Tuesday, August 28, 2012


The problem, at least for me, with not doing an update daily is that once I get out of the habit its easy to forget to do the update even on days when I have something to say. That is what happened yesterday, which is why I'm writing the update this morning instead of last night like I should have.

I didn't do a lot yesterday, but did accomplish a couple of small tasks after work. The first thing I did was work on the compost pile again. I needed to incorporate the wastes from the peaches that Andrea canned, and didn't want them near the top. There are still enough loose leaves in the pile that I was able to dump the peach waste on top, then work leaves from the sides onto the top of that. I'll need to check on it in a day or two, but I think that it is sufficiently covered at this point. I had been worried about the large number of leaves that had been added recently, but after adding the peels from 40 lbs of bananas, the shucks and cobs from 13 ears of corn, the waste from 20 lbs of tomatoes, and the waste from  a basket of peaches I suspect that the pile isn't quite so out of balance now.

After finishing with the compost I hauled a load of old branches over to the burn pile. These branches were pieces that I had discard instead of chipping for various reasons. They had been piled up for more than a year, so I've been slowly starting to move them. Right now they are in the way of getting the big mower out past the compost bin, and I want to try mowing some of that area with it. So far I've just used the push mower for that, because there is nowhere to turn out there. I want to experiment with hooking the mower to the front hitch and pushing it, so I can back it more easily into previously uncleared areas, and thought that would be a good place to start.

After unloading the branches I remembered that a couple of branches had fallen near the garden that were interfering with my mowing over there. I went ahead and added those to the burn pile while I was over there.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Review - Growing Great Garlic

A while back I mentioned picking up some books from Amazon with a gift card I had. One of the books was about root cellars, and the other two were about garlic. I just finished reading one of the books about garlic, and wanted to share my thoughts on it.

The book is Growing Great Garlic: The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers.        It was written by a grower of gourmet garlic, which is nice because the author is able to share practical knowledge and experiences.

The first few chapters of the book may not appeal to everyone. A number of pages are devoted to discussing the various types of garlic, and the disagreements that exist among many growers and scientists about the proper classifications of those types. There is also a thorough section on the history and geographical transition of the plant. While, at first, I felt that dedicating nearly a quarter of the book to these topics was a waste of valuable space, I did end up with a better appreciation for the plant.

The remainder of the book was very informative, and I believe will appeal to anyone interested in growing garlic. There are chapters dedicated to site selection and preparation, selection of planting stock, planting, harvesting, storing, and even marketing of garlic.

The reason that I was attracted to this book in the first place was the focus on growing garlic using organic methods. Its a nice change of pace to read a book that is not only targeted to organic growers, but that is written by someone who has experience with organically growing the particular crop. While it is possible to adapt information presented in "traditional" gardening books to organic methods, it can be frustrating to have to constantly think about organic fertilizers that might compare to the chemical fertilizers being recommended, or to do additional research regarding pest control, because the author suggests relying on insecticides. It is my hope that the market for crop-specific books targeted to organic gardeners will continue to grow.

Another aspect of the book that I really appreciate is the author sharing his experiences with various experiments he has conducted over the years. I enjoyed these sections of the book for a couple of reasons. The first is that these experiments by the author show his passion for not only growing garlic, but for better understanding the plants and how various variables impact their development. From a more practical standpoint, I am grateful for this information so that I may consider his findings in my plans for next year's crop of garlic. I do hope that a newer edition of the book is eventually released, as I'm sure the author has conducted additional experiments since the book was published that would provide even more useful information to readers.

One issue that I should mention with this book is that, because much of the information presented is based on the author's own experiences, variations in climate must be taken into account. The author's farm, Filaree Garlic Farm, is based in Northern Washington, which has a very different climate than my location. The author does often point out that results will vary in different climates, and even talks about differences between his results and those of other growers in his area. Short of finding a book written by a local grower, however, I don't see any way to avoid this issue. Experiences are always going to be climate dependent, and we, as gardeners, have to learn to adjust for those differences. I am just grateful that the author provides detailed information on his specific situation, so that it is easier to understand what adjustments might be required.

I learned several things from reading this book and am eager to put them to practice in a few months when we plant our next garlic crop. I hope to combine what I have learned from my own experience with growing garlic with what I've learned from this book, and, hopefully, what I'll learn from the other book on the subject I have, if I get around to reading it in time. While I don't necessarily expect to ever become a major garlic grower, I do, at times, toy with the idea of eventually trying to grow enough garlic to not only fill my own needs, but to also sell some garlic at local farmer's markets and possibly to a restaurant and retail store or two. I'm always disappointed by the lack of variety available, even in stores such as Happy Meadows Natural Foods in Berea and the Good Food Market in Lexington, and would like to be able to do something to address that.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I realize that I left something out of yesterday's daily update. I was so focused on our trip to Lexington that I forgot that we accomplished something in the evening after we got home. We spent the evening working up the 40 pounds of bananas that we had purchased. Andrea peeled the bananas, cut them up and layered on cookie sheets to be placed in the freezer. Meanwhile, I cut up the banana peels into approximately 1" pieces so they could be more easily composted.

This morning I added the peels to the compost. since there was so much material, I first removed some of the leaves from the top of the pile, then dumped the peels into the bin. I then use a spading fork to mix them with the other materials. Finally, I covered them back over with the leaves that I had previously removed.

I also shucked the corn we purchased yesterday, so that Andrea could put in the freezer. I only had a dozen ears, so it didn't take very long. I backed the RTV up the front porch, so I could throw the shucks right into the bed. I was a bit disappointed with the quality of the corn. The seller had checked the ears and cut off any bad ends. In some cases, they had to cut off quite a bit, but left the shucks intact, making it appear that the ear was actually a full ear. Granted, if they had not checked the ears themselves, I would have likely cut off just as much, so in the end the amount of corn available is the same. I'm just not sure that I approve of what appears to be a purposeful deception. They did throw in an extra ear, so I can't complain too much. We ended up with six 1 cup servings of corn for the freezer. I had one of the servings for dinner, as a test to see how I like it. It tasted fine to me, so if we run across someone else selling this variety we may just end up buying another two to three dozen ears to freeze.

After Andrea had finished cutting the corn off of the cob I cut the cobs into small pieces, so, like with the banana peels, they would compost more quickly. Last year we had six to seven dozen cobs that were done the same way, and when I turned the compost recently I didn't see a single recognizable corn cob.

Andrea has also been working on making tomato sauce from the tomatoes we purchased yesterday. My involvement in this project was limited to adding the waste to the compost pile. She has the first part of the process completed, and is letting the sauce rest in the refrigerator overnight. Tomorrow she'll cook it down and strain it again.

Right now she is working on canning the peaches that we bought yesterday. She waited until late to work on that, because the process requires the use of the stove for long periods of time. Rather than heat the house up during the day, she waited until it was cool enough to open the windows to allow the excess heat to escape and be replaced with cooler air from outside. Its not clear yet how many jars she will have, but she has seven 8oz jelly jars in the canner right now and is working on filling up more jars at the moment.


On Saturday we got up early to go to Lexington for grocery shopping. We got up at 6:00 AM, and wee on the road just after 6:30. We had breakfast on the road, so we could get to our first stop early.

The first stop was the downtown Lexington Farmer's Market. We planned to buy several items from the farmer's market, and managed to get most of what we went after. We came away with 20 lbs of Roma tomatoes, a basket of peaches,  some ground beef, a few Jalapano peppers, and some Chipotle Cheddar cheese spread. We had planned to buy some butter and a few dozen ears of corn, but unfortunately were not able to find those items.

While at the farmer's market we talked to the owner of the Boone Creek Creamery, located in Lexington. Prior to talking with him I didn't realize there was a cheese maker in Lexington. We didn't buy anything, but will likely visit their store at some point. The cheese is expensive, as it is an artisan cheese, but I would like to try it.

Our next stop after the farmer's market was the Weisenberger Mill in Midway. Andrea buys her flour almost exclusively from the mill,  but often she buys it from grocery stores that carry it. Occasionally, though, she likes to go out to the meal, especially when she has a large order. On this trip we bought a 25 lb bag of all-purpose flour, a 5 lb bag of bread flour, two 5 lb bags of biscuit mix, and some packets of hush puppy mix, fix batter, and cornmeal muffin mix.

After the mill we went in search of the Fayette Seed Company, which a former co-worker had told me about. I was looking for a source of blood meal and bone meal, and Andrea wanted to look at seed starting supplies. We ended up buying a 4 cubic foot bag of perlite and an 8 lb bag of blood meal. Andrea will use a small amount of the blood meal in her potting mix, but the majority of it will likely be used in the compost when I need to add a nitrogen source and do not have manure available.

Since Fayette Seed Company is next to a tractor dealer, we stopped in there to see if they had any used tractors that we might have an interest in. They didn't have anything that matched what I'm interested in. We did, however, look at a couple of new Kubota tractors, but those are a bit more expensive than what I'm hoping to pay if we do decide to buy a tractor.

After a quick lunch we decided to check the other Lexington Farmer's Market location to see if anyone there had the type of corn I was looking for. Unfortunately, no one there had my preferred variety either. The past two years we have put away a yellow variety of sweet corn called Incredible. Last year we had a lot of trouble finding it, so I was prepared to buy some Bodacious this year if necessary, as I've been told that it is very similar to Incredible. Most people seem to sell either Silver Queen or one of the bi-color varieties. I ended up buying a dozen of the Ambrosia bi-color, to see if I like it. If I like it well enough, I might end up just buying that type to put away this year. Hopefully next year we can grow our own and this won't be an issue.

