Saturday, September 15, 2012

Taking Stock

summer squash from my garden
Well prodded by a readers comment (thanks for that, Nancy!) I am reminded I need to update a few things on this page.

This has been a terrible hot dry summer and even tho we finally got some monsoon rains, it wasn't nearly enough and my place didn't always get any even when it was raining by the bucket load just 2 miles away.

But the last few mornings have been much cooler and there is a taste of fall in the air. Fall in Arizona means wanting the heater in the morning and the cooler in the afternoon. Many summer crops, like the beans and squashes are still going strong, but I am making room where I can and seeding in the fall and winter crops. Gardening in the winter is much easier than in the summer and costs almost nothing once things get going. I've been going over my wish lists and gardening records and thinking about what I want to do next year.

The kitchen cupboards, Oct 2009
In 2009 I had a very large successful garden and did a lot of canning and pickling. This year the garden was a bit smaller and not as prolific and I have not canned much of anything. I decided this year to try and eat fresh from the garden each day, rather than do a lot of preserving. Some of the food in the picture, especially the pickles were still in the cupboard this summer. They have either been eaten or dumped as the quality deteriorates a lot after a year.

However, when the weather cools off I will probably can some jars of bean soup, potato soup, chili and chicken stock. These are great convenience foods that make life a little easier on hectic days.

The garden has been producing over 100 pounds of vegetables a month during June, July and August. With all the winter squashes September's totals could top 200, but I'll have to wait and see. 

Now I'm sure you are wanting to know a bit where I've gotten concerning the grocery budget, eh? Well I think I'm doing pretty good, actually. In July I spent $148.22 and in August I spent $149.08. In analyzing what I'm buying it breaks down into basically meat, dairy, fruit and marinated olives.

I can't do much about the dairy situation until I am able to retire from my regular job so I can once again have dairy goats. I have been finding wonderful deals on pork and stocked up a bit, but the meat category should come way down next month as I will have several ducks to put in the freezer. There may be a couple of young chickens to join them by December, depending on whether or not they are actually roosters. The marinated olives with feta are something I eat a small amount of nearly everyday; they replace regular salad dressing on my salads. I am on the look out for something similar to replace this with, as it is about $10 a pound and I usually go through three or four pounds a month. Right now I can't do much about the cost of fruit, except to stock up when ever I can when things are on sale, as the garden doesn't make much fruit yet.

In other financial areas things are going well, the line of credit on my house is nearly paid off and then I will only have my land payment and regular bills to pay. If you've joined me recently, I use a software program called YNAB or You Need A Budget. You can read about my experience with this software here. I've also written a bit about getting out of debt using YNAB here.

Now I have been spending money this summer, but not frivolously. I have been using it to set up infrastructure for the future; to make my future more independent of political and corporate situations and natural disasters. I am expanding the garden area, building up a poultry flock that will provide me with meat, eggs, and income through the sale of young birds and eggs. I am hoping next summer to be able to add pigs to the mix and or some meat goats. Which order I do things in totally depends on what falls in my lap first.

Right at the moment the poultry enterprise is running in the red, as there are a large number of young birds that won't pay for themselves until next summer. Also this is molting season for the hens and they don't lay well when they are molting. From 6 hens I'm only getting 1-3 eggs a day. But the younger girls should begin laying any time now, then I will have eggs to sell and they will begin to pay back the investment. By this time next year the poultry operation should actually be a money maker.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

You Get What You Get

Salad tomatoes
My grand daughters have a saying, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit". I think that fits very well with eating from the garden. People of course have different goals for their gardens. Some are just to supplement what they buy at the store, while others eat completely from their own resources (which is my eventual goal.)

It is all a matter of attitude. Some people, getting bored with never ending greens will let the greens languish in the fridge and buy something different at the store. Just because they are bored eating the same thing every day. Me? well, you get what you get and you don't throw a fit! You find new ways to use the same old thing. Instead of steamed greens you stir fry them with bacon and onion. Sometimes you top them off with fried eggs and sometimes you mix them with potatoes. But every bite you eat from the garden is money saved at the grocery store. When you have tomatoes but no lettuce, you have tomato salad. Eggplant but no meat, eggplant Parmesan.

