Tag Archives: alaska

An Adventure in Soap

Powdered Laundry Soap

Day 3 of Spring break, the boys and I needed to get the HELL OUT OF THE HOUSE.

I was going stir cRaZy!!!

The DH was working on crown molding so I couldn’t even play with him or in the kitchen. **Bleh**

So………………..

What to do…..what to do…what to DO!!??

I decided to make laundry soap!!! 😀

[Side Bar: After a little more research on the the net, I started a Little Black Book of recipes.

Believing we’re not going to have all modern conveniences available to us; whether it be through hyper inflation (I’m consistently seeing 20-30%), a complete collapse of the economy by other means or an attack on our electronic infrastructure. Eventually, we are going to have to rely on our collective knowledge or written resources.

What happens when ‘the net’ is gone?

Do you have enough knowledge accumulated to do it on your own?

I don’t.

Therefore, I’ve been researching and collecting books considered to be the “Bible” on a specific topic. Now, having added my new Lil’ B.B. for anything that doesn’t require a whole book, I should be on the road to a nice little library.]

So…..Powdered Laundry Soap

1 bar of grated soap (Ivory, Zote, Fels-Naptha or your own special blend)

1 cup of Borax

1 cup of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda

*************

Jumping in the truck, we’re all off to Walmart to get out of the house, and out of his hair.    😀

I didn’t care if I just walked the damn isles for an hour or two watching people.

Doing just that, I over heard a older couple bickering at each other not being able to find whatever item. Thinking “…if he would just shut up and listen to her they would probably find it….she IS a woman in the HOUSEWARES department. Just imagine if they were in hardware and SHE was giving him that much shit……..”

Over hearing a snippet of someone’s life is very centering and peaceful, realizing that other people get just as frustrated shopping with their spouse.

***********

I finally grabbed two boxes of Borax along with some other products to make basic cleaners, like white vinegar and ammonia. They were out of A&H washing soda and didn’t have any laundry bar soap. So I was forced to hit another store on the way home.

Fred Meyers on a Sunday….YEAH!!!!  Not.

I did find the Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar and the washing soda, Thank God!

Not, might have ruined my “burn some energy and relax” zen moment I was trying desperately to achieve. Dealing with all the yahoos on the weekend is NOT my cup of tea. They are scarey on the road, in the parking lot AND in the isles.

Not to mention…I was so PROUD, I got out of there without buying a bag of Cheetos Puffs…

I LOVE me some Puffs, but this gal makes me say…………WTF??? Really??

In tribute, my next “Adventure in Soap” will be an infused bath bar….

I think she’s going to have some serious scrubbing to do!! Can you imagine?

Geez!!!!

**************

Hauling all the bags inside, I get a side ways look from the Hubby as he’s still laying across the counter with nail gun in hand.

I return it with my REFINED raised eyebrow look….and he falters.

***Uh huh, that’s what I thought! Just let me be, I won’t blow up the kitchen, I swear.***

In the end, being on hand for the “Honey, can you hold this?” OR “Can you shoot that?” Saved both of us a lot of frustration.  😀

****************

This recipe is SO easy, it takes more time to gather your gadgets then it does to actually make the soap.

***And if I could shoot pictures worth a damn, I wouldn’t have to delete 95% of them. THANK GOD FOR DIGITAL!***

I used a grater to breakdown the bar and tried out the immersion blender I got for my birthday. In the next batch I’ll continue with the grater and use the food processor instead, only because it has a little higher capacity.

As the directions state (which I am often accused of not following) I should now put all this grated soap in a bowl and mix with a spoon until its the texture of a course “meal.”

Ya, ok…if I didn’t have something better to do like….

…cleaning bathrooms….

When the time comes, I am fully versed in the use of a spoon. However since we still have modern conveniences….

I’ll throw it in a handi-chopper thingy!!!

The result is nicely chopped up, but not nearly as fine as I would like.

So, I throw in a cup of Borax to help achieve a finer grind.

…..add more gratings…..

hit TURBO, and 30 seconds later…..

Before                                                                               After

Much better!

Pouring my Borax and soap into a steel bowl, I mix in the remaining cup of washing soda.

It almost looks edible…..like a lemon pudding mix.

