Friday, June 29, 2012

Cooking without Electricity: Cardboard Box Oven

This post is the second in the series: Cooking without Electricity.

Yes, it is possible to cook in a cardboard box! I first learned of this technique two years ago but never had a chance to make or use a cardboard box oven. I saw the instructions on the blog Safely Gathered In. This link will take you to the original post. Today, I'll describe how I made this oven (using the guidelines from Safely Gathered In) and the lessons I learned.

To start, you will need the following items:

  • A cardboard box to cook in (a box with a top works best)
  • Aluminum foil (I used heavy duty)
  • Three coat hangers (be sure to use metal without a plastic coating)
  • Scissors
  • Wire Cutters
  • Stapler (not shown in picture)

Start by lining the box with aluminum foil. Smooth out the foil as much as possible because if you bunch it up, the top won't fit well.  If necessary, use some staples to keep the foil from moving around.

Next, straighten out the three coat hangers. These will be the oven rack.  Poke a hole in the side of the box to insert the coat hanger .(I just used the hanger to poke the hole.)  Aim for about half way down the box.  I measured the center point on the box and then inserted the hanger about 3/4" up from the center.

Now, secure the hangers and clip off the excess with the wire cutters.  I wrapped mine as shown below.

Tuck the ends under each other.  Bend the final hanger the other way and tuck it under the first two.  Here is a picture of what it looked like when I was done.

See the half-circle hole in the box above the 'in' in print?  I poked a hole in the aluminum foil here to allow gases to escape when cooking.  The final product looked like this.

made a coffee cake from a box mix of Pillsbury Quick Bread. I just followed the recipe on the side of the box. 

The directions said to bake the coffee cake at 375 degrees. I used charcoal to actually cook the cake.  I read on the Internet a few years ago (on a few different Internet sites) that one briquette heats to about 40 degrees.  So, I placed nine briquettes in an aluminum foil pan and lit the charcoal. For safety sake, I lit the charcoal on my grill rather than on the ground.

I had a difficult time geting the charcoal to light so I added a few more briquettes and tried again.  The second time did the trick.  I actually ended up with 11 briquettes. When the charcoal was ready, I placed the pan in the oven - sliding it in between the hangers.  If you use this technique be careful not to spill the charcoal.

A few quick notes on safety:
  • Don't place the cardboard box oven on the grass or on anything else that could burn. 
  • Don't use it inside because after all, you are using charcoal. 
  • Follow the safety directions and caution statements on the bag of charcoal.  Use common sense here.  I placed mine on a big cinder block on my patio.  I also placed a cookie sheet under it. 
  • Please be sure to never leave the box unattended.

Here is the coffee cake going in to the oven.

Place the top on the box and let it bake.

And, there you have it! Coffee cake without using your oven!

Since this was the first time I tried cooking anything in a cardboard box, I have noted some lessons learned:

  • Use a pan one size larger than what is called for in the recipe.  No matter how hard you try, you will not place the hangers level with each other.  A full pan will lean in one direction and some of your contents will spill out.  A larger pan will hold it all in - all you might get is a slightly lopsided cake.
  • Eventhough I have seen 'one briquette equals 40 degrees' listed in a few places on the Internet, I don't think it is true.  I had to cook the cake a bit longer than the time spelled out in the recipe. Next time I will add a few more pieces of charcoal.
  • Five minutes before the cake was done, it started raining (unexpected pop up shower).  I had to go out and stand there with an umbrella to keep the cardboard box dry.  If at all possible, don't try this if there's rain in the forecast.
  • I was quite surprised when the box didn't get overly hot to touch.  I guess it was the aluminum foil holding the heat inside the box.
Cooking in a cardboard box may not be nearly as efficient or effective as using the kitchen oven, but it does give you a quick, easy way to cook when other options just aren't available.  A great alternative in an emergency that can be used in the summer or winter.

If you liked this post, you may also like others in the Cooking Without Electricity series:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Garden Update

Most of my garden is doing really well this year, so I thought I would show you pictures of what is working.

This is my squash and pumpkin bed. Big difference from the picture I posted a few weeks ago!  I will be picking some summer squash on Friday. You can no longer see the aluminum foil but it is there and still working.

The next picture shows some of the grapes.  I lost a few bunches when the night temperatures went into the 50's  for the first part of June.  I have been pruning back some of the vine damage this week. A bit more pruning and these vines will be fine.

Here is some of the tobacco.  Each of these pots has three tobacco plants in it.  I won't be separating them because my goal is not to harvest tobacco to smoke or chew.  To use for insectside, these plants will do fine together in these pots.  In another few weeks, they can be planted in the front yard landscaping.

