A few frugal things

Today I share another list of ways that I have been saving money, inspired by The Non-Consumer Advocate and Notes From the Frugal Trenches. Enjoy!

  • I chaperoned a school field trip and got free admission for myself and my children to the Planetarium, including an IMAX movie and a dome show.
  • My neighbor gave me a bag full of craft items and games her kids no longer used in exchange for a small weaving tool leftover from decluttering my aunt’s house. My neighbor noticed it in a pile fiber crafting stuff in my basement sewing room a year ago. She asked me recently if I had sold it yet, and when I went over to give it to her, she showed me the bag of goodies. Now I don’t have to go through the trouble of listing it!
  • I took an old voucher (I think I’ve had it for 2 years!) for a free half gallon of ice cream to a local creamery, and they accepted it, so I picked up some peppermint ice cream for my husband’s birthday this month.
  • I made chili for dinner using: frozen tomatoes and peppers from last year’s garden, fresh onions and garlic from last year’s garden, a little bit of a frozen bag of corn (0.35?), a few cans of beans (2.50), and a pound of organic ground beef on clearance (3.79). We served it with homemade cornbread (1.00?). There was enough leftover for another dinner, and 2-3 lunches. Not bad for about $8. Plus, I have a bit more freezer space now.

stew hen in crockpot

  • I cooked up a stew hen this week, in my continued effort to use up what’s in the freezer. It was one of our own chickens that we killed ourselves, over a year ago. I put it in the crockpot overnight with part of an onion and some wilty celery. I made 2 quarts of very concentrated broth, then took the meat off and put the bones back in the pot to make 2 quarts of a weaker broth. The first half of the meat was chopped up and used in a scratch white sauce, to pour over rice ( a dish from my childhood we like to call “Family Special”). What to use the second half of the meat for has yet to be determined. These aren’t very big chickens, maybe 3 pounds or so, so we aren’t talking about a ton of meat. More of just a flavoring add-on to a dish than a main course.
  • I haven’t been to any stores except to buy food and gas in the last week.

How have you been saving money lately? Please share in the comments.

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A few frugal things

Today I am sharing another list of ways I saved money in the last week or two. When I stop and think about all of the ways we have been saving money, I realize how many little things I do each day add up over time. It makes me feel good and keeps me motivated to keep living frugally. I love to read how some of my fellow bloggers save money over at The Non-Consumer Advocate and Notes From the Frugal Trenches. Hopefully by sharing some of these ideas with you, you can get some inspiration too.

Here are some ways that I saved money recently:

  1. I remembered to return some socks I bought for my husband but he didn’t like back to the store to get my money back before time ran out.
  2. I rode my bike pulling the bike trailer to pick my son up from school when the weather was warm enough instead of taking the car. (We’ve had several days in the 60s already!)
  3. My children attended free storytime at the library with their friends.
  4. I remembered to bring my own 27 oz. mug to the ski resort to have it filled with root beer for $1,  for the kids as a special treat after skiing. (It might have been slightly cheaper to bring my own soda from home, but I’d rather not keep root beer on hand at home and have them ask for it all the time.)
  5. Instead of buying a used kid-sized table and chairs for my son to do his homework, I waited a bit and made do with having him sit on a small a side table pulled up to a taller coffee table. A few days later, I trash-picked a children’s folding chair just the right height (just a little bit faded).  I like that I can keep it stored away in the hall closet when not in use. It works perfectly pulled up to the coffee table, and it was free!
  6. We had homemade pizza for dinner last Friday and invited friends over.  We make the dough ourselves in the bread machine from bulk purchased ingredients. We topped the pizza with, home canned pizza sauce made entirely from our garden produce and herbs, as well as chopped frozen bell peppers, discount cheese purchased in bulk and frozen, and leftover frozen ham bits from a holiday ham. We also put together a fruit salad to go on the side. Dinner for eight, including homebrewed beer to drink, cost under $15. There was enough pizza leftover for a lunch or two as well.
  7. I sold an extra set of ski boots we didn’t need for $25. In order to get the right size skis and boots for my kids this winter, I had to buy several boot/ski combo sets (used, of course) to make the right size combinations we needed. Some items I will save for future seasons, but I ended up with 2 pairs of boots the same size, so I kept the nicer ones and sold the extra pair for slightly more than I paid for them.
  8. My husband brewed another batch of homebrew this weekend, which saves us at least 50% of the cost of buying equivalent quality beer from the store.
  9. I stayed out of stores as much as possible. Besides grocery shopping, I have avoided shopping in general lately. When I was stuck at home for most of January due to family illness, we had one of our lowest spending months ever. I’m trying to continue that trend this month as well. I’m also trying to eat up food from our freezer, anticipating the coming gardening season and the surplus I will want to freeze. Also, have you noticed how expensive meat has gotten? We are slowly working through our stock of meat that I buy at a discount right before the expiration date and then freeze right away. I haven’t found any great deals in a few months, except buying a ham and a turkey during the holidays. When I do come across a great deal, I want to have the room to stock up again.

