The Riches of the Urban Harvest

Things have been a little quiet around this website in recent days, as Mr. Money Mustache has been lured away from the computer and out into the great outdoors for much of the past week.

The weather has been outrageously nice, and the magical healing properties of Mother Nature have been working their magic on everyone in the family. I granted myself the day off work* on Friday in order to bike to Boulder and meet an MMM reader for some hiking in the rocks at the edge of town.  Next came “porch club”, a rotating series of parties in my neighborhood where I generally use up my entire week’s personal wine-drinking limit.

A screenshot from the action video

Today was a blur of leaves and sunshine, quite literally: Junior ‘stash learned the joy of making his Dad rake up 4-foot-tall piles of dry leaves in the middle of the road so he could get a long run at them on his bike and smash through at top speed while I took videos.

Times like this weekend remind me of the riches that are hidden in plain view within in most of our immediate neighborhoods. When you hang out with the people who live nearby, you end up with some surprising benefits. Just a few examples from recent memory:

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Free:

Years ago, I helped one of the friendly older ladies of my neighborhood with some home renovation advice. As a way of thanking me, she encouraged me to help myself to peaches from the enormous and productive peach tree in her back yard. I did, and they were great. But the experience opened my eyes to the fact that there are actually peach trees all over this town! So towards the end of every summer, I visit her tree and bike through the other alleys around here, picking huge bags of fresh peaches which nobody else picks. Most of this tasty fruit just falls to the ground and rots away!

Giving the Finger to the Apple Embargo

Is it just me, or is there something weird going on with the apple supply in this country? The prices are ridiculous – it’s hard to pay less than $2 per pound or even $3.00 for organic apples at the grocery stores around here, even though it is apple season and we’re supposed to be rolling in them. Luckily, friendly neighbors have come to the rescue again, as there are several towering 60-year-old trees in the ‘hood, owned by people who I have helped out in the past. These folks cannot possibly use the approximately 1,000 pounds of apples the trees produce every second year, and guess who is happy to help out with the harvesting? I just hauled home a 20-pound bag this afternoon and, boy howdy**, are they the most delicious apples I’ve ever crunched.

The world’s best lawnmower

If you’ve ever read Muscle over Motor, you know I’m a big fan of the olde-fashioned Reel Mower for cutting the grass. I’ve used a relatively junky one for years, but this year I scored a dramatic upgrade from a surprising place: the trash bin area in the alley behind yet another neighbor’s house. This really good mower was being tossed simply because the low-quality steel handle had broken. After checking with the neighbor that they indeed did not want it, I brought it home, fired up the welder, and created a much stronger and more (cave)manly-looking handle for it. Since then, my mowing duties have been a breeze, and the mower itself draws many an envious eye from the other men on my street, who are still stuck sucking the fumes of their gasoline mowers and leaf blowers, the lawncare equivalent of a catheter and a bedpan.

Shortly after I renovated that mower, another nearby person disassembled an unwanted redwood deck, placing the still-good surface boards out by the street with a “free” sign. With several upcoming deck projects in my own plans, I loaded the ‘stash into my van and stacked it in my lumber storage area for use in the near future. Approximate value: $300.

Sharing and Bartering as if Money had never been Invented:

I’ve had the privilege of doing renovation work on at least five of the houses on my little block alone, and I couldn’t even tell you the number if you stretch the radius out a few more blocks. In several of these cases, the work has turned into a partnership or a trading of labor. “I’ll help you build your deck, and you can help me paint my house next week”, or “I’ll lend you my cement mixer, and maybe you can lend me your garden tiller in the spring”. The level of sharing has grown to be quite abundant, so now you see beer, wine, garden produce, honey, keys to houses, cars, trucks and remote cabins, children, and all sorts of advice and knowledge flowing between the households. All in an physical environment that can be traversed on foot within about five minutes, without the need to even put on your socks and shoes.

These bits of local trade enrich all the members of the community, and they are better than just the retail equivalent we could get down at the big-box stores, for several reasons. They come with trust and social connection – some of the greatest sources of happiness. They are immune to employment conditions or recession. And they let everyone produce value even in their free time outside of work, increasing their net income and savings rate without even realizing they are working.

It is little things like the stories above that make me happy to live in a city with many other people around, optimistic about the general prospects of our species as a whole, and happy to be retired so I have more time to take part in it all. For many of us working towards early retirement, getting in the habit of building connections in the neighborhood is like planting seeds for future wealth, and I recommend it highly!

 Update: One reader pointed me to a new community website/iPhone App called inaturalist.org. (Free). You can take pictures of the natural highlights (including edible ones) of your own area, and they will be shared with other I Naturalists. This is just the type of effort I love to see people making, so I’ve installed the app on my own phone and will start adding some things around my own town. (It’s new, so I may be the first Colorado entry!)


* haha, joke.

** amusing oldschool dialect lifted from Jim Collins

  • Jeremy October 21, 2012, 7:47 pm

    MMM, apple prices are messed up pretty badly this year, mostly because of the odd weather we had this past winter/spring. The period of higher temperatures caused most apple trees to start blossoming early. Then, the returning cold weather killed off those blossoms. So many apple harvests are much smaller than usual and I assume suppliers are raising prices because of it.

    Still, it’s much better to get your own from your neighbors, especially if they would go unused otherwise!