This recipe fits nicely into a quart jar and it says to use one tablespoon per load of laundry. Which equates to about 47 loads. At Alaska prices…..the batch cost me $2.57. That’s between $0.05 – $0.06/load.

I won’t bore you with the “mustard test” although this recipe competes neck and neck with “Tide with Bleach Alternative”

However, what disappointed me and didn’t “pencil out” was…………………

If I washed our clothes in Tide, it would cost me $0.21/load, which is a GREAT savings. However, I’ve been buying BioKleen for lets say $10.75 a box. Which is about $0.11/load.

My dilemma; is it worth it?? 47 loads is about a months worth of laundry to me.

Then of course I got to thinking about the details.

I know the dry recipe is basically the same as the liquid recipe except that it makes 10 FREAKIN’ GALLONS. I’m not sold on dealing with 5 gallons worth of soap at a time, or finding a place for a million little bottles. That’s why I wanted the DRY. (Liquid: Duggar Family “19+ and counting”)

BUT……..it just doesn’t make sense.

Looking at the liquid recipe: (The dry is dissolved into 10 gallons of water….basically)

1280oz divided by ½ cup = 320 loads for a top loaded washer ($0.008/load)

1280oz divided by ¼ cup = 640 loads for a front loaded washer ($0.004/load)

Less the a cent a load!!!

Figuring Mrs. Duggar knows her laundry soap, bless her heart…. either I need to be using closer to a QUARTER TEASPOON per load or the dry recipe is HIGHLY over soaping laundry.

Someone throw me a bone and help a sista’ out!!

You’d think diluting it THAT MUCH would damage its effectiveness, but you can’t beat “kid tested” detergent with a stick.

ANYWHO…………I’m off like a crazy woman!

Feed back greatly appreciated.

Dry Recipe found HERE:

http://www.diynatural.com/simple-easy-fast-effective-jabs-homemade-laundry-detergent/

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STOP drinking the damn Kool Aid!!!

I am not a “shopper.” I get 95% of my needs met at Costco. I pay them a quart of my husband’s blood and I am DONE.

(I just figured is 5% of his annual gross income. OUCH! Love You HONEY!!!)

Today, being 35 miles away from the nearest Costco, I cheated… I grabbed the few items I needed from another local food warehouse and Walmart.

I KNOW!!! Walmart SUCKS! But as a said…. I CHEATED!

It wasn’t worth it….and by the time I got home I felt horrible; frustrated and angry at myself.

I know I shouldn’t have done it. I should’ve waited until I went into Anchorage on Friday, then the Hubby and I could have done Costco together.

***snicker***

This is what I learned and what is currently plaguing my brain:

Our “pound” of locally roasted coffee use to be 14oz  and about $8.00, which I always thought was a crock and never bought. BUT…. this morning, its 12oz and approximately $9.00.

If I just did the math right that’s a 24% INCREASE per ounce of coffee.

What???!!!!

Oh, it gets better.

So, I stop by Walmart.  They are the cheapest place to purchase…..um…….

…..

TAMPONS. *** Ok, I said it….let’s move on.***

Bare bones basic…..none of that fancy pretty stuff.

Those little puppies used to be under $5 a box….lets say $4.57.

This morning, $6.57. A 31% increase per ………………………tampon.

Are you understanding?

Do not believe what you hear!!!The economy is NOT gradually getting BETTER. Stop drinking the damn Kool-Aid.

YOU ARE THE FROG IN THE SOUP POT!

 

******ok, if you don’t believe me….fine.  Just wait and see what happens when women stop being able to afford their coffee and tampons.******

Ya feel me now????

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Killing Jack

During the summer, I am busily growing veggies and standing on sentry duty for hungry moose sneaking a snack. I have NO problem running “Mama” off with a rake in hand. Crazy? Maybe. BUT…considering gardening in Alaska means all most all plants need a three month head start before they ever see REAL dirt.

Not really.

Warm weather fruits and vegetables need to grow in a greenhouse. This is where I grow my Sugar Pumpkins, THE favorite.  🙂

Pumpkin vines

This year was the first year I had great success with these little buggers. In addition, I used a vertical gardening method to keep the vines from taking over the floor space.

Taking over is a drastic understatement, and growing them upright was the ONLY way to go! With fruit set, these vines still grew to 25ft, weaving in and out of the rope lattice I’d threaded across the ceiling.

