Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I failed to get up in time to go outside before work again this morning. I want to blame it on the fact that I got in bed late last night, but in reality I think it is because I didn't have a plan for what to work on this morning. I really seem to struggle with motivation when I don't have a plan.

Even though I didn't get up, Andrea did go out and work on weeding the strawberries. She was able to get half of them weeded, so should be able to finish them up the next time she works on it. We need to add more mulch to the strawberry beds, but  need to decide what to do with the runners first.

This evening after dinner I mowed over at the garden with the pull-behind mower. There is a lot of brush and small logs that I need to move in order to make it easier to mow. I also need to take the weedeater over the first chance I get and mow the area we plan to till so we can plant a cover crop.

I'm going to the office tomorrow, so it will probably be an off day as far as getting anything productive done around here goes.

Website Review - Under $1000 Per Month

The website I am reviewing today may seem like an odd choice. The reason it may sound odd is that Under $1000 per Month is a no-longer-updated blog. In fact, this blog hasn't been updated since March of 2010, although I would never have guessed it had been so long since I was regularly following it.

Under $1000 or Month was a blog written by a young wife and mother named Emily. Emily's husband, at least at the time of the blog, was attending college to be a pastor and providing their only income by working at Wal-Mart. The primary focus of the blog was Emily's attempts at managing a household with a budget of $980 per month, of which 60% went towards rent.

I found the blog to be very inspiring. Emily proved that it is possible to live on a meager salary, and be happy doing so. In fact, in one post Emily states that her goal is to be able to manage the household on an even smaller budget, in case after college her husband receives a pastor position with a stipend as long as $500 per month. While I didn't always agree with Emily's methods, such as buying non-organic meat and produce to save money, I had a great deal of respect for her and what she was accomplishing.

Even though the blog is no longer being updated, the archives are still available. There is a lot of useful information there. Many of the posts focus on ways of saving money on food and other bills, such as electricity. Emily was a big proponent of crock pot cooking, and was actually the first person I was aware of who used the method in order to save on electricity. While she may have primarily done so to save money, its the type of action that can just as easily be adopted by someone wishing to reduce their electricity use for environmental or self-sufficiency reasons. Something else I picked up on the blog was the concept of using soap nuts instead of laundry detergent. While we have yet to try soap nuts, its something I occasionally mention to Andrea, as they seem like a great eco-friendly alternative to more traditional detergents, or even homemade detergents such as Andrea currently uses.

Unfortunately, the wealth of information being provided on the blog was cut short, due to negativity and harassment from some followers. I assume that this comes with any successful blog, but it seems to have gotten much worse on Under $1000 per Month. I suspect that it was accusations that the lifestyle Emily and her husband had chosen was somehow mistreatment of their children that eventually led to the blog being shut down. As Emily described it in her closing post, the blog had become a source of negativity for her, and so she chose to end it. While I was disappointed to see the blog go, and knew I was going to miss out on a lot of good information she still had to share, I completely understood her reasons. I live the lifestyle I live, because I enjoy doing so. While individual tasks may seem like chores, but when viewed as a whole provide me with a great deal of joy. I suppose it is what you might call a labor of love. I hope that the way I'm living never becomes a source of negativity in my life, but if the day does come, I am able to recognize the fact and make the necessary adjustments, as Emily did by shutting down her blog.

Cloth Napkins

Sometimes I forget how strange things may seem to others that seem perfectly normal to Andrea and myself. When my Dad was visiting on Saturday, he asked for a napkin when we were eating lunch. I told him where the cloth napkins were, and he seemed hesitant to use them. I think he would have preferred using a disposable napkin, I suppose because dirtying a cloth one seems to create more work for whomever is going to wash them.

We've been using cloth napkins for months, possibly even a couple of years. Its been long enough that I've lost track of when we started. It has become completely routine for us, but its clearly foreign to many people. Initially we began using cloth napkins as a way of avoiding the waste that comes with using disposable napkins. What I found, though, is that I much prefer using the cloth napkins. Since switching I've noticed the same to be true in restaurants. Our napkins are nothing like those you get in a restaurant, but they work just as well.

To make the napkins Andrea simply cut some fabric into squares, and then sewed the edges to prevent them from unraveling. That's it. There is nothing fancy about our napkins, and they are not difficult to make. She used fabric that she already had on hand, but even purchasing the fabric new would cost very little. A single  yard of fabric can yield twelve napkins that are 11 inch squares.

I tend to re-use the same napkin multiple times. I find that most of the time when I use a napkin its simply to wipe crumbs away or wipe something like butter or pasta sauce from my hands. Once the  napkins get dirty, we can just throw them in the washing machine and let them be washed when Andrea does her next load of laundry. Even if all of our napkins are dirty, they take up so little space that there is really no additional cost or use of resources to wash them.

I don't know how many napkins we've saved from going to the landfill by using cloth napkins. Its really a hard thing to estimate as we don't always use napkins with every meal. Lets just assume, though, that we would each use 3 napkins per day, one for each meal. That is 6 napkins per day between the two of us, or 2,190 napkins per year. At $10.00 for 1,000 napkins, the cost works out to approximately $21.90 per year. That isn't a significant savings, but it is a savings. We didn't switch to cloth napkins, though, to save money. We switched because we wanted to reduce the waste associated with paper napkins, and reduce he demand for their production. Granted, the overall impact isn't great, but its just one small thing that we can do to reduce the impact we are having on our environment. It is a very simple change to make and saves us money, so for us it was an easy decision to make.

Bookshelf Project

Over the past couple of weeks I've made several references to Andrea's bookshelf project. Now that its finished, I thought it was time that I described the project in detail.

We have three 3 ft tall bookshelves that sit side by side beneath one of the windows in the living room. These are cheap RTA bookshelves, like you'd buy from any big box store. We've had them for 7-8 years, and they've been moved several times. When Andrea installed the insulated window covering for that window she realized that it needed to drop behind the shelves a few inches. They were positioned too close to the wall, though, to allow that to happen. Since we were going to have to unload and then re-position them, she decided it was a good time to replace the cardboard backs with something that would be more stable and would last longer.

The first step was to take measurements of the shelves, to determine our material needs. The shelves were 29.75 inches x 31.25 inches. This meant that we could get backs for all 3 shelves from a 4'x8' sheet of plywood. We purchased a sheet of 5.0 mm plywood, as it was cheap and lightweight, while still much better than the cardboard. We also purchased a small amount of paint, so that the side of the plywood that would be visible from inside the shelf would match the shelves. Andrea took pictures of the shelves and then compared that to paint samples in the store. She apparently did a good job, because the finished products matches very well.

After gathering our supplies we next cut the plywood to the correct sizes. If you've been reading this blog regularly, you'll know that this happened in two different sessions, spread over a couple of weeks. That was partly due to the batteries in my saw dying, and partly because I'm terrible at that sort of thing. Someone experienced, such as my Dad, could easily have made all of the cuts in 30 minutes or less. Even without much experience, I think that I could probably have managed the cuts in not much more than twice that time. In other words, its not that big of a deal to cut the plywood to size, and anyone who has used a saw before could manage it I'm sure. Once the pieces were cut Andrea sanded the edges then painted them. They took several coats of paint, but she was able to finish the painting in a day, although we did leave them to dry overnight.

After painting the pieces, all that was left was to install them. That might be as simple as it sounds for others, but nothing is ever that simple for us. We removed the old backs, and pulled out the nails and/or staples that had been holding the cardboard in place. We then placed the backs on, and made any needed adjustments to make sure it fit correctly and that the shelves were square. Next we put wood glue around the back edge of the shelf, so it would help to hold the plywood in place where there were no screws. I then pre-drilled holes for the screws, so the sides of the shelf would not split from the screws. Since we have two cordless drills I used both, one to drill the pilot holes and another for the screws. This worked much better than trying to pre-drill all holes first, or than constantly having to change bits. The screws were so easy to put in, though, that a cordless screw driver, ratchet driver, or even a regular screw driver would probably have been fine.

Once we had the backs attached, we started trying to figure out the best position to provide the window covering the room it needed. During that process we decided that we needed some spacers behind the shelves to keep them the desired distance from the wall. We started with some 2x4 blocks, but they weren't quite enough. We found, though, that adding a piece of 1x2 was just about perfect. We screwed a piece of 1x2 onto each 2x4 block, giving us a spacer that was approximately 2.5 inches thick. We simply sat these in the floor and scooted the shelves against them, so that the spacers were sandwiched between the shelf and the wall. This seemed sufficient, and avoided us having to attach the spacers to either the wall or the shelves.

With the shelves in place, the last step was to make sure they were level, front to back. Andrea cut strips from the old cardboard backings we had removed, and we began placing them under the backs of the shelves, until the shelves were level. To make it easier, we placed and leveled each shelf before moving onto the next.

The project ended up taking longer than expected, but I feel good about the results. The cost ended up being $10-$15 for the plywood, paint, and screws. The shelves themselves are fairly good, even though they are made of particle board. I've always felt that the cardboard backs are the weakest part of the shelves, so now we've solved that problem. I think that by replacing the backs we've managed to extend the life of the shelves. A similar process could easily be used on furniture purchased from thrift stores or yard sales, which could prevent the need to buy new items. Anytime an item can be purchased used, even if it requires some refinishing, I believe it is preferable to buying the item new. The less material we can keep out of the landfill, and the less demand we create for new products, the better.

