Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Starting your own Herb Garden Part 5: Garlic, ginger, and other easy-to-grow herbs

Missed the rest of the series? Read them here: Starting your own Herb Garden: Part 1: The Benefits of Fresh Herbs, here: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 2: Planning and Layout, here: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 3: Seed Starting and Growing from Cuttings, and here: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 4: The Indoor/Potted Herb Garden.

Did you know that some of the most widely used and most delicious herbs are the easiest to grow? In this last of installment of the Starting Your Own Herb Garden series, we'll show you how to grow your own garlic, ginger, and cilantro.

Ginger has loads of health benefits (just do a Google search and you'll come up with tons), so much so that many people take daily ginger in capsule form. I prefer it fresh or pickled, sushi style. Fresh grated ginger is fantastically useful for cooking, especially in Asian dishes, and it makes a lovely tea. It's also ridiculously easy to grow your own.

Note: This is ornamental ginger (comes it pink or red flowers). It's pretty but not edible. The edible kind is not pretty, doesn't flower at all, and is much smaller.

To grow your own, visit your local farmers' market after the last frost. I got mine from the local grocery and it grew fine, but I was lucky--much of the commercially grown ginger is treated so that it won't reproduce. Select a rhizome (this is what most people refer to as the ginger "root," but that's actually incorrect) at least 3 inches long and with at least two well-developed growth buds--little protrusions at the tip of a "finger" of the rhizome, kind of like eyes on a potato. The more growth buds your rhizome has, the better. If the tips of the "fingers" are greenish, even better.

A ginger rhizome with 7 fingers and many growth buds. This could produce up to 10 ginger plants.

Planting Ginger
If you're unsure whether your ginger rhizome has been treated with an growth retardant, soak it in a glass of water overnight before you plant it. What's cool about ginger is that if your rhizome has more than one "finger," you can cut them apart and plant each one separately to produce several ginger plants. The only rule is that each section you plant should be at least 2 inches long and have at least one growth bud.

Growing Ginger
You can grow your ginger in a pot with potting soil, like mine, or if you live in an area that never frosts, you can plant it directly in the ground, as long as the soil is well-drained and not too clayey. Ginger takes 8 to 10 months to mature and hates the cold, which is why you should opt for potting unless you live in an almost year-round warm climate. Plant your rhizome sections 6 to 8 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep, growth buds facing up. Water regularly, but don't soak them. Ginger hates having wet feet. After a few weeks (sometimes several), you'll see the first growth. It'll look like a thin green spike.

Ginger plant spike with first leaf

6 months later

Harvesting Ginger
Ginger is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and begin to wilt, 8 to 10 months after planting. I recommend harvesting in the morning so the rhizomes have ample time to dry in the sun. To harvest, loosen the soil with a garden fork and lift the whole thing gently out of the ground. Brush as much of the dirt off the remaining rhizomes as you can and lay them in the sun for the rest of the day. At this point you can cut off a few sections of the rhizome with good growth nubs to replant for next year. Break up the rest and cut off any remaining stems.

Storing Ginger
There are three options I know of for quality long-term storage of ginger:
1. Keep unpeeled in a ziplock bag in your refrigerator's crisper (up to 2 months).
2. Scrape off the skin with the edge of a spoon, cut into 1-inch chunks, and store covered in vodka or rice wine (up to 1 year). The ginger won't lose its flavor, and you can use the leftover liquid in stir-fry dishes, salad dressings, or sauces. I've yet to make a ginger vodka martini, but I'd love to try it.
3. Pickle it by peeling as above, cutting into 1-inch chunks, and storing covered in rice vinegar for 3 weeks. Remove from liquid. Use the remaining liquid as above, and store the pickled ginger in the refrigerator up to 1 year.

Ordinary cilantro is also easy to grow and not too picky about its soil, as long as it's fairly loose and not too wet. It prefers shade or filtered sun, will grow in pots or right in the ground, and grows quickly. Five cilantro seeds will yield you quite a bit of cilantro in a month or two. Plant the seeds 4 to 6 inches apart and 1/2 inch deep. If planting outdoors, wait until it's relatively warm out to plant your seeds. They don't like the cold.

Cilantro, one week after planting seeds. If you want instant herb gratification, this is your plant.

Garlic is another quick sprouter, though it takes longer to mature than cilantro.

