Category Archives: Grow

Frugal Foodie: How to Level Up with Homebrewing and Gardening

Just because we’re at home doesn’t mean we can’t still be frugal foodies.

Today, we’ll look at how you can jumpstart a garden and start making craft brews at home!

Frugal Foodie at Home

Frugal foodie is back! If you’re new to this series, it’s where we explore ways you can eat well without breaking the budget.

For some though, when you hear frugal. It means cheap. I get it. Maybe, you know, someone who brags about getting the absolute lowest price on everything. Whether it’s good or bad.

While you can save money being frugal, the real focus is getting the best value.

When it comes to food and really life, he don’t want to settle for less just because it’s the cheapest. You want to get the most out of what you have.

With this series, we look at ways that you can make your dollar go further. We’ve talked about getting great deals on food, whether it’s grocery hacks, meal planning, or even going out to eat.

Today, we’re going to look at another way you can enjoy fantastic meals and still keep things affordable.

We’re talking about gardening and home brewing.

What was interesting was how incredibly relaxing these hobbies, where especially last year.

Many of us had more time at home in the usual options weren’t always available.

Family trips, checking out the museums or festivals were all off the table. We had to find ways to keep ourselves busy and have some creative outlets.

For us that included making home brews and being out in the garden.

We had home brewed years ago, but when we had two toddlers at home, it became more of a hassle so we took a hiatus.

Thankfully, we still had the equipment in our basement so when we felt like starting that back up last year, it was fairly simple.

The other hobby gardening is something we’ve been working on year after year, especially with this house. We have our main space Outback, where we grow hot peppers, tomatoes, different green strawberries and more.

2020 was still… you know, 2020, but it was good to have a project to work on.

While I don’t think all of our hobbies have to be productive or optimized, I do feel like there are some great benefits with making and growing your own food.

If you’re really looking to make meals at home, more enjoyable and special, it’s hard to beat something that you grew or made yourself.

Today, we’re going to look at what it takes to get started so the two of you can level up and become frugal foodies.

In this episode, we’ll go over:

  • how you can set up an easy to maintain a garden in or outside your house
  • Explore the fun of home brewing craft beers
  • look at the numbers and see how they come out.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

Resources to Become a Frugal Foodie

If you’d like to try out your handy with gardening or homebrewing, here are some handy resources to help you get started! 

Gardening

Home Brewing

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What You Need to Know to Get Started with Gardening 

When you’re talking about being a foodie, you can’t ignore how much better dishes are when you have ingredients. 

Whether you enjoy meals at home or out, what makes a meal superb is what goes into it. Fresh ingredients, locally sourced are popular trends, but really what’s more fresh and local than what you grow at home?

Even if you focus on just growing herbs, you can elevate your dishes. 

So why don’t more of us garden? 

I think many of us, which a few years ago including myself, feel like it's complicated or you have to have some sort of natural ability. 

Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated. 

Once you understand the basics It's a lot easier to build a garden that fits you and your space

But there are several great reasons why you should try it out. 

  1. Health and mood boosts. Gardening outside can give you some exercise as you tend to your spot and it can help with reducing stress
  2. Encourages healthier habits. 
  3. Gets your kids eating better too. Another bonus to having a garden? You may help your kids develop a habit of healthier eating. One study found that college students who had some garden experience growing up ate more fruits and vegetables in their diet

So if you want to get started, here’s how to make things much easier on you. 

Before you add anything to your garden space, you have to understand a few key things. 

For plants to grow, they need a certain amount of 

  • Sun, 
  • water, 
  • Soil

Depending on what you want to grow, they’ll have different requirements.

If you’ve had plants die on your before, chances are you weren’t able to meet one of those three key ingredients. 

So let’s look at how you can set yourself up for success and ways to keep your expenses in check.

How Much Should We Water Our Plants?

I’m going to start with one of the most common mistakes gardeners make – not correctly watering your plants. 

If you’re using containers with no drainage for your indoor garden, you’re at higher risk for overwatering. If you’re outdoors, you may not be watering enough. 