I only have one sweet potato plant left.  I am not sure why the other one died.  I will assume it is because of the poor handling they all received when they arrived at my house in March (I was too busy with work to plant them).  This one looks good, so I may get some sweet potatoes yet!  It will really like the hot temperatures expected for the next few weeks.

Here is a picture of the tomatoes.  I have a total of 10 tomato plants this year.  This picture shows five of them. They are almost as tall as me.

I had a slight mishap with the greenbeans. TS Debby sent us some blustery winds yesterday and it ripped up the aluminum foil covering the new green beans. I have been planting the green beans a few at a time because I do not want to can all of them at once.  I have a section that is just about to flower - the foil didn't tear under them and I have a section that hasn't been planted yet - the foil didn't tear under that either.  It just tore on the new seedlings. The foil cut the leaves off some of them and other plants are just no where in sight.  I am not sure what happened to them.  I had to spend time repairing the foil.  Here is a picture of some of the repair work.

Notice some of the seedlings are MIA. You can see a big rectangle of new foil just above the seedlings in the center of the picture.  I didn't use tape to repair it - that would reduce the reflective properties of the foil.  Instead, I went rummaging in the garage and found some inexpensive nails from the home improvement store and I secured the foil with the nails.

Here is a picture of the entire bed of green beans.  The center section will be planted in the next day or two. I will also replant all the missing ones in the seedling section. At the top of the picture are the 80 plants I put in last month.

As a spur of the moment decision, I planted sweet corn. I got the seeds for free so I thought it would be a good time to try the 'three sisters' planting as the native amercians do.  The 'three sisters' planting starts with the corn plant, when the corn is a few feet tall, pole beans are planted at the base of the corn.  The corn stalk supports the beans and the beans help keep the critters out of the corn.  Both of these are supported with pumpkins growing around them- the corn is planted in the middle of the pumpkin patch to also help keep the small animals away. 

As of now, I have 2" tall corn.  The pumpkins haven't made it to the corn yet and I can't plant the pole beans until the corn is taller.  I will post a picture when there is more to look at then bare ground.

Next week, I will post updates of the peanuts, strawberries, figs and blueberries!

I would love to know how your garden is doing.  Feel free to post a comment!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cooking with Food Storage: Make Your Own Flour

What do you do with all the wheat berries you have in food storage?

If you answered, "Grind them into flour." you are correct!  However, there is more to making flour than grinding wheat berries. I have quite a few gourmet dessert recipes in my food storage. Most of them require specialty flours. I do not store speciality flour, it is too expensive and has a short shelf life. Instead I make my own. 

Here are a few recipes you can use to turn your wheat berries into speciality flours.

All Purpose Flour
Recipe #1:
50% hard white wheat flour
50% soft white wheat flour

Recipe #2:
Replace 100% of the all purpose flour with hard white wheat flour
(This is great for everyday cooking.)

Recipe #3
50% hard white wheat flour
50% soft white wheat flour
Mix this hard/soft combo at a 80/20 ratio with barley or oats:
80% hard/soft white wheat flour
20% either barley or oat flour
(For example, sometimes I mix with barley when making bread, sometimes I mix with oats when making cookies.)

1 Cup of Bread Flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 TBS vital wheat gluten
1/8 tsp vitamin C powder
(You can also find vital wheat gluten in the grocery store with the vitamin C already added.)

1 Cup of Cake Flour
Recipe #1:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 TBS cornstarch

Recipe #2:
3/4 cup soft white wheat flour
1/4 cup oat flour

1 Cup of Self- Rising Cake Flour
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Pastry Flour
Recipe #1:
Replace 100% of the pastry flour with soft white wheat flour

Recipe #2:
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour + 2/3 cup cake flour = 2 cups pastry flour

If all you have is hard red wheat in your food storage, here is another alternative for 'white' flour.  I got this off the Internet, I haven't tried it yet.

Alternative White Flour
1 cup brown rice flour (you can store brown rice and grind it into flour)
1 cup barley flour
1 cup spelt flour

If I am confusing anyone with the terms: 'hard wheat', 'soft wheat', or 'spelt' - let me define them for you.

There are two kinds of hard wheat - red and white. Hard red wheat is what gives whole wheat bread that traditional flavor. It has phenolic compounds and tannins in the bran. Some people (like me) don't like that flavor, so we opt for hard white wheat. Hard white wheat doesn't have as many phenolic compounds or tannins in the bran and tastes more like 'white' flour.  I no longer store any red wheat, all my wheat is white wheat. It tastes better in fruit cobblers, cakes, cookies and pastries then hard red wheat.  It also makes bread taste more like white bread.