Monday, July 30, 2012


I didn't get quite as much work done this morning as I had hoped, because I slept a bit late. My clock was set for 6:30 AM. I woke up at 5:00 and had to let Kitty in. Since I had an hour and a half before my alarm was set to go off I figured I'd be fine as long as I went right back to sleep. I had trouble getting back to sleep, though, and didn't sleep very soundly when I did fall asleep. I was awake when my alarm went off, but instead of getting up I fell back asleep. It was a bit after 7:00 before I got up, and by the time I had breakfast I was 7:30 getting outside. I needed to be back in by 8:30 this morning, but an hour is an hour, so I accomplished what I could in the time.

I mowed a couple of areas that I can't get with the pull-behind mower. I had planned to do more, but with just an hour, I focused on the most important areas. I was able to mow around the mailbox and along side the driveway. I also mowed around the strawberry beds, around the electric pole and between bird feeders.

This evening, rather than going outside, we stayed in and finished up Andrea's bookshelf project. I thought that would be a nice easy project, but it turned out to be much more involved than I expected. After attaching the new backs, we decided that we needed to put some spacers behind the shelves to keep them from getting too close to the wall. We also had to cut some shims to put under the backs, to get them good and level. It was 10:30 PM before we finished, but I think that it was good to put in the time to do the job right. I'm happy with how it turned out. Tomorrow Andrea plans to start putting our books and DVDs back on the shelves.

Our Natural Lawn

Our front lawn is what I refer to as a natural lawn. I'm not aware of any commonly accepted definition of the term, so I thought it would be worthwhile to explain what I mean, and provide some of the benefits I've seen from having such a lawn.

When I say natural lawn, I don't simply mean that we avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In fact, we avoid using organic fertilizers as well, as compost or any other natural soil enhancers are, we feel, much better used in the garden than on the lawn. We do not water our lawn, regardless of how dry it might be. Hauling creek water is too much work to be wasting it on the lawn, and I am not about to use municipal water in that way. Even when we get our rain barrels in place, I can't see us watering the lawn. There is more to it, though, than just not watering or applying fertilizer or pesticides; we did  not plant any grass in our front yard. In fact, we didn't plant anything. Our entire front lawn consists of natural vegetation that propagated on its own. Some people might refer to these as weeds, but for us, they make up our natural front lawn.

You might think that a yard full of, what most would consider weeds, would look terrible. I do not find this to be the case at all, however. I would argue that when everything is at a consistent height, as it is after being recently cut, our lawn looks as good as a traditional lawn from a distance. In fact, I believe that from the road, there are few people who could distinguish our natural lawn from a traditional lawn of grass, and that during a very dry time, such as we had this past June, our lawn likely looks much better than many traditional lawns. There is one exception to this, and that is during the off-season. During the winter and early spring I find that our lawn tends to have dead areas when other lawns are completely green. This is the nature of the plants growing in our yard, and its a downside that I can gladly live with.

During the driest part of June, I drove by multiple homes with completely dead lawns. The lawn was nicely manicured, but that was overshadowed by the dry, brown grass. One of the reasons I believe our lawn survived the lack of water so well is that it consists of native vegetation that was simply better able to survive the harsh conditions than grass. After all, these plants have thrived entirely on their own, with no help from me, and in less than idea conditions.

The other reason I believe our lawn survived the dry period so well is that I avoided cutting it until I was satisfied the drought was over. There was a period of maybe 6 weeks during which I didn't mow the lawn at all. I know that lawns that are kept cut short dry out more quickly, so wanted to give ours the best chance possible at using what little moisture was available. Even during normal periods, I do not mow the lawn as often, or as short, as most people. When I use to mow it with the push-mower, I'd adjust it to its highest position. Now that I have the pull-behind mower, I set it to is lowest. I was curious about the actual height, so went outside earlier and took some measurements. It looks like my current setup leaves the lawn about 3" tall, which is about where I'd like to be. It does get uneven fairly quickly, due to different growth rates of different plants, but that doesn't bother us. We aren't concerned with having a proper well manicured lawn, otherwise we'd have to try a different approach.

I must confess, the back yard isn't completely natural. I've actually tried sewing grass seed back there twice, with only limited success. We have no topsoil in that area, because it was removed during the dozing to make a spot for the trailer, and the grass just isn't doing well in the hard clay. It is slowly becoming more green, though, so I'll just give it time. Other than planting grass, instead of relying natural vegetation to take root, I've followed the same process with the backyard as the front. If the grass doesn't start doing better soon, we may break down and just sew some wildflowers back there. That might be more enjoyable than grass anyway.

Natural lawns, as I define them, are not a good option for everyone. Some people, especially those living in cities or suburbs, may need to keep a more traditional lawn in order to meet HOA requirements or to keep the neighbors happy. For those in a situation such as us, however, I urge you to at least consider letting your lawn go native. Other than the occasional mowing, which in our case is much less than most with a traditional lawn, there is no upkeep, and therefore no cost or use of resources. The only thing that could be better is if our lawn were producing plants that we could use for other purposes, and we're actually starting to look into that possibility. I think our chickens, when we eventually get some, will certainly be happy because of the variety of insects attracted to the various plants growing in our yard.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Today was a good day. I knew I was going to mow grass today, so didn't go out early because I knew it would be too wet to mow. Andrea and I had breakfast together, then after breakfast I went out and mowed the front yard. I used the 4-wheeler and pull-behind mower to mow most of the yard, then switched to the RTV to finish up the steeper section. I always like to use the 4-wheeler in the yard as much as I can because its significantly shorter and so is easier to maneuver.

While I was mowing, Andrea painted the plywood my Dad and I cut yesterday for her bookshelf project. We hoped to install them this evening, but they required several coats of paint, so aren't quite dry yet. We should be able to install them tomorrow evening.

After lunch I decided to take a nap. I really should do that more often, because in the summer I tend to get up early and then work until late in the evenings which causes me to stay up later than I normally would. I also find that being out in the heat tires me out, even when I'm just riding around the yard on the 4-wheeler, which one might not think wouldn be hard work.

After my nap I went back out and started mowing across the road. My initial plan was to just do a basic mowing, just covering the areas I had previously mowed. I ended up getting side-tracked a bit, though, and started trying to clear some areas I had not mowed before. I managed to make quite a bit of progress in one area, but that was unfortunately cut short when I got stuck. There is a spring in that area, and the ground tends to stay wet around it. Even thought it was muddy, it was going ok until I pushed my luck and ended up stuck. After unhooking the mower, I still couldn't get free, so had to use the winch to pull myself free. I came on back to the house after getting unstuck. Before going in for dinner I decided to get out the push mower and mow a few small areas that are too much trouble to use the big mower for. 

While I was mowing this evening Andrea was working in the herb garden. While picking the peppers and herbs for my parents yesterday I saw one of the peppers plants had fallen over. It had 5 big bell peppers on it, but they weren't ripe yet. I temporarily staked it, until Andrea could tie it up. She also harvested a bunch more basil, as well as several of the other pepper varieties. She's working the basil up right now, so she can make some pesto tonight. I think I'm going to have her add some cayenne peppers to the batch tonight.

The weather is suppose to be nice tonight and tomorrow morning. I should sleep well, with my window open, and can then get up early tomorrow and maybe mow some weeds. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Today didn't turn out to be as productive as I had hoped, but I still accomplished several small tasks. It must have rained nearly all night last night, because it was very wet out this morning. I didn't even try to go out until after the sun had had a chance to burn off some of the moisture. After Andrea left for her workshop, I drove to town to fill up my gas cans and grab some breakfast.

When I got back home I hauled a few loads of tree branches to the burn pile. Some of what I hauled had previously been hidden by weeds, until I cut them this past week. There was the top of a small pine tree that had broken out several months ago and had just been laying on the hill behind the house. I finally hooked a chain to it and drug it to the burn pile. I also picked up several limbs that were laying in the grass next to the highway, and added those to the pile of stuff to burn. Around 11:00 my dad showed up, so I took a break and talked with him for a while.

After lunch we went out and finished cutting the plywood for Andrea's bookshelf project, which we had originally began a few weeks ago when the battery for the saw died. That was one of those jobs that had just been hanging out there, so its good to get it taken care of. Now Andrea just need to paint the pieces to match the shelves and we can finish the project up. We also drilled some drain holes in the bottoms of the long-handled tool carrier I had installed on the RTV a couple weeks ago.

It was quite hot today in the direct sun, so after we finished cutting the plywood we took a ride on the RTV, ending up at a nice cool spot down by the creek. We sat down there for probably an hour just talking, and letting the dogs explore. I assume that Luke goes there by himself, but he always seems excited when I go and let him explore, like its some place new.

When we came back up to the house I went to the herb garden to pick a few peppers and herbs to send home to my Mom. I ended up sending her 2 bulbs of garlic (a Russian Giant and a Red Toch), a couple Super Cayenne Peppers a couple Serrano Peppers, a big bunch of basil, some Rosemary, Thyme, and Oregano. It seems kind of strange to be sending them stuff from our garden, especially since my parents use to be the one with the garden and it was assumed I'd never grow one myself. Hopefully we'll continue to expand the garden and can share more of the bounty with them over the new several years.

