Monday, February 1, 2016

Beans: the perfect intro to seed saving

Did you know that pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and other dried beans are simply seeds? If you grew beans last year and dried some for eating through the winter, you can use those very same beans to plant in the spring. Although saving seeds from some vegetables can be complicated because of cross-pollination issues, this isn't normally a problem with beans, which makes them a perfect introduction to the world of seed saving.

When we grow beans, we only pick the smallest and most tender beans to eat as green beans. Once we can see the seeds bulging in the pod, we leave them on the vine to dry. Then in the fall, when they are completely brown and crunchy, we pick them. We normally shell the beans by hand while watching television or chatting around the kitchen table. This excellent video from Seed Savers Exchange, however, will show you how to do it more quickly by threshing and winnowing.

Why would you want to grow your own beans when you can buy them cheaply at the store? Because you can easily grow them organically and because you can grow a huge variety that is not available in the grocery store. There are literally dozens of different beans available, such as Cherokee, calypso, rattlesnake, and lazy wife. In addition to having different looks and flavors, they also have different attributes.

For example, one reason I grow lazy wife beans in my garden is because they are a favorite of Japanese beetles. Yes, you read that correctly. Because the beetles love them, they ignore my other beans. It's a win-win because I get a great crop of green beans from other varieties, and it makes it easier to knock the beetles into a bucket of soapy water in the evening because they are all congregating on the lazy wife beans. When you grow different varieties, you'll soon discover which ones grow best in your garden.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ecothrifty Skin Care - Creams and Moisturizers

Creating a product that works for you is really a matter of figuring out which oils and butters have the properties that suit your skin. Typically, people with drier skin prefer butters, and people with normal skin or combination skin prefer lighter oils, such as grape seed or sunflower oil. If you have oily skin, you may not need to put anything on it to keep it from drying out. Even dry skin may improve dramatically if you simply try a soap that is gentler. Because we’ve all been exposed to advertising that leads us to believe we have to use complicated products to stay beautiful, the idea that skin may need no additional moisturizer or only needs a single oil seems too simple.

I typically start with something that I already have on hand and go from there. If you have sunflower oil in your pantry, try that. You won’t have to buy anything special if you like the result. For something that’s more moisturizing, try jojoba or olive or grape seed oil or one of the butters, such as shea butter or avocado butter. Cocoa butter is rock solid at room temperature so if you want to use it in a cream, you have to melt it and mix it with a softer butter.

There are commercial creams and lotions, and some companies market moisturizers, which can be either. The main difference between a cream and a lotion is that a lotion has a larger amount of water, which makes it easier to spread across your skin. It appears white because the oil and water have been emulsified by the addition of an emulsifying agent to prevent separation. I don’t make any lotions because once you add water, you introduce a medium for bacteria growth, which means you have to add a preservative. Many times alcohol is also added, which has a drying effect on the skin. When making your own, however, you can use only the purest ingredients and avoid the need for chemical preservatives.

Body Butter 

1 ounce Avocado Butter
1 ounce Sweet Almond Oil
a few drops essential oil (optional)

Shea Butter
Weigh all the ingredients on a digital scale and then mix together using either a mixer or a fork. Add essential oils for fragrance or aromatherapy benefits, and mix well.

Savings: This body butter is similar to a high-end cream that boasts 25 percent shea butter and retails at $42 for seven ounces. This recipe, which has 40 percent shea butter, costs $1.65 to make five ounces, not including the essential oil.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann. It is part four of a four-part series on moisturizers. I hope you enjoyed learning about these high-quality and all-natural ways to care for your skin.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ecothrifty Skin Care - Waxes and Butters

Waxes are another popular ingredient in skin care products. Unlike oils, which tend to go rancid within a few months to a year at room temperature, waxes last a long time.

Beeswax — In addition to being used to make candles and to polish furniture, beeswax is a popular ingredient in lotion, lip balm, soap, and other skin care products. It moisturizes skin by helping retain moisture and is also reputed to have antiseptic properties, historically being used for healing wounds.

Jojoba — Although you often see the term “jojoba oil,” jojoba is a wax, rather than an oil or a butter. Being a wax, it has a very long shelf life. It’s liquid at room temperature and is very slippery, so it is great as a massage oil and used in skin care products. It is not digestible, however, so should not be used in cooking.

Lanolin — My children grew up putting pure lanolin on their lips during our dry Illinois winters. The consistency is similar to petroleum jelly, but it comes from wool rather than petroleum. When wool is sheared from sheep, it is coated with lanolin, which must be washed off. A substance that comes from sheep may not sound appealing, but use it once on cracked and bleeding lips in the middle of winter and you will be singing its praises forever. I first learned about lanolin twenty years ago when I was a lactation consultant. Its healing properties seem to be nothing short of miraculous for anyone with damaged skin, whether it is a breastfeeding mom with cracked nipples or a construction worker with cracked elbows. Lanolin added to recipes makes a soap that even the driest skin can tolerate, although it seems like a waste to let it wash down the drain.