After finishing up at our second farmer's market of the day we dropped by the fabric store to return some extra fabric Andrea had from making my window covers. We then went into the Re-Store to look for some pieces of lattice that we might use for the trellis for the herb garden. They didn't have anything, which is probably good since we ended up having a truck load of other stuff by the end of the day anyway.

After the Re-Store we went to the Good Foods Market, to do some heavy grocery shopping. This weekend they were having one of their quarterly owner's discount days, during which members of the co-op get a 10% discount. We always try to stock up during ODD. This visit to the co-op was the most expensive trip yet. We really stocked up on some of our regular items. We bought several pounds of chicken breast, a few pounds of ground bison, a pound of ground elk, and a couple tuna steaks. We also bought 15 lbs of pasta, and varying amounts of bulk dry goods, such as oats, brown sugar, popcorn, and rice. Andrea also used the trip as an opportunity to replenish her spices, with several spices from their bulk spice section. We bought several other items that aren't coming to mind right now, but I think the items I've mentioned provides a general idea. We finished the visit up with a 40 lb case of bananas, which Andrea had requested ahead of time. The nice benefit of requesting a case of something ahead of time is that the market can be sure they have the inventory on hand, and the customer gets an extra discount.

We made a couple of more stops after leaving Good Foods, including a stop by the liquor store to pick up a bottle of Vodka and one of Everclear, which Andrea will use in various ways around the house. We managed to make it back home by around 6:00 PM, leaving us time to get the truck unloaded well before dark. Leaving early was definitely a good idea, since leaving just a couple of hours later would have left us unloading the truck in the dark. Overall it was a long, but very productive day.


I'm a couple of days late with some of the daily updates, but I suppose that late is better than never. I had not initially planned to do an update for Friday, but I've since decided that happened to give Friday its own update, rather than combining with Saturday which was quite eventful.

On Friday I did a few small tasks in preparation for our trip to Lexington on Saturday for grocery shopping. Andrea had already been preparing for a few days. At lunch time I sprayed out the bed of the truck. The combination of manure and straw took a while to get sprayed out. I pulled the truck onto the hillside near the shed, so that the water would easily run out of the bed. I learned one important lesson. I should have sprayed the truck out when it only had manure in it. That would have been much easier than the manure and straw combination. Had the bed been clean when I hauled the straw, I could have swept the straw out easily enough.

After dinner I cleaned the cab of the truck out. We tend to accumulate plastic bottles and a bit of trash, which I wanted to get cleaned out before our trip to Lexington. That was a fairly quick job. After that I loaded the coolers into the bed of the truck, and put some stuff in the cab, such as Andrea's reusable shopping bags and some fabric she was planning to return.

Before going to bed we worked on prepping some Food Saver bags. Andrea uses them for storing both the chicken and corn that she freezes, so we cut the roll into lengths and sealed one side. We made 40-50 bags, so she wouldn't have to stop once she was putting food away to make more.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pallet Compost Bin - The Plan

I have been tossing around the idea of building a compost bin from pallets for quite some time. After recently picking up 10 pallets for $1 each I decided it was time to get serious about the plan. While I'm sure that I may have to make some adjustments once I start building, I feel like I have a pretty solid design.

I have two primary reasons for wanting to build a new compost bin. The first is simply that my existing bin is much too small for the amount of yard waste I have available. The current bin is actually built with a single pallet as the base, so is approximately 4' x 4'. The sides are made from a 10' length of wire fencing, which only completely covers two sides and just a bit of the 3rd. For this reason, I am not able to completely fill the bin without material spilling out of the front.

The other reason that I want to build a new bin is to place it closer to the garden. The current bin is near the house, just passed the shed, which does make it convenient for disposing of kitchen waste. By building a bin closer to the garden, however, I will have less distance to move finished compost when its time to apply, as well as less distance to move any organic material from and around the garden that needs composted.

The pallets I will be working with are 48" x 40". I plan to stand them on their side, so that they stand 40" tall and cover 48" of linear distance. This gives me a nice number to base my figures on. I plan to make the bin 12' x 8 ', which will have the potential for holding nearly 320 cubic feet of material. This is 6 times the volume of my current bin.

The bin will be constructed with 3 pallets making up the back, and 2 pallets making up each side. I initially planned to leave the front open, but have decided instead to only leave the middle section open. To do this I will use 2 pallets for the front, one on each side, which will leave me a 48" opening in the center.

I've considered various methods for connecting the pallets. My current plan is to use pieces of wood as brackets to tie the pallets together. Many of the pallets have extra slats on the bottom that are not needed for what I'm doing, so I plan to pry a few of those loose to use for brackets. I will place 2 pallets end to end, then position one of these slats so that it is positioned across both, with the center at the joint between the pallets. By screwing the slat into each pallet, I hope the result will be that the pallets are fairly well joined. I'll probably put two or possibly three slats at each joint. For the corners I plan to use some small pieces of 2"x4" that I have left over from other projects. I will position these inside the structure in each corner, and put screws through the pallets into the 2"x4" blocks. My hope is that this provides me not only with a convenient way of connecting the pallets, but also provides some added strength to the corners.

I think that this bin is going to work out well. My thought is that I can begin by building the compost pile over to one side so that it is boxed in by 3 walls. If that side gets full, I can move to the other side and do the same, leaving the area in front of the opening mostly free of material as much as possible. One thing I look forward to with this bin is having a good place to shred material. I've avoided doing that in the past, because its a pain to collect the shredded material. With this new bin, however, I can pile leaves or other material up in the middle of the bin, then use a lawn mower to shred it. By making sure the discharge of the mower is pointed in the direction where I want to place the shredded material, I should not have to collect and relocate it. I also should be able to turn the pile much more easily in the larger bin. For times when only one side is full, I can simply use a pitch fork to move the material from one side to the other, effectively flipping the entire pile.

I have a spot picked out for the new bin. It is maybe a couple hundred feet from where we are planning the garden to be next year. The spot is currently shaded part of the day, and will, hopefully, be mostly out of my way when I'm mowing over there. Since the spot is relatively level, I don't think that I will need to do much prep work other than cutting the weeds down so they are nice and short. I've already stacked the pallets next to the spot where I plan to build the bin, so I'm nearly ready to get started.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Herb Garden - Laying the Groundwork

When Andrea told me her plan to expand the herb garden, and include so many different plants, I was afraid it might be overly ambitious. We had always planned to expand it, but now that the time has come, I have to wonder if we'll actually pull it off. This past week, though, we've made some progress towards that goal, so I'm feeling hopeful.

We have, literally, completed the groundwork for the herb garden. This past weekend while visiting family we were able to acquire a truck load of horse manure from my uncle, the horse trader. Our plan was to apply this manure the same way we had the rabbit manure last year in the section of the herb garden that has provided us with such great yields of peppers, basil, and other herbs. So before applying the manure we needed to put down cardboard in the section that had not yet had cardboard applied. This was only the 10 feet or so from the fenced in area to the porch, and then the strip in front of the porch. We were able to complete this with old boxes that we had been saving since we moved here.

Once the cardboard was down I spread the manure. The amount we had was enough to cover the sections recently covered with cardboard, as well as the section around the air condition that was covered with cardboard and straw. We also needed to cover the section that was planted in flowers, because the only soil there was depleted soil that had, in the past, been used for potted plants. Andrea dug up the bulbs she had planted there, and we snipped the tops off of some flowers that she thought might yield viable seeds. We then pulled up the plants and layered them on top of the existing soil. After doing that I covered it all with a layer of manure. I'm suspecting that this section may end up out-performing the others, since it has the extra layer of soil, even though it is lacking in nutrients, as well as the added organic material beneath the manure.

After spreading the manure, the next step was to cover it all with straw. We ran out to town one day and bought three bales of straw from the local farm supply store. I had no idea how much we would need, but was fairly confident that three would be enough. It turns out, however, that we really only needed about a bale and a half. I'll easily find a use for what was left, though, so am not concerned with over-buying. Since we had plenty, we tried to apply a nice thick layer.

Now we just wait, and let the composting process run its course. I haven't checked the planting dates for all of the plants Andrea has planned, but assuming nothing goes into the ground until at least April, that gives the material in the beds 7-8 months to break down, which should be more than enough time. We could have waited until later in the fall, but we had the manure and wanted to go ahead and get it done as soon as possible.

I did learn a few things from this experience. First, a load of manure, filled even with the top rails of my truck, will cover approximately 300 square feet. Of course, had we spread it more thickly, it would have covered less. It took less than 2 bales of straw to thickly cover that same 300 square feet. Going forward I'll probably plan for 150 square feet of coverage per bale. The other thing that I learned is that, even though spreading manure like we did will make your front yard smell like a barn, the scent goes away fairly quickly. Within a couple of days I noticed the smell decreasing, and by the time it was fully covered in straw, I really wasn't noticing much of any scent.

