Saturday, June 25, 2005

The other garden

I've spoken briefly about the other garden that we have. It's at a friend of Noel's who lives not even 5 miles from here.

She approached us with the offer of letting us plant some more there and we jumped on it.

The plot is about 40-by-40-feet. So far we have planted there beets, cucumbers, peas, bush beans and corn.

We went by today to check on its progress as it's been about two weeks since we planted it.

The four rows of corn surprised me, they are doing pretty good. There are some bare spots in the rows where the seed didn't take, but all-in-all we should have a little bit of our very own corn this year.

The green beans are doing very well so far. We're going to have a goodly amount of beans this year, gods willing.

The peas there are also doing pretty good.

The cukes are coming in nicely and I can't wait to put away several jars of pickles this year! Yum.

The beets are not really up yet. I found a couple of sprouts that might be beets, but I suppose it's just a little too early to tell. The beets we planted here at the homestead are really just now showing so I should check them again next week.

But we still have about 10 feet on one end of the garden that I haven't planted yet. We have more pumpkin watermelon and beet seed. Plus quite a bit of seed potatoes. What do you all think we should plant in that last little bit of garden?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Step three: Reduce your reliance upon utilities.

Written by Nick...

If you're ever going to be truly free, you have to reduce your reliance upon the utilities. You cannot be free if a third of your income or more goes toward keeping your lights on and house heated.

This step is where things get a little more "difficult." If you haven't made that most important step then you won't be able to do some of the things in this step. But read on ...

Electricity
First thing is to change how you light your house. If you must have electric lights, then switch to compact fluorescents. They last much longer than incandescents and they'll save you a couple bucks on your electric bill.

But here's where we get a little radical. If you can, throw out electric lights altogether. I don't suggest oil lamps because they have parts that can break or need to be replaced and you also have to purchase fuel. I suggest candles. They are the only form of lighting that you can fully make yourself if need be. We have not switched to candles yet, but it's on our to-do list.

Here's some more tips for lowering your electricity bill ...

Get rid of/turn off the air conditioner. Despite what you may think, you do not need an A/C unit. Once your body gets used to the natural weather you'll wonder why everyone else are such wimps that they can't stand it. Our bodies were meant to be in such weather. Dress appropriately for the weather, get yourself a good, old fashioned bandana and when you get too hot soak it in cool water and drape it around your neck.

Turn off the hot water heater. Chances are good that you don't need 40 or more gallons of water kept hot 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Water heaters waste tremendous amounts of energy. Noel and I now use our tea kettle to heat what little hot water we need. On average, we heat about two kettles a day ... that's it! Even better would be to purchase or construct yourself a solar water heater. You can buy one at WallyWorlds for about $6, or you can take an old milk jug and paint it black. Either way sit it out in the sun, and voila free hot water.

Look at all the appliances in your house which do not need to be on constantly. Like your computer, TV and stereo. If you have newer models and they are plugged in they are drawing energy. It may be only a small amount, but it adds up. And why should you pay to have the thing off? Get yourself some powerstrips with switches for those appliances and when you're not actually using them, turn the switch on the strip off. Every little bit counts.

Try to get rid of the fridge and freezers. It's hard to do, Noel and I are still researching and planning. But hopefully we'll be able to get rid of at least the freezer by next year maybe even the fridge too. We're looking at canning and drying our meats. There are other methods available (such as salt curing) but information on them is scarce and hard to come by. We'll write more when we go further down that road.

Don't use the clothes dryer. They also use tons of energy. Get yourself a clothes rack or string some line between two trees. Never pay for something you can get for free!

Gas
This might fall into either elec or gas depending but for us we were using gas to heat our home. Stop. Install a woodstove. Find a handful of folks that will let you cut wood on their property, and you'll have all the free heat you can use. The one tree we felled earlier will probably heat our home for at least two maybe even three months this coming winter. There is no reason to pay to heat your home.

Water
This one's a little harder than the rest, cause you just can't go without water. But there are things you can do that will cut, or if you're lucky eliminate, your water bill.

The biggest thing is to collect your rainwater. Get yourself some rain barrels and divert the chutes coming off your house into the barrels. You'll be surprised how much water you can store this way. Only one inch of rainfall on 1,000 square feet of roof will net you about 600 gallons of water! Those figures just blow me away! Why does anyone (outside a desert climate) pay for water to be piped to their home when hundreds upon thousands of gallons per year literally falls from the sky only to go straight down the sewer drain? We humans sure do have our priorities mixed up.

Bathe "birdbath-style." A regular tub bath can use 30 gallons or more of water, showers use 5-8 gallons per minute! So, get yourself a little four gallon galvanized tub or bucket, fill it with water and use a wash cloth to wet yourself, soap up, then use the cloth to rinse.