While oils contain only the oil from a plant, a butter may contain other parts or components of a plant, which is why it is not liquid at room temperature. In some cases, you will find an oil and a butter have been produced from the same plant, such as olive oil and olive butter or avocado oil and avocado butter. Typically, butters are used in body butters and scrubs, while oils are used in soap recipes.

Cocoa butter — I started adding this to my castile soap recipe because I wanted a harder bar that would not dry out my hands and this accomplished both of those goals. Cocoa butter is one of the few oils or butters that can be purchased non-deodorized, but don’t get your hopes up about making your soap smell like chocolate. It is used so sparingly in most soap recipes that the fragrance of the cocoa is diluted and lost. Cocoa butter can be temperamental, separating when mixed with some oils, so it is not always a good choice for making creams.

Shea butter — I first used shea butter in a sugar scrub and I was an instant fan. It melts on contact with skin and is an excellent moisturizer. It is best to use shea butter in recipes that do not require melting because that can cause it to become granular, which does not feel nice when rubbed into your skin. When buying shea butter, ask the supplier if they melt it during packaging, and avoid buying from suppliers that say yes. Most know that melting will cause graininess and will avoid the practice.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann. It is part three of a four-part series on moisturizers. Visit us next Wednesday for part four.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ecothrifty Skin Care - Oils

It is not difficult to make your own body care products. In fact, a single ingredient works well for many purposes. You may need to do a bit of research, and you may not get the ingredient that suits you best the first time you try, but don’t give up. It is sad to see people give up on natural products when the first try doesn’t live up to expectations. Just as every commercial product is not right for your skin or hair, every natural product is not right for you.

Oils, waxes, and butters are the base ingredients of homemade soaps, creams, lotions, and moisturizers. Household basics like sugar, salt, and baking soda are also used to make safe and effective products.


Although all of the oils used in ecothrifty personal care products are food oils—not petroleum based—every oil sold in the grocery store is not necessarily good for your skin. Each oil has a different acid composition, giving it unique properties. Some are more moisturizing; others work better in soaps. Most of the popular cooking oils, such as canola, corn, cottonseed, and soy, should be avoided because they are not particularly good for your skin, and unless you are buying organic products, they come from genetically modified (GM) crops, which are heavily sprayed with herbicides. Also avoid “vegetable oil” because it is usually some combination of these oils. The skin is the largest organ of the body and does an excellent job of absorbing into the bloodstream whatever is rubbed on it. Some systemic drugs are even administered through a skin patch now. The following list of oils is not anywhere close to complete. It includes a few of the more commonly used oils that are also fairly easy to find and purchase. If you can’t find them locally, they are available through a number of online retailers. Most are not very expensive, so buy small quantities of several and see which ones your skin prefers. Any oils that you decide you don’t like for body care products can usually be used in cooking.

Apricot kernel oil—This oil is considered excellent for your skin. It has a lighter feel than many oils and is easily absorbed into your skin, making it a great choice for moisturizing. But apricot oil makes a softer bar of soap, so use it sparingly in soap recipes. It also works well as massage oil and in salt and sugar scrubs. Be sure to buy only what you plan to use within six months to a year because apricot kernel oil tends to go rancid more quickly than other oils, although storing it in the refrigerator will slow down the aging process a bit.

Castor oil—Used therapeutically for centuries, a small amount of castor oil is found in quite a few soap recipes. It is also popular for adding to butters when making lip balm. Its reputed benefits are far too numerous to be listed here, but if you have any skin conditions, you might want to research this oil further. It is good for dry or damaged skin, but it does not make good massage oil because it is thick and sticky.

Coconut oil—If you are going to make your own soap, you will find that almost every recipe includes coconut oil because it creates great lather. Most people don’t believe soap is doing anything if they don’t see suds, which is why coconut oil is such a popular soap ingredient. Although it is possible to make soap without coconut oil, be aware that the soap may not be sudsy. Coconut oil is a great choice for making laundry soap because it is so good at cleaning. However, it can be quite drying, so bar soap is not usually made with only coconut oil. And multitasking coconut oil also makes tasty popcorn, flaky pie crusts, and soft tortillas.

Grape seed oil—If you want a product that people say has miraculous properties, grape seed oil is worth a try. It is reputed to have regenerative qualities like the commercial creams costing a hundred dollars an ounce or more, but you can buy grape seed oil for far less than a dollar per ounce. It makes excellent massage oil as it is thin and very slippery, and it makes a great addition to sugar or salt scrubs.

