Monday, May 27, 2013

What To Do If You Cannot Grow A Garden

 Photo: Zukes blooming.
I am blessed, because nearly everyday I come in contact with someone who tells me they're starting their first garden ever. But every now and then, someone tells me that they cannot have a garden because of where they live. They want to have a garden, but do not know how to do it without getting in trouble. So I ask myself," How would I go about starting a garden with these restrictions?" I did a little research, and here's what I've come up with as suggestions for those who cannot have a garden.

Covert Gardening

There are several places that are  against a vegetable garden but are perfectly okay with a flower garden. In these locations I would practice covert gardening. There are many herbs that look perfectly at home in the average flower garden. Rosemary for example can be trimmed to look like many topiaries. Thyme can be used as a creeper right against your border. Basil, parsley, and oregano as well as many others can be used as a greenery in the average flower garden. There are also several very colorful varieties of lettuce, decorative cabbages, and kale. Most of the plants that I have listed above can be kept in a flower garden without raising a single eyebrow. If you're more adventuresome, I have seen peppers and even tomatoes designed for patios placed in a flower garden. You may want to slowly phase these in. Remember, every single step you take get you closer to being more self sustainable.

Container Gardens
Photo: Here's a creative wall garden for your herbs <3

Fresh Local Herbs ►
Photo courtesy of

So what if you're not even allowed to have a flower garden? Then we start to look at container gardens. Container gardens can provide a lot of flexibility. There are many varieties of tomatoes, strawberries, and even peppers there specifically designed for use with containers. Containers can be kept in the home, on the sidewalk, on the porch, or even on a patio. In warmer climates peppers are perennial not annual, so keeping them so you can leave them outside in the summer and bring them in during the winter. Pepper production is much greater the second year. Now, I'm not saying that you're going to want to grow corn and peas in a container but it is a start.

Community Gardens

This is a subject that every time I bring it up my wife has reservations because of the possibility of mismanagement. Community gardens are growing in popularity all across the country, so the likelihood of having one in your area is increasing every single year. A perfect setup would be that every person that works in the garden would get a percentage of the produce based on how many hours that person works or what kind of investment is made. If there is a community garden in your area, find out who the manager is. Ask questions. Here are some questions to consider asking. Is there a record of how much time is spent in the garden? Who decides how much each person gets off the produce? Who's responsible for the cost of seeds and for fertilizer? If for any reason these questions and more are not answered to your satisfaction consider passing.

If there is no community garden in your area, you can always look into starting one yourself ,that way you can make sure that it is managed properly. If you are in a small community, you might just have to go to the city council meeting. If you're in a larger metropolitan area ,you may have to deal with the city planner. There is precedent for this type of program so don't be afraid to ask.

Community Supported Agriculture or CSA

There are two types of CSAs. One you can just buy shares of the produce or the second, that requires a labor investment. Just like buying shares in a company there is some risk. Years when the growing season is great you can get a lot for your shares and years when the growing is poor you may not get much.

Many only want payment for shares, but if you ask around you may be able to find a CSA that will trade labor for part or all of the cost of shares. Most CSAs will provide a list of what fruits and vegetables they will provide for the share. Many will deliver their produce to you or you can pick it up at the farm.

Farmers Markets

The last option I will cover is farmer's markets. Farmer's markets are the least hands on of all the options that we have listed. Nearly all major cities and small towns have a farmers market. Farmer's markets are places where anybody who grows food can sell their abundance- provided they are willing to obtain a permit. Depending upon your location, you may have a wide range of options or very few.

This is again one of those situations where you will want to ask a lot of questions. Some questions I would like to ask are as follows: Do you use herbicides?, Do you use pesticides?, Are you certified organic?, and Are you willing to let me go look at your farm?This is not a complete list, but it is a good starting place.
Every step you take, no matter how small can be the beginning of your homestead. Just like the Victory Gardens in World War 2, if we all work together there can be food production at every household.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Why Skill Development Is So Important

If you have read any of my posts you realize that I am all about personal responsibility, self resiliency, and stretching  your resources as far as possible. In my opinion skill development is the best possible way to do all of the above. There have been several ad campaigns in the past few years like "Knowledge is Power" and "The More You Know". These are not just catchy phrases, they are absolutely true.

