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Showing posts from 2017

Wearable Tech for the Backyard Homesteader

If you are one of the estimated 50 million people who received some sort of wearable technology this Christmas, you are most likely thinking about how that gear will help you improve your fitness, lose weight or become a better athlete. While all of these are great, there's a lot for the backyard homesteader to love about this technology, as well. No, your Fitbit won't tell you when to plant your garden or water your lawn... yet, but it will provide valuable feedback on the energy you are expending doing those things. If you watch shows like  Mountain Men , you will occasionally hear the narrator refer to the extraordinary number of calories the men burn each day as they go through their rigorous outdoor activities. For those of us who merely putter for a couple of hours each day in our backyards, though, it was difficult to get a feel for the level of exertion and how it related to other activities, like running or a gym workout. Sure, there was a general sense that mowing t

Keeping Christmas Plants Alive After the Holidays

Maybe you got it as a "hostess" gift, or maybe you bought it yourself to brighten up the house for the holidays; a Norfolk Island pine, rosemary topiary, Christmas cactus or poinsettia. And if you are like 90% of people who buy these plants, the minute the holiday decorations come down they will be headed to that great compost bin in the sky. That's really a shame because most of them make great year-round houseplants, and with a little care can provide many years of enjoyment. First, a couple of caveats: ​The businesses who grow and market Christmas plants fully understand that the vast majority of people are buying them as a sort of extended cut flower arrangement. Their efforts go into getting them to bloom at the correct time and stay relatively fresh and attractive looking for the 4 or 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. This impacts the way the plants are potted, fertilized, transported and even the specific varieties grown. In other words, very l

Buying Christmas Gifts For Fishermen

A few years ago I received a well-intentioned Christmas gift from a family member who was not a fisherman; a bait-casting rod paired with a spinning reel. How exactly that particular combo came about is a story I would have loved to hear, but not wanting to hurt his feelings I simply said "thanks" and later bought an appropriate reel to go with the rod and appropriate rod to go with the reel. On the bright side, I guess you could say it was two for the price of one. While the "innovative" bait cast/spinning combo is maybe an extreme example of a non-fishermen buying questionable gifts for their fishing friends and family, it's not as uncommon as one might think, so I want to offer some simple advice for the non-fisherman who wants to purchase fishing-related gifts: 1. The number one best piece of advice I can offer is get professional help. No, not that kind of professional help, but the assistance of a sales associate that at the very least has been fishing

Thanksgiving At The Homestead; The Wynfield Creek Years

The biggest change in most people’s holiday traditions typically results from marriage. Two completely different, often conflicting, sets of traditions have to be consolidated, mashed-up and ironed out. This process is even more difficult if the parents of the person you are marrying are divorced, which means you essentially have to merge THREE different sets of traditions. For the first several years Janet and I were married, we lived in The Little House on the Highway, which was not quite half-way between my parents’ house in Port Clinton and hers in Ft. Wayne. The first year, Janet’s mother actually came and had Thanksgiving dinner with us at my parents’ house. Back then, I was working as manager of a retail store, and while I had Thanksgiving day off for the first time in years, I would be putting in 14 hour days the rest of the holiday weekend, so it was impractical for me to travel anywhere. Once I got out of retail and into a more sane holiday work schedule, we began alternati

Lasagna Gardening Might Be The Answer To The Question You Didn't Know To Ask

For the homeowner who doesn't spend hours each week immersed in gardening journals, tweets and blogs, the term "lasagna garden" probably conjures up visions of tidy plots of Italian herbs and Roma tomatoes. But lasagna in this case refers to the process, not the product, of the garden. Also known as "kill mulch" or "sheet mulch" gardening, lasagna gardening is a no-till method which uses layers of mulch and compost to create a stratified growing medium while simultaneously enhancing the underlying soil. I stumbled across the idea a few years ago while, ironically, expanding my Square Foot Garden. I wanted to reclaim space for several new raised beds from my lawn and didn't want to use any sort of herbicide to kill the grass. I got the bright idea of cutting the grass as short as my mower would allow, then covering it with a layer of newspaper and several inches of shredded leaves. It was a fall project and effectively allowed me to kill two bir

It's An Amazing Time To Be A Rural Entrepreneur: Five Unusual Ideas

For my last two years of college, I drove an hour every Friday afternoon from my dorm at Bowling Green State University to my hometown of Port Clinton to work a weekend job and then back again every Sunday evening. The route I took was SR 105, a two-lane country road that roughly traced the path of the Portage River. At about the halfway point, just outside the tiny hamlet of Woodville, I would pass a small enterprise tucked between the road and a 20 foot cliff overlooking the river. While I forget the name, I recall that it was a hunting and fishing outfitter that advertised custom-made fishing rods. I never stopped, because I was always in a hurry to get to my job on Fridays and the shop was closed by the time I would pass late on Sundays, but I was always curious how successful that business could possibly have been, located as it was on a sparsely traveled back road far away from any population center. That was the mid-1980's and rural businesses faced a variety of marketin

Unschooling: When Is An Outdoor Education Not An Education?