This part of the project was fairly inexpensive to complete. Since I was already making the drive to visit family, the only additional cost there was the cost to drive the truck instead of the car. I figure that I burned approximately 4 extra gallon of gas by driving the truck, which works out to something like $14. I also had to buy straw, which cost approximately $12 for two bales. So, for under $30 in expenses we were able to acquire the materials to greatly improve the soil in the herb beds, which should, in turn, greatly improve the yields. Had I found a local source for manure, that cost could have been reduced significantly. Also, straw can be purchased for less than I paid, but doing so requires driving farther, which is probably only worth it if buying several bales. I think that eventually I may take the trailer and buy a load of straw, but for now, it made sense to me to pay more for the few bales I needed, instead of driving farther.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Today was my day to work in London. I usually don't accomplish much on these days, but today was a bit different. I was running early this morning, so decided to stop at one of the tractor dealers in London to get an idea of what a used tractor might cost. The best deal they had was a Tafe 3500 CE with front end loader for $10,000. It was only a few years old and had only 68 hours on it. That's more than I'm willing to pay for a used tractor, though, especially one that isn't made by a major manufacturer. Not that I was going to actually buy one anyway. It doesn't hurt to look, though, right?

This evening after dinner I decided to go out and unload the pallets that are still in the bed of the truck. I transferred them to the RTV and hauled them over to the garden area, where I plan to build the compost bin. The bed of the RTV is sized perfectly for hauling pallets. It is 40" wide, and with the tailgate down, they stick out just a bit. I was able to easily load 5 pallets at a time, and using a ratchet strap to hold them down, had no problems. I think I could probably haul 8 fairly easily, but since I was going to have to make 2 trips either way to haul all 10, I saw no reason to push it.

After unloading the pallets I rode across the road to look around, and ended up down at the creek. Luke and Jack spotted a deer crossing the creek a few hundreds yards away, and took off after it. Jack, however, was stopped very quickly by the water in the creek. He is not a fan of water, and even the excitement of chasing a deer wasn't enough to get him to run through it. He tried to find a way around the water, even climbing up a steep embankment, but finally gave up and went back with me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Today at lunch Andrea and I drove out to town to pick up some straw from the local farm supply store. Their price was higher than some of the stores in London, but since I only needed a few bales I didn't think it was wort driving the truck to London to get them. While there we asked about the many pallets they have stacked around the store. They sale the pallets for $1 each, which is apparently the amount they have in them. I bought 3 bales of straw and 10 pallets.

After work today we went out and mulched the newly expanded herb bed with straw. We managed to completely cover the manure we had spread with about a bale and a half of straw. Since we had some left, we decided to mulch the strawberries. Andrea weeded them, and I mulched them with the straw. I was able to finish one of the strawberry beds with what was left from the bale we were using on. I had a partial bale up by the shed, so used it for the remaining bed. It was partially decomposed since it had been out in the weather for months, so it should be interesting to compare how the fresh versus partially decayed straw work as mulch.

Monday, August 20, 2012


We've been having fantastic weather the past few days. With lows in the upper 50s and highs in the upper 70s its been perfect weather for being outside. This morning I got up early and went out just before 7:00 AM. It was cool enough that I would have needed long sleeves had I not been working. I unloaded about two-thirds of the manure from the bed of the truck. I spread it over the area we had covered with boxes the day before, as well as the area around the air conditioner that I had covered with cardboard and straw a few weeks ago.

I didn't go out and work on anything during lunch. I did make some calls, though, to check prices for bales of straw. I called one store in the nearest town, then a few others in London, since I go there once a week for work. The cheapest price is in London, but of course I have to consider the extra gas for driving there and my time. It would be well worth a trip to London if we planned to buy several bales, but right now I think we probably just need a couple of bales. We'll probably just go out at lunch tomorrow and get a couple of bales to cover the manure with.

This evening, after dinner, we went back out to finish unloading the manure. We wanted to mix manure in with the soil in the section of the herb garden that is currently planted in flowers. Before doing that, however, Andrea needed to dig up some bulbs she had planted, then we pulled up some of the other flowers. After doing that we spread manure over that area. We also put down boxes in front of the porch and covered those with manure as well. It worked out that we had the right about of manure to cover the areas we had planned.

I had no idea if we had enough manure to cover the planned area or not. The truck was loaded so that the manure was even with the rails of the bed. I could get more in the next load by heaping it up a bit. I managed to cover approximately 290 square feet. Of course the depth plays a big part in the coverage. I think its fairly safe to assume, though, that in most cases a full truck load of manure should cover approximately 300 square feet. I could potentially haul as much as 3 to 4 times as much in the trailer as in the bed of the truck, so I may consider using the trailer the next time I am hauling manure.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


This weekend was fairly eventful. We got up early yesterday morning and drove a couple of hours to visit family. While there I test drove my Dad's extra motorcycle, to try to decide if I might want to buy it, or at least if I am going to enjoy riding. I didn't get to ride a whole lot, but at this point it seems like motorcycle riding may not be for me. I expected to feel fairly at home, since I've ridden 4-wheelers my entire life. I was much more nervous riding than expected though, so I'm not sure that I'll continue pursuing it.

Saturday evening my Dad and I went to uncle's house to get a load of manure from him. He has horses, and has more manure than he can find a use for. We cleaned out one of the stalls in his barn, and part of another, which filled the bed of the truck. It wasn't easy work, but it was well worth the effort to get a good load of manure.

We left for home after breakfast this morning. After making a few stops, we ended up getting home around 3:00. After relaxing for a bit we decided to go out and put some cardboard down where we are planning to put the manure. We covered the last 10 ft or so of what will become the herb bed, from the existing fenced in area to the porch. Now that the cardboard is down, I can start unloading the manure. My goal is to cover this area, as well as the area in front of the air conditioner that will be planted. I really don't have a good feel for how far the manure will go, but I'm hopeful that I can at least cover those sections.

While removing the tape and labels from the cardboard, I managed to stab myself with a utility knife. I can't remember exactly what I was doing at the time, but the knife was in my right hand, and my hand slipped. The blade went in deep right at the base of the thumb where it attaches to the hand. Its fairly painful, I think that the blade may have actually hit bone when it went in. I have a bandage on it now, and will have Andrea clean it and check it out thoroughly before bedtime.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I really am going to have to stop relying on the weather forecast when deciding whether or not to get up early. The forecast was calling for rain all night last night and most of today. I may have rained before I got up, I'm not sure, but when I got up it was not raining. I should probably have gotten up early to see if it was raining.

I did mow grass this evening. I went out a little after 7:00, which was apparently too late. It was completely dark before I finished. Its a good thing I was pulling the mower with something that had headlights, because otherwise I definitely would not have been able to finish.

Digital Media

One of my good friends, who happens to be a writer, recently had his first work published. I've been trying to think of a method by which I could help to promote his work that would be relevant to this blog. Sure, I could have just written a post to promote it because he's my friend, but I wanted the post to be applicable to those interested in simple living, even if they have no interest in my friend's work. It finally dawned on me that this fits in perfectly with a post about digital media in general.

The particular work I am promoting is a comic story entitled Star-crossed, which is part of the Shakespeare Shaken Anthology. This particular story was written by James McGee, with artwork provided by Mark Mullaney. The Shakespeare Shaken Anthology is a collection of comic stories based on the works of William Shakespeare. Star-crossed, specifically, is a modern day vision of how Romeo and Juliet's relationship may have turned out, had they, and their marriage, survived.

The interesting thing here, as it pertains to sustainability, is in the way the stories are being released. The individual stories are being released digitally, in phases. The entire anthology will also be made available in print at a later date. While I plan to purchase a print copy of the anthology, this release approach has allowed me to purchase a digital copy of my friend's story, at a much lower price than if I had bought a digital copy of the entire anthology. For those who want to support his project, or are specifically interested in the story, or one of the others, it works out even better as he/she can simply purchase a digital copy of the desired story(ies). The out of pocket expense to the consumer is less than buying the entire anthology, and the resources used for generating and transporting a digital copy is far less than that of creating and transporting a print copy of the entire anthology.

The same model is used in other media as well, especially the music industry. While I most often like to buy an entire album, I do find that there are situations in which I only really like one or two songs from a given album. In these situations, it is much more cost effective to buy the one or two songs I want, instead of paying for the entire album, of which 80%-90% I really don't care about.

While there are certainly individual exceptions in each industry, most media is being made available digitally. This includes movies, tv shows, music, software, games, books, magazines, and of course, comic books. Each type of digital media has it own advantages and disadvantages. Of course they all share one requirement; they all require some device for (dis)playing the media.

Digital Video

Our consumption of digital video can primarily be divided into two categories: streaming video and downloadable video. We stopped subscribing to a cable tv service around 3 years ago. Streaming video services such as Netflix and Hulu have made giving up cable tv much easier. Not only are we able to watch our favorite tv shows via one of these streaming services, but we have discovered many new shows that we would never have been exposed to otherwise. Previously we were playing approximately $80/month for cable tv. Now we pay $7.99/month for Netflix, and recently began paying $7.99/month for Hulu Plus. Even when you add in our $25/month DVD budget, which we haven't touched all year, we're looking at a savings of nearly $40, or half, of what we were paying before.

There are some inconveniences to relying on streaming video. The first is that you must have a device that will play the content. For a long time we used an old laptop with an S-Video connection to the TV. While this worked it was a bit cumbersome to use. Recently we invested in a Roku LT Streaming Player. While this did require a small investment, it was still less than we were paying for  a single month of cable tv service. Many gaming consoles, and some newer tvs include the ability to stream video, so some people already have everything needed except for the monthly subscriptions.

