Tag Archives: gardening

Ronnica’s 2016 Goal Updates

Now that we’re half way through 2016 (!), it’s time to look back on the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. To be honest, I haven’t really thought about them too often, as my life plan has taken over my focus, so I was a little worried.

In January, I set 2 goals as well as spending goals. My first goal was to spend 30 minutes each day to cleaning/straightening my apartment. I’ve been pretty successful with this goal, and my apartment shows it. Accompanied by getting rid of things and organizing, my apartment looks better than it ever has. I still have work that I want to do, but I feel much more comfortable at home.

My second goal was to do my Bible reading first thing in the morning. I still spend too much time on my phone (usually 15 minutes) before I get to it, but I am regularly getting to it. I would like to keep working on keeping the phone down first thing in the morning.

As for my spending goals, here’s how I’ve done through May (haven’t calculated for June yet):

2016 goal: $1,820, 2015 actual: $2,026.04
2016 YTD: $888.75

I’m currently on track to be a bit higher than last year, but as I’ve radically changed what I’m eating, that makes sense. I think this will balance out a little lower, probably on track to be the same as last year’s spending.

2016 goal: $1,400, 2015 actual: $743.35
2016 YTD: $847.35

I’m currently above my goal, but as my two plane trips were in the first half of the year, I’m really on try.

2016 goal: $260, 2015 actual: $625.93
2016 YTD: $24.99

Well below goal, yay! I am saving up right now for a backpacking pack, but will probably wait until next year to get it as I’d like to fit it to my new body, not my in-between one.

2016 gardenGarden
2016 goal: $75, 2015 actual: $319.60
2016 YTD: $68.18

This has taken a lot of self-control, but I did it! My gardening expenses are probably done for the year.

Eating Out
2016 goal: $200, 2015 actual: $281.98
2016 YTD: $37.09

I’ve eaten out twice this year (while not traveling). I was already not eating out a lot before, but making my own food from scratch goes a long way to not wanting to eat out.

2016 goal: $120, 2015 actual $179.61
2016 YTD: $62.94

I’m over my goal, and will probably end over my goal by the end of the year, but we’ll see.

2016 goal: $20, 2015 actual: $60.86
2016 YTD $4.30

Doing great so far, but I have a feeling I’m going to need to spend more than $20 this year. I do plan on buying my newer wardrobe as cheaply as possible, getting by with as little as possible and buying most of it at thrift stores.

How It Works: Grow Light Frame for Indoor Gardening

grow light frameAs I shared in my garden plan, I am growing tomatoes and peppers from seed this year. While I have a sunny living room, I knew the 3-4 hours of direct light would not be enough for my growing seedlings. I am supplementing natural light with grow lights.

When it came to deciding how to set up grow lights, I wanted a setup that would be:

  1. Economical
  2. Efficient
  3. Portable/flexible

I think I’ve found the setup that meets these criteria.

After research, I decided that a PVC light frame would be the best for my purposes. I mostly followed the tutorial I found on My Square Foot Garden. I made some adjustments, which you can find in my directions below.

1. I measured my space to determine what size frame I wanted. I did not alter the original directions in this respect as it was just the right size for my living room.

2. I gathered my materials. I ended up going with 3/4″ PVC pipe and fittings as they didn’t have everything I needed in 1″ size. I bought one 10′ pipe and cut it into the four 5″ pieces, two 24″ pieces and one 52″ pieces that were recommended.  Home Depot had a cutting station with a hacksaw I could use to measure and cut easily. It was also much easier to haul the pieces home than a 10′ pipe.

In addition to the pipe pieces, you will need 2 Ts, 2 90-degree elbows and 4 caps.


3. I snapped everything together. This took me less than 10 minutes. No need to use glue: it will stay all together. Plus, this makes it easy to take down and store when I don’t need it.

PVC light frame

How much this setup cost me:

3/4″ PVC and fittings to make the  frame: $7.34
2 LED grow lights: $22.99 each
2 clamp lamps: $9.49 each
Total: $72.30

tomato seedlings
My tomato seedlings are starting to really grow. This is 4 weeks after planting.

This setup definitely reaches my goals I outlined above. The LED lights provides just the wavelengths that the plants can use. At 12 watts each, it would cost me $1.50/month to run these full time. Totally reasonable.

