Monday, December 29, 2014

Is the Egg Industry Fooling Us Into Thinking Eggs Are Healthy? A Review of a Study On Eggs and Cholesterol Levels and Weight

Some scientific studies have shown eggs aren't harmful for your heart.  But is that the truth, or are these studies fundamentally flawed?  Here's a brief look at today's research review.

  • The study under review today claims that eating eggs does not affect cholesterol levels in the body, but the researchers tested cholesterol levels after a 10-hour fast.
  • Participants who ate eggs in the study for just three months showed modest rises in fasted cholesterol levels, though not enough of a change to be considered statistically significant.
  • The researchers had almost no control over the subjects' diets, making it practically impossible to draw conclusions from the data collected.
  • This study uses other poorly designed scientific experiments as citations for its hypothesis, building further upon already flawed research.  
  • Unsurprisingly, this study was funded by the American Egg Board.

For a long time, I thought eggs were a nutritious food.  They have lots of choline, a decent amount of protein, and a moderate amount of calories.  Eggs are generally cheap, filling and tasty to boot, which made them a main stay in my breakfast meal for most of my life.

But are they really that nutritious?  I've changed my mind about eggs being healthy, due to a large variety of research I've been reading over the past few weeks.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Journey Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting

Formerly "Moving Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting"

I've been slowly working towards my goal of being self-reliant in food, water, energy and finances.  Today, I want to discuss how to become more energy-efficient as part of the larger goal of becoming self-reliant.  More specifically, I want to talk about high efficiency lighting.

Do Light Bulbs Really Use That Much Energy?


According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, artificial lighting accounts for at least 10% of the typical American's total energy usage in their homes.  Various other sources claim even larger figures, with some experts citing that lighting can make up as high 30% of the annual electricity usage.

It's hard to imagine that a simple light bulb would use that much of total energy a house expends throughout the year.  Indeed, even the most inefficient light bulbs don't use that much power compared to other appliances, like refrigerators or clothes dryers.

Hardly anyone uses just one light bulb in most rooms in a typical house, however.  The combined sum of wattage used by light bulbs can quickly surpass that of larger, power-hungry appliances, especially when left on for long periods of time.

Obviously, turning off lights when not in use will save energy and money.  However, most of us like having artificial lighting, especially at night when we would accomplish nothing without said lighting.

Artificial lighting may be necessary, but we can choose specific types of light bulbs to significantly reduce our energy usage.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Garden Progress, Early September 2014 - Helpful Tips and Tricks from the Dow Dominion Garden

It took me longer than expected to post an update of my frugal veggie garden since my last article, but fear not!  Today, I've posted a new video going over some of the routine tasks I do in the garden, as well as some other tips and tricks I've picked up along the way this season.  I also do a tour around my garden (what's left of it, anyway) to show my readers what I am growing right now and what plants are still producing from the last sowing.  Here's a few highlights of the video:

  • What material I compost 
  • How often to turn the compost pile
  • How many tomato plants I expect to need to feed my family during the next growing season
  • Lots of mulching advice and recommendations
  • Fall gardening experiments
  • Beans, beans and more beans!
  • A primer on winter sowing
  • And more...

I hope you guys enjoy the video.  Let me know if there are any specific questions you would like answered, or any particular topics you would like to have me cover.  Stay tuned for further videos and articles!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Learning From 2014's Successes and Failures So Far

The weather has been strange lately.  Very strange.  The last week of July produced temperatures cold enough to need a comforter on my bed during the nights.  We normally expect to turn the AC on around this time of year, but it felt more like a nice, cool week in the fall, not smack-dab in the middle of summer.  So we decided to open the windows instead, to save money on electricity and to get some fresh air in the house.  It seemed very unusual, but we were welcoming of lower temperatures none-the-less.

My garden has gone through a number of changes over the past few weeks.  Most of my cool season vegetables have produced what they could and died off.  A majority of the summer crops are now producing ripe, delicious food.  Beautiful flowers that attract pollinators and predators have started to bloom, and I've started to sow more veggie seeds for the fall.  It's been a pretty bountiful gardening season, but despite that, I'm already starting to plan and design how next year's garden will be set up.

Today's post is going to be a review of what worked (and what didn't work) in my garden this season.  It's important for me to keep a record of these things, because I can further improve upon my successes, and either fix or avoid the failures that I had this year.  I think I have mentioned before that I would like to eventually have 80-90% of my family's food grown from our garden, and accurate record-keeping is necessary to move towards that goal.

