Thursday, January 29, 2009

Garden tonics from household items...

In the never ending quest to be better stewards of the land we need to limit our usage of toxic chemicals. A pioneer in this effort is Jerry Baker - America's Master Gardner. My mother listened to him for years on a local radio station, hurriedly noting his magical recipes and shortly putting them to use. Most were great successes and many are passed on from his Grandmother.

These days his show is no longer broadcast on that station, but there are other ways to access his recipes. Jerry's website offers a free newsletter, "magalog" - a magazine/ catalog combination, and archive records of older articles. This is in addition to the ability to purchase the many books he has authored over the years.

If the prices of the books seem to be too much, look for his books in local thrift stores or check them out at your library. Be prepared to make copious notes. You won't believe the ideas included!

Jerry is not the only kid on this block, just one of the most well known. Shels Garden has some tips for the most common gardening problems. Care 2 Make a Difference offers other ideas. The Earth Easy website not only gives treatment ideas but offers prevention tips. What's the old saying? "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

If you're not to keen on mixing your own tonics try Garden's Alive for help. They have premixed solutions and sell naturally occuring parasitic remedies as well.

On the flip side, there are people who believe that these tonics and notions are not the best idea for your garden and make some very valid points. One of which is Garden Counselor Lawn Care.

The most important thing to remember is that whether or not the items you choose to use are "natural", "homemade", or manufactured you can easily overdo it. Don't assume that "natural" means safe for everything. What does an excellent job in one respect may harm in others. Try to dispense items in the manner you are told. A little too much or not enough may mean the difference between harmful or ineffective.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great seed companies...

Over the past two years I've gotten a vegetable garden bug. No, not actual bugs in my garden, although there are many. This bug is in my head and on my heart. I want to have a bountiful vegetable garden of my own.

Growing your own garden has many benefits -

  • You know where your produce came from. There is no question about what had been put on them; you grew them.
  • The therapeutic side-effects from working in your own garden are wonderful! Gardening is proven to decrease stress (once you get the hang of it!)
  • Your whole family can be involved in the growing process. Kids love to watch the magic that occurs when a seed is fertilized and loved by the sun.
  • Kids that grow their own food have a greater tendency to eat more vegetables! That alone should sell you on gardening...
  • You can share the bounty with neighbors and friends. Yes, I said share. Many of us are so wrapped up in our own lives that we have effectively cut ourselves off from the remainder of the world. This simple gesture will provide unlimited opportunity to grow your neighborhood connection. This connection creates safer communities, happier communities, and a little giving of yourself never fails to add happiness to your life.

This quest led to finding a great seed company. I'm a research fanatic. I've never known anyone to order seeds from a catalog. I'm sure someone I know has, but I suppose we've never discussed it.

Store seed displays are a magnet for my attention. I can spend an hour browsing the packets and wishing the purchase of this packet would enable my garden to look like the one on the pictured. Admittedly, I have never experienced that, but I never give up hope!

Is there anything wrong with purchasing seeds at the store? No, not in my experience, but there tends to be a limited selection. Sometimes I like to try something new and different. Have you ever served blue mashed potatoes or tiger striped tomatoes? What a feast for the eyes as well as the palate!

We also try to buy organic and heirloom varieties when feasible. Hybrid selections have been cross-bred so much that I worry about the quality of the produce. A few seem to lose flavor and vitamins in the mix. My family is a whole lot more likely to eat vegetables that taste good versus ones that look pretty and lack flavor.

I've found hundreds of seed catalogs, through the internet and gardening magazines. How do you narrow down a list of hundreds to a manageable number of perhaps 10? I'm still searching...

During this search I've found several great websites that offer opinions on the best companies. I love the ones that give experience information. If someone has had multiple problems there is a chance I will, too. If there are tons of rave reviews then I feel pretty safe in placing an order.

Skippy's Vegetable Garden blog contains lots of observations and experience results with various seeds. She prefers Johnny's Selected Seeds, Botanical Interests and Sand Hill Preservation Center, but I notice she also receives Burpee and Seeds of Change catalogs.

Growing Groceries blog recommends five companies - Heirloom Acres Seed, Tomato Growers Supply Company, Bountiful Gardens, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Baker Creek Seeds. He also notes purchasing experiences with each company.

Life on the Balcony prefers Botanical Interests and Territorial Seed.

Plan Garden has a list of companies submitted by their readers. Many of these are companies that have been in business for years and duplicates from other lists. They also offer software options to aid in plotting your garden! likes these seed companies - Seeds of Change, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, Johnny's Selected Seeds, Burpee, Territorial Seed, Main Street Seed & Supply, Botanical Interests, Natural Gardening Company, and Dirt Works.

Mother Earth News recommends tons of different companies and has links listed by states.

Hope you find some seed company inspiration of luck gardening!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time to start planning the garden!

It's that time again! Time to gather your gardening catalogs, leftover seeds, and some graphing paper to plan that garden... I need no reminder note on the calendar to do this yearly. I know it's time when I start receiving the multitude of gardening catalogs in the mail.

I'm fairly new to vegetable gardening, but I have flower gardened for years with my mother. We've lived in our house for about 6 years now. When we purchased the house it had been vacant for over a year. Needless to say the existing gardens were in bad shape.

