Showing posts with label Myth Busters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Myth Busters. Show all posts

Jul 30, 2014

10 Common Canning Myths - Debunked!

Home canning isn't difficult. But perhaps because it's evolved over the years, there are many myths associated with it. If you're afraid to can, or you just want to become a more expert canner, check out these common canning myths - and the real facts behind them.

Myth 1: There's no way I'm home canning anything. I'm not going to risk making my loved ones sick  - or evening killing them with botulism!

The Facts: Modern canning is quite safe as long as you follow a modern canning book, like The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving or the guidelines at the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). The steps are simple and when followed completely, you won't get botulism. (If you've read some recent news stories about home canners getting botulism from their home canned food, please note they did not even come close to following proper canning guidelines! Don't skip steps. They are there for a reason.)

Myth 2: I can in an oven. My grandma did it, so I know it's safe.

The Facts: Oven canning is not safe, and never was. This is because the oven doesn't get the food hot enough to kill all the bad bugs.

Myth 3: Butter is totally safe to can.

The Facts: Dairy products aren't suitable for home canning. Learn more here.

Myth 4: Canning lids contain BPA - a chemical I don't want in my diet.

The Facts: Ball and Kerr lids are now BPA free, as are Tattler lids.

Myth 5: It's okay to store my jars with rings on them. It's also okay to stack jars one on top of the other during storage.

The Facts: Both are highly discouraged; here's why: When you leave the rings on canning lids, or when you put something on top of the jars, those jars may unseal - then reseal themselves. This can result in spoiled food - but you won't be able to tell it's spoiled (unless it happens to grow mold or take on a strange smell - which may or may not happen). On the other hand, if you leave the rings off and don't put anything on top of the jars, if they happen to unseal, you'll know about it! The lids won't be able to reseal because there will be no pressure on them, so it will be obvious there's a problem with the seal. (FYI: It's not often that canning lids come unsealed, but under the right conditions, like exposure to too much heat, they may.)

Myth 6: There's no need to boil or simmer lids. They get sterilized during canning, anyway.

The Facts: The purpose of simmering (not boiling) canning lids is not to sterilize or clean them. It's to heat up the rubbery part so it will properly seal the jar. So yes, you do need to simmer them before placing them on jars. The newest canning lids do not require boiling or heating before placing them on canning jars and processing them in a water bath or pressure canner.

Myth 7: It's okay to can vegetables in a water bath canner. My grandmother did it all the time!

The Facts: There was a brief period where some put up vegetables in a water bath canner. But that was before we knew as much about food poisoning as we do now. In addition:

* People rarely died from this unsafe type of canning because after they opened the jar of canned food, they boiled the vegetables to death. This killed all the bad bugs - but it also made the food mushy and removed much of the nutrition from it.

* We now have bacteria and other bugs in our environment that grandma did not.

* Even in Grandma's day, this was risky. It just isn't worth the risk - especially when you can easily can vegetables in a perfectly safe, easy to use pressure canner.

Myth 8: I don't put my jams, jellies, or tomato products in a canner. I just sterilize the jars, put the food in, put the simmered cap on, and turn it upside down. It seals fine!

The Facts: This is the traditional method for canning jams and jellies. However, a quick 10 minute boil in a water bath canner makes the food safer to eat. It's not difficult or time consuming, so why risk making someone sick with unprocessed jams and jellies?

As for tomato products, it's very risky not to process them in a canner. When you cook tomato sauces and other tomato products on the stove, they don't get hot enough to kill bad bugs.

In addition, modern tomatoes may have less acid in them than old-fashioned tomatoes; lower acid means a greater risk for food poisoning, unless the tomatoes are processed in a canner. In fact, some experts recommend only canning tomatoes and tomato products in a pressure canner, to reduce the risk of illness even further.

Myth 9: I can make up my own recipes to home can. I don't have to follow a recipe that's been tested in a laboratory for safety. After all, the canned foods we buy in a store aren't made from "approved" recipes.

The Facts: First, the commercial canning process is entirely different from home canning. And yes, commercially canned recipes are tested for safety - the recipes just aren't shared with the public and are only safe with commercial canning methods.

