Most will agree, a garden is not complete without tomatoes.
We all know that growing our own food offers multiple benefitsófor our health, our taste buds, and our pocketbook. But how many of us know how much weíre actually saving?
For the past few summers, Iíve conducted a little experiment to see just how much I would save by growing veggies myself versus buying their supermarket counterparts. You may be surprised at the results!
Why Grow Your Own?
Before getting to the numbers, letís review the many benefits of growing your own food. They include:
Personal satisfaction: When it comes to self-sufficiency, there is nothing more elemental than being able to feed oneself. I love the early-evening ritual of wandering down to the vegetable garden, colander in hand, to pick whatever has ripened and prepare it for my dinner that same evening.
Lessening your environmental footprint: By reducing your reliance on foods grown far away and trucked hundreds or thousands of miles to your local grocery store, your food consumption contributes less to smog and global warming. By growing your vegetables, youíre also doing your part to reverse the globalization of the food supply.
Superior taste and freshness: Homegrown fruits and vegetables simply taste better than produce thatís been allowed to ripen in trucks during transport and sit on store shelves before youíre ready to eat it. Even if youíre not a verifiable foodie, the taste, flavor, and freshness of homegrown produce is reason enough for many gardeners to devote a portion of their yard, patio, or terrace to growing vegetables.
Better nutritional value: Because less time elapses between harvest and consumption (say, about an hour when I harvest my own produce compared to days or weeks when I buy it in the supermarket), homegrown vegetables deliver higher nutritional value. And if you choose to grow your produce pesticide-free like I do, youíll get the added health benefits of consuming organic produce at little-to-no extra cost.
Early September harvest
But for the budget-minded among us, a fifth important benefit of growing your own food isÖ
The ability to reduce your grocery expenses: In todayís challenging economy, nearly every consumer is looking to save a few dollars wherever they can. Growing your own vegetables can substantially reduce your grocery bill throughout the summer. If you freeze or can your surplus, you can extend your savings into the winter months.
The Economics of Homegrown
This was the third season I tracked my gardenís output, not only by the pound, but by its monetary value.
My garden plot is modest in size, about 120 square feet. It was not intended to feed a large family, although the inevitable surplus is freely given to friends and neighbors. In its current form, itís L-shaped (to detour around a small juneberry tree) and located in my front yard, to take maximum advantage of sunlight.
Die-hard gardeners can spend lots of time experimenting with heirloom varieties, growing plants from seed, and researching the best soil amendments, fertilizers, compost, and mulch covers. Yet you can fumble along, make mistakes, and still wind up with a respectable harvest, provided thereís ample sunlight and adequate watering.
Due to my own laissez-faire attitude about plant diseases, my garden is succumbing a few weeks early to blight and powdery mildew. With the harvest about 95 percent in, Iíve tallied up my pickings for the season.
To determine their monetary value, I checked the prices of comparable produce at Shop Rite, my grocery store of choice. Whenever possible, I used prices of Shop Riteís organic produce. But for about half of what I harvested, I couldnít find organic equivalents and was forced to use the non-organic price in my comparison. Because produce prices fluctuate regularly, I used an average of Shop Rite prices I found throughout July and August, at the height of my gardenís production.
Hereís what I grew and harvested this year, ranked by its dollar value:
2011 total monetary value: $330.08
2011 total expenses: $21.78
Net savings: $308.30
How do these numbers compare to previous years? In 2009, I grossed $148 in produce from a somewhat smaller-sized garden, but ended up with -$222 after factoring in my Ďstart-upí expenses which included a pricey, six-foot-high roll of wire fencing and metal posts (essential to exclude deer).
In 2010, I enlarged the garden (since I had leftover fencing) and harvested more, growing $515 worth of food ($429 after expenses). I attribute some of the increase to a more concerted effort to harvest wineberries daily during the month of July, as they ripened. The wineberries, which grow naturally in my backyard, are an invasive Asian bramble that produces berries that look similar to a raspberry. Since youíll never find them in a store, Iíve used raspberry prices for comparison when calculating their monetary value. (And you know how expensive raspberries are in the store!)
Acorn squash on the vine
Last summer, I hand-picked 39 cups of wineberries, which really boosted my Ďgardení productivity. I planned to do the same this summer, but lost my enthusiasm after finding a tiny tick embedded in the skin between my fingers. I don hip boots sprayed with DEET for wading into the brambles as protection against ticks (Iíve had Lyme disease twice) but hadnít counted on picking one up on my hand. So I settled for about nine cups of berries picked from the relative safety of the periphery of the thickets.
