Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Canning Meals Now to Save Money Later

Today is the last day of September. The days are comfortable and the nights are cool. This is a great time of year to can some food for the winter. While the opportunity to can the summer veggies has past, you can still can fully prepared meals to add to your food storage.

There are two major benefits to canning food now. First, and most obvious, it is cooler. Heating up the kitchen isn't a big deal right now. (Just compare the experience to canning back in August!). The second reason is less immediately obvious- you will save money.

Yes, preparing food at home almost always saves money. No surprise there. However, in a month or so, the utility companies will be raising their rates. Soon, it will cost more to turn on the stove regardless if you use gas or electric. By canning prepared meals right now, you can take advantage of the lower seasonal utility rates. When you are ready to eat, all you have to do is reheat the meal, which will use much less power when rates are at their highest, than to cook from scratch. Not to mention, it will save you time as well.

Consider making double or triple batches of cheap meals, and canning the surplus. Assuming you have a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker), you can safely can recipes containing low-acid veggies, as well as meat and dairy. Some meals to consider are chili, American chop suey, and all types of soups. I canned the leftovers from a pork roast I made in the crock pot, and it turned out beautifully.

A pressure canner is a one-time expense. The glass jars, unless you break them, are also a one time expense. The cost of new lids are ridiculously cheap. If you have a little extra money, you can purchase jars with rubber gaskets and clamps, and then you don't have to worry about buying new lids each year. You can purchase all these supplies for around $300, which isn't much when compared to a week's worth of groceries from the store.

Of course, if you cook on a wood cook stove, it is not advisable to use a pressure canner. But, if you're cooking on wood, you're not paying a utility bill in the first place.

Quick political note: spending less with the utility companies means less associated tax money the government collects. Each utility pays taxes associated with the operation of their business. You, the end user, is ultimately the source of revenue that pays those taxes. I don't know anyone who thinks the government has done a good job of managing our money. I would just as soon not volunteer to give the government any more money than I am absolutely required to do. That would be like giving an irresponsible teenager a credit card with no limit. I think it is far more patriotic to save the resources to shore up the security of our family. Your mileage may vary.

Live better, a little every day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Make Your Own First Aid Kit

To take a break from blog posts about the garden, I thought this would be a good time to address a simple preparedness tool- the first aid kit.

As stated in the blog description, "We also recognize that in an emergency, it is better to be prepared than to rely on an outside source for rescue." While any serious health condition should be checked out by a physician, many minor issues can be handled at home. First aid kits should be part of your basic supplies. It is a good idea to keep one at home and one in each of your vehicles.

Most ready-made first aid kits are filled with cheap, limited supplies. You're best bet is to make your own kit. You can find all manner of plastic bins that will work well to hold your first aid supplies. I like to have a mix of allopathic, herbal, and homeopathic supplies. You have to know what to use when, but they make for a comprehensive kit.

Here is a list of useful items to keep in a first aid kit.
  • Variety of bandages and band-aids
  • Sterile gauze pads
  • Cloth tape
  • Snips (to cut the tape)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Metal tweezers
  • Triple-antibiotic ointment
  • Hydrocortizone cream
  • Calamine lotion
  • Alcohol/Antiseptic wipes
  • Cotton balls
  • Non-latex gloves
  • Thermometer
  • Breathing/CPR barrier
  • Blood pressure cuff & replacement batteries
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Guiafenesin
  • Instant cold compresses
  • Ace bandages
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Lavender essential oil
  • Goldenseal Tincture
  • Elderberry Tincture
  • Arnica gel
  • Crystallized ginger
  • Kaopectate
  • Witch hazel
  • Variety of homeopathic tablet remedies

Of course, there are many other things that could be added to a first aid kit. If you have the means to purchase a defibrillator, that would make an incredible addition to your kit. If you have children, then you should add children's formulas of common medications. You could also include any pet medications as well. If you feel the need and have the necessary knowledge, you could also stock up on antibiotics. These can be obtained affordably and without prescription from feed stores.

If you don't have a first aid kit, consider putting one together. While you might not need to use it often, when you do need to use it, you'll be glad that you spent the time building a well-stocked kit.

If you have additional suggestions for items to go into a first aid kit, let's hear them! Post a comment!

Live better, a little every day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Garden Economics

Most folks we know are having to scale back on their purchases and watch their wallets a bit more closely. Across the country, people have turned to gardening to supplement, or even replace, their grocery bills. When you consider the return on investment, the choice to grow a garden is really a no-brainer.

Consider this, a pound of organic grape tomatoes (the only organic tomatoes our local Stop & Shop carries) costs about $5/lb. They are not sauce tomatoes, and we would need two pounds to handle our family's salad needs each week. That comes to $10/week, or $40/month on tomatoes that only have one use.

