Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Garden - 110529

Right now my little garden has a Death Sentence and is on The Green Mile.  One of the retaining wall concrete plates is cracked and bowing outward.  The elderly, and sometimes cranky, Dutch woman behind me is afraid that my three foot high wall will collapse and come crashing across the walkway and into her yard.  So my landlord has been notified of the problem and has come out to look.  He wants to replace the wall, which will require digging out most of my garden area.  I have an appeal pending and have asked for a delay of execution until the fall.  He hasn't said yes or no but I think (and have my fingers crossed for luck) that he will be willing to wait until the fall. In any case, a lot of hard work trying to improve the soil will be for naught when this is dug out and then backfilled when the new wall is done.

I was away most of the day today at an antique tractor show in Bochtol, Belgium.  But I did get into my garden to do some weeding and reseeding.  Between the birds and two cats (at least two that I know of) my garden is in sorry shape.  I have reseeded the new radish patch, scallion onion patch, and lettuce patch at least three times so far.  Each time I would come home from work to find it all dug up or scratched out.  After a lot of trial and error I think I have the netting pretty well pest proof.  But they are really determined pests and have squirmed their way in before when I thought it was well protected.


As you can see I have harvested about half of my first batch of radishes.  I take two, fresh, cut-up radishes to work each day to eat with my lunch.  It is a nice, spicy addition to whatever else I am eating.  Radishes are low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol. They are also a good source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Folate and Potassium.  Two radishes a day are not going to solve any nutritional problem I might have but I do enjoy eating them and I am growing them basically for free.


I have some large onions that I could pick now but as they are green I would have to eat the whole thing in just a few days.  I do eat a lot of onions but for now I am waiting until I cook something that will take a whole onion, cut up.  I am looking forward to it because the onions I grew last year were seriously strong.  These will be great in a stir fry or stew.  This group has grown the largest but there are about ten more growing along the back of the garden; much slower though because there is more shade in the back.






As you can see in this photo the lettuce patch on the right was damaged but a lot of it is coming back.  As I mentioned in an earlier posting I rarely eat iceberg lettuce anymore, at least not if I have to buy it.  What I have growing here is a type of Butterhead lettuce.  Butterhead lettuce is a crisp, loosely formed head lettuce.  This lettuce is low in Sodium, and has no fat or Cholesterol at all. It is a good source of Thiamin, Riboflavin, Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Potassium and Manganese.  The spring onion bed on the left was almost totally wiped out.  It has been reseeded but the bed was so disturbed I don't know how it will do.  There are about 8-10 plants from the first seeding that survived the animals.  Next weekend I am going to do some additional planting in another area of the garden.

The green bean plants that withstood the various animal pests are doing pretty good.  I expect to see some flowers in this coming week or next week at the latest.  I have repeatedly reseeded the gaps in the plants but either they aren't germinating or the bird pulled and ate the sprouts.  So I reseeded them today as well.  It is still very cool at night and the soil might be a little too cool for the beans to germinate; I'm not sure.  This will only be about sixteen plants in this particular patch but that will be more than enough to supply me with a couple side-dishes a week once they start coming in.  That is, presuming I get some pollinators in the garden.  I have only seen one bee so far.  A few of my flowers are starting to blossom so hopefully that will bring in the bees.

My two pepper plants are coming along nicely.  The one on the right is not as dark a green as I would like to see.  I never tested this soil but considering the amount of wood chips and wood-based compost that I put in it I think I can presume it is low in Nitrogen.  Yellowish leaves are often a sign of nitrogen deficiency.  So I am treating the symptom.  I mulched both pepper plants and the tomato plant with some recovered potting soil and broken up root refuse.  In the winter I salvaged a thrown out plant that was completely root bound.  I cut all the roots back to the main stem of the plant and shook the roots and soil into a bin I use for gardening.  I let it dry and then chopped it all up.  I have done this before and found that a tremendous amount of salvageable plant nutrients are tied up in the roots and the soil attached to them.  This mulch will serve two purposes.  First, it is a mulch to keep down weeds, maintain moisture, and keep the plants clean from splashing ground water (a common cause of fungal problems).  Secondly, it will slowly release nutrients into the soil surrounding the plants to feed them in an organic manner.  We shall see.

I have twenty flowering plants planted in and around the garden.  Beneficial insects need places to live and food sources.  I almost always plant Marigolds in and around my vegetable gardens.  The good bugs like them and the bad bugs hate the smell.  Planting Marigolds between your bean plants, for example, is one of the best natural defenses against pests.  Even rabbits don't particularly like them.  There is a very good technique called, "Companion Planting" that I try to observe and use.  Companion planting is using the natural likes and dislikes of plants to your advantage.  Some plants do not like to be grown near certain other plants and some plants are beneficial to certain other plants.

   


So that is the status of my garden this week.  With a little luck the birds and cats will stay out of my garden and my other plants will thrive.  I have only about one more week's worth of radishes and then will have to wait for the next patch to come in.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eat Less - It's all Timing

Your body needs different nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) at different times of the day depending on what you are doing.  If you eat the wrong stuff at the wrong time, you cannot get the most out of the food.  So you end up wasting food dollars. For example, if you eat a high protein meal shortly before you begin a rigorous activity (workout, sport, or physical labor i.e. work), your body will burn the protein for energy.  This is neither effective (only four calories per gram of protein) nor efficient because generally protein is the most expensive part of your food budget. So let's look at how to eat in a cost effective manner.

For the sake of this discussion we will presume that you have the normal daytime work schedule.  You wake up around 0600-0700 hours and get to work by 0800 hrs.  You work eight hours plus a one hour lunch break and get home in time for supper at 1800 hrs (6:00 PM).  After work you play with the kids or walk the dog or some sort of other low-level activity until 2100 hrs (9:00 PM) and then you watch some TV or read until bedtime.  Pretty standard day for a lot of people.

So, you just woke up, now what.  First thing everyone needs to do is drink 8-16 ounces of water.  Why?  Because your body is dehydrated.  Most people don't drink right before they go to sleep so it's probably been 8-10 hours since you took in any liquids.  Second, if you are thirsty when you eat breakfast you are more likely to drink more while you eat and that's going to be coffee, milk, or juice.  A little of any or each of them is ok but you don't really need more than 4-6 ounces of either of them.