    • Jamesqf October 21, 2012, 10:24 pm

      Humm… Not hereabouts. For once we had a spring without a late frost, so everyone has tons of apples, pears, grapes. And got maybe 50 lbs of cherries this spring, lots of peaches this summer, migh even have a dozen or so quinces if the frost holds off long enough for them to ripen…

      • Arbor33 October 23, 2012, 6:44 am

        I just noticed that I have a quince bush on my property. What do you typically do with your quinces?

        • Jamesqf October 23, 2012, 11:00 am

          I can’t say that I typically do anything with mine, since this is the first year my quince tree’s had more than one or two fruits. (Which I froze until I could collect enough to actually make something.) But I’m going to try making quince jelly or similar, assuming the current storm system doesn’t do them in before they ripen. (We had snow down to about 5000 ft level last night, and I’m at 4850.)

        • Sara October 23, 2012, 1:35 pm

          Traditionally quince was combined with apples to make things such as sauces and jams. So if you don’t have enough quinces, try combining with apples

    • gestalt162 October 22, 2012, 7:05 am

      Yep, here in the Great Lakes region, the weather has progressed as you described, and virtually every kind of fruit has been affected- apples and peaches most significantly. My home state of New York is one of the largest apple producers in the country, and this year I’ve heard the harvest is 10-15% of what it is usually. Gallons of cider that went for $4 last year at the farmers’ market are going for $7 this year, and whole apple prices have roughly doubled.

      I’ve heard that the crazy weather did not hit those west of the Rockies (namely Washington state), and they are doing fine, if not better than average.

      • nunayo October 22, 2012, 8:24 am

        here in SW NM, we got a ton more apples than usual. I was given several bags of apples and pears from 3 different neighbors who had unusual bumper crops. I gave back goat milk.

      • Holly@ClubThrifty October 22, 2012, 10:31 am

        I noticed that a half gallon of apple cider was $3.99 at the store yesterday. I thought I must’ve been reading it wrong!

    • PJ October 22, 2012, 1:47 pm

      We had a weird early spring thing happen here too, and at the time that the cherry trees were in blossom, there were few bees around – I remember thinking then that my cherry harvest (my neighbour’s tree hangs into my yard) was likely to be poor, and sure enough pickings were pretty pathetic!

  • Walt October 21, 2012, 7:50 pm

    Whenever I see someone extolling the virtues of a reel mower, I wonder how big their yard is.

    I’m sure MMM is in better shape than I am, but I can’t imagine doing my roughly half acre with one, especially after removal of the money-pit, never used pool that came with the house.

    How about it, MMM?

    • Jon October 21, 2012, 8:17 pm

      I myself started out doing my yard with a reel mower and ditched it after a frustrating season. But I know MMM would tell you that if you don’t want to mow it all you should landscape away the grass!

      • Jon October 21, 2012, 8:21 pm

        Probably my favorite thing about MMM is his no complaints, no excuses attitude. Every time we make an excuse or complain (for which I rebuke myself every day), we hold ourselves back from achieving our goals.

      • saudisimon October 23, 2012, 8:20 am

        Forget the mower. Get a goose or two! Free lawn care with ample fertiliser, free eggs of monster size and quality, free burglar alarm, and, best of all, free Christmas dinner!

        • kiwano October 23, 2012, 1:49 pm

          Geese? I live around enough geese (and their crap) to be completely put off by that idea. How about a goat instead? If memory serves correctly, 1/2 acre is just about the right amount of lawn to sustain a single adult goat. If you get a female, you can probably stop having to by milk.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 21, 2012, 9:09 pm

      Yeah, my whole property is less than 1/4 of an acre, and from that you have to subtract house, large driveway, two sheds, gardens, the large concrete patio I built to displace some of the grass, and the half of the grass that is burned away into plain dirt from the Colorado sun.

      In general, grass is a waste of time. I think it was originally developed as an English showoff crop of “look how much land I can waste on this unproductive and purely decorative monoculture!”. The ideal solution in my book is to replace it with something else.

      The in-laws have a 1-acre spread and they have let it grow into a big wildernessy forest with wildflowers everywhere. It’s beautiful. All their neighbors have the big emerald-green golf course yard with lawn contractors polluting it weekly.

      • Walt October 21, 2012, 10:06 pm

        My neighbors would not appreciate a “big wildernessy forest” or a field of wild flowers. I like to stay on good terms with them.

        I do my own yard work, and the cheapest (and easiest) thing to do with that much yard is plant it with grass seed.

        I have a gas lawn mower that I bought new 5 years ago. It runs quiet, I suspect it runs fairly clean (modern 4-cycle engine) and I buy 2 or 3 gallons of gas and a quart of oil each year to run it. This year I had to take it apart into, frankly, smaller pieces than made me entirely comfortable to fix it, but I did it and it’s still running great.

        I would look for something used if it broke, but this was one of my many purchases before I saw the MMM light.

        • Mr. Risky Startup October 21, 2012, 11:45 pm

          Friend of mine did exactly that. He planted (threw) some wild flower seeds to speed up the process, but he let his garden be taken over by the nature. He even left his broken old lawn mower in the middle of the garden so that plants can grow over and through it.

          Entire place has a cool post-apocalyptic quality. It is serene, beautiful, environmentally friendly and almost reassuring to see how nature takes such a short time to reclaim its dominance when left alone. I wish more people would do exactly this.

