Thursday, November 29, 2012


The weather was fairly nice today. It was sunny, with temperatures in the 40s. I was planning to go out during my lunch break, but was lured away by a package I received shortly before that. The delivery was my new Acer C7 Chromebook, which is a laptop running Google Chrome operating system. I've been intrigued by the concept for some time, so decided to treat myself. So far I'm really like the Chrome OS. After using the Chromebook for a few days, and getting some electricity use statistics I'll do a post comparing it to the laptop I was previously using.

Profit Focused Environmentalism

What is the real motivation behind most environmentally friendly actions? If I were to answer based on the information in many of the books and online forum discussions that I've read, I'd have to say that money is the primary motivation. I'm not sure, however, if that is accurate. It certainly is not my primary motivation, and I believe that to be true for others I know. Maybe, though, we are a just a fringe minority.

I've decided to write this post because of the amount of profit-focused information I keep running across in my reading. I've read more than one book lately that has listed profitability of an idea as one of its key benefits. Earlier today I ran across a post on a message board where the individual stated, "For a farm to be sustainable it must be profitable". It seems that many people share the belief that for any activity to be sustainable and/or desirable, it must be profitable. Is this a uniquely American perspective? Or is this view held by people throughout the world? Unfortunately most of my reading is of works by US based authors, so I can't really answer that question. I do know that I very often see a similar trend in comments regarding the US economic system. A lot of people believe that financial gain is the only thing that motivates people to work hard or have innovative ideas.

I suppose I should be glad that people are willing to switch to more environmentally friendly products/processes, regardless of their motivation. Doing these things just to save money, however, seems impure to me. It is like listening to a song written by a song writer who is in it solely for the money. Where is the passion in the lyrics? Also, I can't help, but to be concerned that this profit-focused environmentalism is just a fad. Without the savings to consumers, or profits to producers, would the demand for "green" products disappear?

As I was trying to think of environmentally friendly actions that many people take, without receiving a financial gain the first one that came to mind was recycling. When I was a kid my Dad would save soda cans to sell to the recycling center. Most people today, however, seem to recycle without being paid to do so. I realized, though, that there is a still a financial motivator at work with recycling. While individuals may not be profiting, there are certainly companies that are. Without companies who can profit from the recycling process, there would be nowhere for the items sent to the recycling centers to go. Without companies who can either save money by using recycled products, or can charge more for an item by advertising that it contains post-consumer recycled materials, there would be no market for those recycled materials. In other words, without the ability for someone in the process to profit, there would be no large scale recycling.

I suppose this focus on money as a motivator shows the priorities of our society. Where are the people who do their job because they enjoy and take pride in it? Where are the inventors who spend every free moment tinkering in their garage to come up with some great innovation, not to profit, but because that is his/her passion. Where are the people who turn off the lights when leaving a room, not to save a few cents on electricity, but because he/she believes it is the right thing to do? I believe that, while those people may be the minority, they are still out there. Regardless of what others might lead you to believe, there are people for whom profit is not a primary motivator. There are people who would choose to ride a bike instead of drive a car, even if the car and fuel were provided by someone else and would cost him/her nothing.

I don't know when we, as a society, became so obsessed with money that it became a more powerful motivator that everything else. It has been this way for my entire life, though, or, at least, so it seems. If people were as obsessed with reducing their impact to the environment as they are with acquiring money, imagine the world we would live in. There would be no mountain top removal in search of coal. There would be no oil spills in our oceans. There would be no clear cutting of forests to make room for shopping centers and parking lots. If doing the right thing was our primary motivator, we would look at the world we have created and hang our heads in shame at the realization of what we have done.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blog Milestone - 2000 Page Views

I had not intended to write a post when the blogged reached 2000 page views, as that is a fairly minor milestone. The time frame, however, for reaching this last 1000 page views was significantly less than the first 1000, so I thought that was note worthy.

I started this blog on July 3rd. The 1000 page views mark was hit on October 17th, for an average of just under 10 page views per day. The 2000 page views mark was hit today, on November 28th. That works out to an average of just over 23 page views per day since October 17th, which is a 150% increase in traffic. I am quite pleased with that.

The most popular post so far, based on page views, has been Tools - Fiskars Brush Axe, which has had 176 page views so far, and continues to increase. From what I can tell the traffic is coming from search engine results, which means there must be quite a bit of interest in that tool. My post is currently near the top of page 2 of Google search results for the phrase 'Fiskars Brush Axe'. I suppose I should begin to learn about Search Engine Optimization, but at this point I'm more focused on simply providing content for the blog.

The second most popular post is 2012 Berea Solar Tour, which is primarily due to the post being shared on the Facebook page of one of the individuals whose home was mentioned in the post. It is clear that social media is a useful tool for driving traffic to the blog. This is why I have created a Facebook page to help promote it.

I'd like to thank everyone who has visited the blog so far for taking the time to read about my ventures. As long as you keep visiting, I'll keep writing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Its days like today to remind me why I dislike winter so much. The temperature today was in the uppers 30s, and the sun never made it out from behind the clouds. I suppose I should feel fortunate, as it is nowhere near as cold as many other places, and we haven't had any snowfall yet. Still, though, I find it hard to get motivated to go outside to do anything in this weather. I guess I'm lucky to be in a situation where I don't have to go out if I don't want to. That will certainly change as we progress down this path towards self-sufficiency. For now I'll just hope for more sun in the coming days, and keep myself occupied be reading when the sun doesn't show itself.

First Attempt at Planting Cover Crops

As I've mentioned several times previously, Andrea and I decided to plant cover crops for the first time this year. I've taken a couple of different workshops on the topic, and we've both read books and articles on the subject as well. I don't think there is any question as to the benefits of cover cropping.

Andrea handled the task of choosing the cover crop combination to use. She decided that we should go with a combination of winter rye and hairy vetch. I later attended a workshop hosted by the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Agency on cover cropping. The instructor, who had come up from the University of Kentucky, suggested that winter rye and hairy vetch was the best combination for a late fall cover crop in our area, so it seems that Andrea chose well.

We purchased rye and vetch seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange at this year's Mother Earth News Fair. We later realized that I had significantly under-estimated the square footage of the garden area, so we didn't have enough seed. Luckily I received some hairy vetch seed at the workshop I attended, so we just needed to order some additional winter rye seed from Southern Exposure.

I began prepping the garden for the cover crops on the weekend of October 20-21. I tilled a 30' x 47' area. I used approximately 150 square feet of this for the garlic, leaving 1260 square feet to be planted in cover crops. It wasn't until November 11th that I finally was able to plant them.

Prior to planting Andrea order some inoculant for the hairy vetch. Applying it was very simple. I emptied the seed into a container, then dumped the inoculant on top, added the specified amount of water, and mixed it up. After allowing a few minutes for the combination to dry, I added the winter rye seed to the container, and mixed it thoroughly. I'm not sure how most people handle planting multiple seeds like this, but we figured that the most consistent method would be mixing the seeds first, so that when they were broadcast the mix would be fairly homogeneous.

Since we don't have a seed spreader, I decided to broadcast the seed by hand. In hindsight this may have been a mistake, as I sewed the seed much too thickly. I realized my mistake after a while, but by then it was too late. I started sewing the seed less thickly, but still ran out about 2/3 of the way through. We didn't have any more seed, and we didn't want the added expense of buying more, so approximately 1/3 of the garden will be left dormant until Spring.

I plan to apply a straw mulch to the section of the garden without cover crops. If the rye doesn't start making more progress soon, I'll probably go ahead and mulch that section as well. I'd rather buy a few bales of straw to use as mulch than leave the soil exposed to the elements for the entire winter.

I feel confident that we'll be better prepared for planting cover crops next year. I have certainly learned a few things, and likely will learn more once the time comes to cut the plants and incorporate them into the soil. Learning is part of what this process is all about, so I can already safely say that, based on that, this years cover crop planting has been a success.

Monday, November 26, 2012

BumbleBerry Farms Heritage Select Honeys - Lotion2Go Bar

One of the items I purchased this year at the Mother Earth News Fair was a Lotion2Go Bar from BumbleBerry Farms Heritage Select Honeys. Located in Somerset PA, BumbleBerry Farms sales a variety of honey and honey based products.

I wanted to try the Lotion2Go Bar to see if lotion in bar form might be a better option for me than traditional liquid lotion. I have extremely dry skin, which tends to flake and even crack in the winter. I know that I should apply lotion regularly, but I dislike doing so. Because we do not keep the house very warm in the winter the last thing I want to do is use a cold liquid lotion that is going to make me even colder.

I've only used the Lotion2Go Bar a couple of times so far. The first time I tried it was earlier in the year when the temperature was a bit warmer. My body heat was sufficient to melt the bar enough that  simply rubbing it in my hands was enough to apply a good coat. The last time I used it, however, the temperature was approximately 60 degrees, which caused it to be a bit more difficult to apply. However, I was still able to apply a good layer by rubbing the bar between my hands, as well as over my feet, as long as I applied a bit of pressure.

