Getting Started On The 2013 Gardening Season

I can’t believe it’s almost March.    We just had a big snowstorm, but the actual gardening season will probably start in a couple of weeks.

I’m still going to take part in a CSA as a bit of insurance and because we like it.  It came in handy last year when we had a pretty miserable season.
The other day I started some broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, leek, collard greens, kale, chard, St. John’s Wort and goji berry seeds.  I’m hoping by the time they’re ready to go it will be time to start some tomato and pepper seeds.    I think a good portion of my mini-orchard failed last year so I might put goji berries in the containers for the mini-dwarf trees.

I still have spinach and arugula doing pretty well in my winter garden which I’ve been harvesting here and there as well as some cilantro, dill, pac choi, carrots, beets, turnips and kale that will probably take off right away in the spring.    I planted some seeds the open spaces of my greenhouse for a few different types of lettuces, turnips, kale, mustard greens, salsify and radishes.   Hopefully those will germinate soon and get a good start this spring.

I think I’m going to end up stapling chicken wire to wooden stakes to surround my beds individually, instead of hooking it to plastic posts.   That chicken wire has taken a beating, I think attaching it in sections to wooden posts is the best option.  I was kicking around the idea of fencing the whole area off, but this way keeps it open and should keep the dogs out.  We’ll see.   Last year there were a few disasters.   I heard that red pepper flakes keep them out (or at least they only do it once), I should’ve picked some up when I was at Stringtown Grocery.

I should have my bee hives shortly to assemble and then my bees will be ready to pick up in May.    I still need to build a cage to put around the hives in order to keep my dogs at bay.

Last year we had a killer drought and I also used a ton of rabbit manure as compost.   Rabbit manure doesn’t need to be composted in order to go into a garden (unlike some other manures), but I probably over did it by essentially using it as filler material for a few new beds.  I  know a girl that has a rabbit operation with about 100 rabbits, so I brought in a truck load (literally) of it.    I think those beds should be a little more stable, especially after mixing in a ton of leaves and such.   Either way, I’ll plant brassicas there because they demand a lot of nitrogen.

One good thing about this year is that there will be no such thing as “too much” of anything.   I’ve gotten pretty good with preservation, but I also now have a good monthly outlet for bartering these kinds of things and of course other people I can share with around here.     I’m starting 27 goji berry plants right now, figuring that I’ll end up bartering a few of those off.

Hopefully this year will be much better than last year, which was kind of a bust.   I’m going to try a few new things (maybe sorghum and sunflowers), ditch a few others and actually plan things out.   I started keeping a journal, I really regret not doing that the past few years.   Sometimes I’ll plant something and then forget what I put there.    This year I’ll keep tabs of what goes where and maybe keep track of what I harvest in order to get an idea of how much food I grew this year.

Getting Home by Alex Smith

The author of this book contacted me a while back ago to send me a copy of this to review.   It took me a while to get to it due to some things going on, but I’ve finished it and thought about it a bit.

In the survival/preparedness world it’s admittedly hard sometimes to cover new ground and it’s easy to get cynical reading about these kinds of things because sometimes it does seem like it’s just reinforcing what someone else has already wrote.     I’ll admit I went into this book suspecting that it was going to be like that, but I ended up really digging this book.  “Getting Home” covers bugging out, everyday carry (EDC) and self-defense.  Smith talks about gear, mindset and tactical matters in this book.

I really liked the style of the book.   The way everything was compartmentalized made it very easy to read and digest.   He kept everything succinct, but it was still thoughtful.   I could tell that the author had put a lot of thought into the advice he’s giving instead of rehashing survivalist cliches.    It’s a short read, but I think that’s one of its strengths.   It’s down-and-dirty about dealing with or getting out of bad situations.    I liked the last chapter on common survivalist myths, which was pretty funny.

To be frank, this book is only a couple of bucks ($3.99 currently) and doesn’t take long at all to read (a little over 2000 words).   It’s a small investment for some good food for thought.

