Spring and Summer Garden Layout

When planning where to plant your crops, there are several factors to consider. The first and most basic factor to consider is how much sun or shade your crop requires. You can find that information on your seed packets. Another good thing to consider is the drainage. Some crops like to keep their roots soaking wet whereas some will rot and whither without adequate drainage. Unfortunately for us, our neighbors added on to their house and the water from their new roof floods parts of our property during heavy rains. My first vegetable garden here was pretty pathetic because I didn’t know that was going to happen. They also drained their pool last summer and let it flood our yard and garage last year. Sometimes it’s hard to resist petty, passive aggressive neighborhood warfare. Many permaculture designers recommend observing your property for a year before you do anything with it. I wish I had followed their advice. To help with our drainage issue, the following year I built three raised beds in the area where drainage is poor. This solved my problem and I’m able to utilize that area. If you live in a setting where your neighbors are close-by, keep in mind that sometimes they might make decisions that will adversely affect what you’re trying to accomplish. As if the unpredictability of the weather didn’t make it hard enough. *sigh*

companionplantingSomething else for you to consider is companion planting. Some of you may have heard of it, but for those who haven’t I’ll give you a quick overview. Companion planting is planting your crops in close proximity to others that either help them grow or ward off pests. Some plants can hinder each other’s growth, health, and potential harvest. It doesn’t involve only vegetables and fruits. It also incorporates herbs, flowers, and more. For example, marigolds and nasturtiums are natural deterrents for certain pests. For charts and more info on companion planting, just mosey on over to google.

To increase how much you get out of your garden, plan a different layout for the spring, summer, and fall. Some crops prefer the chillier days of spring and fall, and they are ready to harvest before summer crops need to take their place or winter plunges us into freezing temps. Below is my plan for the spring and summer. I haven’t decided if I’ll do a fall plan this year because I might be occupied with other endeavors. In case you don’t see me in real life very often or at all, I’ll take this opportunity to tell you that we might be moving in a year. It isn’t completely settled, but I still plan to work on the house as if it is. That way if it does happen, it isn’t a complete sh*t show to get moved.

My spring layout includes crops that will either be harvested before summer or remain in their spot for the rest of the growing season. Be sure to check the days to maturity to determine if your crop needs a permanent spot, or will be out of the way for summer crops. This year’s temporary spring crops include: peas, radishes, spinach, and lettuce. The crops that will grow throughout the summer include: brussels sprouts, carrots, leeks, broccoli, kale, and onions.

spring

My summer layout includes crops that will either be harvested during the summer or fall months. I’m still unsure if I’ll try to do sweet potatoes and/or potatoes this year. So they might get squeezed in here somewhere. I need the grassy areas for the rabbits and since we might be moving soon, I don’t want to eat up anymore of the lawn. So space is very limited right now.

summer

Some of you might be wondering how I made this layout of our yard and how you can do it too. First, I attempted to sketch it out on paper, but it’s really hard to get an accurate and easily editable version with that method. So, I turned to google maps and took a screenshot of our property. Then I took it into adobe illustrator. If some of you don’t know, my background is in graphic design and marketing. So naturally, I use professional design programs since I have them and the required skills. You can probably find free programs out there if you do some searching. Or, I would be willing to create a layout for you for a reasonable price.

For my illustrator owning friends, here’s how I went about it. First I created layers for all the permanent structures and features of our property. First I did the lawn and sidewalks. Then I filled in the house, garage, trees, bushes, compost pile, and gardens. Then I created a final layer for crops and labels. This method makes it easy to add or remove as necessary. Note: the number of dots don’t necessarily indicate how many of each plant will be there. They’re just a place holder.

If you have any questions about the process of creating a layout, or you want one designed, please let me know!

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Peas, Carrots, and a Farm to Table Tasting

Hey folks! Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. Our little family was struck with colds and our youngest was hospitalized with Kawasaki disease. It was a rough time, but we’re all fine and Logan shouldn’t have any longterm complications. Now that we’re all back in good health, I’ve been trying to dig us out of the mountain of neglected chores that piled up during that time. So. Much. Laundry. The monotony of folding laundry eats away at my soul. Progress is slow, but I’m getting there.

peas2The peas are officially outside, and the carrot seeds have been planted in one of the raised beds. I rigged up an easy and cheap trellis for the peas before transplanting the ones that survived torture by toddlers and cats. I had to plant a lot of new seeds because most of my original seedlings didn’t make it. I tied several tiers of twine to some garden stakes that I already had and boom the peas have something to cling to as the grow. Radishes were supposed to be planted yesterday, but it slipped my mind. I was frantically trying to clean the house before a friend came over to watch the kids while I went to the Forrest Pritchard/Farm to Table event at the library.

rabbitThe rabbits are out of their winter housing and back on the grass. I can tell they are so much happier, and I’m enjoying the daily task of moving them again. If you’ve been following my Instagram (@foxandfodder), you’ll have heard that our doe once again did not produce a litter, and I’ve decided to give up on her. I’ve contacted the farmer we got the rabbits from and hopefully we’ll have a new doe soon. Now some of you are probably wondering why I automatically assume it’s the doe and not the buck. There’s a chance it’s the buck, but based on my observations I’m almost 100% positive it’s the doe.

For those of you who might be worried about Taco’s future, we might possibly have a new home for her. If that falls through, I’ll definitely consider selling her to any of you who might be interested in having a rabbit friend. She’ll produce plenty of fertilizer for your garden! So if anyone wants first dibs on her, let me know. I’ll happily give you a crash course on how to care for her if you’ve never owned a rabbit. Hmm… I just realized I should do a whole post dedicated to that. So keep your eyes open for that soon!

