Monday, April 29, 2013

Kintrex Distance Measuring Wheel

One of the tools that I received as a Christmas gift this past year was the Kentrix Distance Measuring Wheel. I had been wanting a measuring wheel for a while, but had never been able to justify the expense. Most of the ones I had looked at before were priced around $70-$80, which was more than I was willing to spend. My grandmother always gives us money to buy our own Christmas gifts. As I was looking for something to buy I found this measuring wheel for less than half of that, though, and so decided to pick it up.

Admittedly, a measuring wheel isn't something that I have a need for very often. I have found, though, that the convenience of a measuring wheel makes one very nice for the occassions when it is needed. I have used mine a few times already, for things such as measuring the garden plot and for getting a rough idea of the area I needed to level for eventually installing a shed for the tractor. Even though these tasks could have been accomplished with a 100 foot tape measure, it was much easier to use the wheel.

A tape measure either requires two people to measure long distances, or requires the use of a stake for hooking the tape, which then requires backtracking to release the tape and collect the stake. With a measuring wheel, however, you just have to walk, which you'd be doing anyway with a tape measure. When Andrea used the wheel for taking measurements along the edge of the yard, where we plan to plant bushes, she was able to do so much more quickly and easily than with a tape measure. The process was simple. Set the wheel at zero, walk to the end of the first segment, record the measurement, reset the wheel to zero, then walk to the end of the next interval.

For long distances, the measuring wheel is obviously superior to a tape measure. The Kentrix Measuring Wheel supports distance of up to 9,999 feet and 11 inches, which would be incredibly difficult to measure with a tape. For anything over a couple hundred feet I think that using a tape would be too annoying to even attempt, unless there were no other options.

The advantages of a measuring wheel apply to all measuring wheels, not just this particular model. This model does include features that I find useful, however. First is the kickstand, which allows the wheel to stand upright when not in use. I can see where this could be useful in the field, although I don't think I've ever used it for that purpose. I do, however, use the kickstand when storing the measuring wheel, by just letting it stand upright in the corner of the shed. I'll probably start hanging it, to save space, however.

The other nice feature is the collapsible hinge design, which allows the handle to basically fold in half. I assume this is primarily intended for reducing storage needs, but I actually use it more for when I'm transporting the wheel. When folded the measuring wheel takes up less room in the bed of the RTV, which is sometimes a very good thing.

Given the combination of a couple of useful features, and the lower price, I think the Kintrex Measuring Wheel is a good option. Even though the current price is more than I paid for mine, it is still quite a bit less than most of the alternatives. Someone living on a small lot might have little need for a measuring wheel, but I suspect that anyone with a large lot or garden spot will find one useful from time to time.

Making Food More Sustainable - Chicken and Rice

It has been a long time since my last post in the Making Food More Sustainable series. Today I had one of my favorite regular meals, chicken and rice, which I thought would make a good topic for the series. Ingredients used in this meal include chicken breast, seasoning, peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil, white wine, white rice, and corn tortillas.


When I last mentioned chicken in this series, we had yet to find a regular source for acquiring it. Since then we have chosen Pike Valley Farm, near Lancaster, KY as our regular source for chicken. We like to buy directly from the farm, when possible, but also sometimes pick up Pike Valley products at either the Good Foods Market or the Marksbury Farm Store. Unfortunately Pike Valley does not raise heritage breeds for meat chicken, due to lack of consumer demand, but they will remain our to go place until we find a better source.

Even though we plan to acquire chickens next Spring, we will not be raising them for meat, at least not at first. I suspect that we'll eventually make that leap, though, at which point I'll feel better about the chicken that we eat. Until then, however, I'm glad to at least be buying from a local farm that uses methods that we approve of.


We use a variety of seasonings for chicken, some of which are purchased and some of which are homemade. When we purchase seasoning blends, they normally come from Herb'n Renewal, also of Lancaster, KY. When Andrea makes homemade blends the spices come from the Good Foods Market.

We are trying to grow more of our own spices, which will eventually be used in our homemade seasoning blends. I doubt that we'll ever be able to grow all of them, however, due to the limitations of our climate. Any that we are unable to grow will continue to come from the Good Foods Market, unless we find another similar local supplier.


Today I used yellow and green bell peppers in the dish, although the variety of peppers will sometimes vary based on what is available. All of the peppers we are using came from last year's garden. Currently we are using the peppers that we froze for long term storage, but will switch to fresh peppers later in the year when they become available.

I'm very happy that we were able to produce enough peppers last year to completely fill our needs. Assuming the same holds true this year, we will hopefully never buy another pepper. The next steps towards sustainability have to do with our methods for growing peppers. Last year we grew them from plants that we purchased from a nursery. This year Andrea has started plants from seed, which we hope will be all that we need to plant. In the coming years we hope to begin saving our own seeds.


I'm actually not sure where the onions we are currently using came from. Hopefully they came from the Good Foods Market, but there is a chance they came from a conventional grocery store. We do not use a lot of onions, so this hasn't been a big focus, but is clearly something we need to work on.

We are attempting to grow onions for the first time this year. With this being our first year, I really don't know what to expect. I'm hopeful that we'll at least grow enough to last for several months, if not the entire year. Andrea would also like to experiment with some perennial onions, which would be a more sustainable option.


I normally use garlic in the dish, but didn't have anything available today, so used garlic powder instead. The garlic powder came from our own garlic crop, so is a good sustainable choice. The garlic I have been using most recently, however, was purchased from the Good Foods Market. We didn't have enough garlic from last year's crop to last through the winter, but even if we had, I'm not sure it would have stored well enough.

I've planted significantly more garlic this year, in hopes of having enough to last much later into the year. I still have concerns about how long we will be able to store it, however, so will likely have to rely on garlic powder as a method of storing as well as buying some garlic. Hopefully, though, we'll continue improving our process and will eventually be able to produce a crop that will last at least until Spring, when I can begin harvesting green garlic.

Olive Oil

We try to buy good quality olive oil from trusted sources if at all possible. Regardless of the source, however, olive oil will always be one of those products that is shipped long distances to reach us. The only good solution I see to this is to switch to an oil that can be produced from locally grown plants.

Eventually I'd like to be able to create our own oil from nuts or seeds that we grow ourselves. Some possible candidates include sunflower or walnut oil. Until then, however, we'll continue trying to buy our oil from sources that we can feel good about.

White Wine

Our use of wine for cooking is a very recent thing. We use the wine for deglazing the pan that the chicken is heated in, which makes cleanup easier, and also provides some additional flavor when added to the dish. We're only on our second bottle of wine, so haven't even began the process of finding the best source. Now that we know we're likely to continue the process, however, we'll have to consider where we buy the wine.

The obvious choice is to buy from a local winery, especially if we can find one that uses the agricultural practices that we approve. I can't imagine that we'll ever produce our own wine, since we do not drink it, and we do not need very much for cooking.

White Rice

We buy our rice in bulk from the Good Foods Market. We had just been buying from the bulk dry goods bins, but the last time we bought an entire 25lb bag. I suspect that we'll continue this practice, as long as we continue eating large quantities of rice.

We're never going to grow our own rice, so at some point, we probably do need to consider the impacts of using large quantities of a product that is shipped from across the world. We also need to consider switching to brown rice, which is not only healthier, but also requires less resources to produce due to less processing.

Corn Tortillas

The corn tortilla isn't entirely necessary for this dish, but I like to have one to eat along with. From a health perspective I certainly prefer the corn tortilla to bread or even a flour tortilla. We're currently just buying large packs from the super-market, which obviously isn't the best option.

We plan to experiment with making homemade tortillas, but just haven't gotten around to trying it yet. Andrea has a tortilla press, so its just a matter of taking the time to actually do it. Even when we begin making our own, however, the ingredients will primarily be store bought unless we eventually grind our own corn, which may be a possibility. At the very least, it is something I'd like to consider trying.

This isn't a meal that I can ever see us being able to produce entirely from homegrown ingredients. However, there are a lot of components that we can produce ourselves, which I believe should be our goal.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


This was not a productive weekend. I knew the forecast was calling for rain for most of the weekend, so I wanted to get out Saturday morning and get a few things done before the rain started. I did manage to get out, but that didn't go as hoped.