Virginia Considering A State Currency


We’re not immune from the consequences of human behavior,” Marshall said. “At some point there is going to be a dollar that breaks the camel’s back.”


The Latest Lunacy:   Virginia Considering It’s Own Currency

Virginia Advances Bill Pushing for State To Establish Its Own Currency



Today at the gym I saw a headline on FOX News about Virginia looking to come up with a state currency over fears of the dollar crashing.   Naturally this sort of thing piqued my interest and I looked it up as soon as I got home.  It looks like Robert Marshall of the Virginia House of Delegates proposed this bill, which is gaining traction.    I’m not sure if he’s explicitly calling for a gold standard or if that’s just what’s implied.   I know a handful of other states have made similar propositions in the past few years.

The author of the US News opinion piece, Susan Milligan, basically argues that we haven’t seen inflation like some other countries, so a state currency is uncalled for.   She also incorrectly states the government’s official position that inflation is only a few percentage points, which doesn’t factor in food or fuel.  She admits that there are reasons to be concerned with the strength of the dollar, but states that it’s currently the world’s dominant currency.   This is certainly true, but if there are concerns about the dollar’s future, why not have a plan B in place?  It’s easier to work something like this out when everything is running smoothly rather than trying to put the pieces together after it’s already needed.   Proactive > Reactive, Susan.

She also states that while fiscal responsibility is a worthwhile goal, a new currency is not the answer.   I think that a competing currency is as good of an answer as any.   They just had a huge debate in Washington over our deficit and the only thing they came up with is that they’re going to make some insignificant cuts to the budget sometime later down the road.   They’re still planning on that 16 trillion (and growing!) debt going away through all this economic growth that we’re all waiting for.   At this point it seems completely Pollyanna-ish to think that any kind of solution is going to come out of Washington, so why not take every opportunity to diverge ourselves from their shipwreck?   If only everyone was represented by politicians who were willing to think a few steps ahead and bring up some uncomfortable topics, we might not be in the kind of mess we’re looking at.

The currency would compete side-by-side with the US dollar in Virginia.    Because the dollar is the dominate currency of the world, I’m sure it would be dominate in Virginia as well but it would give Virginians (and anybody else, really) more choices to pick how they want to do commerce or receive compensation.      I would also suspect that a local currency would help keep a lot of Virginia’s commerce close to home and help keep money within local communities.  If no one is in to it, it will fail.   If they are, it will secede, or, uh, succeed.   Freudian slip, perhaps?

At any rate, I think the real lunacy is the idea that the dollar is invincible and that there will never come a day when we need something else.

On a side note, I think it’s kind of funny how an alternative currency like Ithaca Hours are viewed as quaint community-builders but as soon as a Republican backs a currency and/or “gold” is mentioned, it’s a wacky idea at best and a treacherous strike right at the heart of America at the worst even though they both basically work on the same idea.   Alternative currencies are in the eye of the beholder, I guess.




The Queen of Versailles



I watched this documentary tonight.   It’s about time share mogul David Siegal and his trials and tribulations over the past few years.     It appears that they started making the documentary before the crash of 2008, when they were an extremely wealthy family that was in the process of having the largest house in the United States built.    The final cost of the house was estimated to be in the area of $100 million and was made to vaguely resemble Louis XIV’s Versailles palace in France, after getting inspiration from visiting said palace.   They named the house as “Versailles”, thus the name of the documentary.

When everything started crashing down in 2008 Westgate, Siegal’s company, lost access to the easy credit they depended on.   Revenues from timeshare payments dropped as many people around the country had a hard enough time making the payments on their own homes, let alone a share of a penthouse in Las Vegas.    Siegal’s business was built on the premise that the cash flow would keep coming in and there would always be someone willing to loan them money based on that cash flow.   When the downturn hit, Siegal was left with his dick in the wind as his assets declined in value, cash flow dropped and his debts remained the same.  He went from being on top of the world to being in an extremely precarious situation within a very short period of time.

