Monday, October 27, 2008

#30 Green your Decor

No, I'm not talking about getting organic bamboo sofas or 100% recycled wall art (although those things would be nice.) I'm talking about real green ways to decorate your home, with plants. In my opinion, there is no better way to add life to a room. Real live plants. The nice thing about indoor plants is that you can grow so many varieties that can't be grown outdoors (unless you live in a tropical climate.) There are also very cheap ways to get some plants. Yard sales, for one. Another is to get clippings off of plants from people you know. Many plants can be started from a clipping, and the ones that can do this generally are easy-keepers and require little care. You can grow plants from seeds if you wish, or shop the clearance racks at gardening centers. Most houseplants are fairly resilient-- trust me I know because I do not really have a green thumb. Generally I wait until they are looking a little droopy before I give them water. I've heard that more plants are killed by over-watering than underwatering, and maybe that's why mine do so well. My husband and I even have an avocado tree in our house that we grew from the pit of an avocado that we had eaten. This tree has survived about 7 years, a week-long trip in the back of a moving van, getting all the leaves stripped off by my son, several weeks without water, and all sorts of other abuse. As a bonus, you can use whatever old container that you want to recycle as your pots. Just make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.

Pros: Beautiful, cheap, and natural air filters.

Cons: They do take some care, occasional fertilizing, pruning, and sometimes they just die.

By the way, I am going out of town this week and won't be blogging while I'm gone. Just so you know I haven't dropped off the face of the planet and I will be back!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

#29 Inch toward sustainable living

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all live on what we alone produce? Think of all the problems that would solve! But how realistic is it? Not. Not realistic at all. However, there are ways that we can get just a little closer to it. One of the ways that my husband and I do this is to incorporate producing plants into our landscape. A section of our front flower bed is miniature blueberry bushes and a strawberry patch. We also pulled out a bunch of invasive ground cover that is taking over our yard and put in some fruit trees. (I know, it takes a long time for fruit trees to become established, but we are thinking about the future for whoever lives in this house.) We made room for a patch of raspberries as well (although our neighbor accidentally killed them when he sprayed his blackberries.) This is not the same thing as gardening. These are plants that will be part of the landscape year-round and are all native plants as well. Almost anyone can do this if you really put your mind to it. Even if it's just to plant herbs as your houseplants. Grow something of your own! You'll be surprised how much better it tastes when you had to work to get it.
Pros: Fresh, yummy things right from your yard or in your house. All organic, if desired. More plants promotes cleaner air! Planting native plants feels like giving something back to the earth that has been taken away by buildings and pavement. Also, native plants require less care.
Cons: It still takes some sort of space. They might not be AS attractive as flowers or something else (although we eat a lot of our flowers too!)

Monday, October 13, 2008

#28 Another way to use those kitchen scraps...

Do you use chicken broth or stock from a box or a can? Do you realize what you are paying for? The packaging, that you must throw away when that golden, tasty and very inexpensively-made liquid is used up. Here is the solution. Home-made stock. Keep scraps from veggies or fruit that are clean in a bag in the freezer. Add in bones and scraps from a chicken or ham, or whatever meat you had that week (optional.) You can keep adding to it until you have enough to throw it all in a big pot of water and simmer it for a few hours. Add a little salt and seasonings if you want. Drain out the scraps (and put them in your compost, except for the bones,) bottle up the stock (mayo jars are perfect for this,) and put them in the freezer.
We use our pasta pot because it is much easier to get the scraps out that way. You can also use a crock pot.
It has so many uses, that we go through the stuff very quickly. Use it for soup stock and you can make a quick soup that tastes like it has simmered for hours, thicken it up and you have gravy, use it instead of water to make very flavorful rice, use it in any recipe that calls for broth or stock.
Pros: Yummy and easy. No packaging. I feel like I'm getting more use and vitamins out of my vegetables.
Cons: It takes some electricity to cook it. It's a pain to drain out the slimy scraps if you don't have a pasta pot. I get a little layer of fat on top from the meat scraps--You can scrape it off if you want.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

#27 The miracle of Rot. (Composting)

Did you know that up to 40% of American's waste that goes to the landfills is compostable? I am posting this after my canning and gardening posts because those are some things that I do that create a whole bunch of organic waste (no, not "Organic" in the product sense, I'm just talking about living stuff- or stuff that was once living.) Composting is one of the most environmentally friendly practices out there. That "waste" can be turned into something extremely useful while at the same time preventing so much stuff from going to the dump. There was a recent post at 5 Minutes for going green that has some great information on composting.

It really isn't difficult to compost. The minimum requirement is a place to put a decent sized pile. You can get one of these fancy compost tumblers, but they are not necessary. What we had is a round flexible bottomless bin that was provided by the city. This summer we outgrew that, and now have one gigantic pile that is rotting away beautifully and will make our garden and lawn next year very healthy. In the past we've put quite a bit of money into bags of compost purchased from gardening centers. Again, I'm not here to tell you exactly how to compost, because there are so many sources of information on that. I just want to encourage you to try it.

One more thing: Why not flush all that kitchen waste down the garbage disposal? It takes a lot of water and electricity to do that. Puting it in a bucket and walking out to the compost pile only takes a little walking, and who can't use more of that?

Pros: Prevents a huge amount of waste from going to the landfills and creating methane gas. Saves a lot of trash bags. Less stinky trash in your kitchen. It's creating something that is great to put back into the earth and make things grow. You can get paper products that are compostable.

Cons: Yard waste needs to be chipped small enough that it will decompose at a reasonable rate. Without a big enough pile, you may not create enough heat to kill off seeds in the compost and can end up with things growing in your compost (not that this is really that big a deal). Our compost bin in our kitchen has to be emptied frequently and attracts a lot of fruit flies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

#26 You Can Home Can

I don't really know if I have any faithful blog readers out there, but if so, sorry that I've been slacking lately. I'm going go get back to blogging with a vengeance!
Home canning, believe it or not, is coming back into style. It's not just for granny anymore! I'm not sure what the reasons are, but I really am glad. Not only is it a great way to stock up food for the winter, it's a great money saver and very friendly on the environment. We routinely can peaches, tomatoes, applesauce, and a wide variety of jams. This year we branched out to include beans and tomatillos. Below are just some of my shelves packed full of jars and boxes of full jars:

Don't know how? Don't be intimidated by the process. It really is simple. But I'm not going to go into that here. There are many websites, books, and people who can help you with that if you so desire. I suggest that you ask around and look at yard sales for your jars and canning supplies. Then once you have them they are yours forever (okay, we occasionally have a jar break.) You only have to buy new lids each year, which can cost you around .08 to .15 per lid.

Pros: Cheap, you can reuse your jars indefinitely (no aluminum cans to be made or recycled!), and you have complete control over what goes into your jars. Organic if you wish, sugar-free, and you can grow your own food or support local farmers. It's also a great way to involve the kids in the food-saving process.

Cons: It takes time and energy. And makes a mess. It also requires room to store the jars.