I’m not an expert forager. The only plants that grow in my area which I know are edible are pecans, dandelions, and purslane. Edible pecans are super rare in my experience thus far. And I still haven’t eaten dandelions because I haven’t yet gotten past the fact that they’re dandelions. But purslane? It’s like a dream.
I was very careful the first few times, checking the smooth petals to make sure it was really purslane and not the poisonous spurge or some other unknown. Once reassured, I pulled off a leaf to try it out. Purslane tastes more like spinach than anything else, with just that little bit of tang in the crisp succulent leaves. Now it sticks out like a sore thumb whenever I pass a bunch, and if the area looks safe (not subject to chemical treatments, too much car exhaust, etc) I’ll grab a bunch and pluck off a few leaves at a time to drop into my mouth and savor during my walk.
Purslane is a true superfood, too. Iron. Magnesium. Omega 3 fatty acids. So many vitamins and other minerals. People have been eating purslane for thousands of years and praising its health benefits, so you know it can’t be all bad.
After discovering this bunch on the way home yesterday with lots of fresh growth probably due to the recent rains, I hurried over to my side yard where a few purslane plants were already growing. Unfortunately, they did not fare as well with the rain. A mold or some other disease got to them and they had started turning whitish at the edges. One side of the purslane patch still looked pretty happy, but upon further consideration I just left them. There’s plenty of other purslane. It grows all summer here, and summer isn’t over quite yet.
Every time I see a beverage can littered somewhere, I think of can collectors. Yes, the men who would go around collecting cans in a large cart or large bag to take to the cash-for-cans machine. Why don’t I ever see them anymore? Why are so many areas totally littered with cans? Is it because they no longer have any value? Is there too much other trash to wade through everywhere? Or is it just not convenient enough to be worthwhile?
When I was younger, my family used to save our cans and take them to a cash-for-cans machine at the supermarket. We saw it there regularly, and the big “CASH FOR CANS” sign made it obvious that cans had value.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen one of those machines in a long while. These days cans are just a nuisance and once they’ve served their purpose they all too often get tossed into a trash bin, on the ground, or even in the creek. 😦
How do we make it obvious again that things have value and shouldn’t just be thrown away? Should I start a business with these cash-for-can machines to drive awareness? Maybe those states that have a deposit fee are on to something?
Anyhow, my point is that everything has value. If something is laying on the ground, it can still have value. Even if most people can’t see it, those cans are valuable resources. The plastic bottles too. Even the polystyrene foam cups.
… Although even I don’t bother trying to find a recycling home for those. If it’s foam, I just throw it in the trash can. I may feel a twinge of disappointment, but that’s my limit at the moment.
But to close on a happier note, I’d like to share the story of one resource whose value I have done my best to honor. I have previously shared some examples of reusing old tshirts by means of tshirt yarn creations, but I’ve since learned to take it one step further.
By practice disassembling tshirts to make tshirt yarn, I’ve discovered that there’s a way to undo the hem such that you can often salvage longer threads for reuse. And I now have several different colors in a baby food jar either for necessities or for embroidery practice.
Just this week I used some of my tshirt thread to hem up my most recent jeans acquisition. Sure, these little pieces of thread wouldn’t have maxed out the landfill but being able to find another purpose for them sure felt good.
Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten pretty good at not buying things. But what if I couldn’t buy internet service? Bus tickets? FOOD? That’s exactly what Mark Boyle tries to do in his book The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard of money-free living, but it’s the first time I really listened.
“Money is a bit like love. We spend our entire lives chasing it, yet few of us understand what it actually is.”
Boyle begins with the story of money being introduced into society which he leads naturally led to banks and the practice of lending out money that wasn’t theirs. Let’s say five people each put $50 in the bank. Then the bank would loan out $50 to someone else even if none of the money they had was their own. (It sounds great at first. The bank and its customers get some interest as the borrower pays back the $50, and the borrower was able to get the cash when he really needed it.)
“For most of us, money represents security. As long as we have money in the bank, we’ll be safe.”
What I had never considered before reading this book is that banks are strongly incentivized to loan out as much money as possible, making the foundation not only shaky but also pushing loans on people and encouraging them to buy things that they could otherwise do without for a while. This process leads to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer buying things they can’t afford and paying interest on it all the while. Taken in that perspective, money-free living finally makes some sense.