His large family had to make some meaningful cutbacks in their household, such as cutting down their staff of maids from 19 to 2.   Over the course of the year or so they followed the family around you can see the household turn into complete disarray and the family structure break down as David Siegal spent most of his time in an office surrounded by stacks of papers trying to figure out how to get out of this mess.    I don’t demonize success and wish ill-will on people that have more than I do, but I have to admit it’s kind of funny to watch these guys completely unravel.   The hubris of this guy is unreal plus he’s in kind of a scummy line of work.

I’m not sure if I have my numbers right, but I think the family sunk about $40 million into the house and took out a mortgage on the remainder.   That $40 million bought them the land and a good portion of the structure and that’s as far as they got.   Siegal said he didn’t pay cash for it because he figured he’d keep having money flowing in and he’d rather put it into his business.   That’s generally not a bad idea, but this is certainly a case of counting chickens before they hatch.    After everything started coming apart for the guy, the bank insisted that he put the house on the market.   Finding someone willing to buy a house like that isn’t exactly an easy chore, let alone for a price anywhere near what they borrowed.  In fact, I think it’s still on the market and unfinished.

One thing that struck me throughout the documentary is how they kept insisting their their troubles were temporary and there was a way out of it.   He spent a lot of his waking hours trying to source financing.   He kept saying “all we need to do is buy some time” and he found a few ways to kick the can down the road a little bit.   His son was the VP of the company and at a certain point everybody’s pay had to be slashed (and 6,000 employees let go).   When they interviewed his son I thought it was noteworthy that he said that he had to ask his dad for money due to his low salary, which his dad declined.  He said to solve the problem he maxed out his credit cards and took out a home equity loan to get him through it.   Some people never learn…

Siegal built his business by luring in naive middle class folks in with free stays, entrance passes to Disneyland, etc. as long as they listened to the presentation.   I got the impression that they signed up just about anyone who could fog a mirror.   In one scene he rants about how the bankers were a bunch of vultures, which is kind of funny coming from the HMFIC of one of the most bullshit industries out there.   What goes around, comes around.

I just stumbled upon this on Netflix and hadn’t read anything about it, but I’m sure there’s a ton of comparisons to Citizen Kane and Xanadu out there.   I also think it’s interesting that the real Versailles pretty much sent France over the brink, just like this house did to this family (and maybe the company).   Off hand, I think I read that the palace of Versailles cost about 40% of the total GDP of France when it was built.   FWIW, tourists from all over the world now come to see the pinnacle of Gallic opulence so at least it’s giving something back now.   I’m sure the Versailles Chambre de Commerce is at least glad it’s there.    On a side note, now that it’s in my mind I bet that within 20 years Versailles will be purchased by Chinese businessmen or something like that.

I think that if future historians look back to the current economic situation, this very well could be one of the defining historical works of the time by the way it shows how well they were able to live on borrowed money and then how far they fell when they were reduced to their true assets.   I really could see future economists throwing around “Versailles” as one of those historical anecdotes like the tulip mania.   If things really go south for us, I could see this house used as an example in the future of the highest levels of economic and ecological arrogance of our time.

There are too many lessons to be learned and examples of how not to run your life in this documentary to even list.    You name it, it’s probably in there.


13 in 13 Update 1/26 – Espanol and Astronomy.

One of my skills to improve this year was Spanish.  Last week I went to a meet-up group of Spanish speakers and did ok.   As I expected, I did a much better job listening and comprehending than speaking.     I took a few correspondence college courses in Spanish (yeah, weird, huh?) which involved a lot of reading and writing, a bit of listening and no speaking.   Naturally my pronunciation and sentence structure was pretty rough.   I think my vocabulary is pretty good (for a novice) but I can stand to get some work on all the various tenses, getting a broader range of adjectives, transitional words and all of that.