Even after a day, I can tell that my hands and feet aren't as dry as before I used the Lotion2Go Bar. I don't think I'd want to try to apply it to my entire body, but its a good solution for hands and feet. I love the smell of the cocoa butter in the bar. My only complaint is that after using the bar my hands feel greasy. Its no worse than with many lotions that I've tried, although I have used some more expensive lotions that did not leave my hands feeling so greasy. Ultimately, though, the greasiness is a minor inconvenience when compared to the positives of the Lotion2Go Bar. I suspect that if BumbleBerry Farms is at the MEN Fair again next year I'll most likely buy another bar or two.

Getting Healthy(ier)

Starting today, Andrea and I have decided to put forth some real effort into living a healthier lifestyle. I will not be putting a great deal of focus on this in the blog, but did want to do an initial post. I've tried eating better and exercising several times in the past, but never stuck with it. My motivation this time is a bit different, however, than in the past. I recently had to have a wellness check performed for my employer provided medical insurance. One of the things that I learned from this is that my blood pressure was high. I do not want to be put on medication for high blood pressure, so hope to address it with diet instead. While I'm at it, I figure I might as well go all in and try to improve my overall health at the same time. Andrea is on board with the idea, so we have been putting together a plan.

In addition to the high blood pressure, I have plenty of other reasons that should be motivation enough to eat right and exercise more. The better physical condition I am in, the more work I can do around here. I can't even imagine undertaking a major project, such as constructing a house using cob or some other labor-intensive method in the condition I am in. In order to reach our goals, I believe that getting ourselves in better physical condition is going to be a necessity.

I feel pretty good about the diet changes I have planned, as long as I can stick with them. I'll have a smoothie each morning for breakfast, which is what I do most of the time already. For lunch I'll have rice, with either chicken or a quesadilla, or pasta with chicken or pesto. For dinner we are working on a meal plan, which in the past we have found makes it more likely that we'll eat healthy, rather than throwing something unhealthy together at the last minute. I plan to eat fruit and nuts as snacks, hopefully at least a serving of each per day. For after meals I bought some small, individually wrapped chocolates, that should satisfy my craving for something sweet. If I want a chocolate snack in the evening I'll have either frozen yogurt or pudding to choose from. I hope to incorporate more garlic, peppers, and herbs into my meals. I also hope to consume at least one clove of raw garlic daily, either incorporated into a meal, or eaten by itself. Eventually I'd like to increase my garlic intake, but I'll start by trying to build the habit of eating at least a small amount daily.

One of my biggest challenges to a diet change has always been snacking. I hope that I have enough healthy snack choices available to overcome that. We are also limiting the amount of other snacks in the house, which should, I think, make it a bit easier. Another challenge will be eating out, especially on the days that I work in the office. I'll just have to do my best on those days, and not get too discouraged if I eat something I shouldn't.

This time of year is a good time for us to try establishing new eating and exercise habits. It is sometimes hard to do this sort of thing when the weather is nice, as we spend a lot of time outside working, which leaves less time for prepping healthy meals. I also tend to not do any regular exercise when I'm working outside, so I'm hoping I can get that habit established now, so it will continue even when I'm spending several hours a day outside working. Lastly, the improved diet and increased exercise should help my mood during the winter months, which is important since I seem to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I've taken a few steps to help with the symptoms, but I doubt anything will work as well or eating better and exercising.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Today was warmer than yesterday, although it was still quite cold until up in the day. After lunch I went out for a bit, but didn't stay out too long since we needed to go to London to do some grocery shopping.

I was able to rake enough leaves to finish mulching the section of the herb garden that is fenced in. This was an area approximately 150 square ft. I normally hate raking leaves, which is the reason that I haven't already completely mulched everything. It wasn't too bad today, though, because I had a good process. There is a trail leading from the edge of the yard, westward, past the old house on the property. There are plenty of leaves on the trail, as it is wooded on both sides. The trail is level and relatively flat, which makes it easy to rake. It is also close to where I wanted to use the leaves, so I didn't have to haul them very far.

After I finished with the leaves I rode on out the trail to see how much work I need to do to get it cleared well enough that I can keep it mowed next year. It doesn't look like it'll take much work. The biggest issue, actually, will be turning at the end. While I was out there I took a few minutes to check out the cistern up behind the old house. The cistern is made of concrete blocks, which I hope to salvage. I need to figure out the best way to safely dismantle the cistern, without damaging the blocks. I'm hoping that having the tractor will make this easier, although I'm still not sure what the best way to attack it is going to be.

On our way back home from London Andrea and I were talking about the fact that we need to get some gravel for the driveway. I think we are going to wait until it dries up to get a big load hauled, which probably means waiting until summer. We do need to go ahead and redo the walkway, from the driveway to the back porch, though. I need to get a measurement tomorrow to figure out exactly how much we need, but my rough guess is that gravel from the hardware store is going to require 5-7 bags. I'm thinking that it may make sense to buy a truckload from a quarry or landscaping supplier, instead. Once I have the dimensions we can call around and get some ideas.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


I think that today may have been the coldest day that we've had so far this year. The temperatures never made it out of the 30s today. Thankfully it is suppose to be a bit warmer tomorrow. I did go outside around noon and worked for a bit, but didn't do as much as I had hoped. I hauled off another couple of loads of brush from the brush pile I've been working on. I also rode across the road to get an idea of how much available dirt there is over there that I might use for building a road. Eventually I want to be able to drive the truck over there, and that will require building up a road to make a more gradual decline from the road. It looks like there should be plenty of dirt available, so, with the tractor, I should be able to accomplish my goal. I'm just not sure when I'll start on that project. Probably not until next year.

I've not done much this evening. I did take a couple more of the Renewable Energy courses that I signed up for. I've completed 4 of the 10 lessons, so should have no problem completing the course by the end of December when it expires.


I haven't done an update in a few days due to the Thanksgiving holiday, so I thought it was time I caught up.

On Wednesday, at lunchtime, I went out and cleaned out the car in preparation for our Thanksgiving travel. After work I loaded the car, which involved carrying out several loads of Christmas presents and figuring out how to stack them to maximize space. We like to take as many Christmas gifts as possible with us when we visit family on Thanksgiving, in case we need to drive the truck when we go for Christmas due to the weather. Andrea has most of the gifts made or bought, so we had a car load to take in.

Thursday morning we got up early and headed out. We were reminded how difficult it is to find somewhere to eat on Thanksgiving morning in and around the small town where we live. We finally stopped at a gas station, about 7 miles out of town, that has a restaurant that was open. We had never eaten there before, but likely will go back sometime to try out their lunch. We had two Thanksgiving meals to attend, one at my grandmother's, then another, later in the day, at my mother-in-law's.

My other grandmother had cooked on Thanksgiving, but also cooked a small meal on Friday, so we went to visit with that side of the family and had lunch on Friday with them. After eating and catching up with family for a bit, we headed home. We had several stops to make along the way, and didn't want to be too late getting back here.

Two years ago, my dad was in the hospital for several weeks, so we spent a lot of time either at the hospital or staying at my parents house. We saved all of our plastic bottles, with the intentions of recycling them. I had forgotten about them, until a couple of days ago when my Mom reminded me, and said they were in the downstairs closet. On our way home we made a detour through London so we could drop the bottles off at the recycling center. I had to take the lids off of each, so counted them as a I did, out of curiosity. There were a total of 89 bottles, made up mostly of 20oz, with a few 32oz bottles mixed in.

While in London we grabbed something to eat and stopped in a few stores to check out their Black Friday sales. We only bought something from one store, where we picked up a set of clamps, that may be a Christmas gift to me, a tape measure, and 40lb of bird seed.

When we got home, Luke and Jack met us at the bottom of the driveway. They normally wait until we start up the driveway, and meet us about half way up. I think they were happier than normal to see us this time, probably because they were hungry. We were both tired and ready to relax, so didn't even carry in everything from the car. The only things we brought in was one piece of luggage and a couple of bags with frozen meat and bones that had been sent for the dogs. My parents sent some leg bones from a deer they had butchered, and my grandmother sent several pieces, that she had apparently been saving for some time. I need to finish carrying everything in today, especially the two boxes of canned deer meat that my parents sent, which they've had on hand for several years, and finally admitted they aren't going to eat. I might suggest that we save the canned meat as a backup in case we run out of food for the dogs this winter because of weather.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Requesting Charitable Donations in Lieu of Gifts

In a reply to a comment on the What My Christmas List Says About Me post, I mentioned the idea of asking family members to donate to charity instead of buying me gifts. Unfortunately this isn't something that I think is practical in my situation, as I suspect that most of my family would continue to purchase gifts. However, it is an intriguing concept, so I've been giving it more thought and doing a bit of research on the topic.

