November 2012 Monthly Review

This has been a crazy month here, and my posts pretty much tapered off at the end of the month because there’s so much going on.  H and I have made lots of progress on the bathroom (she is grouting as I write this), so hopefully it will be done soon.  Im still working on getting some pictures of the mostly finished product for the house, but when we clean I forget, then it gets messy again and I dont want to take them.  No one likes a dirty house.

Debt:

This is the status of all my debts.  I was hoping to have my truck paid off by the end of the year, and it looks like I’m going to have to raise the white flag on that one.  I’ve been spending too much on house stuff (and other things) and that just keeps taking a backseat.  It’s no wonder people say to focus totally on your debt until it’s gone.  If you take a bit of time off, it really starts to pay its toll and you dont want to start paying it off again.  In my situation, I havent really paid much off since March 2011 when I started my current job.  I’d like to blame it on a whole slew of things, but I think the main point is that I didnt feel like I was hanging over a cliff tied to a thread anymore.

House

Mortgage $ 119,607 ($533) –  This is going down super slowly which makes sad, it looks like about 50% of our payment goes towards interest every month.  H and I are still in the working stages of clearing out our other debts and/or making house upgrades right now, but are working out a plan to start making 2 payments per month starting in January 2012.  We’ve developed a payoff plan, if you’re curious, you can read about it here.  It basically amounts to making 2 mortgage payments every month for the foreseeable future.

Student Loans

Great Lakes Loan $ 10,090 ($110)  This is the last student loan I’ve got.  I started out with 1 from undergrad and two from grad school, and this was the highest amount that I borrowed of the three.  It’s gone down terribly slowly, so a while back I increased the amount I paid by $25.  It wasnt much, but it’s starting to show some downward movement, which I like.

Truck Loan

Ford Credit: $4,687 ($306): A while ago, I made a deal with myself on this note to decide when I’d just pay it off.  I’ll detail in a full post in a few days, but I have a feeling I’m really close and now I’m having second thoughts.

Total Debt: 134, 384 5,333 (949)  This has to be the lowest downward movement in the history of my tracking my debt (and if it’s not, it’s got to be close)

Health Goals

This seems to have gone in the other direction from last month.  I was doing well, then I wasnt, and now I’m back on track.  I ran a 5k on thanksgiving day and had fun, but I didnt do much in terms of actually working out this month.  I think when I register for my next race (which i’m planning on doing in a week or so) I should have sufficient motivation to get off my hind end.

Goal Workouts: 20

Total Workouts: 12

Food Challenges:

A while ago, in an effort to save some money and start eating what food H and I have, I started a Meat Challenge.  The meat challenge continued on for another successful month, and I can hardly remember the last time that we bought meat at the store.  It seems like the grocery bill is starting to inch up, but lots of that has been because we have been running out of staples that we typically buy in bulk, such as olive oil, rice, flour and things like that.  I went  hunting once this month, and got nothing.  I was able to get 2 deer in november (I gave one to a friend), and will start elk hunting soon.  This new supply, plus what I already have should last me through the winter and until the hunting season next fall.

The Grocery Store Challenge has been harder to track than the meat challenge.  I just went to the store a few days ago, and didnt really do that well for this particular trip.  Most of what I had was dairy, but there were lots of veggies that we have not been getting from the farm share.

Fall is coming, and we are starting to get some stuff ready for winter.  I finally got my beer kit, and we made our first (and probably only) batch of homemade hard cider for the winter.  The cider is almost ready, and I’ll be putting it in bottles within a few days of this writing.

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 5

As I’ve tried to expand my sustainability horizons over the past 4 years, I discovered hunting.  I’d always been interested in hunting and curious (as well as unsure) about wether or not I could ever participate.  Hunters often get a bad rap, but it’s not wholly undeserved.  I hunt so that I can get a sustainable, organic source of meat  for the winter and summer months in the fall.  The places where I typically hunt I get tags that are designed to control the local population of the animal I’m out hunting, so not only am I getting some stuff for the freezer, but I’m also doing the land a favor by slowing down the heavy grazing going on.