Last week I got a phone call at work. My wife, trying to take the children to school and go to school herself, walked out to find a flat tire. I offer to come home and try to fix the situation but my wife says no she would figure it out. About 2 months ago I taught my step-son how to change a tire. I placed the jack, showed him where it should be placed. We took turns jacking up the car. I showed him how to loosen the lug nuts. I would remove one then he would. I let him remove the tire. We put the new tire on and again we took turns putting the lug nuts back. Lastly, I showed him how to tighten the lug nuts. This time I was not around to be able to do anything, but he was. He was able to do the whole job by himself. I was so proud of him. He has taken another important step toward being an adult.

As a general rule I am always either trying to learn something I did not know at all before, develop something I have a basic knowledge of or teach a skill to someone else. I love to be creative. The things I create however must be functional. I am not a frilly person at all.

I believe every time a person gains proficiency in a skill they gain confidence in every aspect of their lives. A confidence that has been rightfully earned. All skills teach problem solving techniques. Every basic skill has application in higher skills. If you know how to cook, you can apply to same basic principles to beginning chemistry. There are certain ingredients that you do not combine. Mechanical skills are the same way. If you can change a tire, you can change your oil, if you can change your oil you can do all your own basic maintenance. Back last summer I changed the oil pan gasket on my 88 Bronco. If I would have paid someone to do it, just the labor would have been $275. That is a pretty good return.

Just knowledge is not enough. My wife just graduated from Respiratory Therapy. I have helped her study a good bit. We can carry on conversations about what she is doing at work and school. Just because I have a basic knowledge of Respiratory Therapy and can work many of the equations that are required. I wouldn't have a clue what to do in application. You cannot truly know a skill until you have had hands on application.

I think everyone will agree that we are still in economic turmoil. Jobs are lost everyday. On every job application that I have ever filled out has an area on it for hobbies or interests. It doesn't matter what your interests or hobbies are they say something about you. If you knit that means you are good with you hands. If you cross stitch or needle point, you pay attention to detail. If you carve wood you are creative. If you do mechanic work you are not afraid of things that are difficult. You see, the more skills you have, the more you develop these abilities. Not to mention there have been several times that a hobby has become an occupation.

Skills save you money. Skills make you more independent. Skills make you more confident. Many times skills can not only save you money, but make you money in tough times. It does not matter what the skills are. Learn how to develop a smart phone application. Learn to build websites. Learn to carve wood. Learn to start a fire without matches or a lighter. Learn to camp. Learn anything and everything that interests you. It does not have to cost you any money. Just get out there and learn.

If this has inspired you to learn something new consider joining the 13 skills in 2013 challenge at You can do anything you decide to try.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Light Bulb Efficiency Lie

With the economy still in questionable shape and people's real income stagnant, people are still looking for ways to cut their expenses. If your budget looks anything like ours, utilities are in the top five most expensive monthly expenditures. We are going to look at lighting of the home as a part of this expense. We are going to discuss how much of my family's electric bill goes to lighting and how little changing the bulbs in our home will effect this.

I will quickly admit that this was not the article that I was expecting to write. I was expecting to compare the different types of bulbs and tell you how long it would take for us to save the difference in price. After doing the math I have realized that lighting is the smallest part of our electric bill. I will still go over the savings, but not with the same zeal as before.

There are some terms we need to be familiar with when shopping for light bulbs.

Lumen: Quite simply a measure of brightness. The higher the number the brighter the bulb. Incandescent bulbs produce around 16 lumens per watt. A 100 watt incandescent bulb produces 1600 lumens.

Kelvin (K): This when used with light is the color scale. Interestingly Kelvin is a measure of temperature. The lower the number the "cooler" the color. A bulb with a 3100 K color will be called a soft white bulb. For me, the soft white looks very yellow. A bulb with a 6100 K color will be called a natural daylight. To me the natural daylight looks sort of blue. The natural daylight bulbs appear brighter even though it uses the same amount of energy.