ACPL Farm to Table Taste

Last night I attended an event I had been looking forward to for some time. Our library invited local restaurants and representatives from the farmer’s market and Co-op to prepare sample dishes and talk to attendees about who they are. The restaurants in attendance were Tolon and Junk Ditch Brewing Company. I was sad The Golden wasn’t there, but Junk Ditch and Tolon prepared very delicious dishes. My mother-in-law liked Junk Ditch’s dish so much she went back for seconds.

Followed by the tasting, we got to see a talk by Forrest Pritchard of Smith Meadows. A couple years ago, I read his book Gaining Ground, and I absolutely loved it. I was so
excited when I heard he was coming to Fort Wayne, and I
immediately signed up to attend. He’s definitely in the upper echelon of farmer’s I look up to and
hope to emulate. I highly recommend reading his book. I laughed and cried and was even more inspired to pursue my dreams. Like me, he didn’t go to college for agriculture, but later realized it was the path he was compelled to go down.

He also has a new book Growing Tomorrow. I haven’t read it yet, but I was able to flip through a copy of it last night. It’s an absolutely beautiful book that features sustainable farmers from all across the country. It also includes recipes from the farmers and little fun facts related to agriculture. It’s definitely on my reading list.

I’d like to end this post with part of a passage from Gaining Ground that Forrest also ended his talk with. It really speaks to me, because I’ve always viewed myself as a dreamer. My mind is like a browser page with too many tabs open and filled with hare-brained schemes.

“All farms require a resident dreamer, someone to thumb through seed catalogs in the cold days of late January, imagining summer fields of squash and cucumbers, tomatoes and sunflowers. Fall harvests are the reward of winter dreams. Someone must decide where the next fence should be placed, or conceive of a clever new way to organize the market stand. On a farm, there’s no shortage of little dreams needing to be dreamed.”

 

Zero Waste Attempt #4: Three Rivers Co-op

To start off, I just want to say I love the Co-op! I haven’t been there in awhile and I was happy to return. If you know me outside of this blog, you know I love to support local businesses. All of their produce is organic and you can find a lot of products from grass-fed and humanely raised animals. I’m in love with my grass-fed yogurt! I drizzled a little bit of the local honey on top and mixed in seeds, nuts, and dried fruit. Nom!

The Co-op started off as a buying club back in the 70’s and eventually evolved into the grocery store we know and love today. It’s not only a grocery store though. It also has a little cafe where you can get your coffee fix and grab a bite to eat. This came in handy on this particular trip because my youngest had a meltdown. When I put the bananas in the cart instead of his mouth, it was the armageddon. Nothing calmed him down. Nothing. So I went to the cafe and grabbed a huge blueberry muffin to split between my two little gremlins. Suddenly there was peace… well for a little bit anyway.

So here’s how the Co-op scored on my rubric.

  • Bulk Bins with a variety of options. (1 point)
    + 1 point. Very good variety of staples and treats. Plus, they have coffee!
  • Refill stations for oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, etc. (1 point)
    + 1 point. I love my local honey that I bought!
  • Bulk dried herbs and spices. (1 point)
    + 1 point
  • Most produce is available without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1 point. A few veggies I wanted were pre-weighed in ziplock bags, but most of the produce is naked or mostly naked.
  • Bread without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1/2 points. I didn’t see any bread loaves without packaging. 
    However, you can easily get muffins from the cafe without packaging so I’ll give them a half point for that.
  • Meat without packaging. 1 point
    1 point. I got some turkey meat for sandwiches. Deli meat is the only meat you can get in a jar. Everything else is prepackaged in the freezer aisle.
  • Cheese without packaging. 1 point
    + 1 point. I didn’t have a big enough container, but they will gladly let you use your own.
  • Hygiene products without packaging. (1 point)
    +1/2 point. I saw some soap bars, but that was all I saw without packaging.
  • Necessary packaging that can be brought back and reused (i.e. egg cartons). (1 point)
    +0 points. I’m not sure about this. I was in a rush, but I will gladly give them this point if someone knows if any packaging can be returned to them.
  • Positive experience using my own bags and/or containers. (1 point)
    +1 point. Everyone was very nice and received my bags and jars without hesitation. The lady in the checkout lane next to me thought bringing a jar to get deli meat was brilliant. I think I might have created another BYOJ (bring your own jar) convert!

img_3768Bonus Point: Toddler friendly. +1 point. Although my littlest gremlin was being a terror, this store is great for kids. The staff was incredibly friendly to them, they have little kid size carts, and the cafe has nice little treats for them to eat if they get hangry.

Three Rivers Co-op’s final score: 9 points!

Other considerations for the eco-conscious crowd:

  •  Ability to safely walk or bike to location: Yes, if you live close enough. It’s too far for me to walk, but I’d be willing to bike there if I didn’t have to tow the kids. I’m hoping to get a basket for my bike to make grocery shopping more eco-friendly.
  • Locally sourced products: Yes! My honey, cheese, and eggs were all local. They definitely make an effort to bring as many local products as possible to their store.
  • Is the company dedicated to eco-friendly practices?: Yes. All of their produce is organic and many products are local.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what I bought, the price, and its packaging status.

Completely naked produce and misc. (no plastic, rubber bands, twist ties, or stickers)

  • Oranges (3 for $0.79 each) $2.37
  • Sweet Potatoes ($1.99/lb.) 2.14 lbs. = $4.26
  • Leeks ($2.99/lb) 1.32 lbs. = $3.95
  • Lemons (3 for $0.99 each) 3 = $2.97
  • Rolled Oats ($1.59/lb.) 1.62 lbs. = $2.58
  • Parsnips ($2.99/lb.) 0.67 lb. = $2.00
  • Turkey deli meat ($7.99/lb.) 0.77 lb. = $6.25
  • Cheddar (local cheese from Swissland) ($7.49/lb.) 0.53 lb. = $3.97
  • Local Honey ($4.99/lb.) 0.77 lb. = $3.84
  • Blueberry Muffin $2.49

Free of plastic, but with stickers, rubber bands, or twist ties.