This yearís garden is pretty much spent, but I take comfort knowing Iíll be enjoying my tomatoes, wineberries, kale, basil, and zucchini (in the form of soups, stews and quick breads, and on my breakfast cereal) in the cold winter months to come. I canít wait until next spring, when Iíll be planting soybeans for the first time.
The days are growing shorter and there's a nip in the air come evening. You know what that means...it's time for the 3rd annual No Heat Contest!
The rules are simple. The winner of the contest is the person who can hold off turning on the heat longer than anyone else.
I'll leave it to your conscience to decide if using your wood fireplace, stove or space heater is "cheating," but I do think that would provide an unfair advantage. Remember, the idea of the contest is to encourage each other to forestall, for as long as possible, the long winter of oil, natural gas, propane or electric bills to heat our homes.
Here are a few ideas for doing that:
* Throw on an extra sweater.
* Weatherstrip your doors and windows.
* Indulge your Inner Chef to create some fabulous home-cooked meals, and keep that oven door open afterwards (make sure it's turned OFF) to warm your kitchen.
* Let your pets sleep with you.
* Get out the hot cocoa.
* Throw an extra comforter on the bed.
* If all else fails and you can't seem to warm up, visit a friend or your local library!
So who's in?
Summers in the Northeast can be brutal with temps in the 80s to 90s and high humidity.
Since I'm not working and am home for large portions of the day, keeping my home cool during these warm weather months has been front and center in my mind lately.
I live in a two-story Connecticut home with no central air conditioning. For 15 years, I've gotten by with just one small in-window air conditioner that goes in an upstairs bedroom. Still, the thing is incredibly heavy and a real pain to drag down from the attic. For that reason, I only use it when the heat makes sleeping impossible; it's also noisy and the way it cycles on and off is disruptive to sleep, anyway. Plus, with two cats who like to come and go as they please, it's difficult to keep the door closed, so all that cold air often ends up drifting out into the hallway.
Here are 10 low-tech ways I keep my home cool without noisy, electricity-gobbling air conditioners:
1. Use a sunblock. I'm a big advocate of using sun-blocking drapes and curtains. As soon as I get up in the morning, which these days is around 6 a.m., I lower the blinds and close the curtains on my east- and south-facing windows. Around noon, I'll close the south-facing windows as well. Sometime in mid-afternoon, I'll open curtains on those east-facing windows which will then be in shade. By 5 p.m., I'll fling open all the windows and curtains so I don't feel like I'm living in a cave.
2. Blow, baby, blow. Next in my arsenal of home-cooling techniques are my assortment of fans. On hot days like this, my three ceiling fans are whirring round and round, two box fans are blasting and a small tabletop fan is doing its part, too. Warm, humid air feels much more bearable on the skin when it's moving.
3. The evening cool-down. Once outdoor night-time temperatures have dropped below indoor temperatures, it's time to encourage the exchange of warm air for cool. (There are parts of the country where this never really happens, and if you live in one of these areas, you have my sympathy.) However, if you live in a two-story house or condo, you can accelerate the air exchange by strategically using box fans. You'll need at least two. Put one box fan on the lower level blowing into the room, as you normally would. Put the other box fan in a upstairs window blowing out. (If you have more box fans, by all means, put additional units on both levels in the same manner as the first two were placed. If you have an accessible attic and can leave the attic door open, place a box fan in an attic window.) The inward and outward-facing fans will create an invisible air flow that will rid your home of warm air more quickly than you would by simply blowing all that hot air around inside.
4. Just chillin'. I have heard it suggested that you can speed up the cooling process by placing a large pot of ice cubes in front of a blowing fan. I have not tried this enough to form an opinion about it, though I do know my cats appreciate the extra water bowl.
5. Think shade trees. While this may not help much this year, think about planting some shade trees as a long-term investment you'll come to appreciate in future years. Remember, plant deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves in fall) on the south and west sides of your home so they block the sun in summer but not in winter. While you're at it, plant evergreens on the north side of the house to block the harshest winter winds.
If you don't have room for trees, or a green thumb, you might want to consider a retractable awning installed on the windows of those rooms that receive the most sun.
6. Take a cold shower. If, like me, you have trouble sleeping on extremely warm summer nights, I find that taking a cold shower right before bedtime helps considerably.
