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Price Hill Bike and Cafe

May 26, 2010

Date: Saturday,  May 29th, 2010
Time: 8am —9:30 am

Location:  Start – Imago Earth Center, 700 Enright Ave., 45205
End – BLOC Coffee House,
3101 Price Ave., 45205

May is bike month.  We’ll ride (calf) to coffee (café) houses in Price Hill (and a bit west), ending up at BLOC by 9:30am or so.
Total distance of about 10 miles.  Coffee drinking not required!  Must wear a helmet.


Neem Oil vs. Asparagus Beetles: Round 1

May 6, 2010

It has become apparent that we just don’t have time to kill the asparagus beetles by hand. There are, literally, thousands of them…and only two of us. Two of us with full time jobs and plenty of other things to do besides standing in the sun pinching bugs to death. Even though we want to move as quickly as possible toward a solution, we looked at as many solutions (i.e. organic pesticides) as we could find. Calling on every expert we could think of, doing online research, etc.

My first instinct was to go with pyrethrum because it is marketed as being not only fast-acting and effective but also organic and non-toxic. Desperate to get rid of these beetles, that are doing significant damage that gets visibly worse every day, I thought something drastic like pyrethrum might be necessary. However, because pyrethrum also kills the parasitic insects that we want to cultivate and is apparently not as safe as its promoters might lead you to believe, we ruled that out.

I also talked to Marvin’s Garden who suggested Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew, made from bacteria harvested in a rum distillery in some Carribean country. The active ingredient is spinosad; it kills larvae immediately but does not harm parastitic insects, safe for animals and people. The cons: it does kill honeybees…but if you spray it at dusk that minimizes that chance that bees will come into contact with it (bees return to their hives in the evening). I’ll probably pick this up tomorrow.

For the moment we have only used Neem Oil which is “relatively harmless” to adult insects so doesn’t have the same capacity to kill bees, parasitic insects, etc. Neem oil derives from a variety of mahogany tree, native to India. In addition to being an insecticide it is used for antibacterial, antiviral and other health purposes. Josh sprayed the asparagus plants heavily this evening…so here’s hoping that we get quick results.

**always buy Neem Oil and other organic products that are OMRI certified!

asparagus beetles are grody to the max

May 4, 2010

I just spent 2 hours squishing the larvae of asparagus beetles. They are trying to take over our beautiful bed of asparagus…asparagus that will be ready to harvest next year assuming that these bugs don’t kill it first. Aargh. Times like these I get tired of “organic” and just want something napalm-ish to get rid of these grubby little things.

But no, I am doing the right thing and hunting them down. Squashing their guts out, one fat grey larvae at a time (well, when I get a good branch I might pop four or five at once!). Disgusting and frustrating. Supposedly if you leave their guts on the plant it will attract predatory insects like wasps. I sure hope so! I can already see where they’ve been eating the asparagus as some branches are brown and dried up while others are still ferny and green.

It is easier to kill them before they morph into beetles, though. The beetles are tricky and will drop straight to the ground if they see you coming after them, hiding instantly in the mulch. At least the larvae are slow and easy to catch. Last year we had the beetles, not this many, and it was almost impossible to kill them. They survive the winter in mulch so now we’ve got to rake all the mulch off to make the garden less comfortable for them.

I have also been told that neem oil will help prevent this infestation but it might be too late to “prevent” an infestation — looks to be in full swing at this point. Doesn’t hurt to try, though.

You know you’ve got asparagus beetles if:

1. your asparagus has grubs all over it

2. red beetles with black & white stripes are crawling around your asparagus

3. some of your asparagus is brown and brittle and it’s only May

And…we are 3 for 3. Crap.

How to process a chicken (Urban Style)

April 7, 2010
Well, I got got a call today that one of our chickens were dead.  A neighborhood dog killed it.  The dog grabbed its back with his teeth and crushed the chicken’s little ribs.  So the good news was the chicken was completely intact (with a few bite marks). Fabulous.  So we made the best of it and planned to butcher it and eat it.  We didn’t want it to go to waste.  Thanks to  our neighbor, Charles, who helped us out and did all of the work.  We pretty much watched as he worked.  Next chicken that we kill or gets killed, will be our first practice run. Here are the steps as I remember them:
  1. First you kill the chicken or have a dog or other human kill your chicken
  2. Then you tie its feet together and cut either side of its throat (find the jugular vein) and hang it upside down to get the blood out.
  3. After 15 to 30 minutes begin bringing water to a boil.
  4. Before it begins to boil, submerge your dead chicken into the water.
  5. Keep the carcass in the “not yet boiling” water for around 3-5 minutes.
  6. After the chicken is nice and wet, hang the chicken back in the tree and begin pulling the feathers out.
  7. Once all of the feathers are pulled out (every last one of them), you have to gut the chicken.
  8. First you need a really sharp knife.
  9. You first cut off the scent gland (right under their egg-laying hole).
  10. Next you cut off the head to loosen up any attached insides.
  11. After that you begin cutting into the orifice and begin pulling all of the innards out.  Be very careful not to rupture the intestines or any other organ that may leak some nasty stuff out and flavor your chicken in a not so nice way.
  12. After some time, all of the guts are removed and you clean out the rest of the organs sticking to the sides (lungs, kidneys, etc.)
  13. Spray some water through the hollow carcass to clean out any unwanted bloody items.
  14. Now it is time to cut off the unwanted parts.  You cut off the feet at the “knee” bone.
  15. From here, you can do what you want:  Cut it into manageable pieces, roast it, bake it, fry it, etc.

