Saturday, December 31, 2016

Of seeds and stuff and Happy New Year

Doin' it right
Doin' it wrong

Long story short: If you fill up a sealed plastic container with seeds and place an oxygen inhibitor in them, they will probably mold and rot over the course of a year.  Why? I have no idea. They just will. Or at least, they did.

If you save a bazillion seeds in an open gallon bucket, they will probably be fine.  Again, I have no idea why. It just works out that way. And I will have 80 botrillion marigolds next year, just wait and see.

And speaking of the new year-- and hideous post formatting aside - a happy new year to you and yours.

This is the time of year where I normally forecast doom and hope for the best. Being as how I am already well into my new year's allotment of rum and Coke, I will instead just hit the latter.

I really hope Trump can make America great again.  If I thought that such a thing was possible, I would have supported his campaign much more.  If I thought that the simple secret to American awesomeness was coercing corporations into preserving union jobs here in America, I would have been a Democrat from the 1960s up until they began to pretend that "trans" was a thing. It's not.* And Democrats have literally nothing to offer America but various ways for it to become not-America. Thanks, but no. Still, the GOP selects Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to leadership, proving they have no interest in American greatness either.

But as last year I offered divers and sundry prognostications to prove that I am not-a-prophet, it's rather expected that I will do the same in currentYear(), even if such prognostications would assuredly get me banned from alt-right sites across the fruited plain.

That being the case, let's do this:

What I expect in 2017, inebriation edition:

1) Obama's going to shit in our nest, but it will all come to naught.  There's been this meme floating around to the effect that, "as soon as you realize that Obama is not on America's side, everything he does makes sense." And I have unfairly ignored it for too long. Still, there is little one President can do that cannot be undone by the next. Maybe if Congress had not worked so hard to empower the executive; but alas, they have. So Trump trumps Obama. And that's fine.

2) The BLS will continue to publish fake statistics. And if you are sure government statistics are fake, a lot of other conclusions are simplified. Does Trump have the integrity to force his government to raise reported/official unemployment? I doubt it. Trump is pretty non-ideological, all told. And truth is an ideology.

3) We will not go to war with Russia. While triggered pajama boys across the fruited plain find this unacceptable, I actually revel in it.  But are we going to war with China over Taiwan? That's more difficult and more personal, as I have a daughter and grandsons there. I hope not. But you never know.

4) Globalism will be rolled back. Nationalism is on the ascendancy, especially in Europe. It will continue to win, and this is in general a good thing. That does not mean nothing bad comes of it.

5) The EU is hosed.

6) The alt-right disappears. Lots of reasons for that, most of which are based in the fact that it is a hashtag and little more. I have not heard a single person IRL identify as Alt-Right, and in a year without elections, I do not expect that to change.

7) Secession disappears.  Because I expect Trump to change nothing of consequence, I do not expect any state to seriously consider secession.

8) As for markets, there is a Dow crash coming and a bond crash (rising rates) coming. Do they come in 2017? Sure, what the hell? They have to happen some time.

All that said, I wish each of you a Happy New Year, safe in your assumptions and investment designations. And may 2017 trigger those who hated 2016, providing enough  nervous energy to boil a million lobsters. Or at least enough for me to gorge myself thereon. Because I live in the Midwest, where beef and (white) crappies rule. And I really like lobster.

* Celebrating sexual confusion is not a winning long-term strategy for any civilization.

Monday, December 26, 2016


I've found (sh)it!
Brown gold.

As you might imagine, one of the problems with running an ever-increasing number of raised beds is finding an ever-increasing amount of organic matter to fill them with.  Now, a brand new 2'x2'x1' bed is not so bad - that's about 4 5-gallon buckets of stuff, or a couple wheelbarrow loads. My chickens can produce that with ease.

But the Lovely and Gracious Rogue's newest bed is a different matter altogether, damanding more than 60 cubic feet to fill.  That would probably take the hens all winter*, even assuming I had that volume of leaves and paper shred for them to work with. Plus we have another bed in the planning stage that will be dedicated to flowers.**

And that's in addition to the mundane topping off of all the other beds.  Those 40 pounds of potatoes or 50 pounds of tomatoes are not made out of sunshine alone.  If you take a lot out of the beds, you've got to put a lot back in. 

The chicken composter and the compost cage are obvious ways to address that issue. And I have talked with a neighbor who has horses about hauling away some of his spare. But the problem there is that horses are famous for leaving seeds in their manure. This leads to a weedy fate I try to avoid if possible, which is why it has not proceeded past talk.

But I made an awesome discovery today that will cover this year and next, and maybe the year after that.  I have a different neighbor who runs steer in my north field about 9 months a year***. And that neighbor also occasionally drops a round bale on the edge of the woods. In fact, it turns out that he drops bales in the same place year after year, and the cattle stand around it and eat and crap and stomp.  So when I checked it out today I found a couple hundred cubic feet of rotted manure, mixed with straw that had been chopped by many hooves and lay open to weather for months and years.  There's probably 30 wagon loads all told, certainly enough to cover all of my foreseeable needs, even if it never gets added to.

So my mom dropped me a note to ask what I did this day-after-Christmas. I told her I spent the morning shoveling shit and could not have been happier about it.  Most people would think that weird. But she's a gardener, so she understood.

* they are back on eggs as well.  We got 5 today between 8 hens.
** and not just pretty annuals.  I'll be sneaking in a couple of medicinal herbs/flowers like feverfew and Kansas snakeroot (purple coneflower) that, in addition to looking pretty, grow a marketable product.
*** All I do up there is fish the pond, which has some monster crappies in it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Chicken Composter, loud edition

Nobody home
So anyway, after pulling about 70 gallons of composted win out of the coop last weekend, and since the ladies need something to do since they are not laying eggs, I figured it was time to give them some more leaves and shredded paper and the like to compost.