"What's for dinner?" becomes "whatever is ready to pick and eat" not "what am I in the mood for?" If it's the same thing for a few days running, well that is ok, because after that then something else will be ready. While some things are staples for months on end, like greens, other things have a short and fleeting season. So I gorge on it while it's available and then look forward to the next thing. And the next.

Home grown peaches
 Americans are spoiled by grocery stores having food grown in other countries so they can have bananas and other fruits all year. But such opulence comes at a high environmental price, to say nothing of what it does to the pocketbook. I think as the price of transportation goes up we will see a slight shift away from this. For my part I eat what is in season, whether I grow it or buy it. I don't buy grapes from Chile in January. In fact I don't buy imported fruits and vegetables at all. And I am really glad that our produce is labeled with the country of origin.

new potatoes
My goal, too this year, is not to do too much canning and preserving. But rather, to eat fresh, each thing at it's peak, then go on to the next thing. This too saves time, money and work. It means I can focus my preserving efforts on those things that are highly perishable but make a decent preserved product. I won't make more than a few jars of green beans, because I don't eat that many. But I might make a few jars of new potatoes because I don't have a good place to store potatoes and it's nice to have some already cooked and ready to go. I probably won't have enough tomatoes to make much sauce this year, but that's ok too, I don't eat much pasta any more and would just as soon eat it with pesto sauce. I do like to make a few jars of convenience food. Home made soup and chili in pint jars are nice to have on the shelf, ready to pop into a lunch box or heat up for a quick meal after a long day.  Having once lost a large amount of food to a freezer failure, I don't rely on freezing for much of my storage. Mostly freezing is a short term storage option and most of the space is taken up with meat.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grocery Budget Update; June

red & yellow new potatoes cooked together
June's grocery total was $141.31 This again was mostly dairy, meat and some pickled olives. The garden is beginning to really come on now, with potatoes, tomatoes, squash, corn, greens, and herbs. I even managed to get peaches & plums in June and harvested summer apples in July.

Of course the water bill for May was $175. However I think part of that was a slow leak that went undetected most of the month. Part of it also can be blamed on having to use sprinklers to keep things watered because my work schedule was is so crazy I don't always have enough time at home to hand water like I usually do. And of course I must also blame the weather. I went from March 18 to June 16 without rain and then I only got .2" Got another .5" on July 4th, but we have been having a lot higher humidity as our monsoon tries to get going so things are not drying out so badly as they were. You can see lots of garden photos over at The Edible Garden.

Even if the water bill continues to be high, it will all come out ok in the end. The water use now is not only growing what I'm eating now, but part of what I will eat this winter in the form of squash and potatoes.

I haven't had time to total up the harvest poundage for June, but will try to get to that soon. I also need to sit down and check out the numbers for the chickens feed and eggs delivered. In the mean time the flock has been expanding, in addition to the original 4 hens and a rooster, I bought 4 pullet chicks in March. Recently I was gifted 4 poults about 6 weeks old. A poult is a young bird that is big enough you can't call it a chick any more. It will be a bit before I see if they are girls or boys. In addition one hen is sitting on some eggs, due to hatch around July 20. I also received 4 young ducklings and am going to go pick up about 8 more this weekend. So it might be awhile before the poultry enterprise hits the black.

Welsummer poults
However, by the time the young pullets begin laying in September, that should really move the egg money ahead and of course I will harvest excess roosters and drakes for meat.

In the meantime I make a few dollars each week selling excess produce at the farmer's market and of course eat my fill of what ever veggies are ready.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Grocery Budget Update

A harvest in May
May's grocery total was $176.99, quite a bit more than April's. Most of that is still meat, milk, organic yogurt, butter, cheese and olives, along with some fresh and frozen fruit. The good news is that June will probably come in very much under budget, unless there is a great sale on meat and I stock up.