How have you been saving money lately?

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More thoughts on potting soil vs seed starting soil

seed tray 2

I think that there’s probably a lot of confusion between the difference between seed starting mix and potting soil, because one of the most read posts on my blog is Potting soil vs seed starting mix. Back when I wrote that post, I was trying to figure the difference out myself. I think I have a better idea about it now, so I want to share my thoughts with you, in case it will help you with making your choice.

Seed starting soil is often made from just finely sifted peat moss, mixed with some perlite (for aeration and moisture retention). It has a lighter, finer texture than potting soil. It is meant to start seeds, but it is not life sustaining- its just a bunch of fluff. Seeds started in a seed starting soil should be transplanted into a larger container filled with actual potting soil within about 3 weeks.

Seed starter soil is more ideal for plants with very fine seeds (like lettuce or basil) but probably unnecessary for starting larger seeds (like squashes). It is also supposed to help the seedlings from becoming too waterlogged, which can cause the dreaded “damping off”. (Damping off is when seeds either fail to emerge, or die soon after they have emerged, due to diseases or moisture issues.) I’ve never had a problem with damping off, but I know many people who have. Seed starting mix is also usually sterile, which helps keep disease to a minimum.

A seed starting mix can also be useful if you want to start many seeds in one cup, and then be able to gently break apart the clump of young, tender plants  for replanting. I have used this technique successfully with my tomato seeds.

Potting soil is usually a blend of several ingredients, including, but not limited to: compost or vermicompost (worm castings), peat moss or coconut husks (coir), fertilizers or amendments (natural like greensand, limestone or chemicals like Miracle Gro), perlite, vermiculite, or sand.

Potting soil is coarser and than seed starter mix. It also provides more nutrients, so you don’t have to transplant seedlings right away. There might be slightly more risks with using potting soil to start seeds, because there are more ingredients going in, and everything may not be sterile. Potting soil may tend to be heavier, have less aeration, and might not be as evenly moist, depending on the ratio of ingredients.

I have gotten a “bad” bag of potting soil before, which almost killed a houseplant, and caused problems for my seedlings. It was a national brand from a big box store, so I turned to a local source for my potting mix from then on. I have known others that have gotten “bad” bags of potting soil as well. I’m not sure how to prevent it, except by mixing up your own potting soil or finding some other reliable local source. I’m not totally sure what makes a bag “bad”, but my two best guesses are that either the ingredients weren’t mixed evenly in the batch (so that you get too little or too much of one input), or there was something wrong with the compost (not cooked enough, not sterilized properly, or bad ingredients made their way into the compost bin).

germinate 1

Soil blocker mix is just a type of potting soil. When I use my soil blocker, I use a homemade potting soil mix. I got the recipe from Eliot Coleman’s book The New Organic Grower. It includes peat moss, compost, greensand, lime, vermiculite, rock phosphate, blood meal, and sand. The exact ratio of ingredients is important to get get a mix that will hold well together in blocks. Now that I use a soil blocker and make my own potting soil mix, I won’t be using commercial seed starter or potting soil much anymore.