I’ve written about this multiple times before, talking about the total cost of my Halibut fishing, my Elk Hunt, my duck hunt, and my blue grouse hunt.  Oddly enough, the first hunt that I ever went on for antelope has not gotten a cost analysis yet.  I didnt get to go this year, and I didnt buy a tag in time last year.  I always like to see the cost breakdown and figure out how much meat I got per pound.  For just about every hunt, I seem to be landing all over the map as far as cost goes, coming in near $5 per pound on the elk side, and upwards of $28 dollars per pound for duck.  Of course, this is slightly skewed, because it’s not all lower quality meats like ground elk or elk sausage, there’s also steak cuts and tenderloin cuts.

Next on the list for this time is deer.  I’ve been wanting to go hunt deer for a while, and there is a huge deer population in northern wyoming (both white tail deer and mule deer).  So much so that the landowners in the area where we hunt (Ucross, WY) call the game warden to send hunters to their place so they can thin the herd a bit.  The deer eat all the hay that the landowners have stored for the winter for their sheep or cattle, which annoys the landowners.

For this deer hunting trip, it was me, my father in law, the friend that took me duck hunting a while back.

Here are the costs of my deer hunting trip:

  • Deer tags $60.  This year, I got two deer tags.  I had initially only planned on buying one, but after talking to the landowners when we got there, I decided that if I harvested one early enough I’d go into town and buy another one.  My other buddy decided the same thing, and that’s what we ended up doing
  • Gas/Lodging $68.  This trip basically required a 1 night stay, and 2 tanks of gas.  My father in law paid for the room, and I bought one of the tanks of gas and my buddy bought the other.  The cost of all three was roughly equal
  • Food/drinks $30.  Though I brought snacks with me for in the car on the way up and back, I still paid for a fair amount of meals (3).  The food situation was a bit thin at the house before I left, so I couldnt really pack as much of my own food as I wanted.

Unlike all of my other hunts, I was able to offset the costs of this hunt.  After talking to the rancher about the number of deer and a friend, I offered to “sell” my second deer to my friend for $25 (basically the cost of the tag).  He agreed (I’m not sure if he thought I was joking or not), and this was the main reason I got the second tag.  Since I knew I could most likely get one and I had something to do with the meat, it didnt seem like that much of a risk.  I texted my friend when we left and told him to find a processor for the animal and that he could come pick it up the next day and he was shocked.  He ended up giving me $30, which I wasnt going to complain about.

The total cost for the trip was $128, and I ended up with 1 white tail deer. I process the meat myself, and though I’m not finished with it yet, I’ll end up with about 25 lbs of meat when everything is said and done.  This puts the cost per pound of meat at about $5.12, which is slightly less than what I paid for elk (though it would have been higher had I not had to go out for elk like 9 times).  Of course, this is not all steak quality meat, but I would say about 33% of it is.  This will be a nice addition to the winter rotation, and I’ll probably end up giving some away as well.

Readers: Do you think the price for game meat is reasonable?  Do you know someone that hunts, or are you involved in a roadkill program in your state (where they take animals that got hit and give away the meat)?  

 

Minimalism

I live a fairly frugal life, but the minimalist lifestyle movement has always intrigued me. You may think that you live a frugal life, but people of the minimalist mindset really focus on saving money at a different level. Minimalists adopt any activity that saves time, space, resources, money, the planet, or individual health.

Hardcore minimalists go to extremes by selling their homes, engaging in dumpster diving, and living off the grid. However, most people won’t take on those types of radical changes. To give you a glimpse into the life of a minimalist, I broke the concept down into the four main traits that define minimalists. If you can incorporate even one of these traits into your lifestyle, you can live more frugally.

1. Rethink Your Necessities
Minimalists rethink what defines needs vs. wants. If you can rethink the necessities in your own life, you can improve your finances. The basic necessities in your life to survive include food and water, and a roof over your head.

If you begin to focus on your necessities, you can redefine them, and begin eliminating non-essentials. For example, do you really need a cable TV package with 600 channels and every premium movie channel? Do you really need an unlimited text and a data plan for your phone? Do you really need a home phone landline? Once you rethink your necessities, you can begin taking action to declutter your home and downsize your life.

