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Frugality

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. Read more if you're interested in a little "tour"! :)

Cheaper Baked Beans

Baked Beans

I got this email from reader Carol:

I've written you before about how much we enjoy your "calico baked beans", as I refer to them with my family. We are really pinching pennies right now and I compared making the recipe using canned beans vs. dried beans.

If I make it as listed (using bought on sale ingredients) my cost is $3.51. If I substitute home prepared dried beans, it drops to $2.21. Only $1.30 less, but if I can do that with every meal I serve, that's $27.30/week or $109.20/month!

I am able to feed my family of 6 (including 2 teens) on $400/month with another $50 for nonfood grocery items. This is a great recipe -- a "keeper" here! Just wanted to share that dried beans would make this an even more economical dish. I'd also add that if cooked ground beef was added, and biscuits served, it's like a corn pone.

I am still trying to get into the habit of thinking ahead enough to always use dried beans instead of canned! It's just too easy to change my mind (and therefore my menu!) at the last minute and need to open a can.

One thing that helps me is to cook extra beans when I'm making them and freeze the leftovers for the next time I need quick beans. (I do the overnight soak method, so I need to plan at least 24 hours in advance if I'm using them dried!)

Just last week I got a 5-pound bag of dark red kidney beans. I've already used some (see photo above!) and they were delicious -- much better than canned, in my opinion! And the beans expand so much when they're soaking. I have no idea how many "cans" my 5-pounds of dried beans is equivalent to, but it's a lot. :)

The lifespan of a box of ice cream...

One of Joshua's ice cream creations

How we've been stretching a box of ice cream:

1. Start with a small bowl.

2. Slice up a banana and layer the slices under and around the bowl.

3. Add 1 small scoop of ice cream.

4. (Optional -- Joshua's way!) Add some chopped nuts, whipped cream, syrup, or a cherry (yuck!).

Or, you can fill up on veggies and skip the ice cream. I would do that more often except that Joshua is constantly offering to make me up a bowl of banana-ice cream... ;)

More frugal ideas over at Crystal's blog! :)