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Posts Tagged ‘frugal’

One of my resolutions for this year is to get more serious about saving my own seeds.  I’ll admit that I am a bit of a seed freak – there’s something about having a good stockpile of them that appeals to me in an almost primal way.  I like to get all romantic about it and think that it is the call of my farmer’s genetics and the inherited wisdom of my ancestors telling me to put by for next year, but I also get all romantic about things like old canning jars, arthritic tabby cats and ancient wallpaper so the genetics thing is probably bunk.   I just like seeds.  I like the promise of so much to come in such a little package (getting romantic again), in tidy little envelopes covered with precise information, all in a row in a neat little box.  I also like label makers, file folders and tiny little notebooks with subheadings and an index, but I digress.

With planting time just around the corner my garden daydreaming has turned to more serious planning, with heavy consideration being given to planting with the intention of saving seed for next year.  I think this is the next logical step for me – closing the loop on at least this small part of our set-up will allow us to be self-sufficient (at least in the veg department), save me more money than I care to admit, and as an added bonus help stick it to scumbums like Monsanto who want the world to rely on them to eat.  And I like sticking it to Monsanto, even if only in a teeny-tiny, quiet way.  Anyway, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the subject, knowing that I would have to have the plan in place before the garden ever went in.  Mostly what I have found is that it is actually pretty simple to save seed from year to year – except when it’s not.  There is a fair amount of conflicting information out there, but hopefully I have sifted though it all enough to get by.

So, referring to my tiny little note-book with the subheadings and index, this is what I have distilled from the multitude of different sources I used. (And, yeah, I should have just bought a book on the subject.)  Of course it goes without saying that you need to use open-pollinated or OP varieties if you’re going to save seed.  It’s possible to save seed from hybrids, but you won’t end up with anything like what you started with.  And of course this is no means a comprehensive tutorial on the subject, just what I am going with and thought interesting enough to share.

The Self-Pollinators

In a nutshell, these are the plants that have both male and female parts in the same flower and produce viable seed without pollen from other flowers, no insects involved.

Lettuce – can be grown side by side with only a slight chance of cross-pollination, but for assured purity separate varieties by 20′.

Peas – pollination usually occurs before the flowers open, but cross-pollination by insects is still possible.  Separate varieties by 50′ for purity.

Tomatoes – There are two types to keep in mind: those with short styles and those with long styles. (check this out if you’re not sure what a style is.)  Most modern varieties have short styles and generally don’t cross as much.  If you want to be sure, separate them by at least 10′.  Heirloom varieties or potato-leafed varieties (think Brandywine) have long styles and do cross-pollinate.  These need to be separated by 100′ or so.  It’s also a good idea to plant something tall that will flower in between tomato varieties to intercept any bees or whatnot.

Beans – Pollination usually occurs before the flowers open, but a separation of 150′ between varieties will ensure purity.  Planting tall flowering plants in between helps here too.

Peppers – these are tricky.  Technically they self pollinate, but bees will also spread pollen around if given the chance.  Separation by 50′ and a tall flowering plant is the minimum, 500′ for purity.

The Cross Pollinators

These are the plants with their manly bits and lady bits in different locations, need pollen from other sources or need the help of wind or insects to produce viable seed.

Corn – this is pollinated by wind.  Corn pollen can travel great distances, so varieties need to be separated by at least a half mile, with a mile being preferable.  The bare minimum I found was 250′ as long as there was a building or something in between, but this is a gamble.  Corn is also prone to inbreeding, so at least 200 plants are needed for genetic diversity.  Of course, if you plant varieties with different maturity dates, they can be planted side by side – as long as they don’t have silk at the same time there’s no need to worry about cross-pollination.  Corn is also funny in that, if it does get cross pollinated, the current year’s corn is also effected.  This means if your sweet corn is pollinated by your dent corn, both are going to be no good to eat this year.

Cucumbers – these are pollinated by insects, so varieties need to be separated from each other by 1/4 to 1/2 mile.  The bare minimum number of plants to prevent inbreeding seems to be 6.

Radish – red radishes are annuals, whites (winter) are biennials.  Both are pollinated by insects and need to be separated by about a 1/2 mile.

