Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Start Saving These Things Now

I have a tendency to hoard things. No, not like the show that recently premiered on TLC about people who never throw away a single thing, and let garbage fill up their homes. What I mean by “hoarding” is that I have a stockpile of things that I do not use in my everyday life now, but I know they will someday soon literally save my life, and the lives of my family. I keep what looks like barrels o’ junk, but are actually valuable resources that will allow me to maintain my garden during a crisis. I’ve been doing this for a good ten years now, but over the past couple years during the recession, my inclination has been to save even more, while spending hardly any money on these items.

I’ve created a stockpile of supplies that, when stores are closed and the nation’s food supply is null, I can use to tend and harvest my vegetables. So, in other words, these are things that YOU should start to hoard, too. None of them take up that much room. I keep all of my supplies in a couple open-headed straight sided 55 gallon plastic drums that I store in my tool shed. If you’ll be keeping your supplies outdoors rather than in a shed or garage, just make sure to get a rust proof drum, and seal it completely. In my plastic drums, I keep:

  1. A shovel. I have a basic spade made of metal.
  2. Plastic trash bags. I store the heavy clear plastic kind, as these tend to hold up well. You can store any kind of used or unused plastic bags. These can be used for a variety of purposes, one of which is making a solar water distiller to get fresh, clean drinking water.
  3. Scraps of tin, aluminum siding, and styrofoam. These can be used to direct rainwater onto your plants in your garden. They can also be used to create sunlight shades, or reflect additional light onto your plants.
  4. Bags of organic fertilizer. You don’t need fertilizer in order for your open pollinated seeds from your Survival Seed Bank to grow. But it sure won’t hurt your chances of a decent crop.
  5. Plastic buckets. Don’t save anything larger than what you can comfortably carry. When you have no running water, you will need to carry buckets of water from the closest lake or stream, or other natural water source, to your garden.
  6. A small garden rake, knife, and hoe. These are used to keep your soil healthy by tilling and fluffing it.
  7. Wire. Bits of metal wire, mesh wire, and basic bailing wire. This will protect my garden from rabbits, deer, and other veggie-munching critters. You can also use it to bind sticks and other natural elements together to make fences, or a trellis for tomatoes, squash, and other climbing plants to grow on.

Carpenter Bees are Friends, Not Foes


When my children were young, they were terrified of carpenter bees. I can see how these creatures would appear malicious to young children. As far as bugs go, they are pretty darn big. They make a loud buzzing noise that is fairly scary sounding. Plus, they tend to hover around in close proximity to people’s heads.

I do remember one particular spring afternoon many years ago when my wife tried to send the kids out to play, and they refused to go. They were straight up mortified of the carpenter bees that were flying outside the back door that lead to our deck. When I insisted that the bees were not harmful, my son protested that the bees would “dive bomb” him every time he went outside. (I suppose that even if your dad tells you the bees won’t hurt you, the idea of being dive bombed by a very big bee is still scary.)

The thing about carpenter bees is that their bark is definitely worse than their bite. Because they are so large and make a loud buzzing noise, they appear rather intimidating. But the male carpenter bees don’t even have stingers, so they literally cannot hurt you at all. The females do have stingers, but they won’t sting unless they are seriously provoked. (As in roughly handling them.)

Carpenter bees are also frequently mistaken for bumble bees. The difference is that the behind of a bumble bee is striped with yellow and black, and very fuzzy like the rest of its body. The carpenter bee has a fuzzy body, but its behind is black and glossy, not fuzzy. Neither carpenter bees nor bumble bees produce honey.

The bees that hover around your back deck or front porch are probably the harmless male carpenter bees. This is because pretty much all the females do is burrow a hole into a piece of wood to make their nests and lay eggs. Then, the males chill out in the general vicinity outside the nest to protect it. So when my son said that he was being dive bombed by the bees, well, he was probably right. This was the male bees’ attempt to keep my son away from their nests. The male bees do the same thing to other bugs.