It seems that the overwhelming majority of people believe asking for charitable donations instead of a gift is, at the very least, in poor test, and may even be considered outright rude. Several arguments were used for why this is a bad idea, the most common of which was that one should not tell another how to spend his/her money. My view is that, if I'm asked what I would like to receive as a gift, suggesting a donation to one of my preferred charities is no different than asking for a particular book or for a gift card to a specific store. It doesn't seem, however, that most people see those things as being at all similar.

Another common argument I saw against asking for charitable donations is that the gift giver may not agree with cause the charity supports, and may therefore feel uncomfortable or be unwilling to give money to that charity. I think this is easily avoided by providing multiple options, which focus on different causes. If I were to request a donation to the Sierra Club, for example, I suspect that the majority of my family would be unwilling to donate due to the perception that the Sierra Club is the enemy of the coal industry, which most of my family firmly supports. However, if in addition to the Sierra Club, I also suggested donations to KET (Kentucky Educational Television) and the Sheltowee Trace Association I suspect that one of the options would be acceptable.

The last reason I saw given for my asking for charitable donations is unacceptable is related to how it will make others feel about requesting and/or enjoying more material gifts. The idea is that, others who were clearly pleased with receiving a new sweater or iTunes gift card will feel bad about themselves when they see a family member open a gift and announce it is the donation to the charity that he/she suggested. I do think there is some validity to this concern. I believe, however, that if such a situation makes a person feel guilty, it gives him/her a chance to think about the root cause of such feelings.

I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that asking for charitable donations instead of gifts is viewed so negatively. Its really a sad commentary on the values of our society that requesting a frivolous gift is perfectly acceptable, but requesting a donation to an organization that supports a good cause is frowned upon.

Our Mice (and Mousetrap) Problem

As I recently mentioned, we have a mouse problem in our house. We've always had some problems with mice, but never like this year. We've had a mouse regularly getting into the broiling compartment or our gas oven. I believe this is the same one that I've seen, multiple times, come out onto the stove top, even though I was sitting only feet away. We've also had mice come right out into the open in the living room, with both Andrea and I sitting there. My biggest concerns with the mice are related to hygiene and the potential that we'll have to throw good food away if they get into it. Seeing a mouse tends to freak Andrea out, and has ran her out of her bedroom more than once.

We had hoped, when she first came to live with us, that Kitty would take care of our mouse problem. We hoped that she would diligently hunt down any mouse in the area and dispose of it without us ever having to be involved. If nothing else, we hoped that her scent might be a deterrent to the mice. It turns out, however, that neither of these is the case. In all fairness, Kitty will chase a mouse if she sees it. She just doesn't put forth the type of effort to catch them that we had hoped. To my knowledge she has never caught a mouse inside the house, although she has, in the past, caught small rodents outside. In reality, though, it seems that the dogs are much better hunters than she is. If we were to let them inside the house, though, a few mice would be the least of our problems.

As much as we hated to, we decided years ago that the best way to deal with mice in the house was to set traps. We went through several types of traps before finding a type that worked for us. We started with the traditional mouse trap that everyone is familiar with. I quickly learned that I am terrible at setting those things. Maybe if we had bought better quality traps it would have been easier, but I found myself spending several minutes just trying to set one trap. Half the time, when I did manage to get it set, I'd later realize that I did so in a way that prevented it from being triggered when the mouse took the bait.

Next we tried the Victor Quick Set Mouse Trap. As advertised, these traps are much easier to set. In fact, these are probably the easiest to set traps that I've seen. Not only are they easy to set, but they also provide an easy way to dispose of the mouse without having to touch it. I had very high hopes, initially, that the Quick Set would solve our problem. Unfortunately, however, the traps didn't work out as well as I had hoped. We did catch some mice with the traps, but more often than not, the mouse was able to get the bait without setting off the trap. Perhaps this was caused by a flaw in the way I baited the traps, but I was never able to find a method that gave me a consistent result.

The next trap that we tried was the Kness Snap-E Mouse Trap. The Snap-E has been, by far, the best trap that we've used. Setting the trap is very simple. While it may not be quite as foolproof as the Quick Set, it is much easier to set than a traditional trap, and I've never had any problems. Disposal of the mouse carcass is also very easy, and, much like the Quick Set, can be done without touching the mouse. Early on I had some problem with losing the bait without the trap being set off, but I think I've figured out how to apply the bait in a way that, for the most part, solves that problem.

After using a single Snap-E Mouse Trap for quite some time, we decided that it was time to order a couple more. Since we had seen mice in multiple locations, we wanted to be able to set traps in each. With three traps set, we caught six mice in the first two days of our focused attempt at ridding the house of them. Several of those were caught during the daytime, which is not something we had been able to do before. I think that is likely a sign that these mice were much more bold than the ones we have dealt with in the past. Yesterday morning when I checked the traps they were all empty, and all still set and baited. I checked again this morning, and found the same. While I seriously doubt that we've gotten rid of all of the mice that quickly, I do take it as a good sign.

In the meantime, Andrea decided to order some of the sonic pest deterrent devices, to see if those might help. She went with the Victor Sonic Pest Chaser. They have not yet been delivered, so I can't comment on their effectiveness. I suspect that we'll use them in Andrea's bathroom and bedroom, in hopes that, if they do work, they will drive the mice into the other parts of the house, where we have the Snap-E traps set. We have to be careful where we set traps, because we don't want kitty to accidentally get caught in one. Also, as it is, Andrea makes me go check the trap in my bathroom before she'll go in there, so having one set in her bedroom and/or bathroom would not go over very well.

Using traps is not my preferred method of dealing with the problem of mice. The most effective, and humane, solution is to identify and seal their entry points into the house. I think of traps as a temporary solution, until we can find a way to prevent them from getting inside. I know there are some holes behind the stove that we need to fill. We thought we had them fixed, by filling them with modeling clay, but I suspect that something has happened. I need to pull the stove away from the wall again and check. Unfortunately, to really cover the holes, I need to pull the stove out completely, but that requires unhooking the gas line, which I'm not comfortable doing myself. I'll probably get my dad to help me with that the next time he's visiting. Until then I guess we'll just keep traps set, and our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I skipped the daily update yesterday, but I actually did accomplish a few things. At lunch time I hauled off another load of brush. I also got the big mower out and mowed around the edge of the brush pile, to cut the stems that were remaining from the briars I had cut.

Today at lunch I decided to work in the herb garden a bit. Since we are completely redoing the layout for next year I took up the rocks that we were using as stepping stones. I also pulled up the dead plants, cut them up, and spread them over the area. I plan to add mulch, so hopefully the organic material from the plants will decompose by the time to plant this spring.

We went to London this evening after work. Andrea had some grocery shopping to do, and I was needing to look for a few items myself. I picked up a 3/4" clevis, that I'll use when I need to hook a chain to the tractor for pulling something. I'm looking forward to seeing how well the brush grubber will work when hooked to the trailer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tools - Fiskars Brush Axe

I've been using my Fiskars Brush Axe here lately, and so it occurred to me that I should do a post about it. I received the brush axe for Christmas last year, but hadn't used it a whole lot until these past few days. I've been clearing an area overgrown with briars, and have found the brush axe to be a big help with this task.

My first experience with a brush axe was a couple of years ago, when my boss loaned me so I could try it out when initially clearing the land. This was, what I've also seen described as a surveyor's brush axe, which had a long wooden handle. I used it for a few days, but couldn't decide if I wanted to buy one or not. As I was looking for items to put on my Christmas list last year, however, I started researching them again. When I ran across the Fiskars brush axe, I decided it might be a good compromise.

The Fiskars brush axe is a short handled tool, that is used one-handed.  I liked this design better than the longer handled version that required two hands to use. The Fiskars brush axe is described as being a combination of a hatchet and a machete. The biggest difference is the shape of the blade, which has a curved end. I have never used a good, sharp, machete, so can't really say how they compare. I do know, however, that the curve of the brush axe blades is very useful for hooking materials once they've been cut, so they can be pulled within reach.

My only complaint is that the blade was not sharp when the item arrived. I suspect that this is normal, since handling a sharp blade can be dangerous. I have no experience with sharpening blades, however, so am not sure what I would have done if I hadn't been able to get my dad to sharpen it for me. I suppose I would have had to figure out how to sharpen it myself. I keep the brush axe in the plastic case it came in when storing it, both to protect the blade and to prevent someone from getting cut on it.

The Fiskars brush axe is one of those tools that isn't going to be necessary for everyone. I really only use it for cutting briars and vines. I've used it enough over the past few days to justify the expense, but this will not be the case for everyone, especially since a pair of pruners could do the same job, although maybe just a bit more slowly.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Today was another fairly productive day. I'm certainly loving this weather. Temperatures in the 60s isn't what I expect in November, but I'll gladly take it. I did notice today that the sun is already directly overhead this time of year by 11:00 AM, and by 2:00 PM it starting to get blocked by the trees on the hill behind us. This helps me to figure out the idea time to get out and work if I want to do some while its warmest.

