It’s that time of year.  Lock the doors and leave the porch lights on, or the neighbors will drop a payload of zucchinis on your family.  Here’s one recent picture that we took on a random Tuesday:

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We made several dishes.  We consumed lots of zucchini.  And here’s where we ended up about two weeks later:

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There really is no end in sight.

Yes, we’re eating them.  Daily.  I may have overdone it with the zucchini planting this year.  There were several varieties and I couldn’t see myself parting with one.  And for at least two plots I let a cluster of two plants share the space, which has only contributed to the problem.  I may very well be pulling a plant or two soon before I have to take out a loan and rent a storage facilities.

We’re grateful though.  It’d take a real monster to blame your plants for doing too good of a job.

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But what’s the deal with these things, anyway?  Why do they grow so much faster than other crops.  Why can’t they just slow down?  Or why can’t other crops speed up to match the alarming pace of their low carb high potassium overcrowding friends?  I look forlornly at the banana pepper plant, as it comparatively ekes out produce at a snail’s pace and resist the urge to pat it on the plant-shoulder and tell it not to feel so bad.  It makes sense to know that zucchinis are picked when they’re technically not fully ripened and hardened.  Harvesting vegetables and fruits is almost always joyful experience, so why is it with this one crop do we catch ourselves saying “again?” when the spouse walks in with an armload.

Maybe you’ve had a zucchini problem yourself.  Maybe you’ve dealt with it using legitimate means, maybe you’ve dropped surplus in random mailboxes around your neighborhood.  Regardless of how you conducted yourself in these trying times, you are not alone.  We personally take our zucchini invasion as a formal challenge.

Size.  Without deliberately inspiring the obvious joke, I will tell you that smaller IS better.  6-8 inches is a good range to stay in.  As they grow bigger they lose the flavor, are prone to mushy cooking, and eventually will harden and taste something like sweaty Styrofoam.  I don’t know.

Grilled.  Outside cooking.  Olive oil, garlic salt, paprika if you wish.  Cut the zucchinis about 1/4 inch thick the full length of the zucchini.  Guaranteed to be perfectly palatable, and to put a dent in the surplus.  These grilled strips also go well in sandwiches.

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Grilled Zucchini

FRITTATA.  Or I suppose you could call it a casserole if you wish.  Or a baked omelet.    Or a vegetable cake.  Or a nutrient square.

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Frittata, casserole thing

Like everyone else, staple recipes are a way of life, and for us they’re part of efficient sustainability operation.  If always looked up new recipes just to keep our pallets refreshed we’d never get anything done.  We go back to the same omelets, stir frys, scrambles, sandwiches, and pasta dishes constantly.  We throw things on top of brown rice half the week, and when we’re really feeling drained we’ll just use the blender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early summer has just exploded this year.  Here’s a current picture of our garden from the second story.

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We made a few adjustments this year that our novice minds from the early 2010s couldn’t comprehend.  For one, we planted fewer plants this year and gave each one more space.  This way they weren’t leaf-punching one another as their roots fought for more water.  We also managed to accumulate more compost this year (which will be an upcoming post by itself), and again we had fewer plants to feed.  We’re finally getting the hang of watering in our sweltering environment.  But one of the most notable changes was how we committed ourselves to companion planting.  We’ve been dabbling in companion gardening for the past several years, but this year we threw ourselves into it.  A ton of guides exist out there telling what to plant with what and, if you’re lucky, why.  While we read some basics and hit on a few traditional pairings, we also used our best judgment and entered the waters of experimentation.

WHY DID WE BOTHER?

Well, lots of reasons:
-It’s better looking, aesthetically.
-It helps to repel pests
-It attracts beneficial insects and bugs
-It provides ground cover to assist with water retention and to discourage weed ground
-Many companions exchange with or provide nutrients to one another.

This last point is by far the most scientific, and for the average gardener opens the floodgate to an almost overwhelming knowledge base.  We narrowed the data we needed by starting with our favorite crops and seeing what we could do to improve their yield.  Tomatoes love basil and borage.  Green beans go well with potatoes.  Peppers and eggplants benefit from having marigolds around.  And so on.

