December 2017
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Fruit Trees in Bloom on February 26th

Today I did a quick video tour of the swales where several of our peach trees are blooming. This is very early to get fruit blossoms in our area. The risk is that we get a late frost and lose the crop. Right now the weather forecast is still looking good that we won’t get that frost, but it’s going to take some luck.

Peach Tree Blooming in February

I haven’t seen any pollinators either. So I got some cotton swabs and hand pollinated as many of the blossoms as I could.

Enjoy the video and please share your thoughts in the comments section:

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Property Update – February 20 2017

The weather yesterday was beautiful – almost 70 degrees. It was a great day to work outside. I took some pictures and thought it would be a good time to do a property update.

Swales and Wood Chips
We’ve spread a lot of wood chips over the last few months. The huge pile is almost gone, but I’m working on getting more:

Wood Chips Are Almost Gone

It’s cool to see how much moisture they hold. As I dug down into the pile, they are dry on the surface but wet underneath. And the chips have started to break down in the pile noticeably. That’s another good thing about wood chips – if you don’t need them right away, just let them sit there and continually improve until you are ready for them.

I’m excited as spring approaches to see how the swale environment progresses this year. If the explosive growth of the fruit trees last year is any indication, this year should be fun to watch. Right now everything is fairly dormant, but you can see how we spread wood chips throughout the area:

The Swales with Lots o Wood Chips

We got some rain a couple days ago, so the pond is full again. The water stays muddy, but that helps the goldfish hide from predators:

The Pond

Chicken Update
The chickens have started laying eggs. They ramped up quickly in January, and now we’re getting 12 or 13 eggs a day from our 13 hens. So far this seems to be a good laying breed. We’ve also had an unusual number of giant, double-yoke eggs. Yum.

The chickens are anxious to see things start growing again. It’s slim pickings in cold weather. Here are the girls in the compost area:

Our Hens in the Compost Area

The modified chicken yard is coming along. One of the doors is done. I have a few more things to do before it will be ready for the girls to use it. I’m in no rush because the chickens won’t be allowed in until the seeds we sowed have time to get established. Right now it looks very open, but it will look very different after the leaves come out on the kiwi vines

Panoramic View of the Chicken Yard

Moving the Aquaponics System
Another big project I’ve covered in some earlier videos is the move of the aquaponics system. I don’t have a set schedule for when this will be done. It will depend on when I have time. Since this is my 3rd aquaponics system with each one getting progressively bigger, my goal is to get it as right as possible this time so it doesn’t move for a long time.

The IBC tote has been moved to the new area. Much of the plumbing is gone. Next I have to remove all the rocks from the grow beds and keep them somewhere clean. Here’s a picture of the old system after partially tearing it down:

Aquaponics System Dissassembly

Ultimately I want to enclose it in a greenhouse, which means space will be at a premium. Thus the need to really think through every part of it. I plan to put the system back together in the proposed space with the assumption that some smaller adjustments will be needed before I get the final layout. This new system will include improvements like a larger sump tank and a separate solids filter.

The purpose of enclosing it in a greenhouse is so we can have year round production, so it doesn’t matter that much when I get the system started up. That’s why I don’t feel pressure to keep a schedule based on the seasons. Consequently, other projects that do depend on the seasons are coming first.

Early Fruit Blossoms
Even though we had some cold temperatures earlier in the winter, it has been fairly warm lately. So much so that several of our peach trees are already getting pink blossoms in mid-February. Even a couple of the plum trees have blossoms. It will either be an early crop, or we will lose a lot of fruit to a late frost.

Peach Trees with Blossoms in February

More Peach Trees with Blossoms in February

Currently the forecast is for warm temps all the way into the 2nd week of March. It’s hard to tell but my fingers are crossed.

Jono Is in Costa Rica
Jono has turned into quite the international traveler. He has been in Mexico and Costa Rica for a couple weeks. Before he left, he spread a lot of wood chips. He’ll be on his way home next week, then he’ll be headed back to Abuela Gardens in California for the rest of the year. I will miss him, but I know it’s time for him to go back. I’m very proud of him for what he’s learning. It’s exciting to think about where he’s going to go with this knowledge!

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Video Walk-Thru of the New Chicken Yard Project

Today I take a tour of the new chicken yard I’m building. Last year I let the chickens into the garden area, and a hawk killed 5 of them. This winter, I’m redesigning the chicken yard to have better predator protection using some permaculture function-stacking.

