"Secrets to Saving Money" Free Newsletter - August 2014
This issue includes:-
- Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: How Green Does Your Garden Groan?
- August: Get Growing!
- Competition: Winner of Our Food Photographer Competition
- Penny Wise: Still Growing!
- Best of the Vault: Go Potty
- Best of the Forum: Get Into Some Gardening - Any Way You Can!
- Best Members' Blog: The Good, the Bad and Still Getting There
- Mimi's Rustic Roast Lamb Pie (can also be gluten-free!)
- Rob Bob's Gardening Blog: Feeding the Patch and the Belly!
- From Last Month: Help Me With the Winter Blahs
- This Month's Help Request: Purchasing Safely Online
How are you going? We've had a fantastic July and are ready to get growing in August! Our members never cease surprising me and in July we were fortunate enough to work with one Simple Savings member, Rikki, who is involved with a charity called Fitted for Work. I was very happy to see 110 discounted copies of The $21 Challenge go to Fitted for Work, Melbourne.
Fitted for Work is a not-for-profit organisation assisting women experiencing disadvantage to get work and keep it. Since 2005 it has transformed the lives of 14,500 women. Here's a photo of Amanda Carlile (National Client Services Manager), Rikki and Anne Lennon (National Development Manager) with The $21 Challenge. You can learn more about Fitted for Work here: www.fittedforwork.org.
We love hearing from you - your savings stories and tips make my day! Here are some of my favourites this month:
"I am a strict budgeter, obsessive meal planner and love to bake/cook as much as I can from scratch so when I read your $21 Challenge I was a bit skeptical and thought it would not apply to me. Well, I was pleasantly surprised! I decided to give it a go this week and managed to create a five-day menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts for less than $21 (and this included some deodorant for hubby!). I need to let you know that my pantry is highly organised, you will never find 10 cans of corn or more than two packets of pasta at any given time but I still managed to scrape some delicious meals together and save $200! Thanks for giving me the incentive to have a go and I will definitely be making this appear in my planning a bit more often!" (Kylie)
"I have been receiving your newsletters and Hint of the Week emails for quite a number of years now. The last hint hit home with me and I followed the suggestion of putting unwanted items on eBay and listing them for $0.99c on auction. Hey, guess what?! It worked! I already have a buyer and if $0.99c is all I get then that's great as I know the items have gone to a home where they are wanted." (Noeline)
Have a great month!
All the best,
We are dropping the price of Vault membership from $37 to $23 until August 20th.
Click here to grab one.
1. Sad Sally, Happy Hanna: How Green Does Your Garden Groan?
"HEY! Watch my plant!" Sarah grumbled at James as they both burst through the door at the same time. "What have you got there, sweetheart?" Sally asked. "It's just her silly old basil plant from school. Honestly she treats it like it's her baby or something!" scoffed James, as Sarah glared back and clutched her yoghurt pot seedling protectively. "I reckon that's big enough to go in the garden," said Pete. "Shall we go and find a space for it in the vegie patch?" "Yes, let's go!" said Sarah excitedly. "I'm going to grow the BEST basil in my whole class!"
"Look at my crazy sister," James giggled a few days later as he looked out the window. "She's singing to her silly old plant!" "You leave her alone," chided Sally. "She's enjoying herself - and she knows the more you look after plants, the bigger they grow and the more yummy basil we'll have to cook with. Besides, her plant is growing better than all of your father's!" she chuckled. "Hey, hey, she's only got ONE plant to look after, I've got a whole garden full!" laughed Pete. "I'll give her credit where it's due though, she must be doing something right, bless her!"
The next afternoon Sally was getting the washing in when she stopped in her tracks. What was that noise? It sounded like someone was in pain! Quickly she ran around the side of the house in the direction of the noise to find Pete watering the vegie patch, singing at the top of his voice. "Good grief, it's YOU! I wondered what on earth all the racket was!" said Sally. "Well I remember reading years ago how Prince Charles said he sings to his plants and it certainly seems to be working for Sarah so I thought I'd give it a go. It's quite fun!" grinned Pete. "Looks like it!" chuckled Sally. "Although I hate to say it - but you might want to leave it to the professionals, love. You want the plants to GROW, not GROAN!"
2. August: Get Growing!
Poor Pete! Maybe he just needs to choose a different song to get his garden growing - perhaps a little Green Day would be more appropriate! Even if his vocal efforts leave a little to be desired, at least he's out there giving it a go and as Sarah shows, you don't have to garden on a big scale to get some terrific results.
There are all sorts of reasons why people don't feel able to grow their own food. Lack of time, lack of space, lack of money to get set up - but the biggest reason is lack of confidence. I have black thumbs. I don't know how to grow anything. What if I fail? The truth is, however, EVERYONE can grow SOMETHING! Even small children like Sarah can grow sprouts on a windowsill or a seedling in a yoghurt pot. And, no matter how young or old you are, the feeling you get from planting something yourself and watching it grow and flourish is hugely rewarding.
