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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Revenge of the Sock Loom

One of my most popular posts of all time is The Sock Loom: No Thanks. The post has sparked a lively online debate about this little device, which is supposed to allow you to knit socks with very little knitting ability and a minimum of counting and marking of stitches.  As I said in the original post, I found the thing to be nothing short of a torture device, with sharp edges that cut into my stomach when I hold it while I watch TV, and an annoying tendency to drop stitches and create a run no matter how loosely I wrap the yarn or how carefully I work it.

It has been suggested that I try some of the many plastic looms on the market.  Let me assure you, I have tried.  I just counted, and I have at least six round plastic loom, one long "racetrack" shaped loom, and a small wooden one whose purpose escapes me at the moment.  Although these are kinder on one's fingers and stomach when knitting, I still find it difficult to make anything other than a tube or a rectangle with these looms. Now, to be fair, most of my knitting with needles involves tubes and rectangles, but then why do I need a loom?

The thought occurs to me that I should think of my stock of looms as prepper supplies.  If the zombie apocalypse comes, I will have enough looms to put many people in the neighborhood to work.  I'm not terribly worried about running out of yarn, because, based on the knitters I know, I do believe there is enough yarn currently stored in existing knitters' stashes to keep the entire world supplied with sweaters and socks for the foreseeable future.  That is, if we can all figure out how to knit something other than tubes and rectangles.

So tell me (especially if you haven't weighed in on the original post), have you tried a knitting loom? Do you like yours, or is it old school sticks for you?
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

And the Rest of the Set-up

Forgive the rather impressionistic and broody picture, but this is to demonstrate that yes, I have a giant plant incubator sitting in my dining room.  And no, I'm not sorry.

I had to laugh at this thing; it's an indoor/outdoor standing cold frame that allows you to grow plants inside their own sheltered little environment while the weather is cold.  What it looks like is an old-school incubator like they used to use for infants born early back when I was a baby.  (They do a much better job today.)

The ultimate plan is to move this into the sunroom to shelter my little seedlings while we are on vacation this spring, then use it outside for a while to harden off my garden plants.  But right now, both areas are too cold for seedlings, so I'm putting my baby peppers and, soon, some baby tomato plants, in there with their heating mat to get a good start in life.

I'm completely out of my mind, I know.  But I love my plant babies.  :-)

Note:  I received a recent question at my Etsy store, where you can buy some of the seeds that I am currently starting, about whether it is too late yet to plant.  Generally, if you are in zone 6 and north, you can easily start your peppers this month and grow right along with me.  If you wish to do so, look for the Etsy link over at your right; don't forget to post pictures in the blog comments when your little plant babies get started too!
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Friday, February 13, 2015

And So It Begins...

I'd like to say it hasn't been too bad of a winter so far.  There hasn't been a lot of snow yet, and we were lucky enough to get away over Christmas, so I was cruising into February feeling pretty good.  But some family emergency cropped up that was very stressful (things are much better now), and I am very glad to finally get back to planting seeds.

As usual, my first seeds in the pots are paprika seeds from my own plants.  (If you want to grow along with me, follow that Etsy link over at the right and you'll find the seeds in my store.)  The paprikas take a while to sprout, so they are the first to get going.

This year, I'm trying something new.  I've started my seeds in their larger nursery pots with seed starting medium,  rather than using the small peat pellets I usually do.  My concern is that the peat isn't providing enough nutrients nor enough growing room for the little roots, and I'm also hoping to avoid at least one repotting along the way.  Since every repotting does a bit of damage to the roots, eliminating one should help.

I also treated myself to a heating mat this year to help the plants stay warm while they sprout.  Previously, I relied on the position of the pots over my dishwasher, which keeps them fairly warm, but this year I wanted to experiment with the heating mat.  I have also purchased a cold frame-type "incubator," and I'll share that with you soon.

Here's hoping for healthy plants and big harvests, very soon!

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

When Spending is Saving

Living sustainably is a balancing act.  Often, I prioritize financial saving over other kinds of saving, but there comes a point at which is it unrealistic not to take the big picture into consideration.

Take our picture window, for instance.  Our house was built in 1965, meaning it is 50 years old this year.  And when we bought it, it had the original window in it -- it still did as late as last week.

The old window was single pane glass in a series of frames that had seen better days.  The wind leaked through the cracks, and we lost a ton of heating and air conditioning energy through that window.  We knew we needed to replace it.

Unfortunately, no company was willing to reconstruct the original window in a way that maintained the architectural integrity of the window for the house (including the angle of the "lights" and the cross pieces on the inside), or they still wouldn't maintain the architecture but wanted to charge us north of $10,000 to do the job.

Luckily, we found a company who would do the job for less than a third of that.  They offered master carpenters, good materials, and a great work ethic.  Our window is now energy efficient and architecturally compatible with the rest of the 1965 house.  We are no longer wasting energy, but we didn't waste money for the job.