BUT WON’T THAT MEAN FEWER VEGETABLES?  THE STUFF MY BODY CRAVES?

Many years ago a certain blogger (okay, me) didn’t see the value in spending the time, money, energy, compost, and planting space for a bunch of flowers, that not only didn’t provide food, but only served to make things “pretty.”  Well, flowers are awesome.  Even the monochromatic green could use a little flare at times.

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Borage in the tomato bed, doin’ a fine job attracting bees.

We’ve discovered that flowers not only need a lot less organic compost than food plants, the drought-tolerant types tend to need less water.  We followed this strategy: plant vegetables first, then add in flowers wherever there’s room.  The resource competition between the two is hardly fierce.  They get along just fine.

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Petunias and Peppers

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Daisies and Tomatoes

STARTING WITH THE BASICS

According to Sally Jean Cunningham, author of “Great Garden Companions,” the basics are: one main crop, one flower, and one herb.  This grouping provides the best combination of ground cover, aroma, beneficial insect attraction, and pest repulsion.  If you’re attracting bees, covering the ground to hold in water and prevent weed growth, and providing habitats for predatory insects (i.e. which eat the other insects you don’t want), you’ve already one three battles.  Of course you want eventually want the nutrient companions so that plants share and pass calcium/nitrogen/phosphorous as needed, but…baby steps.  We may learn a few recommended parings per season.

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Alyssum growing under the chard, keep weeds out and water in.

We have basil all over the place as well.  Between tomatoes, peppers, under the cucumber vine.

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Peppers, basil, eggplant, marigolds, and purslane all in one bed.

One popular companion duo is green beans and potatoes.  They repel one another’s predators, and the potatoes, heavy feeders, enjoy the nitrogen the beans return to the soil.  We’ve dedicated half a row to this pairing.

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Massive row of beans and potatoes.Famous best buds.

 

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melons and nasturtium plants.  Another known pairing that works well.

And of course sunflowers grow rampant.  So much so that we’re constantly (judiciously) removing them and keeping the ones that we want.

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Sunflowers.  Bees like them and so do we.  Also, they supposedly repel aphids.

 

 

 

 

Project bookshelf was inspired as books began to clutter high against the walls.  When you trip on one and fold the cover page in half you know your life is a literary mess.  A bookshelf at Ikea is $80 minimum for the size we wanted, and that’s for particle board, laminated paneling, and no love whatsoever.  And to elaborate on this last point, we weren’t just interested in saving money.  We wanted something with style, originality, and something that exuded the real beauty of natural wood, charming blemishes and all.  Furthermore, there’s something exceptional about owning and using something self-built, of high quality, that is going to last a very long time.

If you run a search you’ll see that pallet bookshelves are all the rage, and there is no end to creative construction.

I wish I could make this post more instructional, but I didn’t take enough photographs (something I’ll try to correct in the future).  And I don’t want to boggle you with convoluted descriptive text.  But I do have the basics in place.

Tools:

-sawzall (optional? We borrowed from a neighbor)
-power drill (already owned)
-chop saw (we borrowed one from a different neighbor)
-sander (purchased for this project, $35)
-measuring tape
-level
-wood screws
-stain

Getting the pallet wood – Go to small businesses – large businesses will tend to have a system in place for recycling pallets.  Small businesses often don’t, and will be more than happy to let you take them of their hands.  We picked up ours at a brewing supply store.

Taking the pallets apart – This isn’t so easy, unfortunately.  In fact, very little about this particular project was easy.  So if you’re not handy and/or your frustration threshold is low then this may be the point where you should stop.

Deconstructing pallets is made much easier with a sawzall.  Rather than prying, hammering, and breaking wood, saw through the nails.  Nails are soft metal and relatively easy to cut through.  Here’s the tutorial I followed.

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Selecting/creating a design – This is where things got a little tricky.  We knew we didn’t want to close off a room by installing a huge wooden block in it.  An open design was far trickier to pull off, but ultimately more rewarding.  We used the pallet’s center support beams (“C” shaped), and faced them inward toward each other.  Furring strips hold them together, and double as the shelving supports.