So this month, we want you to bite the bullet and grow something - anything! Herbs in particular are a fantastic start for the nervous gardener. They are inexpensive, don't take up much room and are very easy to look after. Better still, you will have instant and fresh flavour at your fingertips for your cooking, making all your meals even tastier. Here are the easiest ones to grow.
Don't pay $3 for a bunch of herbs, get the plant instead.
Flat Italian parsley is a strong sturdy plant you can add to almost any savoury dish. It doesn't need any attention - just the right amount of sunlight and regular watering. Use it in salads, dress up a sandwich or sprinkle over rice and noodles.
Basil is a quick-growing, easy plant to look after and nothing tastes as delicious as fresh basil in a summer salad or stirred through a pasta sauce or casserole. Make your own pesto and keep in the fridge for quick and delicious pasta meals.
Mint is fragrant and fast-growing and needs very little attention. Perfect with meat, vegies, salads and dessert dishes, what's not to love! A few sprigs make soothing hot teas or refreshing cold drinks. Try varieties like peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint or some of the 'fruit flavoured' mints such as apple or berries-and-cream!
Rosemary is another plant that once it is established, you will be able to enjoy for years. Dress up a lamb roast with lots of rosemary and garlic and use with poultry, casseroles, soups and vegetables.
Lemon grass needs NO maintenance and is an essential ingredient in many Asian dishes and delicious in soups, stews, salads, desserts and teas. Why buy a jar for $4.00 to use a few times when you can buy the plant for less, and use forever?
Echinacea is another tough plant people forget they can grow. Why buy capsules of dried echinacea for $30 when you can grow this hardy plant for years, for only a few dollars?
Your August Challenge is to get out and grow! Choose one of the herbs above and get growing - and saving! Singing is optional.
For more information, have a look here.
3. Competition: Winner of Our Food Photographer Competition
"Oh wow... this one is BEAUTIFUL... look at THIS ONE!" ...This is the sound of Fiona looking through the beautiful photos we received for the food photography competition. Wow! When we launched the competition we knew we'd get a few entries, but we never guessed we would get so many, and of such great quality! Some were quirky, some were rustic and some even had child stars in them! What stood out most was how much time and effort you all took with your photos.
These people get an honorable mention for their beautiful photos:
(Click here to see all of the runner-up photos.)
It was very hard to choose a winner - we'd like to congratulate Kylie Mibus as the winner of the $400 prize for her beautiful photo. Well done Kylie.
4. Penny Wise: Still Growing!
Why is it, do you think, that the universe always sees fit to bestow good fortune upon us with one hand, then take it away with the other in the blink of an eye?! Just as you dare to think life is finally going to cut you a little slack, along comes the hand of fate to slap you a big backhander and knock you down again. Apologies for sounding all doomy and gloomy but I'm not actually wallowing in self-pity - really! Whilst this has indeed happened to me in the last month on several rather unwelcome occasions, some of my dearest friends have also been going through similar trials, both financially and emotionally. It's always harder to watch people you love struggle than it is to go through it yourself, isn't it? The only good thing is, well, after all this time I'm used to it. All these months of trying to survive and deal with life's ups and downs on my own has given me so much valuable insight and wisdom; you don't realise how much until you find yourself using it to help others. Despite being wise by name, I've never thought of myself as wise by nature! I see it in the Forum all the time and am blown away by the amazing advice and assurance other members have to offer but I've never really thought about what people have had to go through in order to be able to give that amazing advice. Being able to use your own dark times to help others in a positive way really is a wonderful thing. As Noel often used to say, "There's always something good to come out of something bad," and there really is.
One thing I do know for sure is that my years of Simple Savings knowledge have given me a huge advantage over my friends. We may all have a lot of the same dramas - unexpected vet bills, mechanic call-outs, speeding tickets; you name it, just like everyone else. We may all lie awake at night worrying how to make ends meet, pay the bills and still afford new school shoes or birthday presents for the kids. But unlike them I have SS as my secret weapon, constantly encouraging me to think outside the square, get creative and find new ways to save. I don't have to buy cleaning products or beauty products or so many of the things other people do. They can't imagine not buying them because they've never known any other way. They don't know how to lower their food bill by cooking from scratch instead of expensive packets and jars. All these things we as Simple Savers do as second nature is still literally a foreign language to so many. Simple Savers know how to literally live on nothing when we need to. And when we run out of nothing, we still manage to find a way to eke out more.
Most of the time I find saving money is pretty effortless. Of course things will always come along to stuff up your efforts, such as getting a flat car battery two hours from home and all of a sudden having to pay $70 to renew the AA membership you weren't going to bother renewing so you can get home! But bills aside, it's actually very easy not to spend money, although sometimes you have to justify whether the savings are worth the effort. Take my vegetable garden. Several weeks ago I made the decision to get rid of the whole area and put it all back into lawn. It was a hard decision and one I struggled with for some time but as soon as it was gone I felt a weight had been lifted. The clincher for me came when a neighbour smiled kindly and said, "Gardening should be a pleasure, not a chore," - and that was exactly what mine had become. The vegie garden I had inherited with my house was 10 metres long by five metres wide, it was huge! And while initially I found growing my own food hugely rewarding, it soon became apparent that all my spare time was going to be required tending to it. When you're the solo parent of two teenagers, your weekends and after school times are not your own and before long I just couldn't keep up with the constant weeding and planting. It got to the stage that I had actually stopped looking out of the window as I couldn't bear to see how much it was getting away on me. Not only that; but once my Gilbert's Syndrome symptoms really started to make themselves known, I couldn't get out in the garden when I wanted to as I was too often stuck in bed. These days you would hardly recognise me as the same girl on the cover of The $21 Challenge book, my body weight has almost halved since then. When you only weigh 44kg you tend to run out of energy pretty quickly!