Problem #1 - We have a yard full of annoying Bermuda Grass, which is worse than crab grass, as it takes over EVERYTHING with extremely long, deep reaching roots. Bermuda grass spreads through seed, rhizomes, AND runners - a triple threat! There was Bermuda grass all in the flower beds and it took 3 years to get most of the offensive grass under control in the beds, without the use of herbicides.

Problem #2 - The dear lady that lived here before us planted everywhere! I mean everywhere. There were honeysuckle vines growing on trellises that blocked entry into the flower beds. There were clematis vines growing prostrate on the edge of flower beds, spreading tendrils into the yard area. Daffodils abound in every corner, nook, and cranny of the yard. Yes, I know daffodils proliferate on their own, but these are various varieties mixed together. She must have spent over $500 just on daffodils.

There was a pair of cedar trees in the middle of the side yard interdispersed with a large rose bush, two crepe myrtles, and a large rock garden. You had to decide between cedar needle and rose brier attacks to get through to the backyard. As much as I hated to do it we had to take down the cedar trees and one crepe myrtle. The lone rose bush eventually relocated to my newly claimed rose garden.

Problem #3 - There were bushes everywhere and some of these bushes produce berries, which produce new bushes! I see Nandina everywhere. The city uses them in medians and other vegetation areas near the highways. The pros - nice coloration of the leaves, winter interest in the form of berries, and certain varieties grow fairly tall. The cons - these bushes appear leggy to me which means my yard always looks unkempt, and those berries make babies. 4 years after a major Nandina removal I still have spots where babies come up...ugh!

Problem #4 - Two of the younger trees in the yard had started to die off. Both were maples and were dying off on the same side, which happens to face an area where a massive, old tree stump laid. Presumably that old tree had been diseased and I believe that the disease may have spread to the roots of the younger trees. Removal was a given. They were too close to the house to risk them falling on their own. I must add here that one of these was a blessing to lose. It was yet another item placed awkwardly in the yard. This poor fellow was dead center of the front of the side yard, effectively cutting off use combined with the earlier mentioned pair of cedars and companions. (We have a small city lot. It's a half acre total, with a wide cottage home footprint, 2-car garage with workshop, driveway wide enough for 3 cars and a storage shed...the side yard and a narrow front yard is just about all we have left!)

The trees would not have been a problem other than the fact that I couldn't plan my garden until all of the removal had been completed. Gardening in shade is significantly different than gardening in full, hot, southern summer sun.


By the way, not to worry, we still have a yard perimeter full of trees - 3 grand old pecans, an intimidating 100 foot tall oak, 2 white pines, a cypress hedge, a full-grown mountain laurel hedge and multiple neighbors trees that overlook our yard. I think we're sufficiently covered!


With this said, it took a lot of continuous planning to reach a manageable flower garden level. I would still be pulling my hair out if I hadn't run across a garden planning booklet by the Cooperative Extension at my local county fair. The Cooperative Extension is a new gardeners best friend and an old gardeners playground!

If you are unfamiliar with your local Cooperative Extension you have no idea what you're missing. This agency had studied or is currently studying everything related to plant growth, maintenance, and durability in your area. They have spent many years compiling this information and know their business. There is no need for you to recreate the wheel here. It simply wastes your time and money trying to find all of the truly agreeable plants for your home. (Not to discourage you from trying new plants here and there. Although losing $20 is vastly different than losing $500+ planting things you think may work.) In the off chance that you don't have a local agency Growing Groceries or Plan Garden may be able help you with the basics of making a garden map.

A plan should always be your first line of defense. Yes, defense. When planting you need to consider several things:

  • Light requirements of each planting and the light provided to each individual area of your yard. You can purchase a light meter if you'd like at your local gardening supplier or simply note observations for each area by checking on them periodically throughout the day. Keep these notes handy when laying out your garden plan.

  • Water needs have to be considered. Is there a water source nearby in case you receive less than anticipated natural precipitation? Does this area of the yard pool water when you have heavy rains? Is the soil always wet in this area? Too much water can be just as damaging as not enough.

  • Do the plants you want to grow like similar conditions? Seed packets and potted plants normally have details included that tell you the plants preferences. Pay attention to this to avoid killing off half of your lovely new plantings.

  • Pruning and deadheading care also need some thought. If either one of these items is needed for maintenance of the plant you'll need adequate access to it periodically for grooming.

As your growing experience increases you'll learn that there are more items you'll need to consider as you go, but these will get you off to a good start. Considering these things will prevent loss of plants, give your plants the healthiest growing environment for maximum production of new growth, prevent you from becoming discouraged by loss, and enable you to grow without relying heavily on pesticides and herbicides.

So get out that graphing paper and start planning !

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Who cares about the Joneses?

Coming up, I always heard that saying "He's keeping up with the Joneses..." I think most of us learn that early on here in America. The Jones family is the mythic family next door that you simply must compete with, otherwise they might have more than you.

Oh no! How could we possibly let someone "get ahead" of us? If Bob has a new car, I must rush out and buy one bigger and better! If Bonnie buys a pocketbook for $100 I must buy one for $200, because she CAN'T be better than me! If Tammy gets a promotion I must too, otherwise I'm a failure...