So Boyle decides to see what it would be like to live without even touching money for a year. He spends months in preparation figuring out how to live without money. Oddly enough, he starts by buying some supplies like solar panels. Other things he acquires for free, like a caravan that someone didn’t want. He finds a place where he can put the caravan and live in exchange for his labor, and learns about humanure and rocket stoves for moneyfree defecation and cooking respectively. And finally, it’s time. He sells his houseboat, gives the proceeds to a charity he set up, and embarks on his new life.
Boyle recognized from the start that to live without money, he’d also have to rely on community. His charity is all about skill-sharing so he can have more skills to barter with. He performs odd jobs in exchange for foodstuffs or other goods. He relies on strangers to give him a lift while hitchhiking to visit his folks for the holidays. He goes dumpster diving with acquaintances, and even brings in the whole community a couple of times to throw and enjoy feasts created from food that would otherwise have been disposed of.
One of the common complaints about this book was that Boyle is still using money fairly regularly, just not his own. Using a phone line that someone else paid for. Living on land that someone else is paying for. Relying on someone else’s trash to eat. It wouldn’t be sustainable if everyone were to suddenly embrace his way of life.
But I’ve got to give him credit for purifying his water, doing manual labor when he could have opted for a lazier option, rescuing food from going to landfill. There are some ideas in this book that anyone interested in green living can learn from. And most of all, it promotes the idea of thrift.
“When you produce anything of your own, you don’t waste a drop.”
While I’m still not sold (ha!) on the idea that money is inherently bad, I may do a bit more research into what banks I do business with. Perhaps I should also donate more instead of aggressively planning for solitary retirement?
As for Boyle, what’s he up to these days? Well, he’s still living mostly “moneyless”, but not quite. If you’re really interested, you can find out more from his articles for The Guardian.
I’ll leave you with one final thought, though, because it’s something I at times need to be reminded of myself:
“Activists often talk like they ‘want to save the earth’. The earth will be fine, in time; it’s humanity that may need saving. But who do they want to ‘save’ it for? Only other activists? Only for activists and the working classes? Or for everyone: executive bankers, environmentalists, police officers, human rights activists, and politicians alike?”
It’s 76° outside right now! A couple of days ago at this time it was a toasty 104°. Not only that, but there’s rain. It’s just been drizzling most of the time, but it still came out to an inch here yesterday and more is on its way.
That’s why this weekend I needed to throw as many seeds as possible into the moist garden beds to prepare for fall. If it gets too hot again (fairly likely), some of them won’t make it, but that’s a risk I have to take.
I bought a couple of packets of carrot seeds from Wheatsville while grocery shopping and pulled out a bunch of leftover seeds from this spring or last fall. Well, except for the turnip seeds which were intended for 2008 and which my mother found somewhere and decided I was the right recipient for.
So, without further ado, here’s my garden after living in this house for six months. The pics with all the wilted leaves are from Friday afternoon obviously, when the plants were trying to protect themselves from the heat.
Cucumber Variety Bed
This bed has not just a few cucumber seeds planted, but also nasturtiums, watermelon radishes, Jaune Du Doubs carrots, and a couple of broccoli. That may be too much to plant in this little bed, but I really wanted to get more things in the ground. And my experience with carrots is that they take many months to grow so they’ll probably wait to grow until I get rid of everything else.
The smaller cucumber bed that I prepared recently seems to be doing well enough. I’ll have to thin some out yet again. It’s always painful to see plants go in the compost, but it’s the recommended way for plants to have room to thrive.
And right next to that, not worth it’s own topic is the yellow squash bed. More accurately, it’s the pile of dirt that I stuck some squash seeds into a couple of weeks ago when there was rain forecast. We’ll see whether or not I can still get a decent-sized squash from my yard.
Variety Bed #2
Unfortunately, the dirt in these new beds has dried up a bit since the summer harvest. I need to figure out how to start getting my mulch on. You can see a volunteer pumpkin vine growing in the corner of variety bed #2. This bed now has seeds for radishes, turnips, spinach, and a corner patch of lettuce.
