Tennesseetransitions


Bees and Peas and Worms- Oh My!

My days are once again revolving around the weather and the garden. I’d been waiting for the perfect night to relocate my growing bee colony to a more permanent place (from atop their temporary headquarters  on top of our camper!), and after several stings and some help from two strong women, the move seems to have been a success. Tuesday night was a full moon with no wind so it was as good as it gets.The little pollinators are now located in a private corner of my yard, surrounded by  copious amounts of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and blooming butterfly weed with a picket fence to keep curious dogs or kids at bay. I love my bees and my neighbors are  in complete agreement with me having them, so all is well. Thank you again City Commissioners for realizing the importance of honeybees and making them legal within our city limits. Next bee hive: the community garden of course!

It’s also ‘pea-pickin’ time in Tennessee’ and I’ve already picked three pounds of sweet, organic sugar snaps from my 4’x5′ bed, with a couple more pounds to come. That little space makes tremendous use of a discarded and inverted umbrella-style clothes line pole that we string with twine for the peas to twist up and around on. After the peas are finished, the plants are cut off so the nitrogen-fixing roots can continue to nourish the soil, the lightweight pole is folded up and stored underneath my tool shed until the next viney crop needs it, and the bed will be planted to Longkeeper Tomatoes for fall and winter eating. Not bad for 20 square feet of soil!

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In addition to my tower of peas, I saw another neat idea downtown today for a ‘tower of power’. What a great way to grow strawberries or greens in a small amount of space! The perforated pipe you see in the center has a removable cap, allowing the pipe to be filled with compostables, which the worms promptly draw into the surrounding soil, making nourishing castings in the process. The owner of this growing tower bought one like it and realized how easily he could make one himself…I saw the ‘store bought’ one too and it really didn’t look much different at all except the planting pockets were a little wider and he’s growing full sized kale and other greens in them. So, if you’ve got an extra plastic rain barrel laying around…

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Speaking of worms…my new-to-me worm bin has four levels, with a spigot at the bottom for drawing off ‘worm tea’ which I then feed to nearby plants. It fits in this out-of-the-way corner of my patio and I love the idea that the worms are constantly and quietly working to help me grow food, just like the bees…

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OK, so what do honeybees, worms and homemade growing towers have to do with transitioning? They’re all good examples of closed loop systems. Anytime you can create a closed loop system-that is, a system that creates no waste, you will find yourself one step closer to sustainability, a common theme that runs through many of this blog’s posts and is a central tenant of living a lifestyle that is NOT based on constant energy input. These are but three examples of closed loop systems right here on my little urban lot. Using rainbarrels, planting and growing food using open pollinated seeds, building compost bins or even tending a flock of hens that are able to thrive on food that you grow for them or where they have access to wild foods are more examples of closed loop systems. Solar panels and wood stoves that are fed with managed woodlot cuttings or blow downs are yet more examples. I even consider the food that I grow and can sort of a closed loop system since I save many seeds and then reuse the same canning jars and reusable lids year after year, as well as the canning water itself. 

It’s all part of  a simpler way of life that I find more satisfying and creative than one based on consumerism. I love the sense of freedom I have when being in charge of my life-even if just a small part of it- and find the challenges this ‘good life’ presents are far more pleasant than those that require paying for solutions. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s the journey, as much or more than the destination, that feeds my soul. I hope this blog provides you with food for thought as you seek ways to pilot your own ship. 

 

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Frugal Friday- May 6th, 2016

I’ve made the transition from country living to city living rather seamlessly. Four years ago we moved to a house “in town” that’s got a walkability score of 76, according to walkscore.com. I beg to differ, because I feel like it’s more like a 97, but I guess that’s just because I’ve tried to center my life around what’s close by: the library, coffee house, the park and our bank, to name a few things. We no longer eat at national chain restaurants that are all located in areas that aren’t walkable anyway, switching to smaller, locally-owned places that are close by (and are also willing to make substitutions when we request them, as well as having generally healthier choices.) So, if you have a good cuppa joe, a great book, and a dollar or two in your pocket, what else do you need? Bees, it turns out. I sold my hives and all my equipment to the buyer of our ‘country’ house but now that my city has passed an ordinance that allows beekeeping within the city limits, I can “have my cake and eat it too”.  

