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Pinching Lincoln Too Hard

February 11, 2016
Fall planted Tatsoi

Fall planted Tatsoi

I suppose if you’re reading my blog we can assume that frugality is a way of life for you already.  Pinching pennies, or being frugal comes in many forms.  It might be something so simple as eating the delicious stalks of bolting brassicas.  I’m not much of a fan of the mustard family when they bolt in mid-summer, but now?  Eating these tender leaves in the shoulder seasons far outweighs a trip to the grocery store for fresh greens.

Winterbor kale

Winterbor kale

Leaving these kale plants to sprout new growth only makes sense, I could have pulled the plants and fed them to the chickens, but squeaking out more meals for us makes is more in keeping with frugality.  The chickens can have them when we are done.  Even if I started kale yesterday (which I didn’t) it would almost two months before I could begin robbing new leaves.  These plants were seeded last July and planted in August, they can stand me harvesting them hard.

In terms of using heat mats, the practice is certainly not free, but I can use the space to my advantage.  Slow growing plants like herbs, flowers, and some veggies like celery root can be started in these small cells.  My flats are all the same size to fit the mat of course (unlike hot dogs and hot dog buns).  On the right you see a 200 cell insert, on the left is a 48 cell flat, making use of 6 packs, because that is what we have from plant sales, and we reuse them a lot.  Plants with like germination times are grouped together.  It’s not wise to put bok choy which will sprout in about four days with celeriac which may take twenty-one days to germinate.  Follow me?  Bok choy will be in the ground before the celeriac has a set of true leaves.  In simpler terms, the celeriac and herb flat may sit on that heat mat for three weeks, and the bok choy being cold tolerant can move to the side off the heat and make way for a succession seeding of something else.  So yes the heat mat and flats do cost some money to purchase and to use, but I can use them efficiently or inefficiently.

February 10, 2016

February 10, 2016

Besides rotating the plants across the heat mat and off to a semi-warm place in the greenhouse, I can simply turn it off the heat during the day, on a mildly sunny afternoon the temperature is quite high inside.

Plant tags can be made of wood or plastic, and we have chosen plastic.  Both have the pros and cons.  We reuse these tags so many times, I am sure they paid for themselves a long time ago.  Mostly we use them for the greenhouse and for plant sales, we don’t need them in the garden.  There are some recycling concerns, but…who doesn’t have plastic somewhere in this modern life.  I would like to meet that person.  The jokes we can make out of these names too, are not to be sneezed at.  Laughter is the best medicine, and sometimes a little levity on a long seeding day is much appreciated.  Only a plant nerd would laugh at a Cobra onion tag reused and placed wrong side out in a kale flat.  See?  Easily amused.

Sometimes frugality can come in the form of just putting away a tool. Drip irrigation is a wonderful thing, but it’s not uncommon to see miles of this stuff lying around near gardens and on farms.  I know mine was until yesterday, just taunting me to get on the tractor and mow it by mistake.  While inexpensive really to set up, it still is a cash outlay for the farm or homestead.  The savings come with lowered labor, ease of use and smaller allocation of water compared to other methods of irrigation. To keep those savings in your pocket though, you need to put the stuff away in the off-season.  Yesterday, using my home-made drip winder, we made bales of drip tape that can be easily stored until it is time use them.  For even more labor savings, we divided the number of lines by two, with the thinking that we will not start irrigating the entire garden at the same time.  These bales are labeled for each garden so we know where to use them when the time comes.

Winter killed Sorghum-Sudan

Winter killed Sorghum-Sudan

Other savings may be realized with a living mulch.  Seeds are relatively inexpensive and easy to sow.  Comparing this greenhouse cover crop that successfully winter killed to buying weed-free straw and spreading it, I think we saw a significant savings here in labor and expense.  Not to mention ease of application.  Fifty pound small squares of straw require some muscle and fuel to haul, store and then spread.


