Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments


Every day last week I harvested something from the garden. I cut snow peas, Swiss chard, parsley, asparagus and green onions, and picked lettuce, radishes, spinach, a couple of strawberries, and beet greens. I cut flowers from the garden for our table.

We ate outside every night as the weather was beautiful each evening.



The children played outside. They blew bubbles, jumped on the trampoline, played on the swings, drew with chalk, and read outside.


I stocked up on food last week, including strawberries at the new low price of $1.28 a pound (last year's -in-season-once-a-year-low-price was $.99 a pound). I buy strawberries once a year when they are in season here and the prices get as low as they are going to be. I purchased 32 pounds. My family found that if each person eats 2 strawberries, we had eaten an entire pound, and of course, everyone wants more than 2! I made strawberry shortcake, chocolate covered strawberries, and lots of jam: 7 twelve-ounce jars and  13 1/2 pints, or the equivalent of 48 half-pints (but using a lot fewer lids and a lot less cooking time). I made low-sugar jam with low-sugar pectin and sugar I already had on hand.

I purchased frozen sausage for $1.33 a pound. This is a huge treat for us, as sausage is usually much more expensive. The store who had this (Smith's-a Kroger affiliate) said that this was a new brand for them. We ate one package (12 ounces) this week and it was delicious. I now have sausage in the freezer for future meals. I also stocked up on sour cream for $1 a pound, shredded Tillamook cheddar cheese in a 5 pound bag for $10.99, and cream cheese for $2 a pound.

I made biscuits, gravy, shortcake, chocolate covered strawberries, strawberry popsicles, museum pasta salad, rice and beans, and balsamic vinaigrette (for our homegrown salads). We ate several salads from garden lettuce last week.

Saturday I went with both of my parents (they drove) to a very close-by semi-annual community garage sale. My patience paid off, as I found several items that I have been looking for for several years. I found wood drawer organizers for my kitchen drawers for a total of $6. I am so excited to have these! After a good wash and dry I put them in my drawers. I smile each time I see them.

I found a bicycle that Winter, Cyrus, and I can all ride (I don't know who will ride it most often). The previous owner rode it once, crashed it, and didn't ride it again, according to her husband, who was selling it. It has a few dents in the fenders but is usable and comfortable. I have been looking for a bicycle for several years but the garage sale prices were always hundreds of dollars. I paid $60.

I found a linen/cotton dress for Ivory for 50 cents. It needed a couple of ribbon roses stitched on more tightly, which only took a minute for me to fix.. At the same sale, I bought three hardcover children's books in like-new condition for 10 cents each. I gave the dress and two of the books to Ivory for her birthday.

I purchased a 3-ton car jack (this was a request from my husband) for $30. I didn't expect to find this, but the price was good and he was happy to have it.

One of the sales we went to was listed as an estate sale. The kitchen drawers were open for going through, and the woman holding the sale said that kitchen drawer items were $1 a handful. For my dollar, I purchased 2 new packages of cheesecloth, a staple remover, 2 basting brushes, an offset metal spatula with a metal handle, a new-in the package thermometer that went down to 0º (I plan on using it as a soil thermometer), and a tea ball.



One sale we went to had antiques. That is a rare thing in a city that was built in the last 20-30 years (and this neighborhood was built in the last 15 years). We loved many of the beautiful things that she had for sale. I took home a tatted linen handkerchief for 50 cents and a copper saucepan with a brass handle for $3. I'm sure this pan will be making its way into future photos on my website.

I also purchased 4 hardcover books (50 cents each), some oil pastels, acrylics, and watercolors, 3 plastic drawer organizers (50 cents for all 3; one of these ended up in each of the bathroom drawers), 3 picture frames ($2 for 2 of them and 50 cents for the small matching one), a pair of winter pajamas for Liberty ($2) that look brand-new (I am keeping these for a birthday present as they are in the next size up and it's now time for summer pajamas), a shirt and pants for Elsa ($1 each), a summer hat that any of the girls can wear in the garden for 25 cents, and a brand-new package of hand-embroidery needles for 25 cents.