Eat Real cheese, not "Processed Cheese Product",
choose Low-fat sliced ham,
use Egg Substitute like Egg Beaters,
on a Whole Grain Bagel, Roll, or Toast

What to eat?  Well you haven't eaten in 10-14 hours either so you need a good mix of protein, good fats, and carbs to get your body fueled up for the day.  Pure carb breakfasts like cereal, pancakes, waffles, french toast, etc. don't do much for you.  These foods will quickly convert to sugars, hype up your body, and then you crash in two hours and are hungry (and carb craving) again.  This often leads to uncontrolled snacking of more high-carb junk food, which is worthless but expensive.  Instead, eat a substantial breakfast such as egg, ham, and cheese, on a whole wheat bagel. This quick and filling meal gives you 22 grams of Protein, only 7 grams of Fat, and 310 Calories.  Add a small glass of juice and / or milk and you are good to go.  (These numbers are for egg beaters, low fat (but real) cheese, and low fat sliced ham on a whole
wheat bagel.)  This is a $1.50 or less meal.  I eat this fairly often myself and I am also a firm believer in taking a multi-vitamin with my breakfast everyday.


Your brain and body need the fuel and other nutrients to perform well.  A good breakfast will give you a good start but after 2-3 hours you need to refuel with a complex carb and protein snack to tide you over until lunch.  I have three favorites.  1. Low fat yogurt with a sprinkle of crushed mixed nuts.  2. Half of a peanut butter and honey sandwich using whole grain bread.  3. Half of a commercial protein bar.  I usually drink water or green tea with it. All of these offer a good mix of slow burning energy sources with some fats and protein to provide a longer feeling of fullness and are about 150 calories.


Lunch - the highlight of my day!  I generally eat my main meal at lunch now.  On weekends I eat sandwiches for lunch but during the workweek I like a sit down meal, which I bring from home.  This serves a couple purposes.  First, it makes me slow down and take a break.  Second, it gives me a complete, nutritious meal to get me through the rest of the work day when I really need it.  Three, knowing what I have coming for lunch gives me something to look forward to and helps me resist buying unneeded snacks. 

After lunch it's back to work and even though I had a good lunch, I will still need an energy boost to get through the rest of the afternoon.  I usually have a cup of yogurt or fruit; all I really need is healthy calories here.

If you kept fueled up during the day and drank plenty of water (16-24 ounces during the past eight hours) you shouldn't be famished when supper time comes. Before every major meal you should drink a glass of water.  For supper you shouldn't need a big meal because your work load after supper is generally lighter than what you have been doing during the work day.  Many people eat their big meal at night but it just isn't needed.  A big salad and a light supper will meet all your nutritional needs.  This meal should be higher in protein and lower in carbs because your body doesn't really need the calories but it does need to start preparing for recovery and rebuilding; that takes protein.  A salad for fullness and a protein shake or small piece of chicken, fish, or lean red meat is ideal.  If you have trouble falling asleep at night it might be because you are taking in too many carb calories late in the day and your body is hyped up on sugar. 



A food gap from 1800 hrs (6:00 PM) to 0600 hrs (6:00 AM) is just too long for me so I almost always eat a high protein snack just before going to bed.  A protein shake is best because it is a good source of complete protein and amino acids.  This gives your body what it needs to recover and repair all the damage you did to your body during the day.

Eat carbs one to two hours before strenuous activity that will require lots of energy.  Complex carbs are always better than simple carbs (sugars such as glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, also known as table sugar, maltose, dextrose and lactose.) because they are slow release and don't cause blood sugar spikes and crashes.

Eat protein first thing in the morning and last part of the day.  Protein is a building block, don't waste it by burning it up as energy.  Carbs are always cheaper.

Eat your fats in the morning if possible. Your body needs fats for many processes and energy. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Foraging - Hunting and Fishing

    I consider hunting and fishing part of the Foraging for Food process as part of our collective Hunter/Gatherer past.  Both hunting and fishing can put protein on the table.  The problem is time and cost.  If you hunt and fish for pleasure, then you can categorize the time under "entertainment".  So if you set a certain amount of time aside for these sports, for the sport's sake, then time is not an issue.  But if you are only going out hunting or fishing to get something to eat, then it is not a very efficient use of your time.  You always have to figure in the cost of your time.  There is also the dollar cost involved.  A basic fishing rig is inexpensive enough and will last a long time.  I used the same $5.00 (back then) Zebco 202 fishing reel from when I was five or six until I joined the Army.  Hunting gear is a much more expensive proposition though unless you inherit it. But there are two types of hunting that are not so time consuming, are not expensive, and can often even generate a little cash.  These are groundhog and pigeon hunting.
    Groundhogs, or whatever your region's ground burrowing varmit might be, are plentiful and don't usually have a specific hunting season.  In the spring, groundhogs are busy digging new dens or expanding old ones.  Thus lies the problem for the land-owner.  Groundhog holes are a huge hazard for livestock, horses, and farm equipment.  Most land-owners, especially farmers/ranchers, would be more than glad for you to harvest a couple.
 

    Nearly any rifle is suitable for groundhog hunting with the right bullet and load.  I've successfully hunted them with my 30-06 (I once made a 450m shot), a .357 revolver, and my old .22 rimfire rifle.  Most land-owners would be happier if you stuck with the .22 though for safety reasons and the noise.  I mostly used the hyper-velocity CCI Stinger rounds; the first hyper-velocity (about 400 feet per second faster than standard loads) .22 rimfire cartridge on the market back in the 1970's. They were very accurate and lethal out to 50m.  There are a couple other competing rounds out there now but I haven't used any of them so I can't comment on their effectiveness (or the .17 rimfire either).
Search Amazon.com for .22 rimfire ammunition
    When I was a teenager I talked to a couple land-owners in my area and got permission to hunt groundhogs ("grunt sows" in my Pennsylvania Dutch area).  I used these hunts as an opportunity to walk the land, see what was there (I am a big salvager/scavenger too), and scout for other game.  Since most of the land in my area was farm land, abandoned farm land, or woods, there was also a lot of foraging opportunities.  But we'll talk about that later. 
    Groundhogs are at the bottom of the food chain, prey animals, and so to survive the past couple million years they have developed keen senses.  They have super eyesight but mostly to see movement.  You can sit right next to a burrow and they will come out if you don't move.  They also have a good sense of hearing and smell.  So hunting them close-up with a .22 rimfire takes a bit of skill.  Developing your stalking skills on a wary groundhog is a great thing. 