Andrea came home from her workshop with a very nice looking basket. I was very impressed with how it turned out, especially considering it was her first attempt. The basket that she made looks like a perfect basket for harvesting herbs and small vegetables. I suspect that she'll be making a few more, now that she has learned to do it. My Dad said that everyone would probably be getting a basket for Christmas this year. He was joking, but I wouldn't be surprised to see at least a few people get them.

Friday, July 27, 2012


I was sure it was going to rain overnight and this morning, so I slept in. Turns out I probably could have gotten some work done, had I got up early. I never know whether to go ahead and get up early, and risk not being able to go out, or take the opportunity to sleep in, and risk missing out on some good weather to work in. In hindsight I should have gotten up this morning.

I didn't go out and work this evening either. Andrea had been gone part of the day, and will be gone again tomorrow, so I decided to stay in and spend some time with her. She's taking some workshops through Berea's Festival of Learnshops event. Today she attended Introduction to Herbal Preparations: Lotions, Tinctures, and Infusions. Tomorrow is Make and Take Market Basket. This is her second year participating in the Festival of Leanshops. I've yet to take any of the workshops, but plan to make it a point to find one I'm interested in next year.

I hope to get out tomorrow and accomplish quite a bit. My Dad may be coming down, and so he'll probably help me on some project if its not too hot. I've not yet decided what to work on, but I have plenty to choose from so I'm sure we'll find something.

The only other thing that happened today that was noteworthy is that I saw a snake. I had taken some kitchen scraps out to the compost bin, and was digging down into the top layer of dried grass and weeds, so I could bury the scraps. That's something I've only recently been trying, but I think it'll work better than just laying the scraps on top. Anyway, as I dug down I saw a small snake, which I thought could have been dead, until it finally moved while I was looking for a stick to poke around with to see if it was alive. After referencing the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife pamphlet on Kentucky Snakes, which I find myself using fairly often, I think it was most likely a worm snake. When I first read the description of the copperhead, I thought it could have been that as it mentions that some may have a reddish brown (copper-red) coloration, but this snake did not have the crossbands that copperheads have. Once I read the description of the worm snake, though, I was fairly convinced that I had found a match, based on the coloration, size, and even diet, since it is specifically mentioned that these snakes feed on earthworms, which would be common in a compost bin. I really haven't seen very many snakes since we moved here. I've seen 5 or 6 this year, two of which were in the compost bin. I don't mind snakes at all, as long as I can identify them as non-venomous. I dread the day that I run across a copperhead, or even worse, rattle snake, especially if its in a situation where I may have to kill it because its creating a dangerous situation for myself or the animals.

Solar Powered Shed - The Idea

This post is the first, of what I hope turns out to be many, posts about some fairly major projects that we hope to undertake. They are all on a list of future projects, but this one is likely to be the one most likely to be worked on anytime soon, so I thought I'd go ahead and do a post about it. There will be several more posts to come, as I progress through the research, planning, design, purchasing, and eventually building phases. Every project must start with an idea, however, and that is what I have right now.

The shed, which currently serves as storage for all sorts of things, has no electricity. Eventually I hope to turn the shed into a tool shed, and perhaps even have a work bench out there so I can work on small projects even when its raining. Having electricity at the shed would make that much easier. I could run electricity from the house, as its not too far from the breaker box (less than 100 ft), but I think I'd like to try installing a small PV system instead. Even though a PV system will cost significantly more than just running wire up to the shed, it will be a great learning experience, which should in turn save me time and money when we decide to do a larger PV system, such as when we build a house. I'm thinking of it as an investment in education.

My goal is to provide enough electricity to power some small items, such as lights, a fan, a radio, and battery charger, as well as occasionally run some power tools such as a circular saw or small air compressor. My first step is going to be researching the power requirements of the items I plan to run, including tools I don't have yet such as the air compressor, to determine what my needs will be.  I suspect that it may be somewhat tricky to figure this out, as usage will be very irregular. I'll likely plan for regular use of small draws, such as lights, and only using the larger tools every few days. I think that in most cases this should cover my actual usage, and worse case I can run an extension cord out to the house if I really need to use power tools a few days in a row or for several hours at a time. The other thing that makes this tricky is that, even though I know the electrical requirements of my current tools, I have no way of knowing what tools I may have in the future that I'd like to run from this system. I will need to either compromise between having some leeway without spending too much on capacity I do not need, or make sure that the system I put together is easily expandable.

Once I have a handle on my needs, I will next need to research my options regarding the various components. I've already done some of this, but not enough to have made any decisions. I know that my system will consist of 4 primary components: the solar panels themselves, a charge controller, batteries, and an inverter. I'll need to make several decisions here to determine my needs for each component, such as, will I run everything on AC, or will I try to run some things, such as lights, on DC, and therefore avoid some of the loss that occurs due to inverter efficiency loss. My guess is that I'll likely end up doing a post on each of the components, describing my research and decisions on each.

For anyone not familiar with a PV system, I will provide a very basic summary of how the system will go together. The solar panels will be mounted on the roof of the shed, pointing to the south. I will likely make the mounting brackets adjustable, so that I can change their angle during different parts of the year, to better match the angle of the sun. Wiring from the panels will connect to the charge controller, which will ensure that the batteries are not being overcharged. The electricity generated from the solar panels will be used to charge the batteries, which is what will ultimately be powering my devices. From the batteries, wiring will run to the inverter, which will convert the DC power from the batteries into the AC power that most household devices use. Of course this is an over-simplistic explanation, but its the basic idea of how the system will be put together.

I do not have a time frame for this project, nor a budget. I'd love to be ready to install the panels by next Spring, but we'll just have to see how things go. As for the budget, I'd like to do this for under $1,000, but I'm not going to set a budget until I've done more research. The last thing I want to do is box myself into a design that doesn't deliver what I need, because I set a budget without first knowing what was realistic.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


This morning I began work on trying to get rid of the carpenter ants I discovered in my pile of brush to be chipped. I basically just relocated everything in the pile, sorting it into a pile of larger, straight pieces that could go through the chipper and smaller, less straight pieces that would have to be fed through the shredder part of the chipper. My hope was that by doing this I would find a large branch or two that were serving as the nest for the ants. I really didn't expect to find that, however, since I had built the pile specifically for chipping, and try not to include anything larger than 3" in diameter. What I found is that the problem may have been caused by the amounts of leaves in the pile. Much of what was in the pile had been recently cut, and I had not bothered to remove the leaves before adding the limbs to the pile. There were a lot of leaves, and underneath them were many ants, and what appeared to be many eggs. I raked the leaves into another pile, so I could at least keep them isolated from the stuff to be chipped.

It has been hot and humid in the evenings, so I didn't even try to go out after dinner. That may have been a mistake, though, since the weather forecast calls for overnight storms and rain throughout the day tomorrow. I may not get to work outside tomorrow, we'll just have to wait and see.

Speaking of dinner, we had pizza on the grill tonight. Its amazing how much better pizza is when made on the grill. It is nice to have fresh garlic, peppers, and basil to use on a pizza, or in any dish for that matter. Hopefully we'll have a supply of those and much more for several months. We recently harvested so many of the hot peppers (cayenne, serrano, and habanero), that Andrea decided to go ahead and dry some of them because it was very unlikely we'd be able to use them all fresh. Looks like I'll at least have dried versions of the hot peppers to last me, and I suspect we'll harvest several more before the season is out.

Gasoline Alternatives

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you've likely realized that I use several gasoline powered machines. This is something I consider a weakness in my plan to live more sustainably. Not only is our current gasoline use unsustainable, but we really are not doing anything to address it.

The first, and most obvious area, in which we use gasoline is in the car and truck. The car gets relatively good gas mileage, at around 35 mpg. The truck only gets around 20 mpg, but can use ethanol, although the closest place to get that is an hour away and its not really a great alternative anyway, so we don't use it very often. Since I work from home most days, though, and since Andrea doesn't work outside of the home, we don't have a lot of required driving. We tend to do quite a bit of extra driving, though, whether its trips to get parts for a project, a trip to Lexington to shop at the Good Foods Market, or just a trip to get out of town, such as when we took our nephews to the Gray Fossil Museum.

The obvious solution is to just drive less, which is clearly something we need to work on. The other solution is to exchange our vehicles for something that is either more fuel efficient or that uses alternative fuels. Even though the car is 8 years old, it is still a great car and has many more years of service left in it. I can't really justify getting rid of it at this point, especially since it does get good mileage. If we were to have to replace it, I suspect we'd end up going with a small hybrid, although a plug-in hybrid or all electric car might be a good option once we are able to generate our own electricity using a renewable energy system such as PV or wind. The truck, on the other hand, is older and may very well need to be replaced sooner than the car. The truck doesn't get driven a lot of miles normally, but is mostly used for hauling stuff, for driving in the winter, and occasionally for driving off-road. We drove it to the Field to Fork Festival, for example, because I knew I would need to haul the rain barrel I made. Because of the way we use the truck, I can't see being able to justify the purchase of a newer vehicle, which will likely rule out a hybrid or all electric, assuming those are even available by the time we replace the truck. My guess is that out best option is likely to be buying a used diesel powered truck that we can operate  using bio-diesel. I've love to be able to produce our own bio-diesel, which would make such a truck much more sustainable. The trucks that people converted to run from a wood gassifier are very interesting, but those may be a little more DIY than I'm capable of.

