Homemade Hard Apple Cider

Note: This article was originally written in early 2012, and I’ve done quite a bit of cider making since then and have learned a lot. I’ve updated this post to reflect that, as well as added a few recipes I’ve tried or developed on my own.

Since my wife and I have officially begun our journey to FI, no expense has been spared. The larger expenses (such as our house and other structural expenses) have been optimized to the fullest, and we have now turned our sights on other things. One of the first was alcohol, and this was mostly me, since my wife doesnt drink that frequently.

About 10 years ago, I used to spend a lot on alcohol (it was college), and since graduating I’ve been able to take that down quite a bit – to about $500/year or $10 per week. Some weeks more, some less but this is where I had settled for a while.

It wasnt until I decided that there had to be a way to get it lower that I looked into DIY-ing my booze. I started in 2012 or so and have not looked back, and the cost of my boozing has been reduced to dimes per bottle and the occasional headache from overindulgence.

Now, I stick to homemade hard cider that costs approximately $20 for 5 gallons, and takes me about 5 minutes to make (and another 30 or so a few weeks later to bottle).

If you buy about a 6 pack per week, you’re consuming 3,600 oz of beer per year, or the equivalent of 5.5 5 Gallon batches. You can bring your spending on booze down from ~500 per year, to just over 100 per year. Lowering your needs and increasing your savings + a fun activity that allows you to experiment and build your own small scale cider operation? Awesome.

To me, this is one of the perfect hobbies. Once you’ve got all of your equipment, the costs are cheap, the benefits are huge, and it gives you something to fill your time. You can get as crazy (or not) with the different juices and add ins and it can supply the boundless curiosity that every human innately has.

So, lets make some cider!

What Is Hard Apple Cider?

Hard cider is a fermented drink, typically made from apples. Since it’s fermented, it does contain alcohol. The amount of alcohol contained varies by the process you use, but typically they come in between 5 and 7%, or about the rate of a standard microbrew. Today, we are going to go over the entire hard cider making process, from brewing to cider fermentation to bottling. You can do this with easy to find ingredients as well as spare bottles laying around the house, but since I already have a home brewing set up, I just use that. Note that this is not the same thing as cider as it does not have alcohol (but is still great to enjoy warm in the winter months).

One of the reasons that I make this is to help me save money. I estimate that the cost for me to produce 5 gallons of cider (now that I have all the equipment) is around $20, which is the price for 12-20 microbrews. Considering my wife and I have a goal of building freedom through saving money, this really helps. Instead of spending $30-40 per month (or night, or weekend) on alcohol (which equates to about 1 6 pack of microbrew beer or hard cider, per week), I spend about $20 for something that will last me 2-3 months and is stronger to boot in most cases. Cider making has become a hobby I enjoy, and as I continue to tinker with recipes and develop new ones the more I get out of it.

 

Bonus: Get a video showing exactly how to make each version of hard cider, and a shopping list, AND some things you can add to flavor your cider. Get the Extra Flavor Guide Now

Hard Cider Ingredients & Equipment

One of my favorite things about this is that it’s so easy to make and very difficult to screw up. Once you have a beer brewing set up (or just a carboy and an airlock) you’ll be able to make your own cider. Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make a batch:

  • Hard Cider Yeast – This is the most important, and will probably be the most difficult to find. You can use a specialized hard cider yeast (like Wyeast Labs 4766), or you can go with a champagne yeast (like Lavlin EC-1118). I would try them both out and see which one you think is the best yeast for hard cider. Each is slightly different, and I use them both (and others as well, but these are the most common). In my opinion, the best place to buy these would be a local homebrewing shop, as they will most certainly carry something this common.
  • Apple Cider or Apple Juice. You can choose either one as they are both great for making hard cider but you need to make sure that you get the kind without preservatives. I’m not just being all hippy-dippy here either – the preservatives will kill your yeast and will leave you with gross tasting yeasty apple juice. You need to make sure you watch out for sodium benzoatepotassium sorbate. I’ve never seen them both in the same cider or juice, but you cant have either. When I first started, I just checked the label for potassium or sodium, and if it had either of those, I found something else.
  • Honey or Brown Sugar (Optional): These will both increase the alcohol content, and will change the flavor slightly of your cider. My first few batches had brown sugar as I prefer the drier stuff and didnt want to make it too sweet. Since then I’ve tried it both with and without add-ons, and prefer to use them. Not needed at all though. (Use about .4 lbs of sugar or honey per gallon)

These are just the consumable ingredients needed. There are a few different ways that you can make hard cider and those mostly depend on how much money you want to invest in your hobby initially. You can get started for around $15 or less, but as with most hobbies there’s bigger and better equipment (that I happened to own already, so I use that).