This is the same melon bed I’ve had all summer. Only now, I threw in a couple of seeds for Paris Market carrots because I read melons and carrots make fine companion plants and they should start really growing around the time I get those melons out of the way. That is, unless I have to tear up the whole bed to get the melons out.
I tried looking very carefully for melons Friday and was surprised to discover what looks like an almost-ready cantaloupe. I’ll be keeping a close eye on that!
Baby canary melon
In the newer small canary melon bed, it looks like the plants are ready to be thinned again. There’s no telling if they’ll have time to produce this year.
Well, no, there aren’t any lemons yet. I planted this tree from a seed less than two years ago so there are still years to wait. But look how leafy and green it’s getting. I’m excited already. Do baby trees need to be pruned at all though? I’m wondering after seeing just how much it’s leaning after the rain.
No signs of any fruit, but it’s still hanging in there.
Finally, I soaked and planted the peas from last spring and planted them in their own little plot. Unlike last spring’s peas, these will be in my own backyard so I can closely monitor them and pick them at perfect ripeness.
I’m grateful to have clean running water, for the amazing social powers of the internet, for having a comfortable bed to sleep in every night. But here are just a few other things I’d like to call out this month.
For many reasons, but in this case because she let me borrow her loppers. These trees were covered with poison ivy and virginia creeper, but after a couple of sessions with the loppers attacking the lower vines, the poison ivy leaves above have shriveled up and died.
Because it’s cute. I pass by this construction site every day on my way from work. As soon as I approach, this little guy darts off to hide. Not sure if it’s the same mouse or if I’ve seen many different ones, but if so they’re all cute. It draws my attention away from the ugly parking garages recently built.
The squirrel that ate my melon
One day I was sitting by my bedroom window staring out into the garden when I noticed some quick movements in the melon patch. It was a squirrel engaging in a most curious behaviour. It would quickly stand up tall, look around in every direction, and then crouch back down again, and was doing this repeatedly.
There was something yellowish in its hands. And then in its mouth. The squirrel somehow knew that the treasure it had found doesn’t normally appear on its own, and that its rightful owner might come to claim it. It looked all around but didn’t see me, all the while chomping and chewing away guiltily.
I hadn’t noticed a melon outside earlier, but sure enough when I went outside to check (after the squirrel had left) there was a canary melon sitting there under some vines and weeds. I don’t believe squirrels should ever have to feel guilty about anything. I took the melon from the patch and placed it in a clear area where the squirrel could return and eat guilt-free.
Because I have better things to do than make another trip to the store. Because I want to be more respectful of the things that I do own. And because I don’t want to waste more of the Earth’s resources than I already do.
A Lawn Refuse Bag
After some lawn cleanup this weekend, we had a large pile of grass and weed clippings. Some folks around here buy lawn refuse bags, stuff them full of grass or leaves, and let the city collect them in huge trucks for municipal compost. No way! I raked it onto a piece of burlap to get it over to the compost bin, dumped it in, and someday it’ll be beautiful compost.
With a lot of book clubs, every member buys a brand new copy of the book. (And sometimes don’t even read it!) But like many participants in the Talk Green to Me book club, I checked out a copy from the library. The library website shows that someone else has a hold on the book and is waiting for it, so I’ll make sure to finish and return it by the end of the week too.
I’ve been near Goodwill stores a few times recently and have resisted the urge to go in. There isn’t anything in particular I need, so it’s likely if I go in that I’ll come right out with some impulse buy that I’ll soon regret.
I posted earlier about patching up an old pair of jeans that were getting worn out. Apparently, I should have done symmetrical patching because before I knew it an actual hole had developed in the other side. No worries, because I had a needle and thread and some scrap denim and now have another almost entirely invisible inner patch to keep those jeans fully functional for a while.
A Bathroom Vanity
The bathroom vanity in our new house isn’t the most beautiful thing in the world. For a while, every time I looked at it, it tempted me to replace the whole thing. My husband was even more convinced that it had to be trashed. But now after a coat of (recycled) paint, it looks decent enough that I no longer have to deal with that temptation.
