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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: http://www.daveramsey.com

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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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Video of the Chicks Moving into the Bigger Brooder

Previously I posted about the baby chicks we got. You can read it here. They are now 17 days old and growing fast. They should because they eat like little pigs!

They have outgrown the small brooder, so it’s time to move them to the bigger brooder in our garage. It’s a very simple design made from cardboard. Watch along as I introduce them to their larger home and I explain how it is put together:

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Another Video Tour of the Swale Project

Today I did another walk-through of the swale project. The summer was very hot and dry. We’ve had 70 days of 90 degrees or higher, making it hard on the plants and even harder on me. As I get older, it is becoming a necessity to make the systems here lower maintenance. The swale system has received very little attention from me over the last 3 months.

Walk with me as we see how the system is doing:

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The Eagle Has Landed – Again

Three years ago we took the plunge and got our first chickens. You can read about our first baby chicks in this post. Five months later we got our first eggs. That began a two year period of fresh eggs for breakfast every day.

Then last summer we contemplated getting more chicks, but decided to push it another year. That was a mistake. The egg production dropped off dramatically in the third year. From now on, we’ll get a new batch of chicks every two years to keep the egg production up.

Our first chicks were a variety of egg laying breeds. This time around we decided to get all one breed. The idea was to make it easier to distinguish the different generations without having to tag their legs. Some definitely laid better than others. One of the best layers was a breed called Red Star. And my favorite chicken is our Red Star. She is very friendly. So this time around we ordered all Red Stars. We’re thinking in two years we’ll do all White Leghorns then Red Stars again two years later.

Three years ago, the chicks arrived after just one day in shipping. This time delivery was very slow, to the point that I was starting to worry that they might not survive. The shipment left Iowa on Monday morning, arrived in Atlanta Tuesday afternoon, and didn’t reach our post office until Thursday morning. As soon as I got the call, I went right to the post office to pick them up.

After three days with no food or water, they were hungry and thirsty. I already had the brooder set up and ready for them. I built it three years ago for the first chicks. It worked well the first time, so I stored it away for the next batch.

When I opened the box, I could see they were all alive which was great news. We received one bonus chick which is noticeably different from all the others. I think they do that to get rid of roosters which are probably ordered much less often. Time will tell. I removed each chick from the box and dipped its beak into the water so it learned where the water was.

Sixteen baby chicks in such a small box!

Sixteen baby chicks in such a small box!

The chicks getting accustomed to the brooder

The chicks getting accustomed to the brooder

Once the chicks found the food, they were slow at first to eat but then they picked up the pace a lot. By the second day, they were going through the food fast. They are definitely messy eaters, so a lot of it ends up on the bottom of the brooder. That will get thrown to the older chickens when I clean out the brooder so nothing goes to waste.

When the chicks first arrived, I had a white incandescent bulb in the brooder for heat. I noticed that the “rooster” was picking at the feet of the other chicks. I read online that white light could cause them to “pick”, and they recommended a red heat bulb. I grabbed my infrared bulb from the chicken coop and swapped it out. That seemed to help.

On the second day, the infrared bulb burned out. My daughter was home and called to tell me. She temporarily put the white bulb back. I checked the local pet stores and found that they did not carry these. I found it on Amazon and ordered a couple of them with same day delivery. The bulbs arrived around 6pm. I was happy to pay the extra $6 to get same day delivery. Who knows how much time that saved me from trying to find a bulb. I have to say I love Amazon. What a great tool it is in a situation like this.

In the Resources section, I included links to some videos I took of the chicks. A couple of the videos are time lapses that are fun to watch.

They grow so fast early on. As I write, they are only 7 days old but they are already getting noticeable feathers on their wings. Before you know it, we’ll be eating fresh eggs again. I can’t wait!

The first feathers appear when the chicks are less than a week old

The first feathers appear when the chicks are less than a week old

Resources for this post:
Our first baby chicks three years ago
All About Our Chickens
Infrared Heat Bulb on Amazon

Videos:

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Peach Trees Thriving in the Swale

I’ve described before how our fruit trees are thriving in the swale environment. Today I took a couple pictures that demonstrate that fact again.

In the first picture is a peach tree that was transplanted from a pot about 2 and a half years ago in March 2014. It was purchased from Lowes in a 3 gallon pot, probably 2-3 years old at the time. It is in the upper part of our yard uphill from the swales. I added wood chip mulch around it a few months ago which has helped retain moisture, but it generally gets much less water than the trees in the swale berm.

Peach Tree from a Pot

Peach Tree from a Pot

The second picture is of a cluster of 3 peach trees in the swale berm. They were transplanted as 2-year-old bare root trees only a year and a half ago in February 2015. I would estimate that these trees are 2 years younger than the lone tree above. They are also planted very close together following Dave Wilson’s multi-planting idea. With that much competition for water and nutrients, these trees would seem to have a disadvantage.