Where did we get these notions? Why do we care? When did this change from being a negative statement into a quest? Yes, it was originally negative! My grandmother felt bad for people who always strove to buy bigger and better. She thought it was a waste of time and money. Why buy more when you have enough?

Gran was a product of the Depression era. She saved bread bags, twist ties, jelly jars, and numerous other items that would quickly find the trash can these days. Gran grew her own small garden, even though she lived in an apartment. She religiously canned homemade soup, beets, sweet pickles, tomatoes, corn and green beans every year, without fail. AND, she made the best, super thin, Moravian Molasses cookies in the world! (This link has a recipe very similar to hers. Yes, this recipe involves a true commitment in strength and resources, but the results are amazing!)

I never remember Gran coveting anything that anyone else had. She was always content with what she had and happy to help others with her meager possessions. If she saw someone living beyond their means she would shake her head and make a "Ummmph" noise. Most good southerners would explain this as a "Bless your heart" moment.

Make no mistake. I grew up in a nice, middle-income family. We lived beyond our means. My dad bought a new or new-to-him vehicle every two years because the guy at the corner store had one, too. My mother went charge card happy when I was a tween and remained so until about 4 years ago. My sister and I both picked up this bad habit - CHARGE IT!

I normally received everything I wanted within a reasonable time of asking for it. I was spoiled rotten with material things. It never occurred to me that this was a problem until I started living on my own. Mom had a great paying job and I tried to keep up with her while making slightly better than minimum wage..bad idea!

I ended up well over $30,000 in debt and had no idea where most of that money went. I had next to nothing to show for it and struggled to pay back this astronomical amount by working 2 and 3 jobs. Mind you, I had 2 children at home that needed my love and attention and they paid terribly for this massive error. My life became a horrible repetition of work, work, work, say "Hi." to the kids, sleep, repeat.

Reality set in with a vengeance. Lesson learned the hard way. I vowed never to do this again. A few years later I was back in debt to the tune of about $20,000. How did this happen? How could I allow this to happen?

The truth is that I never learned how to live within my means. I wrongly assumed that I should be able to eat out all of the time, shop at the mall, vacation as I had as a child, drive a new car, etc... I felt that I was entitled to this because it appeared that everyone else was. Accepting the fact that I couldn't keep up with everyone else was tough. I had to continuously tell myself that these other people didn't live as I presumed. Most of the time I felt as if this was a joke.

One day I finally got up the nerve to talk to a friend about finances - a huge no, no in my family. She was very upfront about the fact that most months she borrowed money from her parents to get by. That never stopped her from buying a new cell phone every 6 months, accepting expensive internet, cable and phone plans, adding other people to her service and eating out almost every day. I couldn't believe it!

After this discussion I started asking more people about their finances and found that most lived in a similar way. I knew I had to make some serious changes ASAP. I did. I wish I could say that today I'm debt free. I'm not. I do heavily limit my spending, not as much as I should or could, but no where near my early adult life. I still have moments where I feel compelled to purchase something because it looks nice, but more often than not I leave without it. Heck, sometimes I even carry it around the store with me only to go back at the last moment to put it back on the shelf.

This wasn't easy to learn. I had to re-teach myself. I had to allow myself permission to say "No!" I had to learn to shop at thrift stores, by generic, and only make purchases when things are on sale. After a few years I could even admit that I shopped this way. (This embarrassed my boss to no end. She would turn beet red and say "Don't tell everyone that!" After a few years, she came around and started thrift shopping, too. Yay! I helped facilitate a convert!)

So, here it is. Give yourself permission to not keep up with the Joneses. It won't be easy. There will be times when you feel a pull to regress, but you can do it! Your wallet, bank account, family, and future will thank you...

Shopping for a cause...

Many of you are familiar with GoodSearch, the search site that donates revenue to your favorite charity. A few years ago they added something new to the mix called GoodShop.

In case you didn't guess from the title, this site allows you to shop online at your favorite sites. Of course, this site follows in the tradition of GoodSearch by providing donations based on your purchases.

Each website is different in how the donation works. Some give based on membership and others on the total purchase. The percentage varies as well - a few offer .05% and others 14%. But remember - pennies make dollars and it's money you would spend anyway, why not help out a good cause while you're at it?

Bookmark GoodShop and check here first when shopping major retailers. As a bonus, you may find great coupon deals on top of the donation. You can't get any better than that!

Monday, January 19, 2009

What's in that stuff anyway?

If you're like me, when you pick up a bottle of shampoo or, worse yet, peanut butter you are confused by all of the scientific jargon contained on the label. I know the government thought it was a great idea to label all of our goods so that we knew what we were using. But, let's face it, unless you loved science in school or are a chemist now you probably have no idea what half of that stuff is on the label.

Last year in an e-mail I received this fantastic link to Skin Deep. This website allows you to punch in products that you may have in your home or are about to buy and see what the contents are. Each listing provides a hazard rating for the item along with any notes about why the item has been deemed dangerous or safe. This is terrific for tracking down allergies!

Okay. Now to the scary part! I have researched food additives for hours now and can find no website that will translate the additives. I found several sites that confirm they exist and are used. Several will tell you the scientific names of said items. However, none will tell you exactly what the names mean or what the additives are derived from. I guess you could determine whether or not the item is also used as an additive for household products. If it is, then you can obtain the information from the Skin Deep website listed above.