Option 1: Homebrew kit & Glass Bottles

This will produce the most volume per batch (5 gallons) but will also cost you some money in set up costs. You can order a kit from an online retailer like northern brewer (this one is a good start up kit) or if you really enjoy this stuff, splurge and get the deluxe model. Either of these will give you everything you need except bottles, but you’ll pay quite a bit more than the other methods below. You can simply save the bottles (pry off only, no twist offs) and have friends save some for you as well and you’ll get enough in no time. You’ll need about 56 12 oz bottles.

You’ll also get a beer recipe ingredient kit, so you can give homebrewing a try as well.

Option 2: Frugal and Sustainable Method

This method is very cost effective, though your yield will be a bit lower because of size constraints. You won’t need to deal with bottling either (unless you really want to) so consider that a win.

To use this method, you’ll need a large glass jug (you can even use the one the juice comes in for added time/money/earth savings) and an airlock. If you cant find your juice in a glass jug, you can always use a spent jug of carlo rosse or other high end wine. Make sure to save the cap for the jug as well.

Option 3: Ultra Frugal Method

This method is the most cost effective (and one I havent done since college). You will need only minimal equipment for this, and it’s super easy to set up.  For this, you’ll need whatever vessel your apple cider came in (plastic or glass is fine), a balloon and tape or a rubber band.

The ultra frugal method should cost you about 50 cents above actual ingredients (hence my college tries), and will yield a satisfactory result.

This is something that I’d put in a relatively high traffic area so you can watch it frequently, as sometimes the balloon can pop off with vigorous fermentation.

As many hobbyists may not believe, you can get started into most hobbies for cheap.

My view on hobbies like hard cider making is that if you are starting out, try to get it done as cheaply as possible. Once you’ve got enough time under your belt to decide if you like it, invest further if you do, and if not, then continue using what you have.

How To Make Hard Cider

Finally, on to the actual process used to create the cider. It’s very simple and not time consuming at all to DIY hard cider. There are a few extra (though not necessary) steps you’ll need to run through if you’re using honey or alcohol that will add some time to your process, but they are not significant and can be accomplished with the goods you already have at home.

  1. Gather your ingredients and your storage vessel(s).
  2. If you are adding honey or brown sugar heat 1-2 gallons of your cider in a pot on the stove. Make sure this does not boil, as you will cause the pectins to set and make your end product very hazy.
  3. Stir heated product until sugar or honey is dissolved.

This is where the steps diverge depending on what gear you have decided to use for your homemade hard cider journey. They will all result in the same product, just some will be more time consuming (though produce more) than others.

If you’re using the traditional carboy & bottling method (as I described in the original post) you can get a top of the line product by following the steps below:

  1. If you’re adding Honey or Brown Sugar, you’ll need your large cooking pot and your cider.  What you’ll need to do is put 1-2 gallons of your cider into a pot and heat on medium.  Add your honey or brown sugar, and stir over heat until dissolved. Make sure this does not boil.
  2. While your honey or sugar is dissolving, add the remaining cider to your carboy.
  3. Once your sugar or honey has dissolved in your heated juice, take that mixture off the heat and add to your carboy.
  4. The liquid in your carboy should be an appropriate temperature now to add your yeast (below 85 degrees or so). Add your packet of yeast.
  5. Attach airlock to your carboy and move your carboy into a room away from heat and light.
  6. Your delicious beverage will ferment (when yeast converts sugar into alcohol) for 2 weeks. You can leave it as long as 3 weeks and be ok as well. Here’s what my cider looks like fermenting away in the basement. Carboy
  7. Once your fermentation has finished, it’s time to get what is now your alcoholic apple cider into your other carboy (or bucket) for secondary fermentation. Though this step is unnecessary, I have found that it really helps clarify the final product and it’s a great time to do add-ins to add other flavors to your cider. You can see my hand model (AKA wife) adding some pomegranate juice to the bucket for some stirring prior to the secondary fermentation below.
    IMG_20150803_195915534_TOP (1)
  8. Leave your cider in secondary fermentation for 2-4 weeks, and after that, it’s time for the time-consuming process of bottling.
  9. I use 22oz bottles (because there are less bottles to fill) but if you get your bottles for free (ie drink what was in them) you’ll need about 56 12 oz bottles.
  10. Follow the instructions for sanitizing & bottling that came with your brew kit and fill Homemade hard apple cideryour bottles with your cider. This, by all accounts is the most tedious part, and the reason for the other 2 methods. You dont need to bottle anything with the other 2 methods, just drink it straight from the jug. Bottling is a task, but it’s something that I dont mind considering the output (5 gallons) that I’m getting when I’m finished.
    Pro tip: open up your dishwasher, and place all your empty bottles on the dishwasher door. Fill them up while they are there, and if there’s any spillage you can just close the lid! easy clean up.
    Bottling Made Easy
  11. Cap your bottles and let rest for a week or 2. Yes, this process is long, but it yields the best product I’ve gotten so far. I’ve also found that the longer you bottle condition the cider, the smoother it gets.

If you dont want to plunk down the cash for a rather expensive brewing kit, you’ve got a few options.

  • try finding the brewing kit stuff on craigslist. If you live in a bigger market this could work well for you. Lots of brewers give up their carboys when they move on to larger scale brewing.
  • use one of the methods below and make batches a gallon at a time

If I were just getting started, I’d use one of these (probably the frugal & sustainable option).

How To Make Hard Apple Cider with The Frugal & Sustainable Option

FrugSustain

  1. Gather your ingredients and materials, including your glass jug if you’re using one.
  2. If you’re adding sugar, make sure to remove an equal amount of liquid so it does not overflow.
  3. Take your apple cider yeast and add 1/2 teaspoon to the liquid. Shake or swirl if you want, though it’s not necessary. Remember to set the jug lid aside, as you’ll need it later.
  4. Add your airlock to the top of the bottle, and fill with sterile liquid or hard alcohol
  5. Take your jug and set it aside in a dark place for two weeks while the yeast work their magic.
  6. After the yeast have done their thing, take off the airlock and put the jug in the fridge. Enjoy whenever you need. No need to worry about over-fermentation, as the cool temperatures in your fridge will slow the activity of the yeast to a crawl.
  7. Congratulations, you now know how to make hard apple cider.

This is one of the simplest ways to accomplish this, and you can use it for many other types of juices as well. You can download a guide at the bottom of this post that will tell you what other juices work great and other flavors you can add to your cider.

If you’re interested in this, here’s what I’d buy: this one gallon glass jug ($5), this airlock ($1.50), this rubber stopper ($1) and this cap ($1), for a total cost of less than $9 before shipping. Note: If you find a cider you like that comes in a glass jug when you buy it, you’ll only need the stopper & the airlock. You can use the glass jug the cider came in, as well as the screw cap.

Homemade Hard Cider with The Ultra Frugal (College) Method

College

I was fond of this method in college, so I know it well and I know that it works. I also know that it costs about 1 to 10 cents above consumables costs, so it’s dirt cheap. Obviously, I don’t condone lawbreaking (no matter how senseless I find it) so if you’re residing in the USA and are under 21 don’t try this at home. Since we’ve got many international readers, this is for them. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Gather your ingredients and materials. This is your cider, the yeast for your cider, your balloon, rubber band (or tape) and a safety pin.
  2. Take your saftey pin and poke a few holes (3 or less) in the balloon and set the balloon aside
  3. Open the cider and add 1/2 teaspoon of yeast in there. If this feels like a small amount dont worry, when yeast get put in favorable conditions like this one, they will reproduce like crazy. Remember to set the jug lid aside, as you’ll need it later.
  4. Pull your balloon over the lid of the container, and wrap the rubber band or tape around it a few times to make sure that it doesn’t pop off during fermentation. Set aside for 2 weeks (though with this method, check on it a few times per day the first few days to make sure everything is still as it should be) and then take off the balloon.
  5. Cap the container and place in the fridge to drink. No need to worry about over-fermentation, as the cool temperatures in your fridge will slow the activity of the yeast to a crawl.

