Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cloth Diapers

We started using cloth diapers when our son was born in 2007, it has been a huge money saver and I think it is better for their skin because you have to change diapers more frequently. We have used the same diapers and wipes when our daughter was born a few months ago. I do not exclusively use cloth diapers, only when we are at home and on quick errands. I have found that both kids knew very quickly when they were wet with the cloth diapers, so I have to change them frequently. With a newborn, I use 12-15 diapers a day and as they got older it decreases how many are needed. By about 9 months of age, I found that my son was only going through 5 or 6 diapers a day, it took too many days to get up enough diapers to make a full wash load and the diapers got stinky in those few days. At that point, we quit using cloth diapers; however the cost savings in those nine months was amazing.

24 prefold diapers (best quality Chinese cotton)
48 flannel baby wipes
6 Dappies diaper covers
3 Snappie diaper closure
Diaper pail
heated wipe warmer

To get started, it cost more than disposables, but after that, it has been essentially free.

Diapers $1.67 each = $40
Flannel 2 yards = $5
Dappi covers $3 each = $20
Snappies $2 each =$6
pail = $8 (needed one for disposables anyway)
Wipe warmer = $20 (would have bought it anyway)

For just the cloth diapering stuff, it was about $75, the same cost as 5 packs of regular diapers, but it is a one time cost. Yes, you do have to do more laundry, but I found that I only need one small sized load a day, and that is about the same amount of water as a few flushes of the toilet--hardly a big waste of water compared to the bags of dirty disposable diapers that would be trashed. We also use a plastic trash bag liner to keep the sides of the pail from getting dirty, I can reuse this plastic bag for several days, if the pail starts to stink, the liner gets thrown away.

Diaper Wash Routine:

Soiled diapers and wipes are put into a diaper pail. Our pail has a lid, but I found that the pail actually smells better if you leave it open. I think it allows the diapers to dry out a bit and keeps the stinky bacteria from growing. I do a diaper load each day, so this also helps with the odor.

Just before bed, I fill with wash with hot water on the smallest size load and dump in the pail of wipes and diapers. With a breastfed newborn, the poop is very runny so pre-rinsing is not needed, I just let the washing machine handle the first rinse, rather than me. I allow the washer to agitate for about 5 minutes, then drain off the water and refill with hot water and a scoop of detergent, leaving the washer lid open. This water soaks the diapers overnight. In the morning, all I have to do is close the lid and allow the wash cycle to do a full run. Most days, I am able to hang the diapers out on the clothes line to dry. On rainy days, the diapers go into the electric dryer and often take more than one cycle to dry. Since the dryer is one of the bigger power users in our house, I hate using it to dry diapers.

We were so pleased with how well cloth diapering worked for our first child that we have happily used the same setup for our second child. The biggest draw back is what I call 'mushroom butt' not a gross fungus or anything, but just the giant padded butt the kids get while wearing the cloth diapers. Both kids needed a full size larger of clothing if they were weraing a cloth diaper instead of a disposible.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Menu Planning continued

May 17-23
Sunday- Deer sausage with mac n cheese
Monday-- Chicken spaghetti
Tuesday-- chili with cornbread and dried beans (first time without canned beans)
Wednesday-- Fiddler on the Roof, dinner out
Thursday-- Breaded chicken and spiral pasta
Friday-- out to Bells
Saturday-- at Bells

May 24-30
Sunday-- Homegrown chickens, garden potatoes, garden squash, box mix stuffing (can't grow that!)

Monday--Chicken,Spinach and Swiss chard enchiladas with avacado and garden squash and spinach salad




Friday--date night

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tomato Shade Research

One of my biggest frustrations with gardening is the month of July. This is when my previously beautiful garden wilts and burns in the hot Texas sun. This year, we hope to try providing partial shade for the garden--specifically the tomatoes as we try and prolong the growing season into the summer months. Here is my research:

The south, west and top exposure are the most harmful. Our tomatoes are located in the SW corner of our yard, so all we need to account for is top shading.

I have read a few times that tomato pollen become sterile at temps over 90F... that matches well with my observations that July and August I never have any tomatoes, but any plants that survive the summer will start to fruit again at the end of September.

Authors: A.M. El-Gizawy, M.M.F. Abdallah, H.M. Gomaa, S.S. Mohamed
The effect of shading on fruit yield and quality of two tomato cultivars was investigated during the late summer season. The results are summarized as follows:
Shading of plants significantly increased the number of fruits per plant and total yield. The maximum fruit yield was obtained by plants grown under 35% shading.
Shading of plants significantly improved the physical characteristics of tomato fruits. The highest weight, length diameter and volume of fruits were obtained from plants grown under 35% shading.
All shading densities used led to a significant increase in the percentage of titratable acidity, whereas, an opposite trend was recorded for total soluble solids and ascorbic acid content of fruits.
Shading also led to a significant reduction in the percentage of sun-scald fruits. The highest percentage of puffy and blotchy ripening fruits were detected by plants grown under full sunlight and heavy shading (63%).