There are hundreds of websites that tell you not to ingest food with certain additives. Some give you detailed reasons why and others simply give references of other websites that refer you to other websites. I tried to avoid linking to websites that give what appear to be uneducated guesses or baseless rhetoric. After all of the searching I did find a link to Alternative Medicine Angel . This chart appears to be logically written and gave tangible connections to real life.

When I started this blog it was my intention to provide a well-informed perspective on additives. As I end, I realize that we may be slightly better informed than before but we're no where close to where we should be in the information age. I'm stumped...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Label jargon - what does it mean?

When we venture to the store each week we are constantly hammered with new terminology. "Charlotte's Web" had it right! Everything seems to be new and improved these days. However, we've added so many other descriptions that you almost need to carry a thesaurus with you.

Let's start the basics:

  • “Fortified”, “enriched”, “added”, “extra” and “plus” normally means that the food has been altered or processed in some way. During the manufacturing process the company added something to the basic ingredients to "help" you. You see this alot on cereal and bread, especially when they've stripped all the healthy stuff out of the wheat!

  • “Zero trans fat” This is a hot one! Labeling law loopholes allow food that contains less than 0.5 g per serving of trans fat to be declared ZERO! This would be your cue to search for code words for trans fats include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. DON'T think this means zero fat! It's usually far from it.

  • "Light” or "Reduced Calorie" means that several of the usual ingredients have been changed. This may mean that the regular ingredients have been decreased or that more chemicals have been added to enhance the flavor.

  • "Made with wheat”, “rye”, or “multi-grains” implies that these products are good sources of whole grains but they usually aren't. Look “whole” before the word grain to ensure that you are actually getting a 100% whole-grain product.

  • “Natural” or “made from natural” means the manufacturer started with a natural source. After processing, the food may not resemble the original product in any way, shape, or form.
  • “Organically grown”, “organic”, “pesticide-free” and “no artificial ingredients” say little about the nutritional value or safety of the product. When searching for organic products look for those labels that say “certified organically grown.” This means that the company has been checked by an organization to verify how they produce this product.

  • “Sugar-free”, “sugarless” or “no added sugar” tells you that a chemical enhancer has probably been added. This chemical may be more harmful to you than sugar.

It's important to always check the ingredients section of the label to determine what is truly included in your potential purchase. Unfortunately, the manufactures have lost credibility while upping the use of confusing jargon.

Also, make it a priority to learn how to use the Nutrition Label section. Pay particulare attention to the serving size, as this may not be the entire container or anywhere near what you would serve as a portion!

HealthCheck Systems offers a good synopsis of food labels and has a break-down of other terminology you might want to learn more about.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Searching for a cause...

Several years ago I received an e-mail that tipped me off about a new and interesting concept. I'm sure you've all heard about those "click for money" scams on the internet, so I was initially suspicious of this offer. I was able to verify the validity of this site and later viewed it in several magazines and on a few TV news channels.

GoodSearch is an amazing site that allows you to utilize a top notch search engine, powered by Yahoo. As a bonus, each time you perform a search the non-profit organization you select will received a credit. The credits are accrued and dispersed accordingly.

How to use GoodSearch:
  • Bookmark GoodSearch in your favorites, or, even better, make GoodSearch your home page (that way you'll always remember to search there 1st).
  • Just under the search bar on the main page, you'll see a second search bar under the title "Who do you GoodSearch for?" Enter the name of your favorite charity and verify their organization as your "selected charity."
  • Search until your hearts content, while raising funds for your charity!

Yes, it's that simple! Here are some tips:

  • Each time you delete your internet browsing history you will need to update your selected charity. Deleting your history will automatically reset the charity box to "enter your charity here..."
  • If you don't initially find your charity continue searching. It may be under an abbreviated name, you might have added an "s" where there isn't one, or you may have punctuation and the listing may not. If you absolutely can't find them, ask the organization. If they're not currently listed encourage them to check into it.
  • If your favorite charity isn't available search for something by your city's name. You may find something else that sparks your interest.

Where does the funding come from?

GoodSearch makes money on each website click and from advertisements. They, in turn, roll 50% of that money over to your charity. They get paid, your charity gets paid, you have use of a great search engine and raising money for a great cause to boot! Boy, this is multi-tasking at it's best.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reasons NOT to use things that are Anti-Bacterial

Many of us have homes full of Anti-Bacterial items. The list of new items coming online in this genre increase daily. In fact, it's becoming increasingly hard to find soap without anti-bacterial additives. I've also noticed that many grocery stores are adding dispensers to various sections of their store.

The question here is, are these things good for us to use? Are they beneficial or harmful? Do they truly work?

  • According to the Food and Drug Administration, these items are no more effective than soap and water for preventing colds and flu. Colds and flu are caused by viruses, therefore completely unaffected by anti-bacterial soaps. This means that no matter how quickly you "sanitize" your hands after touching a person with the cold you may still get the bug.

  • The anti-bacterial products have been shown, in laboratory testing, to promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Which means that the more we use these items the harder it will be to make our bacterial infections go away!