So let's take a look at my successes and failures over the spring and summer this year, and how that will influence my garden's design for the next season.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Garden Progress, Late June/Early July 2014 - Applying Permaculture Principles to the Garden, As Well As Other Experiments

It's been a good while since the start of summer, and my garden looks considerably different now than how it did in my last video.  In this month's update, I take a walk through the garden and explain what has changed over the course of the month.  I also talk about different projects I've been working on around the garden, in my pursuit of self-sufficiency.  Take a look:

I tried to fit as much updated information as I could into the video, but I know I missed a few things.  I promise to give these plants and/or ideas some time in the next video.  Additionally, I wanted to go into further detail about the different methodologies that I have been applying, so here are some notes on those techniques that I've taken from my own experience.

Monday, June 16, 2014

3 Tips to Keep Your Frugal Veggie Garden Healthy and Productive

It's the middle of June and it's getting hot outside!  My frugal veggie garden is growing fast, and I've already harvested quite a bit of my spring veggies.  Although I've not been weighing out my harvests like I intended to do (perhaps next year), my wife and I harvest and eat something from our garden nearly every day.

The peas vines are making good use of my cotton twine "trellis" (i.e. fence)

Snow peas and Sugar Snap peas both ready to eat

My frugal veggie-growing guide includes instructions and details on how to get your garden up and running for minimal money investment, but even a frugal veggie garden needs continual attention and maintenance to keep the plants productive.  Until now, I haven't really discussed the tasks that I am continually doing around the garden now that it is well established.  So today, I am going to share a few tips that I've learned over my few of gardening experience that make the biggest difference in terms of a healthy, happy vegetable garden.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Garden Progress, Late May 2014 - Video Update!

I've been really busy with life in general, and I haven't been able to devote a lot of attention to writing for my blog.  I still wanted to give all my readers an update on how my garden has been doing, though, so I decided to make this post a video update!  I will walk you through various parts of my garden and show you how all of my plants are doing, as well as what I have been harvesting.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Garden Progress, Late April 2014 -- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

It's the last day of April [Edit: Well, it was when I started writing this :P ], and my garden has already had a good share of ups and downs.  Slugs have taken a toll on quite a few of my plants.  Even daily slug slaughter-fests and beer traps, they manage to nibble some of my veggies out of existence.  Despite the slugs, most of my garden is doing very well and progressing as it should for this time of the year.  Let's have a look at what's growing.

Slugs: Always a problem

The Good

The spinach I planted is all doing great.  I've eaten a few baby leaves in some scrambled eggs already, but it has just now reached the point where I can harvest a good amount of leaves on a daily basis without hurting each plant.  I expect to be eating a lot of spinach salad very soon.  The slugs attack my spinach plants as well, but they must not like them nearly as much as my brassica family of plants.

Beets are also doing quite well.  They don't grow quite as fast as spinach, but nothing seems to bother them at all.  I've seen a few nibbles on the edges of the leaves but most of the square foot sections of beets are growing just fine.  Although I tolerate beets grated raw onto salads and cooked in soups, my wife absolutely loves them--for the taste and the colorful leaf display they add to the garden.  I'm happy to grow them since she is such a fan.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Garden Progress, Early April 2014 -- Germination & Dealing With Slugs

My Garden's Progress

Spring has sprung around my neck of the woods.  I've planted quite a variety of veggies, including spinach, carrots, beets, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, peas and lettuce.  I've also got tomatoes and peppers in pots, ready to be transplanted to the garden once the weather warms up sufficiently.  Today, I am posting an update on how my frugal veggie garden is doing.

Spinach growing well
The spinach is coming along very well, with almost 100% germination in all the spots I've planted it.  It won't be long before we're harvesting it to use for breakfast dishes or salads.

Beets have almost all germinated and seem to be growing well.

Broccoli and kale have all germinated and were growing well, but have recently come under attack from slugs.  I am taking a few different approaches to dealing with them.  We shall see if my efforts pay off.  More info on that in the next section.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money By Growing Your Own Food, Part VI: Planting Your Seeds and Transplants

I have to apologize for the lack of updates to the blog lately.  My son, now nine months old, has finally learned how to crawl.  As such, it's hard to sit down for any length of time to write, as he gets into everything not nailed down!  Little rascal.  Today's article will be worth the wait, though.

After months of planning, preparing and composting, we are finally ready to sow some seeds in our garden outdoors.  If you missed one of the sections of this guide, you can get to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V by clicking the on each of the links.  They contain important information leading up to this part of the series, so review them if you need to before reading this article.

Today's focus will be on how to plant your seeds and transplants out in the garden, spacing considerations, and general tips on how to best utilize your garden.

This is going to be a mammoth of an article, as there is a lot of information to cover.  So grab a cup of coffee or tea and set aside a bit of time to read and review all the material.  It's planting time!