Congratulations, with just a bit of ingenuity and some household goods, you can skirt ridiculous (IMHO) government regulations and stick it to the cider companies that are charging 8 bucks (or more) for a 6 pack of of the good stuff. You now know how to brew cider.

This is the ultra cheap method, and all you’ll need to make many batches is a package of yeast and a bag of balloons (as well as the juice). If you’re frugal but still want a nice alcoholic beverage, this is for you.

Mastering this has also saved me a boat load of money over the last 8 or so years. I used to spend an embarrassing amount of money on alcohol. Making my own hooch and cutting back my drinking significantly have helped bring that cost way down, to the point where I spend about $20 per month or less. I’ll only need a cash stash of $6,000 to sustain this particular part of my lifestyle.

If I spent more on alcohol, freedom would be that much further away.

What’s Next?

Well, once you’ve mastered the process and feel confident in your skills, feel free to step up your game a notch! I have experimented with many add ins to my cider (like real blackberries & vanilla beans) and have tried making cider out of many different juices. Some of this is easier with a carboy set up, but again it’s not necessary. Download the guide below, where I detail all the other juices I’ve used for hard cider, as well as all the additions to the secondary fermentation that have taken my cider from ho-hum to awesome!


ciderLeadBox

DIY Foaming Hand Soap

Rebecca blogs at Stapler Confessions about her journey paying off $200,000 in student loans by living frugally and snagging free batteries. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter to find out about great deals.  

Have you ever used foaming hand soap? I love them because they feel a little luxurious. My son loves them because he has instant suds, which he just generally thinks are cool.

Have you ever bought foaming hand soap? You may have noticed that it has a big markup.

soap1

Yet, there is actually less soap in that pricey foaming soap dispenser. In fact, you can easily make your own foaming hand soap at home, using 80% less than the soap you would usually use.

Here’s how: Use a foaming hand soap dispenser (they have the extra-wide spout); fill with 20% soap, 60% water and 20% air; then shake. It’s so easy and cost-effective that you may never use the old bottles again. Just remember the 20/60/20 ratio and you’ve cut your soap costs by 80%.

Is using a hand soap with less actual soap still effective? You bet. A little tip I learned in the Peace Corps, and supported by the Centers for Disease Control, is that friction plays a big part in cleaning your hands when washing them. Both soap and friction lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin. When you lather up and scrub your hands, you’re not just distributing soap around, but creating friction as well. That’s why it’s recommended that you sing “Happy Birthday” twice or the “ABC’s” while washing your hands. The longer you scrub your hands, the more microbes you’ll remove.

As long as you scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, the type of soap you use shouldn’t make a difference in how clean your hands are. Now, if you are washing your hands after mucking around in the mud or changing the oil on your car, you’ll probably need more than 20 seconds. But for the average handwash, using diluted soap isn’t likely to make a big difference. Although, in my son’s case, it does make a difference – I have noticed that he washes his hands longer when he uses foaming soap than when he uses regular liquid soap.

If you would prefer a non-disposable dispenser, get one with a clear soap chamber. That will help you when you’re measuring out how much soap and water to add.

Here’s a great foaming soap dispenser to use at home if you’re interested

61yRkj7-V9L._SL1500_Otherwise, you can mark the inside of the soap dispenser with the 20% line and the 60% line with a permanent marker.

What do you think: Are you ready to give it a try? It costs only a few bucks to pick up a foaming hand soap bottle to give it a whirl. 

Homemade Dryer Sheets

dryersheet

Earlier this week, I sent out an email to the list and talked about what I was going to start the year off here at SLB. I got some difficult personal stuff out of the way early, but I promised them that I would fill out a few of my most popular posts. If you’re not signed up for the email list, sign up here (I promise not to spam you because I hate people that do that shit). One of the first things that I thought that I’d do some follow up posts and show you how to do the ultimate DIY/Green your laundry room. No more weird things getting into your clothes, like Quaternary Acrylate Polymer (ingredient in most fabric softeners that rhyme with muggle) or Quaternary Ammonium Compound (in the aforementioned softener). Since I got tired of that stuff that I hardly know what goes in there, I created my  homemade fabric softener.

