Jul 28, 2016

Am I A Homesteader?


I ran across these two posts from Simply Quaint Homestead: 20 Ways to Be More Self-Sufficient and What is Homesteading Anyway? and they got me thinking. If homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency and I do a large number of items listed on 20 Ways to Be More Self-Sufficient...does that mean I homestead?!?

I always thought of people who were homesteaders were people who lived off on a bunch of land way out on farms and have whole herds of cows and goats and grow all their food and live off of it all year round. And there are plenty of homesteaders that meet that criteria, but seeing Simply Quaint's blog I realize that I too am homesteading, I'm just at the beginning of my journey.

Here are some of things from that list of self-sufficient items that we do:
  • We have a garden! We are really enjoying our first garden. It has been fun to see what grows and how some things flourish and take over while others hardly budge. So far the amount of food we've harvested is more along the lines of a hearty meal rather than a year's worth of food,but we are learning more and the soil is improving. 
  • We also have an herb garden. Well it technically is two large pots on our front porch, but it is filled with basil, dill and oregano (the parsley didn't make it). 
  • We have a dehydrator, and even used it to make some dried basil. I never realized how much basil it takes to fit in a spice jar! I've heard that dehydrating tomatoes is delicious so I want to try that when we get some more of them. 
  • We have stuff to can, but haven't done it yet. My Mother-in-law cans, so Hubby is pretty well versed in it, but I have not canned before. Our garden isn't producing enough food to can yet, and it seems a little weird to buy food from people to can, but hopefully our garden will give us an abundance of food where we will have to start canning.  
  • We have chickens. They have been very easy pets to have. I can't wait until they start laying eggs. I'm thinking it will be in the next couple of weeks!
  • We also tend to be pretty frugal and manage our debt (only mortgages) well. Personal finance is another hobby of mine. 
  • We have a compost. While it's not that great right now, I'd love to start vermicomposting
  • We generally cook from scratch. In all honesty Hubby is the one who cooks the most. He enjoys it and is good at it. Where I am like, "Dinner again?! Didn't we just have it last night?"
  • I have made my own butter, and considered only buying milk/cream and ditching all store bought butter and yogurt. However I lived in Hawaii at the time and the cost-benefit just wasn't there. I haven't really looked into it now that we are back in Florida so I may.
  • Don't use a dryer. This is one I was better about it Hawaii. The washer and dryer were outside so it was so easy to put them on the line. Besides it also was less humid.
  • I also haven't really made my own cleaning products yet, but I think that is only a matter of time. In the past I have made my own laundry detergent and have tried no-poo shampoos (baking soda and apple cider vinegar). Right now, however, I am liking using a shampoo bar* and have some conventional laundry detergent to finish up. 
So while I don't currently do all 20 acts, I have, or will, or at least want to. I guess we are on our way to becoming self-sufficient and homesteaders. So here it is: SkipTheBag is a homesteader. :)

Are you a homesteader? What do you think the definition is?

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Jul 25, 2016

July Garden Update


We call this our "practice" garden. It seems to take a lot of the pressure off when things don't go quite according to plan. We sort of got the idea from when we took the gardening class and the instructors said we should give it at least 2 years to feel like we had it figured out.

During that time the ground will get prepared for best for growing and you'll learn how to take care of the plants and where the best placement is. I first posted about our garden in May and everything looks so small in those photos! Since that post we have had some some successes and some failures in growing items.

Our jalapeno plant is by far the most productive plant we have. We have made several batches of pickled jalapenos from it.
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One of our tomato plants never took off. It is still the same size as when we planted it. We thought it was going to die, but decided to just leave it. It made one flower that didn't turn into a tomato, but that is it. It's still the same size as it was when we planted it. The other tomato plant we planted however, has done really well. We've harvested a significant amount of tomatoes and continue to do so, although it's production is starting to slow.

Today when I went out there I found some leaf-footed stink bugs on the plant: bad news. Fortunately they are easy to get rid of. Now, be careful as leaf-footed stink bugs look very similar to Assasin bugs, but there are some important differences. Leaf footed stink bugs typically travel in packs and they have black dots on them. Assassin bugs, on the other hand tend to hang out by themselves and have white dots on them. Assassin bugs are beneficial because they tend to eat the bugs you don't want in the garden rather than the garden itself .