This morning I worked on getting to, and sorting through, a pile of brush. When we were clearing the land originally, before moving here, I made a big pile of brush so I could later chip and/or burn it. Its been over two years, and I'm just now getting to it. The pile was badly overgrown, with briars that were as much a 12' to 15' tall. I used a brush axe to cut through the briars, and piled them up off to the side. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them, but at least they are out of the way for the moment. Once I was able to access a portion of the brush I began sorting it. Much of it was too big to chip, so I loaded it into the RTV and hauled over to garden with the rest of the stuff to be burnt, or used for the hugelbeds. I piled up anything small enough to be chipped, but so far there hasn't been a lot of that.

After lunch I went back out and worked on the brush pile a bit more. I was able to cut enough briars that I can now access almost the entire pile. I ended up hauling 4 or 5 loads in total over to the burn pile. This project is actually going to serve multiple purposes. Not only am I going to be able to generate wood chips for mulching, and possibly biomass for creating biochar and/or hugelbeds, but the area I'm clearing is also going to, hopefully, be used soon. After looking at several possible locations, we've decided that the area where we'll build a chicken coop this spring is around where the brush pile is. If I can get it cleared now, that's one last thing that will need to be done when we're ready to build.

I also finally remembered to take soil samples from the garden today, so we can do a ph test. Of course this should have been done before planting the garlic and cover crops, but I kept forgetting. I took two samples, one of the area that had been amended with compost, and another of the area that had nothing added aside from the organic material and leaves that were there when I tilled it. I haven't tested the soil yet, but will try to remember to post the results when I do.

This evening I decided to start the online renewable energy course that I signed up for yesterday. I completed the first two lessons, and really haven't learned anything so far. I'm hopeful that I'll learn a few things by the end, but I'm not too confident in that. I'm afraid that the course might be more introductory than I was hoping, but we'll just have to wait and see. I do believe that there is always something to be learned, even if we think we already know the information being covered, so hopefully that will be the case here if nothing else.

This evening I was also able to see how Luke would respond to someone coming onto our property after dark. I heard a car, and looked out and saw headlights coming up the driveway. When I went out to see who it was both Luke and Jack were in the yard. Luke was right at the edge of the driveway barking and jumping, and keeping pace with the car as it came near the house. It turned out to be someone looking for someone I didn't know, so they apologized and left. I suspect that had I not gone out, they would likely not have gotten out of their car, with two large black dogs barking at them. This is actually what we had hoped would happen.

Lastly, I should mention our mice problem. It isn't a new problem, as we've had problems with mice since we moved here. It seems to be worse this year that normal, however. Today, when a mouse came right out into the middle of the living room floor with both Andrea and I sitting there, we decided it was time to take a more pro-active approach. I hate killing them, but since Kitty isn't being a very good deterrent, we don't know what else to do. I set three traps earlier today, and have already caught one mouse. I actually think that I heard another trap go off just a few minutes ago, so I'll go check on that one here in a bit, after I'm confident there will be no surprise movements when I check.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Today has been an eventful, and productive, day. In hindsight, however, I should have headed outside  earlier, so I could accomplish more before it started to cool off.

My first project for the day was replacing a fuse in the RTV. The last time I tried using the 12v plug I found that it wouldn't work. My guess was that a fuse had blown, as the cap that covers the plug had been chewed off by Luke months ago, allowing some debris and moisture to collect in the plug. I was able to verify that the fuse was blown, so today I replaced it with a good one. I need to remember to pick up a pack of spare fuses sometime, since I've used one of the spares from the RTV and at least one of the spares in the car.

Once the 12v plug was working again I hooked up the air compressor and aired up the tires of the wood chipper. I then covered the 12v plug with electrical tape, to keep debris and water out. I would have preferred using duct tape, but I didn't have any. I know, that is probably in violation of Lesson 1 of Homesteading 101, and I plan to remedy that.

After airing up the tires of the chipper I moved it into place and fired it up. It had been sitting for several months, so did require a squirt of starting fluid, but ran fine after that. I was able to work through the brush I had piled up, and generated quite a bit of woodchips in the process. I plan to use those chips to mulch around the edges of the garlic bed, and to create a walkway between the garlic and the rest of the garden. Tomorrow I think I'll work on cutting the briars that have overtaken the large brush pile I made before we moved the trailer here, and start sorting through it. I know there are some large branches that will end up either being burned or used in our hugelbed, but there should also be plenty to chip.

While I was chipping Andrea painted the door facing of the front door. When we installed the door several months ago we never got around to painting the facing. It was starting to deteriorate from the weather, so we knew it needed to get painted before winter. She painted it white, so it doesn't look much different, but I'm hoping the paint will server to protect it from the weather.

This evening I ran across an article that talked about a free online renewable energy course. After looking into the course I decided to sign up. I haven't started the first lesson yet, but will likely do so tomorrow. The course is being offered by Solar Energy International, which offers several other renewable energy courses. The course I am taking is RE100: Introduction to Renewable Energy. I plan to do a post about the course once I finish.

What My Christmas List Says About Me

Every year, as the holiday season nears, my family starts asking for Andrea and I to put together a Christmas list. Its never a simple task, so this year I started early to make sure I had something put together before I was asked. I've been thinking about what my list, and my problems with putting one together, say about me and my priorities. I also thought it would be interesting to compare this year's list to those from previous years.

There are two reasons that it is difficult for me to put together a Christmas list. The first is that there really aren't that many things that I want that I don't already have. As I've simplified my life, and become less focused on material possessions, the result has been that there are less things that I want. At the same time, when there is something that I want, or need, I normally buy it for myself. In our household budget we set aside a certain amount of money each month for free spending. Since I don't buy things often, I usually have several hundred dollars set aside for anything that does come up that I want.

The other reason that I find it difficult to put together a Christmas list is that I generally have very specific things in mind that I want. I do a great deal of research before buying most items, and like to choose products that can be expected to last for many years. I have found that its very unlikely that I'll receive a gift that is exactly what I'm looking for. Of course I appreciate the gift, and that the gift giver has attempted to give me what I want, but I hate to know that they spent their money on something that may end up being quickly replaced. The other difficulty is that there are some product brands that I avoid due to activity by the maker that I disagree with. This prevented me from putting a log chain on my Christmas list this year. Normally this would be a perfect item for a Christmas list, as I could specify exactly what I wanted, such as "3/8 inch log chain - 14' or longer". The problem, however, is that the store where my family would most likely shop for this type of item primarily sells chains manufactured by Koch Industries, which is a company that I have chosen not to do business with. I decided that I would rather buy myself a chain, than risk the likelihood that receiving one as a gift would mean it would be a Koch Industries product.

As I compared my Christmas list from this year to those from the past two years I was surprised at the similarities. I had expected that the lists would show a clear progression of my attempts at simplifying my life. This year my list contains tools, and a request for an Amazon gift card. In the past I've created an Amazon wish list with books that I want, but decided it would be easier to ask for a gift card instead. My list from 2011 was very similar, except I did provide a link to my Amazon wish list, which has been changed so I don't know what was on it. I suspect that in addition to books, there were several photography items, as, until recently, I was dabbling with photography as a hobby. In 2010, my Amazon wish list did contain several photography items, along with various books. The rest of the list was tools, like this year.

The lack of photography items on the list this year is really the only major difference. I think this is a good indication of a change in priorities. This year my priorities are focused on homesteading and simple living. Maybe the change has nothing to do with simplifying my life. Maybe it is simply the result of being an adult.

Swisher Trailcutter Tow-Behind Mower

I've often talked about my tow-behind mower, or the "big mower", as I most often refer to it. Since i had purchased the mower well before starting the blog I've not gotten around to doing a post about  it. I thought that it was well past due, however.

The mower is a Swisher 44" 12.5 HP Rough Cut Tow-Behind Trailcutter. I've had the mower for approximately 8 months. If I had known I was going to buy a tractor, I most likely would not have purchased the mower, and would have just bought a PTO-driven mower instead. In fact, the reason I started considering the purchase of a tractor was because a mower for it would have been cheaper than a mower with its own engine. At the time, however, I couldn't justify buying a tractor just to save a few hundred dollars on a mower. Now that I have both, I plan to keep the mower, as the tractor is a bit too big to use for mowing the yard anyway.

Swisher makes several different mowers, with several different options available. Initially I was looking at the TrailMower, which is the lowest price option. After looking at them in person, and reading reviews, however, I quickly realized it was not built for what I need. I needed a sturdy built roughcut mower, that would stand up to a bit of abuse. If money had been no object, I likely would have gone with one of the AcrEase mowers that are made by Kunz Engineering. One of the comparisons I read between the two mowers stated that the AcrEase is three times the mower for twice the price of a Swisher. The cost, however, was something that I had to consider, and so far I'm pleased with my decision.