When I was a senior in high school, I took an aptitude test that indicated the occupation for which I was best suited was... forest ranger. I laughed and laughed. Forest ranger! What a ridiculous idea! Well, as you have probably gathered, time has proven that idea to be far less ridiculous than I thought. For better or worse, our educational infrastructure is designed to target very specific skills and promote very mainstream career options, often to the detriment of creativity and unorthodox choices. I see this in my day job as an economic developer for a rural community; manufacturing careers have been devalued to the point where we need special programs to explain to middle school students that there are good career opportunities in advanced manufacturing. I'm not saying that had my high school's curriculum been a but different, I would have embraced rather than scoffed at a job with the forest service. I'm not sure that, ultimately, I would have lived happily ever aft

Don't Stow Your Kayak Just Yet

Kayak angling offers many advantages over traditional motor boat fishing, not the least of which is the relative ease of seasonal storage compared to a boat. With a kayak there are no fuel tanks to be drained or lines to be cleared; no engines to be winterized. As we work our way through October and head toward November, even in these warmer climes, a lot of motor boat owners start thinking about storing for the winter, and even paddlers often see the shorter days as good reason to stow their kayaks until spring and begin thinking more about deer and duck. Because I am not a hunter and my fall days are not consumed with thoughts of blinds and stands, I tend to bleed every last drop out of the fishing season. And the truth is, I actually like these cooler days on the water after the hordes of recreational boaters that clog the waterways May though September have largely evaporated and it is possible to spend an entire Saturday morning paddling and fishing without encountering even one

Book Review: The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

Until The Jesus Cow , author Michael Perry was known primarily for non-fiction writing which detailed the lives of rural Wisconsinites, so I was very interested to see how he would tackle a work of fiction that dealt with made-up versions of those same people. Whether though fiction or non-fiction, Perry is at his heart a storyteller, and he excels at crafting interesting characters and placing them in interesting situations. As you might expect from a novel called The Jesus Cow , there is a bit of an absurdist tone to much of the book, but it is balanced with serious reflections on faith materialism, loneliness and the vagaries of adult romance. The plot involves a farmer, Harley Jackson, who births a Holstein calf on Christmas Eve. The calf bears a spot on its flank that looks like the face of Jesus. Concerned about the unwanted attention the calf might bring to his life, he initially tries to hide it, but eventually gives in to temptation and exploits the calf for financial gain

Time for Ol' Slim in the Garden

It's odd, I suppose, that I wait until autumn each year to set my scarecrow out, since it's purpose is ostensibly to protect the garden from birds and small animals that might eat the seeds or disturb the crop. During the growing season, I use a variety of modern techniques to keep the critters away from my plants, everything from organic sprays to ultrasonic repellers to traps, but when the days get short and the evenings get cool, I like to bring out Ol' Slim. Scarecrows of Slim's sort have been keeping the crows away for centuries, and have had a spooky presence in literature for nearly as long. A Japanese book written in the 700's tells the story of an all-knowing scarecrow deity, Kuebiko. Closer to home, Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 story "Feathertop" is about a witch who casts a spell on a scarecrow, bringing him to life in order to woo the young daughter of a rival. And, of course, a scarecrow plays a major role in L. Frank Baum's tale The

Book Review: Trespasser by Paul Doiron

Trespasser is the second book in the Mike Bowditch series by Maine author Paul Doiron. I reviewed the first book in the series, The Poacher's Son , a couple of months ago and gave it generally high marks (B+). The series follows the adventures of Maine game warden Mike Bowditch. The first book explored Mike's upbringing and his strained relationship with his n'er do well father, who was accused of a grisly murder. Trespasser takes place several months after the events of that book and starts with Mike trying to reconcile with his girlfriend, who sees his outdoor lifestyle and poor-paying job as roadblocks to their relationship. Called to the scene of an accident in which an out of town motorist hit a deer, Mike is surprised to find the car abandoned and the deer gone. A complex series of events eventually turns into a murder mystery with startling similarities to a decade old murder case which resulted in the conviction of a man named Erland Jefferts. Many in the

Fall Lawn Maintenance: Overseeding

Now that we have dethatched and aerated, the next step in our fall lawn care regimen is overseeding. Let me stop here and say that some lawn care professionals do not agree with that order and suggest that you overseed before aerating. The theory behind this is that the holes created by aeration are too deep for seed to germinate and that a significant amount of seed spread on an aerated lawn will fall into those holes and be wasted. I have tried it both ways and for me seeding after aerating has been more effective, but either way will work perfectly well for most situations. I am also going to lump pH testing and lime application in with overseeding because, again, for me that has been most effective. Applying lime is one of the more commonly misunderstood lawn care tasks. In this part of the country (Carolina Piedmont) many professional lawn care services routinely spread lime in the fall because our heavy clay soil tends to be slightly acidic. In most cases this approach does lit

