Saturday, April 28, 2012

My Dream

I've made various references to my dream home, my dream life, where I'd like my family to be, but I'm not 100% everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about, since it is pretty out of the mainstream, so I thought I'd spell it out in one post.  All I need is an acre and I'm pretty much there....

First off, my home.  I want to build an Earthship.  For those that aren't familiar, an Earthship is a passive solar house made primarily of recycled materials.  They are semi-underground so the north side of the house is insulated against heat in the summer and the cold in the winter to keep it a moderate temperature year round.  The south side of the house is windows at such an angle to let the sunlight come fully in during the winter and not as much in the summer.  They use rainwater for the water system, utilizes the graywater for toilet use and to irrigate the indoor greenhouse.  They are typically powered with solar or wind power so are usually entirely off the grid. The outside might look something like this:

I wouldn't have the pavement in front of the house though.  I'm thinking, as far north as we are, I'd probably put some fruit trees in front of the house to shade it in the summer and allow for the sunlight to come through and heat the house in the winter.

The inside would look something like this:
If you are wondering what it entails to build a house like this, I have pics of that too:
The site that this picture is from has lots more info about the "how tos" of building an Earthship as well.
More Earthship pictures are also available on my Pinterest board about them, Dreaming of a Home.

Heading out of my imaginary house and into my "yard", which is actually my homestead, I plan on putting together something like this:
From the book The Backyard Homestead, one of the most inspirational books I've ever had the privilege to see.
With my unconventional house being somewhat underground, I could actually put some of the raised beds or animal pens or something going over the house itself.  I am thinking an acre, rather than the quarter acre depicted here, because I want to have goats for dairy and meat.  I don't really want the pigs shown but I definitely want the chickens, rabbits, bees, and gardens.  I'm also imagining having a fish pond, but that would actually be inside the Earthship, so we could have fresh caught fish year round!  I also would like a larger piece of land than a quarter acre so we can (hopefully) produce enough to sell, either at a roadside stand, farmers market (that's the least probable of my ideas), or through contract with a local restaurant or two (definitely one the first year, then maybe expand, if it works out well enough and I can produce enough).

In addition not needing the entire footprint of my house dedicated solely to living space, by utilizing the land on top of it, I have a few other space saving ideas that could further improve the efficiency of my land use:
like a chicken coop like this, maybe right outside the goat enclosure, so the chickens can be let go out into the goat pen when I don't want them getting into my garden.
Maximizing vertical growing space would also be key.
Without needing to buy food, pay for utilities, a home built mostly by ourselves (or help from volunteers that just want the experience of building an Earthship) once our land is paid for, our expenses will be minimal, so this is our plan for my husband's retirement.  It is a good life, a simple life, filled with good, healthy hard work and lots of love through the time spent with family....and the only thing that is currently keeping us from getting started is owning an acre of land.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Easy Pasta Skillet

The focus of this blog may be not so much couponing as a way of life (would you like some posts on how to coupon, now that I'm routinely getting 30-50% off retail on my grocery store purchases?), but couponing helped save me a lot when I made this dish last night!  I got the pasta for free with a $1 off one coupon for Barilla pasta I got for "liking" their Facebook page and using it when the pasta was on sale for $1 each.  I paid $0.50 for the cooking creme I used in place of regular cream cheese (it was too zippy for the kids...I won't be buying it again, but regular cream cheese works fine) by getting it on sale for $2 plus using a coupon for $1.50 off one I got from the Kraft First Takes website (this recipe is actually very liberally adapted from the package of the cooking creme).  I used venison for the meat and homemade tomato sauce as well, so total cost to feed the family last night (with leftovers available for a couple individual future lunches) was probably only about $3 at the most!

Easy Pasta Skillet
1/2 lb ground meat
1/2 cup onions 
3 cups tomato sauce
2 cups water
1/4 tsp garlic powder (or to taste)
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp basil
1 box penne or rotini pasta
8 oz cream cheese (the kind in the tubs works best)

Brown meat with the onions in a large deep skillet (I actually used a 3qt saute pan, but whatever).  Stir in sauce, water, and seasonings and bring to a boil.  Stir in pasta.  Cover and simmer on medium low heat for 15-18 minutes, or until pasta are al dente, stirring occasionally.  Stir in cream cheese; remove from heat.  Let stand covered for 3 minutes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Good News and the Bad News--a Trailer Park Homestead Update

So which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?  How about I make a news sandwich, since I have two goods and one bad.  The first good news is this:
Even though this home is going in two lots down from us, it looks like they are putting the stairs so they go onto the driveway of the next lot over, which means that the lot right next to ours will no longer have a driveway available to it, so I shouldn't have to worry about a home going in there and messing up my sunlight for the growing season.  Yay!