The Trailcutter that I purchased has a 12.5 HP Briggs & Stratton engine and 44" deck. More expensive models have larger engines, larger decks, and some have electric start, although starting the mower with the rope is so easy I don't see where that is needed. The mower can be offset from the tow vehicle, although I always leave it in one position. For some reason neither the website nor the manual for the mower list the cutting height, but instead just indicate that there is a 4" range. I find that I most often use the mower set to its lowest position, for mowing the yard, or highest position, for mowing around the garden, across the road, or when clearing a new area.

The thing that I like best about the Swisher Trailcutter is that I am able to mow the yard with it, in addition to mowing the other areas that I've mentioned. However, I want to make it clear that this isn't going to be the case for most other people. The reason this works in my situation is that we have, what I like to call, a natural lawn. We make no attempt at keeping the yard nicely manicured, like many people do. If the lawn is a bit uneven when I finish mowing, that's perfectly acceptable to us. I realize that for most people, however, this may not be the case. Also, I prefer not mowing the grass very short, so the lowest setting on the mower, which seems to leave the grass approximately 3" tall, woks well. For the sake of comparison, I looked up the specifications of a random push mower, and found that the cutting height range was 1.25" to 3.75", which seems to support my theory that most people mow their lawn shorter than the 3" that the Trailcutter provides.

There are several other things, in addition to being able to mow the yard, that I like about the Trailcutter. It is a rear discharge mower, which means that in most situations the clippings get spread out evenly, instead of leaving rows of clippings like a side discharge mower would. There are cases where this still happens, however, but that is generally only in really tall or wet grass or weeds. The fact that the mower has a stump jumper with break away blades is also a big benefit, although, luckily, I've yet to test that feature. I've hit a few obstacles, but so far nothing that really required use of the stump jumper.

There are also a few things about the mower that I'm not a fan of. First is that the cable for the remote console, which controls the blade engagement and allows the engine to be shut off, is too short. It is made to be mounted on the rear rack of an ATV, but the cable is shorter than the tongue of the mower, making that impossible. I've had to just leave it sitting on the body of the mower, with a piece of wire to keep it from sliding off on uneven terrain. Also, the mower is very long. I realize that having the long tongue provides some advantages, but when hooked behind the RTV the whole rig is approximately 20' long, which can make it difficult to maneuver in some areas. I tend to use the four-wheeler instead of the RTV when mowing the yard, since it is shorter, but the length of the mower itself, still makes for some tight turns.

I have had a couple of issues with the mower since purchasing it. The first was a bent height adjustment rod, which I should have noticed before buying, as it was already bent. Since I hadn't noticed it, though, I replaced it with a new one. Unfortunately the diagram wasn't clear, at least to me, and I installed it incorrectly. I was lucky that I had no problems while mowing, because as I was adjusting the height one day, the nut holding the adjustment rod in place came off and the mower dropped to the ground. Had I been mowing, especially with any speed, that could have caused some damage. I finally took some pictures of another mower in the store to use as a reference to reassemble the adjustment mechanism, and haven't had any problems since. The other issue I had was with the belt that drives the blades. As I was mowing one day I suddenly saw smoke coming from the mower. I quickly shut it off, and just parked for the day. I thought that the belt had probably come loose, but later found that wasn't the case. In fact, the next time I started the mower, there was no smoke, and I've had no issues since. My guess is that the belt was rubbing on something, which caused the smoke, and that when I disengaged the blades, the loosening of the tension on the belt allowed it to move back into its normal position. I plan to pick up an extra belt, though, just to have on hand, as I expect I will have to eventually replace it.

After using the mower more times than I can count during the past 8 months I can confidently say that it was a good purchase. Yes, I've had a few problems, and yes there are things that I do not like, but my overall experience has been a positive one. The cost of the mower was comparable to a riding mower, but is much more capable than a riding mower would be, at least for what I need. I anticipate that I will be using the Swisher Trailcutter for many years to come.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I was able to get out this evening and play with the tractor a bit. I knew I didn't have much time before dark, so decided to just work in the yard instead of over to the garden. I've had a job out front that I've been putting off for months, so thought I'd tackle that this evening. When the septic tank was installed, the installer left some extra dirt on top of it, in anticipation of the ground settling and needing to be filled in. That never happened, however, with the exception of one 12" hole, so I was left with a small mound of dirt in middle of the yard. Today I used the loader to pile up the excess dirt. I then hauled some of the excess down into the lower yard and dumped by the water meter. I had never quite finished covering the water line in that area. It was covered more than enough to prevent freezing, but was still about 6" lower than the rest of the yard. After finishing that I spread the remaining dirt over the septic tank to fill in any low spots.

I still haven't tried out my new gas can yet. I need to run out to town one day and fill up all of the cans. I did recently discover that one of plastic 5 gallon cans isn't working right. The can is a Moeller Scepter ECO, which I haven't had very long. I spent some time earlier today trying to get it to work. The issue is with the mechanism that opens the valve in the spout to allow the fuel to flow. I ended up removing the spout and pouring directly from the opening. It looks like I need to get a funnel to be able to continue using this can. If the metal can works out well, I might eventually get another to replace the bad plastic can.

I also received a package yesterday that I had been expecting. I had been planning to buy an extra hitch for the RTV, so I could keep one on the front and another on the back. After doing some research, though, I decided to pick up the CSI W580 Winch Receiver and Shackle Combo. I haven't tried it out yet, although I did mount it on the RTV. It seems very well built, and I think it is going to work out well. I hope to do a review once I've tried it out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I didn't do a whole lot today, but did make it outside for a few minutes during lunch. I finished cleaning up the scrap lumber that had been temporary relocated to the shed where I park the RTV and four-wheeler. Once I did this I was able to move the four-wheeler back under the shed. I also decided to see if the big mower would fit between the shed and the metal building. It fits perfectly, which means that most of the rain and snow will be kept off of it by the buildings on either side. I covered it with a tarp, which I'm hoping will last longer than if it were in direct sunlight.

I also received a package today that I've been expecting. After buying the tractor I realized that I needed a gas can for diesel. I really do not like the new plastic gas cans, so after some research I decided to order 5 gallon JustRite Type 1 metal gas can. It seems, so far, to be very well built. Of course the true test will be how easy it is to pour from it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Metal Building

If you've been following the blog you've heard me mention, several times, the metal building which I recently assembled. I've been waiting to do a post about the building until I was completely finished. I am now finally to the point that I am considering the building complete.

The building is an Arrow SR1011 10' x 11' Shed. Overall I am impressed with the quality of construction. The building contains several braces, which make it stronger than I expected. My only real complaint is with the height, as I have to duck to go through the door. I also have to duck to walk beneath the roof beams other than the one in the center. This is something I was aware of when we purchased the building, however, so I can't really complain.

We actually purchased this building two to three years ago, before we even moved to our current location. Our idea was that we would need some storage here at the property before and during the move, so we thought this would be a good option. We later realized, however, that there was nowhere to locate the building that would be out of the way while the bulldozer was working, while still being conveniently located once we moved here. For that reason, the building remained in its box in storage that whole time. It was moved a few times during that period, and did sustain some light damage. I was surprised, though, at how well the pieces held up to the multiple moves and long term storage. The biggest issue caused by the long term storage was that a family of mice had moved into the box, which resulted in some of the pieces getting covered in mouse droppings.

When we purchased the building, it came with a free floor frame kit (the Arrow FB1014). I had initially planned to use the floor kit, since we already had it. When my Dad and I really looked at it, however, it quickly became apparent the the floor kit wasn't made to be used the way I had intended. While it appears that the kit would work well if installed on a concrete pad, or level gravel lot, that isn't what we had to work with. The spot where I was locating the building was not level. The plan was to construct a frame from treated 4x4s, which would be made level by putting posts under the front edge. The building would then be built on that 4x4 frame. I had hoped that the floor kit would span the gap between the edges of the frame and hold our flooring in place. What we found, though, was that the floor kit wasn't made to span the distance without added support. We ended up deciding that it was going to be best to just build a wooden platform onto which we could assemble the building.

Once we determined that the floor kit wasn't going to work, we were able to put together a material list and make a trip to the home improvement store. After acquiring the lumber our first step was to construct the wooden platform. The platform itself is fairly simple. We used 2x6 floor joists and OSB for the flooring. The instructions for the building gave dimensions for the platform, which would result in a platform measuring 9/16" larger on all sides than the building itself. We used the suggested dimensions, but in hindsight I wish we had not. I see no actual benefit from making the platform larger than needed. Doing this did, however, mean that we had to find a way of protecting the OSB that was protruding from beneath the building. The instructions suggested roofing cement, but we found a better solution, which I'll discuss later in this post.

Once the platform was completed, the assembly of the building went fairly well. I'm confident that Andrea and I could have completed the assembly without my Dad's help, although I'm very glad he was here. Progress was consistent, but slow. It took us approximately 16 hours to assemble the shed, which was spread over three days. There is a lot of prep work in the early steps of the instructions. We did the prep work as instructed, which I was glad for, even though at the time it seemed strange. Once the bottom rail was assembled, and the prep work done, the instructions warned to not proceed any further unless the rest of the building could be completed the same day. We completed the wall assembly, but did not install the roof before stopping for the day. I see no issue with the way in which we left the building, but do agree that it would not have been wise to leave the walls only partially assembled.