Recently, I found a forum online about carpenter bees in which a woman suggested swatting them with a tennis racket to get them to go away. This seemed like a darn shame to me. Bees are one of our number one gardening friends! Yes, carpenter bees are large and might bump into you, but they’re not going to hurt you.

Now one thing that you should look out for is this: make sure that the females are not creating their nests in your wooden siding. They are capable of channeling tunnels into wood, and seriously weakening it over time. If your wooden siding is painted with pigmented paint, you’re golden. The carpenter bees cannot tunnel through this. If your house is painted with wood stain, they can burrow through this, and you’ll want to keep an eye out. The holes that carpenter bees drill are pretty perfect- hence their name. If they’re drilling into your siding you’ll notice holes that go with the grain and can extend as long as a foot or so. Below is a picture of some holes from carpenter bees. See how perfectly round they are?

One of the best ways I have found to handle carpenter bees is to actually attract them, rather than swat them away. The key is to draw them to a spot a ways apart from your house. This way they won’t hover around your front and back door so much. Every year I pound some stakes of soft, untreated wood into my garden. This is paradise for carpenter bees. Plus, it gets them away from my home, and into my garden where they can stay busy at work pollinating all of my flowers. They’re friendly, harmless, and work for me.

Onions for Good Measure

I would be remiss if I did not include oni0ns on my list of vegetables that may be planted in March. Really, when it comes to vegetables, is there anything quite as versatile as the onion? My wife and I have prepared and eaten baked, boiled, raw, steamed, pickled, creamed, dried, stir-fried, and french fried onions. We think they’re delicious in every application.

Really, the options are practically endless when it comes to the onion. The only difficult part can be deciding which variety to plant when there are so many from which to choose. My recommendation for planting would be the Yellow of Parma Onion, which is included in the Survival Seed Bank. I saved these seeds from the first year I harvested my crisis garden, and continue to plant them every year with magnificent results. The average size of each onion I harvest in the summer is a full pound! Their large round shape and golden color make them just right for all of the applications listed above.

A major added bonus when it comes to onions is their medicinal value. If you have kids, you probably already know how common it is for them to suffer from earaches and infections. The onion is one of the fastest and most effective treatments for an ear infection. This is because an earache is typically caused by inflammation and swelling, and onions contain powerful compounds that work quickly to reduce this swelling, as well as a natural antiseptic that promotes healing.

To relieve a child’s earache, all you need to do is take a whole onion and cut it in half. I would recommend keeping the skin on, as this helps to keep the juices in. Layer a soft cloth over the cut side of the onion, and then place this over your child’s ear. This works quickly, sometimes as fast as in just about 20 minutes. If your child complains of the onion smell, you may want to try steaming the onion first, or sprinkling a little bit of lemon juice over the cut side to mask the odor a bit.

Another good way to treat an earache is to take the onion, leave the skin on to hold in the juices, and steam the onion until it is soft. You can then take a little bit of the warm (NOT HOT) onion juice and drop it into your child’s ear with an ear dropper. Just 2 or 3 drops does the trick, then loosely plug the ear with a cotton ball. My kids always hated getting drops in their ears, so I ended up using the poultice method above more frequently than this one. For kids that don’t mind drops, this is a great option and works almost instantly.

If your child’s earache continues, you can repeat the above treatments as frequently as necessary. There is no danger of over-usage, since it is a completely natural and non-drug treatment. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re using onions from your garden that are free of pesticides and herbicides!

Bad Weather Causes Increase in Food Prices

Paul Sakuna/ AP File Photo

Okay, so it’s not just the earthquake in Chile that has affected food prices and availability lately. We all know that here in the U.S, pretty much the entire country experienced one of the worst winters on record. Here in Norfolk we usually get a few inches of snow each winter, but nothing like the storm-of-the-decade we received in January. On Valentine’s Day, 49 states received snow fall! Yes, every state except for Hawaii.