2. Downsize
In addition to canceling cable TV and your landline, take a look at the items in your home and begin to get rid of what you don’t need or no longer use. Donate or sell the items on eBay to make some extra cash. This might include unneeded clothes and unused electronics.

Open up every drawer and closet in your house and begin to de-clutter. After you’ve finished this first attempt to downsize, determine if you can downsize in other ways. For example, if you live alone in a two bedroom apartment or in a three bedroom home, think about what you could eliminate in order to move in to a smaller home.

Also, acknowledge your emotional attachment to furniture and other belongings in your home and ask yourself if you can move on without these items in your life. In addition to downsizing, you can also benefit by simplifying your life.

3. Simplify
Although it may take some time, simplifying your lifestyle saves you money, and additionally leads to a life with less stress. Take an approach that focuses on reducing consumption, accumulation, and spending. By focusing on the necessities in your life, including food, electricity, water, and gas, you can save money and improve the environment.

Walk to places close to your home and ride your bike to work instead of driving. Try eating less and eliminate junk food and fast food to decrease expenses and improve your overall health. Buy less stuff in general; borrow items that you only need a few times a year and look into the many items†that you can get for free.

4. Go Green
Consider the effect you have on the environment by driving your car excessively, using non-energy efficient appliances and light bulbs, not recycling, and filling your life with electronic gadgets.

Try consolidating all driving trips for errands, seriously consider investing in energy-efficient CFL light bulbs, recycle everything you can, and reduce your reliance on electronic gadgets that cause e-waste†if not disposed of properly. Granted, some of these ideas have upfront expenses involved, but they save you money in the long run and they help to reduce your carbon footprint.

Final Thoughts
These four basic traits only scratch the surface of minimalism. I don’t advocate selling your home or dumpster-diving for food. Minimalism is about so much more than the salacious stories you see on the news. Minimalists have common-sense, easy-to-implement ideas that can save you a lot of money.

Minimalism means living a simpler life. You can find a number of ways to rethink your necessities, downsize, simplify, and go green to save money. In addition to saving money, minimalism has many other benefits, too. I’ve found that as I continue to aspire to a minimalist lifestyle, my life has become more peaceful, less stressed, and more rewarding.

What are your thoughts on minimalism? Is it something that you strive for on a daily basis?

 

Expanding My Empire – A Small Business Story

For the past few years, I’ve wanted to start up my own business doing something.  I’ve never really been able to figure out what, but I know I’d like to get some extra income coming in and find something that occupies my time and pays me a bit of cash.  Of course, I make a small amount of money from this website (I think my hourly wage is somewhere around 34 cents an hour) but I’d like to continue to expand my ultra micro empire.

I’ve been using the proceeds from this website to fund these ventures, so obviously I cant do anything too capital intensive.  I cant do anything too time intensive either, as I’ve got a wife, hobbies and a “real” job.  Basically, I was looking for something that wasnt all that time intensive, relatively high margin per unit, and didnt have high set up fees.  That essentially ruled out my preferred option of rental properties, as well quite a number of other things.  Also, while I realize that there’s plenty of opportunity to make a lot of cash online, I’m not exactly into that either.  I prefer to deal with real, physical products.    Given those preferences, I saw an opportunity as a small scale vendor selling extracts.  I noticed that these extracts were something that was found in lots of homes, widely used , and cost quite a bit in stores.  I noticed I could undercut the stores by about a buck a purchase, and still make a nice profit for myself.  No problem with that, I thought, so off I went.

First, I needed to find a market.  I thought about selling to friends and family, but decided that I couldn’t get the volume of sales that I’d like for the time involved.  There’s a commodities co-op in my area that has online ordering as well.  I looked into that and started to get geared up to sell there (making labels for product, taking pictures, etc) but never pulled the trigger and listed my stuff.  I got the impression that it was just sellers selling, and sellers buying (therefore, no one would really “make” money – they’d just trade it).  Finally, I decided to look into the farmers market.  My town has a winter farmers market that’s for baked goods, jams, and winter veggies.

