A Reader's Question

I got an email from a reader named Jenna... She wants to know how will homemade laundry detergent will work in her hard water... I tried to do some research for her, but came up with varied results. Some people said to add more borax, some people said to add less... Does anyone have some tried and true experience to help her out? Thanks so much everyone, and I hope this helps you Jenna!


Garden Update

Today, I realized that in all of my groundhog hunting and lack of rain complaining and farm failing, I haven't even updated you on the garden. And this is, after all, a blog about gardening.

Today we got the last of the beds roped off with chicken wire and I got my zucchini seeds in the ground. That was it! So I will just do this in pictures...
Look at all those pea flowers! I can't wait to eat them! And the lettuces have recovered nicely. We ate some for dinner and it was super good.

Broccoli bed of mass destruction... Although since it rained, leaves are actually starting to grow in again. We will just have to wait and see...

Cucumbers have sprouted!

Pepper bed... 3 rows of hot peppers (cayenne, hungarian wax, jalepeno) and 1 row of sweet bell peppers

Today I saw the garlic scapes!!! One more twist, and I will harvest those babies. Oh YUM

The tomatoes are all in the ground in the side yard... 10 Amish Paste.... I can't wait to can these!

The front yard is in full bloom!

We even have a few cherries on our tree this year

Blueberries are looking good... I need to mulch...


Something Other Than Groundhog Drama

Yes, he is still on the loose, but that is for another post. This one is all about rain. Or the lack of it. It hasn't rained in over 2 weeks... This is really getting unbearable. I blame it on the fact the we built rain barrels. Build it and they will come... Yeah, right. It should only be that easy.

You know how it is when you are only giving the garden hose water. Everything will stay alive, but nothing actually grows. As soon as the rain comes, everything shoots up like, 2 feet. I have a feeling that when it actually does rain, it will feel a lot like this clip from the Lion King, you know, when Simba returns to the pride and then everything is green and happy again? (Ok, for the record, my nephew recently made me sit down and watch this movie, so I cal recall every single detail of it)

Anyone out there know of a rain dance I can do???

Rain Update: I swear, not even an hour after I wrote this, it POURED. Not for long, but it cooled down outside, and stuff got wet. I will take it!


Groundhog- 4, Tiny Gardener- 0

First off, yesterday in my groundhog hunting rampage, I failed to find a lighter for the gas sticks my FIL gave us to make the groundhog kick the bucket. So Hubby and I could not kill the bastard yesterday.

So last evening, I went out to water everything. Only there was nothing left to water. The only things that were left were the peas, beans, garlic, and peppers. No lettuces, no brassicas, no kales... All gone. Do you hear me??? GONE!!! Bastard gets his lucky number 3.

So this morning, I go outside to let the chickens out of their run. I am walking around my yard in devastation. I come upon the bean bed. And what do you think I see??? NOTHING. THEY ARE GONE. GONE GONE GONE!!!! Bastard gets his lucky number 4.

If I don't get that bastard gone, it really only is a matter of time before he gets to the very last bed of hope with 6 tiny little brussel sprout plants and my tiny little (barely surviving) chard. And my tiny little cucumber sprouts.

Yes... I cried this morning.... A lot.... I may be going insane....

Groundhog Update #1- 5/24/2012 - I called several trappers and exterminators this morning, and guess what, all they do it set out a trap for the low low price of $175 + tax. Well hell, I can do that myself. One even informed me that the city will "take care of the groundhog for you" so I called the city, and guess what they do? Put you on a wait list for a trap, and then you do it yourself. The time on the wait list? 6-8 weeks.... Yeah... I will be taking care of this bastard myself.  Going out today to buy some new lighters and cinder blocks.


Apparently His Favorite Food is Broccoli

That bastard apparently has an affinity for my brassicas... Today I am calling to get an exterminator. I am tired of this crap.


Farm Failures

It sure is pretty isnt it??? That is our farm... Well, not really a farm yet, but someday. However, we do plan on growing our squashes and pumpkins down there this year, alongside my father-in-law who grows sweet corn.

