Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Something you'd rather not know

For several years I enforced hazardous waste regulations on a federal property. I learned a lot about the primary law regulating these substances, or not. We found some very hazardous wastes fall through the cracks of the law. Others are specifically excluded for logical reasons.

An example of logical exclusion comes from copper mining and metal refining in the western US. A large fraction of copper comes from copper bound with sulfer, or copper sulfides. To refine to a relatively pure form of copper, sulfuric acid is a waste product that would be considered a hazardous waste. The law (RCRA) allows that if a waste product is a feedstock for another product, it is exempt from the hazardous waste laws and is managed under the hazardous materials laws. So, refiners sell the sulfuric acid to companies that make automotive batteries or otherwise need the acid for their products. This makes sense to me, and reduces the overhead of disposing of an otherwise useful waste product.

So why do I mention this? In trade with foreign nations, their products are usually required to comply with many US laws, including RCRA. However, the law does not define which hazardous wastes can or can't be used as a feedstock for another product.  Rubber and plastic items, already a chemical brew, can accommodate a lot of 'stuff' and retain their basic ability to take a utilitarian form.

Can I prove that this is happening? Not directly as I have no lab to prove it nor the cash to pay for lots of testing. Why do I suspect that this is happening?  Have you ever held a dog toy (made in a specific country that I won't name) to you nose and smelled it? Now do the same if you can find one made in the US. (I did this with Kong dog toys when you could still find them made in the US) Which do you want in your dog's mouth? Other items, like rubber door mats and some automotive enhancement products, like rubber-backed steering wheel covers, exhibit a similar sniff-test result.

Although US companies manufacturing in the US could do this, most don't because it is just not right.  They also know that their employees would eventually become whistle-blowers, and rightly so.

As you go about your daily commerce, and especially your preparedness activities, please pay attention to the country of origin and other aspects of items you purchase. Buy American when you can. Yes, it maybe a bit more expensive, but you have the benefits of our social values to better protect you from the possibility of legal poison for you, your family members and your pets.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Learning from my garden

Our garden supplements our food supply with fresh fruits and vegetables. We still trek the 90 miles round trip to the store for most of our normal fare. Perennial fruits and vegetables are my focus, rather than annuals. Most years we get heavy crops of currants and apples, and moderate crops of raspberries, service berries, plums, rhubarb, prickly pears, Italian parsley, sunchokes, pomegranates, and blueberries. Some years we get other things, but it is very weather dependent.  From these crops, I trade jams, fresh apples and dehydrated apples for other fresh vegetables with neighbors.

This year has been different, primarily because the normal weather pattern was odd. Spring was warm with the obligatory mid-April deep freeze. The heat of June extended well into July. The monsoon was late and very sparse initially. Late July and early August, the rains were strong and frequent, then dried up for a couple of weeks. This has brought out very different responses from our producers.

Currants were a little below normal, but they are generally bullet-proof. We can count our apples on one hand. That's quite a blow. The plums were prolific. Strangely, the strawberries are producing like crazy. I'd gotten to the point I thought of them more as ornamentals because of their minimal output, so it's a nice change. We've actually had some almonds, which is rare. The blueberries were all nipped. We have our first nectarine, but just the one. The prickly pears are a month behind in their ripening.

What this is teaching me is that we need to keep some perennials that don't produce in 'normal' years. We need a few of those odd plants that may only produce well in an odd weather year.

Even more odd to me is the state of my little experimental winter garden. It is essentially self-managing right now an dI check it weekly. The parsnips I planted last September did nothing. I thought the seeds were too old. In May, they came to life and I have a lush parsnip garden. They won't be ready until fall, but it was a lovely surprise to see them thriving. I had sewn some purslane, which is a nutritious salad green. It is also a welcomed self-managing ground cover, which unfortunately many people see as just a weed. It has started to show up in a few places.

Soooo, my lesson from the garden this week is not to give up on the low-producers. Keep the variety. They may bail you out in years when the weather shifts.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Down in the Back Gardening

That's how I've been for a month. Got a spasm that won't let go despite massages, medicine and hot pad. As a result, my gardening has been minimal at a critical time in the growth cycle for many of my most productive plants. Today, I spent about 40 minutes weeding and trimming part of my garden before the pain was just more than I could take.

So what if I depended more heavily on my little garden as a source for food and income? Is there a garden plan that can take such potential catastrophes into account? As part of our longer-term preparedness planning, can we design a garden that requires little maintenance to produce edibles?

I'll start with a few of the methods I use in my garden that are working hard for me, despite my current neglect. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

Native flowering plants: here we use drought-tolerant US natives and natives from similar climate and soil types. We are hot and dry until the summer monsoon, with poor volcanic-derived soils. In addition to southwest natives like evergreen salvias (autocorrect is bad for plant species names) and Mexican evening primrose, we can take advantage of Mediterranean plants like lavender).  These plants, which must be attractive to your local beneficial insects, will reduce your harmful insect pests.   They reduce or replace pesticides.

