Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How Safe is Your Bank?

With all the turmoil in the financial markets - and large financial institutions being bought out or failing - you might wonder about the safety of your money. Luckily, most normal deposits are covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). But if you are still apprehensive, I found a site that rates the relative financial strength and stability of U.S. commercial banks, savings institutions and credit unions.



Monday, September 29, 2008

Financial Crisis of 2008: Hardest Hit Communities

The financial problems of 2008 will surely reverberate throughout the entire globe. Some areas will be affected more than others, however. Here is a slide show from Business Week that features the top twenty communities in the U.S. that have the most to lose in a large financial downturn. New York and Connecticut are rather obvious, but there are some in the nation's heartland that may surprise you.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Caramel Apples

As autumn approaches, it is the season for apples. I've noticed quite a selection of varieties at the farmers' market recently. I can't think of a better way to eat an apple than with caramel, so here is a tried and true recipe for you to try. Enjoy, duders!

Taffy Apple Caramel

1 can Eagle Brand Milk
¾ c Light Karo Syrup
2 c Brown Sugar
½ c Butter

Mix and bring to a boil for 20 minutes until it coats an apple.
Yield 5 cups


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Strategies for the Energy Crisis

Here's an interesting interview examining energy policy and greenhouse emissions.

After nearly 30 years at Caltech as a professor of theoretical physics and, eventually, provost, Steven Koonin took a leave of absence in 2004 to become BP's chief scientist. After a year of study, he recommended a strategy for the company that has included investments in unconventional sources of oil as well as renewable energies such as solar.

TR: What's the best way to reduce gas consumption?

SK: Raising the price of driving is the simplest way to induce conservation and efficiency. Look at how much response we saw when the price of gasoline went up to $4.50 a gallon. We've seen it work over the last year. But raising gas prices is very difficult politically to do. In fact, you see the candidates going in the opposite direction.

The prices for gas and for carbon need to be high enough to make some difference, so that means there will be some pain. And it needs to be stable enough so that people can make long-term investments for deploying alternative technologies.


TR: So the markets aren't going to solve these problems?

SK: Left to its own devices, the market will not price the externality of carbon dioxide, nor will it effectively deal with the security-of-supply problem. I think [that's] because it's longer term, and the markets have a shorter-term focus. I think markets are good for tactical allocation, but it's not obvious to me that they're the right thing for strategic allocation [or] longer-term planning.


Friday, September 26, 2008


Here's a website that gives you simple, easy to implement tips that can save you hundreds of dollars per year on fuel costs. There is not much that isn't covered on my first post, at cleanmpg.com, or other Hypermiling venues; but it has a slick interface, and you might learn something new.



Pam's Summer Art Project

Here is your obligatory Dwight Schrute ASCII rendering. Thoughts on the season premiere? Will we ever know the story behind Meredith's face? Time will tell...


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Just In Case

Just In Case: How to be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens. Kathy Harrison. Highly Recommended.

I happened upon this book in the 'New Release' section of the library, and it seemed to good to pass up. September is National Preparedness Month, you know.

Many of the self-sufficiency books I have reviewed describe a lifestyle that is not practical for the ordinary citizen in the 21st century. For better or worse, most people are not going to leave the suburbs and set up a 5 acre homestead where they can provide nearly everything they need. Unfortunately, for those of us remaining in the city and 'burbs, unexpected events could disrupt the fragile web of support that we currently enjoy.

Obviously, we can all name big events that have affected large segments of the population: 9-11, Katrina, California's earthquakes & wildfires, etc. Even smaller localized events, like floods, thunderstorms and heavy snow can leave people to survive for several days without power, heat and/or shelter. Would you be ready for a 3 day outage? How about 3 weeks? It would seem that the network of modernity on which we rely is only becoming more fragile; and large natural disasters, terrorism, or pandemics could easily affect large portions of our nation in the future.

As I read the opening chapter, I quickly realized that I was fairly unprepared for any type of outage of basic service. As I read on, however, the author presented information that will help anyone get ready - just in case.

The first section lays out the author's OAR system for staying prepared. Organize, Acquire and Rotate are each integral tenets to ensuring everything is ready in a time of crisis. The book has many tips for maintaining efficiency in each of these categories.

Organize - It hardly matters if you have everything, if you cannot quickly locate it
Acquire - There are most likely several necessary items that you currently are without
Rotate - All food has a limited life, rotate canned goods into normal meals to maintain freshness

Part Two covers Preparedness, which consists of putting the OAR system into practice. Getting yourself, home, kids, pets and car prepared are all examined.