Planting Garlic
Unless you're in a year-round warm climate, the best time to plant garlic is in mid-autumn. Buy a head from your local grocery or farmers' market and keep it in the fridge until you start to see little roots sticking out the bottom. Then separate the cloves and plant them in a sunny spot, root side down, 6 inches apart, and 2 inches deep. No need to peel off the skin. The soil should be loose and well-drained.

Growing Garlic
After a few days you'll see the shoot coming up. These will die down once it gets cold. When that happens, mulch well over the whole bed. Your job is done until spring. In the spring, remove the mulch. More shoots will appear and these will continue growing into leaves that look like onion leaves but flimsier. About a month before the garlic is ready to be harvested, they'll send up something called a scape. The scape looks like a thick, hard green onion, and it's edible. It tastes just like garlic but milder and you can cut it off to eat once it's about 4 inches long. If you let them keep growing, they'll get very tall and start curling like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Once they start to curl, they'll get tough and begin losing their flavor.

Garlic, two days after planting

Garlic, 1 week after planting

Harvesting Garlic
You'll know when your garlic is ready to harvest because its leaves will start to turn brown and wilt. As with the ginger, loosen the soil and carefully pull the whole thing up. Brush off the dirt and hang the whole thing in a cool, dry place for 2 to 3 weeks. They should be dry and not smell very strongly at this point. Cut off the foliage and peel off the outer layers of skin until it looks like something you'd see at the grocery store.

Storing Garlic
Do not seal your garlic bulbs in bags or airtight containers; this promotes molding and rotting. Garlic will keep in the fridge for 2 to 4 weeks, but the moisture level there is too high for it to keep long term. Garlic keeps longest in a cool, dry place, like in a terracotta jar or in the basement.

Growth update!
The habaneros still haven't germinated. I planted five seeds, 3 three weeks ago and 2 two weeks ago. Nada. I've heard they take as long as 2 months to germinate, so I'm not giving up yet. I'm keeping them in direct sun as much as possible to maximize warmth. Somebody I know said his didn't germinate until he started setting them on top of the clothes dryer every time he ran it.

The watermelon seedlings are growing, but not rapidly. We now have nine of them. No sign of the forget-me-nots germinating yet, but it's only been one week.

The basil and mint that I transplanted last week from the cuttings are flourishing, so I'm excited about that. I'm already dreaming of caprese salads.

Mint cutting transplant

Basil cutting transplants

Starting your own Herb Garden Part 5: Garlic, ginger, and other easy-to-grow herbsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Starting your own Herb Garden Part 4: The Indoor/Potted Herb Garden

Missed the beginning of the series? Read them here: Starting your own Herb Garden: Part 1: The Benefits of Fresh Herbs, here: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 2: Planning and Layout, and here: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 3: Seed Starting and Growing from Cuttings

This week TAiMH will show you how to make a variety of beautiful recycled herb planters and get some ideas for creating your own unique indoor herb garden. It's time to get creative.

But first, an update on the seeds we planted last week in our totally recycled starter pots:

Yes, I confess these are watermelon seeds, not herbs. My herbs are already potted or planted. But you get the idea. It works.

8 out of 14 watermelon seeds (from farmer's market watermelon) germinated!

Also, I happened to buy a little ceramic elephant oil burner that came in this little clear plastic box. So instead of throwing away the packaging, I've recycled it into the perfect mini-greenhouse.

I planted habanero pepper seeds in these. They're notoriously hard to germinate. Cross your fingers for me.

Inside are more recycled starter pots, these ones made from styrofoam coffee cups. Starbucks espresso cups work well too, by the way. However, I certainly don't recommend buying disposable cups if you can bring your own travel mug for them to fill. MDT just happened to buy us surprise snacks at the fair last week, which came in these.

Recycled mini-greenhouse

Now that your little seeds have germinated, the next step is to pot them. Here are some ideas for creative recycled planters

Hack #1: Turn vegetable cans/tins into a matching set of planters for your indoor herb garden.

  • vegetable cans/tins (remember to poke holes in the bottom for drainage)
  • ribbon, buttons, bottle caps, bows, or any other little decorative, waterproof things you've got lying around
  • a hot glue gun (or at least some super glue)
  • Scotch tape
  • Sharpies


I've been dying to do one covered in multicolored buttons, but I haven't collected enough yet.

