope is that this post will serve to remind you to plan ahead for the every day things we use at home that you can take along when you travel to make it less wasteful. Consider driving or a slow boat to China too, okay? From the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream Waters, Happy Earth Day.

big trees



Every Day is Earth Day

April 22nd is Earth Day. hooray. I’m very happy we have that one internationally-recognized day a year to celebrate this beautiful blue planet, but we simply cannot continue to honor our mother only once every 365 days.  The well-respected ‘science guy’, Bill Nye recently said,” We must engage  political hopefuls and elected officials on the topic of global warming.”  I say, we must also support our farmers and learn to eat a sustainable, diversified diet of foods (and medicines!) grown within our local regions. We must commit to a near zero waste lifestyle, while learning to reuse and repurpose everything that comes through our lives. We must support alternative energies, even if they are in our backyards. We simply must clean up our act and take better care of our earthly home.

To that end, I have been thinking about ways we can make the needed changes, going beyond the same old advice about carrying our own shopping bags and changing our light bulbs. By the way, compact florescent bulbs are now ‘old’ technology and have been replaced by LED bulbs in both output and energy usage. Check them out. (While  you’re at it, turn the lights off when you leave a room if you didn’t learn that in third grade.) Buying our way out of hard to solve problems is not the answer but if you are going to buy bulbs anyway, please consider LEDs next time. Or better yet, set up a small solar panel on the tool shed and expand your array as you can afford it.

I think what started out as a post about planning and planting our gardens this spring made me realize how even the choices we make there are important in terms of how we treat the earth. Do  you rotate the things you grow every other year or two, giving your soil a chance to rebuild it’s microbiological life and replenish  what was taken from it the year before? Are you using at least some open pollinated seeds so that the seeds can be saved from your best plants year to year? Are  you improving your soil by continuously making and adding compost, growing cover crops, or adding worm castings? Is your water supply for your garden sustainable? Are you capturing rainwater and using thick mulches to avoid evaporation and weeds growing? Growing food without the inputs of commercial chemicals, fertilizers and hybrid seeds is the best way to grow healthy food that doesn’t cost you-and the earth-an arm and a leg. 

In the fall of 2014 when I was pulling up a spent tomato plant I discovered what looked to be evidence of root knot nematode damage. I took a picture of the tomato root and emailed it to my county extension agent and he diagnosed it. I spent the winter reading all I could about the soil pest and ended up planting the whole bed last summer to a special French marigold that was touted as THE best for helping to eliminate it…

MUMS

Commercial nematicides are very toxic and very expensive but this package of seeds-with shipping-was less than $5.00. I stored the extra seeds wrapped tightly in my deep freezer in case I have more problems in the future. You can see from the picture what a beautiful solution it was!

Here’s another example of ways to solve a problem using what you have on hand: I run vinegar through my coffee pot on the first of each month to keep hard water deposits from building up inside of it. Once it’s run through, I pour the HOT vinegar on weeds. This picture was taken just 20 hours after the pour.

Vinegar Weeds

The hot vinegar works just as well as a toxic weedkiller and would’ve been ‘wasted’ had I just dumped it down the kitchen sink. Once I run the vinegar through, I follow that with a potful of plain water  to remove all traces of it. I use that quart of hot water to pour down my bathtub drain where it promptly melts accumulated soap and keeps the drain running smoothly. Those weeds are dead. No chemicals used, and I solved two problems with one stone. Just sayin’…

Today I transplanted some of my early veggie starts  into larger pots so that they can grow more freely until it’s time to plant them in the garden. The pots and trays have been reused many times over, and the ‘potting soil’ is some of our fine crumbly compost made from household and yard wastes. Absolutely nothing was purchased new to provide us with another season of healthy, delicious organic veggies. I even collect rainwater for watering them since I don’t like the idea of adding fluoride to my broccoli! 

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All of this is simply to say:

listen to your mom

 

One final thought I’d like you to think about: “There is no ‘away’, as in “Throw it away“. Every day is Earth Day!