Part Three is titled Dealing With Disaster. Specific scenarios are studied, along with custom tailored advice on how to best prepare and survive. Everything from power loss to the pandemic flu are featured. (According to the author, Michael Jackson-type surgical masks are of little use)

Part Four is a foray into the arts of self-sufficiency. I did not see anything that struck me as novel in this section, except for perhaps recipes that feature "stored" food. The author recommended several other books for more reading, such as the Ball: Blue Book of Food Preservation.

I highly recommend this book for anyone. It provides easy to use advice that can be tailored to your specific situation. No one is immune from disaster, a few easy steps ahead of time could mean the difference between a slight inconvenience or major disruption...and perhaps even life and death.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible. Edward C. Smith. Highly Recommended.

I try to only share good books with my readers, and this one is no exception. It is a thick, sturdy hardcover that will be a welcome addition to any gardener's library. For high yields, the author teaches a WORD System: Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds, Deep soil. The book is divided into three overarching sections:

Part 1: From Seed to Harvest

The first section is the most detailed. This is where the author lays out the basics for his WORD method. Along with several other sources, this is was the main inspiration for building my framed raised beds. There are several great chapters in this section that describe planning and executing your garden.

Part 2: The Healthy Garden

This section covers the basics of soil, composting and organic pest control. While not as detailed as the books to each of these topics, it gives a good overview.

Part 3: Vegetables & Herbs, A-Z

This section features the obligatory plant profiles that most garden books seem to provide. It truly does have quite an extensive selection of edible plants, with over 100 pages dedicated to this chapter. Each profile has a wide range of data, from planting and harvesting information to the best varieties to use.

All in all, this book is a great resource for both beginning and seasoned gardeners.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Derivatives: Credit Default Swaps

Another financial article for your perusal. I am not an economist or a financial guru, so anyone in the audience with such credentials please feel free to point out any flaws that you may see.

Per wikipedia:
Derivatives are financial instruments whose value changes in response to the changes in underlying variables. The main types of derivatives are futures, forwards, options, and swaps.

Credit default swaps (CDS) are insurance-like contracts that are sold as protection against default on loans, but CDS are not ordinary insurance. Insurance companies are regulated by the government, with reserve requirements, statutory limits, and examiners routinely showing up to check the books to make sure the money is there to cover potential claims. CDS are private bets, and the Federal Reserve from the time of Alan Greenspan has insisted that regulators keep hands off.
In December 2007, the Bank for International Settlements reported derivative trades tallying in at $681 trillion – ten times the gross domestic product of all the countries in the world combined. Somebody is obviously bluffing about the money being brought to the game, and that realization has made for some very jittery markets.
CDS thus resemble insurance policies, but there is no requirement to actually hold any asset or suffer any loss, so CDS are widely used just to speculate on market changes. In one blogger's example, a hedge fund wanting to increase its profits could sit back and collect $320,000 a year in premiums just for selling "protection" on a risky BBB junk bond. The premiums are "free" money – free until the bond actually goes into default, when the hedge fund could be on the hook for $100 million in claims. And there's the catch: what if the hedge fund doesn't have the $100 million? The fund's corporate shell or limited partnership is put into bankruptcy, but that hardly helps the "protection buyers" who thought they were covered.
Now that some highly leveraged banks and hedge funds have had to lay their cards on the table and expose their worthless hands, these avid free marketers are crying out for government intervention to save them from monumental losses, while preserving the monumental gains raked in when their bluff was still good. In response to their pleas, the men behind the curtain have scrambled to devise various bailout schemes; but the schemes have been bandaids at best. To bail out a $681 trillion derivative scheme with taxpayer money is obviously impossible.
Hopefully a limited amount of regulation could fix this problem. Yesterday I heard an announcement of a moratorium on short sales to help calm the markets.

I'm not sure what to make of the author's suggestion for a solution. 'The Benjamin Franklin Solution' sounds a lot like a credit union to me. Nationalization of our banking system (or at least large portions of it) may become a reality, whether it is a good solution or not. Once again, anyone with a financial background is encouraged to shed light on this interesting subject.

See more about CDS here...


Friday, September 19, 2008

GAO Report: U.S. Financial Condition and Fiscal Future

With all the news about government bailouts recently, I have been doing some research on U.S. government spending.

I found an interesting presentation on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) website. This was part of former Comptroller General David M. Walker's "Fiscal Wake Up Tour". It remains to be seen if anyone in Washington (or anywhere else in the country) has awakened yet, but the presentation has some interesting nuggets of information.