Need more inspiration? How about these great recycled planters:

culantro (related to cilantro) in a broken concrete block

2 liter bottle herb garden from GreenScaper

Coffee can hanging planter, tutorial on Beach Petals

recycled windowsill herb garden, from Apartment Therapy

If you haven't got any suitable materials to recycle into planters, why not buy some cheap ceramic pots and paint/decorate them yourself? Fresh paint is also a great way to recycle an ugly old pot into a pretty one that matches your kitchen. ;)

Plain ceramic pot $1, painted with acrylics

Ready to transplant?

Transplanting Seedlings
When your herb seedlings are about 3-4 inches tall, they're ready to transplant into your new lovely planters. Fill your new planter to about an inch from the top with potting soil and make an indent in the center in which to place your seedling. Peel off the masking tape from around the starter pot, carefully remove the paper bottom, and place your seedling, paper towel roll and all into your new planter. Water lightly.

Transplanting cuttings
When your cutting has roots at least 4 inches long, you're ready to transplant it. Again, fill your new planter to about an inch from the top with potting soil and make an indent in the center in which to place your cutting. To ease the roots' transition from water to soil, make sure the soil in the pot is very wet. I do this by simply pouring a bunch of water right into the indent I've made for the cutting, and immediately inserting the cutting. Then add soil to fill the hole, and water again lightly.

Basil (transplanted from cutting) and Cat Grass (from seed)

More basil cut from the same parent plant and transplanted

Next week, join us for our final Starting Your Own Herb Garden installment where we'll show you how to grow garlic, ginger, and other herbs you can plant straight in the ground.

Starting your own Herb Garden Part 4: The Indoor/Potted Herb GardenSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, October 11, 2010

Starting your own Herb Garden Part 3: Seed Starting and Growing from Cuttings

Missed Parts 1 & 2? Read them here: Starting your own Herb Garden: Part 1 and here: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 2: Planning and Layout

This week we'll learn how to start your seeds indoors for later planting outside, and how to start a new plant from a cutting.

Indoor Seed Starting
Hack #1: Make your own "peat" pots for free
The point of starting your seeds in peat pots rather than in plastic containers is that you can put them straight in the ground, pot and all, and not have to worry about ripping roots. But you don't have to go out and buy these guys, you can make them yourself with household items.

For the pots:
  • a newspaper (B&W pages only)
  • several toilet paper/paper towel rolls
  • scrap paper
  • masking tape or string

For the tray
  • a plastic grocery bag
  • duct or masking tape
  • a cardboard box

If you're using paper towel or toilet paper rolls:
  1. For toilet paper rolls, cut in half. For paper towel rolls, cut in four.
  2. Wrap a piece of masking tape around the middle of each roll. This is so that after a few days of watering, the rolls don't start to come apart and unravel (like they are in my picture).
  3. Cut your scrap paper into roughly 4" x 4" squares.
  4. Stuff a square of paper into each roll and shape it to form the bottom of the pot.

If you're using newspaper:
  1. Find a cup, jar, or can with roughly the circumference you want for your pots (about as big around as a toilet paper roll).
  2. Take a sheet of newspaper and wrap in around the jar several times. Then fold the remaining length on the bottom to cover the bottom of the cup/jar/can.
  3. To make the bottom stay put, wet it just a little. I use my ironing spray bottle. Then smash it down hard.
  4. Slide your new pot off the jar/can/cup and fold the remaining length on the top down inside the pot to strengthen the walls. Spray with a bit of water if necessary.
  5. Let dry.
  6. Repeat process for each pot.
toilet paper starter pots with paper bottoms and potting soil

For a tray to put them in:
  1. Cut down the sides of your cardboard box to about the height of the pots.
  2. Cut your plastic grocery bag down the sides, and cut off the handles. Use it to line the inside of the box. Tape in place.
  3. If you're going to plant more than one type of seed in the tray or you're making more than one tray, you might want to label the outside of the tray/box with a marker, so you don't forget what you've planted where.

