Mar 16, 2011

Rising food costs + political turmoil + natural disasters= time to prepare

I am usually not the kind of person to sound like an alarmist (I leave that to my dad) but there are a few reasons EVERYONE should have their stockpile in order.  According to this article on Yahoo Finance food prices have had their steepest rise in 36 years. Combine that with the expected rise in oil prices due to political upheaval occurring in the Middle East and disaster in Japan and you start to see why it is prudent to be prepared. Not only will food cost more to make but also to ship. It is always a good idea to be prepared for the unexpected. If the earthquake in Japan has taught us anything it is that everything can change in an instant. Having a well stocked pantry helps insulate you from rising food prices while also helping keep you prepared for emergencies.
     So what can you do to be better prepared without going overboard? 

Canned Goods
Most people know to have a stock of canned goods- vegetables, fruit, canned meat (ie tuna), soups etc. It is important to rotate this stock by putting new additions (with further away expiration dates) in the back and move the old stuff to the front. Another lesson I have learned is to only buy stuff you will actually eat when there isn't a disaster. I hate to think about the food that went bad because I bought it in case of a hurricane but wouldn't eat it otherwise. Only buy stuff you will actually use.

Dry Goods
People often overlook the value of raw goods when they stockpile. Dry beans and rice will keep virtually forever if stored properly in sealed plastic food grade containers. Beans provide protein and are inexpensive. Rice is an inexpensive carbohydrate. Buy brown whole grain to add fiber. Other important dry goods to store include flour, sugar, salt, and cornmeal. I know of some people who store wheat berries and mill their own grains but that is above what I am capable of doing at the moment.

Health and Beauty Aids
It is also important to have a stock of products such as toothpaste, soap, and shampoo. You can get this stuff for free or almost free if you shop the sales at CVS right. I always keep a 6 month supply on hand. What I can't use gets donated to shelters.

Storing water is possible but can be a pain. A few drops of bleach will keep water sanitary. Water should be changed out every six months. Rather than keeping mass quantities of water on hand I recommend a good ceramic water purifier if you live close to a pond, stream, or lake. We keep enough bottles around to fill for a hurricane or other emergency (plus your bath tubs etc) if we need to fill them but don't keep them all filled all of time due to space constraints. Make sure whatever you keep it in is food grade. 2 liter Soda bottles are good, milk containers are not.

If you have pets don't forget to have at least a month supply of pet food on hand. 

Some helpful websites: LDS (later day saints) also have great local resources as their church preaches about preparedness
Mar 5, 2011

The Tangible and Intangible Benefits of Gardening

    Most people who know me know that I love flowers. What many of them don't know is how much I love to garden. There are so many benefits to gardening and it's not just the frugal benefits of cheap food and the green benefits of organic produce. There is a less tangible quality that gardening gives me. It just makes me happy. I love the smell of the dirt. I love watching seedlings sprout. The time I spend sitting on my patio drinking coffee with my plants while watching the bird feeder with Daisy is my favorite part of the weekend. I'm so glad it's finally spring!
      I think I caught the gardening bug when I was young. My mom loves to garden and she always let us help. She taught us the names of flowers, the difference between perennials and annuals,  and how to care for them. When I was about seven she let each of us pick out our own rosebush from the nursery. Mine was a pink Queen Elizabeth rose. I loved it. When we moved out of that house when I was 19 it was taller than me.
       For someone who loves memorizing facts and minutia gardening is a perfect pastime. There are literally millions of plants to choose from. I'll never forget my first extended trip at Academy to Colonial Williamsburg. I walked around pointing out all of the different plants to the children. My boss was shocked that I knew all of the names. It was fun to see the kids start to identify the plants on there own.
        Summer is my favorite time of year. I love picking fresh basil for our pizza and spaghetti sauces. Baked potatoes just taste better with fresh chives. Flowers bloom and the serenity of my small porch garden is sublime. It truly is my happy place.
         I'm not trying to imply that the life of a gardener is all sunshine and roses (though that is a big part of it!). Last year's tomatoes grew as tall trees and were attacked by bugs. Our attempt at blueberries was a failed effort that ended in a mildew infestation. But I still love to plant things. The hope and excitement outweighs the risk that things will go wrong.
         Someday, Rob and I will have a house where I can plant and grow things until my heart's content. Until then, here is my top list of plants for container gardening:

  1. Sweet Basil- easy to grow from seeds. Has a beautiful aroma, tastes great, and does well in pots.
  2. Chives- I grew these from seeds in a container and this cold winter couldn't kill them. They're back and better than ever.
  3. Epipremnum aureum aka Devil's Ivy- an impossible to kill hanging plant. It actually removes toxins from the air. I love hanging plants but they can be finicky. This one is not. I have forgotten to water it, left it outside every winter, and pruned it back to its base but it always comes back and grows over ten feet long every year. It is also very easy to propagate from cuttings. Here is a great site for information on hanging plants.
  4. Impatiens- love shade and make great container and border plants. They come in a variety of stunning colors. They do need a lot of water.
  5. Calibrachoa aka million bells- a petunia like plant with cute little flowers. Great for containers because it will hang over the edge. This plant needs to be fertilized.
  6. Bogonias- another easy to propagate plant that does well in semi-shady areas.
  7. Mint- great for tea and mojitos. It is also invasive so it's hard to kill.
  8. Pentas aka star flower- very pretty and colorful. They do need more sun than some of the other ornamentals listed. A bonus- mine came back for several years before it finally died.
Ultimately, it is the intangible feeling that gardening gives me that keeps me coming back. I love having fresh herbs and flowers but it's the way I feel sitting on my porch with Daisy and the connection to my mom that really drives me to dig in the dirt.