Since they’re LED, they also will last a long time: over 5 years of continuous use. I’m sure I’ll add more lights to it in the future, but for now sliding my two lamps from side to side helps me ensure my seedlings get 12-18 hours of light a day.

The bonus of starting so much from seed this year is that I get to enjoy gardening for a larger part of the year.

Ronnica’s Garden Plan, 2016

balcony garden in evening sunThis may be the blog post that I’ve spent the most time on. I know that I’ve spent at least 5 or 6 hours before I even started typing the first sentence.

Clearly, I take gardening very seriously.

Daydreaming about gardening is one of my favorite things to do. Before you have planted your first seed, you can imagine months of produce. Powdery mildew, late-coming spring and windy days do not appear in my daydreams, so the fruit is always abundant.

I think that is one of the exciting things about gardening: you’re always trying to game the weather, elements and pests. What choices will provide the highest yields this year?

What’s New

The biggest new thing I’m attempting this year is to grow my tomatoes and peppers from seed. I plan on completing the transition of part of my living room into a plant nursery in order to make the most advantageous environment for them.

I want to grow my plants from seed for a few reasons:

1. Save seeds. I’ve had a dream to save my own seeds for a while now. In order to do so, you have to have heirloom (not hybrid) plants.

2. Save money. I spent $8.50 for heirloom seeds, instead of twice as much for hybrid plants. If I’m successful in saving seeds, this may be my last expenditure for these seeds until I want to add another variety when I have more garden space.

3. It’s a fun challenge. There’s a reason kids get excited about growing their own plants from seed: it’s exciting.

What I’m Growing

garden seedsVeggies: cucumbers, onions, snap peas, bell peppers, tomatoes (Amish paste), spinach, zucchini
Herbs: basil, chives, cilantro, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
Flowers: lavender, nasturium, likely some others

Last year I only grew nasturium, but I want to up my ante for flowers. They are the best use of my hanging baskets, and I want to grow varieties that will be useful for bees and butterflies as well as good companions for my veggies and herbs.

I still have a couple of weeks before I can start to plant, even indoors. But when it’s time, I’ll be ready!

What are you wanting to grow this year?

2016 Spending Goals

I’m an obsessive budgeter. I know exactly where each dollar should go, planning months ahead.

But until a few months ago, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to where my money actually went. If I went over in a category, I would find money to make up for it in another, which helps to cover up overspending.

So I’ve decided to use the best information I have to reconstruct what I spent in each category each month. In 2015, I spent $19,203.52, not include debt payoff, savings or giving.

Looking over my numbers, I’ve decided to set goals for several categories for 2016 to try to lower my spending from 2015 levels. While I don’t believe my 2015 spending was necessarily too high, I want to fight to keep it in control as I work towards my longer term financial goals.

Important note: I have not changed what I’m budgeting in any category. My budget still reflects what I believe I may spend each month, so will necessarily be higher than the numbers listed below for my goals. Any difference between actual  and budgeted spending will go towards savings (80%) and retirement (20%).

There are a few categories that I will not be setting goals in. This is what I spent in these categories in 2015:

Rent $10,903
Utilities $1,356.98
Insurance $765.34
Gas $750.57
Car (repair/registration) $589.75
Cell phone $548.22

Now for the categories that I am setting goals in:

2015 actual: $2,026.04
2016 goal: $1,820

I’m actually pretty happy about this number, as it works out to just under $39 a week. Still, without Diet Dr Pepper and hopefully even less food waste, I should be able to trim it down even more. My goal reflects $35/week.

Ronnica on mountaintop
Views like this make traveling worthwhile.

2015 actual: $743.35
2016 goal: $1,400

Yes, this goal is going up! This is an estimation of what the trips that I hope to take in 2016 will cost. I already have some of it saved up.

2015 actual: $625.93
2016 goal: $260

I spent a lot on outdoor gear this year as I have started to settle into being a Coloradan. I don’t have as many of those types of purchases planned for 2016, though I do hope to go to a few events.

Garden/homesteading fund
2015 actual: $319.60
2016 goal: $75

This is incredibly high, as I settled in to gardening on my balcony, and I don’t like it. I absolutely will not allow myself to spend that much in 2016. I should only need to buy a few seeds and possibly a few starter plants.

