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.