To DIY For

Previously on Herban Cowgirl Adventures

(The title of this post should be read in the clipped British accent of Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”)

SO much happening here at the Green Goddess Gardens lately.  I just haven’t felt like actually writing about it.  So I’ll do a quick list.

1.  Our family bought a car.  After being without one for over 2 years.  And there was much rejoicing.

Tinted windows so we can pick our noses at red lights.

Tinted windows so we can pick our noses at red lights.

2.  I started running.  Barefoot.

So. Much. Fun.

So. Much. Fun.

3.  My Uncle Billy died.

Little Boy kept our spirits up in the hospital as family sat with Uncle Billy in his last days.  We will miss him.

Little Boy kept our spirits up in the hospital as family sat with Uncle Billy in his last days. We will miss him.

4.  We had the flu for 2 weeks.

We took lots of naps.

We took lots of naps.

5.  The Herban Cowboy built a fence for the chicken yard out of old pallets.

Ooo so fancy!

Ooo so fancy!

6.  One of our new chickens got sick and died.

The new girls.  Lucy is the redhead.  Ethel is the recently deceased.  RIP sweet girl.

The new girls. Lucy is the redhead. Ethel is the recently deceased. RIP sweet girl.

7.  We cut down and chopped up 4 trees in our backyard.

"He's a lumberjack and he's okay..."

“He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay…”

8.  I read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and can’t stop thinking about fresh, local food.

Wild onions found while foraging.  Dirty and stinky and yummy!

Wild onions found while foraging. Dirty and stinky and yummy!

9.  I knit the Herban Cowboy a Doctor Who scarf for his birthday.

Replica of the 4th Doctor's scarf from the episode "The Ark in Space."  Because that's how we nerd.

Replica of the 4th Doctor’s scarf from the episode “The Ark in Space.” Because that’s how we nerd.

10. We got a new (to us) computer, compliments of one of my beautiful aunts.

So big and shiny.

So big and shiny.

11.  I got back on a horse for the first time in 6 years.

You will never be as happy as I am in this picture.

You will never be as happy as I am in this picture.

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Categories: Cowgirl's Livestock, Fabulous Foraging, Green Goddess Garden, Just For Fun, Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, Stitchin' Bitchin', Telling Stories, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just for Knits and Giggles

The Herban Cowboy and I like to sit around in the evenings and watch movies together.  We’re both writers and performers, so we love to analyze a good show to death.  We discuss acting, character development, writing, plot devices, and whatever else strikes us.  It’s fun, but there’s not a lot to DO while you’re watching movies.  Except eat.  Which I discovered I was doing way too much of.

I needed something to do with my hands besides cram food into my face hole.  So I decided to try knitting.

Not knowing anything about it, I decided to start small.  I got a stack of books from the library, chose a simple scarf, got a pair of needles and a ball of yarn.  When something confused me about the written instructions in the book, I looked it up on YouTube, which contains thousands of knitting tutorials.

Works in progress.

It is now almost a year later and I can’t stop knitting.  It’s like a groovy meditation: the steady click of the needles, the endless repetition of stitches, the counting and measuring.  I love building something step by step, stitch by stitch.  I love that the end result is practical and useful.  I love thinking about the recipient as I’m making their gift.  How did I make it 40 years without discovering this obsession?

I started with scarves and moved on to hats, fingerless mittens, headbands, sweaters, bookmarks, dishcloths, and finger puppets.  Every gift that every friend has received from me in the last year has been some kind of hand knit thing. I even opened an Etsy store to sell my overstock (it’s Herban Cowgirl Knits in my blogroll in the right sidebar).

This is the listing that gets the most hits on my Etsy site. I’m pretty sure it’s the quality workmanship and beautiful fiber choice, not my spectacular cleavage.

Once people found out about my new addiction, I got lots of knitting gifts.  People gave me knitting books and patterns.  My Mom brought me yarn she found on sale.  My Mother-in-law gave me a whole bag full of knitting needles.  A friend gifted me with a giant plastic zip bag full of yarn she needed to get rid of.

Most women have dresser drawers full of clothes. My drawers are full of yarn.

At any given time, I’m working on 4 or 5 different projects.  Something for my Etsy store, something for me, a new technique I’m learning, gifts for friends and family.

I get better and faster with each project I knit.  I’ve also watched an embarrassing amount of TV.  I’ve discovered there are a surprising amount of X-Files episodes I’ve missed.  And that the Golden Girls never once jumped the shark, not in 7 entire seasons.  And that I can’t watch enough Doctor Who.