 



More on ‘Bringing It Home’

I have finally finished my major chemo treatments (although I may need some ‘follow ups’ using only one chemical, rather than a full Malotov cocktail) later this spring. My energy levels are somewhat better now and I’m looking forward to a trip to California next month and continuing my 10th year as the coordinator for my local community garden during this growing season. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I know my posts have been pretty spotty for the last 6 months but I hope that now I can begin to do more regular writing and living  again. So don’t give up on me yet…

It’s sometimes hard to come up with a topic that fits into the context of “Tennessee Transitions” that will make a full blown post, but this one will be proof that a variety of things are sometimes needed to share ideas with you that only need a photo or a tag line to get the message across.

Regular readers know that I’m absolutely convinced that the best way we can begin to transition to a way of life that is based on lower consumption of energy, goods, and money begins right at home and spreads out to our neighbors and community. Eating local and regional foods, supporting local businesses, and using localized energy supplies can go a very long way towards making our lives more self resilient. I believe our country is still in a very precarious position in this world and the more we can learn to do to ‘bring it home’ to our communities and neighborhoods the better off we’ll be.

Let me share some more examples I’ve noticed in my own community since my last post on the subject…

local company

The small print on the front window of our newest downtown store says “An Appalachian Artisan Emporium: Locally & Responsibly Produced Art, Crafts, & Goods”. Sounds good huh? Michael and I walked down to check it out for the first time recently and it’s a beautiful, classy place with very reasonable prices. We saw everything from hot sauces to jewelry to guitars all made right.here. No need to go anywhere else in town for a gift item or even for my one little luxury of a bar of home made soap! There was music being played on the store system that had been recorded by local musicians’ while we shopped, making for a very nice atmosphere, with the owner being personable and knowledgeable about every product on hand! These are exactly the kinds of businesses that our city is crying out for. Keepin’ our money local helps us all. There was another couple shopping there, filling a hand-made basket with small locally made gifts to present to expected out of town company. They were very pleased with their choices, as I’m sure the recipient was too.

It’s also spring gardening season around here-my greens and peas are up but the potatoes haven’t shown their furry heads yet. A friend had ordered 1500 ladybugs to release on her house plants that were covered with aphids. She found out she only needed about 30 or so to get the job done so I exchanged a handful of live ladybugs for my greenhouse starts (which always seem to get aphids too) for a supper of homemade soup and a thick slice of sourdough bread. We’re both happy and most of the ladybugs are still hanging around a few days later…some have died but we think they were D.O.A. anyway.

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Sharing our extras (even BUGS or soup) is another great way to support your community!

Michael’s birthday was Saturday so we decided to celebrate at a-you guessed it-locally owned restaurant, rather than at one  of the many chains that line the city. The Thai food was excellent, as was the service. There were 21 of us that took up most of their pushed-together tables, but we had such a good time…

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The owners of this place let us bring in our own birthday cake after the meal -unfortunately ordered from Krogers. The cake was just okay, but was a last minute thought on my part or I would’ve certainly purchased it from a local bakery. Next time…

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Later, friends enjoyed locally crafted beer while listening to a local Celtic band at a locally-owned coffee house. No Starbucks for this crowd!

With just this one birthday event, a lot of local dollars were spent and kept in our community. I love the diversity that our local restaurants, bakeries, coffee houses and shoppes provide.

Today’s newspaper carried the following article on another new locally based company. THIS is just a fabulous idea and one I hope will gain a lot of support. I’ve provided a link here to the newspaper article about this innovative approach to what I hope will become the future of municipal-wide composting instead of landfilling…

http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/Environment/2016/03/22/Johnson-City-teacher-opens-area-s-first-fully-permitted-solar-powered-composting-facility.html?ci=content&lp=&p=1

All this is to say, it simply takes a small but conscious effort on YOUR part to shop locally. Rather than pointing  you to yet another link, I’ll quote directly from my ‘About’ page  on this blog: “If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community and personal well-being.”



I Swear It’s Not Too Late

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365 days in a year. That’s a pretty big block of time you know. Just because you were too tired, busy, or hung over to make some resolutions on New Year’s Day doesn’t mean that less than two weeks later, on this second Monday of the new year, that it’s too late. And you know what? Even if you DID manage to resolve to lose 20 pounds or quit smoking or to stop biting your nails, you can work on those resolutions AND resolve to begin the transition to a way of life that is more outwardly simple yet inwardly rich. Talk about PEACE in the new year! I swear it’s not too late.