I set up my swarm trap on April 1st hoping to catch a swarm. It didn’t take long-I’ve eagerly watched my small swarm grow into a seemingly robust colony. This morning I hitched a ride with a friend to the beekeeping store (that’s out in the county-not walkable!) and noticed a sign there that said a new package of bees with a queen is selling for $135.00. I don’t have 3 pounds of bees yet but I will by summers’ end, so I figure I’ve saved about $100 already. Michael says keeping bees is akin to any expensive hobby like golfing or boating. Yes we could much more easily and economically buy honey than take care of our own hive, but my focus is really more on helping our pollinators, and that’s another story for another day.

Coming back to this week:

Monday: I’ve recently become aware of a new recycling center on the campus of ETSU that takes metals, including aluminum, as well as #1-7 plastics, plastic bags, cardboard and glass! It’s in  a location that’s quite easy for me to get to (there’s that walkability again) and I wanted to share this especially with my local peeps. I’ve been taking my metal cans to church, where a friend takes them home with her for recycling in her community. This isn’t necessarily a money saver for me, but it DOES offer me an alternative to taking my #5 plastics to Asheville. What’s that old saw? “Time is Money?” That may  be true too, but saving plastic from landfulls (my new word) is priceless! It ain’t much to look at but here it is. All the receptacles are well labeled, making it easy. *Local Friends-message me for directions

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Tuesday: I had an old tote bag whose straps had broken so I stuffed it with an even older pillow and made it into a NEW pillow for my front porch!

peace tote

It’s made of a waterproof nylon, had a zipper opening AND matched the seat cushion. Repurposing is so much better than recycling. And funner too.

Wednesday: Went into a nearby thrift store and found something that I’m always looking for in such places, yet never find. OK not ever, because I DID find pyrex containers with tight lids. Retro for real. 99 cents each. No BPA.

glass jars

Thursday: Both of the free Japanese Maple tree seedlings that I scored at last year’s annual tree giveaway made it through their first winter and seem to be thriving this spring! I went back to this year’s giveaway and picked up another Japanese Maple sapling as well as a Redbud. Now both of them seem to have made it through their transitions after being planted and hopefully will thrive too. Potted Japanese Maples sell for about $50-$75 each and will soon be beautiful additions to my landscape. Savings for all four? About $175 I’d say!

Friday:  About 5 years ago I donated my Troybilt tiller to the community garden. It seems as though it needs constant repairs to keep it running smoothly and with little to no operating funds, those repair bills have been a challenge. If I’d only known that all I had to do was to formally donate the tiller by writing a handwritten letter stating that the tiller is now the property of the Parks and Rec Department, I could’ve saved our money and sanity in having ‘volunteers’ (that’s a misnomer if there ever was one!) conduct the repairs. Some changes in the department have put me in direct contact with the person in the know. As I write this, the tiller is being repaired at no cost to the gardeners by the city’s repair shop guys. I also went to pick up my personal Mantis tiller from the repair shop a few weeks ago and willingly paid the bill for having the carburetor rebuilt. After starting once, it wouldn’t start again so I took it back to the shop where they then told me it needed a new carburetor-another $59.95. I complained and they agreed to replace it for free. Savings: $59.95!

Just as a matter of course, I did a number of things this week that although none were spectacular or special, all helped me to keep more money in my bank account. I hung out clothes to dry instead of using the dryer, dried fresh herbs from my garden, added my shredded documents to my compost bin rather than bagging them and sending to the landfull, used my electric pressure cooker to make oatmeal for breakfast (3 minutes) and Katmandu Stew for supper (15 minutes), took a free yoga class at the park, and planted Roma beans that were given to me by a friend. Lowering my carbon footprint on the earth, saving energy, helping honeybees, eating and living a healthy lifestyle, growing my own food-PRICELESS!!!!

Remember: “Thrift is liberation rather than deprivation”.

Have a great weekend friends!



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!

