Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Gardening Recap

I had not originally planned to do any year-in-review type posts. However, a couple of months ago, as I was thinking about doing a recap of our gardening experiences, I decided it might make sense to wait until the end of the year to do so.

Even though our garden for the year was quite small, 2012 was still a year of several firsts for us in terms of growing our own food. We had some great successes, as well as some significant failures. We learned a lot, though, which makes everything we did worth the effort.

We had initially planned to plant a larger garden, but let time get away from us. For this reason the only crops we managed to plant in the actual garden were garlic and potatoes. We had planted garlic the previous year, so had already learned a few lessons. We had moderate success with our garlic crop this year. The bulbs were mostly small to medium, but had good flavor. We had a few that were not storing well, so used those to make garlic powder. Some of the varieties, though, lasted for several months in storage, which I was pleased with. The Garlic Growing Results post from earlier in the year provides more details.

Unlike the garlic, our potato crop did not turn out well. As I discussed in the Potato Growing Results post, we barely harvested an amount equal to the seed we planted. We learned several lessons from our first attempt at growing potatoes, and will be making several adjustment next year. Those adjustments include the way in which we prepped the plot for planting, the frequency with which we weeded and hilled dirt around the plants, and the way in which we watered the plants during the dry part of summer. I am confident that our potato crop next year will be better than this year's crop, although I'm making not predictions beyond that.

In addition to the main garden we also had an herb garden this year in front of the trailer. The herb garden was prepped using sheet composting. We began by putting down a layer of cardboard, which we then covered with a layer of rabbit manure, which we purchased. This was covered with a layer of straw, and then allowed to sit for several months. The result was a fantastically rich soil that yielded great results.

In the herb garden we planted peppers and several types of herbs, including basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, spearmint, wintergreen, and orange mint. All of the varieties of peppers did extremely well. We ended up with many more peppers than we could use, even after Andrea put many away by freezing or drying them. We would have had more if we hadn't lost some because of overcrowding or a lack of good support for the plants. I specifically remembering having to pick one fist sized bell pepper before it was completely ripe, because the weight was breaking the plant stem. In addition to bell peppers we had cayenne, habanero, and serrano plants, all of which actually out-performed the bell peppers.

Of the herbs that we planted, the basil did the best by far. We knew we wanted to make pesto, so planted quite a bit of basil. We had no idea how well it would yield, though, and ended up with much more that we could possibly use. I don't even know how much pesto is in the freezer at the moment, but I'm sure some of it will have to be thrown out to make room for more next year. The mints also did extremely well, which would have really been great news if we had a plan for using it. We ended up with a lot of mint that just got tossed into the compost. The other herbs also did well, but could not compare to the basil and mints.

We also tried our hand at planting berries this year. We planted two varieties of strawberries in the lower yard, as well as some blackberries and raspberries near the garden. One of the varieties of strawberries is doing great. The other seems to be doing ok, but isn't as thick or spreading as well as the first. I'm hopeful that we'll have plenty of fresh strawberries to eat next year.

The raspberries seem to be doing well, although without something to compare them to its hard to know for sure. We planted five briars originally, but I accidentally cut one of them down while mowing weeds. I'm hoping that maybe it'll come back up this year. The blackberries never really took off, and I couldn't figure out why at first. Then I realized that they were planted beside a black walnut tree, and do not tolerate the juglone that the tree leeches into the soil. My guess is that we'll need to buy new blackberry plants this year and find a better location for them. I can't believe that I didn't think to check for the problem before planting the berries, since I knew that many plants can't be planted near black walnut trees.

The final piece of our gardening experience for 2012 was to plant cover crops for the first time. I won't go into detail, since I recently wrote about this in the First Attempt at Planting Cover Crops post. I am very excited to see how well the winter rye and hairy vetch does. I know this is one area where we can learn a lot, since my parents never planted cover crops in the garden when I was growing up.

All in all our gardening experience for 2012 was positive. We certainly could have done much better, but it was a learning experience. I'm expecting to not only expand our garden for 2013, but to also get better yields of those crops we experimented with this year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


I didn't really accomplish anything today. I've still not been feeling great, plus it is has been very cold outside. Andrea has been productive, though. She has been working on the insulated window coverings for her bedroom. She finished those for my room and the living room several months ago, but hadn't started on those for her room yet. We should be able to hang them sometime this week, which will be good. She's going to try to make some smaller ones for the remaining windows once she finishes, but those are a lower priority.

Christmas Gifts - 2012

As a follow up to my What My Christmas List Says About Me post, I thought I would do a post about the gifts I received this Christmas. I took part in five different gift exchanges, so am sorting the items based on the order in which they were received.

Kintrex 12 Inch Measuring Wheel - I had been wanting a measuring wheel for a couple of years, but wasn't willing to spend $60 or more to get one. A few months ago I ran across this one, which was on sale at the time, for half that, so picked it up. My grandmother always gives us money to buy our own gifts with, so this was one of my gifts from her.

Irwin Quick-Grip 6-Piece Clamp Set - On our way home, after visiting family for Thanksgiving, we made a couple of stops in London to check out the Black Friday deals. This set of clamps was on sale for half of the normal retail price so I picked it up. It ended up being the remainder of my gift from my grandmother.

Ozark Trail Propane Lantern - I received this gift as part of the gift exchange game we play at my grandmother's house. I already have a similar Coleman lantern, and really don't need another, so I offered this one to my Dad. He also has a good Coleman lantern, but it uses liquid fuel, so I thought he might want this one. He hasn't decided yet if he'll keep it or not. If he decides not to I may exchange it for something else I can use.

Kubota RTV 500 Front Accessory Box - This is another item that I picked out myself. This one is from my other grandmother. I ordered it from the Kubota dealer several weeks ago, but it have not yet received it, as there have been several issues. It was on back order at first, then when it did come in, they had ordered the wrong item. When the correct item did come in, it was missing the hardware and instructions, so now I'm waiting again. Fortunately, though, I was not in a big hurry for the item, so it hasn't been a big deal.

Highland Deluxe Bungee Truck Net - This is one of the four truck nets I received this year. After closely comparing them all, I decided to keep this one. It seemed to be the best fit for the truck, and was actually the one that cost the least. I ended up opening it the day after Christmas and I used it to make sure the loose boxes I hauled home didn't blow out of the bed of the truck.

Tempest 4-Piece Tape Measure Set - This item was received along with the Highland Deluxe Bungee Truck Net. While we already have several tape measures, I think this set will come in handy. We'll likely put the 12' tape in the car, the 16' tape in the truck, and maybe throw the 25' tape in the RTV once I have the Front Accessory Box installed.

100' ft of T.W. Evans Cordage Braided 3/8" Rope - This item was also received along with the Highland Deluxe Bungee Truck Net. I specifically asked for this, even though I don't have a specific use in mind for it. I figure, though, that a length of good rope is something I should have on hand.

Highland Adjustable Heavy Duty Truck Net - This was another of the four truck nets I received. This one is completely adjustable, so likely would have resulted in a better fit than the bungee version. However, getting that fit likely means the net is a bit more complicated to use than the bungee version, since it would require adjusting the straps and hooks, so I've decided not to keep it. I haven't returned this item yet, but will likely do so on our next trip to Lexington.

Highland Smooth Braid Rope Clothesline - This was received along with the Highland Adjustable Heavy Duty Truck Net. I suspect that it was picked up in order to bring the value of the gift up to a set amount. Since I had asked for some rope, it is likely that the gift giver couldn't remember the specifics, so just picked this one up. This item came from the same store as the truck net, so I'll most likely return it at the same time.

ZipNet Adjustable Cargo Net - This was the third truck net I received. Like the adjustable Highland net, I figured it would require more effort to use. It was purchased from Amazon, so we are going to combine it with a few other items and ship them all to the return center at once.

Fiskars Professional Bypass Pruning Shears - I tend to use pruners and loppers a lot, and can be hard on them. My pair of Fiskars Power Lever Ultrablade Anvil Pruners are starting to get in pretty rough shape, so I thought I could use another pair. I'll keep the anvil pruners in the RTV, and then try to only use the new ones for more delicate pruning tasks.

Outback Steakhouse Gift Card - This was a gift to myself and Andrea from one of my aunts. We like eating at Outback, so this will give us the opportunity to treat ourselves sometime without actually costing any money, which is always nice.

Cracker Barrel Gift Card - This was also a gift to myself and Andrea, from one of my other aunts. We like to get breakfast at Cracker Barrel occasionally, so this card will certainly be used. We actually had breakfast at Cracker Barrel yesterday, but decided to not to use the card.

