Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Summertime Staple: The Best Classic Potato Salad

I wasn't always a fan of my mom's potato salad.  In fact, I wouldn't touch the stuff when I was a kid. Thing is, I don't know if I even tried it back then. I probably did what my own kids do whenever they see something new on their plates: assume it's gross before even trying it. Another reason I might have avoided it was that I didn't really like eggs when I was a kid, especially the hard-boiled ones.

Fast-forward to my later teenage years when I overcame my prejudice and tried it. When I did, I finally understood why everyone else was heaping it onto their plates at family picnics and barbecues. Mom's potato salad is simple but delicious, balanced in its flavors, and even kind of colorful. I may be just the teensiest bit biased, but I think my mom makes THE BEST classic potato salad. And I won't even go into how it's superior over the store-bought stuff in the deli section of the grocery store or in tall tubs at Costco. I mean, that just goes without saying.

The recipe was my grandma's first (it's actually her birthday today). Even though my grandma passed away many years ago, whenever my mom makes this recipe, it's like part of her is back at the gathering. Last year, when my mom planned a picnic with a few of her brothers, they all requested that she make their mom's potato salad.

I've asked for the recipe a couple times, but my mom doesn't have it written down. She makes it from memory, eyeballing the ingredient amounts and consistency of the salad, tasting it all as she goes. This past weekend she made it again for a Father's Day picnic, so I took notes.  I figured I should write it down, you know, for posterity's sake -- and yours.

Grandma Erickson's Potato Salad, aka The Best Classic Potato Salad 
5 lbs. potatoes (my mom uses Yukon Gold, but you can use any variety), boiled, peeled, and cut into bite-sized cubes
2-3 ribs celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup chives (or green onions), finely chopped
8 large eggs, hard-boiled, finely chopped
1/2 cup sweet pickles, finely chopped, with some of the pickle juice reserved (we used these pickles we canned, but the store-bought sweet pickles work fine, too)
1/2 cup peppers, finely chopped  (we used these pickled peppers, but you can use pickled peppers, pimientos, or fresh red bell pepper)
1 tsp. yellow mustard
1 cup mayonnaise (Mom swears by Best Foods/Hellman's mayo)
2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. ground pepper

Boil potatoes until soft. My grandma always boiled them with the skins on -- makes them easier to peel. Peel potatoes then chop into bite-size cubes

Boil the eggs. Be sure that the eggs are thoroughly cooked. Word to the wise: before you peel all of them, check one of them first. You wouldn't want to boil a dozen of your chickens' lovely eggs, peel them all, realize that they weren't cooked through all the way, and have your mom tell you that they can't be used. Not that I would know from experience or anything. (ahem.)

Perfectly cooked eggs have a tender white and the yolk is pale yellow, fluffy but firm. Undercooked hardboiled eggs (like the one on the left in the picture above) have a damp yolk that is more dark-gold than pale yellow. Be careful not to overcook them, though, or the yolk will have a harmless-but-ugly grayish-green ring around it  (Helpful tutorial for hard-boiling eggs can be found here.)

Cut the eggs up well, so that they're almost crumbly. My mom likes to use a paring knife to cut the egg up in her hand. I helped her out and did the same, holding it as I cut it the way I would an onion.

IMPORTANT: let the potatoes and eggs cool completely before you make the potato salad. If you don't, it will turn into this hot, mushy mess instead of a cool, refreshing salad. Who wants that?

Put the chopped potatoes in large bowl. Drizzle with reserved pickle juice (and the juice from the pickled peppers, if you're using them), about 1/2 cup (if you're using the juice from pickled peppers, too, do 1/4 cup pickle juice and 1/4 cup pickled pepper juice).

Add salt, pepper, and chives. Stir gently so the potatoes don't get mushy. For the best results, stop at this point and let the mixture chill overnight. This lets the flavors really seep into the potatoes. This step isn't completely necessary, though.