That said, it's possible to create safe jam recipes, as long as you understand the important balance required to make jam or jelly. In addition, there is some leeway when it comes to soups, as long as you understand density and that some foods just aren't appropriate for canning. However, it's wise for new canners to stick to approved recipes, such as those found in the Ball canning books or on the NCHFP website. In addition, you may wish to check out the books Putting Up and Putting it Up More by Steve Downdey, which explain the process cottage canning businesses use to come up with their own recipes. (Be forewarned; these books are controversial because they set forth not home canning guidelines, but guidelines used in commercial kitchens.)

Myth 10: I always sterilize my canning jars and lids. It's the only safe way to go!

The Facts: It's almost never necessary to sterilize jars and lids before filling them with food. That's because the canning process itself sterilizes them. Learn more here.

Jul 16, 2014

Attracting Bees to Your Garden - and Dispelling Some Bee Myths

I know everyone keeps talking about the decline of bees - but if you could come visit my garden, I think you'd believe they've all come to live here! The truth is, there are a lot of misconceptions about bees. But the good news is, it is very, very easy to encourage bees to come to your yard - which benefits not only the country's bee populations, but also how productive your plants are.

Misconceptions about Bees, Pollination, and Colony Collapse

When you mention pollination to most people, they think of honeybees. But there are other pollinators (ants, bats, birds, butterflies, wasps, and more) - and honeybees aren't the only type of bees that pollinate. In fact, honeybees aren't even native to North America! Honeybees don't even know how to pollinate certain plants, like tomatoes and eggplant, and are really bad at pollinating others, like blueberries, pumpkins, and cranberries. To top it off, honeybees have a long history of illness and death in North America. They are just not designed for this environment, and are quite delicate compared to native bees.

And not only are our native bees much more hearty, they generally don't live in colonies - and they aren't suffering colony collapse. This is a great thing in general, but it will require commercial farmers to think in more old fashioned terms; instead of trucking in colonies of honeybees for pollination, they will have to consider how to attract native bees to their farms. (For more information about honeybee colony collapse and native bees as pollinators, please read "As Honeybee Colonies Collapse, Can Native Bees Handle Pollination?" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison website and "Are Native Bees Suffering the Same Colony Collapse Disorder as Honeybees?" at BayNature.)

From No Bees to Bees Galore!

So now you know the world isn't coming to an end because all bees (or pollinators) are dying. But there are still good reasons to encourage bees (native and honeybees) in your yard.

When my husband and I first moved into our house, we had virtually no beneficial insects and very few bees. Some of this was surely because there were very few plants to attract them. But once I started gardening, things didn't get much better. I was using chemicals in the garden - making it a place that wasn't hospitable to bees and other beneficials. But as soon as I stopped using chemicals (see below for more info on this), I noticed a change within about six months. Ladybugs began staying in our garden, for example, and bees started appearing regularly. Today, the beneficial insects are at an all time high in my garden - and there are bees everywhere! Here's what I do:

* I no longer use any chemicals in the garden - with the rare exception of a carefully controlled use of Roundup on invasive weeds that will completely overtake the garden if I don't spray them. I always try old fashioned methods of eradicating weeds first, and I treat all diseases (extremely rare in my garden) and pest infestations organically, usually with manual methods.

* I make sure to feed the soil with compost and organic mulch. Healthy soil makes healthy plants, which results in plants that resist disease and pests - and attract bees and other beneficials.

* I try to rotate crops. This is extremely difficult in a small garden, but I do my best because I know it helps keep plants healthy.

* I plant things just for the bees and other beneficials. Borage has made a tremendous difference in my garden. It's very pretty, can be eaten by people (I don't eat it, though), self-sows itself every year - and the bees absolutely flock to it. Other plants the bees really love include butterfly bush (though this is invasive in some parts of the U.S., so be sure to contact your local extension office before planting), lavender, and sedum. Other plants bees love include: basil, sage, thyme, chives, and oregano that are allowed to flower, sunflowers, asters, dandelions, clover, lilac, cosmos, black-eyed Susans, goldenrod, bachelor buttons, bee balm, honeysuckle, wildflowers native to your area - and of course they will love all your flowering edibles, too. Give them lots of variety.
Sedum "Autumn Joy"
* You can also create a place for bees to drink. A bird bath with stones in it is a nice choice.

