Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aquaponics project is on hold

I've decided to put my aquaponics project on hold for a little while. My biggest hurdle has been finding a suitable grow bed to match up with a 20 gallon aquarium tank. I tried a few different storage totes but none of them worked out. It's too hard to get a good seal for the siphon and drain that has to go on the bottom because the plastic is so flimsy. I need to find or build something that's a lot more sturdy. The hydroponics grow beds that I looked at were too shallow for an aquaponics system to work properly. Everything that I've read so far says that the grow bed needs to be 12 inches deep.

I haven't given up. I'm just going to set up an actual aquarium for now. I need to learn how to keep small fish alive under normal circumstances before I go crazy and try to do it on a large scale using unconventional methods. A lot of the principles that go into setting up an aquarium are used in an aquaponics setup, anyway. The nitrogen cycle is the core of an aquaponics system and you have to get it under control in a normal aquarium, anyway. I'll just use the water from my water changes to water my plants. We'll see how it goes.

Hopefully, within a few months I'll have a good sized indoor system going. I need to build a greenhouse that I can keep warm in the winter before I try to build something outside. I'm not sure if my patio slab will be able to hold a ~200 gallon tank plus a grow bed, anyway. That's the only good place in my backyard where I have room to make it work. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Back in My Day....

I saw this on facebook and had to repost it. Sometimes we just need something to laugh at.

When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were. When they were growing up; what with walking twenty-five miles to school ...every morning.... Uphill... Barefoot... BOTH ways...yadda, yadda, yadda

And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it!

But now that I'm over the ripe old age of forty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today. You've got it so easy! I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a damn Utopia! And I hate to say it, but you kids today, you don't know how good you've got it!

1) I mean, when I was a kid we didn't have the Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalog!!

2) There was no email!! We had to actually write somebody a letter - with a pen! Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox, and it would take like a week to get there! Stamps were 10 cents!

3) Child Protective Services didn't care if our parents beat us. As a matter of fact, the parents of all my friends also had permission to kick our ass! Nowhere was safe!

4) There were no MP3's or Napsters or iTunes! If you wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the record store and shoplift it yourself!

5) Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio, and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up! There were no CD players! We had tape decks in our car. We'd play our favorite tape and "eject" it when finished, and then the tape would come undone rendering it useless. Cause, hey, that's how we rolled, Baby! Dig?

6) We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting! If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal, that's it!

7) There weren't any freakin' cell phones either. If you left the house, you just didn't make a damn call or receive one. You actually had to be out of touch with your "friends". OH MYGOSH !!! Think of the horror... not being in touch with someone 24/7!!! And then there's TEXTING. Yeah, right. Please! You kids have no idea how annoying you are.

8) And we didn't have fancy Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was! It could be your school, your parents, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, the collection agent... you just didn't know!!! You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!

9) We didn't have any fancy PlayStation or Xbox video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics! We had the Atari 2600! With games like 'Space Invaders' and 'Asteroids'. Your screen guy was a little square! You actually had to use your imagination!!! And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen.. Forever! And you could never win. The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died! Just like LIFE!

10) You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! You were screwed when it came to channel surfing! You had to get off your ass and walk over to the TV to change the channel!!! NO REMOTES!!! Oh, no, what's the world coming to?!?!

11) There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning. Do you hear what I'm saying? We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled rotten little rat-bastards!

12) And we didn't have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove! Imagine that!

13) And our parents told us to stay outside and play... all day long. Oh, no, no electronics to soothe and comfort. And if you came back inside... you were doing chores!

And car seats - oh, please! Mom threw you in the back seat and you hung on.. If you were lucky, you got the "safety arm" across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly, and if your head hit the dashboard, well that was your fault for calling "shot gun" in the first place!

See! That's exactly what I'm talking about! You kids today have got it too easy. You're spoiled rotten! You guys wouldn't have lasted five minutes back in 1970 or any time before!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Quote of the day

"To those who prepare for the worst, the worst never seems to happen. To those who prepare for the best, the worst always seems to happen".

I have no idea who said this but in most cases it rings true.