I actually find that I often prefer streaming video, because of the convenience. I've caught myself watching a movie or tv show via streaming instead of from the DVD that we own. However, we have yet to really embrace downloadable video content. We've tried it a couple of times, but when buying a specific title Andrea and I both prefer purchasing an actual DVD to downloadable copy.

There are cases where purchasing downloadable content has advantages. The obvious advantages are the decrease in resource usage and storage requirements. It is also possible to purchase digital copies of new releases before DVDs are available, and often the price for digital copies is less for new releases as well. DVDs, along with all physical media, offer the ability to buy used, however, which can be a big advantage for some. Even if you do not wish to purchase used, it is sometimes possible to find a physical copy of an older video title cheaper than a digital download of the same.


We are not big music consumers. I like to listen to music while I work, but its not a big part of my life. When I'm driving I tend to listen to NPR, rather than music, so have never been drawn to digital radio, such as SiriusXM. I do, however, find that I prefer digital music, either streaming or downloadable content, to having music on CDs. In fact, when I do purchase a CD the first thing I tend to do is to convert it to MP3 format, so I can access it from multiple devices, including those without cd-rom drives. I've also recently started using one of the cloud services for storing my MP3s and am really liking this method. This allows me to access them from any device with an internet connection, without having to keep my desktop PC where they are stored turned on at all times. I was initially using Amazon Cloud Drive, but they enacted limits that I wasn't happy with so I've switched to Google Play.

Like video, one downside of digital music can be the cost. I've found that I can often find a used copy of an older album cheaper than I can buy the same album in digital format. Lately I've been buying, or trading for, some older used CDs, then converting to MP3 and uploading them to Google Play. For newer albums it sees cheaper to buy the digital copy, which of course has the advantage of less resource usage.

Print Media

I'm not sure how accurate the term print media is, when referring to digital media, but that is likely to be how I'll always think of books, magazines, comics, newspapers, etc. The advantages and disadvantages to consuming digital versions of print media are similar to that of other media types. I have found that, for the most part, I prefer physical print media to digital. I certainly prefer reading a physical book to reading an e-book. I also find that the way in which I browse magazines is more suited to physical magazines than digital copies. I have purchased a few cheap e-books that were not available in print form. I can't ever imagine replacing books with e-books. I do know, however, that some people with extensive collections find that the reduced storage requirements of e-books are a big advantage. I have a friend who has been liquidating his comic book collection and switching to digital comics for this reason.

Ultimately, I think it is clear that digital media is the more environmentally friendly option. The reduced resource usage and transportation requirements are big advantages for digital media. Of course, the downside to digital media is that they require a device for (dis)playing the media, which also requires electricity and often an internet connection. For most people this isn't a problem, but for someone who would not otherwise have internet, or who is trying to minimize electricity use, this probably outweighs the advantages. Personally, while I'm a big fan of certain forms of digital media, I can't see myself ever switching over completely. I just hope that the expansion of digital media doesn't result in libraries and other useful services to become obsolete.

One more thing I would like to add is that digital media provides a fantastic opportunity for artists and content creators. It is no longer necessary to find a publisher for a book, or go through the expense of self-publishing. An e-book can be created with minimal expenses. Musicians no longer have to create demo takes to peddle to radio stations and record labels. A video uploaded to YouTube can often provide more exposure than more traditional methods of getting the music out there. Regardless of the other advantages and disadvantages, I believe that the ability for works to be produced and distributed independent of traditional media publishers is reason enough to support digital media.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Yesterday was my day to go to the office, so I didn't accomplish much else. I did take the recycling to the recycling center, but that was about it for yesterday. After dinner I decided to weigh the potatoes we had harvested the day before. This variety did much better than the others, which is a disappointment since we basically broke even. We planted 5 lbs of seed potatoes, and harvested approximately 5 lbs. I'll go into more detail when I do my detailed post later. Also, I remembered something that I had forgotten to mention in the previous daily update. When I was mowing weeds on Tuesday morning near the blackberries and raspberries I realized why the blackberries aren't doing as well as the raspberries. Neither Andrea nor myself remember thinking about this at the time, but we planted the berries directly under a black walnut tree. As I mentioned recently when adding black walnut leaves to the compost, there are many plants for which the juglone produced by black walnuts is toxic. Turns out, based on my limited research, that raspberries may not be bothered by it, but blackberries definitely are. We haven't yet decided what we're going to do, but that needs to go on a list of things to be addressed.

I slept in this morning, but did go out at lunch for a little while. I finished cleaning up the debris from the limb that had broken out of the black walnut tree last week. The grass is needing mowed, so I wanted to get that project out of the way so it wasn't in the way of my mowing. Of course I ended up not mowing today, but at least the yard is ready for when I decide to.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Today turned out to be a fairly productive day. I managed to get up with my alarm this morning for a change, so was able to go outside before work. I mowed weeds around the blackberries and raspberries, then mowed some in the area where we plan to begin prepping for next year's garden. I had been avoiding one area because the last time I worked there I was stung by a yellow jacket. After locating the other nest near the garden, though, I had hoped that the sting I had received before was from a yellow jacket that belonged in the other nest. Today I verified that there is a second nest in the area where I was stung before. Luckily I was being very cautious and wasn't stung today.

Around lunch time I had to go hunt down Jack. I heard some barking, and when I went out to see what was going I noticed someone walking down the road. It turns out the department of corrections had some people out picking up trash along the road. I could hear Luke and Jack barking, so knew they were down there. I called for them, and tried blowing the dog whistle, but neither would come. I finally rode the RTV down to the end of the driveway and was able to get Luke to come back. Jack was farther up the road, however, and wouldn't come. Eventually I had to go get the truck and drive up the road about half a mile to where the workers had stopped for a break. Jack was there with him, so I put him in the truck and took him back home. I'm not sure how far away he would have ended up had I not gone after him.

This evening after work I went back over to the garden to see if I could locate exactly where the new found yellow jackets nest was. I was able to locate it, but its not going to be quite as easy to get at as the other because it is at the base of a tree stump. We should still be able to deal with it, though.

After dinner we went back over to the garden so I could harvest the potatoes we had left in the ground. These were the Pontiac red potatoes. Andrea kept Jack, mostly, distracted while I dug them. He might have been help had he dug with me, instead of digging in the opposite direction and filling in the holes I was digging. The Pontiacs did much better than the other varieties did. We still didn't get the type of harvest I had hoped for, but we should have enough to eat out of several times. I'll try to get a total weight to include in the post I plan about the lessons learned from our first potato crop.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - Glass & Metal

This is my third post in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle series. I have previously covered plastics and paper & cardboard. Today I will focus on glass and metal. I am combining the two materials into a single post because they are the last of the traditional recyclables to discuss, and there isn't as much to say about them as about the previously covered materials.


Our glass waste is made up almost entirely of bottles and jars that food and beverages were purchased in. This is a very small category for us. I didn't have any glass the last time I took our the recycling, and I just checked and I don't see anything in the bin right now, although there could be a piece or two buried near the bottom that I'm overlooking.

Reduce - Since we do not generate very much glass waste, reduction isn't a big priority. Of course, though, there is always room for improvement. Unfortunately for most of the products that come in glass containers the only alternative is plastic, which is certainly less desirable than glass.

Reuse - Much of the glass waste that we do have ends up being reused. In the past this has been especially true for larger containers, such as pickle jars. I suspect that as Andrea begins experimenting more with making tinctures she will begin reusing more of the differently sized/shaped bottles, as well, such as those that soy sauce comes in.

Recycle - The glass that we don't use is always recycled. This is mostly bottles, such as those that essential oils come in, although those might soon get used for tinctures as well. Unlike many other materials, there isn't much room for uncertainty about whether or not a particular glass item can be recycled. For the most part, glass is glass, and all glass should be recycled if not being reused.


The overwhelming majority of our metal waste is in the form of cat food cans. We also have the occasional soda can, and a few cans that food such as chicken broth or chili came in, but those are definitely the minority. I've also been recycling other types of metal lately, especially pieces of old wire fencing that at one time apparently almost entirely surrounded this property.

Reduce - Not only are the cat food cans the biggest source of our metal waste, but they also represent the biggest opportunity for reduction. Andrea use to make homemade cat food, but hasn't done so for quite some time. She plans to begin doing that again, which will make a big dent in the amount of metal waste that we accumulate. The homemade cat food is also more healthy for Kitty, and, as I recall, costs about the same to make as we pay for a can of her current food.

Reuse - Off the top of my head I can't think of any metal waste that we reuse. Some types of metal containers are very useful, we just don't have any of these. Coffee cans are a great example of this. My Dad has dozens of coffee cans on shelves in his garage filled with various screws and other hardware. Since we do not drink coffee, however, we have none of these. I've actually considered asking my Dad to save me a few coffee cans if he's stopped saving them for himself.