My plan was begin the day by installing the ramp kit, that I received for Christmas onto the 2x8s I had been using as ramps. Once that was done I was going to load the push mower into the bed of the RTV, and take it over to the garden and mow the rye again, at a lower setting than the big mower allows. Unfortunately, though, installing the ramp kit wasn't as easy as it should have been. The pieces are made so that the end of the 2x8 must slide into the ramp ends. Apparently these are sized so that the fit it tight, which is a problem with my old boards, that have been well used and stored outside in a humid environment, even though they've been protected from the weather. I tried several approaches to getting the ends onto the boards, including the brute force method of driving them on with hammer. Not only did that not work, but it also resulted in me hitting myself in the head, fairly hard, with one of the boards. I decided then that I was too frustrated to accomplish the task, so put my tools away and went back inside. By the time I might would have been ready to go back out and work on something else it was raining, so I just stayed in all day.

Today it rained sporadically. It was too wet to do a whole lot outside, though, so we decided to get out of the house for a bit. We went to Corbin, so I could look at one of the options for a shed to buy for the tractor. The sample we looked at seemed very well built, and I think that it is likely the one we'll go with. We also made a couple of other stops, both in Corbin and in London, before heading back home. The rest of the day was spent inside.

Friday, April 26, 2013


While checking out the garden yesterday we realized that the rye cover crop was starting to develop seed pods, which, as I understand it, means its ready to be cut. After work today I headed out to hook up to the mower so I could cut it. My plans were delayed, however, when I discovered that one of the tires on the RTV was flat. I aired it up, then pulled the RTV into the driveway and started trying to find the leak. After checking the tire completely by spraying water on it, the only leak I could find was around the rim. Since it seemed like a slow leak I decided to go ahead and mow as planned.

One of the problems I've found with using the mower for tall vegetation is that the pulling vehicle tends to mash them down, resulting in the mower not cutting everything. I didn't want this to happen with the rye, so I decided to try out its offset capabilities. I had wanted to offset it to the left, but found that doing so required removing the pull bar and flipping it over. Rather than do this I decided to just offset it to the right, which turned out to be better anyway, as it was easier for me to look over my right shoulder to keep an eye on it.

With the mower set to its lowest position, the rye was mowed down to a just a few inches tall. I only had a couple of problems. The first problem was with trying to reset for another pass. Initially I tried just backing up so I could make another pass, but I found that backing an offset mower isn't as easy as one that is straight behind the pull vehicle. I finally settled on just making a loop around the rest of the garden, but had to be very careful since the ground was uneven, which is a problem with the mower is lowered. The other problem I had was due to the location of the onion bed. We had planted the onions in one corner of the area that had been sown with rye. This resulted in an offset that I had to mow around, which was a bit tricky. I mowed as much as I could, then ended up just pulling the rest, right around the edge and around the onion bed.

Once I finished mowing the rye I set the mower back in its normal mowing configuration, and raised it back up so I could mow around the garden. I had been noticing some rough sounding noises when engaging or disengaging the blades, and that seemed to be getting worse. After mowing for a bit I decided to check out the blades, to see if I could identify the source of the noise. It appears to me that the problem is simply that the bolts holding them in place have worked loose, resulting in a little bit of play in the blades. When they are rotating at full speed the centrifugal force keeps them level, but when they are spinning up, or down, they are able to move a little, which is what I think is causing the noise. That should be easy enough to solve. The bigger problem I found, though, is that the blades are in terrible condition. I knew they likely needed to be sharpened, but never expected to find them nicked so badly. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, since I've cleared a lot of land with the mower, and have gotten it into rocks a few times. It looks like I probably need to pick up new set of blades. I've had the mower a year, so hopefully this next set of blades will last longer, if I'm not mowing in rough areas as much.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Today while checking on the garden we received a couple of surprises. First, Andrea saw that several of our strawberry plants are blooming, which is exciting since this will be our first year being able to harvest fresh strawberries. Later, while checking on the main garden, we saw that some of our onions have sprouted. I wasn't too confident that the onions would survive, after being planted late, and then covered in water so soon after. I'm certainly more optimistic now.

After checking out the garden this evening I used the RTV to move some of the leaves and debris I had previously raked up with the tractor. I'm just piling them up by the compost pile, so they can be used either as mulch for the garden, or incorporated into the compost as needed. I now have a nice sized pile, which is roughly four feet high, and a bit wider than that. I believe the stuff will make good mulch, which means less straw that we have to buy.

While I was working on hauling leaves Andrea was hunting for and taking pictures of flowers around the property. She has decided to keep a flower log, so that we know what flowers we have growing wild. I think its a great idea, and its something I would have liked to have done, but could never quite get started. We have several flowers in bloom right now, most notably red trillium.

A frost advisory is in effect for tomorrow morning, so we decided to play it safe and cover the strawberries. We covered them with some old sheets, held down by rocks along the edges. Its certainly nothing fancy, but as long as it keeps the blooms from being killed by frost, then that is all that matters.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I have posted in a few days, mostly because I've been busy with work and haven't really done much around here. On Monday I did install a new door knob on the front door, which was just one of those jobs that had been needing to be done for quite some time. That evening I hooked the tractor to my new landscape rake and tried it out. It worked pretty well for raking up the debris left by the high water last week. It didn't do quite as well with grass clippings, but I suspect that with more practice I can improve on that.

I worked in the office on Tuesday, and  Andrea had her cake decorating class. After her class we drove an hour to surprise our nephews with cakes for their upcoming birthday. We visited with them for a bit, putting us not getting back home until bedtime.

Today it rained, so I didn't even try to get outside. I was busy with work all day anyway, so only took a short lunch. I also worked a bit late, to try to finish up the first draft of some documentation that is due this week. After work Andrea helped me finish cleaning my bedroom, which I had started doing on Monday. Having a clean and organized work space helps my mood, so getting it straightened back up was very welcome. We also hung a few pictures, one was a Return of the Jedi movie poster, and the other was a print of original artwork I bought from an artist I met at a convention last year.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What If We Didn't Have Electricity?

For the first post in my What If....? Series I am going to focus on one of the luxuries we all take for granted, and that we, as a society, have had access to the longest, electricity. How would my life be different if we didn't have electricity? I'm not talking about simply being off-grid, and using alternative sources of electricity production such as renewable energy or generators. I'm talking about a situation in which we had access to no electricity, in any form.

As I sit here, I'm looking around and thinking about the ways in which electricity impact our lives. I can see a power pole and electric lines when I look at the window, and that has become a common site. I'm typing this post on a computer, using an internet connection, both of which require electricity. My cell phone lays on one side of my desk, with my deskphone on the other, neither of which we'd have without electricity.

I have gone days without electricity, when camping, and never found it to be burdensome. In fact, I tend to view brief periods without electricity as a blessing. As much as I might like to romanticize the idea, however, I realize that life with no electricity would be a real challenge.

For me, the hardest things to do without might very well be an internet connection. I have become so reliant on having access to the internet, for entertainment, information, and even my job, that it would take a lot of adjusting to get use to not having it. Practically speaking, however, I think that the hardest things to really live without would be air conditioning and refrigeration.

Many people live without air conditioning today, so it can clearly be done. Of course most people would argue that, while that may be true, it isn't so easy to do in the climate in which they live. That is certainly a common argument here, due to our hot, humid summers. People lived without air conditioning in this area, however, for many years, and a few still do, so I know it is possible. It wouldn't be easy, though, I admit. Living without air conditioning would require some lifestyle changes. It would be necessary to spend more time outdoors during particularly hot periods. The biggest change, however, would really need to be with our housing. There was a period during which passively cooled homes where the norm. Without electricity, homes had to be built with ventilation in mind. Today, however, artificial climate control allows homes to be located in full sun, with the orientation and window placing based aesthetics and convenience, rather than with cooling in mind. When we build a house we plan to do so with an eye towards passive cooling. If we had no electricity today, however, it would be an immediate necessity to do so.

