Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Fishing for Food


Important Note: I love to eat fish but no one else in my family does and my wife cannot stand the smell of cooking fish. So while I am posting this as a means for you to obtain fresh, healthy food, I have a catch and release policy. I only take home a fish if I terminally injure one and so far that hasn't happened. 

Now that the cold weather is firmly in place, I think my 2016 fishing season is done. But who knows, last year I saw people kayaking on a warm (50 degrees) day in December. But, I thought I would review my fishing season in the downtime between hunting and spring fishing. (Note: I was successful in the 2016 deer season and harvested a 150 pound, eight point buck, which is now in my freezer)

I always enjoyed fishing when I was growing up. In the mid to late 1960s I fished the Little Lehigh River in Allentown, PA. It was a good trout stream and I fished with a Zebco 303 reel on the original rod starting when I was about six. I used that same rod and reel as I grew older and fished on ponds, other creeks, and big lakes in Canada. The biggest fish I caught on that combo was a 38 inch Pike on Parent Lake (Lac Parent in French) in northern Ontario. That was quite a fight on a kid's rod and reel. It finally wore out sometime in my late teens and was replaced with another Zebco reel, the 33 model, and a better rod.

But when I joined the Army and started traveling all around the country and various parts of the world on new assignments, I had very little time for fishing. My wife and I did some pond fishing in Alabama when I was stationed at Fort Rucker and I occasionally bought a license when we came home on leave. 

Now that I am retired I started fishing again and had quite a few great adventures this past summer. My oldest son bought me an ultra-light reel a couple years ago for Christmas or my birthday and then last fall when he was home on leave to do some hunting he bought me an ultra-light rod. I live a five minute's walk from the Lizard Creek, an excellent fishing stream. So this summer, in June, I packed a few small lures in a waist bag (also a present from my boy), a water bottle, and snacks and headed down to the creek to see what I could do. Wade fishing in a small creek is fun but as an older man, walking on under water rocks slippery with moss and algae is tough work. I luckily never fell in the water but I came close hundreds of times. Anyway, I had fished the Lizard Creek for about eight years in my youth but that was a couple miles upstream from where I now live. So everyday I went into the water it was as much of an exploration as it was a fishing trip.
It doesn't look like much water, and in truth we had a very dry summer, but there are pools behind most of the bigger rocks and small mouth bass sitting in those pools waiting for something good to eat to float by. In theory, this is a trout stream but I caught far more bass and pickerel in the Lizard Creek than trout this summer. The lower picture shows two of the many deeper pools that were loaded with fish.

I went fishing six times on the Lizard Creek and spent anywhere from two to six hours in the water. Besides the many fish I caught, probably 25-30 over the six outings, I also saw numerous ducks, herons, snakes, deer, bald eagles, and a pair of beavers gathering branches for their winter meals. I enjoyed many snack breaks sitting on a rock or log and just watched the animals and the water. Truly an awesome experience out in nature.

I have an old kayak, a large tandem (two seat) kayak that is more suited for lakes than rivers. I found this kayak in the woods behind a housing area on Fort Meade, MD. It had been abandoned. It was covered with branches, leaves, and sticker bushes but I drug it out, loaded it onto my utility trailer, and took it to my house. Unfortunately, someone had hacked it up with a small axe or hatchet and there was a lot of damage, to include several holes through the hull. Not to be deterred from getting myself a free kayak, I went Online to see if it could be repaired. As it turns out, there are plastic "welders" made to repair things like this. So I bought one, $10.99, and repaired all the damage. Then it sat in my basement for three years, unused. I did a tour of duty in The Netherlands and then the Pentagon and only used it once with my youngest son and twice with my wife out on a lake (all of which were a lot of fun). I call this my "Frankenkayak" because I have replaced almost all of the original parts with new (mostly homemade) replacement parts and patched several holes.

This summer I decided to try fishing from the kayak and I took it out on the Lehigh River, which is a ten minute drive from my house. The kayak is over 14 feet long and quite heavy but I had no trouble getting it onto the water and then had a steep learning curve figuring out how to paddle it on moving water and how to effectively fish from it. I had a paddle and Personal Flotation Device (PFD) and that was it. On my first time out I quickly figured out that I need an anchor and I made one out of a rock and some extra rope that I brought. My fishing lures were in my standard tackle box, which was not a great solution. But the first time out on the Lehigh I caught twelve large fish and dozens of smaller ones.

