Category: gardening


Eating away from home is supposed to be a treat and not a staple, right? Each time I hear that families turn to fast food as a supposed cheaper alternative to a home cooked meal I shake my head in disbelief. Yesterday while browsing on one of those social sites I saw a comparison made involving a fast food meal, homemade chicken and potato meal, and a beans and rice meal.

A chicken and potato meal was on the menu for supper last night so I decided to do a cost analysis of the foods I had on hand. This meal took me 30 minutes to prepare, and that included thawing the chicken in the microwave. The only advance prep I did was to pound the boneless, skinless chicken breasts before freezing. I prepared the meal for a family of three but did the cost analysis for a family of four. I could have added carrots as an additional vegetable for minimal additional cost.

I prepared my “French” chicken, microbaked potatoes with chives, and a romaine salad with an oil and vinegar dressing. I even had a fancy garnish of chive flowers for the salad. We drink water or iced tea with our suppertime meal. Even if serving children a glass of milk with this meal, it still would be really frugal. If we were meant to drink soda or pop, it would fall from the sky. I can feel the daggers, soft drink lovers. My husband is a Mt. Dew fan.

Put a little olive oil in your pan and start to cook your thawed chicken.

Season your chicken with a little onion powder and tarragon. Remember to season both sides. No one likes one-sided tasting food. 😉

When your chicken is almost done you can make a sauce right in the same pan.

Put the Dijon mustard, to taste, in the pan. Add a little cream or milk to thin it out and stir. Finish cooking the chicken in the sauce. Young children may prefer honey mustard.

While your chicken is cooking, scrub and prick your potatoes and microwave them for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size. Wash your greens and dress with a little olive oil and vinegar.

Dinner is served. My piece of chicken looks a little skimpy, but you have to remember that a serving size of meat is the size of a deck of cards. I’m trying to cut back on calories so I gave my husband the larger piece and half of my potato. He had leftovers to take to work as we only have a family of three. I filled up on a second helping of salad.

$2.50     2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to even thickness $1.99/lb

$1.26     3 medium organic, yukon gold potatoes

$.67       1 romaine heart

$.25       olive oil

$.08       vinegar

$.05        onion powder

$.10        dried tarragon

$.07        Dijon mustard

$.04        organic 1% milk

$.08        4 tsp butter

$.00        chives from herb garden

$5.10      Total

We spend $15 to $25 on a fast food meal for a family of four, depending on if we happen to have high value coupons. Fast food is an option, not a necessary choice to save money or time.

This year we considered building a raised bed garden. It seemed like a great idea because you can plant more per square foot. It’s sort of like planting in a container. After figuring the cost of the wood and the soil we decided a traditional garden would serve our purposes and save quite a bit of money.

Once you know what kind of garden you want you need to decide how to get that area ready for planting. If you decide on a traditional garden I’d recommend borrowing a tiller and someone who is familiar with the operation of one. If you do this, or rent a tiller, I’d recommend making sure there are no large rocks, underground pipes, or anything else that might end up ruining your day. Double digging is another option, but it is quite labor intensive, especially if you want a larger garden.

My dad tilled my garden. He had to go over it several times to break up the sod. We didn’t plant anything last year and the grass really started to take root and fill in the area.

Another consideration is whether or not you need a fence. With two large dogs we decided a fence would be a good investment. I’m sure they could do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. We found some rather inexpensive fencing and used fence stakes to hold it in place. It took literally minutes to set up.

I had planned my garden layout in great detail earlier in the season. I failed to factor in my daughter’s graduation party and the need for quite a large tent to cover everyone in the event of inclement weather. In order for the tent to fit in the yard I had to alter my original plan, but it worked out nicely. I also did not plant everything I intended. My dad planted cabbage, and he has a much larger garden. Large vegetables such as heads of cabbage take up a lot of space.

We ended up with 4 zucchini plants, 12 pepper plants, 12 tomato plants, pole beans, lettuce, and spinach. I may see what else I can tuck in here and there. You want to make sure your plants are well spaced, but you don’t want to waste any space either.