Bee Killing Plants?

You may have seen something online about plants from Lowe's testing 51% positive for bee-killing pesticides. This is a bit unfair to Lowe's, because they get their plants at the same places almost every store gets their plants. But you can avoid buying chemical laden plants by shopping at local nurseries where you can ask - and get knowledgeable answers about - growing methods. Or just grow your plants from seed. Check out Starting Seeds - which is free - for instructions on how to do this.

Butterfly bush
Worried About Getting Stung?

Yes, I think about this; we have bee sting allergies at our house. But even with all the bees in my yard, I don't get stung. I am mindful of the bees - for example, I don't push past the borage to look for fruit on the squash plants. But I weed and water and so on - and the bees are so busy doing their work, they don't pay me any mind. Maybe they even see me as a collaborator in the making of the garden...who knows?

Mar 30, 2012

Why "Pink Slime" is a Bunch of Hype

Like most Americans, I was dismayed when I read the first reports about "pink slime." Meat washed in ammonia? Bone and cartilage mixed in? Beyond disgusting. But I'm so glad I did a little of my own research, because I soon learned much of what was reported about "pink slime" was inaccurate - just journalistic hype.
Washed in Ammonia?

My biggest concern with "pink slime" was the meat being "washed in ammonia." If you're like me, that made you picture ground beef being soaked in a vat of household ammonia. But the truth is, what's actually used is a tiny puff of ammonium hydroxide gas. Further, that gas is naturally occurring in our atmosphere! You'll also find it in rain water, the soil, and in your own body. It also occurs naturally in many foods, including cheese, tofu, and vegetables. (Those who are distrustful of the FDA may also take comfort in knowing that nearly every nation considers ammonium hydroxide gas safe, including the European Union.)

Covering Up E.Coli?Link
Some people are really turned off by the idea that the ammonium hydroxide gas is used to kill traces of e. coli and other harmful bacteria. Yet anyone who's ever been on a farm or gone hunting knows that natural meat has a tendency to have traces of e.coli. As the famous children's book notes, everyone poops. This is why it's so vital to cook our meat well.

"Bits and Pieces"

So-called "pink slime" does not have bone and cartilage in it - contrary to some reports. In fact, a machine whirls the meat around, casting off the fat and separating it from the meat. Bits of edible meat also fall off. These are added back to the beef. This has been common practice since the 1960s, according to Snopes.

Some folks are turned off by the idea of mixing up their meat, but this has been done for centuries. It's how sausage is made. And hot dogs. And lunch meat. And pressed ham. And - since who knows when - has been a common way to use up as much edible food as possible.


So-called "pink slime" is not a filler, as some in the media have reported. Filler in ground beef would have to be something other than beef. For example, many families commonly stretch their ground beef by adding chopped herbs and celery to it. That is filler.

Other Negatives

The only real negative I could discover about "pink slime" was this: That it may contain slightly less usable protein.


Do you feel duped by the news media? I sure did. And the sad fact is, their poor reporting has lead to the loss of thousands of jobs. Perhaps even worse, they took a meat plant that happily opened itself up to the media to show how safely food was handled and turned it into a business nightmare. A nightmare that will undoubtedly make other plants far less likely to be as open about their practices. And that's something to be concerned about.

Mar 21, 2012

Cleaning the Oven Door

If you use Pinterest, you've probably seen pins for a "miracle" oven door cleaner that turns an ugly, dirty glass oven door into a perfectly clean one. I saw it, too, and thought: "You mean the glass doesn't have to look brown???"

So I gave it a try. Now, my oven is about 2 years old, and while I've wiped the glass down with soap and water or Windex, the fact is, neither or those really touch the grease that makes a glass oven door look dirty. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a "before" picture, but trust me when I say the glass part of the door was entirely brown.

First - and Second - Try

The "miracle" door cleaner is nothing more than a baking soda and water: Take 1/2 cup of baking soda and add a little water at a time until the mixture is a spreadable paste. Then spread this paste all over the inner glass part of the oven door. Wait 15 to 20 minutes, then scrub with a cloth to remove the grease.

