Down It Goes

Regarding the current status of the Presidential race, I have no words (although the phrase “train wreck” comes to mind).

If you were unclear as to the relative moral standing of the two candidates, the tape released last week should have put it to rest.  (To say nothing of Trump’s response.)

And if you had already decided for whom you were voting, then you’re either in (near) complete agreement with me, or you’re probably not reading this.

All that being said, let’s talk about something more uplifting…

My wife was browsing the local book wholesaler, and found a great deal on something she thought I’d like:  The Mini Farming Guide to Fermenting, by Brett Markham.  As it turns out, she was right.  Its subtitle indicates that the book’s goal is to teach “Self-Sufficiency from Beer and Cheese to Wine and Vinegar”, with bread thrown in for fun.

Being an avid beer brewer and wine-maker, to say nothing of bread and vinegar, and having dabbled just the tiniest bit in cheese (soft cheeses only, so far), I was afraid that it would be either hopelessly technical, or ridiculously over-simplified.  But, after reading through, I was pleasantly surprised.  The author has an engineering background, and applies that scientific accuracy to the projects, but is able to simplify things really rather well for the layman.  It’s not too “in-the-weeds,” and he goes into sufficient depth where necessary.  I could only really ask for a few more recipes in each of the chapters–but even there, once you’ve got your feet wet and have half an idea what you’re doing, you can find dozens, if not hundreds, of recipes on the internet.

I do have to quibble a little bit with the claim for “self-sufficiency.”  Sure, he’ll teach you how to make the yummy foodstuffs in your own home.  But he doesn’t really go into “full” self-sufficiency: the growing of barley, hops, wheat, etc.  Or any significant discussion of raising your own dairy animals.  But even there, I’m not horribly disappointed; again, there are plenty of other sources out there (although there are few enough on grain growing) to cover those aspects.  This book is intended to show you what to do with the raw materials, once you’ve got them.

The author has three other “Mini Farm” books.  They look interesting, and I’ll likely pick them up as time rolls on; as yet, though, I haven’t read them, so can’t speak directly to their usefulness.  But if they’re of the same quality as the Guide to Fermenting, they’re more than likely worth looking for.

What have you been reading, folks?  Anything interesting?  How are your Fall/Winter preps going?

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Books, and Beginnings

A reader recently asked me, in response to my “A Little Light” post, what book I recommend as a first book on prepping.  (Hi, ansullivan!)  (For those who don’t want to bounce back and read it, I was reviewing the book 52 Prepper Projects, and described it as a good “second book”.)  I’ve honestly been puzzling over that since the question was posed, and the best answer I’ve got so far will probably be less than satisfying (and basically what I answered inline to the comment–I’ll just be a bit longer-winded, here).

My first reaction/response would be to say the best “first book” for getting into prepping would be whatever book (or other impetus, whatever it may be) got you into it in the first place.  I mean, we all have to start somewhere, and the simple realization that you have to start is, well, a good starting place.  (Had enough tautology?)  For my wife and I, the spur was probably the 2010 North American Blizzards, which kept us, our kids, and a friend inside for several days.  We had plenty of food, but could readily see how planning for future such emergencies would be prudent. (Also, ‘Doomsday Preppers’ had begun airing, and the thought that “some of them almost have a point, but they’re going about it so crazily” had been discussed…)

That answer seemed a bit of a cop-out, though, on further reflection..A recommendation I made in my response to the question was to visit the FEMA website (more accurately, visit, and see their pamphlets/instructions for 72-hour kits. (Scroll to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see a link for “Ready Publications”; open up the brochures link, and there are multiple sets of lists for 72-hour kits, which–as I’ve discussed before–are good starts for building other kits.)  Despite FEMA’s reputation, particularly following any of a number of recent natural disasters, their kit recommendations are pretty good.  Again, approach them all with an eye to personalization, but they’re absolutely good baseline lists.

So, there’s my “basic,” front-line answers.  I haven’t really found a good “first book of prepping” in and of itself; I suppose 52 Prepper Projects is as good as anything I’ve found. It’s worth noting that the same authors have, apparently, a short series of such, to include 52 Prepper Projects for Parents and Kids, and 52 Unique Techniques for Stocking Food for Preppers.  I haven’t read either of those, but they’re interesting, good ideas (although I’m not sure how “unique” any of their techniques could be–we humans have been stocking food for millenia).  If anybody has looked them over, I’d love to hear about them.

What about you, readers?  Any suggestions for good starter books for prepping?  Post ’em in the comments!