The bad news is that I've been very depressed lately, and that's why I haven't been blogging very much lately.

The other good news is that I may have a new venue for you to view my blog on soon.  There would be a small fee if you choose to go that route to view it, but that will motivate me to blog more, if people are paying specifically to read it.  Anyhoo, hopefully that will be finalized and I'll have an actual real announcement about it in a couple days.

As for what else is growing on at the Trailer Park Homestead, it is largely SSDD:
More or less the same...
More or less the same...
I think I saw a sign of life on the zombie pineapple (it didn't fall over when the plant light cord knocked it, indicating the possibility of a root system developing) and that crazy spinach thing is reaching its tentacles beyond the confines of my kitchen counter garden and occasionally attacking me as I go by (which is pretty freaky when it is dark and sends thoughts of zombies that are not pineapples into my head).
Speaking of monsters, my tomato plants look like they'd all like to be transplanted.  Checking the 10 day forecast, at this moment, it looks like it might be maybe possible to send them outside to play as early as next week!  The last frost is usually mid- to late May here though, so I'm not going to count on it.  I'll just have to keep checking the forecast to see.
My apologies to those that abhor the consumption of meat, but this is an update on the mushrooms from last week's post.  I didn't get around to eating them in a salad with spinach from the garden, sooooooo, I sauteed them with this here venison steak that we ate last night and, boy, they were yummy!  My husband had had oyster mushrooms previously when I got some from a farmers market a couple years ago and didn't care for them, but, with the steak, he said they were "pretty good", which is his highest praise!  I'll probably turn the mushroom kit over and start growing them on the other side within a few days, so I can have that more or less done when my free replacement bag of mushroom spores and growing medium arrives.  That's right:  FREE!  Back to the Roots has a promotion going on that, when you post a picture of yourself (or your kids, whatever) and your mature mushroom kit on their Facebook page, they will send the classroom of your choice a free mushroom kit.  However, they also give you the option of getting a free replacement bag for yourself instead.  Since we homeschool, my kitchen is the classroom of my choice, so I asked for the replacement bag and was informed yesterday that it will be shipped within a few days.  Getting two bags for the price of one definitely makes one of those nifty keen mushroom kits a better deal!  Once I'm done growing in the bags, I plan on seeing if I can learn how to keep the mushrooms growing on my own, without any further purchases or, if all else fails, I've heard the stuff left in the bags after the mushrooms are done makes a fantastic soil amendment, so that should make my plants happy as well.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chicken, Meaty, or Cheese Enchiladas

How's that for a deal!  You can make these enchiladas several ways and they're good any way you do it!  This is also a great way to use up leftover chicken or taco meat.  There are so many variations that are possible on this, so you can use what you have or what you can obtain the cheapest!
Yup, this is a pretty terrible picture, I know.  Can't really tell what it is, besides possibly something involving melty cheese.  I figured that, in this age of Pinterest "cookbooks" where people tend to file recipes they want to try, I needed to have some sort of image for people to Pin, and a crappy picture is better than no picture for that purpose!


12 6-inch corn or flour tortillas (I find the corn ones have a tendency to break, so I end up with more of a lasagna looking dish)
2 cups tomato sauce (or 1 15-oz can)
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2-1 cup taco meat, unseasoned browned ground meat, shredded chicken, or sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 cup shredded Monteray jack cheese, divided
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or parsley (optional)
cooking spray or olive oil

Preheat oven to 425.  Warm the tortillas according to package directions.  Grease a 9x13 baking pan.  Combine tomato sauce, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and garlic powder.  Set aside one cup of tomato sauce mixture.  Add meat, chicken, or sour cream.  Stir in 1/2 cup of each cheese and cilantro or parsley (if using).  Spoon some of the meat mixture onto each tortilla and roll up; place seam side down in baking pan.  Lightly spray enchiladas with cooking spray or brush on olive oil with a pastry brush.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 400; pour remaining sauce on top of enchiladas and sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Cover and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for 5-10 minutes.  Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