Sewage
I don't really think of sewage as a "utility," especially out here in the country where we have septic tanks instead of sewers. But it is still something that has to be dealt with, which you'll find out the first time your septic system backs up and you have to pay some fellow to come tear up your yard and carry off your "waste." Most people foolishly choose to flush away their "wastes" and try to forget that they ever existed in the first place.

But of course there is a much better way. If it's organic and it's a leftover the last thing that should be done is to flush it. It needs to be composted. Your garden will thank you by providing plants more healthy than anything you've probably seen.

Step 2B: Hunting

Written by Nick...

All you need to hunt is a New England Firearms Pardner in 20 gauge with a modified choke ($80). This one gun will fell anything in North America when used properly and responsibly.

Generally speaking, hunting is not quite as simple as fishing. It's also something I haven't done so much of. The only thing I've seriously hunted has been rabbits. They are easy enough. Any shotshell loaded with No. 6s or smaller will do fine for rabbits out of the gun I mentioned out to about 30-40 yards. Take your shotgun, go walking through the woods or prairie, stomping and kicking every little bit of brush or briars you find. Don't pass up even the smallest bits of cover. If you see a patch of grass and say "That's too small for rabbits, there won't be any in there" I guarantee that's where you'll find a rabbit. When you jump it and it's running off, aim a little bit ahead of it and pull that trigger. The best possible outcome is that the rabbit's head will catch the very edge of the shot pattern. That way you won't have any shot in your meat, which isn't all that pleasant.

You clean a rabbit almost like you do fileting a fish. Grab the fur about the middle of the body and pull with both hands, the fur will strip right off. Leave the fur on the head side, but take the fur all the way off the back-end and legs. You can leave the fur on the feet. Then all you have to do is filet the backstraps off each side of the spine just like a fish. Then cut off the hind legs, there's a joint in there that's just tendon and your knife will slice right through you just have to find it. Then cut the feet off the legs, a little more trick but the same idea. If the front legs aren't shot up too bad, you can get those too, but I usually just leave those for my cats or hound since there's not much meat on them anyway.

Right now we wrap our catches in freezer paper and stick them in the freezer. We are, however, working on alternative methods of storing meat because the next step in the path to self-reliance and independence is to reduce or eliminate using the utilities.

I will write more to this chapter when I have more experience hunting other game.

Step 2A: Fishing.

Fishing is the simplest and one of the most enjoyable ways to provide some of your own meat.

There is an amazing number of fishing rods and reels available on the market. Some costing hundreds of dollars. But you don't need to spend much money to catch fish. I personally own one Zebco 202 rod and reel which I purchased from Mal-Wart for $10 and a Zebco 33 rod and reel outfit, that was $20.

If you've never gone fishing before don't worry, it's easy. First of all, for your first times out, forget about lures altogether. If you're bank-fishing a public body of water, they are useless. Go back into the garden that you've dug and root around till you've got yourself a handful of nightcrawlers, then put them in one of the containers that you've saved instead of thrown away along with some moist dirt and head for the fishing hole. When you get to the water you have several options. I personally like to have one rod rigged to set the bait on the bottom and one rod rigged with a bobber to fish closer to the surface.

For the bottom rig, take the line from your reel and put on an egg sinker (about half an ounce, doesn't have to be real heavy just enough to get the bait to the bottom) then tie on an eye swivel. After the swivel, tie on a short leader of line (can be the same stuff on your reel) and then tie on the hook. For the bottom rig, I'm targeting catfish so I like the slightly bigger hooks labeled 2/0. Thread a worm on that hook and cast her out and let her sit till you get a bite, then reel it in. Catfish will usually hit the bait so hard and inhale it so deep that you won't even have to set the hook, just reel 'em on in.

For the surface rig, tie a snap swivel to the end of the line from your reel, then clip a bobber above the swivel (I prefer the ones with a little weight to them). You can experiment with how far up the line you put it, some days fish might want it shallower other days they might want it deeper. You can either put the hook right on the swivel, or you can use a leader. When you are speficially going for the more spooky panfish, a light-line leader (ie-4 pound test) might be an advantage because it's not as visible underwater as the heavier line.

Some folks also put a little weight on the line. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't; I don't think it really matters that much for this type of fishing. The size hook you want to use depends on what you're trying to catch. When I use the surface rig I'm usually going for panfish (bluegill, crappie), and use a very small hook, No. 6 or even No. 8. This rig will also catch bass.

For the surface rig, I don't put a whole worm on the hook. Just pinch off a bit and stick that on there. Panfish are a little more tricky to get on the hook though. Sometimes they'll hit the bait hard enough to hook themselves, and other times they'll steal that worm right off without you even knowing it. You just have to practice. Watch that bobber, most times you'll see it start moving differently when the fish are inspecting it. Just about as soon as it goes under you want to lightly set the hook, there's what you have to practice. You don't want to jerk it right out of their mouths, but you don't want to let them spit it back out either. The most important thing in reeling in the bass or panfish is to keep that line tight, if you let them get some slack in it they'll spit that hook out faster than anything and they'll be gone.

