Sunday, July 31, 2022

Rest in peace, Uhura

As a huge fan of the original Star Trek series, I was saddened to learn of the passing of Nichelle Nichols, the original Lt. Uhura.

This woman was a pioneering actress is so many ways. Rest in peace, Uhura.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

This made me smile

How's this for a charming proposal?

This made me smile.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Gardening in cold climates

I have a cyber-friend in Maine named Holly. She lives a very rugged lifestyle. This is her porch:

Through trial and error, she and her husband have figured out the intricacies of gardening in an extreme (Zone 3) northern climate.

Well, she put pen to paper (so to speak) and wrote a piece for SurvivalBlog – and they published it! Way to go, Holly! You can read her essay here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Who wants to do a book review?

A day or two ago, I received an email from Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) and editor‑in‑chief of the Home School Researcher (a peer-reviewed journal). He wrote: "Would you be interested, or can you think of someone who might be, in writing a book review of this new book for our 37 year-old peer-reviewed journal Home School Researcher?"

The book is titled "An Economic Theory of Home Schooling" by Brian Baugus. It's brand-new, published Feb. 15, 2022.

From the blurb: "In this book, Brian Baugus examines home schooling as an education enterprise, arguing that successful home school families have the same characteristics and motivations as entrepreneurs. Baugus examines the history and economic theories behind home schooling to explain the rational decision-making that motivates home schooling endeavors, examining dissatisfaction with mainstream education, expectations of return on investment, and resistance from established providers."

Dr. Ray said there would be no remuneration for the reviewer, but he will provide a free copy. (It's an expensive book, so this could be a huge benefit.)

My schedule is too full to do justice to this request, so I asked permission to post this on the blog, and he agreed. If you're interested, please contact Dr. Ray directly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

More mewing

Early this morning, I heard a cat meowing. Nope, not gonna get fooled again, I thought. No doubt it's just a cat bird.

The mewing persisted and seemed to be getting louder. My goodness, Frumpkin is noisy this morning, I thought. (Frumpkin is Older Daughter's cat, and has a remarkably dainty "mew" for a cat his size.)

And still the mewing persisted. After a few more minutes I realized it wasn't so much a mew as a bleat. Meanwhile, Mr. Darcy was lying on the deck, staring down at something. I picked up my camera, crept out on the porch, and saw this:

Fawns bleat a surprising amount, and this little one was looking for his mother (there were several does in the driveway). When he spotted her, he dashed over and started nursing while mama stared at me suspiciously.

All together now: Awwww.

Then Darcy barked and broke up the tableau. The fawn went one direction, the doe in another.

About fifteen minutes later, reunited once more, the pair was back in the driveway. This time Darcy was inside, so I quietly stepped out on the deck and watched.

A random turkey joined them.

Pretty soon mama wandered down the driveway...

...while baby stayed behind.

Then, for whatever reason, the fawn slipped through the fence and waded into the tall grass, disappearing from view. Mama turned around, and her baby was gone.

She walked slowly back up the driveway, grunting very softly "Junior? Junior!"

Eventually she wandered toward the top of the driveway, leaped the fence, and went in search of her offspring.

...Thus proving that disappearing toddlers and frantic mothers are not solely an affliction of humans.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The unreality of a bug-out location

A few months ago, I read an interesting piece on The Organic Prepper on the subject and importance of a bug-out location. Ideally, this is the fully pre-furnished remote location every good prepper is supposed to have up his sleeve for the inevitable time he'll be departing the urban dystopia.

The scene is always set for the prepper to arrive on his remote doorstep, battered but alive from his apocalyptic journey, and slip effortlessly into a self-sufficient lifestyle and live happily ever after. Or something like that.

The ideal Bug-Out Location, the article tells us, should have the following:

• Isolation from major population centers

• Shelter

• At least one-quarter acre of land with excellent soil (for gardening); more land, if possible, to raise livestock

• A natural water source

• A nearby wood source (forest, etc.)

There's so much to unpack in this article that I almost don't know where to start; but frankly, all I can see is a recipe for disaster if people actually try to follow these recommendations.

