Saturday, November 30, 2013

Man's Gardening Frenemy: Nettles

Photo credit John Tann (det)
While weeding my garden beds this spring, I discovered a little nettle plant in the path and pointed it out to my wife Rachel. Rachel then decided it would be a good idea to point it out to our children, so they would know what nettles look like and be able to avoid getting stung.

I agreed, so we called the kids over and I got to play Dad the Science Lecturer, one of my favorite roles.

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “See this here, children? This is a nettle, known in Latin as Holicow datstings.”

CHILD #1: “Can you eat it?”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “Yes, but don’t touch it! You have to cook it to disable the stings. It would hurt if you touched it now.”

CHILD #2: “I want to touch it!”

MOM: “No, darling – don’t touch it. They really, really sting!”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “That’s right. Take a closer look. See the little hairs on the leaves? They’re like needles – like going to the doctor for a shot.”

CHILD #3: “I also want to touch it. It won’t hurt me.”

MOM: “Yes it will! Don’t touch it!”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “You know, if you really want to know why you shouldn’t touch it… maybe you should touch it, just a little – for science – and you can see how bad it stings.”

MOM: “I don’t know if that’s a good…”

CHILD #4: “Look, I can touch it!” (touches it) “OWWWWWWW!!!”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “There, now – that’s why you shouldn’t touch nettles! See?”

CHILD #1: (touching the nettle) “OWWWWW!!!”

MOM: “Look, Child #1… you saw Child #4 touch the nettles and get hurt… why did you touch it too?”

(Click here to keep reading)

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Can you eat wood beetle larva?

Did you ever come across something like this...

...and think to yourself, "Man... a few of those would be a decent meal!"

So... here's the question: can you eat beetle larva?

It's really hard to answer this question across the board. Through a series of scattershot searches, I at first thought I nailed down this puppy as being an infant Hylotrupes bajulus, also known as the "old-house borer."

However, according to this site, the old-house borer only feeds on pine. This one was found in a rotten oak tree. This is probably good for my neighborhood, since the old-house borer will also eat houses that aren't old.

With a little further looking, it seems this guy has to be in the same family as the old-house borer: Cerambycidae

But... again... is it tasty?

A little further searching and I have to say... it must be. Check out this vintage photo:

It seems Julia Child once served up this species. And, if you keep digging, the rabbit hole goes deeper. At one point, McDonald's was apparently serving beetle grubs:

I imagine those "fries" are healthier than the original recipe, though I can't vouch for the flavor.

Interestingly, I even found a shot of a politician getting in on the entomophagy action with what appears to yet again be this species:

Totally safe to eat? I just don't know...  but it's amazing what you learn from the internet. Chances this bodacious bug baby is edible - many grubs are.

The only way to know is to eat it.

Yet... though I was truly tempted to fire up the skillet, I felt sorry for this grub and set it free. Besides, I would've needed about five more for lunch.

One day it will probably grow huge and menace some desert, like in Dune.

Or it will just mature into a harmless beetle. But probably the former.

All I can say to House Atreides is... bon appétit!

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

Here's my latest Natural Awakenings article. Issu no longer lets me embed, so I'm simply posting an image capture. Click to enlarge.

Note the fact that since I'm no longer a Master Gardener... I'm quoting... yet again... gasp... a verse from God's Holy And Politically Incorrect Word IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE OMG OMG OMG!!!1!1!11!!!

Proselytizing FTW.

In other news, we're going to be eating some of our homegrown sweet potatoes along with Seminole pumpkin pie here at Econopocalypse Ranch. And speaking of sweet potatoes - we had another great harvest this year... here's just a piece of it:

Something I unfortunately overlooked giving thanks for in my article: my amazing wife and children. Rachel crafts some amazing food. Plus she makes cute babies. And I like babies.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The attempt to fix a patch of lousy front-yard dirt just got REAL!

The middle of my front yard is a wasteland. I've planted multiple things out there and invariably they do poorly. The ground is compacted, the soil is deficient, and half the stuff I plant is clinging to life and praying for some kind soul to haul in some nutrient-rich matter.