Squash – reading about these made me want to beat my head against the wall.  So much conflicting information, but I think I’ve got it figured out.  There are four species that you need to be concerned about : C. maxima, C. mixta/C. argyosperma, C. moschata and C. pepo.  There is a lot of conflicting information about cross pollinating between these species, but the general consensus seems to be that they will not, so that’s what I am going with.  The squash species include:

C. maxima: bananas, buttercups, delicious, marblehead, hubbard, marrows, Hokkaido, giant pumpkins, sweet meat and turbans

C. mixta/C. argyosperma: cushaws

C. moschata: butternuts and cheese types

C. pepo: acorn, cocozelles, zucchini, ornamental gourds, most pumpkins, crooknecks, delicata, scallops, spaghetti and Lady Godiva pumpkins.

If you want to be safe, don’t plant more than one variety from the same species.  If you must, they need to be separated by at least half a mile since they are pollinated by insects.  Or let them cross-pollinate and grown giant pumpkizukes.  That would be kind of cool.

Spinach – this has male and female flowers on different plants and is pollinated by the wind.  Separation for purity is often listed in kilometers or miles, so it’s probably best to just grow one variety.

The Biennials

These are the plants that need two seasons to produce seed and need to be overwintered in the garden or your basement.

Beets & Chard – these are pollinated by the wind and will cross-pollinate with each other.  Separate them by a 1/2 mile.  Again, 6 plants seems to be the rule for genetic diversity.

The Brassicas - brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, collards and kohlrabi.  These are pollinated by bees and will all cross with each other, so separate them by 1 mile.  It’s also important to note that, if you want to save seed from them, do not pick the heads from broccoli and cauliflower the first year.

Carrots – these are pollinated by insects and varieties  need to be separated by 1000′.  Also important to note, carrots will cross-pollinate with Queen Anne’s Lace (the weed) so you will need a way of either removing all of it in the area or isolating your carrots.

Leeks & Onions – both are pollinated by insects and will not cross-pollinate with each other.  Isolate varieties by a minimum of 200 ft, but 1 mile is better.  50 leek plants are needed for good genetic diversity, and 100 onions, although those numbers seem rather outrageous to me.  They also do not cross with chives.

Celery - is pollinated by insects and will cross with celeriac, so separate these by 3 miles.

Parsnips – one of the easiest biennials to save seed from since they overwinter easily in the garden even in very cold climates.  I couldn’t find any information about isolation distances, but really, why grow more than one variety anyway?

So there you have it, kids, the information I’m basing the game plan on.  There is no way I am going to be able to save seed from all of these plants this year, given the amount of room it would take, but at least I have an idea where to start.  I’m thinking a plot out behind the barns for the pumpkins for next year, and I can’t imagine I will ever be able to save carrot seed given the amount of Queen Anne’s Lace around here.  I’m also going to go out today and rip out the one lonely brussels sprout I left in the garden, so it doesn’t contaminate my kale.

So tell me, do you save your own seed?  Do you have seed independence?  Do you care about genetic purity, and if so, what steps do you take to preserve it?  Tell me about it!

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I announced I was going to try to only spend $10 a week on food for the month of February, so I figured it was high time to check in and give a report.  I was fully prepared to give a play-by-play account on the frugal grocery action of the past couple of weeks, but sitting down to the computer tonight I noticed something.  The desk is clean.  I mean, spotlessly, uncharacteristically clean.  Seems that my wonderful and well-meaning husband did some tidying and, since he lacks the ability to read my mind (although I’m working on that), threw away my grocery receipts.  It’s entirely my fault – I tend to sully this desk like a sailor on leave and while he knows not to throw out scribbled things that may be recipes, receipts are fair game.  Got to work on that mind reading thing.

Anyway, even without a detailed account  I have a couple thoughts on what I have been learning from this experiment.

1.  $10 a week is not enough.  I originally settled on that amount because I wanted to really focus on my stored food and learn where I need to improve, and $10 only allows me to buy our milk, eggs and one other discounted item a week.    What this has actually translated to is me blowing the budget every week when I find a hole in my storage for something I actually need.  This has certainly given me pause to stop and think about what it would be like if I couldn’t just go over budget and I really only had $10 in my pocket.  There are a great many people out there for whom this is a reality, and I am finding this aspect of the challenge a humbling one to say the very least.