Bare Root Peach Trees in the Swale Berm

Bare Root Peach Trees in the Swale Berm

You can see from the pictures that the trees in the swale are doing quite well. They have experienced nearly 2 full summer growing seasons and 1 winter rainy season. The trees throughout the swale environment are showing signs of the clear benefits of the swales. We can only imagine the kind of growth we’ll see in the next few years. I’m excited to see how it evolves.

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Building Trellises for the New Garden Beds

Last winter, we decided to try a new location for some garden beds in our back yard. The location had the advantages of zone 1 proximity to our house, fenced protection from some pests, more morning sun and less afternoon sun. Here is my previous post about the new beds.

The plan was to construct some trellises over these beds to support tomatoes and climbers like cucumbers. After I got the plants in the ground this spring, it was time to get the trellises built. I wanted to build something very simple to test the location, so it needed to be easy to assemble and disassemble later if I want to change the design.

I gathered some pressure-treated 2x6s and 2x4s from the hardware store. I use coated exterior screws for jobs that I want to be able to take apart later. To avoid wasting lumber, I didn’t cut any of the boards either. A little extra length hanging off the end wouldn’t hurt since I was building something for vines to climb on. Using this approach, the trellises could be taken apart and all the materials reused.

The main 2×6 supports are buried about 12″ and attached to the sides of the beds. The hole is filled with gravel rather than dirt, as I think this will hold it in place better. The rest of the supports are attached with screws and braced with some extra 2x4s. If this works well, I will eventually add some permanent braces. On the other hand, I might tear it down and redesign it. Time and careful observation will determine that.

The wires are old scraps of CAT5 wire left over from longer pulls. You could also use materials like garden hose or rope. I like to use remnants wherever possible before buying something.

In this first picture, the construction has begun:

Simple Construction Begins

Simple Construction Begins

Here the wires have been installed on the first trellis vertically and horizontally. The idea is that the horizontal part if high enough to walk under to mow, harvest fruit, and do other maintenance:

Wires Installed on First Trellis

Wires Installed on First Trellis

Here I’ve started on the 2nd trellis. I designed it so the back support for the first bed doubles as the front support for the 2nd bed:

Work Started on the 2nd Trellis

Work Started on the 2nd Trellis

In this last picture, you can see the cucumbers have started climbing the wires and the tomatoes are well supported between the wires:

Cucumbers Climbing and Tomatoes Supported

Cucumbers Climbing and Tomatoes Supported

As the season goes on, it will be interesting to see if the cucumbers get big enough to climb on the upper portion of the trellis. So far they haven’t gotten that far. Being a first year bed, the soil might not be built up enough to support that much growth. This winter I plan to add another course of boards on the beds to make them deeper, and add a lot more soil and wood chips. Hopefully next year will be an even better season.

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The Story of Our Swale As Told by Four Fig Trees

The weather here has been incredibly hot and dry all summer. We’ve had almost no rain for weeks, and the average highs are 95 degrees. In many areas of our property, plants and trees are looking stressed. Grass is dying and the ground is starting to crack.

In the midst of these brutal conditions, something very exciting is happening. The trees in our swale system are thriving. A couple of years ago, we started digging the first swale then later extended it and added a lower swale a year later.

The upper swale has experienced two seasons of winter rains, while the lower swale has experienced one. During the rainy season from November to February, the swales fill frequently and then soak in slowly. The theory of the swale system is that the landscape becomes hydrated downslope slowly over time. Time will tell but we’re seeing some very encouraging progress.

This photo shows a fig tree that was planted as a bare root 16 months ago in the upper swale. The first season showed moderate growth but this year it has really take off after benefiting from two rainy seasons.

Tree Planted 16 Months Ago in Upper Swale Berm

Tree Planted 16 Months Ago in Upper Swale Berm

By contrast, here is a bare root fig tree that was planted in the lower swale 4 months ago. You can see that it is growing very slowly.

Tree Planted 4 Months Ago in Lower Swale Berm

Tree Planted 4 Months Ago in Lower Swale Berm

About 5 years ago, I planted 2 fig trees in the yard before the swale system was built. This picture is one of those trees. It has grown very little over the years. It is now a few feet below the lower swale. It seems to me to have grown slightly better this year.

Older Tree Below Lower Swale

Older Tree Below Lower Swale

Now here’s the most impressive one. This is the other fig tree that was planted 5 years ago. It is a few feet below the upper swale. Like the previous one, it had not grown well the first few years. Even last year it only showed moderate improvement. But this year, it has exploded with new growth and it is covered with developing figs.

Older Tree Below Upper Swale

Older Tree Below Upper Swale

This last picture shows all four fig trees. You can see the sharp contrast between the two trees around the upper swale on the right, and the two on the left below the lower swale.

All 4 Fig Trees

All 4 Fig Trees

This is a very exciting testimonial about the potential of the swale system. In all, we have about 80 fruit trees in the two swales. If the rest of the trees thrive like these fig trees, we have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

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