This last weekend I called in my comrades Rick and Mart for a work day. Both of them are brilliant. Rick has amazing mathematical/programming/organizational/conceptual skills and the mind of a philosopher. He also owns a chipper, which makes him truly invaluable. Mart is an aquaponics guru, an inventor and the proprietor of a popular YouTube channel with lots of survival info on it.

Rick and Mart take charge of the battlefield while I sit inside and drink lemonade.

To fix this patch of yard, I'd already been burying manure and compost in melon pits as well as planting nitrogen fixers. Unfortunately, even the nitrogen fixers haven't done all that well, likely due to the compaction.

This new attempt will start repairing the soil from the top down. We chopped down huge clumps of Tithonia diversifolia and fed them through the shredder, along with everything else we could find, including oak limbs, moringa trees, cassava canes, Senna alata trunks and even some canna stems.

My goal is to cover a section of the yard to a depth of at least 6". Even with a day's worth of shredding, we still only have enough to cover perhaps a 10' x 20' area to that depth. The temptation to thin it out is there, but I'm resisting it. I've seen the effects of deep mulching with yard "waste."

Next year, I must plant many, many, many more Tithonias. I'm very pleased with them.

In addition to the 6" of fresh green nutrient-rich mulch, I'm also going to add some shredded tree mulch I've been keeping in reserve, plus I'm going to mix in some biochar and composted manure.

In another section, I plan to try a different tack: I'll broadfork it up, then sow a cover crop mix that includes plenty of legumes.

I've never improved such a big chunk of ground - there's a challenge here that goes beyond the many small beds and gardens I've improved.

Has anyone else taken a great big, really bad patch of dirt and made something amazing from it? Share your experience in the comments!

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Freezing weather is on its way

Looks like tomorrow night we're going to get nailed with a frost, at least out in the country where I live.

Sip nectar while you still can, little butterfly. The flowers will soon be gone.

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How to make your own (delicious!) red pepper

Have you ever tried a home-grown version of something and realized it utterly destroys your whole concept of how that food tastes?

If you've had a sun-warmed red-ripe garden tomato or some golden-yolked free range farm eggs, you know what I mean. There's a richness to foods that aren't factory produced, shipped for miles or grown with chemicals in poor soil.

Homegrown-and-ground cayenne pepper is one of those foods. The flavor is simply incomparable. Yes, making your own takes a little work, but the results are worth every minute.

Here's how we do it at Econopocalypse Ranch.

Step 1: Grow and Harvest Your Own Peppers

I've got a survival plant profile on cayenne peppers here. They're easy to grow and quite prolific. If you live in a frost-free area, you can grow them year-round and the bushes will produce for years. If, like I do, you live in an area that freezes, it's worth digging up plants from the garden and transplanting them to pots for the winter. They'll just keep on going, even in a sunny room or a greenhouse.

Harvesting peppers is easy - the stems break nicely and you can gather quite a few in a couple of minutes. Just be careful not to snap any branches on your plants or knock off peppers that are still developing. If you do, you can use those green ones in your sauces and dry pepper - they just don't have the same, sweet flavor the fully red peppers do.

Harvesting your own peppers allows you to wait for that perfect moment when they hit the high note of atomic redness. Watch for it!

Step 2: Dry Your Peppers

We've all seen images of chili peppers hanging in strings, and whereas I like that idea, mine tend to get mold issues when I dry them traditionally. We don't have the arid climate that parts of Mexico has, so you risk spoiling your harvest if you don't get it dried quickly. I use an inexpensive dehydrator that does a wonderful job. (It's this one. You could also get a really awesome dehydrator like the Excalibur, but I haven't had the need yet. Maybe one day...)

When we dehydrate cayenne peppers, we don't even bother cutting them up. We just drop them in whole and let them dry overnight on the Nesco's "vegetable" setting of 135 degrees F.

That gives us this:

Once dried your peppers, there's only one more step.