    Groundhogs, also called Woodchucks, are large members of the ground squirrel family.  Adults are 4-9 pounds.  They usually only live 2-3 years in the wild and can reproduce at one year old.  Gestation is quick, 31 days or so.  Once the babies are born in April-May, the male will move out and set up his own den.  The babies will stay with the mother only 5-6 weeks and then they also move out and start digging a den.  So in May to early June you should look for the solitary adult groundhog.  This will be the single males and you don't have to worry about shooting a mother with young.  By mid to late July, all the babies are able to survive on their own so you don't have to be too selective.
    If you know your area you can probably go out any day of the week and harvest a groundhog within an hour or so.  They are fairly large so one a day is good enough.  Groundhogs should be handled according to the general rules for game in the field. Field dress it as soon as you can and try to cool it down since you are hunting in warmer weather.  You can put it on ice or wrap it in a wet towel so evaporation cools it down. Some people like to hang them in a cool, dry place to "age" them (I don't). Groundhogs have several scent glands in the small of their back and under their arms; remove those carefully.  I always soak game meat in salt water over night.  It does a couple things: it draws out the blood, it kills any pathogens, and it lessens the "gamey" taste.  Woodchuck meat is dark, but mild flavored and tender. They usually have a pretty good amount of fat, especially later in the year, but wild animal fat is fairly healthy.  Trim off the excess if you are going to cut up the meat for certain recipes.  Parboil the meat of older animals; use in recipes calling for rabbit.  I usually cut them up into quarters and then cook in a slow cooker (crock pot) until the meat falls off the bones.  I then use the meat in BBQ or chilli.  I've seen recipes for making burgers but haven't tried it.
Search Amazon.com for wild game recipes

    Pigeons are even easier.  Pigeons live everywhere and all year round.  Doves and Pigeons have been raised as food animals for centuries.  When you buy them in the store they are called, "Squab".  They were raised and housed in structures called "Dovecotes" in English or "Pigeonaire" in some areas of the US.  For the landed gentry, these were often fancy little buildings like this one from The Netherlands, below:
File:Pigeonhouse.JPG
 
   For our purposes though I presume we are going to collect wild doves and pigeons.  If you live in or near the country, just ask any farmer if you can shoot some of his barn pigeons.  Pigeons like to nest and roost in farm buildings.  Unfortunately for the owner, they produce lots of droppings.  These droppings are highly corrosive and they damage the machinery below.  For barn hunting I recommend a good quality pellet rifle.  You don't want to shoot through or miss a bird and punch a hole through the farmer's roof.  Use flat tipped, low-penetration type pellets like the one here.  Birds are really fragile; if you hit it you will kill it.
    Many people just cut the breast off the birds but that is something of a waste.  They are very easy to pluck or skin and you can compost the feathers or dig them directly into the garden.  Feathers are high in nitrogen, which is good for your plants.  Doves are migratory game birds and therefore protected by hunting regulations; pigeons are considered pests, non-game birds and they are not regulated.  The Mourning Dove is on the left and the common Pigeon is on the right.

     Pigeons are almost twice the size of a dove.  Make sure you can tell the difference.  Take head-shots if you can.  Again, you want to cool them down as soon as you can.  I never field dressed birds but Field & Stream suggests that you should; as described below.
    To gut a dove (or Pigeon), turn the bird over on its back, pull a few feathers away from the vent area, and slit the skin. Reach a finger inside and pull out the entrails, making sure you get all the way to the top and front of the cavity to remove the lungs, which are nestled up along the backbone. Make a second short cut at the base of the neck and pull out the windpipe and crop. Wipe the inside of the body cavity with a paper towel. Field dressed in this manner, doves will last several days. In fact, some cooks like to age birds by storing them uncovered, with feathers on, in a refrigerator for a few days.


     Doves and Pigeons are delicious.  They were considered a delicacy until very recent times. You can cook them the same way you would any small bird, such as a Cornish Hen.  Ok, some people call Pigeons "Flying Rats" because they are everywhere in the cities and they seem to eat anything.  That is true.  But they are clean, low-fat, nutritious poultry too.  You probably don't want to know what chickens and turkeys eat either but you eat them.

   They are small so you will need a couple but for the price of a couple pellets you can get yourself a nice meal.  Farmers in my area paid me ten cents a bird to get them out of their barns.  I don't know if they still would but considering an air rifle pellet costs less than a penny I think the meat pays for itself and you get some serious shooting practice in at the same time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Growing Food - My Garden 110517

Today I spent a little over an hour putting bird netting over my little garden.  I mentioned before that I have developed pretty healthy soil, full of worms.  Well, a local bird has become fascinated by my garden and has been tearing it up, presumably looking for worms and other little critters to eat.  I tried putting bits and pieces of metal fencing over each small plot (salvaged from a local roll-off) but the bird squeezed through it to scratch and dig in my soil.  It basically destroyed 90% of my scallions, lettuce, and new radish plot.  Several of my green bean plants were also uprooted or otherwise damaged.  So I bought a 5x4 meter piece of bird netting and installed that today.  Search Amazon.com for bird netting


Now normally, I would shoot the bird and dig it under as fertilizer but that is pretty much frowned on here in The Netherlands and I don't have a pellet gun here anyway.  The bird netting should work.  I'll have to replant quite a bit and that will set me back about three weeks.  But a few of the plants survived so I'll get some early maturing crops to pick.

Speaking of picking; I have harvested four radishes so far and they were really good.  Each of them were the size of a ping-pong ball.  I like to just cut them in quarters, shake a little salt out on my plate, and set them briefly on the salt for a hint of saltiness.  I'm not sure if it is the soil or the sparse sunshine in my plot but last year both my onions and radishes were very strong.  I like a good bit of bite in my onions and radishes.  A lot of people like sweet onions and vidalias but if I am eating an onion I want to taste an onion.  I think your nose should run and your eyes should water when you eat an onion or radish.

Something I noticed a few decades ago is the difference between how the plants respond to water from my hose and rain water. They definitely do better with rain water.  Most people think rain water is pure and pH neutral but neither is correct.  Rain picks up all kinds of stuff from the air as it falls to earth and it reacts with various gases to become slightly to moderately acidic (a pH between 5.0 and 6.5 depending on where you live).  That's why "acid rain" is not a really recent phenomenon.  The earth has always had acid rain.  Anyway, the lower pH and the dust and detritus picked up during its travel to your lawn or garden are actually beneficial.  Water from your hose or facet (if you are on city water) is pH neutral and chemically pure.  It is also chemically treated with clorine. What is clorine used for?  It is used to purify water by killing all the micro-organisms.  When this clorinated water hits your soil it also kills micro-organisms.  Unfortunately, those are much needed micro-organisms.  They will recover of course because unless you flood your garden you won't kill them all.