Recycle - Metal is a material that I'm certain we can increase the amount that we take to be recycled. While we've been recycling metals cans for years, it was only very recently that I realized we could recycle other types of metal. I knew all metal was recyclable, but didn't realize that the recycling center would accept old fencing and similar materials. At this point I'm still not entirely sure about what they will and will not accept. Based on the items that I see in the bin, it would appear that they accept anything containing even small amounts of metal, such as computers, appliances, tvs, etc. I'm not convinced, however, that everything that gets thrown into that bin meets the recycling centers definition of recyclable metal. It seems that some people use it almost like a garbage bin. I need to find out if they have specific guidelines on what can and cannot be placed in the metal bin, so that I feel better about increasing some of the items that we take there.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I overslept this morning. You may have noticed, that's a problem for me. I blame oversleeping this morning on being out late Saturday and getting my schedule messed up. That's probably nothing more than an excuse, though. Since I overslept i didn't have time to go outside and do anything before starting work. 

The weather forecast was calling for rain, so I decided that I should at least try to get something done at lunch time, since I didn't expect to be able to do anything after work. I wanted to get the debris from the broken limb moved, so I worked on that at lunch. As you might recall if you've been following the blog, the last time I piled up limbs with leaves in my pile of stuff to shred I ended up with ants making a nest in the pile. I decided to remove all of the leaves, to prevent this from happening again. At the same time, I gathered the nuts that had fallen with the limb or were still attached to the limbs. I don't expect that the nuts are ripe, but Andrea wants the outer hull to use for a fungicide recipe she recently ran across. 

Since I had so many leaves, I decided to take a chance and add them to the compost. Many people avoid adding black walnut leaves to their compost because they contain juglone, which is toxic to many plants. The research I did, however, indicates that after several weeks the leaves would be sufficiently broken down that the juglone would no longer present a problem. Since I don't intend to use any of the compost for at least 2 months, I thought it was worth the risk. I'm not going to suggest that anyone else do the same, but I'll report back if I see any problems from including the black walnut leaves.

While I was working today, Andrea was working in the kitchen. She made two batches of pesto, using the basil that she harvested yesterday. She also cut up some serrano and habanero peppers to try a different approach at drying those. 

The rain that was being forecast ended up breaking up before getting to us, so it was a nice vening. After dinner I went back out and finished removing the leaves from the limbs and added those to the compost as well. The compost bin is overflowing with leaves right now. I really need to build a bigger bin. I think we are going to try going to town and maybe London one day in search of some. 

Herb Garden - The Plan

The herb garden isn't exactly a new project for us. I suppose I should refer to this as the herb garden expansion and re-organization, since that is basically what we are doing. Right now we have a 9' x 10' section planted in herbs and peppers, and another 9' x 10' section planted in flowers. Our plan for next year is to expand the herb garden to 9' x 41' with an additional 1' by 16' section in front of the porch planted in sun flowers.

Andrea has been working on  layout for the herb garden, and deciding which plants we will plant there. Over the weekend she drew up a diagram, which I then replicated as a, fairly crude, digital image. A copy of the image is available here, for anyone who would like to see it.

Since the herb garden is so large, we need a way to walk through it without compacting the soil. This year we had a simple stone path through the middle, but Andrea wants to try something new next year. She plans to use large rocks, spaced at out intervals to create stepping stones and provide an area to kneel on when working in a particular section. The rocks will take up close to half of the available space, so the bed isn't quite as big as the dimensions make it seem. There are also a couple of other items that we must work around, including the electric pole and central air unit.

The plan calls for 23 different herbs and flowers. I suspect that we'll be adding at least one more to that list, as we noticed that parsley was missing from the current plan. A couple of items not in the herb garden will be planted elsewhere, including basil, which will be planted in the garden, and comfrey. The plants that Andrea has chosen were picked either for their culinary or medicinal uses, or, in the case of a couple of the flowers, as a means of attracting humming birds to the garden. We already have a healthy humming bird population, thanks to the humming bird feeder on the front porch. By adding flowers to the herb garden that they are attracted to we hope they will aid in pollination.

We have several tasks ahead of us to get the herb garden ready for next spring. We currently have a fence around approximately 30' of the herb garden. We plan, however, to fence the entire 41' in, which means we need to redo the fencing around the entire garden. We also need to block off one end of the porch, to keep Jack from jumping off of the porch into the fenced in area. We plan to block it off with something that can be used as a trellis.

In addition to the fence and trellis, we need do some soil building of the area. The first 10' is in good shape, as we previously composted rabbit manure and straw in that section. The second 10' has nice crumbly soil, but it is lacking in nutrients and organic matter. The soil that we used in that section had been used previously in containers we tried gardening in our first year here. I'm not sure what we will apply to this section. I'd like to apply manure if we can get it in sufficient quantities. The third 10' section is the section I recently covered with cardboard and straw. My goal is to apply manure on top, then cover with another layer of straw. The last section has not been treated at all. We need to put down some cardboard to kill the weeds, then apply a layer of manure and straw. Of course this all depends on us having access to manure, so we need to start looking for that soon.

Once we have the soil building process in progress we need to start locating rock and laying out the stepping stones. Andrea hopes to use large rocks as much as possible, as the areas they need to cover are at least 2' x 2'. I'm sure that in a few areas we'll have to resort to combining smaller rocks, however. There is a pile of large rock that I need to sort through, but I want to wait until Winter to do this, when the risk running into snakes is gone.

The last piece of the plan is to acquire the seeds to be planted. Andrea has already began taking inventory of what she already has, and making lists so she knows what to be on the lookout for. She expects to start some seedlings inside by mid-winter, but that still gives us 5 months to locate the seeds that we want to plant.

Participation in the Amazon Affiliates Program

When I began this blog, my reasons for doing so did not include generating income. This has not changed. However, I have decided to begin participating in the Amazon Affiliates Program. The way this works is that now, when I link to products on Amazon, the link includes my affiliate id. If someone makes a purchase after following one of my links, my account is credited with a small percentage of the sale amount.

This will change nothing for readers. If you click on a link, you'll be taken to the same page as before. If you decide to buy an item, I'll get a small reference bonus, but the transaction will be the same for you as before. My participation in this program will not influence the things I choose to talk about, and will not change the way I review items that I link to. Above all else, my goal with this blog is to provide information to others, and to, hopefully, help to inspire those interested in making a lifestyle change. Giving an item a positive review in hopes that it results in a reader buying the item via my affiliate link would not be serving my purpose, and would put at risk any trust that readers have in the opinions I offer.

Why then, you may ask, did I sign up for the Amazon Affiliates Program? The answer is actually very simple. I did so, in hopes that it might allow me to improve the blog. I do not expect to make very much, if any, income from the program. However, any income that I do make, will be used to purchase books or other products that can be reviewed for the blog.

Tools - Brush Grubber

Yesterday in my daily update I mentioned using the brush grubber, so thought I should do a post explaining a little about the tool. There are a few different models, but the one I use is the Original Brush Grubber made by BAC Industries. The tool is intended to be used to pull small trees and bushes, up to 3" in diameter, out of the ground. I have found, however, that it is also useful in other situations, such as yesterday when I pulled a partially broken limb out of a tree with it.

The basic concept of the brush grubber is fairly simple. The jaws of the tool are spring loaded, so that pressure is always being applied to keep them closed. At the end of the jaws are pads that each contain 8 teeth that dig into whatever you place the tool on. Once attached, you simple hook a chain to the grubber, and the other end to whatever your preferred machine is, then pull. I typically use the RTV for pulling, but many people use tractors, which would provide more pulling power and better traction.

I can't even guess how many trees I have pulled up with this tool. Most of the trees I've used it on have been 6' to 8' tall and between 1" and 2" inches in diameter. The great thing about pulling these trees up is that the roots come up as well, leaving behind no stumps to worry about and no roots that might grow another sapling. If pulling up a lot of trees or bushes, its best to have someone helping, so one person can be in charge of attaching the brush grubber, while the other is in charge of driving the pulling machine. A two person arrangement is much more efficient and is less tiring as well. The work can easily be done by one person, however, just don't expect it to go as quickly. I've found that when working alone it is very helpful to have the Tugger Chain also made by BAC Industries. The benefit of the chain is that it has a ring that can be placed over a 2" ball, which works much better than looping a chain around the ball and hoping it doesn't come unattached if you have to back up. Also, the hook of this chain is large enough to hook to the brush grubber, and the safety spring keeps it connected, whereas the chain I used before was too small to hook so had to be looped around the D-Ring and would often come loose.

In addition to pulling up trees and brush I've used the brush grubber for several other tasks, as mentioned previously. One of those additional tasks where it really shines is pulling wild grape vines out of trees. I'm really not even sure how else one would go about getting a grape vine out of a tall tree, without climbing into the tree and cutting it out. With the brush grubber its a simple task, assuming, of course, the RTV has enough power to pull the vine out.

I've been using the brush grubber for nearly a year. It seems to be very well built, and is standing up to my use with no signs of wear. Granted, I don't exactly abuse my tools, but the brush grubber has been put through its paces. I have damaged the tugger chain, although that was really caused by misuse, rather than a problem with the chain itself. I had attached the brush grubber to a larger tree than normal; around 20' tall and over 3" in diameter. The RTV was losing traction when trying to pull it out, so I backed up to create slack in the chain, so that when the chain tightened it would jerk the tree. I did that a few time, and finally did pull the tree up, but it also bent the ring on the chain into a bit of an oval instead of its normal circular shape. It still works fine, but it made me realize that attempting to pull up such large trees was a mistake; not because the brush grubber and chain weren't strong enough, but because the RTV kept losing traction. Had I been using a tractor I probably could have pulled it out with no problems.