Using these methods, if they are there to catch, you will catch fish.

When you leave the lake you're only half-done though. You still need to get them cleaned and put away.

I prefer to filet most of my fish. This is not the easiest way to do it, but it is certainly the cleanest. Take the whole fish, it's sometimes easier if you have one of those boards with the clamp at one end, make a cut down the side of the fish behind the gills. Then make a cut along that same side of the spine down the length of the fish almost all the way to the tail. Then proceed to gently filet off the meat from the ribs. Then filet the skin off the meat. This way is nice because you don't have to gut or scale the fish and there will be no bones in the meat.

Catfish can be done the same way, but it is a good deal more difficult. For one thing those spines will leave inflict a nasty injury if they poke you, and it will take a while to heal (so I've heard, I've been blessed not to have been poked yet). Some folks use their pliers and cut the spines off, which I'll probably do this year too.

Another way to prepare fish is to scale and gut them and cut off their heads. This way is probably better for the smaller panfish because you won't waste any meat (as often happens with me when trying to filet the little buggers). And I'll probably be doing this more often this year, now that we have a place to grill stuff.

When you find the right places to go, you'll be rewarded with a catches like these.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Fun at a friend's house

Well, I like I said earlier, Friday I went strawberry picking at the local strawberry farm and picked 6 pounds. I got to take home 2 pounds. Saturday I did some catch up work on the computer and rested. Saturday evening, my friend Joyce had a birthday party at her house. I made two batches of my favorite roll recipe and took that along.

The hosts, Joyce and Jim had BBQ and we were all asked to bring side dishes. It was good to visit and see everyone that I have not seen in a long time. We stayed about three hours and then went home. The next day, my neighbor and I went strawberry picking again. You would think I'd have so many strawberries in the freezer but we have ate alot of them, fresh and in shortcakes. Well, Nick hasn't eaten any fresh, but I had to have his helping too. :-)

Anyways, we were there for 2 1/2 hours. Her kids stayed mostly in the car and played by themselves. We each only did one row, but the rows were packed unlike before. I picked three buckets worth and it weighed 18 1/2 pounds. I couldn't believe it at first, but now my body is telling me otherwise. I am so sore!

My back was sore at first, but now it is just my sides. It hurts to laugh and bend up and down. And i didn't even bend down to pick. I sat on the ground and inched my way down the row. I still can't get over how much I picked though. Nick and I picked the last sunday, 12 pounds together. I came home with about 6 pounds. I can't wait to go again. Sunday night, we went to see grandma and grandpa. We took over some fresh strawberries, cool whip, and short cake stuff. It was delicious! We ate supper with them and had a wonderful visit!

Monday, Nick worked for the rancher man and I cleaned the whole house. It has even stayed clean and it's Wednesday! Woo hoo! Tuesday I worked on the garden, weeding it. The garden is coming along so nicely! I can't wait to harvest what we've planted!

Today, we are going to pick up our eggs, butter and milk from the local farmer where we buy it from. It is all so delicious! I may stop by in town and visit my friend.

Until next week...

Saturday, June 4, 2005

The great adventures of Cider and Huck

The other day while walking Huck and Cider we stopped by a creek. I wanted Huck to get his hot paws wet and cool off. So down in the ditch he went across the creek. At first, he was jumping around frantically. Upon seeing him, Cider thought oh wow! Playtime! So he jumps in and starts splashing around. Huck is thinking, what are you doing? I'm here drowning and you are getting me more wet! The water was not very deep by the way, but when you have short little stubby legs... then all of a sudden huck stops jumping and splashing and it seems he is enjoying the moment. it lasted only a short time before he hopped out.

Friday, we went berry picking. We being my neighbor, her kids and me. I picked 6 pounds. It was fun and the weather was windy and nice. Today I am going to make some rolls to take to a friends house for dinner. Sunday we plan to go see nick's grandparents and bring along some strawberry shortcake stuff. I'm not sure what Monday holds for us, but I will write on Tuesday and tell of my weekend.

Oh, I got my neighbor started on fly lady stuff. She and I have been helping one another with our houses. She, Ginny, is working on the basics of fly lady before jumping into it all. She likes the ideas and gets excited to tell me about what she has done for the day. Her daughter will come over and write down what each of us has done for the day and compare her notes. It has been fun. This month we are in a new zone and having fun "competing" and getting all our cleaning done. For those of you who are unfamiliar with fly lady. Go to: www.flylady.net

Well, I've got to go make dinner... until next time...

Blessing bags completed.

The first batch of blessing bags have been completed. Here are the last of them. Next challenge is to make 25 more in a Christmas...