Eating Out
2015 actual: $281.98
2016 goal: $200

Though decent, this number can definitely go down since I’ve given up Diet Dr Pepper.

2015 actual: $179.61
2016 goal: $120

I like blessing others, but I need to be more creative in how I do so to get this under control.

2015 actual: $60.86
2016 goal: $20

I love this! Thanks to some generous Christmas gifts, I don’t think I’ll need to buy anything this year. I am setting a small goal for myself in case I need new tights or finally find the brown or navy skirt that I have been hunting for.

2015 actual: $52.29
2016: $50

I’m happy with this number for 2015 as well so I’m only slightly lowering the goal for 2016.

I’m a competitive person, so I’m hoping by setting goals for myself, I’ll be able to spend even less this year!

My Winter Garden

As the nights (and days) started getting cooler her in Denver a few weeks ago, I transitioned my balcony garden to a living room garden.

Between powdery mildew and a cool/overcast May, I didn’t have as much success outside this summer as I would have liked, but I learned a lot and know steps to take to have a more productive garden next year. (Vinegar water did nothing to the powdery mildew, but watered-down milk did.)

One thing that will help my garden next year be more productive is if I can get a head start. I don’t have the space to make a makeshift greenhouse, but I can take advantage of my sunny living room.

So this year, I’m growing a winter garden.

I brought the herbs I had left inside. I’m hoping to keep them growing through the winter so I don’t have to start anew from seed next year. Having them inside has had the added bonus of making them more accessible to use fresh. These are the herbs I brought inside:


I’m also trying to grow again a few that I didn’t have a lot of luck with outside this year. I already had the seeds, so it is definitely worth trying. I’m trying this with thyme and cilantro (and may try chives, too).

And then there is the final plant I’m attempting to grow: a tomato plant.

A month ago, I cut off a few suckers from my tomato plants and placed them in containers of water. I refreshed the water a few times, and after 2 weeks roots had grown that are 3-4 inches long:

tomato sucker roots

I then planted the now-rooted suckers in new containers. One shriveled up, but the other successfully took root and now looks like this:

planted tomato sucker

I don’t know what will happen with this plant, but it doesn’t really hurt to try.

While my winter garden has settled in front of my sunny sliding glass window, I know that won’t be enough light as the days are getting shorter and shorter. I’m supplementing daylight with an LED grow light (the first purchase from my homesteading fund…much better than Diet Dr Pepper!).

Here’s my entire garden set up:

indoor garden under grow light

I’m happy to see what happens with my little garden going forward. So far, they seem to enjoy their new set up, and it’s great to have so much green inside as everything outside is going brown.

Are you trying to grow something inside this winter?

101 in 1001

Have you heard of the concept of “101 in 1001”? It’s a type of mid-term goal-setting where you set 101 things you wish to accomplish in 1001 days (approximately 2.75 years).

I really like the length of 1001 days for goal setting. You can have some reasonable idea of what the future might look like: for me, 5 years is just too far out. I also think it provides a more reasonable deadline than a bucket list does. And as opposed to New Year’s resolutions, you can challenge yourself further (and have more time to make up in areas that you stumble).

I made my first 101 in 1001 goal list when I turned 30…1003 days ago. I was able to complete 93 of the 101 things. I also really enjoyed it, so it was an easy decision to do a second one, which formally started yesterday.

As this blog covers specific topics, I won’t share my entire list here. But not surprisingly, a number of the items on my list conform to the themes found on these pages (you know, if blogs had pages).

Any list is made better by being made into a pretty spreadsheet.
Any list is made better by being made into a pretty spreadsheet.

So here are a few of the things I want to accomplish before June 9, 2018:

– Do another “Buy Little” month.
– Write a will.
– Redirect $1001 from budgeted items to savings.
– Build up savings to $XX,XXX.
– Save $7,000 for a new car (or devote to savings, if I give up car living).
– Build up retirement savings to over $XX,XXX.
Can something (not freezer canning).
– Go through all 20 identified Marie Kondo zones.
– Purge 100 items.
– Forage for wild edibles.
– Grow 3 garden plants inside over the winter.
– Grow 3 new-to-me plants.
– Make something from repurposed materials.
– Save seeds and grow them.
– Keep track of every item brought into the home for 1 month.
– Keep track of every item disposed of from the home in 1 month.
– Buy a piece of clothing from Goodwill.