Fortunately they are easy to remove. Get a bowl of water large enough to fit under the plant and put some dish soap in the bowl. Then place the bowl under the area of the plant the that the leaf-footed stink bugs are and shake the plant. The leaf-footed stink bug's defense is to fall when they are scared so they will fall from the plant into the soapy water where they will die. It's probably the easiest bug removal method there is, certainly easier than caterpillars.

Leaf-footed Stink Bugs on tomato plants
Leaf-footed Stink Bugs in soapy water


We had squash vine borer which killed our yellow crookneck squash and spaghetti squash, but we were able to get one squash off of each plant before they succumbed. We had another kind of squash that the vine borer appeared to have killed, but shortly after it re-rooted and has been making a ton of leaves, but still no squash. We're just letting it do it's thing and figure if nothing else it's helping grow a root system and recruiting good bacteria and nutrients to the soil.

We planted eggplant later, after some items had already gotten started and one of the tomato plants grew so big that it blocks sunlight and water from one of the eggplant plants. The sheltered plant is quite a big smaller than it's two cousins we planted. However all of our eggplants have produced fruit. The eggplant Parmesan we made from the eggplant was probably the best we've ever made!

Eggplant

Our corn also did OK. I'm happy to report that each corn stock we planted produced an ear of corn. The stocks were plagued with bugs early on, but that cleared up and they grew well. We harvested all but 2 of the ears now. Some were more pollinated than others, and some were starting to be nibbled by bugs, but we grew them! We had two ears that were starting to get eaten so we harvested them. The others still have a little bit of growing to do.

Corn Stalk
Corn that bugs have gotten to

One of the four rattlesnake beans struggled from the beginning, but we were able to harvest enough beans from the other 3 plants to make a side dish. Yep, that's what all our time and effort produced: a single side dish. That's why we keep calling it our practice garden. We did learn some lessons though that will help us next time. We should have planted it with a tomato cage from the beginning. We added the cage after they were already starting to climb and they all climbed up the same side of the cage rather than all around the cage.

So our major lessons learned were to make sure we placed plants according to height so that they all get enough sun and water. We also learned we should plant multiples of plants, so we can at least get some product even if one dies or doesn't thrive.

The Florida Panhandle area is wacky in terms of weather and growing seasons, we are just about ready to start preparing for our fall season. This fall season tends to be a very productive time.  I can't wait to have all 4 garden beds planted with delicious food!



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Jul 21, 2016

Plastic Bag Facts


There are a lot of scary things about plastic bags. Unfortunately the scariest part are how many we use and the negative effects of them. So if you need some more motivation to #skipthebag here it is!

Usage

  • 1 trillion bags are used worldwide annually. That is 1,000,000,000,000 bags each year. Thats over 31,000 per second.1
  • The US uses roughly 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually.1
  • The average American family uses 1,500 plastic bags a year.2

Recycling

  • 14% of of plastic packaging is recycled.2
  • No more than 5 percent of plastic grocery bags were recycled across the country in 2005, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.2

Pollution

  • California spends $428 Million each year to clean up plastic trash and debris from waterways.2
  • Between 5.3 and 14 million tons of plastic is put into the ocean per year. 9 million tons is the equivalent of 5 plastic bags full of plastic on every foot of coastline in the world.2
  • Plastic bags are consitently in the top 10 pieces of trash collected on beaches around the world.They estimate there have been over 10 million bags picked up during Ocean Conservatory beach clean up efforts.3
  • Plastic bags were the second most impactful item to marine wildlife (behind fishing gear) due to the tendency of animals such as sea turtles to mistake them for food. 3

1.Earth Policy Organization http://www.earth-policy.org/press_room/C68/plastic_bags_fact_sheet
2. Natural Resources Defense Council https://www.nrdc.org/
3. Ocean Convervancy http://www.oceanconservancy.org/

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Jul 18, 2016

5 Simple Swaps to Reduce Waste



1. Skip single use plastic bags.

World wide there are one trillion plastic bags are used annually. That's trillion with a T each year! Join the #skipthebag movement by refusing single use plastic bags. There are a number of alternatives to plastic bags so you are sure to find something you like.