A little help from Loki, the new kitty.

Categories: Just For Fun, Stitchin' Bitchin', To DIY For | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Mulberry Jelly

Late one summer at my grandparents’ house, one of their neighbors dropped by with a giant brown grocery bag full of scuppernongs (those are wild, tough-skinned, sweet white grapes, for any Yankees reading this — haha).  My MaMa looked at the heavy bag on her kitchen table and said, “Well.  Let’s make some jelly!”  We gathered supplies, boiled grapes, squeezed the pulp through cheesecloth to strain out the skins and seeds, added pectin and sugar, and poured it off into little jars.  It was the best grape jelly ever.

My MaMa always seemed to have homemade jelly or preserves on the table.  Apple or plum were the usual jelly choices, and fig or peach were the fabulously chunky preserves.

Ever since I began foraging for wild food (several years ago), I’ve wanted to make jelly.  I keep telling myself “This is the year I’m gonna DO it!”  And then I don’t gather enough, or I’m missing a crucial ingredient or piece of equipment, or I totally miss gathering what’s in season until it’s over.

Well folks, (*trumpet flourish*) this is the year I finally did it.  Yay me!

Last weekend’s mulberry picking excursion didn’t yield enough berries for jelly.  So I froze those, and Saturday we went to shake the trees again.  We gathered all we could reach, and headed back home.

Little Boy shows off his treasure.

Yesterday I gathered all my equipment and ingredients.  I watched a buttload of YouTube videos to help get the process straight in my head.   This one most succinctly explained the water bath canning process and the equipment needed:

I found a few mulberry jelly videos, but this black raspberry one was the one I ended up lifting the most from:

The one piece of equipment I lack is a jar rack for the water bath.  I’d read that you don’t really need one, so I looked up a few ways to improvise.  This video was helpful, and I adore redberrychick’s DIY style, as well as that redneck accent.  Adorable!  I want to hang out on the porch and drink wine with her:

I tried the ring thing, but I don’t have twisty ties and the jars kept falling over.  I ended up going with the folded up towel, but that ended up being wobbly and weird.  I’m getting a jar rack for next time.

Some observations of note from my jelly making process:

1.  I didn’t have cheesecloth, so instead of sending my Herban Cowboy out for some, I used a clean white cloth diaper (that had never been used for doodie duty) to strain it.  It worked pretty well, but I think the cheesecloth would be better for straining fruit pulp.  Next time.

2.  Eleven cups of mulberries only yielded 2 cups of juice.  This totally bummed my jelly high.  I had to make a half batch.

3.  I boiled my jelly too long and ended up reducing it, resulting in a VERY sticky and thick syrup.  We’ll see how this affects the final product.

4.  Cleanup sucks.  The bad news is that mulberry pulp gets everywhere and stains everything.  The good news is that it’s a beautiful shade of purple.

All those years of planning and procrastinating, the money spent on equipment, all the time spent, the cleanup work and a learning curve that encompasses stains and burns  — and I made three jars of jelly.

Three.

I should be crying in frustration, but instead I am SO excited.  The money’s already spent, now I know what to do, the jars are reusable, foraged fruit is free, I’ll be faster next time, what can I make next, somebody stop me!

Maybe I should wait until I taste the jelly before I get TOO excited.  I gave one jar to D, who had driven us all around Chatham County searching for fruiting trees.  The other two sit, with their tightly sealed lids, on my counter.  I’m supposed to wait at least 24 hours before I open one.  We’ll see if I can wait that long………

Mmmmm.

 

Categories: Fabulous Foraging, Kitchen Witchery, Possum Living, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Breakfast Math

I always estimate the cost of meals in my head.  This morning I’m actually doing the math.

Zucchini in a raised bed made from an old tire.

The Herban Cowboy made a vegetable and cheese omelet with strawberry slices on the side.  I had mine with hot sauce and plain yogurt on top.

Ingredients:

The food for this meal came from our backyard garden and chickens, as well as the local organic grocery store the Herban Cowboy works for.  He gets a discount on food, and often brings home free items such as outdated dairy and slightly blemished produce (what we don’t want, we feed to the chickens).

Olive Oil (from Brighter Day, $7.50 for 24 oz — 15 cents per tablespoon)

Eggs (from our backyard flock, factoring in cost of chicken feed — 15 cents per egg)

Red Bell Pepper (free because of black spot, which we cut off)

Zucchini (from garden seed — 2 cents per squash)

Cheddar Cheese (on sale at Piggly Wiggly — $2.99 per lb — 18 cents per oz)

Milk (from Brighter Day $3.00 per half gallon — 2 cents per tablespoon)

Parsley, Basil, Thyme (from garden seed — Cost is negligible)

Salt and pepper (from Brighter Day, cost negligible)

 

At least 20 eggs per week! Go girls!