Add the chopped pickles, peppers, celery, eggs, mustard, and mayonnaise. Fold these ingredients in gently, too. Taste the salad and add more salt and pepper, if needed, depending on your preferences. You can also add more mayonnaise, too, if you want a creamier consistency.

Keep the salad chilled until served -- and be prepared for future requests.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Round-Up of Random Reuses

My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression. As you can imagine, during that time he learned some pretty thrifty habits, ones that stayed with him for the rest of his life. One of those habits was reusing things before he threw them out. He definitely took the mantra "waste not, want not" to heart.

My family and I always joke that my grandpa was green without even knowing it. He was ahead of his time! We kids would drink out of washed-out plastic yogurt cups instead of glasses when we needed water.When we wanted to draw, he would pull out a big tin of broken crayons (probably from when my mom and uncles were kids), which we would use to draw on the back of paper that had already been printed on. He had a bar of soap at the sink in the bathroom made exclusively out of saved-up soap slivers (you know, that little slip of soap that remains when you're almost finished with it) -- I just thought it was rainbow soap and he bought it that way. He had a specific drawer in his kitchen where he stored plastic grocery bags and bread bags and every doorknob in his house had rubber-bands around them. The guy didn't throw anything out unless it had been very thoroughly used.

When I first started blogging as the Parsimonious Princess years ago, some of the very first posts were about reusing things that others would throw out. I call these "random reuses" (what can I say? I'm a sucker for alliteration.). Maybe it's in the genes, but I love finding a second life in things; it's a sort of challenge. Today, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite reuses, the ones that I either use the most, the ones that I have benefited most from, or the ones that simply would have made my Grandpa proud.

Find out how I've reused household items like empty gallon jugs, old t-shirts, mesh onion bags, bread tabs, plastic lids, and tomato cans in my monthly post over at The Green Phone Booth!

(This post is linked up to Simple Lives Thursday and Little House Friday DIY Linky..)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Lovely Links: The Return of Summertime Edition (+ Some Thoughts on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day)

I love every season but, oh, summer! I love the freedom of it and the simple joys that come along with the season. Simple joys like flowers from the yard. The other day, I gave myself a bouquet of two dozen roses. Not only are they gorgeous on my kitchen table and smell heavenly, but they were free! The rosebush in my yard is exploding with blooms right now, as well as many of my other flowers: yarrow, Jupiter's beard, lilies, bachelor's button, salvia, lamb's ear, sage. My house feels so much cheerier with all these flowers, both inside and out. I always try to keep fresh flowers in my home. I tell you, they're good for the soul and I heartily recommend giving yourself a bouquet today, whether it's from your yard or from the grocery store!

Here's a mish-mash of summery links to celebrate this first week of June!

Summer Goals...with a Plan :: 71 Toes
I don't know about you, but I've been seeing all sorts of blog posts about summertime lists: bucket lists, to-do lists, checklists. I'm not the most organized of people, but I do want a little structure for my kids, especially my older son, this summer. This post at 71 Toes is pretty amazing (seriously, these people are super-parents). If I'm being honest, their summer goal-setting, checklists, and plans may be a bit too structured and organized for my brain, but the post is still giving me some good ideas on how we want to organize and plan our summer.

It's Okay to NOT Have a Summer To-Do or Bucket List :: Life As Mom
Then again, summertime is supposed to be about freedom and relaxation, too. One of my best friends and I were just talking yesterday about easy it is to feel overwhelmed by bucket lists and the feeling that you alone are responsible for making summer perfect, magical, and memorable for you and your family. While I plan on making some goals and plans, I believe I'm more in favor of the fluidity of the approach in this post.

Old Fashioned Lemonade Recipe :: Making This Home
Lemonade and summer are pretty much synonymous. I like this recipe because of its simplicity and because it sounds likes it's more on the sour side. I believe a truly good glass of lemonade should make your lips pucker a little.  (I'm totally going to try this lemonade in my other favorite summertime beverage -- you can find it here.)

