Sunday, September 7, 2014

Potatoes in a barrel - the disappointing finale

Our work here is done.
The year began with high hopes that growing a potato garden in a 55-gallon barrel would result in many more pounds of potatoes per square foot of ground space than planting traditionally.  I am sorry to report that this did not happen.

As you recall, the plants themselves took to the concept like ugly to a feminist.  A full three months ago they had already reached the top of the barrel and by my count had 97 days to do nothing but make tubers for us.

Where have all the taters gone?
It wasn't like there was anything wrong with the plants themselves.  I harvested my control group,* made up of a pair of plants in a raised bed, a few weeks ago. The result, while not impressive by Irish standards, was at least respectable.  I probably got a 10-1 return in that group.

And it wasn't like there was any lack (or surfeit) of water.  When I dumped the barrel I noted that the soil was moist all the way through yet none of the potatoes showed evidence of rot.  The healthy growth and color of the plants themselves is sufficient evidence that they were not lacking sunlight, either. And the plants seemed to suffer little or no bug damage.

That leaves the soil or the barrel itself as the main problem.  As it was nearly the same dirt as the control group, I am tempted to eliminate that as well. And the barrel itself should not have made any difference - we're left to blame the depth of the dirt or perhaps the temperature.

Spud, I am disappoint
So what the real problem is, I'm not sure. But the top foot of dirt contained almost no potatoes whatsoever. The middle third gave up but a half-dozen small ones.  In the whole bottom third waited only the tiniest of spuds.  In all, the 2 pounds of seed potatoes we started with resulted in maybe 4 pounds, not even enough return to cover their cost. Or even hash browns at Thanksgiving.

I'm still sold on the concept,** but next year I'm going to make a couple adjustments.

1.  I'm probably not going to use this barrel again. A couple of people I talked to use wire fencing or even old tires to the same effect, so I may try one of those or perhaps a shorter barrel. More gardens, but none will be as tall - or as heavy.

2.  I'm surely going to change up the soil.  While I was always careful to add it dry, it was still horribly packed by harvest time.  So a bunch more mulch and maybe even some chopped straw may help to lighten it up a bit.

If I were Irish, we'd be facing a long, hungry winter.  This is why I like to make mistakes while they still don't count.

* Because, science
** Like a government climate scientist, I'm not going to let facts get in the way of a good theory.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Making Wild Plum Jelly

Wild things
I made plum honey jam a few years ago after hitting a decent fruit clearance sale.  It wasn't great. In fact, it took a few years to burn thru the case or so that I made.  In all probability, I'll never make it again.

However, with this year's bumper crop of wild/American plums, I figured I would try something different.  Never made jelly with them before, so what the heck?  Let's do this.

For those fuzzy on the difference between jelly and jam, here it is in nutshell: jam uses all the parts of the fruit* whereas jelly is made from just the juice. With jam you just mash everything into a medium like sugar or honey. To make jelly, we need juice and lots of it, which sometimes proves a problem when dealing with wild fruit.  But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, so let's start with the first things.

The first thing we need is a simple jelly recipe. This one from Taste of Home Magazine demands some 5 pounds of wild plums, 7 1/2 cups of sugar, and a package of powdered pectin.

The recipe in a nutshell:
  1. Simmer 5 lbs of halved and pitted plums for about 30 minutes.  Strain 5 1/2 cups of juice.
  2. Boil the juice and the pectin. Add 7 1/2 cups of sugar. Full boil that for another minute.
  3. Scoop the resulting jelly into half-pint jars and boiling-water process those for 5 minutes.
Pretty easy, but...

To make jelly we need juice.  So the first thing we have to do with our plums is cook them down.  The recipe says to halve and pit them in preparation for cooking.  Given the miniscule size of our prunus americanas, that would take on the order of a month and a half to make 5 pounds. Using the cherry pitter didn't work, either. So to make the job easier, I froze them.  Once they thawed they got kind of mushy, so I could simply squeeze most of them to get the pit out.

One side note, with wild plums you want to use red plums, not purple.  The yellow/orange ones have no juice, the deep purple ones have very dark, soft meat that seems almost rotten. But the reds are firm and juicy with meaty, yellow innards.  Good thing we have lots of those.

The chickens will feast tomorrow.
But perhaps not enough.  I cooked down just over 5# of plums and got a very consistent mush.  The recipe calls for straining that mush thru 4 pieces of cheesecloth.  Instead, I put the mush thru a big sieve, then the strainings thru a finer one.  I put those strainings thru a jelly bag and got some beautiful, clear purple juice.  Unfortunately, I got only about 4 cups of that. What I had mostly was a dry, sloppy mush that resembled stroganoff vomit. It brought back some very bad memories.

So we'll put our juice back in the pan and fire it up, but we'll have to adjust our recipe just a bit.  I actually added all the pectin - liquid instead of powder - because there are few things less useful than 1/2 ounce of leftover liquid pectin.  Once it got to a good boil, I added 5 cups of sugar. That's a little less than the ~80% target based on our juice, but since we're over on the pectin it ought to be alright.  I gave it an extra minute of hard boil just to be sure.

Jelly season is complete.
Now comes the moment of truth, or actually, 5 minutes of truth in the open boiler.  The recipe should have produced 8 half-pints.  Being short juice, I'm not surprised that I ended up with ~7.

What I am surprised about is how good it tastes.  The chicken slop is dry and sour, but adding lots of sugar to this juice** balanced it out quite nicely.  It jelled easily but not into a little half-pint brick like my jalapeno jelly did.  As of 10:00, one of the jars hasn't sealed, so one might end up in the fridge tomorrow.

Which is awesome, because the jelly is much, much better than the plum honey jam ever was. I'm pretty sure I'll have no problem making enough bread to get rid of all of it this winter.

* Excluding pits generally, but including small seeds like those in strawberries.
** Usually with jelly one runs about 50/50 juice and sugar.  This one is closer to 60/40 sugar.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Earn your preps

Treasures from my home town
It's difficult to stay motivated when it comes to prepping.  I've noticed this tendency most frequently among those who buy their preparations in one big shot - they spend a bunch of money "getting ready" and once they are done, they either forget about the whole thing,* or worse, interpret every headline as The Big One to try to stay focused. Not only is the boy-who-cried-wolf approach tiresome, it can actually distract you from deepening your preparations.

So how does one remain motivated to keep preparing other than watching disaster pr0n and living off fear's adrenaline?  One way that I have found is to deny yourself the satisfaction of prepping without truly earning it.  And by that I don't mean spending your hard-earned wages on preps. I mean earning that prep by doing something prep-related to get it.

Let me give you an example.  The adjustable wrenches pictured above were made by the Diamond Calk Horseshoe Company (later Diamond Tools) of Duluth, Minnesota.  That happens to be my home town.  Having grown up around Diamond Tools** my whole life, I can testify that tools like these would likely be inherited by my children.  I am not going to wear out a Diamond adjustable wrench, much less 4 of them.  And the price on Ebay, including shipping, was a mere $30 for all of them. Wrenches for life.  How easy could this be?

Yes, I could have just put them on a plastic card.  I'd have solid wrenches to add to the workbench and I'd be that much more tooled up for whatever comes.  But a few years ago I promised myself that I would not spend just any old dollars on preps, but only dollars I earned from prep-related activities.***  So to get these masterful wrenches, I needed to restore and sell 3 reloading dies or sell 15 copies of The SHTF Stockpile, or maybe sell 5 boxes of horseradish crowns.  I was not going to use wages, but I was going to use the motivation of need - well, of desire anyway -  to advance my prepping on 2 fronts at once.