Reese Deluxe Bungee Truck Net - This was the fourth, and thankfully last, truck net I received this year. Even though it is a different brand, it is identical to the Highland Deluxe Bungee Truck Net. I decided to return this one, as it cost a bit more and was going to be easier to return than the Highland version. We returned it yesterday, and I picked up a pair of West Chester Leather Gloves to replace it.

Reese 8" Ramp Kit - I have been using a couple of 2"x8"s as ramps for several years. They work out ok, but it can be hard to keep them from sliding off of the tailgate of the truck or RTV. This kit is going to make loading equipment into the bed of the RTV much easier. I'm sure that I'll get a lot of use from this item.

Truper 6-Tine Manure Fork - I have a 4-tine fork, but have been wanting a 5 or 6 tine fork as well. I probably would not have bought one for myself, but thought it would be a good item to put on my Christmas list. I'm sure that I'll be using this gift for many years.

Cash - Andrea's grandparents always give us cash for Christmas, which we split. Who can't extra spending money. I usually hold onto my Christmas cash, and use it for picking up small items throughout the year. I'm not yet sure what I'll spend it on this year, but I'm certain I'll find something.

Amazon Gift Card -  I usually get a gift card from whomever drew my name at Andrea's grandparents' house. I've received cards for several stores in the past, all of which were good choices. This year I received a gift card to Amazon, though, which is probably the most useful gift card I could ask for. I'll likely use the card for books, although may also pick up some new music as well, since I'd really like to get some new bluegrass to listen to.

Modern Mountain Magazine - Andrea's great-aunt and uncle bought everyone a subscription to Modern Magazine this year. This is a fantastic gift for us, as it covers the type of regional and cultural stories that we are very interested in. We've actually bought issues of the magazine in the past, so are sure to enjoy the subscription.

Books - In addition to the Modern Mountain Magazine Andrea's great-aunt and uncle also gave us a couple of booklets produced by small Kentucky publishers. The first was Kentucky's Covered Bridges by Stewart Combs. The other was Quilting in Appalachia by Thelma R. Crawford. I actually already have a copy of the Covered Bridges book, so it was obviously a good choice. Since Andrea is an avid quilter, I suspect she'll thoroughly enjoy the other book.

Drill Master 13-Piece Drill Bit Set - In addition to the magazine and books, we also received a set of drill bits from Andrea's great-aunt and uncle. I suppose they thought of the books as being for Andrea, and the bits for me, but really, in our relationship, either of the gifts could have been for either of us. I suspect that anyone with a drill can make use of an extra set of drill bits, and we're no different.

Cabela's Roughneck Thermal-Lined Hooded Sweatshirt - This is yet another gift that I picked out for myself. Normally Andrea picks out the gift for her mom to give me, but since I already had an item in mind this year she let me pick it. I have been wearing insulated flannel shirts as my light jacket when I work outdoors, but have found that the buttons tend to come undone, especially when I'm on the RTV. I decided to try something with a zipper, and since my Dad seems to love his insulated hooded sweatshirts I thought I'd give one of those a try. I looked at a lot of different options to find the one that I wanted. In the end I decided on this item, which was fairly expensive, but I think is going to work out well.

I was very pleased with the gifts I received this year. True, things would probably have been simpler if I had not received four truck nets, but I can return three of them and replace them with other items from my list that I didn't receive. I have plenty of new tools to try out, and you can expect to see some reviews of them in the coming months.


We continue to be lucky when it comes to snowfall. This is the third time this year that the snow missed us while other parts of central and/or eastern Kentucky received measurable amounts. We did get some snow flurries today, but the temperatures were warm enough that it melted immediately.

We decided to get up early and drive to London. Andrea needed to return a few items and do some shopping, so we wanted to try to beat the crowds. It worked out very well, and we managed to finish everything we needed to do and make it back home by noon.

I didn't feel well all day, so didn't do much else. Andrea did tackle a project once we returned home, though. She made a new bed for the dogs. This is the type of project that I really like, as she was able to make it with re-purposed materials. She used the old insulated window covering that had been covering the large window in my bedroom before we replaced it with a better one. She simply folded it in half, and stitched the sides together. She then filled it with scraps of fleece and other fabric that she has been saving for such a project. Once that was done she stitched up the remaining side, and then put it on the front porch for the dogs to use. While the finished product may not be as nice as a store-bought bed, such as this one, it cost much less and required the use of no virgin materials other than the thread.

Luke seems to be enjoying the new bed so far. It should be a bit warmer than the previous one, and the added thickness should be a bit more comfortable as well. Sometime we need to make an outline of the doghouse base so Andrea can make one to fit in there as well.

Friday, December 28, 2012


The temperature made it into the mid 40s today, and we even had a bit of occasional sunshine. I went out for about an hour during my lunch break. My first task was to apply straw mulch to the garlic. I should have done this weeks ago, but was hoping to put down a border of wood chips first. I haven't finished chipping, though, so finally decided to go ahead and do the  mulch. I had about a quarter of a bale of straw left when I finished the garlic, so I applied that to one of the strawberry beds. After mulching I unloaded the bed of the truck, which had our large storage tote and some boxes that we brought home from Christmas. The weather forecast is calling for a chance of snow this weekend, so I wanted to be sure the truck was unloaded and ready to go in case we need to use it if we need to go somewhere.

Longing for a Simple Christmas

Another Christmas has come and gone, and I find myself, yet again, relieved that it is over. I am the type of person who tends to get incredibly stressed and anxious when faced with large amounts of consumerism and wastefulness. Unfortunately that is, it seems, exactly what Christmas is about.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy spending time with family around the holidays. In fact, that is the only part of the holiday that makes it bearable. I don't know when Christmas became so commercialized, but I can never remember a time that it was not. Of course this trend has been increasing with each year, and I'm afraid will continue to do so for many years to come.

Christmas Cards

When I think of Christmas Cards, I can't help from thinking of the waste that goes into producing and delivering them. I think that we sent out approximately 50 cards this year. Each of these required paper (even if recycled) for both the card and envelope. The cards then had to be shipped, likely multiple times, before reaching us, only to be mailed again, this time individually, to our friends and family.

Not only do cards require resources for their manufacture, and fuel for transport, but they can also be expensive. Costs vary greatly, but the postage alone costs $22.50 for mailing 50 cards. In the grand scheme of things that isn't a lot, but I can think of many ways in which that money could be better spent.

Thankfully, Andrea was able to find cards this year which were manufactured and sold by a worthy charity. She purchased the majority of our cards from Made by Survivors, which is a charity that helps victims of human trafficking. The charity employs those it seeks to help, meaning the cards were handmade by those receiving benefits from the charity. Yes, the cards were more expensive than those one might buy at a local discount department store, but the money went to a good cause, and the cards themselves were very beautiful. We received multiple compliments on the cards from recipients who weren't even aware of where they came from.

Aside from the wastefulness of the tradition, the exchange of Christmas cards seems to be one of those activities which are based almost entirely on the idea of reciprocation. This results in the need to keep score, to decide who is deserving of a card next year. There are even products made specifically to make it easier to track who cards were sent to, and who card were received from, to make it easier the following year to decide who gets a card. In reality, however, the Christmas card exchange is probably only truly meaningful to the companies that manufacture the cards.


Much like Christmas cards, I can't look at Christmas decorations without thinking about the wastefulness they represent. This is especially true for Christmas lights, since they use electricity in addition to the resources used to manufacture them and fuel used to transport them. Fortunately technological advances have been Christmas lights more efficient, and solar powered lights minimize the impact from that perspective.

Unlike cards, however, the impact of decorations does not end once the holiday is over. Those decorations have to be stored somewhere. Assuming that the decorations include an artificial tree, which seems to be the norm at least in this area, the amount of storage space required can be fairly significant. This type of thing is one, of the many, reasons that houses are so much bigger now than they were 40 years ago. When we continue to buy more and more stuff, we have to find somewhere to store it all, which means bigger, more expensive, houses.

The majority of my family seems to be fairly moderate in terms of decorating, so this isn't really a big stressor for me when visiting them. I've come to accept that most people are going to have a Christmas tree with lights and a few decorations.

We do not decorate for Christmas, and haven't for several years. We aren't home on Christmas anyway, so even if we enjoyed the decorations, it would seem pointless to decorate our house. If we had kids, I suspect that we might put up live tree and decorate with a few homemade decorations. For now, though, I'm more than happy to continue our tradition of no decorations.


For many people, it seems that gift-giving is the most important part of the holiday. However, while there are certainly exceptions, I suspect that, much like the greeting card companies, it is only retailers who truly benefit from the tradition of exchanging gifts at Christmas.