          It is true however – neighbours are not amused. They accuse my friend of being a “dandelion promoter”.

          Incidentally, while you cannot eat the chemically treated grass, dandelion is an incredibly useful little plant. Due to war I was reduced to eating all kinds of things. One of the most useful plants was actually a dandelion. Flowers (petals) can be used to create a honey-like substance with some sugar and water. Roots can be dried, grounded, roasted and then used as a replacement for coffee. And best of all, young leafs make for an amazing salad with a bit of oil and vinegar.

          • Dancedancekj October 22, 2012, 12:49 am

            I live in an HOA that doesn’t like weeds, but I hated mowing and maintaining my lawn. I wanted native grasses and plants, but how to do it so that it didn’t look like a weedy mess? My neighbors wouldn’t hesitate to call the city should I let my grass get past six inches.

            The solution? Just a little foresight and some research.

            Technically, you could have the best of both worlds with a little bit of design. This dude, Thomas Rainer, talks about the concept of landscaping with perennials (native and otherwise) and making the landscape cohesive by 1) planting en masse 2) contrasting foliage, structure, and colors and 3) planting thickly.


            He’s pretty talented, great at explaining the concepts, and I’ve learned quite a bit from his blog. Well worth a read for anyone interested in landscaping or gardening!

            • L'Enginieuresse October 22, 2012, 3:04 pm

              Thanks for the grassless lawn info! I’ve been looking for this kind of information for a couple of years now. Are they foot traffic friendly?

          • Kenoryn October 22, 2012, 8:18 am

            I’d love to do that with my 1/2 acre lawn, but alas, have the same “neighbours” problem, and also want to think about resale value. So instead I’ve turned 1/3 of it into a vegetable garden, I’m putting in a deck and a patio/firepit, landscaping gardens and pathways into it, and plan to keep an open, flat area (apparently people with kids like such things) in which I hope to replace the grass with a sensible low-growing plant that won’t need mowing, like something from here: http://www.stepables.com/
            Starting to see lots of these hardy groundcovers being sold in 12-packs at the local garden centres. A good sign!

            • nunayo October 22, 2012, 8:28 am

              Living in a neighborhood that likes the “food not lawns” philosophy is not random. If this is an isuue, consider changing your neighborhood or move.

            • Kenoryn October 22, 2012, 9:46 am

              I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a neighbourhood. I do have a neighbour who has a veggie garden instead of front lawn, and several with perennial gardens. Gardens are fine. But weeds are the real concern. My city also has a by-law against such things.

              In about four or five years, when I’m no longer working at a job for a living, I plan to move to the country, where no one cares. ;) Then I hope to establish a community of like-minded people interested in a self-sufficient, environmentally friendly, non-consumerist lifestyle.

          • Sara October 22, 2012, 3:19 pm

            Many of the plants that people poison to keep out of their lawns are highly useful plants. Plantain, sweet violet, dandelion, chickweed, purslane, sorrel, red clover. All edible and medicinal. And plantain leaves (broad leaf or lance leaf) will take the sting out of a bee sting, draw out a splinter, remove the itch from an insect bite and more. And a more diverse ecosystem in the lawn means a healthier lawn: it will withstand drought better and be more resistant to insect or disease invasions.

        • Elizabeth October 22, 2012, 5:52 am

          Grass (and gardens) do serve a useful purpose — they collect and absorb rainwater into the local water table rather than letting it run off into sewers, streams, etc. I’ve noticed quite a few “green roofs” popping up in urban areas for that reason.

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 22, 2012, 10:06 am

          The funny thing about this mower discussion is that nobody has mentioned ELECTRIC lawnmowers!

          I use my reel mower for most of the cuts, but if things get crazy I can always pull out the ol’ Black and Decker 20″ corded electric mower. That can easily chop down foot-tall grass and weeds and is a nice bridge between muscle and gas motor. It makes no pollution, can last for decades, and is quieter than even the best new gas mower.

          • Steve October 22, 2012, 10:48 am

            Hooray for the electric lawnmower!

            My new neighbor likes it, too. So, he borrows it, charges it for me, and brings a meal of spicy Indian food that his wife made, just to say thanks.

          • jen October 22, 2012, 11:10 am

            Just had to comment to say that my grandfather used a light blue electric lawn mower for decades, except of course there was no battery…you actually had to trail an extension cord around behind you! He also never owned any type of powered weed wacker/lawn edger tool. My grandmother would just use scissors and neatly trim the grass around their light posts, etc. by hand.

            • Mr. Money Mustache October 22, 2012, 11:36 am

              Yup, those corded ones are still the way to go in my opinion, at least for people who mow their lawns infrequently like me.

              Batteries are convenient, but they only last a few years and cost $100 or more to replace (with plenty of toxic manufacturing involved). I make that sacrifice regularly with cordless tools, because I pick up the cordless drill thousands of times per year, in always-changing locations. But the mower cuts the same patch over and over, probably only 15 times a year in our dry climate with no real growth between October and March.

              Steve has a good point though – a cordless mower shared between a few people would probably be a winner, because the number of cuts you get per battery is several times higher (for infrequent users, age is the main thing that kills it).

