Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Green and Frugal: The Urban Homestead

My sweet husband sent me a website today to check out -- The Urban Homestead. It's about a family in California that's become as self-sufficient as possible by gardening, utilizing livestock and recycling. The most interesting aspect is that their on 1/5 of an acre! Over the last 20 years they've perfected their edible landscape while reducing their carbon footprint.

Here are some of the things they're doing, which are impressive, to say the least:

Urban Homestead at a Glance
  • Location: Northwest Pasadena, one mile from downtown Pasadena
  • Property Size: 66’ x 132’ = 8,712 sq.ft. (1/5 acre)
  • House: Simple, wood frame craftsman bungalow. Circa 1917.
  • House Size: 1,500 sq. ft.
  • Garden Size: ~ 1/10 acre (3,900 sq.ft. / ~ 66' x 66') 
  • Garden Diversity: Over 350 different vegetables, herbs, fruits & berries
  • Productivity: Up to 6,000 lbs harvest annually on 1/10 acre
Food / Garden
  • Growing 99% of produce
  • 6,000lbs on 1/10 acre Garden
  • Saving seeds
  • Companion planting
Healthy Soil / Planting Methods
  • Remineralization
  • Self watering containers
  • Integral pest management
  • Square inch plantings
  • Polyculture
  • Successive sowing
Composting Methods
  • Making / Using EM Bokashi
  • Vermicomposting
  • Composting food, garden and green waste
  • Brewing compost teas
Food Preservation/Storage
  • Canning
  • Drying
  • Freezing
  • Fermenting

Food Choices
  • Buying in bulk
  • Organic
  • Local
  • Eating seasonally
  • Reducing "food miles"
  • Fair trade
  • Vegetarian (since 1992)
Raising Smallstock
  • Chickens (eggs/manure)
  • Ducks (eggs/manure)
  • Dwarf rabbits (manure)
  • Dwarf/pygmy goats (milk/manure)

We keep contemplating getting some chickens and possibly a goat or two. But we wonder if we would be getting in over our head. A garden is one thing, livestck is another.  
So this is just the short list. They do so much to be green and environmentally friendly!

Do you have a homestead or are contemplating one? I want to hear all about it.


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Green and Frugal: A Cool Pioneer Tip for Naturally Insulating Your Home

Another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

According to Consumer Reports, heating costs are expected to go up this winter. Again.

Big surprise, right?

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the average American household will spend $986 this winter to heat their home. And, that’s the average. If you’re heating with fuel oil, you can expect to pay 11% more than you did last year (coming in at a winter cost of over $1,900) and if you heat with propane, you’re going to pay 7.5% more (at $1,830).

Electric users (like myself) actually going to get a bit of a breather. Our costs are down 1.9%.

These figures, however, are only an estimate. I don’t know who Consumer Reports sourced for their winter forecast, but they’re claiming that heating-degree days will be 3% warmer than last year. Because of that, these figures aren’t worse.

If you check the Farmer’s Almanac, however, you’ll see that they’re predicting a bitterly cold winter for much of the country. NOAA, on the other hand, disputes this.

So like always, it could go either way. Personally I’m rooting for the Consumer Reports forecast!

Whether we have a balmy winter or a mild one, it’s still going to be cold. And there are things we can be doing right now to make sure we spend less on our heating bill.

Saving Money on Heating Costs: Pioneer Way

Stop and think about this for a minute.

Do you ever wonder how people heated their homes before central heating was invented?

Sure, people had radiators and wood stoves. But they didn’t have insulation to keep all that heat from escaping. Or did they?

A few months ago I finished read “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression“. And I have to say, this was one of the most enjoyable books I can remember reading in a long time. It was fascinating to read a memoir that detailed how people really lived so long ago. I’m talking, what they ate, what they grew, what they read, what they did for fun…it was amazing!

One of the details that struck me was how people insulated their homes back then. On the farm, right before winter set in, people would drive 6 foot posts into the ground, three feet away from the sides of the house. They would then pile straw between the house and the posts. Then, come the first big snow, they would pack snow over the straw, making almost a wall of ice.

And that’s how it stayed until the first Spring melt.

The author said this “makeshift insulation” did a wonderful job keeping the cold out and the heat in. So I started to wonder, could we do this now?

Well, we could if we lived in a smaller home. And if we didn’t have straw, we could use leaves. I even found a tutorial on on how to insulate your house with leaves. The cool thing about using leaves (once they’re bagged) is that you don’t have to pile them on the outside of your house. You can insulate your attic and basement with leaves!

I love this idea because if you can’t afford to go out and get insulation, or if you’re renting and don’t want to pay for improvements you might not benefit from long-term, using bagged leaves as insulation is the perfect solution. Now, I can’t attest to how effective this is. BUT, leaves are like down; they have plenty of open air space between them, which slows the transition of hot and cold air.

To me, this basic principal means that leaves would work just fine to insulate your home, especially in the attic.

Last Word…

What do you guys think about this? Would you use leaves to insulate your home if you had to (or if you wanted to)? Do you think it would work? And if you’re on a farm, would you ever consider using the straw-packing tip to insulate the outside of your home?