Kilowatt Hour: Your electric bill is measured in kilowatts or kilowatt hours. A Kilowatt is 1000 watts. A Kilowatt hour is the amount of work 1000 watts can do. For the purpose of our discussion we will treat them as being exactly the same thing. A 100 watt incandescent bulb will burn a kilowatt in 10 hours.

Our electricity costs us 7.7 cents per kilowatt with a minimum bill of $14.50. To find what you are being charged per kilowatt, take your utility bill and look at it closely. Some of the bills will tell you exactly what you are being charged by kilowatt. Some you will have to figure yourself. You take the amount of your bill, subtract any taxes and fees. Then you take the amount that is left and divide it by the number of kilowatt hours used that month. This will give you cost of each kilowatt.

At 7.7 cents per kilowatt it costs us less than a penny an hour to run a 100 watt incandescent light bulb. With an average daily usage of 4 hours for several of the fixtures in our house and most of these having 3 bulbs per fixture. This means we are spending $25.87 a month only on lighting. I was quite shocked that this number was that small, but I figured it 3 times. This was figured on 28 bulbs running 4 hours per day, if you operate more lights than this the savings will be greater.

Incandescent: Incandescent bulbs have been the standard for a very long time. Incandescent bulbs have the shortest lifetime of any of the bulbs we will talk about today. They burn hot, so hot in fact that when I was a child I would melt crayons on the bulb of the light in my room. If there are any children reading this...Do Not Melt Crayons On Your Lamps. 

Halogen: Halogen bulbs have a slightly longer lifespan than the incandescent bulbs. A 100 watt equivalent burns 72 watts. If you changed out all 28 of the bulbs to halogens in my example, the monthly cost would go down to  $18.62 per month. Halogens burn very hot, so hot that I have considered changing all of the bulbs to halogens during winter because I believe the heat they produce would decrease heating costs. I would most certainly take any halogens out during summer months.

Compact Florescent (CFL): Compact Florescent bulbs have become the standard bearer of energy savings. They burn cool, last up to 3 times longer than an incandescent and a 100 watt equivalent only burns 24 watts. If we were to change all 28 of the bulbs to compact florescent bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs the price of lighting would go from $25.87 to $6.21. This is a significant savings. The biggest drawback for me is most of the CFLs contain mercury, which if not properly disposed of can be very damaging to the environment.

LED Light Emitting Diode: The newcomer to the market is the LED. LEDs are the most efficient, burn the coolest, and last the longest. Most of the models claim to be able to last 25 years. A 100 watt equivalent burns between 14 and 20 watts. For a bulb that would fit in most standard fixtures, we would need the 20 watt version. Changing all of the bulbs from incandescent to LEDs would drop the electricity cost for lighting from $25.87 to $5.17. This sounds great until you realize that a standard looking LED that would fit in most fixtures cost ranges between $33 and $50 each. If you have the money to drop on these bulbs it would be best for the environment and you wallet if you are willing to look extremely long term. Some estimates say that it will take 8 to 10 years to make up the difference in cost. My estimate is right at 4 years with the exact same usage as I figured. In our household this is not possible because our lighting usage goes way down in the summer so this number would be much greater.

Conclusion: The 100 watt light bulb being phased out is a way to act like you are doing something without actually doing so. For most households lighting is the smallest part of their electric bill. If you are wanting to really reduce your electric bill adjust your thermostat. Heating and cooling is estimated to be as much as 20 percent of your total utility bill. Be aware of how much television you are watching. The average electricity a television uses is 300 watts per hour. Use a clothes line to dry some of your clothes.The average clothes dryer uses 4400 watts per hour. There are more and better ways to save on your electric bill. Having said all of this, I am still looking forward to the price of LED bulbs coming down and I want to have them in my home, but I am not willing to pay the difference.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Homemade Insect Repellents

It is that time of year already. I have picked about 4 ticks off of my dog and have gotten two off of me. We are going to jump into homemade insect repellent and homemade insect killer. No I am not going to tell you to keep a jar of soapy water and pick them off and throw them in I am going to try to cover more functional methods of insect control.