Some highlights:

- The Fiscal Burden numbers on page 18: $175k per person, $455k per household
- We face large and growing structural deficits largely due to known demographic trends and rising health care costs
- GAO’s simulations show that balancing the budget in 2040 could require actions as large as:
• Cutting total federal spending by 60 percent or
• Raising federal taxes to two times today's level
- Closing the current long-term fiscal gap based on reasonable assumptions would require real average annual economic growth in the double-digit range every year for the next 75 years
- During the 1990s, the economy grew at an average 3.2 percent per year
- As a result, we cannot simply grow our way out of this problem. Tough choices will be required.

Keep in mind this was given in January - well before any of the latest financial obligations (and those that have yet to be promised) were on the books.

The bottom line: current entitlement programs and tax levels are inherently unsustainable.


Thursday, September 18, 2008


As the U.S. presidential election hits its final strides, political advertisements will be impossible to avoid; especially for those in 'battle-ground' states. Along with the 24-hr news cycle, the messages from the candidates will be flowing at break neck speed. For those who are undecided, this presents a problem: how much of the message is fact and how much is spin? With so many biased sources, who can one trust for the straight scoop? Any time that I hear a quote or ad that seems a little fishy, I check out www.FactCheck.org. They seem to be a great place to get get an unbiased check of the statements of both McCain and Obama.

From their mission statement:

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.
I cannot vouch 100% for their validity, but I highly recommend you consult them before trusting anything straight from the campaigns. It is at least another data point on which to base your decision. Good luck.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Great Crash of 2008?

So far, this year has seen quite a lot of troubles in the financial markets. Bank failures, forced mergers, and government takeovers have splashed the headlines. Bear Stearns, IndyMac, FreddieMac/FannieMae, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and most recently, AIG have all had major issues. What is going on, and where will it stop? This article examines some of the underlying issues for what the author calls "the Great Crash of 2008".

An enormous hoax has been perpetrated on global financial markets during the past 10 years. An American economy based on opening containers from China and selling the contents at Wal-Mart, or trading houses back and forth, provides scant profitability. Where the underlying profitability of the American economy was poor, financial engineering managed to transform thin profits into apparently fat ones through the magic of leverage.

In effect, Americans borrowed a trillion dollars a year against the expectation that the 10% annual rate of increase in home prices would continue, producing a bubble that now has collapsed. It is no different from the real estate bubble that contributed to the Thai baht's devaluation in 1997, except in size and global impact.

The world kept shipping capital to the United States over the past 10 years, however, because no other market could absorb the savings of Europe and Asia. The financial markets, in turn, found ways to persuade Americans to borrow more and more money. If there weren't enough young Americans to borrow money on a sound basis, the banks arranged for a smaller number of Americans to borrow more money on an unsound basis. That is why subprime, interest-only, no-money-down and other mortgages waxed great in bank portfolios.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Top 5 Premature Sports Celebrations

Here are my top five examples of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory:

4 - 5. DeSean Jackson

Last night on Monday Night Football, Eagles' rookie DeSean Jackson caught a very nice pass for what looked to be an easy touchdown. He must have been very concerned about getting started on his endzone dance, since he rid himself of the ball before crossing the goal line. One might implore to cut the young guy some slack; but as the second clip shows, he is not a quick learner.

3. Usain Bolt

In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Jamaican Usain Bolt was so dominant in the 100m finals, he decided to celebrate...before he crossed the tape. Even though he won gold and recorded a World Record; according to experts, he could have gone at least another tenth faster. In a race where the record is normally lowered in hundredths...this is unbelievable and inexcusable.

2. 2007 Chicago Marathon - Women's

In a race remembered for its unexpected and unseasonable heat, the women's finish was a case of premature celebration and inexperience. The previous year's winner, Ethopia's Berhane Adere; and a rookie, Romania's Adriana Pirtea battled the heat - mile after mile. Around Mile 22, Pirtea made a move, and separated herself by quite a large margin. As she came into the home stretch, she began to celebrate, high-fiving the cheering crowds. At the last moment, she looked over to see Adere -previously shielded from view by male runners - had closed the gap and was sprinting to the finish. By then, it was too late to respond and she had lost the race by three seconds.

1. Leon Lett

In Super Bowl XXVII, Leon Lett picked up a fumble and began to lumber down the field for a sure touchdown. The Bills' Don Beebe did not give up on the play, and thanks to Lett's early celebration, was able to strip the ball before a score. We can probably give Leon a bit of a break, since the Cowboys already had the game well in hand; but on the world stage, his premature celebration is one that all others are measured.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook - and a Few "Deep Thoughts"

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living. Alan and Gill Bridgewater.