The real wheat experts reading this will also want me to mention that there is a difference between spring and winter wheat.  However, that information is for the real gourmet chefs who need to know how much protein is in the wheat.  For those of us just trying to feed our families food they will eat, the difference between spring and winter wheat isn't as important.

Soft wheat is lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates than hard wheat and is used mostly for pastries, cakes and cookies. If using for making bread, it must be combined with other types of flours higher in protein - like hard wheat.

Spelt is a type of wheat. It is an ancient grain that has been consumed in other parts of the world for thousands of years. I think it has a bit of a nutty flavor. I use it for pancakes and waffles. 

I hope this information will inspire you to open that can or bucket of wheat berries sitting in your food storage and use it in your everyday baking!  If you don't have any wheat berries in your food storage, I hope this information will motivate you to add some. Wheat berries will store for up to 30 years. You can't say that for flour you purchase at the grocery store! Making these specialty flours is easy. Once you start making your own, you won't ever consider going back to store bought flour again!

If you have a question about making your own flour, send me an email or leave a comment.  I will be happy to help!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cooking without Electricity: Sun Oven

Today, I am starting a 10 part series on how you can still cook if you ever find yourself without electricity. There may be lots of reasons you don't have electricity or don't want to use electricity.  The most common reason for me (in the summer) is it makes the kitchen hot.  I don't have my air conditioning on yet. I try to keep the air conditioning off until the temperature gets into the 90's. Since cooking inside the house makes it very hot, I prefer to cook outside. 

But, let's say it's not just the heat, perhaps you have lost electricity during a winter storm, a tornado, or a hurricane.  How do you feed your family?  If you have a wood stove, you have both a source for cooking along with a heat source. That is ideal if the storm happens to be a severe winter storm. The outside grill is always an option. It might not be as comfy in that winter storm, but it's still there if you really need it.

However, there are a lot of other options available to you for cooking besides a wood stove or the grill outside.  This series will attempt to show you how to create and use alternative methods of cooking just in case you ever want or need to make a change.  My goal is to post a new cooking option every Friday for the next 10 weeks. This week's feature is the Sun Oven. Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with this company in any way, just a satisfied customer. 

I have had my Sun Oven about three years.  I love it!  You can cook almost anything in a Sun Oven.  I have made bread, cookies, rice, many different meat dishes and desserts.  About the only thing you can't do is fry.  It is almost impossible to burn food in the Sun Oven, most food can stay there all day and cook while you are at work (except for things like bread and cookies.)  I use my Sun Oven so much that I am now considering getting a second one.

Yesterday, I cooked a chicken in the Sun Oven. The chicken was for my dog.  She is allergic to dog food.  So, since the chicken was for the dog, I didn't use any spices.  This was simple: put the chicken in the pot and put the pot in the oven. (BTW, it still tasted delicious!)

Cooking with a Sun Oven does require a few different pots.  They really should be dark in color.  If you don't have any dark pots and pans to use, you can use a shiny one and cover it with a dish towel.  If you leave the shiny pot in the Sun Oven uncovered, the heat will be reflected off the pot and the food won't cook.  Dark pots and pans are best.

The first thing I did was set up the Sun Oven to preheat.

Then I washed the chicken. patted it dry, and placed in the pot.


You can marinade it if you want, or use the spices and herbs you normally would.  One cautionary note: when cooking in a Sun Oven,  you don't need to use as much liquid as you would if you were cooking it in the oven in your kitchen, so you can use less marinade.  Also, it does take longer to cook in the Sun Oven - about double the time.  So, if you were baking bread and the recipe said to bake for 25 minutes, you can leave it in the Sun Oven about 45 minutes.

Once the Sun Oven is preheated, place the pot in the Sun Oven.

My plan was to leave this in the Sun Oven for three hours.  However, it was a partly cloudy day and the sun kept darting behind the clouds.  I got nervous when the sun went in and ran out a few times to make sure the Sun Oven was keeping the temperature up.  It never went below 250 degrees so I knew it was safe - I just needed to cook it as if it were in a crock pot and leave it longer.  So, the chicken ended up staying in the Sun Oven for four hours.  I also adjusted the oven a few times to time to make sure it stayed pointed at the sun.  This isn't necessary if you have a completely sunny day and you are leaving to go to work.  Under those circumstances, you can point the Sun Oven to where the sun would be at it highest point in the day (say between 12 - 2:00 pm) and leave it there.

So here is the chicken four hours later, tender, juicy and browned to perfection!