Planting Your Seeds
Hack #2: Instant Greenhouse

  • Starter pots and trays
  • potting soil OR regular soil plus liquid fertilizer (e.g., Miracle Gro)
  • plastic wrap or other clear plastic

Now that you've got your starter pots ready, it's time to plant.
  1. First, fill your pots with soil. If you're using regular soil, spray each filled pots generously with the liquid fertilizer and then wait until tomorrow to plant your seeds.
  2. Check your seeds packs for any special instructions, such as soaking the seeds in water. Then, using a chopstick or a pencil (eraser end), poke a hole about an inch deep in each pot (or less, depending on the type of seed) and drop in a seed.
  3. Spray the seed with water and gently push the soil back over it. Do not press down. The soil should be loose, not packed.
  4. Cut the clear plastic to fit and lay it over the pots.
  5. Set the tray in a sunny window, under a lamp with an incandescent light bulb, or in some other warm location.
Messily taped but fully functional seed tray with starter pots and "greenhouse" (AKA clear plastic)

Keep your seeds warm and moist and they'll germinate in no time. Once germinated, they'll need sun as well as warmth, so clear some windowsill room. Leave the plastic on top only until the seedling get about an inch high.

Starting a New Plant from a Cutting
  • old soda or water bottle with a narrow mouth, clear plastic is best so you can see the roots growing
  • a plant that propagates from cuttings
  • liquid plant food (e.g., Miracle Gro) optional

  1. Choose a stem with at least four leaves and cut it off on the diagonal, preferably just above a lower set of leaves. The cutting should be at least four inches long.
  2. Fill your old bottle with water and gently set the cutting in it. Pour out excess water until only the bottom 2-3 inches of the stem is immersed.
  3. Change the water every few days, adding a tiny bit of liquid plant food if desired.

Several mint cuttings, after about 2 weeks in water

Next week, Planting in Pots and Outdoors: Learn how to make a variety of beautiful recycled herb pots and planters and get some ideas for creating your own unique herb garden. It's time to get creative.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Starting your own Herb Garden Part 2: Planning and Layout

Missed Part 1? Read it here: Starting your own Herb Garden: Part 1

Planning Your Herb Garden

Maybe you're thinking you can skip this step. Who needs to plan? Let's just throw some seeds in the ground! But some herbs are picky. Several are very difficult to germinate and are best started by cuttings from an existing plant. Some difficult to germinate plants don't propagate well from cuttings; these you'll be best off buying as seedlings. Planning is especially important with regards to timing and placement. Some plants prefer a shady spot, while others grow best in full or partial sun. Some need well-drained soil, while others can be put in a spot that gets a lot of rain.

Did you know that fall is the best time to plan your spring gardens? That's because it gives you plenty of time before spring to plan your garden layout and get your seeds on sale. It's also a nice opportunity to freshen up your living space for the long winter. A few fragrant potted herbs on the windowsills goes a long way to brightening up your home when outside things are chilly and dreary.

Herb gardens come in many different shapes and sizes. If your space outside is limited or you want to keep your garden growing year-round without fear of frost, you can plant your herbs in pots and keep them by a sunny window. Potting your herbs can also be a good idea if you have poor soil or if you live in the city and only have a balcony or rooftop for your yard. Some herbs like mint (see photos below), which will spread like crazy if you plant it in the ground, are simply better suited to pots. Plan well or all your efforts may go to waste. Not to worry, though. We'll show you how to make garden planning quick and easy.

Mint growth and spreading in 1 month

Step 1: Choose which herbs you'd like to grow and get the seeds.
You may want to grow a certain herb based on taste, smell, or just because it's pretty to look at. See the list of commonly used herbs in Part 1, but keep in mind that this is just a short list; there are many more choices available. If your local gardening store doesn't carry the seeds, you can order them from a seed company online. Since this is a blog about saving money, here are some tips for getting cheap seeds.
  • Ask your friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors if they have seeds or cuttings they could share with you.
  • Check your local dollar store. They'll often have seed packs of common herbs for less than a dollar a piece.
  • Late spring to midsummer is the best time to find seed packs on sale. Garden and home improvement stores will often put all their seeds on clearance around this time. Though it might be too late to plant them outside, you can always plant them inside in pots and move them outdoors in the spring or just hold onto them for next year. I've found that most seeds last at least one year after the expiration date stamped on the packet, with no ill effects.