First I would like to point out that a tick is not an insect it is actually an arachnid. So these remedies should work on mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks. I am trying to include the ones that make the most sense and will be simple to make.


The simplest that I have heard about is to put 10 drops of eucalyptus oil into a bottle of sunscreen. The oil will not diminish the effectiveness of the sunscreen and it will provide protection against all types of biting insects.

Diesel Fuel

Yep, I said diesel fuel. When I was a kid my dad, grandfather and I would go to cut firewood. We were literally surrounded by ticks and chiggers. My dad was a chigger magnet. A chigger is a mite that in its larval state feeds on blood and causes intense discomfort. We would coat our work boots and belt with diesel fuel, this did an effective job of keeping the ticks and chiggers away. I do not really suggest this unless you have a belt and boots that you don't really care about.


I have used vinegar. Basically the same manner as we used diesel fuel, but this can also be sprayed onto clothing, on pets, around the house and even in the yard. Mix 2 cups of water to 1 cup of white vinegar. You can add a couple of drops of an essential oil to add fragrance.

Essential Oils

You can really use any of the very fragrant oils. Mix 2 tablespoons of cooking oil into 1 cup of water with 20 drops of a fragrant essential oil. Rose geranium oil, peppermint oil, or lavender oil  would make good choices. Essential oils can be purchased at many health food stores, I have provided links below to purchase through Amazon, and I will include a short explanation of making your own essential oil. This can be sprayed on clothing or exposed skin. Please do not spray close to eyes, nose, or mouth. These areas are very sensitive.

If you are not into making your own, please do not use any insect repellent that contains DEET. If you would like some information on the dangers of DEET you can read a past post that covers it briefly HERE. But you can by premade all natural insect repellents. I will provide a link to one such product.

After working or playing in an area where ticks are prevalent, be sure to have someone check you for ticks. I do not think ticks should become an overwhelming fear, but having knowledge can make us all stronger.

Insect Control

There are really two things that I suggest everyone try when dealing with insects as far as control. Are there situations when chemicals are the answer? Sure. There are times that heavy infestations may require the use of chemical pesticides. But there are other options that will kill the little buggers that are less hazardous to the world around us.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is also commonly called DE. It is basically the fossilized remains of plankton. So it is thousands even millions of little fossilized skeletons. I know that sounds gruesome, but it is not. The way it controls insects is a little complicated, but here goes my explanation.

DE is an indiscriminate killer of all critters with an exoskeleton. When the insect or arachnid walks through DE a few particles will stick to the insect. As they move this particle acts sort of like a porcupine quill and slowly works its way into the insect. Once inside DE dries the insect out from the inside. Basically it absorbs the moisture from the insect and they die. Like I said gruesome. Be aware DE with kill honey bees just as quickly as ticks. 

For a yard application just use a spreader or sprinkle around your yard. For garden application sprinkle or dust around your plants and on leaves, be careful to avoid the blooms. You do not want to kill your pollinator's. 

DE can also be used on pets and indoors. You can sprinkle or dust your pets. You can also sprinkle DE into carpets and on fabric furniture. Waite a day or two then vacuum up. Really quite simple.

Boric Acid

Boric acid and Borax have long been held as an effective insecticide. Borax contains boric acid or rather boric acid is made from borax. Boric acid is more highly refined.

Boric and Borax can both be effectively used to control insects. I cannot however be used to kill ticks, bedbugs, or aphids. For control of ants or roaches you can take either and make a bait. If you use boric acid you will be able to use a lot less. One teaspoon of boric acid to 10 teaspoons of sugar for ants and one teaspoon of boric acid to every 5 of sugar for roaches. The lower concentration for ants allows the ants to take the poison back to the colony. If you are using borax the mixture will be half borax and half sugar for both.

I say poison because that is what it is. Boric acid can be harmful to people, but the amount needed for boric acid to be harmful is really significant. Use either with wisdom.

I hope you have found this informational and helpful. May you obtain your
Rural Dreams and Homestead Wishes to you.

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