In addition to the car and truck, we also own several tools that use gasoline. These include the RTV, the 4-wheeler, the tow-behind mower, the push mower, the string trimmer, the tiller, the chainsaw, and the generator. Of course if I ever buy a tractor, it'll be included in that list as well. The obvious solution is to start using more hand tools, but I'm not sure how likely that is really going to be. I think that the more likely solution will be to eventually replace the RTV with a diesel model, and if we buy a tractor, make sure its diesel. I could then run those from bio-diesel, provided I am doing bio-diesel for the truck, as mentioned previously. I could replace the tow-behind mower with a PTO mower for the tractor. Hopefully by then we won't need a tiller very often, as we plan to transition to a no-till method of gardening. I'd like to consider converting the tiller over to an electric motor by that point, which would hopefully be powered by our renewable energy system. For the push mower and string trimmer, I'd either need to switch to electric, or possibly more likely, cordless, depending on how I was using them at the time. Based on my current usage of the string trimmer, though, I can't imagine being able to get by with either electric or cordless so I may have to research alternative fuel options. Last is the generator, which I can't imagine we'll ever completely get rid of. In fact, my goal is to replace our small generator with a whole house generator eventually, which is powered by propane, to use as a backup to our renewable energy system.

Of course most of what I'm discussing here are things that will not happen for several years. The only real short term solution that I have for our gas usage is conservation. By reducing the amount of extra driving that we do, we could certainly reduce our fuel usage. I'm also use that I could reduce usage by using the gas powered tools less, and using hand tools in their place where feasible. A few less trips to the mailbox in the RTV would help as well, and the exercise of walking the distance definitely won't hurt me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Today is a bit of a special day for Andrea and I. Today is our 14 wedding anniversary. We didn't really do much of anything to celebrate. I worked in London today, and stopped on the way home and bought some dessert that we could have after dinner. We ended up having to run out to town and do some light grocery shopping, but afterwards just relaxed around the house and played a few games together. We will probably go out to eat this weekend, and consider that our anniversary dinner. I'll probably try to get in bed fairly early tonight, so I can get up early tomorrow morning and start working on finding that carpenter ant nest.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Today I've been battling with ants, but we'll get to that in a few minutes. I started the day by getting up early and mowing some weeds. After finishing the section I wanted to mow behind the trailer, I started mowing a couple of areas I want to clear. One is up the hill behind the shed. Its a nice flat area, maybe 10 ft wide by 30-40 ft long. We hope to turn it into a nice shaded area to sit and maybe put a fire pit. Now that I have the weeds mowed, I just need to cut a few of the briars and saplings that were too big to mow, and then move some tree branches that had fallen. The other area I mowed is similar, except is directly up the hill behind the trailer. We're thinking that if we decide to get rabbits we'll build something up there to house them. I thought I'd go ahead and start getting it clear, so we can see what we have to work with.

At lunchtime I rode the RTV down to the road to check the mail and bring in the trash can. As soon as I put the trash can into the bed of the RTV I noticed ants all over the side. By the time I made it up to the house the were all in the bed of the RTV and long one side. I started spraying the can and RTV down with a water hose, but Luke apparently climbed into the RTV and got bit by the ants. When Andrea came out to see what I was doing, Luke ran into the house and she ended up having to force him back out. I finally managed to get most of the ants washed off, and left the trash can turned upside down in the backyard to dry.

This evening after dinner I went out to work on the wood chipper. When I last used it, it had gotten some debris stuck in the guard behind the discharge shoot, so I just needed to take that off and clean it out. Normally that's a 10 minute job, but not today. When I pulled the cover off of the chipper I noticed something strange. There was, what appeared to be, a large pile of sawdust all around the chipper. I then noticed ants in the area. I decided to go ahead and try to work on the chipper, which was a mistake. I had to rake some of the sawdust-like material away, and when I did ants started going everywhere. My boots were quickly covered, and ants began crawling up my legs. A couple made it past my gloves to my bare arms, and one bit me, which is when I retreated.

After some research, we determined the ants were carpenter ants. The sawdust-like material is what is known as frass, which is the debris they create when excavating inside of tree branches, etc to make their nests. I ended up dragging the chipper away from where it was sitting, so I could go ahead and work on it. I still had to deal with the ants as they were crawling over the chipper, but finally managed to get the job finished. I left it sitting where it was and recovered it, although that may have been a bad idea as the cover had ants on it as well.

After doing some more research I've decided on a plan for dealing with the ants. I believe that if I can locate the nest, and deal with the branch(es) containing the nest I can get rid of the ants. So my plan is to start working through the pile of branches. At first I thought I would go ahead and chip them, but now I think I'll just start sorting through the pile, which will make chipping easier anyway. Hopefully by doing this I can figure out where the nest is and get rid of it. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed.

Monday, July 23, 2012


I got back on track, at least somewhat, today. I got up early and went out and mowed some weeds before work. I mowed around the compost bin and wood chipper, and then around the shed. I'm needing to run the chipper to work through a fairly large pile of branches, so wanted to get the weeds around it cleared. We can definitely put the wood chips to good use, mulching either in the herb garden or between the blackberries and raspberries.

I didn't go back out this evening, even thought it was a nice evening to work. I did work on typing up more of my notes from past workshops. Right now I'm working on my notes from the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair. Its taking longer than I expected to type up the notes, which I guess is an indication that I take fairly detailed notes.

I'm off to bed now. Hopefully I'll get up early again tomorrow so I can mow some more weeds before starting my work day.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


This morning was a perfect morning to get outside and work. Unfortunately, though, I was still tired from yesterday and decided to sleep in instead. I spent most of the day inside, since it was rather warm. I did, however, type of my notes from the Field to Fork Festival, and also started typing up some of my older notes from past workshops.

After dinner Andrea and I went out and worked on the herb garden. We had let the weeds get badly out of hand, so I worked on cutting/pulling some of those. I ended up with the RTV bed almost completely filled with weeds to compost. While I was doing there, she worked on thinning out some of the herbs and harvesting some peppers. We ended up with a nice harvest, and still have plenty more to be harvested later. Today's harvest consisted of a very large amount of basil, some tarragon, spearmint, orange mint, 2 fist-sized bell peppers, 6 habanero peppers, 12 cayenne, and 13 serrano. Looks like we'll be making another big batch of pesto, and likely drying some peppers as well.

Canine and Feline Companions

I thought that it was well past time for me to write a post about our canine and feline companions. Most people would simply call them pets, but I try to avoid the term. To me, the term pets implies ownership. The definition of pet is:
                "a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility"
-Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary - www.merriam-webster.com

I don't think of the animals who live here as pets. They are our companions, our friends. They are free to come and go as they please. They remain here of their own accord, and can leave anytime they choose. 

Currently, there is one cat and two dogs living here. Miss Kitty is the cat, Luke and Jack are the dogs. We're still not sure if Jack is going to stick around. He's been here less than a week, but he seems happy, so I have a feeling he'll stay.

Miss Kitty is a muted calico, who the vet believes is maybe 3-4 years old. She came to live with us in November of 2010. We had been discussing the need for having a cat around the place, as we had a mice problem. One day, while I was at my desk working, I looked out the window and saw a cat walking up the drive way. We sat some food out, and she eventually came and ate it. She stuck around, so we fed her again later. She was clearly very hungry and happy to have food. The fact that it was raining when I spotted her makes me think that she was homeless and was looking for something to eat. After waiting a week or two, we decided she was going to stick around so took her to the vet for a wellness checkup and some shots. We started letting her come into the house, and taught her to use a litter box. Later that year, in December and January, we had to be gone for a long period of time, as my Dad was very sick. We spent 4-5 weeks away from home, with just quick visits to check on things about once a week. Kitty was waiting for us when we returned, and we knew that she had found a new home. Today she is an inside/outside cat. She spends quite a bit of time inside, but will often spend nights outside. She has learned how to tell us when she wants out, and sometimes even lets us know when she's ready to come back in. She hasn't done much to address the mouse problem, but we love having her around nonetheless.

Luke is a Labrador Retriever mixed with what we believe is Chow. He is about a year and a half old. He's been with us since he was 6 weeks old. We had been considering getting a dog for quite some time. I had decided on a Lab, because I felt the breed would do well in our environment. We planned to either do a rescue, or possibly buy from a reputable breeder. However, we heard via a friend about some lab mix puppies that were needing a home. They were going to be sent to the pound if a home couldn't be found, so we decided that we'd like to give one a home. If I am remembering correctly, there were 4 puppies remaining when we went to look at them. One was very shy, and another was very active, friendly, and curious. We ruled both of those out, as we didn't want a puppy with an extreme personality. We decided on the friendlier of the two remaining puppies. Having a puppy around was a new experience for both Andrea and myself. I once swore that I'd never do it again. As Luke got a bit older, though, and matured, he has become very easy to deal with. He's very friendly and gentle, and never gives us any trouble. He occasionally wakes me up at night, but its always because he's heard or seen something. Sometimes I'll get up and go outside with him. I use to have to do that a lot, but now its rare. There have been a couple of times when I've had to actually go into the woods with him so he could try to track whatever it was that had his attention. I'm happy to do it, though, because I know that its very unlikely anything or anyone will sneak into the yard without Luke noticing, and either alerting us with his barking or run them off. We certainly see far fewer deer and turkey since Luke came to live with us. 