10 Creative Ways to Make an Outdoor Oasis for Kids this Summer :: Apartment Therapy
I want to do every single one of these.

How to Build a Water Balloon Launcher :: Frugal Fun for Boys
Making this soon. My boys (as well as their neighborhood friends) will LOVE it.

Strawberry Sorbet Recipe :: Andrea's Notebook 
This recipe sounds super simple and delicious. Plus, it doesn't have that much sugar in it. I'm totally counting a bowl of this sorbet as a serving of fruit.

On a more serious note...

I couldn't write a post today without mentioning the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Years ago, while I was visiting the Special Forces Museum at Fort Bragg, I came across a quote from John Stuart Mill that really struck me and that I think of often when I think of the military:
"War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing he cares about more than his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
This quote offers such an interesting perspective and insight into the character of those who do fight our wars. That's what really humbles me about the picture above, why it is so moving -- in that boat sit men, all of them having lives and families back home, ready to head onto the shores of Normandy seventy years ago, knowing full well they might not survive. I wonder how many in the picture did. And if they did survive, they most likely survived with painful memories of that horrific but tremendously important day in history. I'm willing to bet that each one of those men in that photograph were afraid as they sat on that boat, but their courage lies in the fact that they went ashore anyway.

I come from a military family -- my grandfather fought in the South Pacific during World War II and my dad served a full military career during many conflicts, including Vietnam. I have a particular soft-spot in my heart and deep respect for the military. Yet, more than ever, days like today strike a little closer to home because I have a brother currently deployed and serving in Afghanistan. I understand the cost of freedom in a way I haven't fully appreciated before. There are no words for my gratitude for the brave men and women who have served and serve our country today, who are willing to pay the ultimate price to defeat tyranny and defend freedom. On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, I remember and honor the bravery of them all.

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

Monday, May 12, 2014

High and Dry: Why the Clothesline Deserves a Comeback

Throughout my childhood, we had a clothesline. It was just out the back door of the house, right past the laundry room. In many ways, the clothesline almost seemed like an extension of the house, like an outdoor adjacent room.  I can clearly remember my mom always hanging out the laundry. I loved to play in the damp rows of clean towels, cloth diapers, jeans, and sheets as they billowed in the breeze.  And, to this day, one of my very favorite smells is clean sheets that have been dried on a clothesline; when you lay down to sleep on them the smell is heavenly. If the sun has a smell, that has to be it.  When my family  moved away from the house with the conveniently-placed clothesline, my mom used the clothesline less and less for everyday laundry, though she still used it for sheets and pillowcases.

Despite all my pleasant memories of having a clothesline, I'd never given much thought to having one of my own until a few years ago ago when I got really interested in cleaning naturally. I remember reading books about green cleaning and being amazed/horrified by all the things in dryer sheets.  A ton of chemicals are used make laundry static-free (you can find a list of the ingredients here). I wanted to use a clothesline just to avoid the toxins in dryer sheets! (Sidenote: even if you use your dryer, you don't need dryer sheets or chemical softeners -- vinegar does the trick!)

I've also since learned that dryers are a major energy-using appliance. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the clothes dryer alone uses up around six percent of your home's energy usage. Of all household appliances, the clothes dryer comes in at #2 for using the most energy; the refrigerator comes in at number one. Isn't it interesting though, that, unlike the refrigerator that is on 24/7, the dryer ranks so high even though it is only used in spurts, just a few times a week? I've read that running a clothes dryer is the equivalent of turning on 225 CFL lightbulbs for an hour. And that's for an appliance that we don't have to use.

Let me repeat that. You don't have to use a dryer.

To read the rest of this post -- about why the clothesline has lost its popularity here in America and why it deserves a comeback -- check out my post at The Green Phone Booth (where I contribute every second Monday of the month)!