 If you would like to read more about cooking with a Sun Oven, visit this blog Solar Oven Chef. The author cooked with a Sun Oven for an entire year and blogged about it.  She now blogs on the Sun Oven website  The Original Sun Oven. You will find lots of recipes and how to's on both websites.
If you liked this post, you make also like:
  • Cook with Alternative Fuels
  • Cook with a Kelly Kettle
  • Cook Your Food in a Steam Pit
  • Cook Your Food in a Hot Box
  • Cook with a Number 10 Can Stove
  • Using Non-Electric Appliances
  • Make Some Campfire Charcoal
  • Make a Dakota Fire Hole to Cook In
  • Cook Your Food in a Cardboard Box

  • Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    Garden Update

    The vegetables are up and doing well.  The tomatoes have a few small fruits. I have been picking both strawberries and blueberries for a few weeks now. My fig tree has quite a few figs this year, tobacco looks good and so does the squash.  I do have some challenges: the grapes, sweet potatoes and peanuts are looking sluggish.  I believe it's too cold for them.  Temperatures in the 80's just won't do. It is supposed to warm up to the 90's by the end of the week so I hope they perk up soon.

    In the meantime, I thought I would share some information about the herbs in my garden.  I have a few unusual ones as well as some old favorites.

    • Oregano - I use this in tomato sauce.  By the way, the alcohol insecticide that I made here, worked great. The whitefly problem I mentioned a week or so ago is under control.
    • Thyme - I started my thyme from seed this year and it isn't growing too fast.  As a result, it is still in the 'baby nursery' on my patio.  It should be ready to transplant in about a week.
    • Summer Savory - I grew this from seed and transplanted it into the herb garden a few weeks ago.  Checked it today and it is doing well.  I use savory in tomato sauce.
    • Parsley - I grow the flat-leaf parsley.  It has more flavor than the curly type.  I use it in stews and soups. I grow this from seed each year.  Parsley is a bi-annual and sets seed the second year.
    • Chives - These are perennial so I don't have to do anything to them but cut and eat them.  Since the flowers deplete the flavor, it is a good idea to keep them well trimmed (unless you want to eat the flowers).  They are delicious in potato or pasta salad.
    • Lemon Balm - This herb also had a whitefly problem a few weeks ago.  I checked it today and it is growing nicely and looks good.  Lemon Balm can be used in meat or fish dishes, dried and used as a tea, or even used in facials. Most of mine goes into potpourri.
    • Stevia - I grew this from seed last year and it is such an interesting plant, I repeated the process this year as well.  It is only an annual where I live, It needs to grow in a more sub-tropical climate to last through the winter months.  Stevia really tastes sweet - almost like candy (a bit of a licorice flavor).  I haven't decided what to do with it.  I did purchase a stevia cookbook but have been too busy to try any of the recipes.
    • Basil - This is an old favorite of mine.  I love the smell of basil!  The classic use for basil is pesto. Personally, I love adding it to the tomato sauce.
    • Bergamont - This is also called beebalm.  The flowers of beebalm are beautiful and fragrant.  You can use it in potpourri, lotions and bath salts.  If planted next to tomatoes,  it is supposed to enhance their growth (I never tried this, I just read it in a book). 
    • St. John's Wart -  This plant was used hundred of years ago to drive out evil spirits. It can be used to dye yarn a red or yellow color and it also has an antidepressant effect when taken internally.  I plan to use it as a dye. Can't wait to see how well it works.
    • Rosemary - This is a perennial here in the southeast.  I love it.  I use it for potpourri, as well as cooking.  It is great in pork and fish dishes.
    • Pennyroyal - I grew this from seed last year but it died during the summer.  So, this year I tried again.  Currently, it is in the 'baby nursery' keeping the Thyme company, but looks great and is definitely ready to be transplanted. Hundreds of years ago, this herb was used for medicinal purposes but it is not recommended for internal use now. However, Pennyroyal will help keep the mosquitoes and gnats away.  Pick a few leaves and rub them on your clothing (there is differing opinions on the Internet whether it is safe to rub it on your skin). 
    • Lavender - Such a fragrant plant!  I love it for potpourri.
    While most of my herbs like it here and thrive, there are two that have had a problem growing in the past (they germinate but then die).  I am trying again.  Since the 'baby nusery' is mostly empty now, I am hoping I can give these plants the extra care they need to grow.
    • Woad - Strictly used as a blue or pink dye for yarn.  You must gather the leaves in the second year  to get the colors so I have lots of time to experiment with this one.
    • Soapwart - This one is very frustrating for me even though it is considered a weed once established. I just can't get the darn thing to grow. If it ever does grow, I plan to use it as a substitute for laundry detergent.  Both the leaves and roots will create a foam in water that has cleansing properties.  You can wash your hair with it too. It is gentle and great for anyone who is allergic to perfume and dyes in soaps. 
    The Woad and Soapwart are currently relaxing with the Thyme and Pennyroyal in the 'baby nursery' and I am counting the days until they germinate!