How can you figure out what’s enough for your vegetables, herbs, and fruits? Check the soil. Using either your finger or shovel gently push aside some soil to see how deep the water has gotten. 

Keep your outside garden adequately watered without having your bills through the roof  with  these strategies. 

  1. Focus on the roots. If you’re using a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system, place near the plants’ base. 
  2.  Water in the morning. Higher chance of getting soaked by the roots rather than evaporated and give time to dry, which helps prevent fungal diseases
  3. Use mulch. You can certainly pick some up at the story, but if you don’t mind waiting, you can get some free mulch by calling your local tree company and see about getting on their list. We’ve gotten two batches of mulch. Using the prices I saw online, we saved almost $1,000 between the two batches. 
  4. Reclaim rainwater. We have a rain barrel system that allows us to collect 50 gallons of water. Reusing that water not only saves money, but it’s also environmentally friendly. 

Solar Power Gardening

Second key ingredient for garden success is the proper amount of sun. 

Full SunSun/Shade 
Tomatoes, Okra, Melons,
Sweet potatoes, Hot Peppers, Green Beans, Cucumbers, Zucchini, Pumpkins
Basil, Lavender, Stevia
Spinach, Chard, Leaf Lettuce, Peas, Radishes, Kale, Arugula,
Green Onion, Bush Beans
Cilantro, Parsley, Lemon Balm

Soil: It’s Not Just Dirt

One thing you quickly find out when it comes to growing your garden is how much soil matters. 

Soil is much more than dirt. In general, all soil is a mix of silt, sand, and clay. When you hear people talking about their soil being clay, sand, and silt, they’re giving you information about the soil texture and the particles.

We have lots of sandy dirt toward the far side. When it rains the water washes parts of it away, exposing rocks and stones. Basically, it’s like a rocky beach.

Closer to the house we’re practically at the opposite end – hard clay. Some areas have moss while others are bare spots.

Not sure what you have? Start with your hands and eyes. Get some of the soil and see how it feels. You can do a few do it yourself tests to get an idea of what you’re dealing with.

You can also do a soil test with a home kit.  You can purchase one at your local hardware or garden store. They can give you a ballpark figure about the macro-nutrients Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

If you want a more detailed analysis, you get your soil tested by your state’s cooperative extension. If you have to pay, it’s usually a small amount (in North Carolina it’s $4 during their busy season which is between December 1 and March 31).

When a clear idea of what your soil lacks or has an overabundance of, you can amend it to address those needs. 

Using Compost to Feed Your Garden

Whether you have an outdoor space or your garden is strictly inside, you can improve it by composting. 

Composting is pretty straightforward for us. We have a pail underneath the kitchen sink where we put our kitchen scraps and any veggies or fruits that have gone bad.

Every day or so we head outside to add our scraps to our compost piles in the backyard. We use a geobin and a tumblr  tucked away behind some trees. 

They each hold about 200 gallons (around 12 lbs per gallon) so if we had to buy the equivalent amount of compost from the store, we’d have to pay $720 (basing on a 40lb bag being $24) to cover one bin.

Once it’s broken down you can then use that in your garden. So yeah, doing so good for the earth also means we get to save quite a bit of money!

Easy Plants to Grow in Your Food Garden

Now that you understand the essentials that you need, and your own space, it’s time for the fun part – choosing what to grow., 

I wasn’t joking about being bad with gardening. I used to be a person who kept a cactus because it was the only plant I felt I could keep alive.

Fast forward a few years and now I’m hunting through seed catalog picking out what we’re going to grow. It didn’t happen overnight, but it wasn’t as hard as I had thought.

A big part of what helped me was building confidence and practicing gardening skills with easy to grow plants.

Easy Herbs, Vegetables, and Fruits to Include in your Garden

Here are some of my favorite easy to grow plants: 

  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Carrots*
  • Sweet Potatoes*
  • Green Beans
  • Spinach
  • Peppers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Onions

Should We Use Seeds or Seedlings?

If this is your first garden, I say grab both.