Now it’s a month later. Spring is on its way, and here in VA we’ll (hopefully) not receive any more snowfall. But the unusually cold temps have already done their damage, and it looks like you’ll be noticing it in restaurants and grocery stores.

  • This article in Cleveland Ohio Business News reports that prices of lettuce and tomatoes have skyrocketed over the last month. This is due to frozen lettuce fields in California, and heavy rains that flooded tomato fields in Florida. In this particular article, business proprietors claim not to pass increased costs along to consumers. But let’s be realistic. That can’t possibly last long.
  • This Associated Press article at states that you’re bound to see increased prices, as well as lessened availability of strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, sweet corn, and other produce. It’s all due to the cold snap in Florida. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services expects it to affect their citrus crop, too.
  • In this article from the Los Angeles Daily News, a West Hills produce shop owner states, “I’ve been in the business for 50 years and I’ve never seen prices go up across the board like this.”

If you rely on grocery store produce and this makes you feel a little nervous, well, it should. Hasn’t history proven to us that things will get better before they get worse?

Develop a self-sustaining and independent way to feed your family. You’ll never stop thanking yourself for it. Because the food crisis is already occurring around us- you’ve seen the proof. Don’t allow yourself to be an innocent victim of supply and demand.

Will Survival Seed Bank Experience the Colbert Bump?

For those of you who are fans of Stephen Colbert, you’re probably familiar with a little thing called The Colbert Bump. Essentially, this is a term that is used to describe an increase in popularity of a particular person or item after it has appeared on The Colbert Report. It appears to be a real, true phenomenon, and was even reported by msnbc in August of 2008.

This is why I am not concerned about the fact that Stephen Colbert made fun of The Survival Seed Bank on the Wednesday March 10 episode of his show. Really, it made me laugh. If you haven’t seen his little ruse, you can watch it by clicking here.

Sure, Mr. Colbert, we can all laugh at your comments (or your writers’ comments, as it may be) about “tilling the earth with a human femur while the sky is raining fire.” After all, it is important to always have a sense of humor, even when it comes to serious topics. My sister-in-law, a breast cancer survivor, wears a tee-shirt that reads, “I love my little ta-tas” with a pink ribbon emblem. People chuckle at it frequently. Does this mean that those same people think breast cancer in itself is funny? No, it does not.

In this same vein, I feel quite confident that the American public is going to see right through the humor of this schtick and realize that planting a crisis garden is a dang serious matter. For proof, simply look at the very first comment under the video clip. It  reads, “in the yard sowing my crisis garden!”

I am sure it is easy for Americans, Stephen Colbert included, to take grocery stores with stocked shelves for granted. Most Americans have never lived in a society with a totalitarian government, where ALL of the food is controlled and distributed by the government. Anyone who has experienced this kind of control would surely not laugh at the act of growing your own food for your own personal consumption. We should ALL exercise this right while we have it. We should NOT take it for granted that this right could very well be taken away from us.

So do I think Survival Seed Bank will experience the Colbert Bump? Yes, I do. I think so because well-educated people such as you and me realize that no matter what humorous spin you place on it, growing your own food is an ESSENTIAL aspect of survival.

How the Earthquake in Chile Affects our Food Supply

AP Photo/ Fernando Vergara

If you shop in grocery stores or eat out in restaurants, then you will be directly affected by the recent 8.8 scale earthquake in Chile.

How so? Well, there is a pretty decent amount of goods that America imports from Chile. In fact, in the year 2006, Chile exported about $9.6 billion dollars worth of goods to the United States. Yes, that is $9.6 BILLION. The United States is Chile’s biggest export market.

The major export from Chile is actually copper. This accounted for a good $4.1 billion of the exports in 2006. The second biggest export from Chile to the United States in 2006 was fruit and prepared fruit products, such as frozen juice concentrate. Our grocery stores also get a large amount of their wine, seafood, blueberries, grapes, apples, pears, plums and other stone fruits from Chile.

