Archive for the ‘Green and Frugal’ Category

Christmas GreetingsNaomi, the saver of all things old, had a box of very old Christmas cards that her grandmother had saved. (Yes the practice of saving things runs in her family).  Those might be worth something someday – Right?   Actually – Wrong.  On eBay similar old cards were listed for about $10/dozen, and nobody was bidding on them.  So, what does one do with all these very lovely and very old cards?

She came up with the idea of remaking them into Christmas cards for this year, and I must say that I am impressed.  She went to the local art store and bought a package of different colors of light weight cardstock, and set to work.  She appropriated the dining room table for the project. 

First she selects a card and trims it to a size that will fit into an available envelope.  (We also have an assortment of various sizes of envelopes collected from half used boxes of stationary, garage sales and who knows where else). 

She has a good quality paper cutter and an exacto knife that she uses for precise trimming.  I know there are other kinds of special sissors that people use, but these are the tools that we have on hand. The trimming also involves removing the signatures of the previous sender and any personal messages.  Then she selects a card stock to match, and artfully glues the old pictures to the new paper.  Usually she cuts the card stock so that it is slightly wider and a little more than twice as long as the picture.  Then she folds the cardstock neatly in half and glues the old picture on the front of the card. 

She sometimes trims up the old text from the inside of the old card and puts it in the new one.  Sometimes she matches the text with a different card.  Sometimes she just writes her own little sentiment inside the card.  She uses a white pencil to write on the darker card stock.

Part of the fun is reading the old cards, with the sweet personal notes inside.  These came from the era when written communication was very common and you can tell that often the senders of these cards put time and effort into selecting just the right card with just the right message.  It puts us in the mood to try to do the same thing.  So if you receive one of these hand made cards from us, know that it was made especially with you in mind.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New YearBest Wishes for Christmas and the New Year

Merry Christmas


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Easy Sauerkraut


I just used up the last of  the sauerkraut from last year’s batch, so it is time to make more.  Here is the recipe.

Makes 1 quart
From Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon – New Trends Publishing 2001

1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded, reserve the core and a couple of outer leaves.
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds
1 Tablespoon sea salt
4  Tablespoons of whey* (If whey is not available add an extra Tablespoon of salt)

Mix cabbage with caraway seeds, sea salt and whey in a large bowl.  Pound it all with a wooden pounder or meat hammer for about 10 minutes.  I have just used my hands to squeeze and kneed the cabbage.  The point is to release the juices, so just pound and kneed until the cabbage is very juicy. Then put it in a wide mouth quart jar and press it down with your pounder until the juice comes over the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least 1″ below the top of the jar. Place a leaf on top of the cabbage and add the core to the top.  This holds the cabbage down in the juice.  Put on a tight cover and let it sit on your counter at room temperature for about three days.  Then put it into the refrigerator.  You can use it immediately but it improves with age.  Six months in the refrigerator is best. 

I have added small amounts of other grated vegetables for extra color and flavor. Carrots are nice.  I also really like to add a finely chopped jalapeno pepper. 

*Whey is just the liquid that is strained out of yoghurt. I use cheese cloth in a strainer over a bowl.  Put a good quality plain yoghurt in the strainer and let the whey drain through into the bowl.  What is left in the strainer is cream cheese or creme fraiche.  I especially like the creme fraiche stirred into a squash or pumpkin soup when I am serving it. It adds a little zip to the soup and looks really pretty.

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Fifteen Hundred Servings

DSC00047 The Fifteen Hundred Servings project started with the question, “Why are we doing this?”   It was July, and we were just getting started with preserving the early harvest of black raspberries.  I had read Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, and was acutely aware of the Miracle that is fresh produce.   So I started to wonder about what exactly we were trying to accomplish with this preserving.  Was it to save money?  Somewhat maybe.   Was it for health reasons?  Probably yes.  We think that the food we grow and pick ourselves is healthier than pesticide grown food.  Was it fun?  Depends on when you ask.   Is it satisfying?  Definitely yes!!  It’s immensely satisfying to grow, harvest, preserve, prepare, serve and eat your own food.  