So what do you need to do?  First, get your soil tested for pH and nutrients.  There are home kits for this but the most accurate way to do this is to take several small samples from several spots in your garden, mix them well, and send a sample of that to your local County Extension Agent or agricultural college for testing.  It is relatively inexpensive to do and will tell you the health of your soil.  With that information you will then know exactly what soil amendments you need for optimum soil.
Soil Testing Kit
Search Amazon.com for soil test kits
Garden soil between 5.5 and 8.0 is generally considered balanced for most crops.  Soil pH does effect the availability of certain nutrients and minerals though.  Lower pH soils (acidic) generally are deficient in:
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Molybdenum
If the pH is too high (alkaline), the soil may have all the required nutrients and minerals but they are locked up at the molecular level and unavailable to the plants.

Luckily, soil pH can be adjusted fairly easily but it does take a little time. 

  • If the soil is too acidic you just need to add some lime or other high calcium mineral.  This can be in the form of bone meal (ground up bones), ground egg shells, ground oyster/clam shells, wood ashes, or mineral forms of limestone.  The finer ground the material the faster it will raise the pH.  It is best to test your soil in the fall and lime it then so it can go to work over the winter.  The liming material needs to be tilled into the soil so that it is well mixed and has maximum contact with the acidic soil.
  • If the soil is too alkaline the most common materials to acidify the soil are Sulfer and Aluminum Sulfate (available at garden centers).  I'm not a big fan of putting either of these materials in my garden though because they are most often by-products of industrial processes so who knows what else is in it. The more natural way to lower the pH is by incorporating acidic organic materials.  These include, but are not limited to, coffee grounds (worms love them), composted pine (especially the needles), composted oak leaves, ground up acorns, and peat moss.
Most pH imbalances and nutrient deficiencies can be corrected by digging in copious amounts of natural compost.  I will write an entire posting on compost, probably more than one.  My wife will verify that I am something of a composting addict.  By using lots of compost I never have to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides in my garden.  I use compost to feed the soil organisims and they take care of the plants' needs.
When it is dry you will probably need to use water from your house.  If you have a well, no problem.  But if you are on city water (clorinated) like me, you can de-clorinate it for free.  All you need to do it fill a couple buckets with water and let them sit out in the sun for a day or two.  Sunlight will help remove the clorine from the water.  After a day or two it will be almost chemical free.  The other thing you can do is scrounge or buy some plastic 55 gallon barrels or drums and make a rain barrel.  All you need is to place one under a down spout and you can collect free rain water for your garden.


Search Amazon.com for rain barrel kits


That's it for today, happy gardening (food growing)!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shopping for Less

Food shopping on a tight budget takes planning and discipline.  A generation or so ago there were small corner grocery stores scattered around every town and and every couple of blocks in the city.  Each store was set up in its own unique way and each store catered to the local clientele. That is not the case anymore except for ethnic stores here and there.  Most grocery stores are now part of large, multi-national chains.  They are able to purchase their products much cheaper than mom & pop stores because of the power of bulk purchasing.  Those lower costs are partially passed on to us, the consumer.  So you would think we would be saving money at these grande-marts.  Item per item we probably are, however these mega-food store chains also use psychology to manipulate our buying habits and we end up buy things we don't need.

One of the first tricks of the successful grocery store is to use "teaser" items to get you in the store.  They will sell heavily discounted items, often even at a loss, to entice you to their store.  The "sale" is often timed to bring customers in for holiday shopping or shopping on lower traffic days.  These teaser items will be spread out throughout the store so that you have to travel up and down the isles looking for them.  They know that you will likely pick up a few other items as you walk through the store. $$  Good for them but bad for you.

The next trick pisses off every parent and that is putting candy and cheapo trinkets right at the check-out line.  How many of you have pacified your out of control or whining kid by promising them some candy or one of these crappy toys while standing there waiting in line?  $$ Every one of you has done this.

Next comes store layout.  There is a high science to this.  Stores of all types have better planning than most industrial plants.  Over the past four decades the layouts of grocery stores have evolved from being a convenience to you to strategic tools of psychological manipulation. 
  • Have you ever noticed that the dairy section (everybody needs milk) is always in the far recesses of the store?  This makes you walk all the way through the store to get there even if all you needed was a half gallon of milk for tomorrow's breakfast.  Wouldn't it be a pleasing convenience for them to put bread and dairy items at the front of the store? 
  • Have you ever noticed that there are two places to select salad dressings in the store?  One is the standard stuff usually by the mustards, catsups, and BBQ sauces but they also display the really pricey dressings in the produce section.  This is to appeal to your "impulse" buying.  You see all those lovely greens, carrots, and other salad fixings and think, well, this must be the best salad dressings here, they are so fresh and good that they keep here in the cooler.  Sure, they are the best; the best profit margin items for the store anyway. 
  • Brand name items (the expensive stuff) are usually at eye level and the generic or store brand items are down at floor level.  The same thing for cereals.  All the sugary, non-food value kid's cereals are at their eye level and of course they see hundreds of commercials every week so they want what they have seen.
  • Store bakeries?  They make it look and smell like they bake fresh items there in the store but at best they just heat up trays of pre-made dough or bake pre-made pies and cakes.  The real deal is they need to produce the smell of baking items to tickle your taste buds.  If you are hungry you will buy more.
  • Why isn't the ice cream out near the check-out so it stays frozen longer?  Because they know you will buy that item near to last and that means you have to walk back into the frozen foods section to pick up your cold treat.
  • Aisle order. Many shoppers simply walk through the store aisles shopping for what they want. They walk down an aisle grabbing what they want then turn around and walk back the way they came. This is called the 'Boomerang Effect'. To maximise shopper and produce contact time, shops place major items and brands in the middle of aisles ensuring that no matter what direction the customer enters the aisle they will walk the furthest distance possible to reach that item.
  • Items that complement each other are often found close together to entice you to buy more. You'll often find pasta sauces on the same display as a featured brand of pasta.  Makes sense.
  • Why is almost everything $1.95 or 2$99?  This is called "Irrational Pricing". The reason they don't round it up from $4.99 to $5.00 is based on human memory processing time. Rounding upward requires additional thinking and memory. Because there is so much information available in a store, the price must be considered in a very short interval. The easiest pathway for your brain is to just recognize and store the first digits. Therefore customers think they are getting a better deal than they are.
It is a proven fact that the longer they can keep you in the store, the more stuff you will buy. Therefore shops work to make sure customers have to spend the maximum amount of time in their stores, placing obstacles and delays in the way of efficient shopping.