I had a great time on the river all by myself that first time out and clearly fishing from a kayak was more productive than fishing from shore. Most of the area I was fishing couldn't be reached very easily from the shore anyway. So I went Online and started researching kayak angling to see what I could do to improve my kayak and to learn some tips. With that information I made an anchor using and eye-bolt and a five pound weight, an anchor trolley system so I can move the anchor from the front to the rear of my boat, and I made a paddle holder.
This cost me nothing since I had the parts laying around my shop. A store-bought kayak anchor will cost $20-$45

The other big improvement was to move my lures into flat trays, which tuck in along side my seat. The tackle box took up a lot of leg room and I had to open the whole thing up each time I wanted to change a lure, which was often. With the trays, I can stash them out of the way and see exactly what I want. 

Over the summer I have found certain lures work best in the Lehigh River and other lures work best on Mauch Chunk Lake and on the Susquehanna River, both of which I also fish. So I have extra trays that I can mix and match lures for the water I will be fishing on. Amazingly, I found that the same company (Plano) makes these trays for fishing and also for small parts in a shop. The exact same trays at Walmart but the ones sold in their hardware department were a little over two dollars cheaper than the exact same trays (the labels were different, one showing fishing tackle and the other showing nuts and bolts) sold in the fishing aisle. So look around before you buy.

In June, July, and August I was averaging 15-30 fish a day on the Lehigh River. As the water got cooler in September, October, and November, fishing got a little tougher. I was catching bigger fish, on average, but fewer of them. My measure for success was did I catch enough fish, by total weight, that I could feed myself and my family for that day (if they ate fish, which they would in a SHTF situation)? I only had one day on the Lehigh when I failed to meet that measure of success. 

So my large kayak was a success but it was not ideal. For one thing, it is so long that I cannot just put it in the back of my truck, I only have a six foot bed and the boat is over 14 feet long. So I need to put it on my ten foot utility trailer. That is fine for me but if my wife drops me off and picks me up down stream she has to deal with towing and backing a trailer, which isn't one of her favorite things to do. The other big issue is the weight. The kayak, empty, weighs eighty pounds. I can carry that, I'm a big guy, but hauling that out of the river and up the bank at the end of the day was rough. And then I had to make multiple trips back and forth to bring all my gear to the truck. So I started researching and looking for a smaller, angling kayak. 

There are many, many companies out there making kayaks and you can expect to pay anywhere from $250 to the thousands. Most "real", or purpose built angling kayaks are "sit on top" kayaks. Those are great for flat water and maybe some mild rapids, but I often shoot through Class 2+ rapids and next year will fish in some areas with Class 3 rapids. I would not attempt to take a sit on top kayak through that. I also fish in cool-cold weather and a sit in kayak is dryer and warmer. I also don't have excess money laying around so I knew I would be settling on a severe compromise.

After looking at the options I settled on a Future Beach Trophy 126 Kayak on sale at Dick's, mainly because it was on sale. The normal list price was $449 and I paid $269 because of the sale and the Dick's points that I had. Read this Review  

There are others out there just as good, probably some that are better, for the money. But that's what I got. There are many things I like about this kayak. It is light; I can carry it easily even with all my gear on board. It has a small dry box up front and a larger (but not dry) compartment in the rear. It has two rear rod holders and the seat is surprisingly comfortable. I store a bailing container with a large sponge shoved in it in the water bottle holder molded into the seat. I use them to keep the boat dry inside. It turns and paddles nicely and will go in 4-5 inches of water with me (210 pounds) and about 20 pounds of gear. I use the three molded-in trays on the dash board quite a bit. Things I don't like; the seat is molded in and cannot be adjusted in anyway. That means you can only access the rear storage area, which is pretty big, through the hatch. That limits the size of things you carry. I find the cockpit to be too short, my knees hit the front and I have to slide into the seat. I'm 6'1" and medium build so this kayak was definitely built for a smaller person. 

I made a number of modifications to suit me since really the only thing that makes this an "Angling" kayak is the inclusion of two rod holders. I added an anchor trolley, which works very well. I added a paddle holder made from a piece of plastic water pipe I found. I added a tie-down loop to attach my forceps (used to get hooks out of fish). I also added a tow rope because I often have to drag the boat back up rapids that I went down or to traverse shallow water. I can stow four fishing lure trays, two on each side of the seat. All in all it is a great little fishing platform.