Jeff’s Note: Let me be the first to say that I know you wont get rich doing this (but I will, jk). Sure, you’re saving a bit of money and it all adds up, but if you’re just starting to right the ship your time would be better spent by tackling some of your high recurring bills, such as your cell phone or internet. Those could yield 750+ worth of savings per year, while this will be something like $50.

All that being said, I do this because it’s fairly easy to accomplish while watching tv, it saves a bit of money, and I dont put a bunch of weird stuff on my clothes while they are in the dryer. I also get to become a little bit more self reliant.

In the interest of focus, not long after that, I looked for more ways to green up the laundry room at our house and make it more sustainable and DIY. The cost is lower, it’s better for the earth and it doesnt have names that I couldn’t pronounce (even with college chemistry). My next logical step was homemade dryer sheets. In addition to the fact that dryer sheets are used in the same room and for the same reason (essentially) as fabric softener. They are both used to soften and make your clothes smell good, and they are both used constantly and kind of expensive! I got a little tired of paying the money and a little tired of the weird stuff that they put on dryer sheets (like Dipalmethyl Hydroxyethylammoinum Methosulfate). I cant say that either, so I decided to craft something a bit closer to what Im familiar with (and a lot cheaper too!)

My Recipe for Homemade Dryer Sheets

You will need:

  • Cloth pieces (I used an old t-shirts)
  • 8 drops Essential Oils (I like tea tree and lavender)
  • 1/2 cup Vinegar

The first thing that I do for my homemade dryer sheets is get the base for the sheets. There are a lot of suggestions to go out and buy things, but what I would do if I were you is to use some old t-shirt scraps like me that have been turned into rags. To do this, I start with a tshirt that is no longer wearable in public and cut the sleeves off. Once the sleeves are off, I cut the shirts into about 4″x4″ squares (and the sleeves in half). Once I have the sheets that I’ll be using (don’t worry, they are reusable) I get to making the soaking mixture.

Shirt

This is the t-shirt before I started cutting it up. It was kind of a sad day getting rid of this, since it was something that I got in high school (I’m 28)

Shirt After Cutting

Here are the shirts after they’ve been cut up. Since I used a quart mason jar, I had to cut these in half again. I ended up throwing the shirt collar and sleeves into the rag bin since there was not enough room in the mason jar to hold all the scraps that I created.

The next thing that you do is to take a resealable container (I use a mason jar) and add 8 drops of tea tree oil, 8 drops of a scented oil of your choice (I like lemon oil, orange oil or lavender, sandalwood is good too, if you’re a guy). Once I’ve added my essential oils, I add a half cup of vinegar, then i put all my cloths into the mason jar. That’s it!

IMG_20140130_184901013

Here is the final product. I forgot to take a picture after I mixed the vinegar and oil in, and before I put what will become the dryer sheets in there.

Now, a few usage notes:

  • These things can build a lot of static electricity, you should consider putting 1-2 safety pins on each dryer sheets to reduce the static while your clothes are in the dryer
  • Ring your cloths out before you put them in the dryer
  • Once the sheets are done in the dryer, put them back in your resealable container and  prep them for later use. My system is to put old cloths in one side and pull new cloths out of the other side.
  • If your container does not have adequate liquid to soak the cloths you put in it, double my recipe (use 1 cup vinegar and 16 drops of each of your essential oils).

This is the second in the series of how to keep your laundry room sustainable. If you missed the homemade fabric softener, check it out here. You can do all this stuff and keep it cheap – the main ingredient is vinegar!

When to DIY

While i’m honeymooning with H on the other side of the world, I’ve got a few posts lined up.  Some serious, and some not.  I hope you enjoy, and I’ll respond to comments, etc when I get back!

As you all know, recently H and I bought a house and have begun extensive renovations, which basically went like this:

  1. Tear some stuff we dont like down
  2. Find huge problem that prevents us from refinishing the way we want
  3. Completely gut said room
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 in a different room
  5. Repeat step 4
  6. Rebuild portions of said rooms, concurrently

It was basically like taking all of your projects in your hands and tossing everything up into the air – needless to say, I have now realized that we took on way too much at 1 time, and should have gone room by room, which would have allowed us to focus on 1 room until it was completed, instead of bouncing around to whatever room (or project) we felt like working on that weekend.  We are now just 2 days away from the first project being finished: rewiring of the upstairs portion of the house.  This is a huge deal and something that I knew that I wouldnt be able to do myself in its entirety.