So what can you do to protect yourself from this manipulation,which costs you money and leads you to make poor food choices?  There are several things to try:

  1. Never go food shopping when hungry. Go in the morning after a good breakfast.
  2. Never take your children (ok, ok, it is unavoidable for many of you.).
  3. Plan your meals and then only buy what you need for those meals.
  4. ALWAYS have a shopping list (see number 3) and have the discipline to stick to it.
  5. Bend over and look for generic or store brands.
  6. Plan your trip through the store to minimize wandering the aisles
  7. Keep a price list/book so you know a deal when you see one.
  8. Use coupons but only to buy things on your list.
Happy Shopping!


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Eat Less but Enough

How much do you actually need to eat each day?  Well, that depends on a number of factors.  We already looked at caloric intake the other day but calories are not the whole story.  You can increase calories and still lose weight and you can reduce calories and gain weight.  Weight gain and loss is not the goal of this blog but gaining or losing weight can indicate you are either eating more than you need or not enough.  Let's look at PROTEIN.

Protein is the building block of your body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and your body uses them to build or repair new cells in your body.  There are something like twenty known amino acids that form the various proteins that we need.  Some of these our body can create from other molecules but some we cannot make.  The amino acids that we cannot make are called, "Essential Amino Acids".  Those you have to have in your food.  A good, well rounded diet will provide most of these nutrients.  There is usually only a problem if you are on some sort of a restricted diet or are a vegan.  Most commercial protein drinks contain most or all of the essential amino acids so if you are really stressing your body through work or athletic training, you might want to consider them.

How much protein do you need every day?  Again, that depends on many factors.  Gender, size, and activity level all impact your protein needs.  A typical male, relatively fit and average activity level needs about .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  Grams and KILOGRAMS?  Sorry, most of this medical science stuff is in the metric system.  One kilogram equals two point two (2.2) pounds. 

So the formula is: your weight in pounds, divided by 2.2, multiplied by 0.8

I weigh 200 lbs.  So I divide 200 by 2.2, which equals 90.91.  Then multiply that by 0.8, which equals 72.72.  Round it up and if I were an average guy I would need about 73 grams of protein per day to meet my average protein requirements.  Since I am a Soldier and I work out pretty hard, I need to increase my protein intake to about 1.4 - 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight to repair the damage I do every day. That comes out to somewhere between 127 and 164 grams of protein a day when I am working out hard.  This is presuming you are also getting adequate calories because your body looks for calories first and will burn protein for calories if it needs to.  Protein is an inefficient source of calories but the human body is programed to feed the brain and other vital organs first and that takes calories.

Most younger American men eat too much protein and most American women eat too little protein. Men typically overestimate how hard they are working out and they eat a lot of meat.  Women tend to not eat quite as much meat, a principle source of complete proteins, as men do.  Protein is usually the most expensive part of your diet so if your food budget is restricted you need to monitor your protein intake closely.

What happens if you eat too little protein? The following are some common symptoms.
  • Edema - A collection of fluid under the skin, which most commonly affects the legs, feet, and ankles, but can occur anywhere on the body.
  • Weight loss
  • Thinning or brittle hair, hair loss
  • Ridges or deep lines in finger and toe nails
  • Skin becomes very light, burns easily in the sun
  • Reduced pigmentation in the hair on scalp and body
  • Skin rashes, dryness, flakiness
  • General weakness and lethargy
  • Muscle soreness and weakness, cramps
  • Slowness in healing wounds, cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Bedsores and other skin ulcers
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headache
  • Nausea and stomach pain
  • Fainting
Not all of the symptoms of protein deficiency are physical. Some are emotional or mental, and include:
  • Crankiness, moodiness
  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of energy, no desire to do things
What happens if you eat too much protein?  Well, your body cannot store excess protein so any excess will be wasted; an expensive waste.  There are four calories in every gram of protein so most of it will be converted into energy.  If you use that energy, fine, but if you don't it will be stored as fat; and expensive way to get fat.  Excess protein causes a strain on the kidneys and can lead to kidney stones, depleted calcium, and in the worst cases - Gout.  Gout is caused by an accumulation of uric acid (a by-product of metabolizing excess proteins) in the body.

How much protein is in your food and how do you keep track of it?  Almost all food labels will show the number of grams of protein per serving size of the food item.  Most people eat more than a serving size so you will have to do some estimating.  Make sure you add all the odds and ends that go into your meal.  The protein in the cheese on your taco adds to that of the hamburger and shell.  Online sites can give you the average protein content of common foods.  If you do not have some sort of diet restriction, just make sure to eat a good mix of animal (meat), dairy, and vegetable protein sources.

I don't eat a whole lot of meat; partially because of the cost and partly because of health concerns.  I try to eat small amounts throughout the day and supplement that with lots of veggies, non-fat dairy products, and real bread (subject of an up-coming blog).  On days that I do hard workouts in the gym, I drink a protein shake right before going to bed.  Most of your muscle repair and building takes place while you sleep.  If you have limits on your protein intake due to costs and availability, try to eat your protein first thing in the morning (breakfast) and/or right before you go to bed.  This will limit the amount that is used for energy and maximize its use as it is intended to be used.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Foraging - Spring Greens

In the days before refrigeration and the huge food network was created, most people lived on preserved meat, dried peas and beans, potatoes, and breads through the winter months.  Those that were really poor lived off of corn bread with some sort of gravy or broth.  By the time early spring arrived they were suffering from various vitamin deficiencies.  So they learned how to get out and forage early in the year when new plants were just appearing.  They would also drink "spring tonics" brewed out of various herbs and young plants to get a shot of vitamins and other slightly medicinal compounds into their bodies.

One of the first plants to show up in spring is the dandelion.  Home owners battle dandelions all summer long while trying to maintain their pristine lawns.  It is a never ending battle because those puff-balls of seeds we used to make wishes on as kids spread seeds far and wide.  Bad for the manicured lawn enthusiast but great for us; the plant grows almost everywhere. Dandelions are cultivated and sold in markets in Europe and even in some of the trendier city markets in the US.

Dandelion leaves are low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Folate, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Manganese.  This plant is so high in nutrients that it really should be categorized as a "super food".

