Search This Blog

Thursday, June 16, 2011

List of useful links

Recently I was asked where I get information to learn about living a self-sufficient life.  Beside our extensive and ever growing library, there are servers full of information out there on the internet.  The list below will be updated on a regular basis, but this list out to get you going.  As you can see, this is a pretty extensive list.  If you have some favorite links and would like to share them, please leave a comment for other to see your input.

The links below cover topic from growing your own food, frugal living, food preservation and storage, self-sufficiency and disaster preparedness.  Some of the links are other folks blogs.  ENJOY

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Great Raised Bed Experiment of 2011

Yes indeed, finally another long overdue post.  Seems like whenever I have the great intention of keeping this blog up-to-date, I get side-railled and end up putting this on the back burner.

Being out of state for 11 weeks over the winter of 2010/2011 really put me behind schedule on essential tasks and projects around the farm. 

With the arrival of spring, I had to scramle to prepare things for this year's crop.  This included building 12 raised garden beds for our veggies.

The beds are constructed 100 percent of reclaimed solid oak planks.  The solid oak planks were salvaged from specialty pallets that were destined for the landfill.  These specialty pallets are made of 4"X4"skids and (2) 11/2"X6"X3' planks.  The pallets are extremely simple to break down and remove the nails.

The beds measured 3'X 6' and are 11 inches deep.

To fill the boxes I needed 18 square feet of composted soil for each of the 12 beds or 24 cubic yards of soil.

I visited a local dairy farm and scored a 6.5' X12' trailer full of pure cow manure.  The manure was hot when I picked it up, so I had to work it well and cool it down before putting it in the beds.

I lined the bottom of each box with newspaper then added a layer of about 2" of sawdust to each box.  Next, I added another six inches of cooled manure mixed with old compost to each box and watered it in real good.  After letting this settle for about a week, I topped off the boxes with another layer of compost mix and let this settle for another week.  I finally added two inches of premium potting soil and blended this with about 2 inches of the settled compost.

I built trellises from reclaimed wood to support the cucumbers and lima beans.  We plan to expand our raised beds by an additional 12 beds for next year's garden.

I have included the following links to assist in your personal research about raised bed gardening.  I can also recommend the following books to start or add to your gardening collection.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This is our Farm

When we hear the term "farm", it congures up a little different thought in everyone's minds.

Some people will think of a large commercial farm that employes hundreds of employees and has a fleet of farm vehicles to plant, fertilize, and harvest a variety of crops. Others will congure up the thought of a small business type farm that specializes in a particualar crop and takes these crops to a farmer's market.

Our little farm is special to us.  We like to think of ourselves as "subsistence" farmers.  We grow what we feel we need to sustain us until the following year.  We select what we want to grow, plant it nurture it, harvest it, and preserve it by freezing or canning it.  Any excess is given away to friends and family and periodically sold.  Selling any of our produce is NOT our primary focus.  Our primary focus is to work towards being self-sufficient.

This is now the third year we have planted a crop and we continue to learn how to simplify things and increase output.  We made tremendous strides in this area by incorporating some raised beds into our overall vegetable garden plan.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Emergency Preparedness--Self Sufficiency

We tend to pride ourselves on being prepared for many emergencies, but the recent tornadoe outbreak on 27 April 2011, reminded us that preparation is never ending.  We learn lessons and plan to improve on these shortfalls for future events.

Having learned many lessons from these severe weather incidents, we are already working on new plans.

Sure, we have made plenty preparations to have plenty of food stored to get us through a long-term type of emergency or disaster, but we had omitted several items on the list.

We learned that our blackout experiments over the winter gave us lot's of practice to prepared for an actual power failure we experienced.

In an emergency or disaster situation, you most likely will not be able to walk into any store to get what you need. The people who get to the store or the gas pumps will get what they need and hoard what they think they may need.  Here is a list of 100 items that will disappear first during a large scale disaster situation.  The original source of this list is unknown.  If you created this list, please let me know and I will give you due credit.

100 Items to Disappear First

1. Generators (Good ones cost dearly. Gas storage, risky. of thieves; maintenance etc.)

2. Water Filters/Purifiers

3. Portable Toilets

4. Seasoned Firewood. Wood takes about 6 - 12 months to become dried, for home uses.

5. Lamp Oil, Wicks, Lamps (First Choice: Buy CLEAR oil. If scarce, stockpile ANY!)

6. Coleman Fuel. Impossible to stockpile too much.

7. Guns, Ammunition, Pepper Spray, Knives, Clubs, Bats & Slingshots.

8. Hand-can openers, & hand egg beaters, whisks.

9. Honey/Syrups/white, brown sugar

10. Rice - Beans - Wheat

11. Vegetable Oil (for cooking) Without it food burns/must be boiled etc.,)

12. Charcoal, Lighter Fluid (Will become scarce suddenly)

13. Water Containers (Urgent Item to obtain.) Any size. Small: HARD CLEAR PLASTIC ONLY - note - food grade if for drinking.