The garden is being relocated to other areas of the property. I’m converting the part of the old garden area to a dedicated chicken paddock. The fence is now 6-8’ high in various places. I’m creating a horizontal web of wires about 8’ high that will allow the kiwi vines to spread out and grow along the wires. Once the kiwi vines climb all over the wires, it should be enough to keep aerial predators out.

When the vines are covered in foliage in summer, the chickens will have a nice shaded area to keep cool. Then in winter when the leaves are gone, the sun can get through to warm the girls. The kiwi vines will benefit from the increased area to spread their vines. They will also get increased fertility from the chickens dropping manure in the area. This is classic function-stacking.

I will be putting a movable fence in the middle of the area to divide it in half. I’ll do some paddock shifting, letting the chickens work one side while the other side has time to recover and regrow. I have already over-seeded the entire area with clover and other cover crops that the chickens like.
In the video, I also talk about relocating the aquaponics system with some improvements in mind. There will be more details about that later as I finalize the design and get started on that project.

Enjoy the tour:

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Stranger Than Fiction Adventures in Diesel Oil Changes

Today I have to share a story because, well, some things happen that you just can’t make up.

I love my Jeep Liberty CRD. It’s a wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing. It can tow 5000 lbs, has 4-wheel drive, and I can run my homemade biodiesel in it if I want to. But I don’t like changing the oil. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again if I have to, but I’m happy to let someone else deal with the old oil. When I’ve changed the oil at home, no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to avoid getting the old oil on things. It is like black paint. The last time I changed it, it took me several days to get the stain of my hands.

The problem is that it’s hard to find a good shop to work on diesels. One time I took it to an oil change place. They told me sure they do diesels. Then about 500 miles later I started getting low oil pressure warnings. Turns out they had use regular oil even though I told them it had to have synthetic oil. The high-pressure diesel engine broke down the oil in no time. I won’t go back to that place again.

Another time I decided to try Walmart. I know – this couldn’t end well. It wasn’t that bad, after the cashier spent 30 minutes how to charge me. They will let you buy the oil and filter right there in the store, then do the change with the oil you just bought. Needless to say, I watched the whole process to make sure the tech used the oil I supplied. Still it took so long that I decided I needed to find a better place. And there is the fact that I don’t like setting foot inside Walmart.

Thankfully I don’t have to deal with this often, since the Liberty has a standard oil change interval between 6250-12500 miles. That’s another nice feature of diesels. But like it or not it was time to try again, and I didn’t feel like scrubbing my hands for 3 days.

This Really Happened

That brings me to the latest adventure. I found a nearby quick lube place that said they did diesels so I decided I would try it. I would buy their oil if they had it, but I had the oil and filter on hand so I took it with me.

I pulled up and a nice fella came out to greet me and ask what I needed. I asked him if they did diesel oil changes. He hesitated and asked me what type of oil it needed. I explained that I brought it with me in case they didn’t have it. I even had a brief conversation with him about how important the synthetic oil was because of the high-pressure diesel engine. He said sure they can do that. He said it was only $20 when you supply your own. I thought I had hit the jackpot – $20 and I don’t have to dispose of the oil or even come in contact with it for that matter. This was great.

And this was where it got interesting. Another guy came out and said he had to pull it into the maintenance bay. I walked inside to wait. As I was entering the waiting room, I heard him get out of the Jeep and tell one of the other guys, “Make a note the engine is making a lot of noise. It doesn’t sound good.” I thought to myself, “Duh – it’s a diesel.”

I laughed off the comment and went inside to the waiting room. A few minutes later, the first guy walked in with this confused look on his face. Now remember – this is the guy I had the discussion with earlier about the diesel engine. He looked at me and actually said:

“Who told you this was a diesel?”

At first I was stunned. Briefly I thought about mind-bending movies like Inception or The Matrix. Maybe it was all a dream. Maybe I never built a biodiesel processor. No it couldn’t be a dream.

Then I remembered this guy my Dad knew when I was young. He drove up in his big Buick boat, but when he shut it off it kept running. He explained to my Dad that he had accidentally put diesel in his gas car, so it wouldn’t stop running when he turned off the ignition. I remember thinking at the time – “this is bad.”

I’m not sure why I said what came next. It just popped into my head. I looked at him and said, “The guy who sold it to me said it was. I’ve always put diesel fuel in it and it runs great!”

Now the guy really gave me a funny look.