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Best Practices: Firewood

April 5, 2010
Our Firewood = Sawmill Scraps

Our Firewood = Sawmill Scraps

There are a few things we (mostly Josh, who is heading up our wood-heat effort) have learned it is important to know before choosing firewood:

  • How much Wood is in a Cord
    If you purchase a cord of wood it stack to fill an area that is 4x4x8 (128 cubic feet). It is easy to under-estimate the amount and thus pay more for less. This webpage has more information and advice about know how much is enough. Josh built a platform to stack our wood on that is 4′ x 8′ — once we stacked the wood four feet high we knew we had reached a cord.
  • How to tell if Wood is Seasoned
    “One fresh-cut cord of oak may contain enough water to nearly fill six, 55 gallon drums.” (mastersweep). Burning new wood is inefficient and leads to creosote build-up in your chimney (hazardous!). Seasoned wood is firewood that has been split for at least a year. Our neighbor taught Josh to recognize seasoned wood by color — new wood is light-colored. Wood that is ready to burn should be grayish and cracked/splintery.
  • What kind of Wood Burns Hottest
    Wisdom shared by our fire-expert neighbor: burn wood from trees that lose their leaves in the winter. In other woods, avoid pine and other conifers. Burn hardwood. Locust is great (we have lots of it behind our house), oak, hickory, etc. Know what you are buying if you buy firewood…if you are gathering, be able to differentiate between conifer and deciduous logs.
  • Where you will Store Wood
    You’ll need to keep it covered and protected from winter weather. Josh built a simple platform, 8’x4’x4′, that is covered with a tin roof. Don’t store wood too close to your house unless you want to attract termites, roaches, snakes, etc. into your home. Likewise, don’t store wood IN your home–wood can mildew or grow mold.

Heating our 1250 square foot house exclusively with wood for 3 1/2 months of winter:

1 Jotul F3CB woodstove

1 Cord of well-seasoned firewood

1 Lumberjack-ready husband

More efficient stoves use less firewood; good firewood burns longer and hotter. Make sure you have both of these things to save yourself lots of hauling, chopping and kindling splitting (my least favorite part of the job).


Heating Our House

April 5, 2010

We bought a wood stove this winter. With installation it cost just over $3000 and looks beautiful. However, we didn’t buy it for looks but to replace (as much as possible) using the furnace. The stovepipe runs straight up the chimney so we had to get the installer (Vonderhaars, and I highly recommend them for Cincinnati-area installs, they are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable) to come out twice to put more insulation around the pipe. You can check to see if there is a draft in your chimney by holding a candle near it; if the smoke is pulled up into the chimney you’ve got draft. Once the insulation was in we were good to go. We didn’t use our furnace between December and the middle of March when the weather got warm enough not to need constant wood burning!

In Cincinnati most of our energy comes from coal…the mining of which is destroying much of the Appalachian mountains, one of the most beautiful and diverse ecologies in the country. Coal mining also damages social structure in the Appalachian region. People are dependent on coal for their livelihoods…but this makes them vulnerable to the whims of an industry that exploits and endangers its workers. I could rant about coal mining all day. It makes me so sad and so angry to see what is being done to our country and people but the worst thing about the situation is that I am complicit in the destruction — every time I turn on a light switch or use my hair dryer.

So, in an effort to use at least LESS energy from coal…and to be less dependent on the increasingly fragile infrastructure that keeps us warm and fed…we bought a wood stove.

We also thought long and hard about the air quality argument of wood vs. gas or electric. Many people believe that wood stoves contribute more to air pollution than other common forms of heat. It is true that a wood stove releases more particulate waste into the air at the site of use (EPA Graph)…but this does not take into account the pollution generated through production and transportation of the different fuel sources. Nor does that statistic include the two biggest benefits of wood…it comes from trees which are 1. renewable and 2. oxygen-producing (so they clean the air before they are burned into polluting it, basically).

Wood stoves or wood-burning furnaces are usually less expensive than other forms of energy. This calculator is an easy way to compare fuel prices in your area. Depending on where you live (urban/suburban/rural) you may have to look several miles away for decent wood. However, if you put the effort into it and plan ahead you can find quite a bit of wood available even in metro areas.

We bought 2 cords of wood this year. Because we need seasoned hardwood for the current year Josh had to go about 60 miles to a sawmill for scraps. However, the wood we bought for next year was only a couple miles from where we live, on some property where trees were cut down. By next year it will be dry and ready to burn. If you are able to get wood a year or two before you plan to burn it look for free and near-by sources…many homes (especially after wind storms), developments, etc.

Keeping Chickens out of the Garden

April 5, 2010

Once plants are established it can even be a good think for chickens to scratch around in your gardens; they eat pests and leave fertilizer behind. But when seeds are put in or if plants are still small enough that the chickens can pull them up by the roots it is definitely not a good thing for them to have free reign. For instance, the peas that Josh planted became chicken snacks almost as soon as he got them in the ground. Since we don’t want to fence in each garden bed and are not willing to keep the ladies penned up in their coop (nice as said coop might be) we had to figure something out.

Instead of buying more ‘stuff’, Josh realized we could use the frame of the hoophouse to protect the seedlings that are coming up right now. We simply took off the plastic cover and covered the hoophouse structure with black deer netting. Because the plastic is attached to the frame with pvc fittings that pop on and off it is easy to interchange materials. The plastic is folded up for fall use; once the lettuce, spinach, etc is big enough we will dissemble the whole frame. But for now we’ve got a chicken-free garden bed. Only problem: as we start putting more plants in we will either need more hoophouses or different solutions.