Friday, May 27, 2011

The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle Part Three

Well this is the latest installment of my series, I thought I should go over a few ways and tips to save money.

The first and easiest thing to do is consider turning off your water heater when you leave for work. It can save you around $50 dollars each month and when you return home, or when you plan on taking a shower just turn it back on. Most water heaters only take about 20 minutes to warm the water, so it's a good thing to keep in mind. Just remember to turn it back on or else you'll be taking cold showers at the end of a long day. If you want to you can be brazen enough to just forget the water heater entirely. Hot water dries out your skin, where as room temperature water helps retain the moisture. I have done this, but it's really just because I'm to lazy to check to see if it's on, so I just take a shower anyways.

The second thing I will mention is to make your own beverages. If you cut out all the fancy juices in your diet you can save a lot of money too, besides many of the drinks you buy at the store are actually sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. ( I will post why this is bad later) The easiest thing you can make is tea, you can either make sweet tea or you can make those fruit teas. All you need is one average sized tea bag for a pitcher of tea. That's actually all we have in our house, water and tea. The fruit teas have the same flavor as the juice without all the additives. Think of how much money you could save by doing that, then you can spend your money mindlessly elsewhere.

I'm sure you heard of this one already, make sure all of your lights are off when you're not using them. Then unplug and appliances that you aren't using, because they are still using electricity on the stand by mode.

Another way to cut expenses is at meal time. As far as breakfast goes, we eat oatmeal to cut down on the food bill. It costs only three dollars per person per month. No we do not have those little fancy packets we eat oatmeal out of the Quaker canisters, we just use cinnamon and brown sugar as flavoring, it tastes exactly the same and you can add other things as well such as dried fruit and vanilla extract. I think it's much better than eating GMO corn cereal. Although, because of the way we run things here, we always make things from raw ingredients.

 Last week, we ran out of ground cinnamon for our oatmeal but I discovered we had cinnamon sticks in their natural state sitting on our shelf. To my suprise grinding a cinnamon stick is not an easy task, it took me about five minutes to mash one into splinter form, and I wasn't going to stand there for however long it was going to take me to get it into power form. For those past five days, I didn't eat breakfast, no cinnamon no oatmeal, simple as that. Basically what I'm trying to so say is, don't wear yourself out for a darn bowl of oatmeal, it's just not worth it, do what you can do,nothing more. Modify your food choices to your life, not the other way around.

Again, this way of living is not for everyone, it's difficult and time consuming, but if you can make little changes throughout the day you'll end up saving money and your health in the long run.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Home Sweet Home

I saw this little shanty in the woods and I thought wow, I wonder if someone lived in this at some point of time?

I also found that it has a sun roof.

I know this is a pointless post, but I thought I should share this, it's not everyday you see something like this in the woods.

It did however have a nice backyard.

The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle Part Two

As I have stated before my off grid lifestyle was unintentional, which is why I call this series in the blog, "The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle." I think out biggest accomplishment is that we haven't owned a car in about six years. (We traded it to remove a tree that was hovering over our house.) If we do use a car, we ride share. I know this may sound strange but when you don't have a car you really do appreciate the the little things in life, such as going to the grocery store on your own time, and taking your time there as well. It really does change your life though, you become healthier by walking or bicycling, and you become mentally stronger as well, I'll explain. What I mean by you become healthier is, when you need to go to the store for say, a gallon of milk, you have two options, you can either go by bicycle or by foot. Either way you go, you have to carry home about 7 lbs of liquid home with you. I have to say carrying your things home in a bag sounds like a good idea but it is HELL, so don't overestimate yourself. Never in my life have my shoulders been so sore. Then again with us we buy everything in bulk so whenever we come back from shopping we have a lot of luggage to take home. I think I lost about thirty pounds since we stopped using a vehicle as our main means of transportation, imagine what it can do for all of you dieters out there. As far as the mentally being stronger part goes, I mean that you appreciate being at home, everyday is a stay cation. Of course you have to appreciate it because or else you'll hate it, it's best to see the positive side of things. I really can't tell you how bad the withdrawal was from not having a vehicle and being able to just get out and drive in the country side for a while, or some other type of whimsical trip. You become content with what you have. When I tell people about not having a vehicle I always say, "I'm as happy as I allow," all I'm trying to state is that I allow myself to be happy and to be grateful for the things I have. They look at me like I'm nuts and it is somewhat true, but then they smile and laugh as they see me walking down the street, with that gallon of milk.

