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

Foraging: Dandelions

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. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Automatic Garden Waterers

Last year we had one of the worst droughts in 50 years.  It was also the first year I tried to garden.  Not a good combination.  My corn didn't turn out, my carrots were stunted, my watermelons and tomatoes burned up.  This year I decided to do something a little different.  Namely, figure out how to water my garden with little thought on my part.  Voila, my research into automatic waterers.

The first thing to figure out is what kind of soil you have.  Since we walk on the ground we tend to think of it as a solid mass of material. This couldn't be further from the truth.  All dirt is made up of tiny particles, even that horrible red clay that so many of us are cursed with.  Between each of these particles is air.  The nice thing about soil is that you can force that air out of the ground by filling it up with water.  Soil can hold a lot more water than we really think.  The real problem is how to get the water down there in the first place?

Drip Systems
There are several ways to create a drip system.  The easiest is to buy a drip hose, and place in the garden.  Hook it up to the water faucet and turn it on.  Of course, this is a blog about DIY, not about Buy It.  Depending on where you live (we'll get to this in a minute), the way I recommend is to buy some PVC pipe and drill some holes up and down the length of it.  Cap one end, and add a place on the other end to hook up a water hose, lay that in the garden.  Do this for every row, and turn the hose on once each day.  I would probably rotate which plants get watered every day. 

Depending on where you live (I said we would get back to it), if you want to save a lot of money on watering, you need to build some rain barrels.  You'll have to check with your HOA and local city ordinances first.  You'd be amazed at how much water you can save in a year, by collecting rain water.  Take the square footage of your roof, multiply the square footage of your roof by 625 and divide by 1000.  This will give you an approximate number of gallons of water that you can collect off your roof.  For instance, I live in a 1400 square foot house, with an average annual rain fall of 50 inches.  So I could collect over 40,000 gallons of water just off my roof.  That's more water than my garden will ever need.  Heck, that's more water than my whole family goes through in a year. 

There are several different ways to collect rain water, and divert it to your garden.  The easiest is to acquire (you can buy them, or you might be able to find some for free.  Check out craigslist, restaraunts and such), some large plastic barrels.  Put one under the down spouts of your gutter, and you can are well on your way to collecting free water. 

The easiest way to get the water to your garden is to add a spigot to each rain barrel. Make sure you get one that you can turn on and off.  You want to make sure they are off while it's raining.  Add a few garden hoses, and you shouldn't have to worry about running out of water any time soon. 

Next week, I've got a few more ideas for container gardening. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Growing Berry Plants in Containers

My family and I are renting a house right now, and looking to buy.  One of the first things I want to do when we finally find the right house though is to establish some blackberry plants.  The problem I have with blackberries is that they can take up three years before you can start getting a good harvest.  I'm not a very patient man.  I sure don't like to wait on food, but while fishing last weekend with some good friends, one mentioned that he had some trees growing in containers in his kitchen.  This got me started thinking why not start some berry plants in a container, that way when we move I'll be a year up on getting fresh blackberries.

Blackberries and raspberries are not usually grown from seed, they are grown from cutting of other living plants.  Berries need nitrogen the most out of all nutrients, and if you grow them in containers you will really need to keep an eye on your soil.  They need a pH of 6.0, and adding some compost in your potting mix will help to keep plants healthy.

I'm not much on buying fertilizer for plants.  I prefer to do things the cheapest way possible.  My plan is to start buying some decent containers.  I'm not really sure what size.  I've read about people being successful growing berries in five gallon containers, but I've also read that they should be at least two feet deep and two feet wide.  I'm going to start with five gallon buckets.

My plan is to get some river rock (I know of a place to collect it, but you can buy it in bags fairly inexpensively at any local garden supply store).  Drill some holes in the bottom and layer about six inches of river rock in the bottom of a five gallon bucket.  Get some decent potting mix, and add about half volume of leaves that I keep composted around the trees in my backyard.  This should give me a decent potting mix that will allow good drainage, but also keep it from drying out to quickly. 

Keeping the soil moist will be the most difficult part of growing berries in containers.  Of course I have several ideas on how to make this easier, I will have to write up a post on these soon. 