But when I did this, my door didn't look any cleaner. I did notice the baking soda paste had a slight brown tinge, though, so I let it sit another 10 minutes. That didn't help; my door was still dark brown.

Third Try's the Charm

So I removed all the baking soda paste and sprayed the glass with Windex - and used a Mr. Clean Eraser in circular motions. Viola! The icky brown stuff came off without a ton of effort! I now have a clean oven door.

Mar 12, 2012

DIY Tub & Shower Cleaner (& Toilet Cleaner, too)

Recently, I totaled up how much it cost me to purchase household cleaners. I was astounded. So yes, I am currently following the bandwagon of homemakers who are making homemade cleaners...but as my experiment with homemade laundry detergent taught me, homemade isn't always more frugal. Would the cleaners I tried work? And would they save us money?
Tub & Shower Cleaner #1:The first cleaner I tried was a tub and shower cleaner recipe I found at (of all places). I figured I needed a really good DIY cleaners because, um, my tub was really dirty.

Ick. That's a couple of weeks worth of soap scum and dirt (worsened by the fact that our tub was resurfaced by the previous owner and therefore seems to attract dirt much more than an ordinary tub).

Normally I use Scrubbing Bubbles, but in addition to cost, I can't seem to find the traditional version of this product locally, and the newer version is terribly noxious.

So, I whipped up some homemade cleaner.

What You Need:
A 24 oz. (or larger) spray bottle (You may use one from an old bottle of cleaner; just wash it thoroughly first.)

1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) white vinegar (for the best price, buy it in the largest bottle you can find)
1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) Dawn liquid dish soap (again, buy it as cheaply as you can, which usually means buying a bigger bottle)

How to Make It:

1. Measure out the vinegar in a Pyrex (heatproof) measuring cup. Heat it in the microwave until it's warm. In my microwave, that took about 60 seconds, but your microwave may vary, so heat it 30 seconds at a time until it feels warm.

2. Carefully pour the vinegar into the spray bottle.

3. Measure out the Dawn, then pour it into the spray bottle.

4. Put the lid on the bottle and shake gently to mix.

How to Use It:

1. Spray onto the tub, shower, sink, and/or fixtures.

2. Use a scrubbing sponge, scrub the surface.

3. Rinse clean.

4. If there are particularly dirty areas, you could let the cleaner sit for several hours, or overnight. I didn't find this necessary.

Conclusion: My tub and fixtures were sparkling clean after using this homemade cleaner. It worked at least as well - if not better - than Scrubbing Bubbles. It even had a pleasant scent (not chemically, nor very vinegary). It was very bubbly, however, so I suggest using less cleaner than you normally do.

But was it cheaper? My homemade cleaner cost $1.32 for 12 oz., while Scrubbing Bubbles (at Walmart) is $2.47 for 12 oz. - saving me $1.15 a bottle. I also used less of the homemade cleaner, so my own concoction is clearly a better deal - and I don't have to worry about noxious chemicals.

Tub & Shower Cleaner #2:

Two weeks later (but with a tub that wasn't nearly so disgusting), I tried a super-simple homemade cleaner: Ordinary baking soda.

How to Do It:

1. Sprinkle the baking soda lightly over the bottom surfaces; you don't need much.

2. Wet your sponge and used the scrubbing side to clean the tub or bottom of the shower.

3. To clean the vertical parts of the tub or shower, sprinkle a little baking soda on a damp sponge, then scrub.

4. Rinse.

Conclusion: This worked very well, although it took a little more scrubbing and the tub didn't shine as it did with the Dawn mixture. Too, baking soda isn't as effective at killing germs as vinegar (although it does have antifungal and some antiviral and antibacterial properties, according to Wikipedia).

Was it cheaper? Most definitely! A 4 lb. container is $2.88 at our local Walmart, and I used just a couple of tablespoons. That means I'll get at least 32 cleanings from of that one box of baking soda. (For those who are concerned about chemicals, please note: Arm & Hammer baking soda is aluminum free.)

Toilet Cleaner:

Before I busied myself with cleaning the tub with baking soda, I tried another trick I've read about: Using baking soda in the toilet.

