Early Progress in the 2012 Gardening Season

So far things are looking good and all the warm weather has me thinking that spring will be here at any moment, but I know that mother nature can throw a curve ball every now and then.   I’m hoping that in the next two weeks I can start things from seed like radishes, beets, turnips, greens and lettuce.   We’ll see.

Last night I picked up enough lumber to build 3 4×8 garden beds.   I’d like to have those clobbered together within the next two weeks and then start procuring soil/yard debris to fill them in.   Last year I used a ton of sticks and leaves as filler material at the bottom of the beds, which meant that I needed less soil.  It also means that I’ll have more decaying organic material and a store of water, per the principles of hugelkultur.     I’m not sure if I’ll have enough room for a fourth bed (bringing the grand total to eight beds), but if I do I’m sure I’ll put it in.     The beds are fairly easy to construct, so that’s not a big deal.  It’s just a matter of finding the time and decent weather.

While going through my current beds, I found some carrots that appear to have overwintered, as well as a lone onion.    It appears as if my kale, spinach and swiss chard overwintered as well and is beginning to show signs of life again.

In my woodworking class I finished my cold frame – this thing is a beast.    I came into the class with a general plan based off 99% of what’s out there on the internet, which is “clobber together a box, get a window, put some hinges on it and fasten it on”.   That idea wasn’t good enough for the instructor, so he got out the drawing board and designed a plan for it (I’ll post pictures shortly).   As far as posting plans, I’ll have to see if I can come up with something to modify some of the cuts as equipment that is probably not readily available to the average DIYer was used.      Five or six people signed up for the class and for the past two sessions, I was the only one that showed up so the instructor was able to put a lot of time and effort into the plans.    I think this one is definitely sound enough to get some things through the winter.

I put the cold frame out and started some spinach, butterhead lettuce, dill, swiss chard and radishes.   So far nothing has sprouted, but it should be a matter of days before I start seeing things.     It would be nice to start getting a few things from the garden around the first-middle part of April – we’ll see.

The soil cubes are off to a good start and I’m getting some sprouts.   I’m going to start some more shortly to get some herbs going.    Right now we have cabbage, a few Italian broccoli plants, a couple cauliflower seedlings and brussels sprouts as well as a mustard, collard and swiss chard seedling.   I should be looking good there.   In a few weeks I’ll start some tomato and pepper plants.

I haven’t ordered my trees yet, but it’s looking like we’ll have the largest mini-orchard in Central Iowa.    I have about $600 worth of plants in my Raintree Nursery wishlist.   I’ve been sitting on it for a few days to see if I *really* think I need everything, but I think we can handle all of those trees, I think they’ll be worth it, we’ll be able to take them with us when/if we move and it should be fun.     Planting that many trees into large containers will be a chore, but manageable.

I need to get a new rain barrel after last year’s collapsible one broke.   This was my fault – I put it on uneven ground and it filled up during a storm and fell over – the force of the water tore the top off.   I bought a collapsible one because I thought I was going to use it at an offsite garden.   Had it been on level ground, I think it would have actually been a good piece of gear to have, considering you can easily store it away in the off season and it would be good for temporary situations (renters, offsite gardening, etc).  Here is a link to it:   Smart Solar Rain Barrel  .    Iowa Prison Industries was taking reclaimed 55 gallon drums and adding the necessary hardware to them and selling them at a low price ($20 if memory serves me right).

I also need to procure some hardwood logs soon in order to get some mushrooms started.   I totally dropped the ball on this one last year.   Mushrooms do better in wood harvested early in the spring, so I need to start getting serious about this one.    I know of a property I can check out for fallen/about to fall branches and if that doesn’t work, I might contact a park ranger and ask if he knows of any recently fallen trees I can take from.   You never know…

So everything is starting to come together right now.    I think we’re set for a good year in 2012.

Looking Forward to the 2012 Garden and Looking Back at 2011

Tonight I made a few soil cubes and started some seeds underneath the grow light.   So far we have a dozen cabbage going, 3 cauliflower, 3 romanesco cauliflower, 3 brussel sprouts, 1 collard green, 1 mustard green and one swiss chard plant to get an early jump on things.   Tomorrow I may get a few herbs started.    Although we’re not in the clear yet, the weather has been very spring-like lately and I’m getting anxious to get started.

In 2008 my dog dug up the tomatoes I had going in containers. In 2009 I had a few herbs in containers and killed some tomatoes through overwatering.   In 2010 I grew a few herbs.   In 2011, we put in 4 4×8 beds, put in some berry bushes and kept a ton of containers.   We had some successes and some failures, but we learned a lot and got a lot out of our efforts.