I did learn a few things during the process which I feel obligated to pass on. First is that assembling the building definitely requires two people. There were steps which I think would be impossible with only one person. Also, we found that having two drills was very useful. The job could certainly be done with a single drill, but it would take much longer as it would be necessary to change bits very often. 

Knowing what I know now there are a couple of things I would have done differently. The first is to make sure we had a taller step ladder. My 10' step ladder was difficult to get to at the time, so we used a 6' ladder instead. There were a few situations where the ladder we used was not really tall enough, and actually resulted in some fairly dangerous situations that could have been avoided with a taller ladder. The other thing I would have done differently is to attach the bottom rails to the wooden platform once we knew it was square. The instructions were clear that it should not be attached until the end, but that made it difficult to keep the building square when installing the wall panels.

My Dad left before we were able to apply the finishing touches to the building. Andrea helped me install the door, which was a fairly easy process. She also helped me re-position the building on the platform, as it wasn't centered like I wanted. The last task that she helped me with was replacing some screws in the roof, which seemed to be causing the roof to leak. I don't think we were completely successful, however, as I found water standing in the floor today, presumably from the rain yesterday.

As mentioned earlier, there was a need to apply some type of waterproofing to the edge of the wooden platform that is not covered by the building. My Dad and I talked about a few options, before finally deciding on drip edge. I was able to slide the drip edge under the edge of the building, which helps to hold it in place as well as ensuring that water doesn't damage the platform. I later applied roofing cement where the drip edge goes under the building to prevent water from running beneath the building. In hindsight I wished I had used clear silicone instead of the black roofing cement. I don't think it would work any better, but would likely have looked better.

Since I am going to be storing a lawn mower, tiller, and possibly wood chipper in the building I wanted a ramp to make it easier to get them inside. My Dad helped me to build the ramp, which actually took much less time than I expected. We used three 8' treated 2x6s for the runners and 5/4" decking for the top. The 8' runners resulted in a ramp that is a bit steep, but is a good compromise. Had I gone with 10' or 12' I am afraid that the ramp would have extended so far as to be in the way. I do need to put something down to improve traction when the ramp is wet. I'll most likely uses pieces of old shingles for this. I did this for the back porch steps and it worked well. One thing I hadn't considered is the extra time required to walk the length of an 8' ramp. I wish I had installed the ramp on one side of the door opening, and steps on the other side, since the majority of the time I will just be walking into the building, not pushing a piece of equipment. 

I still plan to add one last finishing touch to the building. When reading reviews of similar buildings someone suggested filling the openings between the wall panels and roof to prevent wasps from entering and making a nests. I have been saving old pieces of landscape fabric for this. The theory behind using landscape fabric is that it should keep insects out, while still allowing ventilation. I'm not in a big hurry to do this, but would like to finish it before spring.

I think the metal building is going to work out well. However, if we had not already purchased it, I definitely would not have bought it now. It would have been easier to build a building completely from wood, and would probably have cost no more. Of course this would only be an option because my Dad could have helped me build a wooden shed. If Andrea and I were going to have to build it alone, I would prefer the metal building.

Kubota L3200 Tractor

We recently purchased a tractor, and I thought it was time for me to do a post about it. The tractor that we purchased was a Kubota L3200 4wd with gear shift transmission. We bought the tractor new, from the same dealer we bought the RTV from last year.

I've been toying with the idea of buying a tractor for a while. Until fairly recently, however, I didn't think that we could actually justify the expense. We finally decided, though, that in addition to being helpful with day to day tasks, the tractor would be a big help when we were ready to build a house. Because we plan to use an alternative building method there is a good chance that we'll be moving large quantities or materials such as sand, clay, gravel, straw, etc. Having a tractor with a front end loader will definitely make that process easier.

After looking at used tractors, both online and at dealerships, I decided that it made the most sense for us to buy new, rather than used. I normally prefer buying used, but I just don't know enough about tractors to be comfortable buying a used one. Since tractors seem to hold their value very well, anything I found that was just a few years old was going to cost closer to a new one that I'd like, and older ones were just going to be too hard for me to evaluate.

I did look at a few different tractor brands, but Kubota was always my preference. I've been extremely pleased with the RTV, as well as with the dealership it was purchased from. I was initially looking at the BX series tractors, as they were the smallest and cheapest option. After talking to the salesman, however, he convinced me to consider the L series tractors instead. The primary issue with the BX series is that since they are a sub-compact, the implements they can use are limited. I decided that it made more sense to go with something that could handle full size implements, which would mean I could more easily buy used implements rather than having to buy everything new. Another option was the B series, but to get something comparable to the L3200, was going to actually cost a bit more.

The retail price for the 4wd L3200 with gear shift transmission and front end loader is $19,000. This was beyond our price range, so we weren't seriously considering the L3200. Andrea wanted to see the tractor in person, however, so we dropped by the dealer one day to look at it together. When I asked the salesman for the price, I was surprise at how much under the retail price it was. When you add in the fact that Kubota was offering a $750 rebate with $0 down and 0% interest, it started looking much more practical.

After looking at our monthly budget, and considering the tax implications of the purchase, we finally decided to go ahead and buy the tractor. We revisited the dealership with the intention of buying it, but I wanted to take a test drive first. Having never driven a tractor before, I found it a bit awkward, but the tractor seemed a good fit for me. After having the salesman demonstrate the features of the tractor, and looking at the front end loader we decided to go in and start the paperwork. In addition to the the base tractor and loader the dealer threw in liquid ballast in the rear tires and delivery.

So far I am very pleased with the tractor. I'm still trying to get use to it, so haven't done a great deal with it. I can already tell that the loader is going to be very useful. I also suspect that the pulling power of the tractor will be very helpful. The tractor is 32hp, which is double the hp of the RTV. With the added weight of the tractor, and the better traction the tires will provide, I should be able to pull up some decent sized trees.

I'll most likely do another post at some point in the future, once I've put more hours on the tractor. Based on my limited experience so far, however, I am confident that the tractor was a good purchase. It seems to be a very good fit for us. I'm already happy that we went with the larger tractor, rather than the smallest one we thought would meet our needs. I sometimes think that when we bought the RTV, we should have gone with the 900 instead of 500. Hopefully we won't have this concern with the tractor.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fending Off a Cold

Friday morning I woke up feeling like I was getting a cold. My head was hurting, and I was stopped up. While I never like getting sick, I especially didn't want to get sick at that time as we were having friends from out of town visiting over the weekend. I asked Andrea for her thoughts on how to best fend it off, based on her knowledge of medicinal herbs.

Based on her input, and my own thoughts, I started taking a combination of herbs and supplements that I hoped would keep me from getting sick. I started taking 500mg of vitamin C, twice a day, as well as 560mg of echinacea three to four times a day. In addition to those supplements I've been trying to eat raw garlic every day.

Thankfully I woke up Saturday morning feeling fine. I thought that everything might catch up to me on Sunday, since on Saturday I stayed up late and ate junk throughout the day. I felt fine on Sunday as well though. Here we are on Monday, and I'm fairly confident that I've managed to avoid getting sick. I am going to continue taking the vitamin c and echinacea for a few more days, just to be safe. I can definitely say that I prefer this type of treatment to taking over the counter medication.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I took the day off yesterday because we had friends visiting from out of town. I don't get to see these friends nearly often enough, so I always look forward to getting together with them. We only manage to all get together maybe 3 or 4 times a year.

Today I did accomplish a few things. My first project was to plant the cover crops. That job actually went fairly quick, so afterwards I got the tractor out and played on it a bit more. I'm still trying to get familiar with using the loader, so focused on that today. I spent some time digging the hole for the hugel bed, and moving the dirt I had dug out earlier in the week. I also used the loader to move a log that I had been unable to move with the RTV because it was so tangled in vines. Once I finished with the tractor, I took the RTV back over to the garden and moved a few logs I had uncovered. I also used the brush grubber to pull up a few small trees. I'm looking forward to seeing how well the tractor will do with pulling up trees, but I need to buy a bigger clevis before I can do that.

Friday, November 9, 2012


The weather today was beautiful. Not only was I able to get outside and work for a bit, but I was able to do so while wearing short sleeves. I'm sure I won't see many more days like that before winter. I was able to finish installing the drip edge around the metal building's platform. I was also able to put down some roofing cement to ensure that when water hits the drip edge it can't flow beneath the building frame. The last task for the shed was to install a few screws that we had left out initially. Andrea came out and helped me do that. At this point I think I can safely say that the building is, finally, finished.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


As much as I would have liked to have spent my free time today playing on the tractor, I had other things to take care of. At lunch I went out and removed the screws that secure the metal building to the wooden platform. I also dug out the step ladder, since I knew I would be needing it later. After work Andrea went out with me and helped me move the metal building slightly, as it wasn't sitting evenly on the platform. She also helped while I was replacing the three screws in the roof of the building where I had spotted leaks. After that I started installing the drip edge around the edge of the platform. I was able to get a bit more than halfway finished before dark. I should be able to finish that tomorrow.