This kayak fits in my truck, with the tailgate down, and I can carry it up and down river banks with no problems. My oldest son and I took both kayaks out on a couple fishing trips on local rivers. With his help, getting the bigger kayak on and off the river was not an issue. Since I was more experienced, I took the bigger boat. Having two of us fishing allowed us to each try different lures and different manners of fishing until we found what worked that day. The first day out we only caught a couple, it was disappointing. But the next couple days we were hauling them in.

My oldest son is the best angler in the family, he could catch fish in a bathtub. Once he got used to larger river fishing from a kayak, he was back to his normal speed. Normally he catches about half again as many as I do but on my rivers we were pretty much even. On any given day we caught 10-20 fish between us; that's a lot of food.

That's a 17 inch small mouth bass I caught in the Lehigh River

That's a 14 inch small mouth bass I caught on the Susquehanna, near Pittston.

That's a 19-20 inch Fallfish

One of many 10-12 inch bass I caught on the Lehigh River.

This was a nice 15 inch small mouth bass caught near Hamburg.

This was the whopper of his trip home, also caught near Hamburg.
With fishing, you always have to balance and weigh the time vs product ratio. If I was in a crunch and really needed to secure food for my family, spending several hours fishing might not be the most productive use of my time. But, the more you get out there, the more you learn the river, lake or pond, the more productive you will be. If I had to take an educated guess on the total weight of the fish I caught this summer, it would easily be over two hundred pounds. That was from perhaps 20 times out fishing. I fished mostly in the late afternoons to nightfall after my normal property chores were done. So in may case, it would have been an efficient use of my time. 

In addition, you just cannot measure the enjoyment of being out on the water. This summer I saw two animals for the first time in my life; a River Otter and a Fisher Cat. I sat and watched Beavers and Bald Eagles. I saw two 24+ inch orange Koi swimming in the Lehigh River. I enjoyed a couple swims, ate some good meals, and relaxed in the solitude. Surprisingly few people ever intruded on my field of view when I was out during the week.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Vehicle Winter Safety Kits

This is quite a stray from my main topic but as winter approaches I think it is a very important matter to discuss. The average American spends 12.5 percent of their waking hours in their motor vehicle. If that is an average, then some spend far more time and some spend less. But no matter how you look at it we drive a lot. I commuted from the Baltimore area (Fort Meade, MD) to my home in Pennsylvania every weekend; four to six hours driving north on Friday and three and a half to five hours driving south on Sunday. I did that drive for many years. On several occasions, in the winter mostly, I had to pull over and sit in my car for some time, up to six hours once, because of accidents or impassible roads. I was very glad to have an emergency kit with me.

I have a summer and winter emergency kit for each of my vehicles (four) and change them out as the weather changes from cold to warm and warm to cold. My pickup truck has the smallest, most Spartan kit due to lack of space behind the seats (it is a Ranger, standard cab). But there is enough in it to survive a night if necessary and/or to increase comfort for a long delay. Since winter is coming I'll list what I recommend you put in your kit for the next four to five months of cold weather.

1. Blanket - I prefer a military surplus wool blanket. They are warm, sturdy, and will still provide insulation when wet. They will also protect you in case of a fire. The down side is that they are thick and bulky. You can get these Online at any of the many military surplus dealers.

My other choice is an Army "Poncho Liner", also called a "woobie" (why, I do not know). These are lighter and compact very well so they take up less room. They are not as warm as a wool blanket but if you are dressed appropriately for the weather they are often enough. These can also be ordered Online or picked up at a surplus store and generally go for $19.99-$40.00.

This year, I will be including a "bivy bag" in each of my kits. A bivy bag is a light weight sleeping bag, really just the outer shell of a sleeping bag. You can get nice fleece bivy bags at any good sports store like REI and Dick's (I have one and it is very nice). But I bought four emergency bivy bags, sometimes called "body bags" to save space. These are bivy bags made out of heat reflecting material, like the old space blankets, and are very compact but efficient. My intention is to use the bivy bag in addition to a light weight blanket to make the survival system more adaptable and efficient. I bought four of these on sale for $24 ($6.00 a piece). They claim they are reusable so they should last. The nice thing about these is that they are also water proof so if you must leave your car you could wrap up in your light blanket and then crawl into the bivy bag to stay warm and dry.
I bought this particular brand on a sale. There are other brands available so check around and get the best price.