Lack of refrigeration, on the other hand, might not be quite so easy to deal with. Our entire food system seems to be built based on the availability of refrigeration. Even when camping, I always take a cooler filled with ice to keep things like meat, dairy, and drinks cold. We store a lot of food by freezing, which is obviously not something we could continue to do without electricity. For someone living in a city, the solution might be as simple as going to the grocery store each day. However, for those living in rural areas, that isn't very practical. Becoming more self-sufficient when it comes to food would help, as it would provide a daily source of things such as milk, eggs, and vegetables. Without electricity we would have to use more traditional methods of food storage, such as curing meats and storing vegetables in a root cellar, or using canning instead of freezing. People have survived using those methods, so I know it could be done. It wouldn't be an easy transition, though.

Fortunately things like heating and cooking can be accomplished without electricity by using other fuels, such as propane or wood. I suppose that propane refrigeration might also be used, to solve the food storage problem, but that seems a bit like cheating for some reason.

Of course there are appliances other than the stove and refrigerator that are often electrically powered, including things like mixers and washing machines. Those tasks can certainly be done without electricity, but not as easily. This is true for many other tools as well, such as saws, drills, and even the tractor and cars, which require a battery.

I haven't mentioned lighting yet, mostly because I don't see that as a big issue. We prefer to use natural light whenever possible, especially during the summer. For those times that natural light isn't sufficient, candles or oil lamps could be used.

While there may be some downsides to living in a time in which we are so reliant on electricity it is clear that having access to electricity makes life much easier. I believe that, if forced to, we could live without electricity. I wouldn't want to, however, at least not entirely. Learning to use less electricity, however, is an idea I support and is a goal I'm trying to work towards.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


This weekend wasn't nearly as productive as I had hoped, but we did accomplish a few things. The weather was fantastic, with temperatures in the 60s. Maybe we've gotten past the unseasonably warm temperatures, at least for a while.

On Saturday we worked more on the herb garden. We placed several more rocks for the walkways/stepping stones, which is fairly time consuming work. Andrea then began work on redoing the rock border around the edge, while I mowed the yard.

Today I mowed across the road. The recent rain had caused some of the grass over there to grow very quickly, so it was past time to be mowed. While I was over there, I spent some time with the mower hooked to the front of the RTV, mowing along the edge of a stream that flows into the creek. It is fed by a spring, on our property, that causes the area around it to stay wet most of the time. My hope is that I can clear some of the vegetation from within the stream, and allow the water to drain away from the spring more quickly, so that it doesn't seep into the surrounding soil so much.

After mowing I raked up some debris in the garden that was left by the high waters. Its a nice mixture of leaves and dried weeds, which should make a good mulch. I started a pile by the compost, and used a bit to cover the compost pile. There is a lot of this debris across the road, and some more by the garden, which should give us a decent source of free mulch if I can get it all raked.

Potato Planting 2013

This is our second year attempting to grow potatoes. Our results in 2012 were not very good, as I discussed in a previous post. We learned several things from that failed experiment, and are optimistic about this year's crop.

Like last year we planted three varieties: Yukon Gold, Kennebec, and Pontiac. We tend to prefer Yukon Gold, so planted more of those, 10.33 lbs, than the others. We planted roughly half of that amount of the other varieties, 5.84 lbs of Kennebec and 6.13 lbs of Pontiac.

I began preparations for planting potatoes approximately a week before we planted by spreading composted horse manure. Rather than cover then entire area, I made twelve inch wide rows, where the potatoes would be planted, so that it wasn't wasted on the walkways between rows. We also sifted some top soil, that had been dug up elsewhere on the property, and added a few inches to an old plastic compost bin for a potato tower experiment.

I planted the potatoes on April 7th, which is approximately two weeks earlier than we planted last year. Rather then digging a trench, I simply dug a hole for each potato, and then covered it back over with a couple of inches of soil and compost. I used twelve inch spacing in the rows, with approximately two feet between rows. We hadn't actually done any prior calculations to determine how much space we would need for the seed potatoes we had bought, and it turns out that we needed one more row than I had prepared. For this row I used the tractor with middle buster attached to dig a trench to plant the potatoes into. This is similar to what we did last year, although that was done with a rototiller, so I'm interested to see how this row compares to those prepared with compost.

A few days after planting I applied a thick layer of straw mulch, both to the rows and walkways. This required eight bales, which was more than I had expected. I'm hopeful that future additions of mulch can be made with grass clippings and leaves, but I'll buy more straw if needed.

The two biggest mistakes we made last year, I believe, were waiting to late to add more dirt around the plants and our watering schedule. This year we are going to try to address the first issue by applying additional mulch, rather than dirt, and being sure to do so earlier. For the watering, I plan to apply approximately half gallon weekly during periods of no rain.

Earlier this week, which was about a week and a half after planting the potatoes, we received an extraordinary amount of rain. Water from the ditch along the highway backed up, and the creek overflowed, both spilling into the garden. I wasn't able to get over there to check on things when the water was highest, but when I checked a couple of hours later I found two to three inches of water covering the potatoes. By the next day the water had gown down, and the mulch had dried out. I'm hopeful that the soil has been able to dry out enough to prevent rot, although we'e received even more rain since then, so I'm not sure how likely that is. I'm hoping that the improved drainage from the manure might be enough to help things dry out. I'm much less confident about the row without the manure.

If all goes as planned I will keep detailed records of yields this year, which will help to determine how many potatoes we should plant next year. It will also help us determine the cost effectiveness of buying organic seed potato next year. We would prefer to use only organic seed, but until we feel confident that we can expect better yields that last year it seems better to experiment with conventional potatoes.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Today was an interesting day. We had storms overnight, with several inches of rain. The rain continued throughout the morning, resulting in some flash flooding. At around 10:30 AM I went out to see how things were looking. The garden was flooded, but I couldn't get over there to see how bad it was. I was able to get across the road, but didn't get far before the water was too deep to continue.

After lunch I tried it again, and had somewhat better luck. The water had receded enough across the road that I was able to explore most of that area. There were a couple of areas where the water was still so deep that it was over the floor of the RTV, but I was able to get through ok. I still wasn't able to drive to the garden, but found a spot that I could wade through thigh deep water to get there. The potatoes and garlic were covered by two to three inches of water, and the recently planted onions had six inches or more of water standing over them. I was able to determine the points of entry of the water, which means that, hopefully, I'll be able to do some work to reduce the likelihood of the garden flooding in the future. There isn't much I can do across the road however, but that's ok since we knew that was a flood plain when we bought the property and that we would not be able to use it for very much.

After work I took Andrea out to show her the water. In most places the water levels had dropped quite a bit, although the creek was still high and flowing fast. I still wasn't able to drive to the garden, or, at least, I wasn't willing to risk driving through the creek to get there. It was much to wet to try to accomplish much else this evening, so I just took the opportunity to relax.

Book Review - Kentucky Snakes

After yet again referencing it a few days ago, I decided that Kentucky Snakes by Bill Moore and Tim Slone deserved a review. Technically, I suppose it is more accurately categorized as a booklet, than a book, as it is only 32 pages long. A PDF copy of the book is available on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

The book includes descriptions of thirty-two snakes found in the state. Each description includes an image showing the areas of the state in which the given snake can be found, making it easy to narrow down identification to those likely to be located in a given area. The description also includes information on the snakes appearance, size, and general behavior.

There is only one photo of each snake in the book, but it is simple to find other examples online. This is made easier, in my opinion, by the presence of the scientific name of each snake, rather than only the common name. I have found that there are often many different common names used for the same animal. I have also found that the common names are sometimes ambiguous, and likely are used to refer to multiple snakes. For example, one of the most common snakes in this area is the "Black Snake". It wasn't until I looked through this book that I realized that a black snake in this area could be a Black Rat Snake (Elaphe o. obsoleta), Black Racer (Coluber c. constrictor), or Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula nigra).