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Menu Planning

The same discussion is repeated every afternoon: "What do you want for dinner?" "I don't care, what do YOU want for dinner?" repeat, over and over and over. We attempted a weeks worth of menus, but apparently this still required my questioning Curtis too much... so he printed off 5 weeks worth of menus from another blog. We spent some time making it our own and as of week 3, we are doing really great at it. The concept is that I do not HAVE to follow the plan exactly, but if I have no other idea, I can just refer back to 'the list'. After 5 weeks, we repeat. I know this will need some updating for the seasons, but overall, the idea has worked very well. I'm showing what we actually ate below for the first three weeks and our plan for mealas after that. I'll see if Curtis can link to the original list. The original list only gives 5 meals per week, but even I can be creative for two days a week.

Week 1
Sunday: Sausage and Beans
Monday: Navy bean soup with bacon and homemade bread
Tuesday: Baked chicken and potatoes
Wednesday: out--burgers at a friend's house
Thursday: Taco nachos
Friday: Enchiladas (with leftover chicken from Tuesday)
Saturday: Spaghetti and fresh bread

Week 2:
Sunday: Crawfish (80lbs for $20--wow!)
Monday: Chicken Pot Pie (still leftovers from the previous week)
Tuesday: Crawfish Ettuffe
Wednesday: Mexican casserole and homemade tortillas (only because we were out of the normal kind)
Thursday: Crawfish Yvette over pasta
Saturday: Meatloaf

80 lbs of crawfish is enough to fill a swimming pool and a large cooler. Good thing we have friends who love to eat!

Week 3:
Sunday: Steak and baked potatoes, corn on the cob(Mother's Day)
Monday: Chicken fried backstrap, mashed potatoes and gravy with lima beans
Tuesday: Lasagna and french bread
Wednesday: Chicken Fingers and oven fries with peas
Friday: out--to the lake house
Saturday: at the lake house

Planned Meals for future weeks
Week 4
taco soup
cashew chicken
chili and fritos
chicken spaghetti
sausage with mac n cheese

Week 5
Crockpot BBQ pork
grilled chicken breasts
vegetable soup and bread

The list has given me a shopping target each week, even if I end up making something slightly different, at least it is an idea for the meal. Curtis also responds much better if I give him an option, rather than asking an open question... now wait. I have heard that recommendation before... what was it, OH YES, it is how you pose questions to a two year old so as not to overwhelm them with too many choices. HA!

Knit Zoo

I started knitting when I was pregnant with my first kid. I am now quite proficient at it and love to make lots of random things. This project was a gift for a 2 year olds birthday last week. They are zoo animal finger puppets, and yes, you insert your finger where you might imagine...

The patterns knit up really quickly and I have found I can do two copies at once in most cases. That is why there are pairs of elephants and lions. When it came to the giraffe, there was a spot I had to pause on the second one to finish the first. So only one got made in time for the photo.

As I was finishing up the last of the knitting, I asked Curtis for a fun way to package them for the party. We had been watching Madagascar (for the 100th time with our toddler) and Curtis suggested using a packing crate, just like the ones the animals are shipped in during the movie. In less than an hour, he had a prototype box built up for me. The box has an easy sliding lid closure with a 'breathing hole' for the animals. In the hour before the party we added shipping labels, if we had more time, a coat of spray varnish would probably be a good idea to protect the wood and labels.

The animals are knit from patterns published by the Chesterfield Zoo, which I'm guessing is somewhere in the UK based on the wording in the patterns. The patterns were apparently sold as part of a kit at the zoo gift shop and I found about 8 different patterns online. Luckily, printed off copies, because I have not been able to find the patterns since. I used Red Heart yarn and my favorite size 7 needles. The animals are knit flat and then sewn together and details added.
The box is made of cedar and finished with paste wax.

Rain Barrels

This is our array of rain barrels. They are 35 gallon food grade plastic barrels and have been plumbed together so one catches water and the other four serve to hold overflow.

Curtis designed it so I am able to open each barrel individually. Our reasoning was that I could start to water an area, and if I forget and leave the hose running, it will be limited to just one barrel (or however many I choose). This also gives us a very clear idea of how much water each area of the garden receives when we water.

The gutters that feed to the barrels are about 30 feet long, but I have been amazed at how quickly these barrels fill when it rains. With even a moderate rainfall, the barrels can fill in just a few minutes.