I couldn’t keep a straight face and said “I’m messing with you. Yes, I’m sure it’s a diesel.”

On the bright side, at least this guy wasn’t about to perform brain surgery on me.

And, by the way, don’t put diesel in you as car. It won’t run great.

The Beast – 2005 Jeep Liberty CRD

CRD = Common Rail Diesel

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The Swales and Pond Fill from a Heavy Rain

Today I did another video walking around the swale project after a rain.

Last night and this morning we had second good waves of rain. After the first rain, the upper swale was almost full. Then the second wave came through. The swale filled and overflowed to the spillway. The pond filled up and it didn’t take long at all for the lower swale to fill.

I also focused on the fig trees. They are a great example of how productive the swales can be. Click here to read my earlier post about the fig trees.

Enjoy the video:

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Video Walk-Thru of the Swales During a Steady Rain

Today I did a walk-through of the swale project during a rain. It was a very dry summer, so we badly needed rain. Now we are finally getting some winter rains. The rain has been coming down at a light drizzle for the last couple of days. Today the rain picked up enough to start filling the upper swale. It hasn’t filled enough yet to overflow to the lower swale, but I’m hopeful as more rain is coming tonight and tomorrow.

All the rain is also raising the level in the pool. Even if the lower swale doesn’t fill, I can fill it manually from our pool.

Join me now for the video walk-thru:

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Are Credit Cards Inherently Bad?

Not necessarily.

Some view credit cards as debt. I agree that debt is bad. But credit cards are only debt if you don’t pay the balance every month. If you ever are unable to pay you balance, or if you intentionally run up your balance thinking you’ll pay it off some day, read no further. Credit cards are evil for you and you should not have them.

If you’re still with me, let’s look at credit cards more closely. They are a financial tool. They give you access to your money with some advantageous features.

Fraud Protection

The credit card company watches for questionable transactions and notifies you when they see something of interest. I’ve had this happen a couple of times. I got a call and a text alert. We quickly determined what the fraudulent transactions were and the company sent us a new card the next day. We weren’t out any money. The only hassle was updating the card number with online accounts where it was stored. Now I keep a list of those accounts in case it happens again.

Debit cards supposedly have the same protections as credit cards, but there is a subtle but important difference. When a fraudulent transaction occurs with a credit card, you don’t ever have to pay for it. On the other hand, with a debit card the money is already gone from your account. Once the fraud is documented, the bank will put the money back in your account but it might take a few days. What if your mortgage payment happens to be scheduled at the same time and there are insufficient funds in your account when it hits. Disaster!

Rewards Points

Another advantage is rewards points. Some say this is a curse because you’ll tend to spend more to get the points. I agree it is bad if you think that way. Buying something you don’t need just to get the cash back or airline miles is a sure way to get yourself into trouble. On the other hand, using a rewards card for something you would buy anyway is ok. That’s the key – it has to be something you would pay for even if you were paying cash.

I researched which of our utility bills could be paid by credit card. That is definitely something you will pay regardless of the method. I checked each recurring bill to see which ones would allow payment by credit card and what fees if any were applicable. It turns out that our electric and gas bills both have fees around 3% for using a credit card. It would be pretty stupid to pay a 3% fee to get 1% cash back. Our bills from the cable and phone companies both take credit cards with no fee. Our car insurance company is the same. So I pay these bills with the credit card.

Our credit card has a 5% rewards bonus for certain categories each quarter. One quarter it was restaurants. Would it be smart to go out to eat because you get 5% cash back? No! The number of times we ate out that quarter was ZERO. This past quarter Costco was on the 5% cash back list. I didn’t go buy a bunch of junk there, but I did stock up on items like toilet paper that we buy anyway.

Ease of Payments

Another feature I like is the ease of making payments to the credit card online using ACH (automated clearing house) transactions. I can log into my credit card account and make a payment in about 2 minutes. The money is removed from the bank account almost immediately, or on a scheduled date. Either way I’m in control of when this is done. I typically make several payments every month. Any time a large bill is paid like the car insurance or the balance reaches a certain level, I log in and pay it. By doing this, our credit card behaves very much like a debit card. This takes discipline, but as I’ve said before you should not use a credit card if you don’t have discipline.

So Are Credit Cards Inherently Bad?