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A Rising Proposition

In lieu of mulling further on the current political situation–which is, by any measure, an absolute mess of a joke–I decided that this week, I’d revisit a topic from ‘way back: bread.  Staff of life.  You know, the tasty stuff that (along with beer, although in no particular order) probably is responsible for much of what we now call ‘civilization.’

When last I mentioned it, I believe I talked a bit about sourdough, and “catching” a culture.  I still recommend that as the way to go, if you’re going to do the bread thing; it’s simple and inexpensive, and there’s nothing like the flavor.  All you need is flour and water, a container, and a bit of time.  To recap the “catching” process:  make a flour/water slurry, in a 1:1 ratio.  Let it sit, loosely covered, for about twelve hours (let’s call it overnight).  In the morning, scoop out half of the mix, and replace it with an equal amount more flour/water mix (still 1:1).  Repeat in the evening, and again for the next day or two.  Assuming your house isn’t a refrigerator, you’ll start to see the mix get bubbly.  Voila!  You’ve got a starter culture.

To bake with it, there are any number of sets of instructions on the internet.  Experiment, play around, and find a set that works for you.  Alternately, you can hit your library for a book or two.  I recommend The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Jeff Hertzberg; the basic procedure there includes getting a culture going.  For something just a touch more advanced (but also more in-depth, and certainly not the least bit unapproachable), my new favorite is Flour Water Salt Yeast, by Ken Forkish.  Along with the Perfect Loaf blog, FWSY has inspired me to finally learn the Baker’s Percentage, and really get serious about my bread.

How serious?  Well, it being the equinox, it’s about the perfect time in my area for planting winter grains; to that end, along with my barley, I’ve got some hard red winter wheat to plant.  (A complaint: all the guides suggest waiting until the “Hessian-fly free date” to plant wheat. They suggest that my local extension can tell me when that is–but they seem blissfully unaware.  I’ll have to talk to one of the local master gardeners, I suppose…)  Come spring, I’ll also be putting in some spring wheat (again, hard red) along with the spring barleys.  With luck, by next autumn, I’ll have flour from my own grains with which to make my bread!

I’ve made a handful of loaves, thus far–my baking slows significantly during the summer, when it’s hot as blazes without adding oven heat–and I’m liking the direction things are going.  Practice does, after all, make perfect.  But even if I don’t quite have the crumb exactly where I like it yet, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as biting into a nice crusty slice of bread, knowing that I made it myself.

In other farm news, we’ve been able to discourage more hawk-strikes, without losing any more chickens.  One of this year’s batch of chicks has turned out to be a rooster, and we’ve found a home for him (don’t need him, ourselves).  So we’re at 31 birds; come spring, we’ll be up to our eyeballs in eggs.

The bees are doing fine; they’ve been gathering nectar from the local goldenrod and asters.  The experienced keepers described the “unique” scent that they produce, processing goldenrod nectar; there’s not really a way to adequately prepare for it, though.  I’m hopeful that I can get the colonies overwintered, and maybe expand a bit in the spring.

How are things going in your gardens, and on your homesteads?

Posted in Food, Planning, Skills and Practice | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A Few Quick Thoughts

We’re not there, yet, but now’s as good a time as any to get down, in writing, a couple of thoughts that have been rolling around in my head, on the right to vote.

It’s a basic thing, it seems–very simple, and a fundamental part of our government.  Lots of folks take it for granted.  More than a few have never exercised it.  And there’s a large number–a very large number, indeed–who would like nothing more than to tell you exactly how you should use it, or else keep you from doing so.

No matter what anyone tells you, you cannot “throw your vote away,” except by not voting.  (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if legally you can vote, go out there and do it.)

I consider it immoral to bully someone else into voting for (or against) one candidate or another.  Do I have my preferred candidate?  Yes.  Will I give you my rationale, if asked?  Yes.  Will I try to persuade you, one way or the other?  If I think you’re persuadable, yes.  Will I try to force you to vote the way I want you to?  No.  (Will I disown a relative who does such a thing?  Yes; we have done so to my mother-in-law, who was frankly bullying my nephew–a first-time voter–into voting a particular way during the primaries.)

You don’t like either candidate?  Not surprising; rarely are either one (or, gods above, both) paragons of moral purity.  I won’t even try to sell you the platitude that you don’t necessarily have to vote for either of them, you can vote against one or the other.  No, what you–what we all–really need to do is look at the candidates that are running.  Take off the rose-colored glasses, and give them a good, hard look.  Ask yourself: Which of these candidates do I think, given their record, will most likely do what is best for the country?  Then vote for that candidate.