  • The chemicals used as the primary germ-killers in these items, Triclosan and Triclocarban, have been found in our lakes and streams, wastewater and breastmilk. Wastewater processing provides sludge for our crops. This may mean that our food contains these chemicals. They have already been found to negatively effect thyroid function in frogs and growth issues in fish. The human effect has yet to be announced.

Now, I'm not trying to frighten anyone. I just want people to consider the things they are using, especially on a regular basis. If regular, old soap and water that we've been using for years with little to no side-effects works, why use another chemical to replace it?

We expose ourselves regularly to chemicals that haven't been put through their paces and checked thoroughly. Then, several years down the road, we learn that these chemicals are harming us. To me, that equates to less chemicals are better for me and the environment.

Spend a few extra moments checking your purchases for these offensive chemicals - Triclosan and Triclocarban. They can be found in everything from soap and deodorant to cutting boards and shoes. By the way, there are other alternatives!

  • Alcohol based products
  • Plant based products, such as, tea tree oil, sage, and elm bark
  • Steam cleaning

Even natural or chemical-free products can be over used. For your sake, and everyone around you, please consider limiting your use of these anti-bacterial items and solutions unless you're in a pinch or need them to clear up an infection.

Remember that bacteria exist everywhere. They are a natural part of the world and if treated properly the good bacteria will manage the offensive stuff on it's own, without our help!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Be an enabler...

I'm always on the look out for good causes. This one I ran across several years ago when chatting with a man I've known all my life. Butch has known my family for years. He attended church in the church I grew up in. His family is one of the families that have enabled that church to remain in existence for over 100 years (I think the church is around 180, now.) Anyway, as we say in the South, he's good people.

Butch is one of those people who are at an age and in an income level that they have pretty much everything they need. You know the kind. You can't ever plan ahead for Birthdays or Christmas because they buy everything they need or want and leave you grasping at straws for ideas.

His daughter needed something truly unpredictable for a Christmas gift. She found this charity called Heifer International. Boy, did she get Butch a one of a kind gift! He was tickled pink and couldn't wait to tell me about it. She got him a cow (or goat. It's been a few years and I can't remember which.) No, not for him to have. He lives in the city. Where would he put a cow? It was to be given to someone else. Someone probably far away and in far greater need than a man with everything.

Heifer International is a company that enables people in poverty to become entreperneurs and build a sustainable community. It can all start with a chicken, or duck, or heifer, of course. Yep, you heard right! They do all this with the aid of some pretty special critters.

For those of you who didn't grow up on a farm, let me explain. Each of God's little creation has a special talent, even us. A chicken lays eggs, a duck lays eggs and sheds usable feathers, a cow (heifer) bears milk, a lamb provides wool, etc...

Here's what happens:
You or a group your involved in purchase an animal, large or small, then Heifer International sends the animal to someone in need. Let's say it's a cow. The cow is not used for food, it is bred for calves and milked. The milk is turned into cheese, milk or other by-products and sold in the local marketplace. The calves are either sold or used to further the stock of the original owner. Instant business!

People who were previously unable to care for themselves and their families benefit from the new enterprise. They reinvest money in their community and the entire community improves!

The wonderful thing about Heifer International is that they don't stop there. Heifer helps these people learn about Agroecology (sustainable farming practices), they teach the families how to properly care for the animals, promote gender equality by gifting to men and women, promote HIV-AIDS awareness and provide prevention information, provide Microenterprise loans (no interest start-up cash for those in need of help starting their businesses), teach Urban Agriculture (how to farm with city limitations), AND have a Young People's Initiative that provides youth with the same opportunities as their parents, which in turn teaches them how to care for future generations...Wow! That's a lot of stuff for one organization!

In 2007, Heifer had 867 active projects. These projects were active in 53 countries or provinces and 28 states in the United States. So, don't feel like this business only takes care of people you'll never see. They help right here at home, too!

Can you think of any better gift for someone you love? A gift that keeps on giving for generations to come. A gift of a better life for someone who you may never meet but are able, in ways big or small, to help. That's the best gift of all. One that never needs to be returned to a store. One that is always the right size. One that comes in just the right color. It's the color of hope. It's the size of your heart and the only thing the recipients return is a smile that lasts a lifetime.

Here's a link to their online gift catalog. Even if you're not ready to give, it will give you ideas about what your contribution could provide:

In closing, I encourage you to become an enabler. Enable someone around you to grow and prosper, if not through this company then in your own way. There is nothing stopping you from creating a program similar to this right in your own back yard!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

My family watches PBS for almost all of our TV viewing. On one of the shows last year we saw a snippet about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA for short). For those of you that are unfamiliar with that term, as I was, these programs allow you to buy a share in a local farmers crop. This enables the farmer to bypass the grocery stores and put more money into their pockets while providing you the freshest produce possible!

How it works will vary from farmer to farmer but in general, each farm offers a specified amount of their projected crop directly to the public through a contract. You agree to purchase this amount weekly or bi-weekly. Sometimes they require the yearly fee upfront and some ask for the funds weekly upon pick-up. Contract prices vary, as do produce variety.