No temptation here. I have a monthly bus pass which gets me anywhere I need to go beyond walking distance, and I can read my library books on the way. I may be able to get places a little faster with my own car, but nah, I can live without the cost, the maintenance, and the stress of driving around in busy traffic.
I haven’t harvested any food from my garden in a while and it’s a bore. At least the melon, squash, and cucumber seeds I recently planted seem to be doing well. And soon I’ll be adding to their ranks.
In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming about seed independence. Not having to go to the garden store to pick out seed for the next season. Having seed that was grown (super) locally so I know it can grow in these conditions. Someday selecting seed for the best characteristics and most delicious food possible. (Right now I’m just saving haphazardly.) Plus, another notch on my zero waste efforts.
My broccoli was unimpressive last winter/spring, but at least the leaves were tasty added to my salads. Almost time for another try. There’s still plenty of seed from the last packet, but a month or two ago I also harvested some new seed from the old broccoli plants. It’ll be exciting to see which grows better this winter!
Some of the lettuce from last winter also went to seed. Picking and opening the tiny pods was probably unnecessary. I bet there’s some trick to letting the heads dry out in a paper bag until the seeds fall out on their own. But, not being so patient, I instead carefully disassembled them to collect all the seeds. Judging from their dark color, I’m assuming these are seeds for the Black-Seeded Simpson I planted. More than enough to get me through the cool gardening season it looks like. It’s definitely more than came in the original packet.
I bought a pack of Marigold seeds earlier this year but for a long time was afraid it had gone to waste because I either started them indoors and didn’t understand their needs or started them outdoors way too early. Fortunately, a couple of them survived my abuse and are super resiliant in the summer heat so next year I won’t have to buy any seed here.
I’m storing them in one of my old foundation bottles. I wasn’t sure if they’d actually be recycled or thrown out from the single-stream recycling so have kept them around for a while. It’s so awesome to finally have a good use for them. Seeds make for a lovely display.
The zinnias have been way more prolific than the marigolds. I’ve been scattering some seed in the side yard straight off to see if it still has time to come up this year. But I’ve already collected at least as much seed as I got from the two packets I bought at the start of this year and will probably have much more by the time the season’s over. Probably won’t ever need to buy zinnia seeds again! 🙂
Random Flowering Bush
The other day I came across this lovely bush with beautiful yellow flowers and reddish seed pods. I don’t know what it is yet and if it can be started directly from seed, but I’m sure going to find out and if possible grow one myself.
Melon / Squash
From time to time I’ve also been setting aside 20-30 seeds from each good melon or squash I’ve eaten and will be making that into a more regular thing. That’s how I got my canary melons this year, and it was a delicious endeavor.
I keep most of these seeds in a large peanut butter jar in my closet. Some folks recommend refrigerating seeds, but for now they’re doing just fine.
So that’s it, a small yet solid start on my way to seed independence!
Sunday I made my regular monthly trip to East Austin for the Really Really Free Market. I dropped off a couple of items I decided not to keep from my last trip and just a couple of other things I no longer needed. Fortunately, most of the crowd had already been through all the bins to find their treasures so I had plenty of space while looking through the tons of clothing to see if there was anything I wanted to salvage.
So much clothes!
Most of the crowd had already died down
This month turned into a fairly large haul and I went home with:
a new-to-me pair of jeans that fits me properly (finally!)
tshirts for Wheatsville and local bakery Easy Tiger (they make delicious pretzels)
a polo-style shirt to try out
one extra pair of socks to replace the one I’ve just worn big holes in (the socks aren’t exactly the same length but close enough)
some lovely fabric for my yo-yo quilt or another project
Tshirt for my favorite grocery store
Tshirt for Easy Tiger bakery
Polo-style shirt to try out
The Wheatsville shirt is a cotton-poly blend, and I’ve been trying to stick to natural fibers. But, hey, I’ll take it because Wheatsville is awesome!
Unfortunately, this also means I now own 23 shirts! Sounds like this weekend it’ll be time to pick out a few to get down to my limit of 20 and decide whether they end up going to the next free market or recycled into tshirt yarn. It’ll be nice to get back that little bit of free space in the closet again. A few shirts can make a world of difference.