As I have said many times before, I truly doubt the existence of a complete self-sufficiency book. While this text boldly proclaims as such in the title, I have not yet been proved wrong. This handbook has a lot of great information, but it is rather thin...and would serve best as only a light introduction to self-sufficiency. It would not be undesirable in a library, but hardly necessary. For those so inclined, I have two superior recommendations here and here. I would not have even written a review, however the opening paragraph struck me, and I want to share it - and my thoughts - with you.

When Gill and I graduated from art school in the 1960s, the whole place was buzzing with a new kind of freedom. Somehow we all felt that we could do it - meaning life - better than previous generations. I remember one evening sitting in a college common room listening to two young, hippy, American lecturers animatedly talking about how very soon we would all be forced by the failure of oil supplies to return to some sort of Amish type self-sufficiency - log cabins maybe, horses rather than cars, communes where groups of like-minded people pulled together to create a better society - and it was very exciting.

As they saw it, and as whole swathes of people saw it, our consumer society was living off the fast shrinking capital resources of the earth. Their thinking was that ever since the start of the industrial revolution we had been taking and dumping: taking the coal and dumping the waste, taking the oil and dumping pollution, taking the goodness from the soil and leaving it barren, cutting down trees, and so on.
The authors continue on, explaining how this shaped their desire to live in a self-sufficient and less ecologically impacting manner. They then spent the next 30-40 years of their lives scrounging around, trying to make ends meet. As I also have stated before, the romanticism of self-sufficiency does not fool me. I don't find it that exciting and I do not think it would be an ideal way to live. Anyway, the introduction instantly struck me in two ways:

1. Maybe there really is no urgent problem
2. Crying wolf...and its ramifications

First off, my gut reaction was, "Man, people really have been screaming, 'The end is nigh!' for a long time." Maybe all the people screaming about it now really are full of it, too. Maybe peak oil and global warming are not that big of a deal...and if they are, maybe they are decades or centuries away from affecting us.

Then, that little seed of doubt creeps back in. Perhaps the hippies back then were right all along, just off in the time frame. My mind continues to file through all the evidence that I have complied during the short amount of time that I have concerned myself with such matters. Yes, peak oil must be real, and the while the time frame is up for debate, the one that I have settled on is definitely within my lifetime, or at least the next generation's.

Global warming is a challenge that I have yet to tackle, and I am not a climatologist. I will have to default to the consensus of current scientific opinion and Al Gore. I fear that it is real, it is man-made, and due to the Tragedy of the Commons, it may be inevitable. The time frame on climate change is very much up for debate as well, due to its extremely complex and variable nature; but if you watch the Discovery Channel, you know it is coming pretty soon - and will not be pretty.

So, the long standing cries from environmentalist and other scientists may have been 'spot on' the entire time. Perhaps it was the relevance time between the earth's geologic clock and the 24-hr news cycle that has caused the disconnect. And ultimately, the fable of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" seems rather fitting; and rather disturbing, considering the end result.

These are the two extremes I continue to wrestle with. And as I have argued in the past, few things in life are black and white. For my own benefit, (and hopefully yours) I will continue to attempt to search through the gray area. Depending on the source, you can get pretty good (and bad) arguments from both sides. There are folks with full time jobs that research these issues, as well as those that literally devote their entire lives to finding the truth. How can the layman be expected to sort through it all? I suppose all we can do is just continue to plug along; hoping for the best and preparing for some version of the worst.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green

My beautiful, loving wife happened upon an episode of an interesting show called "It's Not Easy Being Green", on the Sundance Channel. According to their website, the first season shares a family's quest to become self-sufficient and more environmentally aware. In the second season, they help others with eco-friendly projects.

The first episode I saw was from the new season (Episode 6, I believe), and featured a wide range of projects. One trendy couple installed a new passive solar water heater on their fixer-upper, but ran into problems due to a historic district zoning board. Another group put up a small wind turbine. The guys also built a smoker from a 55 gallon drum and smoked some cheese. I was a bit concerned about what type of chemicals were originally contained in the drum. They burned a rather large fire to decontaminate it, but I would still be leery.

The final project involved setting up a small field for pigs; complete with shelter, water and an electric fence. The pigs provided a dual purpose - obviously they can be used for meat -but they also till and fertilize the land. The former pig pen can make a great garden the following year. And it was rather humorous to see them eating sausages at the end of the show.

