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How One New Tool Can Start Your Season Off Right – The Black-Steel Pickaxe

I have just made my first purchase for the 2019 Gardening season. A new Steel Pickaxe.

I have been thinking about how I will organize the garden for 2019. For a long time in fact. After last year, I had to think about how I might improve my experience. My goals include:

  1. Start earlier (I did not get the ground broken in 2018 until May 1. Crappy weather was the main cause.
  2. Create better fencing – Dirty Little Creatures decimated some of my crops.
  3. Improve my herb garden.

STARTING EARLIER

While 2018 I had purchased seeds and created a good layout for my yard, getting the work done was more of a challenge. And for 2018, the main issue was weather. We had a very wet April. It was late May before I could get a roto tiller to turn over my garden patches. In the end, it did a great job. But it was borrowed. So this year I needed something new.

One of the little issues that anyone deciding to embark on any new project like this is having the tools. Last year showed that I was very weak in this area. I have a lot of gardening tools. But as I found, many of them were either inadequate for my needs or just broken.

I have 4 or five bent or broken rakes. 3 bent shovels. No broom. Various hand digging implements.

As noted I borrowed a roto tiller last year. I started with a shovel, but really had not gotten very far. Way too strenuous and time consuming. The tiller got everything done in a little more than an afternoon.

Probably my biggest wishes last year were for a decent hoe or 2, and a pick. I remember growing up, we had a pick for our garden. It was always a little too heavy for me to use. My dad would get it out to turn the garden beds. I always liked it because it was as close to being an Ax and anything we had. And an ax just seemed so cool (not that we ever needed it).

So with my dreams of a fully plowed garden, no chance of using a roto tiller without paying a bunch for a rental, I wanted a pick. And a mere $31 later, I got my tool. A brand new, carbon fiber handle, black painted steel pickaxe. And I must say it looked a whole lot more cool than I expected.

I picked it up from Home Depot using the HD Gift Card my oldest son gave me for Christmas. I knew that card would come to good use.

When I got it back to the car, I declared that it is my new Maul. Seemed like a good name for it. And cooler than Mattock. My 15 year old laughed at the gleam in my eye as I looked at it in the back seat. And she absolutely howled

with laughter when I went to work on the garden soon after parking in the back next to my grass patch.

Now the job of digging up my grass has not been easy. Even with the roto tiller last year, it took me a couple days and a lot of clearing the blades of strands of grass.After 5 minutes plowing away with the pickaxe though, I am convinced that this is the way to go. The patch was recently wet with rain, so it was ripe for the ripping. And while there was grass grown over it, the soil was still relatively easy to chunk up.

The final confirmation that this was the right purchase was the look on Mikey and Brandon’s faces. Both of them are avid gamers and play both Minecraft and  Fortenite pretty much all day long. So here is a real life pickaxe – that they have been using in games all the time. And they get to use it. It was my turn to laugh , watching them try to heft the 5 lb maul and plunge it into the soil. Worth the purchase just to see the smiles on their faces.

 

 

 

 

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Woodchip Mulching

I am starting to compile ideas to improve my garden next year. I just came across a very good article on woodchip mulching. Putting this article right here so I do not forget it. But count this as one of my top plans for 2019 (along with raising the patches, and getting good fencing and and and. . .

 

Natural Weed Control: Organic Farmers Use Woodchip Mulch to Control Weeds, Increase Crop Yields

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Where Gardening, Harry Potter and The Zombie Apocalypse Meet

Quora

A funny thing happened on the way to the Quora today.

I came across a funny question that somehow brought these things together. The Question:

If humans disappear, and the only thing that survives is a Harry Potter book, would a species discovering it believe that it’s actual history?

You can read the question and answer here on Quora.

https://www.quora.com/If-humans-disappear-and-the-only-thing-that-survives-is-a-Harry-Potter-book-would-a-species-discovering-it-believe-that-its-actual-history

Now you may be asking, “What the hell is Quora and why on earth are they talking about this?” If you are unfamiliar with Quora, I will let you know that it is a wonderful Timesuck.

Quora is a social network allows people to pose questions about different subjects and encourage answers and discussion. You choose the subjects you see and jump in if you have an interest in the question.

For bloggers and other online marketers, it is an amazing little piece of social media. It allows you to answer questions and promote yourself as the “expert” in a certain esoteric field. Preferably its a field that might be interested in what you have to say (or sell).