Step 2: Determine when and where to plant your chosen herbs.
Read the seed packets or, if you're not planting from seed, just do a Google search for information. For partial-sun- or shade-loving plants, consider potting them and keeping them inside near a window or putting them in a hanging basket under an overhang. You can also plant them outside in the ground if you have a suitable shady area, perhaps along a wall or solid fence (to block harder rains) or under a deck overhang or awning. If your garden will be totally indoors, put the plants that need the most sun in a window that faces south or southeast (assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere.) Most herbs will do fine with about 5 hours hours of indirect sun a day.

Also pay attention to the level of moisture preferred by each plant and check the soil in the various locations you've chosen to plant. You don't want to put a plant that prefers drier soil in a low spot where water tends to gather, for instance.

Step 3: Plan your herb garden layout.
Draw a simple map of your yard/balcony/apartment and label where you will place each plant according to your findings in Step 2. Don't forget to allot windowsill and porch space.

Example garden layout plan

Step 4: Schedule the planting.
When to plant your herbs depends partially on your location. Consult the seed packet/internet instructions for best results. Most of them will have a map showing the best time to plant those seeds in your area. Some plants have a better chance of surviving if they're started in peat pots indoors a little before outdoor planting time and then transplanted as seedlings into their outside beds. Consult those seed packets again. Now, on the garden plan you made in Step 3, note the outdoor planting time for each herb and whether you're going to start them indoors beforehand.

Example garden layout plan with timeline

Step 5: Make a planting timeline.
If you're only planting a few herbs you won't need this step, but it's helpful if you're planning a larger herb garden with many varieties. On the back of your garden layout plan or in the margin, make a list, in chronological order, of when you will plant and transplant each herb. This will help you stay organized so you don't forget and miss your planting times.

Basil in a sunny, well-drained spot

Next Up: Starting your own Herb Garden Part 3: Planting
Learn how to create recycled "peat" pots in which to start your seeds indoors, how to grow your garden organically on the cheap, and how to make a variety of beautiful recycled planters. Also: ideas for unique gardens. It's time to get creative.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Starting your own Herb Garden: Part 1

The Benefits of Fresh Herbs

There are so many benefits to growing your own herbs. You save money on store-bought fresh herbs, which tend to be overpriced, and home-grown always tastes better. Plus, with your own herb garden there's no realizing you don't have the spice you need halfway into cooking dinner. You just step outside and pick it! And, did you know that herbs are extremely good for you? According to the Nutrition Diva, ". . . ounce for ounce, fresh herbs like oregano, rosemary, parsley, and basil are among the most nutritious greens you can find." Besides vitamins and antioxidants, she adds that "herbs are also very rich in a wide range of disease-fighting phytochemicals. Almost all green herbs have potent anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties." She also notes that, like fruits and vegetables, herbs are most potent and contain the most nutrients when they are freshly picked.

Some commonly used herbs and their benefits/uses

Basil: helps regulate blood pressure and prevent free-radical damage, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory

Chamomile: helps calm the nerves and promote sleep, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic

Cilantro: helps increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), promotes healthy liver function, helps reduce menstrual cramping, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant

Dill: helps neutralize carcinogens, high in calcium, antioxidant

Garlic: lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels, helps prevent blood clots and cancerous tumors, fights bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, and supports healthy heart function

Ginger: lowers cholesterol, stimulates blood circulation, helps relieve indigestion and joint pain, used as an expectorant

Oregano: high in iron and manganese, protects against and fights dysentery and is especially effective against Giardia, one of the most common intestinal infections caused by water parasites

Parsley: high in iron, folic acid, and vitamins A and C, antioxidant, antibacterial, diuretic

Peppermint: helps calm muscle spasms and relieve headache, nausea, and menstrual cramps, and gastrointestinal upset; used as a cough suppressant and decongestant

Rosemary: helps kill bacteria that cause infection, improve digestion, and clear congestion, may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, antioxidant

Sage: helps reduce digestive problems, sore throat, premenstrual cramps, and even excessive perspiration; lowers blood sugar, antibacterial

Thyme: helps protect against age-related change in the brain, high in manganese, antimicrobial

Pretty amazing, right? Next week, we'll get started on helping you plan and plant your own herb garden. Stay tuned.