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop.}

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Book Report: What I've Been Reading

One of my New Year's resolutions is to read more books. It feels weird to type that, because I've been a bookworm since I learned to read -- frankly, I'm obsessed with books. Oddly enough, though, I found myself reading less and less over the past few years. I got so busy with all my responsibilities as a mom that I put my favorite pastime on the backburner. Not anymore! This year, I've made my personal reading a priority again and, well, let's just say I wish all resolutions were this enjoyable to keep!

I thought I'd share a few of my recent reads with you -- at least the ones that are applicable to this blog. (If you're curious of all the other books I've been reading/listening to, you can check out my Goodreads profile here.)  

{Pssst! Let me just say from the get-go, any of these books would make a wonderful Mother's Day gift. If you order today with Amazon 2-day Prime shipping, you'll most likely get it in time! Or you could be all old-school and go to an actual bookstore...}

Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes by Catherine McCord
One thing I am adamant about in my kitchen is that I will only cook one meal at dinnertime; I'm no short-order cook. The kids eat what the adults eat (and vice versa).  As I was looking for some more kid-friendly recipes, I  was drawn to the premise of this cookbook: one family, one meal.  I was curious how she could make food that wasn't too intense for kids but not too bland for parents. This book has lots of simple recipes and my family has enjoyed almost everything I've made from it. Particular favorites: the graham crackers (I actually prefer her recipe over the one I've been using from The Homemade Pantry), enchiladas, pumpkin waffles, pesto meatballs, cottage cheese pancakes, and wonton soup. This cookbook is definitely a great resource for family-friendly recipes and ideas. 

I did a have a couple drawbacks about the book: one, the book is full of photos of the author in such posed situations (she mentions in the book how she used to be a model and it shows); I would rather see more photos of food than of her working in her garden, looking over her shoulder at the camera, or gnawing on a chicken kabob. Another drawback: I came to this book for some help with a picky toddler and I found all the talk about how absolutely amazing her kids are and how they eat every single thing ever offered them kind of annoying/frustrating.  But, I have to give credit where it's due -- that picky toddler has eaten pretty much everything I've made from the book!  

Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong
Last year, my doctor advised me to limit grains and dairy in my diet. When he told me that, I immediately thought of my dad, who has followed a paleolithic diet for years (right before it started getting all popular) and decided to turn to some of the paleo cookbooks for ideas of what to eat. I'd flip through various paleo cookbooks, thinking some of the recipes looked good, but they mostly made me miss all the foods I really wanted to make. (Spaghetti squash can never replace regular spaghetti for me, no matter how hard I try). 

Anyway, I found Nom Nom Paleo a few weeks ago and was blown away because every recipe in the book looks delicious! Seriously, I would make any of them. Unlike other paleo cookbooks I've come across, the writing style is fun to read, not preachy, not dogmatic, no doom-and-gloom talk of how wheat will kill us all. I'm still working on cooking through this cookbook, but I'll tell you, what I have made has been awesome. One stand-out: the walnut shrimp. It was just as good as the kind I order at my favorite Asian restaurant. I couldn't believe it was paleo! My husband took the leftover spiced maple walnuts from the recipe to work and his coworkers loved them. My family doesn't follow a strictly paleo lifestyle, but this book definitely has a place on my kitchen bookshelf (yep, I have one -- cookbooks are my weakness) because I want to feed my family whole, unprocessed foods. I can't recommend this cookbook enough!

The Edible Garden: How to Have Your Garden and Eat It, Too by Alys Fowler
I can't quite remember where I saw vegetables incorporated into flowerbeds for the first time. I can remember, though, how the purple cabbages were woven in with the flowers and how brilliant I thought it was. Over the years since then, I've become enamored with the idea of turning yards and lawns into mini-homesteads. So when I saw this book, I ordered it right away. My impulse buy did not disappoint at all.