How to Do It:

1. Measure 1 cup of baking soda and dump it into the toilet.

2. Let it sit for 1 hour, then flush.

Conclusion: This didn't work at all. However, after I flushed, I used a toilet brush, and the toilet cleaned very easily - more easily than if I'd used Scrubbing Bubbles. I will use this trick again!

Is it cheaper? Oh definitely. Baking soda is very inexpensive. (See Tub & Shower Cleaner #2, above.)

Dec 27, 2011

Getting .06 Cent Eggs (or Feeding Chickens on the Cheap)

Getting 6 Cent Eggs
"For the cost of raising those birds, you could buy an awful lot of store bought eggs!" my husband's boss recently said. Our response was typical: It's not just about money. It's about knowing how your food was raised, having fresher (and therefore healthier) food, and being just a little bit more self reliant.

But after a little figuring, I discovered our farm fresh eggs (which taste so much better than store bought and have more nutrition, too) actually cost less than store bought!

Granted, it's a little difficult to determine exactly how much each egg costs us because there is some fluctuation in how much our hens eat and how many eggs they lay. However, generally speaking, our eggs cost .06 cents each.

The last time I checked, the price of store bought eggs in our area (last spring), they were .15 cents each. Farm fresh eggs in our area are currently .25 cents each. That means we are saving $216 to $360 a year!

It's true I'm not factoring in start up costs. We spent $150 on a Craigslist coop and no more than $50, tops, for other chicken-related equipment. The chicks themselves were $1.50 each. (For more on the costs of owning chickens, check out "Setting Up the Hen House and Run" and "Buying Chickens and Caring for Chicks.") However, our only continuing expenses are bedding and feed. We keep those costs lower by:

1. Using straw as bedding
2. Giving the chickens pellets
3. Hanging their feeder
4. Letting the hens free range in the yard
5. Giving the hens kitchen scraps
6. Giving the hens garden scraps

In our case, straw is an easy, cheap option. If you have cheap access to hay, wood chips, or shredded newspaper, those work well, too. Just don't use pine or cedar shavings or chips, since they can lead to health problems in chickens.

Pellets are more economical than crumble feed, since crumble - well - crumbles, leaving a lot of food on the floor to waste. A hanging feeder also helps prevent food from falling on the floor where it won't get eaten.

Because we have a garden we don't want decimated, we only allow our hens out when we are outside. But we've also noticed that the more we let our hens free range, the fewer eggs we get. (They are using energy to scratch around that would normally be put toward egg laying, no doubt. Plus, laying feed is specially formulated to give hens exactly the nutrition they need to lay very well; the less of it they eat, they less efficient their laying becomes.) So it's a toss up as to whether free ranging is an economical idea. (But at least occasional free ranging keeps the hens happier - and makes the eggs more nutritious, too.)

Giving the hens kitchen scraps, however, is definitely a wining practice. I give them anything I don't compost, including dairy, meat, and bread scraps. Since I have two small, picky-eater children, this amounts to quite a bit of food. I also let the hens have some food I'd normal compost - fruit and vegetable scraps. (I'm careful, however, not to give them much in the way of fruit peelings or veggies from the onion or garlic family, since these can make their eggs taste weird.) I still have plenty left over for actual composting.

I also find that garden scraps are a great addition to our hen's diets. Whenever I weed, for example, I just toss the weeds into their run and they gobble them up happily. This winter, I also kept some vegetables in the garden when I normally would have torn them out. For example, I have Brussels sprouts stalks still growing. They don't produce anything very edible to humans right now, but the chickens love them. So I periodically cut one down and throw it in their run.

There is one last, important consideration if you want the most affordable, fresh eggs: the breed of chicken you choose. Many people I know are choosing their hens based on looks or egg color. But not all breeds of chickens produce eggs at the same rate. So before you buy, it's wise to read up on which breeds produce the most eggs; Backyard Chickens has a handy guide for quickly discovering which chickens are most likely to produce well. Personally, my favorites are Plymouths and Australorps.

Sep 30, 2011

Frugal Home Canning?