Also this month, I finally realized that in.gredients is only a 15 minute walk away from Chestnut Pocket Park where the RRFM is held, so I wiped off some of the sweat dripping from my face and headed over for some zero waste and local foods. Another dragon fruit, a canary melon, some walnut bread (from Easy Tiger!), dark chocolate discs from the bulk bins, and more. Total success!
Combined with a stop at the library and some engaging reading on the bus, this was my idea of a divine weekend. This’ll definitely be a monthly zero waste tradition for me now that I know how easy (and satisfying!) it is to do both. Sorry for all the exclamation points in this post, but I had a great day and can’t help it. 🙂
It’s a good thing I ride the bus to get places, because I like to read a lot and the bus is a great place for that. I usually read a couple of books per week. Sometimes I mean to review the books on here but most of the time I just dig right into another book instead. So, in case anyone’s interested here’s a quick summary of some of my recent reads. Let me know if there are any you’d like to know more about and I’ll make time for a more in-depth dive.
Now or Never: Why We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable Future – Tim Flannery
This book was the focus of last month’s Talk Green To Me book club. It came out in 2009, and at the time he stated that the earth was between a tipping point and a point of no return, where we would no longer be able to prevent catastrophic climate change. It’s so weird reading something like this because in the book world there’s this impending catastrophe, but in most people’s day-to-day lives this doesn’t come into play at all. An interesting read, but most of the solutions proposed are on a governmental level, which warrants reading a more recent book on this topic instead.
Trees of Texas Field Guide – Stan Tekiela
I’ve often heard that one of the basic nature skills everyone should learn is how to tell apart different types of trees. I’m working on that, but it’s hard. With this guide, I’ve determined that the big tree in my front yard is an American Elm, and one of the trees near the creek is likely a Pecan which is a type of Hickory. The leaves are too high up to get a good view, though, so I’m not 100% on that one.
A Year Without “Made In China” – Sara Bongiorni
Making things in China is getting expensive these days, and more countries are sourcing their production in even cheaper countries with laxer regulations. But in 2007, living without goods made in China was nearly impossible. This book is about one family that tried to do just that, and realized that most things aren’t made locally at all anymore because it’s just so much cheaper to offshore it. It’s a bit ironic at times where it’s obvious that what they really want is cheap crap, like when they’re shopping for presents for other kids’ birthday parties. There were times in this book where I wanted to scream at them to just not buy anything, but that probably wouldn’t be very helpful. 🙂 This book did raise a lot of attention to where goods come from and why they’re so cheap, so I’m grateful for that.
Make Do and Mend
British pamplets from World War II. It’s really interesting how war can encourage whole countries to embrace thrift, saving every bit of scrap fabric, not wasting the least bit of food. But I also know that as soon as the war was over, consumerism was rampant. So war may not be the best way to convince people to embrace thrift again.
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less – Barry Schwartz
There was once a time (before my time) where you could go to the store for a pencil, and there was one option so it was a straightforward choice. Now there are two-packs, ten-packs, twenty-packs. There are mechanical pencils and wooden pencils. They come in multiple designs and styles. I used to try to do the math to guess how much usage per dollar each option would offer me. Although in some cases, more choice really is better, Schwartz explains how in situations like this it is much much worse. There’s a limited threshold to how many decisions we can actively make in a day, so sometimes it’s nice to just make decisions on autopilot or to let someone else decide. This is a great read if you’ve ever had the unpackaged organic produce vs. plastic-wrapped conventional produce dilemma. And it helps give you a bit more understanding and sympathy for the fact that people don’t always make the best choice available.
You Are Now Less Dumb – David McRaney
This was pretty much a direct follow-up from the previous book. It contains a lot of the psychological manipulations that companies use to convince you that what they have to offer is better than the rest. Many of these manipulations could also be used in your day-to-day life to convince other people of your own opinions. Am I crazy in the hope that mankind is smart enough to make intelligent decisions on our own? I’m not sure, but here’s our back-up plan.
