Frugality

Berkey filtered drinking water

I just filled our tea kettle and a couple of water jugs from our Berkey water filtering system. We've had our own filtered water from the Berkey for a couple of months now, but I still feel like jumping up and down with happiness whenever I remember that I don't have to fill a cart with re-filled jugs of drinking water every time we go to the grocery store!

We live in town, so the water from our faucets is city water. The city water here is horrible! Sometimes it smells very strongly of chlorine. Other days, it smells like dirt. Yes -- clear "clean" water that smells like dirt! Sometimes the city issues warnings about not consuming the tap water during periods of high levels of nitrates in the water.

Taste issues aside, we have never drank the city water here due to health reasons. We bought gallon jugs at the grocery store and each week, we refilled our jugs at the refill station. Refills were about 40 cents each -- much cheaper than buying bottled water or pre-filled jugs of water.

As time passed and our family size increased, we were consuming about 2 gallons of water every day just for drinking water (not cooking water unless it was soup!). The carts at the grocery store aren't made to hold 14 gallons of water plus some groceries. Our car trunk was always packed when we went grocery shopping.

And if we somehow forgot our huge string of empty jugs, we'd have to run back home and get them and refill them... because we couldn't go longer than about 8 days without getting water.Tongue out

I had looked into other possibilities, but they all seemed too costly. Expensive startup costs, filters that were costly, renting equipment, or having the water delivered from Culligan -- nothing seemed like the right choice. So week after week, we toted our jugs to the store and back.

Then one day, my friend Crystal posted about the new water filtering system they had gotten. Filtered drinking water was something on my mind frequently (at least once a week! Wink) and my heart lept when I read about her new filtering system. Seriously! Okay, try dragging 14 gallons of water to and from the car every week... then you'll understand!

I had no idea how expensive this "Berkey" thing was, so I clicked on the link while holding my breath... just over $200. But -- the company was offering a limited-time promotion of 10% off! So this was something we could actually afford! After all, we were spending about $25 a month on our jug refills as it was.

 

 

The Berkey water filtering systems are a countertop unit with filters in the top section and a filtered water reservoir underneath. They require no electricity. The filters will last for 6,000 gallons of water (they can be cleaned). The units with 2 filters inside will filter water at the rate of 4 gallons per hour. The filtered drinking water ends up costing about 1.6 cents per gallon!

Joshua will attest to the fact that I very very excitedly told him about the new water filtering system that Crystal had recommended. We did some research and reading to determine if the Berkey would adequately filter our water. Soon we were convinced of the quality and safety of the Berkey water filtering systems, and I very thankfully placed an order for one!

We decided to order the Big Berkey rather than the Berkey Light that Crystal had gotten, since the prices were comparable. We were more comfortable with stainless steel than plastic for health reasons, and we also wanted something very durable. And while I would never pay extra money just for a "look", the stainless steel is beautiful!! (You can see in the photo at the top of this page how shiny and pretty it is!)

Our order was placed, amounting to $225. This included free shipping, along with a free gift of our choice (Update from 2012: More Than Alive no longer offers a free gift with Berkey purchases.), and we chose the arsenic and fluoride filters. From the moment I clicked on "submit", I started counting down the days until we could stop buying jugs of water at the grocery store!

However, we were informed that Berkeys were on backorder everywhere -- including the company with which we had placed our order, MoreThanAlive.com.

Berkeys are especially sought after for emergency preparedness and off-the-grid lifestyles since they do an extraordinary job of filtering water, all without electricity.

MoreThanAlive.com contacted us and said that the Big Berkeys were backordered, but that if we wanted to upgrade to the Royal Berkey it would only be $22.50 more. Upgrade we did -- and I haven't regretted that decision in the least.

Finally, our Berkey arrived! I washed it and assembled it easily and within 15 minutes. I ran a huge container of our icky tap water and poured it into the Berkey.