Again, like greeting cards and decorations, I can't see a pile of Christmas gifts without thinking about the waste. With a few exceptions, most gifts are new, manufactured, items, meaning that resources were used to make them, and fuel to transport them. Of course the waste doesn't stop there, since gifts are expected to be boxed so the contents can't be guessed, and decorated with paper, bows, ribbons, and name tags. The mountain of trash on my grandmother's front porch following our Christmas Eve celebrations is always staggering.

Unlike greeting cards and decorations the cost of purchasing Christmas gifts is not minor. Many people go into serious debt to purchase Christmas gifts. Even though Andrea makes most of the gifts that we give, and our gift giving budget is likely much smaller than most, we spend approximately 4% of our budget on gifts each yeah. We spent more on gifts than we spent on our electric bill or any other single utility. We spend more on gifts than we spend on charitable giving, or the purchase of clothing, or even our annual trip to the Mother Earth News Fair.

For adults it seems that the best outcome would can hope for is an even exchange. This is what happens most often at one of our Christmas celebrations, where the adults draw names and usually end up just exchanging gift cards. While the sentiment is certainly appreciated, I sometimes wonder why I don't just add $50 to my free spending money in the budget instead of buying a $50 gift card for one person, knowing that someone else will be giving me a $50 gift card. This method, though, has a higher rate of success than exchanging non-monetary gifts. This year, for example, I made sure to include several items on my Christmas list that would be easy to buy at a department or hardware store. Almost everything I received was from the list, but I ended up getting 4 different versions of the same item. We've tracked down the receipts for them, and will be returning 3 of them during the next few weeks. Last year I received 3 versions of an item, and the year before was the same, except neither of those were exactly the item I wanted. Again, I appreciate the sentiment, but it would have been far less effort, both for me and the gift givers, and less wasteful, for me to have just bought the item I needed.

It might seem that there are no downsides to receiving gifts for kids, and I suspect that most kids would agree with that. However, the parents of those kids might not be so agreeable. Like decorations, those gifts have to be stored somewhere, which again, requires a larger house, or at the very least results in a more cluttered home. Another issue is that kids often receive gifts that a parent might not approve of. There are many types of toys that some parents might disapprove of, from those that celebrate violence, to those that promote unhealthy images, to those they oppose based on religious beliefs. I'm sure that most parents try to prevent these issues by being up front with loved ones prior to the holiday, but what happens when this doesn't work? The parent is stuck having to either take the item away from their kid, and being perceived as the bad guy, or allowing them to keep it, even if it goes against their beliefs or parenting methods.


Holiday celebrations are likely the least commercialized part of the holiday. Of course there are some commercialized celebrations, such as the popular "Ugly Sweater" parties that result in people buying items they will never wear again, but most are simply a gathering of family and friends, which require little more than a place and time, and a bit of food.

The food can be overdone at some gatherings, especially holiday candy, which is a favorite of my family. However, when compared to the rest of the holiday, the food and candy are minor concerns. Where I really see a problem with Christmas celebrations is with their quantity. In a two day span, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Andrea and I take part in five different Christmas celebrations, each of which involve a gift exchange. I'd like to think that we are an exception, but I know that isn't the case. As more of my cousins get married, the scheduling of our family functions become more and more difficult as they need to find a way to incorporate the traditions of their in-laws into their holiday schedule.

Our holiday schedule this year was fairly relaxed, because I took two day off from work. I am lucky to be able to do this, because I know that for many people that isn't an option. Even with me taking time off from work, the holiday was hectic. We got up early on the morning of Christmas Eve and drove two and a half hours to my parents house. We arrived four hours before the start of the first event, but during that time my Dad and I delivered gifts, I helped my Mom make the food she was taking to the events, and Andrea sorted through the gifts we had been storing there and finished wrapping a couple of items for my Mom. Our next 32 hours were packed with various family functions. Since 7 hours of that time was spent sleeping, the average worked out to approximately 5 hours for each of the events, including travel time. As you can imagine, it was a very tiring couple of days.

My Simple Christmas Dream

After having read all of the reasons why I see Christmas a wasteful, over-commercialized, and stressful, you might wonder what my idea Christmas celebration would be. I've been giving that a lot of thought this year, and have managed to come up with a celebration that could represent what I think the holiday should be about.

In my Simple Christmas, Andrea and I stay home and celebrate alone. We sit by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate and watching the snow fall outside. Our gift exchange consists of a couple of small gifts, which are either homemade, or of negligible cost, but with high sentimental value. After exchanging gifts we go outside to give Luke and Jack each a new toy, and spend some time out there playing with them in the snow. After coming back inside, I call my parents to wish them a Merry Christmas, and then Andrea and I spent the evening sitting by the fire, listening to Christmas music, and enjoying the simple pleasure of each other's company.

I do not expect to ever have a Christmas like this, however. We have too many family obligations to have the luxury of such a simple celebration. As attractive as removing ourselves from the commercialized traditions of Christmas cads, gift exchanges, and family gatherings might be, it would be a selfish act on our part. The fact is, there are a lot of people who enjoy seeing us at those celebrations, who enjoy being able to purchase gifts for us, and who enjoy receiving the gifts we give. While a simple Christmas might better fit my values, I'm willing to continue our currents traditions for the sake of my family and loved ones who expect it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I've been away for several days, visiting family for the holiday. I thought I should do a quick update, just so regular readers know I'm still around. Our Christmas celebrations, like always, were hectic, but enjoyable. We had five places to visit in two days, in addition to the packing and preparation beforehand. The best parts of Christmas are spending time with family, and seeing how everyone likes the homemade gifts that Andrea gives. I'm always thankful when its over, however, and glad to get back home. This year was certainly no exception.

I was very surprised when I got home last night to see that the blog had received a big spike in traffic. I quickly realized that the increase in traffic was due to a post on TheWaldenEffect highlighting the portion of the Trailersteading book which featured Andrea and I. I am very appreciative of Anna giving our section its own post on her blog, and to her readers who followed the link to check out Simple Living in a Complex World.

I hope that everyone had a Merry Christmas, and was able to spend time with family and loved ones. Its easy to become overwhelmed by the consumerism that dominates the holiday season.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blog Milestone - 3000 Page Views

When the blog crossed the 2000 page views milestone I indicated that I had not originally intended to post about it, but changed my mind. I've now decided that as long as the blog keeps receiving increasing traffic, I will likely continue to do posts at various milestones, although not always at 1000 page view milestones.

Having said that, today the blog received its 3000th page view. November 28th was the date of the 2000th page view, which means the blog has received 1000 page views in only 25 days. This works out to an average of 40 page views per day, which is a 74% increase since the October 17th through November 28th time period, during which the 1001st through 2000th page views were received.

The most popular post written during the past 25 days is Book Review - The Biochar Solution, with 62 page views. The Tools - Fiskars Brush Axe post continues to be the most popular post on the blog. On November 28th that post had received 176 page views. Today, that same post is up to 550 total page views.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book - Trailersteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Andrea and I had been interviewed for a book. I'm happy to announce that the book has now been released. The Kindle version of Trailersteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home is currently available on Amazon.

I am not going to do a review, as I believe it would be difficult for me to be unbiased, since Andrea and I are featured in the book. For that reason, I am planning to have a friend do a guest post, in which she reviews the book.

In the meantime, I can provide some information for those who wonder if they should pick up a copy. The book is written by Anna Hess, who is an author and blogger at The Walden Effect. In the book Anna presents a case for living in a mobile home as component of simple living. She interviewed several couples and individuals, such as Andrea and msyelf, and presents that information as case studies to highlight ways in which people from all over the country have taken advantage of the low cost of a mobile home. In addition to the case studies the book includes information on how one can minimize the downsides to living in a mobile home, and maximize the benefits.

Of course I think the material covered in the book is worthwhile, but that's because it describes the approach we've taken to housing, at least for the present. Is this book for you? I can't answer that, but the low cost makes it very easy for you to purchase a copy and find out for yourself.

The Best Loved Car in the World?

I recently read an article written for Mother Earth News by Bryan Welch about the Chevy Volt. I was a bit surprised by how much Welch seems to love the car, as apparently many others do. I've long suspected that the Volt was much less of a car than it was being made out to be, so was very interested to read that many disagree. I thought that this article would be good as the basis for a brief post.

The main point of the article is to highlight the fact that for two years in a row the Volt has been named by Consumer Reports as the best-loved car in the world among those who drive one. That is quite an honor, and seems to be a good indicator that those who drive the Volt seem very pleased with the car. Of course many people are more cynical, which Welch discusses in the article. He quotes many commentors who seem to think that the only reason the Volt topped the consumer satisfaction survey is that owners were unwilling to admit to having made a mistake.