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Trick or Treat for Good

With one notable exception, Halloween has traditionally been about getting, not giving. That exception began 60 years ago, when a mom in Philadelphia had the idea to turn the getting into something bigger. With nothing more than a desire to see change, Mary Emma Alison spread the word through schools, churches and community groups, encouraging kids to collect pennies that would go toward food, medicine and other needs of poor children around the world through UNICEF (the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund).

Her efforts were noticed by UNICEF, which eventually took over the campaign.

President John F. Kennedy recognized the willingness of children to move beyond self-interest:

"UNICEF has caught the imagination of our people-especially our nation's children whose Halloween collections have become a symbol of concern and an expression of tangible aid."

Children still can collect for UNICEF, but in addition, there are a number of other ways in which they can turn Halloween into a good-for-others event.

For instance, kids can collect eye glasses. Organized by OneSight and Lions Clubs, Sight Night is a non-traditional way to go door-to-door for good. Instead of trick-or-treating for candy, children and community groups collect used prescription glasses as well as sunglasses which are then recycled for usage by global clinics. Click here for more information and download materials for Sight Night.

Do your kids have allergies? The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network's Trick or Treat for Food Allergy is an alternative way for kids of all ages to have fun during Halloween. Instead of trick-or-treating for candy, which may contain ingredients that can cause allergic reactions, kids will trick-or-treat for donations to fund FAAN's food allergy education and research programs. This way, they can dress up as their favorite characters while raising awareness to an important cause. Participating kids can even win cool prizes.

Older children may want to raise awareness of Fair Trade Certified chocolate and help end abusive child labor conditions in the cocoa industry. If so, they can try "reverse" trick-or-treating with Global Exchange. Instead of accepting candy (or in addition), they will hand out Fair Trade chocolate and/or informational cards on why supporting Fair Trade practices in the cocoa industry is a year around must.

And finally, with kids bringing home pounds of candy, most parents won't allow them to eat it all. Instead of tossing the loot, check with the Halloween Buy Back program to see if your local dentists are listed. Participating dentists pay children $1 for each pound they bring in. Kids can keep the money or use it to help defray the cost of sending collected candy to troops overseas.

If dentists in your area are not participating, see whether your local food pantry or Meals-on-Wheels might accept the treats.
This Halloween, why not take the focus off collecting as much candy as possible and offer your child the opportunity to be generous. That idea is anything but scary!

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors ofCelebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Green and Frugal: Hertz Announces Electric Vehicle Partnership Featuring Nissan Leaf

"Fueling up" the Nissan Leaf

The Hertz Corporation announced a Commitment to Action at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to bring the next generation of electric vehicles to the general public through its car rental and car sharing operations.

As the world's largest general-use airport car-rental brand, Hertz is uniquely positioned to introduce multiple groups of consumers - urban drivers, university students, travelers and corporations - to all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Hertz's leadership in this initiative will catalyze other partners and cities to provide additional infrastructure for mass scaling of electric mobility.

Hertz and its partners are planning to roll out the EV rental program starting this autumn with full-scale deployment in both the U.S. and other countries beginning in 2011. Hertz Global EV will be the first to provide a range of all-electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) and charging stations on a rental and car-sharing basis at this scale.

"Our Hertz Global EV program will galvanize support for building out the infrastructure platform necessary to make electric vehicle travel an everyday reality," said Mark P. Frissora, Hertz's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "With our rental and car sharing expertise, industry relationships and global footprint, we are in an ideal position to lead this new frontier in transportation. This is the game-changer for electric mobility."

Hertz is building partnerships that will help scale up electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid usage for the general public. Hertz is forming strategic partnerships with manufacturers, charging station providers, municipalities, NGOs, corporations and other stakeholders.

"Done right, electric vehicles can help the environment and represent a leap forward in transportation," said Fred Krupp, President, Environmental Defense Fund. "We look forward to working with Hertz and its partners to ensure that this leap drives measurable benefits for both consumers and the planet."

In February, Hertz announced a joint commitment with Nissan to bring the 100 percent electric, zero-emission Nissan LEAF to its select US and European car rental and sharing locations. Additionally, Hertz will supply EVs and PHEVs from other manufacturers including GM, Toyota and Mitsubishi. In Europe, Hertz EVs have already been introduced in London and Zurich with additional cities adding EVs this fall.

During the next several months, Hertz Global EV will leverage the company's rental and car sharing locations as bases for vehicles and charging stations, and tap into its technology - including sophisticated fleet management tools and the consumer-facing NeverLost GPS system - to help form an EV grid.

Looking forward, the company will build on its EV grid and explore new opportunities - including potentially bringing other areas of the business, including Hertz Equipment Rental, into Hertz Global EV.

Electric vehicles are catching on. Would you like the option to rent an electric car?

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Green and Frugal: Save Money and the Planet with a Costume Swap

It may seem early to be talking about Halloween, but one of the best ways to celebrate green is by planning ahead.
In 2009, $4.75 billion was expected to be spent by consumers for Halloween. And you can bet that this spending ultimately results in a lot of waste, some of which is attributed to costumes.

