Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year, New Posts

Since it's been over a year since my last post, it's time to get back into writing.

In the last year, I've had a lot of changes, but I think I've gotten things back to stable point where I finally have time to start working on projects and writing about them.   One of the biggest changes of the last year, we finally bought a house.  It was a long drawn out, annoying process, but we finally moved into a house that we love.

While the inside is almost perfect, the outside leaves a lot to be desired.  Our backyard is spacious, but has a hill that really ruins the usual space.  I've considered trying to fill it in, terrace it, and possibly turning it into a huge compost pile that will eventually fill it in.  I'm still deciding on the best idea.

I do have a few projects on the burner for the next year.  A list of projects for the back yard in no particular order: Build a pergola, plant grape vines around it, add flowers.  Build a small pond (with or without stream) and landscaping around it.  Add a fence.  Plant some fruit trees (I'm leaning to apples and peaches geared for my climate).  And of course the hill, I'm really considering building a terrace garden on the hill, but we will see how far I get with the other projects.

And of course my garden.  I planted a few sunflowers and cucumbers last year, but they didn't grow well in my terrible soil.  So I started added all my grass clippings and killing the grass in my new garden plot.  I also started adding a border with landscape timbers to help delineate where the garden lives and the yard starts.

Inside we do have one major project that we want to add, we want to add a backsplash around the entire cabinet space.  I also have some things I want to do to the garage to add storage space and to fill the need for more wood working tools.  

Of course, I will also be discussing hunting, fishing, trapping and foraging.  One thing I'd like to add this year is some electronics projects using the Arduino and the Rapsberri Pi.  I think it's going to be an exciting year, and I hope that I can learn a few things and pass them on to you, the reader.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Imminent Government Shutdown

Welcome back, I know it's been a long time since I've actually written a blog post.  Sorry about that.  I've been concentrating on political issues, and I don't want to turn this into a political blog.  But with the government in danger of being shutdown next week.  I wanted to put in my two cents on a few issues that I feel need to be addressed.  I come from a long line of military men.  My brother in law is currently serving, along with several of my cousins.  My father, my grandfather, my wife's grandfather and several other cousins have also served.  I actually live outside an Air Force base and most of my neighbors are currently serving our country.  I say all this to explain the following letter.  I feel that everyone in this country needs to write to theirs reps with something along the following lines.  If you feel the need to shut the government down.  Then you need to pass two laws.  One that states that our military will continue to be paid, and one that states that Congress and the Presidential branch won't.  Here is the letter I just sent to my my reps in Congress.

Dear Senator/Representative,

I want to let you know that I have been following the government shutdown closely.  I agree with some of the reasons for this.  What I don't agree with is that the military won't get paid during the shutdown.  I understand that their pay is retroactively paid to them when the government is back up and running, this is just wrong.  If the members of Congress can't do their jobs effectively, the least you can do is pass a law stating that the military pay checks will not be delayed.

The other is you can get a law passed stating that members of Congress the President of the United States will not get paid during this time, not even retroactively.

The shutdown of the government is a failure on the part of Congress to do their job.  If I don't do my job, I lose it and I don't get paid.  It's time to start acting like adults, and to stop holding our country hostage.  I have to have a budget, that takes into account my debt and income, and it's time the United States of America does the same. 

Thank You,

Here are the links necessary to find your rep and to write them.

House of Representatives


The President of the United States

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Recycling 2 liter bottles

Around my house we drink quite a few two liters.  I'm not aware of anywhere to recycle them around my house, but then again why should I send them somewhere, when I can use the around the house.  While there are probably a lot more uses for them, I have found two good uses for them, planters and minnow traps.

Minnow Traps

To make a minnow trap, I use two bottles and cut the top off one, and the bottom of the other.  You want to keep the parts that are funnel shaped. Nest the smaller piece inside the larger one as shown to the side.

 The easiest way I've found to attach the pieces together with a couple of twisty ties (see picture on the side).  I've always used a sharp knife, or a drill bit to add some holes.  This can be a little difficult to do though.  I recently read about using a soldering iron to burn holes through the plastic.  I don't own one, so I haven't tried it, but the principle is sound, and this seems like a really easy to do that.