This year they’re NOT growing past 10 ft…I’ll nip that in the bud!

Figuring it will save more energy for production.

Love them!!! It’s an instant gratification thing. They grow SO FAST!

I spend a lot of time in my little Garden of Eden. Some people look at me funny as I climb up and down the ladder, hand pollinating the babies.  LOL 🙂

OK…..moving on…I swear I’m not a whack job.

BUT someone has to love growing veggies or the rest of ya’ll would STARVE! 😀

Not to mention they make the CUTEST Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations……Easily lasting that long, and longer, without any preservation assistance.

I still have four sitting in my garden window, too small to bother processing, but serve as a nice reminder of summer.

Here you can see the FAT little seeds I saved for the 2012 garden. Given that I purchased open-pollinated seeds originally, the organic growing methods and hand pollination I am relatively assured these seeds will produce a like…off-spring???

***I’m forgetting Biology 101 at the moment.***

After cleaning all the gunk out of the middle, I lined a large roasting pan with the pumpkin, cut side down. They get about an 1/2 inch of water to soak in, a tin foil cover and “steam bath” for about an hour in a 350* F oven.

With pumpkins in the oven, I turn back to the seeds I plopped in a bowl. Wash off all of the orange….guts…..brains….whatever you call them. It’s not as time consuming as it might seem.

Well….I thought I took a picture of CLEAN seeds but apparently NOT! That’s what I get for burning through files, deleting pictures willy-nilly.  lol

Needless to say, after a simple wash, spread them on a sheet of foil to dry. This is a great activity to involve the rugrats.   Word of advice, do not use paper towel, they stick to the towel and are a b**** to get off.  Spritz the towel down with water and start all over. Learned this one the hard way.

These little guys will be bone dry and ready for storage in about 24 hours assuming a relatively dry home. Alaska happens to be classified a desert, so you might have a little longer. They should be mixed every few hours to dry consistently.

 

You can also try a dehydrator, but I would ONLY use one designed with an adjustable thermostat set to less than 100*F anything above that and you will kill the seed. ***think bath tub temperature for a kid***

 

********

 

Once the steamed pumpkin is out of the oven, remove the cover and allow them to cool down.

 

Masochistic behavior IS the sign of a true whack job…regardless of what your husband might tell you. ***giggle***

 

 

***”Not that there’s anything WRONG with that.”***

 

 

With clean pint jars waiting on the cutting board, I start sterilizing.

Do not forget to put your lids and rings on the stove to heat up.

Sterilizing back in the day meant standing over the stove turning jars in a pan of boiling water. Burning the hell out of your fingers if you were too cheap to own a pair of tongs.

 

Now…

 

…if I have my timing down, the jars would be just finishing a quick cycle in the dishwasher with the “heat dry” on.

 

****My Mummy LOVES the dishwasher trick; she’s been standing over the stove canning veggies for a millennium. :D***

 

Instead… I happen to be fortunate enough to have an “Insta-Hot” tap at my sink, therefore I just spin the jars through that boiling water and VOILA!!!

Using my trusty funnel I fill my jars with bright orange squish…

…past the recommended fill line, as you can see, ‘cuz I’m a rebel like that.

I’ll have you know, although I joke around, I’ve NEVER blown anything up!

Weeeeelllllll, except for that one time…

…at Band Camp.   LMAO!!! 🙂

 

 

Juuuuuust Kidding!!!!! It was just the blender.

 

 

A little too much soap I’d say!!! ***snicker***

 

 

BACK TO THE ORANGE SQUISH…

With 2 quarts of water in the bottom of the cooker, I start it on low with the lid OFF while I’m running in circles.  This cuts the time waiting for everything to heat up so I can start “venting”.

 

 

At this point I would highly recommend referring to the one and only reference manual for these things…

Jars filled, hot lids screwed down with rings, and into the pressure cooker they all go.   Cook at 10 lbs of pressure for 60 minutes.

 

 

BLAM….. the finished product…

 

 

 

 

For the seeds….my first batch turned out beautifully.  Air dried by hand. I even designed a cute little seed packet in Word and printed it on leftover card stock.

 

***Yes….I’m a geek***

 

They’ve been living in the freezer for months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Batch….much like the second child…. back to the basics: get the job done!