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one side of the bookshelf.

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I know the lighting could be better.  Sorry!

On dimensions – we found that bookshelves are about 11″ deep, even with the width and height being variable.  Our bookshelf is 3′ wide, 6′ tall, and 11″ deep.

On shelving – we also found that bookshelves are not necessarily evenly spaced, and that, if anything, shelves are larger on the bottom and smaller going towards the top.  We followed suit with this pattern, and our lower shelf fits oversized books, while the top shelf is best suited for pocket books.

Sanding the pieces – Before screwing everything together we sanded each piece one at a time, first with a fine sandpaper, and again with an extra fine sandpaper.  An electric sander is $20-$60, and because we’ve used it since this project it was worth the investment.

Staining the pieces – also before screwing anything together.  We picked a tint that allowed the grain to show through.  Buttered Rum.  Best choice we made this year.

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On (finally) screwing things together – we created countersink holes for every single screw, which serves to hide the screw and generally make the final product look nicer.  This professional diagram conceptually shows you how it works.

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But we didn’t use a special tool for this.  We wrapped duct tape around a larger drill bit.  Like this:

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The larger drill bit is used to create the slightly larger hole to “sink” the screw head.

Frame – The back frame is going to Impact how sturdy and how straight the entire bookshelf is.  We used a level all along the way to ensure it was as straight as possible.  It was still a little off, because pallet wood, but imperfections are all part of the joy of recycling.

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Beveling the top – So as to avoid being completely square, we beveled the top.  We did this by cutting the piece at a 45 degree angle, and then cutting halfway through the triangle that was creating by the 45 degree cut.

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Shelves – all the shelves on this bookshelf are free resting and removable.  Here we learned to appreciate the merits of production line assembly – cutting, sanding, and staining.  Because our frame is “charmingly” bent in places, the boards didn’t always fit, so don’t feel bad if that happens to you.  You may have to shave a few millimeters off a shelf to make it fit on a particular row.

Again, this project wasn’t particularly easy, but it was very rewarding.  We are very happy with the way it looks, and looking back, we would gladly do it again.

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As you can see, the time to build another is nigh…

As a bonus, we got these tables absolutely free.  The finish was in poor condition (again, I have GOT to get better with the before pictures).  But because we invested in a sander and had leftover stain, we now have matching end tables.  It didn’t take an hour to finish these.

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That rustic Pottery Barn look, but up close it doesn’t have that phony production feel.

 

Cheers,

-J

 

OK, the title might be halfway misleading, if you assumed we have now torn ourselves away from the shackles of fiscal obligation, and have naught to do but sip from our wheat grass patch as we watch our neighbors go to work every morning.  We’re not there yet, nor do we expect to choose that lifestyle anytime soon.  But there’s something to be said about relieving the stresses of bills and HAVING to work excessive hours in order to sustain your lifestyle.  I’m not the only one to write about this. But this is our blog, and therefore our story.  We don’t talk about finances often, for as many others do we see it as a personal matter.  But people have asked, and after all we’re not doing this (only) for our health – Therefore, this post is brought to you by popular request.

We paid off our mortgage in seven years.

That’s right.  Seven.  And frankly we only tried starting at the last three years or so.  After reviewing our monthly statements and statistics, we decided we didn’t want to pay, literally, more money in interest than the initial loan amount we borrowed to buy the house.  I mean, who wants to pay twice as much for anything?  We also decided that “writing off” that interest was of almost no benefit, because interest rates are so low in this era.

But I don’t want to get preachy about tax benefit misconceptions.  Our goal is always sustainability, and we just want to tell you how we did it.  I’ll give you one hint:  It wasn’t because we make a lot of money.

In fact, if you’ve been following us for any amount of time, you know that our talents lie in saving money rather than making it.  We do OK, sure, but our income (for our state) is by all accounts average and maybe even a little modest.