Since we had been accustomed to drinking reverse osmosis water, I was prepared for a period of adjustment to the taste of the Berkey water. And when I poured that awful-smelling tap water inside, I was really hoping that this thing worked!! Wink

Thankfully, it did! It exceeded my expectations and hopes! The filtered water did have a slightly different taste from the reverse osmosis water, since the Berkey water has beneficial minerals still in it. However, it was a taste I knew I could easily get used to within a week.

The addition of the arsenic and fluoride filters (our free gift with our order!) made the water taste even better. I think it tastes quite similar to the reverse osmosis water and the taste adjustment (for me) took only a couple of days.

www.morethanalive.com

And the company, MoreThanAlive.com -- I cannot say enough good things about them! Their shipping is fast. They try to ship every order the same day it was placed, which is ideal for the impatient folks like me! Wink They return phone calls and answer emails. They're just all-around friendly and helpful! I have been amazed by their customer service and would not hesitate to order from them in the future.

I just received an email from Joy at MoreThanAlive.com and she informed me that their stock of Berkeys has once again been replenished. (I was waiting to share my excitement until the Berkey systems weren't all backordered!Wink) She also has very generously offered to allow me to be a part of their affiliate program and earn 10% of every order placed!

I asked Joy if there was a possibility of passing some savings along to you, my blog readers, and she said "sure"!

So for the next three days only (Wednesday - Friday) you can get 10% off of any order at MoreThanAlive.com by using this code at checkout: tr4u9q

Okay, I know this is a long post, but I'm just still so happy with our Berkey... and we've already had it for 10+ weeks! :)

Just one last note. I thought that the Big Berkey, which holds 2.25 gallons, would be big enough for our family's needs (2 adults, 3 small children). We ended up upgrading to the Royal Berkey, which holds 3.25 gallons -- and I'm so glad we did! Since the filters are inside the unit, the water capacity is slightly reduced. Also, we seem to go through a lot of water now that I can use it for cooking, too. While a smaller unit would still be functional, a bigger unit is convenient. :)

Do any of you use a Berkey water system? I'd love your input! Which unit do you have, what are your likes and dislikes, and would you get the same thing again in the future? :)

Oh, the ups and downs of gardening...

Thinking about our garden, I am reminded of the many failed crops of the Ingalls family in the Little House on the Prairie series. Reading about Laura's childhood is always encouraging and makes me thankful for the many blessings we have. :) Our garden isn't producing much, but we will still have plenty of food to eat.

The plants in our garden are huge and beautiful. Getting them to produce food for us hasn't exactly been a success, though.

First, our beautiful and huge squash plants. Bugs came, and day after day, we picked them off and squished them. Joshua did most of that. Then the bugs started laying eggs on the leaves. We picked those off and squished them. Yay for garden gloves, huh?!

We sprinkled the plants with diatomaceous earth from my mom. The plants were surviving the insect attacks with minimal damage.

Then the wilt set in. Apparently there is a bacterial wilt that can damage squash, and there's nothing we can do about it. (I haven't researched it yet, but this is what we were told.)

We got a few small delicious yellow squash. Many more blossoms, and tiny squash are forming... but all are wilting and soon the whole plant will be dead.

[insert photo of cucumber plant here -- oh, wait, there is no cucumber plant any more]

Yep. The same thing happened to our cucumber plant. It's totally dried up and dead. (Yes, we were watering it!) We did get one 2-inch cucumber (the other 2 inches of it were wilty so I cut that part off).

We are starting to get a few tomatoes! Some of the tomatoes have a black dried/rotten spot on the bottom of them. The tomatoes are not touching the ground. Any ideas for us?? So far we have eaten about 6 cherry tomatoes, and tossed more than that which were rotten.

I have hopes of actually getting quite a few good tomatoes from the plants, despite the fact that the plants are huge and all running together. But, the presence of green fruit on the vines does NOT mean that there will be a crop. I'm not counting my tomatoes until they are in our mouths -- or at least in the house on the counter!! :)

Onions: Smaller than golf balls, though the tops were huge. I'm blaming that on the fact that it was June before we planted them!