2.  Convenience foods are awesome.  That may seem completely contradictory, but let me explain.  Last week I developed a lovely sinus/ear thing, and after a full day of work with a low grade fever (yeah, I’m one of those people – thank me when you get sick) I really, really don’t want to cook a meal from scratch.  And I’ll admit – I broke down and bought a frozen lasagna.  It was horrible and a waste, but so easy.  And in the spirit of full disclosure Kraft Dinner has also made an appearance, but we like Kraft Dinner so that was ok. :)  What I need to do is prepare more heat and go meals ahead of time and store them accordingly.  I already do this, but not consistently and not enough.

3.  I need to work on some skills.  Yeah, I bake my own bread, but have really only dabbled in sourdough.  I made bagels this weekend and they pretty much destroyed what was left of my yeast stash, so I am hoping I have enough bread in the freezer to get us to the end of the month.  Pressure canning would definitely help with the whole convenience food thing, but I’ve been chicken about learning how to do it.  And I need to expand my cooking repertoire a little – while digging for some hamburger in the freezer, what I thought was a burger cache ended up being a bunch of stewing beef and a big ol’ beef tongue.  The stew beef I can work with, but the tongue?  That’s going to take some reasearch.

So that’s where I stand as of now, kids.  I’ll try to be more diligent about hiding my receipts and posting for the rest of the month.  And if you have any suggestions or awesome easy recipes, pile them on!  I’d be happy to hear them.

 

 

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So, over at Just Another Day On The Farm the ever-resourceful Farmgal has thrown down the gauntlet and issued a challenge to her readers to eat from their storage for the month of February and only spend $10 a week on food.  Well, it actually wasn’t quite like that. There was very little gauntlet-throwing and she may have mentioned that anyone who wanted to join in with her could do so, but I thought the latter sounded much more dramatic.  Anyway, the challenge is to rely primarily on one’s food storage for the month while spending a set maximum amount each week at the grocery store.  The set amount of spending money is flexible depending on your needs, but it should be as low as you can go so the focus remains primarily on your stored food.  I signed myself up for $10 a week because a) I may have temporarily lost my mind since I have to buy all of my animal products and b) I likes me a good challenge.

Really though, I like the idea of challenging myself.  I think I am probably a little too comfortable with the system I have going on here (I have been known to use the phrase “bring it” when talking about zombies….you heard me say I have to buy all of my animal products, right?), and I think February is the perfect time to put that system to the test.  Nothing is growing right now.  I don’t have a back yard full of food.  Heck, I can’t even go pick dandelions.  It’s just us and what we’ve squirreled away, sort of what I picture it must have been like for Great Grandma, back in the day.  Not being able to rely on bopping to the store when I want or need something is going to show me where the weaknesses are in my system and in my resourcefulness.

Now with that being said, I do have a couple amendments for myself:

1.  I’m giving us a pass for Valentine’s Day.  It’s our once a year fancy dinner, put on by a chef Mr. S knows.  It’s great food, reasonably priced and I get to dress up like a girl and hang out across a candle-lit table from the good-looking dude that happens to be my husband.  We could always light some candles and sit at the kitchen table gazing into each others’ eyes, but I imagine we will be doing enough of that if the shiz ever hits the fan and we won’t smell near as good.  So, yeah, we’re going out.

2.  I’m going to allow myself some leeway for really awesome sales.  There are certain things like coffee and cheese I only buy when they are dirt cheap, and then I buy a ton of them.  This saves me a lot of money in the long run and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to stock up.

So how did I do this week?  Cue the drumroll, if you’re into that.

$26.51

Ooops.

Actually, I knew I was going to be over this week.  Last Sunday I realised I was almost out of both all-purpose and bread flour so those needed to be purchased.  I would have even skipped the bread flour and experimented making bread in different ways, but I promised a neighbour I would make her some of the buns she likes, and I don’t want to feed her any experiments.  I also bought some lemon juice, which is out of the ordinary, because I am off work this week and am going to make some jam.  So, yeah, some oddities this week, but that’s how it goes.

Here’s what I bought:

Bread flour, 2.5 kg:  $6.29

All-purpose flour, 10 kg: $7.99 (you see why I want to figure out a good bread recipe with this stuff?)