The next step for me will be beautifying the garden. Sometimes when you till you have to go outside of the original boundaries to turn around and to avoid shrubs or other things that might get in your way. This happened to us and allowed for the potential of flower beds on either side of the garden. I also intend to mulch the perimeter to alleviate the need for grass trimming around the fence. If you don’t lay black plastic down before you plant, which is an excellent option to cut down on weeding, keep the soil warm and retain more moisture, you can always make a path through your garden with boards or stepping stones.

Be sure to check back for updates. What are you planting in your garden?

Last week I got caught up in the warm spell around these parts and decided I needed to plant something. My mini herb garden is off to a good start but just in time for a hard freeze to hit us tonight here in Pennsylvania. I think I’ll pull the little guys out of the window right after the sun stops shining on them this evening, and then I’ll go outside and see what’s budding that I can possibly cover and save from the freezing weather. I guess it’s just mother nature’s way of telling us to grow some patience.

Here’s where we are at with the mini herb garden.

One out of the three pots has sprouted. It is exciting to see the little seeds that you planted turning into  living, growing plants. Tend your plants well and barring anything beyond your control you shouldn’t need to buy herbs again. It is very satisfying to go out into your yard and pick your own organic produce.

The actual growing season begins on May 31 here in my neck of the woods. That’s the date you should be able to set out tender plants without fear of frost. It’s a ways away, but in the meantime you can still plan your garden, buy your seeds and get them started indoors. If you’re getting antsy too and want to start, you can find some of that information here. I can’t wait to be able to dive back into my gardening series.

Often Forgotten Ways to Save

Recycle  Take your aluminum cans to be recycled. Only one of us is a soda drinker. I frown upon it, but alas, it was a habit that was established long before our union. I hear tell that drinking out of aluminum cans is not great for your health, but plastic can leach out nasties too. I say go for the aluminum for better portion control, if you need help in that area, and reap the benefits of turning the cans in for a little cash. The last I checked you could get right around $.77 per pound for aluminum cans.

Recycling has other benefits too, such as less trash to haul away equals a lower garbage removal bill each month. While we pay a flat fee per full can, there are still those trash collectors out there that will charge by the bag.  It’s also better for the environment. In my city it is required that you recycle clear glass, brown glass, green glass, tin cans, and aluminum cans. Curbside pickup is offered here. We choose to gather our recyclables ourselves and take them to one of the many recycling drop-off points here in the city. We recycle magazines, newspapers,  corrugated cardboard, and plastics as well. There is even a drop off for brush and Christmas trees. They turn those into free mulch for anyone in the city who would like to come over and shovel their own. What a nice segue into another often forgotten way to save…

Compost  How much more could you cut down your garbage bill? You can compost most kitchen scraps, except for meat, fat, grease or cheese. Fruit and veg peels, coffee and tea grounds are good to use. Then there are leaves, grass, weeds (that haven’t gone to seed), manure from cows, horses and pigs (but not dog and cat droppings), and pet and human hair. Sounds weird I know. These are “green” items. Greens are high-nitrogen. Browns are high-carbon and include straw, dry leaves and weeds, paper and nutshells. You need a certain ratio in order for your compost pile to break down and “cook”. You don’t have to measure exactly. If you keep it at around two to three times as much brown as green.

So while you are collecting all of these goodies, where do you put them? Some just make their pile in the corner of their yard with easy access to the garden. Others make a bin out of blocks or wooden pallets. You can find fancy commercial bins for sale, but that would not be frugal. You have to make sure your compost gets air. Make sure your bin allows for airflow and also make sure it’s easy to turn your pile. It has to be damp, but not soggy. Too much water slows decomposition. If your pile contains the right components in the correct proportions it should generate its own heat even in the cold of winter. You can always insulate too. Use your decomposed compost in your garden. Make sure it is done cooking or it could hurt your plants. It should smell nice and look like garden soil. If in doubt, consult your nearest composting and gardening neighbor. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to share their knowledge and you may make a new friend. Win, win.

Recycling and composting are good for you and good for the environment. How do you make it easier to recycle and/or compost?

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