I actually have 2 farm failures to report on. A couple of weeks ago, I went down there with the intentions of having Hubby and his Dad, Tom, meet me the next day to mow and till, and get everything in order.

FAIL #1- The grass was soooooo dang tall, it could have been cut for round bales. Fail because there was no mower yet. Oyvay...

Update between fails - The grass got cut enough to plan out the new garden space, roughly 50x100 ft... I think... Maybe bigger.... I don't really know, but its friggin huge...

FAIL #2- Yesterday we went down there with the intentions of tilling and planting. The tiller just will NOT get through that sod. as you can see from the picture, we got a little bit done, but really it is just dirt covered grass. and that stripe is only about 5 feet wide. And it took over an hour. Oyvay....

So the last 2 times we have trekked down there, NOTHING has been accomplished. However, FIL Tom has been in contact with a guy with a tractor that will come and till up the ground this coming weekend, so that next weekend, I can go down there and finally plant my squashes and pumpkins.

SO THEN we had the brilliant idea that since we had nothing to do, we would go strawberry hunting. We saw a sign for strawberries, 3 miles. So we followed it. Down a dirt road, then on another dirt road, and then yet another dirt road. And we got to the little Amish lady's house with the strawberries. And she had some... for $3/container! I can get them for less than half that price at the market. Damn ploys getting us city folk all excited. So then we were so discouraged by the last 12 hours, that we just came home and now here we are. A couple of farming failures :(


Thanks Allison!!!!

Ok, now let me explain... I never win... Anything! Ever! Seriously, I could be the only person in a giveaway and STILL lose! Until now that is! Allison over at The Life of a Novice had a giveaway for a year subscription to Backyard Poultry Magazine, and I won!!! Holy cow!!! I am soooooo excited!!!!

Thanks so much Allison!!!! I am sure my girls will be thankful as well! Perhaps there will be something in there about keeping your chickens away from the spinach....

Sorry about my hiatus all, I have been lacking in the blogging department. But stay tuned, this is a big week, and I will have lots of updates!!!


How We Made Rain Barrels

Yes! Finally! We have rain barrels! We have only had these barrels sitting around the yard for oh, 2 years???

We decided on a manifold system after seeing a video on you tube. All of the PVC piping we used were 3/4 inch. Grand total? $50 including the barrels, which we have owned for like, 2 years, so really that shouldn't even be included.... As for how much water we will actually get?? I have no idea... I will let you know the first time it rains. The design we chose is actually upside down. This allowed the least amount of special connectors and tools to connect the barrels, better drainage, and over all more ease of installation.

Supply List:
3 - 55 gallon drums with caps, rinsed out and drained dry (ours used to hold apple juice)
3 - male extenders
3 - female and blunt end elbows (90 degree)
2 - elbows with ends to fit the pipe
1 - 4way extender
1 - spigot
12 cinder blocks
silicon sealant
teflon tape
gutter extender thingy (I have a picture, and you will know what I am talking about)
an old flower pot (mine was from my hydrangea plant from the nursery, free!)
3/4 inch drill bit\
PVC primer and glue (they come in a nice little set)

Ok, first things first, set up your cinder blocks and empty barrels to make sure you like the spacing and position and all that for the barrels. 
Ok, FIRST Start with your rain barrels right side up, with the caps off. Squeeze some sealant around the inside edge of the hole for the cap. Cover the cap threads with teflon tape, and screw them back into place.

Drill a hole into the cap with the threads with a 3/4 in bit, then cover the threads of the extender with teflon tape, and screw into place. I don't have a picture of this, but use the PVC glues to then attach the elbows  and 4way as shown below....
So here we are ready to connect the barrels
Measure between the spots where the pipe will go, being sure to measure inside of the elbows. Use your PVC glue to hook everything together. Then cut a small piece of piping to connect the spigot and 4way together, again using your PVC glue.
Cut a hole in the new "top" of the rain barrel that will connect to the downspout. Drill holes all over the flower pot (or drainage piece now) and insert into the hole. Connect the extender to the downspout, and then lead it into the flower pot. (I still need to add some window screening to keep the skeeters out)

Let the thunder roll!!!

