Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How much am I actually saving?

A while back a friend asked how much money I was actually saving by doing all the ‘weird things’ that are so typical in my life now. He has stressed a few times that even though I make things from scratch, I still have to buy something. He’s right to a certain extent. My usual answer is ‘that’s not the point’. Here’s my take on it:

Saving money at the grocery store - Usually making something from scratch is a lot cheaper than buying convenience foods, but not always. I could buy a cheap brownie mix for $1.07, but the homemade recipe I use is so much better although it probably costs as much or more to make. If I used a more generic recipe, it’d be cheaper.
Bread is another thing that I don’t feel guilty about buying, especially in the warm months. We like several types of ‘bird seed bread’, like 12 grain, etc. I don’t want to buy a bunch of different grains to make that. But during the winter we also have homemade white, whole wheat, oatmeal, skillet bread, etc.

Keeping as much plastic and other packaging out of the waste and recycle stream - Plastic can be recycled only so many times before it becomes toxic. I switched to real butter sticks instead of plastic tubs of margarine, make grape jelly (one aluminum can from shelf stable grape juice vs. three plastic jars to recycle), etc.

Not having to drive into town as often to get groceries - It’s a full gallon of gas round trip. Need I say more? I can make tons of things with just staples I keep on the shelf so there’s no running to the store to pick up a couple of things.

The ability to make pretty much whatever I want or need from the staples I keep on hand. - Now this is where the ‘make it from scratch’ really shines. I hate the taste of powdered milk, but it’s great for cooking and mixes. I use it in cream of chicken (or mushroom or celery) soup mix, flavored coffee creamers, all kinds of substitutions like sweetened condensed milk sub, on and on. The cream of whatever soup mix is stored in a smallish glass jar, and makes the equivalent of 9 cans of condensed soup. You’re just making your own convenience foods. It really doesn’t take that long to make the mixes and most use just simple ingredients.

So how much am I actually saving by doing all my ‘weird things‘? I tried to figure it out about 6 months ago. Although the numbers would vary month to month, it was $197 for that month.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Cost of Doing Laundry

Mr. Electric has a bunch of little energy calculators to help you understand how little or how much power you use for typical day to day living.  Most of us here in the US use a washer and dryer.  You can see how much it costs to do a month's worth of laundry at your place by going here:

I have been using homemade laundry soap for months, but sometimes I wash grungy work jeans in Simple Green, or add $0.10 worth of baking soda to the wash.  I also have a private well, so every time I use a bunch of water, the pressure tank kicks on, using electricity.  Ditto for the well pump. On the flip side, my Fisher-Paykel washer uses 1/3 less water than a standard washing machine. So my numbers aren't exactly accurate.

I'm okay with hanging clothes, but I hate stiff clothes, so I do the 5 or 10 minute dryer thing with a couple of dry towels, then hang everything to finish drying.

So, how did I come out?  Drum roll please....  My cost by using homemade laundry detergent, cold water wash, 10 minute dryer time and 4 loads per week = $2.41 a month.  Wowser!

He does a have blurp about putting a wet towel in with your clothes that have sat in the dryer, then turning the dryer on again.  Why do that?  Does it matter if your underwear is wrinkled?  Just hang up your shirts, whatever, then give them a few light sprays of water and let them dry for a little bit.  You could also hang it in the bathroom while you take a shower.  The steam will relax all the wrinkles, and it will be good to go by the time you finish getting ready.  You might want to hang it outside of the bathroom when you're drying your hair, etc.  I did this all the time when I was traveling with my job.  Sometimes I had to finish 'drying' a heavier dress, pants, whatever by using the blow dryer for a minute, but most things were dry enough to put on. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Cost of Using Your Coffee Maker

According to the propaganda, I mean newsletter from the local electricity company, the average annual cost of using your coffee maker is $80. Too bad it doesn’t say if the cost was figured from just brewing, or how long the warming burner was on. Since a lot of coffee makers have a two hour auto shut off, maybe that time was factored into the cost. I drink a lot of coffee, especially when the weather is cold, so my coffee maker gets a workout. In an effort to get a more accurate read on my coffee maker, I went to Mr. Electricity - http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/howmuch.html