As a free publication I couldn't really ask for anything more from this booklet. It is a great resource for anyone living in the state of Kentucky who wishes to identify snakes, or just learn how to recognize those that are venomous. I have certainly found that my reaction to snakes is much different now that I know how to differentiate the two venomous species of the area from the others that are harmless or even beneficial.

Monday, April 15, 2013


After a fairly productive weekend it was back to work today, meaning I didn't get nearly as much done around here. After work I spent a few hours outside, enjoying the nice weather.

Andrea and I took a ride on the RTV. While we were out, I showed her one of the spots that I had identified as a potential site for our future house. She really liked the spot, and we're considering it a definite contender at this point.

Next we began placing the stepping stones in the herb garden. We only managed to place three, but that is a start at least. Between choosing the rock and hauling to the her garden, taking measurements to determine the location, then placing and leveling the rock, it can be a time consuming process. If we can place a few each evening, though, it won't take long to have it finished.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Unlike yesterday, I feel like today was a very productive day. I got a bit of a late start, because I slept in, but still accomplished quite a bit.

I started the day by taking the tractor over to the garden area and doing a few tasks. I moved a couple smaller piles of logs and combined then into one larger pile, which I pushed to the edge of the woods, where they were less in the way. I also began filling in the hold I had dug for what I thought was going to be my hugelkultur bed. I've since decided to find a better location for it, though.

After lunch I took a load of weeds to the compost that Andrea had piled up when she was pulling weeds from the herb garden. While I had the RTV over there I picked up some loose branches that were in the way of mowing, and added them to the brush pile. There were also a few small trees in the way, so I got out the brush grubber and pulled those up and threw them on the brush pile as well.

While trying to decide what to work on next, Andrea came out and suggested that we sift some more top soil for a couple of projects. We took the first load over to the garden, where I applied some of it to the potato tower, because I had only been able to cover the potatoes in there with a very shallow layer. While I was doing that Andrea cleared a small area for making a bed for planting the onions. I dumped the remaining topsoil there, and raked it into a bed, that was a few inches deep. We planted 26 white onions. Hopefully they'll do okay, even though we should have planted them much earlier in the year. After planting the onions we sifted more soil, which Andrea used for planting a few trees that she hadn't been able to plant yesterday.

Next we decided to take down the fence that was surrounding a portion of the herb garden. Having this done will make placing the rocks for the stepping stones much easier.

Even though there was still an hour or so until dark, I decided I was ready to get some rest after putting away the materials from the old fence. Even though I didn't work on any one task for a long time, I was able to get several tasks accomplished, which was good.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


I accomplished several tasks today, yet still didn't feel incredibly productive.

I began the day by getting the tractor out and hooking to the boom pole. As I was hooking it up I remembered that it required a longer top link pin. I had the pin, but hadn't yet installed the hairpin cotter, which is a surprisingly difficult task, if, like me, you don't really know what you're doing. I finally managed to get it installed, though.

With the boom pole attached to the tractor I used it to unload the landscape rake from the truck. I ran into a couple of small snags with this, primarily due to the size and shape of the rake, but it still went much better than the last time I used the boom pole to unload an implement.

I was expecting my dad to come by, and he arrived shortly after I finished unloading the landscape rake. I had asked him to bring a reciprocating saw with him, which we used to cut some pieces of metal for a future project. I'll be going into the details of that project once I make more progress on it.

After my dad left I decided to mow the front yard. While I was doing this Andrea took an inventory of the bushes and shrubs that we have in pots which will eventually be transplanted along the edge of the yard. She also discovered that some trees we had received from the Arbor Day Foundation some time ago were still alive, so she planted those into buckets until we can find a home for them.

After finishing mowing I decided to take the tractor across the road for the first time. I was worried about the steepness of the incline from the road, but it wasn't really a problem. While over there I moved a few large rocks that were in the way, and cleared a couple of overgrown areas that I hadn't been able to get with the mower.

By this point I wasn't feeling well, so decided to call it a day. I could have probably gotten in another couple of hours of work if I had felt like it, but I suppose I was productive enough.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Our original plan for this weekend was to attend the Sustainable Beekeeping workshop at Straight Creek Valley Farm in Georgetown, OH. We were going to drive up today, and spend the night in Maysville, with a side trip to the Rural King in Shelbyville. Unfortunately, however, the workshop was cancelled, which obviously changed our plans.

I decided to go ahead and take the day off from work, so we could go to Shelbyville. The primary reason for going was to buy a landscape rake, which was significantly cheaper there than anywhere else I could find. While there we also bought some t-posts to use for the Florida Weave trellis for the tomatoes and peppers. I also bought a new metal Justrite fuel can. I hadn't planned to replace my broken plastic fuel can yet, but the Justrite was on sale, so I figured it was a good time to pick it up.

It was nearly dark before we made it back home. I knew that the trip would take up most of the day, which is one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and take the day off from work to do it. This time of year I have so much to do that its hard to justify giving up a full day just to go shopping.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Today Andrea and I had a class at the Laurel County Cooperative Extension agency. This class wasn't part of our Gardening 101 class, it was on the growing of asparagus and rhubarb. While we have no real interest in growing asparagus, I do want to grow rhubarb, so the class work well worth taking.

Because we had to leave for the class immediately after work, I didn't accomplish much of anything else. Andrea was, however, able to finish weeding the main portion of the herb garden. Hopefully we can begin placing the stepping stones soon.

The highlight of the day is that it finally rained. When I had planted the potatoes on Sunday, the forecast was calling for rain, so I decided not to water them. I was started to get worried, because it still hadn't rained. This evening we received a great deal of rain, however, so that should be a big help to the plants.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


I was very productive today. At lunch I went out and rearranged things in the shed where I park the RTV, to make room for stacking straw. I was able to make a spot to easily stack ten bales, and probably as many as fifteen without really being in the way too badly. I also discovered that I can easily haul six bales in the RTV, without any tie downs, and wouldn't be afraid to haul nine if they were secured.

After work I took a few bales to the garden and started mulching. I used one bale to add another layer around the garlic. I then started mulching the potatoes, and the walkways between rows. I had no idea how much straw it would take to do the job, so was surprised when I ended up using eight bales. Clearly we need to be able to start using other materials as mulch, such as leaves and grass clippings. Fortunately, though, re-applying mulch to the potatoes later in the year should not require as much, since I'll hopefully only need to add it around the plants themselves, and not to the walkways.

While I was mulching the garden Andrea was working on weeding the herb garden. Apparently the use of fresh manure was a bad idea, as there were a lot of seeds that resulted in a thick layer of grass growing over the winter. She wasn't able to get finished before dark, but make some good progress.

It was unseasonably warm yesterday, so we were both exhausted by the time we finished our projects. I don't know what the official high temperature was, but my thermometer showed 88 at one point. It was 80 degrees inside, with the windows open, so I'm very confident that the outside temps were in the 80s, even if the reading of 88 wasn't accurate.

Introducing the What If....? Series

Sometimes I like to force myself to think about things differently, especially things that are so commonplace that they are taken for granted. One of my ways of looking at something I use often is to think about how my life might be different without that given item, resource, or service. I have decided to turn that thought exercise into a series of blog posts.

The What If....? series of posts will focus on how my life might be different if I had to do without something that most of us take for granted. Each post will focus on a different item, resource, or service. Will I find that there are some things that I could easily do without today? Or will I find that there are some things I would never be willing to give up? Maybe I'll find the inspiration to reduce my use of certain things, even if I do not give them up entirely. I expect to discover these answers as I write the posts. I hope that readers will follow along, and consider how their own lives might be impacted without access to the topic being covered.

I already have quite a list of topics to cover in the What If....? series, but would love to hear suggestions from readers. If you have an idea for a topic to be covered in the series, please leave a comment here or on the Facebook page.

Billy Goat BC24 Outback Brushcutter

Before I purchased my Swisher tow-behind mower I needed some help clearing the area that has become the garden. I had originally planned to use a combination of hand tools and string trimmer with blade attachment. I realized, though, that it was going to take so long to clear that way that it made more sense to rent a piece of equipment to use for the initial clearing.