Now that you have a minnow trap, find a pond, creek or other body of water and bait it.  I've tried a few different items to "bait" the traps.  I haven't found the one item that works the best.  I would recommend dry pet food, fish food, cheese, scrap meat (chicken livers, left over hamburger and the like), and bread.  A lot of it depends on what you're attempting to catch.  If you bait with some kind of animal parts, there is a good chance you'll get some crawdads.  So keep this in mind, in case you don't want them.  No matter what you bait with, make sure you check the traps everyday.  We managed to catch a water snake last year, and you don't want them to drown (you might, but I prefer not to harm innocent animals, if they are leaving me alone, and killing snakes is a punishable offense in some states).  You never know what might show up in your traps.  We caught a fingerling bowfin, northern pike, crawfish, a water snake, fingerling crappie, minnows, grass shrimp, and a bunch of water bugs.  I always keep an aquarium running in my garage for "desirable" fish we catch.  The kids love to check the traps and everyday is like Christmas when you run minnow traps.

The best thing about these traps is that if they get washed away or stolen, you're only out a few cents for the twisty ties.  You can buy professionally made traps starting at $10.00 at most outdoor stores, but why bother if you drink soda out of two-liter.

 Seed Starter

Making a seed starter or planter is even easier.  To make a seed planter, I use one bottle and cut it almost in half.  Add a little water to the bottom, poke a hole in the lid, and nest the top inside.  Add some dirt and seeds, and you should be ready to go.  I've got five corn and 5 bean seeds in mine, and they are starting to come along.

Just make sure you water regularly, as the Sun will heat these up and evaporate the water pretty quickly.  As far as I can tell, this is the only downside to them. 

Carrot Planters

I found another use for 2-liter bottles on Pinterest.  You can use them to grow carrots.  I plan on potting up a few this weekend, and seeing how they work.  I can see the uses, especially in my soil.  My soil is a hard clay, and carrots need a looser type of soil to grow long and straight.  I still managed to grow some carrots last year, but the long drought we had in our area and my bad soil kept them stunted.  I'm hoping that by growing them in some planting soil, they will turn out much better.  I'll post an update later this summer letting you know my results.

Quick Edit:  These seed planters worked out extremely well.  My beans and corn I planted in them, sprouted in about a week.  The best estimate I had was that they would take 2 to 3 weeks to sprout.  I also started some tomato seeds, and they are off to a great head start.  I can highly recommend using these in your future gardening efforts. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Gardening with Spreadsheets

One thing that all rennaissance persons need to be able to do is grow their own food, but another equally important aspect is the ability to use technology to help with everyday problems.  This post is one of my solutions.  I know not everyone is programmer like I am, but keeping records in a digital format is a great way to keep from losing them, and to keep clutter down in your house.  Just make sure you back up important documents in a few places.  I like to use Google's Drive.  You can download copies of spreadsheets to a variety of formats.  That way if Google announces Drive's demise, you can still have all your spreadsheets on your computer. This is my take of using digitization to help with gardening.

I planted a  spring garden earlier this year and parts of it are coming along pretty well.  Some parts not so well.  One thing that I didn't do was mark what I planted.  I'm pretty lazy person, and didn't feel like taking the time to make or buy some labels.  And I didn't really think it would matter.  I usually just see what's growing when it's time to start picking it.

I decided that I wanted to be more scientific with my gardening.  My first goal was to start to  tracking what I planted.  Below is an example of my garden spreadsheet from Google Drive.  You can use any spreadsheet program you want, but I like to use Drive.  It's free, it works, and I can access it from anywhere.

It still needs a lot of work, but at least it's a start.  My next goal is to actually count the seeds I plant and try to kee an accurate count of germination rates.  This way I can weed out bad seeds from good ones.  There's nothing worse than spending money on seeds where only 1 in 5 will actually turn into a useful plant. 