I talked at length (too much I fear) about wasting hay in that flurry of blog posts last month.  With livestock you can spend an awful lot time doing unnecessary chores or wasting money, sometimes both.  Most of my hay wasting comments come from seeing round bales stuck out in a feeder in the rain (or even worse round bales stored out in the rain) for a few cows.  Sure that is as convenient as all heck.  The cows eat what they want, crap on the rest and there you go.  You dump off the hay, go back in a week and move to the next bale.  At best it’s called bale grazing…at worst it called a gigantic pugged up mess in a field.  Apologies to those of you who live in frigid areas where your ground remains frozen all winter.  Storing hay outside here in the Pacific Northwest is a waste, and some folks can absorb that loss.  I can’t.  A note too, if you are buying hay and the seller stores his hay outside, his calculated loss is figured into the price when he sells his hay.

I think many times folks get the meaning of automatic and automated mixed up.  I been taken to task before in emails for feeding my pigs with a self-feeder and having them on a nipple water system rather than pouring buckets of water for the swine.  Same with the chickens.  Many fear a return to feedlots and automation, or that their meat customers will think less of them if they aren’t slogging through the mud, snow, sleet whatever to nurture the livestock.  That is all well and good if you’re the nurturing type, but keep in mind that an animal that has to go wanting for water or food, will not gain as well or be as happy as you think they are when the are clamoring at the fence when you show up on your schedule.  Of course, they are glad to see you, they want water and food.  And unlike us, the pigs and hens won’t overeat to the point of obesity, so worries about the feed bill are unwarranted.

We don’t keep pigs during the winter, just hens and cows, but I make sure that I look at the hen’s water bucket that delivers water to their gravity waterer.  Same with the pigs in the summer, they have a nipple plumbed to a 55 gallon barrel of water.  It might last 3 days, it might last a week, I look every. single. day.  Are the birds flighty?  Are the pigs squeaking at me?  Stuff goes wrong.  Just because we have set up easy automatic watering systems we can attend to with a hose doesn’t mean something won’t get plugged or broken.  And I have to say, systems like these scaled down from the big guys ensure clean water.  Who can argue with that.  And who wants to carry buckets of water in this day and age when you don’t need to?  Wouldn’t it be considered frugal to save our bodies?  Save on injuries, instead of being stubborn and holding to some strange, rigid ideal of work that work must be painful or it’s not meaningful?

I think if we think of ourselves as a resource (mind and body) to be protected, be frugal with ourselves in regards to labor, tasks, and our pocketbook we can all feel successful in whatever we choose to do.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2016 7:36 pm

    I have successfully used the heating pads from water beds to start my seeds. You don’t see them as much any more, but they used to be a couple of dollars or so at garage sales and thrift stores, and were about the size to hold a couple of flats.

  2. Carrie permalink
    February 12, 2016 1:44 am

    Great post. Your modules look much sturdier than most found here (thin, use & throw types); I may have asked this before and forgotten the answer (sorry!) but how do you cleanly extract the plugs of plants from the cells? Tips?

    I’ve tried plant labels and ice lolly sticks and… My best tool so far is a round-pointed butter knife. It’s still difficult to avoid squeezing, and thus wrecking, the thin-walled module though. Or maybe I’m just clumsy! 🙂

    • February 12, 2016 5:47 am

      Carrie, I just pull out the plant by grasping the stem. I do use a butter knife on some things that need to come out, but don’t have much of a root wad, like corn. Years of raising cuttings, root pruning before planting etc., watching kids garden, being around old timers that grew starts in beds has taught me that plants aren’t as delicate as some folks would have you believe. The maneuver when I am planting in the garden is a two-handed movement – squeeze and pull at the same time – or if it’s a long row, I just pull and drop near the planting mark. Gosh, I have had some of those 200 cell flats for over 20 years and I used one the other day that had 5 cells damaged on the end, I still used it, because 5 missing cells isn’t that big of a deal. I do store them in the off season though in the dark, so that increases their shelf life. Sun is the enemy.

      • Carrie permalink
        February 12, 2016 6:15 am

        Nita, I am impressed! 20+ years – now that is frugal, but perhaps it’s also indicative of the quality of such things 15 or 20 years ago? I’ll try being a bit more robust with my plant handling. Thanks for the info.