When I started on Quora (last spring at some point), my interests were astrology, prepping and gardening. By connecting with these communities, I could see what others were talking about. And then write articles on these subjects. That way, I could come back and link the articles as another form of social proof in answering a question.

Early on, I decided to opt out of the Astrology discussions. I found that most of the questions were about Horoscope astrology. It took a lot of time to sift through it and I had no interest in most of it.

Now What about Harry Potter and Zombies?

So with the question I noted above, a couple of my favorite subjects came together. I follow the harry Potter discussion group. That started last May when I began reading the Harry Potter books again. This has become an annual thing – usually at the beginning of the summer. And as I am finding, the other followers of this group are way dorkier than myself – as if that was possible.

But as the question goes, it is like a Dead Sea Scrolls kind of find. What would this piece of pop fiction say to an extra terrestrial or our 2000 year ancestors in the future. Now forget for a moment the Harry Potter part of this equation. Chane the conditions of this story and make it about the Zombie Apocalypse.

Call it a Noah’s Ark flood. Another example is the movie 2012, where the crust of the Earth displaces and everyone dies. Author Graham Hancock talks about this in his books Fingerprints of the Gods and Magicians of the Gods.  Mr. Hancock suggests that the timing the the Flood of Noah may be provable in the archeological record.

And if you consider that civilized society could have existed (think Atlantis), and a flood covered the Earth, who would be left?

Imagine now if the Earth were to be hit by an asteroid, causing a catastrophic flood. Or a Volcano. Or a nuclear war. Would EVERYTHING be incinerated? Would there be survivors? What would happen to them  with all the trappings of life taken from them? No libraries. No internet. Food Shelter Clothing gone. Society gone. It would be full on survival mode. The strongest, the bravest, the smartest survive.

It is against that backdrop that you consider how they might see that Harry Potter novel. Ignore that they would have to figure out the language (remember how long it took history to remember how to read Hieroglyphics). Place it against the backdrop of a new reality. How would they see it?

 

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Preparing for Fall

My garden is looking forlorn. Between the buckets of rain we have received in Eastern Pennsylvania and the fact that my son “borrowed” our lawnmower, it is a little over grown.

I have not planned to grow much this fall. I am more ready to start winding it down and preparing it for winter. I will cover a lot of the winterizing of the garden in a future post. This is more about the sorry state of it now.

I would put much of the fault for the mess on the rain – and lack of available time for proper weeding. We have not see more than about 4 days pass in the last 2 months without rain. Is it wrong that I do not want to be elbows-deep in mud and muck? And while this is a bad reflection on my commitment to my garden, it speaks of truth. When I go out, it’s going to be a mess.

Like the tomatoes. The plants look horrible now. They are pretty much done, so I am not doing anything with it until I am ready to pull it all down. But we harvested a ton or so (meaning about 200 or so). Unfortunately due to getting them in the ground late and all the rain, we did not see any until very late in August.

Lettuce Patch – The rabbits ate most of the different varieties I planted. We were able to harvest Arugula and Green Romaine. They were great for salads.

Zucchinis and Cucumbers – Both the Zucchini and Cucumbers were a great success. We had experienced difficulties in the past with the rabbits chewing off the zucchini flowers. After finding fencing, we had success. Cucumbers were lots of fun. We had both regular cucumbers and pickling cucumbers.

Herbs – saw limited success, mostly due to the location. These were on the side of the house. Every storm they would get washed out by runoff from the gutters. We had lots of basil, parsley and cilantro. As of yet, I still have not been able to get my white sage seeds to sprout. I will complain more about that in a future post.

And the Pumpkins – Still Growing. In keeping with my plan to use all organic seeds, I planted what they sent. So far I am not so impressed. I suspect I will be buying large orange pumpkins in a few weeks to carve for Halloween.  I took this picture yesterday. It is about double this size today.

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Cycles within Cycles within Cycles within Calendars?

I have always had trouble finding just the right calendar to track the days, weeks months, years, what have you. Our lives revolve around the passing of days. And the days turn into weeks and months and years. It makes you think pretty hard about how these cycles came into being.

I especially think about calendars when the ones you buy every year around Christmas (secret be known I always shop for calendars the week after Christmas. All the calendars are about 1/2 price.) And while we like to follow the the progression of days, the standard calendar may not (who am I kidding, it doesn’t) describe everything that is happening.

