Monday, March 12, 2012

I don't take out my trash, so what?

When I first moved out to the homestead, even before it was the budding prospect that it is today and just a shabby lawn splayed out infront of a prefab rancher (hey, FHA financing restrictions... what can I say?), I was faced with a choice: Pay umpteen dollars a month for curbside trash pickup and probably spotty service at best, LET ALONE the recycling issues which I'd had before I moved as the only recycler on the block.... or the Green Monster of an F150 variety coasting a couple of miles to the dump?

The Green Monster won out.  It was paid off already and worked around my schedule.  Plus, you really... really... really get to know your trash habits.  Soon after our initial runs to the dump of pure bunk and crap and garbage that had collected in the smooshing of two households into one (K. had signed on to life with me just after the house deal went down) I set about landscaping project #1, our firepit.  And everything, as it turns out, burns and it is oh so pretty to watch from a camping chair with ample supplies of beer on hand.  Like I said, however, when you haul your own garbage you start to notice trends.  K. and I witnessed the oddest thing.... we stopped having to go to the dump.  We were going less and less frequently, only when the two trash cans outside filled up and as we burned our paper, cardboard and junk mail they just didn't fill up.  If we could have (and occasionally, we did) burn aluminum cans to ash and turn cat tins into glowy slag, we'd be even better!  It has been the most surprising adjustment of my transition to what I've come to call my "real life".

In my basement lies not only a wood burning stove, but THE wood burning stove from my dad and my grandfather's garage and woodshop, which I'd grown up being rather taken with for it's rustic looks and the fact that things in it became pretty pretty flames and beat back the cold which I've always hated.  Yes, I know a fire bug but it's served my professional life rather well.  This summer or fall, K. and I will be installing that stove in the basement as part of our quest for more legroom and better all-weather energy indepedence.  We've said for months, ever since we started doing routine "Trash Fires" of piled up envelopes, solicitations and newsprint, that we have fuel to boot once that stove is in.  Good idea?  Sure.

But, then I got a better idea.  Watching a recent episode of Doomsday Preppers, I realized that I too can turn our daily paper, and daily inundation of mail I couldn't care less about, seasonal afflictions of leaves and grassclippings, etc etc etc, into briquettes!  More effort, longer burn.

The basics are, well, basic:

1) Saturate and soak your products in a vat of your choosing
2) Pour into a mold and press hard to squeeze excess water out
3) Let the briquettes dry for a few months in a rodent-free area

The fact is that most people throw out 500kg (half a ton) of cardboard or paper material per year according to web materials like, a wood-burning stove revival website.  If you power goes out in the winter, you may have a generator but that more than likely runs on propane or gas.... costly materials.  Even if you have power, you're burning something to stay warm.  Why not put your waste to use as material to release the heat you need when your toes are cold for half of the year?

Look at the 4-in-1 or the single molds from Kotulas that many people have talked about:

or make your own press, which can be as simple as two pieces of 2x4, some wood clamps and a mold for the sides.  Some people craft circular molds out of PVC piping and leave holes in the middle for quicker ignition through greater exposed surface area.

Just a thought.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Hey all,

I may be late to the party, but if you have cable, Nat Geo will be coming out with what could easily be either an interesting/informative show or just an hysterical laugh-riot called Doomsday Preppers, starting Febuary 7 at 9pm.  With preliminary episode titles like, "Bullets, Lots of Bullets" and "I Hope I Am Crazy" how can you not watch??

The other day, a friend casually worked in the topic of cannibalism to survive the absolute end of civilization as we talked about dehydrated foods, solar cookers and trying to balance budgets while bringing our households up to an emergency-readiness par.  As you can remember from my first post, I have a slightly less dramatic inclination behind my food preparation and conservation goals, but fully appreciate that I share a walk with many that have grander visions than I.  All the same, shows like Discovery's The Colony (which is in its third season I hear??)  and Survivorman, etc. can all serve as a jumping off point for viewers in their own search for readiness.  An example: Watching The Colony yesterday, I saw the group turn used parts into a generator and made a connection in my head.... Izzy (our canine alarm system/vacuum/cat chaser) has a run out back where an extension cord to power a water heater for her bowl is simply not going to work.  We have wind, we have sun: I will find a way to power a water heating element in the winter for my pup.  The ideas I got from the tube gave me a place to start.  And, yes, I say this with the FULL understanding of how little wattage can be realistically drawn from a small, affordable solar panel and how unreliable (also, low wattage) a wind turbine is.  Bottom line: give it a shot.  Get your kids involved... give them a science project to tackle and get your hands dirty too!  You can't stop learning and you have to get ideas from wherever they come!  When an emergency does happen, it'll be your awareness of and creativity with your resources that helps you get through and that starts now with education.