            • Tricopatch October 22, 2012, 11:58 am

              We have the Neuton battery mower and we love it. Clean, quiet and easy. The cable on yours would drive me nuts (since I am a bit of a klutz).
              For anyone interested, see http://www.neutonpower.com.
              We got one of this babies 5 summers ago, after using the gas monster we inherited from previous owners for about 2 summers. The best part was that the city we live in had a program at that time where they would give you a $100.00 certificate to be used for purchasing a Neuton mower if you recycled your gas mower. So we actually made money getting rid of the ugly, noisy, dirty thing.
              Oh, and the original battery is still going.

            • Oh Yonghao November 5, 2014, 2:37 pm

              This is the reason I went with corded power tools instead of battery powered ones. I do my own house maintenance, but not so much carpentry, so the tools are used infrequently. If I ever did start using them often enough I may sell them on Craigslist and purchase some battery powered tools, but for now these ones do the job and I don’t have to fuss with keeping batteries charged, or finding dead batteries when I need to use one.

          • Diane October 24, 2012, 1:15 pm

            I started wondering about my electric mower, which died last year at the ripe old age of 32. I’m not sure where my electricity comes from-hydroelectric power or from burning coal. Still, probably a better choice than gas.

            • Mr. Money Mustache October 24, 2012, 3:11 pm

              Yeah, the thing about electric mowers is the electricity consumption is so minimal, it doesn’t matter where it comes from. About five cents worth to cut a large lawn. Meanwhile, gas mowers have very lax pollution controls, so the typical gas mower creates more urban pollution than a large SUV driving at highway speed (because most of the existing ones have no catalytic converter).

      • M October 22, 2012, 7:38 am

        Exactly. And Universities in the past had expansive lawns because students were expected to bring their own livestock to supplement their incomes at school. A four-legged emergency fund, if you will.

      • George October 22, 2012, 9:33 am

        At the house destined to be my retirement house, there are 2 acres of grass (not lawn). The elk herds enjoy it and we enjoy the elk. (there are also 2 acres of forest)

        Yes, it does get mowed with a riding mower otherwise the summer fire danger is too high. Not to mention that’s the only non-chemical way to keep the invasive himalayan blackberries in check.

        • Gregbone June 15, 2014, 1:37 pm

          Goats will get rid of those blackberries, if you give them a bit of time.

      • Jamesqf October 22, 2012, 12:18 pm

        “In general, grass is a waste of time. I think it was originally developed as an English showoff crop of “look how much land I can waste on this unproductive and purely decorative monoculture!”.”

        Have to disagree about that. In its place, grass lawns are useful, as e.g. play areas, sitting under shade tree areas, etc. It’s also handy to have surround the house so as to brush dirt off dog paws.

        I’d say I have about 1/10 of an acre that is lawn (plus about another 1/4 acre in native/prairie grass that might get mowed once a year, as I’m short on buffal to graze it). I do it with a rechargable electric, as trying to run 75 yards or so of extension cord around bushes is way too much hassle.

        • reluctantlemming October 23, 2012, 10:41 am

          FWIW, the lawn as we know it now (big, green, unblemished and unproductive) did in fact begin as a feature of English manor house. And they were every bit as ostentatious as the house, the stables, the gardens and everything else within the house on the estate.

          After that they were incorporated into the earliest English suburbs and eventually into American suburbs. Realtors knew even then that one good way to sell useless stuff to almost-rich people is to make them think that they’ll look like rich people by buying it.

          I can understand a bit of lawn as a feature in a yard. It should be like a throw rug on the floor of a nicely arranged room. But I find a yard that is all- or mainly lawn as revolting as the idea of living in a house that is empty of furniture but that has wall-to-wall carpeting.

    • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies October 22, 2012, 4:11 am

      One of our neighbors has a manual mower like this, and they struggle with their grass every summer and usually end up calling landscapers when they can’t keep it under control. (The rainy season here can have grass growing an insane amount each week in the summer.)
      Mr. PoP bought a used 30 (40?) year old Honda mower that he claims with proper maintenance (which he does himself) is going to be handed down to our hypothetical grandchildren. It actually does work great now – and a bonus, he loved taking the engine apart and putting it back together.

      • Eschewing Debt October 22, 2012, 9:33 am

        We LOVE our reel mower- but granted, we do have a small yard. I find it incredibly easy to push (much more so than a motor mower), it cuts the grass great, and we can mow anytime we want because it doesn’t make noise.

        We have a neighbor, though, who just put astro turf in his backyard, and it looks great! No mowing, no watering, just perfect grass all year long. Maybe someday we’ll do the same.

      • Ben October 22, 2012, 6:42 pm

        I switched to a reel mower this year. Normally I try to fix things myself when they break, but when I moved in and my new roommates had left fuel in the gas mower over winter, I threw up my hands and bought a used-once Scotts reel mower on Craigslist for $25 (sold the mower for a bit more than that). It works well as long as the grass isn’t too thick, but in the height of the summer there’s a section of our lawn that’s too dense and I have to push the mower through, cutting only a few inches in with each thrust. But even after that, it’s STILL better than the noisy, impossible-to-start, environmental disaster we had before.

        • TomTX October 25, 2012, 4:43 am

          There’s a product called Sta-Bil which makes gasoline last a LOT longer. When I buy gas for my mower, the gas can gets a squirt of the stuff. I’ve had the same quart can for 10 years now… I do use a gasoline mower, but it also doubles as a chipper/shredder for anything with woody parts under about 1″ – shrubbery, herb and tree trimmings mostly.