Swapping half the costumes that kids wear at Halloween would reduce annual landfill waste by 6,250 tons, equal to the weight of 2500 mid-sized cars, says Bob Lilienfield of
Millions of parents buy new costumes each year wanting to fulfill their childrens' fantasies. But like a wedding day, in general, costumes are worn once, then thrown away. Relatively small numbers are kept in dress up boxes and reused or donated to thrift shops. Most are likely sent to the dump.
So this year, why not make a boo-ti-ful Halloween resolution and swap?

It's easy to plan a family or neighborhood swap. Just sent out e-invites inviting guests to bring outgrown costumes in good condition. Make it a party by adding activities like the design-a-bag contest from ChicoBag where your kids can win $250 for them and the same for their schools. Or dunk for apples, make goodie bags or add other Halloween/seasonal games. Or how about staging a fashion show with kids wearing their new-to-them outfits!

If you're interested in staging or attending a public event where more costume choices should be available, check out where you'll find a database of swaps plus tips on how to set one up.
Add another aspect to a public swap by teaming with a non-profit. Charge a small swapping fee that goes to your partner.

And if you can't make it to a swap or there is none in your area, the internet comes to your rescue. Do a search for "costume swap" or "clothing swap" and you'll likely find online alternatives.

Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors ofCelebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Friday, October 8, 2010

TGIF: Saving Money with Groupon

Another great post from our friends at The Greenest Dollar...

So, have you guys seen those Groupon Ads yet?

You can hardly visit a blog anywhere on the web without seeing them. The ads claim you can get services, dining and “stuff” for up to 90% off in your local city. Heck, I’ve even got a Groupon ad up on my own site, courtesy of Google Adwords.

I didn’t pay any attention to Groupon for months. I kept seeing the ads, but barely spared them a thought.

Finally, yesterday, I clicked on one. And boy, was I impressed with what I saw.

How Groupon Works…

Groupon works by purchasing large quantities of coupons from local (to you) business. Restaurants, bowling alleys, spas, classes, carpet cleaners, outdoor outfitters…the wide variety of businesses and services selling to Groupon is impressive.

Once you sign up with Groupon and let them know where you’re coming from, you get “A Deal A Day” from your area. And there are some really awesome deals; all are at least 50% off. Many are discounted way more than that.

Groupon earns money because you “buy” the coupon from them. Everyone wins here: the business gets loads and loads of customers, you save at least 50% on a product, service or meal you wanted anyway, and Groupon earns enough to keep offering these amazing coupons.

The Deals…

So, what kind of deals are we talking about here?

For instance, today’s deal for Detroit was $59 for 2 rooms of carpet cleaning and 2 coats of protective finish from OxiClean.

Ok, not exactly my cup of tea (even though the OxiClean claims to be ecofriendly), but let’s look at the deal. This would normally cost $118. You’re getting this service for 50% off. If you were going to get your carpets cleaned anyway, this is a pretty great deal.

You would then pay Groupon the $59, and schedule your appointment. Simple.

Another recent Detroit-area deal was $20 for 2 dinners and 2 tickets to Late-Night Comedy at Andiamo. This would normally cost $50. So you saved $30. Over 2,500 people bought that Groupon in the Detroit area.


Groupon has over 9 million active members. And they’ve been featured in The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, the Today Show, Fast Company, CNN…the list goes on and on. Forbes has dubbed Groupon “The Fastest Growing Company Ever”. And with good reason. It rocks.

Signing Up to Groupon…

Because Groupon automatically picks up on where you’re coming from, you might have to change the city.

You can also earn money on Groupon. If you refer a friend to Groupon and they sign up, you get $10 Groupon bucks to spend on a deal. You can spread the word through links, Facebook, Twitter and email.

The Biggest Perk to Groupon

The coolest thing, I think, that Groupon offers is that it exposes you to businesses and restaurants you might have never heard of before. For instance, I had no idea that Andiamo Comedy Club existed. There was a deal back in March for Ackroyd’s Scottish Bakery in Redford. Sounds deliciously amazing, and I had no idea the place was there. Now I want to go check it out!

So, Groupon allows you to kind of play tourist in your own city. It exposes you to places and events you might have never heard of. And it enables you to go out and have fun (or buy services) for far less than you’d normally have to pay.

What’s not to love here?

There’s even a guy who’s travelling the country and living entirely off of Groupons. Yes, of course he’s blogging about it, at

Last Word…

I’d love to hear back from you guys on this. Have you used Groupon? Have you scored any amazing deals, or discovered a new place or event because of the site?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with Groupon, if they’ve been good or bad. So send ‘em in!

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Friday, October 1, 2010

TGIF: Top Blog Posts of the Week

Let's hear it for Friday!! To end the week, let's take a look at best blog posts. (These are compiled from the last few weeks.) We've got a nice mix of recipes, money-saving tips and green recommendations.

Let me know if I missed any or if you'd like to nominate your blog post for inclusion in the next round of top picks.

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