  • Mango (2 for $1.99 each) 2 = $3.98
  • Tomatoes ($2.39/lb) 0.94 lb. = $2.25
  • Pears ($2.39/lb.) 1.29 lb. = $3.08
  • Avocado (3 for $1.50 each) 3 = $4.50
  • Bananas ($0.79/lb.) 4.46 lbs. = $3.52
  • Apples ($2.89/lb.) 1.41 lbs. = $4.07

Returnable Packaging

  • None that I know of currently.

No package free or refillable options

  • Eggs (Seven Sons Farm Free Range Eggs) $4.39
  • Blueberries $3.99
  • Yogurt $5.39
  • Salsa $2.89
  • Sugar Snap Peas ($5.99/lb.) 0.61 lb. = $3.71

Grand Total: $76.35

My Final Takeaway: The Co-op scored very high on my rubric, but I can’t say I was surprised. It is more pricey, but this place would be for quality over quantity shopping trips. Everything I purchased is wonderful and I hope to return to try more of their products that you can’t find elsewhere in Fort Wayne.

On that note, I’m announcing this as the last detailed grocery store breakdown. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m ready to establish a routine that will be easier for me. Grocery shopping with a three year old and almost 2 year old can be very challenging and stressful. This last trip was rough. I still plan to share Zero Waste tips, but it won’t be so meticulous.

So here’s my plan for moving forward:

  • img_3771Tortillas, bread, muffins, etc. will be homemade when needed and when I can’t buy them without packaging. I made tortillas yesterday and they resulted in a delicious Taco Tuesday dinner. On the right is the loaf of bread I just pulled out of the oven. Delicious.
  • Yogurt will be homemade.
  • I’m going to start refusing the produce I can’t buy without packaging even though it sucks. The kid love berries so I’m hoping a farmers market vendor will let me return their berry containers this summer.
  • Hygiene products will either be homemade or purchased at Lush. They have solid shampoo and conditioner bars that come free of packaging. I’m excited to try them once my current supply of bottled shampoo and conditioner runs out. You can also return the pots of some products to be reused and you get a free face mask!
  • Milk. I’m a bit torn on the milk. I’m going to try to continue saving as much money on groceries as I can so that I can justify the expensive Oberweis milk. I’ve been saving approximately $30-$40 on groceries every week since I started this project.
  • Soup stock/broth. I have some soup bones in the freezer and I plan to start making my own. I’m hoping I can make a bunch at once and freeze it because it’s a long process.
  • Juice will be purchased from Beet Street because they let you bring your bottles back to be reused.
  • Beer will be purchased in growlers from local breweries. I really want to see if Three Rivers Distilling would let me return their bourbon bottles. I really don’t want to give up bourbon. Wine might be a lost cause. I’ll give a high-five to whoever can find me a wine source that will allow refills/bottle returns.
  • Pasta. I haven’t seen pasta in bulk yet, but I hope I can find it. I’ll make it if I have to, but I don’t want to because of the time it would take.
  • Condiments such as salad dressing, mustard, hummus, guacamole, and salsa will be homemade.

Zero Waste Attempt #3: Kroger

img_3753-copyLast week a friend requested I go to her grocery store next, so I did! The Kroger on Clinton by Coliseum was a pleasant surprise. They had bulk bins with a small, but decent variety of options. Although it didn’t score as high as Fresh Thyme, it did pretty well for a big name grocery store. So let’s take a look at the rubric and see where Kroger excels and epically fails.

  • Bulk Bins with a variety of options. (1 point)
    + 1 point. Kroger does not have a big variety, but they have enough that you could get a lot of staples in bulk. No coffee though.
  • Refill stations for oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, etc. (1 point)
    + 1/2 point. They had a peanut butter and almond butter dispenser but no oils, vinegars, etc…
  • Bulk dried herbs and spices. (1 point)
    + 0 point
  • Most produce is available without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1/2 point: They have a lot of package free produce and I was super excited to find mushrooms without plastic trays. I thought that was a hopeless pursuit. I was absolutely appalled to find sweet potatoes on a styrofoam tray and wrapped in plastic. Why? WHY?! Answer me, Kroger!
  • Bread without packaging. (1 point)
    + 0 points. I asked the bakery if they could give me a loaf without packaging, but it didn’t go well. I think the manager was having a bad day, so I didn’t push it. Luckily, Fresh Thyme was around the corner and I picked up some fresh bread after I left Kroger.
  • Meat without packaging. 1 point
    1 point. SUCCESS! I finally needed meat and felt brave enough to ask. Chicken breasts were on sale and that peppered bacon was calling my name. The lady who helped me was super nice about my jars. I briefly explained my project and she thought it was a great idea. I did have to take a sticker for the cashier to scan, but that’s better than buying meat with all the other packaging. I was definitely the first person to bring my own jars to get meat there. I mean, who does that? I do… well now I do anyway.
  • Cheese without packaging. 1 point
    + 0 points.* I didn’t need cheese on this trip, but I could probably make it happen since I was able to talk the meat counter into using my jars.
  • Hygiene products without packaging. (1 point)
    +0 points
  • Necessary packaging that can be brought back and reused (i.e. egg cartons). (1 point)
    +0 points. 
  • Positive experience using my own bags and/or containers. (1 point)
    +1 point: Overall it was a good experience, but I could tell the staff was not used to people using their own bags and containers.