Step 3: Grind 'em Up

If you want traditional red pepper flakes, you could just crumple your newly dehydrated peppers up with your fingers. They're really crunchy fresh from the dehydrator and it would be easy enough; however, I really like to go all the way and grind them fine.

To do that, you need another tool: a cheap coffee grinder.

I have a little Braun grinder. These aren't normally cheap. Mine came from a local thrift store where it was priced at a steep $3.50. Fortunately, pink tags were half-off that day so I got it for a more reasonable $1.75 (plus tax).

Clean your grinder out well with a damp cloth, then crunch a bunch of peppers into the top. I always like to overload things, just to see how they handle it, but your approach may differ.

Pop on the top, push the button and the fun begins. It doesn't take long at all to grind up cayenne peppers into an amazing orange-red dust. I tilt the grinder a few times, tap it, zip it on and off a few times and run it again, just to make sure I don't have any pepper left un-ground.

WARNING: When you open your grinder, hold your breath!

Powdered pepper is mean stuff. My wife insists I do this particular process outside. She doesn't like all the weeping and coughing it induces in the children. Or her.

(I pretend that I like the burning sensation, but I really don't. Hopefully she doesn't read this post.)

Once you've ground up your pepper, make sure you put it in an airtight (or close to it) container. I like ball canning jars. They're not only easy-to-use, they're also beautiful.

Once you try this, you're never going to go back to the dead brown, spicy-without-sweetness flavor of store-bought cayenne pepper. I've hooked multiple friends and family members on the taste of home-grown red pepper, and now it's become a popular gift at the holidays. (I'm really going to have to grow more peppers... the demand is getting ridiculous.)

A little in chili is superb... a sprinkling in cheese dip is magnificent... a touch in a stir fry is marvelous... and a teaspoon in your curry is life-changing.

Photo by Daisy Goodman
You can follow this same process with all kinds of pepper, including non-spicy paprika peppers or even nuclear-powered habeneros (I've done it with habeneros - it's AWESOME!).

Give it a try at home and let me know what you think. Unless you don't like spicy foods... and if that's the case, why in the world did you read this far?

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Last chance!

If anyone else (other than the skipper above) wants Mexican sunflower cuttings, buy them now. We're getting a freeze in two days and that will be the end of my supply until next year.

Amount desired
I'll have them again in early summer, but until then - this is it.

Grow Your Own Compost

Buy this, buy that. Then get some of these, and a handful of these, then some more of that, and a few of those…

Gardening can get expensive if you do it the “normal” way.

Consider these rough numbers on building a 4′ x 8′ bed:

(3) 1″ x 8″ x 96″ Cedar boards = $65.00
(8) Bags of mushroom/cow manure or other bagged compost = $40.00
(5) 6-packs of vegetable transplants = $15.00
(1) box of screws = $4.00

TOTAL: $124.00

Now really, $124.00 isn’t a bad price to pay. Over time, a garden bed will pay for itself in homegrown organic produce, provided you don’t count in the labor costs. (If you do, all is lost… so don’t. There will be tears.)

However, what if you didn’t need to spend all that money?

If you wanted to, you could give up the Most Noble Constrained Order of Raised Beds and just double dig. You could also grow your own transplants from seed, which is another money saver. Beyond that, there’s the compost.

If you’re worth your salt as a gardener, you’re already composting – yet I daresay very few of us create enough compost to meet our gardening needs. Most gardeners simply throw in some yard waste and whatever comes out of the kitchen, creating a measly few buckets of good stuff in a year.

More enterprising composters will wander their towns and neighborhoods in search of piles of grass clippings, rotten straw, manure and even rotten vegetables from local dumpsters.

Yes. I’ve done that.

The ultimate in composting, however, is to grow your own from scratch...

(Read the rest over at The Prepper Project).

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sign up for the new survival gardening newsletter!

Did you ever get one of those crazy direct mail offers for SURE-FIRE INVESTMENT WINNERS OVERSEAS with NO PERSONAL RISK!