In the end I sold the dies. The money from the first went into replacement dies, while the money from the other two brought me four adjustable wrenches that are now part of my SHTF Stockpile.  I got my preps, I restored a few tools, I provided prep items to three other people. What's most valuable prep-wise is that I didn't rely on my current job to do it, I used my preps to increase my preps.

Preparation is much more than having stuff. It's having the tools and the skills to get the stuff you need.  Find a prep-related way to get that and not only will you stay motivated, you'll advance your other preps at the same time. 

* Subconsciously expecting, I guess, that those freeze-dried green beans will taste even better in 2034 than they don't today.
** as many liberated by employees as purchased on the open market. 
*** After the absolute basics, which I already had.

Friday, August 1, 2014


It's OK to not follow the recipe
So I have to admit, I'm pretty happy with my salsa.  It's a deep red, it's thick, it's spicy.  And it's all those things because I cheated on the recipe.

I mentioned in The SHTF Stockpile that while I'm not a fan of storing freeze-dried foods generally, I'm a big fan of dried canning mixes.  This is not only because I'm lazy, but because when learning a new skill, like canning, you need to have some success.  While storing a bunch of bottles of salsa is a prep, making a bunch of them is a prep and an experience.  Using a canning mix can go a long way toward making that experience a good one.

That said, my home-grown tomatoes are not such a deep red, nor does the canning mix I used have big chunks of bell peppers, onions, and jalapenos like this salsa.

So here's how I cheated:  Yeah, I followed the instructions on the back of the package.  Except that instead of using 6 lbs of fresh tomatoes or 3 14-oz cans of canned ones, I went 2/3 fresh* and 1/3 canned - that way I got the texture of the fresh tomatoes and the color of the canned ones.  In addition to the mix, I chopped in a dozen fresh jalapenos and a couple of bell peppers from the garden and added a handful of freeze-dried onions.**

The result?  A hot(ter) salsa with deep color, fresh-tomato texture, chunks of peppers and onions, but which was still balanced and (most importantly) safe to open-boil can because it followed an established recipe. Eventually, probably, we'll have to get along without mixes and perhaps even store-bought vinegars.  But experimenting and practicing today will make that eventuality much easier, and one would hope, much safer.

* including a couple under-ripe ones. Not green, though, just sort of orange.
** See, I even cheat on the stuff I say I don't like. Actually, freeze-dried onions are one of the most useful freeze-dried foods you'll find.  Especially if you want to save your garden onions for topping burgers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

You've come a long way, baby

Is there a pepper in the house?
The pic above is the raised bed I first photographed in The Lazy Man's Raised Beds.  If you look carefully, you can see evidence of that bed under the nasturtiums, mustard, dill, cilantro, garlic, chives, marigolds, basil, radishes, and, oh yeah, peppers in the pic.  The raised beds have done their jobs, as have the companion herbs - my pepper harvest is off the charts. No so much the radishes, which is fine, as I dislike them anyway. I only added them because they cover the ground quickly and I don't like to weed. Tossing them all on the mulch pile was no loss.

But the thing I'm not sure about is the flowers.  As you can see, the nasturtiums on the left and the marigolds on the right (both in front and back) look good. They seem to be thriving in this cramped and mixed environment.*  But I'm not sure I'm sold on their companion-plant, insect-repelling ability.

The last couple weeks have been pretty dry.**  And I have noted a pretty good invasion of the neighboring horseradish, both by cabbage moths and grasshoppers. The former I've taken to using for tennis practice, while my chickens are enjoying the tasty crunch of lots of the other. Still, I have both good and bad bugs in this bed and especially in my tomatoes. Bugs are not eating the fruits, but every tomato I pick is covered with black bug poop.

I don't know that I ever expected the mix of plants to keep the bugs out completely - I know enough about online 'expertise' to reduce my expectations of promised results considerably.  Nor do I know the answer to the critical question of how bad the bugs would have been without this companion planting.  And while I have been tempted a couple times this week to break out the Sevin Dust and nuke the bastards, I have not done so yet. If only because, if I don't figure out pest control now, it's not going to be any easier in future years.***

So we'll be watching carefully to see if the bugs chewing my leaves actually do any damage to the harvest. Given that I'm already harvesting apples, pumpkins, and other things I had not expected to touch until September, those bugs just might be too late to the party anyway. What a shame.

* Diversity, FTW!
** Not Huck dry, but pretty dry compared to the wonderful spring where it rained seemingly every other day.
*** Plus I have a mother lode of dragonflies out there that I don't want to kill.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where to Live XIII - Green Living in Tan Country

One thing odd you might notice about the above map from Visualizing Economics is the extent to which it corresponds to the map of US population density. The DC to NY corridor, one of the most heavily populated areas in the nation, is also among the highest in income, as is San Fran, Chicago, and Denver. So one might be tempted to think that if one wants to live well, then high population density areas are the places to move. After all, one can live 50% better on $90k than $60k, right? It's just simple math.

Except that it's not.  I remember as teeny little programmer flying to NYC to do some software installation and to train users on how to use a dialup modem. 2400 baud, baby.  The thing that stuck with me from that trip was not that NYC smelled just like the first diaper of the morning,* but that a software guy with whom I was talking told me his one bedroom apartment cost $1500 a month. At the time I lived in a newer 5-br house on acreage that never came close to $1500 a month, even with interest rates twice what they are today.  Yes, he made twice the money I did.  And I lived better by just about any objective measurement.** He paid more taxes, far more rent, more for food and transportation - I thought at the time that I could have lived just as poorly as him on half of what I made.  It's probably not true, but it's not wholly false, either.

What has that to do with SHTF? Plenty, actually.  While it's great to have a high income, if you live in an area where ordinary costs eat that income up, all you have at the end of the day is bragging rights over your redneck competitors. And when income disappears, those costs remain, dragging hordes of indebted, high-maintenance people underwater very quickly.  While prices will (because they must) eventually adjust to reality, it is harder for costs to fall than rise: every government program is geared toward making your life more costly.*** 

But where income is already low, it has less room to fall, so to speak.  People are used to getting along with less cash, but they have more real assets they can fall back on and fewer people competing for them. As food prices continue to rise, backyard gardens in tan areas expand, but they still needn't be guarded.

Our current income structure is wholly supported by cheap energy and financial shenanigans, and when those end, income will become less important than access to real assets. Those assets are not only better in tan areas, they are generally cheaper as well. If you can manage a green income while living in a tan area, you can gain control of plenty of worthwhile assets in short order. Besides, if you want to live twice as well as everyone around you, that's easier to pull off among wrestling fans than among fans of Cats anyway. 

* There are plenty of better reasons to hate NYC, and the same thing could be said of New Orleans. Which had better food, too.
** I didn't have Broadway next door and he did.  For some reason, both of us counted that as a win.
*** For example, the government creates 'affordable housing' not by allowing house prices to fall, but by propping them up while subsidizing loans on those houses for people who cannot afford them at the new, higher prices.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Making Jalapeno Jelly

I used the smallest jars I had.
It must be a Southern thing.  Several people in the past week, upon hearing that I already had a bumper crop of jalapenos on hand, asked if I had made any jalapeno jelly from it.  I had never heard of such a thing.  Cherry jelly, apple jelly, grape jelly, sure.  But jelly made of hot peppers?  Of what use could such a concoction possibly be?

Apparently it does have some utility: people pour it over warmed cream cheese and dip Wheat Thins in it.  Then they eat it.  No, really.

So with that in mind, let's make some.

