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Friday, April 28, 2017

More of DIY Weedkillers

 Last week, I wrote about using DIY weed killers in place of commercial herbicides that are available for a premium price stacked in your local garden center. If you are maintaining your own property, it only makes sense to use the cheapest and safest thing you can, and that often is something you make yourself.

As I mentioned, loyal reader L. has gone the extra mile to experiment with a gallon of vinegar and a tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  She shared her results with me and gave me permission to share them with you.

In the top two photos, you can see how beautifully this solution worked on both driveway seams and on mulch around posts. I might mix some of this up just to do a strategic kill of the grass around the stop sign in our yard, because I'm getting mightily tired of weed whacking around it!

The bottom is your cautionary tale. The solution will kill grass, so if that is a concern for you,  you will want to exercise caution. But, if you look closely in the bottom photo, you'll see some lovely little violets popping their heads up, which I always think is so pretty in a yard!

 For us, we are well on our way to polyculture instead of monoculture in our yard. No big expanses of uninterrupted bluegrass for us! We do all we can to invite violets, wild strawberries, clover, and all sorts of groundcover plants. (We even love our dandelions, although this time of year we do have to keep on top of mowing the deadheaded ones.)

Not only do the bees love the spring flowers, but encouraging the low groundcover reduces the amount of grass we have and therefore the amount of mowing we have to do. As I mentioned last week, we have whole patches that we no longer have to mow regularly just because we've encouraged the grass to depart in favor of something prettier. It isn't for everyone, and if you absolutely love a yard that looks like a golf course, you should go for it.  To each his own.

In any event, thank you to L. for sharing her findings with us!

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Weed Killers without Poison

Spring is finally here!  And along with the ability to wear flip flops, get out in the garden, and sneeze my fool head off because of the allergies comes the phalanx of neighbors and their weed killers.

Sigh. As you know, I'm no big fan of herbicides. And it's none of my business what the neighbors do on their own properties, as they march up and down their driveways and side flower beds with the big spray dispenser of Roundup, gleefully dumping five gallons of glyphosate preparation on perfectly innocent plants that happened to grow in the wrong place. (And spraying their own feet and legs in the process, so good luck with that, guys.)

It's none of my business, but I get cranky when I think of herbicides in the water table, to say nothing of potential impact on my garden. But all I can do is treat my property without the herbicides that make me uncomfortable. So, here's my top five ideas for controlling weeds without any chemical nasties:

Reframe your perspective: Those dandelions and purple deadnettles? The bees love them, and they are the first food for our pollinators in the spring. Give the bees a break and let your weeds grow a bit. We have some of the friendliest bees in our garden every year, and I think it's because they know they can always come eat at our house.

Mow: I know the good people who sell chemical lawn products don't want you to know this, but there's very little visual difference between a yard full of grass and one that has clover and other "weeds," especially if you mow it short. Once you think you've attracted the bees and are ready to get rid of some lawn weeds, just lower the blades on your mower. We have whole patches of our yard that basically never need mowed any more, because the low-slung clover has taken over the grass.

Boiling Water: So, having weeds in the yard is one thing, but having them in the cracks of your sidewalk or driveway is another. I get it. Every year, I take the boiling water from the canner outside and dump it on patches of offending weeds as my last step in putting up my produce. The weeds stay gone for a long time, and there is no worry about runoff. Just don't accidentally dump on your toes!

Salt Water: Ever heard of a "salted earth" strategy? That refers to the fact that salt will keep your land from growing anything. I occasionally take the leftover brine from making pickles out to places with really stubborn weed growth.  The hot vinegar and salt will pretty much kill anything; just make sure it doesn't run off into your garden!

Vinegar and Dawn: Thank you to my loyal reader L. (I wasn't sure if she wanted her name used) who experimented with a gallon of vinegar mixed with a tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  According to her report and the pictures she sent, it does a bang-up job on the weeds, which are dead in a couple of days. She also shared how it will kill grass, so exercise caution. But the best news is that this solution costs about $3, compared to ten times that amount for Roundup!  That's a FC&G win!
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Friday, April 7, 2017

Salted Caramel Applesauce Cookies

Some of my favorite cookies are those with chips in them. There are just so many flavors of chips out there, you can come up with a ton of different flavor profiles. And, even though I haven't found a good source for organic chips, the rest of my ingredients are typically organic, so I know we're avoiding some of the pesticides, herbicides, and other nastiness that might be on more processed, commercial treats.

That, and they just taste better.