Where to begin? Before we get into the how’s, let’s consider the why’s first…

Do you have any debt? Do you depend on electricity or some other source of fossil fuel to heat your home and water, cook your food, or power your car, computer, lights and phone? Do you eat? Do you have good health? Do you have good healthcare? We all deal with these issues and many more in our lives, and chances are, we won’t be able to resolve all of them in 2015, but what we can do is to set aside time to put into learning skills that may prove useful, particularly in a long emergency, a crisis or even a grid down situation. (You’re not still holding on to that same, tired argument that ‘it can’t happen to me’ are you?)

 It’s common knowledge that modern grocery stores have approximately a three day supply of food before their shelves are empty. From storms to truckers’ strikes, the nation’s food supply is precarious. It’s also common knowledge that honeybees are responsible for every third bite of food we take. From colony collapse disorder to mites, beekeepers are worried about the future of their hives and our food supply. We are also aware that our new Republican-led Congress is going to do everything in their power to prevent immigrants from entering the United States (who will work in our farmer’s fields?), repeal Obama Care and approve the Keystone pipeline. And that’s just this week. Do we really need any more reasons to begin our personal transition to a better way of life that is not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being?

OK, so I’ve convinced you. Now what? Just like with any other big project, you’ll need to take small steps. If food insecurity concerns you, start a compost pile.Today. Put all your kitchen scraps and yard waste in a bin or corner of your yard, and with no help from you, eventually they’ll become rich compost that you can then use to grow something that you love to eat fresh! If personal health issues concern you, see the same advice above…we are what we eat after all, and healthy bodies begin with healthy food. Now, when spring arrives, plant some fruit trees or bushes. They will take several years to produce fruit, and in the meantime you can still be working on resisting biting your nails or getting organized. The activities of planting and taking care of your new fruit or nut trees and your compost pile will improve your health tremendously.

Are you concerned about job security? Why not learn a new skill that would provide you with a new career that could support you in a collapsed economy? Making moonshine comes to mind, as does training to become a knowledgeable herbal medicinalist, firewood or biodiesel supplier, small engine or bicycle repairman or computer repair person. Solar installers, bakers, gardeners, beekeepers, soapmakers and seamstresses do too. You get the idea. All of these ‘second careers’ take time to develop and perfect, but remember, you’ve still got 323 days left of this year alone! And if the economy doesn’t collapse? Great! You’ll still have more money, better health and barterable skills to use. I’ll trade you some of my honey for some of your soap. I’ll trade you some of my corn for some of your moonshine too 🙂 .

If financial insecurity is your yoke to bear, get out of debt. Completely. That way, if you lose your job, you’ll be able to live off the  unemployment checks you’ll receive while you look for another. Maybe you can use the time you’re not looking for ‘a job’ to work on those skills we discussed above. And if you don’t lose your job? Great! Getting out of debt will then enable you to start putting more money into your retirement fund and savings. Just one more car payment? Continue paying that same amount each month to your credit cards or other obligations, then learn to pay cash for everything. It’s the most liberating action you can possibly take to blow your world wide open and allow you to have options available in your life that may not have ever been open to you before. Ask me how I know. The quiet peace of being financially stable and having a source of healthy food is actually deafening at times.

To everything there is a season. THIS is the time for us to collectively plan and act early enough so that we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. I swear it’s not too late.



Frugal Friday- November 21, 2014

I’ve had a fairly busy, productive week, but have nothing scheduled for the next three days: time in which I intend to do some long awaited sewing repairs and try some new recipes. If I waited for ‘things to slow down’ or for ‘a better time’ to get serious about “using it up, wearing it out, making it do, or doing without” it would never happen. Using the resources I have available to me wisely is simply part-of-my-daily-life, and enables me to live more sustainably, more economically, and to be a better steward of the little piece of Earth that I’m responsible for. This week was no different from many, except that I am trying to keep my grocery bills down as much as possible this month since I’ve got a family birthday dinner to prepare next week, as well as the Thanksgiving feast to contribute to, neither of which I intend to scrimp on.