10 SECRETS DOCTORS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW! (But they're afraid you'll find out about and then SUE THEIR EXPENSIVE PANTS OFF!!!)

I feel like I should write one to promote my new Survival Gardening newsletter... but maybe that would be going TOO FAR! 


Ahem. Let's see. How about:

Can't get ENOUGH gardening input?

If you'd like more survival gardening bits and pieces, plus first dibs on NEW SURVIVAL PLANTS, then sign up!

Sometimes I get a really limited quantity of a plant from the tropics, or I uncover ESOTERIC GARDENING SECRETS that would only really appeal to hard-core gardeners... like YOU so I'm creating a newsletter. You need to sign up now! SIGN UP SIGN UP SIGN UP!

Okay... that's enough of that. I'm going colorblind.

All that to say, I'm launching a little newsletter and if you sign up, I promise to entertain you and send cool stuff your way without stuffing your inbox with junk.

So... do it. Sign up!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tool Review: Finally, a really good stock pot

Through the last couple of years of jam-making, root-boiling and half of this year's sugar cane syrup making, I made do with this old stock pot I got from a thrift store:

The bottom of it is really thin, the top is missing, and it burns things. Look at the inside:

As we started making sugar this year, I thought... you know, it's about time to get a new pot, so I went on Amazon and read a bunch of reviews, then finally settled on this puppy

Here's the manufacturer's image:

It arrived in time to finish up our sugaring... in fact, I'll be putting another batch through tomorrow. Supposedly, this model is a 20-quart, like my old one, but I've found that the capacity seems to be higher than that. It's definitely bigger, and much more solid. The handles are also a lot less flimsy.

It looks less pretty now that my hard water has gotten ahold of it, but here are a pair of exterior and interior shots so you can compare it to the old one:

What a huge upgrade. The metal is a lot thicker, the lid has a perfect fit, the base is sturdy and it doesn't burn stuff.

With how much jam making and food processing we do - not to mention the size of our family - it was worth the high price.

The only downside to this pot is the fact that it was made in China. At least it was made well... unlike most of what I've found for sale locally.

By the way, doesn't the giant name kind of crack you up?

"New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. 

I suppose the name sums it all up, but I'm imagining selling these via telemarketing.

"Hi, I'm Dave with The Genuine Quality Professional China-made Cookware Company... are you in the market for a really good stock pot?"


"Yes? May I then recommend the New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item model? It's better than the one you have right now with the thin bottom that burns stuff!"

"Hello? Are you there?"

I guess I should go and post a review at Amazon... I was just enjoying finally having a nice piece of kitchen cookware and felt like posting it here first.


David the Good/Survival Gardener/David Goodman/Winky was not paid to recommend the "New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" and has never worked for, nor had a family member work for the manufacturers of the "New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item." Of course, if you buy it on Amazon from this site, Dave will make a few cents, but still, that barely counts. Additionally, any resemblance of the "New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" to any other stock pot, living or dead, including the "New Professional Commercial Grade 16 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" is purely accidental. Past performance of the "New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" is no guarantee of future results. Talk with your doctor before administering "New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" to children under the age of five. The makers of the "New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" are not responsible for any injuries caused by the misuse of the "New Professional Commercial Grade 20 QT (Quart) Heavy Gauge Stainless Steel Stock Pot, 3-Ply Clad Base, Induction Ready, With Lid Cover NSF Certified Item" and cannot be held liable for accidental boilings, toe injuries, drownings or explosions of meat broth.



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Friday, November 22, 2013

Put your sugar cane bed to sleep

Sugar cane doesn't like the cold. How you prepare it for winter will make the difference between having cane next year and having to pretend you have cane because you DON'T.

Fortunately, sugar cane isn't that hard to care for, provided you know how.

For the last three years, I've kept my sugar cane coming back every spring. It's dead simple, but you have to time it out well or you risk exposing plants to rot-inducing frosts.

Here's how to do it in two steps.

Step 1: Harvest Your Cane Before Frost

Sugar cane originated in the tropics so it's not used to seasons of freezing weather. It grows when the weather is warm, slows down when it gets chilly out, and dies if it freezes. You have to keep a balance when you grow it outside the idyllic tropical islands where sugar cane is really happy.