In any event, I recently discovered salted caramel chips, and these things are a wonder. Riffing a bit on the traditional Tollhouse Cookie recipe, I devised a salted caramel applesauce cookie that is soft and sweet with just that hint of salt to balance things out.

Salted Caramel Applesauce cookies

1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 1/2 cup organic raw or turbinado sugar
2 sticks organic butter (either salted or unsalted will work)
1 t. organic vanilla extract
1/2 cup applesauce (I used homemade)

2 1/2 cup organic flour
2 cups salted caramel chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix first six ingredients together until smooth.  Mix in flour and chips to make a reasonably stiff batter. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets, and bake for 10-12 minutes.  (My oven requires about 12 minutes; you should see just the barest hint of brown on the tips when they are done.)

Makes 3-4 dozen.

Correction: there is no butter in this recipe, but there are two eggs. So sorry!
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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ferrying the Tomatoes

Somewhere between Groundhog Day and St. Patrick's Day, depending on your growing zone and how impatient you are, is the right time to start your tomato seedlings. Mother's Day, in this growing zone, is the traditional time for setting them out in the garden.

In between, April is the month of Ferrying the Tomatoes.

That first month, the tomatoes are so easily contained. They sit in their little starter pots in the nursery incubator that I've hauled into the dining room for its seasonal use in the the sunny window. Grow lights and a heat mat provide a cozy, sunny environment, and all is right with the world.

Inevitably, the repotting starts, and this year I have been more diligent than ever before in not letting my little darlings get at all root bound. This means that I'm currently in the process of repotting an estimated 100 tomatoes into four-inch pots and hoping they can get some decent growth before planting time.

But 100 tomatoes in four-inch pots aren't going to fit in the nursery incubator; they won't even fit in the dining room. So, every day, I ferry tomatoes from place to place, hoping to get them each a chance at the ideal amount of light, warmth, and natural exposure to begin hardening off.

We have a pop-up greenhouse that will ultimately hold all of the tomatoes, but right now, it is only warm enough during the day. So, any tomatoes in the greenhouse get carried back inside at night.

I have the cozy incubator, and it has a nice shelf underneath, but it will only hold a few tomatoes under its grow lights.

There's a sunny window available, but the shelf under it will only hold a few tomatoes as well, and it doesn't get quite enough sun during the day to make it a long-term solution.

The sunroom is also a likely candidate, because it has both natural sunlight and a grow light, but the shelving situation doesn't allow enough room for all the tomatoes.

So, even as you read this, you can imagine me taking tomatoes from place to place, rotating them into different environments, inspecting them, fertilizing them, and hoping that this year I've got them off to a good start.

I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Thursday, March 16, 2017

How Much Does a Garden Grow: January and February 2017

As always, winter is a slow time in the garden, but that doesn't mean there's nothing happening. In fact, the year has started off with some harvests.

Overall, I harvested a laughable three ounces of produce over the first two months of the year, with most of that coming from my kale plants that I seeded last February (2016) and kept growing for an entire year. An infestation of aphids made me pull the plants, but I think they gave their all.  I also harvested a single small pepper and experimented with growing some microgreens, with little success.

Expenditures were confined to seeds so far, so we are starting off economically. My tomatoes are on their first repotting, enjoying their larger homes after getting started in their baby pots. The photo at the right was taken a week ago; today, I looked in to discover that I had some tomatoes that were already four inches high.  At this rate, I may finally have some really respectable tomato plants by the time planting season comes along. In fact, I plan to put up the outside greenhouse at the end of the month, in hopes of weather warm enough that I can move larger pots of tomatoes outside into their protected pop-up greenhouse to harden off and keep growing. In the meantime, one of my daily jobs is to rotate the tomato plants to make sure they all get a shot under the grow light, and to keep topping up their soil, watering them, and fertilizing them regularly.

Cumulative Totals to Date
Total Ounces Harvested: 3.0
Total Pounds Harvested: 0.1875
Total Value of Harvest: $2.30

Total Expenditures: $26.70

Total Profit (Loss): ($24.41)
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Friday, March 10, 2017

On Using the Good China

I was looking at some advertising from the 1940s and 1950s the other day, when post-war affluence met demographic trends to create the bridal industry that we know today, and I started thinking about how much I love my good china.

It grieves me, on some level, to think that I may be part of the last generation of brides to even want good china. The day after we got engaged, Mr. FC&G and I went to the department store and registered for our china, silverware, and other items. I remember how excited I was to finally - finally - get this lovely, delicate stuff and to have it displayed in my china cabinet. (Buying the china cabinet, which I had done years earlier, should have been my first clue that I was on the end of a demographic trend, because it took trips to many, many stores to find something that would function as such. No one offered a "china cabinet" per se.) Receiving the beautiful boxes of china as wedding gifts thrilled me, and, to this day, I stop and look at my china every time I walk into the dining room.