This Week's Pretty Uneventful Trailer Park Homestead Update

Of course, uneventful is a relative term. The new trailer a couple doors down is almost all the way in so we will possibly be having new neighbors in a matter of weeks (days?), the mushroom kit produced mushrooms, and an "oops" by the kids may produce a lot more broccoli than I'd planned, but I'm still longing for the later days of summer when I have harvesting and/or canning to do nearly daily (which reminds me, I probably should can some venison soon....).  Anyhoo, here's what's going on in pictures:
I think the new neighbor's house won't even interfere with my garden's sunlight.  Yay!
Defintely should think about getting that spinach out of there and eating it or freezing it!  Either way, it is getting pretty big!
Strawberry flowers in mid-April?  Really?  The lilac blooms are starting as well.  It certainly has been a weird spring!
Only about three of the original broccoli plants I started in the back box as still there, but I started more last week in some of the spots and then this week I found this....
Apparently, when I gave my son and his friend a little garden area and some seeds to play with, they had a little "oops" and spilled broccoli (?) seeds in the former potato bin (which is currently just a soil holder).  They neglected to mention it to me when it happened, so I can only make an educated guess about which seed packet spilled.  Regardless, it is something we'll eat, so I figure I should try to find someplace to stick these were they can grow rather than killing them off and letting them go to waste!
Speaking of seedlings, I haven't managed to kill off my tomatoes, peppers, and ground cherries I have started inside yet.  There have been a number of times that they've gotten pretty droopy from lack of watering though, so I'm hoping frosty nights are almost over (no more than a month, max, maybe considerably less with the weird weather we've been having).
And here is one of the reasons I'm not too worried about my current over abundance of seedlings.  I scored a bunch of cast off wood that used to be part of a chicken coop from Freecycle yesterday.  My husband thinks it was treated so is hesitant about using it for garden boxes, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't (you wouldn't use treated wood to build a chicken coop many, many years ago, would you?), so we are trying to figure out for sure.  Even if it is treated, and therefore unsuitable for planting edible plants in, I can still use it as a facade to conceal "unacceptable" gardening containers (according to trailer park management) like buckets.
And, finally, here are three of the world's cutest kids (I might be biased, but I doubt it) with the first mushrooms from our mushroom kit (ordering information to get your own awesome mushroom kit is on the sidebar----->)!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

FREE ebook: The Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book: Your Complete Guide to planting, tending, and harvesting vegetables

So not only do I have a giveaway going for The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading, a wonderful beginner book for a myriad of homesteading skills, but now I've found a FREE book for EVERYONE, The Everything Grow Your Own Vegetables Book, a great book for those looking to start gardening (or grow them more successfully)!  Of course, this one is an e-book, and since it is being offered by Amazon, I don't know if it will be free forever or if this is just a limited time offer, so be sure to take advantage of this great offer right away!

From the product description:

Vine-ripened tomatoes. Succulent squash. Plump cucumbers. Growing vegetables is a rewarding—and cost-effective—way to eat better for less. Yet many don’t know where to start. Author and farmer Catherine Abbott answers questions like:
  • What is the best way to maximize my garden space?
  • How do I get started growing food to sustain my family?
  • Can I grow vegetables inside my house?
  • How can I tell if my vegetables are primed for eating?
  • Will I really save money by growing my own?
You will find affordable tips on how to plant and harvest more than thirty common vegetables, from spinach and eggplant to corn and beans. Abbott’s expertise shines on planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, and troubleshooting. This book has everything you need to grow fresh, delicious veggies in any climate, any time of year!

To take advantage of this great offer (worth $15.95!!!), just click here, add the book to your shopping cart, and go through the checkout like you would buying anything.  If you don't have a Kindle, you can order one by clicking here or you can get a free app for your Smartphone, tablet, or traditional computer by clicking on the "Free Kindle App" tab on the Kindle page and downloading it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another Day at the TPH--a Trailer Park Homestead update