I’ve also been listening to the Coffee Break Spanish podcast, which is great.  I’ve listened through a lot of it before but now I feel like I’ve got a real reason to learn it, so I think it’s sinking in a little better.   I’ve been flipping through a Spanish textbook and bringing a Spanish phrasebook to work with me in case I get the urge to look something up that strikes me.   The group was very helpful and I think as long as I stick to it I’ll make improvement.   Actually getting out and conversing with people face-to-face is going to be much better than any other learning aid I could come up with.

I’ve been hitting the world of dairy pretty hard as I mentioned in this post.

Lately I’ve been reading Beyond the Blue Horizon: How the Earliest Mariners Unlocked the Secrets of the Oceans which is written by Brian Fagan, an archaeologist and avid sailor.   He writes about how different societies throughout history have gone about sailing and covers some interesting things about weather patterns and navigation through astronomy.   There’s lots of things that would be of interest to people into primitive skills or students of history that wonder about the details on how they got from point A to point B.   If you think about it, heading right into the stormy ocean for an uncertain destination has to be pretty scary.   I’ve also been reading The Book of the Moon which so far is pretty cool.   It covers virtually everything about the moon from hard science, our history trying to figure it out, folklore and mythology.   I’m not that far into it, but I think I’m going to get some good out of it.   I now at least can identify all the phases of the moon.


Shortwave Radio Spy Numbers Stations

Shortwave radio is one of those things that is on the fringe of the preparedness world and sometime in the future I’m planning on something of a preparedness-minded shortwave 101 article that will cover most of the basics and the general state of affairs in the world of shortwave.   I know there’s some popular emergency radios out there with shortwave capabilities and it takes a bit of know-how to make the most of them.  It’s definitely not like FM where you can tune in to a known station at any time of the day and expect to get a crystal-clear signal.

In today’s world shortwave is more or less a low-tech thing, but globally it has some advantages over more advanced technologies.   One is that radio waves can’t be traced to the receiver.   They can trace the point of origin, but not who receives them.   Radios don’t hold memory of what they picked up, either.   A shortwave receiver is a very unassuming piece of gear and it’s something that’s reasonable for anyone to own, whereas more specialized transmission/decryption gear would certainly raise some eyebrows.

For these reasons many intelligence services still rely on shortwave to get messages to their operatives.   This works out especially well in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa where shortwave is more common and there’s more geopolitical hot spots and actors within easy range of radio waves in that part of the world.   It’s kind of cool that a low-tech thing like shortwave radio can get around some of the advanced technologies used for counter espionage.    These stations can be jammed, but they can always move to a different frequency.

Here in the middle of North America we don’t get a lot of shortwave action, but we do have one “hostile” nation nearby:  Cuba!   Yes, Cuba has spooks operating on our soil.   What they hope to accomplish, I don’t know, but they’re here and you can hear transmissions intended for them every night at about 2:00AM Central or 0800 UTC time at 5880Mhz.    It starts off with a female voice saying “Atencion” and reading several series of four numbers in Spanish.   It’s quite hypnotic.  “Seis, Ocho, Dos, Neuve.   Cuatro, Uno, Dos, Seis.   Siete, Cinco, Ocho, Tres”   Apparently these numbers mean something to somebody and the Cold War still rages on.

Here is a video with about a minute of it:

There’s a group of Cubans currently incarcerated in the US under espionage charges known as the “Cuban Five”.    Apparently authorities found that they had received messages from Cuba via this numbers station because they had logged the numbers or something like that.   They couldn’t physically prove that they received the radio waves though, like they can if someone visits a website or receives something via the internet.   If you tune in to Radio Havana, they always take a few minutes out of each show to talk about the Cuban Five and make a plea to release them.

I think this goes to show that with a shortwave radio you give yourself more options to acquire information.   There’s the idea that “they” can shut down the internet if they want, I don’t think anyone really trusts television news anymore and AM/FM radio stations have to be relatively close to you (AM can be more or less regional instead of local like FM).  It may be getting out there a little bit, but if there was ever a situation where you would want information from outside our borders and couldn’t get it, shortwave would be the way to go.   Something like an EMP (provided you EMP-proofed your radio, of course), a massive grid outage, excessive rule of law and censorship or something like that is what I’m thinking of.   Probably not the most pressing issues of preparedness, but it is something to consider.