Our peppers seem to be growing well. These are Serrano hot peppers. I guess we'll dry them or something. The red ones are hiding down under the leaves.

The plants are loaded with peppers. If only they were bell peppers!! That's our fault for heading to the garden store so late in the growing season.

Oh well. I'm already looking forward to turning the ground over, adding some compost, and planning next year's garden. This one was kinda a flop, but the lessons learned won't be forgotten. Like, never never never try to plant in the mud.

Manual reel lawn mower suggestions?

Our lawn mower is finally about done for. We were given a small push mower when we moved here 4 years ago, and one of my brothers fixed the problem it had. A couple years ago, the handle broke off of the deck and my dad was able to weld it back on, and he said the deck was so thin it wouldn't take any more welding in the future. Now, one of the back wheels plus part of the deck has broken off. I finished mowing backwards last week. ;)

For a replacement, we're thinking about a manual reel lawn mower. The kind that don't take gasoline. The kind that are quiet enough and safe enough to use with children playing outside in the yard. ;) The kind that, when you use them, they count as exercise. ;)

Have any of you had any experience with a reel lawn mower? What brand/kind is best? And is it really practical for me to plan on mowing our lawn with one?

Currently it takes me about 45-60 minutes to mow our lawn with the small push mower. If I really hurry and the grass isn't too long, I might be able to do it in 35 minutes. The lawn is pretty flat, but does have weeds in with the grass.

I do enjoy mowing the lawn. I've always thought it was fun! And I love the combination of endorphins from exercise along with a beautiful green lawn.

Still Growing

Our garden!

Compared to my last garden picture -- two weeks makes an incredible difference when it comes to growing vegetables! Our garden is thriving, and we're enjoying it so much! Every day we walk out to pull a few weeds, inspect the plants, and exclaim over the green tomatoes and peppers that are starting to form. :)

I just can't believe that this is our 5th summer here at our rental house and the first time we've grown any food. What were we thinking?! This gardening stuff is addicting.

Our tomatoes are looking great -- although they are so huge that it may be difficult to get back in there and pick. We'll see. Good thing we re-planted them and didn't leave the as close together as I originally planted them!! We haven't had any horn worms yet this year -- yay! :)

The onions aren't doing so well... most likely due to the fact that it was June before we planted them.

The peppers are looking great. I'm hoping to use some of our pimento peppers for Bethany's jalapeno poppers recipe. Yum... :)

Our yellow squash plants and cucumbers are currently under attack. Small yellow and black striped bugs have been eating the leaves of the plants! We've been going out several times each day and killing as many of the little bugs as we can. Left to their own devices, the bugs could easily wipe out our chances of having a squash or cucumber crop this year... :P

Your questions answered: Maggots in the compost (and chicken bones too!)

Linda wrote to me with this question:

I would like to ask you about your compost bin. I followed your idea in making one also, but I was wondering if you have problems with maggots in your compost? I feel like I am raising flies!

We do sometimes have maggots in our compost bin. I think they're pretty gross, but they're just a normal part of life. :) This article has more information about maggots in compost bins/piles.

From my understanding, there are two types of fly larvae that can be found in compost piles. If you don't compost meat, dairy, or oil, then the fly larvae you find would be from the soldier fly.

"Adults [of the soldier fly] feed and lay eggs on food waste (such as in a composter or uncovered compost pile), especially where conditions are moist.

"The adults will emerge, mate and die in two days. The adult flies are black and often are mistaken for black wasps, said Wise. They do not bite or carry disease, as they have no hair on their legs." (see article)

Birds and chickens love maggots, so if you find some in your compost, you can always leave the lid off for a bit and let some birds have a snack! :)

To avoid maggots in the compost, bury any nitrogen-rich materials (like kitchen scraps) under several inches of carbon (brown) materials in your pile or bin. Another suggestion I read was to cover your compost with a fine screen to keep flies from laying eggs on it.