Coat the iron skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil ($0.45).  Saute diced bell pepper ($0.00) and zucchini ($0.02) until soft.  Whisk together 5 eggs ($0.75), 3 tablespoons of milk ($0.06), 2 oz shredded cheddar cheese ($0.30), salt, pepper, and herbs ($0.02).  Pour into pan with sauteed veggies and cook it up!

What does that come to?  $1.60 cents.  Add in a few cents worth of hot sauce, plain yogurt, and sliced strawberries, you’ve got a meal that fed 3 hungry people for about 2 dollars.  And it was SOOOOOOO good.

Of course, I haven’t factored in labor costs involved in preparing the food and washing the dishes.  Fortunately, when we’re all helping gather ingredients and cooking and cleaning up, it’s all fun anyway, so who cares?

 

Categories: Cowgirl's Livestock, Fabulous Foraging, Green Goddess Garden, Possum Living, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Homemade Laundry Soap

I just sat here for 15 actual minutes trying to come up with a clever title for this post.  Clearly I have failed, but decided to press on anyway.

Back when the Herban Cowgirls were blogging at “Hex and the City” I did a post about homemade laundry detergent.  <http://herbancowgirls.wordpress.com/2010/05/18/the-neverending-laundry/>  That was nearly two years ago, and I’ve been washing with my homemade soap ever since.  And I have spent less than $10 on ingredients in that time.  You heard me.  Ten.  Dollars.

Today I’m making a fresh batch, and I’m using this recipe from the Simple Dollar:  <http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/04/09/making-your-own-laundry-detergent-a-detailed-visual-guide/>  I finally found washing soda in my area, so I’ll be interested to see if I can discern any difference between my old formula and the new recipe.

The cleaning cabinet in my kitchen. Washing soda, borax, and baking soda nestled in between the kitchen towels, cloth napkins, and cleaning rags.

I love my homemade laundry soap.  One batch lasts months, my clothes don’t have an artificial perfume smell, and it costs pennies a load.  I keep the big batch in the bucket I make it in, but I’ve got an old detergent bottle that I pour some into to work from.  It is kind of a pain to pour off more detergent from the giant bucket, but it’s way less of a pain than driving to the store and spending up to $12.99 when the bottle runs dry.

Herban Cowgirl Laundry Wash

Once last summer, my shirts got a bit “pitted out” (South Georgia summer is harsh y’all).  I broke down and bought a bottle of commercial laundry detergent, thinking my clothes just weren’t getting clean enough.  The laundry came out with shirts that smelled like armpits and perfume.  I was so annoyed.  I ended up tossing one shirt as a lost cause, and alternating vinegar and baking soda treatments worked on the rest of them.

In short, I love my homemade laundry soap.  It easy, cheap, and quick to make.  Win.  Win.  WIN.

Categories: Possum Living, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

White Trash Gardening

People think gardening has to be expensive and lots of hard work.  Those people are woefully, ignorantly, wrong.  Poor, deluded fools.

Not pictured: Working hard.

Actually, I can’t blame people for believing this.  Research gardening online and you will be inundated with advertisements for products, projects that cost thousands of dollars, and articles with a long shopping list of stuff to buy.  Go to the local garden shop and get dizzy trying to figure out what all that expensive crap is for.  Mulch, topsoil, potting soil, cactus mix, roundup, plant food, fertilizer, weed killer, bug spray, hoses and the billions of attachments and convenience gadgets.

Not pictured: Anything expensive.

Well forget all that.  Pretty much anything you need for gardening you can find free or disgustingly cheap.  And you don’t have to work long and hard at it.  Most of the labor is done here and there, as weather and time permit.  You can go at your own pace, and make easy choices.

Here’s all you need to start a garden for literally a few dollars.  These are plans for one small raised bed, sized anywhere from 2′ x 4′ to 4′ x 6′ or whatever size you end up making.  Just make sure you can reach the middle of the bed for planting, weeding, watering and harvesting.

It doesn’t matter what season you start in, there’s almost always something you can plant right now (especially down here in south Georgia), and there’s always the next season to be anticipating, too.  And you don’t have to be an expert!  Go to the library.  Troll YouTube.  There’s so much to know so just get started reading.  I’m always reading new books on gardening and botany, even if it’s just to skim it for tips and ideas (yay for the library!)