The year started with a failure – we were planning on gardening off-site on some land in the family that was on the market, but no one was biting on.  One day I went out and tilled up a few old beds and planted some early fall crops.   Strangely enough, while I was there planting someone made the first offer in over a year on the property.  I knew this was a possibility, but I didn’t figure it would be that quick!   In fact, we made a loose offer on the land and thought it was going to work out for us.      We then decided that we were going to try to do everything in our backyard.  The initial objection to this was that one of our dogs, Django (recently deceased, RIP little buddy), would have definitely dug up anything we planted.   We solved this problem by making a chicken wire fence that surrounded each bed that still allowed us to reach over.   This worked out well for us.


We made a few other mistakes with timing and like many others, going overboard with what we wanted to plant.   It’s almost always advised to beginning gardeners that you should start small, but I think we took on quite a bit – and to our credit, we kept up with it all and we’re looking for more this year.

As a kid, I always liked the idea of gardening and did it occasionally.  I remember helping my grandmother who lived in a rural area outside the city planting and harvesting her large garden and enthusiastically tackling the small garden we kept at home.   The taste of freshly grown peas and the smell of tomatoes definitely brought back great memories that can’t be purchased at the supermarket.    We could buy our produce from the store.  We could even get it from a CSA or farmer’s market, but there isn’t much more satisfying than tending to and harvesting your own produce from your own patch of land.

I’m going to get “out there” a little bit, but I think I found a bit of a spiritual factor to gardening – I felt more connected to nature and the cycle of life having to take into account things like weather and the relationships between organisms (i.e. pests, beneficial insects, weeds, etc) that would go relatively unnoticed otherwise.   I felt a better connection to my heritage, as we were doing some of the things that my not-so-distant ancestors would’ve done like canning, pickling, dehydrating and so on in conjunction with gardening.   I had something to wake up for and felt a sense of purpose managing it all.   Also, there’s a great deal of satisfaction to knowing that you helped to create something of value through your efforts and achieve some level of self-reliance.

Although we probably didn’t produce more than 5-10% of what we consumed, what we did produce was very significant in the way it influenced our eating – almost every meal during the growing season had fresh herbs or something from the garden in it one way or another.  This makes a significant difference in the quality of your food. Even now, I’m still eating pickles almost daily, using dehydrated squash and occasionally drinking dehydrated herbs as tea.   We still have some tomatoes canned, pickled green tomatoes, frozen green beans and canned chow-chow.

Anyways, on to this year…

We’re planning on going from 4 beds to 7 or 8.    I will purchase the lumber for that project shortly.   We have a better idea about what to plant and when, so I think we’ll have a significant increase in output.   I think I tried to do too much with herbs in containers and ended up with too much of some herbs, too few of others.   I will try to balance this out by making a dedicated herb bed (beneficial insect attractors!) as well as using the containers a little wiser.

We’re going to extend our season through a cold frame (I’m building now, will post about it later) as well as some grow lights and a 6 x 8 greenhouse.

So far I’m pleased with the lights we bought and I think it will help us best utilize the space and time we have.   I’m considering getting another one to double up – I’m sure we will get enough value out of it  Growlights

The greenhouse looks like a great deal, considering Amazon’s free shipping (it weighs a little less than 100lbs).  We’re going to throw that up to harden off some plants and get some things going until we’re in the clear with the weather.  Greenhouse    The reviews on it seem promising, the price is definitely agreeable and I think this is something else that we will get value from.   Also we plan on eventually having a larger greenhouse when we move someday so the experience of dealing with a smaller novice-level one will be beneficial.

We haven’t placed an order for new trees and shrubs, but right now we’re looking at going nuts with mini-dwarf trees and possibly throwing in a few new fruit-producing shrubs.   Last year we had mini-dwarf apples that did well, but a strong wind broke them in half.   I guess they were serious when they said you should keep them staked.

We’re going to do some mushrooming underneath our deck too.

One of my goals for the year is to sell something commercially.   I’ve expressed interest with a local farmer’s market to come and be an occasional vendor peddling some produce and potted herbs.   I have a few ideas and I hope I’m able to make this happen.  That would be a great feeling to be able to produce a lot of our own food AND bring in a little bit of money out of our yard, providing people with a product that I believed in and would give people value.   Hopefully this plan works out – I’m willing to put the effort into it.

I’m kicking around the idea of a small aquaponics system to raise about a dozen tilapia.  Adena doesn’t care for the idea, but we’ll see.