What we find is that there are so many different ways of categorizing and counting the passage of time that settling on a single one may not cut it. So for now, we will start by discussing the passage of time itself and how we do it.

Natural Cycles

Actually, before getting into the nuts and bolts of calendars, we might consider how the natural world around us works. Time for us is a mechanical thing. Life here on Earth is made possible by a series of fortunate events that makes time very regular. In fact, you can set your watch by it (haha).

The Earth rotates on its axis. We count this rotation as a day – broken up in hours, minutes and seconds. It is a 24 hour day, with 60 minutes per hour and 60 seconds per minute.

The Earth revolves around the sun. This trip takes 365.25 days to complete. Along this trip, due to the tilt of the earth relative to the sun, we experience seasons. These are caused by the amount of sun visible to any one point on the earth. These quarters are categorized as the Seasons of the year (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter)

The illustration shows how at the extremes (Summer and Winter solstices) the difference in number of hours of light in the day. I just googled the difference for Pennsylvania – which they say is 5 hours and 41 minutes.  At the Spring and Summer equinoxes, the number of hours per day are equal (12 hours light and 12 hours dark). So if you split the 5 hours and 41 minutes in half, it says we have 2 hours and 51 and a half minutes more daylight in summer (about 14 hours and 51.5 minutes) and in winter it is 9 hours and 49 minutes.

In addition to the Rotation and Revolution cycles, we also are affected by other heavenly bodies in our solar system. Chief among them is them is the Moon. Counting its revolutions in terms of days here on Earth is a little more complicated. The moon revolves around the earth once every 27.32 days, or one sidereal month. This is if you count it in relation to the stars (or 360 degrees of a circle). When counted in relation to the Sun, it is every 29.53 days (or about 27 degrees more).  Why is this important? In a lunar calendar, the count of days begins at the new moon – when the moon is conjunct the sun and ends when the Moon is new again.

And while we are talking about the moon, it also presents another direct affect upon the world. And that is the tides. As we rotate on earth around its access, the moon exerts a gravitational force upon the side of the earth facing it. It pulls against the planet causing it to bulge – enough that the water on the planet will shift – causing tides.

In addition, the earth is affected by the other planets in our solar system, including Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (I count Pluto even though NASA has decided not to). The affects of these planets on our life here is largely part of the study of Astrology. Mainstream science counts these as a constant and tends to ignore them. I like to hope that all of these scientists may enjoy a particularly intense Mercury Retrograde 3 times a year. One day they will figure it out.

So to sum up, the Natural Cycles include:

Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Seasons, Years, Lunar months

Man Made Cycles

While Natural cycles describe aspects of nature and their affects upon our lives, Man Made Cycles are those we have imposed upon ourselves. The best description would be Calendars. We have days, but the calendar organizes them into weeks and months and weekends.We have holidays and observances that are marked at specific times of the year or specific days. Like Christmas is on December 25th. At least in the Western World. In the Eastern Orthodox world it is January 7th.

Where much gets confusing with these observances is that they occurred before the modern Gregorian Calendar was created. At the time, they were following any number of lunar calendars. And when the date of something becomes dependent upon the New Moon or the Full Moon during a certain cycle, the specific date will vary.

Examples would be the Hebrew Calendar, Islamic Calendar,  Indian/Hindu Calendar and Korean Calendar. I confirmed the existence of each of these with contacts on Facebook. They also noted that the use of these lunar calendars is primarily in determining the dates for religious holidays. In the case of Israel, it can be especially complicated due to laws forbidding work on the Sabbath. In these cases, many businesses employ muslims to stay open. But then they must pay attention to the Islamic Calendar to be sure that there are not additional conflicts on these dates.

And the Eastern Lunar calendars are nothing in comparison to the mesoamerican calendars (Think the Mayan Calendar and the Aztec Calendar) as far as being complicated.

For work in Astrology, I have spent a lot of time following lunar calendars. I have yet to find a printed calendar that was easy to follow. There is the Gregorian Date, the zodiac sign, the lunar aspect as well as aspects to all the planets. I have had the most luck with the the Almanac, which lists a lot of random information.

But the point is that there are many cycles that we follow. From the point of view of this backyard gardener, the important days involve planting and harvesting.

In researching Calendars, I got caught pretty deep in a rabbit hole. Definitely I will need to write more on this subject.