The barrels are raised off the ground to allow for enough water pressure to use a soaker hose.

Garden Layout and Planning

Our garden is a square, 22 feet on a side. To maintain balance and a nice view from the house, the arbor and entrance to the garden had to be placed at a corner. This posed some difficulties for layout, as much as I'd love to have perfectly orthogonal gridded planting area, I finally decided on four triangles with an X shaped pathway separating the beds. While making it hard to do perfect straight rows, it makes for a very pretty view from the house and I'm pleased with the way it turned out.

In the four main areas we are growing:
Tomatoes (Better Boy, Black Krim, Roma, Heirloom BeefSteak, SuperSweet 100--2/22/09, Rutgers Heirloom, Superfantastic, and Heirloom Brandywine-- 3/7/09, Little Porter Heirloom, Porter Improved, Brandywine, SuperFantastic, Cherokee Purple 4/12/2009)
Potatoes and onions (sprouted potatoes from the pantry, Kennebec White, Yukon Gold and Red Lasoda Potatoes. Texas 1015 onions, red onions, shallots)

Squash (3 hills patty pan, Mixed Seeds: Caserta, Black Beauty, Cocozelle, Crookneck, Straightneck, round, and Tatume)

Peppers (Giant Marconi, Goliath Gold Rush, Red Beauty, Yummy Orange, Big Jim)
In every imaginary nook and cranny I have crammed in the following:
Beans (Taste of Asia, Kentucky Wonder, Golden Wax, Black Seeded Blue Lake, Italian Pole Bean, Jacobs Cattle Bean)
Swiss chard

lettuce (Buttercrunch, Black Seeded Simpson, and India Mustard Greens)
Hyacinth Bean on the trellis
Like any garden that has existed for more than 1 season, I have a bunch of volunteers:
Jerusalem artichoke
purple ruffle leaf basil
Oak leaf lettuce

Horton Garden Blog

I have been faithfully updating our personal family blog for over three years and found that my gardening posts were starting to overrun the "aren't my kids cute" posts, so I decided to start this blog to track our garden progress and other projects around our house. My husband and I are both engineers and I tend to be a ruthless planner/documenter so this blog will probably be terribly boring unless you like that sort of thing. When I quote facts and numbers about the garden, I'm not just guessing. I have kept a garden journal since my first personal garden in college (1/17/1999) and being the nut I am, I write it all down. If there is a way to measure, weigh, or otherwise record something, I'm on it!
My husband is umm, lets say passionate, about things and will run with a new idea or project if it strikes him as interesting. He's the "get it going quick" one and I'm the "finish and maintain it" one... between the two of us, we get into all kinds of fun stuff.

Horton Garden Facts:
Located in Farmers Branch, Texas
Zone 7-8
Established in 2004, (first big project when we bought the house)
Expanded in 2009 to just about 500 square feet

My garden is located at the back corer of our yard. It has a 6 foot wooden privacy fence on the west and south sides and there are many large established trees within 50 feet in almost every direction except east (perfect!).

The soil here is a nasty black gumbo clay that is a bog in the wet season and gets giant 5 inch cracks during our dry hot summers. To be able to grow anything we have amended the garden with tons of organic matter and manure as I can find it. Our first Christmas in this house in 2004 Curtis asked what I wanted for my gift and I told him "sh*t". He got me bags of manure and soil for the new garden--the perfect gift and a fun story. Since then, any time I can I have added to the soil with whatever good stuff I can find.

Mulch Again

May 13, 2009
I bought another truckload of "Texas Native" mulch from Soil Buliding Systems for $30. Nine wheelbarrow loads later our paths and border are remulched to 5-6 inches deep. Hopefully this will sustain the paths for the summer. The mulch was very broken down, not good for pretty landscape mulch, but perfect for the garden since this will all be tilled under after the growing season is over. On 2/24/09 I put the first full load of the same mulch along the paths and border. This original path had gotten worn away--and dug away by the rotten dog.

I have been generally very pleased with buying mulch this way. In my old garden, the path was only 20 feet long, so bagged mulch was a decent option. In the new expanded garden the paths are 80 feet--not cheap to cover with bagged mulch costing nearly $4 a bag.

Having a good path is essential for a garden in my opinion. With a good sturdy path, I can walk into the garden in any shoes and not get all muddy. It makes the garden more accessible, and because of it, I tend to be out there more often to keep an eye on things and enjoy my garden. I prefer to use shredded tree mulch, or whatever organic matter I can find for my paths becuase when the gardening season is over, we can till the whole up--paths included. The mulch will mix into the soil and slowly break down. This makes for a more rich soil adn helps to break up the nasty clay clods.