We'll need:
  • 15 medium-sized jalapenos. That hardly made a dent in my crisper stock.
  • 2 cups of apple cider vinegar.  This is not regular vinegar, so choose wisely.
  • 6(!) cups of sugar.  Good grief! I got Type 2 diabetes just reading this recipe.
  • 2 3-oz bags of liquid pectin. I have plenty of regular (i.e. powdered) pectin on hand, but since every recipe I saw demanded liquid pectin, I coughed up a few bucks and bought some.
I  The good news is that making this jelly is easy. Really easy. 
  1. Cut the tops off the peppers and toss them. Blend up the remaining pepper parts with 1 cup of vinegar until all the chunks are gone.
  2. Add your pepper smoothie and the other cup of vinegar in a big pot.  A really big pot.  You need a BIG pot. B-I-G. Did I mention you need a big pot?  Add in the 6(!) cups of sugar and bring it to a boil.*
  3. Boil it for pretty hard for 10 minutes.  At the same time, get your hot jars ready.
  4. Drop in your 6 oz. of liquid pectin and boil it for another minute.  Now it's done, and it's gonna gel fast, so ladle it as fast as you can into your jars.  This recipe promises to yield 2.5 pints - I used 10 4 oz. jars because, not knowing if I would ever actually eat jalapeno jelly, I figured small jars are easier to give away. It fit perfectly.
  5. Open-boil them for 10 minutes.  Poof! You're done.
Thoughts on the final product:

I've never seen a recipe gel as fast and thoroughly as this one.  I swear, by jar three I was trying to ladle around huge translucent chunks that had already gelled. I wish my cherry jelly gelled like that.

Using 4 ounce jars might have been a mistake.  Three of the ten did not seal properly.  You have to get the headspace perfect on such small jars, and with the gel coagulating as fast as it did, that was tough. Too tough for me.

Then I tasted it.  Hmmm... you might think that a recipe made up of nothing but jalapeno peppers, cider vinegar, and a buttload of sugar might look like the first, smell like the second, and taste like the third.  But brother I'm here to tell you that you would be exactly correct.

Maybe jalapeno jelly is an acquired taste. That just means that if this Minnesota boy has to eat it all himself, in 2020 7 4oz jars will suffer the same fate as 2008's pear butter.**  It's not that it tastes bad, it's just that it doesn't taste like something I'd eat voluntarily. 

To be fair - both to the recipe and to Southern culture - I have a box of Wheat Thins and a block of cream cheese on hand, so I'm going to try it as I guess it ought to be eaten.  Unless I am really pleasantly surprised, I suspect 7 Southron friends are going to get nice little green-flecked jars in their Christmas baskets this fall.   

Just sayin'.

* As soon as it comes to a boil you will understand the capital letters.
** I wonder if chickens get heartburn.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Where to Live XII - Virus and Vector Edition

A couple articles this week reminded me that location is good for more than just keeping zombies at bay:
UNITED NATIONS – Health ministers from 11 West African countries began a two-day Emergency Ministerial meeting in Accra, Ghana, Wednesday amid concern the outbreak of the Ebola virus that began in Ghana could spread across their region as an uncontrolled pandemic...
[The Telegraph] The world could be "cast back into the dark ages of medicine" where people die from treatable infections because deadly bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, David Cameron has warned... Overuse of antibiotics for minor infections has resulted in bacteria becoming resistant to medicines.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time and evolution before those diseases we conquered so effortlessly during the past century developed an end-around to modern medicine. "For every action..." and all that.

But it's not even really flus and infections that ought to concern us, at least not on an SHTF scale.  Sure, the Spanish Lady flu* of the 1920s killed 50 million people as it burned its way around the world, but that was a world of nearly 2 billion people.  It was nothing like the great plagues of Europe, that killed sometimes half the people over very large geographic areas.

And they say Ebola ought to concern us, though only 500 people have died from it in its current outbreak, 1/100th of 1% of those killed by Spanish Lady. While Ebola is a headline disease, it's not really a story, I don't think. At least not yet.

No, after meandering through the disease stories of the week, it was this one that I expect to see cause real trouble sometime in the perhaps near future:
A controversial scientist who carried out provocative research on making influenza viruses more infectious has completed his most dangerous experiment to date by deliberately creating a pandemic strain of flu that can evade the human immune system.
Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu in order for it to “escape” the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies, effectively making the human population defenceless against its reemergence...
This is not a rant against science any more than it is a rant against the Japanese or Wisconsin, it's just a recognition of the fact that if something is possible, someone** is going to do it. And they are not terribly careful with their creations. That means that eventually a manipulated disease is going to get out of a lab, perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose. It might even be a sexy cross of influenza and Ebola. And it's going to rip through the world's population.  This flubola will be designed to spread quickly and perhaps even to do the most possible damage to humans that you can imagine. It might be released by the Russians in a bid to depopulate Ukraine, it might be created by the Klan to finish off Africa, who knows? And who cares, for the results will be the same...

So when it does happen, where should you be? Where should you live?  Before he was reined in by his handlers, Vice President Extraordinaire*** Joe Biden let the truth out of the bag: don't be anywhere where lots of other people are in close quarters. Not subways, not planes.  I would add, not in a city with a million people sniffling and sneezing all over water fountains, buffets, and restroom door handles, either. 

When a perfect virus-and-vector is released into the world, there are no guarantees it won't come your way, no matter where you live, no matter what you do.  But there are reduced odds.  And as with any number of other threats, the best place to avoid a pandemic is to be where lots of infected people aren't sneezing all over the egg rolls.

* apparently it kicked off right here in good old Kansas.  You're welcome.
** probably someone in a lab coat, in all fairness. That is why I expect that, once the world finally recovers, the mere wearing of a lab coat will be a capital offense.
*** The thing about Biden is that he always tells the truth.  At least when he knows it, which is seldom.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Making Jalapeno Hot Sauce

That's not a frying pan.
Jalapeno Week continues with a new concoction. This one is a recipe from the Barefoot Kitchen Witch* with minor modifications and a hat tip to the Nerdy Survivalist.

So now that we've eliminated the impression that there is any originality to be found on this blog, let's make some hot sauce.

We'll need:
  • Jalapenos, sliced into 1/4" rings. I used 36 or so.
  • 1 TBSP of olive oil, maybe more.
  • 1.5 TSP of salt.
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced. I used fresh.
  • .5 cup of  onions, minced. I used freeze-dried onions, reconstituted.  Yes, I have lots of freeze-dried food around. Shut up.
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of distilled white vinegar
Step 1. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan, then drop in the peppers, salt, garlic, and onions. You'll need enough oil to get a good fry going, so if you have to add more, feel free. 

Step 2.  Saute those suckers so they are nice and brown on the sides. This is going to give our sauce a fried flavor to go with the pepper flavor.  After 5 minutes, cut the heat. If most of the peppers aren't browned, turn the flame on high and hit them again until they are.

Step 3.  Now, transfer the whole shebang to a sauce pan, add the water, and boil it hard for about 20 minutes. Remember what I said about jalapenos getting mushy from cooking? Here's where you get to see if I was lying.  

Step 4.  Now that everything is soft and mushy, put it in the fridge until it's cooled.  I left mine overnight because I hate waiting for stuff like this. Besides, wrestling was on.

Step 5.  Break out the blender.**  Pour everything in but the vinegar in and hit the lowest blend setting.  Now, ratchet it up one button at a time until the mix is nice and smooth.

Step 6. We're going to add a little bit of vinegar, both for acidity and to take a little of the edge off.***  So while it's grinding, pour in a little bit of the vinegar. You'll notice that every time you do, the mixer will speed up and might splash a little. If you're not careful here, you'll get jalapeno juice in your eyes.  That's bad. Keep pouring until the vinegar is all in and the mix is smooth.  You should not see any seeds at all if you are blending fast enough.

To the freezer with ye little ones!
Step 7.  Jar it up.  I put a couple small jars in the freezer and the rest in the fridge.  Since it's so easy to make, there didn't seem to be any reason to can it for long-term storage.  And I'm not big on canning sauces anyway.

