Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Self-Sufficientish Bible - cont'd

I have almost finished this excellent book. At first I thought I'd read bits and pieces of it, but it was so interesting that I'm reading it cover-to-cover. As expected, the "Bible" covers topics such as gardening, energy, recycling, composting, transportation, eco-minded consumption. I've read about all kinds of interesting ideas, suggestions, and projects.

I did not realise that regular cotton clothing had such a nasty side! It takes large amounts of dangerous chemicals to grow and the water and the workers become polluted. There is loss of habitat for many species due to re-routed water for irrigation and the corresponding increasing salt levels in the adjacent waterways. A 2005 study of Indian cotton farm workers over a 5-month period found 82 percent suffered from some symptoms of poisoning (mild-39%, moderate-37%, severe-6%). The WHO reports that over 20,000 people a year die from exposure to the agrochemicals used in cotton production. I had no idea. Buying used clothing helps, since it has already been manufactured, and hemp is a great alternative. I've begun sourcing hemp clothing in the Hamilton area and will post what I find.

Another surprise for me was the environmental impact of funerals. I'd always thought that cremation was pretty environmentally sound. Not so, apparently. Mercury from dental fillings can be release during the process of cremation and about 15% of mercury in the atmosphere could be attributed to this. Cremation is also energy intensive and a large amount of fuel is required, the authors say it could be the equivalent of a third of one person's average annual carbon emissions. This is not to say that burial in a casket is much better, the materials in coffins can include plastic and formaldehyde, which can pollute groundwater. (Not mentioned in the book, is the impact of the chemicals used in the embalming process.) Some greener options are suggested, including green coffins such as cardboard where the attendees of the funeral are given a pen to write a message to the deceased.

The Self-Sufficientish Bible is also cram-packed with nifty alternatives for everyday items. One of my favourites is the alarm clock powered by water. (I've been looking for a source for these, but they're not easy to find.) Or the solar-powered or crank charger for electronic gadgets (I think Canadian Tire sells one of these). Even better is the hand-crank MP3 Player (so far I can only find these in the UK). When I look around on the internet, I find all kinds of eco-friendly gadgets in Europe and the UK. As usual, they're way ahead of us and we'll just have to wait for the cool stuff to make its way over the pond.

(This once again raises the issue of where to find green products in Canada! I'm reading 2 other books right now, "It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living" by Crissy Trask [a US publication, but it lists some Canadian sites] and "Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada" by Adria Vasil. Hopefully they will provide some insight. I also just spotted a post on EcoSherpa that lists some "Canadian eco-merchants who offer online shopping".)

Okay, before I get too off-topic...there's some good ideas regarding celebrations and balloons. I had never considered the fact that expensive mylar balloons don't biodegrade, but cheap latex ones do. Another neat idea is to get together with a bunch of friends and buy (reusable) party supplies together to use year after year. This saves everyone money and reduces the amount of seldom-used stuff cluttering up our houses. I would have loved more info on gift-giving and how to make your own gifts. They do mention recycling greeting cards by cutting part or all of the cover off and pasting on a blank card, something I've recently begun to do. (I decided with my husband that we won't buy each other any more cards and instead we'll make our own by finding a nice verse and writing it one of our many inexpensive blank cards.)

All in all, this was a really enjoyable read. I loved the UK perspective, although there was some info that didn't apply to Canadian readers with respect to gardening, allotments, climate, and some available products for purchase. This book was light-hearted with great visuals. I have been inspired by their ideas on foraging for wild food and making your own cider. Best of all, they included some yummy recipes including those made with seasonal produce grown in your own garden, some of which I will be sure to try out (e.g, bread-machine apple bread, carrot cake, pumpkin and chestnut risotto)! Next, to investigate Andy & Dave Hamilton's website

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Edible Container Garden

I may have overdone it this year, but I was very enthusiastic and hopeful. I've got very little land that gets enough sun to grow an edible crop, so the vast majority of my edible garden is in containers. As of today, my edible garden now includes: lettuce, arugula, radish, beet, green onion, pea, strawberry, raspberry, red currant, chive, oregano, parsley, basil, mint, cilantro, chocolate mint, tomato, cucumber (straight 8 and pickling), bell pepper, cubanelle pepper. All but the raspberry and red currant are in containers!

I've got 18 sqft of "Square Foot Garden" in 3 planters attached to the outside of my deck railing. Despite all the claims by Mel Bartholomew in his book, All New Square Food Gardening, my plants have not done very well in them the previous two years. This year I added about 2 inches of compost to the top after planting and so far the plants are doing much better. Has anybody else tried square foot gardening? I was so excited about it after reading the book, but after a lot of money and effort, I've been pretty disappointed. Maybe it would be better if they were on the ground and were about to stay a little cooler or hold more water?

Since my hopes were sky high, I had to gather enough planters or pots for the rest of my babies. I've got alpine strawberries in hanging baskets, but everything else is in a pot or planter. I couldn't keep everything on the floor of my deck or we'd have no room for ourselves (although I think that is still becoming an issue), so I used some bungee cords to attach some pots to trellises I have on the driveway. I also got some window box brackets for two planters and nabbed an excellent deal on wall planters at 4 for $4 (reg. $6.99 ea). When I ran out of large pots for tomatoes, I used old drywall pails and drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. I managed to get a huge fiberglass planter for $15 at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Burlington (LOVE that place) which I'm hoping to use for a potted apple tree next year.