We went to about 50 sales in 5 hours and drove about 3 miles total.

I received a free magazine in the mail.

I received a package that I ordered from One Kings' Lane that had free shipping and was paid for with referral credit.

I used the water from rinsing strawberries and the water from my canning pot to water potted trees in the garden.

What did you do to save money last week?





Thursday, April 10, 2014

Writing a Garage Sale List

Twice a year, a master-planned community near my house has a neighborhood garage sale.

I like being able to go to several sales in a short period of time.

I make it a plan to take a list with me. I go to this semi-annual sale with my mom, so I take 3 copies of my list: one for me, one for her, and one to hand to the person having the sale. I don't always use the third one, but if someone asks if I'm looking for something in particular and they have several things for sale, I'll hand them that copy of the list. This has helped me several times. Once, a woman said, "Oh, I had one of those out at my last garage sale and forgot to put it out this time! I'll go get it!" which resulted in this:


A beautiful metal embroidery hoop, with a date on it of 1917. This is definitely my oldest embroidery hoop. I paid $1.50, and it was in a bag with several other vintage items for that price. It's my favorite hoop now (it's actually much smaller than you see here; I love the small size as it prevents my hand my cramping).

Another time a woman noticed I was looking for sidewalk chalk. She had a large coffee can full of it, which I most likely would not have seen has I not given her the list. When I asked how much, she said I could have it for free!

My list does a lot more for me than that, however. I use my list to specifically shop for clothes and gifts for my family.

I write down each person's name in the family, along with what clothing items they need, and the number of items that they need. For the children, I write down anything they need next year and the following year (the next two sizes up). If they still need anything for this year I will include that as well, but in general, I am shopping ahead for them. By shopping for the next two sizes, I am better prepared for sudden growth spurts. It also is important because sometimes it is difficult to find anything in the sizes I need; having two years to find something helps a lot.

For example, one person on my list might look like this:

Cyrus (age 10 1/2)

4 short-sleeved shirts size 14
6 long-sleeved shirts size 14
3 pairs shorts size 14
1 pair dress pants size 14
2 pairs jeans size 14
3 pairs long pants/corduroys size 14
1 tie

7 short-sleeved shirts size 16
6 long-sleeved shirts size 16

Etc., Etc.

By having a specific number of items, I can be certain not to overbuy. I purchase enough for a week's worth of clothing (including church clothes) for both hot weather and cold weather.

I aim to pay 50 cents to a dollar for clothing items. I will occasionally pay more ($4 for a coat, for example), or $2 for a new items with tags on it, but in general, most items I buy are in the $0.50 to $1 range. This means that, in the example above, for a year's worth of clothing in one size, I am out the same price as one brand-new shirt at Target.

(This does not not count socks, underwear, pajamas, or shoes--just other items of clothing. I purchase socks and underwear on back to school sales. I make pajamas, usually repurposing sheets for these. I look for sales on shoes).

Most of my boys' clothing is used, from garage sales as well as hand-me-downs from friends. I like preppy, vintage clothes, and for the boys, it is usually quite possible to find button-down shirts and polo shirts in like-new condition, as these items are worn less often than t-shirts.  I find it harder to buy my girls clothing that I like, but I do find things for them on occasion (especially cardigans and jeans). I love vintage-style dresses, so I tend to make those, but I have found several jumpers and occasionally a few dresses.

Besides clothing, I have other items on the list.

I have listed both types of books as well as certain books that we are wanting. I have often found specific books that we wanted. I use these for the whole family or for individual children. If I plan on keeping it for a birthday gift or a Christmas gift, I put it up until that time. I pay .25 to $1 for most books. (I did buy a few last year for $2 each, that were hardcover books in like-new condition--and they were books on my list).  I will also pick up books in like-new condition for us to give as gifts to friends; these are often books that we already own and my children love, so I know their friends will like them as well. I put those in my gift box.

