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.

Happy Leaf LED + 6 Mason Jars

Written 2/27/2020 in Saint Louis, MO USA

I bought a grow light from Happy Leaf LED and a small hydroponics kit (baskets and clay pebbles, a few seeds) and this is what I now have 4 weeks after setting this up (see picture).  The kit from Happy Leaf LED didn’t include the fertilizer that needs to be added to water put in the jars – I bought that from Amazon  for $17 USD.  The sunlight from the window is probably useless; I think all the growing is due to the grow light. The light and 6 black plastic baskets to sit in the top of my mason jars, the pebbles and about 20 lettuce seeds cost about $100 on sale, and most of that cost was the made-in-America light. I think that light is about 17″ long and cost about 5 cents a day in electricity to run for 16 hours (electricity is about $0.10/kWh in the winter in Saint Louis and the Kill A Watt meter said it used .43 kWh for one 16 hour period).  I put seeds of my own in 3 jars – kale, cilantro and basil. Basil barely came up at all and then died; lettuces, kale and cilantro did pretty well.  The picture with this post shows the plants after I harvested enough for 2 salads, so the growth was about double what is shown.   All the growth after 4 weeks is good for about enough salad for 4 people, so since we want at least twice that per week, I might need to double the number of jars per week to grow what we want on a continuing basis.  And since it takes about 4 weeks to get to this point, does that mean that I’d have to have 32 mason jars, one set of jars planted each week, to have a steady supply of the salad that we want?  I’ve got a lot of questions still unanswered about this process and  I’m not sure how to do the financial analysis on this – do we harvest all from each jar and then have to replant, or would the cut-and-come-again capabilities of these plants mean that I’d only need half as many jars as I’m thinking?  How many jars can this one light manage?   How long until this system pays for itself/breaks even?   How tall a space do we need to deal with these plants?   Btw, the onions growing in the foreground in the picture are seated in old glass floral frogs – see my previous post about that for more information.  I’ll post again when I have more data to share.   Thanks for reading this!

Grid Down? Electric Cut Off? You’re Camping now!

I was pretty impressed by something my brother did last fall, and it was a light bulb moment for me.   He was checking out some rural land that he intends to buy and decided to live in the falling-down house on that land for several weeks but the utilities  were turned off.   He has done so much camping that living off the grid for several weeks was no problem.  When he was indoors he spent most of his time in one room and used a small propane powered heater for heat, for light he used his battery-powered light from a tool set that he already owned, and the radio from that tool set also had a micro USB port he could use to charge his cell phone and his iPad, as well as play the radio. He also had a small battery bank that he used for some charging.   He had a propane powered cook stove to cook his food, he hauled in jugs of water, and used a lot of non-perishable food except for some things in a super-efficient cooler that only needed fresh ice every couple of days.   He was able to go to a neighbors house twice a week to recharge the batteries he needed for the light and radio/charger.  He was able to drive to a convenience Mart some miles away to get fresh ice and food. I think the propane tank he used lasted for quite a few days, and he was using the sort of small propane tank that’s easily available and often used for BBQ grills.   He was comfortable and well fed as he checked out that property, and I think that’s a pretty good example of how you, too, can be comfortable in a grid-down or utilities-off situation.   This presumes that you can get someplace to charge your batteries, so doesn’t apply to all situations, but I thought it was a good concept.

This applies more to a temporary grid-down situation than to having your utilities shut off, but you really can be off-grid in a basic way and still be comfortable.   You would want to either have a smaller room (maybe 10′ x 10′) where you could close all your doors or be able to put plastic up in any doorways that didn’t have a door in them, in order to be heating a smaller space, which requires a lot less energy/fuel (in other words, less propane).   If you are without grid power in a standard american house and the temperatures outside are near or below zero you may have to winterize the rest of your house – drain the water lines, put anti-freeze in your toilet tank and bowl, drain the water line going to your refrigerator.  That would be more necessary in an extended power outage – if the temperatures in the house get to below freezing any sitting water is likely to expand and break things.   If you had hot water heat, you’d need to drain that system too.

If you’re living just-off-grid (you don’t have utilities but places accessible to you still have utilities)  your best bet for showers is to go elsewhere –  a gym membership is often quite inexpensive, and would include all the hot water showers you would like.   Laundry can be done elsewhere.

If you’re trying to live off-grid in the summer heat a fan is your best bet since air conditioning takes so much power.

If you were going to be just-off-grid  for an extended time, I would highly recommend either buying or building a solar oven.   There are lots of examples of solar ovens that you can build yourself on youtube.com – though if you can buy one you’ll probably really appreciate the power and convenience of a professionally made oven.

And yes, there’s always the waste disposal issue – as in, human waste.   If this is a very short term situation, a trash bag in a trash can can be utilized.   For longer term comfort, a 5 gallon bucket, a toilet seat and sawdust are probably your best bet.   People do compost human waste, but you need to learn how to do it properly or you will have a stinky health hazard to deal with.  There’s lots of info on this around the web.