Certainly, if one were eating non-organic tomatoes, then the price does go down a little. But not by much. We priced some salad and plum tomatoes at the grocery store over the past couple of months and found prices ranging from $1.70/lb to $2.20/lb. If I were to purchase these tomatoes to make sauce, it would be more expensive than buying prepared sauce. Please note, our wholesale club did have them for less, but their shelf life was minimal at best. Walmart also had them for less, but for many reasons, we try to avoid purchasing at Walmart whenever possible. In the past, when we have purchased produce from Walmart, the shelf life was also minimal.

We purchased two packages of tomato seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds. We purchased the smallest size seed packets for a total of $6.10. The packets had 40 seeds each, though we were only able to use a few of both types. That was a potential of 80 tomato plants, each with the potential of producing several pounds of tomatoes.

Our efforts were minimal. I spent a couple of hours on a weekend planting the seeds indoors, and my husband spent a few hours outside preparing the vegetable beds for transplants. When the plants were ready, it only took me a couple of hours to get the tomatoes in the ground, and the process was rather enjoyable. We did stake them. It was functional, but it did look rather messy, and I'm sure we could do a better job next year. We'd check the plants on occasion to see if they needed water, which this year, there wasn't much need for watering. But that's about it. We didn't do anything else except pick tomatoes off the plants.

While we didn't get a proper weight each time we picked tomatoes, judging from the amount we used, I would guess we took in about 25-30 pounds of tomatoes from the 5 tomato plants that produced in the garden. I was able to make sauce and use some of the tomatoes in salads. The extra seeds will find their way into holiday gifts. Next year, however, we will order fresh seeds, and plant several more (and other veggies) to sell at farmers' markets along with our honey.

Of course, this holds true for each of the veggies we planted. In the first two weeks of production, a single cucumber plant produced enough cucumbers to cover the minimal cost of a packet of cucumber seeds ($3.30). That was just from one plant! That packet came with 240 seeds.

It is clearly more cost effective to grow your own food. But gardening has more benefits than being wallet-friendly. You get to pick the varieties that you want. You get a superior product that anything you could buy at the store. You get outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight. You get to enjoy a new hobby that brings you both pleasure and pride. You can't buy that at the grocery store.

Live better, a little every day.

Garden Report, 9/29/09

The cooler weather is settling in, and the last of our summer veggies are being picked this afternoon. We had some major successes, a few blunders, and learned a lot. I just feel very fortunate that we were permitted the use of the small backyard at our apartment to grow a garden, even if it was a small one.

We grew two types of sauce tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, cucumbers, and green beans. June was exceptionally wet, and it provided the right circumstances for a fungus, the same one that caused a blight leading to the Irish Potato Famine, to run rampant. The blight effects both potatoes and tomatoes. While we didn't plant any potatoes, we did plant about eight tomato plants and hoped for the best.

Somehow, we escaped the blight. Five out of eight tomato plants survived the transplanting outside, though I suspect the biggest problem here was human-related. I think I planted them too close to each other, and the stronger plants choked out the smaller ones. The remaining plants produced some of the biggest and meatiest tomatoes I've ever had the pleasure of turning into sauce.

The peppers took the longest to start producing. But when they did, it was unbelievable. The bell peppers were smaller than the ones you buy in the store, but they still held their own in several servings of stuffed peppers (made with the above-mentioned tomato sauce). We also planted several hot peppers- some long red ones, and some small round cherry bombs. Let me tell you, these were hot! I ended up having to put rubber gloves on to handle them safely. No matter how careful I was, I would get the pepper oils under my fingernails and it simply would not wash off.

We ended up with more than we could readily use, so I took the opportunity to learn about dehydration. This year, I dehydrated the peppers in my oven. I removed the seeds, sliced them a few times, placed them on a cookie sheet, then popped them in the oven on the lowest setting. After a couple of hours, they were perfectly dry. I took my onion chopper gadget and chopped them up into flakes. They came out well, and I now have red pepper flakes stored in my spice cabinet. They will come in very handy during cold and flu season. Next year, however, we will invest some time and money in building a solar dehydrator.

The cucumber plants were the stars of this year's garden. We had several cukes almost every single day. Nice, large, and perfect for salad or juicing. They were the first to start producing and the last to finally slow down production. On a hot day, and August certainly brought many of them, these were the perfect snack.

A close second to the cukes in production were the green beans. They also produced early and have steadily continued for the entire season. We planted eight plants, and six survived after transplant. Some heavy wind and rain took out the others. These really didn't take up much room at all, and provided us just the right amount of green beans.

I wish that we had a proper scale so we could have calculated the total number of pounds of produce our garden gave us. What I can say is that given our inexperience, bad weather, and late start, I think we did pretty well and learned a lot.

While many people are closing their gardens until next spring, we're busy planning a Fall/Winter garden using cold frames. Stay tuned for that blog post.

Live better, a little every day.