Egg Update

So, since my golfball experiment, the egg production has been better. We have gotten one egg everyday, which is pretty normal for us. So, I have no idea...

This got me thinking about our next round of chickens. I love these stupid chickens, and they have names, but this may be their last summer here. Next time, I want to get more Barred Rocks, and an Austrolorp or 2. but only 4 total chickens. We just don't have the space or need for more than that. I like the Rhode Islands Reds, they are more docile then the Barred Rocks, but the egg production for the Reds just isn't that great. I don't know if I am tainted in my opinion because my chickens are retarded, especially Blanche, who has never laid a whole and complete egg in her entire chicky life.

So yeah... What do you all think of different breeds???


Happy Mother's Day

Happy Momma's Day to all you mommas out there! Wish I were home to celebrate it with my momma...

And thanks to the 3 new followers!!! It always makes my day and I get super tickled when I get new followers!


That Bastard is Back

Warning, I will probably swear A LOT in this post, so if you don't care about profanity, read on.

That BASTARD GROUNDHOG has returned! I hate that little asshole! I was inspecting the garden from above, as I do every morning, and I discovered that my lettuces, which had been stunted forEVER and had finally grown, had been DECIMATED. And that little fucker ate 3 of my broccoli plants as well.

He had dug a little tunnel under our fence, and into the perfectly guarded off section that contains my greens. So basically, I created a barrier so perfect as to keep the chickens away from harassing my greens AS WELL as the Bastard Groundhog.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! If I had a gun, I would USE IT!!!!!!!!!!

Now I am off to go outside and move my fencing to on top of the raised beds... I HATE THAT LITTLE BASTARD!!!!!!!!

Do you see broccoli? Yeah, me neither

A close up

I could just scream!!!!!!



They are EVERYWHERE. Those little bugs that only come once per year, stick to every single horizontal surface and don't really serve any purpose other than kickstarting the metabolisms of birds and fish. And my chickens. If you have never seen a chicken set loose into a yard full of mayflies, well let me tell you... You have to see it at least once in your life. It is like seeing a fat man at a buffet line in Vegas. NOM NOM NOM! MORE MORE MORE!!! Those little fat birds jump onto the beds, then jump off with mouths open, wings spread with glory, and come out of it a mayfly eating champ.

OH MY GAWD THE CATS... They are flipping hilarious! The mayflies are of course stuck to and dieing on the windowscreens. The birds take this opportunity to cling to the screens and feast away. The cats go BERZERK!  Its kinf of like those commercials for windex where the birds fly directly into the glass, only, it is my cats. Oh my gawd, I love mayfly week!

So a little update on those little non egg laying/possible egg eating hoebags (can you tell I am a little hostile??) I watched them ALLLLLL day yesterday because I don't have a life we have a great view into the back yard. Every time one of them went into the coop for more than 3 minutes, I was out there looking in the window. None of them even sat in the laying box. So I searched the backyard for nests. Nada. WTF is going on in this suddenly eggless universe of mine???


Of Chickens

Ok, so no one really told me, nor have I read, exactly how long chickens live. I have no idea. Also, no one ever really told me, or did I read, how long chickens lay eggs. Let me explain why I am bringing this up, and later I will give you my conclusion.

My chickens haven't given me eggs in weeks. They are 2 years old. Once I heard someone say the phrase "chicken period" and I understood that chickens were born with all the eggs they would ever have, just like a human. And their lifespan is substantially shorter, of course. Even though I don't know how long to expect my girls to live, I do expect that they will go through "chicken menopause" and stop laying eggs.

So, this prompted the discussion of "What do we do with the chickens?" We don't have room to keep them and get new chickens, so the old ones would have to go. I can't do it. I named them. They would have to go somewhere to get their heads chopped. But where? The only kill shop/private butcher I know of is almost 3 hours away. Do I want to drive that far for 3 chickens? No. So what to do?? No eggs means those girls are not earning their keep.