Monday: I had the city deliver a load of clean, dry shredded leaves to my backyard. We use them for layering with ‘greens’ in the compost bins, for mulch around everything and as a soil amendment in our heavy clay soil when preparing new beds. They’re delivered free, and this year I had the load dumped right on top of an old tree stump where the grassy slope makes it hard to cut around! I’m hoping by the time we get to the bottom of the pile next fall that the grass around the stump will be dead and we can then easily convert that area to something beautiful and food-producing. Savings: priceless

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 Tuesday:  In our efforts to keep food costs lower this month, and because we love soup in cold weather, we gladly used the small turkey carcass we were left with after a potluck meal we’d attended on Saturday night to make a pot of turkey/potato soup. Michael spent this cold day in the kitchen simmering it along with a couple of loaves of homemade bread, made using bread flour and yeast both bought in bulk. The only new expense was for fresh celery, which I bought on sale for 88 cents, since we already had the carrots, onions and herbs for seasoning growing in the garden. This pot o’ soup made six generous servings, and with the bread, we figure those meals cost us about 25 cents each It was delicious, healthy and warmed our bellies and the kitchen on a cold day. Savings: Panera Bread Company sells large bowls of chicken noodle soup w/celery and carrots for $3.99, with a slice of bread and a loud TV included in the price. Comparing that, six of their meals would’ve cost us $24.00. OUR soup meals include unlimited bread and free WiFi. Just sayin’…

Wednesday: I harvested four mature cabbages, a bushel of kale, and a ton of onions from my garden beds before the deep freeze hit. Then I covered the plots with hoops and plastic for the remainder of the winter. This is the third year I’ve used the same sheets of plastic and they’re in good shape because I wash, dry and store them away as soon as the weather warms, in order to get more use out their ‘made-from-oil’ life. (under that tunnel is broccoli, kale, chard, lettuces, spinach and more onions…all just waiting in cold storage to be harvested.)

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Thursday: I had some cooked rice, fresh snow peas, ginger, broccoli, carrots, peppers and more that needed to be used up. Stir fry to the rescue! I used up some left-from-summer Sesame-Ginger ‘grilling sauce’ that I’d bought at the discount grocery in this mix, and we loved it for supper and again for lunch on Friday.

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Friday: The bag I keep in the freezer for onion, celery and carrot tops was full and I was out of my homemade veggie broth, so…

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Quarts of organic vegetable broth at most any grocery store are $3.00 each. It’s a great way to use up something that would otherwise be thrown away, and after it’s simmered for a couple hours, the broth is strained and the softened, cooled veggies are given to the neighbor’s chickens as a treat. Savings: $21 since I use reusable canning lids on my jars, and add home grown herbs for flavor. I like saving that kind of money,  and I like knowing what’s in my food, don’t you?



Growing Community (in Our Gardens)

I’ve only lived in this urban area for a bit over two years, but I’m definitely feeling the connections again that I once had with our land at our previous home, which was out in the country. But out there, I only felt a connection with our couple of acres, since there were few personal relationships with others in the area. It seemed to me that those ‘country folks’ that had been a part of that rural area for decades…attending their churches and schools, naming the roads after themselves (true, that), working their land and raising their horses… just weren’t much interested in interacting with ‘new folks’ like us.

After rather unsuccessfully trying to be a part of that community for over ten years, we decided that we might find more of what we were looking for by living in town, so here we are. It’s been a transition for sure-I’m still shocked when an ambulance or fire truck goes wailing by- but overall it’s been a positive experience for us. As I’ve worked these last few weeks in my raised beds in the backyard, and in my plot at the nearby community garden, preparing them for the inevitable sleep that’s soon to come, I’m feeling a sense of belonging again, and a sense of place. I like that feeling of connection and I hold it sacred. Now here’s the thing that’s been going through my mind as I work: A sacred way of life connects us to the people and places around us. That means that a sacred economy must be in large part a local economy, in which we have multidimensional, personal relationships with the land and people who meet our needs, and whose needs are met in turn.

Gardening is like my own personal local economy, employing the same give and take techniques I use with my neighbors and community. I give the soil what it needs to produce, then take what I need for sustenance. After feeding us so well, beginning with fresh peas in April clear through to the  almost-ready beds of plump cabbages and jeweled greens that are growing there now, I feel compelled to give back somehow.

To that end, I spent last Saturday with community gardeners planting a mini fruit orchard. Together we planted cherry, plum and apple trees, along with blueberries and grapes. The work was hard but we’ll all be rewarded with abundant organic fruit eventually. And while those trees grow, we’re growing our community too…

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I think it’s an act of courage to plant a fruit tree…essentially you’re saying to the Universe that you intend to be around to take care of it for years to come. After the weekend of communal spirit, I have lovingly planted blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and Japanese maples in my own yard this week, and can’t wait to see them grow and prosper. Yes, lovingly. I fed my now-depleted soils with well-aged compost that we’ve been tending all summer, and amended that with a truckload of alpaca manure…

20141028_141359[1] …then planted a green manure cover crop to the raised beds..