Electricity Use - Lowest Month Yet

I have been tracking our electricity use since we moved here in mid-2010. Last month we had our lowest usage yet, which I'm pretty excited about. Our second lowest usage month was April 2012, which, when I think about it, really isn't a big surprise. Both months are during the transition period between using the air conditioner and occasional use of space heaters for supplemental heat.

Because we heat with propane, but cool with electricity, our electricity use is always very uneven from one season to the next. We are, however, pretty consistent electricity users during the heating season. From October 2011 through March 2012 our average daily usage was 13.59 KWH. Usage during each of those months was within 6% of that average. Overall, however, our usage is trending down. Whereas our usage for October 2011 was 13 KWH, it was down to 11.43 KWH for October 2012. Going back 6 months, I see an ever larger decrease. Usage for April 2012 was 11.45 KWH per day, compared to 17.61 KWH per day for April 2011.

We haven't done anything drastic over the past year to reduce our energy demands, so I can't really tell you precisely what has caused the decrease. I suspect that it is a combination of small changes, as well as us becoming generally more conservation minded. One change that we made was to purchase a new freezer. I haven't compared the electricity usage of the two, but I'd be surprised if the new one was a significant savings, as it has nearly three times the capacity of the old one. I need to check though, to know for sure.

During the heating season our biggest electrical user is the hot water heater. Beyond that, the next highest users are the refrigerator, freezer, space heaters, and the tv. I suspect that the refrigerator and freezer use less electricity during this season due to the cooler inside temperatures, although I haven't taken readings to determine what impact that actually has. Since we spend more time inside during the cooler months, the tv gets used more, so the usage adds up. Andrea likes to have the tv on as background noise, although she often uses the radio or plays audio books instead. I should probably compare the electrical usage of the various options, to give her some input on how each option compares. There is a real possibility that the tv accounts for 10% of our average daily electricity use.

Our overall electricity use needs to continue to go down, especially since we would like to switch to a renewable energy system at some point. I'm happy to see that it is trending downward, and I am very interested in keeping an eye on it to see how things go from here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Today the tractor was delivered. As you might be able to guess, I didn't accomplish a whole lot outside of playing with my new toy. After driving up and down the drive way to get comfortable with the shifting I decided to head over to the garden.

I wanted to try out the front end loader, since I have never used one before. I've recently become interested in the concept of hugelkultur, which involves piling dirt onto rotting wood to create raised beds. Andrea and I have a spot picked out to try a hugelkultur bed, so I decided to use the loader to begin removing top soil. I figured it would be a good way to get some practice using the loader, while, at the same time, doing something productive. I actually made some fairly good progress. I'm looking forward to working more on this project. I certainly have plenty of rotting wood to use for constructing the bed.

Utilizing Heat From the Computer

As I mentioned in another post, I have, at times, been using an electric space heater under the desk on cold mornings. It occurred to me that it was silly to be using an electric heater under the desk, while I had a heat generating computer sitting on top of the desk. So today I decided to move the computer under the desk. I didn't want to sit it directly on the carpet, so I put down a piece of old shelving first to serve as a platform.

I don't know how much impact this change will have on the temperature beneath the desk. I am certain, though, that there will be some impact. The computer clearly generates heat, and I'd rather have that heat under the desk, where it can help warm my feet and legs before rising, than have it on top of the desk where it can freely rise without providing a lot of benefit.

Since I had the computer unhooked, I decided to open the case to clean out the dust. I was amazed at how dusty the inside of the case was. I actually used a vacuum cleaner to suck out the large amount of dust. Since doing this, and moving the computer under the desk, I haven't noticed the fan running as much as it had been. Hopefully getting rid of the dust will help ensure a longer life of the components, while at the same time reducing, even if only slightly, the electricity use.

Garlic Planting - 2012

Now that the garlic is in the ground, I wanted to do an in depth post on the process I used for both prep and planting. I am trying to keep fairly detailed records this year, so that I can develop a baseline. Last year I was fairly happy with the garlic crop, but had no way of quantifying the results.

The garlic that I planted was purchased in September at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs Pennsylvania. I purchased the garlic from three different suppliers, Enon Valley Garlic, Lambert Mountain Acres, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. My prep work, however, began prior to attending the fair. Since I knew I would be buying garlic there, I did my research beforehand and made a list of the varieties I wanted to try. The list contained 5 primary types I wanted to purchase, as well as some alternatives in case I wasn't able to find the varieties I wanted. I was glad to have the list, especially since a couple of my most desired varieties, Spanish Roja and Stull, were not available.

During the month of October I worked, sporadically, on getting the garden tilled and ready for planting. Once that was done, we chose a spot for the garlic that was on the opposite side of the garden from where we planted it last year. Last year we planted in 4' wide beds, which were a bit too wide, so this year we decided to go with 3' wide beds. We used flour to mark off the boundaries of the  3'x30' bed, leaving a 12' path on all sides, and then I spread a couple of inches of compost over the area. After letting the compost sit for a few days I used a tiller to incorporate it into the soil, and then let it sit for a few more days.

I planted on November 6th, which was a couple weeks later than I wanted. We have already seen temperatures drop below freezing, but the forecast is calling for some days with high temperatures in the 60s over the coming week, which I hope will be enough to stimulate growth in the newly planted garlic. Another concern that I have is that the soil was cool and damp when I planted, which is not the idea condition. It would have been better if I had waited another day or two, and planted during the day instead of the evening. The weather forecast was calling for rain, though, so I was afraid to wait any longer. Only time will tell if this was a mistake or not.

Earlier in the day, before planting, I separated the cloves and chose the ones to plant. There were several of each variety that I chose not to plant for various reasons, such as size or condition. After separating the cloves, I took a final count and weight of each. I will do the same when I harvest, and then compare the numbers to get a baseline on success rate.

Quantity and Weight by Variety

Korean Red - 30 - 7.1oz
Tochliavri - 8 - 2.1oz
Inchelium Red - 13 - 2.3oz
Polish White - 31 - 4.1oz
Silver Rose - 17 - 2.0oz

Of the garlic I planted, I have previous experience only with the Tochliavri, which I've planted twice previously. I tested the Korean Red while prepping, and was very pleased with the strong flavor, so am looking forward to have that variety in quantity.

Before planting the garlic I used a garden rake to smooth out the soil. I would like to purchase a bed preparation rake, such as this one, but for now the garden rake is sufficient. Next I used a tape measure to determine the position of my first row, then laid a yard stick across the bed to help me determine spacing. My plan was to use 9" spacing, because I felt that the 6" spacing we used last year wasn't quite enough. I think I ended up with closer to 12" spacing between rows, however, which is fine since I had enough room to get everything planted.

I used a spade to dig a hole a couple of inches deep for each clove. The soil was loose enough that I could have dug the holes by hand, but the extra reach of the spade was helpful on the holes on the far side of the bed. Using the spade also helped to keep my hands mostly out of the cool, damp, soil, which was good since I was getting cold enough from kneeling on it. I planted 4 cloves in each row, and marked the first row of each variety with a labeled marker.

After planting all 99 cloves of garlic, I made 4 shallow furrows across the remaining bed into which I sowed some garlic seeds, of an unknown variety, I had purchased from eBay. This is my first experience with garlic seeds, and is more of an experiment than anything. I spaced the seeds out approximately 2" in the first three rows, then spread them more thickly in the last. My hope is that I will get some garlic scallions from the seeds. I only paid a couple of dollars for them, so even if I get nothing from them I will consider it a good lesson.

All in all i am happy with the way everything went. I do wish I had been able to plant earlier, but I'm fairly confident that the results will at least be better than last year's. I still need to mulch, which I'll try to do within the next few days. After that there isn't much to do until Spring, when I'll need to start weeding. I suspect that being vigilant about weed removal is likely to be the biggest thing I can do to ensure a successful crop this year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day 2012

I took an early lunch today to go out and vote. I hope that each of you managed to find the time to do the same. I was looking over historical voter turnout numbers and realized that, with a few exceptions, we've never had great voter turn out in this country. I know that a lot of people feel that their vote isn't worth a lot, but I disagree. I believe that every vote is important, even if it doesn't impact the outcome of the election.

There are many states in which there is no doubt which presidential candidate will get the electoral votes. My home state of Kentucky happens to be one of those states. I'm sure that many people see no reason to vote, since the outcome of the Kentucky election is already known. Personally, however, I see this situation has a great opportunity to support a 3rd party candidate. I am a big proponent of 3rd parties, and believe that we need to move beyond the two party political system, since it is clear that two parties are not able to adequately represent all citizens.