I rented a Billy Goat BC24 Outback Brushcutter for a week, and it was a fantastic decision. The first day that I used the mower I made incredible progress. In hindsight, however, this is primarily because I was only cutting tall weeds, and not briars or woody growth. Once I got into the tougher vegetation, my progress slowed. Still, however, progress was much faster than it would have been with other methods.  Even now that I have the tow-behind mower I see situations where the Billy Goat would be a better option, especially when space is tight.

The specs on the Billy goat indicate that it will cut saplings up to 2" in diameter. I'm not sure if I cut anything quite that bit, but it did chew through pretty much anything I threw at it. In most cases the mower would force its way through the vegetation, weighing it down and cutting it as it went. In the cases where it wasn't able to force its way through I found that often I could elevate the front, by pressing down on the handles, and then lower it once it was over whatever was giving me problems. In a week I was able to clear approximately 3-4 acres, although some areas remained overgrown, especially around and in between trees. I could have done more if not for the obstacles that I kept finding, such as old logs that required moving, etc.

I try to take care of any equipment that I use, but even with care the mower was worked hard and put through its paces. The only thing I ever had to do in order to keep the mower going was to fill the tank with gas. I was amazed at how well it performed the job, and at the abuse it was able to take. There is no doubt that the amount I paid to rent the mower was money well spent. I'm not sure, however, that I could ever justify owning such a machine. It is great for clearing overgrown areas, but once that is done, there is little work to be done that requires this type of mower. I suppose that one might be useful for a homeowner who only mowed a given area annually. However, the tow-behind mower makes it easy enough for me to keep any area mowed once it has been cleared initially that I don't think I would ever use it in this way. The cost also makes it unlikely that I'll ever buy one, as the Billy Goat costs approximately $1000 more than I paid for my tow-behind mower. Although for anyone who doesn't already own a UTV or four-wheeler with which to pull a mower, maybe a walk behind brush cutter would be a good investment.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


As I've mentioned before, I have been trying to do tasks requiring the truck on the days I have it in London. My plan for this week was to get several bales of straw.

Yesterday I called several locations to check prices. When I called the farm supply store in town, the price I was quoted was $3.50 per bale, or at least that is what I thought I was told. I was shocked, as the next cheapest was $4.72, so I repeated the price back to them, and it was verified. I decided to use my lunch break to run into town and get a load, in case the price didn't stay that low for long. When I got there, and asked, I was told that the price was $6.50 per bale. I don't know if I simply misheard, and the person likewise misheard me when I repeated it, or if I was giving the wrong price. Either way, I came home empty handed.

I left work early today to run by the farm supply in London that had quoted me the price of $4.72 per bale. When they rung me up, however, the total was more than I expected. When I questioned them, I was told the price was $6.75 per bale, and that it was hay that was $4.72 per bale. Apparently the person on the phone was either confused, or was so use to pricing hay that they gave me that price for the straw. I decided not to buy anything, since it was more there than from the local place.

I decided to go ahead and try the place that gave me the second lowest price in London, of $5.18 per bale. Turns out this quote was accurate, so I bought twelve bales. I had been trying to determine the best way to stack the bales in the bed of my compact truck. I had decided that 4 bales on the bottom, then as many as 8 on top of that would work. I could have added another 6 or even 8 bales on top of that if I had wanted, but figured 12 was enough. Once loaded I ran ratchet straps across the top, from one corner of the bed to the other, and tightened everything down. I had no problems hauling the 12 bales, so feel confident in adding another layer the next time if we need more.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Today was one of those days where I let the weather forecast keep me from accomplishing a whole lot. The forecast was calling for rain, and it seemed like it was about to rain at any time.

I did manage to put out the new plant markers for the potatoes, but that was about it.

After I came back in I checked my email and saw one about Sustainable Beekeeping workshop we were planning to attend this weekend at Straight Creek Valley Farm in Georgetown, OH. The workshop has been cancelled, which means that I can work on projects around the house instead.

On an entirely different note, this is the 300th post on the blog.

Hopkins FloTool Giant Funnel

It might seem strange that I'm doing a review of a funnel, but after using it a few times I've decided that its worth a few words.

Before buying the funnel I had simply been using the spout on the gas can when refueling. I managed to break the mechanism, though, on one of my cans, the 5 gallon version of this one, which was making the can very difficult to use. Rather than replace the can I decided to just buy a funnel, and pour the fuel straight from the can.

I ordered the Hopkins FloTool Giant Funnel, based on the positive reviews it received. When the funnel arrived I was shocked at its size. Yes, I know the name includes the word "giant", but it was almost comical how large this thing was. I began questioning my decision, and though I should probably have just picked up a cheap funnel at the local auto parts store.

After using the funnel a few times, though, I'm very glad that I made the decision to buy it. I will likely always use it when refueling the RTV, even if pouring from the can with the good nozzle. The gas tank opening on the RTV is poorly located, in my opinion. It is impossible to completely empty a gas can, because the bed prevents tipping the can all the way up. Even with the bed raised, I've not been able to completely empty either of my cans, without the use of the funnel. With the funnel, however, I can easily empty a can. The funnel also makes the task go faster, if I remove the spout from the gas can first. The fact that the funnel includes a mesh filter is also nice, in case there is debris in the gas can, or something blows into the filter while I'm fueling up.

The wide mouth of the funnel make spills very unlikely. Likewise, the size means that the funnel can hold a lot of fuel before overflowing, which is nice when dealing with a full can. Of course I always try to pour the gas at a steady rate, but when wrestling with a full 5 gallon can, weighing in at over 30 pounds, it is sometimes hard to ensure a nice steady flow. This funnel removes the risk of a spill even in those conditions. Considering the low price, I think it was certainly a good purchase.

Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder

While I have never bothered to be officially diagnosed, I am fairly certain that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka SAD. I began noticing the symptoms several years ago, and in recent years have experimented with possible treatments. While I still had some serious lack of motivation at times this past winter, it seemed to have gone better than most, so I think I'm on the right track with dealing with the problem.

I begin to notice the symptoms of SAD in the fall, when sunshine is less abundant and I spend less time outside. Rainy days tend to be especially bad for me. I find that snowy days aren't as bad, though, likely because we do not receive a lot of snow here. Usually the symptoms of SAD stick with me until springtime, when there is more sunshine and I'm able to get outside more often. A particularly rainy spring, however, can cause the symptoms to stick around a bit longer.

There is a lot of information available regarding SAD and possible treatments. For anyone looking for a solution, I would recommend researching many options, from multiple sources. Also, even though I didn't do so, it would be a good idea to discuss treatments with your doctor.

Since lack of sunlight seems to be the driving force behind my issues with SAD, I have been using a couple of treatments to address that. The first was to replace the light bulbs in my bedroom/office, where I spend most of my time, with full spectrum light bulbs. The bulbs that I chose are the ALZO 27w 5500k Compact Fluorescent. These bulbs are very bright, both because of their output and because of the color temperature of the light. The light is much whiter than a normal household bulb, which some may find annoying, but I find comforting since it is much closer to the color of sunlight. One note of warning, these particular bulbs are much larger than normal household light bulbs. That wasn't an issue for me, because I was installing them into an overhead light fixture that doesn't have a globe or shades on it.

The other aspect of not having access to sunlight is a decrease in Vitamin D production. I am a big believer that most people suffer from a lack of Vitamin D, and that the best way to remedy this is by being in the sun. However, in the winter, this isn't always practical. My solution is to take a Vitamin D-3 supplement during the fall and winter. This year I started taking it a bit earlier than before, and that seems to have helped. I am taking the Swanson Higher Potency Vitamin D-3 2000 IU, but I think that any quality Vitamin D supplement would be just as affective. I took a lower dosage, 1000 IU last year, but increased it this year, which also seems to have helped.

In addition to the Vitamin D I have also been taking St John's Wort. This was based on a suggestion that Andrea made, so I figured it couldn't hurt to try it. I have been taking the Swanson St John's Wort 375mg. It is suggested to take the supplement three times a day, but I can never remember to take it that often. I've only been taking it once each morning, which I'm sure limits the benefits. Because I haven't noticed any adverse effects, however, I will likely take it again next year, in case it was part of the reason things went better this past winter.