My biggest complaint about the Volt has been the characterization of it as an electronic vehicle, rather than as a plug-in hybrid, which is a much more accurate description. It seems that lately the latter terminology is being used more and more, and even Chevrolet seems to be backing away from referring to the Volt as an EV, perhaps due to the upcoming release of the 2014 Chevrolet Spark, which is a true Electric Vehicle.

The price tag of the Volt seems a bit high to me, for a plug-in hybrid, although tax incentives do help to make it more affordable. The author of the article reports an average of 76mpg, and states that he spent approximately $10 worth of electricity, which is certainly attractive. Having never driven a Volt myself, I can't really offer any recommendations. However, after reading this article, I am a bit more optimistic about the Volt, and the new Spark, and would probably at least test drive one if we were in the market for a new car.


Today was fairly eventful, even though I didn't actually make it outside to work on anything. When Andrea took the car in to have the belts replaced recently they mentioned that the brakes needed work, as the rotors were heavily rusted. I had also started noticing a shaking in the front end, so she took it back to the shop to have both looked at. It turns out that the rotors need to be replaced, because they are too rusted to be machined. They've never been machined, and I guess eight and a half years and nearly 130,000 miles is a long time to go without doing this. The brakes also need replaced, as one of the pads was completely worn out. The vibration was caused by flat spots on the tires, which I still can't figure out, since the car has never been left sitting for more than a few weeks at a time. One of the tires also had a nail in it, and they were all wearing prematurely to the inside because of an alignment issue. I'm certain that, with my dad's help, I could have done some of this work myself. I'm also certain that I could have shopped around and found cheaper, and likely better, tires than what the shop is offering. This, however, is one of those situations where, since we can afford it, I'd rather just get the work done and know its is done correctly. I'd rather not have to drive the car now that I know what all is wrong with it. So we told them to go ahead and do the work, which will probably end up costing us a few hundred dollars more than if we had been frugal and tried to minimize costs. The good news, though, is that once this work is done the car should be good for several thousand more miles without any maintenance beyond oil changes. The shop wasn't going to be able to complete the work yesterday, so I took a few hours off from work and drive to Richmond to pick Andrea up. We'll have to go back and pick the car up once they are done, which shouldn't take more than a day or two.

After returning home I finished up my work day, then drove back into town to fill up the gas cans. The weather forecast is calling for snow and high winds, and some people a few counties over had already had some loss of electricity. I don't really expect us to see any problems, but I wanted to be prepared, just in case. There was a lot of debris on the road, so we're probably lucky that there weren't any power outages here.

Andrea spent the evening trying to patch an old quilt that I use when we're watching tv. It is fairly tattered, especially around the edges. She has made quite a bit of progress, but there is still a lot of work to be done. It might have made more sense for her to just make me a new quilt, but I really like that one, and hate to throw it away if we can still coax a bit more use from it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hills Rotary Clothesline

We have been using a Hills Rotary Clothesline for close to two years now. The model that we have, the Rotary 450, can no longer be purchased, but appears to be equivalent to the Rotary 7 "Large" Clothesline that is currently available.

Hills is an Australian company that has been making rotary clotheslines and other similar products for several decades. We purchased our's from Breeze Dryer, which is the US distributor for Hills products. The Hills website lists distributors for several other countries for those located outside of the US.

Our first experience with the Hills Rotary Clotheslines was at the 2010 Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. Breeze Dryer was a vendor at the fair, and we stopped by and looked at the clotheslines and talked to the sales rep. Its very possible that we would have purchased one that day if not for the difficulty of transporting it. Andrea ended up making an online order several months later, which did end up costing more due to shipping.

So far we have been very happy with both the quality of the Hills Rotary Clothesline and the customer service provided by Breeze Dryer. When the package first arrived we left it on the back porch for a while, because it was going to take up so much space inside. Unfortunately Luke decided to chew on the box one day, and managed to work his way to the lines and chew some in half. Andrea called customer service and they sent her a whole set of replacement lines. When we stopped by their booth at the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair the sales rep remembered us, because he had never had to send replacements parts to a customer due to damage caused by a dog.

Before deciding on a rotary clothesline we considered just putting up a normal clothesline. We identified several advantages of a rotary line, though, some of which are specific to the Hills products. After using it for for some time we have identified additional benefits that we had not previously considered.

One of the big benefits with the rotary clothesline is that they require much less space than a traditional line. Even though we have a large yard, the most convenient spot for drying clothes would have not been big enough for a traditional line. The Rotary 450 fits there perfectly, though. This also means that much less walking is required to hang up, or take down, laundry. Even if one were to hang clothes in one section, then go around to the next, it would require much less walking than hanging clothes on a traditional line of equivalent length, even if two or three lines ran parallel. It isn't necessary to walk from section to section with a rotary line, however, as one can just stand in place and rotate the line as needed. This means that the clothes basket can be placed on the ground, allowing two hands to be used for hanging up clothes, instead of having to try to carry the basket and hang up clothes at the same time, or repeatedly moving the basket from spot to spot.

We have also found that clothes dry faster on the rotary line than they would on a traditional clothesline. The primary reason for this is that the rotary line spins with the wind, which not only means that the clothes on all sides are being exposed to the wind, but all are also being exposed to the sun, regardless of its position in the sky. With a traditional line only the clothes on the line closest to the road would get morning sun at our house, with the others not getting sun until afternoon or until the others were removed. Large items can also be dried much more quickly on a rotary line by stretching the item over multiple lines. Often Andrea will often stretch an item over two or three lines, which allows it to be doubled over so it doesn't touch the ground without having the two sides touch. This could also be done with a traditional line provided there were two or more lines running parallel. When drying a quilt or other very large item, however, one can lay the item out over the entire clothesline, so that most of it is laying parallel to the ground, which allows it to get more sunlight, as well as more air flow underneath.

Lastly, the Hills Rotary Clotheslines make is easier to keep clothes out of the reach of those who might try to grab them, such as children or dogs. Luke was very bad when he was a puppy to try to pull the clothes from the line. The ability to raise the clothesline made it easier to keep them away from him. Andrea was able  to hang the clothes, then use the crank to raise them an additional 18 inches. At that height some shorter garments were out of Luke's reach. Andrea would never have been able to reach the lines if they were at that height at all times, though. Also, we thought that we might have to end up fencing in the clothesline for a while, but thankfully Luke finally calmed down. If we had decided to fence it in, a rotary dryer would have been much easier, and cheaper, to fence in due to its smaller footprint.

Even with all of these benefits, there are a few disadvantages to the Hill Rotary Clothesline when compared to a normal clothesline. The first, and perhaps biggest disadvantage for many, is the cost. Andrea and I believe that our Rotary 450 was a good investment, especially since it should last for many years. Many people, however, may not be able to justify spending as much for a clothesline as for a cheap electric clothes dryer.

Another disadvantage, especially for those of us who like to consider the environmental impact of our purchases, is that the buying a product like this means using new materials for a task for which recycled materials could be used. In most cases I would think that the actual lines would be purchased new, but posts for a typical clothesline could certainly be made from salvaged products, or even wooden posts cut specifically for the purpose from trees on the individuals own property. For this reason, if I were to evaluate the purchase of a new rotary clothesline purely on its environmental impact I would likely decide that a traditional clothesline would be the better choice.

Finally, even though the Hills Rotary Clothesline can be relocated to another location doing so requires the purchase of an additional ground socket. Since the ground socket must be cemented into the ground, it would be difficult to move it, although I am considering trying to do so once we build our house. The purchase of a new ground socket means both added expense and wasted materials, including the Portland Cement, which I like to use as little as possible. Also, once the clothesline is moved, you're left with the old ground socket still cemented into the ground. Even though it only protrudes a couple of inches above ground level I believe it would certainly be in the way, especially when mowing grass.

Even though there are a few disadvantages to the Hill Rotary Clothesline I believe that they are more than outweighed by the advantages. I expect that we'll be using ours for many years to come, and have seen nothing that makes me think the product will not be up to the task.

Monday, December 17, 2012


It rained all day today, and actually stormed for a while. Normally that would mean I didn't accomplish anything, but today was the perfect day to locate the leak in the metal building. I had thought I had all of the leaks fixed, but lately, after a hard rain, I've been finding water in the floor. It only happens during hard rain, though, so I had never been able to locate it.