It made me sad when, a decade or so ago, I started reading reports of how people were no longer buying good china. They were afraid of breakage, they didn't want to wash it by hand, and they wanted the money to spend on something else. More power to them, I suppose. However, I also became aware, through personal experience, that no one knows how to act around good china any more.

I have let myself become shamed out of using the good stuff, because it invariably sparks some sort of contentious moment in which I either be a good hostess and let my guests have what they want, or I stand my ground. Since I am of the school of thought that holds that a good hostess, upon seeing her guest drink from the finger bowl, resolutely takes a swig out of her own, I usually wind up capitulating.

I have had guests hand plates back to me, asking for something not so precious and saying that they can eat off anything - and that's just when I'm using my second-best, "everyday" china that was my "good stuff" from when I was single. I have nearly bitten my tongue off to refrain from saying that, if they can eat off anything, surely they can figure out how to eat off a plate that I didn't buy in a boxed set in grad school.

I have had visitors charge into my kitchen and plunge their hands into my everyday silverware drawer, unwilling to wait until I retrieve a matched set for their use.  "Oh, don't go to any bother; I can get it," they say. But maybe I wanted to offer something nice for their use, and it's not like I don't have a couple of complete, matched sets of dessert forks that I can use to serve people.

I have even had people hand cloth napkins back to me and ask for a paper napkin. On that one, I have no choice but to protest, because I don't own any paper napkins, save for maybe a pack of birthday-themed ones shoved into the back of the pantry. I haven't otherwise purchased paper napkins in over a decade. I've learned to hide the paper towel roll if I have people over for a summer cookout, because they will invariably refuse to pick up a cloth napkin from the buffet and tell me that I shouldn't have to wash the cloth napkins. Really, folks, it's no trouble; I put them in the washer and hang them outside to dry. I'm not exactly washing them on a wash board and then starching and ironing them.

In short, I have let myself succumb to peer pressure to not enjoy and share my finest possessions, even though doing so brings me great joy. I want people to know that they mean a great deal to me, and that they are worth me creating an elegant experience. Am I going to serve picnic food outside on the good china?  Probably not. But I derive a lot of pleasure from using the china, the good silverware, and the pretty cloth napkins to enjoy a meal with friends or family. To me, it is my reward for serving my guests.

So, no more of this. From here forward, the good china is coming out of hiding once in a while, if only just for Mr. FC&G and I. We have long planned that, when we retire, we will get rid of the kitchen table and take only the good dining room table to our new home, and that we will likely use the china as well. I think that should start today. We deserve the joy of using the nicer things, and, if you are invited to our house, I hope you will do so too.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Reusable Swiffer (TM) Mop Covers

For a long time, I've been intending to crochet some reusable covers for my Swiffer mop,.  And, since the weekend past was boring and cold and yucky, I had time to do just that.

I love my Swiffer mop.  There's just something about that ball joint that lets you mop in corners and around furniture legs that is so pleasant-feeling, you really want to use it more often.  But the disposable dry and wet (especially) cloths will break the bank!

For a long time, I've attached cut up flannel and fleece rags to the mop head, and that solution works pretty well.  But these reusable covers are another level entirely.

I made them with pockets on the ends that hold the cover snugly on your mop head, so they don't slip off like the disposable sheets do.  Plus, I made the cover ridged, so that it picks up dust and dirt more easily.  Afterward, you just slip the cover off and wash it with your towels or jeans, and it is ready to use again.  If making or having a couple of these saves you from buying a single box of Swiffer wet cloths, you will have saved money.

If you like to crochet, you can design a pattern that works well for your particular mop and needs and work through these pretty quickly.  (I might write up the pattern when I used when I get time.) I recommend using cotton yarn, as it is more absorbent and easier to wash.

I made up a few for myself, and then, with the encouragement of a friend, I have listed a few in my Carrot Creations shop.  The link is below.  In their initial day, they seem to be selling pretty briskly, so check back if you don't see what you want.  I have lots of leftover yarn and have priced these to be FC&G!

The Analysis

Fast:  Quick to make, quick to use.

Cheap:  If you buy these from me and spend $10 (plus S&H) on two, you will break even once you forego buying one box of wet mop covers.  If you make your own, you will be in the black even more quickly.

Good:  I adore a project that helps me keep my house clean and saves me money while keeping junk out of the landfill!

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