The article makes it sound like an isolated shack in the woods is all you need to survive a bleep-hit-the-fan scenario, and everyone is already pre-equipped with the knowledge to grow a garden, protect it from deer or other pests, preserve the harvest, and, I dunno, live happily ever after.

But there is more – so much more – to self-sufficiency than a bug-out location.

If you're fleeing a genuine natural disaster (hurricane, wildfire, etc.), then either the evacuation is temporary, or your home is gone. There is no middle ground. If the former, then you can go home as soon as the danger is over, clean up the mess, and resume your life. If the latter, you'll have to start over, hopefully with the assistance of friends, relatives, insurance companies, and contractors.

I've had friends fleeing wildfires. In one case, some friends had the time to temporarily relocate their livestock to a safe location and literally move everything out of their home lock, stock, and barrel. Thankfully the fire missed them, so they took the opportunity to give their empty house a good scrubbing, then moved everything back in.

In the other case, the fire erupted so fast there was no time to do anything but flee, and our friends lost everything but the clothes on their backs. Their home was burned, much of the infrastructure for their farm was gone, and the only reason their livestock survived is because the husband was able to dash in among the flames and release the horses and cattle to a more distant pasture. Friends and neighbors rallied around to aid them, and they're slowly getting back on their feet.

But these are not the situations preppers talk about when they describe bug-out locations. Instead, they set up the scene for fleeing the apocalyptic bleep-hit-the-fan scenario in which cities abruptly become unlivable. This is the setup for which they urge bug-out locations.

But a bug-out location, to be an effective, long-term, and self-sufficient option, has to be so much more than a shack in the woods with a creek running nearby.

First of all, even with all the skill in the world, it will take – at minimum – three months for the refugee's garden to start producing food. (This assumes they were able to plant the garden in a timely fashion and protect it from pests during the growing season.) But what will they eat until their garden is ready? What if they arrived at their bug-out location in the fall or winter (or even in mid-summer), when gardening isn't possible? Do they have sufficient food storage already in place at their remote location to tide them over?

Besides, most people do not leave urban areas possessing the full knowledge and skills necessary to become self-sufficient immediately. Speaking from experience, it takes years of trial and error. To assume you can arrive, panting and dirty, on the doorstep of your bug-out location, remove the backpack from your aching back, and know what to do next is asking a lot.

Additionally, unless the prepper is willing to adopt a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (in which case they're going to need access to a heck of a lot more than one-quarter acre of property), they're going to need a lot of tools. These must either be pre-located at the bug-out location, or brought with them (and trust me, these tools won't fit in a backpack). The list of tools is formidable and includes everything from gardening implements to a pressure canner. Unless the "bugged-out" prepper has access to the tools necessary to live self-sufficiently, he's going to fail.

This is why these kinds of unrealistic "armchair prepper" articles make me despair. We've been involved in the homesteading movement for decades, and we're still learning, still failing, still trying new things. To give someone false hope that they can waltz – tra la la – onto a raw piece of land with a ramshackle shack and transform it into a thriving self-sufficient homestead within a matter of weeks is criminally misleading.

You're not going to your bug-out location for a two-week vacation (that's called a vacation home). Instead, you're going to your bug-out location to survive an apocalyptic situation.

This is not meant to discourage anyone from purchasing land and developing it into a homestead. Quite the contrary: if this is your dream, I urge you to follow through with all possible speed. But it should be a lifestyle, not a place you think will be ready for you in the bleep hits the fan.

It takes time to develop a piece of land into something that will provide your physical needs. My advice: Get started NOW.


Don and I discussed this subject, and he wrote the following:

It's possible, when you read the above, you said to yourself, "Gee, Patrice is being a bit harsh."

Well, let me tell you that compared to my take on the article in question, Patrice is being far too kind. I'll begin with the general tenor of the article she references.

The author seems to suggest that everything you need to do for developing and maintaining a successful "bug-out" is outlined in his 1,800-word essay. Aside from this being impossible (considering all the permutations involved in locating, purchasing, constructing and maintaining a viable "shelter" in the wild), the author glosses over so many vital concerns as to make the piece worse than useless, moving it solidly into the "dangerous to deadly" category.