  • Justin Lilly October 21, 2012, 7:59 pm

    Increase in apple prices are two fold. On the midwest – east coast, there was a bad frost that came through. On the west coast, we’ve had such a bumper crop that we can’t actually pick them fast enough due to not enough workers. Gotta love that irony.

    • Erica / Northwest Edible Life October 21, 2012, 9:47 pm

      My bulk apple supplier tells me he is shipping more apples to the east coast this year than in any other year. He says, “yeah, it’s good for me [higher prices], but farmers don’t like to wish that [crop failure] on other farmers.”

      This is one of many reasons why I love my farmers.

    • Anne October 22, 2012, 5:24 am

      Here in Massachusetts the very warm, early, spring, followed by a hard frost killed most of the apple blossoms. Only about 1/2 the crop came in. I’ve heard the same thing happened in Illinois/Wisconsin/Michigan/Indiana too.

  • Aaron @ NoMoreUntDebt October 21, 2012, 8:29 pm

    I’m cracking up at the catheter comment. Your analogies never cease to amaze (and belittle) me in the most ass-kickingly beneficial way.

    I can not wait to build a similar life to yours in the next 10-12 years.

  • Posted On October 21, 2012, 8:46 pm

    In the Denver area, we are experiencing an abundance of apples on the trees. This year they are delish and I cannot get enough of them! Historically, I have never been a fan of apples, but this year I am going crazy for them.
    Peaches here didn’t seem to be so great, size-wise, but the apples are excellent, and the trees seem to have ton of them!

  • Erica / Northwest Edible Life October 21, 2012, 9:50 pm

    Gleaning has a long and proud tradition and an interesting history (it was basically the original “food stamps” program). MMM, some of the field farms and orchards in our area will do gleaning days, when community members can walk the fields after the harvesting tractors come through and hand pick whatever got left, which is often a huge amount. It’s a very popular thing to do with potatoes. You might, if you are into that kind of thing, see if your regional ag areas have something similar. If they don’t, it might just take a phone call to change that. Gleaners will often donate a percentage of their yield to food banks or other services for the needy, so it can be a real win-win-win for the farmer, the gleaner and the community.

    • Elizabeth October 22, 2012, 5:59 am

      Gleaning used to be a way to provide for the poor in one’s community (people in need could pick the crops clean). It’s nice to see that tradition continue in some measure.

      • Margie October 22, 2012, 7:51 am

        There is an excellent documentary called The Gleaners and I. It’s a favorite of mine and is available on netflix.

    • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom October 22, 2012, 7:48 am

      There are a bunch of gleaning charities that have started. Farmers donate produce they can’t sell, the charity cuts out the bad parts, dehydrates the good stuff and makes healthy soup mix to be given where needed!

    • PJ October 22, 2012, 2:27 pm

      I love that some communities still deliberately leave something behind for people to glean! And donating some of it to local food banks is beautifully in keeping with the tradition of gleaning!

      For those who are interested, some Biblical background about the practice. It was mandated by God that when they harvested, the early Isrealite community should leave something behind for the poor of the community. In Leviticus (19:9-10 and 23:22) and Deuteronomy (24:21) there are virtually identical commands about it. From Lev 19:9-10:

      When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strp your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

      Added to the command in Deuteronomy is a reminder: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.” In other words, remember that there have been times when you were in need too.

      Perhaps the most well known references to gleaning in the Bible are found in the book of Ruth. Ruth meets her future husband when she goes gleaning in his field. The fact that he has his workers leave behind the gleanings for the poor to gather is one of the signs of his good and righteous character.

  • Walt October 21, 2012, 10:11 pm

    Wow that’s a lot for apples.

    I just bought some 5 pound bags of Fiji apples at Sam’s Club for $7 each, and they are some of the best apples I’ve ever eaten.

    You have to look carefully at their produce, but sometimes you hit something really great. I’ve had some really awful produce from them too.

    This makes the 4th and 5th bags we’ve bought of them.

    (For those not familiar, Sam’s is basically like Costco but done by Wal*Mart.)

  • Jamesqf October 21, 2012, 10:30 pm

    MMM – I’d be interested to know what variety that lady’s peach tree is. Mine are usually done by the end of August.

    • TOM October 22, 2012, 6:46 am

      “So towards the end of every summer, I visit her tree”

      Sounds like hers is done in August too :-)

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 22, 2012, 10:10 am

      Yeah, that peach picture is from late August.. it just took me a while to collect enough “Urban harvest” anecdotes to make this article worthwhile. Yesterday’s apples put us over the edge :-)

  • Derek P. October 21, 2012, 10:44 pm

    Funny we just bought a 5 pound, 4 dollar bag of nice tasty apples today from Costco… Might make an apple pie from them.

    Would love to start growing things where we are, but honestly nothing grows well here except potatoes and pine trees.

    • Gerard October 22, 2012, 7:13 pm

      Could you grow potatoes and trade with a neighbour/friend? Or can they grow only potatoes, too?

  • Mrs EconoWiser October 21, 2012, 10:56 pm

    The weather’s been great here as well. I just love autumn! I live in a newly built neighbourhood and we set up a Facebook communitypage immediately. So whenever somebody needs something they just write a little note on Facebook. Indeed, I’ve met more and more fantastic people around here.