Before this post gets too long, I will front-load the rules we followed to pay our mortgage off early:

  1. Don’t buy new things you don’t need.  If you think you need it, try to go without.  You may surprise yourself. Pretty much make your default decision on purchases “no”.  Learn to embrace garage sales and Craigslist, and consider making it yourself (bookshelf post coming soon).  If you can’t decide whether you should buy something, walk away.  You’ll have your answer the following day, if you haven’t forgotten about it.
  2. Grow your own food, but even if you don’t…
  3. Don’t eat out as a regular habit, especially as a work-time lunch habit.  Many people don’t realize how much they spend on this.  For many, it is the lion’s share of their paycheck.  Cook.  Buy groceries.  Buy nutrition in bulk (future post).  I know Chipotle tastes good, and sometimes it’s worth it.  But is it worth making a habit out of it?  We’re not talking cold turkey, but humble moderation.
  4. Shirk any unnecessary monthly bills – cable, gym, phone data going to waste, extra cars.
  5. Fix things yourself, even if it’s a struggle and takes “forever” – you’ll be far more prepared the next time, more skilled, and more knowledgeable.
  6. Start early.  The more extra money you put toward your loan sooner the less interest you will pay over time. New home buyers pay the most interest.  People on their 20th year aren’t paying nearly as much in interest (because they already have).  Your mortgage amortization schedule is designed to collect the profit (from you) early and brutally.  At one point in our loan, our monthly interest was nearly $1300.  All profit for the bank.

Andrea told our story in much more detail on here writing blog, which I’d invite you to read for more information.

http://www.andreagstewart.com/blog/http:/www.andreagstewart.com/paying-off-a-mortgage-in-seven-years

It contains most the pertinent details to how we reduced and applied money to our loan, including the handful of windfalls we acquired  (which made the difference of 8 1/2 years to 7, by estimate).  We did this because we don’t like the stress of owing money, we wanted to plan for retirement, and we just wanted to test ourselves as far as what we could go without.  We’ve never been into caustic environmental consumption, and even developed a healthy sense of guilt when we must reluctantly buy something new from the store, which may or may not have plastic parts, manufactured who knows where with dubious regard to human rights.  It’s a challenge to cut ourselves off completely in our society, and for most of us our only salvation is to minimize frequency.

After going a few years with a strict spending diet, we’ve felt no desire to increase consumption post-mortgage.  We still live a frugal existence and have discovered that we prefer it that way.

It’s not about suffering, as some are wont to call it, or restricting your life, or depriving yourself from the joys and experiences of life.  In some ways it was a discovery of what truly is needed to enjoy the day and be happy.  And because people have ranted at us before (ahem, Reddit users), I just want to make it clear: if you don’t want to do some or any or all of this stuff, than don’t.  That’s fine.  Don’t torture yourself.  And it’s not necessary to post a comment saying you don’t want to get your hands in the dirt to grow your own tomatoes or ride your bike to work.  Every person/household has a different need/value structure, and are fit to deem what they can and cannot go without, and how much work they are willing to put in after their day jobs.   There’s also a chance your situation isn’t good, or you have more obligations.  Be gentle on yourself, and know that any amount of savings and earning is a win.  A 15-20 year mortgage is still a success compared to 30 years.

We’ll get back to gardening soon.  Cheers,

-J

 

People can get pretty creative with how they arrange a garden in a backyard with limited space.  Many adopt some variant of square foot gardening, companion gardening, or running vertical pallets along the fence-line.  For us?  We decided the less lawn the better.  And that more plants and produce were a perfectly sound way to decorate the backyard, in lieu of a manicured water-hogging greenery.

Here’s what our garden area looked like before expanding.

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Bird’s eye-view of pre-expansion garden.

It took nearly two audio books to cut, pile and discard about 80 square feet of sod, but at least I wasn’t in want of exercise that week.  And here’s what it looks like now.

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Today’s garden with two tracks added.

Raised garden beds are awesome, but we didn’t want to obstruct the entire view across the backyard by having everything lifted 3 feet off the ground (this all depends on how your backyard is arranged, and where your viewing point is out your window(s)).  Therefore, we went with the walking garden, flat off the ground, just like in the good old days.  Granted, we imported a lot of soil, added a ton of gypsum, and manually rototilled until we nearly forgot the meaning of life.    The new tracks might best be described as mounds, raised off the ground by several inches with heavy compost.

