Sep 272010
 

Your garden doesn’t have to end when frost nips the tomatoes and squash. If you provide your plants with some protection from the cold, you can grow a wide array of vegetables that thrive in cool weather. Here’s a sample of what you can plant for your fall and winter garden.

Salads

Lettuce grows easily in spring and fall. These are the seasons for both heading lettuce and loose-leaf varieties. But don’t try to keep big heads of lettuce through a cold winter. They may turn to mush. Instead plant leaf lettuce close together and harvest the leaves while they are small. Choose lettuce varieties bred to stand the cold, such as Arctic King, Winter Density, Marvel of Four Seasons (Merveille des Quatre Saisons), Brune d’Hiver and Little Gem. However why limit your salads to just lettuce? There are so many other salad greens that love cool weather:

  • Belgium endive (witloof endive)
  • Sugarloaf endive
  • escarole
  • arugula
  • rocket (sometimes spelled roquette)
  • spinach
  • radicchio
  • cress (both upland cress and garden cress)
  • mizuna
  • mache (sometimes know as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce)
  • miner’s lettuce (claytonia)

Root vegetables

Many root vegetables can be harvested all winter long:

  • carrots
  • beets
  • turnips
  • rutabagas
  • radishes, especially daikon and black Spanish radishes
  • leeks
  • scallions
  • bunching onions, potato onions and walking onions
  • parsnips
  • mangels

Mangels? What’s a mangel? It’s a sweet beet used for animal feed. However some mangels were bred for their fine flavor. Bountiful Gardens has seeds for them.

Onions are grown in different season, depending on where you garden. Here in the South, fall is the traditional time to plant onion seed for early-summer harvests. In the North, they’re spring sown. On the other hand, in both the North and the South, garlic is planted in the fall for harvesting the following summer.

Some root veggies like turnips, kohlrabi and beets can be grown for their greens as well as their roots.

Greens for Cooking

For winter green vegetables, nothing beats the cabbage family. They love cool weather. There are many different member of the cabbage clan to try:

  • cabbages, both green and red
  • Chinese cabbage
  • broccoli
  • gai lohn (Chinese broccoli)
  • kale
  • cauliflower, one of the fussier cabbages to grow
  • tatsoi
  • mustard greens
  • pak choy
  • bok choy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • and that epitome of southern green veggies: collards

Not all cold-tolerant green vegetables are members of the cabbage tribe, although sometimes it seems that way. Spinach and Swiss chard grow happily in fall and winter. Swiss chard is so hardy, that during mild winters, it will grow in my zone 7b garden without any protection.

Beans and Peas

You may be able to squeeze a fall crop of peas in between the hot days of summer and a killing frost. Use disease resistant varieties. In mild winter area, pea plants can be over-wintered. In spring, the plants revive and will produce an early crop of peas. 

You can eat fava beans from your winter garden—with or without the Chianti. A warning: a few people, mainly of Mediterranean heritage, can have a deadly allergic reaction to fava beans.

Herbs

Finally don’t forget to plant some herbs, such as:

  • parsley
  • chervil
  • thyme
  • sage
  • oregano

In mild areas, rosemary can grow outdoors, under with some protection from frost. Chives and lemon balm disappear during the coldest winter days, but are among the first plants to reappear in early spring.

Sep 062010
 

Woman with piles of books

10 ways the library can help you save money and lead a richer life

There’s a wonderful source of free materials, events and help—the local library. It’s one of my favorite places. It helps people in so many ways.

1. Do you want to landscape your yard, decorate a room, fix a faucet, make a present, learn a craft, invest for the future, study world history, learn another language or plan a vacation? The library has books that will help

2. The cookbook section provides a wealth of ideas for meal planning. There are books for every taste, ranging from quick, child-friendly meals to sophisticated fare. The library also has books on preserving the harvest from the garden.

3. Are you looking for work? Your library has books on career planning, resume writing and job hunting. I’ve found many books that have helped me build my home business and learn new work skills.

4. The library supplies plenty of material for that terrific free activity—reading. It has fiction and nonfiction, recent best-sellers, old favorites and the classics. If you’re not sure what to read, just ask a librarian for suggestions.

5. The library is for little readers too.  Children can find book to help with school projects and information on their latest interests.  Many libraries also have free story times for children.