There is absolutely nothing exciting going on here.  Well, the new trailer going in a couple lots down might be exciting, but until we see what sort of people move in, we won't know for sure.  Here's what I do know about what's growing on this week at the Trailer Park Homestead:
I probably could harvest those carrots and the spinach in the middle of this box anytime, but I think, other than harvesting a little spinach leaves here and there as needed, I'm going to leave them until next month, when I need the spots for something else.
My front "yard"
Onions and broccoli hanging out with my latest garden ornament (bought almost entirely with those "$$ off your next purchase" coupons!)
A number of my broccoli plants seem to have gotten eaten, but I still have plenty of time to replant.
Pretty soon, these peas will be big enough to start twining around the rails on our front steps.
My seedlings are excitedly waiting to go outside next month.  I currently have four varieties of peppers (jalapeno, cayenne, grand bell pepper, and California wonder bell peppers) and three varieties of tomatoes (beefsteak, brandywine, and silvery fir Russian).  I used to have a couple other varieties of tomatoes, but I only had one each and they died.  I might still end up with more though, since I still have seeds I haven't given up hope that they will germinate.  Ground cherries will soon be joining this collection of indoor starts as well.
Less than a week after starting my mushrooms in my kitchen, I already have very encouraging lumps!
I'm starting to wonder if my zombie pineapple is going to make it.  It is still looking pretty sad!  My zombie celery never recovered from its visit to the outside and was pronounced dead earlier this week.  I'll have to pick up another bunch of celery and another pineapple one of these days to try again.  In other zombie news, my avocado pit has split open, so I think it is trying to do something.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Making a Coupon Binder

For a couple months now, I've been practicing what I've been calling "extreme-ish couponing."  I told myself I wasn't a "real" extreme couponer because
A) I still have pretty high standards about what I will and won't buy (no artificial colors or MSG in foods, no artificial fragrances or nasty other chemicals in cleaning or hygiene products)
B) I've "only" been saving an average of 30-50% on my shopping orders (this week was 43%) and
C) I didn't have a coupon binder, just a little coupon wallet.

"C" is no longer true.  This past weekend, I broke down and put together a coupon binder.  It was just getting too much of a pain to flip through all ninety billion coupons to find one little coupon that I found I needed when I was in the store, like the pistachio coupon I needed a couple weeks ago that I spent about ten minutes searching for when I found an unadvertised sale.

One of the reasons I put it off so long was I was afraid it would cost a lot.  I've seen coupon binders on sale on various tend to run about $30!  No way was I paying that much for a coupon binder (even though that is about what I save with coupons every week now)!  I knew I had unused binders laying around the house, so I just needed to put the right stuff in it to make it a "coupon binder".  I bought some baseball card holder pages (regular price $5.99 for 35 sheets of nine slots, so space to hold 315 different products; you might want more than one set if you aren't as picky about what products you might buy) and two packs of 8 dividers (regular price $1.27 each).  Then it was time to assemble it.

I used a 2 inch binder, since that seemed to be the smallest thickness I could get away with (since I'll be lugging it to stores every week).  The binder I found has pockets inside so I figured I could use them to hold the coupons I'd be using the current week.  If it didn't, I probably would have added a zippered pouch or a sheet protector to store my stack.  I have some sheet protectors lying around the house (I use them a lot for my various binders), so I stuck one inside the front to hold my grocery list(s) for the week.  Next comes the different sections for my coupons, with a few (or more) baseball card holders per section, depending on how many coupons I'm likely to have for that section.  I divided my binder into produce/meats (lumped together because they are physically right next to each other in my most frequented store and the first section of the store I hit), dairy, canned fruits & veggies, baking supplies, food storage (anything from that horrible middle section of the store that I don't usually go in, but might wander into if the price is low enough to build up my 1 year + emergency food storage), snacks/crackers, breakfast aisle, beverages, frozen, bakery, pharmacy, paper products, batteries (so my husband doesn't have to dig through a bunch of other stuff when he gets the urge to buy batteries), toys, other non-food, and a section for blank pages that haven't been assigned to a section yet.

Then it was just a matter of sticking the coupons in the right section!  Printable coupons are pretty big, so I folded them down (usually just in half) so I can see what the product listed is.  Coupons for identical products all go in the same pouch, soonest to expire on top, regardless of whether they are store coupons or manufacturer coupons, so I don't miss anything.  When I find a sale for that product, I can pull out that whole pouch to figure out which applies and which offers the best deals for the quantities I want.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Diabetic Friendly (no artificial anything) Peach Crisp

I made this as a dessert to share for our Easter dinner and it got rave reviews.  I don't think it hurt that I used peaches I had canned last summer (not in a sugar syrup obviously), fresh from the farmers market.  I'm not sure if store bought canned peaches can be bought without a horrible syrup, so you might want to use frozen peaches or stick to fresh.  One of the comments I got was that the peaches tasted fresh picked!  I guess I got that sealing in the freshness down!  If they were in season, I would have used fresh.