I found the show to be rather funny and informative, and I fully recommend searching it out. It has definitely found a place on my DVR; hopefully I can catch up on past installments. I'd be interested to hear from anyone else who is familiar with this. Are there any specific episodes I should look out for?


Friday, September 12, 2008

Global Trends 2025

Editors Note: for those looking for the final report, see

Here is an unsettling report, from the Washington Post:

The presidential candidates will soon receive a briefing from our nation's Intelligence Community with the upcoming 'Global Trends 2025', an overview of international factors that will shape our world and our place in it. Dr. Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, recently gave a preview of the key findings. It is not a cheery picture.

"The U.S. will remain the preeminent power, but that American dominance will be much diminished," Fingar said, according to a transcript of the Thursday speech. He saw U.S. leadership eroding "at an accelerating pace" in "political, economic and arguably, cultural arenas."

In the years ahead, Washington will no longer be in a position to dictate what new global structures will look like. Nor will any other country, Fingar said. "There is no nobody in a position . . . to take the lead and institute the changes that almost certainly must be made in the international system," he said.

The predicted shift toward a less U.S.-centric world will come at a time when the planet is facing a growing environmental crisis, caused largely by climate change, Fingar said. By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world. But among industrialized states, declining birthrates will create new economic stresses as populations become grayer. In China, Japan and Europe, the ratio of working adults to seniors "begins to approach one to three," he said.

The United States will fare better than many other industrial powers, in part because it is relatively more open to immigration. Newcomers will inject into the U.S. economy a vitality that will be absent in much of Europe and Japan -- countries that are "on a good day, highly chauvinistic," he said.

Energy security will also become a major issue as India, China and other countries join the United States in seeking oil, gas and other sources for electricity. The Chinese get a good portion of their oil from Iran, as do many U.S. allies in Europe, limiting U.S. options on Iran. "So the turn-the-spigot-off kind of thing -- even if we could do it -- would be counterproductive."
I look forward to the actual "Global Trends 2025" report, due out later this year. But the key notes are chilling enough. Reports like these really cause me concern. This is not some crazy doomer on a wacko peak oil message board. This is a consensus of top American Intelligence Community officials. Perhaps no matter how much we wish that The Long Emergency or Long Road Down are only apocalyptic fantasy, they may be reality. And that reality may be sooner than we realize...

Other Global Trends Posts:
Global Trends 2025
Global Trends Update
Global Trends Update II
Globalization and the Crash of '08
Demographics of Discord
Timing is Everything
Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World
Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty
Final Thoughts


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Farmland.org Blog Contest

My loyal readers may remember this post where I highlighted the American Farmland Trust. They are running a "Friends of Farmland" blog contest through the end of September, and I would love to be included in their next newsletter. So, if you don't mind, dear reader, please follow the bucolic little scene on the left toolbar or the apple in this post, and check them out. You can get the free "No Farms, No Food" bumper sticker, or a Farmers' Market tote bag for a small donation. Also, check out their listings of Farmers' Markets in your area as well as the article "7 Ways to Save Farmland".

I think they are a good cause...for anyone who enjoys eating. Thanks!


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nike+ Sport Band

I have been testing the Nike+ Sport Band with varied success.

The trendy wristband with clock and digital read out is very user friendly and barely noticeable while running.

Just unplug your wristband piece and pop it into a USB port on your computer and your workout is uploaded to the Nike+ homepage that tracks your mileage.

The cost ($60) is very reasonable.

I have had varying success with the accuracy of the band. My first run was horrendous, partly because proper directions were practically nonexistent (think IKEA, only 10 times worse). But, I calibrated it after the first run and it has been almost perfect since. I double check my mileage with mapmyrun.com

Overall, I've been rather pleased with the Nike+ Sport Band. Has anyone else used this or higher end devices such as Garmin?


Monday, September 8, 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup

As I have examined Evaporated Cane Juice and Sugar in these posts, I thought I might start a discussion about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HCFS). HCFS has recently become a bad word in nutrition circles, and many folks are starting to avoid it at all costs. Here are two commercials that are intended to start a bit of a dialog, and perhaps question that conventional wisdom:

What do you think? Do these videos and the accompanying website spin the truth? Is High Fructose Corn Syrup that much worse than regular sugar? Perhaps we should not take a commercial enterprise at its word...I did some preliminary searches for medical studies:

CONCLUSIONS: Sucrose and HFCS do not have substantially different short-term endocrine/metabolic effects.
CONCLUSION: There was no evidence that commercial cola beverages sweetened with either sucrose or HFCS have significantly different effects on hunger, satiety, or short-term energy intakes.