And there is something else.  I was interested in the question of what it would take to put away enough produce to feed outselves all winter.  So we embarked on the Fifteen Hundred Servings Project.  We figured that that was the number of servings of fruits and vegetables we would need for two people for five months of winter December through April.  The arithmetic is as follows:  5 months x 30 days = 150 days x 5 servings per day = 750 servings x 2 people = 1500 servings. We decided to make a general rule that one cup of fresh produce would equal one serving, whether it was berries, squash, or tomatoes. 

So with the goal of 1500 servings in mind we set out to can, freeze, pickle, dehydrate, and store every bit of produce we could get our hands on.  We picked bushels of pears from our neighbor’s tree (with their permission of course); took away all the extras we could manage from our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share; combed the local farmer’s market for bushels of apples, and agreed to take any excess produce off the hands of our gardening friends.  We devoted most weekends to the project and managed to rope a few friends into helping out.

On November 30, 2008, we tallied it all up.   We estimated that we had 1,327 1/2 servings, 172 1/2 servings shy of the 1500.  We were delighted.  If we had had room for more squash and potatoes we would have made it. 

So we ate our way through the winter.   We gave quite a bit away as gifts and were able to serve quite a few local/home grown meals to our guests.  The best thing was to be able to open a jar of our own canned pears in February.   Really, there is nothing better.

Here are a few things we learned.  Nectarines need sweetener.   Use stored beets by the end of December.  Butternut and orange squash go by fastest.  It is best to store squash in the kitchen where it is warmer and they can get good air circulation.  Don’t make so many dill pickles.  You can never have too many carrots.  Grape leaves need to be harvested early in the season.

This year is a little different.  We are going at it a little more slowly. At this time last year we had 528 1/2 servings put up.  This year we are at 365.  I think maybe it is because we don’t have the 15oo servings goal as firmly in our minds as we did last year, or it might be the new grand baby is taking up more time.  I expect we will reach at least 1000 servings this year when all the pumpkins, squash, potatoes are stored, and the last of the beans have been frozen.   We still have to figure out how many servings one garlic is worth.  There is always more to learn.  How much squash do we want?  I’d love to write more, but the broccoli is calling.

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      We have an arborist who comes by about once a year to check out the health of our trees.  Every year she shakes her head, frowns seriously and says, “drought stressed.”  Tell us something we don’t know!  Lack of adequate rain is becoming a serious problem in our area and I, for one, can’t stand the thought of losing any more trees in our precious urban forest.  The simplest way I could think of to address this issue in my yard was to install rain barrels.

New Rain Barrel before installation

New Rain Barrel before installation

commercial rain barrel

commercial rain barrel

      A few years ago I purchased our first rain barrel.  This spring I got a second one.  The first one is commercially manufactured, and the second one is made from a recycled food grade plastic barrel which was outfitted with spigots and a screen on the top.  Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far.

1)  Get as many barrels as you can afford
      My house has an 800 sq ft foot print.  It has a pitched roof with a couple of dormers.  There are gutters and drain pipes at all four corners.  I figure that about 1/4 of the rain that falls on my roof runs down each drain pipe.  I have rain barrels at two corners. Each holds 55 gallons.  When we get one inch of rain, about 500 gallons of water falls on our roof. That means 390 gallons of water are wasted.   That’s extra water that could be protecting our gardens and trees.

overflow spigot on commercial rain barrel

overflow spigot on commercial rain barrel


overflow spigot on home made bararel

overflow spigot on home made barrel

2) Buy barrels that can be attached together

     Both of my barrels have overflow spigots near the top.  When you connect  two barrels together,  the overflow from the first barrel flows into the second one, thus capturing twice as much water. 
      The overflow spigot on the home-made barrel is only the size of the garden hose, so it isn’t as effective as the one on the commercial barrel, which is about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.  The water from the downspout runs faster than it can run out of a 5/8 inch garden hose so it ends up running over the top of the barrel.  This problem could be solved by adding a couple more overflow spigots.
      I run a hose from the overflow spigot on the home made barrel to the spots that need extra water.  Thus, when it is raining, your trees/gardens are getting a double dose of water.