    What herbs do you have growing in your garden?

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    Tips To Help You Gather Your Food Storage

    I just read in the Wall Street Journal about the financial mess in Greece.  Based on what I have read, Greece doesn't have much hope for a fast or easy end to their problems. It seems they won't take responsibility for their own mess. If they go back to the Drachma for their currency, the citizens of Greece can expect both food and medical shortages.

    Don't think that can't happen here. It can! One way to protect yourself and your family is to gather foods that can be stored long term. As I have mentioned before, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money.  A little effort, week by week can really add up. Next time you go to the grocery store, buy an extra can or two of vegetables and a bag of rice.  Next week, get an extra box of oatmeal. Soon, you will have enough food to keep your family alive for a few weeks, then a few months. 

    The best place to start is to take an inventory of what you eat and buy extra of that. Stick with familiar foods you eat everyday (this is especially true for children). No need to buy things you don't like or won't eat. If you don't like it now, you won't eat it in an emergency! 

    To help you plan how to gather what you need, I have compiled a list of web sites that helped me when I was getting started.
    Start Preparing Today!

    Friday, June 15, 2012

    Cooking with Food Storage: Make Your Own Yogurt

    We love yogurt at our house.  But, have you ever read the ingredients on the side of the yogurt package?  I bet you can't pronounce most of them.  I like to know what's in the food I eat. That is why I make my own yogurt.  It's fast and relatively easy. In fact, I don't even have to rely on regular milk. I make it with powdered milk!

    Now I am not talking about the powdered milk you purchase at the grocery store.  Personally, I do not care for the taste of that.  I purchase my powdered milk here. It tastes just like fresh skim milk you purchase at the grocery store. Read the customer reviews or you can read about a woman who did a taste test with her church. The Great Powdered Milk Taste Test and Review

    One definite item you will need to make yogurt is a yogurt culture.  I buy mine here.  However, you don't have to purchase a dry culture.  I know people who make yogurt with a spoonful of yogurt from the grocery store. (Make sure it is one with live cultures.)

    Full disclosure:  I do not get anything for mentioning these products, I am just a satisfied customer.

    OK, lets make some yogurt:

    The first step is to mix up the powdered milk.  Now, if you don't want to use powdered milk, you can use fresh milk from the grocery store.  Whole milk will taste creamier, but I prefer to reduce the fat content by using skim milk.  By the way, powdered milk mixes much easier if you use hot water.  For today's batch, I made two quarts. 

    After mixing the powdered milk, place it in a large pot and heat on medium to 185 degrees.  Be sure to stir it constantly so the milk doesn't burn on the bottom.

    A great way to make sure your milk hits 185 degrees, is to use a milk thermometer.  They aren't expensive.  You can easily order them online. I use mine all the time!

    Once the temperature of the milk hits 185 degrees, remove it from the heat and let it cool to 112 degrees.  Usually, I remove mine from the stove and place it on the counter on a pot holder.  Let me say here that it is extremely important to get the milk to 185 degrees before you cool it to 112.  The mixture won't make yogurt if it doesn't heat all the way up to 185. (Ask me how I know this!)

    Once cooled, pour the milk into a thermos-like container.  I use a Yogotherm.  It holds exactly two quarts.  I have had mine for a few years now, but to the best of my recollection, I purchased it here.  However, a lot of other places sell it as well.  Do an Internet search and see who has the cheapest prices. What I like best about the Yogotherm is it doesn't use electricity.  So, if the power goes out, I can still heat the milk on the charcoal grill and create delicious yogurt!

    After you've poured the 112 degree milk into the container, open one of the dry yogurt cultures and sprinkle it on the milk. If using yogurt from the grocery store, add it now. I am afraid I can't offer any guidance on how much fresh yogurt from the store you should use, I have never tried it. I have read about it on the Internet and the directions I read stated a few tablespoons. Since I have never tried it, I can't verify the accuracy of that information.

    Next, let the dry culture re-hydrate for a few minutes.  Here you can see mine sitting on top of the milk.

    After a few minutes, stir it in to make sure it mixes throughout the milk.

    Now, cover and leave it undisturbed on the counter for 6 to 12 hours.  I like to check mine at six hours, if it needs more time leave it for longer.

    And there you have it!  Fresh homemade yogurt. 

    As a final step, add Splenda and fruit  if you would like.  We like strawberry banana and peach.  I have used both freeze dried fruit and fresh fruit from the garden, both are delicious!

    Try making your own yogurt sometime, it is inexpensive, delicious and doesn't have any preservatives!

    Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    A Garden in Balance

    My goal is to not have any bugs in my garden. That is why I use aluminium foil to repel them. (You can read about using aluminum foil here.) However, it isn't practical to eliminate all bugs because some of them are good for the garden.  The good guys are called beneficial insects. They're good bugs because they eat the bad bugs.  Creating the perfect balance between the good bugs and bad bugs leads to a garden that is in balance. Having a garden in balance is the best way to garden organically and avoid a heavy reliance on pesticides.

    Let me give you an example. Last night, my husband and I took the dog outside and we were walking by the grape arbor. My husband said to me, "Hey look, you have a bunch of bugs on the end of this branch."  I looked and sure enough, there were aphids all over one of the grape vines.  This is very normal, aphids love grape vines. Because the temperatures did not get low enough this past winter to kill off some of the bugs, aphids are everywhere this summer.  So what can you do about aphids?  One option is to get the hose and knock them off the plant with a blast of water.  Once on the ground, something will eat them.  This is one of my favorite techniques. I usually end up doing this a couple of times a week.

    After I blasted off the ones I saw, I inspected the rest of the vines to see if there were any other aphids.  I only found one more vine (really it is just the vine tips that the aphids want) covered with the aphids. My first inclination was to blast them with the hose as well.  However, when I looked closely at the branch, I found a lady bug was doing the job for me. 

    Lady bug and aphids on my grape vine.

    I do realize this picture is dark, it was taken at about 9:00 pm last night when I found them. The big oval shaped thing is the lady bug.  The little dots above the lady bug are the aphids.  Rather than spray the aphids off the vine, I left the lady bug to eat all she wanted.  Here is what I found at 7:00 am this morning. It looks like that lady bug had a fine evening of dining!
    Same lady bug on my grape vine. Notice there aren't any aphids now.

    The lady bug is still there, but she is all alone now.  I know she will crawl along my grape vine until she finds something else to eat. 

    So, other than lady bugs, exactly who are the good guys?  Any bug that attacks your plant is considered a bad bug.  Any creature that eats the bad bugs is beneficial to your garden. They are the good guys.  This includes birds (although they can eat your garden too), frogs, praying mantis, lacewings, spiders, and others.  You can order beneficial insects from a catalog, but without a good environment they will fly away or die. A better way is to plant what will attract them naturally. 

    To attract the good guys, do the following:
    1. Don't use chemicals of any kind.  Chemicals don't discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs.  They kill everything.  This isn't good practice because once you stop spraying, all that you will get  back are the bad bugs.  It will take some time to attract the beneficial insects, birds and other creatures that will help. That's all time the bad bugs use to feast on your plants and reduce yield or kill them.
    2. Put in plants that will attract the good guys.  This means planting lots of herbs, flowers and other flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar.
    3. Have a water source.  Bird baths are great but some bugs drown in bird baths as they are trying to get water. Put out some flower pots on top of a tray of gravel. Fill the tray with water so the little creatures have a source of water too. 
    4. Put in landscape plants that attract butterflies, hummingbirds (they eat insects too) and birds.
    The goal is a garden that is healthy and in balance.  With a garden in balance, you will have less of a problem with pests and spend less time in the garden trying to control them. You will also improve the yield of your garden and you will get to eat more of those wonderful vegetables!

    Happy Gardening!

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    Cutting Back on Electricity

    My goal someday is to be completely off the grid. Currently, we are searching for some acreage so we can build our own off the grid house.

    In the meantime, we are trying to cut back on our use of electricity. I don't have many kitchen counter appliances that use electricity (most of mine are hand crank) and I try not to use my oven too often. Instead, I use a Sun Oven and cook in the sunshine.

    But there is something else that we do to gain a significant reduction in our electric bill.  It is easy and anyone can do it!  Put anything that uses a phantom load on a surge protector.  All of our television sets,  our CD player, record player (yes, we still have one of those relics), DVD player and radio are on surge protectors.  Here is a picture of cabinet where these appliances live in my family room.

    Standing directly in front of the cabinet, you can't even see the surge protector. It is on the left of the cabinet. Here is an up close picture of the surge protector.

    Notice the stick?  This was a compromise with my husband to get him to turn off the surge protector when he turns off the TV.  I just hit the button with my foot, my husband wanted a stick to hit the button.

    When you turn off the TV with your remote, turn off the surge protector. It took a while for this new habit to become second nature in my house.  So the compromise was to turn off the surge protector when you leave the room.  If you are still sitting on the couch, it is OK to leave it on, when you get up to leave the room, it  goes off.