After careful consideration, I applied to retail at the winter farmers market. and was put on the waiting list for the days that I selected.  Not bad, I thought – could be a good primer on how I figured that I’d do in future years.  At the suggestion of the woman that runs the market though, I put in a call to the state department of agriculture to make sure that I didnt need a food or sampling permit.  Who is going to sample extracts, I thought?  I called a lady at the state, and then my house of cards came crumbling down.  After I told her what I was planning on selling and the method of extraction, she sighed and said “that’s what I was afraid of”.  She then suggested that I call the feds and gave me a contact number of a person in St. Paul, MN.  Obviously, this was not what I wanted to hear.  I’m just 1 guy, working for myself, trying to make a few extra bucks where I saw a hole in the market.  The federal government is exactly the last entity that I want to deal with in this little side venture.  Ok, perhaps the greek government is, but that is not even remotely possible.

So, I placed a call to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (formerly the ATF).  I got on the phone with a nice agent, and again, I explained my process of extraction.  He confirmed my worst fears, and said that while he thought what I was doing was just fine, I needed to make sure that I get it in writing from the feds, so that I could provide it to the farmers market, the state and anyone else who asked.  He then pointed me to a section of the website that housed instructions for “non beverage alcohol” or something like that, and told me to poke around.  He was surely helpful, I just wished that he would have been completely able to answer my question and end this little goose chase that had started right there.

Unfortunately, I had to start poking around the CFRs (Codes of Federal Regulations) for the appropriate area.  It led me to a long form, lots of questions involving math that I thought I left behind in college, and of course, a whole boatload of federal paperwork.  While the form is “short” according to the feds, I’m just one guy.  Just trying to open a small roadside stand selling some stuff that I’m hoping people want to buy, and now I’ve got to deal with this.  Awesome.

Of course, I’ll update you when my situation changes, but right now I’m trying to figure out how to fill out the form correctly.

Readers:  Do you have any side businesses?  If you do, do you have to deal with onerous government regulation?  What sort of agencies have you dealt with, and how have you handled the problem?  Do you think I should go through with it, or find something else to do on the side?

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 4

Now that it’s fall, hunting season has started and it’s time for another entry in the series of getting your own food.  For those new here, I write down what I spent on hunting and how much meat I got in the end (sometimes it’s none), and determine a cost per pound of what I got.    One of the reasons that I do this is because I really am interested in and care about where my food comes from.  I dont really trust the people who prepare food for the grocery store, and what they did to it while the animal was living and while the animal was being cleaned and processed.  Hunting and fishing for my own food is a reasonable way for me to make sure what the animal went through during its life (or what I assume) and how the animal was processed and what was used to do so.  For the record, I dont do anything to the meat I get other than rinse it off, pat it dry with paper towels, wrap it in foil (but H and I did get a food saver for a wedding gift that I’m hoping to use) and toss it in the freezer.

This is the fourth time that I’ve done this (and hopefully not the last this year).  If you’re curious, I talked about Halibut fishing, Duck Hunting and Elk Hunting.

Typically in the fall, I go with “the in-laws” (still weird saying that) out for an antelope hunt, which I had planned on writing about.  Unfortunately due to some oversight, we were unable to  access the area we normally went for antelope hunting, and went grouse hunting instead.  Here’s what it cost:

  • Guns:  I used the 12 gague that I got for christmas a few years back, so this was free.
  • Ammo: $46 dollars for 2 boxes of steel shot, and I think I shot about 5 shells.  I’ve still got most of them left, so I’ll be able to go again for free
  • Game bird tag: $20 – This is good until the end of the calendar year, I believe.
  • Conservation Stamp: $0 – Last year, I bought a lifetime conservation stamp.
  • Gas: I didnt have to drive, and we only were out for 1 day.

Total Cost $66.

For this hunt, we hit the bag limit before lunch (Even after 2 terrible shots from me first thing in the morning), and then went back to town and decided to go after a different species of grouse in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, we were unable to find any grouse in the afternoon, so we headed home.