6. Libraries have more than just traditional books. They lend audio books on tape or CD. You can listen to a book while you are stuck in traffic, or cooking dinner or doing crafts. Some libraries also lend music and videos and offer computer and Internet access.

7. Do you want to make new friends? Check your library for special events, classes, book clubs, discussions and workshops.

8. Reference librarians are treasures. They can help find the address of a wholesale supplier for a home business, suggest a book for a school project, and dig up a statistic for a business report. Many libraries will supply reference information by telephone or e-mail, so that you don’t even have to leave your home or office to get help.

9. Check to see if your library provides access to electronic databases via their web site. I can find articles from subscription-only newspaper, research information from medical and academic journals, check several encyclopedias, download legal forms, do stock research and even get auto-repair information.

10. We’re not limited to the books in our local library. Through the marvels of Inter-Library Loan, we can borrow books, articles and microfilm from libraries and universities across the United States.

Ben Franklin helped to start the first lending library in the U.S. Thanks, Ben.

Aug 272010
 

Imagine eating fresh vegetables from your garden all winter long. You don’t have to live in Florida or southern California to harvest fresh vegetables in January. Many people famous for their cold-weather gardens live in the northern parts of the U.S.

In most parts of the U.S. and in many countries, there is sufficient daylight to harvest vegetables year round. The key is the word “harvest”. Vegetables grow slowly during the short days of autumn. Even the hardiest vegetables stop growing during the weeks surrounding the winter solstice. But while new growth isn’t possible during those weeks, harvesting fresh vegetables is. If you plant vegetables so that they will be ready to pick by the shortest winter days and protect them from freezing, you can eat fresh vegetables from your garden even during the coldest days.

There are three steps to fall and winter gardening success.

Choose the right vegetables for winter gardening.

Unless you live where the winter is warm, you need to plant the right vegetables, ones that will thrive- or at least survive-in freezing temperatures. Think carrots, broccoli, leeks and salad greens, not tomatoes, corn and squash.

Plant on time

Next plant your vegetables at the correct time to make sure they will be ready to harvest during the winter.  Since the days grow shorter as winter approaches, plants grow more slowly than they do in the spring.  Look on the seed packages to see the time each plant takes from seed to harvest in the spring. Then add extra time.  How much extra time will be specific to your area.  When starting out, plant your seeds over several weeks. Then keep track of how long each planting took to grow. Write it down in your garden journal or in a file on your computer. Next year you can use that information to know when to plant.

Protect your plants

Finally protect your homegrown bounty from the wind and freezing temperatures.  You can use row covers, cold frames, mini-greenhouses, solar cones,  plastic tunnels and hoop houses.  Eliot Coleman combines both row covers and an unheated greenhouse to keep his plants safe from the cold Maine winters.

Winter gardens are easier to tend than summer one. You don’t have to water much. Insect problems are reduced. Since your garden is under cover, you don’t have to worry about deer,  rabbits and raccoons beating you to the harvest. And you have the fun of eating lovely fresh-from-your-garden vegetables in the middle of winter.

Aug 092010
 

I’ve been invited to a social event that will include several business clients, two of whom I’ve never met in person. A friend, who is a clever shopper, helped me put together several outfits for the long weekend and taught me some great lessons about shopping in the process.

1. We started with my closet. What did I already have? My regular wardrobe is pretty casual. Still, we found clothes I could use. Once we checked my closet, we had a pretty good idea of what I needed.

2. Plan before driving. Before we started shopping, my friend suggested a plan of action. Since I didn’t want to spend much, we would start at a big local thrift store in an upscale town. Thrift store shopping is a lot like Halloween trick or treating. You’ll get a better haul if you focus your efforts in wealthier neighborhoods.

If we hadn’t gotten all we needed in the large thrift store, we planned to try a smaller one. Then if we still hadn’t found everything, we could check the discount stores.

3. Look for neutral colors. My friend suggested looking for the main pieces in a neutral color, then I could accessorize those in brighter colors. I chose black as my basic color. We found the proverbial little black dress and a good pair of black dress slacks.

4. Mix and match. The second thrift store turned up a boxy blouse in a black-and-multicolor print. It became a perfect jacket for either the black dress or the black pants. I also found a crocheted black jacket that I could use with both the dress and pants. All the pieces I bought that day would also work with clothes I had at home to create even more outfits.