UNTIL........ I discovered a pecked at egg, with the yolk spilled out, and Dorothy looking at me like, What? Don't you cannibalize your eggs???? Those little bitches are eating the eggs! So I tossed a golf ball into each laying box in hopes that when they try to peck them, they will discover that the balls are not edible, and they will stop eating eggs.

And if they do keep eating the eggs, I may just kill them myself anyways!


Finally! Bread!

Ok, I have made a lot of breads on this blog, but FINALLY! Finally I have a recipe for a good every day sandwich loaf. Thanks Granny!!! This recipe come courtesy of Annie's Granny who got it via Dave at Our Happy Acres. I altered it to include some whole wheat flour, but other than that, this is a super easy recipe, and SO delicious!

Bread Dough
1 cup whole wheat bread flour
2  1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 t salt
1/4 c sugar
1 T instant yeast (I used 1 package of rapid rise)
1 egg
2 T butter
1 cup warm water

Dave makes this with a bread machine, but I don't have one, so here is how I did it.

Mix together the flours, salt, sugar, yeast. Add in the soft butter and the egg. Mix until the dough comes together, then knead until the dough is slightly tacky, but not sticky, and is smooth and elastic. I used my stand mixer, and it took about 10 minutes.

Allow to rise until doubled in size. Pour the dough out onto a lightly oiled counter top, and flatten into a rectangle, then roll it up and place into a loaf pan. Allow to rise again until it looks, well, like bread. Place into a 350 degree oven and back for about 40-45 minutes until golden brown, making sure to rate the pan halfway through.


May Pole

So I have been thinking about how to create a trellis for the beans to grow on, and I decided on a may pole. I went though many options, a tepee with bamboo, long boards, chicken wire, etc... I was set on the tepee idea with bamboo, but my sticks weren't nearly tall enough. I need this thing to be like, 6 or so feet, and the sticks were only about 3.

So, I found a VERY tall 1x2 in my garage, put a screw in the top (not all the way screwed in) and stuck it in the center of the bed. Then I placed wood screws in the inside of the bed. Then I used some nylon string I had lying around and tied one end of the string to a screw, wrapped it around the screw at the top of the pole, and the back down to the screw on the opposite side of the bed and tied it tight. It turned out pretty well! The pole is in there good and deep and with the tension from the strings, I don't think it is going anywhere. I left the front open so that I could still plant underneath the beans.
So inside the bed, I planted 2 varieties of long beans (asparagus red seeded, chinese green noodle beans, and then yard long beans around the center pole) and on the insides, I sowed detroit dark red and jupiter beets, as well as some more spinach. This is a last ditch effort for my spinach growing. I have tried to grow it every single year for the past 4 years, and it never grows. EVER. So if it doesnt grow this time, I am giving up on it! I hope we get a lot of beans though!


A Really Great Day

I love days when Hubby takes the day off. We sleep in a little, get things done outside together, and just enjoy each others company. So today we.... Built a new garden bed, filled it with dirt (gotta get more), cleaned up the side yard, which included weeding and moving dirt from the bottom of the hill to the top, and resetting the boards that serve as terrace breaks and got it ready for tomatoes, went to lunch at a place we've never been to - Crop Bistro - (it is AWESOME), and later we will make home made pizza and enjoy this beautiful, yet hot weather. Also, I got my first sunburn of the season...Overall, it has just been an awesome day.


Fels Naptha

After getting some comments from Carolyn Renee and Nancy about the harmful ingredients in Fels Naptha and the company's disregard for inquiries on ingredients, I took it upon myself to do some in depth internet research. I did find that the old recipe for FN contained "Stoddard." Here is a summary of that.
Chronic toxicity testing has not been conducted on this product. However, the following effects have been reported on one of the product's components. Stoddard solvent: Repeated or prolonged exposure to high concentrations has resulted in upper respiratory tract irritation, central and peripheral nervous system effects, and possibly hematopoetic, liver and kidney effects.
          Stoddard solvent is another name for mineral spirits, which are, like petroleum distillates, a mixture          of  multiple chemicals made from petroleum. Exposure to Stoddard solvent in the air can affect your nervous system and cause dizziness, headaches, or a prolonged reaction time. It can also cause eye, skin, or throat irritation. 