 

They have been stored in the jar, on a shelf, in my pantry. This, I believe, was the first machine dehydrated batch. Relatively same  results as the first; beautifully fat clean white seeds.

****there’s a joke here….but I’ll leave it alone. Being a fat kid, I’d be allowed…..***

 

 

The third batch was taken from a commercial field pumpkin. Stored in a jar….air dried by hand, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I removed them from the fridge condensation had built up in the jar and low and behold….Black Mold!  That’s what I get for rushing the process.

 

***I should really keep notes, eh?***    Grrrrr!

In a nutshell…..either leave them out to dry (forgetting about them for a week)  OR use a dehydrator…..AND LABEL EVERYTHING!!!

Bleh….that’s all folks!

~I’m off like a crazy woman!

 

Permaculture: A Challenge

I stumbled upon an Alaska “permaculture” group last winter while researching arctic gardening tactics for spring. My first thought was…”um, you people are nuts!” bookmarked it and I moved on.

Visions of communal villages made from straw and steer manure with people huddled around a fire were dancing around in my head. Alaskan sensibility is screaming…”they’ll freeze their fannies off…what are they thinking? Those are the people you’ll read about in the newspaper.”

Well…January in Alaska is a VERY dark and lonely month. My husband works out of town a lot, so my evenings are often deathly quiet after “bedtime.”

What’s a girl to do with so much time on her hands?

Weeks later, I clicked on the link back to the website…I was DESPERATE!! I was searching for anyone I could have an in depth conversation with about advanced organic gardening.

My defenses were down I tell ya!! I swear!!

Most of my friends who are into growing things invest in an economy-sized box of Miracle Grow, turn their water blue and they’re good to go for the summer. However, early on, I read Teaming with Microbes and it made logical sense to me.  And being the person who escorts spiders back outside; I can’t do it.

The page blinked on and I read…and read, then…

I JOINED THE FORUM!!

I couldn’t help it, I tell ya, and the things people were doing with dirt…it was amazing!

I continued to “lurk,” finally setting up a profile…but that was it. For information and experience purposes only; I kept telling myself. It was on my computer, no one had to know. Right?

Until the night I discovered a Valley group was forming. The meetings set…on Sundays, twice a month, at 7PM. I was actually checking my calendar.

***husband out of town, he would never have to know***

Oh crap, here we go!! I was hooked! Do they make 12 step-programs for extremists?

I remember the night specifically, I was cooking dinner for the kids, my husband wasn’t home and I was lonely for adult interaction. Yeah, that’s it. We’ll go with that one.

I was trying to talk myself out of going. I HATE GOING TO THINGS BY MYSELF! Especially something like this, I’ll probably stick out like a sore thumb. Remember; true wallflower here!

But my inner bully was screaming…**Just go you IDIOT! If you don’t, you’re going to be stuck in this house all winter. By spring, they’re going to find you BRAIN DEAD and mothering on auto-pilot!**

So I went…me and my ginormous jacked up diesel, which you can hear coming a half mile away. Yay.

Walking into the room, I did get that intense stare, like the stage lights just spotted me. Faces around the room looked worried:  **Oh no…Stranger danger, Stranger danger!!**

I AM NOT KIDDING.

For a person ready to bolt, I forced myself to try to find a happy little seat SAFE BY THE DOOR! Right? First problem, the meeting was in a yurt, the chairs arranged in a circle two rows deep…..no huddling in a dark back corner for me.

 ** My face is red, I’m desperately trying not to laugh in hysterics, my skin is tingling, my chest is tight…panic**

Out of the silence, the gal in the center of the ring suggests I grab a seat up front.

***OH! Yay, front and center!… I’m going to freaking pass out, I tell ya!***

***FINE!!***

I flipped the switch…

***”Suck it up, Nancy!!!*** my inner bully chastised me.

I drop my bag right next to her and, I assume, her husband and I dug in.

***Sit me front and center, I’ll show you, you’ll be lucky if I don’t take over the meeting***

(I see a multiple personality disorder diagnosis in my future…LOL)

Since it’s January, the topic for the evening is “Seeds” We discuss everything from starting, germination schedules, challenges of dirt, favorite varieties, types of lighting, heat/no heat, fertilizers, extending the growing season…and I threw down with the rest of them.  I caught a few looks of surprise from some faces when they discovered I knew what in the hell I was talking about.