Here's a few of his knuckle busters:

• "In this review, we will assist you in choosing a perfect bug-out location where you will have totally secure retreats and enjoy your stay there."

There is no such thing as either perfection or total security in any bug-out location, especially if you don't live there full time. I don't care how crafty you are in purchasing the land or how stealthily you sneak in one 2x4 at a time to build your "shelter" or how far out into the wilderness you go. Someone local – logger, hiker, moonshiner, weed grower, forester – will soon know you are there and will just as quickly spread the word to others. Never doubt the power of the country grapevine. I suppose it's possible you might set up your shelter inside of a hollow log or under a rock pile and get away with being unnoticed for a while, but hollow logs are hard to heat safely and rock piles are there for a reason, often related to unstable slopes above you.

• "[Your bug-out] has to be located quite far from your main house, as you want to be able to escape from your area when any type of emergency starts. Thus, usually, such constructions are located in very remote areas, but the distance from your residence is not the main characteristic."

Aside from the fact that the author contradicts himself in adjacent sentences, the distance between your residence and your bug-out should be a short as possible based on the reasonable disasters you anticipate. If your main concern is a tsunami, having a prepared retreat inland above the anticipated high water levels is smart. If your fears are at the other end of the spectrum – such as nuclear winter or a planet-killing asteroid strike – your best bet is to make sure that you'll be accepted into God's house (which actually is a good and inexpensive strategy regardless of whatever other plans you make). But assuming your earthly concerns are somewhere in between, you want your established bug-out to be located where that you can get to safely and quickly, if for no other reason than that you can check up on it regularly and do such stocking and maintenance as needed to make sure it will be ready for your use. Realistically, the best-case scenario is to live full-time in your bug-out location.

• "A long distance from your home to the bug-out location is important for your safety" and "That is why the distance from your permanent residence should not be too long and too short as well."

Before I go off on the author too much for the above sentences, he does provide specific distances based on travel methods and potential calamities. For example:

• "Using a vehicle – from 50 to maximum of 100 miles" and “Bear in mind that there can be no opportunity to use gas stations. It means that the shelter should be no further than one tank of gas away.“

The main criteria for this distance to your perfect bug-out seems to be your mileage. (Professional hint: try to find a vehicle which can go at least 100 miles on a tank of gas; might want to avoid an EV.)

• "Walking to location – from 25 to maximum 50 miles"

First off, if you live in a major city, you won't even find yourself out of the suburbs at 50 miles. Additionally, what exactly do you think the other refugees are going to do to you and your large and heavy backpack as you limp by on your blistered feet?

• "If you want to hide from nuclear war or tsunami – 100 miles"

Just stop. Please stop.

I thought I'd go farther in reviewing this article, but I have other more important things to do (Sunday nap).

Just understand that there is nothing in the "expert" article under review that will keep you safe. Absolutely nothing.

If you're rightly concerned about living in the cities during these increasingly troubling times, here is the best advice I can give you:

Get out of there now. Sell out and move to the country. Buy a fixer upper and fix it. Build a garden and raise livestock. Learn to preserve food. Learn a new set of skills. Meet, listen to, and become neighborly with the locals. Find a local job or make one. Attend a church. Join a fraternal organization. Stop and smell the roses. Exercise and learn about your area with long backwoods drives and boots on the ground. Homeschool if you've got kids.

I can't promise you that you'll have the perfect bug-out, since perfection is a goal and not a destination, but at least you travel time will be nil.

And if you plan right, you can take tsunamis off you list of concerns.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The journey toward blueberries

This is a loooong post, so grab a cup of tea and follow our journey toward blueberries.

Last year, you might recall I went on a hunt for blueberry bushes. They were one of the first things I wanted to get established here in our new home, but there was a regional shortage at the time and I was worried I wouldn't be able to find enough.

Fortunately, from a variety of sources, I was able to obtain the bushes I wanted: 15 Chandlers, six Toros, three Patriots, and five Spartans (originally six, but one died), for a total of 29 bushes.