There is one last change I could make that I suspect would help, but I've been hesitant to try it since it conflicts with my desire to save on energy use. I believe that keeping the house warmer during the winter would help. I've noticed that when I'm cold, I feel somewhat sluggish, which I assume is related to the SAD. I do sometimes use a space heater to warm up my bedroom early in the mornings, but try to limit it because of the amount of electricity the heater uses. Perhaps one day, when we build a house, I can use a small fireplace to warm the house, or at least my room, on those particularly cold winter mornings. Until then I'll likely just stick to dressing in layers and hoping that my other solutions for dealing with SAD continue to get the job done.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Today was another productive day, although I did sleep in a bit. I was already planning to plant the potatoes, but decided to make it a top priority when I saw that the forecast was calling for a chance of rain for this evening. I didn't want to risk the planting being delayed by the rain. Plus, I figure that its better to take advantage of the rain, rather than having to water the newly planted potatoes by hand.

Before planting I counted the potatoes for my record keeping. I quickly realized that I didn't have enough area prepped for them all. I began by planting the four rows that I had prepared. Next I placed an old plastic compost bin and added some dirt to it for a potato tower experiment. After that there was still enough left to do another row, so I connected the middle buster to the tractor and plowed an additional row. It will be interesting to see how this row, with no compost, does compared to the others. The last row was, however, in the section of the garden planted in cover crops, so hopefully that will help out a bit.

I planted three different varieties of potatoes: Yukon Gold, Kennebec (white), and Pontiac (red). These are the same varieties as last year, but hopefully we'll have better results this year. I planted approximately 22 lbs, and am hoping to at least get 100 lbs, although should, realistically, get even better yields.

Andrea has been working on plant markers for the potatoes. She is doing more of the recycled CD plant markers, but with a couple of alterations that will, hopefully, provide even better results.

Justrite Type I Galvanized Steel Fuel Can

After buying the tractor, I needed to buy a new gas can, since I didn't have one for diesel. I have two types of plastic gas cans, and have not really been happy with either of those. Before buying one for diesel I did a great deal of research, in hopes that I would end up with something I was happier with.

I considered a military-style Jerry Can, although didn't want the headache of sorting through the various options, since so many companies seem to make versions of varying quality, some of which are listed as not being suitable for gasoline, primarily, I think, due to laws in certain states. I also considered a metal Eagle can, which a couple local stores carry. I even looked at used metals can on eBay. In the end, however, I decided to go with the Justrite Type I Galvanized Steel Safety Can. I also picked up a Justrite Polyethylene Funnel to go with it.

I have been waiting to review the gas can, until I had the chance to actually use it. The tractor doesn't seem to require a great deal of gas, and since I haven't used it a whole lot I hadn't had to fill it up yet.  The tank had finally dropped below half full, though, and since I planned to use the tractor this weekend I decided it was time to make a trip to the gas station.

The Justrite can is simple to fill at the station. It is, in fact, much easier than the plastic tanks. There is no lid to screw off, you simply pull back on the handle, which causes the hinged lid to rise. Once the nozzle is inserted you can let go of the handle and the lid is held open by the nozzle.

Pouring fuel from the can was almost as simple as adding it. I snapped the funnel into place, and made sure it was inside the opening on the tractor before tilting the can. Because the lid opens when you pull back on the handle, I found that it naturally opened as I tilted the can into place. I have seen some complaints that these cans can leak when pouring from them, but the funnel seems to do a good job of catching it if that does happen. The only mishap that I had was when I was a bit too aggressive and tilted the can so that I was pouring the fuel faster than it was going into the tractor. Once the amount of fuel in the funnel backed up beyond a certain point it began leaking, but that was easily remedied. That was more of an issue with the funnel, than the can, though, and was more user error than equipment failure anyway.

After having finally had the chance to use the Justrite fuel can I can say that I am very pleased with the product. I prefer metal to plastic in almost any situation, and this is certainly no different. When I buy a tool I want it to last a lifetime, or as close to that as possible, and this gas can seems like it very well might do that. Filling and pouring from the can couldn't be easier. I also like the fact that the can has a screen filter. Of course a fuel can like this isn't cheap, costing nearly three times what a plastic can might cost. I have no doubts, however, that buying a quality metal can will cost less in the long run.

I will most likely be replacing my plastic cans with Justrite Metal cans in the future. I would probably do so now, if not for the fact that I don't like replacing items that are still functioning.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Today was a fantastic day to be outside. The weather was beautiful, and  the temperatures made it into the 70s. I spent the entire day outside working, from 10:00 AM until 7:00 PM, with a short break for lunch.

Much of the day was spent down at the edge of the yard. Cutting those trees yesterday was the last of the clearing work to be done, so I was able to start with the tractor today. There was a small berm along the edge of the yard, which we wanted to get rid of before planting bushes. I also needed to dig out a couple of tree stumps, some from the trees I cut yesterday and others from those I cut last year. After several hours with the tractor, alternating between using the front end load loader and box blade, I managed to get the berm knocked down, and everything smoothed out, and remove all but one of the stumps I wanted to get rid of. I still have a bit of work to do with hand tools, around the trees that we left, but that, hopefully, won't take long. I also had to switch to the RTV a few times, to haul away the stumps or rock that I uncovered, and a couple of times to drag out more of the old fencing that I ran across. I'm hopeful that I've managed to remove most of it now, although I'm sure I'll run into more at some point.

Andrea spent the first half of the day attending a meeting of a quilter's club that she joined. She had met some of the ladies at classes she had attended, and decided that it would be a good opportunity for her to get out of the house on a regular basis. They also do some community service and charity work, such as donating quilts to Project Linus, which is something Andrea has done before.

After finishing my project I was left with a surprising pile of dirt. I have no shortage of places to put it, but first we are going to screen some of it and use for experimenting with a potato tower, using an old compost bin. Andrea spent the evening rigging up a way to mount a piece of wire fencing over the bed of the RTV so that the dirt could be screen directly into it, which will save time since we would have had to transfer it into the RTV after screening anyway.

I spent the rest of the day working on leveling the area where the shed for the tractor will go. I'm actually getting it in pretty good shape, and with the excess dirt I have piled up out there right now, I suspect that I might be close to being able to get the spot leveled the way I want it. I need to take some measurements and get out my string level sometime to see exactly how close to level I am.

Friday, April 5, 2013


This evening I went out and worked a bit more clearing along the edge of the yard. I cut a few small trees that were either crowding others, or were not growing very straight.

While I was cutting tree Andrea worked on the strawberry bed. She pulled back the mulch and weeded them a bit. The upper bed is looking nice, so hopefully we'll have some strawberries this year. The lower bed isn't looking quite as good, but that has been the case since we planted them. I think they'll probably come around eventually, though.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


The weather forecast for today was calling for rain in the evening. I kept checking updates, trying to decide if I would be able to get anything done outside after work or not. I finally decided that there was an open window immediately after I got off, so I got ready and headed out. Just as I stepped onto the front porch it started raining. I ended up just driving into town to fill up some gas gans, and pick up a few things at the grocery store. The tractor is getting low on fuel, and I had yet to buy any diesel, so figured I better do so soon since I plan to use it quite a bit this weekend.

Andrea spent most of the day transplanting the plants she has started from seed. I didn't get an exact count, but she was able to transplant everything other than the peppers. It has already become clear that next year she will need more room for her seed starting, as she has used up every inch of available space in the area she is using this year.

After finishing the transplanting she worked on listing some craft supplies she wasn't going to use on eBay. She also helped me with some of my photography gear that I hope to get listed on there as well.

The last thing of note is about Daisy, the stray cat that had been staying here. We hadn't seen her since we left for a few days to attend the Raising Heritage Poultry for Profit and Pleasure workshop. After nearly two weeks we had decided that she must have found another home. After I went to bed last night, though, Andrea noticed Kitty sniffing at the back door, and when she looked out she found Daisy on the back porch. She went out to check on her, and give her some food. This morning, however, she was gone. She is back this evening, though. At this point we don't know if she had found another home, or was just living on her own, and has since decided its better to stick around here where she can get fed regularly. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Today after work I finished clearing along the edge of the yard. I also pulled up a few small trees and an old fence post. There are three trees that still need to be cut, then I just need to do a bit of work with the tractor before we'll be ready to plant some bushes.

