Sunday, March 22, 2009

Survival Hunting - The Pellet Gun

When I was growing up, nearly every kid's first real rifle was a pellet gun. We ranged far and wide through the woods with our pellet guns, and birds and squirrels feared us. Of course we soon graduated to .22's and shotguns and our childhood pellet guns were forgotten in the back of the closet. Well, it's time to dig into that closet and pull out your old friend, because a pellet gun can be a handy survival tool. Think about it. The pellet gun is accurate, it's quiet, it's powerful enough to kill small game, and you can hold 250 bullets in the palm of your hand. And if you don't have your old pellet gun anymore, go to the store and look around. Your old model may still be there along with some interesting new arrivals. Pellet guns all operate by using compressed gas to force a small lead or alloy bullet out of the rifled barrel, but the system for compressing the gas is different in different styles of gun.

The Pump-Up Gun
When I was a kid the Benjamin Pump was the king of pellet rifles. The air was compressed in a holding chamber by pumping a lever located beneath the barrel. The more you pumped (up to a point) the more power behind the pellet. The Benjamin came in .177 caliber and .22 caliber. I never have really figured which caliber was better. We argued about it as kids, and as far as I know the debate continues to be unresolved. The .177 has a faster muzzle velocity, but the .22 has a bigger bullet and thus more shock power. I guess they both must be pretty good, because after all these years; manufactures still make both calibers. I had, and still have, a 177. caliber; but that's just because that's the one that my dad bought me for Christmas. You can still buy a Benjamin, and they haven't changed over the years. The cost now is about $125, and they still spit out a pellet at about 1000 ft. per second. My brother-in-law recently bought a good, working Benjamin at a garage sale for $25. I've offered to give him twice that for it, but he won't bite. Several other companies now make pump pellet guns including Daisy and Crossman, but they just don't seem to be the same quality as the Benjamin. For one thing the Benjamin still has a real wood stock, and for another it's made in the USA.
The CO2 Gun
There is a whole class of air rifles and pistols that are powered by CO2 gas that comes in small cartridges. They are hard shooters, but I stay away from them because they are worthless without the little compressed gas cartridges. I'd rather have a gun that I can compress the gas in by hand.

The Break Action Pellet Gun
I had one friend, when I was a kid, that had a pellet gun that broke open like a shotgun. Breaking the gun open to load it also compressed air into a holding tank to fire the gun. I was not particularly impressed with this gun, because it was not very powerful. These break open, one stroke air guns have improved a lot since those days. They now fire with as much power as the pump guns. The Germans developed some particularly high quality, and expensive, guns of this type. This type of pellet gun has become increasingly popular, and there are several companies making them. The level of quality is all over the board. There has been a recent flood of 22. caliber, Chinese break action guns on the market. They are inexpensive, around $30, but the quality is poor. My son bought one at an army-navy store and it shot pretty well, but didn't have as much power as the Benjamin, and it didn't last but about six months. Personally I'd pay the extra and have a gun that I know will last a lifetime. I recently bought a Beeman break action pellet gun, and I have been very happy with it. It is made in the U.S.A. It has a real wood stock, it came with both .22 and .117 caliber barrels, and it has a fairly good scope. I shot it into a catalogue from 75 feet and it penetrated 100 pages. At 120 feet I was consistently hitting rabbit sized targets. This seems to be a good quality gun for the mere $135 it costs, but only time will tell.

Pictured Below: top, Beeman break-action pellet rifle; middle, Benjamin pump; bottom, inexpensive Chinese single pump.

If you do buy a pellet rifle, make sure that it is a compressed air gun and not a spring powered BB gun. A BB gun does not have the power or accuracy to be considered a real hunting weapon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Food Storage - Dried, Canned Hamburger

I came across this recipe for preserving hamburger meat on the End Times website a couple of years ago and I have been using it ever since. It is a great way to store meat without having to rely of your freezer, and the meat is always ready to use, no waiting for it to thaw out. I usually buy ground chuck in the five pound logs. You are going to cook and drain all of the fat away, so the leaner meat you start off with the less waste you will have. If you are going to can the meat for long term storage, you will need to sterilize your jars and jar lids before, or at the same time as, you prepare the hamburger. Five pounds of ground meat will fit in 2 to 3 pint jars, or 4 to 6 half-pints; depending on how fatty the original meat is.