The garden is giving me a fair variety of items now, besides chard and red amaranth greens I have tons of small tomatoes, a small amount of lettuce that I'm babying through the heat and yummy new potatoes. I got a few handfuls of purple beans before something ate them. I think it was a pesky squirrel which also ate my first cantaloupe. I did however get revenge and mr. squirrel is no more.
First eggplant

The eggplants are beginning to trickle in along with squash, peaches, plums, green onions, with corn and more varieties of squash and potatoes to come. Does the garden pay? I think so, though I haven't had time to total up all my expenses and harvests yet, I do think that it will pay big time, even with having to pay for city water to grow it.

The chickens are still a bit in the red, since I'm feeding 4 pullets and a rooster that aren't laying eggs. But once these new girls begin to lay I think we'll see the numbers begin to change. Besides, how can you calculate the advantage to the new garden space of having it scratched up and manured by the chickens? What value can you place on the number of bugs and grubs they eat, reducing the numbers of things that might munch on the veggies?

In other news I'm making yogurt. I really hate that so much of the time a gallon of milk costs less than a half gallon but I can't drink the gallon up before it goes bad. So I've been culturing my own yogurt and this should also get the grocery budget down. I've taken to having fruit and yogurt nearly every morning for breakfast, so go through it pretty fast.

Also of note, many of my tea herbs have been big enough to harvest and dry so I'm no longer buying tea, but drinking home grown. You can see more pictures of my garden harvests and my garden at my gardening blog;, The Edible Garden

Even if you can't have a garden, you can save a lot of money by buying staple items in bulk and learning to make your own convenience mixes and 'fast' foods. It's easy to buy oatmeal, dried fruits and nuts in bulk and make your own granola. There are great recipes out there to make your own biscuit mix, cake and cookie mixes, even seasoning mixes for tacos, hot sauce and many more things. It doesn't take that long to make a bulk batch once in awhile, then you'll always have it on the shelf, for much less than the price you pay at the store. And you can use much healthier ingredients and leave out all the chemicals.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

More About the Grocery Budget

The chickens
So now I have chickens again. I bought 4 pullets just coming into lay and a young rooster (so I can hatch my own chicks to raise for meat).

Now that I have 2-4 eggs every day, they can replace part of the meat I would usually eat. Will the chickens pay? From previous experience I know that they will. In the past I had more hens and enough eggs to sell, covering the feed bill, meaning my family ate eggs for free.

While buying pullets costs more, you end up with exactly the number of hens you wanted, as usually there will not be any mortality at this age, unless there is some kind of accident. And no, eggs will not clog your arteries or any of that other silly stuff the scare mongers are trying to sell you. That happens to come from eating store bought, industrial eggs from chickens that are fed a totally unnatural diet and kept in very close quarters. (the government regulations say they only have to have about as much space as a sheet of computer paper per bird!).

Studies have shown that free range, pastured hens produce eggs that are actually very good for you, with more good cholesterol and less of the bad, less saturated fat, more beta carotene, the vitamin A precursor, more omega 3 fatty acids and more vitamin E. You can read more about this at Mother Earth News.

While right now there is no pasture on my land my girls get a good lot of weeds, grass, clover and veggie trimmings every day. Instead of buying regular laying pellets, which are full of GMO corn and soy, I bought wild birdseed, containing milo, broom corn and sunflower seeds. Besides this they get some worms and grubs from the compost and garden every day. So I think my eggs are probably at least a close second to full free range pastured ones.

On to the grocery budget. While March's total is not much lower than February's it is a bit lower, $142.05. A lot of that is for tea, coffee, olives and organic corn chips. Along with some cheese, onions, sweet potatoes, sour cream, cheese, yogurt and milk. And I haven't spent any money at the grocery store in April yet.

Having been slowly rethinking my spending and not buying a number of items, like garbage bags, I've been pondering what to do about the pricier items on my list. Coffee, tea, corn chips and olives are not cheap. Some of my herb plants are getting big enough to start picking and today I realized I still had a quart of spearmint from my mother's that I dried last fall. So beginning today I'm cutting the black tea with herbs. When I have enough tea herbs to go around I'll quit buying the black tea and probably won't buy coffee, either, just drink tea.

