Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 11 posts from March 2010 for this blog.
My Little Cold Frame 3
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The temperature has finally risen above freezing, and I have just come in from uncovering the cold frame. I cover it with two-inch Styrofoam insulation board when the temperatures drop into the low thirties at night. Our low was 20 F early this morning.  Our frost date in this part of Wisconsin is May 21, so I’ll probably have a few more cold nights!

I waited for the sun to come around and shine on the cold frame before uncovering it. The temperature was a little above freezing inside the frame.  A completely insulated box would be warmer, but I’ve had good luck with the insulation board so far. Once uncovered, the frame warms up quickly with even a little bit of solar. The types of plants I have in the frame withstand cold well: radishes, mesclun mix (cut-and-come-again greens), and spinach (which is all up now). 

The bird bath is frozen solid, but it still is looking like spring in the cold frame! Growing green, Begonia



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Christmas in March!!
Sunday, March 28, 2010

I was walking home from delivering a half dozen eggs  to a neighbor when I noticed a large, flat  cardboard storage box printed with a floral design and tied neatly with thick old cotton string perched carefully on top of a trash can. It was garbage day.

A quick peek under the edge of the lid confirmed it was filled with something just a bit too good to dump into an anonymous black plastic bag. When I got the box home, I realized that it was chock full of the Glory of Christmas. It was tightly packed with Ziploc bag after Ziploc bag of hand shucked Christmas in plastic canvas, beads, and wired figures with clown and doll heads. Santa enshrined in an ice cave of faceted plastic beads, tableaus captured in upturned communion cups, bejeweled and sequined Styrofoam balls full of pins. Oh the Splendor!

Although at first I found most of the ornaments not to my taste, I had to admire all the hours of determined and careful crafting that had gone into creating them.  There were at least a couple of hundred pieces of carefully constructed kitsch.

Pretty soon I started noting how they caught the light and began envisioning how they would look on a tree—a magnificent gleaming masterpiece, a tribute to all those folks who just can’t stop making shiny Christmas stuff! I could see them reflecting the glow of multicolored lights while the chipmunks sang “Christmas Don’t Be Late” in the background.  It was almost too much holiday joy to bear.

I’ve decided not to donate the contents of the box to Saint Vincent de Paul. I already have a few pieces worked into my eclectic décor. The rest I will carefully store in my warm, dry furnace room until November when I kick off the season with my annual family Christmas gathering.  Begonia


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Feed My Starving Children
Friday, March 26, 2010

My friend and my daughter and I had fun working a shift packing meal pouches for the organization Feed My Starving Children today. This is the second year that my church has organized and sponsored one of these events.  Over 1000 people from surrounding churches and communities will work over three days to set up and pack the meals this year. One of the women working at our station drove 50 miles to volunteer!

In 2009, our community raised over $40,000, packed 229,608 meals, and fed over 620 children in Haiti for a year!! . (Volunteers this year were encouraged to bring in a food donation for the local food pantries with a goal of gathering one ton of food to help the hungry locally.)

It starts with raising the money to buy and truck in the ingredients for the food pouches which contain everything a starving child needs to survive and thrive: Carbs (rice), Soy crumbles (protein), dehydrated  vegetables, and vegetarian chicken-flavored powder containing 20 vitamins and minerals. Each pouch feeds multiple kids (six meals per pouch) and is formulated to bring a person who is starving back to health.  I got to taste this rice mixture, and it is bland but pretty good.

Each meal costs 17 cents, and 94 percent of the money donated goes right into food.  Volunteers of all ages, half of them under the age of 18, pack the meals. The food goes all over the world to organizations that are already in place and caring for people. The food isn’t being stolen or misdirected; it all has a specific destination with people to handle it properly when it arrives.  Feed My Starving Children was already feeding people in Haiti before the earthquakes and continues today.

All the people in our one-and-a-half hour shift packed 160 boxes (36 meal pouches each) with 34,560 meals—that is enough food to feed 94 children for one year! When you work at one of these events, you really do make a big difference and directly help starving children.  