Make Sure the Soil Is Ready

If you recall Part IV of the guide, we made a nice flat bed with compost and leaves, mixed it all together with the underlying soil, and let it sit for a few weeks to further decompose.  It might have looked a little something like this:

The goal is to further prepare the soil for planting by removing large pieces of debris and leaves, as well as smoothing the ground out.  You can remove obvious chunks by hand, and then use a rake to collect any remaining leaves.  The rake will also allow you to level the bed to a nice, even height.  Once you accomplish this, it should look more like the following picture.

You may notice that there are strings laying over the bed in a grid fashion.  It has to do with a particular method of gardening known as "Square Foot Gardening".  This method will allow us to grow as many plants together in one area as possible.  That leads us to the next section.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food, Part V: Starting Your Own Transplants

In the previous part of this guide, I wrote that I was going to have the next part of the series dealing with planting your seeds out in the garden, spacing and outdoor germination tips.  Although it's definitely within the realm of possibility for some people to go ahead and plant seeds outdoors, I wanted to talk about starting transplants first, for people who are more adventurous and want a greater variety of plants in their garden.  If you would rather not deal with the obstacles of indoor plant growing, feel free to skip this section for now.  Come back when--not if--you are feeling confident enough to start growing your own transplants.  Trust me, you'll eventually want to.

Why should you start your own transplants in pots?  Well, it depends on what you expect to grow and where you are located.  For some people, growing transplants may not be the best option.  For example, if you live in a tropical or sub-tropical climate area, you may be able to sow seeds outdoors pretty much year round.  Starting transplants may be more of a hassle than it's worth for you.  On the other hand, if you live farther north, where the ground doesn't even thaw out until May, starting transplants may be your only option to ensure a harvest in such a short growing season.  And to further complicate matters, some plants don't like to be transplanted in any growing conditions.  You must take all these factors into account before starting transplants, especially if you are thinking about purchasing indoor lighting to grow them.

Starting Your Own Transplants, the Frugal Way

To start your own transplants from seed, you will require a few things.  The first (and probably easiest) requirement is a source of water.  Secondly, you will need a container to hold the medium and the plant once it starts growing.  You will also need the soil, or medium, used to germinate the seeds.  Finally, and arguably most important, you will need a source of light.  Let's go through each requirement one by one.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Weight Lifting: An Update On My Routine and Progress

It's been about two years since I last discussed my weight lifting routine on the blog, and I have changed it around quite a bit.  While I am definitely still not as strong as some of you out there, I have progressed considerably since I last visited the topic, and I figured an update is in order to document my successes and failures so far.

A Change of Program

If you recall my last article on weight lifting, I was following Lyle McDonald's generic bulking program to bulk up before my wedding that was a few months away at the time.  The plan was to bulk up for a couple months, then lean for a month-and-a-half before the wedding.  Well, that didn't happen at all.  I kept lifting weights on a regular basis, and there were no motivation issues holding me back, as I really do enjoy the activity.  In my usual fashion, I mentally decided that I was going to diet correctly for each phase of the recomp, but in reality, I just ate whatever I wanted.  Dieting has never been something I've successfully accomplished, but in retrospect, I don't really care that much.  My fiancee at the time (my now wonderful wife of a year-and-a-half) has always told me that she would find me attractive unless I somehow managed to become morbidly obese.  So the motivation to deprive myself of delicious food just for six pack abs just isn't there.  I accept this now.

After my wedding, I decided that my main goal in regards to weight lifting would be to become as strong as possible at my comfortable set point range of 160-170 lbs.  Since the bulk/cut cycle was unimportant to me, McDonald's generic bulking routine was out.  I still think it is a good program, but it wasn't what I'm looking for.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food, Part IV: Preparing Your Garden for Planting

In my ongoing series on saving money by growing your own food, I've explained how to create your own compost to fertilize your garden, how to plan your garden for maximum production efficiency, and where to find the cheapest seeds.

In my USDA climate zone, it's about a month out from being able to plant certain cold-tolerant vegetables in the garden, so today we're going to finally get digging in the soil.  I will show you how to prepare your garden bed to get ready for planting seeds when spring rolls around next month.

Hopefully, you've still been throwing your kitchen scraps, yard clippings, and other organic matter into your compost pile and turning it regularly.  If this is your first year composting, you probably won't have a huge amount to use for your garden.  That's totally fine... any amount of compost is going to provide some benefits to the plants you decide to grow.  And if you are consistent with composting your organic material, in the coming years you will have more and more compost to use to fertilize your garden.