Hopefully by now you get the idea. I don’t think a credit card is always bad. It is a tool, like a chainsaw. Used properly, a chainsaw is a very useful tool. Used improperly, it is dangerous. A credit card is merely a plastic representation of money. That is no more or no less real than a dollar bill, which is merely a paper representation of the same thing.

I’m not suggesting you go into debt. Make no mistake – DEBT IS BAD. In that regard, I agree with Dave Ramsey. It’s all about developing discipline and control in your decision making. As I said before, if you ever find yourself with a credit card balance you can’t pay off, get rid of the credit card. You are using it improperly. Go see Dave’s web site – he’s the expert at helping people get out of debt.

Just be careful. Every time you pull out the credit card, think of it like a chainsaw.

Resources for this post:
Dave Ramsey’s Web Site:

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Taking Care of an Injured Hen

Previously I talked about how I nursed an injured hen back to health when I was a kid. You can read about it in this post: Which came first – the chicken or the egg.

About a week ago, I discovered one of our young hens hanging from a roost. She had gotten her leg caught in the roost because of my poor design. I have fixed that so it won’t happen again. Her foot was blue and cold and the toes were curled up. She couldn’t stand up at all. She just sat there on the floor with both legs sticking straight out to the side.

The Injured Hen Can't Straighten Her Log

The Injured Hen Can’t Straighten Her Log

I kept an eye of her for the next couple days but she didn’t seem to get better. The only improvement I saw was that her foot was getting some of its natural color back. She continued to lie on the floor of the coop with her legs unable to bend. I knew if she didn’t drink she would die quickly, so I kept water and food next to her.

I would go check on her and find her unable to reach the water, so I would move it close to her again and she would drink a lot. By the 3rd day, I decided to move her inside and keep her in a cardboard box. That way I could prevent her from getting too far away from the water and food because the box was small.

By day 4, her foot had its normal color again. This was a good sign. I could bend her legs for her but she couldn’t do it herself. I periodically exercised her legs for her to improve her flexibility.

On day 5, she could sit with her legs under her and started trying to stand up. She was unable to stand for more than a few seconds but she continued to try.

On day 6, she was standing up on her own so I moved her back to the coop with the other chickens. That night we actually found her outside when the door closed. We had to move her inside but it was a good sign that she was moving around that much. Then last night she made her way back in to the coop before the door shut for the night.

Now a week later here she is walking with a limp but walking nonetheless. She seems to be on her way to recovery.

We actually thought about putting her down when we first discovered her hanging upside down. We’re so glad we didn’t.

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Adding Fish to the Pond

The pond has been holding water fairly well. It seems to drop a few inches then level off after I fill it. I decided it was time to add some fish today.

I shut down the aquaponics system and transfered the goldfish, which have gotten fairly big, to the pond. Here’s a video:

Note that I said I was only putting 5 goldfish in the pond. I later decided to put all of them in it. There were 23 total.

I’ll publish more progress updates later.

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The Pond Project – Doing a Test Fill

Recently I started a project to build a pond between our two swales. The purpose is to increase our water storage and infiltration. Another benefit is to attract more plant and animal life to the food forest. I will explain more about the design and construction process once it is complete.

Once the initial dig was complete, I wanted to do a test fill so see how much work I needed to do to seal the pond. Also it allowed me to do some work to shape the slope so it is shallow around the edge.

In this first video, I show the pond as it begins to fill and describe some of my plans:

Here in the second video, you can see the pond is full. The connecting swale will allow the water that overflows from the upper swale to flow into the pond. When the pond is full, the excess water will exit the connecting swale’s spillway and flow downhill to the lower swale.

I estimated the volume as follows. First, I measured the flow rate by timing how long it took to fill a 5 gallon bucket. It took 36 seconds which works out to a flow rate of 8.33 gallons per minute. The entire pond took 3 hours and 5 minutes to fill completely. Multiplying the fill time of 185 minutes by 8.33 gallons per minutes gets a total volume of about 1540 gallons. Due to some water soaking in while it was filling, the volume is probably a little less. I would like the pond to hold more, so I will probably dig it out more after I drain it.

Once the pond was full, I watched the water level for a few days. What I observed was that the water level dropped several inches the first day, but then it seemed so slow down. That tells me that the portion of the pond that is below grade might not need much work to seal it. Sealing might only be required on the dam area that is above the original grade.

I will do some work to seal it and then another test fill. My goal is to complete the pond before cold weather and populate it with the goldfish that I remove from our aquaponics system when it is time to shut that down for winter. Stay tuned for more updates.

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