Jack is, we believe, a German Shepherd. We're assuming he's mixed, but we have no idea what with. Once we take him to the vet for the first time, we should have a better idea. Our guess is that he's 3-6 months old. I previously described how Jack came to live with us. He's been here for nearly a week now and I think he's going to stay. We still haven't heard of anyone losing a puppy matching his description, so its seeming more and more likely that he was set out on purpose. So far we haven't had any of the issues with Jack that we had with Luke when he was that age. I think that Luke is helping to make Jack feel safe and will help to teach him what is expected of him. Its good that Luke has the opportunity to establish himself as the leader now, because there is a real possibility that Jack may grow to be bigger and stronger than Luke. If he does, we should have two good watch dogs at that point. I've always said that most burglars would run at the sight of a black Lab/Chow running towards them barking and growling. I suspect that adding a German Shepherd to that equation will just make them run that much quicker.

We have no immediate plans to bring bring any other cats or dogs to the property in the near future. Of course we hadn't planned on Jack showing up, so you never know. We could probably use a couple of outside cats to help with the mice and moles, but Luke does a decent job of that and I'm not sure that Kitty would even tolerate having more cats outside. I know she's never stand for another one living inside.

Field to Fork Festival - 2012

The Field to Fork Festival is a local agriculture and sustainable ecology festival, held at Halcomb's Knob Farm in Paint Lick, KY. The 2012 festival was just the 2nd year for the event. We also attended the 2011 festival.

The festival has grown since 2011. There were more workshops, and significantly more vendors. The facilities have been improved to create more comfortable classrooms for the workshops. Attendance seemed to be up significantly, although it was hard to tell since there were large groups present from the Governor's Scholar Program, which was using the festival as a field trip for participants.

I attended 4 workshops this year, the first being Permaculture Methods, taught by Susana Lein of Salamander Springs Farm in Berea. I had taken the same workshop at last year's festival, but as this was was 2 hours in length instead of 1 hour, I thought it would be worth attending again. I'm very happy with my decision to do so. Susana has a wealth of information to share, and I was able to pick up some additional information from her this year. The information on cover crops, mulching, and sheet composting (layer cake composting, as she calls it) are things that we'll certainly make use of. The last 30 minutes of the workshop were spent doing a hands-on project, to create a garden bed using Susana's layer cake method.

After a quick lunch, it was time for my second workshop, Rainwater Harvesting, which was led by Roy Adkins, of Halcomb's Knob Farm. This workshop was described as a "make-it, take-it" session, as we actually constructed a rain barrel to take home with us. We jumped into the making of the rain barrels, right away. Had there been more tools to go around, the workshop could have probably been completed in under an hour. It was scheduled for two hours, however, and took most of that time for everyone to complete their barrel. The process was very simple, and I'm glad to have had the chance to build my first rain barrel with the help of someone who had done it before. There are several things that I will change when I make more rain barrels, but the one I built during the workshop will certainly be put to use collecting water from the shed. When I do get around to making the rain barrels, I'll do a post on the subject.

My next workshop was, How to Practice Co-Existence - Guardian Animals, led by Dianne Hellwig, of Hellwig Rambouillets. The focus of this workshop was choosing a guardian animal to protect livestock from predators. The primary predators focused on were coyotes and feral dogs. The guardian animals discussed were dogs, llamas, and mules. The instructor uses Great Pyrenese guard dogs and llamas, so she was able to provide a great deal of information on those. I learned a lot from the workshop, especially regarding how to introduce a guard dog to livestock and the importance of purchasing a dog that was raised on a farm, around livestock. We were given a binder filled with handouts on choosing a dog breed, coyote hunting patterns, etc, which should be useful.

The final workshop was Sustainable Agriculture & Alpacas, led by Karen Dunn, of Angel Fleece Alpaca Farm in Simpsonville, KY. This was, by far, the most informative workshop I've attended on alpacas. She provided some very useful information on alpaca care, breeding, and fiber. She discussed the profitability of raising alpacas for fiber only, compared to doing both fiber and breeding. One thing that really stuck with me was the information she provided about the specially formulated alpaca feed that is always suggested. We prefer feeding animals natural diets, which means not buying feed such as this. She explained, however, that the feed is actually more of a supplement, which contains minerals that alpacas would normally get from grazing in their natural habitat in the Peruvian Andes. Since those minerals are not available in our pastures here, it is necessary to supplement, and the alpaca feed is the best and simplest method of doing so. We were each given a back issue of Alpacas Magazine, which contains several articles the instructor felt would be beneficial to those interesting in raising alpacas. I also spoke to her after the workshop, and she invited me to attend her farm during Alpaca Farms Days in September, or to drop by and visit her farm store. I'd like to make a visit at some point, if we're in the area.

Aside from the workshops, I spent some time visiting several vendors and talking to people. My first purchase was lunch from Marksbury Farms, of Lancaster, KY. I had a beer cheese burger, which was excellent. I had never considered using beer cheese on a burger, but it added a significant amount of flavor. I'd be interested in trying to make something similar at home. I also had some funnel cake from the Garrard County Lions Club, and some ice cream from Freeman and Wilma Beachy, of Waynesburg, KY.

Of course I bought more than prepared food. I bought a pair of alpaca fiber socks from Wonder of Life Farms, of Lancaster, KY. I also bought some ground lamb from Bluegrass Lamb & Goat. My only other purchase was a ticket for a chance to win a John Deere Gator, that was being raffled off by the Madison County Vetaran's. Andrea also bought several items, including a hanging basket of flowers a book on growing blueberries, written by the instructor of her blueberry workshop, and several soaps and salves from 2 Acres Shy, of Crab Orchard, KY.

During what little time I had free, between workshops and visiting the various vendors, I talked to other visitors to the festival. There were 4 people there who I only knew from online discussions on Earthineer, so it was nice to get to chat with them. I also was able to chat with a friend who I normally only get to interact with online, and meet her husband.

I'm already looking forward to next year's festival. If this year's festival was any indication, I expect that next year's will be even bigger and better. These type of events really inspire and keep me motivated to continue working on living a more simple and sustainable lifestyle. I only wish there were more similar festivals nearby.

Edit: It occurred to me that even though I can't provide details of the workshops, it would be worthwhile to at least mention the workshops that Andrea took at the festival. She started her day with Bluberries 101, then did Basic Backyard Beekeeping. After lunch she had two more workshops, Preservation Principles, and Seed Saving.

Also, I forgot to mention that there were several live demos throughout the day. I set in on the Bokashi composting demo, as I didn't get to do that workshop because of a conflict. I was sitting in the back, so didn't really get to see the demo very well, but it interested me enough that I'd like to do some research. We've been talking about trying vermicomposting for our kitchen scraps, but Bokashi may be another option to at least consider.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Today's update is going to be a quick one, because I'm exhausted and am ready for bed. Today we went to the Field to Fork Festival in Paint Lick, KY. We had a great time, took part in some informative workshops, bought some local items, and met some great folks. I'll be doing a detailed post about the festival later, but for now I'm off to bed.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Its amazing how such a dry June, could be followed by such a wet July. According to the Weather Channel we are 0.06 inches short of the monthly average rainfall for July, and we still have 1/3 of the month to go. According to our rain gauge, we've had even more here. The last time I checked we were at 5 inches for the month, and that was more than a week ago.

I mention the rain, because that's my excuse for not accomplishing anything today. It stormed last night, and so was incredibly wet this morning. I was also tired from the trip yesterday, and slept until nearly 9:00 AM. I did go out for a few minutes at lunch to take the old wood to the burn pile that I had cleaned up a couple of days ago. It was raining again this evening, so I've not been back out since then.

We have, however been preparing for the Field to Fork Festival, which is tomorrow. We're planners, so have spent the evening getting our schedules layed out, gathering supplies (notepads, pens, snacks, bug spray, etc), and various other things to prepare for tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have more to talk about tomorrow, after returning home from the festival.

Book Review - Treading Lightly: The Joy of Conservation, Moderation, and Simple Living

I recently finished reading Treading Lightly: The Joy of Conservation, Moderation, and Simple Living. I had considered picking the book up several times in the past, but always decided against it for some reason or another. Several weeks ago, however, we were shopping at the Good Foods Market in Lexington when I noticed the book was on a shelf of marked down items. I decided to pick up a copy, and am very happy with the decision.

Treading Lightly is written by David A Anderson, who is an Economics Professor at Centre College in Danville, KY. To be honest, the book is somewhat difficult to summarize, as the author covers several different topics, even dedicating two chapters to passages written by his parents, who he clearly takes a great deal of inspiration from.

Topics in this book include sections on greed, moderation, plastic, Wal-mart, morality, actions, and uncertainty, as well as many others. While no single topic is discussed in depth, they all tie back into the central theme of voluntary simple living.

One area in which I believe this book excels is presenting the ideas in a way that may be, tolerated, if not accepted, by the mainstream. It seems that far too often the ideas of simple living, conservation, and environmental consciousness are viewed negatively by society due to the passion with which their proponents speak about them. The Three Ground Rules included at the beginning of the book, however, show from the start that the author's approach at spreading awareness is very different.