Now I'm not telling you to put your little priuses for sale on craigs list, keep your cars! You will need them to drive junior to the hospital if he falls on his arse and blood is splattered everywhere. You can however walk or ride your bicycle to do little errands, or you can ride share. It's very difficult to ride home with a fifty pound bag of feed on your lap while riding a bicycle, don't ask, just trust me it is. So you will need a vehicle to do those types of things, but like I said you can ride share or you can spend $40,000 on some eco car to save you $100 of gas each month, the choice is yours. You just have to have good friends and schedules that are alike that way you can go to the store at the same time and kill two birds with one stone, more if possible.

 I prefer to do things by bike, it's so  much easier and quicker, I also like the feeling of the outdoors, just don't get run over by a car. Find bike lanes or short cuts.

Rounded up in a cheese cloth, it's not for everyone, I understand a lot of you have kids that have soccer practice and things of that nature, and you wouldn't be the same without your minivan, or you may just live too far from a store to walk or ride a bike to, but you can make little changes. They don't have to be big ones at all, like I said work it into your schedule and don't put yourself through hell. We only did it because we had the time and the will power (and we needed our tree gone) , but don't be afraid to try new things. Let me forewarn you all though, it is NOT easy, I repeat NOT easy, but I do encourage you to try it for at least on day if it's possible, to help the environment, to help your mental sanity (although you will go crazy for the first few weeks if you do this cold turkey), and to better your health.

Here is our bike lane, I just wanted to show you all that yes that's what those little lines are for, designated off grid living participants.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Feed a Mocking Bird

The mockingbird is our state bird, this little resident of the oak trees is actually one of the most aggressive birds in Florida. There have been many occasions where I've had to rescue their young out of the rain gutter and they expressed their gratitude by dive bombing me. I have to say these are birds of little brain but they do know how to defend their territory quite well, the one shown above is one I took a picture of on one of my walks. It was sitting nicely on a neighbor's fence, he was camera shy though, as you can see he did fly away.

I strongly encourage people to feed the wild bird population, we use thousands of acres of land every year to build houses, use for timber land and whatnot that the wild animal population has no where to reside. It can be as simple as hanging a bird feeder in a tree or placing a small  terra cotta saucer with water on an upturned pot that birds can use as a small bird bath.

Placing a bird house in a tree can also encourage nesting among local birds. Small little modifications like these can make a big difference when it comes to re establishing local wildlife numbers.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

On our urban farm we have colonies of bees, blue birds, starlings, and even chickens. Most are welcomed however Florida, being as fickle as she can be, send us her own colonies, ones that sting like a bee and appear to be completely harmless. In the picture shown above are fire ants, yes fire ants, as you can imagine their sting is similar to a bee sting. Now these little things can be beneficial, they clean up all that road kill that some road maintenance crews miss. They can clean a carcass in few days, as well as invade and rob a bee hive. I am one of those types of people who like to work with nature rather than against it. fire ants though, can over stay their welcome, as you can see they have invaded my herb garden. A harmless way (to the environment mind you not the ants) to get rid of these nuisances is a pot of boiling water, that way you don't have to use heavy pesticide. Just pour the pot of boiling water directly on the ant hill or the source where they are coming from, it may seem gruesome, but it does the job, and that's that.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bee Chores

Here we are doing a check on one of our hive beetle traps, as you can see I am the one running away as our angora rabbit nervously watches from a distance. It's important to do regular checks if you install these little hive savers in your hive to see how many beetles met their demise to one of these wonders.