I made a larger batch of this, since it was for a family gathering, but it could be easily halved for a single family (or piggy individual).  Just stick it in a 8x8 baking dish rather than a 9x13.

For the batch I made this weekend, "to taste" on the seasonings meant that I handed the cinnamon to my 2 year old and the nutmeg to my 7 year old and told them both to "just put in a couple shakes", knowing full well that the 7 year old would probably listen and the 2 year old would get excited and just start shaking until I told him to stop!
Diabetic-friendly Peach Crisp
2 quarts canned peaches, drained, or about 7 cups fresh
1 cup quick oats
1/2 cup whole wheat, nut (almond, acorn, etc), or other low-glycemic flour
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
2/3 cup agave syrup

Preheat oven to 375.  Arrange peaches evenly in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish and set aside.  In a small mixing bowl, combine oats, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Stir in agave.  Gently spoon mixture over peaches.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.  May be served warm or cold.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Creative Crop Covers

We had a freeze warning this morning.  As I am writing this, it is probable freezing outside even (I'm scared to look).  Fortunately, I monitor the weather and new this ahead of time so I could cover my garden to give my plants protection.  I put stuff on the plants to cover them when it was still light enough out that the sun would heat up the air and ground under the covers and kind of create a mini-greenhouse effect, without the expense of a greenhouse.  Here's what I used:

Here, ordinary plastic shopping bags cover  2-gallon pots and window boxes
Plastic milk jugs or juice bottles with the bottoms cut out of them make perfect free cloches for these broccoli seedlings.
Clear plastic sheeting (a drop cloth, maybe?) makes a great garden protection (that's actually the same piece of plastic that covered the front garden box and kept its contents alive all winter)....
but any color will do, even black.  I just need to make sure to uncover this as soon as possible in the morning so the plants don't cook once the sun is hitting it directly again!
Tarps offer a little heavier duty protection, as do blankets of any sort, such as the fleece ones here.   I didn't bother covering my berry bushes since, being relatively native (?) to this habitat, I'm pretty confident they can handle it and I didn't cover the chives because I'm pretty sure chives are indestructible!
I've also used plastic wrap tacked into place to protect plants on some really cold nights, but a lot of my plants are already getting too big for that!

Oh, and I bit the proverbial bullet and checked the temperature outside:  it is currently 32 degrees out (as of 1am), with a lot of hours of night left to go.  It might get as low as the lower 20s this morning, so let's hope my "crop condoms" are enough!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review (and GIVEAWAY): The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading

I don't often dedicate an entire post to just one book (in fact, have I ever?), but The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading deserves it.  It was one of the many books that I read and/or flipped through (have I ever mentioned that I have the attention span of a fruit fly on crack?) during my semi-involuntary partial exile from the internet (I still had my phone....) while my computer was being repaired during most of last month.  Usually, a non-fiction book without colorful pictures for me to pine about not having a "pin it" button won't appeal to me (fruit fly thing), but this one WOWed me.  In fact, I had to put it down several times to harass the author to tell her how great it was.  Fortunately for her, it was the middle of the night and she was sleeping, so she just woke up to my gushing on her Facebook page.

Have I mentioned how much I love this book?

The text is only 297 pages (with an additional 26 pages of ultra-awesome appendixes) but the information jam packed in there is un-freaking-believable!  Granted, it doesn't go into a great deal of depth about any subject (although Appendix C contains the most thorough and best garden planning chart I've ever seen in my life, so that there would justify the purchase!), but it is a fantastic introduction to a wide variety of topics, including (but not limited to): info about zoning regulations; keeping animals even if you don't have any land including chickens, goats, rabbits, and bees; making homesteading work for you; growing food without a yard; basically Gardening 101, aquaponics; food preservation; soap making; cheese making; composting (a really, really good section on composting, I might say!); energy conservation/alternative energy; and foraging!  Obviously, there isn't enough room in 297 to teach you everything you need to know about so many subjects, but there is enough information in each area to help you at least figure out if it would be feasible for your lifestyle to do it or not and Appendix B is a resources section with books and websites pertaining to each subject so you can learn as much as you want to by checking those out.