So that’s where we’re at right now as spring seems just around the corner.   I can’t wait to get my hands dirty again.


The Iraqi Dinar Scam



I recently listened an episode of “Rethinking Wealth with Jay Peroni” from FTMDaily where he covered investing in the Iraqi Dinar.  The episode can be found here:


I was in Iraq as a Marine infantryman in 2004-5, right after the invasion and shortly after the establishment of something vaguely resembling some kind of government in Iraq, as well as the new currency.   I remember many people talking about investing in it – before the Persian Gulf War the exchange rate between the dinar and dollar was anywhere from 3 dollars per 1 dinar or 1:1.      After the fall of Saddam, new dinars were issued and the exchange rate was something in the neighborhood of 1 USD per 1200 dinars.   Naturally, people looked at this and saw huge upside potential – maybe someday their 1200 dinars purchased for a dollar would go to somewhere near the previous exchange rate, resulting in something like 1000% gains.   After all, with all that oil they were sitting on and the fact that it appeared like they could only go uphill from where they were at, the prospect seemed likely and tempting.  One gentleman I worked with who bought dinars told me that the ace-in-the-hole for Iraq’s economy was  that they were sitting on the world’s largest mercury deposit and once that operation was up and running, the currency would skyrocket.   I can’t confirm or deny Iraq’s mercury deposit, but this is what I was told.

Many people I was with talked about investing in dinars and over the course of time I’ve talked to a few civilians that put money into dinars, banking on a rise in value.   Although I have a handful of dinars as souvenirs (both old with Saddam and new) laying around, I didn’t purchase any dinars for the sake of an investment and I’m glad I didn’t – I know it was tempting to do so.

Peroni points out that the currency is not convertible – it cannot be exchanged on the market for other currencies.   They are only good as currency within Iraq and if you have them in the United States, they’re pretty much only valuable as collector’s items.   I will admit that their currency is kind of cool looking, for what that’s worth, but useless for foreign exchange trading.   In other words, the people that bought dinars with the intent of exchanging them when they rose in value were sold a lemon, unless they plan on hitting up the bazaar in Baghdad sometime in the near future.   I’d also like to point out that Iraq is nowhere near stable and it’s highly likely that they could issue a new currency when/if it becomes convertible.    I also think that there might have been some of the same phenomena with penny stocks going on –  the arbitrary value assigned to it makes it appear like any change in value will be drastic but in reality the actual value of the stock/currency isn’t magically more likely to jump/fall as dramatically as anything else.  What I mean by that is that the currency will go up and down in value just the same as if it were arbitrarily priced at 130, 13 or 1.3 dinars per US dollar – the fundamentals do not change simply based on the price alone.   I guess it goes to show that sometimes if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

It’s been about seven years since I was in Iraq, but occasionally the Iraqi dinar will cross my mind and I’ll briefly wonder what happened with it as an investment and the thought will leave my head as quick as it came in.  I’ve put out a few feelers on Facebook to see if any of the other Marines I was deployed with on Facebook had any updates on how that was working out for them, but I never had any good responses.   Fortunately, I don’t think that many of the Marines in my unit put any sizable sums of money into the dinar.

Peroni stated that the current exchange rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1400 dinar per US dollar.    When I was over there, it was in the neighborhood of 1300 per dollar, so I’m a little surprised to see it dropped in value – I figured it would eventually hover around 1000 dinar per US dollar once things leveled off a bit until they eventually rebased the currency.    My unit spent a lot of time on the streets and we would often purchase things in the market with US dollars, usually getting somewhere near the actual exchange rate but the more savvy merchants and currency exchangers knew how to get a little bit of a premium out of the trade (1000-1200 dinar per dollar).   Either way, the dollar still went far on the streets of Iraq – a dollar could buy 2-4 packs of cigarettes or a few packaged cakes (I was a big fan of cappuccino flavored ones from Iran) and candy bars or a large bottle of soda.  $5 could get you pretty much anything you wanted.   Although they would rip you off a little bit here and there, it was kind of hard to really get bent out of shape over it when you took into account the relative poverty of the average Iraqi.

I remember one comical incident where we found a merchant in the town that sold gold – we naively expected that we would be able to get gold at rock-bottom prices but we were shocked when the guy wanted $150 for a gold ring.    I believe at the time gold was at $300 per ounce, so it wasn’t priced too far over spot.   Robert Kiyosaki describes a similar incident in one of his books when he was in Vietnam trying to buy gold from a North Vietnamese mine at below-spot prices and not understanding the way pricing works on those kinds of things.