Some years ago the Australian Stitches Magazine ran a series of articles on the ultimate mix-and-match wardrobe project. The editor Lynn Cook made 11 pieces of clothing (two pants, two skirts, six tops and a jacket) She used two basic colors, plus a third that complemented the two basic colors. She also used prints that included at least two of the colors. Because she was able to mix all the pieces, she ended up with nearly fifty different outfits!

You don’t have to sew your own clothes to use this approach. Simply buy pieces that will go with

5. Choose pieces that you will wear over and over again. We found several lovely pieces including an elegant long skirt by Liz Claiborne. But I rarely wear formal outfits. So I picked clothes that I would more be likely to use for many occasions..

Final result: I bought one dress, one pair of dressy slacks, one fancy blouse, two little jackets. The total cost: less than fifteen dollars. Lesson in clothes shopping – priceless.

Jul 232010
 

I like bunnies; but those sweet, innocent-looking creatures are cotton-tailed eating machines in my vegetable garden. I use various strategies to keep those “wascally wabbits” from my veggies and fruits.

Method 1: Raise the garden

Some of my vegetables grow in a tall raised bed and large containers. These need to be at least 18 inches high so the rabbits can’t reach the plants.

Method 2: Fence the garden

Small fences surround my main garden areas. Originally I tried plastic poultry-netting for the fence. It’s easy to use. However rabbits can chew through plastic. It took my bunnies a year to discover this. You can try using a double layer of plastic netting to discourage chewing. Now I use chicken wire or metal screening material. Screening material (just like the kind you use in a screen window) is my first choice. It’s easy to handle and cut. If you use chicken wire, the openings should be no bigger than one inch. Bunnies have a talent for squeezing through tight spaces. Hardware cloth makes a good barrier too, but handle it carefully, because it’s sharp.

Support the fencing material with stakes, spaced a few feet apart. The fence should be about 2 feet tall to prevent high jumps into the vegetable patch. Make it 3 feet tall if you have jackrabbits. Bury another 6 to 12 inches of netting or chicken wire, half of it outward at a horizontal angle to discourage burrowing. I buried mine under a deep mulch of newspapers and grass clippings.

Method 3: Protect young trees

Rabbits and other critters like to eat tree bark in the winter. Their snacks can kill small trees. Bunny-proof the trunks by wrapping a loose circle of hardware cloth, plastic barrier material or chicken wire around trunks of small trees. Make sure that the barrier is higher than your snowline.

Method 4: Grow a flower fence

My final barrier is the prettiest. I am planting a wide flower bed outside the rabbit fence. It disguises the fence, provides flowers for the house, adds another layer of protect against critters and looks beautiful. I use perennial herbs, comfrey, cannas and daylilies. Their roots form a barrier that discourages burrowing. Summer annuals like zinnias provide midsummer color. And daffodils are an important part of a floral fence. Their bulbs contain alkaloids that are toxic to rabbits. So bunnies avoid them.

So far the rabbits have ignored the plants in my flower fence. Of course, your rabbits may have different tastes than mine.

Jul 212010
 

Turn your pantry into a tool to help you save money on your groceries. The pantry is the unsung hero of rock-bottom grocery bills. It will help you save money in several ways:

  • When you have enough storage space, you can stock up at sales and buy in bulk. The goal is to buy enough of each non-perishable item at a low price to last until the next time you find a great deal. This saves time as well as money since you’re not running to the store as frequently.
  • Avoid expensive convenience foods and the drive-through window at fast food restaurants.  Keep ingredients on hand to cook from scratch. Also store home cooked meals and your homemade convenience foods for those too-busy-to-cook times
  • The pantry isn’t just for “store-bought” food. It’s a place to keep homemade mixes, jams, jellies and home-canned or dehydrated foods.
  • A well-stocked pantry provides a reserve of food in case illness, financial difficulties or an emergency situation makes it difficult or impossible to shop.

But what if you don’t have a pantry?