I've often said home canning usually isn't the cheapest option for obtaining food. Yes, I think it's probably less expensive than freezing, but let's face it; I can buy a 15 oz. can of peaches in light syrup for less than 50 cents, but it costs me about $2.21 to can 1 quart of them. (The quality is far superior, of course, and there are no preservatives or dyes when I can them myself.)

But this canning season, in an effort to keep better track of how much I can and when I run out of certain home canned items, I've also been tracking my costs more closely. And happily, I've discovered that - more often that I thought - home canning is definitely cheaper.

My best results came from buying vegetables from a local woman with a huge garden. She picks the veggies for me, then charges me a small sum for them. In this way, I was able to can dill pickles for just 85 cents a quart and green beans at 26 cents a pint. What a deal!

I also found that gourmet foods, while not necessarily cheap to can, still cost far less than what the grocery store charges. For example, I canned pickled green beans for just 27 cents a pint, whereas they are about $10 in our grocery stores. Pickled asparagus was another deal. I bought the asparagus at the local grocery store (a first for me!). The end product cost me $2.67 a pint to make, but pickled asparagus cost about $14 for a tiny jar at local stores.

So while I continue to suggest canners shop for local produce, don't just limit yourself to the farmer's market or local farms. Consider neighbors who have large gardens - and check out Craigslist. This year, I saw a number of ads from gardeners wanting to sell their overrun of produce cheap. Also remember that you can save a considerable amount of money home canning "boutique" type items that would cost a great deal more from a store; these not only give your family a treat, but they make terrific gifts.

What about you? Did you save any money home canning this year?

Apr 7, 2011

Is Sewing Frugal?

Recently, an avid homesteading mommy asked me if I thought she could really save money by learning to sew. She was considering purchasing a sewing machine, but was hesitant to lay down the bundle a decent sewing machine costs. My answer to her? "It depends."

I believe basic sewing skills are something every homemaker should strive to have. That's because you really can save a bundle if you learn to repair your family's clothes and do your own alterations. Alterations are often relatively inexpensive to hire out, but if you have a child who, for example, always needs his pants shortened, it makes much more sense to do this quick and easy job yourself. In the long run, you'll save a lot of money.

And while clothing repair is often completely ignored or left to the dry cleaner, you can save a great deal of money doing it yourself. I'm not suggesting you put patches on your family's clothes (although, if you're creative about it, patches can make some clothes all the cuter). But you certainly can repair sagging hems, ripped seams, and broken fasteners.

But what people often mean when they ask whether sewing is frugal is whether sewing their family's clothes from scratch will save them money. Often, the answer is no. Unless you only purchase fabric and patterns at deep discounts, you're unlikely to save money making everyday clothes for your family. On the other hand, if you shop wisely, you can probably save money on things like prom dresses and Carhartt-style work pants.

What about home furnishings? Unless you're used to buying very high end things, you won't save money making your own curtains and such. You can't even save money making your own quilts unless you save scraps of fabric from other projects and purchase batting and backing fabric at a good sale.

But saving money isn't the only reason to sew. Not only is sewing a fun creative pursuit, but sometimes just being able to sew the exact curtains you want makes spending the time to sew them worthwhile. Being able to make modest clothing that suits your personality - or your children's - is also a great reason to sew. And sometimes being able to sew your own means you can afford much higher quality, too.

What do you think? How do you save money doing your own sewing?


Mar 22, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent: An Experiment

For years, I've read about women who swear by their homemade laundry detergent. One friend says she saves over $10 a container every time she makes her own powder detergent. So last week, when I ran out of my regular detergent, I decided to give it a try.

Gathering Supplies
My first challenge came right away. I could not find the three necessary ingredients in my home town (which has a population of about 9,200). Since I currently do all my shopping in town, this was a pretty big draw back. However, the next time I was in a bigger town, I visited the local Wal-Mart superstore and found in the laundry aisle:

* 1 (12 oz.) box Borax: $2.98

I couldn't find washing soda, so I assumed the large box of baking soda in the laundry aisle was equivalent:

* 1 (4 lb.) box Arm & Hammer Baking Soda: $2.12

Once I got home and researched it, though, I discovered washing soda is much stronger and more caustic (harsh) than baking soda. Nonetheless, I decided to follow my recipe for detergent exactly, substituting baking soda for washing soda.