 



Frugal Friday, February 26, 2016

I can hardly believe another week has gone by since I wrote last Friday but I’m hoping to pick up my own slack next week…I’ve already got several (hopefully) good ideas for posts percolating. This week has been a steady round of doctor visits and tests, along with 3x a week physical therapy on my wrist (which is responding very well!) Time away from home almost always involves spending more money, whether it be on fuel for the car or meals out and this week proved it.

 Monday: We got the first round of cool season things planted. These things transplant well and I’ll replant them every week to 10 days until it’s too warm for them. We didn’t have to buy any seeds at all because we had plenty left from last year and had stored them in jars in the freezer. Some were our own saved seeds from prior crops so the food produced from them will be absolutely free, and because the seeds saved were from our own ‘best of the best’ we can expect them to produce well in the same microclimate that they were produced in last year!

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I also direct seeded 2 more kinds of lettuce and spinach as well as cilantro in the greenhouse bed. I’m betting they sprout in a few more days. Nothing picture-worthy there until they’re up! I’m already dreaming of the fresh green stuff soon to come. Savings to come: priceless

Tuesday: The spray bottle that I use to mist the top of the soil while seeds are sprouting quit spraying so I soaked the sprayer part in hot, soapy water and that cleared it up! Savings: About $2, a trip to the store AND one less thing in the landfill.

Wednesday: Multiple back to back doctor appointments meant carrying ‘lunch’ with us. It needed to be something that didn’t create a mess, was filling and a decent substitute for a ‘real’ meal. We packed up our standard bagels, nuts, apples and water bottles  and it was healthy and didn’t cost us any out of pocket money. Savings for 2 lunches from the hospital cafe? $8-$10

Thursday: We ate out this night after a long day of appointments and errands. We walked 2 blocks to the locally owned “Wok and Habachi” restaurant and had a splendid meal with enough leftovers for our lunches the next day. I considered it money well spent since we were both tired and out of sorts, but to compensate a bit, I used two uncanceled stamps peeled off of mail I’ve received, shredded old documents and added the shreds to our too-wet compost pile, and planted a newly rooted start of a very hardy variety of Rosemary that had made it through our coldest weather back in December…

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Friday: We got our income taxes done today at the local community center for FREE. This is the one of the few benefits of being a ‘senior’ and by golly, I’m going to take advantage of it! Friends tell us they pay $75-150 to have their tax returns completed!

Michael is having more surgery on Monday and will be in the hospital for a few days but I’ll find ways to continue to save money, lower my ecological footprint and live well on less regardless of the circumstances. It’s just how we roll…

Have a great weekend!

 

 

 



Frugal Friday Feb. 19, 2016

This will be a quick post, just a ‘gentle reminder’ that it’s Friday again. If  you’re new to this blog, I like to reflect on the week just passed and then share some of the ways that I have found to keep money in my wallet. 

Monday: It’s seed-starting time so I bleached a bunch of our 4 pack cups saved over many years. Sterilizing them like this before each new use eliminates soil-borne bacteria or other disease transmitters to my new seedlings. Remnants remain of labels reminding me how old some of these carefully preserved cups are. Reusing over and over? Priceless!20160219_154347[1]

Tuesday: I caught a sale and was able to  buy three beautiful heads of cauliflower for 99 cents each. When life gives you cauliflower, USE IT! We enjoyed it once in Wild Rice Risotto with Butternut Squash and Cauliflower, and Red Pepper Kale from the garden on the side. We ate the second head in a Cheezy Cauliflower Soup that was delicious. I still have one head left that I plan to make a curry with tomorrow. Normal price: About $3.00 per head. Savings: about $6.00!

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Wednesday: I bought a book from Amazon that I’d read some time ago.  The library didn’t have it but it was one I wanted to keep to refer back to so I put it on my ‘wish list’ and waited for the price to drop. Did you know that if you put things there they’ll also let you know when the price has changed? It’s a hard back without a mark in it and with a nice dust cover for one cent plus $3.99 shipping, and the seller was in Tennessee, hopefully creating less of an environmental foot print than say, shipping from California or someplace ‘off’. I love buying used books but I won’t pay over $4 for them so sometimes I just have to be patient. Patience has rewarded me many times and is one of the key tenants to frugal living. Savings over original price: $9.00!

book

Thursday: Got the results back from my Radon test… the ‘safe limit’ is 4, our readings were only 1.7 so not having to pay for mitigation methods to remedy it saved us about $1,000. The test kit was Free.