You don’t have to look at those pictures of kids with their ribs sticking out and feel helpless anymore.  This is good news for everyone.  If you want to find out more about Feed My Starving Children you can go to their web site . Begonia


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My Little Cold Frame: 2
Thursday, March 18, 2010

We’ve had a run of warm weather (50s and 60s F).  Everyone seems to be out raking and piling branches by the street for the village guys to pick up. My daughter-in-law and I raked up branches dropped by our giant weeping willow from the neighbors’ lawns. We had a terrible ice storm at Christmas time that took down a couple of giant branches. My husband and son took care of most of the debris at the time, but there were still plenty of thin branches to rake after the snow melted. My back lawn is still a disaster area! I’ll be raking it a little at a time in the next week.

There is still no green grass to speak of, but the crocuses are blooming and the honey bees are busy. (I hope they have a warm hive to retreat to because winter isn’t done yet. There is always a big snow storm at the beginning of April before it finally settles down to being spring around here.) I am leaving most of my beds alone until I know it is really going to be spring. I don’t want to expose any new growth to the last severe freezes.

The cold frame has been anything but cold. I have had it open on several days. One day I was late getting out to open it and found the temperature reading 110F. (Bad gardener—no biscuit!) It is  propped open with two bricks today. I am watering regularly, especially the soil nearest the house. I have tiny sprouts coming up of mesclun mix and radishes. There is no sign of spinach yet.  

It isn’t truly Spring yet, but we are all appreciating this mild weather one day at a time. Begonia


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Cloth Napkins
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I love garage sales that nickel and dime me, but even a dime is paying too much for paper napkins because it was a dime you could have spent on something more durablelike cloth napkins.

I learned about cloth napkins from a friend of mine who grew up in a country where there were no paper napkins. This friend was very frugal and brought up to eat neatly and make that napkin last for one week! She encouraged me to try using cloth napkins and would point them out at garage sales. I had always thought of them as special occasion items that had to be ironed and fussed over, but she used them every day and it didn’t seem to be wearing her out.

 I switched to cloth when we had three kids at home and were using so many paper napkins a week that we might as well have been wiping our mouths with dollar bills! Good cotton or linen napkins can be bought at garage sales and thrift stores for anywhere from 10 cents to 50 cents each. (I don’t like to pay more.) If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can make your own from scrap fabric or old tablecloths  for even less!

I figure that I wash the equivalent of one queen size sheet in napkins each week. (I don’t demand that one napkin be used for a week!) This requires a little water, a tad bit of soap, and my time to move them from washer to dryer (or out on the line) and fold them. 

Do I sometimes use paper napkins? Sure—when I can get them for free! Begonia


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Garage Sale Master List
Friday, March 12, 2010

Have you started your master list yet? Our village-wide garage sale, and those of other towns around here, will be beginning in about six weeks. I get the bulk of my “needed stuff” at the first couple of village-wides of the season. People who don’t normally have a garage sale, as well as the “regulars,” have sales during these Festivals of Economy, so the pickings are excellent! Now is the time to prepare: make your list and start enveloping some cash each week if you haven’t started already!

Having a list helps me stay focused on what we need and slows my impulse buying. I find that without a list I forget or fail to budget for the things I will need in the household in the coming year. (I journal what I spend at each sale, so I know on average what I spend each year at garage sales. That amount becomes part of the household budget line the following year. See  my 2/23/10 blog.)

I carry with me at all times my master list and index cards containing clothing and shoe sizes and the measurements needed for shopping remodeling and decorating items (such as paint, flooring, tile, baseboards, molding, curtains, and countertops).

Here’s an example of my master list so far:

·         Electric chainsaw

·         Freezer (20 cubic feet—chest, 2 or 3 years old)

·         Flooring for living room and family room (wood and tile—300 sq. ft.)

·         Bathroom sinks and or counters

·         Bathroom faucets (new)

·         1x2-inch wire fencing (3-4 ft. width)

·         Split rail fencing

·         Bricks and patio block

·         Ceiling and wall paint

·         Plywood

·         Plastic fruit ripener

·         Extra two-paddle bread machine

·         Extra adjustable slot toaster

·         2 sets of King Sized sheets

·         Bicycle Repair Stand

I can’t wait for the season to start in earnest. It’s been a long snowy winter. I’m looking forward to some real bargains. I hope you are, too! Begonia


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My Little Cold Frame
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I’ve got the fever. Temperatures are going to be in the 40s (F) for the next four or five days. It’s time to plant the cold frame. 