And if nothing else, these folks should give you a laugh.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My wife seems to be psychic...

Only half of the raised area that will support our series of rain barrels was filled in before I saw what I feared the most: despite the promises of the quarry that they wouldn't overload me, a speed bump did me in and with an empty truck bed to confirm it, I had snapped a leaf spring.  The truck is out of commission and now being of legal driving age, if it were a person, I'm not going to risk another load's weight being misjudged by the stone professionals.  We're stuck in the water for a couple of days while K. and I figure out just how to either work around the landscaping conundrum I've backed us into or handle the 11 tons of gravel that we'll have leftover once we meet the "minimum delivery requirement".  As K. put it, though, she knew that it was time for something to break on the Ford because "it was just time... it had been too long...."  Her pregnancy is making her psychic.

On a positive note, in a few days my father-in-law will be in town to help K. and I brew our inaugural batch of beer at the homestead-in-progress!  Years ago I practically brewed by the ton in my little college apartment, particularly after I graduated college and had little else to do with my time, and as luck would have it I married into a brewing family!  My brother in law has even taken it up!

Nothing better to tend to the sad heart after your best tool breaks than beer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Partial Progress

The rain barrel how-to and how-not-to-do escaped me yet again today after much hassle with the calculator while standing in Home Depot and fidgeting with my phone to cost-compare with Lowes across the street.  It turns out that right now is a great time to buy garden timbers, incidentally, if you have a need for them in an out-of-sight area because most are bowed, but still serviceable.  In any event, I initially thought I would build a tower to support each barrel out of lumber, as opposed to cinder blocks, but for 10 barrels it was adding up to be vastly expensive in time and money.

For an isolated barrel, say near a house or shed where space or storage are short, building a tower for a base is an excellent idea and if you're only dealing with one or two at a time, well worth the effort.  Digging below the frostline with a post-holer is your only real bother, but it moves fast if you're not on sun-baked clay like we are (and if you have the soil of the damned like here, wetting it and exercising patience will get the job done - just be sure only to work in clothes that you don't mind getting muddy beyond repair!).  Still, other methods which presented themselves were pouring a base and dressing it up with landscaping stones or brick -- a method we will be using next to our house for one of the tanks.  Ultimately, we decided to create a small raised be of sorts and fill it in with gravel.  It makes a pretty enough picture to please most gardeners and since the large contingent of barrels at our place will go back behind our chicken coop, where we already had a layer of gravel weighing down the predator-proofing wire, some of the work was already started.  Today I extended the garden-timber retaining wall around to hold the bed of stone.  Unfortunately, no pictures as of yet, because the sun was setting by the time that I finished screwing the lumber into place thanks to some issues with locating stone.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Delays, delays, delays...

Hello there,

Wet weather and incoming visits from in-laws have been keeping us busy around the house in our post-Christmas rush to organize the basement and tuck away the holiday decorations.  I hope any of you reading this have already put up anything that you don't intend to leave out until next year, because at this point I think the Christmas lights have grown roots on the gutters.  At least in my mind, because I just don't want to think about it anymore.

BUT, I have rain barrels.  Oh, good lord, do I have rain barrels.  After the first set of tanks were a no-show on their delivery date and I heard nothing from the shipper (a fella by the name of Mike out of somewhere in Pennsylvania... almost sounds shady, doesn't it?) I arranged to buy several barrels from a guy in the next county who had a stash.  And then Mike showed up at my door with the tanks in tow and asked where I wanted them.  Apparently, the operative word was WHERE because WHEN i wanted them was days before.  Now, I have the daunting task ahead of me to mount and support 1200 gallons of rain water storage about the house.  A lot?  Yes, but too much?  Probably not since this is for the garden and chickens (and us, if needs be, of course) and I believe that at the peak in the summer this will be good to get us through a dry spell.  Of course, this is more than I intended but I finnegled good prices and can still put it all to use so there's no point in complaining.