Most CSA participating farmers will provide you with a list of vegetables and/or fruits that they grow, along with a base expected output. You will be expected to be flexible with what you'll receive because your box will only include the crops that are in season. For instance, a box in the spring may include peas, beets and broccoli, but you won't receive tomatoes and summer squash until summer. This may be a big adjustment to people who are used to picking up whatever they want, whenever they want at the grocery store. Most will not customize your box for you, so if you don't like onions or cauliflower, you may end up with it anyway.

Each box will vary in weight according to the crop available, but normally the CSA will guarantee the box to weight between 10-15 pounds a week or something similar. Some CSA's have 1/2 shares available which are good for those of you who have smaller families or don't cook as much as you'd like.

Some CSA's offer delivery to your door or neighborhood and others you'll pick up at the farm or farmers market. A few will included extras such as eggs, fresh bread and flowers!

When searching for a CSA participant look for these things to insure the best bang for your buck:
  1. Ask for a listing of previous crops and those being planted for the current season. When you receive this list, make sure they have the vegetables and any extras you're looking for.

  2. Ask about farming processes. Do they grow organic? If they use pesticides, what kinds do they use? Are they using sustainable farming methods that reduce fertilizers and water consumption?

  3. Verify the pick up or drop off arrangements. Just because a farm is near you doesn't mean you can pick your share up within a reasonable distance.

  4. Ask to visit the farm before buying a share. If they won't let you visit, something might not be quite right with the operation.

  5. Ask for references from current or previous customers. You want to know how they've enjoyed their experience.

  6. Some farms offer discounts for working around the farm. If this is something you and your family may enjoy, it may be well worth the savings!

  7. Check to see if the farm has greenhouses. If they do, they'll be able to protect their seedlings from late or early season frost and may be able to extend their growing season.

  8. Ask about vacation arrangements. If you're out of town for a few weeks can someone else accept your share?

With all of this in mind check out Local Harvest to find a CSA. If one is not available in your area plan to visit a co-op or Farmer's Market. You may find a farmer there that can help you further.

Buying locally will help the local economy by keeping money in the area, reduce emissions for transporting your food, provide the local farmer with a better income than selling wholesale to the grocery store, and your family will receive the freshest food available at amazing prices!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Weight loss update

1 week down. I'll have to admit that I haven't kept to any diet restrictions. Honestly, my son wanted a sugar cake this week and I baked it. We've spent 4 days munching on it therefore I certainly didn't expect to see any results today.

But, I'm down 3 pounds!

We did start walking Monday. We'd planned on it last week but it was raining. We'll increase our walking over the next few weeks and see how it goes.

On Biggest Loser last night we saw a blurb about a program they have where you log how many pounds you've lost and they donate that weight in food to a food bank through the Pound for Pound Challenge. I think we'll give that a go. What a fantastic idea!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Unusual gift ideas...

I know. I just referenced e-mails the other day, but I had to share 2 of my favorites from an e-mail I received today entitled "Ideas for Christmas - for the person who has everything..." It's a few weeks late, but there are always birthdays.

I grew up travelling and boy, could this shirt have been handy!

If you are travelling a lot and don't always know the language of the country you are visiting, then this T-shirt is for you. It has a phrase book printed on it so just point a finger at the pictogram you need and then point it twice at the question mark, which means, 'Where is it?' and in no time you have found what you were looking for... Or not. (Another possibility for the foreign language impaired)

This one can be construed as a little morbid, but I'm a CSI and Law & Order nut. Please view it in that light!

Chalk outline crime scene beach towel - be the coolest person on the beach!

I hope these put a smile on your face, as they did mine!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Where are all the calendars?

Yesterday, it occurred to me that my calendar was outdated. As I went to pull the old one down I realized that I only have one calendar this year and it's one that I purchased.

I don't know about the rest of you, but this is VERY strange in my home. Normally by this time of year I have a small stack awaiting placement - one for the pantry door, one for my desk, one for my son's room, one for my husband to put in the garage, and usually a few to take to work and pawn off on the guys there. However, this year I've received none. Odd because I still donate to the same causes, still shop at the same stores, and still have the same veterinarian.

Then it occurred to me. Perhaps this is yet another side effect from the economic downturn that we've experienced in America recently. Maybe those companies and organizations had to cut back on all of their "extras".

After a few moments I realized that this is probably a good thing. I always have more calendars than I need. That's the reason we have one to put in the garage (of all places!) Occasionally we receive solicitations for donations followed by gifts of labels, calendars, tote bags, umbrellas, etc... I must say that many of those gifts are met with a question in my heart. If these organizations truly need these funds, why do they spend money sending out gifts?

I present to you my list of good things that come from a lack of calendars:

  • Money is saved by these businesses that can be put to better use elsewhere.

  • I'm not out any time trying to farm out all of my excess calenders.

  • Think about how many of these things end up unused and in the landfill!

  • The cities will save recycling or dumping costs associated with disposal.

  • Some printers use harmful chemicals in the manufacturing of printed material, so we avoid those chemicals being released into the environment.

  • Think of all of the trees that will be saved by not printing all of that useless material!

Believe me, I also understand that there are economic repercussions from all of these companies not printing in excess. It will effect people from the logging companies to the printers, but I can't help but think that we Americans have lived an excessively wasteful lifestyle for many years.

I feel that it is a good thing that we are being forced to rethink our purchases and refocus on the truly important things. Sometimes the excesses get the best of us and we lose sight of the important parts of life because of it.