Darkness on the Edge of Town

I saw a sign along the highway driving from my office to the homestead today, “Eclipse 8/21 Prepare for Traffic Delays.” Say what? How could an eclipse possibly affect traffic? The North Carolina Piedmont where I live and work is close to but not directly in the path of totality. My office in Wadesboro, where I’ll be that day, will experience 97% of the eclipse. It’s not the loss of sunlight that will impact traffic, though. It’s the millions of people who will be making the two hour drive south to Columbia and Greenville to witness the full eclipse. Honestly, I’m a little surprised by the hype the eclipse is generating nationally. Sure, a total eclipse is a twice-ish in a lifetime event, but as Lovey Howell famously said, “December 14th only comes once a year so we like to celebrate it.” Of course, as a modern, sophisticated society (certain recent events notwithstanding) we understand that the eclipse is just a matter of interplanetary physics and the odd coincidence that our u

Five Weird Products Vaguely Remembered From My Childhood

There are no shortage of blog posts dedicated to the fads of the 60's and 70's; tie-dye, pet rocks, mood rings, etc. But in order to be a "fad" those items had to be widely popular, even if just for a short period of time. I decided instead to write about things I remember from the late 60's and early 70's that most people will have no recollection of; obscure products that never gained enough traction to be widely or fondly remembered. Cap'n Crunch's Ship Shake This product resides so far back in my memory that when I started researching this article, I wasn't entirely sure it was a real thing. But, sure enough, Cap'n Crunch's Ship Shake was a powdered "liquid cereal" drink made from oat flour... If that's hard to get your arms around, just imagine a Slim-Fast shake with lots and lots of added sugar. It was on grocers' shelves for just a couple of years in the late 60's and came in three flavors: Chocolate, Choco

Who's Ready For Second Summer?

Around this time each year, there is a noticeable shift in the mainstream, and everyone from Walmart to the media to sports talk radio wants you to believe summer is over. Swimsuits and lawn chairs are on the deep discount aisle, magazine ads tout the new Fall fashions and the NFL is back in training camp. But you know what? Summer isn't over, not by a long shot. Sure, it's only a couple of weeks until the kids are back in school, but is that really even the end? When I was a kid, school didn't start back until summer was over; after Labor Day. My senior year in high school was the first year our school reported back before Labor Day, and it seemed like we got cheated out of those last couple of precious summer days. So, here we are, a full 38 days from Labor Day. Are we just going to give in and slog our way toward flannel shirts and pumpkin spice lattes? Not me, brother. My Second Summer starts today! Hang Out With The Boys Of Summer Half the teams in the Nat

The Original Fidgit

Unless you've been living on an island in the far Pacific with Amelia Earhart for the past six months, you've probably happened across something called a fidget spinner. The first time I saw one was in a convenience store I frequent near the homestead. I made note of the trilobed plastic gadgets stacked at the register, but didn't really think too much about them, since that particular store has been known to sell everything from hair extensions to Carolina Panthers tiki dolls. A few days later, I saw something on the local news about therapeutic devices for dealing with anxiety and ADD. I didn't really make the connection until I saw a YouTube video touting the "healing powers" of what amounts to a rather boring toy. I'll say this for kids today, they know how to position a product. Back in my day, we never thought to promote our fad toys - knockers, whizzers, mood rings and spinners - as some sort of medical breakthrough. In fairness though, we did h

Snapshot Of A Fishing Life

At any given time, there are a half-dozen or more vintage tackle boxes for sale on EBay. The majority of these come from estate sales or from families cleaning out basements and attics, and most of them are chock-full of tackle, left as-it-was the last time the owner went fishing. In some cases, that may have been years or even decades ago. There's an entire subculture of tackle collectors who scour these listings looking for valuable vintage lures, and you can tell when they find one because the price of the auction jumps dramatically. That's all well and good, but for me the fun in these old tackle boxes isn't so much finding a rare popper I can add to my collection or sell for hundreds of dollars, it's getting a glimpse into one man's fishing life; unwrapping the mystery of how he ended up with the tackle he did, how he used it and what it meant to him. In some sense, the tackle box is like a snapshot of the fisherman. While there are certainly vintage plasti

Book Review: The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron

If you've ever wondered what it would be like if C.J. Box novels were set in Maine, Paul Doiron is an author you need to check out. As much as I love Box's writing, there are aspects of his books --, the sweeping Western vistas, the ranch mentality -- that I sometimes have difficulty relating to. While I am certainly no more a native of Maine than I am of Wyoming, the ecosystems described in Doiron's book seem a lot more familiar to me. The Poacher's Son is the first in a series of novels featuring Maine game warden Mike Bowditch. As the story begins, Mike is a 20-something warden just barely removed from training and working in a small coastal town. He lives alone, having recently split with his girlfriend over his choice of occupation and her desire to live a more "urban" existence. Late one summer night, he gets a phone message from his estranged father. Events unfold and he finds himself defending his fugitive dad from murder charges, perhaps at the ex