For the longest time, these bushes remained in pots on the porch (where they were protected from deer) while we figured out where to plant them and how best to protect them.

We had also purchased four peach trees, and were faced with a similar question: Where to plant them and how to protect them.

A major consideration around here is deer pressure. We have deer everywhere. When we finally get our raised-bed garden installed, we plan to have 10-foot-high fencing around it, but last year we had nothing established by way of infrastructure to protect the bushes, and of course we couldn't delay too long in getting the berries into the ground.

So after much deliberation, we decided on an unorthodox solution. (Hmm. It seems most of our solutions are unorthodox.)

We have a strip of lawn in front of the house, parallel to the driveway. We're limited in what we can do on this spot, because a portion is part of the drain field for our septic system. Fortunately we are able to tell (from the unevenness of the ground) where the drain field ends, and we decided to put the blueberries and peaches there.

Don laid everything out in a schematic.

We assembled the early tools we needed: stakes, tape measures, marking string, and spray paint.

We staked out where we were going to drill holes with the tractor auger, both for planting blueberries and peach trees, but also for constructing an enclosure to protect everything from the deer.

Measuring and marking.

Don made a spacer board to mark where to auger holes for blueberries, to keep things fairly even.

The spray paint indicates where the holes will get augered.

Once all the preliminary layout was done, it was time to begin the enclosure to protect against deer. We had already salvaged some pressure-treated poles.

These poles were a lucky (and free) find. Hard to beat that price. We decided they would become the uprights to hold fencing in place for the blueberries and peach trees.

We laid out the space where we wanted to place the poles, and augered holes using the tractor auger.

Then he augered the holes to plant the blueberries.

But building the protective enclosure was more important than planting at this point, so Don focused on getting the poles into the ground.

First he made a quick jig to hold the poles in place.

He measured and marked two inches from the ends of each pole.

Then, using a paddle bit, he drilled holes.

Then we set the poles upright in the ground, with the drilled holes at top.

We used salvaged well pipes to link the poles together. Well pipes are one of the homesteader's best friends. They're often free, they're 21 feet long, and they can be threaded together. We threaded some of the pipes through the holes in the poles. (That's our internet satellite dish on the right.)

We made sure the poles were level.

Tamping the poles in place.

We could thread the well pipes together to make the lengths we wanted. Plumber's wrenches helped.

(So did a little grease.)

The result was a series of poles linked by metal rods.

(If all this seems very convoluted and mysterious, bear with us. There's a method to our madness.)

We only put in about half the poles and pipe we wanted to create the enclosure, just enough to plant the blueberries. But to get ready to plant the peaches, we brought in a neighbor who has a small Bobcat trackhoe to dig us some holes.

Here's one of the holes.

To the pile of excavated dirt, we added sand to break up the heavy clay.

Don churned together the dirt and sand using the rototiller attachment on the tractor.

Once it was all mixed together, he backfilled the hole with the dirt/sand mixture. These will be our peach-tree planting spots. We then continued constructing the line of upright poles and pipes to the end of this line, to enclose the spots we'll plant the trees.

To make the enclosure sturdy, however, we needed to brace the upright poles. To do this, Don cut pieces of well pipe at an angle to use as braces. He started with a jig setup.

This is the end of the well pipe he'll be cutting with a metal-cutting wheel.

Here's his metal-cutting wheel.

It's a pity the photo barely captures the cascade of sparks that went flying every time he made a cut. It was quite dramatic.

Once he had all the pipe cut to length, he drilled a hole in the long end of the angle, about an inch from the tip.

(Close-up of the drilled hole, complete with metal shavings.)

Each upright wooden pole got two metal braces screwed into it.

This is the (still incomplete) result. The angled braces serve two purposes: they brace the pole, but they also act as a support for the siding.

For the siding, we used cattle panels (some people call these hog panels).

These were leaned up against the angled pipes.

Finally it was time to actually plant the blueberries. We carefully prepped the holes with a generous amount of peat moss, which gives acid-loving blueberries a boost.

