Blogposts

I’m A Bloomsday Prepper And You Should Be One Too!

Are you as tired of bad news as I am? There is just no shortage of bad news related to the 8 billion humans now living on this planet, and it’s kind of our fault. We go to the news sites and click on the worst, most alarming headlines first – and it’s not a new phenomenon. The term “if it bleeds, it leads” is not a new concept. So it’s not a surprise that the news media focuses on bad news – a flood in the Democratic Republic Of Congo gets more attention since it killed about 140 people than an announcement of new housing for the homeless being funded in Saint Louis.

So, fear abounds in a time of relative, by-historical-standards prosperous time, which has given rise to the doomsday prepper movement that is increasingly well-known as one crisis after another goose steps across our collective screens. I’ve been observing this movement, from a distance, for quite a few years and have found some of their work to be fascinating, to the point that I’ve tried to learn about how I might incorporate some of the techniques into my life, but for rather different reasons.

I think it’s a really good idea to be more prepared for loss of expected goods and services – like food, electricity, water, etc. I have mostly just expected those things to be easily accessible and they more or less have been, with a few notable exceptions. Things are changing, as usual, and prudence dictates that I change my habits to adapt. I’m trying to grow more food, produce more of the energy I consume, and learn how to thrive when the supplies I’m used to having aren’t available.

Being more prepared to be able to be resilient in the face of crisis is what I’m calling a bloomsday prepper because I think that we’re all in this together, and we’re stronger together. I have enough food for a couple weeks, some ways to generate electricity, ways to cook without the grid being up, water catchment, some basic medical supplies and relationships. I can run some electrical devices from the battery packs in our electric vehicles. What resources do you have? Look around, assess what you have and add a few things over time. You, too, can be a bloomsday prepper!

The Thrill Of Vacuuming Varmints

In the pictures above you can see my current hydroponic empire – a Tupperware container in the upper drawer of an old file cabinet – and yes, I should do a separate blog post on that. One of the big benefits of having this hydroponic setup in a file cabinet is the complete lack of pests even though I’ve been growing food in there for more than 6 months and have had serious pest problems when growing food in other parts of the house. A couple weeks ago I noticed really tiny black bugs were crawling around in my lettuce empire, and I was quite surprised – how could they have gotten there?? I got that answer about a week later when I suddenly had a large contingent of tiny flying black bugs rise up like a dark cloud when I opened the file cabinet drawer to inspect the crop. I tried killing them by hand, which had a pretty low success rate, and then I remembered the vacuum that I had purchased for squash bugs. Voila! Victory over diabolical bugs was swift with my vacuum! What a feeling of satisfaction; not something I feel all that often related to gardening.

I bought this lightweight vacuum off of Amazon.com but it’s probably available from a lot of places. At only about a pound and a half in weight this vacuum is super easy to use even with my arthritic hands. This is the first time I’ve used it to murder my enemies, but it sure worked well with this first try.

“I really Should Have Paid More Attention To My Italian Grandmother”, Or “Making Tomato Sauce From Scratch Guided By Somebody Else’s Grandfather On Youtube”

I really enjoyed the video of an Italian American grandfather making tomato sauce from scratch – “Traditional Homemade Tomato Sauce made by Pasquale Sciarappa”. Here’s the video, if you watch it and decide to try to make it his way, here’s my best interpretation of his instructions.

Let tomatoes rest 2 – 3 days after picking.

Wash Roma or San Marzano tomatoes well.

Cut off bad spots and the crown, as well as any internal ‘yellow’ spots, which are part of the crown/stem.

Cut in half, squeeze out seeds and liquidy-stuff in the interior of the tomato

Put in pot, cook over medium heat (??? just guessing) for about 45 minutes, then use very slotted spoon to pull solid tomato parts out of the pot – discard the liquid left behind??

Scoop tomato solids (??pulp) into strainer, let drain for a couple minutes

Run tomato solids (pulp) through a vegetable strainer machine that will quickly separate the skins and seeds from the rest of the tomatoes.

Compost the seeds/skins, or otherwise dispose of them.