Simply put, I loved this book. So often, gardening books get complicated and/or formulaic; this book is neither of those things. Alys Fowler's approach feels so natural and the way she writes is so friendly, like she's walking you through her garden and giving you information, recipes, and tips as you go. Like the tip about making fertilizer out of comfrey -- I'm still excited about that one and trying to get some Russian comfrey into my garden as soon as possible.  One other kind of silly thing I loved: this book is so British! The Anglophile in me couldn't help but sigh over phrases about how rhubarb is "a doddle to grow" or the best ways to grow courgettes and aubergines (zucchini and eggplants). This book was a lot of fun to read and it made me even more excited to get out in my garden and try new things!

Smart Money Smart Kids: Raising the Next Generation to Win with Money by Dave Ramsey and Rachel Cruze
If you've read this blog for a while, you probably know that I am a Dave Ramsey devotee. I wholeheartedly believe that his program of seven "Baby Steps" leads to financial peace. My husband and I have completed Baby Steps #1 and #2 and we're close to finishing #3. If you haven't read The Total Money Makeover, stop reading this post now and get your hands on a copy! 

Since, as I said, I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey, I preordered my copy of his latest book, Smart Money Smart Kids. I went into this book already familiar with his program for kids, but I still learned a lot. I could write a whole post about Dave's program for kids and teenagers, so I will soon. But for now, I'll just say that this book should be required reading for every parent. What a world it would be if the next generation followed the principles in this book!

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith
This book surprised me, to be totally honest. I'd read lots glowing reviews of it, so I ordered a copy. At first, I only liked it and found myself sort of wondering what all the fuss was about. I found myself wishing it had more actual decorating ideas/how-to instructions -- the perfectionist in me likes having things spelled out and I struggle with improvisation and experimentation (which is a big theme of this book). But as I continued reading, I caught the vision of what this book is really about: transforming the place where you live into a home you love. I finished the book this past Monday and already I find myself feeling less intimidated and more excited about decorating my house. In fact, the day after I read it, I finally took down the curtains I've hated for years but have been too afraid and overwhelmed to change. Right now, I'm looking at the new drapes in my family room as I'm typing this and can't help but feel a surge of happiness. I love that room more now than I have in a long time!

In terms of how this book relates to this blog, Myquillyn Smith's message about contentment, gratitude, and finding joy in your present situation goes hand-in-hand with frugality. I know I've found myself thinking more about what I wish I had and about plans for someday, instead of living in the present. She also shares lots of tips of how to decorate inexpensively, often using things you already have and breathing new life into them. The writing is funny and moving all at once (I was in tears by the end). I wish I could buy a copy for each of the women in my life!

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Lovely Links: Lovely Locks Edition

About six months ago, I chopped close to fifteen inches off my hair.

Since I don't dye my hair and because I'd worn it up so much (being a mom with nearly waist-length hair meant lots of braids, buns, and ponytails), my hair was healthy enough to be donated. I even got a $10 discount for donating (everyone wins!).  I've always had long hair, but I was ready for the change and barely flinched when she chopped that long braid off. 

As the lady was styling my new haircut (which I loved), she was suggesting all sorts of products and tools I would need to style my now shoulder-length hair. Like I said, before the cut, I wore my hair up most the time; I didn't have time to blow-dry or curl all that hair! But once it was chopped off, I was told that I needed a flat iron, curling wand, salt spray, heat protectant, and mousse.

Confession: I was so excited about my stylish new hairdo, I bought all of it.

Granted, I didn't buy the $100 flat-iron the stylist told me I needed and the salt spray was basically free with the discount for I got for donating.  Still, I spent a good bit of cash buying these supplies. I felt a little strange buying all those beauty products. I mean, I'm the girl who has washed her hair with baking soda, cleaned her face with oil, and is using the same solitary eye-shadow compact I bought at least two years ago. 

Since I'm a little paranoid about frying my hair, I go easy with my styling tools, limiting myself to only 2-3 times a week. In the process, I've found a lot of alternate ways to curl my hair. In many ways, I find myself preferring the look of the heat-less curls over the heat-styled ones.

But why am I blogging about my hair on a blog about frugality? Because as I've been thinking about it, curling your hair without heat can actually save some money.