2. Heat Source - I carry a large candle in each vehicle. You can buy special purpose "emergency candles", usually at a premium price, or just go to a hardware or thrift store and buy a large, unscented candle. Look at the ingredients, if listed, and make sure there are no additives, you don't want to breathe in perfumes, scents, or additives. A single, large candle, will provide approximately the same amount of heat as a 40 watt light bulb when lit. Inside a vehicle, it will keep the temperature near or above freezing, which is plenty if you also have a blanket. Of course you need to be able to light the candle so pack a box of camping matches or a butane lighter.

3. Calories - Calories allow your body to generate its own heat. I carry a couple chocolate candy bars in my kit. Chocolate has calories and caffeine, both will help keep you warm. There are other energy bars on the market that work just as well. Just check the Sell By and/or Use By dates because these bars might not last as long stored away in your kit.

4. Water - Water is critical because it is very easy to become dehydrated in the dry, cold air of winter. Most people do not drink enough under normal circumstances. Becoming dehydrated, even only slightly, effects your thinking and your body's ability to stay warm. When you are dehydrated, your body pools its remaining water in the organs, your arms and legs get less circulation. You want to use glass water bottles or plastic bottles without the chemical "BPA". BPA is used in the food industry to protect the contents from the container. But BPA has health risks and long term storage in containers with BPA is not safe. This is especially important for your warm weather emergency kit becuase heat causes BPA to leach into the water. Since it is cold in winter, you need to insulate the water bottles by placing them in the center of your kit. I wrap my blanket around two bottles of water. This serves two purposes. First, it helps to keep the water from freezing. Second, it helps to prevent you from grabbing a bottle of water from your emergency kit, for a drink when you are driving. Leave the contents of your emergency kit alone so that they are available if you really, really, need them.

5. Extra Clothes - It is highly likely that you drive with inappropriate clothing for the winter. Dress clothes or gym clothes are not going to help you survive if you have an accident or get stuck in the snow. So pack a slightly too large pair of pants, a long sleeve shirt, a wind breaker type jacket, thick wool socks, a hat that covers your whole head, and good gloves. I save the removable hoods from old coats and store them in my kit box. This extra layer over top of the clothes you are wearing makes a huge difference. If you end up having to sleep out in your vehicle, as I have a couple times, you will be glad to have a warm hat. There is nothing worse for you than to pull the blanket up over your head because your ears are freezing. Breathing inside your blanket or bivy bag will cause condensation to build up and you will get wet. Wet and cold means death. Keep your mouth and nose outside your blanket. 

Those five categories are the absolute essentials. With those you can survive terrible weather for a couple days if you are stranded or snow bound out on the roads. But there are a few items that can provide some comfort if you have the room to store them.

6. Flashlight - I keep one of the newer type multi-LED flashlights in each vehicle. They are small, bright, and the batteries last a long time. Being able to see at night is handy if you have to get out of your vehicle to use the toilet. I do not suggest that anyone attempt to walk out of an emergency situation if it is cold and dark; that is inviting disaster. Stay in or at least with your vehicle. You can also use your flashlight to signal for help. A beam of light in the snow carries a long way. You want to conserve the power in your vehicle battery in case you need to start your car. Keep the batteries out of the flashlight until it is needed. They will last longer and they won't leak and destroy the light. These lights are dirt cheap, less than two dollars in most cases.
7. Radio - Yes, your vehicle has a radio but you want to conserve your power. Carry a small radio that gets weather alerts. You can buy these Online or at higher end outdoors stores. Knowing how long a storm is likely to last will help you conserve and portion out your food and water. plus, it is always nice to have a possible end time to the emergency you fell into. Keep the batteries out of the radio so they don't leak and ruin it. Having a little music to pass the time will also keep your morale higher. 

8. Metal Cup - With a metal cup (I recommend stainless steel, not aluminum) you can melt snow over your candle if you run out of water. If you want to really do it right, also pack a couple bullion cubes to make a cup of warm broth. Having a warm, tasty drink is not just a great boost to your morale, but it also really helps to warm you up. The activity of making the broth keeps you busy and passes the time.
I prefer the Knox Chicken bullion cubes but there are lots of other choices out there.