Starting your own Herb Garden: Part 1SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fun and Cheap Ways to Spend Time with Your Honey

Let’s face it: the whole pizza-and-a-movie-at-home bit gets old really fast. So don’t let it get to the point of cholesterol problems from pepperoni grease or multiple viewings of Date Night. Your body, your mind, and your significant other will thank you. Simply browse through the following ideas for ways to spend time with your special someone that will get you out and about, learning more about each other, and having fun while nurturing your wallets.

Group or Double Date with Board and Video Games
This is a great idea if you know some other couples in your area who’d rather not break the bank over one night at a fancy restaurant. Schedule some group or double dates at each other’s houses or apartments, playing a new board game or trying out a new Wii challenge together. It will get you out of your own place, so it’s a change of scenery, and you’ll get to interact with other fun couples. Chances are that you’ll learn something new about each other, such as a hidden talent for singing Rock Band solos. You might still order some pizza, but changing one out of two tired dating habits isn’t too shabby.

Go Local
Try checking out your city’s website to find out if you have some of these events or venues in your area:

Farmer’s market: Reasonably priced and fresh, it’s also a fun place to go if you want to simply look around together. You can look up recipes beforehand, pick up the perfect ingredients at a budget-friendly rate, and enjoy cooking a meal together later in the day.

Art, history, or science museums: These are often free or very reasonably priced for admission. You’ll learn something about the world around you and might even discover a special interest or hobby that your date is passionate about.

Used bookstores: If you’re of the literary persuasion, this is fun, interesting, and expands your book collection for next to nothing. Find out what kinds of books you both enjoy, then get double the value by reading each other’s purchases.

Consignment shops: If you ever do go out on a “real” dinner date, dress each other up for the special occasion by shopping together at consignment shops. Make a deal that you’ll set up a budget for the outfits and that you each have to wear what the other one picks out.

College and university exhibitions: Students in all kinds of arts programs often set up events that are free and open to the public, such as art exhibitions, dance and music recitals, and theatre productions. If there’s a charge, it’s usually minimal and goes to support higher education, so you’re not throwing your money away. You might enjoy the experience and find that you’re frugal patrons of the arts.

State or national parks: Make a day trip of it, bring a picnic, and have a great time. You might invest in some good trail shoes, but otherwise, you won’t have to buy anything. Most parks have free admission, and if not, the fee should be low (around $10). If the park you choose does charge too much, try gardens at universities and colleges for your picnic location.

This article was written by guest blogger Alexis Bonari of www.collegescholarships.org. Thanks for the ideas, Alexis!

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Make a Cat Scratching Post for FREE

So, yesterday I made a scratching block for my cats, in under 20 minutes, just like the ones I've seen at pet stores for up to $25 (see below). For absolutely free. And it's double-sided!

  • corrugated cardboard (from shipping inserts, old cardboard boxes, etc.) If you don't have any around, ask at your local corner store or grocery store if they have any extras lying around. That's what I did.
  • duct tape
  • scissors or a box cutter
  • ruler
  • pen or pencil
  • glue (regular school glue works just fine)


  1. Take apart your box so you are left with flat pieces of cardboard.
  2. With your ruler and pencil, measure and mark 2" strips, the desired length of the scratcher. (Mine is roughly 18" long because that's how long my boxes were once I disassembled and flattened them.)
  3. Cut out the strips. Don't worry about creases. They don't matter.
  4. Keep cutting out strips until you have enough, when stacked on top of one another and smashed together, to make the desired width of your scratcher. Mine ended up being about 6" wide. Next time I might make it a bit wider.
  5. Once all your strips are cut, it's time to glue them together. Put a generous line of Elmer's on your first strip, lay another on top and repeat for the rest of the strips, making sure they're lined up evenly and working quickly so your glue doesn't dry yet.
  6. Duct tape each end together to hold them in place and then place a couple of bricks or something else heavy on top of the whole thing to compress it and help the glue set.
  7. Wait 10-15 minutes, remove the bricks, duct tape 2 layers around the whole thing to secure it, and you're done.

  • As a treat, sprinkle some catnip on the scratcher every once in a while.
  • I find my cats like the scratcher best either on carpet or a rug; otherwise it can slide while they're scratching--unless they're sitting on top of it like Ed likes to do.

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Recipe: Enchiladas that taste better than the ones you get at restaurants

We haven't posted a recipe in a while, so here's a most delicious one that's supremely easy and quick.