Bonus Point: Toddler friendly. +1 As with most big name grocery stores, it’s relatively easy and safe to bring kids along. The bakery offered cookies for the boys, but I declined because I was hoping they’d take a nap on the way home. Sugar was not going to help matters.

Kroger’s final score: 5* points

img_3755*I need to revisit to see if I can get cheese and maybe catch the bakery on a good day. To be honest though, I’m really digging the Fresh Thyme bread. The multigrain loaf was killer on the sandwiches I made for lunch when we got home (pictured on the right). High quality ingredients can take something simple and make it delicious. I fried up some of the peppered bacon and chicken breasts, sliced some cheddar, sliced cucumbers, and piled on some lettuce and spinach. I also put some mayo on there because we have it and we might as well use it up. I’m not gonna lie, I love mayo. I know it’s gross and bad for you, but I have an affinity for it. Don’t tell anyone, but I ate mayo sandwiches when I was little. Yes, mayo and bread sandwiches. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Other considerations for the eco-conscious crowd:

  •  Ability to safely walk or bike to location: Nope.
  • Locally sourced products: I think I remember some products were local, but to be honest I’m pretty tired right now and I could have imagined that. Need. More. Coffee.
  • Is the company dedicated to eco-friendly practices?: Eh. Definitely better than Walmart because of their bulk options and they had a better variety of produce without packaging. However, I can’t consider a business eco friendly when they allow packaged sweet potatoes through their door.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what I bought, the price, and its packaging status.

Completely naked produce and misc. (no plastic, rubber bands, twist ties, or stickers)

• Sunflower Seeds ($1.69/lb.) 1.13 lbs. = $1.91
• Trail Mix ($10.99/lb.) 1.24 lbs. = $13.63
• Green Beans ($1.49/lb.) 0.66 lb. = $0.98
• Red Potatoes ($0.99/lb.) 1.75 lbs. = $1.73
• Cucumbers (3 for $2.00) 2 = $1.34
• Mushrooms ($4.99/lb.) 0.56 lb. = $2.79
• Broccoli ($1.49/lb.) 0.70 lb. = $1.04
• Carrots ($0.99/lb.) 1.21 lb. = $1.20

Free of plastic, but with stickers, rubber bands, or twist ties.

• Chicken Breasts ($1.99/lb.) 2 lbs = $3.98
• Bacon ($3.99/lb.) 1.05 lbs. = $4.19
• Bananas ($0.55/lb.) 4.21 lbs. = $2.32
• Oranges (3 for $2.00) 3 = $2.00
• Green Pepper $0.89
• Fuji Apples (3 for $0.99) 4 = $1.32
• Red Leaf Lettuce $0.99
• Spinach $1.49
• Asparagus ($2.99/lb.) 0.94 lb. = $2.81

Returnable Packaging

• None

No package free or refillable options

• Milk $2.89
• Half and Half (small carton) $2.99
• Cauliflower $2.99
• Yogurt $3.59
• Butter $3.29

Grand Total: $60.36

My Final Takeaway: If you only have Kroger or Walmart to choose from, Kroger is a much better option for zero waste shopping. I wish all big name grocery stores had at least a few bulk bins. It makes such a big difference. I’m definitely looking forward to going back to a grocery store that is more accustomed to their customers bringing their own bags and jars. Although my experience wasn’t negative, it just wasn’t as positive as my trip to Fresh Thyme last week. I really hope I can find a store that doesn’t have any unnecessary packaging on the produce. I’d prefer our money go to a store that doesn’t even let that crap in the door. Sweet potatoes wrapped in plastic is inconvenient. Instead of just grabbing a single potato, you have to rip the plastic open and throw away the non-recyclable materials. Waste of time, energy, and materials.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-4-34-46-pmLast night when I was prepping and planning for my trip, I made my own labels for my bulk bags. I realized that using the store’s stickers or twist ties to indicate my bin number was unnecessary waste. So I cut up some leftover rsvp cards from our wedding that I hung on to because I’m a hoarder, and I attached them to the drawstrings. I also weighed the bags so I could put their tare on the tags as well. The cashier seemed to be a bit confused by my bags so I didn’t make her subtract the tare from everything, but in the future it would be nice to save some pennies. They do add up after awhile.

img_3749-copyAlso, check out my setup for shopping. I have a mommy hook that is normally for a diaper bag or purse, but I use it for my totes. I fold the smaller bags up and place them in the bigger bags to keep things organized and easy to grab. I also stuff my glass jars in-between the bags so they are padded and safe from getting busted. You can also see my pencil hanging out on one of the interior pockets.

I just hook it all to handle and it keeps everything out of reach from little hands, and img_3750-copyfrees up space in my cart. This isn’t a necessary step, but it helps me. Bonus: huge totes make it easy to carry everything in the house in a single trip. Yes, I’m one of those ridiculous people who will risk throwing out their backs and cutting off circulation just so they don’t have to make multiple trips out to the car. Well, that’s it for this week folks. I think next week I’ll be going to the Co-op and I’m very excited to feature a local business!

Zero Waste Attempt #2: Fresh Thyme

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-6-00-50-pmWelcome to round two of zero waste shopping! This week I hit up the double ad day at Fresh Thyme Market. I’m not gonna lie. The whole time I was worried it was going to be expensive and my husband would be mad at me for spending so much. Spoiler alert! It was actually less expensive than last week’s trip to Walmart! However, he was disappointed in the amount of bread I got for the price I paid. I accidentally grabbed the loaf that wasn’t on sale, but it’s super tasty so yay for silver linings.