Here is what the actual trap looks like. You can buy them from a local bee shop owner or be a genius and just use that thing they call google and google hive beetle traps, you can buy them for about two dollars. It's a good investment, I strongly urge you to buy two for each side of a hive box, you won't regret it.

As you can see there are little slots at the top where the beetles can crawl in and fall into the basin where the bait is. These work extremely well to keep the hive beetle population down in your hive.

And this is the prize, trapped, dead, a drowned hive beetles.
To remove them out of the trap just shake them out or turn your garden hose on high and shoot them out with the water, then you can re use the trap again. This is a rather small 'harvest,' there have been many times where we have seen as much as one hundred or more stuck in each trap. Having only two in there, is a sure good sign.

Here is what we use for the bait, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. We use equal parts as the bait liquid. Just mix it up and pour it in the trap. There is something about the apple cider that they're attracted too, don't ask me what it is, I have no idea. All I know is it works, so it's as simeple as that

Oh and I almost forgot, here are the stars of the shows themselves, hive beetles. Also with a link to learn more about them
                                  Know thine enemy.......

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bugs, Sun and Garden Slugs

Well hell! I finally have a May without too many garden pests but like usual they slither, crawl, and buzz their unwanted rears into my already withering vegetable garden anyways. So far I am only experiencing leaf miners and sun scald, both of which really don't do too much damage to the actual plant but they can be rather unsightly. The first I will go over is sun scald.

That right there on my two bell peppers is sun scald, basically it's when you vegetables get sunburned. How to correct this you ask? Well some have found a very simple way to alleviate the problem, simply add shade. You can do this by buying a cheap but somewhat lightweight, light penetrable fabric, that way they can still do that little thing called photosynthesis. An open tent like structure will serve the purpose of shading the plants, don't actually cover the plants themselves, just suspend it above them like you would for a wandering rooster on a summer day (that's another story). The vegetables that already have sun scald are still salvageable, just chop off the sunburnt parts.

Now here's where it gets fun, that little work of art is done by what many call leaf miners. They are actually a fly that lays their larva on the plant's leaves, so their little maggots can eat the plant from the inside out. Wonderful eh? I have heard that some use soap, others use oil, but I have found that when one useses those things, they clog the plant's pores. Then that sun scald gets worse seeing as how you have added oil into the equation of the sun roasted plant. That's two factors of why not to use soap or oil, it clogs the plants pores, and it can worsen sun scald. After becoming so frustrated and seeing my tomato leaves like the ones shown above, I had an epiphany. Why don't I just completely cover the tomatoes with that screen lying in the garage? I put screen over the tomato cages to make an enlcosed system that way the flies can't even reach the plants, another ingenius idea, that I stole from a friend.

Now keep in mind these are organic non pesticidal solutions to these problems. Anyone can buy some seven or permithrin, but that would be too easy right? And you don't want to a be a part of the problem itself by poisoning the environment with harmful toxins, because you are that nutty urban farmer who cares about their plants and their animals as well as the environment. You would rather do it the hard way like I do.     

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Bees Stay Cool

Most people don't know that bees need to drink but actually they do. I suggest you place some sort of water feature near your beehive so they can stay hydrated. Not only do they drink the water but they carry the water back to the hive to cool it when the temperature gets too high.

The Quail's Hollar Farm Apiary Residents

Here are our bees carrying out their mid afternoon chores.