Pour the tomato pulp from the straining process back into the pan on the fire and cook down for 3 to 4 hours, depending on how thick a sauce you prefer. Cooking longer yields a thicker sauce. A wood fire is used to do the cooking in this video, so I can’t quite say at what temperature the sauce mixture should be cooked, but it’s not boiling. Lots of steam is coming off the pot, so it’s more than a very low heat, so maybe a low simmer?

After 3 hours of cooking down the sauce, add salt to taste, stir.

After 4 hours, ladle hot sauce into clean jars. Probably a good idea to use a funnel, keep the top rims of the jars clean, fill to about an inch from the top. Put about 2 fresh basil leaves per jar, push the leaves down into the jar of sauce with a spoon.

Place canning lids onto jars after checking to verify that the tops rims of the canning jars are completely clean. Screw canning jar bands somewhat loosely onto jars.

Let the jars sit for an hour?? I can’t quite tell, but I think he lets the jars sit for an hour before he screws the canning jar bands tightly onto the jars. But maybe not, because he wants these to continue to ‘cook’ under a blanket in the next step.

Place the filled jars close together into a short-sided cardboard box and cover tightly with a very warm blanket, covering the top, sides and bottom of the box, let sit for 3 full days. Or maybe he said 3 or 4 days? I’m not quite sure.

He doesn’t do any water bath boiling of the jars, which is pretty forbidden in the official Bar Jar Canning manual. Hasn’t killed him yet, and he says he’s been doing it since 1939.

Solar That Survives Hurricanes? An Update.

60 Minutes did a report on how the Bahamas are upgrading their electrical grid to better handle the increasingly violent and increasingly frequent hurricanes hitting their low-lying islands.  I was very concerned about Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands installing solar panels, because of my concern about whether the solar panel installations would survive the brutal hurricanes that roll through that region fairly often.  Well, hurricane Fiona just provided a data point – and the legacy electrical grid failed spectacularly, while the solar installations seem to have weathered the storm fairly well.   I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised.  I’ll wait for more information as the years go by, but this is good news for the hurricane-plagued Caribbean region.  The non-profit organization Casa Pueblo says that their solar PV installation is helping the residents of Puerto Rico today, as usual, even after a hurricane.  Here’s a link to a tiktok video talking about how solar panels are being installed, albeit slowly, in one town in Puerto Rico, and how the businesses who got solar panels installed by a foundation (presumably at no charge to them?  Not sure)   are charging themselves for the energy produced and re-investing that money into the community, to help residents.   That’s good solar news all around!  Solar panels are a superior choice even in regions with frequent severe weather.  🙂

Lock Your Doors. It’s Zucchini Season.

My brother told me years ago that someone told him that people in their small town didn’t lock the doors on their cars except in August. My brother said “why do people lock their car doors in August?” to which the reply was something like “because that’s when the zucchinis are ripe and if your car door is unlocked you might come back to a car full of zucchini”.

I can’t grow useful crops very much or for long, but boy, is it zuchini season in our middle east* raised bed! It was certifiably hotter than hades yesterday so I didn’t go outside, and you see the result above.

I also harvested some stevia, basil and mint to dry for later use. Being able to process fresh-from-the-garden food is critical to making a garden really useful. My garden doesn’t produce on demand – it’s not providing basil in December, for instance – so learning the best way to preserve food such that it provides sustenance when needed is critical. I suck at that too, but hopefully am learning.

Something else I learned is that the person who told me that stevia is hard to grow from seed wasn’t kidding. I saved a bunch of stevia seeds from my plants last year and planted them all this year – which netted me exactly zero stevia plants. I did a germination test beforehand and a fair number of those seeds germinated, but the overall germination rate seemed quite low – maybe 10% – 20% or so? It’s kind of hard to tell the seeds from the other fluff that grew around them, so maybe some of those specks weren’t actually seeds, meaning that the actual germination rate was higher? I’ll try again next year, focusing more on keeping the seeds in damp conditions until well after germination.

So if no stevia seeds germinated, how was I able to harvest some stevia for the picture above, you ask. I hedged my bets – I bought a couple stevia seedlings and planted those in a container, where they are doing just fine. It’s always a good thing to have a backup.

*We have 6 raised beds and we refer to them as either east or west, and top, middle or bottom, hence one bed is the middle east one.