Thoughts on the results: had it on tacos tonight, and I'm glad to report that it packs quite a punch. Plus it pours easily. When added to the pickled jalapenos we made earlier, they made for a spicy taco to be sure. But even though the sauce and pickled jalapenos have almost the same ingredients, the sauteing of the peppers here adds a depth to the flavor that pickled jalapenos alone lack. So I definitely recommend making both if you can.

If I had to pick just one, I would take the sauce. It's that good.

* Cool name, Bro Sis.
** You can use a food processor if you wish. Barefoot Kitchen Witch did and then she had to strain it because she had seeds left in the mix.  I will leave no seed behind.
*** Remember what we said about horseradish. It works the same way.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Making Cherry Jelly

This is what Rogue does to cherries.
I know I promised it was Jalapeno Week, and we'll get back to that, but I figured that I'd take tonight in a wholly different direction, just in case Five Boys' Mom started her diet again while we weren't looking.  So tonight's concoction is cherry jelly, using a scalable recipe from that looked promising.

The first thing I noticed was the madness of its measurement system.  It's rather odd, because most people will say, "I have x lbs of cherries. How much jelly can I make?" This recipe begins at the end, by asking how much jelly you wish to make.  That would not be so bad, except that the amount you will make is proportional to the amount of juice you have, which is dependent upon the amount of water you add to it, which is inversely proportional to the unknown amount of juice your unmeasured cherries will make, and you can't discover how much water you need until you cook your cherries, which demands the water up front.  I just threw in half a cup to start and figured I'd add more if I needed to round up.  That seemed to work well.

These are the cherries she didn't get.
Jelly is different from jam. Whereas jam is essentially the whole fruit, seeds and all, mashed up with a medium like sugar or honey, jelly will have none of that. Jelly is more like a science experiment: fruit juice, pectin, and sugar heated to such a state that the ingredients will form a gel at room temperature.  That makes it more complicated than jam and a little more fussy, but it's not all that hard to make if you follow the steps. It's just science. So let's make some.

The first thing we need is juice, so I took about a half gallon of cherries - all the ones that Rogue had not already cooked into my fat ass delicious pie, and plopped them whole into a pot, along with the aforementioned half a cup of water. Basically, I wanted enough water that I was not sauteing the cherries, but not enough to make cherry-flavored gruel.  Cook them all for 10 minutes or so and then mash them with a plastic potato masher.  The idea here is to separate the meat from the skins and pits, so be careful using a metal masher, which might cut open a few pits if you hit them right.  Once everything is separated into a good mash, then it's time to introduce it to the jelly strainer.

Fracking operation, commence
The jelly strainer is just a hanging bag with holes in it. Juice goes through the holes, pits and skin don't.  Except it's never that easy, so once the juice stops flowing I generally take a plastic spatula and perform a little fracking operation on the leftovers.  Slowly push the spatula down through different spots to the bag and you'll release more juice, probably increasing your take by 20%.  The amount of juice is going to determine how much jelly you make, so you'll want as much as possible.  Besides, everything left in the bag goes to the chickens, and mine already eat plenty good without depriving myself of jelly.

That operation is essentially the same with any jelly you want to make. In fact, if you really want to make jelly, you can skip the entire preceding paragraphs and just open a big bottle of Welch's grape juice.  What follows will work with that or just about any juice.  So anyway, we have juice; let's make jelly.

I fracked about 3 1/4 cups of cherry juice, so we're going to add 1/4 cup of water and pretend that we had 3 1/2. That will let us follow this recipe without scaling.

1. Put the juice in the big pan, along with a cup of water and a whole box (1.75 oz) of pectin.  I actually have a 10# jar of pectin I bought on ebay for the cost of 10 1.75 oz boxes, so bust out the scale and let's pretend I overpaid for a box of pectin.  Bring that sucker to a boil. A real boil, not one of those sad sack bubblers that disappear when you stir them.

2.  While you're bringing it to a boil, get your canner boiling as well.  You can use the small 8qt one if you'd like, because you'll be using half-pints and smaller jars.  I used the big one just because it was not put away from last time. I'm lazy like that. Sue me.

3.  Once you have a good rolling boil going in the juice, add 4 1/2 cups of sugar. That's a lot of sugar, I know, but most jellies are about equal parts sugar and juice, so if that bothers you, stick to jam where you can reduce the sugar or substitute honey or something else.  I actually prefer jam, but this recipe is what it is so let's get on with it.

4.  Bring it to a boil again.  Now this will be a different kind of boil.  The last boil was a tame if playful boil.  This one will use the second you're not looking to jump out of the pot and gel your entire stovetop for you.  So keep an eye on it. As soon as it bubbles up to the top of the pot, stir it like mad and set your timer.  One minute is all you need. Stir, baby, stir.  Then cut the heat.

I hope one of the lids doesn't seal
5.  Ladle it into hot jars leaving 1/4" of headspace. That's not much, but on small jars it's all you'll need.  Wipe the rims, screw the lids down, and drop them into a rolling boil for 5 minutes.  Pull them out, and you're done.  

It's a pretty fast operation, all told.  I made the juice last night and left it in the fridge overnight, so from juice to jelly tonight took less than an hour.  I ended up with about 40 oz of jelly, as you can see, plus a little bit extra that I shared with Molly because she was #3 in "three's a crowd" tonight. Sometimes a kid needs warm jelly on french bread with Dad.

It was possibly the best jelly I've ever made.  I was a little worried about the high sugar, as I'm not a fan of overly-sweet concoctions, but because my cherries tend to the sour side the balance was magnificent.  I'll need to hide these jars in the pantry to ensure that last year's apply jelly gets eaten first.  And there is no danger, none, that they will suffer the same fate as 2008's pear butter.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Pickle Jalapenos

The Replacements
It's time to start looking for an easy way to fill up the empty rack space we created on Friday.  Perhaps a few jars of peppers could do the trick...

Though I loved the old peppers, I was never really happy with their consistency. Because I had gone with a canning recipe rather than a pickling one, the taste was great, but they were a bit mushy.  The short reason is that, when you can something you're relying on heat to kill the bacteria. But heat also breaks down veggies like peppers pretty quickly.  They don't turn to mush, but they don't retain any kind of crunch, either.

When you pickle something, you're relying on acidity to do the same job.  So I picked out a pickling recipe from The Food Network.  Let's see how that turned out.

Look, Ma, no gloves.
The first thing we need to do with this recipe is to utterly ignore the total preparation time. 25 hours? Ain't nobody got time for that.  We're going to do it all in about half an hour.

Here's what we need:

Jalapenos.  That might be important.  The recipe calls for one pound, sliced.  That's going to make a pretty small batch - about a quart - but we'll do it by the book this time and modify it in the future.  I usually don't like to break out the canner for anything less than 6 pints. Anyway, slice 'em up.

Salt. 2 tbsp of pickling salt or 4 tbsp of kosher salt.  I know nothing about kosher, so pickling salt it is.

Garlic, 2 cloves.  I've got some left over from my earlier attempts to plant garlic.*  The Wal Mart 'planting' garlic looks like crap, so I threw most of it in the trash into the mulch bucket and just used some of the leftover 'organic' garlic.  The recipe didn't say to slice or dice, so I threw them in whole.

Whole black peppercorns, 1 tbsp, optional. I used them.

Honey, 1 tbsp, optional.  I used it.

Water (2 cups) and vinegar (2 cups).  Combined with the salt, this is going to make a challenging environment for our friendly neighborhood bacteria.  So let's combine them.  In fact, throw everything into the brine except the peppers and bring it to a good boil. Then back the heat off to a simmer.

The small one goes into the fridge.
Make sure you have your jars, lids, and canner ready, because this next part is going to happen fast.

Drop the peppers into the brine, stir it up, and bring it back to a boil.