He has a nifty table that you can plug in your own numbers, electric rate and hours to get your 'real' numbers.  Holy Mama!!  My coffee maker annual cost is almost $200 a year for the amount of time that I usually have it on. $16.44 a month.  Wow.  Can't be.  Now I'm sure that there's more power consumed during the brew stage, but hey, I want coffee without having to build a fire outside.  I originally set the energy calculator for 5 hours daily usage, but like I said, I'm sure the 900 watts (which is the most it will use) is for the brew cycle and nothing is mentioned for the warming element.  BUT, by setting the calculator to just 5 minutes (brew time only), it brings my monthly cost down to $0.28.   I'm not sure that's right, either.

According to the smart people at http://www.nppd.com/My_Home/Product_Brochures/Additional_Files/electric_usage.asp , using the brew cycle on my coffee maker once a day is costing me $1.17 a month.  My electric rates are higher than their list, so I busted out the calculator.  But this sounds reasonable.

I bought a Thermos brand carafe for $13 and pour the freshly brewed coffee into that.  The coffee maker gets clicked off right away.  Besides less electricity used, my coffee maker may last longer and the best thing is better tasting coffee later.  Worth every cent and short payback period.

*Note - this brand does not hold an entire pot like my previous Wal-Mart el cheapo carafe that I hated.  It was a battle to get the lid screwed on correctly every time I used it.  I was glad when it bit the dust.  The new Thermos brand carafe is definitely better.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Make your own Covered Litterbox

On my continuing search to find substitutions for 'stuff' instead of buying new 'stuff', I found this nifty page about how to make your own covered litterbox:


It's pretty slick, using a regular ol' tote.  I happen to have a few of those around here, so I emptied the contents of one into a cardboard box.  I have a few of those around here, too.

I used the lid from a 5 gallon bucket to draw an arch at the top part, and then straight sides.  Wah-la!  Time to cut it out.  Oh har.  Box cutter didn't work even though I managed to finally poke a hole in the tote and it cracked a bit.  The crack is in the part that's going to be cut out anyway, so it doesn't matter.  I had tin snips ready but there was no way that I could get them in to use them.  I guess I'll have to wait for Bill to get home and use the little zip - roto tool thing we have.  He's the only one that knows where it's at or where it might be.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Frugal Gardening and the Potato Tale

Potatoes grow really well here in our alkaline soil.  I try to plant enough to last us for a year with most of them being processed and in the freezer.  Last year I planted too many of them (plus we didn't eat as many through the winter) so I didn't buy as many seed potatoes this year.  Now with the plants up and blooming, I know that I could have gotten by without buying any at all.

Last March, I took my potato pieces and started laying them out.  I do no-till gardening and Ruth Stout's method of mulch, mulch, mulch, so it was just a matter of moving some garden litter and placing them on top of the soil, then a 3" covering of straw.  I did have to go retrieve a few pieces from Frank, our young barn cat.  He was having a blast playing soccer with them.  I wasn't sure if I got them all, so I expected a potato plant here and there where it wasn't supposed to be.

Time passed and potato plants were coming up.  I added more straw and put some around the few that came up elsewhere in the garden (Frank's potatoes).  More time passed and there were more potato plants showing up in two other areas.  I was beginning to think that Frank was a better gardener than I first thought.  More time, and more potato plants springing up.

After there were enough 'volunteers' that showed up, I could see the pattern from last years potato patch.  All I had done was leave all the dinky potates in the ground when I harvested them last year.  I had a separate area that had potatoes for a friend, but not all of them got harvested.  Last year I had a massive wild grass boom and not nearly enough straw to mulch.  Lots of plants there.

So now it's June and I have plants that are in all stages of development, including 4 new arrivals in the past few days.  I'm guessing they were delayed because of the thick mulch around the other plants.  Anyway, I have potatoes growing with my beets and green beans.  I have potatoes everywhere.  And I still have potatoes in the freezer from last year.

I like to take advantage of volunteers.  I will have plenty to share with friends and people who could use a bit of free chow.  I also plan on 'planting' all the dinky potatoes again when I harvest this batch - and maybe not buy any seed potatoes at all next year.  But I'll put them all in one area.  Enough talk of potatoes.