My list includes items that I know the children would like for birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes I find those items and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I find items that I know they will love that aren't on my list; that's okay, too, of course! (A couple of weeks ago a neighbor on my street was having a garage sale that included several like-new games, all marked $1 each. One was Harry Potter Uno. I've seen that on Amazon--for $53! I bought it and put it aside for Cyrus' 11th birthday later this year).

This vintage Ball jar was a garage sale purchase.

If there is anything I need in the kitchen, I'll put that on my list. Right now, for example, I'm looking for a metal pie server. I have one, but I would like another one for when we have several kinds of pie at once. I have an idea of the style I would like. I'm not in a hurry, but it's an item I would like to have, so I'll look for it.

Any other needs I have are also on there. This year, I am looking for a few bicycle helmets.

I have a few items on my list that I would like for sewing; I am looking for some specific shades of velvet and wool. Often these two items can be repurposed clothing items, so I look for pieces in good enough shape to cut up for those projects (a velvet skirt can offer plenty of fabric to make a girl's dress bodice). I aim to pay $1 for these. Garage sales are also a great place to look for sheets (to use for sewing) and blankets (to use as-is).



The white quilt on my bed was a garage sale find for $15. I have purchased blankets for the children at garage sales, too.

I usually take $35 to $45 with me. Most times, this is money that I've made from my own garage sale. I plan to go to this neighborhood sale in April and October; I might go to one other sale a year (this year I went to three already, as two were on my street and one was two streets over).

My list has also served another purpose for me for the past several years. A friend of my mother's (a woman whose children are long-grown) goes to Oregon and Washington each summer. She loves garage sale shopping while she is there, and she offered to look for things for me before if I would give her a list. She brings back several bags of clothing (usually including a few costumes), along with a list of what she paid for each item. She looks for items in the same price range as I do (most items she picks up for 50 cents each). I email my list to her.

I'll be going garage sale shopping at the community garage sale this Saturday. I'm looking forward to it!


Have you ever written a garage sale list? Do you use garage sales to buy the bulk of your family's clothing?





Tuesday, April 8, 2014

This Week's Goals



Last week's strong winds kept me out of the garden most of the week. I'm hoping to get lots done this week. It should be 91º tomorrow!

Garden

1. Spread straw under strawberries

2. Run water lines and plant aster and butternut squash seeds

3. Plant more leek seeds

4. Photograph the garden (in better light this time, hopefully, than the last two times)

5. Plant zinnias (this is earlier than most years, but it is warm out)

6. Plant more basil seeds

7. Work on editing the garden circle (pulling out the extra larkspur seedlings that self-seeded)

8. Plant foxglove seed in the shady areas

9. Plant sunflower seeds

10. Plant cucumber seeds


Sewing

1. Make puppets for Ivory

2. Make pencil case for Ivory

3. Make dress for Ivory

4. Finish hemming the last pairs of jeans shorts

5. Mend 2 items of clothing

6. Sew one or two other gifts for Ivory


Blog

1. Edit and post garden pictures

2. Write and photograph Frugal Accomplishments post

3. Write one or two other posts


Shopping

1. Finalize garage sale list with sizes and needed items

2. Attend community garage sale

3. Purchase strawberries, cheese, sour cream, sausage ($1.33 a pound), corn tortillas, rice, and spreadable margarine.

4. Purchase pot for cherry tree and pot for bay laurel tree (pictured above). I will be growing the bay laurel as a small topiary. After it has had some time in the pot, I will be cutting the branch on the left (and using the leaves, of course). I intend to give dried bay leaves as Christmas gifts in future years. Sam's Club has some inexpensive pots this time of year, so I will go there. Also purchase two pots for 2 tiny hazelnut trees that I ordered.