So I grabbed about six trash cans full of leaves from beneath the Lovely and Gracious Rogue's oak wall out front; the kind of leaves that crunch and crumple and that kids love to destroy big piles of.  And I dumped them all in and spread them about, while the ladies clucked and fussed and hid in the nesting boxes. Then I headed up to the house for about 15 gallons of shredded paper I was going to add to the mix.

When I came back, there were no chickens in sight. And there is that moment of panic where you wonder if you left the door open and they all ran out and got eaten by coyotes, or you wonder if you accidentally buried them all alive. You know the feeling. It turns out that they were all roosted in the rafters.  I'm not sure if I freaked them out while adding the leaves, or if the leaves are too loud, or if by covering up all the crap and pin feathers they are used to walking on I made them feel not-at-home. But for the rest of Saturday they were content to sit 12' above their beautiful new floor, clucking quietly.

They have to come down eventually. All that yummy cracked corn* I gave them to make up for it isn't going to eat itself.

* They actually get a mix of lay rations, hen scratch, crushed oyster shell, and deer corn, as well as all of our kitchen scraps**.  My hens are spoiled brats.
** Except egg shells, which go in the trash.  I don't want them to acquire any bad eating habits, if you know what I mean.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Muh beak!

Not so tasty as the real thing.
The frantic egg-laying season is about over*. My eight (no so) young ladies are now producing about 2 eggs a day between them. But all this time off from the hard work of production doesn't mean they don't get hungry, or thirsty, or bored, or whatever it is that drives them to punch a hole in someone else's egg and stomp around in the golden goodness found therein.

I have a solution for that, however. Pictured at the right is not an egg, but an egg-sized, egg-shaped egg-looking piece of Lake Superior granite, painted to look even more like an egg.  I put it in the nesting boxes, where one or two good pecks ought to break this nascent pecking habit.

If one of my ladies turns up with a bent beak and a migraine this week, we'll know who the culprit was.

* One could extend egg season by the simple act of adding a timed light to lengthen the "daylight" hours inside the hen house.  But I find we still have enough eggs even during the low production months.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The accidental gourds

Veggie tales.
So anyway, I was working over the long holiday to layer-cake the lovely and gracious Rogue's new raised bed.  You know, a layer of leaves then a layer of grass compost.  A layer of leaves and a layer of chopped ivy.  A layer of leaves...

But while emptying out the compost cage to transfer a couple wheelbarrow loads of yummy goodness to the bed, I happened to notice a bird house gourd* hanging in a nearby fence. Then another, then a few more.  All in all there were about a dozen of them, bigger than last year's purposely-grown ones, none with any bug damage at all, just waiting for me to dig through the Jerusalem artichoke stalks and pick them.

The thing is, we actually grew some last year on purpose.  And a few actually made it to what passes for young adulthood for gourds, while the rest were destroyed by the Squash Bug Panzer Divisions.  So I had tossed the survivors into the barn to dry them and when they rotted instead, I tossed them into a pile behind the compost cage. While I forgot about them, they did not forget about growing a bounty of damage-free veggies for me to give away to my sister-in-law for her art class.  It's a win-win all around, except that I won't do that again, because I really have no use for gourds.

Instead, I dropped a couple of pumpkins back there, covered them with weeds and ivy, and we'll see what, if anything, grows next year.

* a functional name if there ever was one, as they are not much for eating but are just fine for various craft projects, including making Section 8** bird houses.
** Birds move in as soon as the paint is dry and the house is destroyed within a year.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Blackberry bed, v 2.0

Make the back yard great again
So anyway, a couple years ago I tore down a raised bed that ran along the south side of one of my barns.  It was about 30' long and 3' (one and a half cinder blocks) wide, and 2 blocks high.  It never really produced anything, for the simple reason that it sat beneath the roof edge in such a way that most of the rain landed outside it. And I'm too lazy to water*.

However, tearing it down left a really convenient spot for piling toys, pieces of siding, empty dog food bags**, you know, all the stuff you really don't want to look at from the relaxing comfort of your sun room. And the lovely and gracious Rogue has been making noises about planting more flowers next year. So a new raised bed needed to be added. And that's the best available spot.

There are a few things I did differently with this one than the last, failed bed.  First off, it's deeper and wider, so it should catch more water and should hold moisture a little better.  I've also added one of those "half barrel" water collectors to the house downspout nearest this bed, so each rain should provide about 30 gallons of water to be used at that bed's convenience. Then I added cardboard to the bottom, theoretically to stop the weed growth from beneath***.  But since it's 3-4' deep, in reality it's unnecessary; weeds aren't going to grow through that much soil. Today I filled it with leaves and will add grass compost and other rottables that should make it plantable by spring.  It might not be full, but something will be growing there.  Maybe cilantro again, which I really missed this year. Maybe Indian corn. Who knows?

But I also added something beneath the cardboard that I should have been using the whole time: a double layer of chicken wire, laid between dirt and cardboard.

One of those odd things I've always noted in planting is that I have mole runs in my raised beds. You reach in to plant something and woah, there's no dirt beneath the surface.  Or you water and it all runs through, soaking nothing.  There's a series of tubes, a virtual internet of nothings running through all the beds.  And why not? I work hard to create an environment in which worms thrive, and moles eat worms.  Eventually they are going to find the happy hunting grounds and make lots of convenient access tunnels.  Hopefully a couple layers of chicken wire overlapping will make such a banquet unaffordable.