What balance?

Well, you want your sugar canes to be as big as possible when you harvest them, so you can make as much delicious syrup (or rum) as you can. Cutting early means you're short-circuiting your potential gains. You also run the risk of having new canes re-grow, which then get nailed by the cold. If you wait too long to harvest, however, you run the risk of having the sugar cane crop killed by frost. Here in North Florida, I cut it in mid-November. If I knew a frost was coming, I'd chop them the day before it came through.

Cut close to the ground when you harvest, too - it'll make the next step easier.

Step 2: Strip the Canes and Mulch

Rip off all the sugar cane leaves as you harvest and use them to cover your cane bed. It's also a good idea to gather extra leaves or straw to make sure the roots will not see freezing temperatures.

This is no time for aesthetics! Make sure you have a good solid few inches of cover over your sugar cane crop's roots and you'll be set. It's hard to do, but make sure that all new growth is chopped and added to the mulch. As temperatures fall, the cane will simply quit growing and will likely not reappear until March or April.

Do this and you should be able to reap cane from the same bed for as long as a decade.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Is it too late to plant a garden?

It's November 21 and you had a really busy summer... and fall hasn't been much better... so you're wondering to yourself, "Dang, did I miss the bus on my fall garden?"

The answer is: almost.

Fortunately, it's not too late, provided you live in Florida.

Normally, I urge folks to direct seed their plots, rather than buying transplants. This late in the year, however, there's no time for that. You need to get on down to a nursery or feed store, bust out your wallet and nab a few transplants. They're still selling them locally here in North Florida - I know, because I almost missed the bus myself this year. Life has been hectic, I've been traveling and writing, I've taught some classes... and next thing I knew, my garden wasn't ready. I hit the store, grabbed some cheap 9-packs, and voila - instant garden.

Forget about plants like tomatoes, bush beans and squash unless you live in a frost-free region of the state. Nothing like that will handle the cold. However, broccoli, cabbage, mustard, kale and cauliflower will. See what's on sale and nab what you can.

You can also take this window to plant some garlic cloves. Just break a head of garlic apart and plant the pieces. Easy. Other seeds that will still work include peas, mustard and fava beans - though some of these guys may wait until spring to produce anything. That's okay - just call it an early start. I broadcast a big bed of mustard a few weeks ago and it's coming up in fluorescent green sprinkles:

On warm days, your cold-hardy crops will grow... and on cold days, they won't. There's no telling where the winter will take us - you may get an early harvest or something a little later on. If you plant nothing, however, you'll get nothing.

So get out and get planting!

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Meet the amazing giant sunflower that fixes bad soil


Did you ever dream of growing something beautiful that also repaired lousy dirt?

Probably not, but if you knew there WAS something beautiful that also repaired bad dirt, I bet you'd want to grow it. When I found out about these guys, I was hooked.

Meet Tithonia diversifolia:

Also known as "Mexican sunflowers" or "tree marigolds," these knock-out flowers are 15 - 20' tall. They're massive.

I grow these as "nutrient accumulators," cutting them 3-4 times a year and throwing the stems and leaves around plants and trees that need feeding. (For some good research on the fertilizing power of Tithonia diversifolia, click here). In another month, they'll all be gone thanks to the frost... but they'll come back from the roots in spring.

Though the varieties I've encountered in the US don't produce viable seeds, they are easily propagated through cuttings. Once you get some, it's really easy to make more. I stick them all over my food forest.

The only time Mexican sunflowers bloom here is in November, so I'm enjoying it while they last. The butterflies are happy and the blooms make great cut flowers, with a rich honeyed aroma.

See? I'm not just a brutal utilitarian. I can appreciate pretty things, as long as they're also useful.

Whoops. Guess I AM a brutal utilitarian.

And... speaking of brutal utilitarianism, click below to buy your very own.