9. Hand Warmers - Pack a small box of chemical hand warmers. Those little packets could save your fingers and toes. These things use a chemical reaction to generate heat for up to a couple hours. They won't warm the inside of your car but toss one into the bottom of your bivy bag and your feet and toes will stay warmer. In the case of severe cold, activate two and place one under your clothes and next to your kidneys (at the curve of your side, above the hips, slightly to your rear) to raise your core body temperature. You can get these at any general retailer like Walmart or Sears.
This is just one example brand, I do not do product endorsements
10. First Aid Kit - Every car should have a good first aid kit and every driver should know basic first aid. Get a kit with a full assortment of band-aides, latex gloves, a pressure dressing of some sort, chap-stick (your lips will go dry), a couple cough drops, and over the counter pain meds (I prefer Aspirin).

11. Tire Repair - A can of tire sealer/inflater is a good idea. I am constantly amazed at the number of stranded motorists I see every week, that are stranded simply because of a flat tire. Every driver should know how to change a flat tire with their spare. But in some weather it might be safer and easier to use one of these emergency tire sealer products. Driving on snow and ice with one of those ridiculous space-saving spares is not safe. I saw a car last year driving on all four mini space-saving spares!  I have never used one myself but I understand how they work. I have used "Green Goo" to repair leaking tires and have been very happy with the results.

Fix a Flat is probably the most commonly seen on store shelves but they all work more or less the same way.
 12. Spare Phone Charger - Buy a second car charger for your cell phone. being able to make contact with loved ones and emergency crews is pretty helpful. Know the dead zones in your area and avoid wasting battery life playing games or surfing the web.

13. Reflective Triangle - If you get stuck or broke down on the side of the road during a major snow, you want something to mark your car so that snow plows don't run into or bury your car. Last year I read about an older woman the lost control of her car and slide onto the median strip between the north and south bound lanes. She stayed in her car and the car was buried under many feet of plowed snow. She was found two or three days later, still healthy, but it could have been bad. So pack something that will mark your car even if it does get buried, like one of those bicycle flags (orange flag on a long fiberglass rod).

14. Toiletries - You should think about toiletries; toilet paper and feminine hygiene products and a means to dispose of them. In the Army, Long Range Recon soldiers lie in wait for days and days and cannot move out of their hide site. All human waste goes into plastic bags and is sealed with a bag tie. That would work in a vehicle too. Dropping your pants outside when it is deathly freezing is probably not a great idea.

That's pretty much it. If you decided that you needed everything listed here, it would all pack neatly in a medium backpack you could throw on the back seat.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

161023 Fall Foraging

I have often foraged for nuts in the fall. I live in an area with thousands of Black Walnut trees and a few, scattered, Hickory trees. Of the two, I much prefer the taste of Hickory Nuts but they are so small it is hard to gather enough to do much with. Our favorite is Hickory Nut cake. The nuts are notoriously difficult to get out of the shell and in the wild, only about half the nuts you pick up will be any good. It is a mad race to gather the small nuts before the squirrels grab them and hide them in their secret stashes. 

The tree is easy to identify in any season of the year by its "shag bark". The bark does not grow with the tree so as the tree ages and grows bigger, the old bark comes loose and eventually sheds. You can make a delicious syrup from the bark. There are Online instructions  for doing this and it is fairly easy. I have tasted it numerous times and think it is really good. I don't eat pancakes or waffles though so i don't really have a good use for it. I have added it to vanilla ice cream and that is quite a treat. If you have a chance to go to the Pennsylvania Farm Show, in Harrisburg, there is usually a vender there that sells the syrup. They will also come and collect bark from any trees that you might have on your property and they will pay you in syrup.

This is what the nuts clusters look like while still growing on the tree. The trees do nut produce a whole lot of these nuts though.
Inside the husk is a small nut. They have to dry for a couple weeks and I highly suggest that you store them in a COLD freezer until you crack them. Almost all these nuts have a small egg in them, which will grow into a nut maggot. Freezing the nut will kill them before they hatch.

Walnuts are much more common and much harder to crack. They typically grow in rich, bottom land soils (along small streams in shallow valleys). 
Black Walnuts are a little more difficult to identify until you know what they look like. They do have a very particular smell that you can pick up once you are familiar with them. They can become humongous trees if they are allowed to grow long enough. I have several on my property that are close to four feet in diameter at the base and probably 60-80 feet high.