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and carefully tucked the new trees and berries in for winter with a quilt of pine straw…

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Everyone contributed to my little personal place: the Earth, with her natural abundance of grass clippings, leaves and trees, a friend that was happy to see the pine straw raked off her grass, the funny and furry alpacas that unknowingly contributed their poops- even the city crews that deliver shredded leaves to my yard!  So, my garden has become a community effort.  In turn, I share my garden abundance with my daughter, who lives on disability and is  always ‘food insecure’, and my community.  It’s local. It’s shared. It’s sacred. Just sayin’…

 

 



What’s growin’ on?

 Between four fun road trips with my best friend this summer…

20140831_120953[1]and several fun gigs with our band…

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…as well as not-so-fun computer problems, home decorating projects and now end-of-summer gardening chores, I’ve accepted the fact that I just don’t have as much time to write in the summer as I do during the cooler months. I love the change of seasons, but I am especially looking forward to the slow-down of autumn this year. Our garden has been wildly productive, and that’s the good news. Really. But I’m one of those people that can’t bear to let food go to waste, especially when I’ve worked hard to grow it, and this wildly productive garden has put pressure on me to DO SOMETHING with it all. I’ve given it to friends and strangers…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve canned it, frozen it, dried it, eaten it and delivered it…

20140728_115524[1]I’ve stored it under the beds and dressers, in the pantry and now the butternuts will join the potatoes, garlic, onions, beets and carrots in the root cellar…

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…and still, it continues. At this writing, I’ve cleared out practically everything I had growing in my plot at the community garden, have amended the tired soil there with many wheelbarrows of our home-made compost and the last of the shredded leaves that the city delivered to us last fall, and ‘put it to bed’ for the upcoming winter with a warm blanket of scarlet clover. But! I couldn’t resist buying some cool season transplants of cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and set them out this week in a little empty row I found. Since I didn’t have the time it would’ve taken to start them from seeds, it seemed a good choice this year. They won’t produce for a couple of months, but even now, we still have an abundance of fresh food!  There’s still LOTS of Swiss chard, with spinach and kale comin’ on strong…

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The storage onions and sweet bell peppers are finished, but the late onions and hot peppers will keep coming ’til frost. I’m canning lots of hot pepper jelly for hostess and gift giving. This stuff ROCKS with cream cheese and crackers!

pepper jelly

The cherry tomatoes still fill our salad bowls each evening at supper, along with the take-a-chance-romaine that I thought wouldn’t produce in such hot weather-surprise! There are still fresh mints, herbs, parsley and basil, and with cooler weather my self-seeding cilantro patches have reappeared-just in time to add to the final bowls of fresh salsa or pico de gallo that we love with to eat with black beans and rice…

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August-planted beets and carrots have joined the parsnips and will be mulched with more leaves once they’re all full sized, then finally! garlic will join them in their warm bed come early November. THEN maybe I can get back to writing more regularly here. I have a whole page of ideas that I think are worth sharing with you; ideas about redefining prosperity, batch cooking, Little Free Libraries, worm bins, wildcrafting, herbal helpers, Transition Towns, and much more-all small stories about big change. BUT!  if we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. It is time to take stock and to re-create our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil (and gas) but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. Stay with me as we grow together!

happy fall ya'll

 



Eating Humble Pie- June 27, 2014
June 27, 2014, 11:02 PM
Filed under: Frugality | Tags: , , , , , ,

I have simply been too busy during the day, and too tired at night, to post to my blog this week. That makes me kinda sad because I really enjoy the thinking, researching, picture-taking and writing that a decent post requires of me. Too bad THIS post isn’t one of those 😉 But in between the morning spent cutting grass and helping the ‘women in rehab’ in their community garden plot, and the preparing for friends-for-supper-and-drum-circle this evening, I’ll just write a quick, down-and-dirty Frugal Friday post. Regardless of how busy I get, how tired I am or what’s going on in my daily life, frugality isn’t one of those things that I need to research and think about. It’s simply something I do each day, like brushing my teeth. Because our garden is producing regularly now it’s requiring a fair amount of attention, but the pay-off of course is all the fresh organic food we’re harvesting every day. Of course THAT means cooking, preserving and eating it every day too. So, this week’s frugal focus was on food:

Monday: One of the community gardeners put up a unique plant support over the weekend and so I took a picture of his wire shelf turned on end. He is from Thailand. I have noticed over the years of communal gardening that those gardeners that hail from other countries like Russia, Africa, (and Thailand) are excellent scavengers, recyclers and repurposers (is that a word?). The lady from Russia brought her family’s heirloom Russian potato seeds with her when she came to this country and because her yard is too shady to grow there, she sought out a spot in the community garden to allow her to perpetuate her heritage and to grow things like fava beans and artichokes and other strange-to-me veggies. She uses styrofoam meat trays that she cuts into strips and writes on for plant markers, pallet wood for her paths between beds and fallen shrubby sticks for pea and bean supports. She grows bamboo in her shady yard and uses the as tomato stakes. The gardener from Africa several years ago had the prettiest garden you’ve ever laid eyes on, using similar ‘found’ props and techniques. The fellow that has propped up his squash with the wire shelf so it doesn’t get struck by the string trimmers, stops at Starbucks on his way home from work every night  to pick up a supply of spent coffee grounds that he adds to his beds and compost bins, and made unique flea beetle protectors for his eggplants out of plastic jugs that had the bottoms cut off and fine screening stapled to the top. Here’s his ‘trellis’:

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The point here is that those of us here in the United States use far more resources than any other country on Earth and whenever I’m feeling smug about being frugal all I have to do is look at the garden plots belonging to those ‘other countries’ to eat a slice of humble pie. I suspect I’ll be learning lots of lessons from these folks during their time in the community garden. Savings? PRICELESS!

Tuesday: Michael and I harvested our potatoes today, promptly adding home made compost and more of the free shredded leaves that our city delivers to us each fall back to the plot, before replanting it with more beans and squash. We grew 43 pounds of organic Yukon Golds in 40 square feet of soil. The moldy straw that was given to me free, and that we used to ‘hill’ around the ‘tater plants was then moved to the path to top off the cardboard we’d laid there for weed suppression. Using the straw for two purposes (actually three, since it will eventually end up as compost) makes me happy. 43 pounds of potatoes in my currently rat-free cellar make me even happier. I just called Earth Fare, my favorite, and closest, healthy food store to check on the price of their organic Yukons. 5 lb bags are selling for $6.99 and individual pounds are selling for $2.29 lb. I’ve done the math: With sales tax, my 43 lbs would’ve cost me $68.35 there. My seed potatoes cost me about $3, and a very pleasant hour planting them one spring morning back  in April. Savings: $65! 

 

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Wednesday:  We went to a luncheon/meeting of our local Community Partnerships group this day. The catered meal was excellent and the plasticware we used to eat with was very high quality (ok, it was almost as nice as my everyday silverware!) so I wrapped up the six pieces that Michael and I had used, tucked them into my purse, and brought them home to wash. I added it to my ‘stash’ of used-just-once plastic ware that I keep with my emergency preps, along with a stack of paper plates and napkins. If the water is ever shut off because of overwhelmed city storm drains ( a real possibility in my town) I just use it and toss it rather than worrying about washing dishes in such a situation. We also take the stash camping and to potlucks too so even though it’s still wasteful to use a disposable ANYTHING, at least they get a second or third or tenth life. But, eating another slice of humble pie here, (I’m getting rather full of it actually) a young mother and daughter that sat at our table not only brought their own water filled bottles, passing up the ubiquitous red plastic cups and sweet tea and disposable bottles of water, they also shared one of the rather large paper plates AND PASSED UP THE DESSERT ENTIRELY! (Now that’s taking things a little too far 😉  ) Savings: No monetary savings since I wouldn’t buy the plasticware anyway. The humble pie was free too.

Thursday: I’m always learning from, and sharing with, the other community gardeners. This week alone we gardeners shared bamboo stakes, seeds, extra plants, tools, energy and friendship. We were also given free soil tests by the owner of Downtown Farming who taught us about our soil’s microbacterial action at our monthly gardener’s meeting. (Thanks again Yancy!)  Savings? Priceless! 