If you want them this year, pull the trigger now... it won't be long before the freezes take out my stock and I won't have them again until May or June. I might be able to put some aside in the greenhouse, but they really do best from fresh cuttings. Pot them up now, keep 'em warm, and then plant them out in the spring and they'll grow so fast you won't believe your eyes.

I'll send cuttings anywhere in the US via Priority mail, plus I always throw in an extra surprise plant when you buy from me. Cuttings root very easily, just like the cassava I sell. Just pop them into a pot (or in the ground, if you're going to have a frost-free winter) and they'll be growing in no time. Plant them out after the last frost and you'll have your own forest of giant flowers by next fall.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What can you do with green papaya?

We got our first ripe papaya of the year this morning; a delicious yellow-skinned oblong with deep orange-red flesh. The taste as superb, and there are many, many other papaya on the tree that would soon ripen... if I didn't live in North Florida.

Frosts are on their way. Some day soon, the 100lbs+ of green papaya on my trees need to be picked or they'll be destroyed by frost.

I know, my fight to grow tropical fruit here is an uphill battle. But I'm dedicated to doing the impossible!

That said, I still need to figure out what to do with zillions of green fruit. There are only so many we can consume fresh, so I've been hunting down recipes on the web involving fermentation or vinegar pickling.

Here are a few I've found so far, including a sweet relish recipe where I'll substitute green papaya for cucumber. Anyone have any more suggestions?

Filipino Achara: How To Make Green Papaya Pickle Relish  

The second day of pickling the Filipino “achara” (say ‘ah-cha-ra’) is always the best. The tangy, tart, sweet and slightly spicy flavors are sharp and perky. This is the perfect stage when the sourness of the achara is great for pairing as a relish or side to barbecued or grilled pork, chicken, beef, seafood, vegetables or just anything your tummy desires...

(Read the rest here

Indian Papaya Pickles


250ml Vinegar
250ml Water
250g Sugar
1 Green Papaya (unripe) 
1 tbsp Salt 
6 tsp Bird's Eye Chili 

(Read the rest here)

Raw Fermented Sweet Pickle Relish 

Made sauerkraut style and chock full of lovely probiotics. I love this on my salad, in soups or as a snack with some raw crackers.


1 cuke
1/2 small red bell pepper
1/2 tsp salt

(Read the rest here)

One other thing I could do is simply chop all my green papaya into pieces, then use a Kosher dill pickle recipe on them and see how they turn out.

Papaya don't have much flavor at all when they're green - I imagine I could substitute them for just about anything.

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@The Prepper Project: chop n' drop, SNAP cutbacks, free fertilizer, what's killing the bees, cover cropping and more!

Here are a few of my latest posts over at The Prepper Project:

Monday, November 18, 2013

American-made artisan clothespins (that whip their Chinese counterparts)

When I was a kid, Mom would hang out the laundry on sunny days. Our backyard had a tangerine tree, a royal poinciana and a grapefruit tree where Dad had built a tree fort for my brother and I.

The clothesline was right next to it, and we often played in the sand or in our fort, whittling spears, digging little rivers and filling them with the hose, or even throwing little unripe grapefruit at each other. Really hard.

On laundry day Mom would join us in the backyard for as long as her basket of wet laundry lasted. We'd always wheedle her to stay out longer, but being the diligent woman she is, she wouldn't stick around for long.

All that to say, I don't have a clothesline in the backyard because I'm trying to save lots of money or the planet or anything else. I have it because I like to see long lines of bright clothing hanging out to dry, and because there's a sweet simplicity to the thing. It's good and wholesome, and reminds me of being a kid.

Unfortunately, like most everything else, the slave-manufactured goods of China have crept into this traditional household chore. If you try to get a decent clothespin, you'll fail. We've gone through plenty of lousy pins.

That said, when I saw Herrick Kimball was going to reinvent the clothespin and bring it back to being made in the USA, I was amused. Dollar Store clothespins are garbage, sure - but they're CHEAP garbage! I figured there's no way Herrick would turn a profit and that Planet Whizbang had finally jumped the shark.