But what if you don’t have a pantry? Or your pantry is too small to store much food? No problem. Look around your home to find some space that you could use to create a pantry or several mini-pantries. For example:

  • Kitchen cupboards. Are there infrequently used items in your cupboard that could be stored elsewhere or discarded to make way for food? Can you use shelf dividers, organizers, turntables, sliding shelves or risers to create more usable space in each cupboard? Is there space in your cupboards to add a shelf? Can you put bulky item on top of the refrigerator? Can you free up cupboard space by hanging your pots, adding a spice rank or putting up a pegboard a la Julia Child to hold your kitchen gadgets?
  • Refrigerator and freezer. I think of my refrigerator and freezer space as part of my pantry. Along with the usual items, I keep homemade mixes, gluten–free flours, homemade yogurt, stock, vegetable trimmings to turn into my next batch of soup or stock, home-frozen dinners, pasta sauces, pizza crusts, breads and home-baked desserts.
  • Closets. My everyday pantry used to be coat closet. The addition of shelves turned it into a convenient pantry. The Flylady’s associate Leanne Ely turned her linen closet into a pantry. If you can’t spare a whole closet, is there a part of a closet that you can use? And don’t forget that frequently-wasted piece of real estate—the inside of the closet door.
  • Basement or utility room. As long as your basement doesn’t flood or have moisture problems, this can be a great place to make a pantry. You can use second-hand bookcases, plastic bookcases or metal shelving to store food and supplies. Remember to keep your food away from the furnace. Heat shortens the shelf life of food. Also, food containers should not be stored directly on a concrete floor. Moisture can seep up and spoil the food. Use a piece of wood to raise the containers off the floor. If you don’t have a basement, but you have a utility area for your washer and dryer, is there space to put shelves over the machines or to one side of them?
  • The divided room. Author Barbara Salsbury tells about turning part of her child’s nursery into a pantry. Do you have corner in a guest room to create a pantry? You can use a screen, curtains or bookcases to separate the space.
  • The hidden pantry. An old armoire can be fitted with shelves to make a pantry. Or do you have a spot under a staircase that could be used for storing food? In Smart Closets Makeovers, there is a photo of a pantry created by putting shelves between wall studs. The narrow pantry has a door that matches the paneling in the room. Very impressive, but utterly beyond my do-it-yourself skills. Those who are very space-challenged can use extra-large lasagna pans or boxes on rollers for storage under a bed or couch. Make sure your hidden pantry is easily accessible so that you can use it every day.

Your pantry doesn’t have to be in one space. You can have several pantry areas. I put my a few most frequently used items in kitchen cupboards. Perishables go in the refrigerator and freezer.  But because my kitchen is small, most of my everyday food supplies are in a closet-turned-pantry near my kitchen. Shelves in my utility room provide longer-term storage.

What space can you find to create your money-saving pantry?

Jul 212010
 

Plan B

What would you do if you are or your spouse were unable to find work? More and more families are being forced to face that question. Whether or not you currently have a job, now is a good time to consider creating some options. One way to do that is to start a home business.

Your business can provide many benefits:

  • A source of income in case of layoffs
  • Extra money to pay off debts, build savings and fund special projects
  • New skills that can help you in your current job
  • Tax deductions
  • Retirement income
  • A tool to teach your children entrepreneurial skills.

It takes time to build a home business. So why not start one before you need it? Your current job will provide income, so you can grow your business without risking your family’s livelihood.

However, even if you or your spouse have lost your job, it’s not too late to create a home business. You can job hunt for part of the day and work on your new business for the rest of the day. The job market still is very tough. A home business gives you another option if you have trouble finding work.

Take some time to think about what kind of home business you would like to start. Explore, dream a bit, research and plan. What can you provide that customers want? Can you spot some unfilled needs? What are your interests, skills, work experiences and passions?

Start small so your home business will fit in with your existing work and life without overwhelming you. Then build your business one manageable step at a time. Look for business ideas that can be started with little cash. Then use the profits to grow your business.

If the idea of a home business is scary, remember that a century ago, working for yourself was a normal part of many people’s lives. Think of it as the ultimate do-it-yourself project.

Jul 212010
 

How much food can you grow in a tenth of an acre? In 2010, the Dervaes family grew 7,030 lbs of vegetables, fruit and herbs in urban garden. They raise about 350 different kinds of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, nuts and other products.