So then what does all of this mean to you, the consumer? Well, you may not be able to find these exports in American grocery stores and restaurants. Or, you may be able to find them, but it will be at a very high cost to you.

You’ll notice that in many news articles, such as this recent one from Daily Finance, that the Chilean Exporters Association is urging American consumers “not to panic.” This is where I choose to disagree. I say, maybe this IS the time to panic.

Let this be an eye opener. If the food supply in America has been changed by a natural disaster that occured about 300,000 miles away, maybe it is time for us to take a hint and realize that our society is entirely too reliant on imported foods. These suppliers are not infallible. We all need to take measures to be more self reliant. Our grocery store shelves are obviously not going to remain indefinitely stocked. The only way you can truly have a reliable food source is to not rely on grocery stores.

What Can I Plant in March?

If you’re like me, you’re ready to go outside and get your hands dirty at the very first sign of spring each year. This year, my spring fever set in a little bit earlier than usual, which I am certain is due in part to the passing of a particularly long, snowy, and arduous winter.

Now those icy months spent cooped up inside are finally coming to a close, and it’s time to till some fresh earth! Unless you are fortunate enough to live in a warm climate, however, you may feel the need to proceed with caution. Although buds are beginning to appear, temps remain a bit frosty. Here in Norfolk, Virginia, the weather tends to still be pretty cool this time of year. High temperatures are only in the 40s, and lows hover right around freezing.

The good news is that despite the fact that the chill is not yet gone from the air, there are many types of plants that do well in late winter and early spring. In fact, some crops can be both planted and harvested before hot weather comes around. Here are some types of vegetables that fare well when planted in March:

1. Radishes– Radishes are an excellent option for the gardener who is seeking a bit of instant gratification. After you plant them, they can be ready to harvest in as little as about three weeks! Several different varieties of radishes grow well when planted in the early spring, including Burpee White, Champion, Cherry Belle, Easter Egg, Early Scarlett Globe, Snow Belle, and Plum Purple. Radishes grow well in almost any soil that is prepared properly, is fertilized before planting, and has adequate moisture. Sow your radish seeds in soil that is 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep.

2. Spinach- Spinach is another plant that grows well from seeds during this time of year. The results are not quite as quick as radishes, but still speedy, as spinach will be ready to pick and eat in about 48 days. Olympia and Bloomsdale varieties tend to be the most popular for spring planting. Plant your spinach seeds in rows, and space them about 1/2 to 1 inch apart. Cover them very lightly with just about 1/2 inch of soil. Make sure to water them because spinach loves moist soil. Don’t water them too heavily, however, as this can wash the seeds out or cause them to sink too low into the soil.

3. Lettuce- With fresh spinach and fresh lettuce, you’ll have the makings for a delicious springtime salad! Sow your lettuce seeds in a thin layer of just about 1/2 inch of soil. Leave a good 10-12 inches of soil between your rows. So that not all of your lettuce is mature at the same time, you may wish to stagger your rows by several days. This way, you can have successive rows of fresh lettuce for several weeks, rather than harvesting it all in one weekend. Depending on the type of lettuce you plant, it will be ready to harvest within about 6 to 14 weeks.

4. Carrots- Carrots are best planted after the final frost, so you may wish to wait until the end of March to plant your carrots. (Now mind you, you can always start your seeds indoors or under glass, but so far we’ve been discussing only direct outdoor seeding.) Carrots will be ready for harvest in about 80 days.

5. Peas- Peas are a real springtime champ. In fact, of there’s just one vegetable that you decide to sow in March this year, I’d say make it peas. They are tolerant of the cool temperatures and light frosts that still occur at this time. Early plantings also usually produce a larger yield. Your peas should be planted in single rows with about 1 inch of soil cover, and will be ready for harvest in about 60 days.