You can grab seeds for root vegetables. Tomatoes can be less stressful starting with seedlings while growing your herbs from seeds isn’t much of a big deal.

You also want to consider your budget. Seedlings are usually pricier, so you may want to pick and choose carefully.

Grow Your Garden

Hopefully you can see that it can be whether it’s indoors or outdoors, having a garden can be a fantastic hobby that doesn’t have to break your budget

With fresh ingredients you can prepare an exquisite yet affordable meal, the definition of being a frugal foodie!

Homebrewing: What You Need to Know to Get Started

Like many people who have had thoughts of making their own beer, the initial motivation for us was fueled by local brewery tours. 

Raleigh has some fantastic spots and we enjoyed hanging out on a weekend trying a new place. 

It was funny because at one point during the tour, the guide would usually mention how it got started with homebrewing. 

That intrigued us. 

After checking online with some sites and speaking with friends, we decided to give it a try.

The good news is that beer really just needs 4 main ingredients – water, grain, hops, and yeast. 

While we thought you’d need a ton of equipment to get started, that’s not the case. Of course, if you’re super into this and want to do huge batches, your equipment list may be a lot, but for most, it’s fairly affordable. 

Getting a Homebrewing Starter Kit

We grabbed a kit for a one gallon brew from Brooklyn Brewshop

The one gallon set up is a great option for those that don’t know if they’d like to homebrew on a regular basis, having a small kit can let you test the waters. It’s also handy if space is limited at your home. 

Having enjoyed that we then decided to get into making 5 gallon batches. We decided to look around and price shop for beginner’s kits.

Since we don't always agree on drinking the same beer, we wanted a set up that would allow us to brew two batches at a time.

The time added would be minimal and looking at costs, it basically came down to grabbing an extra bucket. 

Thankfully there’s a local brew supply shop right here in Raleigh, American Brewmaster.   

Using Recipe Kits to Explore the World of Beer Together

I’m proud of the different styles we’ve tried out so far. We each have our personal favorites and we have a few enjoy together like red ales, 

While we have created our own recipes, specifically when we were looking at meads and gluten free beers with our friends, we mainly use kits. 

If you’re  starting off with homebrewing, using a recipe kit makes the learning process a lot easier.

Recipe kits are prepackaged with pretty much all the ingredients you need to make a batch of beer, including malt (perhaps in extract form), hops, and yeast.

The correct amounts are included so you can simply follow the recipe included and be set.

We use a great local brew shop in the area, American Brewmaster, to grab most of our supplies and I’ve used Brooklyn Brew shop for my one gallon batches.

Are You Actually Saving Money Making Homebrews?

Recipe KitCostBottles Brewed (12oz)Cost Per Bottle/6pk
Honey IPA$159$1.67/$10.02
Dry Stout$34.5050$0.69/$4.14
American Amber Ale$33.5050$0.67/$4.02
Chocolate Maple Porter$1510$1.50/$9.00

I think you see two things right here:

  • The 5 gallon brews are very cost effective, with the prices being much better than what we find at the stores.
  • Using the recipe kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop is not the way to save money.

For around $40, you get the equipment you need and usually a recipe kit mix. 

While I believe that you can save money by brewing your own beer, I don’t think you should have it as a hobby if that’s your sole reason for doing it.

It does take time to brew and bottle your beer, which some people may find annoying. However it’s been a fun activity for us to share in as a couple and with friends.

Frugal Foodie: Can You Really Save Money?

Let’s run the numbers. 

The best part is not that you’re saving money, but you’re enjoying a hobby that enriches your life and makes meals at home more fun. 

Key Takeaways

Before we wrap I want to share some key takeaways from preparing this episode. 

  • Start small. Indoor herb garden or a small lot outside can be fun without a lot of hassle. 
  • Not all hobbies have to be money makers or savers. While you can save money, it doesn’t have to be your main reason. 
  • Community makes it better. While we are home more, these hobbies are a fantastic way to connect with others. 