Did I Do All This Work Just To Be Murdered By Vinegar?

I have been hearing so much from the interwebs about the benefits of fermented foods that I decided to buy some equipment (spending money is always the first step, right??) and give it a try. I bought a Mason Jar Fermentation kit like this (I don’t have any affiliate relationship with anybody, so wouldn’t make money from somebody clicking on that link) and put the parts I cut off of a pineapple – peels, mostly – into these jars and waited. I probably waited months (kind of forgot about them in the dark cabinet where I had parked these jars) and now I’m afraid to actually consume them. How do I know this stuff is safe to eat?

Stacy says it’s probably ok, as does Sandor, but I didn’t follow directions carefully. I let this ferment much longer than any recipe suggests. Based on their descriptions of kahm yeast, I think that’s what’s growing on these jars of fermented pineapple scraps. But there’s an old saying related to food in a questionable state : “when in doubt, throw it out”. I just let this stuff sit too long in an unrefrigerated cabinet so I’m tossing this batch, and will try again with the next pineapple, hopefully following directions a little better.

I think people share as well as they can in youtube videos to help others in learning new skills, but often there are a lot of questions left unanswered, and people like me, just picking stuff up on the internet, need to proceed with caution.

A Gas Station Involuntarily Saved My Electric Vehicle!

This story starts, as so many like it have, with good intentions and high hopes. I picked up my brother on a sunny January day in St. Louis, and he gleefully stated that “it has to be 50 degrees out here!”, which it wasn’t quite that warm, but warmer than the usual January day in St. Louis. We drove southwest on highway 44 out of a bright sunny Saint Louis in our 2016 Nissan Leaf and stopped at the newly installed Chargepointe superchargers in Eureka, Mo. My brother was anxious to get to the office where he needed to sign some paperwork, so when the chargers wouldn’t charge the car, and the customer service person was amazingly slow and unhelpful, wasting 10 minutes of our time, we just drove on without charging, knowing that we had other options after the paperwork was signed in Union, MO. Finished the paperwork, looked at my charging options, and drove about 10 miles north to Washington, MO where a car dealership has 2 Level 2 chargers. Just to be safe, b/c I was down to about 22 miles, I called the dealership and was assured that yes, they had 2 chargers and they were fine. Drove up there, the first charger we tried wasn’t even hooked up to a live electrical line – there’s a button on the front of the Level 2 charger that is lit up green when it’s getting electric, and it was not lit. Nobody in the building could help – one guy said that a lot of construction was going on and that the line was probably down b/c of that. So we drove across the dealers lot to their other Level 2 charger – which also wasn’t live. And where the staff was also uninterested, ignorant, and refused to help. So, I’m at about 16 miles of range on the guess-o-meter (display on the dash that tells me how far I can drive on the charge in the car’s batteries) and have ZERO other charging options in range. I had a couple of choices – look for an unguarded 120 volt plug on the side of some building, call AAA to get towed to a supercharger, or check into a hotel which would allow me to plug in overnight, which would mean spending the night. My brother, who is a talented mechanic, hopped out of the car and tried to plug the Level 1 charge cable into plugs on the wall of a retail establishment and then some other commercial establishment, but both times he couldn’t get the plug to properly seat in the receptacle b/c of the shape of the plug head, so we drove on, searching in the darkening cold, for a plug that we could use just to pick up some driving range; so we could get to a supercharger that would allow us to get home. We were losing range at an alarming rate – 2 miles of range were lost in driving around looking for a plug. We drove by a gas station and my brother saw an ice machine sitting on the side of the parking lot, alone and unloved, plugged into a receptable just above ground level – he tried the plug and it worked!! Hallelujah – salvation! I felt a little guilty for unplugging that ice storage machine, but I justified that by noting that it was below freezing outside at that point, and the ice in that machine wasn’t in much danger. And besides, what’s less popular than an ice machine on a cold night in January in Washington, MO?