So let’s take a look at the rubric and see how Fresh Thyme scored on this trip. Once again I didn’t need meat so I’ll have to revisit that another time. We have quite a bit of meat in our chest freezer and I want to use it all up before I buy more. Also, true to form I forgot another item. This time it was juice.

  • Bulk Bins with a variety of options. (1 point)
    + 1 point. Grains, beans, legumes, flour, sugar, dried fruit, nuts, trail mixes, chocolates, candies, coffee, and more! It was beautiful. Why don’t more grocery stores have bulk bins? Seriously.
  • Refill stations for oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, etc. (1 point)
    + 1 point. Variety of oils, vinegars, local honey, maple syrup, cashew butter, peanut butter, and almond butter. I made my own peanut butter in a mason jar and I was super duper excited about it.
  • Bulk dried herbs and spices. (1 point)
    + 1 point.
  • Most produce is available without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1/2 point: A few staple items didn’t have package free options. I caved and got the kids grapes that came in plastic. I won’t be perfect every time, especially when it comes to food my kids love to eat.
  • Bread without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1 points. The lady I talked to behind the counter loved that I had my own bread bag and sliced my package free loaf for me. I even got away without a label.
  • Meat without packaging. 1 point
    0* points. I didn’t need meat on this trip, but there are counters with a variety of options. Poultry, seafood, beef, pork, and lunchmeat can all be found here.
  • Cheese without packaging. 1 point
    + 0* points. There are cheese options, but I ran out of time and just grabbed a block of cheddar that was on sale. Next time I’ll have to see if I can use my own container.
  • Hygiene products without packaging. (1 point)
    +1/2 points. I saw soap, but there aren’t enough options to get a full point.
  • Necessary packaging that can be brought back and reused (i.e. egg cartons). (1 point)
    +0 points. 
  • Positive experience using my own bags and/or containers. (1 point)
    +1 point: Cashier was very friendly and she said they encourage customers to use their own bags and containers. The lady who sliced my bread thought it was cool that I brought my own bread bag.

Bonus Point: Toddler friendly. +1 They have carts that have a two seat attachment. They’re nice, but they’re massive and not always easy to navigate around the store. I’ll give them the bonus point though.

Fresh Thyme’s final score: 7* points
*2 more points might be added when I go back and need to purchase meat and cheese.

Other considerations for the eco-conscious crowd:

  •  Ability to safely walk or bike to location: Nope.
  • Locally sourced products: Some. It’s winter in Indiana so of course produce needs to be shipped in. The honey is still local though.
  • Is the company dedicated to eco-friendly practices?: They could do better, but the package free options put it well above Walmart.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what I bought, the price, and its packaging status.

fullsizerender-1Completely naked produce and misc. (no plastic, rubber bands, twist ties, or stickers)

  • Yukon Gold Potatoes ($1.00/2 lb.) 1.79 lbs. = $0.90
  • Yellow Onions ($0.88/lb.) 1.43 lbs. = $1.26
  • Sweet Potatoes ($0.87/lb.) 2.23 lbs. $1.94
  • Peanut Butter ($2.49/lb.) 0.77 lb. = $1.92
  • Chocolate covered pretzels ($3.74 lb.) 1.29lbs. = $4.82
  • Coffee ($6.99/lb.) 1.59 lbs. = $11.11 That better be some damn good coffee. We’re poor so we usually buy the cheap stuff.
  • Sourdough Batard (Meant to grab the Italian that was on sale. Oops.) $2.99

Free of plastic, but with stickers, rubber bands, or twist ties.

  • Fuji Apples ($1.47/lb.) 1.77 lbs. = $2.60
  • Hass Avocadoes 2 for $1.00
  • Minneola ($1.49/lb) 1.87 lbs. = $2.79
  • Broccoli ($1.49/lb) 1.16 lbs. = $1.73
  • Red Bell Pepper ($0.74 each) 2 = $1.48
  • Red Leaf Lettuce $1.49
  • Red Grapefruit (2 for $1.00) 4 = $2.00
  • Red Grapes ($0.97/lb.) 1.63 lbs = $1.58
  • Radishes 2 bunches for $1.00
  • Bananas ($0.59/lb.) 2.85 lbs = $1.68

Returnable Packaging

  • Milk! $3.99 + $1.50 bottle deposit. I’m so excited that I can bring the glass bottle back to be reused! I thought I’d be stuck with buying milk in plastic gallons. The brand is Oberweis if you want to pick some up too. Shout out to Mark for telling me about it. You da real MVP.

No package free or refillable options

  • *Sharp Cheddar Cheese. I probably could have gotten this package free, but the kids had reached their limit at this point and I was desperate to get out of there.
    ($2.99/lb.) 0.97 lb. = $2.92
  • Eggs ($0.88 per dozen) 2 dozen = $1.76
  • *Sugar. I could have gotten this in bulk, but I ran out of bags. So instead of using their plastic bags in the bulk section, I opted for the sugar that comes in the recyclable paper packaging. $3.49
  • *Baking Soda. I might be able to get this in bulk, but once again I was out of my bags so I got the recyclable cardboard box of baking soda. $0.69

Grand Total: $56.64

By shopping almost exclusively their sale items, I saved $19.63. That’s a pretty dang good number. I could have saved more if I had paid closer attention. I accidentally grabbed a few of the wrong things, but with two toddlers to wrangle it’s hard to be a perfect shopper.

img_3659Side note: If you plan to use containers with more weight to them than cotton bags, weigh them before you fill them so you don’t get charged for product you’re not getting. I have a food scale at home so I wrote their TARE on the lids before I left home. Weigh each one even if they’re supposed to be the same size. My mason jars are all slightly different weights.