The last tip I can think of for growing berries in container is managing the nitrogen in the soil.  The last idea I have is to grow beans in the containers with the berry plants.  Since beans are nitrogen fixers, this may be the best solution for the two problems.  Cheap fertilizer nitrogen fixers from living plants without having to spend money on expensive fertilizers. I'm not sure how well this will work, but it's worth a try.  I'll report back later this summer on how well this idea works out. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

21st Century Politics

Disclaimer:  I am a very biased individual.  I am attempting to write a piece with as little bias as possible, unfortunately some bias will creep in and some will be inferred.  I am not going to write this piece to convince you to agree with me. I believe that every individual should make up their own minds, based on their own belief system.  What I do want is for you to take action based on that belief system.

One thing that I have always been passionate about is our political system in the United States.  We are a constitutional republic.  We are not a true democracy. While ever vote is counted, you cannot vote individually for laws in the national spectrum. What you can do is vote for people to represent your views in Congress.  This was done on purpose by our founding fathers because a true democracy can become ruled with a mob mentality. 

Everywhere I hear people complain about how our elected politicians are out of touch, they don't listen to people.  They are owned by lobbyists.  This is probably true in more ways than one.  This does not have to be true today. 

The reason this is true, is because we the American people have decided as a group that we don't have a voice in the government.  This is why we are taxed, this is why laws we don't like are voted into law.  This is why you're Congress person is more concerned with what the NRA and the NAACP and the AARP have to tell them, then what we have to say as a people.  The American people can be, and I argue, should be the largest lobbyist group in the United States. 

If we the people would let our representatives know what we thought, we could do away with a lot of the money in politics.  Our elected leaders have lost sight of why they were sent to Washington D.C., and you know why, we the American people have allowed this to happen.  

In the past, the people had less of a voice in what their elected reps were doing than they have today.  20 years ago, the only way to let your Senator know what you thought was to call his office.  50 years ago, you had to write him a letter.  100 years ago, you could saddle up your horse, ride through Indian infested territory and maybe reach Washington D.C. in time to let him know your opinion.  Today we have Facebook, Twitter, and email, to let them know precisely what your views are on any subject.  In the past, the only way to know what was being voted on in the House and the Senate were to read the newspaper.  Today, you can read the bills yourself online.  Some of these are very interesting.  Some not so much. 

The point is that you can look at these bills once a week, and let Congress know whether you are for or against any given bill.  Not only can you, but it is your duty as a registered voter and American citizen, to do this.  I'm not perfect.  I just recently realized this is the way to bring true change to the American political climate.  Since I tured 18, and voted in my first presidential election, I have written my Senators exactly 5 times.  And I have done all this in the last few weeks.  This is as much my fault as yours.  But we must change, if we truly want change in this country.  

It's ridiculous that Congress has the lowest approval rating in years.  If you are dissatisfied with Congress, it is your own fault.  When was the last time you called, wrote, Facebooked (I know I just turned a social network into a verb), Tweeted or emailed your rep in Congress?  It's not Congress that we should be disappointed in, but ourselves.  Yes I am disappointed with myself, and with everybody who doesn't contact their reps.  It is all of our fault that our country is headed in the direction that is.  It's time to stand up and be heard. 

As President Obama is fond of saying on Twitter #wedemandavote.  I argue that we #contactcongress.  If everybody who reads this blog will do it, and convince at least a few other people to do it, and they will convince a few more.  We can and will make difference.

My last plea is to do any of the above, and let Congress know how the people feel about Assault weapons (S.150, H.R.437). I don't care whether you are for or against the assault weapon ban.  But let Congress know how you feel.  Otherwise, the lobbyists groups will, and we will all lose.  Below are the links on how to find your House or Senate rep, and the link to the Active bills that are on the floors or soon will be. 

House of Representatives
Active Bills 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas

One thing that I am interested in is the edible plants that grow all around us.  It's amazing how many plants that grow in your own backyard are not only edible, but are higher in beneficial nutrients than the ones that you can buy at your local grocery store.  I started this journey last year when hunting season started, and I began to see a multitude of what I thought might be wild foods.

The first thing that piqued my interest was Hank Shaw's book Hunt, Gather, Cook.  I had originally purchased it for his recipes on wild game and fish.  But he has several chapters on wild foods.  I highly recommend his book for all readers of this blog.  Whether you like to hunt, fish, or even just gather your own wild food, I think you will enjoy it.  He has some recipes that look interesting, and I've tried several of the ones from his blog (  I've never been disappointed in the results.  He really has a good insight into all things consisting of wild food.