Go to this site to see the full nutritional breakdown on this food. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2441/2


Dandelion, Taraxacum agg, leaves, rosette
Most parts of the plant are edible at various stages of their life cycle.  The leaves are the most commonly eaten part of the plant so we'll start there.  The jagged leaves have a slightly bitter taste when they are very young, sort of like endive.  As the plant ages they get even more so and once the flowers blossom they are too bitter to eat raw. Gathering dandelion is easy enough; just take a small knife and a container and go for a walk anywhere that weeds grow; just make sure you are in an area where pesticides and herbicides are not used. The little clusters of jagged leaves are easy to identify.  Cut the new, tender leaves off at the base and once you have as much as you want take them home and give them a good rinse in cold water.  Dandelion leaves can be mixed into your store-bought salad fixings just as they are and they will add a huge boost to the nutrition level of your salad.  In my home area dandelion greens are most often eaten with a hot bacon dressing.  The recipe is below.

4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 small red onion, diced
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 bunch dandelion greens, washed and dried, stems removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Fry bacon bits in a skillet until they are crisp and have rendered all their fat. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings and return the skillet to the burner. Add onion and stir in the sugar and cider vinegar. Pour the hot dressing over the greens, tossing the greens so as to coat them with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste.


As the plant matures the leaves get more and more bitter.  You can still eat them but you'll probably want to boil them (change the water once) and then cook them.  Boiling removes most of the bitter taste. The boiled (or fresh) leaves can then be cooked and substituted for kale, spinach, and endive in your recipes.

The next most commonly eaten part of the plant are the buds and blossoms.  The blossoms are often dipped in batter (tempura batter is the most common) and fried.  The flowers are also used to make dandelion wine.  If you like to have an occasional glass of wine, making your own is the most cost-effective means to that end.  Do an online search for Dandelion Wine if you want to try it.

The roots and crowns of the dandelion can also be eaten but they are much harder to harvest than the top growth.  Our foraging is designed to be simple and quick (your time is worth money) but if you want to do more with the plant there is plenty of information available online and in books.

The next plant I want to talk about is the fern.  In very early spring, when the fern plants are just starting to grow, they form what is called a "fiddlehead". They look like this in the wild:

Almost all ferns produce a fiddlehead but it is best to only eat the Ostrich Fern's fiddleheads.  Other ferns can give you some gastro-intestinal problems.  In the spring, the ostrich fern’s distinctive fiddleheads are mostly green, but have papery brown scales.  Most other fern fiddlehead sheaths are fuzzy or woolly. Look for the previous year’s leaves, broken to the ground, dead and brown, but still well attached to the root stock. Also, the previous year’s “plumes” (the spore-bearing fronds that are still erect) will help you to identify the plant. 

Gather fiddleheads in early spring, as soon as they appear within an inch or two of the ground. They tend to grow in damp, shady areas.  Carefully brush out and remove the brown scales. Then wash the heads, and cook them in lightly salted boiling water for at least 10 minutes, or steam for 20 minutes. Serve right away with melted butter. They taste something like asparagus, not one of my favorite foods, and can be cooked in recipes the same way.  Fiddleheads don't keep; you need to eat them the same day you pick them.  This plant is also high in nutrition with a surprising amount of protein.

Fiddlehead Fern Nutrition Label

Wild Onions.  When I was a kid we used to break off the tops of the plant and smell them.  It was a strong cross between onion and garlic smell.  We used to chew them and then breathe in each other's face.  Wow, did they have a strong smell or what? 

Wild onions also grow almost everywhere.  You'll see bunches of the little plants clustered in yards and other open areas (parks, ball fields, along walking paths). 

Clusters of Wild Onions

These plants can be used just like you would use spring onions or scallions.  They are very strong flavored so a little goes a long way.  Add them raw to salads or use them to cook.  There are many Wild Onion fund raising festivals and mostly they cook them up in omelets.  All parts of the plant can be eaten, just like a cultivated onion.

Wild Onions can be used as a very stinky but effective emergency bug repellent.  Just crush up a handful and rub the juices on any exposed skin and it will keep the mosquitoes, gnats, and other humans away.

These plants can help you stretch your food dollars by replacing store-bought greens and they are so high in nutrition that they can rectify a vitamin-poor diet caused by not being able to afford the veggies you should be eating.  These plants will get you going in the spring after the last of your stored garden produce is gone.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Growing Food - My Garden

I will share the progress of my garden through this site off and on as things change.

I am currently living in row house in The Netherlands.  I only have a small terrace in the back and it is on the north side of the building so it is shaded for most of the morning.  Direct sun doesn't hit the garden until after 11:00 in the morning and it is gone by 4:00 in the afternoon.  The terrace is surrounded by walls, other buildings, and an ivy-covered fence.  The "soil" was mostly clay and sand with bits of construction debris mixed in.  When dry, it was as hard as concrete.  To make matters worse, the buildings and walls cause terrible wind turbulence that blow my furniture around.  It is far from an ideal situation for growing edible plants. Below is my neighbor's terrace but this is what mine looked like when we moved into this house.


The first fall and winter (2009-2010) I really just kept the weeds under control.  I dug under everything growing several times because it was so choked with weeds.  It was too late to plant anything and the soil probably wouldn't have supported much.  Even weeds barely survived in it. As the weather cooled I started incorporating organic material into the soil.  I have been an avid composter for 20+ years but I have no space for it here.  So I had to locate other free (because I am a cheapskate) sources of organic material.  What I found was old piles of wood chips from brush and tree clearing work alongside the roads.  So I started taking a five gallon bucket with me in the car and I would pick up a bucketful every once in a while.  I dug down to the bottom to get partially composted material.  Wood chips don't break down easily in a garden and they actually take vital nutrients out of the soil because the bacteria that break down wood need them.  I was also able to get one bucket of horse manure and a bucket of shredded leaves.  I worked this into the hard soil and then covered the garden plot with plastic to keep it a little warmer.  Soil organisms (worms, bacteria, and other little critters) work harder when they are warm and moist.  I also started burying my kitchen scraps in small holes I dug in the garden to help feed the soil organisms.

Plastic sheet on garden and my fat cat

By spring, the soil was a little more friable although when the surface dried out it still set up like concrete.  In 2010 I planted radishes, onion sets, onion seed, green beans, one tomato plant and one pepper plant.  I mulched the whole garden with more wood chips since they would keep the soil from drying, protect the plants and soil during the normal, heavy rains we get here, and decompose over the next year.  This garden was not exceptionally productive but I did get quite a bit of food from it.  I raised more radishes than I could eat over most of the summer and fall through successive plantings.  The onion sets did pretty good and I ate the last of my (very strong) onions about two weeks ago.  The beans were a bit stunted but I still got six full servings from the 10 plants I had.  I got one pepper.  It was full-sized and really good but it seems I did not have many pollinaters visiting the garden.  I had two tomatoes growing as well but lost both to a strong wind storm.  Again, the flowers were just not being pollinated. I also had a good stand of sunflowers, which were just to look at.  I put the heads out in a field nearby to feed the birds in the winter.