It’s important, that last bit of the decision process.  For the country.  Not for yourself.  Not for your family, or your city, or county, or even your state.  That’s not the President’s job.  The person who gets elected has to look out for the country as a whole.  Unfortunately, that means they’re probably going to tick off one or another chunk of the electorate.  I consider that a price worth paying, if it’s for the general good.  (Consider: The Normandy invasions in WWII were certainly not beneficial to any of the souls who died on the beaches, and a number of their families were probably [rightfully] angry.  But overall, that sacrifice benefitted the majority, if not the entirety of the rest of humanity.)

I could probably rant on like this for hours.  I’ll spare you–while leaving open the possibility that I’ll go off again before the election.  (I make no guarantees what I talk about afterwards…  That’s in part up to the electorate as a whole.)

On a happier note, how are your fall preps going?  It’s not here yet, but it’s right around the corner…

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201st Post

I meant to do something special last time, for my 200th post to the blog, but completely forgot.  Instead, in celebration of the 201st posting (this one), and partly due to a ridiculous degree of sleep deprivation, I’ll be leaving a link for good reading material down below.  My experiences in many ways were different than Mr. Wright’s: I stood up to a few of the bullies of my childhood, which got many of them to back down.  I was fairly apolitical until about halfway through my military career–by which time it was already apparent I was much more liberal than conservative.  But much of my reasoning behind many of my opinions and assertions are similar enough that I can say I agree with him wholeheartedly.  So, here’s the link.  And I’m going to get some sleep.  Enjoy, and I look forward to chatting with you next time.

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Hot Enough For You?

We here on the East Coast are looking at another brief heat wave, with temperatures reaching into the mid- to upper-nineties, and humidity doing the same. (I very much envy you Southwest Desert types, with your dry heat.  The desert part, not so much–nor the inherent fire risk.  You pick your place, you pick your disasters…) Normally, I would just ‘lay low’ for the heat of the afternoon, but there were chores to do: I had to be out in the sun, the better to pull the honey supers off of my bee hives. This being their first year, there’s no actual honey–it’s mostly “syrup honey,” from the sugar syrup I’ve been feeding them. But the comb is now mostly drawn out, so they won’t have to do that part next year, hopefully increasing my yield.

Other afternoon tasks included getting a live-trap set, to catch the raccoon who’s been stealing feed from the chickens–before he decides he’d rather steal a chicken. I saw him and ran him off the other night, and I’ve been putting out feed and seed spiked with Flaming Squirrel Seed Oil (capsaicin oil), which puts him <ahem> off his feed for a night or two.  But it’s time to step up to slightly longer-term measures.  The jury is out as to whether it’s a trap-and-release program, or if capital punishment is in order; I’m ordinarily loathe to kill things needlessly, but a bit of “preventive maintenance” is perhaps called for.

Another achievement reached is the assembly (finally–it’s been waiting for almost two years) of a solar generator: two 100-watt monocrystalline solar panels, a charge controller, two 105 amp-hour deep-cycle marine batteries, and a 1600-watt inverter, all mounted on a modified wagon.  It’ll run any of a number of tools or appliances–and if it’s “just” keeping electronic equipment charged, it’s a bit over the top.  (The main thing we’re worried about, really, is the well pump; the inverter’s just not enough for that, unfortunately–I’d need to bump up to something over 4000 watts, not to mention more batteries, and ideally another couple of solar panels.) The generator is really more of a learning tool, though, so I can figure out what I’m doing with solar, before I bite the bullet and install panels on my workshop/barn.  It’s early days, yet, but thus far I’m liking it…

All of this, and I’m keeping a weather eye towards fall, which is fast approaching. I really ought to take some time in the next week or two to put some fall vegetables in the ground–carrots, one or another (or several) of the brassicas.  And my patch of ground for grains needs to be dealt with–it’s gotten far too overgrown; I’ll have to mow it, then give it a light tilling.  In a perfect world, I’d be able to mow and till it twice, leave it unplanted, then rinse/repeat a few times in the spring, in the hopes of having a decent patch next fall/winter.  But there are only so many years…

How are your ‘steads faring this summer, readers?  I’d love to hear, and compare notes!

Posted in Food, Gear, homestead, News, Planning | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Normally Eschew Predictions…


Especially in light of the s**t-show that was the Republican Convention last week, and looking where I feel far too many people in this country want things to go…

This is probably far more accurate than I really care for.

(As an amateur historian, I have to agree with pretty much the entire article.)

I’ll let you chew on this; comments are always welcome!  (I’m also “cheating” my way out of writing, but I’ve got family visiting.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

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