This evening I heard it raining quite hard, so I put on my rain suit, grabbed a flashlight, and headed to the building. It didn't take long to find the source of the leak. I assumed the roof was leaking again, but that wasn't the case. The water was coming in below the base of the building, then flowing across the floor. I went outside and I think I figured out what is happening. When water drips from the roof it is hitting the drip edge covering the wooden base, then running underneath. I had applied roofing cement, but apparently not enough. I'll apply more roofing cement in a few days and then wait until the next hard rain to see if that fixes the problem.

In addition to finding the leak, I was also able to try out my rain suit for the first time today. I had used the jacket a few times before, but never the pants. The suit seemed to work very well. At the very least, it kept me good and dry, which is all I can really ask for. I suspect that the suit might not stand up to a lot of wear and tear, but for the situations that I need it for I think it'll work great.

Pallet Compost Bin - A Logistical Error

In early November I relocated our compost pile to the spot where I plan to build the new Pallet Compost Bin near the garden. This seemed like a great idea at the time, as I needed to separate the finished compost from the rest of the compost pile anyway, so it was just as easy to load the material to be hauled away as to set it aside. Also, the compost pile was in the area I'm currently clearing for the future chicken coop, so had I left it there it would have been in the way.

In hindsight, however, the decision to move the compost pile may have been a poorly timed one. The plan, all along, has been to use the new compost bin for waste from the yard and garden, while using a worm bin for the kitchen wastes. The problem, however, is that we have yet to start the worm bin, which means that I've been having to take the compost all the way over to the garden area. That didn't seem like such a big deal at the time, but what I've since realized is that the distance is great enough that I always use the RTV, especially when the creek is flowing, which it pretty much does from fall through spring. Everytime I get the RTV out, though, just to empty the compost bucket, I think about the amount of gas that I'm wasting. It also takes much longer, so the compost doesn't get taken out as often as it probably should.

I wish that that we had made it a priority to get the worm bin ready shortly after relocating the compost pile. With the weather turning cold by that point, however, we were hesitant to start the bin because we worried the worms might not survive. The plan was to put the bin on the front porch, which is partially enclosed with plastic. While the plastic does help keep the porch warmer, it still gets much too cold for the worms. Someone suggested I might insulate the bin with pieces of foam board, which I likely would have tried if we had established the bin earlier in the year. At this point, though, I think that we need to plan to keep it inside for the winter. I have a spot picked out for it, so now just need to construct the worm bin and then acquire some worms.


I didn't accomplish a whole lot around the house this weekend. On Saturday I drove to Lexington to meet a group of friends to watch the Hobbit in the theater. Since we don't get to see each other often we stuck around after the movie to catch up. I ended up not getting home until midnight, but it was well worth it. In fact, I would happily sacrifice more of my weekends to see my friends more often, but it just isn't practical due to the way we are spaced out.

On Sunday I spent a couple of hours outside trying to burn the pile of briars I had from clearing out the area around the brush pile that I've been relocating. It seemed a perfect time to to the job, as the ground was wet and the weather forecast was calling for rain later in the day. I started the fire with some good dry wood, and everything seemed to be great at first. In hindsight, though, I can see where I made several mistakes. The first is that I piled too many of the briars on too quickly. The second is that the way I piled them left a cavity around the fire as it burned, which eventually led to the fire having no fuel. Third is that I should have had more wood available to provide additional fuel to the fire, since the briars themselves were not sufficient fuel to keep it going. I think that the next time I try burning them I will alternate stacking briars and wood, so that the fire will have additional fuel spaced throughout the stack.

I also forgot to mention that a few days ago I made another trip over to the garden to check things out. The rye is looking really good now. It has grown in fairly thick, is a few inches tall, and has a nice healthy green color. I was a bit worried at first, but now I'm fairly confident that it is going to do well. Even more exciting than the growth of the rye was that several of the garlic sprouts are now visible through the soil. I was really starting to worry that I had planted them too late to get any growth before cold weather. Three of the five varieties have at least a few visible sprouts now, though, with a couple of them being as tall as three inches.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tools - Triple Seven Super Siphon

After several attempts at filling watering cans from 5 gallon buckets I realized that I needed to find a better method. I like the fact that we watered the garden using only creek water this past year, but it was a lot of work, especially when a good portion of the water was spilled while trying to transfer it from the buckets to the watering cans. After looking at a few options I decided to try the Triple Seven Super Siphon.

The Super Siphon is a very simple product. It consists of a length of hose with a foot valve at one end. As the hose is lowered into liquid it is able to enter the hose, via the valve, but is prevented from leaking back out. Repeatedly lifting and lowering the hose, being sure not to bring it out of the liquid, forces more and more into the hose until it is filled and begins running out of the other end. Once this happens the liquid flows freely.

I recently used the siphon hose to empty water from a 30 gallon barrel into a 55 gallon barrel. It worked very well, even though the water had to be lifted a couple of feet to get to the top of the 55 gallon barrel. I was able to transfer approximately 20 gallon of water this way, but the siphon wasn't able to handle the final 10 gallon as the difference in distance was just too great.

Next I wanted to finish filling the 55 gallon barrel, so hauled water from the creek in 5 gallon buckets. By sitting a bucket on top of the barrel, I was able to empty the entire bucket with the siphon, since it wasn't having to lift the water. The flow rate was much faster in this scenario as well. I was able to completely empty a 5 gallon bucket in approximately 2.5 minutes.

I have read complaints that the siphon is hard to get started in shallow liquid. I can see how this could be a problem, but it is incredibly easy in anything deeper than a few inches. Using the siphon does take longer than simply pouring the liquid from one container to another, but that isn't always possible. The siphon is also much less work, and can be left unattended once it gets started, which allows for multi-tasking. I am very happy with my purchase, especially for the low price. I expect that we'll use it very often this Spring and Summer for getting water to the garden.

Many people appear to be using the hose for gasoline, which should, in theory, work just as well. I have only used it with water however, and do not attend to use it for anything else. For this reason I cannot comment on its effectiveness with other liquids, or on the impact other materials might have to the longevity of the hose or valve.

Book Review - The Biochar Solution

I finished reading The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change by Albert Bates a couple of months ago. It has been sitting on a shelf since then waiting for me to pick it back up to write this review. I suspect the reason I put off doing so for so long is that I was so disappointed with the book. It isn't that it was bad, but just that I was hoping for a very different focus for the book.

Several months ago I came across a mention of using biochar as a soil amendment. I was immediately interested in this, especially since I have so much dead wood that could be burned to make biochar. I tried to find a good source of information on the topic, but found information to be limited. I did find a Mother Earth News article from February/March 2009, which did provide some information, but not as much as I was looking for. I read reviews of a few books and found that The Biochar Solution was the one that was most recommended. You can probably imagine how thrilled I was, then, when I found out the author, Albert Bates, was going to be leading a workshop on the topic a the 2012 Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs. Attending this workshop was my top priority of the fair, and I very much enjoyed it. After hearing the author speak I was convinced that his book would be a valuable resource, so picked up a copy at the fair.

My interest in biochar is almost entirely related to its ability to aid in building better soil. I'm already convinced that it is worth trying, so was looking for some practical information on producing and applying biochar. Unfortunately, however, the book is focused almost entirely on convincing the reader of the benefits of biochar, with little to no real practical information for those of us who are already convinced.

The first several chapters of the book provide a history lesson on the terra preta soils of the Amazon. I found this information to be very interesting, yet it wasn't the reason I bought the book. After the history lesson much of the book was focused on explaining how biochar sequesters carbon, which in turn reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Again, interesting information, but not what I was looking for. Another substantial part of the book is focused on the profitability of large scale biochar production. This is actually one, although not the only, of the things that led me to do write the Profit Focused Environmentalism post. If biochar can have such a positive impact for our planet, why must it also be profitable? Shouldn't improving the soil, reducing greenhouse gases, and also providing an alternative source of heat be more than enough reason to invest in the process?

Ultimately I am glad that I read the book, as I did learn a few things that I did not previously know. However, I am still left with a desire to find a good source of practical information on the topic. I'm no more prepared to make biochar and apply it to my garden now than I was before picking up the book.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why We Have Separate Bedrooms

In the past I've made some references to the fact that Andrea and I have separate bedrooms. If you've picked up on those references you may be wondering why we do not share a bedroom, like most couples do. We normally get strange looks, at best, when someone first finds out about our non-traditional sleeping arrangement, so I thought it was probably due an explanation.

We did share a room for the first several years of our marriage. A number of years ago, however, I realized that I I had indoor allergies which were causing me quite a few problems, and preventing me from sleeping. Andrea, on the other hand, has more outdoor allergies, so sleeping with the windows open caused problems for her. We found that the best compromise was to simply sleep in separate rooms.