2. Get a reusable waterbottle.

Americans use 2.5 million water bottles every hour. Get a refillable* waterbottle to save all that plastic waste! Besides it may not be any safer than tap water

3. Use a travel coffee mug.

This is the mug* my husband uses. He regularly raves about how great it is. His mother also has one that she loves, actually his was a gift from her when he was about to embark on his cross country drive to move to Florida. My favorite part (since I don't drink coffee) is that every time he uses it there is one less disposable cup going to a landfill.

4. Say no to straws.  

Especially living in the South I have noticed how they give you a straw for everything. However it is very easy to say "no, thank you" and refuse the plastic straws. If you just have to have a straw I would like to recommend some alternatives made of metal, bamboo or paper*. 

5. Avoid plastic silverware. 

Many people carry a set of flatware* to avoid situations where they would need to use plastic silverware (again some are made of bamboo* or even are biodegradable*). It helps prevent issues where you have to use a plastic spoon because you don't have one.
These are all simple swaps that you can make that will have a large impact on the amount of plastic you consume over the course of a year.
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Jul 14, 2016

Zero Waste Air Travel


My Goddaughter was turning 3, it was our 10 year anniversary, and we hadn't traveled (other than moving) for nearly a year. So naturally Hubby and I decided to go out to California for a week. It was fun. We had a birthday party, wine tasting in Napa, scuba diving in Monterrey bay, 4th of July parades and many nights catching up with old friends and exploring a new city.

Now I know that air travel consumes a large amount of resources, but I love to travel and often times flying is the most practical way to go. Unfortunately air travel is also notorious for being wasteful from not allowing you to bring liquids through security, serving food on disposable place settings and giving out trinkets that often go unused. However, I've put together this list of ideas to help you minimize your waste while traveling so you can just worry about how much fun you'll have.

1. Tickets

Go mobile. Most major airlines, and I would dare say all airlines anymore, have mobile boarding passes. However I rarely saw people using them. How it works is you go to either the airline's app on your phone or onto their website and log in. Once there you confirm your information and you will get a QR code. This code is then scanned both while going through security and at the gate getting onto the airplane rather than having a paper ticket.

Some tips from my experience: Make sure you have the correct barcode. When checking in for the flight I was emailed a boarding pass, however it linked to a pdf that was not the mobile boarding pass. I only noticed it when I was in line for security and had to scramble to get the correct barcode. Next, make sure your brightness is turned up fully. Both hubby and I had issues with barcodes on our phones scanning because the brightness wasn't up. Finally even though my screen was cracked I was still able to use mobile boarding, so give it a chance. Worse case scenario you will have to get a boarding pass printed, but then remember to recycle it after you are done.

2. Beverages

Bring your own water bottle. Remember your bottle will need to be empty as you go through security. Some airports have special places for you to put the water, but most of them make you either drink it fast or go dump it in a restroom, so be sure to plan ahead! However on the other side of security there will likely be plenty of drinking fountains to refill your water bottle up. Bringing your own drinks allows you to refuse the cups on the plane.

zero waste recycle water
Information from a water station found at the San Francisco Airport.
Always bring your own water bottle to prevent being a part of this scary statistic!
water fountain zero waste
Counter on the water bottle filling station in Pensacola, Florida. Doing our part to help eliminate plastic bottles!

3. Food

While airlines generally have limited food service, most still offer some sort of snack such as pretzels or crackers. I'm pretty sure that the packaging on the pretzels, crackers or nuts just gets thrown away, so refuse them. Bring your own tasty treats from home or you might be able to buy some from the bulk store at the airport.


4. Bulk Food at Airport

Yes there is bulk food in the airport! I was surprised to see it. However, be cautioned that I saw this same chain in the Charlotte airport and it was a typically packaged store, so your mileage may vary.

bulk food zero waste
Natalie's Candy Jar in SFO has candy in bulk! Unfortunately their store in Charlotte has more conventional packaging. But it is possible to find bulk food even in the airport. 