So here’s how we did this.

1.KILLING THE LAWN.  If the most time you spend with you lawn is mowing it into tidy, shaven patches that require more water than anything else on your property, then you’re probably best off doing away with it.  We didn’t just want more food and more crop diversity, we happen to think a well-kept kale patch is far more attractive than something you’re not even allowed to (and morally shouldn’t) water during drought.  I removed the lawn using one of these:Rasenkantenstecher_lawnedger_coppergardentool_pksbronze

 

You can rent a machine and do it much faster, but that depends how big your project is, whether you have access to a truck, how much you’re willing to spend, and how much time you’re willing to dedicate.  We did it by hand because it was a smaller area, no truck, and I don’t mind getting a good workout.  The soil should be semi-soft, so picking the season to remove the lawn matters, unless you want to water it heavily before you start.  Step the half-circle of the tool straight down through the lawn, one after the other, until you have a line all the way across the lawn.  Then cut another line about 12 inches away so that you’ve cut a strip of lawn.  Just imagine that you’re cutting strips of sod out of your lawn.  Yank the strip out, grass dirt, and the plastic mesh that’s probably underneath, roll it up, set it aside, and repeat.  A minute to master, forever to complete (kidding, but it is tough labor).

2. CULTIVATE THE PLANTING AREA.  We chose to form tracks for our garden because we planned on using drip-line irrigation. Even if you’re planning on importing the soil, it’s a good idea to break into the ground to allow for maximum depth and to reach down where the water will remain in the high temperatures.  If it’s clay, add gypsum.  Again, rototiller machines exist if you’re acquainted with such luxuries.  I used a shovel and my shoulders, and probably more of my back that I intended.

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We created tracks to allow for simple drip-line irrigation.

Mix good soil in with clay (or whatever you have) and then add a lot more good soil on top.  This is one of those things where you might see soil improvement a few growing seasons.

3. MULCH THE PERIMETER.  No special advice here.  I think you all know how to shovel bark and move it around. Buy it in bulk from a bulk distributor to save money.  There, I’ve justified my existence.

How did this work?  Well, it worked OK the first year, but not terrific.  Our soil is made of hard, impacted clay, but we’ve gradually had more success each season.  Some plants break up the soil better than others, like sunflowers, so those would be great additions.  Each year we add more organic compost and the conditions get better an better.

Cheers.

-J

In a fundamentally purist sense, wouldn’t it be nice to provide yourself with everything you needed right on your very own back yard? To avoid having to go to the store 100%, and to completely renounce the shackles of co-dependent consumerism. At least when it came to food, that is?

Well, no, it would actually be a lot of work. We have lives, people and we intend to use them. We still import plenty of staple items, including whole-flour wheat, rice, beans.  Also things we don’t have the setup for growing, like mushrooms.

We decided to keep rabbits not only because it provides us with excellent fertilizer and reduces our contribution to cruelty in the animal agriculture industry, we did it to save money. The one constant overhead is the rabbit pellets. It’s not really expensive, but its not really cheap either. And while we’ll never get away from buying pellets completely, we’ve found, through both growing in our own yard and foraging in the neighborhood, that we can cut the feed store bill down a hefty percentage.

This clover patch was sown from seed.  We grew it especially for our rabbits.

Clover patch. Grown to feed bunnies.

Rabbits eating grape leaves.

Our rabbits also love grape leaves, blackberry bushes (thorns and all), rosebushes, willow leaves, bindweed, and grass. We usually just cut whatever’s available and throw it on their plate.

One bit of warning, you do have to make sure whatever you’re feeding them is safe for rabbits, because a lot of things can be poisonous or unhealthy. A simple internet search will provide much better sources than what I am listing here.

Bindweed. A weed that people pull and throw away. But we let it grow and harvest for rabbit consumption.

TIME INVESTMENT: 3 minutes, daily.

Every morning we go out with shears and cut what we need.

Happy farming.

–J

There are a lot of chemicals that go into cleaning supplies, and unless you’re wearing a mask and gloves each time you use them, you’re probably absorbing some of said chemicals.