If you want to see my entire list, you can do that here. I can’t wait to get started on these things!

Updates on the Striving Stewardess

A few months have gone by since our last updates, so here’s updates on things we’ve talked about previously:

Ronnica’s Updates

How I Paid Off $10,678.28 in 8 Months

It’s been over 4 months since I got out of debt. The cool thing about not having a mortgage is that I’m completely debt free.

Since then, I’ve been focusing hard on building emergency savings and adding to my retirement account. To balance my two goals, I’ve decided to put 20% of my savings towards retirement (my 401k contributions are handled separately).

How it Works: Living without Air Conditioning

This is the first summer that I’ve gone completely without air conditioning. I’ve become unapologetic about it: if someone is at my house I’ll give them full control over the fans, but do not turn on the air. While it doesn’t get as hot here in Colorado as in anywhere I have lived, it has regularly gotten into the lower to mid-90s.

Yes, I’ve sweat a lot, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing (regular showers are a must).

Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).
Parsley has my best performer this year (good for my ranch dressing!).

Ronnica’s Garden Plan

Sadly, this has been my least productive garden, apart from the year I stopped watering due to anemia-caused exhaustion.

The primary cause was the cold and rainy weather we had for most of May. I also tried a few new-to-me varieties that I’m not sure did as well as I would have liked.

The great thing about gardening, though, is that every year is a learning opportunity. I’m going to take what I’ve learned to make better choices next year.

And there’s always my winter garden (details to come).

Amanda’s Updates

Giving Our Time

Just a couple of months after writing this post, an opportunity to give my time presented itself:  serving on the pastoral call committee of our church.

Although we have only met a few times so far, and there is a good chunk of time I have to commit (a few hours a month for meetings and ultimately interviewing potential candidates to serve as our pastor), it is a volunteer position that is well-aligned to my gifts, one that is fairly flexible with our family schedule, and most importantly, is vital to the future of our congregation.  It’s a great opportunity!

Grocery Shopping

It has been six months since I first posted about my grocery shopping method (one word:  methodical).

Since that time, a lot has changed–for starters, the national egg shortage has resulted in eggs no longer being the least expensive item in my cart.  I have also lightened up quite a bit in my grocery shopping prep, because where I get most of our food now (Aldi) doesn’t accept coupons, so that actually saves me time…but also because I’ve become a bit lazy.

Our grocery bill has also crept upwards, due in part to a sales tax increase and cost of food steadily increasing, but also due to the aforementioned lackadaisical attitude.  Since grocery shopping is one of the easiest ways to help or hinder a family budget, I have been working on reducing our grocery bill.  Stay tuned later this month for how that went.

Fall Purge

A quick look at the calendar tells me that, yes, fall is indeed upon us!  Since Riley has started working from home several days a week, this has forced us to adopt a whole new way of looking at cleaning and organization; with no home office, we have had to turn “the dungeon” into a multipurpose area.

That has meant–you guessed it–a whole lot of purging.

It’s a work in progress.  But it definitely doesn’t look like this anymore…

unnamed (5)

…and for that I am very grateful.

Ronnica’s Splurges

Last month, Amanda shared the things she splurges on. While I want to be frugal in order to help me reach my long-term goal of having my own urban homestead, I think it’s helpful to allow myself to meet smaller wants along the way that will help me keep focused on the larger goal.

So what are my splurges?

1. Diet Dr Pepper

Well, this won’t be a splurge for much longer, but it has been. I’ve been hooked on this stuff (well, it was regular not diet until 10 years ago).

I really wish I knew how much it’s cost me. But when I quit next month, I’m going to use the savings towards a special fun. More on that when it happens.

2. Hiking equipment

Hiking has become one of my favorite hobbies. I’ll talk more about it next week, but I love how I can get away from everything and get closer to nature.

Thankfully, hiking can be a cheap hobby. Until recently, I hadn’t bought anything for it. But this summer I saved up and bought hiking sandals and hiking poles.

I save $20-60 a month towards these type of things.

My first hiking sandals. Can’t wait to try them out! #hiking

A photo posted by Ronnica Rothe (@ronnicaz) on

3. Travel

This is a hard one for me, but a splurge that I want to plan for. Since moving to Colorado, I haven’t traveled as much as I’d like. Recently, I’ve upped how much I’m saving towards this goal so that I’ll have money to make a few trips.