I brought all the blueberries down from the deck...

...and organized them according to variety.

Don even made a small chart showing what was planted where.

In the ground.

Then I laid out some weed cloth and started fitting it around the blueberry plants.

Crucially, however, I did not anchor the weed cloth with gravel. Big mistake! We didn't have any gravel at the time, and we naïvely assumed the weed cloth would be sufficient to, well, block the weeds. (It wasn't.)

To complete the enclosure, we used sturdy deer netting.

This we cut to length and draped over the pipe at the apex of the structure.

This is what the enclosure looks like. The cattle panels can drop down for access to the berries, and the angled cattle panels combined with the netting keep the deer from even trying to get in. (Deer don't like to mess with angles.) The height at the apex is high enough that we can walk inside without banging our heads, though admittedly this is because we are a family of hobbits.

But this is where things stalled. Big-time. The temperatures were getting roastingly hot by this point – last summer wasn't much more than a blur of heat that seemed to last for months – and early mornings were being used for other projects. As a result, only 12 of the blueberry plants got any weed cloth at all, and what was there wasn't anchored with gravel and therefore didn't do much good.

Bottom line, the blueberries got ignored. Make no mistake, I watered them, but did nothing more for a full year.

This last spring, we were dealing with Don's health situation. Once he was recuperated, he was able to move some gravel for me, and I became determined to mend the mess I'd made with the neglected blueberries last year. The bushes were overwhelmed with weeds and grasses to the point of embarrassment. I mean, look at this!

It's hard to even spot the poor overwhelmed berry bushes.

So I got busy doing what I should have done last year, cursing myself for leaving it so long and thus multiplying the amount of work required. (Ben Franklin said it well: A stitch in time saves nine.)

I started at the end of the line where I had ineffectually laid down that length of weed cloth last summer. I pulled off the cloth and started hand-pulling the grasses and weeds down to bare dirt. The weed cloth did do one thing – it kept the ground softer and made it easier to pull everything out. Still, it was laborious work.

Don had purchased a section of the biggest PVC pipe he could find, then sawed it into chunks to use as collars.

As I cleared the ground around each bush, I tucked weed cloth around the plant base, then fitted the collar and snugged it down.

Relatively speaking, this first section was easy. Soon I had the area paved with weed cloth and graveled.

Then I had to tackle the much longer section that had never had weed cloth over it. The bushes were more stunted here, simply from having sunlight blocked by the tall grasses.

This was much more time-consuming. Don started by weed-whacking what he could, but he had to be very slow and careful not to accidentally hit a bush. (He never did.) That took care of the tallest grasses. After that, I armed myself with knee pads and an electric trimmer and got to work.

I shaved – literally shaved – the grasses down to the ground using the electric trimmer. The blueberry bushes themselves didn't have many weeds growing in the holes where we originally planted them, which was good news. Instead, they were simply overwhelmed by tall grasses. Once these were trimmed down, we could see that not only did all the bushes survive, but they didn't look half-bad (considering). Most had berries.

For each bush, I fit a double layer of weed cloth around it, followed by a collar. Then I laid a double-layer of weed cloth throughout the rest of the section...

... and graveled it.

It took several days of working just in the mornings (when it's cool) to get all the berries done, but the result is splendid.

Until we get a drip system in place, all I need to do to water is drop the cattle panel to the ground, and I can water directly into the collar around each plant. When I'm done, I simply pick up the panel and lean it back against the poles.

It's worth noting that the enclosure itself – the poles braced by well pipes, with deer netting draped over and cattle panels at the bottom – has worked perfectly. The local deer (and elk) population has never even tried to breach these defenses.

As for the bushes themselves, they're producing beautifully. Considering their rocky start, they've been very forgiving.

The young peach trees are next. (By the way, they don't have deer netting over them, of course. Just around them.) They're doing better, simply because they weren't choked by grasses. But they look sloppy, and I don't like sloppy gardens.

So that's our long and convoluted journey toward blueberries. If I had done things correctly from the start, they would have been a lot less work. But at least they're done now.