Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Caring for Onion Sets Prior to Planting

I, like most people I know, plant my onions from sets that I buy at the feed store.  You can start onions from seed, but it’s much easier to buy the small bunches of onions that are about five or six inches tall and just stick them in the ground.  Here in East Texas we plant onion sets around mid-February.  My dad always planted onions and potatoes on Valentines Day.  The problem is that onion sets are already in at the feed store, but it won’t be time to plant them for about three weeks.  The onions will still be at the feed store three weeks from now, but they will be pretty dried out and not nearly as prime as they are now.  So, what I do is go ahead and buy my onion sets while they are good and fresh; and then I heel them in until it is time to plant.

“Heeling in” is a temporary planting so that the plants will be able to draw nutrients and moisture from the soil while they await a final planting location.  The heeling in process is very simple and only takes a few minutes.  All you have to do is go out to your garden and dig a shallow hole.  For onions I dig down about two inches.

Then you place the still bundled onions all together in the hole.  Just stick the bulb portion underground and leave the greens sticking up.

Drop dirt around and in between the bundles and firm it down gently.

Water lightly, and you are all heeled in.

“Well Hank,” you say, “If you’re going to do that why don’t you just go ahead and plant the onions?”  Good question; and I have a good answer.  You see, I don’t want my onions to be caught by a hard freeze.  Onions are pretty frost tolerant, but if they catch a hard freeze the tops may die back.  The bulb will sprout again but you’ll end up with that little dead ring in the middle from the killed top; and that dead ring can be the beginning of a rotten onion if you are trying to store them for a few months.

Now I know that those people going through a blizzard up in Boston may have trouble believing it, but winter is almost over here in East Texas.  We might get a hard freeze in the next three weeks, but by mid-February the wild plum trees, what we call hog plums, will be blooming.  After that time we generally don’t get a hard freeze, and by the second week of March we’ve usually had our last frost.  So all I have to do is get my onion sets through about three weeks and then I can plant them.  By heeling them in all together in one location, I can throw a little pine straw on top of them and cover them with a five gallon bucket if we do have a freeze.  This is the method I use to cover my outdoor faucets during a freeze, and they have weathered temperatures in the teens with no problem.  The freezing temperatures rarely last more than a day or two, and the ambient heat from the ground, along with the heat produced by the decaying pine needles, will keep my onion sets (and faucets) from freezing.

On Valentine’s Day I’ll pull my nice fresh, healthy onion sets; separate the bundles, and give them a semi-permanent home in my garden.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

For Want of a Nail the Kingdom was Lost

I was straightening up my shop the other day when it occurred that I had made a major omission in my long-term survival preparations.  I had never given much thought to nails, screws and other fasteners.  Anyone who lives in the country probably has a pretty good collection of fasteners. It’s really kind of a necessity.  

On a farm, things are always getting built or repaired, and nothing is more frustrating than to be in the middle of a project and to have to stop and drive 10 miles to town to buy 89 cents worth of screws.  So it’s natural for country people to keep a collection of odds and ends that they may need.  On my farm, nothing ever gets thrown away without first removing the screws or nuts and bolts and putting them in a jar.  I know that this can save me time and gasoline in the future. But think about a world where there’s no hardware store to drive to.  Think about having to build a shed or make a repair on your house without any nails.  It can be done, but boy is it a lot of work.

In the 1700’s and on up into the 1800,s the most expensive items used in building the average home were window glass and nails.  Nails were handmade by a blacksmith and when you pulled one out of a board, you sure didn’t throw it away.  You straightened it out and put it is a can or a jar for later use.  Today, we’ve all gotten spoiled by the cheap prices of manufactured items like nails.  We don’t think about the amount of work that goes into producing nails if they have to be made by hand.  So, do yourself a favor and lay in twenty pounds of nails in various sizes.  They don’t cost much now, but they could be worth their weight in silver if things go bad.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Don’t be Deterred by Prepper Snobbery

I don’t care what it is that you’re interested in, there’s always going to be somebody that is sure that they know how to do it better, that they are more knowledgeable, more evolved, and more precise.  In short, there are always snobs.  Of course the classic example is the wine snob, but these guys exist in every human endeavor, including prepping.

I was reading some stuff about food storage on a forum the other day.  One guy had asked how he could tell if five-gallon plastic buckets were food grade or not.  The rest of the thread was taken up by several individuals who were desperately trying to one-up each other on how to be absolutely certain that a given bucket was suitable for food storage.  My favorite was a guy who pointed out that even though the plastic bucket itself might be food grade, it is vitally important to know if the lubricant used on the bucket mold is also food grade and that this would involve contacting the manufacturer to find out what kind of lubricant they are using.  Really?  Numerous possible comments flashed through my mind.  “Aren’t you going to wash out the bucket?” or “ Aren’t you going to put the food inside of sealed plastic food storage bags before you put it in the bucket?” or “ Are you aware that there is a Federal standard for how many rodent hairs are in that hotdog that you are eating?”  But I’m not a member of that forum, so I just shook my head and went my merry way.

Another one I read not long ago was from some guy railing about how buying anything but original factory made metal gun magazines was just a waste of money.  Well, maybe so; but I’ve been using Tapco polymer magazines for years, and I’ve fired hundreds and hundreds of rounds through them.  I’ve never had a problem except with their SKS magazines and everybody has trouble with those because an SKS was never meant to have a magazine.  You can argue with me till you’re blue in the face but I’m still not going to pay the extra $8.00 just because it has Colt stamped on it.

I could give many more examples, but I’m going to stop my rant right here.  I’m just trying to tell you that you should seek answers to questions that you have about prepping, but that you should not take every answer at face value.  Our world is rife with, mall ninjas, prepper snobs, and experts that have never really done it.  Don’t let them deter you from proceeding with your preps.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Sweet Potato Harvest

I just wanted to do a little follow-up on my June post about starting sweet potato slips and planting them.

I had originally planted 14 slips in a bed that measured about three feet by twelve feet.  

Of those 14 slips, 12 of them lived to maturity.  In mid-October I decided that it was time to harvest them.  Although we hadn’t had a frost yet, the weather was getting cooler and wetter, and the vines were beginning to lose a little of their color; so I decided I’d dig up at least one hill just to see if they were ready.

I pulled back the vines and could see a potato jutting up out of the ground, so I used my hands (thanks to the addition of a lot of sand the soil is very loose) and dug down around the potato.  What was sticking out of the ground was just the tip of the iceberg.  There was a pile of sweet potatoes down there.

I went ahead and dug all of the hills and laid the potatoes out in the sun so the skins would set.

That afternoon I went out and brushed the dirt off of them (never wash them until you are ready to cook them) and hauled them up to the house.  According to the scale I had 46 pounds of sweet potatoes.  That’s an average of a little more than 1.7 pounds per square foot.  Pretty good return on investment.

I laid the sweet potatoes out, not touching, in a warm, dark room to cure for two weeks.  This increases the sugar content of the potatoes.  After two weeks we started eating and boy are they good.

By the way, did you know that sweet potatoes are a staple of the Okinawan diet, and that the Okinawans have the longest average life expectancy of any people on earth?  Could it be the sweet potatoes?