I also couldn't find the Fels-Naptha bar soap most people say is ideal for homemade laundry detergent, so I substituted with a type of soap a few websites recommended:

* 3 (3.1 oz. each) bars Ivory soap: $1.07

Total Cost: $6.17.

Putting it Together

I think the best way to store home made laundry soap is in an airtight plastic container. You can buy these at the Dollar Tree or you can reuse a container used to hold coffee or similar grocery items. (To remove smells from re-used containers, soak them in white vinegar overnight.) Then you can either re-use the measuring cup from an old box of laundry detergent or you can buy a kitchen measuring cup set at the Dollar Tree.

However, this was just an experiment for me, so I didn't want to make even a small investment in a container or scoop, so I reused the box and scoop from my store bought laundry detergent. Then I:

1. Measured 8 cups of baking soda and poured it into the box with a lid.

2. Measured 8 cups Borax and poured it into the box.

3. Grated the 3 bars of soap. You could use your food processor, but I just used a hand cheese grater. Then I poured the soap gratings into the box and stirred with a spoon. (If you have a secure, lidded container, you can just put the lid on and shake.)

This process took me just 3 minutes, with interruptions from my kids. When I was done, I had about half the amount of laundry soap I'd normally purchase at one time. I used all the ingredients purchased, except for a small amount of the Borax.

The Wash Test

You only need about 3 or 4 tablespoons of home made laundry detergent per large load. I didn't measure, but just sprinkled in a small amount. (For more about using small amounts of detergent, check out this post.)

I was pleased with how well the first load of clothes came out. They both looked and smelled clean. However, I noticed on my second and third loads that little bits of the grated Ivory soap had not dissolved during the washing and were sticking to the clothes. Perhaps this is because I wash almost everything in cold? Or perhaps it's because I used Ivory instead of Fels-Naptha? Either way, I had to pick the bits of soap off the clothes so they wouldn't ruin my dryer.

UPDATE 3/23/11: Yesterday, I tried a load of laundry with hot water and my home made laundry detergent and still found the soap shavings did not melt.


The bad new is, I saved very little. Normally, I pay $12.47 for a 14.4 lb. box of laundry detergent (Arm & Hammer brand). Since I made about half what I normally buy, the home made detergent would have to cost less than $6.24 a batch for it to save money. Therefore, I only saved $0.07. Although home made detergent isn't difficult or time consuming to make, it just isn't worth it for my family.

UPDATE 12/08/12: Because so many people told me repeatedly - even after reading this post - that homemade detergent is cheaper, and because a local store finally started carrying all the ingredients, I decided to price it out again. At our local Wal-Mart, washing soda is $3.24, Fels-Naptha is .97 cents, and Borax is $3.38. That's $7.55 total, more than when I originally made this post. A 14.4 lb. box of Arm & Hammer laundry detergent is still $12.47. It is now officially cheaper to buy my laundry detergent.

Jan 31, 2011

Are Vegetable Gardens Frugal?

According to a National Gardening Association (NGA) study, the average American family spends about $70 a year on their vegetable garden, but reaps about $600 worth of food from it. Burpee, one of the nation’s oldest and most popular home garden seed supply sources, adds “well-planned garden will result in a 1 to 25 cost-savings ratio, meaning $50 in seeds and fertilizer can produce as much as $1,250 worth of groceries purchased at a supermarket." Reading these stats, I couldn't help but wonder whether they were accurate - and how they compared to my family's experience.

So last year, I kept track of how much we grew and what it was worth. Granted, I wasn't terribly scientific about it. I did not weigh all the produce from our garden. I estimated only, always leaning toward underestimating our yield instead of overestimating. I also wasn't sure what food I should compare it to. Although what comes from our garden is most like food from a farmer's market, I never shop at the farmer's market because it's considerably more expensive than the grocery store. Therefore, I chose to compare produce costs to our local supermarket's non-organic food, even though I know what comes from our garden is far superior in quality and absolutely organic.

UPDATE: I also kept track of our gardening and homesteading costs and "profit" in 2013. Click here to view the results.