As soon as it boils, ladle it into hot jars, fasten the lids, and drop them into the canner for a nice 5-minute bubble bath rolling boil. Pull them out and you're done.

So what about it?  Well, despite the fact that this was deemed an 'intermediate' recipe, the hardest thing about it was making sure to get one clove of garlic in each jar.  In other words, it's simple.

Secondly, since I had a little left over, I got a chance to check the taste and consistency right away - both are very good compared to the old peppers.  While not 'pickle' crunchy, the peppers have some body.**  The peppercorns and garlic add a lot to the flavor.  I can't taste the honey at all.  

So I'd have to say that overall this recipe looks like a success. There also appears to be nothing in it that would keep you from doubling or quadrupling it for larger batches. And larger batches are what's on the way by the looks of the pepper bed.

* which are now a rousing success, I might add.
** The ones actually canned may have less, however, as they were cooked longer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The pepper bed

And the radishes underneath are coming along fine, thank you.
And man do I have peppers. Picked about a quart this week, gave lots more away, and am just about ready to start canning a few.  The only problem is that I still have a couple cases left over from a prior year's bumper crop.

I'm not sure that it's a problem so much, but I really don't like the idea of dumping 8 or 9 quarts and a dozen pints of peppers on the mulch pile.  The chickens might not like that very much.  But they're* not getting any younger, and despite my best efforts,** I will not be able to eat all of these this year. And pantry space looks like it's going to be at a premium.

So in the meantime I'm giving them away to coworkers and bagging them in the crisper. Since I've got cherry jelly on the schedule for tomorrow, the first batch of pickled canned peppers might have to wait until Friday. 

Hopefully by that time I can acquire a pair of unpowdered surgical gloves to wear while I slice them all up.  Cutting them with bare hands last time made me afraid to go to the bathroom for something like 12 hours. My fingers didn't smell like I'd smothered them in Ben Gay and then set them on fire, but they sure felt like it.

* either the peppers or the chickens. Or me, for that matter.
** The only way I have not tried peppers is in a cereal bowl with milk on top.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Build a codling moth trap

(l) after one week; (r) after one minute. Not the same.
Despite the overblown claims that vinegar is just as good as Round-Up at killing weeds, there is one thing that vinegar is good at killing: codling moths.

Codling moths are nasty.  If you find a 'worm' or a 'worm hole' in an apple, it's probably neither.  Odds are it's the result of a codling moth laying eggs on your trees, which eggs then hatch larva that burrow into your fruit (leaving a small hole), eat for three weeks, then burrow out (leaving a large hole).  The fattened larva then crawl to the ground or hide under the tree's bark, emerging the next spring as moths. These moths then lay eggs, beginning the cycle again.

Other than blasting your tree with alar or other things you really don't want to eat any more than worms, there are a couple of approaches that hold promise for controlling your codling moths.

The first is to create a concoction of one cup vinegar, one cup sugar, and a bit of banana peel. Put it in a milk jug, fill the jug with water, then hang the whole shebang from a high branch of your apple tree.  Unlike the worthless,* vinegar-based Weed-Be-Gone, this recipe showed promise immediately: the jug on the left is not simply discolored for the benefit of those with flash photography, it's full of dead moths, flies, and mosquitoes.

The second, which we shall be trying this fall, is to catch the codling moths caterpillars as they descend the tree by wrapping a six-inch-wide strip of cardboard about the trunk in August. You wrap the cardboard flat side in with the holes facing up-and-down, and the larva, upon encountering it, decide that this corrugated paradise is a convenient place to spend the winter.  One chilly December morning, you provide your guests some much-needed warmth by tossing all the cardboard into a pile and setting it on fire.

The first part of the strategy seems to work fine: after barely a week, I have lots of dead moths.**  The second? Well, we'll see how well the second does. I have this brush pile that will be just about ready to burn once the snow starts falling...

* ok, so it's not entirely worthless.  After 5 days, my weeds have a few leaves that have turned brown around the edges. 
** I have also agreed to pay TK and Molly a nickel for each moth they kill with a badminton racket.  That's not as successful.  Thus far I have paid out about 45 cents and need two new badminton rackets.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Making Wild Blackberry Jam

Leave the red ones for tomorrow.
One of the things I'm trying to do more of this year is take advantage of the wild fruit that grows around here. Sure, I've occasionally produced a batch of wine or jam from this bounty, but I've never made a habit of it.  Which means I've never collected my recipes nor gathered notes on them.

Also, I've seen very few reviews of stuff (like a certain vinegar-based weed killer) that simply doesn't work.  I find both types of commentary to be valuable. 

So lucky you. At least until I create a proper recipe system, I'm just going to chronicle recipes and notes here.  Unlucky for Five Boys' Mom's diet, today we made wild blackberry jam.

I chose this specific recipe (a new one for me) because you don't always get a nice round volume of berries when you pick your own fruit - I wanted one that could be easily adjusted for odd sizes.  Plus, since these blackberries are pretty tart, I wanted to go with sugar rather than honey as a sweetener.  This one fits the bill, so let's see what comes of it.

The recipe is simple:
  1. Combine x cups of wild blackberries with x cups of sugar.
  2. Boil it up to 220 degrees.
  3. Ladle the jam into hot jars.
  4. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Mission accomplished?
It really couldn't be simpler.  Lots of other recipes call for added pectin and/or a cooking time based on batch size.* For this one, I dropped 12 cups of ripe blackberries in 12 cups of sugar, mashed it up, and started boiling.  Half an hour later - *plink* *plink* - I hear the comforting sounds of lids snapping down.  Mission accomplished.

Or is it?  The first thing I noticed while cooking is that this jam is thin.  Gruel thin.  Getting the temp up to 220 doesn't take long, and most recipes want you to cook it down a bit to give the liquid some body.  The second thing I noticed is that when I pulled the jars from the canner, all the seeds were suspended in the top halves of the jars.  That's a hint that 10 minutes in boiling water did not change the consistency all that much.

But since I had a little left over, I poured it in a half-pint jar and popped it in the fridge to see if this concoction might thicken up a bit on cooling. It does, but not enough. The jam will stick to a cold spoon like crazy. But it's also pourable, like a thick syrup.  I mentioned in my post on strawberry honey jam that I like my jam thin.  But not this thin. All that complaining aside, I must note that it tastes freaking amazing.

So we have three options:
  1. Live with excessively thin jam**
  2. Re-cook it to a proper thickness, add some pectin, and re-can it
  3. Pretend it was supposed to be syrup all along.
Either of the last 2 is probably a winner, and I suspect that I'll ultimately split the difference, keeping the larger jars as syrup and re-canning the smaller ones as jam.  Good thing there are lots of berries left to pick, because we'll probably have the chance to try this again next weekend. With a new recipe, of course.

I'll let you know how it goes.

* 4 cups of berries seems to be the norm.
** And never give any of it away.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Where to Live XI - of Soil and Starvation

Hear the plaintive cry of the Ozark Prepper:
Missouriwannabe: Ozark soil gardening? Yeah, right. How in the world do I garden in this soil? I'm from central Illinois. Throw seeds on the ground here and you'll get perfect crops. I go down to our 40 acres in southern Missouri with my shovel and all I dig up is sand and rock. What can ya do to get those crops to grow down there?

holmeed: Beats me. I'm from Northern Ill and Wis and its terrible.

GraniteStater: Plant some trees instead. The soil in the Ozarks is not great for farming and gardening like it is in the Midwest core... 
One does not have to follow preppers for too long to learn that the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and northern Arkansas are an unparalleled bugout location.  They have a low population density, the area has minimal natural disasters,* and as the author of the just-linked article notes, it's a great place to be if the oceans rise.**  Alex Jones assures us that the Globalists(™) are all building their castles here because it's so perfect. And it is just about the only place in the central Midwest to receive Joel Skousen's top recommended rating. Surely this scientific consensus means it's a great place to relocate.