"Three Ground Rules
 (1) No preaching. This book is not written to say "you must." It is about information, ideas, inspiration, and saying "you can."
(2) No calls to visit painful extremes. The message here is that pleasure can accompany progress, and that indulgences are appropriate if the true benefit exceed the true costs.
(3) No feigned superiority. Personally, I do plenty of things wrong and some things right. I cherish information on how to do things better but have no delusions that I do things best of that I am doing all that I can..." 
 -David A. Anderson, Ph.D. - Treading Lightling: The Joy of Conservation, Moderation, and Simple Living
I also appreciate the fact that this book is written from the perspective of an economist, who has the knowledge and experience necessary to understand the potential economic impact of the things he suggests. I feel that too often the message of simple living is written off as unnecessary, at best, and harmful, at worst, when it is believed that the messenger has no understanding of the economic impacts of the message. While I'm sure that there are going to be people who disagree with the message presented in this book, and who question the economics of the proposed ideas, I believe it is likely that the message will be more likely to receive a fair hearing by a wider range of readers, due to the author's credentials.

I can't say that I have a favorite passage, or that any one topic covered in the book particularly jumps out at me. While various pieces of information were presented that I had previously been unaware of, the topics themselves were ones I was already fairly familiar with. When people such as myself read the book, it could very easily be described as "preaching to the choir". I do feel, however, there the material is capable of at least challenging the ideas that some people hold, if not outright changing them.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the concepts of simple living, conservation, environmentalism, or who is interested in entertaining a different perspective on the topics. I wish that everyone would read this book. In fact, it is one of the few books I've ever read, that I would genuinely consider giving as a gift, just to help spread the message. I'm actually loaning my copy to a friend tomorrow. Unfortunately, the book isn't likely to change her mind about anything, as she already shares many of my views. I suppose, however, that sharing the message with someone, even if if he/she already agrees with the message, is still sharing the message.


As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm playing catch up today.

Yesterday (Thursday) I was gone all day, so did nothing around the house. I took the day off from work, and we took our nephews (10 year old twins) out for the day. It was a long, tiring day, but was well worth it.

We got up at 5:30 AM, and left home at 6:00. We drove the 80 miles to my Mother-in-Law's house and picked the boys up around 8:00 AM. We took them out for breakfast, then had another 2.5 hour drive to the Gray Fossil Museum, just outside of Johnson City, TN.

The Fossil Museum was a great place to visit. The boys seemed to really enjoy themselves, and Andrea and I enjoyed it as well. It was very educational, and was set up in a way that made it easy to engage the boys in conversation about the things that we were looking at. 

After leaving the museum we stopped for lunch, then took the boys to the Hands On! Regional Museum. I was very disappointed with this part of our trip. While they had some interesting exhibits, there was little, if any, accompanying information. I tried giving the boys some information on the things that I was able to explain, but the place was chaotic, so they learned little, if anything. It seems that this "museum" is aimed much more at entertainment than education. It was certainly more of a playhouse than a museum.

After leaving Hands On! we checked out the local natural foods store, called Natural Foods Market.  Even though we didn't buy anything, Andrea and I both liked the store. If we lived in the area we would certainly shop there. It can't really compare to the Good Foods Market in Lexington, but is comparable, if not a bit better, than Happy Meadows Natural Foods in Berea. One of the most interesting parts of visiting the store was in realizing how strange the store seemed to the boys. They were fascinated by things that seem perfectly ordinary to Andrea and I, such as the sea salt grinders and the peanut butter making machine. Sometimes it is easy to forget how processed and prepared foods are causing people to be so far removed from the actual source of food that kids don't even understand how peanuts become peanut butter.

We made a couple of additional stops before dropping the kids back off around 7:30 PM. That put us getting home around 9:30, to a couple of hungry dogs and a cat who insisted on going out even though it was stormy. I did take time to check email, but not do my daily post. By the time I got in bed I was exhausted.


I've not posted in a few days, so am playing catch up. We had a power outage Wednesday night, then I was gone all day on Thursday.

Wednesday was a fairly productive day. I got up early and mowed weeds. I didn't do quite as much as I had planned, because I got sidetracked by another little task, but did get everything around the trailer trimmed up as well as a couple of spots in the yard I can't get to with the mower, such as over the septic tank and around the power pole. While trimming around the trailer I picked up some rock as well as some old pieces of wood. After finishing my trimming I hauled the rock down to the rock pile. The new puppy insisted on riding with me every more that I made in the RTV. He's not quite big enough to get in by himself, so I had to pick him up everytime. He'd lay on the floor, basically under my feet. Looks like I'll never have a shortage of passengers, since Luke enjoys riding sometimes as well.

While I was cleaning up around the trailer, I also decided to deal with some water we had standing in an old plastic kiddie pool. We bought it last summer for Luke, so he could get in and cool off. He never used it, though. We've used it a few times for other tasks, such as soaking cardboard before putting down as a weed blocker. Most recently, though, it was just sitting in front of the trailer, filled with dirty water. When I was mowing, some of the weeds ended up in the water, so I decided it was past time to empty it. At first I tried using our new self-priming siphon hose to see how well it would work. It did work, although was incredibly slow. I don't think it was ever able to get a good strong siphon going. I think this was partly due to the shallow water it was in, as it was hard to really get the hose filled with water. It was also, I'm sure, due to the fact that the water we being lifted approximately 6 inches to get over the edge of the pool, and then dropping only 7 inches or so. I suspect that a bigger drop would have helped a lot. Had I left it going for hours, it probably would have drained a good portion of the pool, but I wasn't that patient. I ended up just flipping the pool over by hand.

At lunchtime I went out to the front porch and worked on those old pieces of wood I had picked up. They had originally been the trim around the front door. When we put in the new front door, they were just thrown down on the ground next to the porch, and basically forgotten about. They had nails and screws in them, so I didn't want to burn them without cleaning them up first. The cleanup took maybe 15 minutes, if that long. Sometimes its amazing how small a task really is, once you finally get motivated to do it. Now all I need to do is haul it down to the burn pile, which I'll do next time I have the RTV out.

It started storming in the evening, and just after dinner the electricity went out. It was nice and cool out by then, so was no real issue. The only probably was that Andrea had planned to cut my hair, which she does with electric clippers, so we had to postpone that. We needed to get ready for a trip on Thursday, so I shaved and them we both took showers. I used a battery operated flashlight for light when shaving and showering. There was plenty of hot water, as long as we didn't waste it. Sometimes things like this are good to remind us of how wasteful we can be when we have plenty of a given resource, like hot water in this case.

It was after bedtime before the electricity came back on, so that is why I didn't do my daily update. I did, however, get to read more of the garlic book I'm reading, so that was a good benefit of not being distracted by having electricity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Today turned out very differently that I had expected. We may have a new canine member of the family. I hadn't seen Luke all morning, so went looking for him at lunchtime. It isn't normal for him to be out at midday when its hot, so I was worried that something might be wrong. I rode down the road about a mile, past the houses where some of his friends live, but didn't see him. So I rode up the road about a mile. On my way back towards the house, he came to meet me. There was a small dog with him that I had never seen. Luke followed me back home, but the other dog couldn't keep up. Just as I was going in the house, I heard the other dog whining, so decided to go check on it. By that time, Luke had gone to meet it and brought it towards the house. Instead of coming up the driveway, though, they crossed the road and headed towards the creek. I assume Luke was taking it to get a drink and cool off.

I went in the house, but then in about 10 minutes I heard the other dog whining again. I went out, and it and Luke were headed out of the yard. Since I normally run other dogs off, Luke tends to just lead them out of the yard as soon as I go out. I called him and they both came up on the porch. It was obvious that the small dog was still a puppy. He was very scared. Andrea came out and we tried to calm him for a bit. She fed him some Puppy Chow that we had bought when Luke was a puppy, and he quickly ate it. He was clearly very hungry. He also had some ticks that had obviously been there for a while.

After dinner we went checked with a couple of the neighbors to see if they were missing a dog, or knew someone who is. The general consensus seems to be that someone probably dropped him off to get rid of him. We're going to feed him and let him decide if he wants to stick around or not. If he does stick around, and no one comes looking for him, we'll take him to the vet to get his shots and get him neutered if he's old enough. Luke seems fond of him, and since he brought him home, we figure that Luke would enjoy having him around as a playmate.

Other than dealing with the puppy, I didn't accomplish a whole lot. I went out after getting back from the neighbors' house to work on the weedeater. I first planned to adjust the handle, since I figured it wasn't exactly in the spot I like. I hadn't remembered, though, that the shaft is marked for where the handle goes, and that is where I always used it before. So it did not need any adjusting. I also planned to install the clip for my shoulder strap, but had forgotten that it requires removing the head so the clip can be slid down the shaft. I didn't want to get into that big of a project, so just left it off for now. I'll see how much harder mowing is without it, and then decide how quickly I need to install it.

Monday, July 16, 2012


It actually wasn't raining when I got up this morning. I could have gone outside before work, but chose not to. Turns out that it was my only chance at accomplishing anything, since it started raining around 1:00 and rained for most of the day.

The only things that really got accomplished today is that Andrea picked up the fabric for the RTV canopy she is going to make and she picked out a cover crop combination that we're going to try in the garden. The original plan was to just plant where the garlic and potatoes had been, but after talking we've decided to go ahead and till up another area so we can cover crop a bigger section. That way when its time to plant next year we'll have a good sized area ready.

Garlic Growing Results

Now that I have finally harvested the last of the garlic, I wanted to write a post detailing the process we used and the things that we learned. This was actually our second time growing garlic, although the previous year our results were very bad because we let the weeds overtake it and didn't remove the scapes until much later than we should have.