 

 

 

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September National Preparedness Month

National Preparedness Month

September has been declared National Preparedness Month by the US government. This observance is sponsored by FEMA, and is annually renewed by the President like all of the other super important Observance days and months, like National Ice Cream Day and National Donut Day. So many of these things are put together for congresspeople to justify their existences and say that they have actually sponsored a bill.

While I am poking fun at government programs, I see some value to this, though in a squeemish sort of way, which I will get into in a minute.

Wyomissing ParkMother Nature at work

For us here in Eastern PA, FEMA had some work to do. And this work bears upon the whole idea of being prepared. Note that these pictures were ones I borrowed from the local paper. But in my travels, I passed each of these spots and witnessed this.

Yesterday, August 31, we got some more rain. About 5 inches of rain in about 3 hours. These storms have been hitting this area over this summer. Sometimes 10 miles away and they miss us completely. Other times we just get a part. For us, this was our direct hit day.

Sinking SpringsI was out driving my kids around through the hardest part of the storm. Spent a lot of time driving around flooded roads and behind slower, more cautious drivers. I saw cars deluged on the side of roads, streets flooded, drains clogged, streams over flowing their banks. It was a whole lot of water.

The hardest hit area is called “Sinking Springs.” It’s known for being lowlands, prone to flooding and sink holes.

We received a call in the middle of it from our Daughter in law, crying that her basement was flooding. When I got there, it had reached about 6 inches of water. My assessment was that the sewers had filled and were pushing up into all the homes. After about a 1/2 hour of squeegeeing water into the sump pump, all was better. Luckily they had not gotten around to finishing the basement, so the worst of it was the boxes of Christmas decorations getting wet and an old throw rug.

Many of the other neighbors were not so lucky, and will spend the rest of the holiday drying out their lives.

One of the Newspaper articles noted that the Western Berks Emergency management department would be working on these issues this morning. Since that department consists of one person (My next door neighbor who I named McGreggor in an earlier post) busy is right.

And What the Hell does all this and FEMA Mean about Prepping and Gardening?

The idea of preparing yourselves, is to be ready in case something happens.  When you experience these things, you are reminded of the things you might need and do not have.

Communication: One of the victims of the storm has been the cell phone network. Apparently a T-Mobile substation got flooded out. It rendered about half the cell phones in the area useless (mine included). It works sometimes, and by now may be on. But for about 24 hours, people could not communicate. Power stayed on though.But for a while, people could not get ahold of me.

Food and Water – Not something we had to worry about. We went out the the store and had no problems.

Batteries for flashlights? We needed a flashlight going down into the basement. Had to see if it was safe to walk through. There was one flashlight that only kind of worked. We used cell phone lights. But again, it wasn’t long. A few years ago, our power went out for 24  hours during a snow storm. We had to break out candles and run out to Walmart for touch lights.

As for FEMA, you do not hear much about them unless you know Police of Fire workers (I know both) or follow conspiracy theories. For Police and Fire, FEMA is just another link in the network. They sneak around and do funny things – usually helping the police by doing the time consuming paperwork involved in accidents and disaster.

For the rest of us (at least me), they scare me. Why? Because FEMA are the agents of the government that can enact Martial Law in the case of an emergency. And anyone with that power, scares me. especially when he is my next door neighbor who barely speaks to me. I am not expecting much help from him if the shit hits the fan. We will be on our own. But should the Shit Hit the Fan, consider how much help the authorities will be for you in your life and how much you need to be ready for whatever might happen.

So back to preparedness Month. I will offer you the basic statement from EPA.gov

September is Preparedness Month

Each September, National Preparedness Month encourages and reminds Americans to be prepared for disasters or emergencies in their homes, businesses, and communities.

Homeowners, families, communities, and businesses can use this opportunity to find ways or help others understand more about preparing for disasters and reducing risks to health and the environment. There are many ways to reduce risks from contamination, leaks, spills, hazardous materials, and other dangers. This page doesn’t include all possible ways of preparing but provides many ideas and links to more information. SEE THE REST BY CLICKING HERE

And there is a surprising amount of good information on this site and a myriad of other government sites (Your tax dollars at work). Its like a bunch of online pamphlets with decent practical advice. I will share more of it later. Funny thing is that most of the advice they offer is the same kind of things that you find on prepper site. But it has a government spin on it. Like, “Do this and then call the authorities.” Its up to you whether you want to rely on government or rely on your self.