Although I didn’t know much about investing then (and I’m still not an expert today by any means), I had enough sense to know that I didn’t like the fundamentals of Iraq’s economy and that’s about the nicest way I could put that.    I believe that our leaders had dubious intentions on Iraq, but I believe that most of us at the ground level had good intentions for the people of Iraq.   I wish them great success in future endeavors and I think it would’ve been great if both the Iraqis and the American servicemen who put money into the dinar could grow wealth together via this investment, but the dinar as an investment vehicle just wasn’t meant to be.

Interestingly enough, a visit to http://www.dinartrade.com shows the option to purchase dinars, but under the menu of selling dinars you get this:

Dinar Trade Inc. is currently undergoing some major changes never before seen in the market. Soon we will be offering new options for your current and future Iraqi Dinar holdings, along with other investment opportunities in Iraq. We would like to thank all of our loyal customers for their blessings and support during this major transition. We look forward to doing business with you in the near future.
I have a feeling that this page has looked like this for quite some time.

See also They’re Going To Be Worth Something Someday…

“They’re Gonna Be Worth Something Someday…”

Recently a friend of mine that moved out of town a few years ago hit me up asking about places that buy sports memorabilia in town and told me about how the owner of one store offered him practically nothing for an autographed photo of an entire baseball team 20 years ago with a few big names on it.

When I was a kid, I was a huge Boston Bruins fan.   I found a sports card store that had a good selection of hockey cards and I mowed A LOT of yards to save up to purchase some rare Ray Bourque cards.   I collected baseball and other hockey cards as well.  I was always told that if I took good care of them, someday they would be worth something.

Every other kid in America was told and believed that as well.

I recently checked the prices on some of the cards I had on Ebay.   The Ray Bourque collection that was maybe worth $100 in the early 90’s now couldn’t sell for $5.    Hell, even the Gulf War trading cards (why couldn’t we get OIF trading cards???) set that I was assured would’ve been worth something in the future was worth just a few dollars.    What happened?

Baseball cards from past generations became valuable because no one (or at least not many people) knew that someday they would be worth something.  Many of them ended up in the spokes of bicycles or other similar fates.   The ones that made it through ended up becoming a hot commodities because they were rare.    Since everyone from my generation (the ones that grew up hearing horror stories about our fathers ruining baseball cards that would’ve been worth a fortune in the future) held on to their cards under the premise that “someday they’ll be worth something”, there’s now more cards on the market (and sitting in attics or my parents’ basement) than demand.
What does this all mean?  Well, I guess it’s sometimes good to think critically when a lot of people are saying that something will be worth more in the future and banking on it.   Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t.   Many people were burnt in the tech stock and housing bubble because they bought into the hysteria.

No one is perfect and certainly no one is right all the time – if you invest in anything, it’s the nature of the beast that you’re going to lose sometimes.    A little bit of foresight could be the difference between owning something of lasting value or Beanie Babies and Wally Joyner Starting Lineup Figures.


On a side note, I just checked the eBay listing for Beanie Babies and there’s a full page of them starting out at $0.99 and I only see a handful with a bid or two out of the 25 listed.     A Wally Joyner Starting Lineup Figure in the packaging is going from anywhere from $3 to $19.95 and there’s about a dozen of them.    At the end of the day, things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them.

Site Updated

I just shifted operations from a wordpress.com to wordpress.org site and manually moved everything to this site.   Everything is dated 2/16, but really it’s been posted over the past couple of weeks.

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a luddite and not very tech savvy, but I’m trying to trudge my way through this.   I checked out “The Complete Idiots Guide to WordPress” (that’s definitely me) from the library the other day, so I should have this figured out in no time… or something.

When Life Hands You Lemons…

Dehydrate them.

Citrus is in season right now and high quality produce is going cheap right now.   I picked up about a dozen organic lemons the other day, cut them into 1/4 inch slices and threw them in the dehydrator overnight.     Lemons are something I don’t use often and it usually doesn’t make sense to keep them around.   We keep lemon juice for hummus and some Latin dishes, but just buying a lemon and cutting a wedge here and there usually ends up in wasting a lemon.    By dehydrating them, if I want lemon in tea or water, I just grab one and throw it in.   A dozen lemons sliced will probably keep us going for the year.   It’s always good to take advantage of surpluses and put some away for later.


Today I sent off my check for this year’s CSA (community supported or sustained agriculture).   For those of you that are unfamiliar with the CSA it’s an arrangement with a local farmer to pay for a weekly delivery of produce throughout the growing season.   Sometimes it’s picked up at the farm, usually it’s delivered to a location on a prescribed day for collection.    It’s kind of like investing, but with vegetables – you pay the farmer in advance and in turn you receive a portion of the harvest, along with other members.   If it’s a bad year, you get less.  If it’s a good year, you get more.  The farmer has an interest in making you happy so that their customers (and income) will be there year after year.