The next labor-reducing practice is use of MULCH. We are thrifty around here, but not crazy. We have tall trees that are professionally trimmed every three or 4 years. We only hire companies that chip the cuttings on site and leave them for us. This gets spread around on paths and between plants and fruit trees to reduce weeding and hold moisture.

Irrigation system: We put this in ourselves years ago. It is the black plastic flexibile tubing with an automatic timer. We choose emitters to match the plants and vary the frequency (how many times per week) and duration (60 to 90 minutes) based on season and precipitation.

The last 'trick' is to choose plants that can take care of themselves with minimal tending.  Here are some of my favorites:

Rhubarb: It's doing well despite my neglect. It's on the drip so I can cut the flower stalk and pull mature stalks as they get big enough

Currents: My black current patch is also on the drip irrigation. Much of the maintenance is in the late summer and consists of pruning. We fertilize in early spring, as the plant flowers in December through February. Some of the berries are already turning, so it's time to put up the net so the rids don't get more than the tithe!

Almonds: About one year in six, I get almonds from our tree. The tree is a mis-match for our climate, with hard freezes often killing the baby almonds. This year, the tree is loaded with maturing nuts. As a bonus, these can be harvested standing up, a real bonus when your back is being tender.

Blue and raspberries: again, most of the maintenance is in winter or spring. We pruned the canes and adjusted the irrigation, so now we just wait for fruit!

Apples: same as above. We'll be putting bags over the fruit this week. Most years we net the tree, but last year we pruned heavily, so the crop will be small this year.

You may not have back issues, but many other temporary or permanent illnesses and injuries can reduce your gardening abilities. I recommend taking the time and a few hard-earned dollars to reduce your food production overhead in case you, too, are down in the back some day!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Another reason for keeping food storage

Just in case this ever becomes a trend among terrorists, having a few weeks of food on hand is a good idea. Purchase or put up beforehand.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/isis-iraq-chemical-weapons-nazi-experiments-human-guinea-pigs-a7747156.html

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bargain Alert

Sierra Trading Post currently has the Italian glass storage jars for really great prices. They are available in sizes from less than a liter to a gallon. These come with the rubber ring and seal hermetically.  They are especially good for storing the contents of #10 cans if you don't use it all for your first meal. Because they have a glass body and top, and seal tightly with a rubber gasket, they do not allow oxygen exchange like plastic does.

To find them fast, use the search feature for Bormioli

If you haven't already, sign up for the deal fliers. The most recent deal flyer I received is for 25% off most stuff and free postage.



Friday, May 5, 2017

An odd frugal tip for some folks

We live in a rural village far from the big city. There's a WalMart about half that distance in the opposite direction. When we need something, if we don't have it, it's a long way to start the hunt for whatever 'it' is.  The closer shopping venue is 4 gallons of gasoline away, round trip. The 'big city's around gallons round trip. That means one extra trip a month costs between $10 and $17. Amazon prime is $9.99 a month, shipping is free on most items and 'it' usually arrives on our doorstep within 48 hours.  We also use a Roku to take advantage of the Amazon Prime video offerings.  Both Dear Husband and I have Kindle readers installed on our tablets, so take advantage of the free books on Prime, all for the cost of one unplanned trip to town.

I've spoken with people here in town who think Prime is too expensive. Maybe they have a better crystal ball than we do. Until we better calibrate ours, I'll keep on with Prime.

  

A Case for Cats

DISCLAIMER: We don't own cats as we are both allergic. I'm so allergic that I take an antihistamine before I go to parties in case someone at the party owns cats. No crazy cat lady bias here.

If you live or aspire to live in a rural area in any US state except Alaska, this post applies to you. If you are or want to be in rural AZ or TX, this post could save your life. Why? Venomous snakes.  Yup,  there seems to be a relationship around here between the density of cats and incidence of rattlesnake bites, mostly bites of pets.  My evidence is primarily anecdotal, but derived from the basics of our friend, the food chain, and the recent rattlesnake bites in our little community.  We live in one of the states with a long list of poisonous snakes, so a concern for us 9 months out of the year.

First, there are people. The people have food for themselves and their animals. Some of that food, especially for horses, is attractive to mice and rats. These cute, furry purveyors of Hanna virus are also a favorite food of snakes. The more successful snakes, especially in the southern part of the US, are poisonous. If your pet comes near and threatens the food chain, pet gets bitten.

So enter the cats, especially barn cats. They do two positive things. First, they reduce the rodent population thus disrupting the food chain. Second, they will kill smaller snakes, thus interrupting the growth and reproduction dynamics of the snakes.

There is a caveat. The cats will also kill your beautiful song birds. For some reason, they prefer the beautiful birds to the exotic doves, house finches and sparrows. There is a bit of a solution for this. My wonderful neighbor does the opposite of most cat owners because she understands the food chain. Most rodents are nocturnal, so she keeps her cats inside the barn during the day and allows them out at night. Yup, only the smartest cats survive the owls and mountain lions, but the number of snake sightings in our area seems to be trending down.

In 20 years we have seen one snake on our property (knock on wood) and it was a garter snake. We are surrounded by cat owners. Coincidence? I think not!