Not only that; keeping a vegie garden of that size constantly planted was proving expensive. Eventually it got so that I was buying plants I didn't even like to eat just to have some variety and to try and keep the weeds at bay. I also found that much of my spare time was spent driving around the neighbourhood giving huge amounts of food away. Don't get me wrong, that part was fantastic and so rewarding but it just became so time consuming and was actually costing me money, particularly in petrol! As soon as my garden was gone, I was able to look out of the window at my beautiful yard, still full of fruit trees and smile again. As I type I still have an abundance of lemons, oranges, mandarins and tangelos and locals will still benefit from my free produce. I also have two large half-barrels and a long wooden planter which I will use to grow food in from now on, in quantities we can manage, as well as many trellises to grow beans up and am looking forward to still being able to enjoy home-grown lettuce and tomatoes in summer. It's all about getting the balance right I guess; the main thing is, I'm still growing something!
Even so, I am finding not having a vegie garden is making a difference to the food bill and the amount and variety of vegetables we eat. Before, I was spoilt for choice and would simply create meals around what was ready to be picked. Now I find myself wincing at the cost of broccoli! It has also had an effect on the kind of dishes I cook, as I no longer base my meals around whatever produce needed to be used up. But I still feel the decision to get rid of my monster vegie garden was right. Ali, my littlest 'baby' turned 16 yesterday and Liam is 18 in less than three weeks. He'll be leaving home at the end of the year and Ali won't be far behind. Already the three of us couldn't keep up with the mountain of food coming out of it and our household is only going to become less. A Simple Saver I may be but I would rather spend what precious time I have left with them watching Liam flying round the rugby field or Ali wielding a cricket bat rather than at home on my own pulling out weeds. There'll be all the time in the world for that soon enough and when that happens, I'll probably be wishing for that enormous vegie garden again!
You can get updates on Penny's new blogs on the Simple Savings Facebook page.
...or in our Members' Blog section.
5. Best of the Vault: Go Potty
Here are some ideas to help with this month's challenge and get some dirt under your fingernails! It doesn't matter whether it's a pot of herbs on the window sill or a bottle of sprouts on the kitchen bench - just do ONE green thing this month.
A garden that travels with you
We were planning to travel around outback Western Australia in our caravan but still wanted to enjoy home grown vegetables while we were on the road. No problem - we took a vegetable garden with us! It simply sits on a non-slip tray under the caravan table!
I bought a $2 plastic planter box and a $1.99 punnet of mixed lettuce, and then I picked some parsley and spring onions from our garden. I filled the planter with soil from our vegie patch, cut the tops off the spring onions, leaving about 20cm of green tops and 5cm of roots, and planted them at one end of the planter. The parsley went into the other end, followed by the lettuce. I recently bought another planter and we now grow spinach and celery as well. I share excess produce with fellow campers, who all make wonderful comments about our caravan harvest!
We plant everything close together to stop weeds coming through, and use leftover water to feed our thirsty plants. We just need to watch out for wildlife like goats, rabbits and kangaroos when the planter is outdoors.
Of course you don't have to be a traveller to benefit from this idea. If you live on your own or have limited space try growing vegetables in a planter. The results will be fantastic!
Boxing on through the frosts
I am a keen gardener but we have late, heavy frosts in our area - when we should be planting seeds or seedlings. I have overcome this by planting seeds in old plastic wrap and foil boxes! When the frosts are over, the boxes can be planted directly in the ground as they are bio-degradable.
Bucket loads of savings on tomato pots
I saved almost $40 on pots for growing my own food! Recently a friend gave me some tomato seedlings. I don't have space in beds, however, so they had to go in pots. I checked the price of ordinary 'cheap' black plastic pots at Bunnings and found they were $5.50 each. I needed eight pots; this was going to be an expensive solution! Then I had a brainwave - I could use buckets instead! So off I trotted down to The Reject Shop where they had just what I wanted for $0.78c. I bought eight buckets, drilled holes in them for drainage and my tomatoes are now growing happily in their new home. Best of all I saved $37.76 and my free seedlings will grow into delicious free tomatoes!
Growing your own herbs can save you money, but you save even more if you don't have to replace dead plants on a regular basis!
I love basil but as I had no space to grow it outside, I had to grow a potted plant on the window sill. Invariably, the poor thing would wilt and die and I would have to fork out more money to replace it.