Last year was my first season using the cold frame on the south side of the house.  I wish I had room for a couple more! My husband made it for me out of scrap wood and one of three large storm windows I junk picked from a neighbor years ago. (The other two are installed in the south wall of the chicken coop with a three- inch air space between for insulation value.) I planted greens in March and then harvested in April and replanted with cabbage and broccoli for transplant. I used the frame for hardening off seedlings in May. This year I’d like to see how long I can extend the growing and harvesting season by planting another crop of greens in August/September.

It wasn’t as complicated as I thought to grow things in the cold frame. I did have to pay attention to temperature and open the frame when it got too hot inside. Watering was a key issue as well. It dries out fast when the sun is shining. I had some problems with squirrels digging around on warm days, but this year I am going to cover it with a screen of ½-inch hardware cloth from a dismantled chick play pen.

I prepared the soil in the frame last fall so it would be easy to pop the seeds in and water. Today, I divided the frame into two parts and planted two kinds of cut-and-come-again greens (mesclun) mixes plus spinach and radishes. I’ll have to cover the frame with Styrofoam insulation board at night until the temperatures quit falling into the 20s and teens (F).

Some good references for extended season and four season gardening are Building and Using Cold Frames by Charles Siegchrist in Storey’s  Country Wisdom Bulletin series ( and Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long by Eliot Coleman, Barbara Damrosch, and Kathy Bray.

I can hardly wait to taste that first salad! Begonia


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Easy Granite Stitch Crochet Scarf
Monday, March 08, 2010

I’ve been delving into my stash of yarn to make scarves for a clothing drive at church. It is a local effort to provide warm clothing for families in need. I am really enjoying crocheting again for a good cause.

Last spring, I hit a garage sale that had a lot of yarn during our village-wide extravaganza (95 sales in one weekend). The woman running the sale noticed me looking at the yarn. I picked up only one bag (I had pretty much run out of money by this time).  I told her that I would be using it for charity work, and she said, “Oh, just take it all!” So here I am making scarves with it a year later true to my word.

I’ve tried fancier patterns for scarves, but this granite stitch goes quickly, is flexible, and is very warm. I can make a 4- or 5-foot scarf a day if my needle doesn’t start smoking too much!

Easy Granite Stitch Crocheted Scarf

Choose a needle that complements the thickness of yarn you plan to use . (Gauge will vary depending on size of needle and thickness of yarn.)

Chain 27 (or odd number of chain needed for desired width plus 2 chain for turning)

Row 1: Single crochet in third chain from hook, chain 1, skip 1 chain, and single crochet in next chain. Repeat across,  single crocheting in final chain. Chain 2 and turn.

Row 2: Skip first single crochet and single crochet in first chain-one space of previous row, chain 1, single crochet in next chain-one space and repeat across.  Single crochet in space between turning chain and the first single crochet of the previous row.  Chain 2 and turn.

Repeat  row 2 until scarf is the desired length.

Add fringe or leave the edges of the scarf plain.

You can vary the pattern by using half, double, or treble crochet instead of the single crochet in the pattern shown. The result will be a more open “weave.” You can also create insets of openwork by inserting rows of half and double crochet. 

If you don’t have a good cause to donate these scarves to, you will also find that they make good gifts and beginner crochet projects. The first scarf I made using this stitch, many years ago, won a blue ribbon at the Eau Claire County Junior Fair! Have Fun, Begonia



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Good Cheap Seeds
Saturday, March 06, 2010

I’ve been ordering seeds from Le Jardin du Gourmet for over 15 years, ever since I got ahold of one of those post cards with all the herb seed sample packets for 35 cents each.  I was able to experiment with growing all kinds of herbs for a very small cash outlay. They offer sample seed packs on all of their seeds: herbs, flowers, and vegetables. Their regular size seed packets are only $1 each, and the flat rate for shipping and handling seeds is $3.50 (outside the United States $8.50).

The amazing thing is that these are really good quality seeds. There is nothing fancy about their catalog or packaging, but I’ve never had a problem with germination or with mislabeled seed. They also offer heirloom varieties of tomatoes. I buy a lot of my greens seed from them. They have a nice mesclun mix and many varieties of lettuce, mache, spinach, and radishes. They also offer one of the widest varieties of herb seed I’ve come across.