Usually I have a lot of volunteer tomato plants, too.  I keep them and get 'free' tomatoes.  They may be later in setting on tomatoes, but I don't care.  You can also take cuttings from your purchased tomato plants and easily root them for more tomato plants.  I know someone who would keep cuttings alive indoors all winter, just in water, then plant them outside when it got warm enough. 

I love the little multiplier onions, too.  A friend gave me some that I planted.  I should have some to eat this year but I'll save more of them for planting next year.  Then next year, I'll have even more.

Gardening doesn't have to be expensive.  There's really no need to buy expensive raised garden kits, or the upside down tomato do hicky.  You can make your own and still have something attractive.  It's just a matter of using your available resources.  It's also about learning tips and techiniques of what works in your space.

It also doesn't have to be time consuming.  I mulch like crazy so I don't have to till, pull weeds or water very often.  If you don't have access to free straw, grass clippings are great mulch (and put lots of nitrogen into the soil, but don't use grass that puts out runners, like Bermuda, etc). Cut weeds are good too, as long as they aren't seeding.  Got newspapers, cardboard or leaves?  They help, too.  Try doing a search for 'no till gardening', 'Ruth Stout gardening' and 'lazy gardening'.

Here are some great places to get started:
http://www.frugalgardening.com/   - Lots of pages to read here.  Cheap is good, but free is better.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/2004-02-01/Ruth-Stouts-System.aspx  - Ruth Stout, what a hoot of an ol' gal.

http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art3018.asp  - This has a lot of tips, too.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ways with Whey - what to do with it

I just had another failed yogurt experience.  Sure tastes good though. This time I used whole milk and an envelope of unflavored gelatin.  I'm now convinced it's because of my old, old slow cooker.  It heats up just fine, but not insulated at all, so it doesn't keep the yogurt warm enough during the resting phase. I did use vanilla yogurt instead of plain as the starter culture so that might have had something to do with it. I also just learned that you can 'incubate' it for 12-14 hours and it will be thicker and have a tarter flavor. So I turned on the slow cooker for 10 minutes and will let it sit for another 2 or 3 hours to see what happens.

If you didn't read my first post about homemade yogurt, I used Steph's recipe from her blog at http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/10/you-can-make-yogurt-in-your-crockpot.html

Most of this batch was destined to be yogurt cheese anyway. I'm going to put it in a colander lined with one of Bill's hankerchiefs (bleached, rinsed well and from now on designated to the kitchen - he doesn't use them anyway) and drain the whey.  We love that stuff (the yogurt cheese, not the whey) and there's plenty of bagels around.  I especially love it with canned or fresh pears and a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.

The smart people at http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/nchfp/factsheets/yogurt.html  say that the gelatin inhibits whey seperation.  Bummer. I'll see what happens. (Later:  Some of the whey has drained off and now it has the consistancy of a respectable yogurt.  I used a spatula to scrape along the edges of the cloth so the whey will continue to drain.)

I also found this great toubleshooting blog page (and recipes!) - http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/skinny-secrets/healthy-homemade-greek-yogurt

Okay, what to do with the whey?  If you used whole milk to make your yogurt, a half cup of whey has approximately 30 cal., no fat, 1 gram protein ,7 grams carbohydrates, 130 mg calcium (according to the Dannon yogurt people).  Whey also contains many of the most important vitamins and nutrients in yogurt.

Although I could add some to the dogs' chow, I kinda want to take the 'people first' route.  I tried drinking some of it and frankly you have a stronger constitution than I do to get that stuff down just the way it is.

Here are the best suggestions I have found so far:

Pour it into ice cubes and freeze it to use in baking. You can use it in place of buttermilk in any recipe. It gives the same flavor and richness with none of the fat. It is supposed to make the best "buttermilk" biscuits and pancakes.  Use it in place of water in any bread recipe.  This is what I'll probably do with whey from now on.

You can use it in other fermented food recipes like sauerkraut or WAP ketchup (what's that?)