One way that heat-free curling can save you money is that undamaged hair means less trips to the salon. Split ends are often the result of heat damage and the only way to get rid of them, despite what many shampoo commercials say, is to cut them off. Unless you're particularly brave and can cut your own hair or you have a stylist in the family, you'll have to pay to get your damaged hair trimmed. There are lots of in-salon treatments for damaged hair, but the prices for them can range anywhere from $40 to $600 (seriously -- I did a little reading and there are these keratin treatments that can cost that much!). Even if you skip the professionals and try to fix heat-damaged hair at home, it can still get costly. 

Another way heat-less curling can save you money is pretty obvious: you don't need to buy an arsenal of tools and hair products, like curling irons, wands, flat-irons, or heat protectant sprays. For most of the heat-less curling methods out there, your needed supplies are likely things you already have at home and if you don't have them, they don't cost much. Usually, you just need a couple socks, some bobby pins, or a headband to curl your hair.

Here are a few of the many ways you can curl your hair without heat, often while you're sleeping:

This was one of the very first tutorials I pinned on my hairstyle board on Pinterest and one of the first I actually tried out. When I had all my hair wrapped up, it looked like some kind of weird hairstyle Princess Leia would have, but I went to sleep on it and hoped for the best. It totally worked! I got lots of compliments on it the next day, so, of course, I explained how to do it to a bunch of people. My friend has a darling little girl with super-fine, super blonde hair and she tells me this method is the only way her daughter's hair will hold a curl. My sister-in-law, Katherine, also swears by it and always has great results. I love this curling method for vacations -- it's so easy to just pack a headband! (The link at the top is where I first saw the idea and she has a video there (but it's kind of long). This pin has a quick and simple overview of how to do it; I would've put a link to that but I couldn't find the original source.)

Natural Waves :: Join the Mood
I like this tutorial because it doesn't have to set overnight to work. Plus, sometimes I'd rather have some soft, natural waves instead of curls. This method only requires some water and bobby pins.

Foam Curls :: The Shine Project
Of course, no post about heat-free curling would be complete without mentioning foam curlers. If you're like me, you have childhood memories of wearing pink foam curlers to bed at night (ouch) and waking up with Shirley Temple-esque curls. Even though foam curlers haven't changed at all since I wore them in the 1980s, there are ways you can use them stylishly in the 21st century. The link above is proof. 

Beach-hair waves are in right now and the whole goal is to look all windswept like you've been to the beach. I find it funny that often a lot of work is required to curl and style your hair so it looks like you didn't do it. In any case, this tutorial looks pretty simple and I'm totally going to give it a try.

71 Toes
This curling method looks really, really easy and only requires 3-4 socks to do it.  I hope my hair is long enough to make it work because I really want to try it this weekend. I love doing my hair Saturday night instead of when I'm trying to get my boys ready for church on Sunday.

Refinery 29
Empty coke cans, pink foam rollers, hand-ripped rags -- this post shows you how to use all them (though not all once) to get gorgeous hair. Seriously, each hairdo is gorgeous. Who needs a blow dryer or curling iron anyway?

Hope your weekend (and your hair) is lovely this weekend! 

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

11 Reasons You Should Consider Beekeeping

This month marks the two-year anniversary of my husband and I becoming full-fledged beekeepers. I love telling people that I keep bees - some react with fascination, others think I'm nuts. There's this notion that beekeeping is complicated, scary, and even dangerous. Really, beekeeping is none of those things.  In fact, I'm convinced that just about anyone who cares enough about bees can become a beekeeper.

Here are eleven reasons why you should consider beekeeping:

I'll just get this one of the way: one of the best reasons to keep bees is for the honey! This past fall, we got our first honey harvest (we didn't get enough our first year since we had such dry conditions in 2012). You know that difference between a store-bought tomato vs. a homegrown one? Same goes for honey. I've never tasted better honey in my life! I remember eating it the first time, honeycomb and all, and feeling such a sense of awe and gratitude for those bees. Sadly, we are on our last jar of the liquid gold. Our September honey extraction can't come soon enough! (You can read all about our honey extraction experience here.)