If that doesn't work, you can probably look forward to another post about the antics of Digging Dog, the Anti-Farmer and inhumer of cattle femurs, who thinks the best way to catch moles is to remove the environment in which they live.

* That's not technically correct. While I am lazy, the Catch 22 for me is that I'm on a cistern well, not a deep well.  So in those times where it is most necessary for me to water the garden, my water supply is at its lowest, and much more needed in a house with 7 kids and all the dishes and clothing that go therewith.
** and a deck, seriously.
*** Really I just had a buttload of cardboard to get rid of, and beneath 4' of dirt is a good place to get rid of it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

So who's gonna win?

Trump leads in Nevada and Iowa, FWIW
I don't know.  And the reasons I don't know are two:

1) I don't know how much my own desire overrides my analysis, and
2) I don't know who I want to win.

Oh, I voted for Trump, and I would love nothing more than to fall asleep tomorrow night to the dulcet sounds of MSNBC anchors weeping. I would love to see the Clintons hauled off in chains, the Bushes humiliated, the very cogs of the political establishment smashed to pieces.

But I'm also sympathetic to Huck's argument that a Hillary victory gets us through hell faster by driving headlong into it, as well as Kunstler's argument that only with a Hillary victory will the right (left) people take the blame when this whole political/economic facade collapses.

Do I want to be ruled by an Osirian blood cult in the hopes that people will throw them out after the collapse, or would I rather throw them out tomorrow and hope that the collapse - which is coming just the same - doesn't bring them back?  I don't know.

I have prayed for two things out of this election: that God's will be done, and that the result be a blowout.  And I'm not sure that those two prayers are compatible.  For there are certain things coming that may be hurried by the election being tied in the electoral vote, then tied in the courts, then maybe thrown to the House.  Is it God's will that all of federal government legitimacy be completely destroyed by lawyers?  As far as I know, it could be. Judgment is like that.

However, I do have an inkling of who the pros think (not say, think) is going to win, based not on my own analysis of phony polls* or my double-minded wishes, but on an objective measurement: what the candidates did yesterday.

A month ago, Hillary was taking 5 days a week off and campaigning in deep red states like Missouri.  Yesterday Trump, Pence, Hillary, Bill, and Obama all campaigned in Michigan. Michigan that no one ever had Trump competitive in. Deep blue, safe, voted-Democrat-six-times-in-a-row Michigan.

Given the assumption that candidates personally campaign where it will do them the most good at the time, the fact that both candidates and all of their surrogates were in deep blue Michigan yesterday tells me that Michigan is in play. And if Michigan is in play, so are other not-so-blue states, and Trump is probably going to be your next president.

We'll know tomorrow night by 9:00 central time.  If Trump wins New Hampshire or especially Virginia, you're probably going to see a Trumpslide.  If he loses North Carolina or Georgia, it's probably going hard the other way.  If things go as the map says above**, it's going to be a very long winter.

* LA Times has Trump up by 5, ABC has Hillary up by 5.  They cannot both be correct, and ergo at least one of them - and every other poll with results close to that one - is phony. The problem is that you cannot really know which one.
** Because there's one thing the map doesn't note: Maine divvies up its electoral votes by congressional district, and Trump is leading in district #2.  Give him one of Maine's votes and it's 269-269.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Winter is coming

Well, autumn is here anyway.
It's the most wonderful time of the year
The weather was perfect, and looking forward to a bit of a chill, so this turned out to be the weekend where almost all of the garden got pulled up.  There are still some radishes and other cold weather stuff, along with, ironically, Rogue's tomato bed that froze out last spring. It's still going like crazy.

But the (few) peppers are on their last legs and I need some of the beds for garlic, so I ended up picking a bunch of stuff whether it was ready or not.  Having already canned enough salsa and spaghetti sauce to get thru 2018, I brought the overage in to work for those who are not blessed with such a bounty. If I get another load this week, it'll go to church.

I modified the chicken composter a bit, or rather, what goes into it.  No more grass or other things with seeds.  Two weeks after spreading the last load, I had a nice new lawn growing in a couple of the beds. It seems the chickens don't eat grass seed, or at least not as much of it as I had expected.  So I've gone heavier on leaves and shredded paper, and this weekend they rewarded me with about 40 gallons of hi NI compost for the beds.  I added it mostly to beds that will sit all winter, as I'm not sure yet if the compost is still too "hot" to grow in immediately. But I'm sure a nice wet winter will take the edge off of it.

Be that as it may, here's to hoping we get a normal Kansas winter, and not the kickoff of a Maunder Minimum style mini ice age. Our little star's spot production has been pathetic as of late, and that's historically correlated with the kind of weather that results in lots of hungry and angry people.  And not just climate change cultists trying to explain how global warming causes the Mississippi River to freeze over. In Louisiana.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Huck's endorsement

This is going to hurt you a lot
more than it's going to hurt me.
While I've said who I'm voting for and why, there are plenty of reasons I'm not endorsing a candidate. The biggest one is that I have enough trouble being responsible for my own decisions; I'll be damned if I'm going to take moral responsibility for yours.

That said, Huck is apparently happy to tapdance where angels fear to tread, and so his endorsement for el presidente que termina can be found here.

Read it and grab your pitchfork. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tomato Day

Last batch a-steamin'
The weather is cooling, which means that it's now possible to spend a day in the kitchen, with steam coming up everywhere, without making the two top floors of the house unlivable.  And as I like to can in big groups and get it over with*, today was the day to can up the 50-some pounds of tomatoes I gathered over the summer.

