Friday, February 13, 2015

Gardening - Plants or seed?

You've gotten your raised bed set what? I recommend that if you are a first time gardener, you buy plants to start. Success in your first year makes you more likely to continue on to your second year. It will cost you more up front, but will give you a jump start as you figure everything out.

Of course, there are also those plants that grow just well by plunking a seed in the ground and calling it a day. Below is a list of common backyard vegetables and herbs and whether you should buy plants/start seeds or sow in the ground.

Buy plants/Start seeds:

Basil               Broccoli               Brussels Sprouts            Cucumbers            
Eggplant        Squash                Sweet potatoes               Tomatoes  

Sow in ground:

Beans            Carrots            Corn            Garlic            Kale            Onions
Peas              Potatoes         Radishes    Spinach

To save even more money on your garden, seeds are the way to go. Buying through seed catalogs will give you a greater selection and larger quantity of seed for your dollar. You will also be able to buy heirloom seeds to grow vegetables that you could never find in a store because they don't transport well. They often taste better, as well. However, for a very small garden, the seed packets sold through seed catalogs often have more seeds than you can use in a season and you will need to store them. Shipping can also be cost prohibitive. When just starting out with one raised bed and starting your own seeds, it is fine to buy the small packets at your local garden center.

There are as many ways to start seeds as there are people who garden. You can start them in trays in a window sill. You can grow them under lights in your basement. You can start them in eggshells, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, and on and on and on. Here is my two cents on starting seeds. I have tried a few different trays and some egg cartons, with not much success. I am terrible about over-watering and under watering. I also lack the space in areas where they will get enough sunlight to not have them in the way of everyday life. So, I'm trying something new this year. I have been saving milk jugs for a few months. I am going to cut them open, add soil and seeds, tape them back together. I will then set them outside without the lid, so that they can get some moisture, in an area that gets lots of sun - essentially making little individual greenhouses. The bonus to using this method is that I won't have to harden off the plants to acclimate them to the outside conditions, like I would have to do with plants started inside.

I will start the first of my seeds this week (February 15). Here is my schedule:

Week of February 15:
Brussels Sprouts
Week of March 1st:
Week of March 15th:
Week of April 5th:
Sweet Potato slips

It is very easy to get excited and plant a bit of everything or what you picture you should be growing. I say take stock of what your family eats most and plant that. You could grow the most beautiful radishes around, but if your family hates radishes, your time and effort were wasted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Gardening - Setting up a raised bed

A great way to keep yourself in fresh, tasty produce for pennies is by growing it yourself. This can seem like a daunting task, but really it doesn't have to be. My best advice is to start slow. I am one of those people that tend to jump into a project with both feet - lasers set to fire!  Then...I burn out, because I've tried to do everything at once instead of breaking it down into smaller, easier to digest pieces. This is VERY true in gardening.

Start with containers if you aren't comfortable or ready for a full blown garden. Grow some pots with your favorite herbs this year. Next year, try some tomatoes, potatoes, or green beans in planters. Mint makes everyone feel like they are a master gardener. Just, please take my advice on that one and keep it in the pot. You can not drink that many mojitos and juleps without losing your job, your spouse, or both.

There are 1,000 different ways to grow vegetables. I, personally, use raised beds. They are more efficient (in my humble opinion). You get more produce from less space and you spend less time weeding. As a lazy gardener, it is right up my alley!

Here is, basically, how I started. I decided how long I wanted my bed. I choose 8 feet. It is three feet wide, so that I can reach the middle of the bed from each side. You never step into a raised bed to avoid compacting the soil. I laid down a layer of cardboard in an 8x3 rectangle in the Fall. I threw my vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells on it all Fall and Winter, adding a layer of newspaper as the scraps composted down. I repeated this process until planting time (usually the first week of May in our zone). Though, if you are just starting now, you can forgo the scraps. I was just trying to get a jump start on the composting process.