This year I purchased a new basil plant, but this time I put the pot into a clear plastic bowl and half-filled the bowl with water. It has worked brilliantly. I can immediately see when it has run out of water and I refill. No aphids and a very large, healthy plant so running out of water was a big factor in the past failures.
Moral of the story, look after your plants and they'll look after you.
6. Best of the Forum: Get Into Some Gardening - Any Way You Can!
You don't have to be a green-fingered expert to enjoy successful gardening - you just have to start! Grab a pot, hanging basket or any handy container and some good soil and plant something this week.
Join this Facebook group to share what you know, and learn what you don't!
Don't waste your money buying when you can 'snap and pot'.
There are some great ideas here to get you into your garden.
So you think money doesn't grow on trees!
7. Best Members' Blog: The Good, the Bad and Still Getting There
One of the many benefits of being a Vault member is that you can win a $100 store credit in Ye Olde Shoppe or $100 cash each month for your Simple Savings blog! Starting your own blog on the site is easy. All you have to do is log into the Vault, click on 'My Desk' at the top left, then 'Your Blog'. Then get writing! We love reading all your money saving trials and tribulations and really appreciate the effort that goes into each one.
This month's winner is 'Lil ol me' for sharing her adventures in the kitchen. Lil has been blogging about her system of preparing meals to take them from the freezer straight to the slow cooker - here is how she got started:
I have to share my latest obsession. I came across a system of dinner preparation called freezer/slow cooking. It's brilliant! And saving me so much money. I now go to the shop once a week and I know I have everything for the week's dinners.
Essentially you plan every meal to be made in the slow cooker. You have to do a meal plan and then go and do your shopping. Once home, get out your re-sealable bags and fill them with ALL the ingredients for the meals. Label each bag and put them in the freezer. Each night I pull one of the meals from the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge. The next morning it gets popped into the slow cooker - Dinner DONE! How easy! It has worked perfectly for me and has freed up so much time. It took me about an hour and a half to prep all the meals and clean up, then I didn't have to worry about what to cook for dinner for the rest of the week.
It has saved me money as I don't have ingredients that I forget about in the fridge. I haven't had a meal I'd planned to make but one of the kids has eaten the ingredients for. It's given me extra time to prep/make other snacks for the kids instead. Now I will be honest enough to say a couple of the meals have been nothing short of bleurgh! One mouthful and I knew there was no way the kids would eat it (or me!) so I've made sure I have a really quick back-up just in case. Last night was one of those occasions but instead of a take away option, I quickly whipped up two ingredient pizza bases and the pizzas were ready 30 minutes later.
Here is the link which started my interest in this cooking system
With the extra burst of inspiration, I've been working on clearing out the pantry of all the odd ingredients. I've had dates floating round for months. I can't for the life of me remember what I bought them for. They quickly become a sticky date pudding one night, after I had spare time, since I didn't have to make dinner. OMG - delish! It's been made a few times since.
I've also made sure I keep home-made yoghurt and home-made condensed milk in the fridge, which is very helpful. A bit of a habit I've been getting into is having slices on hand for the kids to snack on. I haven't bought lunch box 'fillers' for three or four weeks now. I have so many ingredients on hand that I haven't had to really buy anything special to make them, and it's really helping me reduce pantry clutter. I re-discovered the slice recipe book in the Downloads section of SS and it's brilliant! I forgot how good it was. I have a large oven so I can fit four different slice trays in there at once and have four slices ready in 30 minutes. Sliced into 18 pieces each, that's 72 pieces of slices ready for the kids to grab.
Phew! So sounds like lots of cooking, but it really hasn't been, but I'm creating some wonderful habits in reducing my grocery spending and pantry clutter.
Well done Lil ol me - we're pretty sure your mum and dad feel exactly the same way!
You can read more of our members' blogs here.
8. Mimi's Rustic Roast Lamb Pie (can also be gluten-free!)
These little pies are simply divine and for a gluten-free family like us, a real mouthwatering treat. The pastry is so light and crisp and thankfully bears no resemblance whatsoever to that suspicious looking stuff wrapped around equally suspicious 'meat' that we call a pie these days.
I made these on the spur of the moment one afternoon when the leftover roast shoulder of lamb was begging to be used for something other than a toasted sandwich. Lamb shoulder, by the way, is a far more economical roast than the leg, and is in fact what many of us used to enjoy as our Sunday roast. Slow roasted with garlic and herbs for 3-4 hours, it's a worthy addition to the menu and yields an enormous amount of meat.
I've modified a recipe from a CWA cookbook written in conjunction with the Lady Mayoress circa 1938 and, like many of the old recipes, it worked like a charm.
You can use any shortening you like but for the sake of authenticity, I used beef shortening (dripping/supafry) as suggested in the original recipe. I figured in the quantities it was required for this dish we were still far and away ahead of the game compared to the fat content in either bought pastry sheets or bought pies. I found that it really did give a superior result, but we eat very little in the way of added fat and we all have good cholesterol levels, so I'll leave the decision on what shortening you use to your own conscience.
This recipe will work well for either gluten-free or normal flour.
