Getting Dirty…In the Garden

No blog posts recently? Did those crazy city kids already give up on their venture into sustainability?

Not quite (yet).

We’ve been doing a number of awesome things!!

We watched Hungry for Change this week, which is offering a *FREE* viewing on-line through the 31st. If you don’t have Netflix, don’t want to wait in the cue at the library & don’t have money to fork out at the moment, check it out NOW before the 31st. I wouldn’t list it in my top 10 favorite documentaries of all time, but as always, thought provoking & motivational to keep at what we’re doing.

Additionally, to the tune of $40 for the season, we claimed our own little patch of green in Mukilteo.

An 4×8 little patch to be specific

Yep! We are officially card-carrying (or rather seed-planting) members of the Mukilteo Community Garden. This is our first REAL venture into any sort of gardening experience. Last year was a definite eye opener that anything CAN & WILL go wrong in the garden. I made every rookie mistake last year & I’m hopeful for a successful season this time around. No blight-ridden cherry tomatoes or zukes with blossom end rot from hell. Those days are behind me. Dear slugs, you will not attack my strawberries this year & planting my radishes too closely, stunting their growth is a thing of the past…. Despite the fact, I already killed my hyacinth from the Everett Home & Garden Show. (Check out the adventure HERE)

Besides being excited out of my mind, I’m also slightly terrified. Beyond Princess Cthulhu already stomping through someone else’s plot today & spending an eternity in Home Depot trying to find organic compost & organic fertilizer per the rules of the garden… It’s just all around scary being the new kid on the block, especially when surrounded by people who have been gardening for years now (Five at the very least, since that’s how long the garden has been operating). What if I don’t grow anything? What if people judge me based on what kind of (organic, home-made, soap-based) pesticide I use? What if I don’t roll up the hose right? Whoever is growing in our neighboring beds will be surprised when they come in next & find we yanked out the strawberry plants from the bed (& replanting a lone onion who wasn’t ready for harvesting just yet). Was that rude of us to not appreciate the plants leftover from the previous plot owner?

What if I really am just a “black thumb” deep into my soul & I kill everything we try to grow?

At least it’ll make for one hell of a read for all you fine folks, right?

Now… Enjoy some photos from Plot #21 & around the Mukilteo Community Garden!


Ignore the overgrowth. Check out these ADORABLE signs.

Everyone deserves access to good food.

“Our Garden”… I like the sound of that!

Goodnight, onions. Goodnight, kale. Goodnight readers, everywhere.



Old Habits Die Hard

I could have cried.

Right there. In the aisle at the grocery store.

I hate cereal. I do not at all feel breakfast cereal is in anyway a viable option. I hate its extensive list of artificially fortified and genetically modified ingredients. I hate its misrepresented serving size table that makes you think you’re ONLY eating 8g of sugar & 120 calories in a giant bowl, when in reality, nobody ever truly eats JUST 3/4 of a cup of cereal. I hate the excessive packaging and money pumped into marketing cartoon characters with catchy phrases that make a kid associate someone or something with the brand, making it that much more personally desirable to them. Who can ever say no to a cukoo bird, a white rabbit or a leprechaun with sharing issues peddling cardboard-tasting sugar-crack?

But what about when it’s free?

I’m a self-proclaimed, semi-retired, not-too-extreme couponer.

I never got $300 worth of groceries for $50, but I wasn’t shabby either. That is, I wasn’t too shabby until I started adding more real food to our diets & supporting local Washington farmers & artisans. I’m not complaining! Not at all. Nothing in any packaging or box on a shelf could compare to the taste of grass-fed beef or an apple picked fresh from the tree the night before delivery. But that stuff does come with a cost much less immediately tangible than that of the things that are able to be gotten cheap, half off or even free, like the items pictured above.

Despite my better judgment, I opened the newspaper & found a rebate form to get all the above items (minus the Carnation Breakfast Essentials which were free a few weeks ago with coupon) FREE after rebate. And against my better judgment, here I was, in the cereal aisle, at my wits end from not being able to understand why I was buying food I don’t believe in & cringed at the thought of feeding to my children.

Even worse, what should I come across?


All I can keep hearing every time I remotely think about buying something processed, something packaged in plastic, something shipped from Ohio or even worse CHINA is clichés.

“If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

“Nothing in life is free. Someone pays the price for it eventually.”

“Companies don’t send you coupons because they care to save you money. They send you coupons hoping to get you hooked, so you continue to buy when it’s NOT free!”

I remember when I started couponing. It was February 2011. Here we are, March 2013 & it’s like my brain has been completely programmed to the normal American attitude. We want it cheap & we want validation for who we are as a person based on what we have & how much we paid for it… whether that’s the end of the spectrum of multi-million dollar mansions or a $1.29 2liter of soda pop.

Now for the next two years, I’ll be UNprogramming my brain away from that mindset that cheap is good, expensive is bad (not that expensive is particularly good either since it goes hand-in-hand with the “keeping up with the Joneses” consumer culture too). Back to the basics of “you get what you pay for”… But what can I say? Digging our way out of debt & saving for our farm….have got me singing “Worst Pies in London”

Times is hard. Times is haaaaaaaard”

And when times is hard… Sometimes… you got to eat the free cereal.

Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Home Shows Aren’t Eco Shows

I’ll tell you a secret….

I’ve never been to a convention.