We put down concrete blocks around the rectangle. You can use boards, branches, straw bales, whatever to hold in the soil.  We filled it in with 1 part peat moss, 2 parts top soil, and 1 part compost. These are all readily available at your local garden center. I have since matured my own compost enough that I shouldn't have to buy it again.

Now your bed is ready for planting!  I'll have future posts about starting plants from seed, how much to grow per square foot, harvest and food preservation, and things of the like, but I highly recommend the book The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess. She goes much more in depth about gardening than I ever could here.

Pinterest is always a wealth of information on...pretty much anything, including gardening. I do have a Pinterest board titled Grow It. My user name is eatingelephants if you want to peruse my gardening pins.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Make it Yourself - cheese

Cheese is expensive, y'all. Full stop. Now, while I am no Caroline Ingalls, buttering and aging cheese for my family on the pantry shelf, I have dipped my toes into cheese making. I will say that mozzarella is my favorite, but this recipe for farm cheese is the most accessible, easiest recipe I've tried. You don't need rennet, citric acid, or any aging. As a matter of fact, part of its appeal is that you likely have everything you need to make it right now.

For the cost of a gallon of milk (under $3 if you're doing it right), and a half hour of time, you can have about a pound of delicious farm cheese and heaping helping of whey to make crepes, pancakes, or as a power-packed drink for yourself or your chickens. (You DO have chickens, right?)

This is not the stuff that you Kraft sells, wrapped in plastic on your grocery store shelves. It isn't a hard cheese. It is soft and crumbly - more like a feta or ricotta with a very mild flavor. It lends itself well to adding garlic, herbs, and the like.

So here's what you'll need:
1 gallon of milk - any milk will do, but whole milk makes for a tastier cheese.
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (I make my own, but that's another post!)
1 Tbsp salt
minced garlic, herbs, or whatever else you'd like to add

  • Place your milk in a large pot, bring to a boil
  • Remove from heat
  • Pour in vinegar and stir
  • Wait for the cheese curds to separate from the whey. You will know that this has occured when the whey is yellowish and clear - not white.

  • Pour the contents of the pot into a colander lined with cheesecloth, a bandana, or a clean cloth napkin (like I did here) set into a large bowl to catch the whey.

  • Add salt and/or herbs
  • Gather the cloth up and give it a good twist to remove the excess whey. Be careful. It is very hot. Because of this, I sometimes tie the corners of the cloth together over a skewer and hang it through the handles on my kitchen cabinets, allowing the excess whey to drip out.
  • That's it! You now have about a pound of farm cheese. Eat it on salads, in pastas. Spread it on crackers or eat it straight from the bowl.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Make it Yourself - bread

I have found my new go-to bread recipe. I used to prepare a dough in my bread machine and bake it in the oven, though I had to keep a close eye on the timing, this worked...until my bread machine went kaput. I've looked for an easy recipe ever since. I found it! I remember reading about Jim Lahey years ago in Martha Stewart's Living magazine, but I didn't own a Dutch oven. I clipped the article anyway (this was long before Pinterest). Well, my neighbor mentioned that he has made bread this way, so I went searching. Apparently, good ol' Martha also had him on her show. You can find the link (with video, no less) here.

This is a super easy bread that is crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. It is great for sandwiches or stand alone. The beauty of it all is that you mix up a few ingredients at night and leave it alone for 12-18 hours. You let it rise again for a couple of hours and bake it in a hot Dutch oven. So easy!


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Meat shopping trip

After my No Spend month and a half and the holidays, my pantry and freezer were looking pretty bare. I was in Taylorsville this morning - a small town outside of Louisville and decided to stop into Country Mart and stock up on meat.

This is one of the ways I am able to save so much money on my grocery budget each month. I hit Country Mart every three months or so.

Well, here is what I got today!

Here's the list:
20lbs potatoes
17 1/2lbs pork butt
10lbs breakfast sausage
6 1/2lbs chicken legs
10lbs pollock
10lbs sirloin pork steaks
10lbs bacon

Total? $112!  That's just over $1.50/lb for the meat!

There are great deals out there if you are willing to look and maybe go a bit off the beaten path.