Now, you would think that scalding and then cooling and then peeling 50# of tomatoes would be an enormous pain in the rear. And you would be right. The cool water never stays cool and so you have to keep adding ice, and the hot water never stays hot so you have to wait after every load, and the scalded tomatoes are hot enough to burn your hands but seemingly not hot enough to allow a good peel.  It's a huge pain every time. Which is why even though that's how garden tomatoes are "supposed" to be processed, that's not the way I do them.  There's a much easier way: freeze them first.

All through the summer, as tomatoes come off the vine, every one that cannot be eaten fresh - which is 90% of them- gets dropped in the freezer. Once it's frozen, it gets put in a 1-gallon freezer bag.  Once the bag is full, it gets moved to the chest freezer downstairs until this special day.

Then when it's time to make salsa and spaghetti sauce, I bring all the bags up and spread the frozen tomatoes all over the counter. When the "frost" melts, the tomato is about 1/4 thawed - mushy on the outside but still kind of frozen on the inside. Time to core it and slide the skin off. Unlike scalded tomatoes, the skin usually comes off in one piece. Then I chop it up, and since the tomato is still mostly frozen, the juice doesn't get all over the place, either.  Once I have a pot full, it's time to get the blender or the mix or whatever I'll be using to make whatever I'm making.

Today it was a case + of pasta sauce and two cases of salsa. That should last a year, which is a good thing. Because not only am I out of tomatoes, with all the pear and applesauce canning Rogue has been doing, I'm out of pint jars as well.

Of course, I could always go buy more. First world problems, FTW.

Enjoy them while they last.

* unlike the lovely and gracious Rogus who, due to her other, louder responsibilities, prefers more and smaller batches.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hillary's Body Double

So much for "sleuths":
Clinton canceled a campaign fundraising trip to California scheduled for Monday and Tuesday in order to rest and recover, but when she appeared smiling and healthy following a visit to her daughter Chelsea’s apartment to rest up on Sunday. Online sleuths found it odd that she was not surrounded by secret service to both protect her and help her in case she fell ill again.
If Hillary cancelled a fundraising trip, then you know her ailment is far more serious than walking pneumonia*. And if she really emerged alone, and walked around alone - as in "the Secret Service was not around" - well, that might just be grist for the conspiracy mill. I even read one wag who noted - probably quite correctly  - that the Secret Service could not guard a fake Hillary. Their absence was therefore proof that we are seeing one.

That said,  Sometimes it helps to take a wider angle:
Here's Hillary being ragdolled into her hearse at 9:30a.  Note the people marked Agent 1 and Agent 2.

Here's Hillary at 1:00p emerging from Chelsea's apartment building:
Pretty sure that's those same two people on the left.

So, why is it that she "appeared" alone in the press pictures?  No doctor, no handler, no SS?  Because it's a managed press event, designed to make her look strong and not at all sick** for the benefit of all you proles.  She got cleaned up, some new makeup, newly-fixed hair, waddled*** out, waved, and waddled away. The very picture of health. Or so you're supposed to believe.

Until next time.

UPDATE: So what is it?

I suspect it's some sort of a neurological attack that a) she can feel coming, and b) lasts less than an hour. When she feels the first tremors, it's time to boogie (or not come back), when it's over, it's over.  Except that it seems to be getting worse. What does that add up to? I have no idea.

* Besides, what kind of a person would go to her grandchildrens' house or hug a young girl while suffering from pneumonia?
** Remember, this was done when the story was still "overheated in the 75 degree morning" and not "pneumonia."
*** Notice her foot placement - wide-set and spread to keep her from shaking/wobbling.  If this is a stunt double, it's a very ill one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

No iron horse for you

There has long been some doubt about El B's heritage, on both sides.  My mother's father claimed to have been left on the doorstep of a nice French couple in Canada, and the family long wondered if he was part Indian.  My father's father gave up genealogy when it looked like he was getting too close to the reservation*.  So I decided to settle the issue once for all, for 99 measly dollars.

The results are in: Europe 100%

Eastern Europe 29%
Ireland 24%
Western Europe 15%
Great Britain 12%
Scandinavia 7%
Finland/Northwest Russia 5%
Iberian Peninsula 5%
Italy/Greece 3%

The Slavic plurality is no surprise - since Loretta Mary Galinski's family got off the boat from Poland, I figured that number would be high.

Still, there are a couple of surprises:

The Celt overachieves at 24%, since I only knew of one Irish branch and it's about 5 generations back. 

Western Europe underachieves in a big way. Really big. Since Mom's half French and half German** and Dad has French in his line, I expected a number over 50% rather than a sorry little 15%.  Some of the Germanic could have bled over into the Polish, but the French had to be either Normans, refugees from one of the various Irish diasporas, or bleedover Iberians and Latins. Who knows? 

In any case, one legend is laid to rest: old El B is just as Indian as Senator Warren.

* And he gave up his bagpipes 8-tracks once he discovered he was not Scottish.
** Allegedly. There is now some room for discussion.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Of Ruffed Grouse and Voyageurs

Say, "fromage"!
So anyway, the girls and I visited the Folle Avoine Historical Park over last weekend. I highly recommend it if you happen to find yourself near Danbury, Wisconsin, for some reason. Well-designed and interesting little attraction with a couple of museums and a very nice blacksmith who gave my dad a fire steel for free.  But the coolest thing was the reconstructed fur post, which was actually two fur posts - one from the Northwest Company, one from the XY Company - that were built literally 90 feet from one another*. In these posts, Voyageurs - Frenchmen usually from Quebec - picked up Algonquin wives and traded trinkets and tools for furs and meat with their new families.  At the end of the trading year, they'd load it all up into 90-lb packs for the walk/ride back to Canada, only to come back next year and do it again.