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Friday:  Today I harvested  enough zucchini to serve tonights’ dinner guests stuffed zucchini boats and we enjoyed them along with roasted rosemary/garlic potatoes and cabbage cooked with bacon drippings. I also harvested the first big red onion, the last of the spring planted kale, a huge bag of swiss chard, beets, carrots and enough collards to feed a horse! I also cooked a big pot of collards mixed with sautéed onions and garlic, diced potatoes, black-eyed peas, a jar of home-canned tomatoes and then splashed it all with hot sauce. It was so good that Michael even liked it-and he’s not a collards lover like I am! I didn’t take a picture but you don’t even need a recipe for this dish. I managed to use up a tiny part of what you see here on my kitchen counter:

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Tonight after supper we went to the drum circle in our town’s newest park. It was a lot of fun and it made me kinda misty-eyed being there with good friends, in a beautiful park within walking distance of my home, realizing how FULL my life (and my refrigerator!) are.  If we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. Now is the time to take stock and to start re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being

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Here we go again…

Are  you sick of my posts about gardening? If so, just hit delete today, because it’s really all that’s on my mind during these long days of spring. I’ve got lots more good topics for transitioning lined up for the near future, some I can barely wait to share with you, but today, it’s all about gardening.

Before we get started on this though, a little personal history and philosophy might be in order. I’m a Tennessee Master Gardener and the coordinator of my city’s largest (to date) and oldest community garden, but I’m hoping that (at least!) a dozen more communal gardens will be surpassing our size in the near future. I feel that growing food is a life skill like no other. Gardening can offer resilience in the face of adversity, whether that’s due to climate change, skyrocketing food prices, personal money hardships, or food sensitivities. It builds self-sufficiency, enhances my sense of empowerment, and oh yeah, provides me with great-tasting and healthy food. My garden offers me a respite from a life filled with the blur of technology, stress and diversions and actually serves as my personal sanctuary when I go to kneel at its’ weedy altar. Oh yeah, did I mention it provides me with great-tasting food?

This post is simply my way of sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years with other gardeners that might be struggling to get their own pots and plots in good shape right now. There are lots of good gardening advice online, so if I don’t cover your question in this short post, you can find the answer somewhere on the world-wide web or in a good gardening book at the library. Or post your questions in the comments section at the end, maybe I’ll have an answer.

Q: How far apart should I plant my (fill in the blank)?

A: If you have rich soil that has adequate amounts of a plant’s needed nutrients, count on them growing well. Read that as large. Space accordingly. A big ole’ heirloom tomato plant that’s growing in a well-maintained raised bed that’s filled with rich homemade compost and lots of organic matter can easily grow to 3′ wide and 6′ tall! If your soil isn’t so good, it won’t grow that large and  you might get by with spacing them 18″ apart. I’ve seen gardeners that plant tomatoes and peppers 3-4″ apart! I apologize for the quality of this bad picture, but I want you to look closely at this: there are twelve, count them, TWELVE tomato plants in that little bitty bed!

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The spacing in my cabbage patch shown below is good on the left side with four plants, but too close on the right, which has five plants and shows the fourth one almost lost! These were ‘early’ small cabbages. Had they been a later, heavier variety, I would’ve only planted one row of them down the middle.

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Tomatoes and squash like a lot of air circulation, as that keeps many of the diseases that they’re susceptible to at bay.  Try to visualize a full-grown August tomato plant when considering how far apart to set them out. However, if we’re talking about carrots, go with 1″ apart thinning to 2″ when they’re up and recognizable. Squash on the other hand need 2-3′ all around to produce well.  These next two pics show how much room I give them. Both beds will be completely covered soon with the zucchini and yellow squash vines! You’ve got to visualize how big the mature plants will be!

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Like carrots, green beans and peas are planted closely, about 2″ apart, again, depending on the variety you’re planting. Read the back of the seed package if all else fails. If your seeds are old, plant thicker than normal, and if they all come up, just thin to an appropriate distance apart. In the pic below, the beans were planted 2″ apart, but birds and rabbits have done a pretty good job of ‘thinning’ for me.

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The sugar snap peas below were planted very closely around the edges of a square bed and as  you can see are flowering well now. I set the tomato cage in the center for the peas to be supported by, knowing that by the time the tomato needs the space, the peas will be history. Once the tomato fills the cage and is growing well, I’ll plant basil around the edges where the peas were…these three are good companion plants because the tomatoes need a lot of nitrogen and the peas are ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants, which means they can literally pull it from the air and store it in the soil for use by the next crop. Basil and tomatoes are not only compatible when eaten together, the sharp smell of basil deters pests from the tomatoes when they’re grown together. How cool is THAT?