1 pack of whole wheat tortillas
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
2 cans fat-free refried beans
1 can of diced tomatoes OR 3-4 medium tomatoes, diced
1-2 jalapeño peppers, finely choppe
1 can enchilada sauce
1 bag shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese
large handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

In my opinion, the enchilada sauce in the most important ingredients. Enchiladas are just not enchiladas without the sauce. Do not attempt this recipe without it. I find it difficult to make my own that has the right taste and super-smooth liquid texture, which is why I use the (delicious) stuff in a can, but if you can do it, go for it (and send me your recipe!)

  1. Heat the beans in a pan just until warm and soft.
  2. Line an oven dish with aluminum foil and preheat your oven to 350.
  3. One by one, prepare your enchiladas side by side in the oven dish, making sure to place them snugly; this will help hold the tortillas in place so that they don't unfold. Spread refried beans down the middle of a tortilla. Follow with a spoonful of enchilada sauce, a scoop of diced tomatoes, a sprinkle of green onions, and a sprinkle of cheese. Roll tortilla closed and repeat to make the next one.
  4. When all the enchiladas are made and in the oven dish, pour the enchilada sauce generously over the whole lot and sprinkle cilantro and cheese on top of the sauce.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese on top is melted.

Serving Suggestions
Try these accompanied by rice, salad, and fried plantains.

Recipe: Enchiladas that taste better than the ones you get at restaurantsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Money-Saving Laundry Tips: Quick Tips for Saving Your Cash and Your Clothes

  1. Use less soap. Detergent makers want as much of your money as they can get. One way of accomplishing this goal is to advise you to use much more of their product than is necessary. For a large load, 1/2 cup is usually plenty. Too much detergent (often the advised amount) can actually leave your clothes less clean and cause them unnecessary wear and tear.

  2. Use cold water whenever possible. Unless your clothes are seriously soiled, cold water works just fine.

  3. A little soaking goes a long way. For particularly dirty laundry or tough stains, instead of using hot water, soak the load for a couple of hours before washing. (Follow the instruction on your washing machine to load, add detergent, and fill as usual, but stop the cycle before it starts agitation.)

  4. The sooner you treat a stain, the easier it will be to get out. Whatever your preferred method of stain-fighting, do it as soon as possible. Set-in stains are very difficult to get out.

  5. For organic stains, such as blood, do not use hot water. Rinse immediately with cold water and wash as soon as possible. If you can't wash the item right away, soak it in a bucket of cold water and a sprinkle of soap until you can.

  6. For particularly potent items (think day-old, soaked-in-sweat soccer socks), before washing, soak for at least one hour in a bucket with either a capful of bleach or 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup vinegar.

  7. If you want to use fabric softener, go with dryer sheets instead of liquid softener. They're almost always much less expensive (and easier to lug home from the supermarket).

  8. Line-dry your clothes whenever weather permits. Do your washing in the morning to allow for drying during the sun's most intense hours. My laundry often dries in under two hours this way. If you're like me and don't like the slightly stiff feel your clothes get drying in the sun, just pop them in the dryer for 5-10 minutes afterwards, along with a clean, damp (not wet) rag, and a dryer sheet (if desired).
Know any other money- and/or environment-saving laundry tips? Leave them in comment below!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Frugal Home Decor: Add seating and color to your patio with a DIY recycled patio bench

We have pretty magnificent sunsets here. And there's nothing like relaxing on the porch and having a couple drinks in the evening. All we used to have for seating, though, were a couple of ugly plastic chairs, and those finally cracked and broke. So I set about gathering materials to build some deck furniture. I'm no expert carpenter, mind you, so I kept it simple for my first project: a wooden bench (cushions to come as soon as I can get by the fabric store). This is about the most simple bench you can build and it requires very few tools. It's a super quick, super easy, and super cheap, afternoon or weekend project.

All the materials used to build this bench were recycled, except the paint, and we got that on sale because it was already mixed. Even if you had to buy the wood, too, you'd spend less than $15.


4 2x4s, the desired length of your bench (we got these from a neighbor who had them left over)
hammer and nails
a hand saw or circular saw
1/2 quart of indoor/outdoor wood paint (if you have some leftover from another project, all the better)
a paintbrush
concrete cinderblocks or other support (leveled tree stumps, upside-down metal buckets, etc.)