One note of caution, the closing action of the brush grubber is very strong, and could do some serious damage to a finger if one were caught between the pads. I always wear leather gloves when using the tool, and I've had a glove caught a few times, although, luckily never had a finger get caught. I've found that the easiest way to open the jaws of the tool is hold it vertically, with the D-Ring resting on a firm surface, such as the ground or even your leg. The jaws can then be opened fairly easily. Trying to open them when holding the tool horizontally, however, is much more of a challenge. Usually when I've caught my glove it has been when trying to remove the brush grubber from something I've pulled up, and I'm unable to turn it into a vertical position.

This is the type of tool that isn't going to be needed by everyone. I would guess that most people living on a small lot will likely get little use from a tool like this, unless there are several bushes or small trees planted for landscaping that need to be removed. For someone in my situation, however, it is very useful. I've used it primarily in the areas I'm still working on clearing, such as over by the garden and across the road. I also used it when clearing up around the bottom edge of the yard, where an old wire fence had previously been. When I initially bought the brush grubber, I wondered if it would really be worth the price I paid for it, but now there is no doubt. I can't begin to guess how much time it has saved me. If something were to ever happen to my brush grubber, I think its a safe bet that I'd be buying another one.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Since I skipped the daily update yesterday, you've probably guessed that I didn't accomplish much of anything. I was actually gone all day. I went to Lexington to visit with a couple of friends, and didn't get home until late last night. The weather would have been perfect for working, but I think its important to spend time with friends and it was well worth missing out on a day working outside to see them.

Since I was out so late last night, I slept in this morning. When I did get up, we drove out to town for breakfast. Andrea left after breakfast for a day trip she had planned, leaving me home. I stayed inside until late afternoon, when I went out and started on several small projects.

The first thing I did was move the rain barrel I made at the Field to Fork Festival to the location where it will eventually be connected to the downspout. I wanted to get an idea of how much downspout I would need to cut off, and make sure that one row of concrete blocks would raise the barrel high enough to get a bucket under the spigot.

After that I decided it was time to unload the shingles that had been in the bed of the truck for more than a week. These are the shingles I picked up when visiting a friend, and had just never unloaded them. I had 3 bundles of shingles stacked up by the shed, so just added these to that stack.

A few days ago we had some storms that broke a tree branch in the black walnut tree next to the driveway. I remembered it today, so decided it was time to try to deal with it. The branch had not broken completely through, so was still hanging from the tree. I was worried that it would eventually fall and either block the driveway, or worse, hit someone.

My initial attempt at getting it down was based on a suggestion my Dad made. The plan was to tie a rock to the end of a length of rope, and then throw it up and over the branch, letting the rock pull the end back to the ground. I was then going to remove the rock, tie a loop in one end of the rope, and feed the other end through, so that when I pulled on it, it would cinch the rope up around the branch. At that point it would be a simple matter of tying the rope to the RTV, then dragging the branch out of the tree. Unfortunately, things rarely go as planned. The only rope I had that was long enough was one we had previously used as a clothes line. Even though we hadn't dried clothes on it for over a year, it hadn't been taken down. I took it down, tied a rock to it, and started trying to throw it over the branch. The first attempt was close but off by a couple of feet. While trying to get the rope back out of the tree the rope broke.

Since the rope broke, and I didn't have another piece that was long enough, I had to come up with another plan. Luckily I was able to tell by the dying leaves that in one spot the limb was hanging low enough I could reach it from the ground. I attached my brush grubber to it, attached a chain, and easily pulled it down with the RTV. I'm not sure how I would have done it, without the brush grubber. Its an incredibly useful tool, which I'll do a detailed post about at some point.

When the limb came down, it blocked the driveway. I knew Andrea would be home soon, so I started cutting it up to move out of the way. I was probably 2/3 of the way through it when she got home. I finished cutting it up, and piled next to the driveway so I could deal with it later.

Since Andrea was home I decided to go in and see her for a while. She updated me on her day, and I told her what I had accomplished. After having a small dinner, we went back out to work some more. She worked on harvesting some herbs and peppers, while I cleared some weeds from the section of the bed that has flowers planted. The bed is planted with a mixture of flowers, which can make it difficult to tell what is flower and what is a weed. We decided that anything more than a few feet tall without a flower would be treated as a weed and pulled up. I ended up with a heaping load of weeds in the RTV to haul off.

I cut the weeds up and added to the compost pile. I usually don't take the time to do it, but I like to cut the weeds up before adding to the compost. I had so much today I don't think I could have managed to get them into the bin without cutting them up first.

While I was adding the weeds to the compost, Andrea finished harvesting and then started preparing some herbs to be dried. She ended up with several cayenne, serrano, and habanero peppers. She also ended up with a large quantity of basil, as well as rosemary, thyme, oregano, and orange mint. The basil will be used for pesto, and the others she is drying. The orange mint she is just drying in a large box, while the other 3 she is drying in cardboard baskets that she made from cardboard boxes, which she weaved similar to what one would do for "normal" basket making. Before calling it a day, I decided to haul of some of the debris from the limb I pulled down earlier. There were 4 or 5 branches that were too big to be be chipped, so I hauled those over to the burn pile. Even though I got off to a very slow start, it ended up being a fairly productive day.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Today wasn't all that productive, but it wasn't entirely unproductive either. When I woke up at 4:00 AM it was raining, so when my alarm went off at 6:00 I didn't even try to get up. I knew it would be too wet to do much outside this morning. I didn't go out at lunch either, because Andrea wasn't home so I was responsible for making my own lunch today.

While Andrea was out today the radio in the car stopped working. She was pretty sure it was a blown fuse, because it happened while she was trying to charge her cell phone with a car charger. So after work I looked into that. It was a fairly quick fix to replace the fuse with a spare, and that did solve the problem. While I was at it, I cleaned out the car a bit. I'm going to be driving for a few hours alone tomorrow, and I like to roll the windows down when I do that. It always makes me nervous to have stuff in the car that could be blown out the window, so I cleaned it out so I wouldn't have to worry it.

After dinner we went out and took some measurements of the current herb garden in front of the trailer, as well as the future addition we plan to make. Right now we're only using a 10'x9' section for the herbs and peppers, with another 10'x9' section planted in assorted flowers. For next year we plan to have a 40'x9' section available (with a bit of unusable space due to the central air unit) as well as a 16' long section in front of the porch that is deep enough for a single row of sunflowers or other tall plants. Andrea has already started planning what she is going to plant, since there is going to be a lot of available space. We do not plan to plant an vegetables there, just herbs and flowers. The peppers will be moved to the actual garden, as will most of the basil.

We plan to plant sunflowers in front of the porch. I'm particularly interested in some of the giant varieties, due to their height and size of flowers which should provide some nice shade to the porch and front of the trailer. We're also talking about boxing in one end of the porch with something that can be used as a trellis for some climbing vines. The primary reason for boxing this in is that, assuming we fence in the main part of the herb/flower garden, over to the edge of the porch, we worry that Jack will simply jump off of the porch into the fenced in area. By boxing in the end of the porch we can keep him out, and also experiment with some climbing vines. Of course we may find that my Spring he's calmed down enough that it isn't necessary to keep him fenced out. We had almost decided to take the fence down, as we trusted Luke not to bother the plants, but then Jack showed up and we knew we had to keep it at least for now.

Chickens vs Bees

Chickens vs Bees - It sounds like a B movie that you might see featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 doesn't it? Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your view, this post isn't about anything quite as exciting as a battle between the two species.

A couple of weeks ago Andrea suggested that we should start seriously preparing to add our first livestock to the homestead, either in the form of bees or chickens. We've been talking about them for some time, and taken several workshops on both. I think she's right, now is the time to start taking some action.

Of course there are pros and cons to both animals, so we're in the process of trying decide which to start with. I'll be doing more posts on the topic as we go through the process of choosing, then planning, and eventually buying our first bees or chickens.

The idea to get bees was mine. For some reason I'm fascinated by the creatures. They are relatively easy to care for, as I understand it. Obviously honey production is the primary benefit of getting bees, although we really don't use much honey. We have been trying to incorporate more honey into our diets, however, to gain the health benefits of using local honey. You certainly can't get much more local than honey produced on one's own property, so that is a definite benefit of having bees. Another benefit, especially if we locate the hive(s) near the garden is pollination. There are other pollinators that we can attract, however, so that isn't an overwhelming benefit.

Getting chickens was Andrea's idea. She has been wanting to get some ever since we moved here. Even though we have no plans to raise chickens for meat at this point, there are still many benefits to having them. The first benefit is egg production. While we don't go through a lot of eggs, our usage has picked up recently. Andrea has been feeding Jack a mixture of eggs and diatomaceous earth as a treatment for worms, and she hopes to continue this as a preventative measure, as well as for the benefits he gets from the eggs. Luke isn't quite as willing to eat the concoction, but he will eat it at times, and will gladly eat a whole egg when one is given as a treat. If each of the dogs eats 2 eggs per day, and I eat them even occasionally, that works out to a dozen and a half per week. Add in baking or pasta making, and we could probably find a use for at least 2 dozen eggs per week, which is the likely warm weather production rate of a small flock of birds.

Other than egg production, there are a couple of additional benefits that we would gain from chickens, that bees could not provide. One such benefit is insect control. We plan to let the chicken free range in the front yard, which should help to reduce the insect population near the house. Our natural lawn should be an idea area for chickens to forage.