  3. February 12, 2016 4:09 am

    I have successfully used trays near the wood stove to start heat loving seedlings. They are usually up in 3 days, 5-7 days for others. Been doing it for 20 years. But I don’t (yet) have a greenhouse to move them to. They are delegated to windows that I have learned they prefer, with plant lights over them. Some day, a greenhouse…

    • February 12, 2016 5:48 am

      Pam, that sounds like a great system!

      I wish we had enough sunny windows to pull that off. It’s a ways to the greenhouse here, but I have to check on the cows and chickens anyway, so I am walking right by.

  4. February 12, 2016 5:50 am

    I like your point about thinking of our bodies as a resource – over the years we’ve come up with many systems to make things just that much easier, and even at that, it’s still work. We also try to make sure that should one of us be off farm for a few days, the other can still handle the workload.
    Injury is a very real worry on a farm as well – three weeks ago I managed to rather spectacularly wipe out on a bunch of ice that had slid off a roof – fractured a couple of ribs. All the years of climbing into the back of the pickup to push the 1500 lb round bale out – no more of that when you can barely breath. Hubby gave it some thought and came up with a rather ingenious way to use the beams in the feed room to come-a-long the bale out of the truck and under cover.
    Love that you’ve got seeds in flats already 🙂

    • February 12, 2016 7:34 am

      Val, that’s awful! We only had ice for a week, and I never took off my Yaktrax because I was/am still nursing a knee injury from October. It sucks to get hurt, all of a sudden those everyday chores take a long time and they hurt. Jane’s calf has been a godsend, his now old enough to drink all the milk if need be. It’s not a waste either, he is growing like a weed!

      Gotta love those handy husbands, work smarter, not harder.

  5. Bee permalink
    February 12, 2016 6:29 am

    “Being frugal of ourselves…” I like that! I’ve always just said I’m efficient because I’m lazy, but now I can say I’m being frugal with my energy. Nice one, Nita!
    Old Venetian blind slats are a great source of plant stakes: they’re metal, easy to cut and write on, and last just about forever, and one blind will give you several hundred stakes (and IMO, that’s a much better use for them than on a window — cleaning those blasted blinds is just about impossible). Given what’s going on in the financial world right now, those of us who live frugally are much better positioned than most; I suspect it’s going to be a very rough ride for quite a while.
    Have you ever read the Tightwad Gazette? Lots of great ideas in there.

  6. Karen permalink
    February 12, 2016 6:36 am

    Fellow choir member here. It’s actually therapeutic to know others think like I do. You really can’t turn up the volume high enough when it comes to the subject of thrift.. Not enough to drown out the the Germanic ancestors in my head. 🙂 I say play it loud Nita!

  7. February 12, 2016 10:25 am

    We are still trying to get it right on workload here too and what you say about saving our bodies is filled with wisdom. I will find out next week how easy it is to care for the animals, as I am taking over from my husband as he goes for an operation that could put him out of action for a while. He is the primary carer on our land while I study during the winter and garden in the summer.

    I had to laugh when you said that animals do not overfeed, our boys have managed to or at least two of them and one of our girls. I somehow think the hay is a little rich for them :D. If they don’t trim down this year, we are going to have to work on a way of trimming their access – easier said that done when one of them actually needs feeding up. Sigh! Anyway here’s to penny pinching (not heard the phrase pinching Lincoln too hard before)

    • February 12, 2016 11:01 am

      Joanna, oh my I hope his recovery goes well. You’ll have all his chores and taking care of him too.

      I should really clarify that, I was talking about pigs and chickens that won’t overfeed if you fill their self feeding containers, but I know horses will and cows can overeat grain, or fresh grass and die, but that’s more a function of keeping the feed under lock and key in those cases or monitoring intake. Is it llamas you have? I suspect they are similar to a horse in their digestive process. I better go back and edit that, I forget sometimes to not be so general in my statements.

      • February 12, 2016 11:10 am

        I will have the winter chores for sure, but our season doesn’t get started until April usually and so we hope he will have recovered by then – as long as he behaves himself 😀

        We have alpacas and you might need to clarify that broiler chickens can also overeat 😀 I agree though that most given the right environment and plenty of space to move about in do not overeat. It is a problem for us in the winter probably as there is just not as much space with green grass. They hang around the hay feeder all day.