 

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Q: Why are my young plants turning purple?

A: Did you plant the purple variety?  Likely because your soil is low in phosphorus or because the soil temp is still too cool.

Q: Why are my plants turning yellow?

A: It’s usually caused by a nitrogen deficiency. Fish Emulsion is a good organic source of nitrogen. While young plants are growing feed every week, moving to every two weeks later in the season.

Q: Why do I have huge green plants but no broccoli heads?

A: Too much nitrogen is generally the cause of overgrowth with no fruit set.

Q: Nothing seems to be doing well this year

A: A simple test kit can go a long way towards helping you decide what your garden soil needs or doesn’t. Even though they’re inexpensive, share the cost with a friend or neighbor or two. You generally only need to test once or twice to determine your soil’s Ph and then again after making any needed adjustments, but the kits have enough solution to do it over and over. If  your Ph isn’t in the correct range no matter how rich your soil is, the plant roots won’t be able to draw the nutrients from that soil to help them thrive.

As I’ve written all of this I realize that gardening is kind of like beekeeping… ask 10 people how to do something and you’ll get 10 different answers but maybe this will be of some help to you dear readers. I believe that growing and eating locally grown foods, in season, is the single best thing one can do to improve their health, their personal economy, and the environment. Plant something, ok?



Resilience Rocks

I write about resilience in this blog fairly often. I read or hear about extraordinary resilience among other people seeking their freedom through their own actions and get inspired. And as I seek resilience in my own life, I often feel as though I’m thriving, in an abundant and meaningful way. My household waste is minimal, and the inputs into my life seem to equal the outputs-some days. But I realize that every time I turn the key in my eco-friendly car, that so-called balance is destroyed. Every time I flip the switch on a compact fluorescent bulb I’m reliant on the electric company. Every time I eat fair trade, organic store-bought food, I’m reliant on a producer, and a truck and some oil somewhere along that long line. Every time I turn on the low-flow shower, I’m reliant on my water company, and rain, and God, and dams and waste water treatment plants. So how resilient am I, really? By myself, not very I’m afraid. Resilient communities are another matter altogether. They are the future. Communities that can supply food, water, energy and needed services are literally a detox for Western countries and are even being embraced in rural India as a way to help individual villages improve nutrition and food supplies, stop migration into large, crowded cities and improve quality of life.

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<———–Rooftop solar panels in Saudi Arabia!                        

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Chard and Sweet Potatoes growing in downtown Charleston, SC

 This NOT an impossible dream folks. I see evidence of transitioning taking place every week it seems, in one form or another. Author James Kunstler writes: “Much of America east of the Mississippi is full of towns that are waiting to be reused, with much of their original equipment intact. The lucky suburbanites will be the ones with the forethought to trade in their suburban McHouses for property in towns and small cities, and prepare for a vocational life doing something useful and practical on the small-scale, whether it’s publishing a newsletter, being a paramedic, or fixing bicycles.” 

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So, I traded in my suburban life for a country cabin and now for an urban lifestyle in this medium sized town I live in and love. “Prepare for something useful and practical on a small-scale?” I want to be the ‘Herb Lady’ in my neighborhood. You know, the person you’d go to if you had a headache, a toothache or an upset tummy and couldn’t get to, or afford to go to, a doctor. The sort of eclectic old sage you’d seek out for advice about how to treat a burn, a sore throat or iron-poor blood. I enjoy very much growing things, and have been learning about the many practical uses of apothecary herbs. We’re all familiar with the culinary herbs, but medicinal herbs, now that’s a whole other world! I’m going to start experimenting on myself, beginning with using rosemary to improve memory. As soon as I remember where I put it 😉

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 So, tell me, what are  you doing to become more resilient in  your personal life, or in your community? Are you working in community gardens, or planning biking trails? Is serving as a midwife or backyard mechanic  your thing? Is your town talking about a future based on local and small scale, rather than always bigger? I hope to have some super exciting news about resilience in my community to share with you very soon. In the meantime, please leave your own ideas and comments below. Inspire us all-please.




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