As a super busy person (with the attention span of a fruit fly on crack, as I mentioned), I also liked how the book was broken down into short segments.  It actually occurred to me that if one spouse in a household was wanting to start doing some of this stuff, but the other was nay-saying it, this would be the perfect book for the enthusiastic spouse to leave in the bathroom (with all other reading material removed and cell-phone ban in the bathroom, so they can't escape).  No, that is not the situation in my house (besides, a cell-phone ban would never stick here), but I've had a number of people comment before that they wish their spouse would get on board with their homesteading dreams.

I love this book so much, I wish I could keep a stack of them with me at all times to give to anyone that showed even the slightest interest in becoming an urban homesteader, but since I'm poor, that's obviously not an option.  What I will do however, is give away one copy to a lucky reader of this blog!  Yay!  Cue confetti!  All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post saying what urban homesteading activities you would like to pursue, but haven't, and what is stopping you from trying.  On Friday, April 27, late in the evening (maybe I'll do a whole party thing on Facebook or something), I will randomly select one winner and post their name as shown on the comments (so don't post anonymously or I can't give it to you.  Sorry) on Facebook and Twitter.  That person has 24 hours to email me at adventuresofathriftymama at hotmail dot com (translated into an actual email address), or I will move on to select someone else.  Then that person would have 24 hours to contact me, etc, etc (because I'm doing this with the paycheck Amazon is kind enough to give me almost every month and it tends to burn a hole in my pocket if I wait too long to spend it).  Good luck and may the fermentation (or something) be with you! (Fine print: there is no way I can spring for international shipping, so I'm going to have to limit this contest to US mailing addresses only.  Sorry!)   Sorry, contest is now closed!  Congratulations, Elizabeth Walker!

Thanks to everyone that came over from Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #22!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Quick Guide to Creating an Edible Landscape

Last year's "jungle" of a garden was quite popular with the neighborhood kids.  It was perfect for the younger ones to play hide and seek or tag, but the older kids also enjoyed it immensely for their battles with Nerf guns!
Lawns are evil and must be destroyed.  Yes, it is true.  They sap resources and usually serve no purpose whatsoever.  I've long thought that gardens were a much prettier use of a limited yard space, ever since I first saw such a thing in Germany when I was 13 years old (it was actually West Germany at the time, but whatever).  As I grew up (and grew poorer), I realized that edible landscapes combine a lot of the aesthetic principles that make a garden more visually appealing than a boring green monoculture of grass (which is most likely an invasive species to boot), but also provide free or at least extremely cheap food!

Here is my quick guide to getting started in edible landscaping:

1)  Figure out what plants your family eats.  Make a complete list of every fruit, vegetable, and, if you think you might have the space, grains you ever buy and eat.  Don't worry about whether it is possible to grow them in your climate at this stage.  You are basically brainstorming at this point.

2)  Go through your list and figure out what can conceivably be grown in your area.  This can be more difficult that in seems, if you want it to be anyway.  Sometimes there are varieties of plants that will survive in your climate, if you just take the time to look for them.  For example, I'm currently trying to grow bananas in Michigan and my mom discovered a cold hardy variety of pecans that she's going to be growing.  I've also seen cold hardy kiwis, as another example.  If you want to stick with the "normal" plants for your area, that's fine too, of course, but it just limits what you can produce in your yard.  If there is a plant you really want that isn't hardy for your area (like pineapples in my case), you may want to consider adding a small greenhouse to your landscaping plans or growing it in containers and overwintering it in your house.