I baked these in large (not Texas sized) muffin pan holes.
For three generous rustic pies, you'll need:
For the pastry:
- 2 level tbsp shortening (beef dripping, margarine, butter, lard)
- 3/4 cup plain flour mixed with two teaspoons baking powder (or use SR flour) and a pinch of salt. Note: I used Laucke Gluten-Free Bread/Baking Mix which comes in a white box with blue lettering in the health food section of the supermarket. That's why my pastry has little seeds in it.
- 2 tbsp cold milk, plus a little extra for glazing
- Extra flour for dusting the bench or two sheets of baking paper into which to sandwich the dough for rolling
- Large scone cutter or egg ring to cut the pastry to size
For the filling:
- 1 cup leftover roast meat, diced
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 stock cube
- 1/2 tsp Vegemite (optional, for colour)
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- Seasoning to taste
For the gravy:
Add a cup of boiling water to a microwave-safe bowl and stir in the Vegemite ensuring it melts and dissipates.
Crumble a stock cube into a separate cup and add the cornflour and a tablespoon of water and mix to a paste.
Add the paste to the boiling water and whisk well with a fork or miniature whisk.
Microwave on high in 60 second bursts until it boils and thickens. Check the consistency. It needs to be a pretty thick gravy, but add a little more liquid if it's too thick.
Add the meat and stir well. Set the filling aside while you make the pastry.
For the pastry:
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grease the muffin pan holes liberally with butter, margarine or a liberal spray of cooking spray.
Rub the shortening quickly into the flour with your fingertips. The key to good pastry is to keep everything cold, so don't stress too much about completely dissipating the lumps. A few tiny lumps of the shortening through the flour is fine.
Dust the bench with a little flour.
Add the milk to the flour mixture and stir with a knife to form a stiff dough. Bring the pastry together with your hands. If it's a little too crumbly to adhere, add more cold milk, a teaspoon at a time. It should form a firm ball when moulded with your hands.
Tip it onto the floured bench or place one sheet of baking paper on the bench, place the dough on it and cover it with the second sheet. This actually works really well as it prevents the dough from sticking to either the bench or the rolling pin.
Roll the pastry out to about the thickness of a twenty cent coin.
Cut three bases and three tops using the large scone cutter.
Gather the remaining dough into a second ball, roll it out again and cut long strips about 2-3cm wide to form the sides of your pies. Just do a guesstimate of the depth of your muffin pan or if you're particular, measure the depth with a ruler and cut the strips to the corresponding width.
Place a base piece of pastry in each muffin hole, then line the sides with a strip of pastry dough, trimming it to size. Press the dough against the sides of the muffin pans and press the edges neatly and gently together with your fingers at the bottom to make the base stick to the side pieces. Prick the base and sides a few times with a fork.
Fill each pie with the meat and gravy filling.
Cover the pies with the remaining circles you've cut for tops.
Use scraps of pastry to cut rough shapes or leaves to decorate the tops if you wish. Press these gently into place.
Glaze the tops of the pies by brushing with a little of the extra cold milk and place the pies in the oven.
Bake until golden brown on top, approximately 25-30 minutes.
To remove the pies from the muffin pan holes, run a sharp knife around the edges of the hole to loosen them and, using a spoon either side, gently lift them from the pan. If you've greased the pan holes sufficiently they should just lift out. I had two come out perfectly and one that disintegrated... clearly the cook got the messy one. I can assure you it was still delicious!
The great thing about these is whilst this looks like a lot of instructions, I actually had the filling and the pastry made in about 15 minutes and the pies in the oven five minutes later. Within 45 minutes we had a really delicious meal that would have seen us parting with anything up to $25 each in a bistro, café, restaurant or upmarket pub.
Served with a simple salad they really are guest-worthy and they need little more than a few scraps of meat, leftovers or even vegetables in a gravy or white sauce to be a truly scrumptious treat.
I've always considered myself an utter pastry novice and I've never yet made a successful pie or pastry dish from scratch... until now.
Give it a try. You'll never buy a frozen pie again. :)
You can get updates on Mimi's new blogs on the Simple Savings Facebook page
or in our Members' Blog section.
9. Rob Bob's Gardening Blog: Feeding the Patch and the Belly!
Feeding up the patch for next to nix
This month's challenge on Simple Savings is all about getting out there and growing your own food. Not only does it save you coin but you'll end up with some of the freshest and tastiest vegies you will ever eat. One way to make growing your own food even cheaper is to make your own liquid fertilisers.
Manures, worm castings and composts are a great way to feed the plants and soil in your vegie patch for no or very little cost. While a bag of manure can set you back a couple of dollars (if you don't know a friendly farmer that is), compost and worm castings can be made from the likes of lawn clippings, kitchen scraps, weeds, animal bedding (poultry, rabbit and guinea pig) and tree prunings. When applied to the garden they add invaluable organic matter to help loosen the soil, retain soil moisture, as well as provide food for compost worms and other beneficial life forms.