Why, you might ask, should someone vote for a 3rd party candidate when they have no chance of winning? My reason for voting 3rd party is simply to show that there are those of us who do support them. Until 3rd parties begin to pull in a large number of votes, the media and most Americans are not likely to take them seriously. I do not vote 3rd party because I think they can win this year. I vote 3rd party because I want them to have a real chance of winning in the future.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should vote for a 3rd party candidate. I'm sure that there are plenty of people for whom the Republican or Democratic party platform better matches his/her values than the platform of either 3rd party. If you consider a vote for either main candidate to be a vote for the lesser of two evils, however, I urge you to consider voting for a 3rd party candidate. In some situations a vote for a 3rd party may be the most powerful vote you can cast.

Clearly I should have written this post prior to the election. Unfortunately, however, I hadn't planned to comment on the election until today, and then it was too late. My comments, however, will be just as applicable in 2016 as they are today.


I am not a fan of the adjusted time. Today was my first day of trying to accomplish anything after work since Daylight Savings Time ended. I had forgotten how early it gets dark this time of year. I managed to get the garlic planted, but it was getting very close to dark by the time I finished.

I will definitely have to start taking advantage of my flexible work schedule to do more outside during the day, and make up the time later in the evenings when its dark out. I probably would have done that today if not for the fact that today was election day, so I took an early lunch and we went out and voted.

Heating - Fall 2012

A few days ago our heat kicked on for the first time this fall. The following day it kicked on again. As I was thinking about the fact that we made it more than 2/3 of the way through fall without using the furnace, I decided it might be a good topic for a post.

We use a liquid propane furnace as our primary heating source. In addition to the furnace we do use electric space heaters for some localized heating, such as to heat the bathroom while showering. Liquid propane provides a nice warm heat, but it can be expensive, and certainly is not my preferred method of heating. We try to minimize the amount of time the furnace runs, especially early and late in the heating season, when the temperatures are warm enough during the daytime to not require heat, but drop significantly at night.

Being able to go without heat this far into the season has taking some adjustments. At night the outside temperature has been regularly dropping down into the 30s, which brings the inside temperature down to the low to mid 50s. As the outside temperature increases, the temperature inside also increases, although at a much slower rate. A mid day temperature in the low 60s has been pretty typical inside the house recently. The thermostat for the furnace is set to its lowest setting, which results in it kicking on when the temperature gets into the low 50s. Both mornings that it kicked on recently the temperature was 51-52 degrees in here. Had it not kicked on automatically, I would not have chosen to manually kick it on at those times, as I knew the temperature would rise to a comfortable temp in a few hours without it.

To deal with the low temperatures we have been dressing very differently than we did during the summer. Right now, for example, it is 56 degrees inside. I am wearing thick sweatpants, a thick sweatshirt with a t-shirt underneath, and house shoes. I am also covered by a fleece throw. I have a 1500 watt electric heater under the desk, which I have been using intermittently throughout the morning. I try to use it on the low setting, and set it to a temperature low enough that it kicks off for several minutes before having to kick back on again.

I don't mind sleeping when it is cold, as long as I have plenty of cover. I do, however, hate getting into a cold bed, especially if I plan to read before going to sleep. I've been dealing with this by using a heated mattress pad, which I turn on prior to going to bed, then turn off when I'm ready to get in bed. I have not checked the electricity usage of the mattress pad, but I know I would rather not use it if I could find a good alternative. I plan to do some research on the use of heated water bottles instead, but need to determine how the energy required to heat the water compares to that used by the mattress pad.

Dressing in layers, and using a throw or quilt to keep warm when inside may seem like a big change. However, its really not that big of a deal, at least not for us. I spend 8-10 hours a day sitting at the computer, so its not difficult for me to wrap myself in a throw and use the space heat occasionally to heat just the area I am in. If I'm watching tv or reading, its easy enough to wrap up in a quilt to keep warm. In fact, I prefer being covered with a quilt whenever it is possible, so I enjoy doing this. If I'm up doing something I find that the activity tends to warm me enough that dressing in layers is sufficient to keep me warm without the added throw or quilt. I will sometimes, though, add another bottom layer in the form of thermal underwear.

If our home was better insulated I believe that we could have easily made it another week or two before the furnace kicked on. Living in an older mobile home, however, isn't exactly the best way to reduce heating and/or cooling requirements. We have done several things to help reduce our heating needs. The first was to use insulated panels to enclose the space beneath the trailer rather than traditional vinyl skirting. We have also put up insulated window coverings on many of the windows, which seem to make a real difference. The most recent change we made was to enclose the front porch with plastic. This allows the porch to stay a bit warmer than it would be otherwise, and allows it  to warm up quickly when the sun comes up. We have a large front window in the living room that looks out onto the porch. The first thing I do most mornings is draw the shades on that window, so we can take advantage of the natural light. Without having the porch enclosed in plastic I would be hesitant to do this, as our inefficient windows let a lot of heat escape when its cold outside. In the near future we will be covering all of our windows with plastic. We've done this in the past and it certainly helps. I'm interested in seeing how much it helps when combined with the insulated window coverings. I'm also considering testing a layer of plastic on the outside of one of the windows as well, to see how that compares to just the single layer of plastic inside.

I do believe that our bodies benefit from being exposed to a range of temperatures. I think that we've done ourselves a disservice in this country by becoming reliant on climate controlled environments in which the temperature is constant regardless of the season. I believe that being adjusted to a temperature of 55-65 degrees during this time of year makes it much easier for my body to adjust to spending all day outside working when the temperature is in the mid to upper 50s. If my body was used to a constant 72 degree temperature, it would be much more difficult to adjust to those cooler temperatures. Also, I believe that limiting the heating and cooling that is used allows us to be more in tune with our environment. Having said that, however, I will admit that if we were heating with a renewable resource we most likely would keep the house warmer during the fall and winter months than we currently do. I still don't think that we would keep our house as warm as many people, but might very well target something like 60-65 degrees.

Paul Wheaton, of and has written an interesting article on saving energy by heating the person, rather than the house. He recommends the use of things such as heated keyboard and mouse, a dog bed warmer, and an incandescent light bulb in a chick brood reflector. I am interested in his approach, and may very well look into getting a heated keyboard and mouse and even a dog bed warmer.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Today we finally took the plunge and bought a tractor. I know I've mentioned it on here before, but that was primarily when I was still trying to convince myself that we weren't serious. We had gotten pretty serious about it recently,though, especially after I found out that the dealer's price was well below the retail price listed online. Today I test drove the one I had been eyeing, and then had them draw up the paperwork. It should be delivered in a couple of days, so I'm sure that I'll have a lot more to say about it then.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Today was one of those days where there seemed to be no real rhyme or reason to the things that I worked on. The first project for the day was to take the tiller over to the garden and till under the compost I applied to the garlic bed yesterday. Getting the tiller over there took longer than the actual tilling, since the 3' wide bed only took three passes to thoroughly mix the compost with the soil. After finishing with the tilling Andrea helped me unload the tiller and put it in the new metal building. While we were at it we went ahead and moved the push mower there as well.

Next Andrea asked me to help her measure a couple of areas where she plans to sow wildflowers. These are ares that I have to mow with the string trimmer instead of the mower because of obstacles. The plan is to just sow them in flowers so I don't have to worry about mowing them at all. Before we measured, I decided to go ahead and mow the weeds since I hadn't done so when I last mowed the grass. Andrea decided to move some more stuff into the metal building while I mowed. There was some scrap lumber, and several extra 2x4s in the building, though, that were in her way. I decided to go ahead and move those to the new overhead storage in the RTV shed before mowing. Once I finished that I mowed, and she moved several containers of gardening supplies to the building. We then took the measurements she wanted.

The weather forecast was calling for rain this evening, so we decided it would be a good time to make a trip to London. I needed to run by the home improvement store to pick up some drip edge, which I'm going to use around the wooden platform of the new metal building. I also picked up a clevis pin that I hope will work as a replacement for the pin I lost that held one of the tiller tines in place. We then did some grocery shopping, then headed home. It did rain a couple of times, sometimes quite hard, so I suspect that the garden will be wet tomorrow. We'll probably have to wait a few days before planting the garlic, winter rye, and hairy vetch.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Since we plan to plant garlic soon, I've been wanting to apply compost to that section of the garden. I've also been needing to move the compost pile to where the new compost bin will be built, so I decided to do both tasks at once. This is what I worked on today.

I began by separating the finished from the unfinished compost. I hooked the buggy to the RTV, then parked next to the compost pile. This allowed me to go ahead and load the compost as I separated it. I loaded the unfinished compost into the buggy, then used the bed of the RTV for the finished compost.

After getting everything loaded I added the unfinished compost to the new compost pile. I then had Andrea help me take measurements and mark off the area where the garlic will be planted. We are leaving a twelve inch border between the garlic and garden edge. The bed itself will be three feet wide. We used flour to mark the boundaries of the bed, which made it much easier to apply the compost.

I had a full load of compost, which I was very pleased with. I was able to apply an average of two inches or so of compost to the entire 90' square bed. I hope to go back over tomorrow and till the compost under.