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Collecting Water

Last week we received about 4 inches of rain. We were stuck in an east coast weather pattern that brought tons of moisture up the coast from the Gulf of Mexico. And while our little town is about 20 miles from the real deluge and flooding, we got our fair share of rain.

Seeing all this precipitation (and thinking about my water bill) I would love to be able to save some water for some of our less rainy days and weeks. Not only would it be good for me and my yard, it also helps in the whole self sufficiency thing. You ask, what happens during the zombie apocalypse when there is no electricity to run the pumps – meaning no public water system. Our closest water source is just 5 blocks away. But Wyomissing Creek is not big enough to supply the whole Borough.

Of course, storing and using rainwater brings up a whole slew of issues. And none of them cause anything but anger and irritation to me. And most of my irritation is over the potential of my own community finding one or more reasons why they will say I can’t do it.

For me, there would be 2 main reasons for storing rain water. 1) First, my downspouts have issues anyways. I need to do work on them (mostly cleaning) and this would be a great time to include barrels with the upgrade. 2) Second would be to help with watering my garden. With all the rain, I have not had to turn the hose on in the past 2 weeks. But when its not raining, I am watering a lot. The idea of being able to save what is coming down naturally – and having it closer to the garden than my present hose, is appealing.

In looking into these, I have found that they are not too expensive – ranging from between $100-$400, depending on the style and size. On the one hand, cheaper always works. But at the same time, I think the wooden barrels look really stylish.

I will need to get at least 2 of these barrels – for the East and West corners of the house.  They will be in the front – as these are the spouts giving me the most problems.

But What about the Neighbors?

This is the part I am most concerned about On the one hand, I have one neighbor who I know is going to give me a hassle. He gives me shit about everything I do, so I have grown to expect it. He will be the one to glare at me when I am installing it. Then go to the Borough (where he is a council member) to determine whether I have broken any rules and regulations. I know he has already gone to them with other issues. And for my water downspouts, he has been able to do nothing. He tried to get me sited for not pealing paint around these same spouts about a year ago.  But even the fact that it sometimes runs over into his yard has not given his grounds for a formal complaint. It would be just my luck that he will find some reason to get me in trouble after I have paid for the barrels.

If my problems do not go further than an irritating neighbor, I will be blessed. Because there have been so many others who have tried collecting their rainwater where the issues have become serious.  As written on Accuweather.com a couple years ago:

Is collecting rainwater legal in your state?

By by Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather Staff Writer
November 15, 2016, 4:50:11 PM EST

Some U.S. states have laws restricting collection of rainwater, making it difficult for the average homeowner to set up a rainwater harvesting system.

Strict regulations and restrictions have been put in place over the last century. Currently, nine states have laws restricting the collection of rainwater, but the severity of those laws differ.

The issue of illegally harvesting rainwater went viral in 2012 when a 64-year-old man, Gary Harrington, was sentenced to 30 days in jail in Oregon.

In the western U.S., any use of rainwater is subject to legal restriction of some sort. In the 1860s, miners in Colorado experienced water shortages and developed a system to divide water based on a priority system.

This system developed into the prior appropriation system, which is basically calling dibs on water.

“Stream flow is supplied by precipitation in the form of rain and snow, so if the supply is taken away, stream flow will decrease,” Jeff Deatherage, water supply chief in Colorado, said.

However, this issue has nothing to do with the environment. In fact, a number of independent studies proved that letting people collect rainwater on their property actually reduces demand from water facilities and improves conservation efforts.

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Garden Pests

The Scarecrow

Peter RabbitWhat do you do about pests in the garden? And from this, I mean bugs and animals that can damage or kill the plants in your garden.

It is funny what I learned about garden pests as a kid. Growing up in the 70’s that meant that most of what I know was learned from Hanna Barbera and other cartoons and characters. Consider some of the famous characters surrounding the war between the gardener and the elements:

Heckle and Jeckle the pesky Terrytoons Crows

Bugs Bunny and not a carrot in the ground that was safe

The Scarecrow from the Wizard of OZ

Peter Rabbit and Mr McGregor

Chip n’ Dale were Disney’s addition to the gang.

Its funny how what was once entertainment might not pass the muster of the PC thought police today. But as far as the gardener is concerned, these stories offered credible antagonists in the stories of our lives. On the one hand they are cute loveable animals we want to protect. On the other, they are vicious evil creatures doing damage to our plants, stealing our food and undoing all of our hard work.