Seeds: $75
Seed starting containers: free
Seed starting soil: $10
Fertilizer: $20
Compost: free
Water: $80



Collards: $30
Beets: I can't find these locally, but I estimate I'd pay about $10 for all the beetroots and greens we grew
Carrots: $20
Peas: $20
Brussels sprouts: $25
Chard: $2 (we had a very bad crop)
Lettuce: $15
Chives: $15
Basil: $15
Parsley: $13
Cilantro: $6
Strawberries: $60
Blueberries: $6 (these were from first year bushes; in a few years, we'll be getting pounds and pounds of berries)

Cabbage: $20
Zucchini: $20
Cherry tomatoes: $30
Garlic: $7
Cucumber: $15
Green beans: $15
Large tomatoes: $48
Peas: $14
Wonderberries: I can't buy these locally, but I estimate what I grew, if sold at the same price of blueberries, was worth $10
Parsnips: $10
Spinach: $2 (another crop that didn't do well last year)
Kohlrabi: $15
Onions: $50

TOTAL: $493

So, we saved $308 - and we had the satisfaction of doing it ourselves, being more self-sufficient, getting more exercise, teaching our children about gardening and science, and knowing exactly what was (and was not) in our food.

But here's the catch: Last year, we purchased soil for our garden. We live where the soil is heavy clay, and I hadn't gardened in the area in years. We spent $227 to buy the soil and have it delivered. That means our actual savings were $81. However, that may not be a very fair way to look it. As long as I care for this soil well, feeding it compost yearly, it will remain quality gardening soil for as long as we want to use it.

Ways to Make the Garden Even More FrugalGetting started - buying tools and preparing the soil - is the most costly part. However, if you continue gardening and you care for your soil and your tools, you can use them forever. If you don't mind waiting a year or so to begin your garden, you can avoid buying soil by practicing the lasagna or no-dig method. Essentially, you'd lay cardboard over the soil where you want to garden and pile specific organic ingredients over it. The cardboard blocks light, which kills weeds, and the decaying organic matter - and worms - make the soil rich.

You can also save money by collecting your own seeds. The first year, you'd need to buy heirloom seeds, but ever after, you can let one or more plants in the garden go to seed, then collect and preserve those seeds for next year's garden.
Another big expense is watering your garden. There are a few things you can do to reduce your water bill. One is to mulch your garden beds with organic materials, like straw. This helps conserve water in the soil (and as the mulch decomposes, it feeds the soil nutrients). Spacing plants far apart also lets them grow root systems going deep in the soil - where there's more water. This is probably how traditional row-method vegetable gardening began - as a way to space vegetables out during a time when running water was non-existent or scarce. However, if you have only a small garden bed, you may be better off using traditional spacing. Close spacing (as is used in intensive or Square Foot gardening) requires the most water. Click here for more ideas on conserving water in the garden.

How you water your garden also makes a difference. Sprinklers waste a lot of water because they spread it everywhere - even places it's not needed. Drip hoses conserve much more water because they gradually water the plants' base. Some gardeners are also highly interested in rain barrels - and by all means, if they are legal in your area, use them. But don't use them to water edibles unless you have an expensive water filtration system. Remember: Whatever chemicals and what not that are on your roof end up in the rain barrel...and in your produce, if you use that liquid to water them.

Composting is another way to reduce gardening costs. Granted, it's difficult for a suburban gardener to create enough compost for her entire garden, but home made compost can go a long way. Anyone who has kitchen scraps, leaves, and a corner of their property can easily compost.

You will also notice I didn't spend a dime on seed starting supplies. With winter sowing, you can reuse all kinds of containers you probably already have on hand. The same is true with traditional seed starting. For example, toilet paper tubes make an excellent container for seedlings.

Finally, you might notice I saved a lot by growing fruit. If you have the space, fruit trees are an excellent investment, and if you buy dwarf varieties, they may not take up as much space as you think. Otherwise, stick to berries or vines, which fit well into small yards. And don't forget that most fruit trees and bushes produce more every year.

What about you? How much have you saved by growing your own food? And do you have tips for making gardening more frugal?