As you can see, the leaves consist of multiple leaflets on a leaf stem. The nuts, and these trees are prolific producers of nuts, are in nut clusters.
The nut on the left is a Black Walnut and the one on the right is an "English Walnut", more properly called a Carpathian Walnut. The Black Walnut has less meat and more shell and has a much stronger flavor.

The husks of the Black Walnut were once used as a strong dye for coloring wool and cotton yarns. It is a lovely yellow-brown. Back in my trapping days, we commonly boiled our traps in walnut husks and wax to color and rust proof them. I tell you this because if you don't wear gloves, you will color your hands. Wear old clothes for the same reason. 

You should store your shelled Hickory nuts and Walnuts in the freezer until you use them. They are full of health oils and will go rancid quickly if you don't keep them cool and dry. I find they last the longest if you freeze them. 

Be very, VERY careful to pick out every bit of shell when you crack these nuts. Walnut shells are used in sand blasters and metal polishers, they are very hard. You can easily break a tooth if you bite down on a piece of shell in a cookie.

I have a short piece of railroad track that I use as an anvil for cracking Hickory and Walnuts, with a hammer. There are heavy duty nut crackers that you can buy through Homesteading stores. Do not even try to use you holiday nut cracker on these, you will break it.

I won't lie, it is a lot of work to process a bushel of nuts and a bushel basket of nuts will yield about a quart to a quart and a half of meats. But these wild nuts are very strong flavored and are chock full of healthy nutrients. It is something you can do with your family, sit around the table and crack and pick nuts in the evening. Do it until you are bored and then stop until another day.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Canning vs Freezing

This will not be an all-inclusive study of the two preservation methods, just my quick thoughts based on my experience.

When I was growing up my mom canned and froze produce for the coming year's meals. But as I recall, she mostly canned fruits and tomato sauce and she froze the vegetables. Why was that?

For one thing we didn't have a pressure cooker to can at high heat and pressure.  Fruits can at lower temps and don't need any extra pressure. Also, most fruits turn to mush when you freeze and then thaw them out. We made over a hundred jars of jelly/jam/preserves each year to use most of the fruit. She also made cinnamon apple rings (my favorite of everything she made).

We would pick, clean, blanch and freeze the vegetables. In a good year we filled two large chest freezers with corn, peas, green beans, succotash, and lima beans.

I can't even come close to those quantities. My garden is about one quarter the size and we eat a lot fresh from the garden. But so far this year, I have seven quart bags of green beans in the freezer and the fruits I talked about in a previous post. In addition I have two dozen onions dried and stored and many more in the garden. My onions matured far earlier than ever before so I planted new sets last week. They won't get too big, unless we have an unusually mild fall (fingers crossed), but  you can eat onions at any stage of growth. 

I only planted two tomato plants this year; one slicing tomato and one sauce tomato. They are both producing more than I can eat so tomorrow will be a sauce-making day. I'll use my own peppers and onions to flavor the sauce. 

My cucumbers are coming in now and I'll make cucumber-onion salad, which is one of my favorite salads. I've tried canning it in the past but it gets too soft because of the heating process. I can make it and store it in the fridge for almost a month so that works for me.

I let some "volunteer" potatoes grow. I have no idea what type they are. I haven't planted potatoes in two years but these popped up from old spuds left deep in the soil I guess. It will be interesting to see what I get. 

I ate bags of radishes in the spring and once the temperatures cool down I'll start planting my fall crop. I love radishes.

I find freezing much easier for vegetables. I have a very large upright freezer that came with my house when I bought it. The more full it is the more efficient it runs so I try to get as much food processed and on the shelves as I can. 

Green Beans need to be blanched before freezing. I'm not really sure what blanching does but it is a must for long term storage. I blanch one quart of beans at a time. I use a large pot of boiling water. I drop in one batch of beans at a time (enough to fill a one quart freezer bag) with the timer set for two minutes. When the timer goes off I scoop out the beans and drop them into a large bowl of ice water. The ice water stops the cooking process so the beans stay crisp. I stir the cooling beans around in the cold water to make sure the beans are thoroughly cooled. Then I bag them up and place the bag in the freezer. I want them to freeze as quickly as possible so I spread out the bags to get cold air all around them.