This summer has been very much the same for me. And until recently, I have had real trouble with the little creatures who have been offing my crops and wrecking havoc in my garden.

Lettuce PatchOf the 7 types of lettuce I planted, I have only been able to harvest 2 – Arugula (which I have had a lot of) and Romaine. The culprits? Rabbits. And until I got proper fencing around the lettuce patch, it was a gonner.

Our neighborhood has lots of rabbits. There were about 8 of them demolishing everything that came up. And it was kind of funny because they would go a row at a time. The Kale was the first to go. Then the iceburg and butter. And finally the Romaines (red and green).

I did not have proper fencing so I was able to use a few makeshift pieces – a large tomato cage, a dog cage, 2 bed springs and a baby door gate. It does not look as trashy as this may sound. But I will take some credit for its success. As soon as I finished enclosing the lettuce and zucchinis, the rabbits left. And magically, I could start harvesting lettuce and zucchini.

So far, the tomatoes are growing like crazy, but nothing has turned red (my fault for not getting them in the ground until the end of May). Hopefully, within a week or so we should be inundated. But I am not alone here. We have had a crazy amount of rain – and not enough hot sunshine.

The back patches are dedicated to cucumbers melons and pumpkins. The animals got to the Radishes, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. All my plants started from seed trays in April. I got them in the ground the last week in May. In looking back I should have been sure to have fencing to protect what I had planted. Live and learn.

For my part, I have not had many problems with bugs – any in fact. Here in Eastern Pennsylvania, the pest du jour is the Lanternfly. Finally something has come forward to overshadow the Oriental stinkbug. Apparently they are very hard on trees. As the summer has progressed, we do see them a lot. There are trees all over the Borough with duct tape wrapped around the trunk. What it does? I have no idea. As bugs go, they seem kind of dumb and uncoordinated.

In retrospect, fencing will be one thing I will be saving up for next year. Plastic fencing is not incredibly expensive. I will invest over the winter and protect my efforts.

 

 

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First Batch!

First batch of Pickles

Organic Seed PacksFor this project, it feels like to story of the Little Red Hen. Not the part of the story where she does all the work but will not share at the end, since none of the other’s would help her. But more because getting to this point went through so many steps.

It started Back in March when I bought the organic seeds. In the omnibus pack of seeds there was a pack for pickling cucumbers. I had not planned on planting them, but through them into the germinator at the last minute. and wouldn’t you know, they sprouted.

Then in May when I plowed out the additional gardens at the end of my yard. Thanks to former boss and old pal Dave Lesser for the use of your rototiller. Come to think of it I had better return it.

Then there was protecting them from all the horrible dangers of a garden in our neighborhood. Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, insane weeds, weeks of watering with no rain. Then the last 2 weeks of 5+ inches of rain.

Here are the Cucumber plantsAs of last night, we had picked about 45 cucumbers, and we have to start preparing them for winter (sounds pretty rustic).

I had wondered if there was something special about Pickling Cucumbers, making them different than regular cucumbers. I still do not know, but I did crunch down a wedge while we were preparing them and thought it tasted pretty good. And if I were to describe them, they do look like, well pickles.

So we started preparing the cucumbers for canning. And what a challenge it was finding a recipe. There are hundreds of recipes and variations available. We settled on a pretty simple recipe we found online.

We have not canned anything in a number of years (probably about 12). We used to make jams and jellies all summer long. We started doing it because my wife loves jelly, but most commercial jellies . . . suck. After Knott’s Berry Farm stopped shipping to the east coast, we needed another source. Over the years, we tried Strawberry, Blueberry, Sour Cherry, Peach, Raspberry and Blackberry. We also tried making juice Jelly – commercial juice out of a bottle.  We were kind of horrified when a “mixed berry” juice jelly became the favorite that we shared.

When I was growing up, we also had a concord grape vine in our backyard and would make grape juice and jelly annually. And I have to say the system my wife and I had was far easier and less messy than my Mom’s system for Grapes.

For Jellies, we also went to the trouble of heat sealing the lids, rather than using wax to seal them. Wax would have taken the process so over the edge with work we would never have kept it up. And so long as you have the right pots and utencils, it is pretty easy. Since we have them all, the process of jarring the pickles went pretty well.

As you see, that is 4 jars down. We have at least another 8 to go plus however many more we may want.