While I was doing that, Andrea worked on a potting mix. Several of the plants she has started from seed will need transplanted soon, so she wanted to have the potting mix ready. She made it from equal parts compost, perlite, and coir.

I was also able to harvest some green garlic today, because I found that I had accidentally planted two cloves to close. I used it in my chicken and rice at dinner, and it was very tasty. Having fresh garlic this early in the year makes me want to plant some next year specifically for this purpose. It seems somewhat wasteful, though, since waiting for the garlic to mature would allow go much farther.

Lawn Sweeper vs Landscape Rake vs Pine Straw Rake

In 2013 To-Do List Update #1 I mentioned that I am now considering alternatives to purchasing a lawn sweeper. The alternatives I am considering are either a landscape rake or pine straw rake. My primary need is for something that will make it easier to collect grass clippings and leaves that I can use as mulch or in the compost.

Before buying the tractor, a lawn sweeper was clearly my best option. The lawn sweeper could be pulled by either the RTV or four wheeler and would work for collecting either grass clippings or leaves. With the lawn sweeper I would need to empty the collection bag regularly, which could be done without getting off of the four-wheeler, although I'm not sure about the RTV, due to the increased distance between the seat and hitch. I have some concerns about the longevity of the lawn sweeper, specifically the collection bag, and worry that without idea storage conditions it may not last as long as I would like. I also suspect that the sweeper will not work as well in long grass, which could be a problem since I never mow shorter than 3 to 4 inches, and in some areas leave the grass 6" or taller.

Buying the tractor opened up several new options, including the landscape rake. One of the nice features of the landscape rake is that I would not need to exit the tractor until I was completely finished. I also believe that the landscape rake will work much better in the tall grass than the lawn sweeper would. Another benefit of the landscape rake is that there are several other tasks it could be used for, including collecting weeds, briars, and limbs. Of course there are some concerns with choosing a landscape rake. The first is that the spacing of the teeth may not work as well for small debris. I have read that when raking leaves, for example, it is very difficult to completely clear an area. This isn't too big of a deal for me, though, since my focus is collecting organic material to use for composting or mulch, rather than for aesthetic purposes. The other concern is that the rake may dig into the soil, resulting in bare spots. For most people, I can see this as a major concern, especially if the plan is to use it on the lawn. For me, however, it isn't as much of a concern since I should be able to rake a few inches above the ground, and getting into the ground wouldn't be that noticeable anyway in my natural lawn.

The other option I ran across for the tractor is a pine straw rake. The pine straw rake has flexible tines that are spaced closer together than the teeth of a landscape rake. This should solve both of the problems associated with the landscape rake. The flexible tines, however, may not do as well in the tall grass as the rigid teeth of the landscape rake. The pine straw rake does have the advantage, though. of being designed to collect pine needles, which is a feature I would likely make use of.

After doing a great deal of research, I have decided that if I were to go with a lawn sweeper I would most likely choose the 50" Ohio Steel Lawn Sweeper. The best price I have been able to find on this item is $319 from a local store.

If I go with the landscape rake I will most likely choose a 6' King Kutter, which I can get for either $469 locally, or $379 at a store approximately 115 miles away.

Unfortunately the pine straw rake isn't nearly as easy to find as a landscape rake. If I decide to go this route I'll most likely order the 6' Pine Needle Rake from Everything Attachments, which is $444 plus shipping. At this point I am leaning towards going with the landscape rake, and just driving to pick it up, since there are other items we are needing that are also cheaper at that store. I want to reconsider the pine straw rake again, however, before making my final decision.

Can Organic Farming Feed the Nation?

In our most recent Gardening 101 Class we were discussing seeds and the way in which seeds are described and labeled in seed catalogs. One of the ladies asked about GMO seeds, since that has been a big topic in the news lately. The instructor explained a bit about GMO seeds, and how to determine, when purchasing from a catalog, if a particular seed was GMO or Non-GMO. She also made a statement regarding GMO seeds, and Non-organic gardening/farming in general that I thought was worth expanding own.

Her comment was basically that, while organic gardening/farming is commendable, it is not possible for the few farmers in the US, less than 1% of the population, to feed the rest of the population using organic methods. This, in her opinion, is also the reason that GMO seeds were created.

I can't say whether her logic is valid or not. I have seen this reasoning before, yet have also seen suggestions that organic farming can provide sufficient food for the nation. For the purposes of this post I am going to assume that her logic is correct, that it is impossible for 1% of the population to feed the entire nation using only organic methods.

Clearly the response from the industry has been to abandon organic principles in favor of what we now consider "traditional" farming methods. Those of us who support organically grown food, however, will argue that this wasn't the appropriate response. If using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seeds isn't the solution, though, how can the 1% possibly provide food to the rest of the nation?

The problem, in my opinion, lies with the question itself. The question is based on the assumption that 1% of the population must feed the rest of the nation. There are actually three variables that can be adjusted, however. One, would be to reduce the number of people needing to be fed, which obviously isn't a viable option. Another option is, the one that has been chosen, to abandon organic principles for methods that allow higher yields with less effort. The third option, and the one which I believe to be the real solution, is to increase the number of people growing food.

If it is impossible for the current number of farmers to grow enough food to feed the nation, using responsible and sustainable methods, without the use of potentially harmful chemicals, then I would argue that it is, effectively, impossible for the current number of farmers to grow enough food to feed the nation, period. Dumping a bunch of chemicals into our environment and genetically altering our food supply should not even be considered an option.

So how do we increase the number of farmers in this country? I don't know the answer to that. For starters, though, it would probably be helpful if we, as a society, began portraying farmers as being integral to our survival, which they are. We tell kids that it is better to be a lawyer or banker than it is to be a farmer, which of course makes it less likely that a kid is going to live his/her life dreaming to be a farmer.

I suspect that money is also a significant reason that we do not have more farmers in this country. By demanding low food prices, we have reduced the profit potential for small and medium sized farmers. The result is that a kid graduating from high school or college today is able to make more money in an office setting, with much less physical work, than if they were to choose to become a farmer. The low food prices have also created a situation that gives an advantage to large mechanized farms, that can produce hundreds of acres of a given crop. Of course that creates a barrier to entry for new farmers who can't afford hundreds or thousands of acres of land and hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars worth of equipment. The same factors that have allowed super-markets and large discounts stores to replace our small businesses and local main street stores have also allowed the mega-farmers to replace the small and medium sized farmers, while at the same time, all but ensuring that the next generation of potential farmers will, instead, be pursuing another line of work.

Thankfully, there seems to be a steadily growing demand for organic produce and sustainably raised meat, eggs, and dairy. As more and more people choose to spend their money at farmers markets and local specialty stores, instead of super-markets, the number of small and medium sized farms will, hopefully, gradually start to increase.

Clearly we need to find a solution to the problem, and I do not accept the idea that chemicals and genetically altered food is that solution. We absolutely can, and should, produce enough food to feed the nation using organic principles. If it can't be done with the number of farms currently in operation, then we need to provide incentive for more people to choose a career in farming. We can't simply sit back and be satisfied with the solution that others have provided for us. Yes, moving to an all organic food supply would increase the the cost of our food, but of all the things that we spend money on, shouldn't food be the one area in which we are unwilling to compromise?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


It has been several days since my last daily update, so I wanted to catch up.

On Friday I spent some time moving a pile of rock that is in the way of me being able to get the tractor to the part of our property that is across the road. I initially piled them there on purpose, because I thought I should fill in a bit to make a better road to get over there. I've realized, though, that the rocks are more in the way right now than they are helping.

On Saturday we spent the day in Somerset. Most of the day was spent at the Kentucky Green Living Fair, as I've previously written about. Afterwards we went out to eat with friends, which gave us a chance to catch up.