No, it's a terrible place.

Now even though I'm sitting at present right in the heart of the Ozarks, what I'm about to say does not apply only to this plateau but to anywhere you're considering as a bugout location an area suitable for strategic relocation. There is a general rule that is universally overlooked by people for whom geographic isolation trumps all other prep-related considerations: there is more to recovery than avoiding the initial disaster.

Harken back 100 years and ask yourself how the people lived in whatever area you're considering. The hillbillies Bald Knobbers people in the Ozarks were uniformly dirt poor and the entire area was subject to lawlessness, clan warfare, and eventually, waves of vigilantism. This desperate situation burned across the Ozark Plateau for 3 decades following the Civil War, and some of it well into the New Deal era.

Now expatriates from Nashville have discovered the beautiful Branson area and funded 30 years of capital improvements. New highways run through the mountains, beautiful cabins spring up behind gates and fences, country singers that everyone thought were dead open theaters on the main drag of a city that has tripled in population over that period.

Yet half of the children in this area still live in poverty. And there's a reason for that.  The Ozark plateaus are covered with thin, rocky, relatively poor soil that is subject to frequent droughts. Or, as MissouriWannabe discovered upon setting spade to his 40 acres: sing all you want, you still can't grow anything here.

The soil of the Ozarks is a matchless combination of limestone rock, clay, and sand.  If you want to live on pine cones and skinks, the Ozarks will suit you fine.  If you want to eat people-food for the rest of your life, you're going to have to implement one of two options:
a) move here today and get to work building your soil and your relationships.
b) plan to move somewhere else.
If you bug out to 40 pristine acres in SHTF, you're going to live a life just like the people of this land lived 100 years ago: nasty, brutish, and short, with vigilantes at your door and hookworms squirming in your stool. And you'll be surrounded by desperate, bitter, rickets-addled subsistence farmers who will treat you as an invader. Gold and silver will avail you nothing, for no one within hailing distance will have anything of value to trade you for it.***

No matter what area you choose to inhabit, you probably can't help how your neighbors live.  But you can help how you live.  Make sure the area you choose is self-sufficient in food - real food, not possums and wild mushrooms. Make sure the area you choose has markets or a way to move goods to and from them.  Finally, make sure the area you choose has the ability to produce wealth - food, mineral, metal, anything - because no matter the economy, the currency, and the politics that arise once the music stops, it is the production and trading of wealth that raises people out of their natural state of poverty.

The combination of geographic isolation, poor soil, and played-out lead mines just means the Ozark Prepper, even if all goes well, will die the richest rock farmer in his county. If you want to live better than that, now is the time to pick a better county.

* Other than the New Madrid Fault which could theoretically put an end to the Lake of the Ozarks Table Rock Lake by removing its dam.
** Though I am informed that one can drive there from New Orleans without much trouble.  
*** This is not a criticism of the Ozarks or its people - more than once this vacation I have gazed upon a beautiful mountain and said, I could live here. What's more, I meant it: this place is gorgeous and its residents are among the most friendly and genuine people you will ever meet. It is instead a criticism of those preppers who understand our present plight but expect that a last-minute geographical juke is all the planning they need to cope with it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Making Strawberry-Honey Jam

If it's June, then the junebearing strawberries are in full production mode.*  So what better time to get some of that bountiful harvest preserved before the garden really kicks in?  I can't think of any, so let's do this. 

1.  Start off with 6 pounds of strawberries, quartered.  If you let your strawberries really ripen, the jam will be smoother and sweeter, but I prefer to have a few chunks in mine, so I mix in a few underripe berries as well.  Not underripe as in white, just really firm and solid.

2.  Add 3 3/4 cups (3 pounds m/l) of honey.  Here's a place where you can experiment if you wish, as some people use a lot less honey and replace it with low-sugar pectin, fruit juice concentrate, and the like.  The more honey you add the less the result will resemble jelly. I like my jam to spread on thin.

3.  Toss in 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice.  Fresh-juiced lemon probably tastes the best, but I don't have any lemon trees so lemon juice from concentrate it is.  It works just fine.

This pot was not big enough.
4.  Add two apples, grated, including the skin but excluding the core.  I just grate the apples onto the top and then toss the cores into the chicken bucket; others use a blender to really smooth it out.  Some recipes demand Granny Smith apples - apparently they provide more pectin - but others aren't so fussy.  I tend to use Grannies because that's usually what I have in the house, but I really haven't noticed a difference using other apples.

5. Bring the whole thing to a rolling boil and then simmer it for about an hour.  You can go half that if you like; the jam is ready once everything is hot and mushy.  But the longer you cook it, the thicker the final product will be.  Once it's gone 30 minutes, I start the jars and whatnot. As soon as they are ready, I cut the boil. Don't forget to scrape the gunk off the top of the jam and toss it.

Mission Accomplished.
6. Slop the jam into smaller-than-quart jars leaving 1/4" - 1/8" headspace** then process it in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  I use my pressure canner and leave the lid off.  The jars don't need pressure and would not be in the water long enough to build it up anyway.

7.  Let them cool overnight then check the seals.  Any jar that doesn't seal properly needs to go in the fridge. If more than one seals improperly, you're doing it wrong.  Go back to Canning 101 before you kill somebody.

The above will probably take 2 hours max and should provide about 12 pints of strawberry-honey jam with no added sugar and no pectin.  That's about what it took me tonight even with the lovely and gracious Rogue making homemade burger rolls in the kitchen at the same time.

Strawberries aren't terribly messy, so cleanup is a breeze. And the girls really loved the still-hot jam on the fresh-baked rolls.   I'm actually lucky I had enough left for the pantry.

* Unless you're Giraffe, where June is spelled A-U-G-U-S-T.
** The chunkier it is, the more space you'll need. The smaller the jar, the less space.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Where to Live X - Asteroid Edition

Not actual size
Scientific American reckons the numbers of The Beast:
This Sunday (June 8), the near-Earth asteroid 2014 HQ124—which some observers have nicknamed "The Beast"—will give the planet a relatively close shave, coming within 777,000 miles at its closest approach, or about 3.25 times the distance from Earth to the moon...
That's cool.  Space is full of all kinds of stuff that flies by at really impressive speeds.  Those that will hit us will do some damage. Those that don't - which is nearly all of them - will go on their merry way and we on ours.  And unlike other items in our Where to Live series, there's really no place one can choose that will allow you to escape a giant space rock falling on your head.

But there's more to location than avoiding asteroids.*  There's also this:
Asteroid 2014 HQ124 was discovered on April 23, just six weeks ago... But that doesn't mean the asteroid would kill millions of people if it struck New York City or Tokyo.

"Once it's within radar distance, the precision is remarkably good on its position and speed," Boslough said. "So the folks at JPL [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] would be able to predict its impact point to within the nearest kilometer and its time to within the nearest second."

There would thus probably be plenty of time to organize an effective evacuation campaign if 2014 HQ124 were headed straight for us...
So think about that for a minute.  Let's imagine that The Beast was coming for the New York City Metropolitan Area's 19.9 million kind and selfless residents.  No doubt about it - the big brains at the JPL deduce that The City That Doesn't Sleep will receive its wake-up call on June 8th at 5:43EDT, just atop the Metropolitan Museum of Art in downtown Manhattan. The Beast will destroy everything in a 20 mile radius and damage every building, track, road and bridge in a 50-mile radius, above ground and below.

The lab coats make this discovery on May 15th, about three weeks before impact. Let's skip all the conspiracy theorizing and agree that our scientist heroes get the green light to publicly announce "23 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."** That's hardly 'an effective evacuation campaign.' That's where the fun begins.