"Hi, I'm Herrick Kimball and I'm totally insane!"

Who would take the time to re-invent and resurrect something as humble as the clothespin? It seemed silly at first... until I thought back again on what we've lost as a nation. Craftsmanship, the free market, small businesses, hand-made goods...

Herrick cares about those kinds of things, as anyone can tell when they read his blog... and I do too. I've gotten pretty tired of Chinese junk and politicians who sell us down the river over and over and over again. I've spent a lot of time broke, and just saying "hey, don't buy imported stuff!" to folks that don't have money doesn't always work. Sometimes there aren't even options other than imported. We've got union bums here and slave labor overseas.

So... I don't care if it's nuts to buy artisan clothespins. When I have a few extra bucks I like to put them towards good things... if I can find them. Like the Meadow Creature broadfork... or American-made clothespins.

By the time Herrick held his inaugural sale on "assemble-your-own" kits, I had sold myself on the idea. I figured... what the heck, I'm buying in, so I did.

A few days later, I got this in the mail:

I was #74 of 225. Sweet! Collectible!

20 clothespins, 20 stainless steel springs, plus two pieces of sandpaper and an emery board so your wife can do her nails while she looks down her pointy nose and contemptuously watches you put the pieces together.

These sets sell for $24.95. Yes, that makes for expensive clothespins. But hey... these are the best dang clothespins I've ever seen.

Perfect for putting on your nose during the next election!

To show you how different they are from the regular cheapo clothespins you'll find in the store, I took some dramatically artistic side-by-side black and white images.

Upwards #74 (High Tension series)

The Classic American Clothespin is on the left, and the Cheap-rump Dollar Store Crunkpin is on the right.

And again:

The Perspicuity of Sound

See the difference in the spring gauge? The grip on the junky pins is really sissified compared to the firm grasp of Herrick's design. Let's take another dramatic black and white look:

The Relational Failings of Mortal Coils

And now for a couple of notes on assembly and use.

Putting these pins together was fun, but it took me over an hour, including light sanding and finishing them with linseed oil. My time is very valuable, so I didn't put myself on the clock. If I had, these pins would be completely unaffordable. Also, though Herrick encourages you to sand the clothespins, they were already in mostly smooth shape right from the package. A little touch here and there with the emery board would have been enough, but I'm neurotic and spent much more time than was needed.

The operation of the pins still suffers slightly from the misalignment common to the offset spring design, but at no point do the pins feel as if they're going to slip apart. The grip is easily five times stronger than that of the cheap clothespins we already owned, making affixing these pins to your ears, nose or tongue quite painful. Don't do it.

Herrick didn't pay me off to write this review and I'm not going to tell you these are cheap... but I can honestly say they're quite satisfying to build and use.

I'm tempted to throw all my shirts in the dirt, just so I can do a new load of laundry and mess with these some more. If you're in the market for a nice Christmas gift for the homesteader on your list, it would be hard to go wrong with these babies.

To learn more about the demise of the American clothespin and the creation of the Classic American Clothespin or to order your own pins, visit

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Giant Florida spiders... seen online:


Friday, November 15, 2013

How to make cane syrup at home... without a sugar cane press

UPDATE 12/8/2014: I just posted a video of this process on YouTube:

As you regular readers know, I've been growing sugar cane for a few years now. The kids love it, but I've wanted to do more with our crop than just hack chunks off for chewing. Last fall when I planted a big bed of sugar cane, I knew that at some point I'd have to figure out how to process it into something useful. Since distilling is apparently illegal, rum was out... but homemade cane syrup sounded like a winner. Plus, Rachel wanted it, so it had to be made.

This is how we did it.

Step 1: Harvest Some Canes

We live in a climate with freezes in winter that will knock sugar cane down to the ground, so this is the time of year we cut canes. It's got to happen before frost or the crop will be ruined.