You facilitate cutting back in other ways as well! Do you receive far too many paper catalogs in the mail? Are some from companies you haven't purchased from in years or never purchased from? What about unsolicited credit card offers? Do you receive a mailbox full everyday?

Catalog Choice can help you remove yourself from the catalog lists and it's free! This program allows you to consolidate all of your removal data in one place and then they assist you with your removal requests. Or you can contact each company individually and make the same request.

Opt Out Prescreen can help eliminate those pesky credit card offers. I'm always afraid someone will sign up for one in my name if they get a hold of it.

I challenge you to rid yourself of all of the unwanted paper this year !

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Saving money with coupons...

Many people are concerned about saving money these days. A great way to do that is to clip coupons! If you've never done this before we'll go through the steps for you.

First, you'll need access to the Wednesday and Sunday papers, if possible. This doesn't mean that you have to subscribe to the paper. You probably have a neighbor or relative that throws this stuff away. Just ask around. You can find most coupons in Sundays paper, but Wednesday has the grocery store sale papers and you may find more coupons in those. You can also use the sale papers to find good deals that will use many of Sunday's coupons!

Second, you need to try to avoid "brand loyalty". That is where you become so loyal to one product that you refuse to use any other. Sometimes you make this purchase because your mother or grandmother always purchased that brand. It's important to note that in their day there weren't as many brands and they didn't have store brands. MANY of the store brands on shelves are manufactured by the same companies you normally buy; they just slap on a different label. If this is very important to you, try to wean yourself off by first comparing ingredients of items. Take home items with similar ingredients and do taste tests. (The great thing about the taste tests is that sometimes you find better ingredients than you originally used!)

Third, have some way to organize your coupons and sales information. You can set up a computer program that you plug all of the data into. You can write notes on scrap pieces of paper. They have coupon "wallets" available at stores. Some have cute designs. I would recommend a thick plastic one if you go this route, as the paper ones wear out faster. You can normally find the plastic ones at a dollar store - which makes this an even better decision. Recently, I've seen several ladies with 3-ring binders loaded to the gils. Whatever works for you.

Fourth, be sure to sign up for each stores customer savings card. It may be called "Important Customer" card, "Extra Savings" card, you get the point...Most major stores have them now and the savings you'll receive is well worth letting them track your spending. (Yes, they do that!) The combination of coupons and these savings cards will amaze you.

A tip for storing those store cards: Keep them on a seperate key chain designated especially for those cards, that way they don't clutter up your regular keys. If you don't receive a key chain ready card, you can punch a hole in your regular sized card or you can keep all of the regular sized cards together in a small zipper bag. The seperate bag will keep them from bulking up your wallet and you can stash them in your glove box!

Fifth, get to know your store. Some stores offer double coupons, but have regulations - up to $.50, up to $.99. Some stores regulary offer triple coupons. Again, get to know the regulations. This is a terrific time to stock up and most stores will do the triple coupons about the same week each year, so you can plan around it.

Sixth, always take a calculator with you. You never know when you'll need it. Occasionally, you'll find that you'll save more by buying another brand, even with a coupon or sale.


On Wednesday, I grab some scrap paper, one for each store, and note items of interest on each, along with the sale price. As I flip through each store flyer, I compare my notes on the previous store. Many weeks you'll find that stores will have the same items on sale, but some have drastically different prices! Watch the sales flyers for additional "this store only" coupons.

Sunday, I sit down with my scrap paper notes and flip through the new coupons. I clip any coupons I might need in the near future, paying special attention to those that I may want to utilize this week. After clipping the coupons out, I immediately paper clip the ones to be used this week to each stores notes, according to where I'll get the best deal. This will save you precious time at each store especially if you're going to multiple.

When shopping, always remember to take your other coupons along. Sometimes stores will have unadvertised specials that you can cash in on while picking up the necessities! Don't be afraid to stock up on common household items that have long shelf lives, such as toilet paper, dish detergent, toothpaste, etc. You know you'll use them one day and a good deal is a good deal even if it's 6 months until you use it.

NEVER pay for groceries with a credit card, unless you pay your card in full each month. Paying with a credit card will wipe out any savings you receive initially. If you are in a situation where this is your only alternative, perhaps you should seek asisstance from a local food bank or other charity. Don't be embarassed about seeking asisstance, either. Things happen. That's life and that's why these organizations are there, because there was a need.


There are companies that will compile these lists for you. One that was featured last year on the local news was The Grocery Game. For a fee, these people will provide a detailed list of coupons available and what stores to use them at. They even state that they have listings on the unadvertised deals. You can get a list for one store or multiple stores. Charges vary depending on which service you pick. It may be worth the fee if you don't have the time or wish to work out a list on your own.

I also found a link for another site that is supposed to be similar, but it's FREE. That's CouponMom. It looks like this site also offers free sample links and free coupons online. BUT, be careful about printing online coupons. Check with your stores to make sure they accept these before wasting your time. Many large chains don't accept them due to fraud. Apparently, people were making their own coupons with PhotoShop type programs.

Other links that you may like:

A post on another blog gave me this idea. If you have other ideas for her, please leave her a comment on the original post!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Horse Rescue and Retirement...