Knowing that, H and I decided that we would do as much ourselves as possible (which, after talking with the guy that came out to bid on the project, said would have cost me $12,000!!! to have them do it), and then call an electrician to finish the rest.  I’ve finally gotten to a point where I could call the electrician, after doing as much as possible myself and leaving the last of the things that I didnt want to screw with because they were outside my comfort zone or were just going to be exponentially more difficult than what I’ve done so far, so I figured I’d pay them to do it (also, I didnt have the tools).  So, I had an electrician come out and give me a bid for a service upgrade (where they replace the circuit breaker box with a larger one) and to run wires from the attic to 2 outlets, one in the kitchen that I tried to run, and one in the bedroom where I couldnt even get into the spot where the hole needed to be drilled.

We got his estimate back, and it would have cost 320 for him to run wire to both of those outlets.  Not too bad I thought, and after spending almost 2+ hours on just 1 of them a few weeks ago, I figured I’d go ahead and let them do it.  On a trip to lowes though, I saw a 54″ flexible drill bit (which would have been exactly what I needed to do the job) for about 30 bucks.  Immediately, the wheels started turning.  Think of how much money I could save – I’d spend 30 bucks now, and I could not pay 320 later!  I know I’d probably only use this just this 1 time (or maybe if I helped some friends) but still, that’s worth it, right?  It’s at least worth a shot!  So, I bought it.

I had already started writing this post in my head- it went something like “I spent 30 bucks, 2 hours and saved 300 bucks”.  Of course, my daydreams and reality rarely are in sync, and this time was no different.  I started out drilling a hole really quickly before H started painting from the outlet hole up into the ceiling.  I had to move on to floor stuff right after that, and didnt have a chance to check until later, so I went to the attic, had H shine the flashlight up the hole and went looking for the beam of light that was passing through – I couldnt find it.  I let it go for a night, and the next night I went into the attic with the long drill bit and started to drill a hole towards the outlet from the top, hoping I could just drop the wire down that way (which is how I did all of the others).

This is where things started to go sideways on me.  All of the sudden, the drill starts turning and turning and I realized that the drill bit is stuck – somewhere– in the wall.  I dont exactly know, but I even though this wall was covered up, I knew that there was a stack of 2×4’s about 18″ below where I was drilling from, so I figured that it was somewhere in that area.  I tried for about 30 minutes to get it unstuck, and then realized that it wasn’t happening.  My quick tactic to save a few bucks was going downhill in a hurry.  So, to get my drill bit out, I needed to find the drill bit – and to do this, I used the simple tactic of knocking a hole in the wall where I thought it was, and then sticking my hand in there.  I eventually found it, but then realized how stuck it actually was.

Long story short, it took me 4 hours to get that drill bit unstuck, and in the process, I broke about an inch off the drill bit, put a hole in 2 separate walls (including a wall in the “room from hell“), burned my forearm with the drill bit 3 different times, and carried on a monologue that would have made a sailor blush.

After finally getting the drill unstuck about 1030 pm, I wondered if, even after wasting 4 hours on that, it was still worth my time – though it was much more of a wash than it would have been had everything gone smoothly.  Had this taken 30 min like I expected it would, I would have come out of this smelling like a rose.

Readers: do you ever try your hand at DIY tasks?  If you do, what is your cut-off limit for when you just call a professional?  Have you been in a situation where you’ve gotten a bid from a pro, then decided to do it yourself anyway?

Sustainability Goals 2012

Since it’s the first week of 2012, I figured that I’d share my goals for 2012 with all of you.  I don’t list every goal in every category, but I do put the ones that I feel relate to the things we talk about on the blog.