This year we planted 5 varieties of garlic, which are listed below. We planted on October, 30th. Since we were planting in soil that had been dormant for quite some time, and since the soil was dark and crumbly, we chose not to add any compost or other amendments. We simply tilled the existing topsoil to a depth of approximately 4-6 inches deep. I prepared an area that was 4ft wide by 10ft long, but we only needed around 5 to 6 feet of the length. The garlic that we planted was purchased from Enon Valley Garlic, of Enon Valley, Pennsylvania.  I suspect that I'll be buying from them again at this years Mother Earth News Fair, making it 3 years I've bought from them. We spaced our plantings approximately 6 inches, then covered with soil. Once everything was planted, we watered and mulched with straw.

Garlic Varieties Planted

  • Russian Giant - A hardneck variety that matures late. This is my first experience with this type.
  • Symphony - A softneck variety that matures early. This is my first experience with this type.
  • Bogatyr - A hardneck variety with a mid-late maturity. This is my first experience with this type.
  • Tochliavri - Also known as Red Toch. A softneck variety that matures early. This is our 2nd year planting this type. 
  • Stull - A hardneck variety with a mid-late maturity. This is our 2nd year planting this type. I'm especially fond of this variety.

Once the garlic was planted, we did nothing more until Spring. Once Spring rolled around we had to weed a few times, which is not something that we kept up with as well as we should have. The straw mulch helped to keep the weeds down pretty well, but weeding was still necessary. Towards the end we didn't give the garlic the attention it needed, and allowed the weeds to start crowding the garlic. We also harvested scapes from the hardneck varieties. We need a much better job this year of harvesting the scapes at the right time. I experimented with different ways of eating the scapes. I cut them up in pasta, cut them up in breakfast burritos, and even made some garlic scape and sunflower seed pesto. The scapes are certainly an added benefit of the hardneck varieties.

We did water the garlic several times throughout the Spring and early Summer. We were not following any specific guidelines for watering, so the amount and frequency with which we watered was likely inconsistent. This is something we need to work on for next year. I do know that we let the ground dry out too much at one point, as the ground was so hard when I tried harvesting that I had a hard time digging in it.

Unfortunately I just realized that my record keeping this year was not as good as I had planned. I do not have exact harvesting dates for the different varieties, and also did not record the yield. This is another area that we need to work on improving for next year. I did record that on 6/25 we harvested the Tochliavri. I believe that the Symphony was harvested shortly after that. The Stull and Bogatyr were harvested the first week of July, I think. I do know that the Russian Giant was harvested on 7/13.

In total we planted 43 cloves of garlic: 6 each of the Russian Giant, Symphony, and Bogatyr, 14 Tochliavri, and 11 Stull. I'm confident that our yield was better than 90%, but I don't know the exact numbers. I also did not weigh the yield, so can't compare it to the weight of what was originally purchased. Since I ate some of the initial purchase, rather than planting, the weight would not have been a good comparison anyway.

Overall I'm fairly happy with our results, although I don't think that we'll try to save any for planting next year. We're still probably at least a year or two away from producing garlic that I'd be comfortable planting. The Russian Giant seemed to have done the best. The plants looked better than the others throughout the entire process, and the harvested bulbs were the biggest. Of course the bulbs were expected to be bigger than the others, as that is the norm for the variety. Its too bad that I waited too late to harvest the Russian Giant. It is still going to be usable, but the cloves are splitting apart and the outside paper is mostly gone. It will need to be used up quickly, because I do not think it will last very long.

As the garlic was harvested, we tied it into group of 6 or so, and hung it to dry. We do not have a great place to dry garlic, but its better than what we had available last year. I have it hanging from the rafters of the shed where we park the RTV. The shed is open on 3 sides, but I have it hanging near the one enclosed side and high enough that it is reasonably well protected from any blowing rain. I did not bother hanging the Russian Giant, since I know it needs to either be eaten quickly, or used in some other way.

After the Russian Giant, I will likely eat the Stull next as the information I have found indicates it does not store as well as the others. After the Stull I'll likely finish off the hardnecks by eating the Bogatyr. By the time I start on the softnecks I'll probably just see which are looking best, and eat the others. Since I planted far fewer Symphony, I may go ahead and eat those first if both types seem to be in similar condition.

I'm not sure how long to expect the garlic to last me. Sometimes I eat quiet a bit, during which times I'll easily go through a bulb per week. Other times I don't each as much, especially if I am not eating a lot of pasta during that period. I suspect that quite a bit of it will end up going into pesto, since we have lots of basil in the herb garden. We may very well use up a lot of the Russian Giant this way.

All in all I'm pleased with how the garlic turned out considering this was only our second attempt. I have high hopes for next year. Between now and planting season I hope to have read both of the new garlic book that I purchased. In September we'll attend the Mother Earth News Fair, where I'll likely buy at least a pound of garlic from Enon Valley Garlic. If there are varieties that I particularly want to try that they do not have, I may try ordering that variety from another source, provided they aren't sold out since it will be getting late in the season.

If I can get some manure soon, I'd like to pick out a spot for next year's garlic crop and go ahead and do some sheet composting of that area. Failing that, I hope to at least apply some compost before planting, especially since I had the problem this year of the soil drying up and getting hard. Besides that, my main goals for next year are to better plan the varieties I plant, so we have fresh garlic available over a period of several weeks, while also having garlic that will store for a variety of time. I hope to keep better records as well, specifically regarding the weight of what is planted as well as the weight and count of the harvested garlic. Lastly, I hope to blog about this next crop throughout the process, rather than waiting until after harvest and blogging and doing it all at once.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Today was a mostly unproductive day. It was raining when I first got up, so instead of going out I spent an hour or so reading one of my new books on garlic. Around 10:00 Andrea and I went out to cut down a sheet of plywood for one of her projects. Unfortunately we didn't get to finish that, as I was using my cordless saw and the only charged battery died just as I was finishing the last cut.

After coming back in I did some research on battery charges. Mine had stopped working a while back. We have one drill that has a charger built in, so we had just been using that to keep the batteries charged, but its not the best approach. I'll probably be ordering a new charger from Amazon soon.

For the most part we spent the rest of the day relaxing. We watched some TV and played some games together. I also began trying to learn how to use Google SketchUp, which is a 3d drawing program. I think that it could be useful for experimenting with plans for sheds, etc. After dinner we did go back out to take some measurements of the RTV. Andrea is going to the fabric store tomorrow and is going to buy some marine fabric to make a removable top for the RTV. It isn't something that will get used a lot, but it will be nice to have some shade when I'm doing something like mowing grass when its sunny.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Even though today was a rainy day, I got quite a bit accomplished. I started the day by finishing up the work around the air conditioner. I put down landscape fabric between the a/c and trailer and around the blocks it sits on. I put down cardboard around and in front of the unit, then covered it all with straw. The hope is that this keeps the weeds down until we're ready to add some manure to the straw to prepare the area for planting next spring.

After finishing that I came in for a break and some breakfast. The weather forecast was calling for rain starting around 2:00 PM, so I went out around 11:30 to mow the grass before it started raining. There were a couple brief periods of showers while I was mowing, but I managed to finish the area in front of the trailer, down to the road, which is what I had hoped for.

While I was in for lunch it started raining quite a bit, so I didn't try to go back out. I helped Andrea work on a project instead. We have a foot stool in the living room which storage inside. She was making a tray that would fit inside, just below the top so we could keep things like remotes, etc there. I cut some strips for her and helped get them mounted. It was a small project, but was something that had been planned for some time.

Late this evening we decided to go out and try to groom Luke. He has really long hair in spots, which tend to get matted or collect burrs. We tried using clippers on him, but the noise freaks him out. We finally resorted to scissors, with me trying to keep him occupied while Andrea cut his hair. We ended up with a couple large handfuls of hair. Hopefully it'll help prevent tangles and mats.

While we were out with Luke we decided to put out some bird feeders. We had been planning it for several weeks, but kept forgetting. We had one up for a while, but the shepherd's hook it was on got bent. We had bought new, better quality, ones, but hadn't put them out yet. We put two hooks into the group: one single and one double. On the double one we hung a suet feeder and tube feeder. On the single hook we hung a wooden feeder shaped like a log cabin. We have another nice one somewhere, but couldn't find it. I think its probably still packed in a box from the move. There are still a couple of boxes in the shed we never unpacked.

I also looked through the new books today, and chose one to start reading. So far it seems informative, and I'm optimistic that I'll learn quite a bit from it. I'll do a review once I finish.

Friday, July 13, 2012


It rained all night last night, which is good, since we're still recovering from near drought conditions in June. I knew it would be very wet this morning, so didn't even try to get up early to go outside and work on anything. I actually slept in until almost 9:00, although I was awake for a bit before I actually got up. It rained on and off for most of the day, and I worried that today was going to end up being another unproductive day.

After dinner, though, the sun came out. I decided that I wanted to try to accomplish something, so went out, even though it was very wet. I had recently remembered that I had never harvested the last of the garlic. I knew it was well past the optimum time to harvest it, so I decided to do it today even though it was so wet. I'm glad I did, because the impacts of waiting too late were obvious. The bulbs had lost a lot of the paper, and a couple actually had cloves starting to separate from the rest of the cloves. I'll need to go ahead and use these 5 bulbs first, because I don't think they will store very well. They should be fine, though, for fairly short term use.