3) Get barrels with a removable tops
      The water stored in the barrels can become stale and musty smelling.  When the barrel is empty it’s nice to be able to reach in with a long handled brush and give it a scrub out once in a while. 
      The top on my homemade barrel comes all the way off.  I haven’t had to clean it yet, but when the time comes I think it will be easier to clean than the commercial one which has a plastic guard on the top that’s not removable.

3)  A screen on the top is very important
      In addition to keeping debris out of the barrel, a screen prevents your rain barrel from becoming a mosquito incubator.  You definitely don’t want that.

4)  Consider hoses
      I made the mistake of buying a cheap plastic hose for the overflow on my newest barrel.  It kinked up at the outlet and was quickly useless.  Buy a good quality rubber hose.  Avoid vinyl.  It is pretty toxic. 

5)  Cost
The commercial barrel is available for about $100 in the garden stores.  I paid $60 for the home-made barrel because I didn’t actually make it myself but bought it from some one who is making them in bulk.  Do-it-yourself kits are available on line or from some hardware stores.  The prices vary widely depending on what is included in the kit, i.e. barrel, spigots, connections, screen. etc.  I decided that $60 was a pretty reasonable price for having one all put together and ready to go. 

So that’s all I know about how to buy a rain barrel.  I welcome your comments on this blog, particularly your experiences with rain barrel construction, use, set up etc. 

Check out my store at www.earthlygoods.net   for earth friendly products other than rain barrels.

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We have a pretty basic compost bin for our garden.  It has three fixed sides, and the fourth side opens up for unloading compost.  We use the lazy person’s system for composting, which is to throw everything compostable into the bin and let nature take its course.  This takes longer, but we really only need to dig out compost once a year, so it isn’t a big deal.

DSCF0020-1When we do dig it out in the spring, however, we need something to sift the compost and keep out the sticks, the not-quite-decomposed corn cobs,  and other detritus that needs more time in the bin. 

I built our sifter about ten years ago and it has held up just fine.  I learned how to do it by watching Martha Stewart. 

I used 2×2 lumber because it is lighter than 2×4 and it is really all you need.  The long sides are 47″ and the cross pieces are 24″.  This size goes well with my wheel barrow.  

LDSCF0018-1ay the 24″ pieces crosswise between the 47″ pieces.  One cross piece goes a couple of inches from the end and the other goes about mid-way along.  See the picture aboveThen drive nails through the long pieces into the ends of the short pieces to secure them.  Next, attach some sturdy L braces on the inside of the corners with wood screws to keep them secure.  This thing gets some pretty hard use so you want it nice and sturdy.

Next cut a piece of half-inch heavy mesh screen, about 27″ by 25″.  Or just cut it to fit the frame with enough extra to allow for attaching it to the frame.  Attach the screen to the frame with staples. 

Next, and this is important, nail some trim over the DSCF0021edges where you stapled the screen.  When I first built my sifter I didn’t do this and the staples came loose after about twenty minutes of sifting.  I just used some scrap trim that was laying around and fastened it with 1-1/2 inch nails.  It has held up just fine. 

As I said, we use our sifter about once a year for digging out the compost.  The long ends serve as handles for shaking and lifting.  We get about 10 wheelbarrow loads of good quality compost, which goes back into the garden and the rest of the yard.  Over time our very heavy clay soil has improved significantly and the level of the garden has risen about 6 inches. 

Have fun composting, and be sure to visit www.earthlygoods.net to see what new interesting stuff I have for sale.

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webassets/laundry1.jpgI Wrote this back in March but didn’t post it.  So here it is now.  Better late than never.

Spring in Minnesota!!!  Crocuses, Tulips, Robins and Laundry.  Yep – laundry.  Here in the north country where I live there are many months of the year where hanging the laundry out on the line is just too difficult.  Well, there might be a few die hard hanger-outers who can tolerate the cold temperatures long enough to haul their baskets of wet laundry out in the back yard over the snow and freeze their fingers hanging it on the line.  But I know from sad experience that taking down frozen blue jeans is tricky business, and they don’t even really dry very well anyway.webassets/DSCF0020.JPGwebassets/DSCF0020.JPG
       But Spring.  Here is my chance to venture out into the back yard, carefully stepping around the last remaining patches of snow and ice, and expose the world to my underwear. 