There’s so much we can chat about with gardening or homebrewing, so if you’re into either or you want to get started, come join in our Facebook group  Thriving Families. 

We’re there to support one another with our family and financial goals. I’d love to share any tips I can and I know there are others too. 

We hope to see you there!

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Music Credit

Our theme song is from Staircases. Additional music by various artists from Audiio.

4 Keys to Maximizing Your Food Forest or Permaculture Garden’s Productivity

With fall here, I'm working on two goals for our little Amazon food forest:

  • Growing our cool weather crops to finish up this year's harvest
  • Prepping the food forest (along with some new areas in the yard) for springtime

Looking forward to having more broccoli, carrots, and cabbage, so we're making sure that we stay on top of things.

I'm not an expert by any means, but I'm proud of the progress we've seen so far and I want to continue it.

4 Keys to a Productive Permaculture Garden or Food Forest

Over the years, I've been learning and I want to highlight some key steps that have made a huge difference with making sure the garden produces well.

Prepare Your Soil

Your soil is the backbone of your garden or food forest. If it's poor, you're not going to get the results you want with your plants.

Ideally, you’d prepare your soil before planting, but if you notice your vegetables and fruits not growing as well as you hope for, you may want to go ahead and get your soil tested.

You can go a local garden store and pick up a kit. They are inexpensive and they usually have suggested remedies for the most common problems.

I'd also look at your state's department of agriculture to see what programs they offer.

Properly Water Your Plants

I have been guilty of overwatering my plants when I first started gardening. I had a hard time gauging how much was enough. Overwatering can rot the roots which in turn, ruin your harvest.

One route you can take is using a plant like lettuce to be your guide for when it’s time to water. If you’re up for some messy fun, you can check the soil itself. if it is hard and very compact, then it’s time to water.

If you’re up for some messy fun, you can check the soil itself. If it is hard and very compact, then it’s time to water.

Protect Your Food Forest from Hungry Pests

I discovered the hard way that squirrels, rabbits, and deers love to nibble on your plants. I actually had some watermelons that I was looking forward to enjoying and when I went to pick, I noticed the back half had been chewed on.

A few years ago, I had some watermelons that I was looking forward to enjoying all summer and when I went to pick, I noticed the back half had been chewed on.

Want to avoid my pain and anguish?  You can protect your plants by making your own pest deterrent with homemade hot pepper sprays.

I also plan and plant just a bit extra for my ‘neighbors' so we can both enjoy the veggies and fruits.

Manage Weeds Wisely

Nobody wants to see invasive weeds take over their garden. You can go with a low-tech and easy solution by mixing 50 and 50 hot water and vinegar.

Spray the weeds for the next few days. The vinegar will help you be able to pull it up by the roots.

It also pays to know your plants. You may find that keeping some ‘weeds' is beneficial for you.

Thoughts on Gardening

If you're growing a garden or food forest, what have been key steps in making sure you're seeing a good harvest?

Welcome to the Amazon Food Forest!

One of the reasons we fell in love with our house is because of space. Besides the awesome house, we had more land than we expected.

Once the papers were signed, it was time to get to work. Last year we started off small and I set up a tiny spot by the back door to be our garden space.

Things went well until July when the constant sun pretty much baked most of our veggies.

I decided that for the next year, I'd move to a better spot. The problem was decided where.

The back had an area that could work, but there were a few major things we needed to do to get it ready.

Turning a Weedy Sandy Space Into a Garden

One of the first tasks we needed to deal with before we started the garden was beefing up the soil.

When we first moved that back side area was covered with weeds, some taller than my husband (who's just over six feet).

Once they were chopped down, though, we discovered that the soil was not great for what we wanted to grow. It was really sandy, which meant water and nutrients can pass through quickly. T

Translation for us? More work to keep it watered and fertilized.

To prepare such a large space and stick with our budget, I decided to go with the lasagna garden.

Lasagna Gardening 101

Like the name suggests, lasagna gardening is about building layers.

The first layer is either brown corrugated cardboard (like we had from the move and Amazon) or three or four layers newspaper laid right on top of the area you're building up.

