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!

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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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The Other “L” Word

No, not that one.  Or that one, either.  The word I have in mind is “Lists.”

Lists will first chain you, and hold you down.  But then, eventually, the lists will set you free.

The homestead is in a curious state of flux, at the moment.  I, as usual, have my “day job,” which pays the bills and puts food on the table.  Being summer, the children are vacationing with my sainted (if occasionally somewhat misguided) parents, to return when extracurricular activities start before school.  My wife, meanwhile, has a temporary job, sitting in for a friend who should, by the time this gets posted tomorrow, be meeting her first child for the first time.

All of which leaves a good six or so hours of daylight, every day, when no work is being done around the homestead because we’re all away.  (I’m not worried about security at the house; the dogs are quite protective of it, and the four of them collectively mass about 450 pounds…)

So how is anything getting done?  Organization, mainly.  My wife and I sat down, late in the spring, and discussed what big projects we wished to complete over the summer. These were broken down into their component parts, and each of us made a list with our portions thereof.  The various daily household chores were divided up, based on timeliness, ability, or personal preference. (I let the chickens out before I leave for work in the morning; being relatively mosquito-resistant, I also put them up in the evenings. That sort of thing.) Then, we each added the smaller, more personal things we wished to do.

Hey, presto!  Lists.  It can be difficult, at first, getting things accomplished.  It is, after all, a very big list, and things keep getting added to it. Yak shaving is alive and well in this household–you start to do something, but to do it, you’ve got to do that thing over there, for which you have to accomplish x, y, and z…  (I’d fix that bit of fenceline, but the roll of wire fencing is in that spot next to the barn that got overgrown, so I have to mow to be able to get to it. But the lawn mower needs a new fuel filter, new air filter, and new spark plug, so…)

Then there are the things that break, requiring sub-lists so that you can fix them or work around them.  And there are things that daily get added to the list, as you think of them. (You do add things to the list as you go, right?)

But after a while, as you get things done and checked off the list, you start to revel in that little sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a task.  (If you’re really good, you can revel in it several times a day!)  And getting more things done becomes something of a game.  How many can I get checked off today?  Can I make the list shorter, even including the things that (inevitably) get added to the list?

All of this is good practice in planning and organizing–excellent skills to have, both before, during, and after any sort of an emergency.

My list today had several things added to it, but it got a little bit shorter.  How did yours do?

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Miscellaneous Thoughts

An odd jumble of random thoughts and notes from the homestead:

  • Some days, it’s hard to be a civilized, adult human being.  Most of us manage it fairly well; a surprising number of us–not so much.
  • If ever there was a skill I didn’t have, and didn’t want, but needed, it would be small engine repair.
  • Berries always seem to taste best fresh off the bush.
  • When the dogs start frantically barking at 1am, go ahead and see what’s set them off: if it’s something after the chickens, you need to take care of it now.  If, however, it’s a branch falling from a tree, you can probably try to get more sleep.
  • When the homestead is your “fun” job, and you’ve still got a 40+ hour a week “paying” job, you never feel like you’ve got enough time for either.
  • Tools always seem to gather together into piles of similar tools–and they do it right when you realize you need one.  And they do it at the other end of the homestead.
  • There has never been a bee that wanted to sting you.  If it went to that extreme, it was provoked.  (Even killer bees–they just need very little provocation.)
  • The more I see on the news, the more convinced I am that I need to step up my disaster preps. Not because things are going to hell–rather because a sizable chunk of the population seems intent on sending things there.
  • Baby chicks are fast.  And cute.
  • Protip: Every time you walk past your garden, pull a couple of weeds.  Just two or three.  After a week of this, the difference will amaze.
  • Watering the garden is a better way to ensure rain than washing the cars.
  • It’s tough to beat relaxing at the end of the day by quietly, contemplatively, watching the sun set.

That’s it for this week–it’s summertime, and there’s a million and one things to do around the homestead. I hope you all enjoy the holiday weekend, and I’ll see you in two weeks!

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Not Going to Talk About It.

I had thought about talking politics this week.  Then Sunday happened in Orlando.  I’m not going to talk much about that–far too much ink, far too many electrons have already been spent on it.  I’ll say that I could have predicted the responses from the Right and Left; that one group would have a reasoned, thought-out response, while the other group would begin shouting at the tops of their lungs about the outrage of the moment.  (I’ll leave which is which as an exercise for the reader.)  I’m saddened, angered, and disgusted by the whole thing, and I really don’t want to rehash it all again.

In the interest of having something lighter, I’ll do another brief review.  During a supply run recently, my wife found these cards: the UST Survival Tips Playing Cards.  They come in several flavors; these in particular have “generic” tips on the numbered card, then each face card has a knot diagrammed, together with its typical use (and suggestions).

The tips are loosely organized by suit: Clubs are mostly navigation and map-reading, Hearts are signaling and communication, Spades are gear and equipment, and Diamonds are shelter. The knots may have some sort of organization as well, but it escapes me, at a glance. Overall, I can’t really fault the tips; they’re generally written for someone who’s become lost in the wilderness (while hiking, for instance), but generic enough to be fairly useful in just about any common environment.

As to the cards themselves, they’re standard playing-card size, and plastic-coated, making them water resistant. (They were coated, then cut from the sheet, which prevents them from being water-proof; still, pretty durable.)  They also come in a nice plastic case, and in the place of the standard “order me!” cards, they include a pair of “In Case Of Emergency” cards, for contact information and the like.