If you are trying to decide if you need to buy seed starting mix, the answer is “No”. Its not necessary in order to start plants from seed. Potting soil can work just fine for most casual home gardeners. However, if you are having trouble with damping off, disease, etc., then you might want to try seed starting mix.  Just remember there are many other possible reasons why seeds fail to germinate properly (seeds are too old, disease from re-used containers, airborne diseases, watering issues, lack of nutrients, temperature is too cold, and more).

Do you use potting soil or seeds starter mix to start your seeds at home? Which is your favorite?


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February is the new March

Its 8 o’clock in the evening, and its still 46 degrees outside. What is going on here? This is spring break weather, not Groundhog Day weather.

Today my kids and I went hunting for signs of spring, something we don’t usually do until March, because the ground is usually frozen and/or covered in snow until about Easter.

We found:

  • The fruit trees are ready for pruning. They have buds forming.
  • The rhubarb that I thought I had killed is still alive and starting to grow.
  • My neighbor has green crocus shoots poking out of the ground.
  • My lawn is entirely free of snow.
  • We were comfortable wearing light jackets outside while we explored.

This is not normal for Cache Valley for February. This is weird. I’m not ready yet for spring. Six more weeks of winter for me, please!



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Seeds started

Wednesday I mentioned that I had started my first seeds for 2015’s garden after cleaning out my utility room.  Do you want to know why I got so motivated to clean up that room in the first place?

A dream.

I dreamed that I peeked into my neighbor’s yard, and I saw that they already had their garden going. There were even peppers already forming on their pepper plants! When I woke up, I had this feeling of panic for being behind on my garden. Even though we were all sick, I cleaned the entire utility room so I would be able to start seeds.

The seeds I started so far are: onions, kale (3 types), lettuce, spinach, leeks, lettuce, corn salad, and basil. The basil can’t be planted out until May, but everything else could potentially get put out sometime in March. This is pretty early for starting seeds, but I want to start pushing the usual limits of the gardening season to get a longer harvest season.

I used my soil blocker and leftover soil mix from last year to plant the seeds. I think I might have enough soil mix leftover from last year to plant all of my seeds this year. Most of the soil blocks have 2 seeds in them. For most of the crops, I will thin them down to one plant, once they have germinated. But for the onions, I will let both of them grow and eventually plant them out with 2 onions growing next to each other

I tried this multi-plant method last year, and it worked just fine. It saves space under grow lights and it saves soil mix. I just need to make sure that there’s plenty of spacing when I plant them out.

Its been such a mild winter that January has felt a lot more like March. There’s hardly snow left on the ground and temperatures are in the 40s during the day. We could still get slammed with nasty weather and single digit temps, but the forecast for the next week shows no storms coming our way. any time soon. Its exciting to think about starting the growing season, but it doesn’t seem right yet. I worry about what will happen later. Will the summer be especially dry and brutal this year, or will the opposite extreme happen- a blizzard in May? Its all possible.

Have you started any seeds yet? Do you have “jealous gardener” dreams like I do?


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A few frugal things

Today’s post takes inspiration from some of my other favorite blogs: The Non-Consumer Advocate and Notes from the Frugal Trenches. Both blogs feature regular posts which list those small but important ways in which they made their pennies stretch recently (Frugal Trenches’ “How We Saved Money This Week” and Non-Consumer’s “Five Frugal Things“).

So now its my turn to share some ways that I have beenfrugal these past couple of weeks. My children and I have all been sick over the past two weeks, so just not being able to get out  much was a big saver in and of itself. But here are some of the specific ways we saved money while being mostly home-bound:

  • I unearthed the leftover turkey carcass from Thanksgiving from the bottom of the freezer to make turkey soup. In the soup I used my own homegrown onions and carrots, so I only had to buy noodles and celery. I served the soup with homemade garlic breadsticks (featuring our homegrown garlic, of course). It fed the 4 of us, another family of 3 we invited over for dinner, with leftovers for about 4-5 more lunches.  The total cost for this mountain of food was about $5.
  • I cleaned the utility room, which was a total disaster area. This saved us money in two ways. First, it enabled my husband to be able to brew a batch of beer this last weekend. It saves us over $50 every time he brews a 10 gallon batch at home. Second, my grow-light table is in the utility room. Once it was cleared off, I could start my first round of seeds for 2015’s garden. I mostly started onions, but I also did a few cold hardy greens and some basil, because if I’m going to have to lights on anyway, I might as well put something else under there, right? Three dollars in onion seeds should produce about 75 onions, enough for us for a year. The potting soil was leftover from last year.
  • I used a discount coupon book (my husband got for free through work) to get a pack of free AAA batteries. I also got a watch battery and a car key clicker battery replaced for 3.99 each with an offer in the book. (Actually, having the key clicker fixed so I can unlock the car doors easily while walking across busy parking lots with young kids is priceless.)
  • I used the same discount book to get a free embroidery kit from a local sewing shop. Its just something fun and easy for me to do while I’m hanging out with the kids. I picked a cat scene and I will give it to my daughter when it’s done.
  • I requested some books from my library that I want to read, all from the convenience of my couch. I’l have to wait a few weeks before they’re available, but they’ll be free, so I don’t mind. Also related, I had my husband drop off some nearly overdue books on his way to work, to avoid late fees.
  • I cut my husband’s and my children’s hair. The scissors and clippers paid for themselves after the first 3-4 haircuts, so every time I cut hair for the entire family, I am saving another $40 or so.
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Fall break

This will be my only post this week. We are enjoying our fall break, so I won’t be around a computer much. There’s been some harvesting, some preserving, and just enjoying the changes that take place here in the fall.

spider web

The spiders have been decorating for us.

jack be little pumpkins on vine

Jack Be Little pumpkins on the vine, right before I harvested them.

big pumpkins to harvest

Big carving pumpkins ready to be harvested (and some lettuce and peas on the side).

deer on the run

Deer running across my neighbor’s yard. (The next night they came back and nibbled off the tops of the peas in the previous photo, so no fall peas for us this year.)

tomato harvest

Tomatoes in various stage of ripeness, coming in to finish off and be cooked into something fabulous.

pepper harvest

A rainbow of peppers being harvested.

lots of hot peppers

Lots of cayenne peppers this year- over 40 from one plant!

chopping peppers

Chopping peppers, again.

Have a wonderful fall week!


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Making space

The garlic is still not planted, and there’s lots to be done in the garden, but I am still fighting this cold. In the meantime, I am doing what I can inside to get ready for the final harvest in the garden. Namely, cleaning out the fridge and freezers to make space for new produce. Out with the old, in with the new…

blackberry strawberry jam

Yesterday I pulled out all the forgotten bags of berries from the bottom of the freezer and cooked up several batches of blackberry/strawberry jam. It turned out delicious, and now I have more open freezer space to fill with chopped bell peppers, or chili, or blanched greens, or whatever else I need to squeeze in there.

Hopefully I’ll be back outside and in the garden soon!


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Surprise poppy

I always get a huge mass of bright red-orange poppies in May each year, but this is the first time I’ve had one bloom in the fall.

fall poppy bloom

There’s another dozen or so buds that might also open, if this warmish weather continues another week.

It really livens-up the yard at this time of year, when most flowers are fading.

Thank you Poppy for brightening my week!


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We harvested the rest of the Mammoth Sunflowers on Saturday.

7 sunflowers

Several of the flower heads were a foot in diameter. This one is my favorite:

mammoth sunflower head

I love these sunflowers, but they were really a mess to grow.

They started off all pretty and innocent like this:


Then the heads really got super big a heavy, so they started leaning and drooping under the weight. Pretty soon the path to the backyard was impassable.

sunflowers leaning

And then their dark side emerged, as they massacred poor unsuspecting tomato plants.

sunflower crime scene

My favorite sunflower head that we harvested is resting on my kitchen table as a centerpiece right now, and the rest are in the basement drying. The kids love to snitch a few seeds here and there to eat for a snack. I doubt they will last past Thanksgiving, and I don’t think the birds will get any of them this year. I might try soaking some in salt water and roasting them, but so far they are delicious raw.

I will definitely plant some sunflowers next year, but only with proper stakes to keep them up. Besides falling down and blocking the pathway, they also shaded the tomatoes too much. But this super sunny exposure on the south side of the garage seems to be the ideal spot in our yard for them to flourish.



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