I could give up the corn chips, or just buy them once in awhile for a treat. (I love salsa and sour cream with corn chips for a snack). But I won't buy non-organic ones.

The olives are a problem though. I love the marinated olives from the store deli and eat a few every day with a drizzle of the oil on my salads. I do this instead of eating a heavy dressing. So I'll have to think about a replacement. Although when I ran out this week I did just start using some balsam vinegar on my salad instead.

I"m pretty sure that April's grocery bill will be much smaller than March's. I've received a windfall of free produce and my son has some extra meat in his freezer he want's to give me before it gets too old. The garden is growing exponentially and I'm sure by July I will practically be a vegetarian.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

More Grocery Budget Reduction

root crops from my garden
Just a small review of the marvelous shrinking grocery budget. You can read more about the beginning of this Here and Here. So what happened in February? I only spent $144.17 for the month. And I still have half the giant package of pork chops I bought on sale along with a bag of chicken breasts ;-). Most of what's been happening is that the weather has been warmer than usual and the garden is really beginning to take off. While the harvest is nothing like what it will be during the warmest months, it's been enough to keep me in two large salads a day, along with greens for cooking, a bit of broccoli and some root crops like turnips and carrots. You can see lots more about my garden at the Edible Garden Blog.

And we're almost two weeks into March and I've only spent $47.92 so far. What did I buy? Two pounds of sharp Tillamook cheese (on sale for the same price as the cheap store brand), some marinated olives, (which I put on my salads instead of dressing), coffee, tea, (both on sale), a couple of onions, a bag of organic corn chips, a couple of sweet potatoes, and a few grapefruit. If I'm careful the cheese and olives will last for two weeks of salads, the tea and coffee a month or more. The other things, who knows, just depends on when I have a whim to eat them.

I've still got some chicken and rabbit in the freezer and most of my five pound bag of pinto beans. Which reminds me, I should cook some up this week on my days off. I also have a few more apples left from the huge boxful I bought last month from Bountiful Baskets. Of course February only had 29 days in it and March has 31, and I've eaten up some more of my stored food. So wondering how low will March's total be? Probably depends on the weather and the garden.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What Do You Really Need?

Homegrown Salad
What do we really need? Sometimes we do things or buy things just because that's the way we've always done it. I challenge you to look at all aspects of your life to find ways to do things better; better for your family, your pocketbook, your quality of life, better for the planet and the environment.

Recently I took out a bag of trash and when I came back in discovered there were no more trash bags. At first I thought I needed to add trash bags to my shopping list. Then I thought "WHY?" Why do I need to spend money on plastic garbage bags? Plastic is not a renewable resource. It is made of petroleum and while there are some things that  are nice to have made of plastic I could not think of one good reason why I should buy something to throw it away on purpose.

My grand parents didn't use plastic trash bags. They reused their paper grocery sacks. Cans and bottles were rinsed and saved if they could be reused around the house. Food scrapings were fed to the birds and the alley cats.

Personally I put out very little garbage in the first place. All food scraps are composted by my earthworms. All yard waste goes into my compost pile to enrich my soil for the next crop. I buy very few consumer goods so have little packaging to throw away. Paper and cardboard are recycled either as fire starters or as compost material. I wear my clothes until they are worn out when they are either used for scrap crafts or rags. I'm growing an ever increasing amount of food that I eat so there is very little food packaging waste in my trash can.

I decided that there was no really good reason that I needed to buy plastic trash bags. Since no food waste goes into my trash can there is little that is smelly or messy. It is just as easy to take the whole can and dump it as to carry a plastic bag. I do end up with a few plastic shopping bags which I recycle in various ways. I decided that if something was really messy I could use one of them to contain it.

I think we all need to take a look at even the small things in our lives and see what we can do better. Unconsciously going with the status quo is not going to improve things at all. In fact, I can see a day when I will not need to have weekly garbage service at all.  When all the waste from my property is either recycled onsite or taken to the recycling center; my goal is to produce zero waste going to the land fill. Good for the earth, good for my pocketbook; I currently pay $240 a year for garbage service, not matter how much or how little I put out. I'll be very happy to spend that money on something else.