We ended up sitting there for 3 hours to amass enough charge to make a run for the supercharger in Eureka, about 23 miles southeast of where we were sitting. Fortunately, my brother was in a great mood, because he had just closed an important deal, so he didn’t attempt to choke the stupid out of me for taking this car on this trip, instead of our 2013 Chevy Volt, which would have run it’s gas backup system when it ran out of charge and which would have required zero recharging on this trip. And during our 3 hour stay at this lovely gas station, my brother got bored enough to read the user’s manual for the car, and we figured out why the supercharger in Eureka hadn’t worked for us – most likely because I had the car turned on while we were trying to start the charging process. Apparently, our car needs to be turned off to start the charging session – after the supercharging session starts, you can turn the car on, run the heating, radio and seat heaters, etc, but the supercharging station (a.k.a. DC Quick Charger) expects the car to be turned off to start the charging session. If we hadn’t been running late and fearful that the office we needed to get to would be closed by the time we got there, if we had gotten a quick and competent ChargePointe customer service rep, if maybe I had bothered to read my car’s user manual, none of this would have happened. Just a series of unfortunate incidents.

We made it back to the supercharger in Eureka, which started charging as soon as we plugged in with the car turned off, picked up 80+ miles of range quickly at a cost of $4.18, all the while running the heating and my seat heater. Getting that charge revived our good spirits, and we got home with no more drama!

I Lost Almost My Entire Annual Stevia Crop Over One Mistake!

Talk about heart-breaking! 2021 was the first year that I grew Stevia, and I was really looking forward to being able to provide this to my husband, since he uses a lot of stevia for tea! But alas, my stevia-dreams died due to a weird mistake.

During Thanksgiving dinner my sister knocked a small, thin-walled glass pumpkin ornament to the floor, where it shattered. The mess was swept up and thrown away. Long story you don’t care about, but most of my stevia crop – the leaves from our several plants – ended up being swept up off of the floor about a week later, using the same broom and dustpan. Not by me, of course. After drying the leaves completely, I started to grind the leaves up into a powder, and noticed some tiny glass shards in the mix!! It was a couple tiny pieces of that shattered glass pumpkin, which got into the stevia leaves somehow during that sweeping up process. It’s just not safe to keep any of that stevia, since I can’t tell if there’s any glass still in there.

There’s no moral to this story, just sharing a bad mistake. Though maybe if I had included a certain someone much more in the progress of this plant, they might not have swept this stuff up with a contaminated broom & dust pan?

Fresh Tomatoes In December in Missouri, Locally Grown And Organic!

Full disclosure – I suck as a farmer.

One of my goals these days is create more fresh food during the winter, which is not easy or common here in Missouri. Really knowledgeable farmers have been doing this for a long time, but one thing you learn quickly is that the weather is unpredictable, and you can lose a whole lot of plants that you put a lot of time and effort into with just one hard freeze. It happened to me about 2 weeks ago. I thought I had more time to get these tomato plants (being grown in containers) inside and onto the sun porch, but mother nature had other ideas. So, in the picture above on the right, you will see a very dead tomato plant which still has ripening tomatoes on it. My poor husband dragged this container in because I had hoped that the plant wasn’t ALL the way dead, but alas, it is deader than a doornail. The tomatoes on the plant were completely green when the plants were hauled inside a couple weeks ago, but have been basically hanging in the sun since then, and have ripened. SO, first batch of December tomatoes.

In the picture on the left (above) are a bunch of tomatoes which were completely green and had been on the plant for two nights of hard freezing temperatures in the garden. I hauled them inside, set them on a south-facing sunny window sill and they ripened up also. They’re Cherokee Purple tomatoes, which produced surprisingly well for us. This is the first time I’ve grown them, and I intend to keep growing them, if I’m able to harvest and correctly save their seed.

Stay tuned for more winter gardening adventures!

Butter Turkeys For Thanksgiving!

I like to entertain almost as much as I liked to be entertained, and I like to do something different on the holidays – something to make the event more memorable. Something simple and cheap to do is to make butter turkeys. We had a really great set of turkey molds a decade or so ago, until somebody (not naming names but it wasn’t me) put them into the dishwasher, which ruined them. I ended up in a candy-making-supplies store a couple years ago buying these small molds, usually used for making candy, and have been using them since then. And if the butter molded into turkeys don’t all get used – no problem, just smush (is that a word??) into a container and use as needed – butter don’t care what it’s shape is. 🙂