Here are a few links to check out if you’re interested:

How To Listen To Real Spy Broadcasts

An NPR program about number stations


Adventures in Dairy Part I – Making Yogurt, Kefir and Ranch Dressing

So I think I’ve got the art of yogurt making down.   As I mentioned in my review of Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, I think what I had been doing wrong was not putting the jar in a warm enough spot.   I’ve been putting the jar on top of a warm stove (like they said in the book) or on a heating vent.   When the weather gets warmer I can do a sunny window or outside.

Last week I made cranberry sauce to go with a turkey I cooked.   I’ve been mixing the cranberry sauce with the homemade yogurt.   That shit is amazing!   I’ll be sad when I’m out of cranberry sauce.

I also tried adding garlic powder, salt, pepper, green onion, dill and parsley to it and mixing it up to get ranch dressing.   It tastes like ranch dressing.   I’m glad I have this one figured out because I love ranch dressing but it’s something that I don’t want all the time and it’s difficult to find a good one.   It seems like your choices are either ones made from soybean oil and a million other ingredients, “greenwashed” organic ones or ones made from natural products but really miss the mark.  By being able to make it from plain yogurt I can make as much or as little as I want.    I would feel like I’m splurging if I had a conventional ranch dressing loaded with fat, but I wouldn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about eating homemade yogurt and herbs.   Usually I use balsamic vinegar and maybe olive oil for salad dressing.   If this year ends up like last year when we had more arugula than anything, I’d rather have arugula with ranch over balsamic vinegar.

Making yogurt is easy now that I “get it”.    Put a quart of milk on the stove on low heat until it starts to bubble (maybe 10 minutes), let it cool down to the point where it’s just warm, put about a tablespoon of yogurt with active cultures in it, seal it up and put it away somewhere warm for about 8 hours or so.   As long as I retain a little bit of the yogurt each time, it’s sustainable as long as you have milk coming in.   If you’re starting from nothing, pretty much any store bought yogurt will work.

Homemade yogurt is different from the typical yogurt at the store.   Most commercial yogurt has pectin or gelatin in it to make it thicker and you can taste the whey a little more in homemade yogurt.   I remember buying some Kalona organic yogurt several years ago and being a little sketched out by it because it was runny and had a bit of a cheese smell to it.   When you’re used to yogurt that’s thickened and artificially sweetened it does take a little bit to get used to it.

I’m all about kefir now.  It’s basically fermented milk.  I’ve never had it up until recently, but planned on trying to make it.   I bought a bottle of it at the grocery store on New Year’s Day to see what it was supposed to be like.  It was a 15 minute drive home and I figured I’d just drink part of the bottle and save the rest for later.   I drank all for servings (a quart?) by the time we got home.  I think it was Lifeway peach kefir.

I ordered some kefir grains off Amazon (Kefir Grains – Living Probiotic Enriched “as seen on The Dr OZ show”) and about a teaspoon or so of grains showed up.   Seems small, but that’s all you really need.   You’re supposed to make the first three batches with only a cup or so of milk and throw it out in order to activate the grains and make sure everything is working like it’s supposed to.   The grains swell in size and if you put them in milk and sit it out about 8 hours later you have kefir.   The fermenting gets stronger as you leave it out.  I had one that was out for over 24 hours and it had a bit of an alcoholic taste (yes, it does develop low levels of alcohol).   It’s a lot more palatable than it sounds.   I put blueberries and honey in the first batch I drank which was good, now I just drink it as it is (but I wouldn’t be above mixing it with something else).   I’ll make about a quart at a time and drink about 8 ounces or so a day.   I think if I would throw some salt in it I would pretty much have Turkish Ayran, a popular yogurt drink in that part of the world.   I had it in Istanbul and honestly didn’t care for it much.