Directions for preparing hamburger:

• Thoroughly brown the meat in a large cast iron skillet.

• When meat is browned, pour off the grease and transfer the meat to a colander.

• Rinse the meat thoroughly under hot running water to remove any remaining grease

• Wipe any remaining grease out of the skillet and place the drained hamburger back in the skillet.

• Heat the hamburger in the skillet until steam quits rising from the meat. Use a spatula to turn the meat and keep it moving so that it doesn't burn.

• When the hamburger quits steaming, spread it out in an even layer on baking sheets and place in a 200 degree oven. Leave the oven door propped slightly open and let the hamburger dry for about 2 hours.

• Place the, still hot, dried hamburger in hot sterilized jars, and cap tightly with sterilized lids and jar rings. In about 15 minutes the lids will ping and you will know that you have a good seal. Label and date the jars, and place them in storage.

I don't know how long the hamburger will keep when stored this way, but I can attest from personal experience that it is at least 2 years. To reconstitute the meat all that you have to do is put 1 cup of dried meat in 2 cups of water and let it soak for a while. I usually keep a pint can of dried hamburger in the kitchen pantry and when I make spaghetti sauce or vegetable beef soup, I grab a handful of meat and toss it in. It will re-hydrate as the other ingredients are cooking. You can use this meat in tacos, lasagna, chili, or any other recipe where you would normally use loose hamburger.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What to Plant, What to Buy at the Store

What to Plant, What to Buy at the Store

Like me, you may have limited garden space. Maybe you live in the city. My problem is that I live in the middle of the forest, and to make more garden room I would have to cut down trees. I do have one area that I'm slowly clearing so that I have the potential to have a much larger garden, but for now I'm limited to about 1600 square feet. So, I can't plant everything I would like to. I've had to make some decisions about what to raise in the garden and what to buy at the grocery store. I take mainly three things into consideration; flavor, price, and storability.

Take bell peppers for example. I was at the grocery store the other day, and one green bell pepper was $1.19. I bought it (stir-fried pepper beef doesn't taste right without the pepper), but it ticked me off. Last Spring I bought 6 bell pepper plants for $1.79. I turned up a little patch about a foot across for each pepper, planted them inside of a little PVC collar to keep the cut worms away, sprinkled a handful of 8-8-8 fertilizer around each plant, and laid down a good bed of mulch to keep the weeds down. That was it. Total work time about 45 minutes. I had to water occasionally, and when the plants got bigger I staked them up for support. What I'm saying is that there was no intensive labor involved here. I figure that at $1.19 each I must have harvested 75 or 80 dollars worth of bell peppers off of theses 6 plants. I picked bell peppers from June to November. Now that is a good return on investment.

Onions are another good example. A good onion at the grocery is $0.75 to $1.00. I can grow 300 onions for $5.00. We pull them, braid them, and hang them from the ceiling beams, and have onions all winter. Again, a good return on investment.

Now pinto beans are another story. I could plant my whole garden in pinto beans and not harvest as many as I can buy at the store for $10. It just doesn't make sense to take up garden space for pinto beans. I plant a few just to enjoy a meal or two of fresh picked beans, but that's all.

I plant purple hull peas for flavor. Dried peas or canned peas just don't come close, so I plant bed of purple hulls and get enough for ten or twelve meals of fresh peas.

Tomatoes are a good example of planting for taste and to save money. Eight or nine tomato plants will yield hundreds of tomatoes. My Arkansas Travelers yield all summer; even in the heat of August. I eat fresh tomatoes that are so much better than store-bought that it can't be described. I can tomatoes, can spaghetti sauce, and can hot sauce. I also dry tomatoes, and I give a lot of tomatoes to friends. All of this for the price of about 5 tomatoes at the grocery store.

I plant Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce, a type of leaf lettuce. It is fairly heat tolerant, and a dollar's worth of seed will yield many bunches of lettuce. A good return on investment here, plus you know it's not loaded down with DDT or contaminated with ecoli.
Boston Pickling Cucumbers are great for making pickles. I plant about a dollar's worth of seeds along a trellis and get pounds and pounds of cucumbers. Last year I planted a trellis about eight feet long by 4 feet high and put up about 30 pints of pickles. Of course there's some additional expense and labor involved in canning pickles, but man are they good. You can also eat these cucumbers fresh, but I'm not a big fan of fresh cucumbers. They give me heart burn, but if you can tolerate them, the taste is good.