Here is the current ingredient list as listed on felsnaptha.com

Soap (sodium tallowate*, sodium cocoate* (or) sodium palmate kernelate*, and sodium palmate*), water, talc, coconut acid*, palm acid*, tallow acid*, PEG-6 methyl ether, glycerin, sorbitol, sodium chloride, pentasodium pentetate and/or tetrasodium etidronate, titatium dioxide, fragrance, Acid Orange (CI 20170), Acid yellow 73 (ci43350) 

I did a bunch of research on these ingredients... Everything seems safe in reasonable quantities, and when we are talking about diluting them into 2-5 gallons of water, that seems reasonable. Now on the other hand, the ingredients for Dr Bronner's lavender castile soap (bar) as as follows:

Organic Coconut Oil*, Organic Palm Oil*, Sodium Hydroxide**, Water, Lavandin Extract, Organic Olive Oil*, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Lavender Oil, Salt, Citric Acid, Tocopherol

I don't know about you, but I don't need to do any research to understand what those ingredients are, well with the exception of tocopherol, which is a synonym for Vitamin E. Dr Bronners is also certified organic, not tested on animals, contains no animal derived ingredients, is also certified fair trade. 

So the conclusion??? I think I will be paying the 4 extra dollars for Dr Bronners castile soap and even though my laundry will cost 4 cents/load rather than 1 cent/load, I am OK with that.


Frugality Lesson #1 - Laundry Soap

Holy crap, I can't even believe how cheap it is to make your own laundry detergent. I mean, HOLY COW! I did the math, and even with the expensive soap I got (because I didn't fels naptha until today) the cost comes out to 4 CENTS per load!!! And it is sooooo easy! just grate up the soap, melt it into some HOT water, pour into a gallon jug, and mix in the borax and washing soda. SO EASY! I am in love!

Homemade Laundry Soap
1 bar of castille soap (or fels naptha) grated
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
2 gallons water

Ok, like I said, easy. Melt the soap into some of the water (HOT so it melts easy). Pour the borax and washing soda into your jug (hopefully it is being reused) pour in the hot soap mixture, and shake to combine. Fill the jug with the rest of your water. Use 1/4 cup per load of laundry.  I only had single gallon containers, so I simply cut the recipe in half. Easy Peasy!

Now, I am sure you want me to break down the cost and amount... SO here goes. This is for a 1 gallon batch measure.

$3.38 for 1 Box borax = 19 batches =                $0.17/batch
$3.24 for 1 box washing soda = 14 batches =     $0.23/batch
$4.58 for 1 bar lavendar castille soap = 2 bar =  $2.29/batch
                                                                          $2.69 per 1 gallon batch
                                                                              divided by 64 loads per batch 
                                                                                $0.04 per load
If you use fels naptha soap, it will be EVEN CHEAPER as that is only $0.97 per bar! Holy cow!!! I will NEVER buy laundry soap again! Since we are talking dollars and cents, lets compare some other "green" and biodegradable soaps you can purchase at, say, Target or Walmart. One bottle of Method = $7.99/25 loads = $0.32/load and 7th Gen = $25.98/99 loads = $0.26/load

So there you have it... Even if I used 7th Gen, I wouldn't be saving enough. Making my own soap saves me 161%

I'm Back!

Sorry about that short little hiatus. I was at work for 4 days, and yesterday I spent the day getting back to life. I wish I had some garden stuff to report, but nothing is really happening. The seedling are still growing underneath the lights, and the lettuce and broccoli still look exactly the same as when I planted them several weeks ago. The peas are growing so that is good. We FINALLY had some rain so hopefully that will get everything growing.

OH and we got a housemate. A part time one. She is a commuting flight attendant, so she will only need us when she has early check ins and has to come the Cleveland the night before, and vice versa when she gets home late from a trip and there are no more flights left to take. So really she will only be here 2 days a week. So that will definitely help us with the money situation. So anyways, welcome House Mate!

The cats are good, the chickens are good, hubby is good, I am good, nothing more to report... Pretty boring around here...