Cleaning the birds is much less work than cleaning the elk, because they are so much smaller.  The downside of that is that you dont get nearly as much meat.  With my bag limit of 3, I ended up with 3 grouse breasts, each weight at most 1 lb.  This gave me a total of 3 lbs, for a total of $22 per pound.  Clearly, not a price I’d be willing to pay in the store under any circumstance.

The benefit of this though is that I can go again for basically free, which I may end up doing while I’m out on other hunts.  That will further drive down my costs, but it’s not always a winning proposition.

I’ll continue to update this as the year winds down, but as of right now, I dont have any specific plans for heading out grouse hunting again.

Readers: Do you think grouse hunting is a fools errand based on my calculations?  Would you still give it a try?  

October 2012 Monthly Review

This here continued to slow down, and I’m finally starting to be able to use the kitchen.  I’m getting better at knowing where things are, and knowing where to look for some things.  I still cant find everything I need, which is super annoying, but when we get around to cleaning out the basement that should change.

I’ve been doing more and different workouts, but I’ve been finding it tough to get motivated because there’s not really a clearly defined goal that I’m working towards.  Sure, staying fit is a goal, but it’s one that wont pay off for quite a few years – I need something more immediate to get focused.

Finances have basically stayed the same, as we’ve been spending most of our free cash flow on house upgrades.  We are 90% done with quite a few things, and have shifted our main focus to finishing up the bathroom, which we can hopefully make some huge gains in the next few weeks.

Debt:

This is pretty high right now because of the house, but I’m alright with that.  I’m not 100% against debt like I used to be, but I still dont think it’s a great thing.  It’s a tool, like a lot of things – and you can hurt yourself with it just as much as you can help yourself.

House

Mortgage $ 120,140  ($531) –  This is going down super slowly which makes sad, it looks like about 50% of our payment goes towards interest every month.  H and I are still in the working stages of clearing out our other debts and/or making house upgrades right now, but are working out a plan to start making 2 payments per month starting in January 2012.  If we do that, we should be able to take a considerable amount of time off the loan.

Student Loans

Great Lakes Loan $ 10,200 ($122)  It’s nice to see this going down a bit faster after I increased the payment, but it’s still not going down as fast as I’d like.  This will be the next focus after the truck.

Truck Loan

Ford Credit: $4,993  ($308): Finally got below 5k on this note.  This is exciting, and I’m hoping to retire this by the end of the year, which is quickly coming up.  I’ve developed a plan to pay the vehicle off with a credit card for the points, then pay that bill as well.  It’s a huge point haul, and I wish I could set up my automatic payment to the credit card, but they will only let you do a 1 time.  No matter, I guess.

Total Debt: 135,333 (1,920)  This is kind of crazy, and really bothers me about debt in general.  Without making any extra payments on anything, we paid almost 2,000 to our debt!   Totally nuts!

Health Goals

This has finally turned around – though not exactly how I would have liked.  I’ve been working out 5 or 6 times per week, usually consisting of 2 trips to the gym to lift weights, 2 sessions of yoga in the morning.  Ive been liking it, but because of all of the bouncing around, it feels like i’m doing a few things: 1) avoiding a hard workout by doing something else instead and 2) not really being able to get into anything because I’m spread too thin and not really focusing in on anything specific.

I’m also thinking that I need to up my goal workouts – hitting 20 every month seems to be getting easier and easier, and I dont seem to be getting sore as often, so it could be time to ratchet up the frequency.

Goal Workouts: 20

Total Workouts: 24

Food Challenges:

This month, in an effort to save some money and start eating what food H and I have, I started a Meat Challenge.  The meat challenge continued on for another successful month, and I can hardly remember the last time that we bought meat at the store.  It seems like the grocery bill is starting to inch up, but lots of that has been because we have been running out of staples that we typically buy in bulk, such as olive oil, rice, flour and things like that.  I went  hunting once this month, and got nothing.  I’ll be going at the beginning of november as well and hopefully my luck will turn.  I’ve been tossing around the idea of getting 1 more elk tag, but I’m not 100% set on it just yet

The Grocery Store Challenge has been harder to track than the meat challenge.  I just went to the store a few days ago, and didnt really do that well for this particular trip.  Most of what I had was dairy, but there were lots of veggies that we have not been getting from the farm share.