Friday, February 11, 2011


So I've been doing a lot of research on aquaponics lately. Basically, when you set up an aquaponics system you're setting up a miniature eco-system. Everything works together. Ideally, you'll end up with a system that requires very little maintenance and it produces a lot of food. At first glance, it sounds like pie in the sky voodoo. From what I've seen it's pretty impressive when implemented correctly. The cool thing is that you can implement it correctly on a very small scale. So what the hell is it?

Basically it mixes hydroponics with aquaculture. You raise fish and vegetables at the same time. The fish create ammonia. The bacteria in the medium that the plants are planted in convert it to nitrites. The plants convert the nitrites to nitrates and that water is pumped back to the fish. The cycle continues.

I want to try the idea but it's kind of hard to do here in the middle of winter. Once I get an indoor setup set up I'll let you all know. From what I can tell on Craigslist people are VERY proud of their fish tanks so I'll be hitting some pet stores this weekend. My goal right now is to get a small scale aquaponics system going. I'll probably plant a small bed with some herbs or easily cultivated baby greens. Hopefully, by this spring I'll know a thing or two and I'll be able to get something going that produces something meaningful. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Recipe from preps: Penne Pasta in tomato sauce

Do you cook with your preps? From time to time I'm going to post up a recipe for preps made entirely out of long term storage food that you should probably have plenty of. Mayberry gave me the idea a few days ago. I'll try to post up the recipe and then mention any tweaks you can do in case you're short on something. Of course, if you know that you need something for a recipe that you really like then you'll probably have plenty of it on hand. Experiment, tweak and, most importantly, LEARN HOW TO COOK now so that you can benefit from the cheapest, easiest, most cost effective luxury there is whether the world is ending or you're just having trouble making rent. Anyway, on to the recipe.

What you'll need:

16 oz cup Penne pasta
16 oz Can of chicken
8 oz can of tomato sauce x2
1/4 cup dried onions
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 6 oz can of mushrooms
15 oz can of chicken stock
1 tsp each of oregano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper

Drain the chicken and then brown it in a hot, 10" cast iron skillet. Add the cans of tomato sauce, penne pasta, dried onions and mushrooms. Pour in enough chicken stock so that everything is just submerged. Add the garlic powder and spices and stir it all together. Once it comes to a boil turn off the heat and cover the skillet. Let it sit for 20 minutes and it should be ready to serve.

Tweaks and notes:

You can sub the pasta for any other type of pasta. The chicken can be subbed for just about any other canned or dehydrated meat. I, personally, have a couple of cans of freeze dried hamburger lying around just in case I can't keep the freezer running. If you're using canned chicken you can dump the entire contents of the can into the skillet to save a bit of water/stock. You can use a jar of pasta sauce in place of the tomato sauce. I just prefer the little cans of tomato sauce because they're MUCH more versatile and they're cheaper. If you don't have chicken stock you can just use water. Throw in a bullion cube to spice it up some more. If you've got fresh herbs, garlic, onions, mushrooms or chicken handy you should definitely use those rather than the canned/dried versions.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sensible Food Storage

There are a few different approaches to food storage. As long as you're doing it at all I don't care how you do it. Just make sure that you're actually doing it and you don't just think that you are. It's really easy to make mistakes and assume that you've got "enough". What if you couldn't leave your house for a week? A month? If the power went out for more than a day or two how much of the food in your house would go bad? If we're talking worst case scenario how long could you really hold out? Your food storage strategy will go a long way towards answering that question.

If you've got the money then the easiest solution is just to buy a freeze dried food supply. Mountain House is the most recognized name in the industry and you can get it from several reputable dealers. Nitro-Pak is an excellent source. They ship free if you order $100 or more. I do have some Mountain House in my supplies. It's very convenient, lightweight, stores easily and never goes bad. They claim that the shelf life on their #10 cans is 25 years. If in 50 years I'm wandering the wasteland and I stumble across a case of Mountain House #10 cans that are dated 1970 I won't even question whether or not they're still good. They don't go bad. They just lose their "nutritional value". A vitamin D deficiency probably won't kill you. A calorie deficiency will. Mountain House meals will continue to provide a source of calories and a lot of the "nutritional value" long after they're "expired". If you can afford it, a supply of Mountain House really is the best "get it and forget it" solution. Keep in mind that a lot of people have come to this realization, including the US government. Supplies are tight because so many people are freaking out.