14. Mini Heater head (Propane) (Without this item, propane won't heat a room.)

15. Grain Grinder (Non-electric)

16. Propane Cylinders (Urgent: Definite shortages will occur.

17. Survival Guide Book.

18. Mantles: Aladdin, Coleman, etc. (Without this item, longer-term lighting is difficult.)

19. Baby Supplies: Diapers/formula. ointments/aspirin, etc.

20. Washboards, Mop Bucket w/wringer (for Laundry)

21. Cookstoves (Propane, Coleman & Kerosene)

22. Vitamins

23. Propane Cylinder Handle-Holder (Urgent: Small canister use is dangerous without this item)

24. Feminine Hygiene/Haircare/Skin products.

25. Thermal underwear (Tops & Bottoms)

26. Bow saws, axes and hatchets, Wedges (also, honing oil)

27. Aluminum Foil Reg. & Heavy Duty (Great Cooking and Barter Item)

28. Gasoline Containers (Plastic & Metal)

29. Garbage Bags (Impossible To Have Too Many).

30. Toilet Paper, Kleenex, Paper Towels

31. Milk - Powdered & Condensed (Shake Liquid every 3 to 4 months)

32. Garden Seeds (Non-Hybrid) (A MUST)

33. Clothes pins/line/hangers (A MUST)

34. Coleman's Pump Repair Kit

35. Tuna Fish (in oil)

36. Fire Extinguishers (or..large box of Baking Soda in every room)

37. First aid kits

38. Batteries (all furthest-out for Expiration Dates)

39. Garlic, spices & vinegar, baking supplies

40. Big Dogs (and plenty of dog food)

41. Flour, yeast & salt

42. Matches. {"Strike Anywhere" preferred.) Boxed, wooden matches will go first

43. Writing paper/pads/pencils, solar calculators

44. Insulated ice chests (good for keeping items from freezing in Wintertime.)

45. Workboots, belts, Levis & durable shirts

46. Flashlights/LIGHTSTICKS & torches, "No. 76 Dietz" Lanterns

47. Journals, Diaries & Scrapbooks (jot down ideas, feelings, experience; Historic Times)

48. Garbage cans Plastic (great for storage, water, transporting - if with wheels)

49. Men's Hygiene: Shampoo, Toothbrush/paste, Mouthwash/floss, nail clippers, etc

50. Cast iron cookware (sturdy, efficient)

51. Fishing supplies/tools

52. Mosquito coils/repellent, sprays/creams

53. Duct Tape

54. Tarps/stakes/twine/nails/rope/spikes

55. Candles

56. Laundry Detergent (liquid)

57. Backpacks, Duffel Bags

58. Garden tools & supplies

59. Scissors, fabrics & sewing supplies

60. Canned Fruits, Veggies, Soups, stews, etc.

61. Bleach (plain, NOT scented: 4 to 6% sodium hypochlorite)

62. Canning supplies, (Jars/lids/wax)

63. Knives & Sharpening tools: files, stones, steel

64. Bicycles...Tires/tubes/pumps/chains, etc

65. Sleeping Bags & blankets/pillows/mats

66. Carbon Monoxide Alarm (battery powered)

67. Board Games, Cards, Dice

68. d-con Rat poison, MOUSE PRUFE II, Roach Killer

69. Mousetraps, Ant traps & cockroach magnets

70. Paper plates/cups/utensils (stock up, folks)

71. Baby wipes, oils, waterless & Antibacterial soap (saves a lot of water)

72. Rain gear, rubberized boots, etc.

73. Shaving supplies (razors & creams, talc, after shave)

74. Hand pumps & siphons (for water and for fuels)

75. Soysauce, vinegar, bullions/gravy/soupbase

76. Reading glasses

77. Chocolate/Cocoa/Tang/Punch (water enhancers)

78. "Survival-in-a-Can"

79. Woolen clothing, scarves/ear-muffs/mittens

80. Boy Scout Handbook, / also Leaders Catalog

81. Roll-on Window Insulation Kit (MANCO)

82. Graham crackers, saltines, pretzels, Trail mix/Jerky

83. Popcorn, Peanut Butter, Nuts

84. Socks, Underwear, T-shirts, etc. (extras)

85. Lumber (all types)

86. Wagons & carts (for transport to and from)

87. Cots & Inflatable mattress's

88. Gloves: Work/warming/gardening, etc.

89. Lantern Hangers

90. Screen Patches, glue, nails, screws,, nuts & bolts

91. Teas

92. Coffee

93. Cigarettes

94. Wine/Liquors (for bribes, medicinal, etc,)

95. Paraffin wax

96. Glue, nails, nuts, bolts, screws, etc.

97. Chewing gum/candies

98. Atomizers (for cooling/bathing)

99. Hats & cotton neckerchiefs

100. Goats/chickens

Take a hard look around your home and see what you may have on hand in the event of a disaster or Start in you pantry and realistically answer the question--How many days of food do I have on hand to feed my family?

That is a great starting point.

Look for aditional features on preparedness in the future.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Are you Prepapred?

In light of disaters around the globe in the past year, we have decided to share this link to a guide published by FEMA.  It is entitled "Are you prepared?"

Do yourself and your family a favor and download it.  Take time to read it and make your own plans.

None of us are exempt from a disaster hitting close to home.

Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family

Crisis Preparedness Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Home Storage and Physical Survival

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lunar Blackout Challenge--After Action Report

On Tuesday, 21 December 2010, just moments after midnight on the night of the winter solstice and full moon, we voluntarily experienced a power blackout.

We disabled power to everything in the house with the exception of the power to our refrigerators and freezers. The following serves as our after action report and lessons learned from this experiment.

Although we set our battery powered alarm clock for 7:00AM, we decided to sleep in and didn’t wake up until nearly 10:00—oh the joys off retired life.

Because we did not have our heat pump running through the night, we awoke to a temperature in the house of 65 degrees. Our first order of business was the get the wood burning stove up and running for the day. The outside temperature was right around 40 degrees. The wood burning stove would serve much more useful than simply providing heat for the house. Without power, our stove and oven were not operational.

After getting the fire roaring, the temperature inside rapidly climbed to 68 degrees and our first test of cooking on the stove was our next order of business. I used my trusty old camping peculator to brew a pot of coffee to get me jump started for the morning. Lynne, cooked a simple breakfast of instant oats and mixed up some dehydrated milk for the oats. In a few short minutes, we had a hot, nutritious meal for breakfast.

I will note that we get our water from a deep-water well. Without power, our well was disabled and we had no running water to meet our needs for the day. Because this was an experiment, we “pre-positioned” 25 gallons of water. This water was stored in food grade 5-gallon buckets. We would use this water for all of our needs and keep track of our consumption.

We put a plastic dish basin in the kitchen sink and heated water on the stove so we could clean the dishes from breakfast. We kept this water and used it to manually flush the toilet when we had to get rid of solid waste.

The wood burning stove proved to be more than adequate to heat the entire house. We closed off the office, guest bedroom, guest bathroom, and master bathroom. At one time during the day, the inside temperature reached 80 degrees. This was mainly due to the outside temperature remaining about 40 degrees.