This winter (2010-2011) I picked up another six buckets of decomposed organic matter and worked that into the soil and again buried my kitchen scraps.  I put the plastic on it again.  This year the soil seems to be pretty decent but I will continue to add organic stuff as I get it.  When I turned the soil this spring it was full of earthworms, which is almost always a sign of healthy soil.  The prior year there were very few worms.  This sandy/clay soil does not hold water at all and the more organic material I can get in it the better.

This spring I used leftover seeds from last year and planted radishes, onion seeds, green beans, lettuce, two pepper plants and one tomato plant.  So far I have not been able to find onion sets but I have some leftover seeded onions that over-wintered and they will be my early eating onions.  I still want to find some sets to plant because I eat a lot of onions.
This year's garden
I have a problem with a fat cat that likes to lounge in my garden and two cow birds that like to pull up and eat the sprouting seeds.  To give my plants some protection I put some decorative garden fence pieces around and over some of the seed beds.  The white plastic is to protect the tomato plant from the destructive winds.  It is open at the top and bottom to act as a chimney, which keeps the plant from over-heating.  I have the plastic sheet ready in case there is a chance of frost; beans are very sensative to the cold.  This year I planted a couple flowers in my garden to (hopefully) attract pollinators.  I also have a plastic pan filled with water in the decorative house on the pole to attract beneficial insects. 

Radishes grow very fast.  In thirty days from planting you can start havesting.  I planted these three weeks ago and will plant a new area this weekend.  This spaces out the maturity of the radishes so you are not getting so many at one time.  I will do the same with the beans in a week or so.

So, that is what I have going in my little garden.  If all goes well it should give me quite a bit of food while giving me something to do on my terrace.  I will post my progress as we go.

More to follow...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Pay Less but Eat More

Seen these before?  Of course, the "Best if Used By" date is on most food items now.  Some also have a "Sell By" date on them.  Of the two the Sell By date is more important but only from the seller's perspective.  None of these dates is magical; the product doesn't suddenly become toxic at mid-night of the date.  In fact, most foods like dried pasta, dried beans, and bottled or canned goods will last nearly forever if kept out of the sun and are stored in a cool dry place.  That is as long as the package remains completely intact.  I read a report many years ago about a community college ecology class that went digging in a landfill to see how degraded the trash was after twelve years.  They intended to calculate the rate of decay of various trash items.  What they found was very surprising.  Nothing was decaying in the landfill due to the high compression and lack of oxygen.  They pulled out cuts of meat that were a little dirty but otherwise could have been cooked and eaten.  Modern food processing adds all sorts of chemicals to "Preserve Freshness", the foods are pasteurized, and they are packed in sterile containers under vacuum.  Dried foods are naturally resistant to decay; ever eat deer or beef jerky?  It is raw meat, seasoned with flavoring, and then dehydrated; it is not cooked.  But it will last for a long time.  In the days before refrigeration and freezing, salt and vinegar were used to preserve foods.


So don't panic if your food is approaching or has just gone over the Best Used by date or the Sell By date; they are still good if they are unopened or were properly stored (under 40 degrees in the fridge).  You should get in the habit of rotating older foods to the front of your cabinet so that you eat them first and they don't go  wasted.  Every bit of food that you pay for but don't eat raises the price of your food.

I don't knowingly steal other author's material but I do use them for information.  While doing research I came across this site that explains the different "Dates" really well, so instead of trying to say it all in my own words I've just attached a link to the site. http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/Articles/Nutrition-Health-Food-Labeling-646/food-expiration-dates.aspx

So what about those stores that sell food items that have passed their Best Used by date?  Are they legal?  The short answer is yes but baby foods may not be sold past their date.  States are free to establish their own laws and their own policies.  My home state obviously allows it because there are two stores within ten miles of my house that sell out of date items at very reduced prices.  On a budget?  See if you can find one of these stores and check out what they sell.  Everything in the store is required to be safe to eat but the few times I have been to one I've restricted buys to dry goods and canned goods.  Use some common sense and you should be able to save quite a bit of money or buy more food with the money you have, whichever is your goal.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Eat Less by Eating Better

Today I was looking at some material on eating less to lose weight.  Losing weight is not the goal of our program; but if you do need to lose some weight these tips will help.  No, what we are trying to do is eat less expensive food so that we can save some money.  I am sure you know the old joke about how after you eat a big Chinese meal you are hungry again an hour later?  Well, that's because Chinese food is mostly rice, rice noodles, or wheat-based noodles with a little meat and some vegetables.  High carbohydrate foods digest quickly, raise your insulin levels, and then your body is craving more carbs (flour or sugar) an hour later.  The modern food industry feeds this cycle with white flour, white sugar, lots of salt, and a whole bunch of additives that only a chemist has a clue what they are and what they do.  Result?  You buy more and more of their products, eat more and more of their chemically enhanced foods, and you still aren't getting the nutrition you need.

GenderAge (years)SedentaryModerately ActiveActive
 Child2-31,0001,000-1,4001,000-1,400
 Female4-8
9-13
14-18
19-30
31-50
51+
1,200
1,600
1,800
2,000
1,800
1,600
1,400-1,600
1,600-2,000
2,000
2,000-2,200
2,000
1,800
1,400-1,800
1,800-2,200
2,400
2,400
2,200
2,000-2,200
Male4-8
9-13
14-18
19-30
31-50
51+
1,400
1,800
2,200
2,400
2,200
2,000
1,400-1,600
1,800-2,200
2,400-2,800
2,600-2,800
2,400-2,600
2,200-2,400
1,600-2,000
2,000-2,600
2,800-3,200
3,000
2,800-3,000
2,400-2,800


The chart above is the average estimated calories required by male and females at different ages and levels of activity to maintain their present weight.  For the sedentary the calories are not very high when you consider that a Whopper with cheese (760), fries (500), and medium soda (300), a fairly normal lunch meal for many, comes in at 1,560 calories.  Add in some extra ketchup and top off your soda on the way out to the car and you are just about maxed out for the day.  But how much nutition did you get for those dollars?  Very little unfortunately (33 grams of protein, which isn't bad but that comes with 47 grams of fat and 16 of those are saturated fats.)  A treat once in a while if you like that kind of stuff but it shouldn't be part of your regular food budget.