The funny thing is, it’s really easy to clean without using anything harsh.

Here are my go-to cleaning supplies.

First one is a microfiber cloth.

Microfiber Cloth

Microfiber, freshly laundered!

These things are great.  They’re fantastic for dusting and wiping countertops.  When they get dirty, I throw them in the wash.  We bought a couple packs of three from Fry’s for $4.99.  I think they work better than paper towels for spills, and you don’t end up throwing anything away at the end of the day.

Baking soda.

Baking Soda

Twelve pound bag of baking soda, nearly depleted.

Not only is it great for unclogging drains, but it works wonderfully when you need to scrub things.   Pans, countertops, floors…it’s cheap, it works great, and it won’t scratch.  I use it constantly on my stainless steel pans.  Helps make them nice and shiny.  A bulk bag at Costco is only $7, last time I checked.  I say last time, because a 12lb bag lasts for a really long time.

Vinegar, dish detergent, water, and an empty spray bottle.

Homemade Cleaning Solution

Spray bottle, vinegar, and dish detergent. Add water for instant homemade cleaning solution.

I don’t use Windex.  I just eye it, but the official recipe is 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or dish detergent, and 2 cups of water.  I also use this to clean other areas – bathroom, refrigerator drawers, etc.  Vinegar cuts through grease and disinfects.  Vinegar FTW!

Lemons.

Lemon

Forget making lemonade, clean with it!

For that breezy, citrus-y scent.  I hear-tell that if you hate the vinegar smell, you can add some lemon juice to your mixture above.  The smell doesn’t bother me though, so I haven’t tried it.  What I like about lemons is the way they act like bleach.  Ever had a friend who spritzed lemon juice on their hair in the summer to make it lighter?  I like to use it on my tile countertops (with white grout).  Let the lemon juice sit for a while, then scrub away.  You can also dump the halves down your garbage disposal if it’s getting rank down there.

This is mostly what we use as far as cleaning goes!  It’s cheaper than the store-bought stuff, and probably better for you, too🙂

-A

I took this picture from out second story window.  I wish I had an old picture, but when we moved in the entire garden area was a (useless) lawn.  In fact, we have plans to cut out even more lawn and install another set of beds.  The four beds we have is definitely enough to feed the two of us, but we want to diversify more, perhaps grow rabbit food, grow surplus for canning, or perhaps just grow flowers and other drought resistant plants. By the way, the lawn is yellow because we under water it.

taken from a second story window.

I can’t say our yard is the best looking yard in America (some people may even find it detestable), but it’s always a work in progress, and falls somewhere in that pivotal compromise of looks, functionality, and budget.

Garden at ground level

We’re growing trees in raised beds cut from ordinary wood.

Not sure how long they’ll last, but it was quick and dirty at the time, and…look, our sapling is already producing!

Apriums on year one!

I imagine when the woods finally rots (3-10 years?) we’ll refurbish it with decorative retaining wall bricks.

We installed the rocks a year ago.  It was a natural weed control initiative, and an attempt to beautify our unused land.  We like it.  But it was hard work, and I even went to the doctor about inflamed shoulders after I was done.  Anyway, install weed barrier cloth fabric first, then add the rocks.

Rocks. Natural weed control, though it does reduce your grow space. Plan accordingly.

I guess the purpose of this post was to demonstrate one way to integrate your garden and producing trees into an aesthetic landscape.  I know some people have done it better, and in fact we’re still working on ours.

And one more landscaping feat I’m particularly proud of.  A carrot tire.

Carrot Tire

Good hunting.

 

J

And we’re back!  We’ve been busy lately with our jobs and side projects, but we’re still very much here and always expanding our sustainability projects.  We’ll be trying to keep to a posting schedule of 1x/week from here on out.  There’s a lot to update on!

So we’ve started keeping meat rabbits.  I did a lot of research before we jumped into this.  Though the quails were a nice little gourmet meal, you don’t get very much meat off of them, so you have to butcher quite a to feed a family.  Rabbits are quiet, don’t take up a lot of space, and are easy to feed.  Plus, their poop is great fertilizer – it doesn’t need to be aged before being thrown on the garden (though I recommend you make sure the urine is evaporated).