But my problem has always been that I can't identify wild foods by sight.  Trying to do a web search for them is just about as hard.  You first have to think about what the food might be, then you have to sift through results looking for any good identifiers that you can find that might help you identify the plants you are looking at.  It's a tough process.  Enter Edible Wild Plants (The Wild Food Adventure) by John Kallas, Ph.D.

Dr. Kallas starts the book with the usual disclaimers about how you shouldn't eat wild foods unless you can positively identify them, he also mentions how you're mileage may vary over what he has said.  This is all good advice.  You really don't know what you're allergic until you've tried something or how it might affect you.  You should start small, and work you're way up to larger quantities.  He also discusses his credentials which are quite extensive.

The book is organized into sections based on different taste categories.  He has a section based on mild greens, bitter greens, and so on.  Each chapter consists of one plant within these genres.

The big difference between his book and others that I have looked at is that he really explains every plant in detail.  Each chapter starts with a distribution map of North America, scientific name, common names, and  edible parts.  He  also gives a brief history of the plant, and nutrient and phytochemical breakdown.  This makes for a very interesting read.  His book not only teaches you a lot about plants, but also a little history behind the plant.

The next part of each chapter is where he really breaks down the plant.  He starts by describing the life cycle of the plant, gives some interesting definitions of different words he is using. And lots of pictures.  I think the book is worth buying just because of the plant pictures in different forms.  He usually shows what the plant looks like in the early stages and in the later stages of its life. 

Next he will describe when to harvest the plant and what parts are good to eat.  He will describe when a plant is prime for harvesting, and what parts are good to harvest.  This makes looking for edible plants a lot more fun.  You can find the plants in the early stage, and help them along to make them even more tasty. 

Lastly, each chapter has at least one recipe that will help highlight a good use of the plant.  These recipes are unique for each plant, and I have found several that I would love to try this spring and summer when my local wild plants start coming up.

If you are interested in spending a little more time outdoors this summer, and doing a little gathering.  I highly recommend Dr. Kalla's book.  It's the perfect companion to your adventures in both hunting and fishing.  I can't think of a better way to fix dinner than with foods you've gathered yourself. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Spring Gardening

Depending on where you live it's just about time time to put in a garden for the spring.  Spring gardens are great way to start off the season.  They are usually plants that are relatively quick to grow, they are nutritious, and they can give you something do if you're not into cold weather fishing. 

Depending on where you live, some plants can only be grown in the spring.  They require cooler temperatures so that the plant won't bolt.  (Bolting refers to the act of a plant quickly adding growth so that it can produce seed).  Plants that are likely to bolt during the hot summer months include cucumbers, lettuces, other greens, and other similar plants.  There are a few places in the United States where you could grow these all year, but that's about all you could grow in those climates. 

I went with a small variety of lettuces, a type of peas, cucumbers, spinach and carrots.  I planted about two weeks ago, when we had a false spring.  This was probably a mistake on my part.  Not two days later, we had a week long cold front come through, and even had a little snow.  We'll see what happens to my small plot in a few more weeks.  Luckily, we've also had enough rain, that I didn't have to worry about watering my plants right now. 

A lot of what you grow, and how you grow it depends on how much room you have, and how much experience you have.  I don't have much of either.  I'm just winging it right now.  One success I can report is that my no-till method that I blogged about last year ( really helped my soil.  I had maybe an inch of good soil for growing, and the rest was hard clay.  I noticed this year that the good soil was much deeper.  Hopefully, this will translate to a better harvest this year.  I'll report back when I actually get to harvest something. 

I noticed that my cucumbers grew really well during the fall.  I decided to plant some pickling cucumbers this spring, because we really liked the fridge pickles I was able to make last year.  I'll add that recipe in a few weeks. 

We really like to eat salads around my house, but even if you don't, planting a spring garden is a great way to start getting the soil ready for you're summer plantings.  This is a practice referred to as cover crops.  Anytime a plant is growing in soil, it will draw up nutrients, loosen the soil, and keep beneficial organisms around. 

All in all a spring garden is a great way to get ready for the summer time.  You don't need a lot of space to plant, but any space used for gardening will repay many times over in great tasting food. 