***I can hang, damn it, I wore my “Jesus Sneakers” and everything***

Yes, it was January…and no, I didn’t go so far are to wear wool socks with them.

The hour passed and I survived. The evening ended with smiles, ‘nice to meet you,’ and we’ll see you at the next meeting right? I was still apprehensive, but relieved…happy and confused.  I met really nice people on both ends of the “greenie” spectrum; on one end, a gal just starting her own seeds this year and on the other, people composting their own human waste…commonly referred to as “humanure.” Apparently, it’s been a public practice in some places and has been going on for years.

Interesting, but not my style, however, it is literally reverting to an outhouse-style waste disposal system. Your cute little outhouse at your beautiful cabin in B.F.E…. with proper care should never have to be dugout or moved. YUCK! Everyone’s seen the commercial for that trusty box of microbes to put down your flush toilet to save on pumping your septic; part of the same concept.

Any who…the meetings are engaging; the members are very community orientated, which is part of the basic definition of permaculture and it’s a fit for me…the closet “permaculturist,” I guess.

Sue me….I’m a nut.

After reading an article in Organic Gardening Magazine (published by the Rodale Institute, which has been around for over 100 years) I realized most Alaskans are already halfway there.

Read it…you’ll see.

Note to my 5 regular readers…I will be on a hunting trip for the next few weeks, so if I disappear forever you know I’ve permanently communed with nature.

JUST KIDDING!!!  :o)

A day in my hometown….Palmer, Alaska

I drove to Palmer, Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day for wandering around the farmers’ market at “The Barn.” This would be my first time visiting this particular venue since I usually don’t make it over to that side of the Valley on weekends. New pictures for the new blog and fresh produce for my cooking pleasures would make for a productive day, I thought. However, while random thoughts rolled around in my head, I had an epiphany…more like a “catch phrase” popped up like a bingo ball.

“…it shouldn’t be community supported agriculture, what about everyone else? It should be “Community Supported COMMUNITY”

There are so many others too small to fit in the small business mold; more like a micro-business. The people who spend every Friday in downtown Palmer at the Friday Fling, or the new Wasilla Saturday Market, just on the verge of getting their product on the shelves of the bigger boys…the small business owner with a store front.

Of course then I was flooded with ideas. The step where sustainable living goes from home to community; why not a local blog supporting local business as well? A place for promoting a broad spectrum of local business; small business events, craft fairs, bizarres, true harvest festivals, home shows and the homeschooling fairs….but how? AND the farmers’ markets are on their way out for the season.

Well, I grabbed my new best friend…a small scratch pad made from reused printer paper and a trusty binder clip. :o)

(NOTE TO SELF: Confirm pages when printing a simple recipe off a forum. I realized the printer had been going forever as it finished page 26 of 29!)

With that, I started handwriting business cards. Yeah, I know, can’t get any more PROFESSIONAL than that. Right?

Pulling up to the old colony barn, I was surprised to see only one booth, but that booth that stacked high with a smorgasbord of fresh produce from Glacier Valley Farm.

I chatted with the girls, as I took pictures, realizing they were excited about my idea too. What an awesome way to start the day. After not being able to step away without buying my favorite buttery Yukon Gold potatoes, I headed into downtown Palmer.

I treated myself to a Raspberry Mocha as I wandered into the Palmer Downtown Plaza. Next stop…the Hot Hot Chocolate Shoppe for more pictures. I couldn’t help but snap quite a few.  I must say it is the cutest little boutique chocolate shop.

The whole store has a warm, indulgent feeling. Of course, the “feeling” makes you buy an Almond Mocha Truffle.

Maybe a ginormous marshmallow …

…then sneak away with it before anyone sees you eating dessert at 10:30 in the morning.

This idea of mine may add 10 lbs. to my fanny. Well, damn it, I might just have to take one for the team.

Then I popped into the “Best Deli in Palmer” per some of the talk I’ve heard; to see a family friend and the chef of the Palmer Downtown Deli…Mr. Joseph Bates.

Well, go figure, that man with all the ideas finally took the day off. That’s what I get for dropping by unannounced, I suppose.

Not wanting to bother the staff at Turkey Red I headed down to the Koslosky’s Center. All of the shops I stopped in to visit with were warm and welcoming, however because I caught some of the owners unavailable I don’t feel right about posting the pictures of their stores, just yet.