Most of us know what the empty calorie foods are; anything high in sugar, fats, simple carbs, and salty snacks.  Chips, cookies, pastries, pretzels, soda, candy should be rare treats if you are on a diet or on a mission to eat well for less.  But there are also many other foods considered healthy that are also mostly empty foods with little nutritional value.  Iceberg lettuce is one.  Now there is no doubt that lettuce is a fairly healthy food, which means it won't harm you.  But it also does not provide much nutrition for the cost.  A head of iceberg lettuce will cost a bit over a dollar.  A cup (72 grams) of shredded lettuce provides the nutrition shown in the label below.

Not much to it really.  Compare that to spinach (see label below).  Keep in mind that the label below is for less than half (30 grams) the serving size of the iceberg lettuce label (72 grams).  If the prices are comparable then spinach is the better buy.  Actually, even if spinach was a bit more expensive it would still be a better buy since it actually has some food value for you.

The point is, if you are going to reduce your calories to the appropriate level and want to reduce your food bills, you must consider the nutritional density of the food you pay for. Look at your recipes and meal plans and substitute foods with higher value for those of low value with price and calories as the standard to align as closely as possible.  But if you have to fudge it one way or the other, always choose the higher nutrition food.

Foraging

For hundreds of thousands of years, humans were hunter gathers.  While the men hunted large game animals the children and women foraged the countryside looking for edibles and medicinal plants.  Even after the advent of agriculture, hunting and foraging have been used to supplement food stocks.  Most medicines were based on wild plants as well.  All through American history we relied on foraging and wild foods to get us through hard times: the Revolutionary War, pioneer settlers, the civil war, the Great Depression, and during the height of food rationing during WWII are the best known of these times.  Hunting, fishing, trapping, and foraging are still used today by more people than you would think as part of the local cultural traditions.  In my own home community in Pennsylvania we were still going out early every spring to gather dandelion greens for a fund raising dinner at our volunteer fire company.  The annual dandelion dinner was a big success for years.

Now, you can get really deep into foraging like Euell Gibbons or modern day Survivalists and back to nature advocates.  That is not my goal here.  If you want to really learn about wild foods and go deep into that subject, there are plenty of books and online resources for that.  At some point you'll want to take some classes or find a guide because many plants are quite poisonous.  For that very reason I won't even touch mushrooms here or in real life.  Mushroom poisoning is a nasty, painful way to die.  What I want to explore are the easy, everyday foraging opportunities that anyone can do with little effort.

Foraging is not limited to crawling around the woods or meadows seeking edible plants.  Foraging can be done in your suburban neighborhood, parks, empty lots, public trails, etc.  Foraging doesn't even have to mean searching for wild food-plants.  There is a small but growing group of people that conduct "Urban Foraging", collecting perfectly safe, edible foods from behind food stores and restaurants.  Food safety laws do not allow restaurants and stores to save foods from one day and use them the next; they must be thrown out.  Americans, being the picky buyers that we are, will not buy day old bread or fruits and veggies with cosmetic blemishes.  So the stores and eateries have no choice but to get rid of it.  They have to pay to have it hauled away so most of them are more than willing to let organizations or individuals take this stuff for free.

I grew up in a family that foraged fruits from all sorts of places such as an apricot tree at our church, berries of all sorts in the city park and state game lands, apples and wild cherries from a land owner my dad met while fishing, and bulk boxes of fruit and vegetables from grocers bought for pennies on the dollar.  Most of these items were turned into jams and jellies but some were cut up and frozen for putting in muffins, pies, and pancakes later in the year.  I don't think I ate store bought jelly until after I joined the Army.  Even then, every time I went home my mom gave me a couple jars of jelly to take along with me.

The next post on this subject will be about early spring greens.  See you then.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grow Your Own

Whether you have some acreage or just a balcony, you can grow some of your own food.  How much knowledge and experience do you need to raise a portion of your own food?  Surprisingly little.  Plants will take care of themselves.  All they need is good soil, adequate water, and 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.

Most people have busy lives and traditional gardening methods can be time consuming and require all sorts of tools and equipment.  Traditional (long row) gardening methods were developed by commercial growers to produce uniform products, all ripening at the same time, and using as much mechanization as possible because labor is expensive.  The soil is mostly depleted by over-intensive production and they rely on chemical fertilizers for plant growth, herbicides to control weeds, and pesticides to control insects.  The veggies are harvested before they are ripe so that they can survive the long transport time from the field to your house.  What you get is a mostly tasteless crop, devoid of nutrients, and nearly sterile soil.

When the communist masters took over China and Russia, one of the first things they did was confiscate all the farmland from the original owners and then established farm collectives.  They managed the land like it was a factory and assigned laborers, who had no experience farming, to work there.  The central committee established crop quotas, planting schedules, production goals, etc.  The land was intensively worked, all under central control.  The result was widespread starvation, pollution, erosion, and destruction of soil. This is why the Soviet Union was one of America's biggest customers for farm products, especially wheat, even though they had twice as much farmland and a lower population density.

After millions of people had died from starvation over several decades, the Central Committee started allowing people to farm (really garden) their own small plots.  Nearly every family had a garden plot out in the country or on a small piece of public land.  When I was stationed in Korea I saw this there as well.  There were small family garden plots in between the railroad tracks, on the banks alongside roads and canals, etc.  I had read a report sometime back in the early 1980s that these small garden plots in the USSR actually produced more fruits and vegetables than all of the collective farms did.  How could these little family plots produce so much food?  Simple. They were intensely cultivated; the people could not afford chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and so the soil was alive and fertile. By economic necessity these were organic garden plots.  During WWII, Americans were encouraged to create "Victory Gardens" to supplement the meager food coupons for fruit, vegetables, eggs, and poultry. 

A well managed garden plot of 20x20 feet can produce almost all the veggies a family of four would need through the growing season and produce a few weeks of stored crops like carrots, onions and potatoes.  "Well, I don't own any land" you might say.  Ok, not everyone does.  But there is access to land suitable for gardening almost everywhere.  Many towns offer community garden space and many land owners will rent small plots out if asked.  Unused lots are often available for the asking.

Even if you don't have lots of space you can still grow food to supplement your food dollars.  Onions, radishes, lettuce, and beans take very little space.  They can be tucked into almost any available scrap of ground or grown in containers.  The advantage of container gardening is that you can move them around to take advantage of micro-climates and available sunshine to extend the growing season.  Any large container that can hold soil will work. 
Ok then.  This is just an introduction to the subject.  In following blogs we'll go into more detail on growing your own food.  I have had gardens at almost every place I have been stationed in the past 33 years; some big and some quite tiny.  But all of them produced edibles for my table and helped me to save money.

Until next time...