You then lay down soil, compost, mulch on top. The box breaks down into material to help the soil and you block the weeds from below from springing up.

With other house projects going, we stayed frugal and used a huge pile of wood chips in various stages of decomposing.

We had gotten it from chopping down our trees in the back.

We also strategically incorporated leaves we collected during autumn, included some material from the compost pile, and straw.

You can also use:

  • Food scraps like vegetables and fruit
  • Grass clippings
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves
  • Garden trimmings

You get the idea – anything you'd use to dump into a compost pile can be used in your lasagna garden.

One thing that helped speed things along was pre-soaking the boxes before laying them. This allowed them to break down faster.

From Garden to Food Forest

Once we looked at the how the space was developing, I thought we could step things up a bit with our garden plan.

Instead of a large garden, we thought starting a food forest would be a better fit.

What's the difference between a garden and a food forest?

Besides the scale in terms of size, a food forest is about long term productivity. The permaculture piece is how you design it.

With a food forest, you're creating systems that mimic nature.

We're using permaculture ideas like companion planting to help protect our vegetables and fruits, but also increase yield.

A food forest can be created in your backyard. Each year you can observe the results, adjust as needed, and build up the ecosystem.

If you're curious about how to include companion planting in your garden this year, I'd like to recommend checking Permaculture Homestead, Carrots Love Tomatoes, and this handy chart.

Less Work on You, Less Stress on Land

Using permaculture methods meant we could not only help improve the environment but give ourselves a bit of a break.

The lasagna method meant we didn't have to do any double digging or tilling.  A double win!

Thoughts on a Food Forest

Since we used boxes to jumpstart things, we thought it would be appropriate to refer to it as our Amazon food forest.

I'll share updates with pictures soon, so you can get a better idea of the benefits and challenges of growing one.

I'd love to hear from you. How many of you have a home garden? How did you build up and prepare it? Have you started a food forest or thinking of one?

Gearing Up the Greenhouse

This winter we've been working on a project that I believe would not only make 2017 awesome in terms of simplifying our lives, but would also be a cool project to share here.

Since we knew were going to sell our townhouse and get another place, we carefully spent time defining what we really needed in the house.

Last year when we bought our home, we were thrilled to get a bonus with our lot. We were looking at 1/4 acre for most of the properties, but this one had just over 1/2 acre for a really good price. The catch? The space needs work.

Expanding the Garden into a Food Forest

I'll get more into our food forest plans later, but the project and goal that I'll be tracking here is  seeing if we can grow half our food.

It  may or may not sound crazy to you, but for us, who have only garden in small plots, this is huge.

I wish I could say the yard was ideal for garden right off the bat, but we learned last year that there are challenges to our space, including:

  • pockets of sunny spots amid shady areas (we have over 20 older trees in just the back yard)
  • moles, deer, rabbits, and other hungry critters
  • poor soil (clay on one end, beachy sand on the other)

In addition to preparing a new garden area, for the first time we're using a greenhouse. It's not huge, but it's a way for us to get a jump start on growing.

Over the past year, we've been working on our space. We started composting, amending the soil, began a small garden to see how things grow .

Prepping Our Greenhouse

We'd like to maximize the seeds we have, so having them start off in the green house and then transplanting seems like safer and more economical option for most of the vegetables. (The exception I keep seeing are carrots.)

We first had to decide on the right greenhouse for us.

We went ahead picked this one up. It's compact and yet we can grow about 75 seeds on a shelf, giving us a good amount of plants.

What's Growing Now

Right now we have on hand:

Herbs

  • Cilantro
  • Lemon Balm
  • Catgrass
  • Sage
  • Chamomile
  • Oregano

Flowers

  • Marigold
  • Passion Flower

Vegetables

  • Spinach
  • Kale Red Russian
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomato

Our Methods of Growing

We have two ways we're preparing seeds in our greenhouse.

The first is pretty direct. We take the pellets, add water to expand them, and then plant our seeds. Once the tray is full, we then take it to the greenhouse. Once it's ready, we'll move it to the garden.