Canning

1. Can strawberry jam



I hope to blog a bit more often in the evenings. Facebook is showing my posts to only 700 to 1800 (those are the higher views) of my 9000 Facebook fans. If you want to be updated on a regular basis, you can do the following:

1. Like or comment more on my Facebook posts to keep them in your feed

2. Check my Facebook page regularly (not just your feed) to see what I've been posting. I post on Facebook several times a week.

3. Subscribe by email (on the right) to get email updates

4. If you have a Blogger account, follow me that way to have me show up in your feed

5. Add me to your list of blog feeds in any other readers that you use

6. Check back on the blog itself on a regular basis


Also, you can find me on Pinterest, pinning lots of garden and frugal gift ideas.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Last Week's Frugal Accomplishments

Winter made a lot of friendship bracelets this week--and taught Liberty to make one, too!


I cut flowers from the garden for my table.

I cut asparagus from the garden (we're getting about 2 pounds a week now, one pound at a time, so I planted some seeds that I collected from my heirloom Mary Washington asparagus last year and planted some more in the garden to have more 4 years from now).

I cut chives, Swiss chard, and lettuce from the garden.

I cut five pairs of children's jeans that were torn at the knee and turned 3 pairs into shorts using a heavy-duty needle and some jeans thread on my sewing machine. (I still have 2 pairs left to do).

Our water bill came this week. I noticed that they have reduced the amounts for the tiers, to make it so that people hit the second tier faster (our water bill can go up to four tiers; I hit the third tier in the winter). I was expecting a higher bill this month than last,  as I had adjusted the outside water to water more often in March, as our weather was in the 70's and 80's.

I was very diligent to make sure that I didn't water more minutes than necessary. I spent more time out in the garden than I have in the past, as we had very nice weather. Spring came a month early here, but I found that my garden was plenty wet, and so I adjusted the water down. In addition, I continued to use water from the shower to water plants, and gather water from rinsing vegetables to water plants.

My water usage was less than half of what I used last year at this time, and even less than what I used in Feburary! Since the tiers are smaller and we had the first of 5 increases in rates this year (that will happen in the next 3 years) I was very happy to see that my water conservation efforts are paying off.

I taught the boys to use a bucket for their showers as well this week (while waiting for the water to warm), and instructed them to pour the water on the potted fruit trees in the garden each day. Between the two boys I should save several more gallons each week. Though it doesn't seem like a lot compared to our overall water usage, it also means I don't have to use more water to water the potted plants.

I used the water from rinsing beans (before cooking them) to water a potted fruit tree. I also saved the water from rinsing vegetables from the garden for this.

My husband and I cut his hair.

My husband had his birthday this week. His father invited him and his brothers to lunch. My husband asked if I would like to come as well. He had a 2 for 1 coupon to the buffet where his father had invited him, which made my lunch free. When we went, one of his brothers had two 2 for 1 coupons as well, which cut the cost in half for my father-in-law. (I married into a frugal family!) My oldest is now old enough to babysit for a short time, which made it possible for us to go.

Normally, April is the one month a year where we eat out (usually my parents give us a little something to celebrate both of our birthdays and they offer to watch the children while we are at dinner--so we get one night out a year). This time my parents decided to take us out to dinner while my oldest babysat. My husband signed up for the restaurant's program ahead of time, which made his dinner free for my parents. The servers also brought him ice cream for free since it was his birthday.

I planted more Swiss chard in the garden under the fig tree, since Swiss chard will grow in shade and grows year-round here. That is the last of my seeds, but some of my older plants are beginning to bolt. I plan on collecting seeds this year to plant more chard this year and next year.

My husband and I watched two shows for free on Hulu.

I made a new hem on the top of a sheet that tore almost all the way across (just under the top hem). The easiest solution was a new top hem, which should give me at least another year of use from that sheet.

I scrubbed baseboards, the walls, and cabinets with a simple mix of a teaspoon of dishsoap and a gallon of hot water, and used a rag to wash them (I used 2 gallons total). They look so much better and I didn't have to buy a more expensive cleaner.