The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living – Mark Boyle
Moneyless living has never interested me much, but then again I never thought about it. In the intro to this book, Boyle describes how the existence of money actually hurts people. You put it into the bank, and then the bank is incentivized to loan it out. They’re so incentivized that they sometimes convince people to borrow money that they won’t be able to pay back. Or they siphon interest off of people their whole lives by keeping that balance carrying forward. It’s a thought that makes you consider that maybe any extra money is better donated to a charity straight off rather than stored in the bank and “invested.” Living totally without money isn’t easy, though. Boyle is able to score some necessities free but mainly because no one else is out there trying to do the same thing. His employer lets him live on their land, have his own garden there, and keep coppiced wood for his cooking and heating needs. And even with all of that, there are still troubles. But he makes it through in large part to his contributions to the sharing economy and development of skills to be bartered.
Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front – Sharon Astyk
Asytk is on a mission for her and her family to use only their fair share of resources on this planet. Of course, this means family planning to prevent the fair share from being stretched further. It means knowing how to use the resources available in disaster scenarios. While this book discusses how in the future we won’t have as much access to oil or other imported goods in general, it’s also a disaster handbook for scenarios where you need to live off of your land. She advocates having a six-month supply of food in your pantry, a good home library to be able to teach children when no schools are accessible, ensuring you’ll have access to water and the resources to clean it for drinking. This was a hard book for me to swallow because I can’t maintain an “impending doom” mindset for too long and there was a lot of that in this book. Maybe I won’t be in as good a situation to survive as Astyk and her family, but I have some faith in necessity being the mother of invention.
The Waste Makers – Vance Packard
I’ll be starting this one on the bus ride to work tomorrow. It was written in the 60’s about consumer culture about the shift from goods that were made to last to goods that are meant to be disposable. Sounds like the perfect read for me.
Oh, and I have one book waiting on hold for me at the library–Wendy Pabich’s Taking on Water: How One Water Expert Challenged Her Inner Hypocrite, Reduced Her Water Footprint (Without Sacrificing a Toasty Shower), and Found Nirvana. Whoa, that’s a long title! Anyhow, that’s our book club book for August and very appropriate during the dry summer months here in Texas.
So much great stuff to read! If you have any recommendations, please share those also. My To-Read list can never be too long.
I failed at many of my Plastic-Free July resolutions, including staying away from bagged popcorn at the office. But the journey doesn’t end with the end of July! Today I popped up some popcorn from the bulk bin to my own to satisfy my carb urges tomorrow.
It all starts with some a bit of oil in a saucepan. I love the occasional dab of butter, but popping with it hasn’t worked well for me as walnut and olive oil have. I’ve discovered by experimentation that this particular pan can handle six tablespoons of popcorn kernels, so I measure those out while the oil starts warming up.
My mom has a specialty popcorn pan with a handle you can turn to keep the kernels from burning, but it’s totally not necessary. I grab the handles and lid of this pan with a dishtowel (so I don’t get burned!) from time to time and give it a good shake. Once it starts popping vigorously, it doesn’t really need to be shaken any more because of all the action going on inside.
If you have a glass lid for your pan like I do, it’s especially easy to see how much of your popcorn has popped. But the real determination for when it’s done is when a few seconds have passed and you haven’t heard any popping or if you start to smell anything resembling burnt popcorn. Yup, if you put in more kernels than there’s room for things can go bad. And as I mentioned before, my recent experiments with using butter for popping resulted with mostly unpopped corn. 😦
Anyhow, that’s it! You can season your popcorn if you like. Most of the time I just add a dash of salt and the popcorn disappears soon enough.
For tomorrow, though, I stored most of it in this reused container. And for once, I will avoid the evil bagged popcorn, oh yeah!
P.S. – I know a lot of folks have always prepared popcorn this way, but I was raised on microwave popcorn and the occasional Jiffy Pop, so this is for other folks like me. For a while I also tried switching to popping the kernels in lunch-size paper bags which worked pretty well, until one day I left the popcorn unattended while it was popping and…
I freaked out when I came back into the kitchen and saw the microwave power was off, and then even moreso when I opened the microwave door and saw the popcorn bag on fire. This is what it looked like after I quickly grabbed the un-fire side of the bag and threw it into the sink to put out the flames. The microwave still seemed to work after that incident, but I’m much more comfortable with the stove now. And it’s way more fun to watch through the glass lid and see the kernels expand and pop all around.