I’d love to travel overseas again, but I’ll probably wait a few years before I save up for that.

4. Gardening equipment

It’s no secret that I love my garden. One day, my gardening will break even moneywise, but it’s not there yet (especially after this year’s poor growing season). But it’s a challenge I love and will continue investing time in (and a little money, too).

What do you splurge on?

Passing it On

Vinca on balcony
My first gardening foray in 2009 was to plant two window boxes of vinca on our very shady patio.

It’s no secret that I love gardening. Obviously, you don’t garden on a balcony if you don’t truly love it.

I think I would have gotten into gardening at some point as I became more interested in environmental issues, but my interest in gardening predates that.

Some of my earliest memories from childhood are gardening at our rental house. I remember piling potatoes and onions in the outdoor closet for winter, planting bright-colored corn seeds and not wanting to touch cucumbers for their prickles. When we moved into the first house my parents owned, we enjoyed garden strawberries (or at least the ones the birds didn’t eat) while picking and weeding the garden became a part of my regular chores.

Of course I wanted a garden of my own the first chance I got, not waiting for a yard (though I still dream of one).

So if I got my love of gardening from my dad, where did he get it? From his dad, of course. My grandfather still gets great joy out of his flowers and vegetables and loves to show them off.

I’m thankful that my family didn’t forget the art of gardening when them moved off farms and into town. Most people aren’t that fortunate.

So how do we pass on green habits?

We invite others alongside us when we practice them. This goes double for our kids. I was recently visiting a friend who gardens here in Colorado. While we chatted in her garden, her kids were showing off their favorite plants by name. Obviously, they had spent a lot of time out in the garden.

I’m convinced that one of the best things we can do to spread green living is to live out our example in the open and discuss our motivations freely as opportunity presents itself.

Using Herbs

growing oregano and basil
Oregano and basil. These window boxes helped me make great use of my balcony space!

I’m pretty passionate about growing your own food. Ideally, I’d love to be able to grow at least half of my own food (or more??) and just have to supplement my garden with staples such as flour, rice and beans. To continue my dream, I would love to one day be able to barter for the things that I can’t grow with the things that I do grow.

Not only do I get great joy from growing my own food, I want to save money and be less dependent on foods shipped from far away (expending greenhouse gases into the air we breathe).

Obviously, I’m not there yet. I likely won’t be until I get a yard. But while I still have my balcony garden, there are many things I can grow in a small space, the easiest of which is likely herbs.

Before I go much further, I should admit that I’m not a gourmet cook. I have learned to use herbs based on my own personal tastes. My spice and herb vocabulary has grown from maybe a half dozen when I first started out on my own. I’m constantly expanding what I know how to use and experimenting to see what I like best.

This year I tried growing quite a few herbs but only got a few to successfully grow. It’s much harder to start seeds here since it’s so dry! I ended up with five: basil, oregano, sage, rosemary and parsley.

Picked these herbs to put in a breakfast casserole.
Picked these herbs to use in a breakfast casserole.

Those that I didn’t successfully grow: cilantro (though I got some from a friend!), dill and thyme. I’ll also be trying to grow garlic over the winter.

Now that I’ve gotten these going, how am I going to use them year-round?

1. Fresh. Obviously, this is the best way to use herbs. It’s such a change of pace from store-bought dried herbs so I’m still getting the proportions correct.

When the frost comes (early, here in Colorado), I’m going to try bringing my herbs inside to my sunny living room to see if I can keep them going year-round.

The latest oregano cuttings drying. Once dried, I crumble my leaves in a reused spice jar.
The latest oregano cuttings drying. Once dried, I crumble my leaves in a reused spice jar.

2. Frozen. As far as taste, frozen is as close to fresh. I froze cilantro (just stuck it in a Ziploc bag) and make my basil into pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. I have also added a little olive oil to basil and pulsed it in my NutriBullet before also freezing it in ice cube trays.

3. Dried. So far, I’ve only dried oregano. At the pace it grows, I’ll be able to easily keep up with my taste for the herb so I’ll be soon sharing it with others.

What herbs have you tried growing? What have been your successes? What do you wish you could grow?