Soak your grains or beans in it. Soaked grains (oatmeal, rice, quinoa) and beans take less time to cook, are easier to digest and allow our bodies to utilize more of the nutrients. Add 1-2 T of whey to your water and soak overnight.  Maybe this will help cut down on the 'whiffy' side effects of beans later.

Season your whey with garlic or other spices and use it as a marinade for meat. This works especially well with frozen meats. The enzymes will help bring out the flavor.

Make some homemade ricotta cheese.  I tried this one time and was happily surprised.  The ricotta has a real fine texture. I didn't have enough and since I usually use cottage cheese in lasagna, so I mixed the two.  Good stuff.

Add some to a smoothie. (See note above about having a strong constitution.)

And of course, give some to the dogs and chickens.  My hens looked at me like I was green and had horns when I tried giving them some whey.  They just walked off.  After I put some oatmeal in the whey, they finally did eat some of it, but I might as well have just dumped it on the compost pile.

AND today (11-4-11) I discovered a list of 18 ways to use whey at Paula's 'Salad in a Jar site:

Let me know if you have any other suggestions!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

New Twist on a Chicken Waterer

I have 10 hens now.  I really like my birds. 

I have three waterers, all of which were given to me.  Two are older metal ones, the third is a plastic one.  All are crappy looking, a pain to try to clean and really heavy when they're full - 5 gallons of water.  Besides the algae that forms on them, there's also hard water deposits.  In a big way.  So in the spirit of using what I already have, we made two new waterers last weekend using leftover aluminum roof guttering.

I first saw one at the neighbor's place. They had a lean-to roof over their too small chicken run.  There was guttering along the edge of the roof line, then a downspout with a couple of elbows to a length of guttering on the ground in the run.  The rain water was successfully diverted into the guttering on the ground.  The ends of the guttering had the appropriate end caps sealed so it held water.  Since they had regular crapola shingles on the lean to, there was still some sandy/grit crud from the roof and a fair amount of dirt from the run in the water.  But I thought the basic idea was rather clever.

For those who don't know guttering parts, this should help:

So we took some scrap guttering and sealed on the end caps (Bill swears that what he used will not be outgassing solvent gases).  Since he used some high dollar epoxy stuff that we already had, you're on your own on this step. Our scraps were probably 4 -5' long. We put scrap pieces of treated 4 x 4's to raise the guttering off the ground.  He had put a couple of strap hangers on each length of guttering.  These are the things that are used to keep the guttering stiff at the top edge.  Anyway, we took some wire ties (zip ties), ran them around each of the two gutter braces and through the fence to secure it.

It's only been a week or so since we did this, but so far I really like them.  The guttering is aluminum and I was a little worried that the water would be hot from the 97 degree afternoon heat and sun shining right on one of them.  Know what?  The water was relatively cool in both of them.  I'm guessing because of all the surface exposure and of course, we always seem to have some wind out here.  The best part is that I can use a good shot from the garden hose to rinse them out and refill, all from standing outside of the fence.  They get fresh water in both waterers every day. 

I have an enclosed run behind the coop and a fenced area in front of the coop, so when it's time to disinfect the waterers, I'll just lock up the hens in one area and disinfect the other waterer.  Or it wouldn't be that big a deal to cut the zip ties and take the sections of guttering out to a different area, then zip tie them back in place.  Oh, by the way, our black zip ties are UV resistant.  And did you know that you can take leftover aluminum guttering scrap to the same place you get paid for your aluminum cans?  If you're going to trash it anyway, you might as well make a few bucks.

One of these days I'm going to learn (1) how to use our digital camera and (2) how to post pictures from it here.  Honest.

Friday, June 3, 2011

How to Clean the Headlights on your Car

Since Bill and I sell automotive and body shop supplies, this isn't new to us, but it might be helpful to some of the DIY people out there in cyberland.  Rather than go into detail, here's the link to a forum that has great pictures and directions.
*Note - you don't have to use the brands of products that he uses, just something comparable.  If you don't have the fine wet/dry sandpaper, you might try asking a local auto body repair shop if they'll sell you a sheet of each.  Just tell them that you're working on a project (just don't tell them it's this project).