When this is done properly, and it is fairly simple, the beans will stay edible for two years. I say two years because that is the longest I have ever had a bag of beans in the freezer and then ate them. Even after two years the beans were as good as fresh beans from the fridge. Just take them out of the freezer 2-3 hours before you want to cook them and let them slowly thaw in the refrigerator. Then cook as you would fresh beans but you can shorten the cooking time a little bit because they are partially cooked during the blanching process.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Home Peach Tree 2016

If you have been following my blog over the years you know that I have been working to rehabilitate an old, previously non-producing peach tree. I was doing this for several reasons. First, it was a tree my father in law planted at least twenty years ago and he passed away in 2002. We have pictures of him eating nice peaches from this tree. So there is a sentimental attachment to the tree. Secondly, I am a firm believer in giving plants, especially trees, a second chance at life. And third, it was a personal challenge to see if I could get this tree producing fruit again after many years of non-production or very limited production. See this previous post for a little more information: September 2015 Post on my Peach Tree

This past winter I did the fourth pruning operation on this old tree. I removed several whole branches and lots of small branches that were criss-crossing the internal structure of the canopy. I wanted to open up the tree so that sunlight could hit every part of it at some part of the day. The tree is shaded in the afternoon due to a very tall hickory tree on my property boundary so it needs to get as much light as it can during the earlier part of the day.

This year, after a lot of research I decided to spray the tree with a general purpose Fruit Tree spray. In my area it is virtually impossible to grow peaches without some sort of spraying program. I followed the directions as best as I could for timing the spray at the most advantageous times. I sprayed the bare tree (trunk and all branches) and the ground under the tree in the very late part of winter to kill off any over-wintering pests. Then I sprayed it again when the buds were well formed but not yet open. The next spray was after the flowers were done and fallen off (to protect the bees). I sprayed when fruit was about ping-pong ball size in mid-June. And I sprayed the foliage one more time when I noticed coddling moths flying around the tree in early July. 

Am I concerned about spraying something I will later eat? Yes I am. I am normally an organic gardener and even though most of the ingredients in the spray I used are natural, they are still poisons of a sort. But we have had several very hard rains since the last spraying and we peel our peaches so the risk is next to nothing.

Well, let us look at the results.

This is the underside of the peach tree. This is where most of the edible fruit is because I have a very bad bird problem.
This is a close-up so you can see the nicely developed fruit. These are about the size of a baseball and well-formed.

Before I took these two photos I had already picked 3/4 of a bushel of peaches. The deer, squirrels, and birds have already eaten or ruined another 1/4 of the peaches. And I still have this many more to pick. In total, it looks like I will get just about two bushel baskets of peaches from this one old tree.

I have eaten a couple fresh (peeled) and my wife made a peach cobbler two days ago (it is already gone) and these peaches are delicious. I don't know what two bushels of peaches cost in your area but being able to walk out onto your property and pick your own is quite a satisfying thing.

I have been trying to propagate this tree through hardwood cuttings for three years now but have had no success so far. I might try planting some of the seeds (pits) and see if that will work. I really wouldn't want more than two producing trees because peeling and slicing up bushels of peaches is not my idea of a good time. This year, if I stop eating so many, I should be able to freeze enough fruit for about twenty pies/cobblers. That, along with the fourteen quarts of raspberries and the eight quarts of blueberries I froze, should get us through most of the winter with homegrown desserts. Now if I can only get a producing apple tree or two to survive here...

5 August Update: The birds were eating 10-15 peaches a day so I decided to pick everything on the tree. Some were not quite ripe but I'm freezing them and in my experience they will soften. I cut and peeled 13 quarts of peaches, which will make quite a few desserts but not as much as i was expecting. Next year i will have to figure out how to lessen my loses to the birds.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fixing a Briggs and Stratton engine Lawn Mower (won't run)

This is sort of a continuation of the post I did on Ethanol Gas and the damage it does to your small engines. It is also another of my self-help posts that will save you money, a lot of money, which you can use to establish and maintain food security.

I often cut the grass at my dad's farmstead and have had to bring my own push mower to his place because his wasn't running. It would start after priming (3x in accordance with the instructions) but would quickly run out of gas and die. I did an Online search and determined that the Carburetor Diaphragm had probably failed. The cheapest labor rate in my area for small engine repair is $45 an hour with a one hour minimum charge. Add to that the cost of parts and my time to deliver and pick up the mower and it becomes a bill I'd rather not pay.

But, luckily for me, this is a very easy and cheap repair and can be done by anyone with the appropriate tools. What is needed follows: Standard slot screwdriver, a Phillips head screwdriver, a 1/2 inch and 3/8 inch socket wrench, and needle-nose pliers.