Every year for the past 6 or so years, I’ve tried to set some yearly goals for myself.  I have found that instead of writing them all down on a piece of paper and trying to go after all of them at the same time, it was easier for me to break them down into categories.  That way, they didnt get to be too large, and by defining the large categories, I was also able to make sure that I was doing things that I truly find important, such as staying healthy, getting my finances in order and trying to live a more sustainable life all around.   I usually share those 3 categories on the blog, and on my goals sheet that I write everything down on, I have a few other categories, like personal and a grab bag category of sorts.  Last year, I didnt really set any sustainability goals specifically, but getting a job in the city where I lived definitely helped me be more sustainable because I was driving less.

This year though, I thought i’d come up with a few sustainable goals, which are heavily subject to change, mainly because I dont own my own place (yet).  I’ve thought about a few and if I cant do all of them, I’ll still give some of them a try.  Here’s what they are.

  1. Plant a freaking garden.  This, unfortunately, is subject to landlord approval.  I’ve already talked to him about it, but I’m not sure if he’s going to go for it.  It’s kind of in a dead patch in the yard, so all I’d really have to do is get some lumber (was hoping to use railroad ties, but the creosote kinda spooked me).  I really want to try this next year because I even wrote about how having a garden would green your summer.  Even though I’m sure I’ll be busy with wedding stuff most of the summer, I’ll still want to give this one a go.  It shouldnt cost that much either, because I can get a truck bed full of composted soil for about 20 bucks from the city.  If I dont get approval from my landlord, I’ll try to get something going in some pots – probably commonly used herbs around my house like basil and mint.
  2. Make some papercrete.  I really think this stuff is cool, and I’ve been saving paper at my office to bring home (dont tell H) and make some at some point.  I think this stuff would be perfect to use instead of lumber for raised garden beds, and I’m sure I could find some other uses for it.  Hopefully this stuff wont be too easy to make.  (If you’re curious about what it is, check out my guest post on sustainable personal finance)
  3. Continue using human power for most traveling.  Most of the places I go are nearby my home and office, so I’ve been walking or biking there recently.  This is not only good for my health, but it keeps the miles off of the truck and keeps the environment healthier, all while saving me some gas money.  The only places that I do drive are to the grocery store and to target when shopping needs to be done.  There have also been times when I’ve needed to go multiple places and pick something up, or it has been really cold when I’ve driven somewhere I’d usually walk.  I’d like to keep that up for 2012.  More walking and biking, less driving!
I think this is a good list, and there may be a few other things related to sustainability that I do this year, but I’m not going to put them on here – I’ll probably write posts about them though, so you’ll be updated either way.  Most of these are of the “pass/fail” style of goals – meaning that I’ll either end up with one of those two results, and nothing in between.  We shall see how it goes.
Readers:  What are your health goals for the coming year?  Do you have health goals, or are you simply trying to maintain what you’ve got?  Are you goals focused on weight-loss or something different?  

Canning: Cinnamon Apples in Red Hot Syrup

Recently, I’ve had a chance to explore a new hobby that will decrease my dependence on grocery stores and other people, and will allow me to take advantage of awesome sales at grocery stores as well as farmers market (and increase the yield of my to-be-created garden).  As you could guess from the title, I’m talking about canning.

CinnamonApples

After reading this post at get rich slowly, I thought that canning looked like fun and that I should take a swing at it.  I headed out to get the supplies (a beginners canning kit for $6, a box of jars and the canning bible) and got ingredients for the carrots.  I headed home amped to start canning, but unfortunately I was shot down – I didnt have anything to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pan.  After a few quick searches of the internets I found my solution. This is just 5 jar rings from mason jars I wasnt using at the time, held together by bread bag ties.  This fit perfectly inside the bottom of my canning pot.  Word of warning though,  Consider placing a towel or rag below this, as the constant movement could scratch the enamel off of your pot.  I’m not positive that this happened to me, but it looks like that’s the case.