  • Nephi October 21, 2012, 11:32 pm

    I like the idea of using a manual lawn mower. I’ve thought about that a bit recently. Just a week or two ago when I was helping my grandma-in-law move some things out of her storage unit I came across a craftsmen. I’ve only seen a couple other reel mowers but even so this one was definitely the best I’ve seen. Everybody else was like: “What is that thing?” It would be a nice improvement because all the gas mowers I’ve used in the past have had problems lasting the whole season without repairs. Personally, when I have a yard I plan to turn the whole thing into a garden. What I’d like to know is a muscle-over-motor equivalent of a weed whacker/trimmer.

    • Osprey October 22, 2012, 1:29 am

      In my parts people use a long, thin machete-like thing with a double-sided blade. We call it a “bush knife.” You just whack it around. It’s not precise (and we occasionally see emergency room incidents) but it works ok.

    • Gerard October 22, 2012, 8:36 am

      There are a lot of in-between yard options, too. You just keep making your perennial beds bigger and bigger… things like peonies and rudbeckia and echinacea don’t look like weeds, and are no effort once they’re in. Daffodils naturalize and multiply.
      A lot of alternative-gardener types that I read recommend talking to the neighbours. Start by fulsomely praising their flowers for a few months. Talk about how you wish more of your yard was flowers. See how they react.
      I understand that this won’t work everywhere. I’m writing this from Canada, where the lawn season is shorter and almost nobody hires people to mow their grass. Plus I’m lucky enough to have neighbours who are happy to ignore my long grass, as they love my flowers, and besides, I ignore their drug dealing. :-)

      • Gerard October 22, 2012, 8:38 am

        sorry, this should have been up with the “I have to mow grass” subthread…

      • TomTX October 25, 2012, 5:42 am

        Poppies grow well here once you get a critical mass of them in place. After years of trying, we got a few 2 years ago and a huge mass of them this past spring. Half my front yard was poppies.

        I collected seed and ended up giving away something like 8 sandwich bags half-full of poppy seeds to the neighbors. I have a quart of the seeds in my pantry for cooking, and still have several bags to give away.

        A quarter of the front yard has been the multiheaded native sunflowers – they get 8-10′ tall. Finally chopped/mowed most of them down last weekend, except a few which had obvious ladybug larvae/pupae. WE get a LOT of birds which love the sunflower seeds. I suppose I could “glean” some doves ;)

        Sorry guys – as mentioned above, I do have a gas mower. It’s a low-emission 4-cycle Honda (cheaper 2-cycle engines are the big polluters.) Reel mowers and electric just don’t do it on the heavier stuff. 6HP is bigger than most dedicated chipper/shredders, but my mower works well enough.

    • Eschewing Debt October 22, 2012, 1:38 pm

      We bought our reel mower from Ace hardware for 90 bucks. We’ve had it 4 years and not once had to do anything to it- absolutely zero maintenance. I highly recommend it!

  • Jen October 22, 2012, 12:38 am

    Reminds me of a story of my friend, who rented a room in a house with a landlord. There was a nice apple tree in the backyard, but the owner was buying his apples from a grocery store. My friend asked what was wrong with the tree. The owner said – why, nothing. He was just (lazy?) to pick apples from the ground. My friend had a blast eating those apples, and the owner was happy he helped to clear the fruit from his backyard.

  • Katy October 22, 2012, 1:06 am

    Honey Crisp is a favorite variety of my children. We are fortunate to live just over the mountains from the orchards of the Yakima Valley, and thus have access to a lot of inexpensive fruit come harvest time. I buy in bulk from a guy who drives over to Yakima a couple times a week and buys directly from the orchards. Last week I purchased two 25 lb boxes of organic Honey Crisps for $12 each, much of which became applesauce (they make wonderful unsweetened applesauce). The Granny Smiths will be in soon, they’ll go into the dehydrator, as well as put in cold storage (AKA my balcony closet) for winter baking/snaking. I have my order in for cider apples, both just for juice and for a batch of homemade hard cider. If we ever move out of an apartment into a house, an orchard is high on my list of priorities.

    • Eschewing Debt October 22, 2012, 9:37 am

      Yakima does have some of the best fruit! I really miss that neck of the woods and the bounty of harvest it produces- just thinking about it makes my mouth water!

  • RoVaRo October 22, 2012, 2:16 am

    Yesterday I watched this session about sacred economics, very interesting and compatible with mustachism :

    I wish there was a localized version of MM adapted to the European or more specifically Dutch society!

  • James October 22, 2012, 3:11 am

    Great article as always MMM. I’ve just put in two garden beds and think there is little more satisfying than producing vegetables yourself and sharing them with others.

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies October 22, 2012, 4:20 am

    Our neighbors have some banana plants that grow in the side yard between our two houses. This summer (when the neighbors were up north), a beautiful bunch of bananas was growing from one of the plants, but caused it to bend under the weight of all the bananas. The plant was still alive, and the bananas were still growing (they were still very green at this point), but the landscapers removed the entire plant that bent one day. I’m sure it went straight into the mulch pile.
    More bananas are growing now, so when the neighbors come back down for the winter I’m going to ask them if we have their permission to reinforce banana plants and steal the bananas when they’re gone 8 months of the year. I have no doubt they’ll say yes!

  • padded hat October 22, 2012, 5:29 am

    Just bought 1/2 a bushel of Galas from my local supplier. $15 for 24lbs. here in northeastern PA. My farmer reported that his suppliers are typically from NY. and had roughly a 50% crop failure. He also stated that midwestern suppliers had some areas of total failure, and that he is paying $70 a bushel for some varieties, if he can find them.