The curve on the left matches the driveway and the
tomatoes on the right are climbing the lamppost
3)  Plan your garden around your available space.  In the front section of my yard, there is an irregular shaped space caused by a weird curve in the driveway.  A linear garden wouldn't work well there, but the curved, freestyle rock-lined garden I put there works great.  I further incorporated existing elements of the yard into that garden by putting the corner of it around the lamppost that was there and using that as a vertical support for tomatoes last year (I'm thinking cucumbers will grow up it this year).  If you have limited space, you may also want to consider focusing on high yield plants for the space, like tomatoes or cucumbers, or things that grow in different seasons so you can cram two or three plantings in the space.  In one season, I might use the same space for lettuce, then tomatoes, then spinach.  Another small space trick is to use a lot of vertical gardening spaces, whether it be a shelf like I'm using in the above garden this year (see yesterday's post), attaching planting space to walls, hanging baskets, traditional trellises, or a PVC frame like I have on my square foot gardening boxes.
Pumpkin, tomatoes, and cucumbers growing on a vertical frame last year.  That's a lot of plants for four square feet of garden space!  This also created a feeling of privacy on the patio by creating a visual separation between the patio and the street.
That's basically it.  I sometimes oversimplify things in my mind, so if I missed something, feel free to add comments with your own tips or questions.  Or, if you want to get started and just want more ideas and inspiration, the following books are great.  Some of them have more "how-to" and others are more purely for the pictures, but either way will get your brain rolling!

This post and lots of other great ideas can be found on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways

Monday, April 2, 2012

How Does My Garden Grow--a Trailer Park Homestead update

With my disappearance for nearly a month, the number one question in people's minds on my resurfacing seems to be what's growing on in the garden?  Well, the zombie garden isn't doing that great.  The celery seems to be mad about me sticking it outside for a while when we had some warm weather a couple years ago, the sweet potatoes and avocado haven't sprouted yet, and the pineapple looks like it is thinking about not rising from the dead after all, but I'm still trying!  The banana seeds haven't sprouted yet either, but apparently they can take several months to germinate (according to my mother, a Master Gardener), so I'm not too worried about them either.

My "normal" garden is going great though!  I have onions, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, snap peas, carrots, lettuce, and spinach all above ground, planted outside.  There are also beets in the ground out there, but they haven't come up yet.  In the house, I have five varieties of tomatoes going, ranging from early to late, indeterminate and determinate varieties, so I should have tomatoes no later than the end of May or beginning of June and should keep having tomatoes all summer long!  Yay!  I miss tacos.  *sigh*  Tomatoes are one of those things that just don't seem right to buy off season (I've heard there are a ton of good reasons to not buy tomatoes in the book Tomatoland, but I haven't read it yet, so I'm not sure what all they are) and tacos just aren't the same without them! 

Here's what is currently growing on at the Trailer Park Homestead:
Much of the front garden area is growing on its own.  This rock lined area is primarily for herbs this year and has a great start with the perennials in there now: various mints, violets, and I think I even have seen some calendula coming up on its own.  I added a shelf to put more herbs or other small plants in to increase the vertical growing area.  All my berry bushes seem to have survived my neglect during the mild winter.
These are the carrots and spinach I planted last fall that didn't sprout in time for a fall harvest.  I covered this bed with plastic and they overwintered just fine!  Now there are additional onions and cauliflower growing in this bed too.  The back square foot gardening bed contains broccoli (some of which has been eaten up by a mysterious critter and needs to be replanted!) and the as-yet-unsprouted beet seeds.
Last year, this was my "St. Patrick's Day bed" but this year, I got the entire spring garden planted before St. Patrick's Day.
As much as I have growing outside, it still is very early in the growing season here in Michigan, so more tender plants like the five varieties of tomatoes and three varieties of peppers I have started all must stay indoors under fluorescent lights for now.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It is with great sadness...

I must announce my leaving the blogosphere.  It is just too much for me to handle to take care of my kids and husband, tend the garden, homeschooling, working out, and everything else, so something has to give. 


Okay, I have been overwhelmed a lot lately, but that isn't why I haven't posted in nearly a month.  My computer was having some fairly minor issues, but we wanted to make sure they were taken care of before the warranty ran out, so we took it in a few weeks ago for repair, but it required sending off to somewhere else so it took a long time to get it back.  I finally have it back and (mostly) set back up the way it was supposed to be (they either reset it back to factory settings or it isn't actually the same computer) so I should be back to blogging regularly in the next day or two, probably starting with what I've been up to for the past few weeks with no computer!

Oh, and a little confession: something has given lately.  I haven't been cooking homecooked meals every night.  Since my classes I've been taking at the gym are right about when I "should" be in the kitchen and the extreme-ish couponing (30-50% off my grocery total on average!) I've been doing lately makes it about as cheap to eat more storebought stuff, I've been cheating a couple/few nights a week and not cooking "real" food.  *hangs my head in shame*