Cane harvesting is fun because you get to use a machete. Anything is better with a machete. I cut the canes close to the ground, then strip off the leaves and throw them over the "stumps" I leave behind. Because sugar cane is a cold-sensitive perennial, covering up the roots will keep the plant safe until next spring when a whole new batch of homegrown sugar will rise from the ground as soon as the soil warms up enough.

Step 2: Wash Those Canes

Sugarcane tends to have mildew on its stems, along with dust, dirt and the occasional bug. I don't want these in my syrup, so I scrub the canes after removing the leaves. I like to do this over one of my garden beds and rinse with the hose as I go. I don't use soap or anything, just water and elbow grease. The canes are truly beautiful when they're wet - they look like lovely varnished bamboo. Contemplating their attractiveness helps alleviate the mind-crushing boredom of washing a stack of them.

Step 3: Start Chopping 'em Up

Here's the big problem with sugar cane: it's full of fibers. You can't just put chunks in your juicer. I tried... and I don't think my Champion juicer will ever be the same. After multiple jam-ups and some smoking and shaking which only yielded about a half-cup of syrup, I realized it was pointless. Normally, sugar cane is processed with powerful presses that crush it flat and let the sugary juice run out. I don't have anything like this at home and couldn't figure out a good way to jury-rig something. Real presses are really expensive - and the Thai ones they often sell on e-bay are made for flattening squid, not crushing something as tough as sugar cane. Don't waste your money!

What we decided to do was simply chop the sugar cane into chunks, then quarter those segments. A good heavy meat cleaver works well for this.

Step 4: Boil the Chunks Of Cane

After chopping, we put the pieces into a large stockpot, covered them with water, then started boiling the sugar out of them. This takes some time and you have to make sure they stay covered with water, so top the pot off occasionally. As the cane cooks, it will lose its lustrous color and start to turn pale brown. Once the flavor of the water is the same as that of a chunk of the boiled sugar cane, you're ready to move on to the next step. This takes an hour or two - I let my tastebuds be my guide.

Step 5: Strain Out the Cane Fragments

I pour the hot sugary juice through a stainless steel strainer, which brings up a good point. Do this whole process with stainless steel implements, if you can at all help it. Aluminum cookware leeches aluminum into your food, imparting off flavors while slowly poisoning you in the process. You don't want aluminum fortified cane syrup. Just trust me on this one. That said - once you've poured off the juice into a second pot, it's time to get really cooking.

Step 6: Boil It Down

This step (and the previous one) makes your house smell amazing. It's not the molasses smell you would expect, though; it's more of a delicious sweet corn aroma. You're going to boil... boil... boil this juice until the liquid has reduced in the pot to a dangerously low level. Just keep a half an eye on it and find something nearby to do, like the dishes... or beer pong. If your juice hasn't thickened when the pot has boiled down to an inch or so in the bottom (mine is never thick enough at that point), then pour your big pot's contents into a smaller pot and proceed to the final step.

Step 7: Finish and Jar the Syrup

You're really close to the end now. It's the final stretch! At this point, you need to be careful not to let the syrup burn, turn into caramel or boil over. Cook it with constant supervision and be ready to pull it off the burner at a moment's notice. The bubbles start to get very thick and glassy as it nears syrup consistency. My first batch was very, very thick so I learned to back off a little on the final boil down. Dip a spoon regularly into the syrup and see how thick it is when it cools. Putting a few spoons aside in the freezer for this stage is a good idea. Once you've got the right thickness, pour your syrup off into a mason jar and voila! Cane syrup!

Congratulations! You've made your own home-grown, organic, vegan, free trade, sustainably harvested, locavore-approved, non-GMO, gluten-free, amazingly delicious sugar cane syrup!

Sure, it's a lot easier to juice the cane first, rather than doing the chop n' boil... but if you're just a hobbyist like me who wants a few jars of syrup to give away at Christmas, this beats having to buy a specialized extractor or find a local cane mill. I bet it would also work for sorghum... try it and see.

As a final note: this stuff tastes absolutely amazing... you're gonna try it and love it. Also - don't forget to sign up for my Survival Gardening Newsletter for lots and lots of good gardening ideas:

Happy syruping!

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