The weather for our experiment did not cooperate for outside activities. We had a steady rain for most of the day, so I deferred on doing outside manual chores. Our plan was to not use any gasoline equipment or power tools of any kind. We will save those tasks for our next test. Furthermore, the cloud cover limited the ambient light during the day which limited the amount of light coming through the windows. We found that our bedroom provided the most amount of ambient light due to the number of windows to allow the light to shine through.

We did our reading in the bedroom due to the amount of light. Because we were functioning without power, we did not have the distractions of the television or computer.

Shortly after noon, Lynne began to prepare her lentils and brown rice soup on the wood burning stove. We were even able to sauté onions and garlic in a skillet on the stove. The soup simmered for several hours before we were prepared to enjoy it. To add to this simple meal, Lynne, made some flatbread from scratch and we enjoyed this with our wonderful soup.

As sunset began to approach, we began the process of providing adequate light. We fired up the three oil lamps and lit a combination of emergency candles and tea lights. This lighting was supplemented with my led headlamp and Lynne’s led book light. To enhance the lighting from the candles, we placed several candles on a mirror which reflected additional light.

For entertainment, we did without the television set and computer and were able to have some good old fashioned conversation. Much of our discussion was based on our experiment and how early day settlers were able to function without electricity. We were delighted to learn that we were able to function just fine without the power meter rotating like a merry-go-round. We did a lot of smiling as we finally came to the realization that we were 100 percent on target with our desires to live the simple life. To further our entertainment needs, we both were able to catch up on some of our reading. After dinner, we even played a dice game by candle light and had a great time just relaxing and playing a leisurely game. We won’t even mention the other forms of entertainment, but the day turned out to be a really remarkable day.

By 9:00PM, we were both ready to settle in for the evening and I loaded the wood burning stove prior to retiring for the evening.

We awoke the following morning at about 7:00AM and we restored the power after being off for a total of 31 hours.
Total water consumption for all of our functioning needs for the day was 9 gallons.
So, what did we learn from this little experiment? We learned that we can indeed function just fine without the luxury of having electricity. We adapted our daily routine to incorporate simple pleasures in life and sit back and really enjoy each other’s company without distractions.
We learned that the simple meals prepared on the wood burning stove were more desirable than any restaurant served meal. We also looked at future menu options and will explore these even further on our next experiment.
We learned that we need to expand our after dark lighting options and are exploring some rechargeable battery powered lanterns to provide additional lighting.

We learned that a battery powered radio would provide us the ability to listen to weather reports during any power outage. We will begin our quest for a radio in the immediate future.
We learned that rain barrels will allow us additional “grey water” to use for flushing toilets without using clean drinking water. We learned that the FEMA estimates of one gallon of water per person may be adequate to sustain life, but does not factor in the ability to function adequately in an emergency. We will be stocking a minimum of 50 gallons of water in 5-gallon buckets for emergencies. This water will be treated for storage and rotated every 6 months.

We learned that with a well stocked pantry, we could survive for an extended period of time. We are taking inventory and will be adding to this stock on a regular basis. This fits right into our long-term storage and self-sufficiency plan.
We learned that our original plans for an emergency backup power generator will be modified significantly. We determined that we will not need a larger generator to provide for our emergency power needs. We will use an emergency generator to keep our refrigerators and freezers at operating temperature, operated our water well once a day, operate our water heater once every day or two and provide only basic power requirements. Let’s face it, in an emergency situation, the generator will consume fuel. If we run the generator continuously, we will run out of fuel real quickly. The key words here are “emergency generator”.
Bottom line to this test is that it was very successful. We both enjoyed our day with out power and have decided that our next test will be on Wednesday, 19 January, 2011 (the next full moon). In fact, it was such a peaceful day that Lynne even suggested doing this once a week.

For any of you that may be inspired by our simple little experiment, we invite you to join us on the 19th of January 2011 for your own experiment. We will guarantee you that with the right perspective, you will enjoy your experiment as much as we enjoyed ours. If you may be having any doubts about doing your own experiment, just ask yourself one simple question—“Am I prepared to function during an extended power outage with the resources I have available today?” Only you can answer that question, but why wait until it becomes a crisis situation.

As always, we would love your feedback and will entertain all questions.

Here is a simple checklist provided by the American Red Cross

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Lunar Blackout Challenge--21 December 2010

Electricity—oh yes such a marvelous creation of modern society. Today, nearly every aspect of our daily lives revolves around this simple yet so complex monster. Ever wonder what it would be like to live without electricity for just one day? Read on and perhaps we can sway you into considering our challenge.

Our first motivation is an act of defiance directed towards our profit driven utility companies that insist on charging a “fuel charge” to remain profitable and pay their shareholders. Take a quick look at your electric bill and see how much you are paying in this “fuel charge”. Electric companies are regulated on how much they can charge their customers. They charge this “fuel charge” in a smoke and mirrors fashion to work around these regulatory requirements. Our fuel charge for just last month was $7.03. This equates out to an additional 6.41% additional charge to our monthly power bill. I checked my mother’s power bill recently and she is paying nearly 40 percent “fuel charge” in the Tampa area. Our primary motive in conducting our Lunar Black Out Challenge is to recoup a portion of this charge by doing with electricity for one day. We have already reduced our power usage significantly by implementing step we outlined in a previous feature. Bottom line is to save every penny we can from going to feed the corporate greed of our power giants.

Our next motivation for our challenge is emergency preparedness. We figure that under a controlled experiment, we would be able to practice our ability to function in the event of an extended power failure. This will be a dress rehearsal. Think it can’t happen to you? Take a few moments to read about extensive power failures in recent history here-- . We are confident that this will be a real eye opening experience for you. Reality for us would be a repeat of the Blizzard of 93” and we haven’t even looked at how vulnerable our power grid is to terrorist attacks. Are you prepared for an extended power failure? Hopefully the ideas we present will stimulate a little thought and you will take this challenge yourself and you will share this link and information with others to encourage them to act as well.