Both kefir and yogurt are good for you with all the probiotics and beneficial bacteria and all of that.  It helps your digestion and people who aren’t well-adapted to digesting lactose can usually do yogurt and kefir.     Honestly, I’m not very well versed in the in’s and out’s of the health benefits of fermentation, but I know it’s good for you.    There are some things that just feel right to eat and yogurt and kefir are among them.

I picked up some of the things to make soft cheese like ricotta and mozzarella.  I think I’m going to tackle that next in the world of dairy then maybe try some other cheeses if that goes well.

See also The Maiden Voyage of Our Fermenting Crock

Debt and Economic Woes in Argentina: Is Collapse Looming?

Argentina Grounds President’s Plane

Argentina Orders Crew to Quit Libertad Ship Held in Ghana



Argentina is a country that should be a lot better off than it is.   They’ve got great farmland, tons of mineral resources, access to big enough markets and a fairly well-educated and savvy populace.   At the beginning of the 20th Century Argentina was one of the richest nations in the world and Buenos Aires was considered one of the most elegant cities in the world, “the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere”.    You can still see the evidence of the city’s past grandeur in its stunning architecture, although time and neglect has certainly taken it down a few notches.

Argentina experienced major economic upheaval in 2001, following the crash of the American stock market and they’ve never completely recovered to the same level as they were before the crash.  There was a pretty big socioeconomic divide between rural and urban Argentina, but overall there was a large middle class that more or less had a first world standard of living.   For more on the 2001 crash, Fernando “Ferfal” Aguirre wrote a preparedness-minded book on his experiences during that period (The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse) and there’s a good documentary on Youtube:

Anyways, things have been heating up down there again.   Before 2001, the Argentine Peso was pegged 1:1 to the US Dollar.   It went to 4:1 after the collapse and I think it stayed somewhere in the area of 3:1 in the following decade.    Today it’s five pesos per dollar.   They’ve also put currency controls in place that make it so that pesos can’t leave the country in order to avoid massive capital flight.   A guy I know that was down there in the past couple of months said that there’s definitely something in the air down there these days.

I’ve noticed two stories in the news over the past couple months about Argentina.   In October their naval training vessel ARA Libertad was seized in as it docked in Ghana as collateral for the nation’s creditors.   The other involves Argentine President Cristina Kirchner grounding the state airplane Tango 1 (think Air Force One) and taking a charter plane to make a few trips around the world in order to keep it out of the hands of Argentina’s creditors.      The ARA Libertad isn’t just any old ship; it’s largely ceremonial and used to train naval cadets from Argentina and other nations.   Technically it’s a warship, but it’s mission is more diplomatic than anything and it’s supposed to be a symbol of pride for Argentina.     It’s kind of a cool looking ship:

Libertad 1
As far as Tango 1 goes, I’m sure it’s a very nice plane but it would be a real kick to the balls for any state for their leader to have to hitch a ride home after getting their plane snatched away from them.   Both of these events have to be very demoralizing to a country that can never seem to stay ahead of the curve.   I wish them the best of luck down there, but it doesn’t look good.

I think these stories from down south are notable to us because it goes to show that past performance doesn’t always guarantee future results.   Who would have believed back in Argentina’s glory days as one of the world’s wealthiest nations that someday one of their ships would be seized in an African port as collateral on debt?    It also shows that actions have consequences and sometimes the piper has to be paid.   If you owe people money, it will come back to bite you in the ass one way or another.   Another theme in these stories is that although the head of state might more or less rule the roost in their own country, there’s only so much they can do outside of their borders.  There’s no “they can’t do that to ….!” here  because yes “they” can.

Although there are some fundamental differences between the US and Argentina, I think it is an interesting case to follow because it is an example of what an advanced, modern economy looks like when things really go sour.   We’re well over our heads in debt but hopefully we can pull our heads out of our asses before we end up in a situation where we have to worry about having assets seized abroad like Argentina.



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