  1. Take one of your 2x4s and cut from it 2 11" lengths. These are the pieces that will hold the your bench seat together. Scrap the rest of that plank and keep it for another project.

  2. Using an electric sander (unless you want really sore hands and arms), sand one side of the 3 long 2x4s until very smooth. Don't forget the edges and corners.

  3. Prop all 3 planks, smooth side down, atop your supports (or two sawhorses, etc.) and align them carefully. Place the two shorter pieces across them at either side, 5-6 inches from the edges, and mark around them with a pencil. If you have C clamps, you can skip the pencil marking and just clamp them together.

  4. Flip everything over, realign, and place one nail in the center of each long plank, aligned with the center of the short support pieces. (See image below.)

  5. Flip everything back over and hammer the sharp ends of the nails sideways so that they're flat against the wood.

  6. Paint! Follow the directions on the can as to how long to wait between coats; you'll probably want at least 2.
Et voila! Your new patio bench.

Tip: Use leftover paint to color other accent pieces on the porch or around the yard for a unified look. I used mine on some upcycled flower pots.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Decorating/Gardening on the Cheap: Pineapple Top into Interesting Houseplant

Looking for something to spice up your office or home interior? Add a little green (and sometimes pink) to your environment with a new, free houseplant. Pineapples make great houseplants; they don't attract bugs, they don't require much care, and they're incredibly easy to grow. Have a cat that chews on every plant or flower you bring into the house? No worries, the pointy, thick leaves of a pineapple plant won't interest them. And, if you treat your pineapple plant well, you may even be rewarded with a cute little (edible) baby pineapple.

Here how you do it:

Next time you buy a pineapple at your local grocery or farmer's market, make sure it has a nice green top. The leaves shouldn't pull out easily, and the bottom of the pineapple should smell strong and sweet. If your pineapple is still a bit green, no problem, just perch it upside down (to help it ripen evenly) in a windowsill when you get home and wait a few days for it to turn yellow. If it's just a tiny bit green, it's probably just fine to eat. An overripe pineapple is not a pretty, or tasty, thing.

When you're ready to eat it, use a towel or garden glove to grab the whole green top and twist is gently off. Don't pull, just twist. If you're lucky, your pineapple top will already have some rootage going on, like in the photo below, or at least a row or two of root nubs.

Then, cut off the little bit of fruit left on the stump with a knife and, starting with the lowest set of leaves (usually brown and dried), rip off the several bottommost rows of leaves until your pineapple plant will sit nicely in a jar of water with the stump immersed. Set your new plant and its jar in a window (it doesn't have to be very sunny) and wait. In a week or two, your new little friend should have enough roots to plant in a pot, or even directly in the ground.

Pineapple #1 after a few days in water on the windowsill.

Pineapple #2 after a few days in water on the windowsill.

If you live in a tropical or near-tropical locale, and you can plant your pineapple in the ground rather than in a pot—just be aware that these plants get extremely large when allowed to do so, and will take up a lot of space in your yard. They do, however, take kindly to being trimmed, but in my opinion they don't look as nice that way.

We eat a lot of fresh pineapple around here.

Once your little friend has established an inch or so of roots all around, he's ready to be planted. You can use potting soil, but mine did fine in just regular dirt. You can start with a little 6" pot, like I have and repot as it grows, or you can put it directly in a larger pot (20" or so ought to do it) so you won't have to move it.

Newly potted pineapple (along with newly potted orange and lime trees).

Pineapple plants like full sun to partial shade, warm weather, and moderate watering. Keep the soil moist, but don't overwater. If you live in an area that gets cool, bring your potted pineapple inside when it starts to get cold, way before any danger of frost. Pineapples are hardy, but they are tropical plants.

First pineapple in the ground, just planted.

First pineapple (front) still doing well, now accompanied by four others (along with some rosemary and wild chayote).

I now have one pineapple plant in a little pot and six lining the fence in my backyard. I have to choose wisely what I plant along this fence because there are often cows grazing on the other side of it. I'm fairly confident they won't want to chomp on sharp, slightly serrated pineapple leaves, and tiny, needle-like rosemary leaves, but the chayote I'm not sure about. But it just popped up there, so there's no point in pulling it out.

Pineapple plants take at least a year, usually two, to bear fruit, so be patient. In the meantime, your living space will benefit from your pretty new houseplant and some extra, freshly created oxygen.

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