Manures, worm castings and composts can also be used to make up some tasty liquid fertilisers that will go much further than the compost/manure itself. When a fertiliser tea is applied to the garden you are providing the plants with an instant boost of available nutrients suspended in the liquid and are also feeding the soil with the beneficial micro-organisms that are also present in some of the teas.
Making up these liquid fertiliser teas can be relatively easy OR can be up scaled into a full-on liquid fertiliser 'brew' by adding air, molasses and other goodies to make up a tasty bacteria-laden treat for your soil and plants. To keep things simple I will be mainly talking about the basic teas that anyone can make with a bucket/drum and some rich organic matter and water. Just a note here on water, most town/city water contains chlorine which is added to kill the bad microbes in the water. If you are worried about killing beneficial microbes in the brew you can leave the water in an open top container exposed to the sunlight for a couple of days and that will help gas off the chlorine.
A big thanks to Puurrey Wife for asking a question on the Forum about manure teas - you helped me decide what to blog on this month. ;-) Manure teas are very basic and easy to mix up if you have a good supply of aged manure. The only manure teas I've made up for this patch involved worm castings but I will cover that below. Growing up on our small farm we had an endless supply of cow manure from our two dairy cows, which was collected and left to age in a pile. After the pats had dried out for a few months they were broken up and used as a top dress for vegie patches for us and my grandparents. We would also add it to the compost piles or tumblers, to break down before being dug through the soils. It is never a good idea to use fresh manure as it can be rather rich in nutrients and do more harm than good by burning plants. It is best to let them dry out or compost before using.
My mother and grandfather used to make up a very basic brew with cow pats in a drum of water. It was as easy as dumping a 10L/2½ gal buckets worth of well-aged, crumbled up manure into a 60L/16 gal drum then filling it with water. It would then be left to sit and soak in the water, breaking down the lumps over three to five days. It was also stirred whenever we remembered and often became slightly 'aromatic' (which I now know to be due to anaerobic decomposition). When it came time to use the mix it was bailed out into a watering can and mixed 1:1 with water for use on the garden. The remnants in the base of the drum were dumped into the compost heap, so got a second chance at making it out onto the patch at a later date.
Just a quick pointer - a lawn mower makes very quick work of mulching up sun dried horse and cow manure. Just be sure to take the washing off the line first or you might be made to do it all again. :-/
Other aged manures can also be used like horse, sheep, goat and even some pet manures like guinea pig and rabbit. We have also included fish waste from our aquaponics set up in a few different brews and I have read of a chap who makes up fertiliser tea from poultry manure but it is a much longer process that I am not familiar with. Might be something for folks to look into if they feel game. ;-)
Please note that manure from carnivores like cats and dogs should never be used to make up liquid fertilisers as it can carry pathogens that can cause diseases in humans. They need to be composted properly over a VERY long period of time.
The compost tea that we make is very simple and can be added to the patch immediately with no brewing required. About 15L/4 gal of compost is used per batch with the tea being mixed up in a 60L/16 gal drum. Many folks will have their own ratios but this one works for us and haven't had any complaints from our plants as of yet. ;-)
To begin with you add the compost into a drum and fill to the top with water. Next you need to give the drum a good stir to get all the brown goodness suspended into the mix. If your compost is like ours you will get some bits of undecomposed straw and other organic matter floating on the top. If you plan on using a watering can with a rose on the spout it is a good idea to remove these chunks and add them back into the compost pile.
Once the compost is well and truly mixed with water you can bail/pour out the tea and water the garden. I like to feed the heavy feeders like pumpkins/cucurbits, corn, tomatoes, capsicums, broccoli/brassicas and so on with this first batch from the barrel as it is the richest brew.
Once the barrel is down to the sludge at the bottom you can fill it back up with water and repeat. I continue to refill the barrel until the water starts to look like a very weak cup of tea then call it quits. We normally get about four to five batches out of a bucket worth of compost which easily gives all the gardens in the back yard a great feed. Any sludge left in the base can be put back to the compost pile or added to the garden beds.
I would like to do this at least once a week but unfortunately the compost pile just wasn't that large and we ran out last weekend. I've decided to bite the bullet and use a commercially bought compost blend we used when we first started the garden here and have had some great results with.
This will be the first time I've used a commercial blend in a tea so I think I will start off with only 4L/1 gal of compost in the drum and will see how the plants react over the coming week.
Worm castings tea
We now make up our worm cast tea in a similar way as we do the compost teas. The main difference is the amount of castings we add into the mix.
The main reason for this is that I think the castings are much more jam packed with beneficial microbes and nutrients, so are more valuable and deserve to be spread around the vegie beds as much as possible. To make up a batch of castings tea I add about one large handful or about ¾ cup of castings straight into the 9L/ 2 gal watering can, fill with water, mix well and apply immediately onto the plants.
I used to suspend the castings in a stocking or paint strainer bag overnight and massage the wormy goodness out of them by hand every few hours, but I now think the above method works just as well. I do think that the plants respond well to this quick feed just as they do with the compost teas. There is also evidence that some of the constituents of worm castings and teas made from it can help prevent disease and deter pests on plants. Click HERE for a word doc download from Soil Ecology Laboratory of the Ohio State University regarding tests conducted on various garden pests.