    In addition to the surge protectors, I switched all of my clocks to battery power.  I now have an old fashioned clock on my kitchen wall with a battery in it.  (Just like many of us did growing up.) Extra clocks in the guest bedrooms have been eliminated.  I do still have an alarm clock/radio in my bedroom, but it is the only one in the house.

    Using these techniques, we saw about a 25% reduction in our electric bill. 

    Your savings may vary based on your family's ability to comply with the new procedure and the number of appliances you have in the house .  But once this becomes second nature to everyone in your family, you can watch your electricity bill go down!

    For more frugal ideas, you can visit the blog: Frugally Sustainable.

    Friday, June 8, 2012

    What Do You Do With The Dryer Lint?

    Yes, my question is a serious one! And if you answered, "I throw it away," let me offer you a few other alternatives.

    Dryer lint has useful purposes. For one thing, you can add it to your compost pile.  On occasion, I do add it to my compost pile. But that isn't my favorite use of dryer lint.  This picture shows my favorite use of dryer lint.

    These are toilet paper tubes stuffed with dryer lint. Toilet paper tubes are collected in my house.  We do not throw them away. They are stored in my  laundry room while they are waiting to be stuffed with dryer lint.

    What do I do with them?  They make great fire starters!  Whether you are camping or starting a fire in your fireplace on a cold winter night, one of these will get the fire going in no time.  Of course, this works best when the lint comes from cotton clothes.

    I know some people who run a string through the tube and then dip them in wax.  They burn slower that way. Currently, I am out of ones that were dipped in wax so all I have is what is shown here.  Heating up wax is not my most favorite thing to do (especially in the summer) so I will collect up quite a few over the year, then dip them all at once. This chore is usually saved for sometime in the fall.  Any left over wax can be made into candles.

    In the meantime, I put three of them in a baggie and store them in a Rubbermaid bin in my garage.  This set is now ready to go until dipping time in the fall.

    So save up that dryer lint!  It is much cheaper and less frustrating than rolling up newspaper to get a fire started! 

    Wednesday, June 6, 2012

    Are Bugs Bugging Your Plants?

    This is the time of year that I put most of my efforts into gardening.  Growing a year's worth of  vegetables in the garden takes up quite a bit of time. Managing it without chemicals makes it more of a challenge but also makes me feel better about the results. Because we really didn't have a winter, this year the bugs are everywhere and managing them without chemicals can test anyone's patience!

    A friend of mine asked me this past Sunday what to do about all the whiteflies on the bushes in her yard. She told me they seemed to be everywhere. Whiteflies are tiny flies, they are white, (who would have thought), and they fly off the plant as you touch it.  They are sucking insects and will ruin the looks of any garden or landscaping plant. If not controlled, they can kill the plant.  Working in my herb garden yesterday, I felt her pain.  I had whiteflies everywhere! 

    So, I thought I would pass along a spray solution that kills the whiteflies (and any other sucking insect) on your plants.  The best thing about this spray solution is it works wonders on indoor houseplants as well. 

    Alcohol Insecticide:

    1 cup isopropyl alcohol (either 70% or 91%)
    3 cups water
    2 to 3 drops liquid dishwashing liquid

    Put everything in a plastic sprayer and shake well. Spray the plant, wetting both the top and underside of the leaves.

    Now, this will kill the adult flies but it won't do anything about eggs left on the plant.  So, you will need to spray again in three days to kill the new adults that hatch. Spray again in three more days to break the reproduction cycle of this pest. Most insecticides aim to break the life cycle of the pest. That is why so many commercial products recommend spraying every few days.  For this homemade alcohol insecticide, you must spray three times, three days apart to completely eliminate the insect.  If you don't spray that often, you will control them but not eliminate them.

    I use this on flowers and shrubs, rather than edible plants. In fact, I don't recommend spraying anything you plan to eat. After all, you are spraying isopropyl alcohol on the plants. Also, to prevent your hands from stinging, wear gloves and certainly don't get the spray in your eyes. Be sure to follow all other caution statements on the isopropyl alcohol bottle  and use normal safety practices for applying insecticide.

    Having said that, I did spray my herbs yesterday.  I severely cut them back to just a few inches tall and left just a few leaves. (This alone eliminated a lot of the bug problem.)  I threw away these clippings - rather than put them on the compost pile. Then I sprayed.  I don't plan to eat anything from these plants until they at least double in size. I will spray twice more before I check the underside of the leaves for new eggs.

    You can use this spray for all indoor/outdoor non-edible plants. If you are a bit hesitant to use it on your roses or other prize plants, test an area first. Spray just a few leaves. Then, go back and check it the next day for damage.  This test will tell you if you plant can tolerate the spray. 

    If you have a specific bug problem that you can't seem to solve, just email me!  I will be happy to help. 