Friday:  With today’s warm sunny weather I felt compelled to ‘get outside’ so I pruned my elderberry bushes before they break dormancy. I’m going to have to work harder at protecting the fruits from the birds this summer, and plan to try a reflective tape but would appreciate any other tips you know that work. Elderberry Wine and Syrup? Priceless!syrup

 



It Starts at Home

These mid-winter days offer me time to ponder the meaning of life, gaze lovingly at my navel, and cross long-carried-over-to-do-items off of my to-do-list. I’ve even cleared out my sewing basket which I think has been on the list for a year now!

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January was National Radon Awareness Month and since I have lung cancer I’ve been thinking a great deal about the dangers of RADON-a leading cause of lung cancer. So, I orRdered a free home test kit here:  https://tdec.tn.gov/Radon_Online/frmRADON_Online.aspx and I hung it for 6 days for testing, mailing it back to the state yesterday.

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It’s precise but simple, and did I mention it’s free? It also comes with a prepaid mailer to return it in! Now be aware…if you find  your home has radon, you’ll need to be prepared to remediate the problem if you plan to ever sell your home, or  you’ll have to at least disclose it should  you sell. But I would hope you wouldn’t wait to sell to alleviate the problem should  you show a high reading. I understand the average remedy costs about $1,000-$1,500 if someone else does the venting work necessary to move the radon out of  your living area. It could probably done much cheaper if you do it yourself. How hard can that be? haha don’t answer that, please.  I’ll let you know when I get my test results back..we’re hoping of course we don’t have any problems.

I’ve also been making lots of soups and canning soup stock, using frozen bags of onion and carrot tops, mushroom stems, celery tops and other trimmings that I save for just such purpose. Last week I made 10 qts of organic broth, and at today’s prices, that equates to at least $20. My time is certainly worth that, and on cold days it helps to warm the house and add humidity by simmering that stock for hours. The resulting golden goodness is good for making soups obviously, but also for cooking rice, pasta, potatoes or beans in too. 

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Speaking of good food and cooking from scratch… I’ve had so many readers ask me for vegan/vegetarian meal ideas that I’ve been writing down what we eat for supper each night, always making sure there’s enough left for lunches the following day. It’s an easy process once you get used to it. I’m sharing this oh-so-exciting information with you, my readers, because maybe you’re one of the ones that have asked for ideas. (If this bores you, just go to the next section.) So, for the first week of February, here was the Jones’ menu:

Week of February 1st,2016

Monday: Good Shepard’s Pie-potato topping made with soymilk and Smart Balance vegan spread-filling contained beans, broccoli, corn, kale, green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, bay leaf, dried basil, and srirachi sauce. (This is called GOOD Shepard’s Pie because a GOOD shepard doesn’t eat his sheep.)

Tuesday: Fried Rice w/peas and carrots in peanut sauce, roasted brussels sprouts

Wednesday: Aloo Gobi over Jasmine Rice with Fusion Slaw and Rolls

Thursday: Bean and Potatoes Burritos w/Guacamole, leftover Asian Slaw

Friday: Kale, Mushrooms and Potato Bake w/Salads and Whole Grain Rolls, fresh pineapple chunks

Saturday: Grill Cheese Sandwiches w/canned soup, with pickles and fresh fruit (bananas, pineapple and red grapes)

Sunday: Pad Thai w/Naan and Salad

Looking at the lengthening days and the calendar I’m beginning to think about spring planting of course. We ate our last Longkeeper tomato last week…

20160206_170333[1]...so the goal is to grow more of them and get them in earlier than we did in 2015 so that hopefully we’ll be able to grow enough this year to last the whole winter next year!  When planning  your own garden, perhaps you can find space to plant a “ROW” for the “Rest of the World.” Because I live in the city, all I have to do to share that extra produce is to set it out on my front steps.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If  you aren’t in a high walkability area you may need to load it up and take it to your nearest food pantry or church. Please consider this one little addition to your garden this year…it can make a big difference and won’t cost you much of anything to provide good food for someone who doesn’t have it.