My Final Takeaway: Fresh Thyme blew Walmart out of the water. I’m shocked! *sarcasm*

The bulk bins are fantastic and the double ad day makes shopping here affordable. Next time, I need to pay attention more because I trusted the price signs to be above the produce they were advertising, and I definitely ended up with some of the wrong stuff. The kids were a little grumpy on this trip so I was even more distracted than usual. I really like this store, but the driving distance kind of sucks for me. It’s definitely one of the more zero waste friendly stores in Fort Wayne. Every Thursday is double ad day and you can find those deals on their website.

Although I wasn’t perfect this trip, I did better and that’s what matters. My kids were starting to throw fits and I was feeling an anxiety attack coming on. So I took a couple shortcuts to get home asap. Do what is possible for you and feel good about it.

Onions!

The 2017 growing season has begun! February is here and I planted onion seeds yesterday morning because they need a bit more time to get going than most crops. It takes them roughly 110 days to reach maturity when sown in the spring. Onions like well drained soils. So they are ideal crops for raised bed gardening if you choose to go that route. They don’t need a lot of nitrogen at the start of their lives, but they need good, fertile soil to grow and mature in. I’m currently using a mixture of seed starting soil and potting mix.

img_3600The variety I’ve chosen to grow is called Candy (F1). You can see what the seeds look like on the right. I would like to eventually move to all heirloom and open pollinated crops, but I chose this hybrid because of their excellent storage ability and taste. When choosing which onions you’d like to grow, simply look at how you currently use them. Do you like to eat them raw in salads? Then you should look at red varieties. Do you cook them in just about everything like me? Then a good white or yellow variety would be best suited for your garden.

fingersTo get your seeds started, grab a seed tray and fill it with your growing medium. I recommend seed trays with cells that have a 1 1/2 diameter, but they can be a bit smaller if that’s all you have. Next, using your fingers, make little holes in the center of the cells that are roughly 1/4-1/2 inch deep. If you don’t think you can accurately eye it, use a ruler to mark a wooden skewer or whatever you have around the house. After your holes are made, you can start dropping a into each cell.

Some people choose to drop more than one seed in and then thin later. This is because some seeds simply won’t germinate and sowing more than one seed per cell insures each cell has a growing plant. This is a common practice for commercial growers. I sowed 36 onion seeds, but I really only need about 30. My seeds are a year old so their germination rate has likely gone down. I won’t complain if I end up with more than I need because  friends and family members are always happy to receive fresh, garden treats.

img_3602After all your seeds have been dropped in their holes, gently bury them with more soil, and then give them a good spritz of water. Make sure to spray enough water to soak down into the soil and reach the seed. Place your tray near a sunny window. South facing is best, if possible. It’s very important to not let the soil in your trays completely dry out. If you’re leaving your house for several hours, be sure to give it a spritz before you go.

Well, that’s it folks. Super easy to plant and super easy to maintain. Just keep these babies hydrated, sit back, and wait for them to peek their little leaves out of the soil.

Zero Waste Attempt #1: Walmart

So my first shopping trip was to a store that everyone has access to: Walmart. I know, I know. Walmart is evil and yada yada yada. I agree, but I want to cover all the bases and make this as accessible to as many people as possible. This trip did contain some unusual items. Oreos for example are (sadly) not a common item in our house. I purchased those and the heavy whipping cream to make ice cream for my son’s birthday party. Crap. I just realized I forgot to buy sugar for the ice cream.

Here’s how Walmart scored on this trip:

  • Bulk Bins with a variety of options. (1 point)
    + 0 points
  • Refill stations for oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, etc. (1 point)
    + 0 points
  • Bulk dried herbs and spices. (1 point)
    + 0 points
  • Most produce is available without packaging. (1 point)
    + 1/2 point: A few staple items didn’t have package free options.
  • Bread without packaging. (1 point)
    + 0 points
  • Meat without packaging. 1 point
    0 points. I didn’t need meat on this trip, but the options behind a counter are limited here. Worth asking an employee if they would allow me to put products in my own container.
  • Cheese without packaging. 1 point
    + 0 points. There are cheese options in the deli. Need to ask if I can use my own container.
  • Hygiene products without packaging. (1 point)
    +0 points
  • Necessary packaging that can be brought back and reused (i.e. egg cartons). (1 point)
    +0 points
  • Positive experience using my own bags and/or containers. (1 point)
    +1 point: Cashier was very friendly and said my bags were cute. The customer in front of me asked me where I got my produce bags. Hopefully she gets some too!

Bonus Point: Toddler friendly. Except for the candy filled checkout lane, Walmart is a safe and easy place to shop with little ones. +1 point

Walmart’s final score: 2.5/10*

*This score might be adjusted in the future. I want to talk to the people at the deli and seafood counters and see if they’d let me use my own containers for meat, cheese, and seafood.

Other considerations for the eco-conscious crowd:

  •  Ability to safely walk or bike to location: Walmart is not safe or close enough to walk or bike to.
  • Locally sourced products: I have seen signs claiming produce is locally sourced, but I’ve only seen them in the summer.
  • Is the company dedicated to eco-friendly practices?: LOL. No.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of what I bought, the price, and its packaging status. Some items on here are not staples in our house. The Oreos and heavy whipping cream for example are for making ice cream for my son’s birthday party.

Completely naked produce (no plastic, rubber bands, twist ties, or stickers)

  • Potatoes ($2.23/lb.) 0.78 lbs. = $1.74
  • Carrots ($0.96/lb.) 0.67 lbs. = $0.64
  • Broccoli ($0.57/lb.) 1.64 lbs. = $0.93
  • Cucumber $0.58

Free of plastic, but with stickers, rubber bands, or twist ties.