I was told by the health department here that a properly done compost pile would have absolutely no insects on or near it, ever. I'm guessing that if I only used leaves and grass clippings in our pile, that might be the case. But putting banana peels (even under a pile of leaves!) out in the warm summer air is going to attract flies or gnats. 

I was also reading this interesting note about composting chicken bones:

"I compost chicken bones too, they get progressively weaker/thinner each time I screen out a batch of new compost. Usually I'll snap them in half a couple times before they disappear." (from this page)

Composting information usually tells us not to try to compost bones, but what are the alternatives? Burning them, or putting them in the landfill? Bones naturally break down over time (a long time, yes, but still!).

When we first started our compost pile (3+ years ago now) I put some chicken bones in, as well as some beef rib bones. When we re-worked our compost pile, taking the top off and mixing the remaining compost into our garden plot, we did find the beef rib bones (those things are huge and I just stuck them into our bin to see what happens) but no chicken bones.

Garden work

After I posted pictures from my parents' garden, there were a number of questions about how they manage such a large garden and what they do with the yield.


(lettuce and asparagus)

My parents have been gardening pretty much all of their lives, and spend a lot of time gardening in the spring, summer, and fall. They even add sand, manure, etc. to their garden so things grow well! My siblings (and I, when I lived at their house too) help a lot with the weeding, since my dad likes the garden to be as nearly weed-free as possible. ;)

This time of year, my mom is very, very busy doing up food from the garden. It's a lot of work to care for a large garden and to grow so much of their own food. My mom has always taken the summer off from homeschooling, because she spends the majority of her days working. Her leisure time is very limited, particularly in the summer and fall.

My parents either can, dehydrate, or freeze all of the extras from their garden. Some things like garlic, onions, and potatoes are stored in their basement for use all winter.

Most of their vegetables (green beans, peas, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) are preserved so that they are eating food from their garden nearly all year! My mom does buy lettuce in the winter, and some fruits, but the majority of their food is from the garden.


(sugar snap peas and sour cherries)

I can remember each year there were several nights when my mom would stay up almost all night working on canning vegetables, sometimes sleeping for ~30 minutes in between taking jars out of canners!

When we weren't busy doing up our own food, we were often busy with food that someone else had and didn't want. If anyone offered us free food, we would go and pick it and bring it home to can or dry.

I can remember staying up "really late" (after midnight) helping my mom and dad peel and core fruit to be canned. It was fun to stay up extra late at first, but by the third or fourth night, I was begging to get to go to bed. :)


(mulberries)

I'm no where near the gardening-expert that my parents are, but I feel blessed to be able to call them with questions! :) They are also very generous and have shared a lot of fresh food from their garden with us! :)

And yes -- all of the pictures with this post were of my kitchen sink this week! We are so blessed! :)

Growing like... a garden!

We may have has a slightly rough start, but our little garden is growing beautifully! It's so exciting. :) We watch it every day... pulling weeds, admiring the green little tomatoes and peppers that are starting to form... :)

Gardening is rather addicting and we're already planning what we want to do next year -- like expand the garden, get an earlier start on things, and don't try to plant in mud. ;)

Our little garden

Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, and some (poor-looking) onions. We're thinking the onions aren't doing as well because there was grass on that side when we started. (The rest of the garden had been compost/brush and no grass.)

We went on a walk this morning and admired several lovely gardens in the neighborhood... There's something so nice about growing food.

By the way, my mom is up to her ears in work from their garden this time of year. She has always taken the summer off from homeschooling due to garden work, since the majority of her days in the summer and early autumn are spent doing food from their garden. I'll answer more of your questions about that in another post, though. :)

Better, affordable breakfasts

Cream of wheat!
One of our favorite whole grain cereals:
cream of wheat with brown sugar and milk!