Assuming you’ve chosen a sunny spot, follow me….

TOOLS:  You really don’t need many.  A flat spade, a leveling rake, a bucket or two, a hand trowel (the little hand shovel thingy).  That’s about it.   You can get these cheap enough at a regular store, or you can find them at yard sales, second hand shops, and even dollar stores.  Freecycle is another of my favorite places to keep an eye out for garden needs.  You can even borrow from friends or neighbors, as long as you take responsibility for the maintenance and cleanliness of other people stuff..  Most people are happy to lend tools, especially if they’re returned with homemade cookies.

More than you need for a small yard and garden.

RAISED BED:  You’ll want your veggies to have a well drained spot, so make them a raised bed.  Some of our beds were made from wood we reclaimed from old fence pieces a neighbor gave us.  Cinder blocks found at the local dump make the border of another.  You can bury bottles halfway into the dirt to make the border, or you can use big rocks, bricks — get creative.  You can make a border out of anything, as long as it holds its shape in the weather.  I’ve seen people use half-buried coffee cans, which I thought looked kind of awesome.  Make sure everything is able to drain, otherwise you’ll have a mosquito resort hotel on your hands after the first rain.  My favorite raised beds are old tires.  I plant tomatoes in mine.  I’m currently looking for more.  I search the back lanes by trash cans for these.

Raised beds: one made from old tires, one from discarded cinder blocks, and a bunch made from old fence pieces.

SOIL:  This is just dirt.  Don’t overthink it.  Find somewhere you can dig some up.  A friend’s house, an empty lot, another part of your own yard, just get some.  You’ll need your shovel and at least one bucket.  Fill up your raised bed with this. (You can break up the soil first with your spade if you want.  It will help drainage, but if you’re feeling lazy, skip it.)

Make a border. Fill it with dirt. This is not rocket science.

COMPOST:  If you have compost, put a nice fat layer on top of your dirt.  If you don’t have compost, relax.  Plant your garden anyway, but start a pile now.  Just pile up all your leaves, lawn waste, fruit and veggie scraps in a pile.  Keep the pile topped with a layer of dry leaves or pine straw to keep flies and smell away.  Compost is just rotting stuff.  When it rots down do a nice, black, crumbly consistency, it’s ready to add to the garden.  Depending on the materials and your weather conditions, this can take a few months to a few years.  So get started on your pile.

Compost. It's a pile of rotting stuff. Doesn't get much more low-tech than that.

MULCH:  I use the pine straw that collects on my roof.  You can also use dried leaves, hay, wood chips, cardboard, newspapers, carpet scraps, or tin foil.  Light mulch like tin foil and cardboard need to be anchored with rocks or something to keep them from blowing away.

The witch in her garden.

At this point, you should have a raised bed full of dirt, compost and covered with mulch.  This is where your groceries will live.  Love it.  Water it down with the hose.  Really soak it good.

Now you’re ready to start adding food.  There are two ways to do this:  seeds and plants.

SEEDS:  This is the cheapest.  You can find seeds online or at local stores:  hardware, garden, dollar tree, big box, farmers’ market.  Plant seeds directly in your bed by making a little hole in the mulch layer.  Plant the seeds, leaving the hole for the seedlings to sprout through.  Keep them moist until they germinate, then keep them watered until they get a few inches high.  You can also germinate seeds in little containers of dirt, transplanting them into the bed when they’re a few weeks old.

YOUNG PLANTS:  It costs a bit more to buy plants, but sometimes it’s worth the tradeoff in babysitting seedlings.  Some sources for veggie plants to transplant into your new incredible, amazing garden bed:  hardware and home improvement stores, local feed & seed, freecycle, garden stores, Facebook groups, grocery stores (sometimes have fresh herb plants in the produce section).  Friends who garden often have stem or root cuttings, extra seeds, or volunteer plants to give away.

Once you’ve got your veggies planted in the beds and they’re a few inches high, water them deeply every other day or so.  Don’t let them stay wet, but don’t let them die of thirst either.  Check them every few days for weed or insect infestation.  In just a month or so, you should have something to eat that you grew in your backyard.

So, so yummy.

It’s easier and cheaper than you think.  Go ahead and try something.  One bed.  One plant.  Start from there.

SOURCES:  My two favorite gardening books are White Trash Gardening by Rufus T. Firefly (as told to Mike Benton) and Possum Living by Dolly Freed.  These are worth purchasing to have as reference.  Everything else I check out from the library as needed.

Categories: Green Goddess Garden, Possum Living, The Homestead, To DIY For | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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