I’ve long advocated that we use our homes as a place of productivity, not simply a center of consumption. There’s a LOT of trouble in this big world and so I feel compelled to do what I can personally to feed and clothe and keep my family as safe and healthy as I possibly can. I share this blog with you in the hopes that it may inspire you to become more self sufficient in any way you can too. It’s my unpaid job but more satisfying than any other position I’ve ever held. It helps me to feel as secure as I possibly can given the state of things. The stock market has crashed again (no surprise there) but since I’ve not been in good health we aren’t driving much (except to doctors’ appointments!) so we’re hardly spending anything on gasoline these days. I love that we can walk to almost every place we need to, giving me an extra layer of assurance that ‘all will be well’. I need that assurance in order to BE well.

In order to create resilient and prosperous households and neighborhoods, it starts at home with me, with you, and you. 



Eating Locally

On this snowy day, I’m recalling some recent conversations with friends asking what exactly am I eating that is fresh and local in this kind of weather? So, I made a list. I consider food that I grew last summer and preserved in some way fair game when making such a list but italicized them below so  you can tell what’s ‘fresh’ and what’s ‘preserved’. All grown or available right.here. 

Here’s what we’re eating these days: corn and corn meal, cilantro, tomatoes-yes, we’re still enjoying fresh Longkeeper tomatoes harvested in October-cabbage, broccoli, beets, parsnips, white potatoes and sweet potatoes, green beans, kale, parsley, herbs, butternut and spaghetti squash, pesto, salsa, dried beans, jams, V-8 and grape juices, peas, edamame, jams and jellies, honey, teas, hot sauces, salsa, flour and corn tortillas, corn bread and yeast bread, apple sauce, carrots, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, onions and garlic, molasses, and peppers and occasionally eggs, goat’s milk or goat cheese are given to me by friends. We also had fresh lettuce until just recently but the cold finally did it in, mostly due to our failure to protect it well. We enjoy stir fries, soups, pasta sauces, and one pot meals most of the time, occasionally splurging on a pizza from Main Street Pizza since they grow their own toppings on their nearby farm. There are lots of other local foods available that we occasionally enjoy but don’t grow ourselves-from  wheat for grinding into flour, to pumpkins, meats, cheeses, apples, pears and other fruits. I suppose most any food you might want can be found locally at some time of the year anyway! (OK, oranges and seafood excluded, but certainly some kinds of fish are available.) Rice, olive oil and spices are my main import exceptions, although rice is being grown in South Carolina now and I hope to buy from there this year. How far does ‘local’ go? That’s for you to define. Some say 100 miles, others feel 250 is still local. And why does eating local foods matter so much to me?

  1. Supports local farms: Buying local food keeps local farms healthy and creates local jobs at farms and in local food processing and distribution systems.
  2. Boosts local economy: Food dollars spent at local farms and food producers stay in the local economy, creating more jobs at other local businesses.
  3. Less travel: Local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases.
  4. Less waste: Because of the shorter distribution chains for local foods, less food is wasted in distribution, warehousing and merchandising.
  5. More freshness: Local food is fresher, healthier and tastes better, because it spends less time in transit from farm to plate, and therefore, loses fewer nutrients and incurs less spoilage.
  6. New and better flavors: When you commit to buy more local food, you’ll discover interesting new foods, tasty new ways to prepare food and a new appreciation of the pleasure of each season’s foods.
  7. Good for the soil: Local food encourages diversification of local agriculture, which reduces the reliance on monoculture—single crops grown over a wide area to the detriment of soils.
  8. Attracts tourists: Local foods promote agritourism—farmers’ markets and opportunities to visit farms and local food producers help draw tourists to a region.
  9. Preserves open space: Buying local food helps local farms survive and thrive, keeping land from being redeveloped into suburban sprawl.
  10. Builds more connected communities: Local foods create more vibrant communities by connecting people with the farmers and food producers who bring them healthy local foods. As customers of CSAs and farmers markets have discovered, they are great places to meet and connect with friends as well as farmers.

So, I’ve told  you what I’m eating these days and why. Now I’ll leave you with a little pictorial  of what we’ve been enjoying at my house…are  you eating any local foods that aren’t pictured here? Am I missing anything? 

 

 

 

 




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