I can't understand why squash is so expensive in the grocery store. I plant about 4 or 5 hill of it (7 seeds to the hill), and I get sick of squash I end up with so much. I eat it, I freeze it, I give it to friends until they run when they see me coming, and I still have squash. I like Yellow Crook Neck, Zucchini, and in the fall I plant Butter Nut. Squash seeds are super easy to save. Plant one good crop and you'll have squash for life.

Potatoes are good when they're fresh from the garden, but when they're planted in the traditional way they take up a lot of space relative to the yield that you get. I'm trying a new method of potato planting this year where you plant the potatoes inside of wooden frames and add more frames and mulch as the potatoes grow up through successive layers. The yield is supposed to be huge for a very small area. We'll see. If it works I'll do a post about it; in the mean time, potatoes remain on the buy-it-at-the-store list.

I currently buy flour and cornmeal at the store, but this year I will be trying my first corn crop in my new garden area and we'll see how that works out. I would love to be able to raise a good crop of Country Gentleman each year and grind it on a home grist mill.

Well these are just a few of my thoughts that may be of some help if you are planning a garden and wondering what to plant. By the way, if this is your first garden, plant some radishes. I don't really like radishes, but they come up so fast its almost like an instant reward. A good confidence builder.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Survival Garden - Forget Rows

One of the most common mistakes that beginning gardeners make is plow up a huge garden and plant rows and rows of crops, then they spend the rest of the spring and summer fighting weeds. You will get higher yields from a smaller area and do lots less work, if you plant in beds. Many people think that crops are planted in rows because the plants need a certain amount of space between them in order to grow. It's true that plants do need room to grow, but they don't need near as much as is usually recommended on seed packets. Row planting was developed as a system when man first started using plows. Space was left between each row so that the plow animal would have a place to walk during cultivation. When mechanical agriculture came on the scene, the rows were spaced even wider. So unless you are using a mule or a tractor to cultivate, you don't really need the space between rows. Look at your typical seed packet of bush beans. It will probably say something like, "Plant seeds 6 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart." If you are doing hand cultivating using beds you can forget about the 2 feet apart. I plant bush beans in beds that are 4 feet wide, and I plant the seed 6 inches apart in each direction. Now think about it, I am planting 500 plants in a 100 sq. ft. bed. To plant the same amount of beans in rows that are 2 feet apart would take up 500 sq. ft. of your garden. And guess what's going to grow in that empty 400 sq. ft. You got it,---WEEDS. The way I plant, the beans are close enough together that the weeds don't have anywhere to grow. So while I'm sitting on the porch drinking iced tea, you're out in your garden hoeing weeds. Doesn't seem fair does it? Pictured below: A bed of different kinds of greens in early March.

Another advantage of planting in beds is that once a bed is established it takes way less effort to keep your soil loose and workable. I have permanent beds in my garden. I plant different crops in them each year, but I keep the same beds. My beds are about 4' wide and I leave an 18" walking path between the beds. I pile about 6" of pine needle mulch on the paths to keep weeds from growing in them. I hand turn the beds with a turning fork to a depth of ten to twelve inches; and once a bed has been established, I never walk on it again. All planting, cultivating, and harvesting is done from the paths. By staying off of the beds, the soil does not become compacted and is easy to turn for the next planting. I do fudge a little bit by stepping into the beds when I re-turn the soil each season, but that's about the only exception to my "don't walk on the dirt" rule. My garden is about 1200 sq. ft. I have been gardening the same patch of land for over 25 years, and I have never used a tractor or garden tiller on it. I couldn't do this if I was row planting, but by planting in beds it is easy to keep the garden up with nothing more than a turning fork, a rake, and a hoe. Pictured below: A bed of garlic and onions. This bed has 25 garlic plants and about 300 onions in about 100 square feet.

The one concession that I make to mechanical gardening is that I use a gas powered weed-eater to cut down bush bean vines after I have picked them clean. I tried cutting them down with a yoyo but this tended to pull the roots up along with the vine. I want the roots, with their attached nitrogen nodules, to stay in the ground and enrich the soil; so I yielded to modern technology in this instance.