Fall is coming, and we are starting to get some stuff ready for winter.  I finally got my beer kit, and we made our first (and probably only) batch of homemade hard cider for the winter.  I’d like to try a pear cider or some other type next year, but the only cider I’ve been able to find is apple.  Total cost of the cider was $40 for the cider, 1.25 for the yeast, and 1.50 for the sugar.

How did everyone do in september?  Were you able to make lots of progress on your debt, or were you focusing on some other area of your life?

Fall Gardening 101: Prep for an Organic Garden Next Spring

This year, one of my goals was to plant a garden.  Unfortunately, with all of the time that H and I spent on the wedding and the honeymoon, there just wasnt time to get anything into the ground, and when H did plant some things for me (a tomato and a pepper plant) it was right before we left for about a month.  Normally, it would have been no problem but we didn’t get anyone to water our plants, so they quickly withered in what ended up being a hot summer.  This wasn’t exactly the best thing that could have happened, but I’m not suprised by the results – we focused most of our time indoors on repairs and I didn’t have much time to focus outside.  Next year, however, will be different.

Not only have I decided that I’m going to substantially increase my gardening, I’ve decided to try organic gardening, and here’s why:

  • It’s better for the environment – Our food typically travels about 1500 miles just to get from the farm to our plate!  That is so much wasted energy trucking a tomato from california or mexico when I could just walk into the backyard and get one.
  • It helps my soil – Instead of having to put on different fertilizers every year to make up for a lack of a specific nutrient, I can plant cover crops in the winter or early spring to fix the nutrients into the soil.  This way, there wont be fertilizer residue on my foods, and it wont wash into the storm drains in my town.  Healthy soil = happy garden
  • I know what genes are in my food – There has been a lot of controversey lately with GMO plants.  Some european countries require labeling of GMO foods, but here in the US we do not.  While I’m not convinced these are bad for you (yet), I feel like it’s a senseless risk – I can easily garden and know I wont be eating a GMO tomato, so why wouldnt I do that?
  • I’ll know more about what I eat – I’m not here to talk smack about the grocery store, but going to the store and buying something puts 1 more layer of stuff between me and my food.  I want to know more about my food, how it was grown and where it comes from.  Putting (another) middle man in there wont help me with this at all.  (This is one reason H and I signed up for a CSA)
  • My Food will Taste Better – Gardening is a great way to branch out from the traditional varieties of fruits and veggies that you see in the grocery store.  There are tons of varieties to choose from, and you can pick based on what you like best and what grows well in your area.  Some of the best varieties are available at seed savers, Including my favorite, Heirloom tomatoes!
  • My Garden will Save money – Gardening is far cheaper than buying an equivalent amount of produce from a store.  According to the University of Arizona Ag Dept, 1 properly cared for tomato plant can yield 15 lbs (!!!) of tomatoes!  If if tomatoes were .99 per pound (they normally are not) you could get about 4 plants (where I live) that are already started for 15 bucks – and that could yield you ~60 lbs of tomatoes!  The CPI (consumer price index) is also constantly increasing, and growing your own food is a great way to insulate yourself from unexpected increases.
  • Pride – There are few things more awesome than having some friends or family members over to your place and saying “all of this stuff came from the garden”.  Lots of work went into getting the food to grow, and they’ll appreciate the time that you put into it.
  • You can do it anywhere – Contrary to what you may think, you dont need a gigantic backyard (or a backyard at all) to start growing some of your own foods.  You can grow in pots and window box planters, and even tailor containers to your meals, like I did with my pizza pot.
  • Connect with Nature – This is a top reason for me.  I love spending time outside, and try to do as much as possible.  In the past, this meant hiking, snowboarding and climbing.  There’s no where I feel better about myself, life and everything that’s going on around me than when I’m outside.  Having an awesome garden will allow me this experience every day, instead of when I make time for being outside, as it is now.
  • Teach your family – this is a great way to show your kids where food  actually comes from.  You can teach your children that the food they eat comes from the soil, and that they need to take care of the soil if you want it to give you any veggies.  Like the wise ben franklin once said “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself”.