2.  Having beehives helps your garden grow....and your neighbor's garden, too. 
Having tens of thousands of honeybees living in your backyard means lots of pollinators for your garden. Our beehives are actually located in my parents' yard (since our city banned beehives up until last year) and I asked my my mom if she noticed a significant increase in her garden's production. She told me that of everything in her yard, her raspberry bushes have benefited the most -- she had more berries on them than in years past, thanks to the bees.  I'm practically begging my in-laws to let me and my husband put a couple hives in their yard since they have a bunch of fruit trees; I'm sure their yields would be even better if we could get more pollinators there! (Note to self: forward this post to hesitant father-in-law...)

3. Beekeeping is a great way to be self-sufficient.
Keeping bees is a wonderful way to be self-sufficient - honey is a great replacement for regular white sugar. There are some start-up costs that comes with beekeeping, but it's a worthwhile investment. If I remember correctly, we spent about $350 when got started -- that price included our two hives (with three deep boxes each), two beekeeping jackets and hats/veils, gloves, a hive tool, a smoker, and, of course, the bees (that price doesn't include the class I took, but that didn't cost much, either).  After a few honey harvests, the hives will pay for themselves. The only real expenses after the initial start-up costs are for mite treatments (all-natural) and any supplemental feeding that may be necessary. Another self-sufficiency facet:  in terms of food storage, you can't beat the shelf life of honey because it lasts forever. Archaeologists have found honey from the ancient Egyptians that can still be eaten today.

4. It takes very little effort and time to keep bees. 
Do you have a dog or cat? You spend more time taking care of that pet than you would a couple of beehives. Even in the peak summer months when my husband and I do regular inspections, we probably spend less than an hour a month taking care of them. Seriously. The less you bother the bees, the better. All they really need is a short-and-sweet inspection every 10 days or so. The only time-consuming part of beekeeping is the honey extraction, but that part also happens to be a lot of fun.

5. Honey is good for your health.
Honey has been used for centuries for health and medicinal uses. Honey contains flavonoids that have been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. Honey is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide in the honey. For this reason, honey is actually a great treatment for wounds. I love adding honey to hot water and lemon when I have a cold, cough, or sore throat. Honey is actually as effective, studies have shown, as cough syrup. Another health benefit of honey is with allergy symptoms. Although there are no conclusive studies, many scientists believe as you ingest the pollen spores in honey in small amounts at a time, your body gets used to them and your allergic response to them diminishes. (One other medical sidenote: Did you know that scientists have found that bee venom can kill HIV? How crazy/cool is that?!)

One caveat: to get many of the health and medicinal benefits, you need to use raw, unprocessed (and local, particularly in terms of helping with allergies) honey. Most of the honey at the grocery store won't cut it. That's where beekeeping comes in: you can't get honey that is more local and raw than the honey that comes from your backyard.

For the other six reasons to consider beekeeping, check out my post at The Green Phone Booth!

{This post is linked up to the Homestead Barn Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, From the Farm Blog Hopand Little House Friday DIY Linky.}

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How My Garden Grows: My Not-So-Complicated Planning Process

Years ago, I took a gardening class about flowerbed design and soon found out that my method of flowerbed design was all wrong. What was my method? Impulsive buying of pretty plants at the local nursery. No rhyme or reason, just whatever caught my eye. While fun, that approach doesn't yield the best results; it creates more of a mish-mash of a flowerbed (albeit, a pretty mishmash). 

Same goes for vegetable gardening. Sure, you could head to the local garden center or Home Depot and pick up a bunch of vegetable starts, but you probably won't get the most success from your garden that way. A garden plan will help you make the most of the space you've got. 