Once we began sleeping in separate rooms we quickly discovered several additional benefits. The first is that it gives us the flexibility to keep different sleep schedules without keeping each other awake. This is especially nice in our situation since Andrea tends to stay up for several hours after I go to bed.

The second benefit is that we can each have our own bedtime routines without interfering with the routine or sleep of the other. I like to read before going to sleep, which means I need to have a light on, which could keep Andrea awake if she were sharing a bed with me. Andrea, on the other hand, likes to sometimes have noise when she's going to sleep, either in the form of an audio book or even the tv. While she can use headphones, it is a bit inconvenient.

Another advantage that we've discovered with sleeping separately is that we both sleep better. Andrea tends to toss and turn quite a bit, so when we are sharing a bed she always worries that she'll keep me awake, which prevents her from sleeping as well. I, on the other hand, always worry about crowding her, so try to stay as close to the edge of the bed as possible, which means I also do not sleep as well. In addition to those issues, there is also the fact that any movement that either of us makes has the potential for interrupting the sleep of the other.

There are downsides to our desire to sleep separately. The biggest of these is that it requires us to have a home with two bedrooms. Our current home is less than 1,000 square feet, so in practice the impact isn't really that great. I doubt that we would have chosen a smaller home, even without the need for a second bedroom, because both bedrooms serve double duty. Andrea's bedroom also serves has her craft and sewing room. My bedroom is also used as my home office, which actually works out very well.

The other downside is that it impacts our lodging choices when travelling. When possible we try to stay places with two beds. Usually this isn't very difficult to find in major hotel chains, but can be a challenge to find in a bed and breakfast or small cabin. We have been known to take an air mattress along, so I can sleep on the floor if only a single bed is available. This was the case a few years ago when we stayed at the Wigwam Village Inn in Cave City, KY. This was such a unique location that I was perfectly willing to sleep on an air mattress. I suspect that we'll stay there again in the future and I'll most likely take the air mattress along then as well.

I believe that more people would enjoy the benefits of sleeping separately if they were willing to try it. There seems, however, to be strong social pressure for married couples to share a bedroom. There is a stereotype that when couples do not sleep together it is a sign of problems in their relationship. That couldn't be farther from the truth in our situation, however. I can understand, though, why some people might be hesitant to try sleeping separately, but I recommend that everyone at least give it some though, especially if the benefits I've mention sound attractive.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Crafting Side Business

Recently Andrea decided to start making crafts to sell online and at fairs. This is something that we've discussed before, but it wasn't until recently that she decided to move forward with the plan. I'm very supportive of the idea, and am actually a bit excited. It will be good to see her rewarded for her creativity and the hard work that she puts into her projects.

She has been making things for our own personal use for years. Several years ago she decided to start giving homemade gifts to family members at Christmas, which provided a nice outlet for her desire to craft and sew. While making gifts for this year she decided that maybe she should seriously consider marketing her creations.

The plan is to begin working on making items during her free time this winter in anticipation of selling at a craft fair next fall. In the meantime, however, she plans to set up an Etsy store so she can begin building her online presence and get an idea of which of her items are attractive to buyers. At this point she doesn't have a timeline in mind, but I'll be sure to post an update once her Etsy store is up and running.

We don't expect this to be a big money-making venture. Hopefully, though, it will generate enough income to provide her with a bit of extra spending money, while still being able to buy the supplies she'll need to keep a well stocked inventory of items. I plan to add a category to our 2013 budget specifically for buying the supplies that she needs to get this project up and going. I am confident that whatever we invest will be well worth the expense.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Today was a rainy day, so I decided to work in the shed a bit, where I would be in the dry. Using the lantern for light worked out very well, although is not idea since it requires the use of propane. I also learned the my wifi connection works in the shed, which meant that I was able to take a laptop and listen to streaming music, which is nice. I was able to accomplish quite a bit, although the shed likely seems less organized now than it did before. I cleaned out a bunch of debris from the mice nest that was inside the box containing the metal building. I also removed the last of the trash from that box. I was finally able to get to the stack of boxes in the back corner which had been there since we moved. The biggest thing of interest to be was the box with two bird feeders, one of which is a nice wooden feeder that Andrea received for Christmas several years ago. There were also several boxes containing canning jars, which I'm sure Andrea will put to good use.

This evening I took three more of the lessons in the renewable energy course I'm taking through Solar Energy International. Today's lessons covered solar, wind, and micro-hydro energy systems. I'm particularly interested in learning about micro-hydro, since I know less about it than other forms of renewable energy. Unfortunately, however, our property isn't suited to a micro-hydro system.

Andrea has been working on Christmas gifts today. She was able to finish up the last of the homemade gifts and also get everything wrapped. The weeks leading up to Christmas are always busy and stressful for her, so I'm glad to see that she has everything finished and can relax, or focus on other projects, during the next couple of weeks.

There is one more project, that I've failed to mention before, that Andrea and I both were involved in this weekend. We were interviewed a while back for a book about people who choose to live in a mobile home as a method of simple living. I received a draft of the book this weekend, and we've both been reading through it, with a special focus on the section in which we are being featured. This morning I sent a list of comments/suggestions to the author, most of which were requests to re-word some of my statements, as I found that I had originally worded them awkwardly. I'm told that the book should be finished within the next few weeks, at which time it will be available for purchase as an e-book. I will be sure to let everyone know when it is available.


Today we spent the whole day shopping. We went to Lexington to do some major grocery shopping, as I discussed in Adventures in Grocery Shopping. While there we also made a couple of other stops. One was at the Re-Store to see if they had any pieces of PVC that we could use for our pepper cages. We were able to pick up four pieces at $1 each. The cost at the Berea Re-Store is $0.25 per foot which means the 4 ft lengths were the same price, and the 5 ft lengths were slightly cheaper in Lexington. We also stopped by the fabric stores where Andrea bought several yards of fleece for a future project, which I'll be discussing later.

On our way home we drove through Berea so we could stop off at the Re-Store there as well to look for more PVC. They hadn't put out anything new since our last visit, though. There is one long piece there that is long enough to get two usable pieces from, but it was raining and we didn't want to spend time cutting it in half in the parking lot. If its still there when we go back, and the weather is better, we'll pick it up.

While in Berea we also stopped at the Kentucky Artisan Center. I wanted to look at Wendell Berry books, and Andrea looked at crafts. I didn't find a book that I wanted, but did end up picking up a cd. I was looking to see if they had Untamed Sense of Control, which is a collection of the music of Roscoe Holcomb, who lived down the road from my mom when she was young. While they did have the disc I was looking for, it was the one next to it that caught my attention. I wasn't aware that a cd had been published featuring Lee Sexton, who lives in Letcher County Kentucky, maybe 20 miles from where I grew up, and who we suspect I may be distantly related to. However, there was a single copy of Whoa Mule on the shelf, which I immediately picked up. I haven't listened to it yet, because I forgot to get it from the car when I was carrying in the groceries, but I look forward to doing so.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

A few days ago, while preparing for an upcoming trip to Lexington to do some major grocery shopping, Andrea made a comment that I thought would make the basis for a good blog post. She said that for most people, going to the grocery store just requires making a list, unlike the days of preparation she was in the middle of. While her comment may have been a bit of an exaggeration, especially since many people, including those who shop sales or make the most of the use of coupons, do dedicate quite a bit of time to planning their shopping trips. Still, however, the point of the comment is still valid. Grocery shopping for us, particularly when we do our major shopping during Owner Discount Days at the Good Foods Market, is quite a bit different than the type of shopping done by most households.

When we moved to the country, we thought that we'd make a trip to Lexington once a month to shop, and then pick up the rest of what we needed in London, either when I was there for work, or during weekly or biweekly shopping trips. In reality, however, we only seem to make it to Good Foods 8 or 9 times a year, and tend to do more shopping at the small local grocery store than we had expected. Of course the local store is more expensive than the supermarket in London, and has less options than either there or Good Foods, especially when it comes to the types of items we prefer buying, such as organic produce and grass fed meats.

Good Foods has an Owner Discount Days event four times per year, during which members receive a 10% discount on all purchases. We like to stock up on as much as possible during these events, since it is a way for us to buy the items we prefer at a discounted price. While she doesn't always do this much preparation, Andrea began preparation for our recent trip to Goods Foods several days early. She started by going through and organizing the freezer so she could determine what we needed to stock up on. While doing this she decided to de-ice the freezer, which caused the task to take longer than normal.