Which is cheaper:

A bowl of cheerios or a bowl of homemade granola?
A bowl of malt-o-meal or a bowl of whole grain hot cereal?
A slice of white bread or a slice of whole wheat bread?

If you're trying to cut calories or cut your grocery bill, the first option always seems like the better one. But I don't really think it is... and here's why!

As a nursing mom, I get hungry all the time. I could eat two big bowls of cheerios and be famished 2 hours later. One bowl of homemade granola will hold me over until lunch time, easily.

Regular malt-o-meal/cream of wheat cereal has never been enough to get me through a morning without problems. Whole wheat cream of wheat (or any whole grain hot cereal!) wards off hunger at least twice as long.

Whole grains* are so much better for your health -- and you won't be tempted to snack half-way through the morning or afternoon because they're really filling you up! :)

One of the main areas we've done this is with breakfasts. Hot cereals are very affordable if bought in bulk. We buy our rolled oats (for oatmeal) in a 50-lb bag. We got our whole wheat cream of wheat in a 25-lb bag. We can have many, many bowls of hot cereal for just pennies! :)

*Do be careful of the many things on grocery store shelves marketed as "whole grain". Often, these items contain a little whole grain and a bunch of fillers... like all-purpose flour. If the item you're buying doesn't say "100% whole grain" then it most likely is at least half "other stuff" -- just check the ingredients list!

Companies want you to think they are selling you a healthy version because it's labeled "made with whole grains". The "healthy" cereal with only 4 grams of sugar per serving might also have aspartame in it. Reading the ingredient list is more important than reading the claims on the front of the box! :)

Visit Crystal's blog for frugal smoothie ideas and more! :)

Favorite bean recipes

Jenn at Frugal Upstate is hosting a frugal recipe swap each week. This week, it's bean recipes! I love beans. they're so colorful and full of protein and fiber... and they're affordable, too! Can you tell I didn't eat beans very often as a child?

Vegetable Bean Soup with Spinach recipe

Here are two of my favorite recipes using beans. Vegetable Bean Soup with Spinach is a yummy healthy soup I created. I love the flavor! A batch of this soup never lasts long at our house. It's too easy to warm for a quick snack... yum!! :)

Homemade refried beans

And... homemade refried beans! These can go in just about anything mexican, and you can freeze any leftovers for later. I like spicy refried beans with cheese and sour cream on top as a chip dip. :)

New to using dried beans? This page has a lot of information, including cooking times and instructions for all types of grains and beans. :)

Head over to Jenn's blog for more bean recipes! :)

Garden Bounty

Our strawberries...

Friday morning we got up bright and early and went to my parents' house to pick strawberries! They have a strawberry patch and have generously let us come over and pick twice this year.

The two bowls of purple/black berries are mulberries. We picked some of those, along with some sour cherries, to make cherry mulberry pies.

After about 4 hours of picking, I was tired, hot, sweaty, and dirty!!

Yehoshua, Ruth, and I were ready to get into the car and head home, but we stopped for a quick picture. :)

Since I remembered to take my camera along, I took some pictures of my parents' garden. :)

Red leaf lettuce... so delicious!

The garlic patch. I love garlic!!

Dill. My mom uses this for her dill pickles. :)

A blossom in the midst of pea plants.

Left to right: Potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, horseradish. There are also a few kinds of lettuce at the far ends of some of these rows.

Potatoes (4 rows), onions, (small) cabbage plants, and red raspberries in the back ground. When they're full of weeds, these 100-foot rows can seem endless.

The strawberry patch is on the left; a row of asparagus (not up to seed) blurs some of the strawberries; straight down the middle is red raspberries.

On the other side of the strawberries grows tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, and squash.

Compared to our tiny little beginning of a garden, my parents' garden is amazing! I still can't imagine doing a 3-acre garden though...

Have any of you posted pictures of your gardens this year? Feel free to comment with a link to your post! :)

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