As with every hurricane evacuation order, there are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who simply ignore it and choose to ride it out. There are others - including the Metropolitan Museum of Art - who will make multiple trips back and forth to Philadelphia, hauling stuff that is certain to be destroyed if they don't. For every person tasked with actually planning and implementing the evacuation, there is one politician who has to blame the President or the Speaker and three bureaucrats who need to preen before the cameras or cover their asses for something or other.*** There are fights over jurisdiction and squabbles over overtime. Chris Christie's staff decides to close a busy bridge for political gain to do a last-minute traffic study.

Then, of course, there are people who, having defied evac orders previously, try to escape at the last minute anyway.  They flood the highways, block the bridges. They run out of gas and the most inopportune times or in the most inconvenient places. They do not care that the truck behind them, clearly marked Metropolitan Museum of Art, is carrying the priceless Obelisk of Thutmose III; nor could they do anything about it even if they knew what an obelisk was.

That bridge full of screaming, crying New Yorkers is exactly where you don't want to be.  If The Beast is going to fall on my township in Bugout County, Kansas, I can get a hotel room 30 miles up the road and go about my business. I'd actually be closer to work. I might even have time to get all the stuff out of my basement before a 100m space rock takes up residence there. My little dirt road will see no more traffic than it normally does, unless it's from urban idiots coming to watch the show. Hell, I would not even expect CBS's New York affiliate to cover it.

This kind of evacuation is simply not possible in a city of a million, much less 20 million people. Yes, they have lots of hotel rooms nearby.  But they do not have nearly enough U-Hauls, storage areas, or even roads to deal with the millions of people who will evacuate while saving as much stuff as possible. Stomp an anthill some time - that's NYC with a 3-week warning that an asteroid is about to land on it.  It does not get any better if you give the resident ants more time.  And it gets worse if you give them less.

The real danger in an SHTF scenario, even one as seemingly random and unavoidable as an asteroid, is not that big rock in the sky.****  It is being in close quarters with millions of others who are going to attempt the same thing you are, at the same time, but in a state of absolute panic.  The odds are very good***** that some of you, maybe a whole lot of you, aren't going to escape.

Don't be on the last train out.

* I had to laugh at a USA Today article on the asteroid that noted, "although there's no chance of it hitting our planet, experts say its massive size makes it something to take seriously." Why would one take seriously a non-threat? Have you reviewed your unicorn invasion defense strategy today?
** Jonah could not be reached for comment.
*** Plus it will take time for Al Sharpton to figure out how a space rock can be raciss. And Alex Jones and Joel Skousen have to blame it on globalists who are building bunkers in the Ozarks for just this purpose.
**** Provided, obviously, that you have sufficient warning that it is coming. Without such warning, I'll be the first to admit it might be a concern.
***** by which I mean, "very bad".

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Potatoes in a Barrel, Update III

This will probably be the last Potatoes in a Barrel update until we dump the whole mess over in the fall and take inventory. After all, what is left to show?

The taters began at the bottom line on the barrel and the dirt is now about 4" from the top (I'll cap it off tomorrow, leaving only an inch or 2 between rim and dirt).

I have planted horseradish in the top. I did a straight transplant of a handful of full plants from the edges of the patch where a few precocious plants are wandering away from the rest of the group.  The full-size leaves withered immediately, so I sliced them all off. Within a week I had new growth, so the HR looks like it will grow there all summer. It will be interesting to see how the roots here compare to the roots in the regular patch.

The planned bush beans look like they will not make it here.  While I have some sprouted, the potatoes are far too full to allow much else to grow beneath them. So we'll have to find another place for the beans. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Distance is overrated

Joel Skousen on the Western Relocation Zone:
The area I have outlined is what is generally referred to as the Intermountain West and includes the Great Basin---that high desert plain between the Cascade/Sierra Mountains of Washington, Oregon and California over to the middle of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.  These two mountain ranges converge as they get further north and merge in Canada.  They provide a pretty formidable barrier for those coming from the West Coast or the Midwest.  In addition, the Great Basin has within its boundaries hundreds of miles of trackless desert and mountain areas that provide isolation by distance and hardship for anyone entering the area without vehicles, fuel and water. 
I wrote once, in a post lost in the conflagration of the former blog, that in a severe SHTF situation* most people will die within 10 miles of their homes. Lots of prepper blogs paint pictures based on the experience of Germany at the end of WWII, when hordes of Germans fled westward, devouring everything in their path, and they'll warn that the American prepper faces the same threat swarming out of our cities.  But there's a difference that makes all the difference: the Germans were fleeing an enemy marching from the east. Lacking that kind of specific directional threat, people will not willingly leave home.

People don't naturally bug out.  Unless they have an existing plan to reach someplace safe, they are going to remain in familiar environs until absolutely forced to leave.  In the meantime, they are going to drive from station to station looking for gas until the gas is gone. When the sun goes down they'll hide in their homes, using their camp lights until the batteries are gone. The vast majority will wait in place for help to arrive, because that's what help always does. Except under a true SHTF scenario, help never arrives - all that happens is that escape routes fill up with cars that are out of gas.  But it will take time for that reality to sink in.

A true SHTF scenario is the only situation in which a massive amount of distance between you  and this situation makes any sense.  After all, if the gas stations are open a person can drive from Dallas to Thunder Bay in about 20 hours.  I've driven from Vermont to Kansas in the same time.  So long as there's fuel for vehicles available, distance avails you nothing.  There's no safety within 400 miles of Boise or Caspar if the bad guys can fill up their Suburbans-O-Death there before heading to your house.

But if there's no fuel or if the main roads are blocked with cars,** then travel options are massively reduced, pretty much to cycles (motorized or not), horses, and foot. Given the limited number of the first available, I just do not see massive numbers of refugees pedaling their way west on I-70.  The second, limited in number as well, are already outside the cities.***  That leaves walking.

A person in military shape can march about 20 miles a day - that's the distance the Roman Legions covered as a matter of course.  Your average obese American, trying to carry water and food and household treasures, with children in tow, without appropriate footwear or a way to escape the weather or itinerant "toll collectors," could not do half that after the first day, even without the bridges blocked. They're not going to walk to Bakersfield from LA. They will give up within days and go back. Whether they make it is anyone's guess.

In short, if the disaster that makes people flee the cities is accompanied by plentiful gasoline for normal vehicles, even 500 miles - 25 mpg on a 20-gallon tank - is not far enough to avoid unpleasant visitors.  If the disaster removes the gas, 100 miles distance from danger areas is plenty.

Now, obviously, those are the opposite ends of a single spectrum. It's also possible and even likely that we would face a middle situation, one in which gas remains available for some but not others, perhaps via panic pricing or even government rationing. But mid-way cases do not change the calculus.  The government's going to have whatever gas is available - if you're afraid they're coming for you, you're not far enough away.  But if you're mostly concerned about hungry hordes of zombies, there's no need to head for the mountains of Utah. The average urban pov, the one who will suffer most from the immediate cessation of government services like water and power, will be the last to receive whatever shrinking supplies of gas are available.  Lacking a motorized means to escape the concrete deathtrap that is a darkened city, he will likely die in place unless the lights come back on within weeks, and maybe within days.

* I think the subject was an EMP that took out freaking everything, a situation I find extremely unlikely as a matter of warfare but far more likely as a matter of nature.  Which means I expect, if it hits us, we will have no warning whatsoever.
** Or if the sheriff's department of Bugout County Iowa blocks a bridge over the Mighty Miss, ensuring that wandering Chicagoans remain Illinois' problem. Bet you dollars to donuts it happens almost immediately.
*** Plus, most dazzling urbanites would have no idea what to do with a horse.  They might eat it, I guess.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Potatoes in a barrel, Update II

So I've added the first layer, which worked out to about 5" all told.  I also went heavier on the mulch than soil, not for any good reason, but because I needed all the soil for another project.  I don't think the taters will complain all that much.