My family LOVES animals. Did I say we love animals? I mean we REALLY do. If we could afford to buy a farm , we would. And, we would happily tend to the animals daily - feeding, brushing, loving, nurturing, you name it - that would be fine!

This morning while I was cooking breakfast my husband was watching TV. He found this dog show a few weeks ago that is aimed toward kids. He loves it every Saturday, now. (Of course, he's a big kid so that works!) Anyway, after the dog show went off, he left and left the TV on - a big no,no in our house as it wastes electricity. But, I'll forgive him this once because a little while later Jack Hanna's Into the Wild show came on.

I don't know about you, but I haven't seen this show in years. I did enjoy it the few times that I saw it back then. That Jack is a funny guy when he's chasing animals. But, today the show was different. Jack wasn't chasing animals, he was helping feed animal on a farm. Not just any old farm, a horse rescue farm.

The farm is called Mill Creek Farm - Retirement Home for Horses, Inc. What a wonderful place! This couple, Mary and Peter Gregory, of retirement age themselves (I think the man was 79 at filming!) purchased hundreds of acres of land outside of Naples, FL. They take in horse that have worked, in some capacity or another, all their lives and allow the horses a nice place to "retire". The farm also provides a separate paddock for blind horses (apparently, Appaloosa's are prone to blindness as they age) and a burial ground called "Field of Dreams" as a final resting place.

The Gregory's provide a home for these animals to prevent them from being destroyed, as most owners would do when the horse is no longer deemed useful. Of the horses Jack showed us, some had been abused by their previous owners by starvation, improper grooming habits (trimming of hooves), or improper care after injuries. Others had been put out to pasture after years of police, forestry, or circus work. The remainder had been participants in riding programs and one had been saved from the "animal dumping grounds", also known as the Everglades.

Can you believe that horse owners in Florida will take their horses out to the Everglades and tie them to trees for alligator feed because they don't want to pay to properly dispose of the animal???? Outrageous!

During the filming of the show, a man showed up with a trunk load of fresh fruits and veggies for the horses. He stated that he had been coming daily for 8 years with the same load - a case of bananas, a case of apples or pears, and a 50 pound bag of carrots. Jack's wife introduced us to a family that has adopted a horse, a miniature pony and a burro. The family travels regularly from Germany to visit and groom their adoptive animals! That's commitment!

Jack Hanna stated that he and his wife had found this jewel of a farm over 12 years ago on a trip to the Naples area. They have been sponsoring horses ever since. Jack said that you can sponsor one horse, which offsets the costs of feeding, grooming and veterinary expenses, for $40 a month. The website states that the average cost for one horse per year is about $2100 (and they had a lot!)

If you are interested in more information on this wonderful organization click on their link above or here for their donation information page:
(The horses pictured are from the Mill Creek Farm website. The first is Collier, an Arabian, from the Parker Ranger Service. The second is Denim, a Quarterhorse, from the Veterinary Medical Center of the University of Florida - poor swayback fellow...)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In a sea of e-mail this one hits home...

I am thankful:

For the wife who says it's hot dogs tonight, because she is home with me and not out with someone else.

For the husband who is on the sofa being a couch potato, because he is home with me and not out at the bars.

For the teenager who is complaining about doing the dishes, because it means their at home, not on the streets.

For the mess to clean after a party, because it means I have been surrounded by friends.

For the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means I have enough to eat.

For my shadow that watches me work, because that means I'm out in the sunshine.

For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home.

For all the complaining I hear about the government, because that means we have freedom of speech.

For the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means I am capable of walking and I have been blessed with transportation.

For my huge heating bill, because it means I am warm.

For the lady behind me at church who sings off key, because it means I can hear.

For the pile of laundry and ironing, because it means I have clothes to wear.

For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day, because it means I have been able to work.

For the alarm that goes off early in the morning, because it means I'm alive.

For the crazy people I work with, BECAUSE they make work interesting and fun!

For too much e-mail, because it means I have friends who are thinking of me.

This list was in an e-mail I recently received from two good friends. It made me stop and think a moment. Some days, it's as if every little thing annoys me. I strive to find the best in situations (hey, one of my favorite movies is Pollyanna!) but sometimes it's not easy.

I'm glad someone sent me this e-mail as it will help keep me focused on the good things in my life. Although I will add one more thing that I'm so grateful for - My relationship with God, for without it none of these other things would have any meaning!

Blessings and God's peace to you and yours...

Thought for the day...

"Miracles are all around you. You just need to open yourself to receive them."

by M J Ryan, author of the Happiness Makeover

I used to keep this quote posted by my desk at work. The thought is simplistic, yet profound. How many times have you missed something because you closed yourself off?

Personally, I think I missed out on half of my teen years because I was waiting for something really fabulous to happen. What I failed to realize is that miracles were happening all around me. I was just too caught up in fancy and flashy to notice. I thought miracles came with fireworks and thunderous applause. The truth is that miracles come quietly, in the depth of night, on the whisper of the wind, they sneak up and catch you unawares...but only if you're open to receive them...

In this new year make a conscious decision to witness things like a child - everything fresh and new. You'll be amazed at what you find!

Here's a link for M.J.'s website, if you're interested. She has some great books on gratitude, as well. -

And a link to recieve her daily inspirational e-mails -