7. Don't forget your pet's comfort. A handful of ice cubes in the water bowl will be much appreciated. And while you could always give your doggie a cool water bath, your cats won't likely appreciate that. I've been steadily clipping the long hair of my Maine Coon, another thing he also doesn't appreciate it, but it is something he'll tolerate if I clip his fur while he eats his favorite food. He is looking quite bedraggled, bit hopefully a bit cooler. I'm saving his fur and would like to donate it to the Gulf cleanup efforts. Be careful with the scissors, though!
8. Keep cooking to a minimum. Being a household of one, I rarely use the big oven anymore, but on hot days like this, I don't even like to use my little convection toaster/oven. It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating, any hot air generated by kitchen appliances has to go somewhere, so don't release it into the house.
9. Tread gently on the earth. This is the time of year when I really appreciate my bamboo floor mats. I replaced many of my rugs years ago because I found my cats had little interest in scratching bamboo rugs. I have bamboo rugs in various shapes and sizes in my bathroom, office, spare bedroom, sun room and dining room. There's just one room now that has wall-to-wall carpeting. The bamboo rugs feel cool underfoot and vacuuming then is not nearly as labor-intensive as it is with conventional rugs.
10. Last winter, I got in the habit of entering and exiting my home through a garage and basement door rather than the front door. This prevented a lot of warm air from escaping the house. I even asked visitors (family and friends) to enter through the garage.
Now that it's so warm out, I plan to do the same thing, but this time, I hope to keep the cooler air in the home inside. When you open my east-facing front door in morning, you can immediately feel the blast of hot air, so it would seem a good idea to just not open that door. Sometimes, it's the simplest ideas that work the best.
11. Go down below. When all else fails, head for the basement, where it will be noticeably cooler. Hey, you might use your basement as an emergency shelter during a hurricane or tornado. Maybe you already have it stocked with water and food reserves, or if you're really lucky, you've got a finished basement that is already quite comfy. Or maybe, like me, you've got to find your way through spiderwebs and dust. No matter. Think of it as a camping trip, sans campfire. Hang out down below during the worst of the summer's heat waves.
What tips can you share for low-tech ways to keep your home cool this summer?
Pretty Cheap Jewelry beat me to the punch. Yes, it's time to log in your total mileage for the month of March, minus your regular commuting miles.
Sadly, I put myself out of the challenge a week or so ago when I reset my odometer to clock mileage on a trip, totally forgetting the Put It In Park Challenge.
So where do you stand?
Is your month's worth of mileage more or less than you expected?
Just for hoo-has, I think I'm going to check my mileage (this time, by writing down my starting mileage) and, without doing anything special, see how many miles I drive. The number should be pretty close to my minimum possible anyway since I consolidate errands as much as I can already.
How's everyone doing with the March Challenge: Put It in Park?
We're approaching the end of the month, which might be a good time to see if you've succeeded in reducing your miles driven.
I accidentally disqualified myself yesterday when I reset my odometer to track my mileage.
How many miles have you clocked in March?
Listen up, all you frugalites who make your own laundry detergent. It may be harder to justify going to all that trouble once you know that most consumers overdo it on the soap, both in the laundry and in the dishwasher.
According to an interesting New York Times story, appliance repairmen will tell you that adding too much soap to dishwashers and washing machines is the "No. 1 sin."
In the old days, these appliances used a lot more water and detergents weren't so concentrated. Most people use as much as 10 to 15 times more soap than what's required, needlessly wasting their money and shortening the life of their appliances, said Vernon Schmidt, a career repairman and author of Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand.
The author advises that between one-eighth to one-half of what's recommended on the product label should do the trick.
Suds, Schmidt claims, don't indicate your clothes are getting clean; suds mean you're using too much detergent.
By now you're probably wondering whether you're guilty of overdoing it. Conduct Schmidt's simple test to find out.
"Take four to six clean bath towels, put them in your front-loading washing machine (one towel for a top loader). Don't add any detergent or fabric softener. Switch to the hot water setting and medium wash and run it for about five minutes.
Check for soap suds. If you don't see any suds right away, turn off the machine and see if there is any soapy residue. If you see suds or residue, it is soap coming out of your clothes from the last wash."
As for dishwashers, Schmidt says, there's no law that says you must top off the soap dispenser.
Check out the full story for additional interesting tips on using your dishwasher, dryer and oven.
Frugal Nuggets represent the occasional piece of frugal wisdom for those who have mastered the basics.