        Here are some of the other benefits of hanging out your laundry:

1) Saving Energy 
OK, I know, it isn’t a lot of money saved by not running the dryer.  Maybe really only a few cents.  But it adds up when you combine it with other money saving, energy conserving measures and every little bit counts right?

2) No Static Cling 
Think about it.  Static cling is caused by the action of the heat and friction of the clothes rubbing together.  No dryer, no static cling.  Which brings me to —

3) No Dryer Sheets 
That’s right, no toxic chemicals to make you and your family sick.  No worry about offending your neighbors by pumping those toxic chemicals out into the air and no worry about offending your friends with clothes that may look nice, but smell like, well, dryer sheets.  But what about that nice fresh scent that dryer sheets provide you might ask.  This brings us to —–

4) Fresh Smelling Clothes 
The nice fresh scent of fresh air.  Yes indeed.  If you hang your clothes outdoors they come back in with a real rather than fake fresh scent. 

5) Less Wear and Tear on Your Clothes
Not putting your clothes in the dryer will prolong their life.  This is why many manufacturers of nice clothes say “Do Not Tumble Dry”, on the tag. 

6) The Bleaching and Disinfecting Power of the Sun
Your whites will actually be whiter and any nasty germs will be killed by the Sun.  In fact, here is a hidden tip,  if you put a little lemon juice on a stain and leave it exposed to the sun, almost any stain will fade and usually disappear.  I have used this on some pretty nasty old stains on white linen table cloths and it really worked.

7) Hanging out in the Back Yard
You can hang out while you hang out.  You get the benefit of being outdoors which is good for your body and your spirit, and sometimes get the chance to visit with your neighbors over the fence, build relationships and probably strengthen your community.  Everybody wins.


I know there are a few down sides to hanging out.  Yes, the clothes can come out wrinkled and the towels aren’t as fluffy.  You can, if you want to, throw everything in the dryer for 5 minutes after you bring it in to smooth out the wrinkles and fluff things up a bit.  Also, sometimes it is raining and you can’t wait for a sunny day.  Once again an automatic clothes dryer can come in handy. I suppose it also does take a little more time to hang things out than it does to throw them in the dryer, but I’ve not timed it so I can’t be sure of that.   

So there you have it.  Lots more pros than cons in my opinion.  Try it – you’ll like it.  And here is the final tip

Hang your underwear on the center lines and the towels and sheets on the outside.  Less embarassing for everyone

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New Rain Barrel before installation

New Rain Barrel before installation

We got a second rain barrel today.  We bought one a couple of years ago and I’ve been really wanting a second one.   We got this barrel through a drawing at the grand re-opening of our local food co-op.  The co-op was giving coupons for $25 barrels, and they had over a hundred of them.  All we had to do was wait around for someone who didn’t want/need a barrel, even at the great price of $25, to win one in the drawing and offer to take the thing off their hands.  We got ours from a young couple who rent in the neighborhood and didn’t have a place for one.  They gladly gave us their winning ticket and we gladly paid our $25 and went off to pick up the barrel.

Ironically, it was raining quite hard when we went to get the barrel.  So there we were, cold and soaking wet, hauling home the heavy black barrel that has been fitted with a couple of spigots (one for the hose and one for overflow).  Now I have to wait until a nice sunny day to saw off the downspout, move the elbow up and then situate the barrel under the pipe.   Then, I have to wait for it to rain again, and wait for the barrel to fill.  It is a lovely, satisfying sound as the rain pours out of the downspout  into the barrel, to be used later when our poor birch tree is thirsty.

We have been experiencing a drought for the past several years here.  Last year the birch suddenly dropped a whole bunch of leaves in about two days.  I was alarmed enough to call our local arborist, who said that it just needs more water.  She explained that the problem is cumulative over time, and that this tree has been struggling to survive for the past several years on an inadequate water supply.  It is planted in a fairly wet part of the yard, where the sump pump drains out, and I had assumed that that would be enough extra water for it.  I was wrong.  So, today’s rain was most welcome.  I can see the tree greening up before my eyes.  And, I am counting on the rain barrel to help bring extra water to its vulnerable roots.

Go Birch!

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