After harvesting the garlic I decided to go ahead and place the new barrel we bought for storing water at the garden and fill it. I decided to do it today for two reason; first, because it was taking up space in the shed where I park the RTV, and second, because I had easy access to water to fill it. The creek that runs through our property is fairly shallow, with water usually no more than 6-8 inches deep in most spots. There are a couple of deep spots, however, and one of these is where I normally get water for the garden. It had been dry for some time, but after all of the recent rain the water was about 2 feet deep today. Had I waited until the creek was dry again, I would have had to get water from the big creek, across the road, which is not quite as easy to get to. So now we have a barrel sitting at the garden with 30 gallon of water in it. The only things we had planted in the main section of garden this year was the garlic and potatoes. Even though we still need to harvest one of the potato varieties, the plants are dead, so there is no need to water those. We'll probably need some water for the cover crop we plant, but we thought we'd likely be using more on the raspberry and blackberry briars, so that is where I placed the barrel for now.

Today I also received the new books that I recently ordered. I've not had a chance to look through them yet, but I am excited to do so. One is on root cellars, and the other two are about garlic. 

Why I Decided on the Kubota RTV500

In a previous post I discussed our purchase of a utility vehicle, and the many benefits of a UTV over the 4-wheeler I was previously using. In that post I briefly touched on the process of narrowing down the choices to the Kubota RTV500, but didn't go into any great detail. In this post I will discuss the factors that led us to choose the RTV500 over the other offerings.

Once I started looking at UTVs I quickly realized that, for the most part, they could be divided into two classes: those designed for trail riding and those designed for work. Of course nearly all models offer both trail riding and working capabilities, and some are a compromise of the two functions. I knew that what we needed was a machine that we could work. Since I planned to keep the 4-wheeler, I could always use it for trail riding. In hindsight, I'm very satisfied with my decision to focus on the more work-oriented machines, as I would guess that less than 10% of the hours on the RTV have been from trail riding.

Even though I wasn't looking for a trail riding machine, I didn't automatically rule out the models available from ATV manufacturers. I visited Honda, Yamaha, Kawaski, and Polaris dealerships to look at the available options. I've long been a loyal Honda ATV user, going all the way back to the days of 3-wheelers. I wanted to give the Honda Big Red a fair chance, but once I saw one in person I know it was too big for my needs. The woods around here are tight, and even the old logging roads do not have much extra room. I wanted something fairly small, and the Big Red just didn't fit that description. The price tag was also a bit more than I was hoping to spend.

Next on my list was the Yamaha Rhino. At least in this area, the Rhino is the side by side. Many people think of them all as Rhinos, regardless of the make or model. Based on my research and what I saw of the machine in person, the Rhino is much more of a trail riding machine. I'm not suggesting that it can't be worked, but it is designed for the trails. Also, like the Big Red, the price was a little more than I wanted to spend. The Yamaha dealer also carried Polaris, so I looked at those while I was there. The dealer tried to steer me in the direction of a Ranger, which I had read some positive information on. One of the big factors that I disliked about the Ranger was the CVT transmission, which many of the other machines have as well. I have heard from enough people who have had problems from belt driven vehicles for it to worry me a bit. Many people report years of trouble free use from CVTs, but I just didn't want to risk it. I wanted a machine that would take a beating, with minimal repairs, and didn't like the idea of having to replace belts, even if only every couple of years.

The Kawasaki Mule was the only machine offered by a ATV manufacturer that we seriously considered. Kawasaki also makes the Teryx, which is purely for trail riding, but the Mule is known as a serious work horse. They have been around for years, and I'm told that they are built like a tank and just keep going. The Mule 610 4x4 is also one of the cheapest options, which made it attractive. There were some things we really liked about the Mule, but I wasn't crazy about how it felt when we sat in it. It has a fairly small engine as well, which concerned me since I wanted to be able to drag logs with it, etc. Still, based on the reputation of the machines, it made it into my top 5 list.

After looking at the machines made by ATV manufacturers I started looking at those made by the tractor manufacturers. It seems that most of the major manufactures make a UTV now, so there were many options. I focused on those with local dealers (meaning within 30-40 miles), so limited my search to Kubota, Cub Cadet, New Holland and John Deere. I actually didn't look at the New Holland very seriously, as it seemed to be out of our price range.

The John Deere Gator has a reputation as good as, if not better than, the Kawasaki Mule, so I knew a JD would be something to strongly consider. I was surprised to see how many options John Deere offers in the UTV world. There is the XUV, the HPX, and many Gator models to choose from. The HPX seemed like the best fit for our needs. We found, though, that it was not comfortable for us. Although in hind sight, this may have been primarily due to the bucket seats, and I now realize that bench seats are available. I made the mistake of assuming that since every one we saw had bucket seats, it was the only option. They did have a used 2-wheel drive Gator at the dealership we visited, and we briefly considered taking it for a test drive. Had it been 4-wheel drive, we very likely would have. The price was less than half of what we were looking at for a new model, but the lack of 4-wheel drive was a deal breaker for me.

As I mentioned in the previous article, the Cub Cadet Volunteer 4x4 is the machine that we came very close to buying. I really liked the Volunteer when I first saw it. I test drove it multiple times, and the only complaint I had from the test drive is that it was a bit uncomfortable for my left leg, as there didn't seem to be a good place to put my left foot. The way the cab is made, there is a piece of metal that comes down from the dash to the floor there, which made it cramped. The salesman at the dealership did move the seat back for me, which helped a bit, but even to this day I wonder if I would have regretted buying the Volunteer for this reason.

I read every review I could find on the Volunteer, and watched every video you YouTube. There seems to be remarkably little information available, as it just isn't as popular as many of the other UTVs. Some of the things that were in the plus column for the Volunteer were the larger engine, larger bed, and the lower price tag (compared to the RTV500), although the price comparison was misleading as I was looking at the carbureted model, not the EFI. I believe the price difference was around $500. I liked the doors on the Volunteer, especially since I knew Luke would be riding with me and I didn't want to have to worry about him falling out. In hindsight, I realize I probably would have ended up taking the doors off, though, since I tend to be in and out a lot when doing certain tasks. 

The negatives for the Volunteer included the fact that it was not EFI (Andrea worried about the difficulty with starting it in the cold), the larger size, the increased weight, and concerns about reliability. The lack of information available online from owners was a concern. I did find a few people who owned them, but it was far less than the information I could find on the RTV500. Also, the available information was very mixed as to whether the Volunteer was actually made by Cub Cadet, or by MTD. During my research I saw that Cub Cadet had a very good reputation at one point, but the reputation had suffered as many of the lower end models began being by MTD instead of Cub Cadet. It seems that the larger tractors may still be made by Cub Cadet, but I wasn't able to find information specific to the Volunteer. I did manage to find a recall notice for the Volunteer that had the MTD name, which made me worry that it was MTD produced. Ultimately, I'd glad that I chose to go with Kubota, as I have zero doubts about the reliability of Kubota products. When spending several thousand dollars on a piece of equipment, piece of mind is a very important factor.

Even though we chose to buy the RTV500, it wasn't the only Kubota model that we considered. The RTV900 was a possibility, and it appears to be the most popular model in the RTV lineup. At the time, I considered the larger size of the 900, the fact that it was diesel instead of gasoline, and the increased price as major draw backs. Looking back, however, I'm not entirely sure that I made the right decision. There are times when the extra power of the 900 would be very welcome. The 500 will run out of power when trying to pull large logs or trying to pull up some small trees. If I were making the purchase today I have a feeling that I might very well buy the 900, which means I would also look at some of the John Deer models more closely since they are in a similar price range. Just looking over the specs of the new RTV900XT makes me wish we could justify owning two RTVs.

Even though I sometimes wish I had bought a 900, I'm very happy with the RTV500. It is, without doubt, the best purchase we've made since moving here. I can't say enough about how useful it has been. When we bought the RTV, it was a base model, with no accessories. Since then I've added a 3,000 lb winch, a rear view mirror, and the long-handled tool carrier that I just finished. I would like to come up with some sort of tray to fit under the hood for hauling gloves, a trailer hitch, etc. I would also like to eventually construct some bed rails that could be fit into the square tubing at the corners of the bed to extend the bed height. Usually the bed is big enough, but when hauling light material, such as mulch or straw, it could be nice to extend it a couple feet so I could pile more material on without it falling into the cab. 

Aside from accessories, I've done minimal maintenance. I did have to let some air out of the tires, as they were filled well beyond the suggested pressure. I wish I had figured that out sooner, as I was having some serious traction problems in mud, which are pretty much resolved now that I'm running the suggested PSI. I still sometimes considering dropping the pressure down a bit more to improve traction a little more. I've also done the 50 hour maintenance, with the help of my Dad. I'm not sure how much Kubota charges, but based on the cost of materials I wouldn't be surprised for it to cost close to $300. The oil and filters cost me around $120, if I remember correctly, with the bulk of that being the hydraulic oil for the hydrostat transmission. While doing the maintenance we did make an adjustment to the transmission, which does seem to have given me a little extra low-end power. 

Now that I've had the RTV for more than a year, I'd like to check out some of the other models I previously looked at to see how they compare now. The only thing I've really looked at recently are those cheap UTVs sold by farm stores, and the difference is significant. After getting use to the build of the RTV, I can't imagine buying one of those cheap built machines. Maybe I'll drop by the Cub Cadet dealer one day and see how the Volunteer feels now that I have so much experience with the RTV. My guess is that I'll be very satisfied with choosing the RTV over the Volunteer.