The last shop I popped into was Sidekicks. A store that I will find time to go back and wander through again before the holidays rush sweeps me away. It is such an imaginative place.

With bits and bobs displayed in such a fun, colorful way, walk-in the door and the place just squeals happiness.

I personally fell in love with a picture of a cow. Don’t ask me why, it just looked like a cow with ponytails and made me giggle…May have to go back just for her.

I can see my husband shaking his head now.

Down the street, I went, with camera around my neck and my handy dandy scrapbook tucked under my arm. Thankfully, it was filling up with everyone else’s business cards… and someone gave me a map. My problem; I know where I’m going, I just have no idea the names of the streets.

Ah, ha…a use for the map! OK, sorry, sometimes I’m a little slow on the up take.

A short chat with the gal behind the counter at Fireside Books and she scratched their info into my book.

A girl after my own heart; she was out of business cards too. I took a few pictures around customers and shagged fanny out of there before people started asking questions I didn’t yet have answers too.

My fabulous day in Palmer ended at my favorite store, Non Essentials. I introduced myself to the owner, Denise, while she was grilling lunch for her customers, maybe her employees on the sidewalk. She’s was very uplifting and excited about my project; telling me, I needed to have a conversation with the Mayor of Palmer and to visit the Dog Fundraiser over by Rusty’s.

Holy, the Mayor! Have I told you I am a truly introverted “wall flower” at heart?? Am I getting in over my head?? ***FEAR!!***

…moving on… ***smile***

Asking permission to take some pictures of the store, she responded with “…only the organized shelves.”

Oh my goodness…whatever…have you seen the place?

I love to walk in and be lifted away by the subtle scent of the day.  The store filled to the brim with almost any Alaskan product you may need from locally made mustard and honey to jackets and scarves.

Start wishing you could sample a few of the wares and a tray of treats seems to appear around the corner.

Denise puts together beautiful displays of color and uniformity, on balance with bits of whimsy.It’s a bit of fresh air for my perfectionist side.

When visiting, take a few minutes to gaze at her wall of tea, you will always find something to keep you warm on a cool fall afternoon.

Walking through the park at the Palmer Library, I stopped to talk to a few teenagers hanging from the tree. “Are you a tourist,” they asked

“Nope, I was doing the same thing when I was your age…bored out of my mind, hanging from a tree,  in Palmer, Alaska”

That gotta a chuckle. I don’t mind teenagers as long as they don’t skulk way from adults. That just trips my warning flags.

My day in Palmer didn’t end with the “good vibe” that had been pushing me forward all morning. I walked in too a small boutique type shop next to Rusty’s Restaurant figuring I would start there and work my way out to the garden into the fundraiser. Unfortunately, the cool reception I received from the employee took me straight back to those “teenage years.” She was completely uninterested to hear anything I had to say, so I thanked her and walked outside to the sunshine and festivities.

Stunned at the attitude of the clerk I barely talked to the kids at the front booth, only to hand them my slip of paper and I walked back to my truck parked at the Depot.

Raised in Palmer, I should know the extremely conservative and skeptical attitudes of some of the people…but not as an adult. Let me say, the drive home was not as fun as the drive out.

Therefore, first thing…. I did the layout on a set of business cards…maybe next time I should wear a dress.

More later on “The Afternoon of Redemption at the Wasilla Saturday Market”

Fortunately, not everyone lives in Alaska….Steps to Sustainable Living

It’s all about starting small…”Big Bird steps”.

I have a tendency to have big beautiful ideas and then the reality of the project sets in…. and then well it’s pretty much dead in the water and how FUN is that???

MANAGEABLE: A little bit of planning will save you time, money and aspirin.

It may be as small as a few planters with herbs on the sill, a “no-dig” bagged soil garden out the back door, a more defined straw bale garden, or a raised bed or two. Remember, size does not matter it’s what you do with what you have that counts. I’ve learned success in gardening comes with a good foundation…soil. But it doesn’t mean you have to break your back to get there or kill the ceramic piggy. All of these growing concepts will have brilliant results and end up producing wonderful compost for whatever your permanent solution may be.