A well planned garden is the first step to a successful garden.  You need to rotate plants to help keep the soil rich in nutrients.  To keep plants rotated, you need to figure out what you're growing now, and what plants to grow next year in that spot.  A spreadsheet makes this process simple and painless.  Take this years spreadsheet, save a copy of it under a new name, and figure out what plants will complement what you grew this year, and plant them.

One thing I've learned this year, is that certain parts of my garden are growing very well, and some parts are not growing worth a darn.  I've color coded my spreadsheet based on what plant is growing there right now, but I think using a color code for fertilization would be even more useful.

This is a basic outline for now.  I'll post more on it later, as I get to a point where I make it even more useful.  I hope it helps you on your way to a bigger green thumb. 


Sunday, April 21, 2013


Disclaimer:  The following post is about gathering and eating wild foods.  Do not eat anything that you can't positively identify.  Look it up for yourself and make sure to positively identify anything that you find.  Failure to do so can make you very sick, unto the point of death.  

Shameful Plug:  Yes, from time to time I plug my business.  Here is a link to our first app. 
Android App: Edible Wild Plant Guide
Kindle App: Edible Wild Plant Guide
It's only $.99 get it while its hot.  I plan on adding more plants as the year goes by and they come in season.  It's a great way to start identifying wild plants

One of the essential skills that all renaissance man is the ability to feed himself.  This week I want to talk about dandelions.  All parts of a dandelion are edible. And I have to admit, the jelly made from it is delicious.

Flowers: I'm sure most everybody has seen a dandelion or one of it's look a likes.  The flower is yellow in color, and looks like a mini sun. They grow on a stalk close to the ground.  This is how to tell a true dandelion from it's neighbors.  The flower will always be close to the ground on a stalk all by itself.  As the flower gets pollinated, the stalk will grow seemingly over night, and turn into a giant puffball of seeds.  I know as kids we used to blow them and make wishes.  The flowers are edible raw, can be cooked, added to many dishes to add color, and of course, my favorite way is to make jelly.  Since I don't have an original recipe, I will leave it up to the user to search the web for a recipe that seems easy to use.  I did, and they are pretty simple to make.  One thing I am planning on trying next year is to make wine out of them.  

Dandelion Flower
Leaves: The leaves are saw shaped or if you prefer, they look like teeth.  Hence the common name origin, dandelion which is a corruption of the French dent de lion, or tooth of the lion.  The leaves can be used raw as a bitter ingredient in salads, they can be sautéed with a little olive oil, they can be added as a flavor agent to many other dishes.  Everything I've read mentions how bitter they are, but I've never experience this myself.  Maybe I've picked them while they were still young and fresh, or maybe my soil just doesn't contain the right ingredients to make them bitter.  Any way, I like them, I think they taste pretty much like a lettuce.   
 Roots: There's not a lot to say about the roots.  If you can identify the flower and the leaves, then you have a dandelion root.  They grow a large tap-root.  I've never done anything with the roots (yet).  You can dig them up, wash them well, and roast them as a coffee substitute.  (I plan on doing this later, but the kids love dandelion jelly, and want me to make some more, so I'm leaving my "weeds" to keep flowering as long as possible).  You can also sautée them, boil them and use them as a potato substitute, or add them to some sort of stew or casserole.

As you can see the dandelion is a great food for survival, but can also find it's way as a great addition to your kitchen table.  They are packed full of nutrients, and lets face it, they are dead easy to grow.  So the next time you're in the backyard, don't pull out the weed killer, but look at it as an easy to gather food. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Automatic Waterers, Part 2

Part 2 of the automatic waterer project, that got interrupted  by having to fix my lawn mower last weekend. 

Two weeks ago we talked about more complicated systems to keep you garden in water throughout the year.  This week I'm going to talk about simpler methods of watering plants.  One thing I didn't discuss was the ever present threat of mosquitoes in stagnant water in you barrels.  I would add a little bit of chlorine or bleach to your barrel to keep them from becoming mosquito breeding grounds.

If you do collect rain water, you can build in a filtration system, and keep the water clean.  You could then use rain water (with some fancy plumbing, that is way beyond my means, for now), for drinking, bathing, cooking, just about any thing you need water for around the house.  Maybe next year, I'll have the time and energy to work on a project this size. 