If you are in the Dayton, Ohio, area, may I recommend Window Depot and Addis Construction.  Tell them FC&G sent you!


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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Clove-Ginger Tea

Don't you love it when things come together?

Remember Clove-Ginger Ale, a great homemade substitute for expensive and unhealthy bottled pop? Well, I made a batch last night, and I discovered the best thing.

It is fantastic as a hot tea.

Basically, I followed the original recipe, as linked above.  When I had a crock-pot full of the base mix (about a half gallon), I put a cup of organic sugar in a half gallon jar and filled it with the hot mixture.

For the cold beverage, I chill and mix half and half with carbonated water for a refreshing drink.

For the hot beverage, I drank it full strength.  I will admit that this makes for a fairly sweet beverage, but I liked it that way.  You might want to cut down the sugar if you are watching your sugar consumption.

It turned out to be an absolutely delicious way to warm up, and there are likely to be some health benefits from the herbs used in its creation.

The Analysis

Fast:  Again, this takes very little real prep time, as it is mostly time in the crock pot.

Cheap:  The ingredients can be fairly pricey.  I've been working on growing my own ginger and bay leaves, but so far I do not have a bumper crop of either to write about.

Good:  Definitely yummy and reasonably healthy, with a reasonably light transportation footprint.


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Friday, January 23, 2015

How Much Does a Garden Grow: 2014

At long last, the final tally for 2014!

The immediate past year was not as robust as far as savings as was 2013, but the distribution of vegetables and fruits that we brought in was much more even, making for a better harvest overall.  After all, I could always stack the deck by just growing a yard-full of expensive butternut squash, but if we don't eat them, it's not a fair representation of our growing abilities.

In 2014, we grew:

  • Lemons: 7 oz/$1.74
  • Herbs (dried): 2.5 oz/7.08
  • Carrots: 59 oz/3.54
  • Tomatoes: 1138 oz/$330.52
  • Butternut squash: 267 oz/53.40
  • Beans: 142 oz/$29.95
  • Peppers: 31.5 oz/$5.99
  • Basil (fresh): 20 oz/$20.00
  • Cucumbers: 625 oz/$100.00
  • Zucchini: 255 oz/ $53.55
  • Blueberries: 8 oz/$2.32
  • Peas: 24 oz./$4.56
  • Potatoes: 100 oz/$8.00
  • Greens: $22.5 oz/$19.80
Total harvest:  160.5313 pounds
Total value of harvest: $628.57

Total expenditures: $286.13

Net: $342.44

I'm pretty satisfied with everything on here, except I could have used more tomatoes.  I can always use more tomatoes.

It's funny, but I feel like we really saved more than $342 off our food bill for the year.  I think about all those lovely summertime meals we took out in the sunroom that centered around our own veggies.  We reduce our meat consumption during the summer, and we aren't as tempted to eat out on a busy night because there is nothing more efficient than going out into the yard with a basket and coming in with dinner.  I once estimated that a garden like ours offered at least $1,000 in meal-replacement value, and I feel like that's probably still the case.

In any event, it is nearly time for seed-starting once again.  The cycle continues.  

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Imports and Sustainability

British television is going to be the death of me.

I mean, I'm already scared to death to let any character created by Steven Moffat climb anything higher than a step stool.  (If you are familiar with Mr. Moffat's work, you know his penchant for sending his characters hurtling off buildings to their permanent or temporary death.  If you aren't familiar, well, consider yourself warned.)

But now, as a voice in the sustainability movement, I have to consider the dark path that British television is leading me down and its impact on my ability to eat local.  Folks, I speak of my addiction to imported British food.

Oh, it started innocently enough.  A couple of digestive biscuits during Doc Martin (although I soon started preferring HobNobs).  A black and tan and a plate of fish and chips when we went out on Friday night.  A nice bottle of brown sauce in the fridge to dress up our at-home meals. A "cuppa" tea in the afternoons while I write and a new-found appreciation for gin when I'm not writing.

But now it's out of hand.  Jelly babies and Jammie Dodgers eaten during Dr. Who.  And the overwhelming sense that I'm not just not eating local, I'm going out of my way to not eat local.  And I'm doing so while declaring the British -- the British, I tell you! -- the best cooks on the planet.  I mean, at least if I had gotten addicted to French food, I would have snobbery bragging rights because of their historic position as gourmets.  To fall in love with another culture because you like its junk food and its television can't be good.

In any event, I justify my little addiction knowing that, for as much of the year as I can, we eat local.  Our meat is all raised locally, as are our eggs.  We are making a slow switch to local milk, and we use local honey.  And our vegetables come from the back yard during summer.

Surely that's worth a few boxes of imported digestives and a handful of jelly babies?
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