IMAG0233-300x200

Once I’d successfully made the carrots, I decided that it was time to take a swing at some of the other things in the canning bible.  I didnt have that many requirements, other than the recipe look tasty and be something that I actually would eat.  After a bit of searching, I selected the apples.  Here’s what you need to do to make them (I assume no liability for you jacking this up.  Read directions before you start and use your head):

  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 c water
  • 1 1/2 c vinegar
  • 2/3 c light corn syrup

First, you’ll need to wash, core, peel and cut the apples.  I cut my apples into eighths, but I’d assume quarters would probably work as well.  This took me quite a bit of time, and while you’re peeling some, have some lemon juice (or something else) handy to

treat the cut apples from turing brown while you cut the rest of them.   Combine everything but the apples in a large (bigger than 3.5 quarts) pot and bring to a boil.  Put apple wedges into the syrup and simmer for 4 minutes.  Pack hot apples into the jars, leaving about half an inch headspace (headspace is the amount of space between the top of your goodies and the lid of the jar, and my little kit came with a handy measuring tool).  Pour the syrup into the jars, leaving half inch of headspace here as well.  Run a knife around the inside edge of the jar to remove air bubbles, and put the lids on.  Place in your boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Note: This time is only for those of you at sea level or lower than 1,000 feet.  As altitude increases, so will boiling time, and you’ll need to account for that.  Most boxes of jars have a table on them to guide you.

Once you are ready to take them out, set them on a towel and leave them sit  for 24 hours.  You’ll be able to hear the jars sealing (a pop noise) but leave them there for at least 24 hours.  Then you can take the rings off (so you can see if a seal has gone bad from the time you canned to the time you want to eat) and enjoy!

Getting Started With Frugality and DIY

When I first started down my path of frugality and DIY, there was a lot of reading before there was any action.  When I was doing the reading, I figured that I didn’t have a problem because I was making enough money and paying all my bills and had some left over to enjoy.  When I read some of the frugality tips when I was first starting to pay off debt and try to save money, I thought to myself  who in the hell has time to do all that? I was too busying worrying about where my income was coming from and wether or not I was going to have enough left over at the end of the month.  While I was brushing off these tactics, I was throwing money down many common and well known money holes: I was eating out too much (because I didn’t have time to cook for myself), I was using money where I didn’t really want to use it (and didn’t realize it until later) and I was buying things that I didn’t really need (or want, in some cases).

All the while, I kept dismissing the frugality tips that I thought took too much time, because it was time that I could be working – I could be earning money instead of what I saw as doing nothing or jerking around at home washing out used sandwich bags and trying to cut my hair (It would probably end up looking like I used an axe).  So instead of diving head on into frugality, I was busying myself worrying about earning up to my spending, not reducing my spending below my earnings.  Finally, I was able to get a job and even though I was commuting, I was making enough money – mainly because I was spending a lot of my time driving and a lot of my money wasting habits I didnt have time for anymore.  I finally started looking at some of the frugal options, and decided, what the hell, I may as well give some of them a try (but keep in mind this didn’t happen until I stopped worrying about if I had enough money to cover my expenses).

So when I was looking at the multiple tactics like preparing meals at home to take for lunch (and breakfast) I decided that I should analyze my spending first and figure out where I could get the most bang for my buck.  Using cruise control on gas and filling up multiple times to get a lower price were high return things for me because of the amount I drove – however pre-making breakfast wasn’t all that high return because I usually skipped breakfast (I’ve since changed that habit).  I suggest you do the same thing – If you’re one who finds yourself eating out with co-workers every day and spending quite a bit of your hard earned (and scarse) coin on eating out, focusing on bringing your lunch to work can immediately net you $40 per week.  However if you walked to work, then talk of tips to save on gas wouldn’t even be worth a read.  If you’re one who tends to go overboard at the bar or during happy hour, maybe you should think about making your own beer.  I’ve recently learned that you can distill your own grain alcolhol, provided you have a still (I have never tried to buy one, but I’ve done a google search on the, so I’m basically an expert by now ;).  That would prove to be a very high return for you, pending you get something out of it.

Once you get a few months of savings from these high return things, you can start looking towards the lower return things, like watching your own ziplock bags or perhaps spending more money on a higher quality item than you would originally be able to afford (If you’re curious, see the sustainable saucepan).   Doing this, you can stockpile returns off of returns from your high return frugal activities.

The best way to do this, I think, is to focus on your highest return frugal activity, and you can find that by examining your budget.  Once you figure out where you’re spending a lot of money, figure out ways to either spend less doing that, or eliminate it entirely.

Readers, what frugal activity do you think you get the most out of?  Gardening, precooking meals or something else?  Did you start adopting frugal practices in any order, or did you just go “cold turkey” and try to adopt as many as you could at one time?  Is there a frugal practice that you think currently isnt worth your time?