At 5" every two weeks or so, by mid-June we should reach the top of the barrel. HR, bush beans, and marigolds will follow immediately.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Where to Live IX - Catastrophic Threats

In Soviet Russia, Yellowstone visits you

Russian academic Andrei Fursov turned a few heads this week with a cryptic insertion into the middle of an insightful talk on the troubles in Ukraine:
Of course, there is this Yellowstone threat - I mean the super-volcano. That could completely change the rules of play at any time. The super-volcano could solve for the Western elite the very problems which they've been trying to solve for the last 50-60 years and have been unable to. An eruption of the volcano could solve those problems. But that's another subject.
There actually is a monstrously enormous volcano beneath Yellowstone that I guess could completely change any rules at any time, especially should it dump 10' of ash on the American Midwest.  It would be catastrophic not just to the United States, but could conceivably drop the global temperature about 20 degrees on average and pretty much end the human project, not to mention AlGore's Global Warming Traveling Circus. It's a good thing scientists recently denied Yellowstone's eruption is imminent.*

But the Yellowstone caldera is a perfect example of the kind of threat that the prepper is wise to ignore. Not just push to the back of the line, but completely and utterly dismiss from the mind. The reasons for this are several:

1.  The caldera  explodes seemingly every 800,000 years, give or take.  Since we have 160,000 years until that number, the odds are pretty decent** that it will not happen before Christmas, even Christmas of 3000ad.  A threat with odds that low is not really a threat.

2. If the consequence of a threat is so large as to wipe out everyone, there is no point in prepping for it. Earth falling into the sun, moon falling into the earth, Scarlett Johansson falling for PeeWee Herman - if it's going to kill us all, then it's going to kill us all.  Make peace with God now and stop worrying.

3.  The miniscule odds of something catastrophic must give way before the decent odds of something very bad.  Yes, an eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera is sexier than a 7.5 on the New Madrid Fault or a human-to-human avian flu or even peak cheap oil.  But sexy should not direct our preparations; odds and offsets must.

4.  Yes, the Russians might nuke it or something.  Since no one knows what that would do, it cannot be prepared for and should be ignored.  The worse the result of the Russians nuking it, the more you should ignore it.

There's an old*** adage that goes something like, "If there's no solution, there's no problem."  The Yellowstone Caldera is the kind of threat that one cannot avoid, cannot negate, cannot offset, and will most likely not happen in 10,000 or possibly even 100,000 years.   Yes, it is potentially catastrophic, but not even Russian academics can make it relevant.

* Never believe anything until it is officially denied.
** I'll let Huck work them out. Maybe he'll even show I'm wrong.
*** If only because I say it and I'm old.  So it's old by association.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Potatoes in a Barrel, Update I

About this time next week, we'll add our first layer of dirt, probably with a little straw mixed in, as it's already extremely heavy when wet. Plus, I made a couple discoveries* that might change this science project as we test.

I have not been able to confirm the rumor that pole beans drive off potato beetles, so while we're going to plant some anyway once we add our last layer of dirt, we will be adding a couple other plants as companions as well.

Horseradish apparently provides pretty good protection from the bugs that harass potatoes, so I will be adding at least one of those, maybe more. That's easy since I now have two full patches of the stuff.

Marigolds deter beetles.  I've got marigolds everywhere this year - in fact, I'm hoping that it can become my replacement for Sevin dust.  I suspect that planting seeds might produce plants too late to be of use to my potatoes, so I'll have a few full-grown plants in waiting.  Hopefully next week I'll have a post that will reveal that strategy.

One item of note: I did not plant all of my potatoes in the barrel. Because there just wasn't enough room for them all, I dropped a few in a raised bed that was ready for seed.**  While the barrleeled potatoes took off almost immediately, the ones in the raised beds did nothing: so much nothing that I had forgotten I put them there until I accidentally dug them up today planting radishes over them.

* Or non-discoveries.  Science is not an exact science.
** I usually give my raised beds a couple weeks to sprout all their weeds before I hoe and plant.  Though after today, I have no more waiting for plants even though I still have plants to plant.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bugging out on $20 a day

By now y'all know I'm not a big fan of bugging out.*  That said, I'm not so clueless that I don't realize it's the only option for a very large number of people.  After all, though danger is where the people are, jobs are also where the people are.  So for many, if they want to pay their bills and raise their kids, they don't have a lot of choice but to live in an area they would flee were things different. And for most, a secluded cabin in the Ozarks that they visit once a year is just out of the question.**

Giraffe made a comment yesterday that I think is right on: Oil isn't just going to stop.  I would also argue that the dollar isn't just going to die, the lights aren't just going to go out, even the banking system is not going to collapse with no warning.  Though I live in a place and a way that (I think) could handle the new reality if those things happened, I don't think they are going to happen that way. They are, IMO, pretty long odds. So assume it's not going to happen out of nowhere.

But let's say we had 2008 again and rather than the Fed backstopping every bankrupt bank, automaker, and insurance company in the northern hemisphere, a high-ranking source in the Bundesbank leaked that the bloody Fed had sold all of their - German and American - gold to the Chinese while no one was looking. The euro dives, but the dollar does too while interest rates spike.  The Russians invade Ukraine and overrun half of it in a day, then threaten to sell ALL their natgas to China if Europe complains. The drought rages on, causing Phoenix, Las Vegas, and LA to strictly ration water.  A medium-sized earthquake near San Diego causes some minor but real damage to nuclear electrical generation, just as a record hot spell bakes the west. Rolling brownouts result, not just in California but all the way to Kansas. It's not TEOTWAWKI, but a lot of crap is piling up really quickly, and it looks like a few more straws are about to be loaded upon this tired old camel. It might be time to jump, or at least send the family someplace safe, at least for a while, and await events.  But to where?

I am happy to report that societal inertia is your friend.  Whatever happens in one geographic location, others gawk and talk but go about their business as best they can.  People go to work and grill brats and cut their lawns. They did during WWII, they did during 9/11, they did in 2008 while the Dow was losing 5% a day and deflation looked to be sucking the life out of commodities from oil to gold to FCOJ and when the Treasury Secretary was threatening Congress with tanks in the streets if they didn't cough up $700b for his Wall Street buddies.  You can expect that outside any physically affected area, life is going to go on pretty much as normal, and in small towns in rural America, people will talk about it but it won't affect them for a while.  And they have houses for rent. And they're cheap.   

You can rent a decent-sized house in small town America for literally $6k a year plus utilities.  If you can find a farmhouse where the owner is simply looking to monetize a house he doesn't need, you might be able to swing $4k for a year if you paid it all in one payment.***  They are not new houses. They are not even pretty houses.  But many of them are big houses with big yards in quiet places far from highways and close to farmer's markets. They are safe places with neighbors who are kind but not too close and not too needy.

If it looks like SHTF might be weeks away, if you are starting to dread what news you'll wake up to, if you are getting the feeling that you can't leave but the family must, consider finding a rental in a small town where your worries don't reach.  Rent it for a year or even 6 months if you can negotiate such a lease.  Send the family there to reconnoiter, to plant, to live. Send half your tools, a little gold, enough of the pantry to round out a small U-haul.  If after 6 weeks the world comes back to rights, you've spent a few grand and can look forward to some really great missing-you sex. If the world goes to pot, well, it's far easier to bug out alone than with hungry, scared kids in tow.

* Rather, I'm a fan of bugging out right freaking now. Getting while the getting's good, so to speak.
** Besides, with no one watching over it, there's no guarantee what you'll find when you arrive. 
***and in cash.