The other benefit chickens provide is a natural nitrogen source for the compost or garden. Chicken manure is a great nitrogen source, which is something that we could certainly use. In fact, we are considering purchasing some chicken manure later this fall to use in sheet composting of next year's garden plot. Having a ready supply of chicken manure, even if it only met part of our needs, would be a real benefit to our gardening efforts.

It is quite apparent that the list of benefits of getting chickens is longer than the benefits of having bees. This isn't the only side of the equation, however. I consider the cons of beekeeping to be fairly few. The biggest con is the risk of being stung, which is not something I look forward to. Aside from that, there will be an initial investment in supplies, but that should be no more than a couple hundred dollars. Chickens, on the other hand, require a larger initial investment, both financially and in labor. Before we get chickens we will have to locate and prepare a place to build a coop. While the chicken coop doesn't need to be anything fancy, we will want one that will last and has adequate space for adding additional birds if we choose to. We will also want to provide the chickens with a fenced and covered run that they can access from inside the locked coop, so they get access to grass even if we aren't home to let them out of the coop. Fortunately my Dad will be able to help me build a chicken coop, so expenses will be limited to the cost of materials. I hope to be able to buy much of the material from the Re-Store, which should help to keep the costs down. I still expect to cost of building the coop to be greater than the initial investment in beekeeping supplies.

At this point, I am leaning towards chickens as the best livestock for us to begin with next Spring. Even with the added cost and work of building a coop, I believe the benefits make it the best choice. Of course we may find that Luke and/or Jack have something to say about our decision, and cause us to change our plans. I've asked Andrea to look into coop designs, so we can better gauge the costs before making a final decision. Stay tuned for more info.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I've decided to stop posting daily updates on days when I have nothing to say. It seems like a waste, both of my time and that of the readers, to do a post just to be posting daily. From here on out, I will be skipping daily updates on days when nothing note-worthy happens.

Yesterday I went to the office, so didn't do anything around the house. Today wasn't much more productive, but I did do at least a bit. I had an alarm set to get me up at 6:00 AM, but ended up sleeping in anyway. It was after 7:00 by the time I got up, so I decided not to go out. At lunchtime I went over to the garden to see if I could locate the nest of the yellow jackets that had stung Jack earlier in the week. I had initially thought we'd just leave them until winter, but we talked it over and decided to try to deal with them so we can either plant the cover crop we planned or do some sheet composting of the area. I was able to find the hole, and we have a plan for trying to deal with them. I'll do a detailed post later, after we've given it a try.

It rained most of the evening, so I didn't get to accomplish much after work. After dinner we did go out and work with Luke and Jack a bit. We've decided to try training them to respond to a dog whistle, so began the training this evening. After only one day its hard to know how its going, but hopefully we can at least get them to recognize the sound of the whistle and that it means we want them to come.

Differences Among "Like-Minded" Individuals

I was recently reminded of how much views can vary on certain topics, even among like-minded individuals. This is something I run into quite often, and frequently it seems that many of my views are in the minority in these, mostly online, communities.

The latest example was when a discussion of Mother Earth News Magazine turned to a discussion of an article about MAX, the 100-mpg Car. This is a project I've been following closely since it began. I've exchanged a couple of emails with the builder, and was able to see the car firsthand and talk with him at the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. This sort of thing excites me, because it proves that such a car can be built, regardless of what the major auto manufacturers claim.

I was surprised, when a couple of people suggested that a car like MAX was not practical, because of its lack of cargo space. My initial reaction was to wonder how anyone could criticize a car that could go 100 miles on a gallon of gas. A car like MAX would be perfect for me. Since Andrea and I have no kids, we rarely need more than two seats. Most often we require little to no cargo space. On the day's I drive to the office, for example, I only need room for myself and my laptop. In fact, if I get a motorcycle, I should be able to easily carry everything I need on many trips, even though it will have far less cargo room than MAX would. I'm also seriously interested in the Smart Cars, specifically the Smart ForTwo. I don't think we'd ever buy one, though, especially since I don't expect to be in the market for a new car for years, but small, fuel efficient vehicles are something I am very attracted to.

Its easy to think that, being in a community of like-minded individuals, everyone is going to share your views on a related topic. In a community focused on sustainable living, it seems logical that everyone would be excited by the prospect of a car that gets 100 mpg. The fact is, though, that there are many reasons why this would not be the case. A car like this would not be practical for everyone. When I step back and look at it objectively, that's easy to see. However, I still find myself being repeatedly surprised by things such as this.

A general trend that I've found, and been surprised by, in sustainable living communities is that there are far fewer environmentalists than I expected. Environmentalism is a big driver for my interest in simplicity and sustainable living. There are many other factors, but my concern for the environment is a big one. What I've learned, however, is that there are few self-proclaimed environmentalists in most of these communities. There are many more preppers/survivalists, it seems, interested in sustainable living than there are environmentalists. There are also a great number of people interested in the lifestyle as a means of becoming more independent and self-reliant. There are many reasons why people choose to go down the path, and those reasons impact the topics they are interested in and how they view certain issues.

It is sometimes difficult to find a good community, even online, of individuals who share common interests. This applies not just to sustainable living, but to other topics as well. It is important to learn to focus on the similarities, and not the differences. This is especially important for me, as it seems that there aren't a lot of others who share my unique blend of views and interests. I've love to hear from others out there who share my views.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


My first day of trying to get on a set sleep schedule went well. I went to bed at 10:00 last night as planned, although I read for 30 minutes before being tired enough to go to sleep. When the alarm went off at 6:00 AM this morning I was actually awake. I got up, had breakfast, then went out and started mowing weeds over at the garden. Unfortunately, maybe 30 minutes in, Jack got stung by yellow jackets. Its surprising I wasn't stung, because I walked right into the middle of the swarm before realizing what it was and backing out. I brought him to the house for Andrea to look at, then relocated to another spot and mowed for a bit longer.

At lunch time we went out to town for lunch, then to the courthouse so I could take the test to get my motorcycle driver's permit. I wasn't entirely confident, but passed. I didn't really put in much studying time, just read through the book once over the weekend. My Dad will be pleased, so that now I can go riding with him. I'll probably end up with getting a motorcycle at some point, which should allow me to save on gas when I use it instead of the car, as I can probably expect to get 50+ mpg.

We had pizza on the grill for dinner, then afterwards I went out to work for a bit before dark. I didn't have a lot of time, because we had a late dinner, but I did have enough time to turn the compost pile. I spread a tarp nearby, and then forked everything onto it so I could mix it and add it back into the pile in a better order. I also poured some urine I had saved over various layers, to add a bit of nitrogen. I expect the pile will finish breaking down much better now that its mixed better.

Make Temporary Changes Permanent

Today I ran across an article on eartheasy with some tips on how to save water during a drought. To my surprise, these are things that we already do, even when water is plentiful. That isn't always the case, though, with these sorts of lists.

The list in the article consists of the following 5 tips: let your lawn go dormant, hand water your garden and shrub beds, wash your car using a bucket for water, keep drinking water in a jug in the refrigerator, and apply mulch to plants, shrubs, and ornamental trees. Why bother listing these if they are things we already do? Because, even though I do them, maybe others do not, but would be interested in trying these changes out. I urge you to read the linked article if you'd like more information on the tips.

The intent of this post, though, isn't to convince you to visit eartheasy and read the original article. The intent is to point out that we can use lists like these as sources for ideas of new ways to conserve. I try to always read such articles, as they often suggest things that I may not have thought of before. Sometimes I even find myself searching for tips on staying cool without an air conditioner, or saving money on electric bills just to see if I can find any new suggestions that I might want to try. Just because we have an air conditioner doesn't mean I can't benefit from tips on how to stay cool without one.

The next time you see a list like the one linked to above browse through it to see if there is anything there that you can use. If you find that you're already doing everything that is suggested, don't stop there. Spend a few minutes searching for another, similar list that may have suggestions you have not tried.

Likewise, the next time you are forced to make changes to your lifestyle to deal with a resource outage or shortage, consider whether the change is something that you could adapt to permanently. Sometimes a sacrifice that we make during a special situation can become a permanent change with little additional effort. It may be easier to make a change when we have to, than it is to make the same change for other reasons. Often, though, making the initial change is the hard part, and if we maintain the habit, even when its no longer necessary, it eventually stops feeling like a sacrifice at all.

Monday, August 6, 2012


I accomplished absolutely nothing today. The most productive thing I did, aside from work, was taking the trash down to the road, which is obviously no accomplishment. I think the rain may be over with for a few days, so I'm using this as an opportunity to get back on track. The first thing I need to do is to start getting up earlier. To do that, I'm targeting a bedtime tonight of 10:00 PM. If I can't get to sleep, I can read until I fall asleep. I'm setting my alarm for 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. In fact, I'm setting 2 alarms in case I try to sleep through the first.

Check the Warranty Before Throwing it Out

We rarely make a claim against the warranty of products that we buy. Certainly if we had a failure of a major item, such as a car or refrigerator we would try to get it fixed under warranty, but for smaller items I rarely even think about whether or not its still covered by the manufacturer's warranty. We recently had a situation come up, however, where the item was covered under warranty, and using it saved us enough to cause me to re-think this habit of forgetting about warranties.