What did you do to save money last week?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Choosing Fruit Trees for Your Garden



Spring and fall are the best time to plant fruit trees in a garden. They're also a great time to find fruit trees on sale at your local nursery. If you're ordering from a catalog, you will most likely need to order in spring, as most fruit trees only ship in spring.


First, you'll need to know your zone. This is essential for choosing a fruit tree that will grow well in your garden.

After determining your zone, you'll need to ask yourself a few more questions:

Cold Hardiness: If you live in a place where it freezes and winters are cold, "hardiness" is something that will matter in your decision. Trees that are not hardy for where you live will be killed by freezing temperatures. When choosing a tree, look to see if it is hardy to your cold winter (for example, "hardy to -25ºF", "hardy to -40ºF", etc.). If the tree is not hardy for your area, choose a different variety. Most trees are hardy to USDA zone 5; some will go to zone 4. In colder areas, you may need to work harder to find trees that will do well in your climate. In USDA zones 3 and colder, you may find there are more berries that will grow in your area then larger fruit trees. Growing berries may be your best choice for fruits.



Chilling hours: If you live in a warm climate, making sure that your fruits get enough hours of cold to produce fruit is important. Most fruits perform best in USDA zones 7 and below; however, there are some trees, such as citrus, that prefer it to not freeze at all (citrus can handle a few hours of below freezing, but do not do well when temperatures are below 28º for more than a few hours and will suffer significant branch loss at that point; if temperatures turn colder, the tree can die).

Chilling hours are the number of hours between 32-45ºF that you receive in the winter. Temperatures that are colder than that do not count towards chilling hours. Temperatures slightly above that each count as a half chilling hour, and warmer temperatures count as negative chilling hours. Trees are usually labeled low chill, medium chill, and high chill, though they will sometimes list actual chilling hours.



The actual hours are especially helpful when you want to have to trees of the same fruit that are ripe at different times. I grow two different peaches: Desert Gold and Early Elberta. Desert Gold is a low-chill tree that ripens for me in May. Early Elberta is a mid-chill variety that ripens in July. (The regular Elberta tree is high-chill and is not the best choice for our climate, as it has higher chilling hours. That tree usually ripens in August or September, depending on your region).


I did the same things with apricot trees. I grow a Royal Apricot in my back yard. It is self-fertile and ripens in May. My father-in-law has an apricot tree that ripens 3-4 weeks earlier than ours. With some research, I learned that there are two other apricot trees that ripen that early. One of them is called Katy. I went to a different nursery to purchase this tree so that we could enjoy fresh apricots twice a year, a few weeks apart. I planted Katy in the front yard last year; it has 15 apricots on it this year, and it should be ripe soon. It only requires 150 chilling hours, so it was the second tree in my garden to blossom. It flowered the first week of February.

Throughout a city, there are several microclimates. This means that your area may not be just one specific zone. Higher and lower elevations will affect your property and can change the zone dramatically. For example, the Las Vegas valley where I live can be anywhere from a zone 8b to a zone 10a. I am actually a zone 9a (though the general hardiness zone map I linked to above puts me at an 8b; a more specific map puts me more accurately in a zone 9a, which has first frost dates of November 15th and last frost dates of February 15th; our frost usually falls the first or second week of December, and we might get another frost in January--which could even make us zone 9b or 10a).

You can also have microclimates within your property--even if you live on a small lot. How much shade or sun an area receives in winter can make one place warmer and another place colder. Keep this in mind when choosing a place to plant your fruit trees. I grow a few moderate and high chill fruits in areas that are shaded from the walls during the winter. This makes it more likely that those trees will fruit for me.