In addition, animal studies have shown a link between increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and adverse health effects, such as diabetes and high cholesterol. However, the evidence is not as clear in human studies.

Despite the lack of clarity in research, the fact remains that Americans consume large quantities of high-fructose corn syrup in the form of soft drinks, fruit-flavored beverages and other processed foods. These types of foods are often high in calories and low in nutritional value. This fact alone is reason to be cautious about foods containing high-fructose corn syrup.

Do you avoid HCFS? Perhaps avoid all simple carbohydrates? Maybe you eschew carbs altogether? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Other Sugar posts:
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part I
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part II
Caramel Apples
Sugar and the Environment
A Look at Agave


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eating on $100 a Week?

Here is an interesting article chronicling a family of four's attempt to eat for a week, spending only $100. With increasing energy and food costs, this may be harder than ever. I know our family has been attempting to lower our overall costs, and food is one area that is up for examination. One must balance thrift with health, however, and eating only mac and cheese and mayo sandwiches is not advised.

Some interesting facts and ideas from the article:

- A food stamp allowance for a family of four is $117
- A $100 budget gave us $1.19 a meal per person (wow)
- "Americans are obsessed with protein, but it's the one nutrient we actually get too much of"
- Planning is key: if you do not buy enough, you'll have to go back and end up spending more (impulse items)
- "The most inexpensive snacks are also some of the healthiest"

It should be noted that as Americans, we recently have spent less of food as a percentage of household income than ever in history (less than 10%). Even with recent increases due to higher energy prices; we still spend relatively little on food. Compared to the rest of the world, this number is high on absolute terms, though. A main reason for this is the large amounts of processed and convenience foods that we eat. Pound for pound, prepared and processed foods cost much more than 'real' food.

If one factors the time involved in preparation, some packaged foods may come out ahead economically, depending on your salary. This says nothing about the nutritional value, however, and the increase in quick food has a strong correlation to our expanding waistlines.

As the article notes, some fresh vegetables did not fit in the super-econo budget. (Organics are even pricier) But as it also noted, this was a budget that was under a poverty level. By substituting many name-brand, convenience, and packaged foods with whole, healthy ones, American's could cut our food budgets by large amounts and our middle sections as well.

Another idea: adding a prolific back yard garden could help your wallet and waistline, also.

A good site for further reading: food related economic data.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Dwarf Fruit Trees

I planted a dwarf fig and lemon tree back in June. I thought I would show some pictures of their progress. Both have grown quite a bit, but the fig tree has been especially prolific.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How To: Build a Raised Bed Garden

One of the recurring themes in many of the gardening books I have reviewed is the importance of good soil. I have slowly realized that the lack of this may be causing some of the issues in my garden. The soil around my house is primarily clay and rocks. It is actually amazing anything can grow in it.

Before the arrival of some new plants this fall, I thought I would prepare a double-dug raised bed.

The raised bed garden will provide many benefits:

1. Low maintenance
2. Less compaction
3. Higher production per square foot
4. Improved drainage
5. Less water use
6. Improved pest control

This is a step-by-step account of the process.

Step 1: Build a frame and position in place. This frame is constructed from three 8 foot 2"x8" planks, with some 2"x4" sections in the corners for bracing. The bed will be approximately 4'x8'. Mark around the frame to highlight the outline. You can use flour or just scratch with a shovel.

Step 2: Remove sod. This can be saved, turned over, or composted. Since I am planning on planting soon, I opted to add it to the compost pile.

Step 3: Now for the double-dig. First remove a trench of soil and set aside on a tarp or wheel barrow. Then till the bottom of the trench with a garden fork or other handy tool.

Step 4: Repeat this process. This time take the soil from the new trench and lay it in the old trench. Attempt to keep the soil "right side up", as generally the soil farther down is of lesser quality.

Step 5: Continue this process for the entire area. Use the soil that you removed from the first trench to fill in the last one.

Here are some of the rocks that were removed. It really was crappy soil.

Step 6: Add organic material. This is a wheelbarrow of leaf and grass compost.

Step 7: Use the same tilling tool to finish breaking up the soil and incorporating compost, topsoil, manure, sand, vermiculite, and/or other amendments, depending on what your soil requires.

Step 8: Reposition the frame and continue to add soil amendments until the bed is a few inches from the top. The raised bed is now ready to plant.