Her next major task for preparation was to go through our spices and spice blends. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't normally include photos with my posts, but I thought this deserved one. Here you can get an idea of how involved the process was. After sorting through everything Andrea was able to put together a list of the spices that we were out of or running short on. She also determined that we needed to make a couple of additional spice blends for use on chicken, so had me search for a few potential mixes to try out. Based on this list she was able to decide if any additional spices were needed.

Once she had an idea of what we needed she was able to put together a shopping list. This wasn't the end of the preparations, though. We normally use plastic bags for the bulk dry goods and spices, but, even though we re-use them, they aren't the best solution. For this trip Andrea decided to take several jars and storage containers instead. Her last task was to gather and clean the containers, then attach labels which we could fill out in the store with the weight of the containers and the item # for the cashiers to enter.

After several hours of preparation, we were ready to make the trip to Lexington today. The items that we purchased were fairly typical for us. We bought 10 lbs of boneless chicken breasts, and 3 lbs of ground bison. Normally we would have also purchased several pounds of ground beef, but we stocked up last weekend at Pike Valley Farm. We also stocked up on spices, and dry goods such as nuts. We bought 9 lbs of rice, although will most likely be special ordering a 25 lb bag for the next owner discount days. We also normally stock up on pasta, but we've not been eating much of it recently, so still have 14 lbs left from the last major shopping trip. Other items we picked up include milk, cheese, potatoes, frozen strawberries and blueberries, and garlic, which is an item I hoped we would not have to buy this early. I'm down to my last couple of bulbs, however, which will definitely not least until the next Owner Discount Days in February. Normally we also stock up on bananas, but we still had plenty left from the last trip when we bought a full case, because I went through a period during which I wasn't eating smoothies as regularly as normal. Now that I'm on a healthier diet I suspect we'll need to pick up a case in February. I'm sure that I've leaving out several items, but I think I've covered the majority of items that we purchased.

We also like to use the 10% discount to buy items that we want to try before deciding if we want to later buy them in larger quantities. On this trip we bought several such items, including coconut oil, bagel chips, pita chips, and organic milk chocolate. I still have a couple of items from previous shopping trips that I need to try, such as ground elk and a packet of Spiru-tein, which I'm hoping may be a suitable replacement for the Carnation Instant Breakfast in my smoothies. Hopefully I'll get around to trying those our next major shopping trip.

Living out in the country certainly demands a different approach to grocery shopping than living in a town with multiple supermarkets. This is especially true when the purchase of specialty and organic items is a priority. We have found, however, that with a bit of planning the challenges can be overcome. The purchase of a larger freezer several months ago has also been a big help in this area. If we had no freezer at all it would be significantly more difficult for us to eat the types of foods we wish to eat without investing much more time and wasting much more gas making frequent trips to the market.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Today I took the opportunity to just walk around outside a bit and make a mental note of some of the things I need to try to do before Spring. There are a couple of areas along the driveway and down by the road that still need some clearing out. I especially want to finish up down by the road, so that we can plant the bushes we're wanting to plant there. In addition to briars in a few spots there are also a couple of small trees along the driveway I need to remove as well as a few fallen trees that need to be pulled out and dealt with.

I also walked across the road and looked at the spot where my current "road" to get over there is. It works ok for the RTV, but is not suited to the tractor because of the danger of tipping over. There is a much better spot, which I'm not currently using, because of a pile of rocks, which I initially thought would help me to eventually build a better road. The incline isn't that great, though, so I'm thinking that I'll probably end up moving the rocks and just start crossing there. If I leave the rocks in place I'll need to haul dirt to cover them, and I suspect that may be more work than it'll be worth.

While I was out I also went up to the shed to look for the lantern. Once I found it I tested to make sure everything was working as it should be. I plan to use it to light up the shed in the evenings, so I can start spending some time up there after dark trying to organize things. I'm excited to have the extra space after assembling the metal building and moving the lumber out that was stacked in there. I'm yet to take advantage of the extra room though, so need to start working on organization so I can.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


After several nice warm days the weather has turned dreary again. I'm very easily kept inside on days like today, which means that I accomplish little. I did make a trip over to the garden this evening, though, primarily to take some kitchen scraps to the compost pile. While over there I checked on the garden plot, and was surprised by what I found. As I approached I noticed a big part of the garden seemed to have some green color. I thought that maybe my eyes were just playing tricks on me, since it was nearly dark. Once I got close enough to get a good look, though, I was able to verify that I was indeed seeing a lot of green. The winter rye has finally broken through the surface of the soil, and is now about an inch and a half tall. I'll admit that I was a bit worried about it for a while, so am very relieved to see that it is growing. I'm looking forward to keeping check on its progress.

The New Logo

You may have noticed a change in the appearance of the blog recently. After creating a Facebook page for the blog, which  you should go check out, if you have not already done so, I decided it needed a professional looking logo. Thankfully I am friends with a graphic designer who was willing to create a logo for me. After seeing the logo on Facebook I decided that it might be nice to have a similar one for the blog.

At first I worried that adding a logo might take away from the simple look that I wanted the blog to have. After seeing the logo in place, however, I think it fits in nicely. The simple design fits into the vision I have for the blog. I particularly like the fact that the logo was custom created based on the focus of the blog. The leaves, in the center, represent the gardening and nature oriented aspects, while the triangle around the edge is somewhat reminiscent of the recycling icon, so fits in with the environmental minded aspects of the blog. Lastly, having these elements combined, into a single logo, reflects my desire to integrate aspects of various philosophies into both my lifestyle and this blog.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Picture-Free Posts

If you've followed this blog for any length of time you've surely noticed the lack of pictures. Most other blogs include at least one picture for each post, with those that describe a project often including several photos. For the most part, I find that I'm more likely to stop on a post with pictures than one that is just a large block of text. You're probably wondering, then, why I never include photos with my posts.

There are actually two reasons I do not include photos. The first is that I like to keep the look of the blog very simple and clean. While I realize that many may view this as boring, I think the simple layout and color scheme matches the theme of the blog.

The second, and primary, reason that I do not include pictures, though, is that I use to do photography as a hobby. I know you're thinking that this sounds completely backwards, and you're probably right. Obviously, since I use to do photography as a hobby, I have the ability and gear to be able to take photos for my own blog. The thing is, though, that since I no longer enjoy photography, if I waited until I had a picture to go along with a post I might never get around to actually posting anything. I enjoy being able to write posts at my leisure, and then post them when I want, without having to wait until I have a suitable photo to go along with it. I could just take some quick snapshots, but I'd never be satisfied with that. If I simply took a quick snapshot and posted it, I'd be critiquing it every time I saw it. I would know that I could have taken a better photo, had I put in the time and effort to do so. For this reason, it is easier, and more enjoyable, if I leave the photos out of the blog.

This isn't to say that I will never include photos. For some of the projects I recognize that photos may be as valuable, if not more so, than words. I'm not quite sure yet how I'll go about incorporating photos into those posts. I may simply add them to an online gallery and link to them, so the simple look of the blog itself isn't changed.

PVC Pepper Cages - The Plan

Even though we had good yields from our pepper plants this past year, there were a couple of areas in which we can definitely improve. The first is with spacing, as the plants were much too crowded once they reached maturity. The other is related to providing support. We had several instances were a large bell pepper was too heavy for the plant, resulting in either a broken stem or the pepper drooping to the ground before it could ripen. Andrea tried various methods of tying the plants to stakes, but, while that helped, it didn't solve the issue. She has been doing research, and has come up with a better plan for next year.

The idea is based on a design from the February/March '97 issue of Mother Earth News Magazine. At the time, it was simply referred to as A Homemade Recycled Tomato Cage. When it was referenced later in the magazine (April/May '11), it was being called The Indestructible Tomato Cage. Our plan varies a bit from the original design, but the concept is the same.

The idea is simple, although I had to get Andrea to actually show me, using some lengths of PVC, before I could really visualize what she had in mind. There are two components to the cages, the vertical pieces and the horizontal pieces. One end of each vertical piece is placed in the ground, 8"-12" inches deep. Two more are also placed in the ground similarly, so that the three from a triangle. Holes the size of the horizontal pieces are drilled through each vertical piece, so that the horizontal pieces can be slid through, to form one side of the triangle. This is done at two or three different heights, providing support for the plant at various heights. Another set of holes is drilled in the vertical pieces nearer the ground, through which water or liquid fertilizer can be poured to feed the roots directly, rather than applying on the top of the ground where it can be lost to evaporation.