Spacing is another important choice. Full-size fruit trees take up a large amount of space and take longer to fruit than semi-dwarf and dwarf trees. Most of the trees I grow are semi-dwarf types. They fruit a year or two earlier than full-size trees, but more importantly, I can grow 10 semi-dwarf trees in the space needed by one full-size tree. This is how I am able to have 42 fruit trees on a .24 acre lot. In addition, I can reach the fruit more easily.



When choosing an individual fruit tree, look for one with a straight trunk. This is one of the nice things about choosing at a local nursery that isn't possible when purchasing online.



Fruit trees can be planted in the ground, but also in pots. As a tree's growth is limited by the size its roots can grow, choose as large a pot as possible to grow potted fruit trees. Dwarf and shorter trees are good choices for pots for this reason. I grow oranges and pomegranates in pots, and I am looking to add hazelnuts in pots in the future. If you are renting, growing a fruit tree in a pot means you can take it with you. I love that I can put pots on my patio and add to my growing space.

Pollination is a very important part of choosing a fruit tree. If you want to only grow one tree of a certain type (one apple, one plum, one cherry, one peach, etc.) it must be self-fertile. If it is not, you will never get any fruit from that tree. Most of the trees I grow in my garden are self-fertile, as I have a large variety of fruit, chosen specifically to have something ripe each month over 7 months.



If the tree you want is not self-fertile, you must determine what type of tree will pollinate it. Nursery tags and catalogs are helpful with this; they usually tell you what other tree you must plant in order to pollinate your tree. This other tree must be planted nearby (usually within 25 feet). For most trees, this is fairly simple. Apples, however, are much more complex, as they have trees that are sterile (cannot pollinate themselves or other trees), are mixes (and cannot be pollinated by either type of parent tree), and flower at different times (apples can ripen June through February, depending on the variety!) If you want to grow a number of different apple trees, do your research before choosing any that are not self-fertile to ensure that you have the proper pollinator.



I prefer, whenever possible, to buy fruit trees from my local nursery. This helps me in several ways:

1. The trees are less-expensive.

While the cost of trees has gone up $5 at my local nursery since I purchased the bulk of my fruit trees, they are still much less costly than ordering online. In spring and fall, there are usually sales as well. Regular price here is currently $24.88 a tree, and they go on sale for $19.88 (citrus trees are $5 more).

2. I get a potted tree that I can see is growing

My personal experience has been much more successful with potted trees over bare-root trees. The trees have a strong root system and grow bigger and stronger than bare-root trees. I look for healthy branches and growing buds to make sure they are living.

3. I get taller trees

The choices at the nursery are much bigger than catalog choices. I always purchase a 5 gallon tree that is 3 to 4 feet tall. (Our nursery also sell much larger trees for $100 if you don't want to wait for fruit and are willing to pay a lot more). These trees are older and will bear fruit a year or two sooner than a smaller tree.

Of course, you may not have access to a local nursery, or your local nursery doesn't have the type of tree that you want. In that case, ordering online may be your only option. It is important that you plant bareroot trees before the last frost in your area. They need to be planted when they are dormant. Our last frost date is February 14th; most companies do not ship that early, which means I am more likely to have trees die. If your last frost date is May 15th, however, you can still order bareroot trees to put in the ground now.


For a complete list of the fruit trees that I am growing in my garden, check out the column on the right-hand side of my Kitchen Garden page.


Are you adding any fruit trees to your garden this year? So far this year I've added another Meyer lemon and another Stella cherry tree.


Monday, March 31, 2014

This Week's Goals




1. Turn Liberty and Winter's torn jeans into shorts

2. Hem my husband's jeans

3. Run some more water lines in the garden

4. Sew birthday presents for Ivory

5. Make popsicles

6. Start making Easter rabbits

7. Write a couple of blog posts

8. Update garage sale list with our current needs and sizes. I will be attending a community garage sale the second Saturday in April and I plan on taking my list with me.

9. Thin fruit trees. The wind did a good deal of thinning for us yesterday but I still need to thin more.

10. Pull weeds.

11. Cut and dehydrate onions