Tomorrow I'll put up pictures and document my.... journey?  saga?  feat?  Of establishing methods to functionally store your rain water barrels.  Remember, keeping them high enough to get a 5 gallon bucket underneath means a world of difference in convenience later on when you go draw from it.  But, it also means a world of difference in the inconvenience of putting it up.

Ok, K's at work, I'm off today and the house still needs work.  I will tell you how it goes tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bumps in the Road

So, we had set out already this week on a dry-run of sorts with menu planning and preparation.  As I mentioned before, K. and I work long hours across a schedule of alternating shifts and she was quick to point out that I’d erred in my assumptions that the menu I’d picked would even come close to working for her needs.  Not at all surprised that K. would disagree with me on something that I drafted, I told her it was fine… A GOOD PREPAREDNESS PLAN IS WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
If you try and force yourself into a way of living that is entirely alien to you for the sake of “making it”, or hold fast to the idea that “I’d do it if I have to”, you will not make it and you will never practice and be able to do it when you had to.  Life is about living and the goal here for us is to assess our needs, our lives and what we can do to better ourselves for the time when we need to draw upon our own resources.  If you cannot tolerate the idea of eating green beans (which I can whole-heartedly agree with), then having an endless supply of them just isn’t a good idea for your personal preparedness, is it?
K. utilized my sister’s blog, Dinner Done Yesterday, and found several recipes that she was delighted to undertake (Jesse’s Breakfast Muesli and lemon ricotta pancakes are delicious!) and ones that were easily portable for the expectant mom on the go.  We ensured we had the ingredients for the week and we were off with our revised schedule.  So far, the meals I’ve been home for have been great.  We planned ahead and have our allotment of snacks (peanut butter crackers for me, sour cream and onion chips for K.) and I haven’t heard any mutterings about wanting to veer off of the menu but once – a celebration dinner out for K. after her grand performance during her NRA Pistol course, and who wouldn’t take their baby momma out for a treat after besting her class while freezing her tail on a cold outdoor range all day?
But, the week naturally had other bumps in the road; our water barrels did not arrive.  With some fair negotiation skills, I was able to find a good deal on replacements from Craigslist and will have an entry showing how to connect rain barrels in series for collection and setting up distribution to a garden/drain for collection in a bucket in a few days.  Remember, even in the mundane survival depends on a positive attitude and resourceful mindset.
All in all, our week here has started well and I hope yours has done the same.  I’ll be posting the revision to our menu on my Pages under “The Week in Preview” so you can see the before and after adjustments.
Coming up this week and next: Water barrels, exploring Zeer pots and the construction of ferrocement water containers as functional garden pieces. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chicken Tid Bits: Picking Your Breed

After thousands of years of domestication and a boom in selective breeding following the Victorian era at the turn of the twentieth century, there are hundreds of breeds of chickens in the world, 60 or so being  most popular in the United States.  When selecting what breeds you want to start with, you have to decide if you want an EGG LAYER, a MEAT BIRD, or an ORNAMENTAL variety.  Often listed as “Dual Purpose”, some breeds are a compromise between meat and egg producers and of those, some are considered “heirloom” because of their historical status within the realm of chickendom.
My first birds were what was on hand from a fairly local breeder and were not the result of a careful or thought out selection process, though they were both reliable layers and pretty to look at.  I never got to taste them in their older age because of some crafty raccoons and a fox that taught me some lessons in predator-proofing my coop.  When I moved out to the country and expanded my flock, K. and I tried pretty much any breed we thought was remotely nifty – and I can tell you what we found.  Your results may differ.
* White Leghorns
* Rhode Island or New Hampshire Reds
* Wyandottes (plus, several color patterns to marvel at)
* Aracauna/Americaunas – GREEN EGGS!
* Brahmas
* Delwares
* Orpingtons
*Cornish-Crosses/ X-Roc (NOTE: They perish in hot climates because of the strain on their hearts due to massive growth rates in my experience and cannot be easily reproduced)
* Don’t Bother.
For a long while, I’d decide which scrawny, leathery bastard was going to be made into stock and pulled sandwiches based on who irritated me the most that day – was it going to be the Andalusian that screeched so loudly one day that I truly thought a girl was being attacked nearby?  Or the twin Sumatras that plucked most of my flock bald to this day in their aggression?  You want a docile bird to work with.  Many sites and books are out there dedicated to just this purpose, such as and Storey’s Guides on any subject relating to farming culture, available at
But, that’s my two cents.  Go for practicality, not for showmanship unless it just happens to be your calling for a hobby.