    I’ve had some interesting experiences when stumbing upon heritage trees on abandoned homesteads, in the PA. woods. Some of these apples are delicious, some are so bad you wonder how the Deer keep them down? Had the same experience with citrus in the backwoods of FL.

    • Elizabeth October 22, 2012, 8:02 am

      A lot of the old apples were originally intended for making (hard) cider rather than for eating raw, so they don’t necessarily taste good to our modern palates.

      • Jamesqf October 23, 2012, 11:06 am

        Some might be crabapples, too, which are rather tart for fresh eating. My neighbor has a bumper crop this year, and I’ve found they go nicely in a stir-fried sweet & sour pork.

  • G.E. Miller October 22, 2012, 6:44 am

    re: apples
    Michigan and other Midwest states are a huge supplier and back in the spring, our 90 degree March caused all of the trees to bud early. Then a frost came through and killed off the buds. One of my trees actually lost all of its leaves, in April! The result, no apple crop this year. Devastating to many businesses. Thank you, global warming.

  • Andrew October 22, 2012, 7:23 am

    scythe faster than a string trimmer – how to

    I used to have one of those push mowers, now I dont have grass, but when I get some, I am thinking scythe is the way to go.

    • Heather October 22, 2012, 1:15 pm

      I used to scythe the orchard twice a year. It’s quite fun.
      Lately , my husband has taken to mowing it. It’s useful to have a more lawn-like space, for summer birthday parties and soccer games. It also lets us rake the fallen leaves from the apple trees which they say helps with apple pests.
      On the down side, we’re on our third mower. The rough ground, rocks and stumps are a bit hard on the poor things.

  • CL October 22, 2012, 7:26 am

    I’m a huge fan of getting free fruit. When I was test driving raw veganism for two months, I was really concerned by how much a tiny box of organic raspberries cost. Then, I went home for the weekend and my parents gave me 10+ pounds of fruit. We harvested a small portion of the apples from the apple tree in our backyard and my dad was trying to feed us 20 delicious apples or so per day. (The apples are pretty small and could probably fit inside of a 10-year-old’s hand.) We live in Indiana and were apparently unaffected by the killing frosts. After I ran through part of my apples, my parents sent another 10+ pounds of fruit my way. My grocery costs for September were very small, partially as a result of having a freezer full of fruit.

  • Margie October 22, 2012, 7:45 am

    While we haven’t found any apple trees in our area, we eat from the mulberry, fig, and pecan trees in our neighborhood. There’s an organization in Atlanta that forages food for the hungry – http://www.concrete-jungle.org/about

    • Jack October 23, 2012, 7:14 am

      Concrete Jungle is pretty cool; I’m neighbors with one of the folks who runs it. Note that if you volunteer with them, it’s perfectly okay to keep some/most/all the fruit you pick for yourself.

      • Margie October 23, 2012, 3:32 pm

        Small world, Jack. Thanks for the info.

  • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom October 22, 2012, 7:51 am

    We picked 5 laundry hampers of pears at a local baseball diamond last week. We made it a fun family activity! I canned a bunch yesterday and I am currently procrastinating from canning more today. Canning seems to be the less fun, less glamorous side of picking pears!

    • boxpleat October 22, 2012, 8:12 am

      We selected our new (cash) house because when we were house hunting the trees in the back were covered in tiny fruit (pears and peaches and the beginnings of pecans.) Sadly the sprinkler system was non-functional so all the fruit was lost while we waited for closing (Oklahoma can be brutal apparently….sigh!) and with plumbing disasters that kept the sprinklers down during a vital period for pecans we got about….um, 40 good ones….but we picked “going to waste” pears from the neighbors and had our first canning adventure. Haven’t tasted the results yet, but that is up for dinner tonight in a big reveal. hehehe. k.

  • lurker October 22, 2012, 9:17 am

    how about drying fruit??? is it easier than canning? I like dried fruit a lot…any experts on here with some tips….the macoun apples here in NYC are delish this year but I was wondering about the higher price…still since I buy at the farmers market the money is not going to a big chain but supports local Hudson Valley growers so I feel better about that.

  • Timmy P October 22, 2012, 11:37 am

    Love the use of fruit mentioned here. You’re right, free food, no competition. We invested in an apple corer and peeler… well, mom bought it for us, and we dehydrated about 6 grocery bags of apples down to 6 ziploc baggies. Our favorite snack right now!
    Let us know if you need to borrow, or I’d help for a portion of the proceeds!
    Also, concerning fall-time surplus: leaves. They are everywhere for free and make a great winter mulch for the garden beds!

  • Tricopatch October 22, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Southern NH
    We went apple picking yesterday at one of the pick-your-own farms 10 min from where we live.
    $40.00 for a bushel (aprox. 50lbs).
    Pies, dried apples, canned apples, apple strudels, applesauce – what will it be? Damn, I will be busy this week.

  • Heather October 22, 2012, 1:09 pm

    We lost our apples here in Ottawa too. But, the garden made me some amazing green peppers for the first time.

  • TW October 22, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Timely article! Spent yesterday pruning the apple, pear and cherry trees at our new home (they hadn’t been pruned in ~10 years). Hopefully next year we wil be rolling in the produce. Giving the kindling to our friends as a thank you for borrowing their chop saw recently. We also started a tool collective among family/friends- thanks for the inspiration MMM!