Also considering what we might want to do with the tomatoes, which should start coming in the next week or so. Spaghetti sauce? salsa? Stewed tomatoes?

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What Do You Know About Your Water Supply?

I began asking about the water I drink after a trip to Miami, FL. Our local water in Reading, PA never bothered me. In fact, I thought it tasted pretty good. I grew up in Southern California, where the water is undrinkable. We always bought Sparkletts bottled water (the green cap with Fluoride for our teeth J). But the water in Miami was so vile tasting I spit it out of my mouth at a restaurant. And think how many people in the area were consuming it every day.

After that trip to Miami that I finally had had enough and would no longer drink it our local water. We had previously affectionately called the tap water Schuylkill Punch. We laughed during droughts when people would say things like, “Be sure to flush twice.  Philly needs the water.” It reminds us about who is living upstream that we are drinking from.

Water has been in the news in the past couple years because of the tragic water supply in Flint, Michigan. The water is polluted. The aging public water system caused it. Most of the city’s pipes are over 50 years old and are made with Lead. The City knew it was in major need of an update. The Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other. The biggest problem is that the city has not invested in the upkeep of their water supply. Now everyone must drink bottled water because what comes out of the tap is completely contaminated. And who knows for how long.

Here in the USA, we take things like this for granted. Most areas have public drinking water available. Most of us never question it. We turn it on. We shower, we wash our hands. We wash our dishes, we cook we wash our clothing. And we drink it.

In other parts of the world, this is obviously not so. Industrial pollution, over population, farming runoff. You name it. I always think about the Ganges River – where millions of Indians make a pilgrimage each year to bathe in its holy waters. But they should pray hard before-hand because the water is nasty polluted with Human waste.

The failure of the Flint water supply is one of those examples of how your life can be turned on its head. In Flint, it was caused by bad government, misappropriation of taxes, call it what you want. But the people had the expectation that their water was safe and would continue to be safe. Now that it has happened – and it was near an election year, it made national headlines. For the people, it is the apocalypse. They must drink bottled water. They must decide whether they want to try cleaning their clothing or their bodies or their lives with the water that comes to their home.

Consider how many other municipalities have had problems with their water that we never hear about. California made headlines after the fact in Hinkley – where the water supply (and the air) became contaminated with Chromium. It took an unlikely lawsuit and a paralegal named Erin Brockovich to bring peoples’ attention to it. And unlike Flint, where the water came out of the tap looking like it came out of a swamp, Hinkley’s water looked clean. It was the cancer that made people question it.

What do you know about your own water supply?

Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County, Pennsylvania

I began this mentioning that when I moved to Pennsylvania, I thought the water tasted pretty good. The comparison was the swill that was aqua ducted from Mono Lake, up in the Sierras, down to the LA Basin. And with all the traveling, all the filtering, all the chlorine and other chemicals to make it clean enough to drink, it left much to be desired.

A little research here in PA told me most of our water comes from the Schuylkill River at some point. It is re routed through a couple lakes, piped all over the place, filtered Chlorinated, fluoridated and then pushed through our pipes. For our municipality, the water comes from the Tulpehocken Creek, downstream from Blue Marsh Lake. It draws directly from the local watershed and not necessarily from the sewage treatment plant north of here – isn’t that something to be proud of. But we do get farm runoff. And remember the name of that lake includes the word “Marsh.” Funny thing is that the Tulpehocken creek, about a mile past our local water supply intake, empties into the Schuylkill River. The water we get is at least that much more pristine.

For homework, consider where your water comes from.

This is usually easy to find out.

The information about my local water was just a Google search away. The Website for our Borough noted the Water company that provides our water. That water company’s website has an annual public disclosure statement telling the sources of the water as well as results of their testing for purity.

And for this, governmental agencies are very good. They go out of their way to test and show results in ways that will make them look good. They set the bar and stay under it. This does not mean that our water is ACTUALLY clean and safe. Just that they can prove it following the EPA guidelines and standards. They admit to including additives (Chlorine and Fluoride). They test for the bad things (Lead, Chromium, Nitrates). They publish it for all 2 of us whoever look at it online (which is about two more people than actually went to their offices to see the test results that they were forced to publish before.

  • Find your water source
  • Review the test results for your water supply
  • Question their testing techniques

For my family and my garden, I want to know what goes into our bodies. And stay tuned for more discussions about water. It is somewhat of an obsession of mine, and there is a lot I want to visit.