One last note about fishing.  If you can brave the cold weather, right now is a great time to catch some big blue catfish.  They are just starting to come out of the winter blues, and starting to feed in the shallows on baitfish.  Get you the biggest minnows you can, and thread it through the back with a circle hook.  Throw on a big weight, and cast it out.  One guy I saw last week caught a 20-30 pounder from the bank with a big minnow. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why I Hunt

Today I thought I would write a more philosophical post.  Yesterday was the last day I would be able to hunt until September of next year.  The last weekend of hunting season always make a little sad.  I had several goals this year, only one of which I accomplished.  It sure wasn't for lack of trying.  I hunted every weekend since September 1st.  I did take January off because my daughter was on the girls basketball team.  Good times.  On to philosophy.  

Contrary to popular belief, I don't believe that most hunters hunt to kill.  I don't even like that term in relation to the sport of hunting.  I prefer to use the term harvest.  Less negative connotations with harvesting an animal as opposed to killing it.  My goal for this season was to harvest a squirrel, a rabbit, a deer, and a duck.  Of those goals I only got a squirrel, I actually think my season total was four.  Seems like a lot of wasted time for little payback.  I think I walked over 40 miles this year, and I spent at least 160 hours in the woods.  So for every full week of "work", I was rewarded with about a half pound of meat.  Seems like a waste of time.  But I don't hunt to harvest animals.  

No, I hunt to enjoy a simpler life.  There is something magical about being in the woods before dark.  There is something magical in watching two ducks burst forth from a hidden pond, I didn't know existed.  Just watching them climb to sky and quack to let every other animal in the woods know there is a predator nearby is magical.  That is one reason why I hunt.  To see all of God's majestic creations in their natural glory.

I hunt because I like to think I'm smarter than a wild animal.  I'm wrong.  When most people think of squirrels.  They think of city squirrels, the ones that chase each other all around a tree, and will sit there and eat nuts while you watch them in the park.  A forest squirrel is a completely different creature.  One wrong step, and all you will see is a bounding bushy tail, before it's up a tree and and always running up the side you are not on.  Yep, forest squirrels are some of the most wary creatures in the world.  If you don't believe me, take a trip to one of the public forested areas in your state.  And try and count how many you actually see.  I like to refer to them as tree ninjas.  I've seen them jump from twigs and land on other twigs that even birds won't dare land on.  That's why I hunt, to see God's creations show me how stupid I really am.

I hunt because I have to be shown how much I have to learn.  I learn where deer are bedding down at night, I learn what beavers do in their spare time, I learn where squirrels like to hide nuts.  I learn that wild creatures are just as lazy as I am.  They tend to make the same trails year after year.  There is something magical about watching an animal trail appear in the middle of the forest.  That's why I hunt to see what God can teach me about life.  

I hunt to see all of God's glory expressed in the natural places.

Frost Flower

Box Turtle

Stick Bug

Wild Garlic, I think

Mushroom Covered Log
Circle of Trees

I hunt to find God's "treasures" like these. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Growing Garlic and Green Onions

Growing Garlic

I never realized how easy it was to grow garlic.  If you have a small space in your backyard, you can also grow your own garlic.  Growing your own food is a big part of being a renaissance man.  Growing garlic is not essential to being able to feed yourself, but it can be a useful ingredient in many dishes.  And since it is so easy to grow, I ask why not add it to your garden.  

The first step in growing garlic, is to buy some garlic. Simple I know.  Split the garlic into cloves, and put in a jar with some baking soda.  Let the garlic soak overnight.  Now dig a row in the backyard, and plant the garlic with the little end up, about 6 inches apart.  It's best to do this in December, but it's better late than never.  

Growing Green Onions

Green onions are great little plants that are good in a variety of dishes.  We use them in enchiladas, quesadillas, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, and other dishes that need a little kick.  Once you buy a set of green onions, why not use them to grow some more.  

There are several ways to grow green onions.  The two ways I like both use the bulb from onions that you have already purchased at the grocery store.  When you use the onions, cut off the green parts, but leave the white bulbs alone.  The easiest way to grow these onions is to take the bulbs and place in a jar of water on a window seal.  That's it, after a few weeks, you'll have brand new onions like these.  
Green onions grown from cuttings

I'm not sure how many times you cold regrow onions like this.  I think that if you kept the water clean, and added some liquid fertilizer, you could have fresh green onions all summer and winter.  I'm going to try and keep these alive as long as possible.