Pictured below are automatic waterers made out of a milk carton and a 2 liter soda bottle.  Just cut the bottoms off of a 2 liter soda bottle or a gallon of milk. 

Simple Waterers
These kind are more useful for plants that require hilling (think watermelons, potatoes and other vining plants).  Build your hill, and bury these in the center a little above the dirt level.  You can put some fertilizer inside and fill it up with water, allowing you to get fertilizer closer to the roots. 

They can also be useful for container plants.  When the soil starts to dry out, the water will be absorbed back into the soil.  Keep plastic bottles full of water, and you should be good all summer.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Spring Lawn Mower Maintenance

If you're like me, then you might be calling yourself an idiot right now.  I love to work in my yard.  I love the smell of fresh cut grass, but I hate when it's a over a hundred degrees in the shade, and 99% humidity and I have to get out and mow that same yard.  I love that first cool weekend in the fall when I know this is the last time I have to mow after a long hot summer.  But last year I did something real stupid, I left gasoline in my lawn mower.  Doh...

It's finally time to start mowing again and if you left gas in your mower, then like me, it won't start, or if it does, it won't run properly.  I spent a few hours yesterday morning and evening fixing my lawn mower.  Here is a few things to try and fix your mower before you take it to the repair shop, or buy a new one.

A lawn mower is a small gasoline engine that needs to be in tune to run properly just like your car.  One item that I've often overlooked was the air filter.  Just like a car, a lawn mower engine needs proper airflow to run properly.  This is also a good starting point to looking for problems.  An air filter can be bought for less than $10.00 at a local store. 

The next place to start looking for problems is the spark plug.  If you've had your lawn mower for more than a few year, I would suggest replacing the spark plug.  They cost about $3.00, and can save you a lot of frustration later.  All you need is a spark plug socket and a wrench.  Unplug it, unscrew it, take it to store, and find one that matches.  Somewhere on it you will see a code like the one pictured below.  Buy the same one, take it home, screw it in, and put the little plastic cap back on. 
Spark Plug
 To test if you're spark plug is the problem, try to start your mower.  Listen to see what kind of sound it makes.  Then unplug the spark plug, (but leave it screwed in), and try to start it.  If you hear the same sound, you can safely say you are not getting a spark.  Then you can unscrew the plug, and see if it's in a good condition. You can google to see what a good spark plug should look like. 
Hopefully, a new plug and air filter, and you're mower will be good to go.  If not, there are a few more things to try.

The first thing to do is look at you're gas.  It should be clear, if it's yellowish, then you have bad gas.  This was my problem.  Gas (especially gas with ethonal) will start to break down quickly over the winter.  According to conventional wisdome, you really shouldn't run gas with ethanol in your small engines.  I know a couple of guys that own small repair shops, and they are convinced that most of the problems with small motors is the ethanol in the gas. 

If you have bad gas, you need to drain the tank, and dispose of the gas properly.  Try the local auto parts store and see if they will recycle it for you.  Add some fresh gas, and try to start it again.  You may still have trouble getting it to run, which brings me to the last thing to try, the carburetor.
Bottom of the carburetor

I had to unscrew the bottom of the carburetor, and lo and behold I had some yellow gas in there.  No one wonder my mower wouldn't start.  I drained the bad gas out of there, put everything back together and was finally able to get my yard mowed. 

A few words of caution when messing with the carburetor.  Make sure everything is clean around it, you don't want any dirt to get inside it. I know this can be hard with a lawn mower, but make sure you clean everything around it.  Even a little bit of dirt can tear up your carburetor.  Also make sure you know where every screw goes that you take off.  Taking a photo on on your phone before removing a screw is a good way to keep track of all the pieces.  Finally, take it slowly.  Be careful not to strip the screws, bolts or the heads on any of them. 

If you follow these steps, you can probably fix most of the problems with any small engine you come across.  And hopefully you can save yourself a few hundred dollars from repair bills, or having to buy a new mower.  All these skills can also be transferred to your car engine, saving you even more money in the long run.