The fur post might have been the coolest thing I saw, but it was not the strangest. That honor belongs to a plucky little ruffed grouse who made his home along a 1000-year-old portage between the Brule and St. Croix Rivers.  My dad and I were walking the trail when this runt jumps out and starts strutting and fanning in front of me like he's some old, proud tom turkey.  Now for those of you who don't know, a ruffed grouse is a game bird that weighs about a pound, maybe a pound and a half. I used to hunt them when I lived in Minnesota - they never strutted but they would loudly burst out of the snow behind you and fly away, and by the time you caught your breath from the scare they were safely buried somewhere else.

So here's this little turkey about the size of my fist spreading and strutting and squawking until I stop for a look, then he flops off into the brush and continues to make a racket.  My best guess is that he was probably trying to distract me from a nearby nest. I'm not sure if male grouse do that sort of thing, but I was certain he was trying to get my attention, and just as certain he expected me to follow him. At least for a little while.

Sorry, bird, I've got more important things to do.  Like thank God I don't have to lug a birch bark canoe across 17 miles of northern wilderness to get to work like the Voyageurs did**. 

* I suppose it's not unlike Taco Bell following McDonald's around and building one of their own restaurants as close as possible.
** One the way back, Dad and I passed a mother black bear standing on the side of the road with her three cubs in tow. I am also thankful that she was not on the trail, nor trying to attract my attention.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Mint mulch

Looking for one bigass mojito
Almost a year ago, bob k. mando gravely informed me that I had no need to weed the mint bed. As long on wisdom as he is short on capitalization, his advice proved correct. That mint has now managed to strangle out everything else in a 20' x 10' contained area. And not only the Johnson grass I was weeding, but the flowers and decorative grasses the lovely and gracious Rogue originally planted there.

From 20 cuttings that I transplanted a year ago, I now have 200 square feet* of chocolate mint. That's just in front. In back I have a (much) smaller collection of peppermint, spearmint, sweet mint, and lemon balm. It's a heck of a lot of mint leaves. The question is now: what to do with it?

While the mint is currently used for mojitos and menthol baths, and while I'm eying a really nice essential oil distillery that will convert some of it into a salable product, there still remains the question of what to do with the rest of it. I have a ton of mint, and I'd love to put it to good use.

Luckily, I came across an idea tonight that I had never considered:
Mint is beneficial to the growth of beets, cabbage and tomatoes. The leaves of mint used as a mulch for these crops help to keep away cabbage moths, aphids, ants and flea beetles... Leaves or small sprigs of fresh mint can repel mice and ants. Scatter the leaves or sprigs of mint in any place where you want to repel these household pests. The scent is repelling to them and they stay away from it.
Now, I have comfrey planted for a vaguely-similar purpose. It's one of those plants that sucks tons of nutrients up from the subsoil and stores them in its leaves. Drop the picked leaves in your raised bed and as they rot those nutrients provide a felicitous cuisine for your tomatoes and peppers. I don't like commercial fertilizers, and spreading comfrey leaves in the beds is just one more way to avoid them.

But I hadn't considered dropping fresh mint leaves into the beds to repel ants and such. And I'm not even sure it will work, or if it does, how well.  But everything is worth one shot, so tonight I cut about a 5 gallon bucket full of mint stalks** and spread them thickly in one bed full of peppers and another full of tomatoes. In one case they'll actually be a mulch, as they are covering bare ground. In the second, if they accomplish anything, it will be to repel aphids with their smell and oils.

After discussions with my bride, I plan to give Rogue's strawberry patch a good covering tomorrow.  Maybe it'll do good, and I'll reduce weeding and ant damage with little work on my part. Maybe it'll kill everything dead and I'll have to replant in July.  But since this mint has no seeds*** and spreads by root, I'm pretty sure I won't end up with 400 cubic feet of mint leaves in the yard.

But even if it did, there are worse problems than having a key ingredient of mojitos and relaxing baths growing all over the place...

* or 200 cubic feet even, given that it's a foot tall. The spearmint out back is even taller.
** actually removing the leaves from the stalks would take more time than any normal person has to spare.
*** But man do I have a busload of sage seeds drying. With the right equipment I could turn the whole state purple.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bionic Raspberry Chronicles II - The Jammening

Note the consistent distribution of seeds
The quest for the world's simplest jam recipe continues, though it may have reached a conclusion here:

1) 6 cups of raspberries* and 3 cups of sugar.
2) Mash 'em up and boil them hard for 5 minutes and soft for 20.
3) Seal them in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

It's a bit sour, tbh. Most raspberry jam recipes - and most berry recipes in general - are more on the order of 1 part berries to 1 part sugar.  But this one boiled up just fine and gelled just fine** and it tastes really freaking good on a fresh Bisquick biscuit.

So now that we have passed proof of concept I'll probably can another 8 or 12 half-pints tomorrow.  Because, yeah it's good. And because man cannot live on apple jelly alone, or so I've read.

* the original recipe calls for 5 cups of "perfectly ripe" raspberries and 2.5 cups of sugar, but whatevs. Canning is a rather forgiving science so long as you don't double or triple the batch.
** Though one of the 4 half pints didn't seal I suspect that's on me and not on the recipe.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bionic raspberry chronicles

Someday, Lad,
all this will be yours...
We always had a raspberry patch when I was a kid.  I remember* it being a 10'x20' area filled with singular, spindly stalks, attached to one side of the 'real' garden, that produced berries that I don't remember ever actually eating. But I must have eaten some of them, for I've always wanted raspberries here.  I just could never grow them.** Until last year.