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t remember bartering/sharing happening much as a suburbanite kid in the 80’s and 90’s.
    Do you think this is a trend born of the downturn… or just that I hadn’t paid attention to it before???

  • Boss' Assistant October 22, 2012, 6:10 pm

    I have been looking all around our neighborhood for ripe fruit trees to no avail. Maybe we need to live further away from the city. I love the bartering arrangement; it can be more valuable than money.

  • Mary October 22, 2012, 9:43 pm

    Readers with too many apples and a desire to can them might want to try this recipe: http://www.mrswheelbarrow.com/2010/10/spiced-apples-in-a-jar/

    I don’t have the teeth for fresh apples any more, but I want to try this recipe.

  • Nathan October 23, 2012, 6:03 am

    Have you checked out http://www.streetbank.com. It is a free platform to help neighbors share by posting what they have online. Our neighborhood started it and I have used it quite a few times to keep me from going to the big box home stores.

  • Joe @ Retire By 40 October 23, 2012, 9:33 am

    I’m terrible at sharing tools and things with my neighbors. I guess that’s the norm. Grandma has been sending us a lot of apples and persimmons from her garden this year. I think it’s a lot more expensive than us just buying from the store, but she’s happy to do it…

  • Marie at FamilyMoneyValues October 23, 2012, 1:38 pm

    It is great when neighbors connect. I live in an area which is not conducive to interactions at the moment, but my growing up neighborhood was just like yours now. I’m glad it is still happening!

  • Gerry October 23, 2012, 3:41 pm

    M³, I did a little harvesting of my own today. I went into the garage and located my Scott’s Classic asses-and-elbows push mower that I bought about 7 years ago. I used it to trim a few wild spots in the yard and realized that it wasn’t as hard to push as I remembered. Losing 40 lbs on the Slow Carb diet seems to have helped my grass cutting stamina. I then trimmed the wild forest that is trying to overtake my yard. Thanks for being the wind beneath my yard working wings; you have convinced / shamed me into doing my own yard work. Now I’m trying to find the right words to let my yard guy go…

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 23, 2012, 4:35 pm

      Wow, congratulations Gerry! 40 lbs is a pretty sweet accomplishment, as is taking up your own lawn care.

      Out of all the complaints about lawn care, I find the “reel mower is too difficult and/or slow” argument to be the strangest. The thing is lightning-fast! You can run behind your reel mower, and it automatically spins its blade faster to compensate. I find gas mowers leave uncut grass behind if you try to push them too quickly. So on a big patch of lawn, you could get the biggest reel mower on the market, and just go to town.

      As for pushing effort – if someone has trouble pushing a 40-pound chunk of iron on wheels, an alarm bell should sound. It’s good for you. If it is difficult, work until you fall down, then come back each day until the job is finished – you need it!

  • Derek - Freeat33 October 23, 2012, 5:20 pm

    I have a park near my house that grows pears. We pick them and can them to make smoothies all winter. We get a laundry basket full of pears from each tree, and since we pick them efficiently ( i.e. by climbing the tree and shaking it ) we can pick a tree every 7 minutes.
    Canning takes much longer though. Next time we might just freeze them.
    I have a video of my wife ( MoneyMasterMom ), the little liabilities and I picking pears with our efficient technique on my facebook.

    • Mandy - MoneyMasterMom October 23, 2012, 6:24 pm

      The canning isn’t nearly as fun as the picking! I’m 42 cans in and I’m only half way.

  • Angie October 23, 2012, 5:30 pm

    Great article! This was the most exciting thing when I moved into my neighbourhood :) Lots of citrus trees, olive trees and fig trees… And I know so many people who are happy to share! But my aim for the summer is to start crabbing in the river near my house (cheaper to get the nets, and easier to do than fishing with a rod and reel, but people do that too) … plus a good place to kick back with some homebrew and a friend or two!

  • George October 23, 2012, 10:23 pm

    I think you have the same reel mower as me now, it looks like the 20in wide model.

    One cool thing about this is in the fall when you have shorter days you can actually cut your lawn in the darkness or semi-darkness due to the fact that the mower makes very little noise. You can call stealth-mowing in fact.

    For added fun, you can actually attach a headlight to the front of it to get mowing done at night similar to putting a light on the front of a bike.

  • Mrs. 1500 January 5, 2013, 3:56 pm

    We just moved to Colorado from Madison, WI. In Madison, they have an organization called Madison Fruit and Nuts, and if you go to their website, they have a list of different places both public and private with fruit and nut trees you can pick for free. So many houses have fruit and/or nut trees the owners don’t have any use for. Why let it rot if someone can use it? Is anyone aware of anything like this in Colorado?

  • Tammy May 27, 2013, 9:07 am

    What, no one else noticed the Presidents of the United States of America reference?!? Now that song is going to be stuck in my head all day…millions of peaches…

  • Troy January 7, 2016, 4:11 pm

    http://fallingfruit.org/ is a pretty amazing crowdsourced map for nearly-endless publicly-accessible fruit trees (and other food-bearing plants) that can be gleaned from.

    My wife and I have loved going out on sunny summer days and taking a small share of the many apples and pears that are available. I’ve spotted a couple of peach trees, so I will try for those this summer.


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