  • Apples ($1.45/lb.) 1.27 lbs. = $1.84
  • Asparagus ($0.89/lb.) 2.47 lbs. = $2.20
  • Eggplant ($1.24/lb.) 1.78 lbs. = $2.21
  • Avocados ($1.48 each) 3 = $4.44
  • Lemons ($0.50 each) 3 = $1.50
  • Grapefruit ($0.78 each) 6 = $4.68
  • Radishes 1 bunch = $0.98
  • Bananas (3.79/lb.) 0.52 lbs. = $1.97

No package free or refillable options

  • Cauliflower $2.97
  • Mushrooms $3.24
  • Fresh thyme $1.98
  • Lettuce $2.98 (They had bulk spinach bunches but they were in bad shape)
  • Juice $2.48
  • Milk $2.38
  • String Cheese $5.98
  • Crackers $2.56
  • Half and Half $3.98
  • Sour Cream $0.96
  • Heavy Whipping Cream $2.34
  • Oreos $2.98
  • Eggs (dozen cage free brown eggs) $2.27

Grand Total: $60.95

My final takeaway: There are items on this list that I know I can either make myself or find package free elsewhere. My kids love crackers. They would eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I let them. So I need to figure out what I’m going to do there. Also, string cheese is something they love and I love it too because it’s pretty healthy as far as easy snacks go. If I can buy mozzarella balls in my own container, I’ll be very happy. I would love to make my own cheese, but there’s no way I have time for such shenanigans.

The greatest success on this trip was my use of only my own bags. Not a single produce or Walmart bag came home with me and that felt pretty good. It was also easier to carry everything inside in one trip! Major bonus since I hate being outside this time of year.

Zero Waste Shopping: Fort Wayne

51rgariiuqlHey folks! Welcome to my first post about shifting our household to as close to zero waste as possible. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for awhile, but reading the book Zero Waste Home finally gave me the motivation I needed to start. I decided to share my journey on my blog because I hope the information I provide will make it easy for you to go zero waste in whatever way you choose. I’m also hoping you’ll help me out. If you find a package free item in Fort Wayne that I can’t find, please tell me about it! Are you a producer of package free products and would be interested in trading and bartering? Let’s chat!

So the first and easiest step to zero waste shopping is reusable bags. Everyone can do this at every store. Do you come home with all your produce in their own plastic bag that are then carried in another, bigger plastic bag? Those single use bags can’t be tossed in the Fort Wayne recycling bins, but they are so easily replaced with tote bags and cotton muslin bags. I have so many tote bags that I’ve acquired for free over the years. If you don’t have them already, they’re easily found in stores or online. I purchased a pack of 12 cotton muslin bags for easy bulk and produce shopping. Click here for the link to what I bought.

To evaluate how a store scores on a zero waste scale, I’ve created a rubric. Here are the basic things I consider important:

  • Bulk Bins with a variety of options. Must. Have. Coffee! (1 point)
  • Refill stations for oils, vinegars, honey, nut butters, etc. (1 point)
  • Bulk dried herbs and spices. (1 point)
  • Most produce is available without packaging. (1 point)
  • Bread without packaging. (1 point)
  • Meat without packaging (1 point)
  • Cheese without packaging. (1 point)
  • Hygiene products without packaging. (1 point)
  • Unavoidable packaging that can be brought back and reused (i.e. egg cartons). (1 point)
  • Positive experience using my own bags and/or containers. (1 point)

Bonus Point: Toddler friendly. I usually have to bring the boys with me and being able to get through with them unscathed and me sane is vital.

Other considerations for the eco-conscious crowd:
– Ability to safely walk or bike to location.
– Locally sourced products
– Is the business dedicated to eco-friendly practices?

Fort Wayne Stores

  • Walmart: Click here for my analysis
  • Fresh Thyme: TBD
  • Kroger/Scott’s: TBD
  • Three Rivers Co-op: TBD
  • Fresh Market: TBD
  • Meijer: TBD

 

Micro Greens: A Four Season Crop

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-2-37-53-pmIf you’ve been out to eat lately, you might have had little plants garnishing your main dish or mixed in your salads. Those little plants are called micro greens. They’ve become a bit of a culinary trend, but they’re also very nutritious and easy to grow. A recent study determined micro greens contain a significantly higher nutrient density than mature leaves. Depending on the variety, they are four to forty times more concentrated with nutrients.

How To Grow Micro Greens

Materials needed
Micro green seeds, soil, seed starting trays, spray bottle, and a clean spice jar with holes big enough for the seeds (optional).

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Sfullsizerendertep 1: Fill seed starting tray with your choice of growing medium. I currently have a mixture of seed starting soil and potting soil.

Step 2: For easy and even distribution of seeds, pour them into a clean spice jar. You can skip this step, but I highly recommend it.

img_3496Step 3: Sprinkle seeds evenly and densely on top of the soil.

Step 4: Using your hand or a flat object, lightly press the seeds down into the soil, but don’t bury them. This ensures the seeds have adequate contact with the soil.

Step 5: Using your spray bottle, mist the whole tray until the soil is moist but not saturated.

Step 6: Place tray near a window that gets adequate sunlight. South facing windows are best.

Step 7: Spray with water every day so the soil doesn’t dry out.

Depending on the time of year, you can have a harvest of micro greens in as little as a week. During the cooler, cloudier months (like right now) it’ll take longer for your micro greens to
sprout and reach a desirable size. If you would like to boost your growing power during the colder months, you can invest in grow lights or seedling heat mats.

Harvest & Use
screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-2-56-12-pmMicro greens can be harvested in either the cotyledon (seed leaves) stage or when the first true leaves appear. If you wait until the true leaves appear, you’ll have a much larger harvest.