Olive oil—Olive oil is great for your skin, so it is usually a good choice to use as a moisturizer, either alone or in combination with other oils. It is also a good choice for using in soaps, although most people today do not like to use 100 percent olive oil because it will not make a very hard bar of soap. This means it will be used up quickly, especially if you do not keep it in a soap dish that allows for complete drainage of water.

Palm kernel oil—This oil comes from a different part of the palm tree than palm oil, and it has different properties. It creates more lather and a harder bar than palm oil when used in making soap, but it can be drying if used as the predominant oil in a soap recipe. Unfortunately, a lot of palm kernel oil and palm oil today comes from areas that have been deforested to create palm plantations. These areas happen to be the natural habitat of orangutans, a species in danger of extinction as a result of loss of habitat. As of this writing, I have not seen any sustainable palm kernel oil on the market, so I have quit using it for the time being.

Palm oil—Palm oil creates suds when used in soap recipes. Many expensive soaps list sodium palmate and/or sodium cocoate as ingredients. These terms refer to palm oil and coconut oil saponified with sodium hydroxide, also known as lye. Coconut oil and palm oil are inexpensive compared to other oils used in soap making, which is why they are usually the predominant oils in commercial soaps, including expensive soaps. Palm oil is also a good choice for making laundry soap and even for soap for washing dishes. Because it is naturally solid at room temperature, palm oil is also excellent for greasing and flouring baking pans in the kitchen. Sustainable palm oil is available, but you have to make sure it is labeled as such.

Sunflower oil – Sunflower oil is similar to olive oil, but it costs quite a bit less. It is a good moisturizer for your skin and also works well as a massage oil.

This is part two of a four-part series on moisturizers. Visit us next Wednesday for part three. This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann.

Monday, January 11, 2016

5 thing you need to survive winter

When we first moved to the country in 2002, I had no idea what I needed to survive the outdoors during winter. That first year, I was so cold because I wasn't dressing properly for the weather. Over the years, I gradually started shopping more at the farm supply stores and less at the mall. Although it might seem that they have a lot of the same products, such as coats and socks, their insulating capabilities are vastly different.

High-quality boots -- It took me more than 10 years to finally try The Original MuckBoots, and in no time, I felt so foolish for not trying them sooner. You might think they are anything but thrifty with a price tag of $100, but they are seriously worth every penny. They come in several varieties, such as Chore Boots or Wetland, which are meant to serve different needs. The Wetland are supposed to be more waterproof than the Chore Boots, so they cost more, but different family members have the different varieties, and we've found that the Chore Boots still do a great job of keeping your feet dry when going through puddles and mud. One thing that surprised me is how warm they are, because they don't advertise them as being particularly warm. However, I discovered that they are actually warmer than my leather and fleece lined winter boots, which I no longer wear outside for chores in the winter. I use the MuckBoots twelve months a year as they are equally awesome in snow and mud.

Insulated overalls or coveralls -- For too many years, I simply wore jeans or sweat pants with long underwear, assuming that it was the best way to keep warm. I would see other farmers wearing what I considered the ugliest puke-yellow coveralls and wondered why anyone would wear something so ugly. Then one day I went into Tractor Supply, and they had purple insulated overalls. Purple is my favorite color, so I decided to give them a try, and boy did I feel foolish. I immediately understood why people wore those ugly puke-yellow Carhartt's! They're warm! I raved about them so much that everyone in my family wanted to try them, and after wearing them outside just once, they were all asking for their own insulated overalls! Some of us have Schmidt and some have Carhartt, and both are great quality.

A proper coat -- Once I discovered how warm the insulated overalls were, I decided to try one of the Schmidt coats, and it is indeed much warmer than the Liz Claiborne jacket that I purchased on clearance at the mall. However, the Schmidt coat is so thick that when doubled with the overalls, I am not very flexible, so I don't wear it unless I really need it. The other great thing about these coats is that they have hoods, which I really like because I don't always realized I need something on my head until I'm outside doing chores, and I don't want to come back inside to get a hat.

Wool socks -- When someone finally convinced me to try wool socks, I was immediately sold on the idea, but the ones I bought at the mall only lasted one season, so when I saw that Schmidt and Carhartt sold them at the farm supply store, I decided to try one pair of each. I was immediately a fan! Carhartt makes some that are thicker than Schmidt, but they are so thick that you might need a pair of boots that are half a size larger than normal so that you don't cut off blood supply to your foot. Small price to pay, however, to keep your feet warm when the temperatures are down to zero. Since the two different brands have different thicknesses, I have several pairs of each and only wear the thickest ones on the coldest days.

Gloves -- Of course, you need something to keep your hands warm. Unfortunately this is one area where I haven't found any particular brand that I'm too excited about. Although the Schmidt gloves do keep my hands warmer, if my hands start to sweat at all, the inside of the gloves wind up wet, and they take a couple of days to dry. Of course, wet gloves are not warm, so that puts them out of commission for a couple of days.