"The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle" Part One

Throughout my time doing research about urban farming, raising animals, living the off grid lifestyle and whatnot, I came to a realization, I already do those things! I already don't use central air and heating, I don't use a car unless I have to go to the store to get chicken feed, nor do I eat processed foods, and what is it I see in the corner of a picture on one of those nay saying off grid blogs? Nutter butters, yes nutter butters, not even I eat nutter butters. I've looked in every single off grid blog and I can't help but wonder if they intentionally got to that point in their lives? Or did their air conditioner break down five years ago and spew fire out of that so very expensive part called the condenser like ours did. Then I see them wringing the water out of their newly washed clothes into buckets, I stress thinking, will that be me in a few months? Oh wait that already is. It might seem like I'm venting but actually I'm just trying to say if a cityiot like me can do it, you can do it too. Trust me, it seems impossible but it is in fact possible. Now if you want to do it is the question, some prefer to stay with their energy star appliances, and live an normal life. While others prefer to go all the way, like we did. This is just the begging of my series of what I will call , "The Unintentional Off Grid Lifestyle," since of course I did not get to this point on purpose. In the next coming articles I plan on giving you innovative ideas on how to save money, as well as keeping your image among your family when it comes to off grid living. You can take my ideas, you can apply them to daily life, or you can just point a laugh, all are fine with me, but whichever you choose, know this, it's an actual lifestyle that requires work, commitment, time and a sense of humor, as well as a washboard.

                                               Welcome to your new washer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Golden Pheasants Part Two

The aviary can be as elaborate or as simple as you'd like, as I said earlier a ten by ten foot aviary is big enough for a pair of golden pheasants. These birds come from densely overgrown forests so I suggest that you heavily plant the aviary with plenty of shrubs. If you want an authentic look, you can even plant hardy varieties of bamboo. The plumage of the males will fade if they are not provided with shade, so keep that in mind and be sure to provide plenty of cover to prevent that from happening. I wouldn't plant any thin leafed plants or too many grasses, they'll end up just being a very expensive snack, instead choose non poisonous thick leaved shrubs. Branches and rocks are also appreciated, they can be perched on to stay off the ground at night and provide some entertainment during the day. Out of all the pheasants I believe golden pheasants perfer perch more so others, my one male will sit for hours on an old tree branch in the center of our aviary. It's a pleasure to watch him out the window.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Golden Pheasants Part one

The red golden pheasant hails from the mountainous bamboo forests of south central China. This is an extraordinary species to have on the urban farm for sheer pleasure and enjoyment. The male of this species has a crimson underside, golden head, orange/black barred cape, lemon yellow back, green nape, iridescent blue wings, and a long black and gold traced thirty six inch long tail. The female, is rather drab, usually just an olive barred color with a relatively long tail.

Males of this species can be somewhat loud when disturbed but they would rather not have their location known. The most you will normally here is a displaced peep or squeak amongst the aviary in the morning or evening. Our male can go rouge when visitors come though, he usually announces their presence with screeching scream. Other than that though, he's relatively mild mannered. In all my years of owning golden pheasants I never once heard a female utter a single noise.

Keeping the red golden pheasant is extremely easy, I would suggest no smaller an aviary than ten by ten feet for a pair. If you wish to keep any more than a just two birds I recommend a larger enclosure, the bigger the better. I must forewarn you though, never keep two males and two females in the same aviary, if you do, eventually the one male will make the two females his and the subordinate male will be subjected to abuse from the others. Golden males generally don't do well with each other.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Silver Pheasants

The silver pheasant is bold, curious, beautiful and majestic, it is the perfect aviary bird and great for beginners to pheasant keeping. Male Silvers have a reputation of being aggressive towards their keepers and hens, however, mine are the tamest gamebirds I own. They are big birds that are extremely tough and hardy. Many owners also allow silvers free range on their property. I keep my pair in an aviary that is ten by ten feet. They also share their living quarters with a misplaced male golden pheasant, proving they are not object to annoying company.

Now that it's spring you can finally start checking craigslist and other classified websites for chicks and juveniles. Most pairs sell anywhere from $50 to $70, they may be even pricier if they are a subspecies of the normal, what some people refer to as the, 'American silver'. If you do wish to acquire a pair for breeding be sure they aren't related, as you will only be furthering a problem common amongst pheasants breeders, which is inbreeding. They are a relatively quite bird, the most you will hear from them is their wing drumming when offended or the low toned hum they make, which sounds a bit like a 'moo'. In any case these are a great addition to the game farm or the backyard, they are just big enough to be allowed liberty in the fenced in back yard, yet just small enough to be housed in an aviary.