How do they manage to grow so much food in such a small area? The family uses every bit of space they have in both the front and back yard. Their lot is a fifth of an acre. Half is devoted to the garden. Trees and shrubs used to landscape their property bear edible fruit. They garden intensively, spacing plants fairly close together, Vegetables climb up trellises and their homemade arbor. Their animals provide fertilizer.

Animals? Yes, in addition to an extensive garden, the family keep a few chickens and ducks for eggs, bees, a pair of miniature goats named Blackberry and Fairlight and plenty of red wiggler worms. This makes sense. Animals traditionally provided both food and fertilizer for families. In small settings, animals can be tended humanely and their waste is an asset, not a disposal problem. As late as the 1940s, backyard chickens were not uncommon in American cities. It’s great to see this environmentally-friendly practice continue.

The Dervaes family lives in Pasadena, California, which has a twelve-month growing season. However, by using season-extending techniques, many of us can harvest fresh food year-round.

The family’s ingenuity doesn’t stop at raising food. They are working to increase their energy independence. They’ve built a solar shower, a solar oven and solar food dryer. Two years ago, they built a backyard cob oven that cooks food using wood scraps. The Dervaes Family also turn used vegetable oil, collected from local restaurants, into biodiesel to run their car.

With imagination, time and hard work, small spaces can be bountiful.

Jul 172010
 

A good kitchen is a place that makes it easy to cook. It doesn’t have to be large or expensive or filled with the latest gadgets. It does require a few basics.

Equipment:

The important thing about equipment is to avoid either extreme: too few tools to be able to cook properly and so many seldom-used gizmos that you waste money and space. The ideal is to have enough equipment—and the right equipment—to be able to prepare the meals that you want. The exact list depends on the type of cooking you do. If you are just beginning to stock your kitchen, look for simple, durable, multi-purpose tools.

Storage:

When equipment and ingredients are easily accessible,  you will be able to cook more easily.  If your cupboards and drawers are jammed, it’s time to declutter them. Get rid the box of cereal that’s been sitting on the shelf for six months because everyone hated it. Move things that are seldom used to hard-to-reach shelves or to another storage area outside the kitchen. Use inexpensive storage containers and shelf dividers to make the most of your space. Try rearranging your cupboards, so that you can find things quickly. The best location for frequently-used items is near the place where you’ll use them.

Work Area:

Cooking and baking require room for cutting, mixing, grating and other activities. If you have no uncluttered work areas, consider how you can liberate some space. Moving most of the small appliances off my main counter freed up room for me to work. Flat surfaces like counters and tables seem to attract keys, mail, school books, purses and papers. Provide bags, baskets, hooks and boxes in other areas to store them. Yes, I know—just designating a place for the clutter doesn’t mean that it will actually end up there. But it’s a start.

Pleasant environment

Finally, are there things that would make your kitchen a more pleasant work area? Does it need a fresh coat of paint, better lighting or a chair for kibitzers—or for you? Would you like to listen to music while you cook? How about some flowers from your garden or herbs growing at the kitchen window? Cooking can be a rewarding and enjoyable activity. Create a space where it’s a pleasure to cook.

Jul 162010
 

mindmap by Graham Burnett

Sometimes the most useful tools are the simplest. One of my favorite tools for organizing is a mind map. The mind map, a diagram of ideas, was popularized by Tony Buzan.

A mind map begins in the center of a page. Start with a word, drawing or symbol that represents the main theme of the mind map. As you think of an idea relating to theme, draw a line radiating from the center. Print a keyword on the line to represent the idea. This line leads to the topics associated with that idea. Each topic can have lines branching off to subtopics related to it. Keep adding to the map until you finish exploring your main theme. The final results can be practical like the mind map above, done by Graham Burnett. Mind maps can also be playful and even artistic.

Many people use software to create a mind map. I simply use a pencil and paper. For multi-colored maps, use markers, crayons or colored pencils.

Mind maps are versatile tools. They are great for brainstorming. Because they are non-linear, you can add new ideas as they occur to you. You can use mind maps to plan anything from a birthday party to a home business project. Some people use mind maps to take notes as they read. I’ve used mind maps for years to outline my writing.

Lately I’ve put mind maps to a new use: my schedule. I can organize my work by day or type of task or project. It’s a simple tool to help me plan the week’s work and see what needs to be done each day.