    Happy Gardening!

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012

    Emergency Preparedness: Emergency Car Kits

    Have you ever had a flat tire and been stranded? Have you ever been stuck in a snow storm in your car?  Has your car ever had mechanical problems while you were driving?  To help you have peace of mind in these situations and more, make an emergency car kit.  They are easy and fun to make as well as a huge help in an emergency!

    Here is a picture of everything I put in my emergency car kit.

    This kit includes:
    • A change of clothes
    • Athletic shoes and socks (Just in case I am in the car in a suit and I have to walk somewhere.)
    • Food and water (I have granola bars. For the summer, make sure not to have anything that will melt.)
    • Pen and paper
    • Pocket knife
    • Rain poncho
    • Emergency blanket
    • Wet wipes
    • First aid kit
    • Hand sanitizer
    • $15 to $20 cash (In small bills.)
    • Toilet Paper
    • Flashlight & batteries
    • Towels
    I also keep the following in my car although they are not "officially" in my emergency car kit box:
    • Umbrella
    • Jumper cables
    • Emergency flares and caution sign
    • Inflatable Tire in a Can
    If you do not have an emergency car kit now, or if you need to increase the number of items currently in your kit, there is no need to go out and purchase all these things at once.  When assembling my kit a few years ago, it took me two months to purchase and gather everything I have listed here. If you have more then one car, start gathering the items for one car then when it is complete, start gathering items for the second car.

    You can also purchase a complete kit all at once, but since you can find most individual items in the big box stores for much less, it make sense to assemble your kit yourself.

    Be sure to rotate the food and water every six months or so.  A good time to rotate is when you change your clocks in the spring and fall. This is also a good time to change out summer/winter clothes as well. I change my kit at General Conference time. This event occurs in both April and October for all LDS church members.

    Having an emergency car kit gives you complete peace of mind if you ever find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal!  And even if you do have a phone signal, it is really nice to know you have food and water and can wait for help to arrive.

    If you would like a checklist and some support to help you gather the items for your emergency car kit, visit this blog. These ladies do a terrific job of laying out everything you should do step-by-step. Safely Gathered In

    Friday, June 1, 2012

    Cooking with Food Storage: Make Your Own Granola

    This is one of my favorite foods to eat for breakfast. It is so easy to make and it's made from 100% shelf stable foods.  Here are the ingredients:

    5 cups steel cut oats
    1 cup shredded coconut
    1 cup flax seeds
    1 cup chopped almonds
    1 cup chopped walnuts
    1/2 cup vegetable oil
    1 cup maple syrup
    1 TBS vanilla flavoring
    5 cups dried fruit

    The best thing about this recipe is you can add what you like and leave out what you don't like. I have seen granola recipes on the Internet that include wheat germ, sunflower seeds, cashews, sesame seeds and/or brown sugar.  I modified the recipe above by adding a bit more shredded coconut and a bit more maple syrup (1 1/2 cups of each). Feel free to substitute!

    Here is how you make it:

    Grind the oats, if necessary.  I have 180 lbs of oat groats in my food storage. To help with rotation, I use some of the oat groats each time I make granola. I have to grind them to make steel cut oats. For this, I use a WonderMill Jr. grinder - it makes easy work of grinding ANYTHING!  However, If you don't have a grain grinder don't despair!  You can grind the oats in a blender or just buy steel cut oats at the grocery store. Here is a picture of my grinding activities.

    I used a small nut grinder to chop the almonds and walnuts. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl, except for the dried fruit. I just combine mine in the same pan I will use when it goes in the oven.

    Mix the dry ingredients well. In a separate bowl, combine the oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Mix well.

    When the wet ingredients are mixed, pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix well.

    Place the granola mixture in the oven at 250 degrees for 90 minutes.  It is best to stir often. One trick I've found useful is to set the oven timer for 15 to 20 minute intervals. When the timer goes off, take the granola out, stir well and put back in the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. The picture below is what it looks like about half way through the baking process.

    Did you notice that this pan appears a little empty compared to the one above?  That's because I divided the granola mixture in half and placed it in two separate pans. Using two pans allows me to create two different kinds.  This one, I left plain. I added 2 tsp of cinnamon to the other half of the recipe to make apple cinnamon granola. Don't worry if it looks like it won't dry, It really comes together nicely, but not until the end.

    When the granola is completely dry and a bit toasted, let it cool on the counter. Add the fruit of your choice and enjoy. I usually use my own dried fruit. For this recipe though, I bought some dried fruit at the grocery store. In addition to the apple cinnamon, I created a mixed fruit variety.

    Try making some granola of your own. It is easy, delicious and doesn't have any preservatives!