        • February 12, 2016 12:05 pm

          Joanna, that is good. Behave himself? When and how does that ever happen? 😉

          Good to know about the alpacas, makes me glad I have cows, they need hay in front of them all the time of at least two large feedings a day depending on the time of year or situation. I guess I’ll play devil’s advocate on broilers, and say they don’t overeat if they aren’t under lights 24/7. Pastured with full feed works fine. But it’s hard to battle the information that comes from the industry as that is their concern because they are raising their chickens indoors and they want them to grow as fast as they can. Chickens wont’ eat in the dark because they are night blind, so out on pasture at night leaving the feed becomes a non-issue and a labor saver too.

        • February 12, 2016 12:19 pm

          I shall be nagging him no doubt and the ultimate threat is our daughter 😀

          Good point about broilers and light. So that’s why they increase so much and ours don’t. Hadn’t thought about it. Our broiler who we kept for increasing the size of our flock of chickens died this year, but she would have been about three and half and certainly a lot older than most broilers get too. The winter was a tough one for her

  8. Julia Jobe permalink
    February 13, 2016 2:07 pm

    Frugal is the way to go. I use white plastic cutlery from fast food to mark the plants I put straight into the ground. I am just a home gardener without much sun but I love to read about your life. You are a good inspiration for us all. Julia in Texas

  9. Heather permalink
    February 15, 2016 3:46 pm

    does the sudan grass go to seed on you, or is it planted so that it doesn’t ever have seeds? are the roots much of a problem for you?
    I’m kicking myself that I never thought to use something that would winter kill like that as we truly winter kill 🙂

    • February 16, 2016 4:39 pm

      Heather, you don’t want it to go to seed or you’ll have a crazy weed to deal with 😦 It is the only thing that will winterkill here as it doesn’t get that cold for very long. The only thing to watch for is if it gets grazed after a frost or during a drought. I only used it in the greenhouse so I was safe there.

  10. February 16, 2016 5:48 am

    I use a system of waterers for our chickens. With our set up the nipples for them would be a nightmare if they ever dripped etc. So those big brute 3.5 gallon plastic bottom feed ones are my choice. I am using rubber dump tubs right now though, the cold the last 3 days blew my biggest waterer in half. It literally froze so hard that it exploded the plastic when I picked it up…ooooops. I am however planning to figure out a nipple water system for our hogs when we get them. I want easy and quick with them, as I will be doing them in the summer and will have so many other additional tasks that simpler is better. Hugs to you guys!

  11. February 16, 2016 4:17 pm

    I am quite frugal as well – I just hate to see things wasted or ending up in a landfill for future generations to deal with.
    and you are so right about treating ourselves as a resource – in fact I’d go so far as to say a precious resource -if we can’t function all of our plants and animals suffer too.
    When we designed our farm for our PDC we kept our ages in mind (despite the painful reminder that we are no spring chickens). We always say we are building the farm for old people- because by the time we get it going we WILL be old, so we need systems in place to accommodate our aging bodies. And yes – i don’t always remember my age as was evidenced last December when I agitated my sciatica by lifting heavy posts…

  12. February 18, 2016 6:13 pm

    I think there are a subset of farmers who believe they have to suffer for their art. They don’t last long. They are not honoring the farmer.

    I may be inspired to write a blog post…you know, if I can find the time. I am pretty busy carrying bales of straw and buckets of water to the pigs right now. Although, “bales” are labor-saving machine-made contrivances. I should have loose straw in the loft. And buckets are a little cheat-y too. I can’t win.

  13. Kim permalink
    March 3, 2016 2:53 pm

    Taking care of our bodies so we can continue doing what we enjoy is very important. I am constantly reminding my husband to work smarter not harder. He has that mindset that chores should be hard work all the time or you are not doing them correctly. He was raised on a farm with his German immigrant parents. I introduce easier ways to accomplish the task reminding him that this will allow him to continue far into old age. One example is the small little chainsaw on a pole that I recently purchased for him. This keeps him from climbing trees to limb them or prune them. We have to think smart and work smart as we age.

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