 I like to order the sample packets of herbs especially, because My Little Farm in Town is. . . . Little! I don’t need more than six sage plants at a time. If you are living in an apartment or condo and want to grow a few vegetables or herbs in pots on your balcony or deck, you only have to buy what you need.   

You can go to their web site  to check out everything they have to offer. Begonia


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Free Magazines on My Little Farm in Town
Thursday, March 04, 2010

Nothing beats the late winter blues like a new magazine and a cup of good strong tea or coffee (I prefer coffee).  I’ve been cutting back on my magazine subscriptions lately, and a single magazine purchased at a store can cost $5 or $6! I prefer to get them for free.

I have friends who share magazines with me. I also swap subscriptions with friends by trading my magazines with them when I am finished reading.  I find magazines in Free Boxes at garage sales and library book sales as well.  If you find a sale that is selling magazines, you can often pick up what didn’t sell free for the hauling at the end of the sale. People are generally very tired and ready to be done and are grateful not to have to deal with the recycling!

I also get a lot of “free” magazines by borrowing from my local library. I sometimes get copies to keep when they periodically (sorry, can’t resist a good pun) thin their collections because of limited storage space.

My favorite way to get a fresh, new magazine for free (or just the cost of a stamp) is by answering “One-Issue-Free” offers. Most of these offers come in the form of “Junk Mail” or postcard pack promotions delivered to my door by my mail carriers, Cheryl and Dan! You also can find these offers on line at many magazines’ web sites.

A few things to remember about taking magazine publishers up on these offers:

·         Keep track of your paperwork. Make a note that you have sent for one of these offers. Sometimes they will send you the bill before they send you the sample. Wait until you get the magazine before returning the canceled bill, or you will never get the magazine sample!

·         When the magazine arrives, be sure to mark the bill Please Cancel and return it promptly.  The deal is for one free magazine, not two—that would be cheating.

·         There is a danger in all this. Publishers make this kind of offer because they are hoping to hook you and sell you a subscription. If you are a helpless magazine-oholic, you may end up spending more money then you intended, so “ know thyself” before you send off  for any of these freebies. The unexamined life can be expensive!

Lest you think that I am a stingy, tacky person. I want you all to know that I added that last item to my list because some of my most cherished magazine subscriptions: Backyard Poultry  and Countryside  began with a free issue!  Happy reading! Begonia.


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Hanging Out the Wash: Green and Thrifty
Tuesday, March 02, 2010

It was a balmy 35°F this morning when I awoke. So—I’m hanging out the wash today on My Little Farm in Town.

I have a friend that does not own a dryer because of her green convictions. I admire her. She is a woman of grit and perseverance who hangs her laundry to dry all over inside her house during the winter and wet spells and outside in warmer weather.

I am not as noble and committed a creature. I hang my laundry outside for more mundane reasons:

1.       Economics: I might already have mentioned that our electric rates have risen significantly, and I’m tired listening to our dryer consume more kilowatts than I can afford.

2.       Vanity: I hate the sausagey way my cotton t-shirts fit when they shrink in the dryer.

3.       Senses: I just love the fresh air smell of line-dried clothing.

I usually dry only my cottons outside because I live in town and the wind doesn’t blow as vigorously between the houses. I can only get so many loads dry per day, and I only do laundry once a week. (As a teen living on a hill in northern Wisconsin, I could hang and dry a load in twenty minutes! Residing as a single person on the flats of Dubuque, Iowa, I did my laundry once a month and hung it all, with my landlord’s permission, on the expansive lines in the side yard of the brewer’s mansion converted into apartments where I lived at the time. Those were the days!)

My chickens like it when I am outside hanging or folding laundry, teetering on top of the packing snow drifts. It adds variety to their day and the anticipation of the treats I sometimes feed them between loads. (My next-door neighbor also thought it might entertain her Australian pen friend and asked if she could take a picture of me in action. I consented, thinking it might add an interesting cultural note to her correspondence.)

Today, I may need to take the last little bit of moisture out of my loads in the drier when the sun goes down,  but I will still be spending less on electricity.  Living greener and leaner by the minute, Begonia

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