Second Growth
Probably the better way to keep the plantings alive as long as possible is to grow them in the garden.  I've done this unintentionally all fall and all winter long.  I would take the bulbs whenever we used them and throw them out in the garden.  One day I looked and noticed that I had "wild" green onions growing in my garden.  I would plant them much like I suggested with the garlic.  Dig a row in your garden, plant them about 6 inches apart.  Again, I imagine that if you only cut off the green parts, you could keep the plantings alive all summer long and probably through the fall.  I've got a couple in my garden that have survived snow, frost, freezing rain, and other winter related catastrophes.  If you like green onions and want a fresh supply all year long.  I would keep some on the windowsill, and some in the garden. I have managed to get a second growth from my the green onions I bought a few weeks.

Edit:  The second weeks growth didn't go so well.  I'm not sure if I should have changed the water more often,  or tried some liquid fertilizer.  The bases started to rot, so I planted them in my garden for the spring.

Edit: The second growth green onions I planted in my garden did extremely well.  I used some with some catfish we caught this weekend, and they were pretty tasty.

So in conclusion, you can grow and regrow green onions from the white bases using both a jar full of water, and by planting them directly in the ground.  I suggest the ground option as this seems to require less work on my part.  

Another Edit:  Since I haven't blogged had a chance to write a quality post in a while, I haven't.  I can tell you one thing, green onion bases planted in the garden will not die ever.  I have now harvest almost every week from the ones I planted earlier this year.  Not only do I have plenty of fresh green onions, I also harvested and froze 2 quarts worth of them for meals later on this year.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How-to: Change A Tire

I've taken a long break from blogging. Between the holidays, starting a new job, and taking on new clients from my small business, it's been a busy few months. On to today's topic.

This may seem like a basic topic today, but it is one that all renaissance men need to know. I must admit, that I didn't know how to properly change a tire just a few short years ago. Also, the next post is going to be about changing the brakes on your vehicle. This will be difficult without knowing how to jack up your vehicle, remove the tire and replace it.

The most important thing I can say about changing your tire, is buy the proper tools. The proper tools always make working on your car so much easier. I've used scissor jacks, bottle jacks, and floor jacks. Buy the best one you can afford. I use bottle jacks, but you must use caution with them. They can be very dangerous if you're not careful. The best jacks to buy in my opinion are floor jacks. They are relatively safe, easy to use, and they make lifting a car a very simple and easy procedure.

I'll show you how to use a bottle jack safely and effectively. When using a bottle jack, you must always consider being safe. To be safe, always use a jack stand. Put the jack stand under the frame first, then put the bottle jack next to it. See the picture below.

Bottle Jack and Jack Stand

Proper Jack and Stand Placement when jacking up your car

Jacking the car is easy, make sure the little screw is tightened, and start to jack the car. When the car starts to lift, make sure the jack is secure and make sure the stand is in place in case either the car or the jack starts to shift.

Once the tire is able to be rotate freely, the car is high enough. To remove the tire is easy, use a tire iron, and loosen the bolts so that you turn them freely with your fingers. If the bolts are too tight to turn, you will have to use your weight. Put your foot on the iron, and apply a steady pressure to the bolt until it "breaks" free. Breaking free is a term used to say that the bolt can be turned freely with your fingers.

Take all the bolts off, and make sure you put them in a safe secure place. You do not want to lose them. They are easy to misplace when you are working on your car. Take the tire off, grab a new tire, and put it back in place.

The next step is one of the most important. Start putting a bolt back on, and hand tighten it. To replace the bolts you want to use a star pattern. See picture below. Hand tighten all the bolts, the use your tire iron to make sure all the bolts are snug. This is another time that you will want to use your weight to make sure all the bolts are tightened as tight as you can get them.
Star Pattern for Tightening Bolts

That's all there is to it. You've changed your tire. Next week changing your breaks.

This was a barebones approach to changing your tire. You can make things a lot easier by spending some money and buying some new tools. If you can afford it, I would buy the best floor jack I could get. I would then buy air compressor. An air compressor will make it easier to remove the bolts and and make sure they tightened properly. See you next week.