I was super excited to check out the Northwest Flower & Garden Show this year, but the frugal in me said “$20 ticket? Just so you can see a Hobbit House?” (& fight Seattle traffic then pay Seattle parking prices to do so?!). I suppose I could tried harder to talk myself into going on Friday when most cubicle dwellers were working the grind, most children were in school & thus most of the crowd was absent — PLUS Casper Babypants was performing that day! (Even tho I had already seen Chris Ballew perform with the Presidents the weekend before for PUSAFest). Needless to say, I couldn’t bear to part with the money. Besides, we were supposed to go volunteer a few hours harvesting potatoes for a local food bank (which, unfortunately, got rained out. That being said, I don’t have any awesome blog post to write about it. Tragic.) So, when the opportunity arose to check out the Everett Home & Garden Show for cheaper, closer (Yay! Less carbon emissions!) & free parking… I was stoked.

But remember… I’ve never been to a trade show.


Salesmen. Salesmen as far as the eye could see. Maybe not nearly as skeezy as Danny DiVito in Matilda, but salesmen none-the-less. “Interested in new windows?” “You look like you could use a new bathroom” “When’s the last time you had your roof replaced? We offer free estimates!” I don’t quite understand why so many diet fad items were there though. It was overwhelming while being underwhelming. While I can’t say I was impressed by the lack of recycled and eco-friendly options offered, I was thrilled with one thing.

Swag anyone?

Part of me wanted to refuse the Made in China, mass produced, free-advertising trinkets. But the stuff I did snag, I talked myself into for their eco-friendliness:

– CFL bulbs to use 1/4 the energy of incandescents, courtesy of the Snohomish County PUD.
– Reusable totes to keep plastic bags out of landfills (& shockingly, I’m actually pretty good at remembering to bring them). As you can tell by the logos, these were provided by SnoCo PUD & AlaskaUSA Mortgage Company.
– Water bottle because I can’t even begin to explain how ridiculous it is to pay for bottles of water from the health implications to the environmental impact. (Courtesy of those nice guys at Judd & Black who answered all Brian’s questions about the energy efficiency of their washer/dryer units on display)
– & my personal fave, the gorgeous hyacinth from Coast Cabins (which make adorable cabins that could easily be converted to tiny houses)

We also supported some local artisans for not much more than we would of spent supporting companies based in other states & shipped in to WA:

Tribley’s BBQ from Ferndale & Just Heavenly Fudge out of Lopez Island.

Just Heavenly Fudge is — well — just heavenly!

It’s probably a good thing Lopez Island is 2 1/2 hours away or I could get really chubby, really fast. Other cool, thought provoking things we saw?


When we have too many potato towers & tire swings, tires apparently make really fantastic roofing. I love the green (er… black?) idea of this, but as an even crunchier friend pointed out, “Why would you buy it from someone else when you could make it yourself?” Besides, terra-roofs don’t need shingles.

Look at the water heater to the left… Now look at the water heater to the right… Now back at the left…

This was a display at Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating. Do you know what you’re looking at? They’re water heaters. The right used well water. The left… not so much. I’ll let you take a guess what was flowing in that one. Clue: It’s what most of us use. (City water). Not what I was expecting when we asked about it.

Props to the Snohomish County Conversation Society! They’re booth was full of so much awesome information & resources, my mind wanted to explode. I wish they would of had more people manning it to allow me to green-geek out.

So, it wasn’t a complete waste. We managed to learn a lot… Like most the people at home shows aren’t trying to save much of anything.

Especially money.

Solar Cell Testing

I have a dream of outfitting our future home with a solar array and wind turbines, so I spent some of my vacation learning about solar cells and ways I can apply them in the home-building plans.

I wanted to be on the cheap, so I got some $1 solar yard lights to harvest the cells.

Cheap Solar Yard Light

Picked up six of these for $1 each.

To my surprise, I found that they are powered by a 350 mAh Nickel Cadmium AA Battery. There was also some simple circuitry and a small, low watt LED.

Here you can see a cheap battery, simple circuitry and a LED light.

Here you can see a cheap battery, simple circuitry and a LED light.

I took it all apart, carefully peeling the cell from the hot glue and hooked up a voltmeter. I got about 2.5 volts in overcast and 4 volts in direct sunlight. I discovered that in the sunlight it puts out about 25 milliamps. Not a lot. I guess that makes this a 0.1-0.2 Watt solar cell. Pretty weak, but enough to charge a small battery.

Here you see the solar cell producing 2.7 volts in the partially covered sun.

Here you see the solar cell producing 2.7 volts in the partially covered sun.

I want to be able to pump out a constant 5v, so I got all my cells out and constructed a small array of three parallel sets of two cells in series. I also made some circuitry to regulate the cells: a 5V regulator, a one way diode, and a few capacitors. In the direct sun, I was able to get 4.7 volts and 100 milliamps. Overcast, the voltage dropped to 2.7.

Hooked up my makeshift solar array to a voltmeter in the direct sunlight.

Hooked up my makeshift solar array to a voltmeter in the direct sunlight.

In only direct sunlight can it get a phone to recognize a charge state, but I would like it to happen during overcast too. I changed up the layout of the solar cells to have 2 parallel sets of 3 cells in series. This upped the voltage in overcast to 4.7 after being regulated, but the amps went way down. I put the array and phone in a place that had good amount of sun (ironically on the watt meter) facing south. Left it there for an hour with a dead battery in phone. Came back and found 2 percent when I turned it on. Not a lot of charge, but got the proof of concept I wanted to achieve.

I left the array in a the sun for an hour to charge a dead phone.

I left the array in a the sun for an hour to charge a dead phone.

What would I do differently next time? If I were to do this again (and I might), I would order some cheap cells on ebay. The allpowers 5V 150mA ones look promising. Two of those in parallel would provide enough power to charge a phone while in use. Maybe I will do that next month or so… when the sun finally comes out.