Winter weather can be absolutely brutal for us humans on a farm, but if we're wearing the warmest possible clothes, it can be more bearable.

This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase any of the products after clicking on the links, we will get a very small percentage, while you pay exactly the same price as you otherwise would. Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ecothrifty Skin Care

The beauty industry, which has been around for less than a hundred years, is one of the most profitable industries on the planet. Americans alone spend $50 billion a year on skin care and makeup. If you ever thought you might be overpaying for cosmetics and skin care products, you were probably right.

Although many Americans believe that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) verifies the safety of all cosmetics, this is not the case. Unlike drugs, which require approval by the FDA before being marketed, cosmetics require no government approval. The estimate of the number of chemicals used in cosmetics today varies from six thousand to tens of thousands, depending on who is counting. The smaller estimates come from industry groups, whereas the larger numbers come from consumer groups.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review was created thirty-six years ago to “review and assess the safety of ingredients used in cosmetics.” As of August 2011, however, they had reviewed only 2,300 of the 6,000 cosmetic ingredients voluntarily registered with the FDA. The FDA has banned the use of fourteen chemicals in cosmetics. Even if there are only six thousand chemicals used in cosmetics, it is more than enough to make some of us more than a wee bit concerned about safety.

Looking beyond safety, however, how do consumers know that a product does what it claims to do, such as fade age spots or eliminate wrinkles? Does a $330 per ounce eye cream hydrate and nourish skin better than something like olive oil? No one really knows. What can you do if you don’t have an unlimited amount of time to research every ingredient in the personal care and beauty products you use? You can use natural products that have been used safely for hundreds of years without negative side effects. While it is true that natural does not always mean safe, the advantage in using age-old treatments is that the knowledge of their safety—or not—has been passed down for generations. Proponents of chemicals might use poison ivy or arsenic as examples of natural products that are not safe. However, because they have been around forever, everyone knows that they are not safe. Natural products with cosmetic uses, such as baking soda, vinegar, and oatmeal, have been around far longer than modern chemicals. If they were toxic, it would be common knowledge. In contrast, modern scientists have been known to take a dangerous natural substance, such as botulinum, alter it for use as a commercial product and then insist it is safe after only a few years of study.

Making your own skin care products or simply using common ingredients found in most kitchens can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year and ensure you have a non-toxic, safe personal care product vetted by hundreds of years of use. Although I can’t guarantee you’ll have visibly improved skin in thirty days, I can guarantee that you will save a lot of money, and you won’t have to worry about getting cancer in twenty years from using these ingredients daily.

This is part one of a four-part series on skin care. Visit us next Wednesday for part two. It is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Goat Birthing: A beginner's guide

If you are new to goats, you probably have dozens of questions about kidding, which is when goats give birth to kids. Here are a few resources for you to help you understand the process and know what to expect.

First of all, you need to make sure your goat is pregnant. Forget about the pooch test, the ring test, and the bleach test, and check out this post, which includes a quiz and a video, along with the latest information on pregnancy testing in goats --
Is my goat pregnant?

Once you know your goat is pregnant, you need to provide the best possible nutrition. Check out this post about figuring out exactly what your goats need --
Do goats need grain during pregnancy?

When your goat goes into labor, you might be wondering if everything is happening as it should. How will you know if something is wrong? This ebook tells the stories of 17 goat births, from normal to tragic, including two c-sections:
Just Kidding: Stories and Reflections on Goats Giving Birth

If you are wondering about the pros and cons of intervening in a birth, this post talks about how rare most problems are and what to consider before intervening:
Goat birthing: Patience is a virtue

If you're worried about whether or not things are going normally, you might be tempted to ask for advice in an online forum or other group. Before you do that, you should read this post about
The problem with online advice

If you live in a cold climate, this post gives you tips on making sure the mom and kids survive:
Kidding in winter

Once the kids are born, you might be wondering if they're okay. This post explains what's good and what's not --
Conducting a newborn check in goat kids

If your doe has triplets or quads or more, you might be wondering if she can feed all of them, especially since goats have only two teats. This post explores that question --
How many kids can a doe feed?

You may have heard that goat kids won't be as friendly if they are raised by their mother. If you are wondering about the personalities of dam-raised versus bottle-fed kids, this post explores the differences --
Dam raised vs the bottle: Socialization

Since 50% of goat kids will be bucks, and since most bucks will not become herd sires, you will need to learn about castration, which is covered here --
Castration options for goat kids

How do you know if your goat kids are getting enough milk? Or are they getting too much? This post answers those questions --
Is my goat kid fat?

Now that your does has kidded, she's making milk! But how do you milk her?
Learning to milk a goat

Kidding is the most exciting time of year on our farm, but it can cause novices to worry. However, as they say, knowledge is power. The more you know, the better prepared you'll be to make informed choices and to handle anything challenging that pops up.
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