My mower has a fuel bowl with a float that regulates gas flow into the carburetor. There is a fuel line leading from the gas tank, which sits above, down to the carburetor. Gravity feeds fuel into the carburetor. But in my dad's mower, seen above, the diaphragm acts as a fuel pump lifting gas up from the gas tank and into the carburetor. The diaphragm sits sandwiched between the top of the fuel tank and the bottom of the carburetor.

How do you know which diaphragm to buy? You'll need the engine data to look it up on the Internet or at your local parts store. The engine identification data is stamped onto the front of the engine as shown below. I went to several auto parts stores from which I have bought small engine parts before but they don't carry these diaphragms. NAPA does but my local NAPA store did not have any in stock.  So I went to a local small engine equipment shop and bought one from them. I paid a dollar more because of their parts mark-up but even so it was only $4.83 for the diaphragm and the gasket that comes with it. You can also order these parts Online but then you pay shipping.

Once we have the replacement parts we then have to take apart and remove the gas tank and the carburetor.
The first thing to remove is the air cleaner. While you have it off give it a good cleaning or replace the filter element (they are cheap enough). The air cleaner is held on with just one long screw-type bolt. This is the only thing that you need the slotted screwdriver for.

Next you need to remove a retaining bolt on the front of the engine. This is a 3/8ths inch bolt. Remove it and set the bolt and 3/8ths inch socket to the side together.

Next remove the fuel tank hanger bolt with a 1/2 inch socket. This bolt is easy to see. Set the bolt and socket wrench together with the other bolt.

Next we have to disconnect the throttle springs. These are tiny springs that automatically adjust the throttle based on the engine load. Be careful not to stretch or otherwise damage these fragile springs. There are two and they come off easy with a needle-nose pliers. Underneath the springs is a thicker  throttle linkage wire. This is a little harder to disconnect and is easiest done once you pull the carburetor and fuel tank away from the engine. 

If you look on the side of the engine where the carburetor was there are two tubes coming out. The larger one has a white ceramic ring and a rubber O-ring on it. This is where the fuel/air mixture enters the engine. The other is about half the diameter and is to the left of the intake tube in this picture. This is some sort of vent and is attached to the carburetor with a short L-shaped rubber hose/tube. That also needs to be carefully removed.

The carburetor is attached to the fuel tank with five Phillips head screws. Remove those and set them aside.

When I removed the Carburetor from the fuel tank the gasket and diaphragm stuck to the carburetor. This is what the top of the fuel tank looks like. I took a clean paper towel and cleaned the surfaces being very careful to not allow any dirt to fall in the tank opening, the upside down teardrop looking port on the left of the silvery area. The larger hole on the right is sort of a well to allow dirt to settle out of the fuel before the fuel goes into the carburetor. There is a close up below:

You can see some of the accumulated gunk in the bottom of this well or sump. Carefully clean this out with a Q-tip or something like that.

This is the old diaphragm and gasket. The diaphragm was stiff and stretched out, a condition caused at least in part by cheap, low grade fuel with Ethanol. This mower is only four years old and should not have a problem of this type already. The long yellow tube with screen is the fuel suction tube. Make sure the screen is clean but be VERY careful if you have to clean it.

This is the new gasket and diaphragm setting on the fuel tank. I found it easier to place them on the tank and then mount the carburetor on top than to mount them onto the carburetor first and then mount all that to the fuel tank. The diaphragm must go on the tank first and place the gasket on top of the diaphragm. The carburetor then goes on top of the gasket.

Since I had the carburetor off the engine I gave it a good cleaning and wipe down with a paper towel. Carefully align the screw holes so the gasket, diaphragm, and the holes are all stacked properly. Then insert the five screws and tighten them each little by little going from one screw to the next so each screw has equal pressure on it. I used the same star pattern you would use to tighten the lug nuts on a car wheel. Once the five screws are in and evenly tightened you can reassemble the parts in reverse order of disassembly. I put a tiny bit of grease on the black O-ring on the intake tube to help it seat properly.

This whole process, even including taking the pictures, took me only 25 minutes. I wheeled the mower out to the yard, primed it three times; the mower started on the second pull and ran like a champ. I saved at least $45 dollars and had the mower out cutting grass the same day instead of three weeks later (the approximate wait period posted at the small engine shop I go to).

Not bad for a non-mechanic.