To harvest, grab a handful and trim near the soil with garden shears. Most seed shells will have dropped off, but a few may remain. Rinse them in a colander if any soil or seed shells are clinging to your greens.

Micro greens can be mixed into salads, used on sandwiches, or sprinkled on top of just about any dish.

Click here to browse micro green seeds.

 

Compost

You can compost! I don’t care if you’re in an apartment, have a small yard, or a farm. You can compost. It’ll look different for everyone, but there is a solution for all of you. Before I get into different DIY and store bought bins, I want to look at the basic components of a compost pile and why it’s a million times better than that bright blue fertilizer you just spray into your garden.

Compost can either go beautifully right or horrifically wrong. The secret to getting crumbly, earthy black gold instead of thick, slimy black ooze that reeks of death is maintaining a balance between “green matter” and “brown matter”. Brown matter is stuff like grass clippings and dead leaves. Green matter is stuff like your fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen. If you maintain a roughly 50/50 balance between green and brown matter you should be able to stand right next to your compost pile without gagging. It should smell earthy, not repulsive.

Things You Can Put In a Compost Pile

  • All vegetable waste including your dead vegetable plants.
  • Fruit waste, but limit the amount of citrus.
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Egg Shells
  • Grass Clippings
  • Dead Leaves
  • Misc. yard waste such as pulled weeds, dead flowers, etc.
  • Branches can be composted, but they take a long time to breakdown, so I don’t do it.
  • Manure from animals like rabbits, cows, horses, and chickens. Do not put your dog’s or cat’s poo in your compost pile, please. Rabbit manure is the best and can even be put directly into your garden without composting. Other manure should be fully composted.

Things You Should NOT Put In a Compost Pile

  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Dairy Products
  • Stickers on your produce. Remove them before adding to your pile.
  • Greasy foods
  • Processed foods

Make a “Sandwich”

There are multiple methods for how you assemble all your compost materials. I prefer to do what I call the “sandwich method”. You have a base of brown matter and then you put a layer of green matter on top, and then you sandwich it with a layer of brown matter on top. This layering ensures you maintain a healthy balance between brown and green matter, and it encourages worms to happily chomp away at all levels of your compost.

Worms! I know, I know. Some of you think they’re gross, but they are some of your best allies. They speed up the breakdown of your compost and their poo a.k.a. “castings” improve the richness of your compost. If you want, you can order red worms online to add to your pile.

If it’s a dry summer and your compost pile starts to dry out, you’ll need to water it to keep everything breaking down. If you’re trying to save on the water bill since you’re watering the garden more, use water that you save from waiting on the water to get hot or water that you’ve used to cook. This is a good thing to do anyway, but it’s easy to forget sometimes.

You can choose to turn your compost or just leave it be. There are arguments for both methods, so I’ll let you choose. I’ve done both and I always end up with compost either way.

Free Compost from the City (Stay Away)

Some cities (including Fort Wayne) offer free compost if you load it yourself. I would not recommend this for your vegetable gardens. The reason I don’t recommend it is because they use biosolids in the city compost. Biosolids are the byproduct of the municipal wastewater treatment and they can contain human and animal feces, industrial chemicals, medical waste, oil products, pesticides, and home cleaners.

Why is Compost Better Than Chemical Fertilizer?

Modern agriculture relies on the use of sprayed on Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK) to keep their crops alive. It works, but it’s flawed in many ways. Soil that is deprived of organic matter year after year tends to be more easily eroded by wind and water. This erosion results in the loss of the fertile top soil that makes agriculture and our existence possible. This erosion also results in more fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides in our streams and rivers.

Soil that is rich with organic matter holds together better. It also requires less watering because it holds onto moisture longer. Plants do need NPK to survive, but to thrive they need a more complex ecosystem in the soil. Compost contains not only the basic NPK, but it also contains that aforementioned complex ecosystem of microscopic organisms that have symbiotic relationships with plants.

I could go on and on about this because I think soil science is sexy. If you are genuinely curious as well, I recommend reading The Soil Will Save Us. It goes more in-depth and explains how soil is the most powerful tool we have to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Where Do I Put all this Stuff?

Here’s the part where you’ll need to asses your personal living situation and determine what method works best for you. If you have a big yard out in the country, you can just find a corner and start piling it up. I don’t recommend this if your in any type of urban setting.

img_3487We were lucky to move to a house that had a surplus of old, red bricks already here. I stacked them to create an open top rectangle. I also made a leaf barrel out of chicken wire and some poles. This wire leaf barrel allows me to easily access brown matter year round.  The wire method also allows airflow and keeps the leaves useable for many months. You can use a wire barrel for your main compost bin too!

You can buy attractive looking compost bins of various sizes, but they can be a bit pricey. If you live in an apartment this is really your only option, and they do sell small ones made specifically for indoor use. Search Amazon for “compost bins” and you’ll find what you’re looking for. I have never used one, so I don’t want to endorse any product I haven’t used and approved of.

You can construct your own out of lumber and/or wire. If you use lumber, make sure it is untreated. Cedar is what I recommend. It naturally resists rot and will last a long time. Treated lumber might be made to last too, but it will leach harmful chemicals into your compost and therefore into your vegetables. Some examples I’ve seen use pallets in their bin construction. I would advise you to be cautious if you go this route. Some pallets are treated with unsafe chemicals and unless you know for sure the history of that pallet, don’t use it. If you need specific plans or inspiration for building your own, here are a few I’ve found that might work for you. Click the pictures the visit the websites. The last example has rabbit hutches above the compost pile so the poop falls directly into it. Lazy geniuses.

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