Over the years I've bought and planted a number of raspberry plants, usually on a whim, and usually within a year or two of tearing out the dead stalks of the last raspberry plants that never produced anything for me.

Two years ago I splurged and purchased four at once, which I planted in a circular raised bed in back.  Three of them promptly died. No surprise there.  But like Swamp Castle, the fourth one stayed up. 

It was just a spindly little thing at first. No fruit, but transplants seldom produce their first year anyway. And I was just glad the pathetic thing survived the summer.  I was sure it would not survive the winter. But it did, and how.  Last year it went crazy, overrunning the whole raised bed, crowding out everything else in it but a couple of ragweeds.  No berries in evidence again, but now that I had a raspberry plant that seemed well-adjusted to the yard I could be patient.

This year it's back, twice as big, and sending suckers everywhere. I've already dug and replanted almost a dozen of them along one fence line that I hate to mow, and they seem to be taking to the place like crazy.  And wow do I have berries.  I picked just over a quart in about 20 minutes this afternoon, and it looks like in a few days I'll have at least another.

Which is all I need to make this really simple raspberry jam I found last week. Given the volume of strawberry-honey I put up last week and the leftover apple, cherry, and blackberry in the pantry, if I can get a case of raspberry half-pints, I might be done with jam for this year before the summer even officially kicks off.

Which reminds me: Five Boy's Mom, if you need some tomato plants, I have a dozen foot-tall plants here that I can give you tomorrow.  I have about 30 planted and have no room for any more. Leave me a note if you're interested.

* This doesn't mean that's actually how it was, only that this is how I remember it.  My mom's memory is sure to differ.
** Thus they joined rhubarb, blueberries, and a few others in the Might-Have-Been club.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Why do 10 minutes of research

The Fab 5
When you can do 5 months of experimentation?

So anyway, because of the bounty of 2015's Onion Sunday, I ended up last fall with a few onions that we didn't get to eat before they started growing again.  Rather than just chop them up, I decided to re-plant them*.

So I picked one of the new 2x2 raised beds, planted them in, and covered them with fallen leaves.  The results surprised me, though they probably should not have.

Onions are members of the garlic family**. And when planting garlic you bust up a bulb and plant the individual cloves. Those cloves then grow into a bulb made up of cloves, which can again be individually planted. This process continues until there is nary a vampire in your entire county.

But I did not expect the onions to react the same way, mostly because an onion is not obviously made up of cloves. But they did react the same way, with each re-planted onion breaking into 4 or 5 smaller clove-like onions, still connected at the root but with individual shoots coming out of the ground.

While, or maybe because, they are not as large as my 2016 Onion Sunday hopefuls, I harvested them today to make this green pepper / mushroom / onion stir fry fix for tomorrow's Mother's Day burger extravangaza. Packed in as they were, I'm not sure they would have grown much bigger than the egg-sized Siamese quintuplets they had become.

Plus, even though I doubled the bed space, I don't have enough. And I have bush beans**** that have been waiting patiently for a place to call their own.

* I had just planted my fall garlic and was in a planting mood. 
** Or garlic is a member of the onion family, or they are both members of the same family***, whatever.
*** Much like humans are not descended from apes but humans and apes allegedly are descended from a common ancestor that is neither human nor ape. Whatever.
**** After tasting my mother's bush-style Blue Lakes and comparing them to the vine-style Blue Lakes that have been in my freezer all winter, I have switched over to bush beans.  Better-tasting, but demanding of more bed space.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chicken composter, part deux

Five-gallon buckets of win.
About 8 weeks ago I mentioned a new experiment I was about to undertake: the Chicken Composter. The idea, in short, was to let the chickens do the continuous mixing that is a requirement of a hot* compost pile.  You add carbon and moisture, they add nitrogen and energy.  The result, in theory, is a coop floor with lots of good compost beneath it. Everybody wins.

I can now testify that it works.  This was the weekend I was supposed to finish filling up the lovely and gracious Rogue's new raised beds.  And because I had not purchased a dumptruck full of topsoil or anything equivalent, I had planned to spend some time digging around the south pond** to acquire enough dirt to top them off. Then I remembered the chicken house.

Much to the hens' annoyance, I was able to pull enough awesome compost from their floor to finish Rogues' beds, the area around the cuke ladder, the oregano bed, and even the 2'x2' raised beds that are currently half-planted with garlic.  And that was just scraping the top 6" aside and talking the next 12" in a 30 square foot area.  There's plenty more where that came from, but for the first time in a long time, I don't have a single bed that could use more compost at the moment.

I have a few 'holes' around the raised beds that will get filled with compost for companion plants, and once the garlic is done I'll be deep-composting 100+ square feet of beds for the tomatoes and peppers.  I have no worries about where that will come from.  I still have a traditional pile and a compost cage.  But for now, the hens are prioritized to receive as much rottable carbon as I can generate.

The only potential downside - and we shall learn its effects very quickly I'm sure - is to what extent weed seeds survived the process.  Since I was heavy on shredded paper and leaves, I don't expect too much trouble.  But sometimes, creation baffles exceeds our expectations.

* That's the one everyone teaches, probably because it's fast.  It's also too much work for me in the volumes my garden demands, so I work very hard to find easier solutions.
** which is not a pond and never really was.  There's a dam there, and water, but in the wettest seasons the water is 30' across and a foot or two deep.  In drier times, the dirt is 30' across and who knows how deep. I was prepared to find out.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Last frost is a doozy

One green soldier rides away.
At least I hope it was the last frost.