Now let’s get down to the challenge itself. Tuesday, the 21st of December 2010 is the official beginning of winter (Winter Solstice), but is also the next full moon. Another neat significance about 21 December is the total lunar eclipse, but it will appear beginning just after midnight on the night before our experiment. We choose the day of the full moon to conduct our experiment. Our pledge is to go 24 hours without the use of electricity or any gasoline powered equipment. Although we are in the final planning stages of purchasing an emergency backup generator, any future test will be conducted without the use of the generator once it is in place. So let’s get down to how we plan on executing this challenge. The only exception to the use of power will be the power required to maintain our refrigerators and freezers—this will be to protect the investment we have in these perishable items.
Water Supply—our water supply is from a deep water well. This requires electricity to pump the water above ground. We will turn off power to the well to avoid using this luxury. We will “pre-position” our water in 5-gallon, food-grade buckets for this experiment. FEMA guidelines state to plan for one gallon of water per person, per day. We will start our test will 25 gallons of water. We also need to factor in the water needs for our 28 chickens. Our water will be for consumption, sanitation and cooking. For toilet use, we will use an old slogan from a 1970’s California drought—“If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down”. We will factor this into our water consumption. We will not have the luxury of a shower—only cleaning with available water. If you are on public or city water, will you have water available to you during a widespread power failure? Chances are slim to none.

Heat—we are fortunate enough to have a wood burning stove as our daily and primary heat source during the winter. We also have a pretty good stockpile of firewood so heat will not be a factor. Our wood burning stove will also be used to boil water for morning tea and coffee as well as a cooking surface for soup on this test. To reduce the heat output requirement, we will close off the guest bathroom, guest bedroom, office and master bathroom when not in use. An additional blanket will be available if needed.

Meals—all meals will be from available dry storage food we presently have in our pantry as well as items we canned from this past year’s garden harvest. We will not open the refrigerators or freezers at all during this test. Meals requiring heating will be done primarily on the wood burning stove. We also have a charcoal BBQ grill and a stock of homemade charcoal, a Dutch oven, three (20lb) propane tanks, a camp stove and two propane-fired burners. We will not use any electric kitchen appliances at all. Yep, we will even use an old manual can opener. In future experiments, we will be testing recipes for making breads without an oven.

Household and Outdoor Chores—we will not use any gasoline or electric powered equipment during this test. This includes chainsaws, power tools, leaf blower, lawn mower, rotor-tiller, vacuum cleaner, etc… All tasks required on this day will be done the old fashioned way—manually. We are looking at adding additional hand tools to our present collection.

Entertainment—we will do without TV and the internet during this experiment. Chances are if there is a widespread power outage cable and internet services would not be available anyway. These breakers will be turned off to further cut back on the “vampire power” running the internal clocks. We plan to catch up on our reading and play some good old fashioned board games to pass the time. Future tests will be done with a battery powered radio, but that is presently a shortfall for this test.

Communication—the cell phone will be turned off for the day. Wide spread power outages would impact cellular communications and in emergency situations the cellular would become overwhelmed in a heartbeat. We will be using an old fashioned push-button land line for communication. Even during most power outages, the low voltage telephone lines typically remain operational. So, if you want to communicate with us one the days of the full moon, we will do it the old fashioned way.

Lighting—we actually choose the day of the full moon to see how much ambient light we can get from the 100 percent disk illumination of the full moon. Our primary light sources are emergency candles and one hurricane lamp. Secondary light sources are several garden solar lights, LED headlamps, flashlights, push button LED lights. We will experiment with various lighting options during this test.

Transportation—we have elected to forego the use of our vehicles during this test. Many emergency situations could require you to remain in your home so we will leave the vehicles parked and stay in place. By doing so, we will also have at least one day per month where greedy corporate “big oil” executives will not be getting a penny from us. Call this our own little boycott on the current cost of fuel. We are in a rural area so a bicycle or walking would not be advisable, but folks who live in an urban area could get by using old fashioned transport.
OK folks, there you have it. Seems simple enough right? Just like an indoor camping experience with lessons on preparedness. Now we realize that many of you will not be able to do this challenge on Tuesday, 21 December due to work obligations. Lord knows, we would not want anyone missing work for the sake of this challenge. Here is what we propose, pick a day closest to this day that you will not be working and commit to the challenge on this date.

We will be providing an update (lessons learned) after we conduct our own experiment. We would love to get feedback from you if you plan to participate in the challenge and how it went for you. Your feedback could help us tweak our future plans as well. Remember to pass this along to others. This is one way for us all to prepare ourselves for an emergency and save a few dollars in the process. Who knows, if we can get enough folks to do this once a month, we could really make a difference and save a few precious resources of good ole Mother Earth in the process.

Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Safe in a CrisisCrisis Preparedness Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Home Storage and Physical Survival

Handbook to Practical Disaster Preparedness for the Family

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Living the simple, frugal lifestyle—a matter of lifestyle modification Part 1

Over the last year, many old friends have asked us how we are capable of living on the limited budget that we have chosen. It is no secret that, in monetary terms, we are living just over the poverty level and loving every minute of this new way of living. Our lives are richer today than they have ever been.

This feature is specifically designed to give you a little insight on how you can begin the transformation to this simple frugal lifestyle. When it all boils down to it, this way of living requires a significant lifestyle modification. Believe it or not, we are still in this transition after living it for over a year and a half.

Ask yourself a few simple questions. Are you dissatisfied with your current job? Do you feel like you are slaving away at your job and can never seem to get ahead? Do you find yourself purchasing things you desire rather than need? Do you find yourself deeper in debt than you were 5 years ago? Are you genuinely happy in life or do you surround yourself with material possessions in an attempt to find happiness? Do you find yourself trying to create or maintain a social status or image you can’t really afford? Are you driving around in a new car? Do you purchase things to keep up with the Jones? Are you sick and tired of this way of living that only gives you temporary gratification? Great, read along and we will share with you some of our experiences to assist you in making your own transition to this way of living a little more pleasing.

We can not possibly look at all of your own personal spending habits, this is where you will need to take a real hard look for yourself. The key here is the willingness to make the necessary changes in your current lifestyle in order for your own plan to work. Depending on your current financial condition, your plan could possibly take a significant amount of time to finalize.

The most important factor in your success will be your commitment and the commitment of everyone in your household.