Milk, 2L:  $3.85 (I usually buy 4L, but we have a backlog going on right now)

Eggs, 1 doz:  $2.65 (I can get eggs from a friend for $2, but her chickens aren’t laying)

Mushrooms, 2 packs: $1.76

Distilled water, 8L:  $1.98 (for the coffee maker – our water has a lot of minerals in it)

Lemon juice: $1.99 (for the jam)

It will be interesting to see how the week goes and how our habits will change knowing that we can’t just pick up something if we run out.  I’ve already noticed I am keeping a close eye on the milk – this afternoon I had an internal debate about whether scalloped potatoes with dinner would be worth the milk used, and wondering why Mr. S chose now to start eating the Raisin Bran that’s been sitting on the fridge for months.

Wish me luck, kids.  I’ll do a post next weekend to let y’all know how it goes.  I’m really not expecting any problems, but then again, I don’t know how Mr. S will feel if we are suddenly mysteriously out of cereal.

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I realized the other day I have been talking so much about our beans this year around the interwebs and in everyday life, I really should do a post on them and possibly get it out of my system.

2011′s garden experiment was to plant dry kidney and romano beans from the grocery store, just to see if it would work and what would happen.  I simply bought a couple of small bags of beans right off the shelf and planted them (although I did do a test germination run on the kidney beans.  The romanos I just winged it.  Yeah, I like to live dangerously).  To say the experiment was a resounding success would be an understatement, since I ended up with enough for a small bean-loving army to happily make its way across Siberia with.  Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration.  It’s probably more like what a band of hippies would use to get through a winter in Bancroft, but it still amounted to pounds of the things and more than I know what to do with.  All from around $0.50 worth of seed and an approximate 10′ x 20′ plot of garden space.  Not too shabby at all.  I wish I would have got a definitive yield tally, but we have been steadily using them and, well, I’m still sorting the dang things.  Let me explain.

Sometime around mid to late September the beans were looking good, I was letting them dry on the plants and the pods were coming along nicely although the beans themselves had a bit more to go.  We were getting the occasional rainy day, and although it wasn’t the ideal hot dry weather one would hope for, the beans were holding up and doing ok.  We then got a spat of rainy over cast days, and combined with the cooler night temperatures I began to get concerned.  A quick check and sure enough the beans were beginning to either mould or sprout in the pods.  A couple of hours later Mr. S and I had several laundry hampers full of damp, slightly mouldy bean pods that we couldn’t leave piled up lest we end up with several laundry hampers of wet, rotten bean pods.  We spread them out on pretty much every available flat surface we had, but found that they were still giving off enough moisture to form condensation wherever they lay, even with diligent rotating and fluffing.  It seemed all would be lost until Mr. S got the great idea to set up the ironing board with a window screen on it.

The whole system worked great, with plenty of air circulation it allowed us to dump and dry a whole hamper at a time and even sit to shell them to boot.  The beans themselves still needed a lot of drying before I could store them, but they were out of the pods and away from the dreaded mould risk.  Handy guy saves the day!

To dry the beans further, I ended up spreading them out in a multitude of rimmed cookies trays, lasagna pans and just about anything else I could find that would hold them, and sticking them anywhere that Ginger (the kitty in the photo) could not get to them.  I had to do this because, frankly, Ginger has problems.  I love her dearly, but she has problems.  Ginger likes new and interesting things, mostly because she likes to pee on new and interesting things.  I’m sure there’s a certain amount of curiosity involved, but I think it’s also a matter of calculating  trajectory, delivery and duration.  The very first pan of kidney beans I ever grew got Gingerized when I foolishly left them exposed and went to work, but, really, I can’t blame her.  In a kitty’s eyes they probably looked like the latest in litter box technology.  But I digress.

The pans of beans have been kicking around since October, quietly drying and doing their thing, and I have been slowly working through them and sorting out the bad ones whenever I sit down to watch a movie. I’ve been keeping an eye out for ones that began to sprout or mildew before we got them dry, or for weird shrivelled up ones that I can only assume were immature.  It’s mindless tedious work, but perfect winter movie-watching work.   And watching the jars of good beans fill up has been really gratifying.   Perfect storage food, grown in our own back yard for next to nothing.  I’m happy to say I am finally on the last pan, though.  Its been a little nerve-wracking watching Ginger’s eyes light up every time I bring a new one down.

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