5. Compostable Items at Airport

We were fortunate to fly through the San Francisco Airport and SFO has one of the best airports for sustainability. They only offer compostable items in their food areas. So if you aren't flying through there you may have to be a little more selective about your food choices. Perhaps eat at more sit down restaurants that will provide you with real dishes rather than fast food that will give you items that need to be thrown away.

sfo compostable recyclable
I was so excited to see that everything you purchase in the SFO food court is recyclable or compostable!

Hopefully this helped give you some ideas on how to limit your waste while traveling. Do you have any other tips?

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Jul 12, 2016

Bacon Dill Cream Cheese with Puff Pastry Waffles Appetizer


While traveling we had a birthday party for a very special 3 year old. She wanted a totally pink birthday so we made a number of appetizers that had pink in them.

My favorite was the bacon dill cream cheese and puff pastry waffles appetizer. To make it 'pink' we served it with smoked salmon. Unfortunately I don't have any photos of it with the salmon (cause I was too busy eating it all!) So this recipe is just for the cream cheese and puff pastry waffles. This was incredibly easy to make and were a big hit!

First defrost puff pastry and cut it in half.

Next cook the puff pastry into a waffle iron. Cook until browned. It took us about 3 minutes. Slice the puff pastry into squares while it is still warm. As the pastry cools it gets very flaky and will not have crisp lines if you cut it after they cool. A pizza cutter worked extremely well for this.


In a bowl mix dill, bacon, cream cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Blend well.


Serve waffles with a knife to put on cream cheese and top. If you look hard you can see the plate of waffles and the bowl of cream cheese (next to the wine bottle) in the picture below. You can also see the red and yellow tomato slices and the blueberry goat cheese with figs. We've got a pretty special 3 year old that rates all this!


Bacon Dill Cream Cheese with Puff Pastry Waffles
one box puff pastry
one box cream cheese
3 tablespoons fresh dill
6 slices of bacon, cooked and diced.
salt and pepper to taste.

Defrost puff pastry sheets, cutting them in half.
Cook in a waffle iron until browned (about 3-4 minutes), Slice into squares.
Combine cream cheese, dill, bacon and salt and pepper in a bowl.
Serve waffles as crackers with cream cheese dip.

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Jul 4, 2016

Why I Don't Keep My Trash in a Mason Jar

I can't remember the first time I heard about zero waste, but I bet you within the first week or so about seeing more about it I saw someone who had saved a year's worth of trash in a mason jar. Well, you won't see that here. Why? Because we still have a full size trash can that we fill up regularly! It would take us less than a week to fill a Mason jar.

Zero Waste Plastic Free

I lay no claims to being a zero waste or trash free expert. I am a regular person who started a blog hoping to inspire and be inspired. This blog has helped me examine and become more educated about choices I make.Through this education and inspiration I am working on making more sustainable choices that lead to less waste.

I have already made some changes that will create less waste, but we still produce a fair amount of trash. Currently we have two trash cans that are slightly smaller than 13 gallons in our kitchen. One is for recycling and the other is for trash. We also have a compost bin* for organic materials. Our recycle bin gets filled up every week and our trash bin would probably take 2 weeks to fill up, but it sometimes starts to stink so we take it out roughly once a week.

Our outside trash can, the one that we take to the curb holds 4 or 5 of our kitchen trash bags so I would say we take it out to the curb 1-2 times a month. Pensacola has weekly trash and yard debris service. You either take their weekly service or have no service at all. I know some locations allow you to be more flexible with your garbage pickup. Portland, Oregon is set up where you have weekly composting pickup and monthly or bi-monthly garbage pick up.

There are obviously places that we can improve further. We make a solid effort to make sure all organic material goes into the compost bin and that recyclable material goes into the recycle bin, but I'm sure there are some of those items still ending up in the trash. We also don't always shop with disposal in mind. We buy the packaged food and honestly that is probably where most of our trash comes from.

So while I'm not going to stun you with pictures of my trash in a mason jar, I am going to help push you (and me!) to make smarter decisions that result in less waste and lower impact on the environment. How much trash do you make?
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