First, you will need to learn how to create and maintain a realistic budget. There are many free, yes I said free budget guides available on the internet. You will notice that we will be discussing as many free options during our journey through this transition. After documenting all of your household income, you will need to document EVERY expense you have. If you have found one of the free budget guides, you will notice that it is pretty comprehensive, but how do you come up with realistic figure to put towards each category. After all, can you tell yourself right now how much you spent on groceries last month? I didn’t think so. Start at the beginning of next month. Keep a log of every single expense you make for the month and save your receipts. This goes for every gallon of milk you buy, every gallon of gas, every cup of coffee etc… And we do mean every expense. If you pay your insurance every 6 months, you need to factor this into a monthly expense. This will be the foundation to your success.

After keeping track of your expenses for the month, you will have your budget of expenses.

Now comes the challenging part. Take a hard look at all of your outstanding credit. Be sure to list these and your current interest rates. Add up all of the interest you are paying each month. This is money you are throwing away every month. Yes, throwing away. After looking at some of the money saving tips we will present, you will take every penny you save and apply it to pay down these debts. When paying these debts down, you will apply every saved penny to the highest interest debt you have. Only focus on paying off one debt at a time. The sooner you pay off your first debt, the sooner you can apply the money you were paying towards that debt to the next. And this process begins until you pay off all of your debt.

Your goal will be to become debt free. This will be a significant challenge for some of you, but we are confident that you will succeed if you remain committed. We will address budget and debt reduction in greater detail in a future feature, but you get the idea. One note of caution, stay away from those debt consolidation services you may find on the internet. Many of these will only take advantage of your debt situation and keep you trapped and not pay down your debt as quick as you can do yourself. Also, contact your creditors and negotiate a lower interest. Yes, it can be done.

The only way you can effective eliminate your debt is to STOP using your credit cards. Put them in an envelope and secure them at home, don’t keep them in your wallet or purse. It is too easy to use them when you have them available. A wise old timer once said “when you find yourself in a hole, QUIT DIGGING”.

Now let’s look at a few tips on how you are going to save money to apply towards paying down your debt and putting a few dollars a month into a savings account.

Housing is typically your largest single monthly expense. It is recommended that your housing expense should never exceed 25 percent of your monthly income. If you are a homeowner, you will not have much latitude to lower this expense except to consider refinancing while rates are low. If you are presently renting, consider downsizing when your lease expires.

The next largest budget item is typically car payments. Avoid any temptation to go out and buy a new car. If you have a brand new vehicle, consider selling it or trading it in for a reliable older vehicle that gets good gas mileage. If you have a high car payment, this is one way to significantly reduce your expenses. You will also save money on your insurance. Be smart about your vehicles. A vehicle is not a status symbol. It is a functional need that serves as your means to get to where you need to go. If you are going to live a simple, frugal life, you must stop thinking of things as status symbols and think in the terms of functionality.

Next thing to take a hard look at is your monthly budget is food expenses. Many Americans spend nearly 45 percent of their monthly food expenses out of the home. This is rather alarming, but you need to evaluate your own eating habits. How often do you eat out at a restaurant? How often do you stop at a fast food establishment? How often do you buy your lunch at work? These are all areas to cut back on or nearly eliminate all together. Pick one night a month to eat a nice restaurant dinner. Limit yourself. Instead of stopping for fast food, plan ahead and pack a picnic type meal when you know you will be away from the house. Eat at home before you hit the road to avoid the temptation and pack some snacks for the road. Don’t forget to keep a cooler for cold beverages or a thermos for hot beverages in the vehicle when you hit the road. Buying drinks on the road can be rather expensive. Look at all of your options for packing your lunch to work. Sandwiches and leftovers are perfect to take to work with you. Oh, and stop buying bottled water. Buy a water filter and reusable water bottles and take them everywhere you go.

Buying groceries is a totally separate topic. There are so many tips and tricks to saving money; we are dedicating the next segment just on this topic.

OK, here you have the first tidbits of information on how you can begin your transition into the frugal lifestyle. These tips and recommendations will take many more segments to adequately cover them in detail.

Look for all of our future features to assist you in this transition. We encourage you to look for related topics on the internet. There is some really great information out there.

Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life with Style

Frugal Living - How to Live Comfortably on a Tight Budget

The Complete Tightwad Gazette

Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It all starts with good seed

Fast forward to the middle of winter--The cold wind is howling and you just want to stay inside and relax. You warm up with some hot spiced cider and you thumb through the vegetable seed catalogs you ordered back in October.

As we continue to say, grocery prices will continue to rise and there is nothing better than home-grown produce.

This feature is primarily targeted towards the beginner gardener, but we hope any gardener can benefit from some of the information we will present.

As a beginner gardener, you will need to figure out exactly what you want to grow as soon as spring arrives next year. Sure, you can go down to your local super store or DIY center and pick up all kinds of seed, but do you really know what you are getting at this bargain price? Heck there are so many varieties out there and the package doesn’t adequately provide information on the seed you pick up from there colorful displays. Many of the seeds you can pick up in these stores are hybrid seed and some have been significantly mutated. We try to stay away from these seeds.

We prefer heritage or heirloom seeds. These are seed which have been passed down from generation to generation. These are typically high quality seeds. As you progress in your gardening adventures, you will learn to save seeds of your own once you have built your collection of heritage or heirloom seeds. You will be surprised how fast you can collect quality seed, save them for the following year and have plenty left to trade for other seeds.

Seed catalogs will provide some great information on the type of seed you desire to grow. Once you receive your seed catalogs, you will probably be a little overwhelmed and want to order much more than you need to start with. Talk to some experienced gardeners. Figure out what they grow and why they like a particular type of seed or plant. Just a note of caution here, if you ask 10 gardeners about a specific topic, you will most likely get 11 different answers.

We will be addressing specific vegetable garden planning in a later feature, but let’s keep our focus on how to get the ball rolling by ordering some seed catalogs. There are a variety of seed companies throughout the United States. We have taken the time to provide you a list of a few of these companies. Take a few moments to check out these websites and order a free catalog. We will remind you that once you are finished with these hard copies of catalogs to recycle them. Ideally, you may be able shred some of them for your composting operations. Besides the list provided below, use your favorite search engine to find many more. You may need to cut and paste these links into your browser.