So anyway, the lovely and gracious Rogue planted some tomatoes in the new raised bed last week. While I hadn't planned to put any in until nearly June*, she picked up a few Romas on the cheap and after hardening them off properly, measured them out and dug them in.

Unfortunately, the weather prophets got Friday night's numbers wrong by 10 degrees: instead of a low of 40, we woke up Saturday at 30 degrees and with a 5-for-6 killing frost.

But the forecast for the next 2 weeks looks good and hope springs eternal, and I see there's a really good sale on Romas down at the local farm store...

* The back tomato beds are currently full of garlic, so I have just started my tomato seeds and will transplant them at 6-8 weeks.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Spring Re-planting

Oregano and parsley, living together. Mass hysteria!
I mentioned before the self-contradiction of planting perennials in that brand of cinder-block raised bed designed to be temporary.

It makes no sense from a bed standpoint, as you don't want to tear up living plants to re-form or reshape the bed.  But it makes even less sense from a plant standpoint - even if they stayed in one place, such plants become impossible to feed*: their roots grow to take up every cubic inch of the inside of the brick.  That constriction squanders much of their potential.

So today is spring re-planting day.  Last year's oregano, parsley, and tarragon - a couple dozen plants in all - are all coming up around the beds. So it's time to find them each a permanent home in the yard. Tarragon will go out front where it can get plenty of sun (and where other tarragon is already rocking out the place).  Oregano will go into the old strawberry bed**.  Not sure yet where the parsley is going.***

That will free up lots of little nooks and crannies for companion plants this year.  I'm going to forgo the mustard and dill - they're just too tall and make it hard to get around - and will concentrate on shorter companions, more flowers, etc.  But I'm also going to have a buttload of Greek oregano, some anise, and maybe a bit of winter savory to accompany the annuals like cilantro. So next spring will require a re-planting day as well.

And it's official: I'm not growing potatoes this year. With 17 different kinds of pepper seeds waiting to be planted****, I simply don't have the room.

* Well, yes, I suppose I could use pelletized plant food or something. Except that I don't.
** Making a second oregano bed and something of a dilemma. Because it tastes better I'm planning to switch to Greek oregano from Italian this year. But the Italian is doing really, really well.  Maybe I'll just process that for other people.
*** That's the problem with adding bed space. Like buying a bigger house, pretty soon it's just as full as the one you just moved out of.
**** I hit one of those ebay vendors that sells seeds for .99 with a $2 shipping charge.  But she was also willing to combine shipping. So instead of paying $3 a pack for seeds I ended up paying abut $1.10 postpaid for every kind of seed I ever wanted, including a .99 pack containing 2000 radish seeds.  I'm gonna need more bed space.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Dead armadillo chronicles

It's the shot that counts
So anyway, for about the last week there's been an armadillo living under the guest cabin in the back yard.  Now, I'm generally live and let live when it comes to wildlife, as the dog keeps most of the big critters away while the smaller ones feed the cats.  And I don't mind stuff that comes out at night, as I don't really need all those cats anyway.

But there are times when such a laissez-faire attitude borders on foolishness, such as when a normally-nocturnal animal spends all day digging up the yard. Every day for a week.  The girls are terrified of said animal, which is fine, because I don't want them playing with it anyway. And apparently armadillos are invisible to dogs, or so my own would have me believe. But wild animals that act oddly are too often sick, and I don't want critters passing anything to my critters, two-legged or four.

So as is my habit, I tried to convince him to leave in a non-lethal manner first:  I threw a trash can at him.  That seemed to keep him away for about a day.  Then I hit him with a stick.  That was good for two days.  But when he wandered out early this afternoon I figured it was time to bring out the hardware.  The hardware in this case being my new Springfield XDS in 45ACP.

Now, I don't know if you've seen an armadillo in real life*, but they have really tiny heads.  And the Lovely and Gracious sent me an article this week about a guy who was injured when his bullet ricocheted off an armadillo's mithril armor.  So maybe I was a little bit intimated by the idea of doing him in with a handgun. But still, I should have been able to kill him with 5 shots, and I thought I hit him at least twice. When he scurried back under the cabin and I figured I'd seen** the last of him.

So imagine my surprise when the girls and I came in from fishing to find said armadillo walking in circles in the driveway.  While they screamed and ran into the house, I set the crappie bucket down and went for the old standby - the 22 Hornet.

Two lessons learned:
  • Despite what you might have read, an armadillo's hide is not tough enough to stop a high-powered 224.
  • I need to get to the range in a bad way, since the XDS is my "carry" gun.

On a totally unrelated note, Good Hater will be free tomorrow thru Tuesday, so if you haven't read it and want to, here's your chance. 

* I had never seen a live one before this guy showed up.
** But not smelled.  There's no way to get the carcass out from under there.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Chicken composter

Home Sweet Immobile Home
Years ago I built a chicken tractor, which at the time was the newest and coolest trend in homesteading.  What it was, in essence, was a moveable coop with no bottom: you pulled it around the yard and the chickens ate up all your bugs and aerated the lawn/garden and made life awesome by pooping on everything.  Except that the "tractor" (an enclosed house attached to an 8'x8' yard) was too heavy to move through tall grass or wet soil, and eventually just became a base from which the chickens were freed to range every day*.  So it didn't really tractor all that much, nor did it really matter in the end. I finally burned the coop last year, 10 years after having moved the girls into a permanent home in my barn.

So I told you that story to tell you this one: I'm a little skeptical when it comes to miracle chicken strategies.  But I came across one of those ideas that makes so much sense that you suddenly wonder why you've been doing things the hard way for years. 