We modified our first hutch for rabbits, and constructed a second one (see Rabbit Hutch Complete).  This design is working okay for rabbits.  I’m brainstorming some ideas right now for better functionality and to have a more natural setting for the rabbits, while keeping in mind space restrictions.  We have two does, and one buck.

This is Mudder.

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She just finished weaning a litter of ten, and is getting a well-deserved break!

Cookie, our other doe.

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Cookie is a little bit…special. I’ve tried taking her out, but she just sits there, frozen. May be a bit inbred…

Bigwig, our buck.

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Hoi, hoi u embleer Hrair, M’salon ule hraka vair.

Mudder is a meat rabbit mutt – ½ satin and ½ rex.  She’s amazing, consistently bearing litters of 8-12 and doing a great job of caring for them.  She hadn’t a lot of human interaction before we acquired her, so she’s a little shy, but she’s warmed up a bit.

Cookie is a Californian, a breed bred for their meat.  To be honest, she’s a bit dull.  We’ve talked about possibly replacing her in the future.  She doesn’t bear very large litters, and she doesn’t seem to notice when she’s squishing her babies.

Bigwig is also a Californian.  He’s huge, friendly, and does his job well.

There are several breeds that are known for being good meat rabbits – meaning they have a high meat to bone ratio, get to slaughter weight quickly, and are efficient users of their feed.  You can use any type of rabbit, honestly, but you’ll get best results with meat rabbits.  The most popular types where I live are Californians and New Zealands.  Don’t get Flemish Giants.  They may be tempting because of their size, but their bones are huge, so you end up not getting a lot of bang for your buck.  We got Mudder from someone on the meatrabbits list on Yahoo! and the other two were craigslist buys.  Each were $20.

We buy 50lb bags of feed from our local feed store for $14/bag.  We’re also growing a lot of things the rabbits can eat, as well as foraging.  We feed them rosebushes, grape leaves, fruit tree branches, grass clippings from our lawn, clover, raspberry and blackberry branches, dandelions, veggies, and bindweed (grows as a weed in our lawn and beds).  We’re also planting alfalfa to feed them.  Post to come detailing rabbit feeding!

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We have clover and raspberry bushes growing in here.

We have trays beneath to catch their poop, and worm bins below Bigwig’s pen.

I’ll go into more detail about the slaughtering and butchering process in another post.  The rabbit meat itself I’ve found is very similar to chicken (so much so that my husband keeps accidentally calling it “chicken”) and can be used in anything chicken is used in.  It’s a bit drier, so you have to be careful not to overcook it.

Breeding and babies post to come as well!

I’ve definitely enjoyed keeping rabbits so far.  The initial set-up is quite a bit of work, and slaughtering the first couple times was difficult.  But the reward is worth it – fresh, home-grown meat without chemicals, hormones, or unclean conditions.

-A

We were a little haphazard with our winter planting this year.  The weather was off and our greenhouse got infested with slugs (I have since designed a slug-proof greenhouse we will be building this summer!)..  We frantically planted seeds as our seedlings frantically died off.

As a result, somehow microgreens got mixed up with swiss chard, and I ended up thinking beets were swiss chard.  It wasn’t my intention to plant beets.  I don’t like them.  Freakishly red, weird textured, bland tasting.

So I was surprised to see large bulbs on the bottom of my “swiss chard”.  We harvested them, looked up a couple recipes, and decided to roast them in the oven with a light coating of olive oil.

Just pulled from the garden and rinsed.

Close-up!

Separated into bulbs and greens.

We ate the bulbs with malt vinegar.

Roasted bulbs with malt vinegar.

WOW.  Fresh beets do not equal canned beets.  Delectable, sweet, with a texture like a juicy potato.  And not only that, but we ate the greens as well, pan fried with a bit of olive oil and soy sauce.  Delicious!  Tasted very much like swiss chard except sweeter.

Sauteed greens.

I’d highly recommend planting them.  They do well in well-drained soil and are a cool-weather crop.

Oh, and they turn your pee pink.  Double-plus win!

-A

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