This list ought to get you started in the right direction. Once you order your catalogs, you will begin receiving them in the middle of winter. You will go to the mail box and pick up your catalog and immediately get a warm glow knowing that spring is just around the corner. You will also know that when winter is really bringing you down, you can pick up those seed catalogs and snap you out of that winter funk.

If you know of or find another quality link, please feel free to share it with everyone else.

As always, we appreciate your feedback on these free features. If you are reading this, you are fortunate enough to get this free information before someone talks into charging for it.

Look for future features on vegetable garden planning. We will also have specific features on how to get your seed started and when to start them once you do receive them.

Vegetable Gardening For Dummies

Survival Seeds Non-Hybrid 37 Varieties of Survival Vegetable Seeds Heirloom Seeds Non GMO Free Shipping!! Only $57.00

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Bucket List

Before you go thinking that this article is about a list of things to do before you die, let me set the record straight. This list is about all of those creative uses for those plastic 5-gallon buckets we see all over the place.

Each year, millions of plastic buckets end up in landfills. Again, I go back to the concept that America is the most wasteful country in the world. This list serves as a thought stimulator so you can go out and save some of these buckets from landfills and reuse them for practical, everyday tasks.

Before we look at some of these practical uses, let’s take a look at where you can get these buckets for FREE. If you go to your local home improvement center, you can buy them for nearly 5-dollars apiece. Why would anyone spend good money on something you could get for free? Some things I will never understand. You will also find some of the sources listed below will charge a dollar or two for buckets. I expect most of them will soon begin charging for their buckets as well.

When I refer to 5-gallon buckets, I use this term as a generality. You can find buckets in a variety of sizes to include 5-gallon, 3 gallon and two gallon. You can also find metal buckets which are suitable for a variety of other tasks and projects.

These days, many products come packaged in plastic buckets. Commercial painters typically buy their paint in these 5-gallon buckets. Seek out some of these painters and see if they will save some of them for you. These buckets can be used for many uses, but are not suitable for those tasks associated with any type of food products.

Restaurants are another great source of free buckets. Restaurants receive many products in bulk in these plastic buckets. Talk to local restaurant owners to see if they will save some of them for you. They typically throw them away and would most likely save them for you. These are food grade buckets and good for just about all practical uses.

Bakeries are the ole gold mine when it comes to buckets. They receive many products to include icing in the buckets. Again talk to local bakeries to have them save some of them for you. These are food grade buckets as well.

Metal buckets are becoming more difficult to find, but you can still find them by checking with businesses that use petroleum or chemicals in smaller quantities. These have a few practical purposes.

When I first started hunting for plastic buckets, I had a very difficult time in actually getting them. I went to local supermarket bakeries and asked on a regular basis. I was regularly told that they didn’t have any. On one occasion, I even saw a stack of buckets sitting behind the counter and was told they didn’t have any. I then realized that they were saving them for someone else. I had an abundance of blackberries on the property and asked the ladies if they liked wild blackberries. They said they loved them and I told them that if they saved some buckets for me, I would bring them some fresh berries. Well this worked out great and I got plenty of buckets. I have even traded fresh eggs for buckets.

OK, so know let’s take a look at some practical uses of these buckets.

BULK FOOD STORAGE—We use 5-gallon buckets for many of our long term food storage needs.  We purchase 20"X30" mylar pouches, use oxygeb absorbers and seal them in the buckets. The buckets allow for stacking for better storage and add protection from rodents.
STORE ROOT CROPS—Potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc… can be stored in buckets, but be sure to cut plenty of 2 inch vent holes in the buckets to let them breath. Line the bucket with an old pillow case, fill with potatoes and put on the lid for storage.

KITCHEN COMPOST BIN—Drill several small holes in the lids of a 2-gallon bucket. Use this bucket under your kitchen sink for compostable kitchen waste. We typically shed some paper or cardboard and place this in the bottom. We then add coffee grounds and filters, crushed eggshells, vegetable scraps, peelings and clean torn up paper to the bucket. Every few days, we take it to the compost bin, rinse it out and start all over again. DO NOT add any animal fats, skins or proteins to your compost.

USED KITCHEN OIL BIN—Use a 2-gallon bucket to save and dispose of your used cooking oil. Ensure the oil has cooled before you pour it into the bucket. Used oil can be used for emergency oil lamps during power failures. Watch for our feature on making emergency oils lamps. You can also mix your used cooking oil with citronella oil for outdoor oil lanterns to extend your burn time. If you find yourself with excessive amounts of used cooking oils, talk to a local restaurant owner about adding it to their oil/grease disposal.

MOP BUCKET—Many mop ringers will attach right to a 5-gallon bucket.

RECYCLING BINS—Buckets are great for small quantities of recycling materials. Use a separate bin for crushed plastic, aluminum, metal, paper, cardboard, glass, etc… Don’t forget to compost whatever materials you can use.

LAUNDRY PRE-SOAK—Use a plastic bucket filled with warm soapy water to presoak greasy or dirty clothing.

HARVEST BUCKET—We use the smaller 2-gallon buckets as harvest buckets. Periodically and with certain items we will use 3 or 5-gallon buckets. These are great to bring your fresh produce in from the garden. Use can also tie a rope to your bucket and use them to harvest fruit from your fruit trees. If you use a ladder to harvest your fruit, the rope allows you to safely lower the bucket to the ground before climbing down the ladder.

HONEY STORAGE—If you are a beekeeper, use these free food grade buckets to store your honey prior to bottling it.

BEE FEEDER—Use a 2-gallon bucket as a top feeder for your beehives. Poke about a dozen holes in the center of the lid using a push pin. Fill the bucket with your syrup and replace the lid. Remove the outer cover of your hive and invert the bucket centered on the opening in your inner cover. Replace the outer cover and place a brick on top of it.

CHRISTMAS YARD LIGHTS—Drill a hole in the bottom for the power cord. Remove any labels. Fill the bucket with one or two strings of mini Christmas lights. Shape the lights to fill the bucket. Put the lids back on and plug in the lights. Place these along walkways, driveways, or in flower beds. Use a single color for each bucket. Red and green are naturally the most popular.