Everything is doing very well for the most part. I'm having to improvise as I discover problems, since my goal is to spend little to no money on the garden at this point. We've had huge amounts of rain, so I've had to water very little. When I do, I use the water from our at-capacity rain barrel. I spotted aphids on my tomatoes and have brewed a tomato leaf concoction to spray on the leaves, which should hopefully work. One pot of zucchini has fruit that is skinny at the blossom end (see pic below). I'm guessing it's because the terra cotta pot dries out more easily?

We did have a hail storm that tore holes in the leaves of practically everything, but they're all recovering nicely. My cilantro has bolted and now looked ridiculous, so I chopped it down. (I just read that this happens to cilantro in very et weather.) The lettuce and basil are still holding back and I'm trying to harvest as much as I can to prevent bolting. Something is eating my radish leaves, but they are still growing fine, so I'm ignoring it. I think my cat has been eating my green onion shoots although I haven't caught her in the act. Another issue I'm dealing with is finding space for my sprawling cucumber vines. I haven't figured out what to do for the planter boxes, but I've got to decide soon or they'll strangle my tomatoes and peppers! I think I'll let them trail over the railing onto a trellis and hopefully they won't burn where they touch the wood.

I decided to weigh my harvest for fun after I saw the weigh in at A Posse Ad Esse, but my less than 100g so far looks pretty silly compared to Paul Gardener's 48.22lbs. Next year I'll try pumpkins and really bring that number up!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My new favourite term: Self Sufficient-ish

I borrowed an excellent book from the Hamilton Library called The Self Sufficient-ish Bible: An Eco-Living Guide for the 21st Century  by Andy and Dave Hamilton (great last name). (Let me digress here to rant about the fact that new pulp-fiction novels and pop culture DVDs can be very hard to borrow from the library due to the long waiting lists. However the books I've just checked out regarding energy conservation and self-sufficiency have no waiting lists! That's really sad. Good for me, but sad.)

I've read a little already and absolutely love it. At first I was worried that it wouldn't be very useful for me since it's written in the UK and I was seeing a lot of products we don't have here and there were lots of words we don't use and references to climate that is different than ours. Well, happily I found with more reading that there's only a tiny bit that doesn't apply. What is wonderful about it being written in the UK is that there are so many new and fresh ideas. The different perspective is refreshing. Here are some fun things I've read about so far:
  • hand-crank MP3 players
  • putting foil behind a radiator to reflect more heat back into a room
  • hay-box cooker (you put your hot pot of soup or stew into a box, surround it with hay, newspaper, or rags, then cover tightly)
  • a solar cooker you make yourself
  • pot-in-pot cooler (a way to keep food or beverages cool for up to two days, which consists of two nested terra cotta pots separated by damp sand and covered with a damp cloth)
  • Bokashi composting (a Japanese method of composting indoors that uses Bokashi bran)
I'm only about 50 pages in, so I'll post more nifty things as I continue. Oh, and the term "self sufficient-ish" refers to ways in which anyone can live a more self sufficient life without having to go all the way. In other words, you can have a balcony edible garden and a worm composter and reduce your energy consumption and reduce your chemical use, etc. while still living in the city. Every little bit helps. Great reading and full of photos and diagrams.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who am I and how did I get here?

It all began when I became pregnant with my first child. No, wait, it began when my DH decided to quit engineering and go back to school to become a teacher. No, I suppose it started when we were saving for the down payment for our first house. Or maybe when we were saving for our wedding. I guess it's hard to pinpoint when I began making conscious choices about reducing spending and doing more with less. It was a gradual process, and has resulted in our family living comfortably and happily on one income.

Never have I been ashamed to spend less or buy less, but as I became more adept at stretching our dollars, I started to walk proud and tall, wearing my super-frugalness as a cape of sorts. (Of course it wasn't a real cape, that would be pretty silly looking, although my 3-year-old son would love it.) A close friend and former co-worker was an excellent mentor and cheerleader. I don't know if I would be as inspired or successful, were it not for her.

After joining a local mom's group in Hamilton, I found that I wanted to share with others ways to save money, spend less, and simplify. A lot of moms are on maternity leave or living on one income for the first time. The forum threads I started were very popular and I was thrilled with the wonderful and useful ideas that were flowing back and forth. It's great to share information about thriftiness with other moms in the area because I've learned of so many local businesses and parks that were new to me. I've come to rely on the support that we give to each other in any endeavor. Never before have I been a part of such a positive and loving community.

One day, Monica, our Social Mamas founder, declared that she was pitching a tv show based on our group. In no time at all filming for the pilot began. I was scared and thrilled when she asked me to do a regular "Frugalista" segment on every show. I've never liked the spotlight, but when I realised that this was a way to get a very important message out to so many moms, I jumped at the chance. My mind began to buzz (and honestly hasn't stopped since) with ideas for segments and tie-in blogs for the Social Mamas website. I've been researching my heart out and stumbled upon some fantastic blogs. I then realised that all my fervor might be too much for just one audience (the other Mamas might begin to resent me if every day I'm suggesting yet another way to pare down and save up).

All of this led me to this blog. I relish the opportunity to share ideas and learn from others. I feel like a sponge ready to soak up the wisdom of other simplifiers and do-more-with-lessers, kitchen-gardeners and cook-from-scratchers. I can't wait to get that first comment on a blog...