Author Archives: Matt

Author Archives: Matt

Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture shuts down seed-sharing program at local library…

Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture shuts down seed-sharing program at local library…

A good piece in Grist about a local seed-sharing program that attracted the attention of the state ag department.  Interesting occurrence, unfortunate circumstances and results.

It started this way. A local group called the Cumberland County Commission for Women had heard of a new thing that local libraries were doing — creating lending libraries for seeds. Someone found an old card catalog and turned it into seed packet storage. Someone else got advice from the local Penn State Ag Extension office. With the help of the librarians at Joseph T. Simpson, they launched the project in April, on Earth Day.

Then, in June, the library received a letter from Johnny Zook, seed program supervisor at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The missive informed the library that it was in violation of the Seed Act of 2004. You can read the correspondence because the Simpson Seed Library, like the good librarians they are, posted it on their website.

It would be easy to brand this as "Big Evil Government," mutter "Damn the Man!" and go on about your day.

But reading this, I got the impression that what happened here was much more a case of well-intentioned people on both sides of an issue, who merely lacked the appropriate mechanisms and frameworks to interact in a mutually productive way... namely a state agency that feels as though they have a clear mandate and that they are locked into a procedure that must be followed.

However, the danger of such policies being recognized and co-opted as legal leverage against local/community sustainable agriculture practices is potentially a concern, as is the chilling effect that occurrences like this one may create.

To me, the issue and the answer is clear.  If the systems and processes in place don't allow for communities and individuals to do something as simple and necessary as share the means to grow food in their own gardens, then the system and processes need to be revised.

Simple as that.

Rehabbing cordless tool batteries…

Rehabbing cordless tool batteries…

Someone posted an illustrated mini-tutorial on Imgur regarding how to revive/repair dead cordless tool batteries.

Maybe not worth it from a financial standpoint, depending on how much you figure your time is worth... but I thought it was just neat seeing inside of one and knowing that they can be worked on somewhat easily.

One of my ongoing goals is to get more "in touch" with my tools, and that includes knowing how and why they work and how to maintain/repair them if needed.


The onions have been cured…

The onions have been cured…

And I didn't even know they were sick! (wakka, wakka).

This is the first year we've really actually grown onions with any serious intent.  We used onion mini-bulbs this year to help make the process simpler, and got a reasonably good harvest despite doing little with them besides taking them out of the paper bag they came in and sticking them the dirt. (my kind of crop!)

Growing them was easy, but we've been painstakingly (emphasis on pain) curing the onions for over three weeks now.  To "cure" them so they dry and store properly, they have to be left out in the sun for a day, and then left for three weeks in a shady place with good air circulation and no chance of getting rained on or eaten by anything.

Sounds simple, until you try to find that place.  The basement with a fan would be ideal, except then you'll have onions off-gassing the house full of onion smell for three weeks.  I'm not even sure I'd mind, but Leah (who actually has a functioning sense of smell and remembers our similar approach to the garlic harvest last year) nixed the idea.  We tried in the shade of our porch, but the mega-storms that ensued in the following weeks meant we couldn't guarantee they'd stay dry.

The greenhouse is still way too hot for them.  And we have several "out buildings", but you might as well add some parsley as garnish, because at that point you're essentially feeding them to the local fauna  (do raccoons like onions?  Let's just assume they do).

Onion Harvest 2014

In the end, we ended up stacking the trays in the garage, and tried to leave the door open as much as possible.  Which must have worked out okay, because we only had to toss one had started going rotty/soft on us.

A big ol' digital hat tip to Garden Betty, whose guide on curing onions steered us right in our efforts.

So now, hopefully we'll have a good-sized stash of onions that we can eat on during the upcoming months.  And these onions really are tasty... spicy and full of flavor.  I'd like to try growing even more at some point... as cheap as the starter bulbs are, the only real constraint is garden space.

Lessons learned:

1) Start with small bulbs, not green onion sets.  
Has anyone ever seen onion sets at the store that look healthy?  
I don't think I've ever seen them where they don't look 2/3 dead already.

2) More sun = bigger onions.
We planted the same onions across a pretty wide range of sun exposure this year, and the results weren't subtle.  Without fail, the onions we pulled were bigger and better the more sun they were getting during the day.  
No more onions in partial shade!

Dehydrate all the things!

Dehydrate all the things!

photo of Banana Chips on a dehydrator tray.

I was nearly starving last week when we hit up the local farmer's market first thing on Saturday morning.  A sample of the jerky from Bluescreek Farm Meats was beyond delicious, but no substitute for a full breakfast.

So I picked up a small bag of banana chips from one of the vendors to snack on.  They were very tasty, and I asked how she had made them.

"Just dehydrated bananas" she said. Figures!  (The commercially available ones usually have other stuff in them).

So of course, the little DIY Devil that sits on my shoulder whispered his common refrain in my ear once again...

"You could make that..."

So later during a grocery run I picked up some clearance bananas (I like them ripe anyways), set up the dehydrator, and got to it. They did take longer than I thought they would to get fully dry (an issue I've also had while making apple chips), but they turned out great.

They were a hit here at home, and also at the office (a lot of the people I work with at my new job are strictly paleo, so it's been tough to find snacky things the entire group can partake in and enjoy.

I tried making some some beef jerky as well, but I way over-dried it and it turned out super tough.  I'm going to try using the oven next round on that one.

I'm already on my second batch of banana chips, and will be trying plantains and daikon radish soon...

Dehydrate All the Things!

Heavy Turret Sentry Paintball Gun for Mammalian Pest Control?

Heavy Turret Sentry Paintball Gun for Mammalian Pest Control?

I first saw this over on BoingBoing, where it was mentioned (jokingly?) as a good punishment for rowdy toddlers.

Not so sure about that one, but as soon as I saw this, I immediately thought:

"The rabbits.  I should get one of these to keep the $*^!$*!*ing rabbits out of the garden."

Pretty pricey at $649, but we lost about half that much these past few years in girdled trees... so really, how much is sweet revenge worth?

A Beginner’s Guide to Hammers

A Beginner’s Guide to Hammers

image via PropAgenda an excellent intro to hammers via BoingBoing:
While they look and work the same, the differences are important. The best shape, weight, and material of head depend on what you're hitting and why. Narrow heads deliver the entire force of the blow into a small area, broad faces spread it around. Longer handles allow more powerful swings, shorter allow more control. Wood handles absorb some of the vibration but can break, steel handles are durable but can be a literal pain to use. Fiberglass and other composite materials are durable and comfortable, but cost more.
Above image via PropAgenda.
Bring on the Black Sponge…

Bring on the Black Sponge…

Got sent over to this piece over at Co.Exist regarding some new technology being developed by the big brains at MIT.
The new technology looks a little like a sponge. A black material, made from graphite and filled with tiny holes, floats on top of water, soaking up sunlight. As the material heats up, it heats up a small area of water around it, and a layer of foam at the bottom keeps everything hot. The water starts to turn into steam that could be used for everything from drinking water to sterilization in places off the grid.
While I find that a lot of media coverage of new energy technologies tends to focus on impractical, unscalable, pie-in-the-sky projects, this one really caught my eye, because of the next bit:
"The most exciting thing is it's simple," says Gang Chen, head of the mechanical engineering department at MIT. "You could even hand-build this. It could be done with a simple manufacturing process--and that can lead to lower cost."
Very promising indeed.  If this technology sees successful development, it seems like something that could be put to good use in a number of ways on the homestead.  Let's just hope they open-source it...