Over a week ago I mentioned that I'd be sharing my garden planning process here. Let me say from the get-go: I'm not really the planning, super-organized type of girl. I've been known to keep a daily docket/to-do list from time to time, but I'll probably never be one of those people who has a household management binder. More power to those types, of course, but the all-or-nothing perfectionist in me gets overwhelmed simply at the idea of that much planning and organization. I hope you weren't expecting something complicated, mathematical, or super-scientific. I don't have any cute printables to help you plan your garden, either. That's not just not how I roll (though, for the record, I do love nice printable charts). 

This is the process I've used for the last few years works for me. No hard and fast rules here; just inspiration to help you figure out your own planning process.

The first step of my planning process often starts when there's still snow on the ground: research and reading.  In those months and weeks of winter, that time that toys with my emotions with warm days then snowy ones, dreaming about my garden does a lot to help my spirits. You can read about some of my favorite gardening books here (many of which are pictured above). My other favorite source for garden inspiration and information is Pinterest (you can find my gardening board here).

Next, I read and review my garden journal. 

Do you keep a garden journal? Because if you don't, you really ought to consider writing in one. I started keeping one back in 2012 and I love it. (For more detail on why and how I keep one, you can read my post about it here).  

It helps so much to be able to read the details of the previous year's garden because by spring, I have only vague memory of what I did. My journal lets me know exactly what I planted, when and where I planted it, how it worked, and my successes and failures. Reading and reviewing my journal helps me organize my thoughts and it helps me not repeat the mistakes I've made. 

My next step is seed inventory. This is when I go through my seed collection and see what I have leftover from last year (and the year before that, in some cases). This is where seed testing can be helpful and necessary (read here for how to test your seeds before planting them). I can't tell you how many times I've bought a packet of seeds even though I already had enough at home. When I did my inventory this year, I found three packets for the same kind of Swiss chard.

Once I know what seeds I do have, I make a list in my garden journal of what I want to grow and what I'll need to buy. I love flipping through seed catalogs to help me plan my garden. When I've purchased the seeds or retrieved them from my jumbled stash, I write down the exact variety each crop I'm planting that year.

I buy my seeds from my local nursery/feed store and through the mail. My favorite mail-order seed company is High Mowing Seeds. (And, no, they're not paying me or giving me seeds to say that.) Personally, I prefer to use organic, heirloom seeds in my garden. Heirloom vegetables are perfect for frugal gardeners because you can can use the seeds from the produce you grow and plant again. I was practically giddy last year when the tomato seeds I'd saved from my 2012 tomatoes sprouted and grew!

Once I know exactly what I want to grow, I have to figure out where I'm going to plant everything. I draw up my garden boxes in my journal, along with notes for each container and pallet I have, too.

One thing I am trying to keep in mind as I'm planning where I'm going to plant each vegetable is crop rotation. I made this little table in my journal last year and I found myself flipping back to it many times as I was figuring out my garden plan this past week. (You can find more in-depth info about crop rotation here. My chart in my journal doesn't include their 'rebuild' step. Oops.)

I assign each of the vegetable crops I want to grow to specific garden boxes and pots, depending what was grown there last year and what plants grow well (or don't grow well) together. I also take into account how much I want to grow (depending on how much my family eats of that particular vegetable, how much canning I want to do, etc) and how much space that will require  As I plant them, I'll make a note of the date when they were planted on my garden map. The plan pictured above is from last year; it's nice to see at glance the story of what happened last season so I can plan accordingly for this season. It also makes me mindful of my calendar, so I know when to plant those tender plants, especially.

Does having a garden plan ensure you'll have a perfect garden? Obviously not. Despite plenty of planning and effort, my garden last year was just 'meh'. But having a plan still made it less frustrating and keeping track of it all will help me not repeat some of the mistakes I made. And, of course, no garden works But that's what's nice about having a garden plan -- your work has purpose and direction, along with (hopefully!) some delicious results.

{This post is linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, Homestead Barn Hop, and Little House Friday DIY.}
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