One thing that I do really like about them is that they’re dual-purpose.  They’re a handy directory of tips (you’d obviously want to go through them, to see what’s there), and they cover at least a portion of the “entertainment” requirement for a BoB/GHB/etc, whether you’re alone or in a group.  Having the ability to distract yourself now and again–during a brief “down-time”–with a game of solitaire or the like can be great for morale.

All told, I’ll give these 4.5 stars out of 5.  And I’ll see about talking politics next time, depending on the world situation, and what the candidates get up to (or down to) between now and then.  Cheers!

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A Little Light

Reading, that is.  I recently picked up the book 52 Prepper Projects: A Project a Week to Help You Prepare for the Unpredictable, by David Nash.  I’m not exactly reading it cover-to-cover, but glancing at it from time to time, gleaning little bits. I’ve got to say, I like the premise: it starts fairly simple, and things build up in complexity week by week.Even at that, there’s only a few things I’d class as “difficult” towards the end (converting lawn mower engines into generators, and the like).

A few pros: they give “shopping lists” for each chapter.  A couple of things–inexpensive things, mostly–to toss in the shopping cart each week. They also provide a “to do” list for each chapter.  Each of these, again, build from week to week.  As an example, here’s the Week 1 list:

To Buy:

  • 1 gallon water (for each person)
  • 1 jar peanut butter
  • 1 large can juice (for each person)
  • 1 can meat (for each person)
  • Hand-operated can opener
  • Permanent marking pen
  • Pet food, diapers, and baby food, if needed

To Do:

  • Find out what kinds of disasters can happen in your area. The easiest way to do this is to talk to your local emergency management agency, but you can also research local history at the library or the local newspaper. This will help focus your preparedness activities by letting you know what threats are realistic and which are not.
  • Date each perishable item using a marking pen.

Now, I like all of the above.  It’s reasonable, rational, and overall a good place to start. Where things break down, at least in the parts that I’ve read, is in relying on the reader having a clue.  This isn’t always the case–if you’re just starting out in getting gear together, as seems to be the premise of this book, you don’t necessarily know what to do for certain things. Example: Project 1 (week 1) talks BoBs.  It also breaks out the BoB (Bug Out Bag), the INCH (I’m Not Coming Home), the GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge), the GHB (Get Home Bag), the EDC (Every Day Carry), the IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit), 72-hour kits, and the military “Line Gear” system.  That’s all great.  As to what to put in to them?  Nothing concrete.  In fact, their recommendation: “put together a 72-hour kit to get you by until you finish your incremental disaster kit” (that being, ultimately, some of the stuff you’re buying each week).  Then they suggest taking one weekend, and turning off the power and water, and live off your kit, to see how it works.  All generally good ideas–but what, in very broad terms, should be going into the full disaster kit, whichever acronym you decide to use?

So, I’ll call this generally worthwhile, but maybe better as a second book on the subject, rather than a first?  I haven’t really found anything objectionable–the authors are really good about not going hyperbolic “OMG, the world’s going to end, it’ll be like Mad Max!”.  Overall, I’d give it 4 stars out of 5.

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Keeping Cool

No, I’m not talking about the weather–even though this chunk of the Eastern Seaboard has been running about twenty degrees below average, not to mention the rain.  Nor am I talking about politics, however easy it is to get all heated up about that.  This week, we’ve got appliance mishaps.

The first was probably the most significant: due to the vagaries of the electrical wiring in the house, the chest freezer was on an extension cord–a nice circuit-breaker one, to be precise.  All well and good (although the safety-minded would probably fuss about that detail).  Until one of the dogs accidentally steps on the “off” switch of the breaker, shutting off power to the unit.  How long?  We aren’t sure… The denser things at the bottom of the freezer were still frozen; warmer air, being what it is, rose to the top, and the things up there didn’t make it so well.  We salvaged most of what was in there, but it could easily have been worse. (We did, also, adjust the power situation–it’s not fixed, but that room’s not “done” yet, either.)

The second was a refrigerator repair.  Fortunately, it was a quick one, easy enough for just about anyone to do themselves.  One of the cooling coils on our model has a tendency to ice up; this ice can extend to where a circulation fan spins, leading to an horrendous racket.  But the fix involved removing everything from the fridge–all food, all the shelves, all the drawers…  Then reassembling.  Not difficult, no problems–but I should remember one day to tell the story of the spigot on the iced tea container…

All of that, combined with a recent New York Times article got me thinking again about preserving foods without a fridge.  All you really need is salt–we’ve been doing that for hundreds, if not thousands, of years–and a reasonably cool place such as a cellar.  I’ve done the duck prosciutto from the article many times, and it’s fast, easy, and delicious.  I’ve even done several sides of bacon, to say nothing of lonza and basturma.  The guanciale recipe sounds delicious, and I’d love to try the beet-and-horseradish cured salmon from the article. Indeed, I’ve got a couple of books on charcuterie and salumerie.  Perhaps a nice series of articles, maybe towards fall, when things begin tooling off, would be the making of preserved meats?

That’s about all I’ve got for this week; I’ve been busy doing what I can do around the homestead in between the rain.  I’ve finally got my bees, and they’re doing that bee thing; our chickens are producing fairly nicely, and we’re expecting another 15 chicks in a month or so; the garden is planted, and things are moving along.  How are your homesteads coming?

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