How it played out in my neck of the woods:

Year One: (2008)

16′ X 18′ Finished Greenhouse

 I was fortunate enough to start with constructing a greenhouse (1) out of leftover materials from building our house. It took an additional two years to buy all of the Lexan to finish  the sides and back, which were temporarily covered with 6 mm plastic sheeting. My garden that year consisted of 20 tomato plants growing in their pots in the new greenhouse.

Year Two: (2009)

I started my seeds in the house, on a fold out table in the living room with newspaper pots (2). Not the BEST idea, but hey what can I say…..it had sunshine and I’m CHEAP.

First year attempting corn and upside-down tomatoes

Once the snow melted, I added four 4’ X 8’ X 12” raised beds and upgraded to about twenty-five 7 gallon black nursery pots for growing containers in the greenhouse.

I’d mark 2009 as the point I started to understanding why living a sustainable lifestyle is important and researching ways for it to be successful in Alaska. It wasn’t a foreign concept having a long family history of hunting and gathering, but let me tell you, living in a society of convenience assuages the natural instinct to fend for yourself.

Year Three: (2010)

Cucumbers

I planned a head; starting my seeds earlier with one large grow light in the garage. I wanted to add more raised beds but ended up concentrating on growing bigger and better fruits and veggies.

Year Four: (2011)

I ordered my open pollinated seeds online AND actually READ the back of the seed packs. Go figure…..they put growing information back there! Put together a nice little planting schedule; counted back from our last frost date which is usually May 15th and outlined the weeks I had to start which seed. However, I realized too late that I should have included the week or two of germination time. OOPS!  No biggie! In the end it worked out beautifully…

Baby Killers

…Until most of my baby seedlings were violently choked out by the “dampening off” fungus. Apparently, this occurs when you don’t use fresh potting soil every year, but what if you put your used potting soil outside to be frozen during winter??? I’m still not sold (*giggle*) on paying $40 for DIRT! It just doesn’t make since.

Spring 2011 comes and I find myself pouting about the quality of my dirt…or lack thereof.

SOIL: Having heavy clay deposits, I could’ve purchased good humified compost to get started, but that still kind of goes against the grain of the “frugal sustainability” game I play.

Really…What is “sustainability” if you just run to the store to fix the problem, right? So I did some experimenting with a couple of lasagna beds.

Lasagna gardening is based on building layers of organic material to plant in; much like a compost pile.

My Recipe:

  • Straw for structure, air flow and moisture retention
  • Chicken manure for the 1% Nitrogen (N) content which is the second highest to bunny poop at 2%.
  • My dirt for local microorganisms and to help hold the nutrients from washing to the bottom
  • Bone Meal promotes healthy root growth with 12% Phosphorus (P)

    Layers

  • Lime to counter the acidity of composting straw.
  • Epsom Salt for magnesium. It is touted be beneficial to the photosynthesis process and helps promote the availability of other nutrients. Tomatoes love it!
  • Ash for the 3% Potassium (K) to help in the production of the fruits and veggies.

I started with turning over the soil in a 2′ X 16′ row in my greenhouse and breaking up the large chunks. Added a 6” layer of straw and watered it down. I chose straw because of its hollow structure thus helping with air flow, as suggested when researching composting. Then I added a 3-4″ layer of last year’s chicken manure and watered it down to make good contact with the straw. Next came a 2″ layer of my own dirt, sprinkled with bone meal, lime, Epsom salt and ash, then watered to wash some of the additional nutrients in with the manure and straw. Now…..”Rinse and repeat.” I had enough materials for two layers, which gave me 12” of growing medium.

Lasagna Bed 1

The whole process took about an hour and once it was all watered down…I let it set over night. Planting in a bed like that is as simple as shoving your trowel into the straw and wriggling open a hole. The next morning I eagerly planted my pumpkins, green beans, tomatoes, black beans and a soaker hose… then…add some sunshine and….VOILA!!

Pumpkin vines with green beds at their feet

The Sugar Pumpkins and Provider Green Beans really love what I’ve done with the place!!!

Pumpkin vines and hanging cucumbers

(1) More later on the TRUE greenhouse effect and how to use it to your advantage. There is always a way to start small…do not condemn a wine bottle to the landfill. 

(2) Newspaper pots are ideal for seedlings that need a lot of room or do not transplant well, i.e. corn, melons, squash or cucumbers.