Case in point: every few months I clean out the above barn, put all the manure and straw on my compost pile, and place brand new straw on the now-clean dirt floor. Why? Because you have to clean the coop.  But what if you didn't? Well then all that crap would pile up and that would be a bad thing.  Or would it?

In the video I watched last night, an American doing time in some God-forsaken Central American country was explaining his yet-unnamed* system for creating lots of compost: instead of letting the chickens out to dig the pile, he simply brought the pile to them.  Instead of cleaning the coop, he added carbon and nitrogen to it every day, then only removed finished compost they created.

By adding leaves and grass clippings and food scraps to the coop every day, one will quickly build up a 2-foot-deep, 3-layer floor:

Layer 1: all the stuff you throw in.  The leaves still look like leaves and the pumpkins still look like pumpkins, and maybe the chickens eat it and maybe they don't.

Layer 2: the layer everyone loves.  This is half-rotted stuff that worms have come up from below to devour and that chickens dig into to get the worms. Chickens are tireless diggers, so all day long they are mixing layers one and two, getting protein from two, and leaving nitrogen on one. That nitrogen, mixed with the carbon you add***, is constantly creating the stuff that falls to...

Layer 3: awesome compost. Once the worms and chickens are done, the bottom layer is filled with compost ready for the garden.  All you have to do is get it out.

So in short: throw straw and leaves and grass clippings and kitchen waste in the coop every day, and you can remove lots of finished compost in no time.

It actually makes a lot of sense to me: I'm perfectly happy when the hens attack the compost pile: their digging over an afternoon can save me an afternoon of pitchforking. Plus the pile will be enclosed in the barn and therefore easier to keep moist.  It ought to create an excellent environment for composting.

Questions, though:

1. Is it safe? The idea of chickens stomping around on 2' of their own crap is disconcerting. OTOH, the fact that it's composting could make it less an issue than my current bi-monthly cleaning.

2. Is it worth the work?  Giving the chickens a nice combination of carbon and greens might work year-round in Costa Rica.  But I'm a little short of green material in Kansas in February.  But the hens will create a lot of nitrogen - so the question is how much carbon I need to supply and at what intervals. I have lots of that in winter.

3. How to harvest? It's nice to talk about nice, pure layers, but how does one remove the bottom layer while leaving the top intact?  For the present I've left the center of the coop as a walkway rather than a floor, since the center would quickly become compacted anyway. From there I should be able to dig into any area to remove compost.

But anyway, I spent today barrowing a rather sizable pile of debris INTO the coop in hopes that the hens will quickly convert it into compost.  There will be few worms at first, given the ground temp.  But if the pile starts of cook on its own, I may be pleasantly surprised.

On the other hand, if it kills all my hens because it's a horrible environment, well, that will be a lesson learned as well.

* True story about how stupid chickens truly are.  The 'tractor' had been sitting in one place in the yard for about 10 days, with the chickens going out and in at their leisure, except at night when they were locked up.  On day 11 I moved it about 30' away because I wanted them closer to the garden.  After dark on night 11 I went out to check on them. Every single one of them was sitting on the ground in the yard where the coop had been. Though the coop was in plain sight 10 yards away, not one of them managed to go into it.
** As Walter Chang famously said, "You'll be sorry if you don't give it a name."
*** In my case, maybe lots of shredded paper

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How many angels can dance on the head of an astrophysicist?

A dozen sounds about right:
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) -- Clusters of stars on the fringes of our Milky Way galaxy may be home to intelligent life. That's that word from an astrophysicist who's new to probing extraterrestrial territory...
DiStefano said the approximately 150 globular clusters in our galaxy are old and stable, a plus for any civilization. In addition, so many stars are clumped together it would be easy to hop from one planet to another, keeping an advanced society going.
Whether she's an astrophysicist or not, I'm pretty sure there's no actual science occurring here.  We do not, in fact, know if there's other life in the universe*. So we really have nothing to base any actual scientific calculations on.  I'll admit, that "old and stable" globular clusters might be a plus. It sounds logical, even reasonable. But how much of a plus? 10%?  How much of a plus is meaningful to our unmeasured civilizations? Only 7.5% plus or minus the inverse of the stability? Or does it require 15% minus the age of the youngest in degrees kelvin?  Without measuring any actual civilizations, we can have exactly zero idea. All we can gain is a vague sense of reasonableness about something we know nothing about.**

Where many stars are clumped together, I'll confess that it might be easy to hop from one planet to another, assuming there were any planets or anyone to do any hopping, neither of which we know.  Or it might be very hard - plenty of people are sure we haven't even hopped to our moon, and we are the most advanced people we ever heard of.  But how close is close enough and how easy is easy enough? Again, we have no idea, because we have absolutely nothing real to base our calculations on. Everything must be filled in with guesses, not measurements.

Now sure, this is a just a press report of a speech that has "Study:" in the title - so there may or not be an actual study, and there might be some actual science that the reporter chopped because she couldn't hack the math. And who can argue against the assertion that "Star Clusters Might Host Intelligent Civilizations"?  They might. They might also host magic volcanoes that play Pinnacle and belch Justin Bieber blow-up dolls into deep space.

Somebody somewhere might have scienced. But in all likelihood, a young astrophysicist is making a name for herself by creating wish-filled fomulas*** for the sort of people who think Neil deGrasse Tyson is a pretty clever guy, or that lobster tastes better when paid for by the university.

Nice work if you can get it. But not really science, so much.

* Well, we crazy religious people know. By 'we' here I mean humans who are certain that all life in the Universe arises from non-life through natural, materialistic processes. 
** That used to be called 'natural philosophy' before lab coats were invented.
*** Even 'educated' guesses, if ultimately based on no data, are mere wishes.