It rained Saturday night and Sunday morning. Even though it stopped raining up in the day on Sunday it was too wet to do a whole lot outside. Of course I could have found something to do, but I was content to spend the day inside relaxing.

After writing about the lack of progress on my to-do list for the year I decided to spend Monday evening working on one of the tasks. I worked on clearing along the edge of the yard. I managed to clear about half of what was left, so can hopefully finish in another day. I did run into some more of the old fencing, so pull it out and loaded into the truck to take to the recycling center. I also loaded up a large piece of the fencing that had been in the edge of the woods and I had just never gotten around to disposing of.

Today I worked in the office in London. After work I dropped by the recycling center to drop off the old fencing. Then I met Andrea for dinner, before going to our Gardening 101 class. Afterwards I went to the home improvement store to pick up some guttering for installing on the front porch and shed, but unfortunately they had only white, which will not match the brown on the rest of the house. I'll have to check one of the other stores in town to see if anyone carries the brown.

Monday, April 1, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Soap

This post has been several months in the making. I have been trying different soaps, from different makers, over the past year or so, in search of my favorite. Since Andrea plans to try her hand at soap making in the near future, I hope to be able to combine elements of my favorite soaps into one recipe that is perfect for me.

Initially my plan was to wait until I had tried the last of these soaps to do this post. When that time came, however, I realized that the Kentucky Green Living Fair was drawing near, and I hoped that 2 Acres Shy would be on hand, as I wanted to try another of their soaps. Unfortunately, however, they weren't there, so I've decided to go ahead and do the post based on the soaps I have tried up to this point.

The soap that started my search was a bar of Tennessee Mountain Honey Soap from Strange Hollow Farm of Del Rio, TN. I picked this soap up at Carver's Orchard in Cosby, TN during one of our trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This soap was the first I had ever tried that contained honey, and I found that I really liked it. It had a nice texture, and I liked the way it foamed up. Unfortunately I only bought one bar, so had to resort to "normal" soap once I finished it.

Next I decided to see if the Good Foods Market sold any honey based soaps. I found that they did carry an Oatmeal, Milk & Honey soap which was produced by Bluegrass Country Soap. I didn't like this soap quite as well as the soap from Strange Hollow Farm, but I did like the addition of the oatmeal, so began looking for other soaps with this combination.

My next soap find came at the Lexington Farmers Market where I picked up a bar of Abigail Keam's Oatmeal Body Scrub. This bar of soap was my favorite, by far. It contained whole pieces of oatmeal, rather than ground oatmeal, which made it great for exfoliation. By this point I was sold on the combination of honey and oatmeal.

By the time I finished the Oatmeal Body Scrub, my parents had taken a trip to the Smoky's and brought me a few bars of Tennessee Mountain Honey Soap as a birthday gift. With no new soaps to try, I next used one of these, and was surprisingly disappointed. It wasn't that the soap was inferior to the first bar I used, but after using soaps that incorporated oatmeal into the bar I realized that, for my purposes, the combination was a big improvement over honey alone.

When we next visited the Good Foods Market I decided to try another oatmeal based soap. While I prefer buying local products, I did decide to try the Hugo Naturals Shea Butter & Oatmeal soap. I liked the soap well enough, and can see that Shea butter might be a good alternative or addition to honey. The Shea butter seemed to soften the oatmeal, however, which lessened the exfoliation effect.

The last soap I tried was the Skin Magic bar from 2 Acres Shy, of Crab Orchard, KY. I had contacted them to ask for suggestions, and they recommended the Skin Magic bar as it is an exfoliation bar made with oatmeal. At first I liked the exfoliation of this soap, even though the pieces of oatmeal were much smaller than in some of the other soaps I had tried. I believe, however, that the exfoliation had more to do with the crinkle or wave cut of the soap, than the oatmeal, as the effect was lessened as the bar became worn.

I am currently back to using my Tennessee Mountain Honey Soap, as I still have a couple of bars left that my parents bought for me. Even though it lacks the exfoliation ability of the soaps that contain oatmeal, I like it well enough, certainly more than a "normal" soap.

This weekend at the Kentucky Green Living Fair I did discover a new local soap maker that I want to try. Rock Bottom Stables & Soap Company is based in London and makes their soap from goat milk from their own herd of goats. I hope to drop by their retail location soon and see if they have anything that I think I would like to try.

Based on what I have seen so far, I know that when we make our own soap I want to incorporate both honey and oatmeal. I may also consider experimenting with Shea butter. I love the scent of Cocoa butter, though, so might try using that instead. If I don't use Cocoa butter I'll probably at least try a bit of cocoa powder for both the scent and coloring.

I'm looking forward to trying some homemade soap, but until then I have at least found several good alternatives. Once the Lexington Farmers Market opens I'll probably try to buy some more of the Oatmeal Body Scrub from Abigail Keam. Until then I can always pick something up at Good Foods to get me through.

Blog Milestone - Best Month Yet

I haven't posted a blog milestone since December 22nd, when the blog received its 3000th visitor, so I thought it was time to do an update. Since that time the total number of visits has nearly tripled, to 8,196. Traffic had been going up every month through December, but then dropped off for a couple of months. I'm happy to report that traffic was back up in March, and surpassed the total number of visitors for the previous best month, December 2012. The total number of visitors in March 2013 was 1,683, compared to the 1,634 visitors the blog received in December 2012.

I always like to highlight the most popular post written since the last milestone update. For this period, the most popular post has been 75 Ways to Live More Sustainably in 2013, which is my response to an article posted by Sustainable Kentucky. There were a few other posts that had close to the traffic as this one, but I suppose its fitting this one came out on top since the Kentucky Green Living Fair, also by Sustainable Kentucky, was this past weekend.

Of course these milestones are only possible because of the readers of the blog, so I want to say thank you to everyone who visits. Whether you come here daily, weekly, or this is your first time, I appreciate your taking the time to read and hope that you find something here to make it worthwhile.

Book Review - Liquid Gold

Since I plan to use urine as a fertilizer on the garden this year, I decided that it made sense to re-read Liquid Gold: The Lore an Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants by Carol Steinfeld.

The book is a very quick read. It has only 96 pages, and uses a larger than normal print. I like to read before going to bed, and finished the book in three days. I would guess I spent maybe 60 to 90 minutes total reading the book. In other words, you're not going to have to invest a lot of time to dig through the information it presents.

The primary focus of the book seems to be trying to convince the reader that using urine as a fertilizer is a good thing. Of course that is mostly wasted on someone like me, who is already on board with the concept and is looking for practical methods for doing so. There are also several examples of how communities throughout the world handle urine diversion and transportation, but they are all basically the same; urine diverting toilets are used to separate the urine into holding tanks, which get pumped out regularly and then the urine trucked to a farm where it is stored until used on the fields. It is nice seeing that this method is used in many different communities all over the world, but in a book this short, a single example would have been sufficient.

Another issue is that the book does not feel very cohesive. The topic of discussion seems to jump around quite a bit, and there are some inconsistencies. Early in the book is a section on urinals, in which urine diverting toilets are mentioned. Later in the book, however, urine diverting toilets are mentioned, as if they are a new concept to the reader.

Practical information is mostly limited to the topics of urine diversion and storage, and these aren't really covered in detail. I was hoping for some useful information on using urine in the garden, but this was  limited to very brief summaries indicating that urine should be applied to a field, or used as a foliar spray, which are things I already knew. Even information on dilution was inconsistent, as it was only mentioned in terms of what others are doing, rather than as actual suggestions from the author.

There is some good information in the book regarding the Nitrogen value of urine, and a discussion of how urine compares to traditional fertilizer. There are also two pages of references, which I suspect could be a great source of more detailed information on the topic. I hope to go through the references at some point and see if I can dig up any other books or articles that provide more of the type of information I was looking for.

Even though my review of the book probably seems more negative than positive, I would still recommend it. Because the cost is low, and the time investment required in minimum, I feel that there is enough good information to warrant a read through. If you're not convinced that using urine on the garden is for you, then I would definitely suggest reading the book. If you're already saving and using your urine, however, its likely that there is little additional information that the book can offer.