The second, I discovered with catching Suburban Homestead. Siloé Oliveira germinates the seeds is a paper plate method. Once opened he then transplants them to their home in the garden.

Grab My Free Garden Planning Spreadsheet

With all that we're growing now and will be growing this year, I have to be better organized.

I've created a garden planning spreadsheet. You can grab for free here! Just make a copy and start keeping records on your garden.

I've also included tab with companion planting notes on some popular vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

Thoughts on Growing Your Food

I'd love to hear from you. What are you growing this season?

Organic Gardening 101: Building Up Soil with Wood Chips

We have some big plans for our yard and lots of projects on our to-do list, but the foundation for all of them is pretty much the same – fix our soil.

If you've been following me on Instagram, then you've already seen what we're dealing with. We have lots of sandy dirt toward the far side. When it rains the water washes parts of it away, exposing rocks and stones. Basically, it's like a rocky beach.

Closer to the house we're practically at the opposite end – hard clay. Some areas have moss while others are bare spots.

It's a mess, but we're excited about the challenge.

Know Your Soil

Over the last few months, I've been checking out dozens of garden books and have been researching online and with my green-thumbed buddies to come up with a plan that would work land, be manageable, and budget-friendly.

One of the first things I found out was that soil is much more than dirt. In general, all soil is a mix of silt, sand, and clay.

When you hear people talking about their soil being clay, sand, and silt, they're giving you information about the soil texture and the particles.

Sandy soils tend to have water wash through it easily. Clay typically prevents water from draining efficiently.

Not sure what you have? Start with your hands and eyes. Get some of the soil and see how it feels. You can do a few do it yourself tests to get an idea of what you're dealing with.

You can also do a soil test with a home kit.  You can purchase one at your local hardware or garden store. They can give you a ballpark figure about the macro-nutrients Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

If you want a more detailed analysis, you get your soil tested by your state's cooperative extension. If you have to pay, it's usually a small amount (in North Carolina it's $4 during their busy season).

You can get really deep with soil. Looking for a good resource? I like NC State's Permaculture class. They have a previous semester's worth of video and lots of handy information you can watch at any time.

Our Plan to Fix Our Soil with Wood Chips

We've started a compost pile soon after we moved in. We knew that it would be an asset in the long run. We hope to use it when we start getting ready for the spring planting.

Right now, though, our energy and time has been incorporating wood chips. After researching possible solutions we gravitated towards them for a few reasons.

Wood Chips Would Simplify Our Gardening

Covering is much easier than tilling our yard and from what I've been reading, the microorganisms and critters in the soil would have an easier time with wood chips.

We also have huge dips in our yard, so we've been using the wood chips to smooth things out.

Getting Woodchips for Free

While grabbing bags of mulch can quickly add up (as we found out earlier in the year!), you may be able to grab some much cheaper – as in free!

When we were searching for the best deal on getting our sick trees cut down, I noticed that many of the companies asked if I'd be interested in mulch from their projects.

After you have your trees cut down, it's chipped into mulch. You can keep it on your property (which is what we do) or it gets hauled away, which costs the company money. Here's the cool part – you can sign up to get their mulch from a job (doesn't have to be yours) for free.

About a month or so after we removed the oaks, I got a call asking if I'd be interested in mulch from a job in the area. A few hours later and we had a nice truckload of mulch in the front yard.

Using the prices we paid at Lowe's for our bags of mulch. We've estimated that we got just under $600 worth – that's a win in my book!

What I like about this particular load is that there is plenty of green leaves mixed in with the wood chips.

With the heat, I've seen it already breaking down in some awesome material so I've been using it in the garden spaces.

Wood Chips Smell Awesome

Okay, this more a more aesthetic advantage, but I love the smell of wood chips in the yard.

Thoughts on Fixing Soil with Wood Chips

Have you had to fix up your soil? What techniques did you use and why? How well did it work?

How many of you use mulch in your yard? Do you use it to cover weeds or part of your soil remediation?