Weed/green manure teas
In a previous blog I posted details on one of the weed/green manure teas that we make up but thought it was worth going over again quickly as these teas would have to be the easiest, if not cheapest of all to make. Almost any weed will do but to make up a top notch brew it is a good idea to use some dynamic accumulator plants like comfrey, nettles or dandelions in the mix or even by themselves. These plants have very deep roots that 'mine' nutrients from deep in the ground, bringing them up to their leaves for us to harvest and make use of.
All you need to do is collect a fairly full 10L/2½ gal bucket of greenery, rip, cut or shred them up into smallish pieces then cover them with water and wait. If needed you can pop a brick or rock in there to help keep the greens submerged. After two to three weeks the greenery will be very decomposed with the mix resembling a very 'aromatic' sludge with some bits floating and others settling on the base. I like to strain the mix through a paint strainer so the solids don't clog the rose of the watering can. As this tea can be somewhat concentrated it's best to water it down before using it on the patch. Most folks recommend a one part tea concentrate to 10 parts water. I cheat a bit and add one part concentrate to around nine parts of water in the watering can and haven't seen any adverse effects on the plants.
Brewed teas are another great liquid fertiliser designed to boost the amount of beneficial microbes in the brew before adding it to the soil in the patch.
About a year ago I did a blog called Compost tea & treats for the chooks where I went through a basic recipe I use for brewing up wormcast/compost teas using a small aquarium air compressor and molasses. The same treatment can be given to the green manure teas. It's not a necessity but it does help reduce the pungent aroma made by the steeping process and will help to increase the amount of helpful aerobic bacteria in the brew before applying it to the patch.
I hope that quick look at home-made liquid fertilisers helps you out in some way. That's about it for this month's blog. Hope you all have fun in the patch and shall catch you next time.
You can get updates on Rob Bob's new gardening adventure blogs on the Simple Savings Facebook page
or in our Members' Blog section.
10. From Last Month: Help Me With the Winter Blahs
Last month Treena emailed us about ideas for keeping cheery during winter:
"Please ask your members for some ideas for me! I get the 'winter blahs' all through winter. I hate the cold and the rain, and it is dark when I get up and dark as soon as I get home. I really need some ideas on managing this time of year and staying chirpy. I hate the winter blahs!"
We got some fantastic ideas - thank you for sharing your wisdom! Here are some of our favourite replies:
When it's dull outside, brighten up the inside!
It may be dull outside in winter but you can really lift your spirits by brightening up your surroundings! It doesn't have to be expensive; it can be as easy as:
- Changing your quilt to a floral that makes you smile (or just change the cushions to a cheerful pattern such as pink stripes).
- Finding a mug that makes your heart sing; one of my favourites cost $0.50c at a local charity shop.
- Having a winter declutter, and deep clean. Check out Peter Walsh's books for inspiration.
Don't forget to brighten YOU up too! My sister gave me a pair of fake red velvet flat shoes one year and every time I wore them they made me smile. I only stopped wearing them when they fell apart! Wear red lipstick, a splash of blush, swipe of mascara - whatever works to make you feel good for the rest of the day. Pick up a couple of cheap and colourful bracelets or invest in some bold pink, flamboyant red or cheeky purple nail polish for your nails.
Finally, find something fun to do in the evenings:
- Learn a new craft, join a class or find 'how to' videos online.
- Join a community group such as a choir or local theatre group.
- Buy or borrow an exercise DVD to keep you motivated and fit when it's cold outside.
- Challenge yourself to cook a new healthy soup/cake/main meal at least once a week
- And last but not least, invite people over to show off your new, brighter surroundings!
Ensure a happy winter with Vitamin D supplement
A simple Vitamin D supplement has given me my happiest winter I can remember in years! A couple of months ago I went for a full skin check with a doctor I was seeing for the first time. He asked about my skin/sun habits and told me that, as I work in an office and cover up when I am in the sun, I probably don't get enough Vitamin D. He suggested I take a supplement as apparently the amount in a multivitamin isn't enough. I found some Blackmore's Vitamin D 1000 IU on clearance at a local supermarket and stocked up. Within a week I noticed a marked positive improvement in my mood! Before, I had been taking a low dose of St John's Wort for what I thought was mild depression but have tossed that bottle out now, as since taking the Vitamin D the black clouds of winter have lifted!
Rug up and get out there!
I love winter! One thing I love doing is using my slow cooker in winter. Just a few minutes to get organised in the morning and you have a lovely hot meal ready for when you get home from work exhausted! Knitting is also a lovely thing to do during the colder months. If you don't already know how to knit, set yourself a challenge to learn and make something you will use, such as a cosy throw rug. A walk with my dog also exhilarates both me and him, even if it's just a quick one. I love layering up to keep warm. Enjoy all those beautiful winter clothes, woolens, boots and hats we can only wear at this time of year and just rug up and get out there!