Preparing the Garden Bed

You'll want to start by sizing out your garden bed.  I have decided to make a 5'x5' area in my backyard the vegetable gardening bed.  I highly recommend that if you are new to gardening to start with a much smaller area, so as to not become overwhelmed with the amount of work to do, at least at first.  As you gain more experience, you can expand your vegetable garden as much as you want.  Just remember that a small garden that is maintained will be more productive than a large garden that is given up on because it's just too much work.  A 3'x3' bed is a good starting point for a novice gardener, as it will allow enough room to plant a decent variety of vegetables without requiring too much work or material to start and maintain.  Even a 2'x2' will work, although it will produce much less food.  Just start with whatever you're comfortable with, even if it's just one vegetable.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food, Part III: Seeds, Soil and Tools

Today's article in my frugal food-growing guide will be short and sweet.  However, it is one of the most crucial parts of the guide: Saving money on seeds, tools and soil.

Most of the big box stores sell seeds and tools for a ridiculous mark-up.  I've seen seeds sell for $1.50 per packet at places like Lowes, and their tool selection ranges from $20 to $100+ for a single tool.  And forget about plant starts... every year, they reduce the amount of plants you get in a pack and charge a little more than they did the previous year.  Not a great way to save money on growing food.

You should know that you have cheaper options, though.  Much cheaper options.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Will Choline Make You Smarter?

 Will Choline make you smarter?  Here are the key points you should know. 

  • Choline supplementation may improve declining cognitive abilities of individuals with Alzheimer's disease and similar cerebral health issues.
  • The only well-designed human study on choline in healthy individuals thus far shows a small benefit for increasing attention span in middle-aged women, using doses of up to 500 mg of supplemental choline per day.
  • Most studies investigating choline supplementation for cognitive performance enhancement in healthy individuals are plagued by bad experiment design, too few subjects, or both.  Further research is needed.
  • Aim for the adequate daily intake of 550 mg for men, 425 mg for women.  For reference, a normal-sized chicken egg contains about 140 mg of choline. 
  • ADDENDUM 04/15/2015: Although I still recommend obtaining the adequate daily intake of choline for possibly improved cognitive function, I DO NOT recommend obtaining choline from eggs.  There is mounting evidence that the choline in eggs vastly increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.  Read more about this issue with animal-based choline here and hereSome of the highest sources of plant-based choline can be found in pinto beans (~60mg/cup), broccoli (~30mg/cup), oats (~20mg/cup) and oranges (~15mg).

The essential nutrient,Choline

I've been hanging out on the Nootropics sub of reddit for a while now, in an attempt to find a link between food and improvements in cognitive function.  For those of you who don't know what nootropics are, here is a brief summary directly from the Nootropics FAQ:

Monday, January 13, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food, Part II: Planning What to Grow

Welcome to the next installment of my frugal food-growing guide.  If you are following this series, hopefully by now you have started collecting food scraps, leaves and other organic material for your very own compost pile.  You can read more about that in Part I of my guide.

Today, I want to write about some particular aspects of planning out your frugal vegetable garden before actually delving into the creation of it.  Planning for this kind of project is absolutely necessary, since each plan will be unique and different based on several different factors.  Some of them include your location, the amount of space available to work with, time of the year, you (or your family's) particular tastes in vegetables, space-to-production ratios and various other things.  This article will focus mainly on planning which vegetables and fruits you decide to grow in your garden.

First, let's start on the assumption that you found a suitable space for your future garden.  This means you have a plot of soil (or some kind of raised bed) that is at least somewhat workable... not completely full of rocks, or other potentially toxic materials.  It also means it gets at least 8 to 10 hours of sun per day in the spring and summer, and is also close to a source of irrigation other than just rain.  If you have a plot that meets this criteria, go ahead and read on.  If you don't, then find a better spot or figure out a way to improve upon the existing space--possibly by removing shading objects such as trees, and collecting rainwater in barrels or buckets (something you should probably do anyway).  If rocks are the main obstacle, I would personally find another spot than attempt remove them... it's just way more hassle than it's worth to me.  Your individual circumstance and preferences may dictate what you decide to do.

Identifying Your Climate Zone

Now that we have a usable plot of soil to work with, the next thing to do is determine exactly what zone of plant hardiness that you live in.  The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map website can help you do just that.  Just click on your state to find detailed climate information for your particular zone.  This is an important step because you will need to know the first and last average frost dates for your region, as well as how hot and cold it will be during a typical season in your area.  It's important information to know, as most vegetables can be separated into groups based on their preferred growing temperatures.  For example, tomatoes, okra, eggplant and peppers all prefer hot summer temperatures, while plants like spinach, broccoli and lettuce all prefer (and taste better) being grown when the temperatures are cool.

The USDA Zone Map will show you which climate zone you belong to