Monthly Archives: March 2008

Book update

I thought I would take a second to update you all on my book adventures. The year is a quarter of the way over and here is my list of books I’ve read so far this year, along with a few quick thoughts.

Books read in 2008

The Hobbit-Tolkien

Better Home and Gardens Kitchen Planner

Main Street-Sinclair Lewis (very good)


Slaughterhouse 5

The Winter of our Discontent (excellent)

The Grapes of Wrath (excellent)

How to Grow more Vegetables (again)

Animal Farm

Crime and Punishment

The Green up Guide to Home Improvement

Spiritual Compass

The Davis Dynasty


Cell (Stephen King)

Tortilla Flat (Steinback)

Lord of the Flies

Wild Fermentation

Chicken Tractor

Raising Chickens: A Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens

Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck)

The Unvanquished (Faulkner) (good though it had an abrupt ending)

Prozac Nation

The Next Rodeo

Being Caribou (fantastic)

A Guide to Building Community in America

A Handmade World (Kunstler) (very good)

Dave Ramsey’s Financial Independence (something like that)

The Poisonwood Bible (excellent)

Currently reading

Sustainable Ethanol

The Sound and the Fury

The Transition Handbook

War and Peace

I’m really enjoying this challenge I’ve given myself. I look forward to continuing it for the rest of this year and more years going forward.


A nice little surprise

I don’t think you could find more happy than me today. I was rifling through the freezer and found a bag of strawberries from last summer. What a nice little surprise. I think I might only be happier if a lepruchan rang my doorbell with a pot of gold. I also learned today that the city quit charging for compost if you pick it up yourself. So I got a truck load of compost and strawberries. What a day!

My garden space has hit it’s peak, I think. It’s around 450 sq ft, and it seems to be about all I can handle. The effort to rotate everything, get seeds started and get the beds all ready can be overwhelming sometimes. With this 450 sq ft I’m trying to be self sufficient this year with potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, onions, greens, green beans, squash and carrots. We’ll see how I end up doing.

(I should mention, if you are concerned, that I grow biointensive, so 450 sq ft using these methods is the same as almost 4 times that much if you use standard rows. Click here for more info. Although my version is a bastardized conglomeration of square foot gardening and biointensive methods. It works for me with all the other things in my life right now.)

My wife was a great help today (and a very attractive assistant I must say) as we built an RPZ, a Rabbit Proof Zone. At least I hope it is. Other wise I won’t be getting much lettuce. Those little buggers are hard to keep out of the small things, but at least they give up when the peas and beans get too big, if you can get them that big.

My next door neighbor has an old tractor tire in her back 40 that is filled with leaves. I’m going to try to procure that to grow more taters this year. Hopefully she’ll allow that and things will go well. I also have a friend who is bringing me some half barrels (from old salt licks for some cows) which I plan to stuff with taters too. I really, really, want to be self sufficient with them this year.

We had a little miscalculation on our taxes this year and ended up owing a few dollars. Just 4 thousand or so. Needless to say some of my plans have been put on hold. I think I’ll be able to scrape up the cash for one rain barrel (I found a place that sells them for $35! Suckers) and the parts for an earth oven, but most of the projects have been put on hold. No solar water heater, most of the rain barrels were cut back, not to mention our savings account was drained. That really sucks. Having a cash cushion right now would be nice. ūüė¶

I did recently read a Dave Ramsey book though (which I would recommend to you) and it was helpful. I’ll talk more about this later this week probably.

Poisonwood Bible

I just finished reading the Poisonwood Bible and I have to tell you it’s a great book. It’s written by Barbara Kingsolver, who also wrote a locavore favorite, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I don’t want to give away the plot of the book, but it involves a family of missionaries, Congo (now known at Zaire), civil war, political involvement, children and a startling look at poverty and how your judgment is developed based on your life experiences. There is also a very strong political message about America’s involvement with the rest of the world.

Check it out if you get a chance. Since I started reading some of the classic literature books (this one is on the list although it’s fairly new) this one is a very close second to Grapes of Wrath for my favorite books.

The new face of farming

The NYT has an interesting article about the new face of farming, and how organic prices are allowing that face to be younger and younger as more and more young people “go back to the land”.

Making peanut butter

We decided to make peanut butter today. Organic brands are expensive, and I can get bulk organic peanuts, so what the heck.

I combined about a pint of peanuts (I spilled some on the floor which was not very pleasant), a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and at the end we determined it needed just a little sugar. We added 1/2 tsp.


Run that in the food processor for about 2-3 minutes until it’s the consistency you want.