Bring the sunshine in with calendulas
A perfect low-cost winter pick-me-up is a bunch of fresh flowers to enjoy in your home. We grow Calendula flowers all year round and a vase of them in our lounge room really cheers the room up!
Don't suffer the blues alone
My mother always knew the perfect ways to keep the winter blues at bay! We would often walk into the house to the smell of soup, which was a fabulous way to shake the cold out and always felt great to be home. You can create this yourself even when working by preparing soup or a warming dish in the slow cooker before you leave for work so it's ready when you come home. We also had simple meals around an open fire - with no lights by choice, but it was so nice we always went to this as first option whenever there was a power cut too! We would also wrap up warmly and go for a walk on a Sunday afternoon to 'blow the cobwebs away' and would choose an exposed walk beside the beach. Everyone would come back battered and windblown but utterly recharged! Also, my father couldn't take long holidays in the summer so we did windy beach holidays in winter instead. I can vouch for this being fabulous too.
Other things you can do to lift your spirits are splurge on some early season spring flowers with lots of scent; our local thrift shops often sell bunches kindly donated by those with plenty. This can be factored in as part of charity giving, so you're not exactly splurging! Invite friends over for an informal cuppa; this is an especially great way to get to know a few neighbours that you aren't really acquainted with beyond brief hellos and brief chats. I've held a couple of these now and it's been fabulous, just give yourself a week to contact your guests, keep the snacks simple and enjoy. As a result we now have a great community bond, I've got extra walking companions, more folks who are happy to look after pets when others go away and each person has commented on feeling that little bit isolated before but no longer!
Also, our phone plan allows for long distance calls to other countries at the one combined rate per month as phoning anywhere in our country. If you can do this cheaply it is a great way to say hi to extended family. I try to phone someone I think would appreciate knowing they're being thought of every couple of weeks. It doesn't have to be long but it's nice to make those connections and keep in touch with friends who have moved away. I was labelled extremely shy as a child but all it takes is a little courage and the company of others, or simply hearing their voice down the phone line can really help you through a drab time of year.
Leave the 'home fires' burning
A warm, cosy atmosphere can do wonders to keep the winter blues at bay. When I was living on my own, I left a lamp on a timer in winter so that I never came home to a dark house. Just having a light on made the house look so much more welcoming. Effective heating also makes a difference - I love my heated lap rug!
Day and night, there will be light
I have found that the key to beating the winter 'blahs' is to get enough light. I used to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder - if the winter was a bright sunny one I was OK, but a winter of grey skies really impacted, leaving me very 'blah'. Fortunately the solution was mind bogglingly simple! I bought a special needleworker's daylight lightbulb for my upright lamp, which I use for reading and crafting in the evening. Because the light waves are the same as normal daylight, your body and mind think they have been out in strong daylight - so your mood doesn't plummet. SO simple and not expensive! You'll be astonished the difference it makes!
Recreate the sun with 2000 lumen light
The best way to deal with the winter blues is to get as much sunshine as you can, but if that isn't possible, fake it! A 2000 lumen light has the same effect as the sun and will provide the light you need to produce the right hormones to give Seasonal Affective Disorder the boot. Search online or ask at your local hardware store for the best one to suit you.
Helping others gives winter blues a lift
A great way to give the winter blues a lift without resorting to expensive retail therapy is to spend a little time helping others less fortunate than yourself. Community organisations always need volunteers, especially in winter, so ask around your area for a charity or homeless shelter where you can help. It's so rewarding, yet costs nothing and I guarantee you won't complain that it's winter again!
Don't be SAD, go for a walk!
I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately known as SAD) but find if I can force myself outside no matter the weather to walk around the block every day it helps. I try and walk without a hat or sunglasses to get maximum sun exposure but when it's wet a bright umbrella and gumboots really help to lift my spirits. People smile at me, probably because they think I'm mad but it works for me!
11. This Month's Help Request: Purchasing Safely Online
Donna has emailed asking for some help! She writes:
"How do people spend safely online? For the first time ever, my Visa was 'stung' when it was used online for a very small transaction in Chinese currency. When I rang the bank, they cancelled it immediately and told me that one scam was to put through a few dollars and then if it goes unnoticed, put through a very large amount a couple of weeks later. I am very careful online - but obviously not careful enough. What kinds of things do people do to spend safely online?"
If you have any pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with Donna, please send them in to us here.
12. Goodbye For Now!
Well, that's your Simple Savings Newsletter for August and we hope you have enjoyed it. We hope you'll get some dirt under your fingers and plant just ONE something - a pot of herbs, maybe a small box of gourmet lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Growing your own food is a little bit of magic!
Our members are hugely important to us and we love hearing from you all! So next time you're on the website, why don't you get in touch and say 'G'day'! Let us know what you would like to see more of in our newsletter or any suggestions you have for something new to try. We love receiving your clever ideas!
Don't forget to spread the love around to your family and friends too by forwarding them our newsletter or letting them know about our website. Help make their lives easier and save them money too! Or tell them about us on Facebook by clicking the 'like' button on our Simple Savings Facebook page.
Till next time...
All the best,