Andrea had been using a Cuisinart Blender/Chopper for the past several months to blend my breakfast smoothies. It was working out well, especially since the smoothie could be consumed from the same cup it was mixed in. Unfortunately, though, the blender died while she was making pesto with it one day a few weeks back. Our assumption is that the pesto was too thick, and caused the motor to overheat. I expected that we would be buying a new one soon, but before doing that Andrea decided to contact the manufacturer.

They didn't even ask her when the item was purchased, although it would have been easy to look up since it was purchased online. They gave her instructions on how to ship the item to the service center. We had to cover the cost of shipping, which came to around $9. A couple of weeks after shipping the old blender out, we received a package from Cuisinart. Inside was a complete 15 piece set. We assume the old one was either going to be too difficult or too expensive to repair, so they sent us a new one. Since we had only shipped them the blender itself, we now have 2 sets the cups, lids, and blades, which is fantastic.

Had we not checked on the warranty situation, we would likely have spent $70 to buy a new blender. Its possible that Andrea would have gone with a different model, but since this one was working so well, and since we had cups and blades for it, I think she would have chosen the same one. By making a claim under the warranty, we ended up with a brand new item anyway, at a $60 savings over buying a new one.

To be honest, though, my preference would have been for them to repair the old one. One benefit of repairing instead of replacing broken items is that it results in less resources being used. I hope that they refurbish the old unit, instead of just throwing it into the trash. Unfortunately, however, it seems that our consumer-oriented culture would, in most cases, prefer a new item to repairing a broken one.

Is Space Exploration Sustainable?

When I logged into the computer this morning I was greeted by news of the successful landing of the Mars rover Curiosity. This was the headline on the news sites, and a topic of conversation of my friends on social media sites. I wasn't even able to check the weather forecast without seeing news about the landing. With all of the attention being paid to the event, I thought I should probably weigh in with my views on the subject as it relates to simple living and sustainability.

First, a bit of background, based on my limited research. Curiosity is a Mars rover which was launched as part of the Mars Science Laboratory. The objective of the launch is to determine if Mars could have ever supported life, study the climate and geology of the planet, as well as to collect data for future human missions.

The rover was launched via the Atlas V 541 rocket, which is considered an expendable launch system. In other words, the rocket is designed to be used only once, with no intent of recovering the spent components. Think about that for a moment. We built this rocket which is taller than many lighthouses, for one single job, then it becomes trash. How much material went into the construction of this rocket that could have been put to better use? Imagine if we used this transportation model in other industries. How wasteful would it be to have a load of bananas sent from Central America to the Eastern US, just to destroy the ship after the cargo as unloaded. In addition to the wasted materials of the rocket itself, we can't forget the amount of fuel required to launch the rocket and payload into orbit. The different components of the rocket use different fuels, including kerosene, liquid oxygen, and liquid hydrogen.

The rover itself is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator which harnesses the power from the radioactive decay of Plutonium-238. Once the mission has been completed, the rover will not be recovered. In fact, there are other rovers still on the surface of Mars from previous missions.  This means that the spent Plutonium will not be recovered and contained. I suppose this isn't considered a big deal, since no life is believed to exist on Mars, but it still seems irresponsible to me. We're already polluting the planet before ever visiting there in person. That doesn't seem like a very good start to me.

In addition to the physical resources that have been used on this project there has been a huge investment of human capital. Some of the top scientists and engineers in the world have been working on this project for months. Now that the craft has landed, there will be many more months of sifting through and analyzing the data being transmitted by the rover. While I'm sure that NASA knows the estimated man hours required for the project, I've yet to see any info on that. Regardless, I'm confident that the effort is massive. I have to wonder about the innovation we are sacrificing in other fields by focusing the attention of so many people on this single project. Couldn't the knowledge and experience be better spent working on new alternative energy technology, improving our infrastructure, developing more advanced agriculture methods, or even building more affordable housing for the less fortunate?

Perhaps all of the spent resources, millions of dollars of investment, and sacrifices will be worth it to gain the information that the rover is being sent to collect. I'm sure there are some who believe this will be the case, otherwise the project would not, at least I hope, have been undertaken. Personally, however, I can't find a justification for the project, at least not at the cost that was required. Looking back at the stated objectives of the mission, I see nothing that seems important enough to prioritize above improving conditions on our own planet. It may be that this and other, similar, projects are an attempt to lay the groundwork, not only for manned mission to Mars, but for eventual colonization of the planet. I know that this is a goal for some, and I've even heard the suggestion that such colonization may ultimately be the solution to overcoming the damage being done to our own planet.

The idea of colonizing another planet, so humans have somewhere to go if the Earth becomes inhospitable is certainly not a sustainability-minded idea. How many science fiction movies and novels have been written in which the villain is an alien race who, having used up all of the resources or otherwise destroyed their own planet, are attempting an invasion of Earth to gain its resources? Do we really want to be that species? Do we really want our history to include using up and destroying our planet, our ancestral home, then simply moving on to do the same to another planet? If we can't find a way to live in harmony with our own planet, which is uniquely suited to providing all that we need for survival, do we really think that we can do better living on another planet on which we will most likely to be forced to live in artificially generated atmosphere?

While this post has focused on the Mars rover Curiosity, the same ideas can be extended to other space exploration as well.  Is space exploration sustainable? I don't think so. I've yet to see any evidence that leads me to believe that the ends justify the means.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Today was definitely a day for staying inside. It rained pretty much all day. I really didn't accomplish much, but did take care of one small project. A piece of the paneling in the living room has been cracked for months, and I finally got around to working on it. The nails had pulled through when the trailer was moved, so I had to drive those on in to get the paneling to sit against the stud. Once I did that, it was just a matter of putting in a few new nails to hold it in place. It didn't take long, but was one of those projects that had just been hanging out there for quite some time. Andrea worked on some organizing today, and I helped her a bit with that as well.

While grilling dinner this evening I was thinking about the stereotype of men doing the grilling. If I'm available I usually am the one who does the grilling, although Andrea prepares everything inside and I just put it on the grill, turn it from time to time, and then take it off when its ready. The primary reason that I'm the one who does the grilling is that I like being outside more than she does. I can take a book out and sit there for 30 minutes or an hour and be perfectly content.

Making Food More Sustainable - Chicken, Potatoes, and Corn

This is my second post in the Making Food More Sustainable series. My previous post on breakfast burritos can be found here. Today I had grilled chicken, roasted potatoes, and corn for dinner, so I am going to be looking more closely at how this meal might be made more sustainable in the future. The ingredients used in the meal include: chicken breast, Creole Salt seasoning, potatoes, butter, and corn.


We don't have a consistent source for chicken at this point. Sometimes we buy it from the Good Foods Market, and other times from a "normal" grocery store. Whenever possible we like to buy organic, free-range chicken.

Even though we hope to get chickens in the near future, we do not plan to raise the chickens for meat. While I keep the option open in the back of my mind, we just aren't ready to raise and butcher our own meat at this point. Until the time comes that we're ready to raise our own chicken we will continue purchasing our chicken from others. While purchasing organic, free-range chicken is a good step, I would look to find a local source for chicken, preferably buying directly from a farmer if possible.

Creole Salt

We use a variety of different spice blends when grilling chicken. Today we used Creole Salt, which was purchased from a vendor at the Lexington Farmer's Market. Andrea usually makes our spice blends, but we do like to buy new ones from time to time to try. We've purchased a couple of other blends from this particular vendor, all of which have been tasty.

The first improvement we can make with the spice blends that we use is to always make them ourselves. This should not be very difficult since Andrea makes most of them anyway, with just a few exceptions. The spices that we use are normally purchased in bulk from the Good Foods Market, which is probably one of the better places we could buy the spices from. The next improvement we could make is to replace some of the spices with home grown herbs, although I don't think we'll ever be able to replace all of the spices we use with home grown varieties.


The potatoes that we used today were purchased at the local farmers market. We didn't use the potatoes that we grew in our garden because they are so small. We do still have one variety to harvest, however, so those might be a bit bigger, but it was too wet to dig those today. We hope to eventually raise enough potatoes to last most, if not all, of the year, so we do not have to buy them. This will require a good root cellar for storage, however, which is something we do not currently have.


The corn that we used today was purchased last year at the Richmond Farmer's Market. We bought several dozen ears, and then stored it in the freezer. We still have quite a bit left, but need to buy more this year to put away for next year. We hope to plant corn next year, so hopefully this year will be the last that we need to buy it in bulk like this, although that depends on how well our first corn crop performs.


Butter is another item that we do not have a consistent source of. We like to buy butter from the Farmer's Market when possible, or, if not there, from the Good Foods Market or Happy Meadows Natural Food Store. We bought some last month at the Field to Fork Festival, but that has been used up and what we are using now was purchased from the local grocery store.

The best thing we can do short term to improve on the butter we use is to always buy from a Farmer's Market or a grocery store like the Good Foods Market. I feel much better about buying from one of those sources, as I know they sell local products. A long term solution might be to learn to make homemade butter, but I know nothing about the process. I don't see that as being practical without a milk source, however, so unless we decided to get a milk cow, its probably not something that is worth pursuing.

This meal is one that would be theoretically possible to make entirely from ingredients we either grew or raised ourselves. Being able to do that is certainly not something that will happen for a long time, if it ever does. It is nice to know, however, that it is a possibility, no matter how unlikely.