Then there's the budget "get it and forget it" option. Lots of beans, rice and wheat sealed in mylar bags inside of 5 gallon buckets is by far the most economical solution. Pinto beans and rice are both easy to find in big box stores for around $.50 a pound. Combined, they also provide a complete protein. Some say that you could survive on it indefinitely if you had to. I have no intention of trying. One thing you have to keep in mind when going with this approach is that you need to have a way to process the food. Rice is easy enough. A stock pot and a heat source will get the job done. Technically, you can also cook beans in the same way but it takes several hours and if they're not fresh then you can count on them being hard, chewy and nasty. Get a pressure cooker if you want to get serious about cooking some beans. If you want to store wheat then you need to get a grinder. Some people recommend a Corona. I have one and after spending a bit more on a Back to Basics grinder I will never use the Corona to make flour again. I would also HIGHLY recommend baking bread with your preps often enough to get comfortable with the process. Making bread with freshly ground whole wheat flour is tricky and you might need to implement some tricks of the trade to end up with an edible product consistently. At the end of the day, though, wheat, beans and rice will probably stay wholesome longer than we do if properly stored. They have found wheat in Egyptian tombs that actually germinated. That tells me that there is still some nutritional value packed away after a couple thousand years.

The other food strategy is the one that I use. I have some bulk rice, wheat and beans. I also have some #10 cans of Mountain House. Then there are the cases of MREs and CRATs. The bulk of my preps, though, is what I eat every day. My cabinets are packed with canned vegetables, soups, tomato sauce and pasta. If the power goes out I have plans to use everything that's in the (packed) fridge and the freezer. As I use stuff I replace it. I use my wheat storage to make bread. I eat a lot of rice. I even break open an MRE every now and then. My Mountain House is really the only thing that I never touch. Use what you eat. It's the best way to rotate your preps.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What I could have done better

Hindsight is 20/20. I didn't really become interested in current events, investing or prepping until after I bought my house. When I was young and in the army I took my bonus and put it in a mutual fund. Then within 6 months I lost $1000 in it. That put a very bad taste in my mouth toward the stock market and I steered away from investing for a long time. I tried to follow the mantra that if I can't pay cash then I can't afford it. The fact that I had no credit made it easy not to bother applying for it. This went on for years. Eventually I wound up with a good job, in a cheap apartment and a good sized bank account. Then I met my wife.

While we were dating she received a good chunk of cash from an inheritance so we decided to buy a house. This, of course, was at the top of the real estate market. We put our 20% down and got a payment that we could easily afford. We still have the house and we still love it. We're still living well within our means. We bought the house with the intention to live in it forever. It's big enough that I don't see us growing out of it unless we have a 3 or 4 more kids which will not happen. It's small enough that we're not going to feel like it's "too much house" when we get older. It's in a great neighborhood. If we decided to sell it tomorrow we'd probably lose a little but we wouldn't be upside down. So what did I do wrong? I got a mortgage.

We could have bought a small condo or townhouse outright or even just taken out a small mortgage. Of course, the idea of an HOA always turned me off. I was also sick of moving. Still, though, we could have lived in a place like that debt free for just a few years and then either rented it out or sold it when we could afford something bigger. At the time I couldn't have imagined spending 10s of thousands of dollars to live in a place equivalent to my apartment just to save a grand or so a month. Now I'd love to have that opportunity.

So what the hell am I rambling on about? Having that big mortgage hanging over your head really changes your perspective on debt. While it's more than I can hope to pay off "quickly" it's also manageable. As long as I can keep making that payment then no one will bother me. If I can pay a little more then it will shave a few years off of how long I have to pay. With a concerted effort I could probably pay it off before my kid gets old enough to start worrying about money but it would involve some major sacrifices that I highly doubt the wife would be onboard with. If business continues as usual then right about the time I start thinking about retirement it'll be paid off. The world will be completely different by then.

So before I go ranting about things like investing in the stock market, managing credit cards and things as simple as using storage food before the world ends (future posts maybe?) I wanted to put my personal situation into context. What works for me won't work for everyone. I base my financial decisions on my personal situation. Keep that in mind whenever you're reading any of my posts. I'm no expert on anything. I just know enough about the important stuff to feel qualified to weigh in. If I mention something that you think is completely off then I encourage you to call me out. You might just have a point that makes me reconsider my whole take on the situation.