One reason, is that

I’m getting my garden prepped right now for next spring – conditioning soil, cleaning up branches, getting new lawn sprinklers at Gilmour, etc.

Of course, since mine is an area that has not been gardened before (or at least not in a long time), I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.

Cleanup is first, and probably most important.  I’ll be removing lots of branches, weeds and other cover (including a bed of rocks).  During the winter, weeds, dead leaves and other cover make great habitat for slugs, bugs and other undesirables in your garden.  Weeding is also extremely important, as weeds have the tendency to self seed and come back in your pumpkin patch twice as strong for next year.  Get all of your plants that have stopped producing out of the garden and into the compost pile (if you have one), unless they are blighted or otherwise diseased.

After your garden area is clean, determine what nutrients that your soil is missing.  Typically, the local extension of your state  university (or whichever is heavily focused on agriculture) will test your soils for a small fee, then tell you what nutrients need to be added.  For soil testing services in your area just search google for “soil test YOUR STATE”.  If you’re more of the diy type, go ahead and do a DIY soil test. Missing nutrients will depend on where you live and what you’ve been growing recently, depending on whether or not that crop puts nutrients into the soil, or takes them out.  Organic matter is a great addition to the soil in most cases.  Add organic matter (typically straw/hay) to the soil in the fall, will keep the soil moist and prevent weeds from growing in your garden.  This is a great time to work some manure into the soil – you can buy it, but a farmer would be happy to give you some if you asked.  Just make sure that it’s not a far drive so you dont have to deal with the smell.  Important: Do not add manure when there are crops present – it can carry organisms that can contaminate your crops.

Here at sustainable life blog, we are trying to build up our earths resources, and save money – not spend money on fertilizers that could infiltrate the groundwater and local streams.  Here are some of the most common nutrients that your soil will be lacking, as well as a few cover crops you can plant in the fall to put the nutrients back into the soil.  Planting these will build nutrients into the ground in a sustainable, natural way – ensuring great garden production for years to come.

  • Nitrogen (N) – Clover and Lucerne (great chicken feed) take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil via their roots (this will probably be the route that I go).  Stinging nettle accumulates lots of nutrients in the leaves and can be a great soil fertility enhancer.  Till this under in the spring before you’re ready to start planting, and you’ll have excellent soil in no time!
  • Phosphorus (P)- Comfrey is a great for fixing many things, including calcium, nitrogen and potassium.  When you’re ready you can make a great liquid manure and really kick the garden into high gear.  (Dock is also good for this, but difficult to keep in check – I’d shy away from it.
  • Potassium (K) – Yarrow is a garden herb that is non competitive and will easily fix potassium and phosphorus into your soil.  Yarrow attracts good insects to your garden and repels bad ones, in addition to fixing nutrients into your soil.
my clover seeds, ready for planting and nitrogen fixing!
All of these plants are what’s known as “green manure”, because they are great at adding nutrients to the soil.  To turn them under, you cut the crop as close to the soil as possible using  a weed eater or shears.  Take the cuttings and toss it into the compost pile or make liquid manure, and you’ll be left with stubble.  Some choose to use a hoe to turn over the stubble, and some leave it, planting the crops between them.  If that sounds like too much work, you can always cover with mulch and a sheet of black plastic to decompose the stubble, but decomposition could take a month or more.  For those of you with raised garden beds worried about being able to get all the stubble out of the corners, that will probably be your best option.

Compost is also something you can add after you’re finished harvesting – the area where I live composts green waste and has a few “free dirt days” that you can go pick it up, free of charge or if I miss those days, it costs about $30 for a truck bed full of the stuff.  Once the spring comes around, I’ll grab a case of beer, some good natured but unsuspecting friends and a few shovels and wheelbarrows, and have some help getting all of that dirt unloaded.

I’ll reap the bounty in about a year, but lots of the prep work for the garden comes now.  What will you be doing to make sure you have an awesome harvest next year?

Readers:  Are you planning on planting next year?  If so, what are you going to plant, and how are you going to give yourself a kick start this fall?