The Mother Earth News article suggests using 3" diameter PVC for the vertical pieces and metal electrical conduit for the vertical pieces. We plan, however, to use 1/2" diameter PVC for the horizontal pieces, which should allow us to use smaller vertical pieces. We plan to use 1 1/2" and larger pieces for the uprights, depending on what we can find. The article also suggests that the uprights can be 3' 3" in length, but we are hoping to use a minimum length of 4', which will leave a 3' tall cage after placing 12" in the ground.

This past weekend we visited the home improvement store to get prices on new materials, and then visited the Re-Store to check their prices. At $0.25 per foot the Re-Store is much cheaper on the pieces we'll use as the uprights. We can buy new 1/2" pipe for the horizontal pieces, though, for just $0.18 per foot. However, if we are able to find the 1/2" pieces at the Re-Store we plan to go ahead and buy them there, as it is worth a few extra cents to us to be able to use scrap material instead of buying new. This project is especially well suited to using up scraps, since shorter pieces can be used.

While at the Re-Store we picked up 5 pieces for the uprights, ranging from 1 1/2" to 3" in diameter. We could have picked up a 10' length of both 1 1/2" and 1/2", but couldn't haul those in the car. I plan to keep a small tape measure and hacksaw in the car going forward, so if we find such pieces we can measure and cut them to length, making them easier to haul.

Andrea estimates that we will have 15 to 20 pepper plants next year, meaning that we'll need the same number of cages. To build at least 15 cages we will need 45 uprights, measuring at least 4' tall and at least 1 1/2" inches in diameter, along with at least 90 horizontal pieces (assuming we only do two courses), measuring 24" long and 1/2" in diameter. The Mother Earth News article indicated that each cage would cost approximately $25, using their suggested materials. By making the changes we have planned, however, and if we can get our material from the Re-Store, we should be able to build one for approximately $6 or $7.

Even with our reduced cost, the cages will still cost more than buying a traditional wire tomato cage. Why, you might ask, would we go through the expense and effort to build one from PVC instead of just buying the pre-made cages. The first reason is ease of storage. Since the PVC cages can be fully disassembled, they can be stored in a relatively small area, which is an important consideration from us since we don't have a lot of storage space around here. The Mother Earth News article seems to suggest leaving the upright pieces in the ground, and only removing the horizontal pieces at the end of the season. I can see the benefits of leaving the uprights in place, since they may be hard to remove from the ground. We do not plan to do this, however, as it will limit the ability to include the peppers in our crop rotation plans, as well as exposing the pieces to the elements when it isn't necessary.

The second, and more important, reason for going with the PVC cages is their expected longevity. I'm not sure how long the wire cages last, but I assume they will eventually succumb to rust. The PVC, on the other hand, should last indefinitely. Also, if part of the cage does become damaged, it can simply be replaced, without having to replace the entire cage.

I'll do a follow up post on the PVC Pepper Cages once we actually build some, which will not happen until we plant peppers next spring. In the meantime we will be collecting materials and trying to decide if we want to use the same design for our tomato cages as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


The weather today was unbelievable. We had a high temperature of 70 degrees, which is much warmer than normal for early December. I was able to comfortably work outside in short sleeves for much of the day.

I began my work out today by sorting, and relocating more of the brush pile that I've been working through. After hauling a few loads, I remembered that I had another small job planned for this weekend, so switched to that.

The planned job was to empty the water from a barrel over at the garden, and test the rain barrel I made at Field to Fork for leaks. I wanted to do the two tasks at the same time, so I could use the water from the one barrel to test the other. This gave me an opportunity to try out the Triple Seven Super Siphon that I bought a few months back. The siphon hose worked well, and I'll be doing a detailed post on that later. Since the barrel only contained 30 gallon of water, I had to haul quite a bit more up from the creek to fill the 55 gallon rain barrel. After filling the barrel to the overflow I added an additional 10 gallon to make sure the overflow itself didn't leak. Neither the faucet nor the overflow leaked during the test, which is a very welcome sign. Now I have confidence that using a similar process for my other rain barrels should work well.

While I was working on my projects, Andrea was working on projects of her own. She cleaned the bird feeders, and added some drainage holes to the platform of one of them, which is a very nice feeder, but was poorly designed. She also built a platform feeder, which we'll use for putting out old pieces of bread and/or fruit. We've not been able to just throw such items out into the yard because the dogs will eat it. Hopefully the platform feeder will keep it safe for the birds.

This evening Andrea also put plastic up on the windows in my bedroom/office. The windows have been needing plastic for a while, because the insulated window coverings cause condensation to form on the glass. This gets transferred to the window coverings, which caused the last set to mold. I want to tr to prevent that with the current ones, as they are much better, and much more expensive, not to mention harder to clean. Hopefully the plastic will prevent this problem, as well as help to prevent heat loss.


I had plans for spending most of Saturday outside working, but we decided to go shopping instead. I know that doesn't sound like a very good use of my time, but it actually turned out to be a very productive day. Andrea had already decided to to to Richmond or Lexington because she needed to buy some fabric to finish up a quilt she is making someone for Christmas. There were a also couple of places I had been wanting to go in Lancaster, then Friday evening I discovered, via a post on Permies, a farm in Lancaster that I also wanted to visit. I figured it was better to skip a day of working in order to go with her and combine several things into one trip.

Our first stop was the Wonder of Life Farm in Lancaster. A few months ago we had visited the farm for a tour, which I described in Our Visit to Wonder of Life Farm. I had bought a pair of alpaca fiber socks when I was there, and had been wanting to pick up a few more. Through the month of December they have a fantastic deal on their alpaca fiber "footies", so we decided to pick some up. We bought 6 pair, 3 for each of us, for the cost of what 2 pair normally would have cost. I also picked up a pair of gloves, which I thought would make a good pair of driving gloves to keep in the car. We chatted with Maria a bit while there, but didn't stay long because she was preparing for a fair in Berea later in the day.

After leaving the farm we stopped at Napier Brothers Clothing, which seems to have one of the best selections of Carhartt products in the area. I wasn't really needing to buy anything, as I had recently picked up a Carhartt coat at another store, but still wanting to look around. They have a great selection, and the prices really aren't bad. I considered trying on a pair of insulated coveralls, but decided to wait since I'm hoping to lose some weight. I'm sure that we'll be going back in the future.

After Napier Brothers we drove out to the Marksbury Farm Store to get some lunch. I was really looking forward to one of their beer cheese burgers, but unfortunately they weren't serving lunch. We looked around the store, but didn't buy anything. We did, however, notice that Pike Valley Farm, which is the farm we were planning to visit next, is one of their suppliers. After driving back into Lancaster to grab lunch somewhere else, we then headed towards Pike Valley.

Pike Valley Farm sells a wide variety of organically produced products. They offer beef, poultry, pork, eggs, fruits/vegetables, and even herd shares for raw milk. We picked up 10lbs of grass fed ground beef, a beef heart (for Luke and Jack to split), and a dozen eggs. We had also hoped to buy some chicken breast, but they were out of stock. Luckily, though, we were able to pick up a pack at the Good Foods Market. If we lived closer, we would seriously consider purchasing a herd share in order to get raw milk. We can't, however, justify a weekly drive of an hour and a half, each way, to pick up the milk. The time investment and wasted fuel just isn't worth it.

Next we drove on into Lexington, where we made a quick stop at Good Foods. Next week is the quarterly Owner Discount Days, so we'll be going back then, but we needed to pick up some chicken. As mentioned before, we bought a pack of Pike Valley Farm chicken. It was the same price as what we normally buy there. If we like the chicken, we'll likely switch since Pike Valley is local and we like their policies. While at Good Foods we also talked to them about buy rice in bulk. Right now we buy it from their bulk food bins, which is fine for fairly small amounts, but that really isn't enough to last us 3 months. They do offer special orders of 25lb bags, but we missed the cut off for being able to pick up next week. We'll definitely put in an order for the next time we're going, though, especially since they off a discount on special orders.

Our final stop in Lexington was at the fabric store, where Andrea found what she needed to finish up the quilt she's making. We then had a light dinner and headed home, or so we thought. On the drive we decided to stop off in Richmond, to check prices at the home improvement store on some PVC pipe that Andrea needs for a project she's planning. We then decided to stop at the Re-Store in Berea to see if they had any, and check their prices. At $0.25 per foot, their prices were nearly a quarter of what it was going to cost to buy new. we picked up a few pieces, although will definitely need to pick up more before Spring, which is when she'll be doing the project. Don't worry, I'll do a post about it, so readers aren't left in the dark until then.

By the time we got home it was nearly dark. We unloaded the car, then relaxed most of the rest of the evening. It was a fairly tiring, but very productive day. We came home with some new products to try, and a lot of good information.