Homemade peanut butter has a much deeper and robust peanut flavor. We added just enough sugar for it to pop, but not to be overly sweet. They’ll have it with honey or jam anyway, so that’s enough sugar. Comparing to what we had in the cabinet it was much less sugary. It’s very good. You should give it a try.

Here’s a video showing the steps.

This cost us about $2 for the half a pint, not counting the massive amount of peanuts I spilled on the floor. If I’m able to grow my own peanuts in the future this will cost us even less, although the amount of work will increase exponentially.


Building a cold frame

Today I built a couple of cold frames for the garden. I scavenged 8 boards from the garage rafters that were all exactly 3 ft long for the edges.

I researched options to cover the tops. Plexiglass was too expensive. Plastic wasn’t that appealing. I decided I’d hit the Restore and see if I could find some used windows. I found some for $5 each, on sale for 20% off, but they were 36×32, not 3 ft square.

Not a big deal because I can trim the boards.

I cut the boards this morning (at 8, perhaps too early to run the saw??) and nailed them together. I put the frames on the ground and cover them with the old windows.

The frames were too big. I had forgotten to take into account the depth of the wood around the frame when I was making my cuts, yet again. Someday maybe I’ll remember this.

So, I added some wood to the windows to frame them out to sit on the frames. That did the trick, although one was so bad it required two shims. And I cracked one window. But, upon checking this afternoon they are nice and steamed up, so they are working.


If you want more info about building cold frames click here, or hit the Google and do a search. There are a few places out there to read through. The ground’s still frozen so I couldn’t put any plants in there, but maybe soon. Maybe soon.

Also, I deconstructed a few pallets today to use for other purposes.

Who wants to live next to a CAFO?


The¬†Des Moines Register had a blog post¬†recently from a writer who discusses coming back to Iowa to visit his family, and being dismayed at all the confinement buildings dotting the landscape. ¬†I don’t blame him, it makes me sad too. ¬†We drive up to LeMars (north of Sioux City) on occasion to visit some friends, and the trips west along 380 to Hwy 20 and then to LeMars is dotted with an incredible amount confinement operations. ¬†In some places they are just barely outside the towns.¬†¬†

There is one town along the way, Remsen, where we stop to gas up and take a potty break and the smell from the buildings just down the road almost makes me vomit. ¬†It’s incredible. ¬†I don’t know why anyone would want to work in those, live by those or subject the world to them. ¬†The smell is incredible.¬†¬†

When my parents first moved to Arkansas they lived downwind from a chicken processing plant.  That place smelled ripe, but it had nothing on a fragrant confinement building, especially when the weather is kind of warm. To this author, as someone who lives in Iowa, and has for 20+ of my 31 years, the uptick in CAFOs in the recent 15 years is dismaying to me too.  It makes me sick to think how my state is being polluted by these places, just in the name of a few bucks and some cheap, sick meat.  

You know, Iowa is a great agriculture states. ¬†The soil is so fertile that you can grow practically anything, but our farmers have prostituted themselves to the large grain and meat cartels. ¬†It’s sad. ¬†75-100 years ago every farm in Iowa would have multitudes of animals, grow 30, 40 or 50 different crops and be nice pleasant places to live. ¬†Not to mention the vibrant small towns dotting the landscape.¬†

Now? ¬†Not so much. ¬†Most farmers grow corn and beans on rotation and if they have any animals they are stuck in one of those stinky buildings. ¬†We have small towns that are shells of their former selves, most with vacant downtown districts, and we’ve all allowed it to happen. ¬†We’ve supported it by shopping for food based on price, instead of how the person grows the food. ¬†We’ve done it by driving to the big town with the MegaMart to do our shopping instead of the local grocer. ¬†We’ve been an accomplice to it when we eat all this junk food that’s derived from corn, which encourages more corn plantings. ¬†We’ve told these CAFO operators that we don’t care what happens to the world around us as long as we can get ground chuck for $1.99 a pound. ¬†We’ve all supported it by making farmers think their jobs aren’t important, even though without them we’d all be in a world of hurt. ¬†Wouldn’t we?¬†

I’ve been eating local, organic, growing my own and being active about this for a while for a multitude of reasons. ¬†If you’re reading this I think it’s time you take a look in the mirror and think about what you see looking back at you. ¬†Is it time that you left your dollars do your voting? ¬†Farmer’s Market season is coming up and it’s a great time to tell the industrial ag companies to shove it. ¬†It’s a great feeling, and each time you spend that dollar you’ll be helping to bring back the old Iowa (or whatever state you’re in). ¬†If we keep it up long enough, hopefully it will work. ¬† ¬†