CSA’s have many benefits and I’d encourage anyone to look into becoming a member of one in your area.   First, you secure a supply of fresh, high-quality produce for the year and you know exactly where it came from and how it was grown.    You may wind up getting exposed to some new vegetables – usually they provide some info on how to use some more obscure things.    Although the first CSA I tried wasn’t a very good one, I will admit that my horizons broadened quite a bit the first year with new vegetables and info on how to use them.  When you join a CSA you become part of a community of “shareholders” in the farm and can meet some new like-minded folks.   This year we met up with the other shareholders from our CSA at the farm for a potluck towards the end of the season and had a great time meeting everyone and seeing the farm – it was one of the highlights of the fall for us.      If you aren’t able to keep a garden, the CSA is a good alternative – you’re basically paying someone in your community that knows what they’re doing to do it for you and probably come up with a wider range of crops than you would.     The money you spend on a CSA membership stays within your area and allows a farmer to make a living, instead of sending it off to the Jolly Green Giant on the other side of the country (or world!).

Honestly, this year we could probably produce almost all of our vegetable needs in our backyard, especially considering we’re going to ramp up the operation by adding a few new beds in.    However, we enjoy being a part of the CSA and feel we get a good value out of it and want to support this kind of farming.    We’ll just be able to put up a little more for the winter this year.

Working Poor: Almost Half of US Households Live One Crisis From The Breadline

Working Poor: Almost Half of US Households Live One Crisis From The Breadline


One of the best definitions for assessing one’s wealth I’ve heard was how long you could go without a paycheck – I think this one is better than determining one’s wealth by their salaries or the consumer goods they own.   Many people with high salaries struggle to make the mortgage payments on the McMansion, the payments on two SUV’s, credit card payments, student loan payments and other costs associated with that lifestyle.   On the other hand, there are people with moderate/low salaries that have managed to accumulate notable savings and assets through diligence and discipline and thus have a more secure standard of living than a hyperconsumer with a high salary who may see their world crash down around them in the event of unemployment, a reduction in income or even a significant expense (say, killer medical bills, unexpected sewer work, etc).

If you haven’t made it a goal of yours already, you should strive to become wealthy per this definition.   Some say you should make a point to have six months to a year’s worth of expenses squirreled away in the event of emergencies.   I know that sounds like a daunting figure, but that figure can be reduced (and voila, a surplus created!)  by making meaningful cuts to your monthly expenses, finding ways to conserve resources, storing food and supplies purchased at opportune times and learning to do things for yourself.   Slowly but surely you’ll build a safety net and steer clear of the breadline should something happen… and if you don’t experience a personal financial crisis, you’ll still sleep better knowing that if one did happen, you’ll be able to make it through.

Nitro-Pak Ultimate Pak Freeze-Dried Food

A Taste of Summer in February

Tonight for dinner we made a soup with canned tomatoes from our garden, chick peas, penne pasta and rosemary, along with homemade whole wheat baguette bread and it was delicious.

Sounds like meaningless Facebook chatter.  What’s the point of this post?

Well, by growing and canning our own tomatoes we were able to use them several months later in the dead of winter and they still tasted pretty much like they were freshly picked.   We didn’t have to pay jacked up prices for inferior tomatoes grown halfway around the world.   The soup tasted better than if it were made with tomatoes from the store or a can, it was healthier and more environmentally sound due to the fact that the packaging (the jar and reusable lids) was reusable, they were grown using sustainable methods and it did not take fossil fuels to transport them.

The actual cost of the tomatoes was next to nothing, compared to the $1.50-$3.00 a pound they charge at the grocery store for non-organic tomatoes right now or even the cost of canned tomatoes.   I put more work into growing and canning the tomatoes than I would’ve compared to simply throwing some tomatoes into a shopping cart, but it wasn’t all THAT much work and it actually provided some sort of enjoyment – at least more enjoyment than my job does.  Watching things grow can be fun and there’s a lot of satisfaction from knowing you did it yourself.     I can’t accurately figure up the numbers right now, but I’d figure that the actual cost associated with producing the jar of tomatoes (my time, the water, the plants, a percentage of reusable gardening and canning supplies, etc) is lower than what it would cost to purchase a few pounds of tomatoes of anywhere near comparable quality from the store.   That’s the benefit of having productive hobbies.

Sometimes doing more with less yields some great results.

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