HOSE CADDY—Cut a piece of scrap 1X6 piece of wood and screw the wood though the bottom of the bucket and mount it directly on the fence or fence post about 3 feet above the ground. Wrap your hose around the bucket. Use the inside of the bucket to store your sprinklers and nozzles.

CHARCOAL STORAGE—Use 5-gallon buckets as water proof storage bins for your charcoal. In our case, we make our own charcoal for grilling in bulk and use the buckets to store our charcoal. See my feature on how to make your own lump charcoal.

PET FOOD STORAGE—Plastic buckets are ideal for storing dry pet foods. If you typically buy dry food in large quantities, multiple plastic buckets will keep the food dry and critter proof. We use buckets to store cracked corn, oats and feed for our chickens as well.

EGG BASKET—We use 2-gallon buckets to collect eggs from our chickens each day.

DRIP BUCKET—We drilled two 1/16th inch holes in the bottom of 5-gallon buckets to use as drip irrigation buckets. These are great for raised beds, small patch veggies, fruit trees, berry bushes and flower beds. We have found it takes in excess of 30 minutes to deliver 5 gallons of water to our target area.

STEPPING STONE MOLD—Cut 2 inches from the bottom of a bucket. Ensure this cut is as level as possible. Fill the bottom with a single layer of pea gravel. Mix a small batch of ready mix concrete and fill to the top. Pat the mixture down with a 2x4 to remove any bubbles and level. Cover the mold with a damp cloth and allow to set for at least 24 hours. Flip the mold over and brush away excess concrete from the stones. You will need to experiment with timing due to temperature and humidity conditions. Once you perfect your timing, you can cut multiple molds to make many stepping stones at a time.

PIPE CADDY—Cut the bottom out of two 2-gallon buckets and remove the handles. Screw the buckets so the openings are parallel with the ground and spaced between 4-6 feet apart. Slide metal and PVC pipes into your new pipe caddy for easy storage.

BUCKET GARDEN—Buckets are perfect to grow vegetables for those of you without adequate garden space. This includes folks with small backyards or only a balcony. Drill several small holes in the bottom to allow for adequate drainage. Fill the bottom with 2 or 3 inches of gravel or small stones. Fill the bucket with good potting soil up to about 2 inches from the top. Add your seed or plants, water and watch them grow.

GARDEN TOOL CADDY—Cut the bottom out of a 2-gallon bucket and remove the handle. Screw the bucket to a fence post about four feet above ground level with the openings facing up and down. Insert your rakes, shovels, hoes, etc… to keep them in one place. You can also use this caddy in your shed, garage or workshop.

WEEDING BUCKETS—we use two buckets to weed the garden and flower beds. One bucket is used to sit on and the other as a weed receptacle.

COMPOST TEA DISPENSER— Drill a hole in the bottom side of the bucket and attach a female hose connector in this hole. Drill a hole in the top side wall on the opposite end of the bucket and attach a male hose connector. Seal around the connectors with silicone. Add compost to a mesh bag and place inside the bucket. Place lid on the top. Connect hoses and fill bucket with water. Let compost steep for about 15 minutes and turn water back on and water your plants and vegetables with your compost tea.

HOMEMADE STAIN—We collect black walnuts that are over ripe. After the husk has turned black, we put them in a five gallon bucket and fill it with water. We let this sit for about a week. We remove the walnuts and have a homemade stain for a variety of simple wood projects. Note: wear rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands.

CHICKEN FEEDING SYSTEM— Cut or drill four one inch holes around the base of a 5-gallon bucket. After cutting or drilling these holes, cut the top of the hole to form a triangle shaped hole. Place an 18 inch plastic planter base on a cinder block. Place the bucket on top of the planter base and fill with chicken feed. Snap on the lid and you have an automatic chicken feeder. When the feed is low in the planter base, they will peck at the hole and release more food.

ANIMAL WATER STATION— We use ours primarily for our chickens, but also use them to provide our bees water. You could use these for dogs or cats as well. Drill four ½ inch holes as close to the top rim of the bucket as possible. Place an 18 inch planter base on a LEVEL cinder block. Fill the bucket with water and snap on the lid. Invert the bucket and place on the planter base. The water level in the planter base will level out with the drain holes and create a vacuum in the bucket. As the water is drawn from the planter base, water will flow to the fill line again. You will periodically need to wash the bucket and planter base to prevent bacteria and disease.

CHICKEN NESTING BOXES— Cut a 1x6 piece of scrap board to fit in the bottom of the bucket. Screw the board through the bucket to the wall of your coop at a height of about 18 inches above the ground. The bucket will be mounted sideways on the wall. Screw a piece of scrap 1x4 board to the front of the bucket. Fill the bucket will some straw and wait for the chicks to start laying.

OUTDOOR BUTT CAN—Fill a 2-gallon bucket with sand and use as an outdoor butt can or ashtray. Empty as needed.

GARDEN MOOD LIGHTS—Remove label and handle from a 2-gallon bucket. Procure a garden solar light. Remove the stake from the solar light. Trace the diameter of the light below the top of the light onto the lid of the bucket. Cut the lines you traced on the lid with a utility knife. Wear gloves when cutting the lid. Place the solar light in the cut opening and seal with chalking or silicone. Place the lid back on the bucket. Place the bucket in a sunny spot in the garden and enjoy. For additional effect, you can fill the bucket half way with water colored by food coloring. Be sure the water level is well below the bottom of the solar light when the lid is put back on. These lanterns are also great for camping. You can also make a jack-o-lantern using the same concept. Simply paint the bucket orange and cut out your jack-o-lantern.

CAR WASH—I use two buckets for washing cars. One bucket is used as my actual washing bucket and the other is used upside down as a step stool to reach the top of the car.

TRASH BIN—Keep one in your shed, shop or garage for small trash and debris collection.

SHOP RAG BINS—Use one bucket for clean shop rags and one for dirty rags.