Bed planting cuts way down on the time you will spend weeding. As mentioned above, I don't have to weed bush beans or field peas at all because of the dense planting. My walking paths are kept mulched so there's no weeding there either. I mulch around my tomatoes, squash, peppers, and cucumbers so that I only have to weed a very small area right at the base of the plants. I do have to weed a little along my pole beans; but here again, mulching right up close to the vines keeps weeding to a minimum. The only thing that I just flat out have to weed is my onion patch. I haven't figured out a way around this one, but if you have tried anything that works I'd sure like to hear about it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Why Are They Persecuting Bernie Madoff?

I can't for the life of me understand why everyone is so mad at poor old Bernie Madoff. I read that he is accused of perpetrating a Ponzi scheme. The way I understand it, a Ponzi scheme is where you get people to give you money and promise them that you'll give them their money and more at a later date. Apparently the illegal part comes in when you don't invest the money in anything tangible; but instead, you pay back the early investors with money that is given to you by later investors. As long as you can keep bringing more and more people into the scheme everything works out great. The problem is that eventually you run out of people to bring into the scheme, and the whole pyramid collapses.

How, I ask you, is this any different from the whole American economy? Think about it. Our whole economy is based on consumption. You have to have more and more people consuming more and more goods in order to keep the economy working. Years ago people bought what they needed and saved the rest of their income against a rainy day. The U.S. economy grew because the increasing population kept moving West, opening new land to agriculture and ranching, and discovering vast new mineral wealth. When the westward expansion grew to a close, no new real wealth was being created or discovered so businesses and financial institutions had to come up with a new way of keeping the economy rolling. "Presto!" they said. "Let's just get the people to buy more. That way we can continue to increase production and continue to grow richer." And there, my friends, is the birth of advertising. An entire industry dedicated to convincing you to buy things that you don't need. They convinced you that you're wife wouldn't love you if you didn't buy her a diamond. They convinced you that you're "friends" would think you were are loser if you didn't drive an expensive car. They made up holidays like mother's day and Valentine's Day and secretary's day so they could sell you more. And they perverted holidays like Christmas to turn them into two month long buying sprees. And it all worked great. You spent more and more, and saved less and less; and the economy grew like a Brontosaurus. But then a tragedy occured. You were spending everything you had. You couldn't spend any more, and the economy couldn't keep growing. "But wait'" the businessmen and bankers said. "All they need is more money. Let's loan them the money. Then they'll keep buying our stuff that they don't really need, and they'll have to pay us interest for the money that we loan them. Brilliant!!" And so now you really went to town. A mailman could live in a 16 room house. A barber could drive a exotic sports car. A secretary could vacation in Europe. A school teacher could buy a vacation home. All you had to do was take out a loan or put it on the card. So you consumed more and more. And the economy grew like a super nova. And then another tragedy struck. One day you woke up and realized that you could never pay it all off. The bankers kept loaning you money, even though they knew that you could never pay it back. You see the bankers had also loaned money to the businessmen so the businessmen could buy more machines to build more stuff for you to buy to keep the economy growing. And the only way they could get their money back from the businessmen was to loan you more money to buy the stuff that the businessmen were making. So they loaned you more money even though they knew you could never pay it back, and incidentally, they sold your loans off to investment groups. One of those investment groups was probably your retirement fund. You know, the thing that you were counting on in your old age. So, those clever bankers actually sold you your own loan. And then another tragedy struck. Your neighbor couldn't pay his loan back, so he gave up. He told the bankers, "I can't pay for it. You can have it back." And then another neighbor did the same thing, and another, and another. And the dominoes feel, and the pyramid collapsed. And that's where you are today. The whole thing was one big Ponzi scheme, and it finally fell in.

So why are they persecuting poor old Bernie? I'll tell you why. He made the mistake of stealing from the thieves. They've been doing it to us for years with their banks, and their investment firms; and they've packed it all away in the form of trust funds, and non-profits, and foundations. And Bernie broke the code and turned on them. Now they'll have their pound of flesh as surely as a South American drug lord would deal with his accountant ripping him off. The people that Bernie ripped off own the law, bought and paid for; and they own the media that's reporting on it. They will bring the full fury of these institutions to bear on him. Personally I care about this whole Madoff thing about as much as I care about rival gang members killing each other. Where has the outcry been about the Ponzi scheme that's been perpetrated on the American public for the past 100 years?

Will the economy recover? Yes. Will the powers that be want you to keep consuming? Yes. Take my advice. Don't be a sucker again. Live within your means. Don't buy it if you don't need it. And if I may contradict the words of our former illustrious President, "Don't go shopping."