EXTENSION CORD STORAGE—Cut a hole in the bottom of the bucket large enough for the male end of the cord to fit through and pull enough cord through to loop back inside the top of the bucket. The male end is the end that plugs into the wall. Coil your cord inside the bucket leaving the center hollow. Pull the cord from the bucket when you need it and coil it back up when you are done with the job. The hollow center can be used to put a drill or other small tools as you carry them to where you are doing the work.

TOOL BUCKET— Use a 5-gallon bucket to carry hand tools to where you needs to use them. You can purchase or make caddies that fit around a bucket to expand this capability.

SHELF SUPPORTS FOR SHED OR WORKSHOP— Use 5-gallon buckets as supports for shelving in your shed, garage or workshop. You can use plywood, but I prefer to use two 1x6 boards measuring 6 feet long. I screw the boards right to the bucket tops. You can stack these about four high. I don’t recommend going any higher unless you fill the buckets with sand for stability.

TRUCK BIN—Keep a bucket in the bed of your pickup truck at all times. Tie or strap the bucket down. Use this bucket for tie straps, rope and other odds and ends. Be sure to snap the lid on to keep rain water out. You will find yourself using this bucket for lots of smaller gadgets.

BOAT BUCKET--Keep a bucket with a lid in your boat. You will find many uses for your bucket to include using it for dry stowage for those valuables you do not want to risk getting wet. They make great bait buckets as well as nifty lunch boxes and garbage buckets. Buckets are also great for bailing water if necessary.

CANOE BUCKET—Use 5-gallon buckets to protect food, clothing and valuable from water on canoe trips. Be sure to secure the lids on the buckets and tie the buckets to the canoe.

FISHING BUCKET—Buckets are great for keeping your catch for brief periods of time. Fill the bucket with water to keep your fish alive a little longer.

CAMP BUCKETS—Buckets have many uses for camping. Pack food items in buckets and store non perishable items in these buckets during the camping trip. They will keep your food dry and inaccessible to smaller critters. Buckets are perfect stools to use around the campfire. You can use buckets to forage for kindling for your campfire. Clean buckets are also great for hauling water and doing dishes. Use a bucket to wash your clothes while camping.

HILLBILLY BEVERAGE COOLER—Place one 12 pack of your favorite beverage in the bottom of the bucket. Fill with ice and add enough water to cover the ice. (Perfect for sitting around that summertime bonfire in the country). Snap on the lid and you have your own front row seat.

MUSIC INTRUMENTS—Use as a makeshift drum. Drill holes in top end and tie strings for a ghetto banjo. Make a bucket bass. More to follow on these makeshift instruments.

TOY STORAGE—Get your child to assist or actually paint their toy storage buckets. These buckets can serve as storage for everyday toys, beach toys and a variety of other kid related items. Look around and use your imagination.

SPORTS EQUIPMENT CADDY—Cut the bottom out of a 2-gallon bucket and screw it right to the wall of a garage or utility room to store sports equipment like baseball bats. Use a 5-gallon bucket to store baseballs or tennis balls.

HALLOWEEN CANDY BUCKET—Paint a 2-gallon bucket orange. Use black paint to make your jack-o-lantern pattern on the bucket. Simple bucket for trick or treat candy collection.

EASTER EGGS COLLECTION BUCKET—Have kids decorate 2-gallon buckets for Easter and have them collect their Easter eggs in them.

TREE HOUSE DUMBWAITER—Tie a rope to a bucket on the ground and hoist food, supplies and tools up to your kids tree house. Using a pulley helps pull the bucket up.

EMERGENCY WINTER CAR KIT—Use a bucket to store your winter emergency car kit supplies. Here is a suggested list to store in you winter car kit: windshield scraper and small broom, flashlight, battery powered radio, extra batteries, water, snack food, matches, candles, metal coffee can, extra hats, socks and mittens, first aid kit with pocket knife, blanket, tow chain or rope, road salt and sand, booster cables, emergency flares, fluorescent distress flag.

EMERGENCY WATER STORAGE—Use ONLY food grade buckets for emergency water storage. Extended loss of public water is probable during severe disaster situations. Experts state that each adult requires one gallon of fresh water per day and need ½ of this amount just for drinking. Some experts recommend storing at least 3 days of emergency water while others recommend up to 21 days. If you plan on storing emergency water supplies please follow the FEMA guidelines here:

EMERGENCY TOILET—great for boating, camping or during extended power outages. Line the inside with two plastic bags. As nature calls, remove the lid and do your business then snap the lid back on. When the reaches about ¼ full, tie the bag and dispose of properly. Replace the bag for continued use. Store this bucket in the outdoors for continued use. You can actually buy lids specifically designed to using a 5-gallon bucket as a toilet.

OUTDOOR COOKER—Cut the bottom out of a metal 5-gallon bucket. Cut four equally spaced 1 inch holes around the bottom side wall. Find a round grill grate or cut on from the perforated metal diamond mesh material. Place the bucket on enough paver bricks to extend two inches around the bucket. Load the bucket with hardwood or lump charcoal. Once a good bed of embers are glowing, add the cooking grate. This can be used for grilling, but we use it to preheat water for out outdoor canning operation.

WARNING: Children can fall into a bucket and drown. Keep children away from buckets even with a small amount of liquid. Always empty buckets when not in use or securely place lid on the bucket.

DANGER: Never use plastic buckets for excessively hot items or burning. Never dump hot ashes in any plastic bucket. The only suitable bucket for ashes is a metal bucket with lids.

CAUTION: Please use extreme caution when drilling or cutting buckets for your projects. Wear gloves and eye protection to avoid personal injury.

NOTE: Do not leave empty buckets stored upright outdoors during spring and summer months. If they fill with water, they become prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.

We will be posting pictures in the future—stay tuned. We are also working on future articles about re-purposing everyday items to save them from landfills and save you a few dollars.

If you have any additional uses for these buckets, please post them for everyone can see them. Feedback is always greatly appreciated.

This information is copyrighted material. Please feel free to share it, but if you desire to use this for any commercial purposes, get permission first. This includes reposting this on any commercially related websites—bottom line is if you are making money off of your website, get permission to use it and give appropriate credit. Please send e-mail inquiries to


Copyright© 2010