Glass Bottle Irrigation

Glass Bottle Irrigation
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I came across a story called, Glass Bottles as Watering Globes for Your Plants, on the Craft blog today. Since we grow a small amount of lettuce and herbs during the winter months this technique suits us well. Rather than turn on the whole irrigation system, this tip allowed me to instead place two dozen wine and beer bottles around the gardens and walk away. I'll check back in on them next week and see if the soil is moist and plants healthy.

Man Vs Rio Grande - Season of the River

Living downstream from a damn makes evident that man has influence that he exerts over nature. Today the waterfall we visit each morning was removed. It is an annual ritual. The manmade obstruction is put in place when the damn closes. If not for it, the river would look like a mud slide. While the falls hold back the water the Rio is like a low running, slow moving river. The benefit for T or C is in the hot mineral springs which maintain consistent temperatures as long as the river runs, the aquifers are related. The temporary river also invites fisherman and women who enjoy the stock fish that are added to it. In a few days the damn will open back up to capacity and the Rio will return to full flow so that we can give Texas and Mexico the amount of water that we promised them.

I wonder how this will effect the many birds who have been living, visiting, eating and mating there including: blue heron, an uncountable variety of geese and duck, osprey, red winged black birds, hawk, gull and eagle, (to name a few).

PICS: a fisherman, pole in water, calling someone to find out what on earth is going on; you can not see it but in the background a blue heron who has been mating there with partner is studying the scene.


Herbal Eye Wash

One thing that reminds me of being a kid is having a sty in your eye. I started to get one the other day and wondered if it was a sign that my system was down. I started taking some echinacea that I grew last year along with an eyewash tea of: eyebright, raspberry leaf and goldenseal. This mix came from Herbs Etc. up in Santa Fe. I mixed one half teaspoon of herb into a half cup of boiling water. After cooling it was strained through a paper filter and put in an eyewash cup. It's soothing, we'll see how effective it is over the next couple of days.


Cont. . Homesteading, How Is It Defined?

A short while back I asked you the question, "What is homesteading?" many Holy Scrap blog readers send in thoughtful replies with definitions and these can be read on the original post. Oddly since that post the fiasco around trademarking the words "urban homestead" hit the news. I think we all agree that trademarking this phrase is not something we'd consider symbolic of the homesteader ethic. Nonetheless, I'm back to share my own definition now that I've had some time to consider it. Here goes. . .

Homesteading: A lifestyle in which one lives symbiotically with the earth. Homesteaders grow their food and make their own goods. To do so they willingly participate in a life of labor. Because they participate in life as "makers of things" they appreciate goods as they know the labor and intention imbed in them (the value) as well as the cost to the earth. The homesteader knows value outside of money. Naturally this leads them to produce little waste. They also know nature's natural condition is abundance as this is something they witness first hand day to day. Knowing their reliance on the earth the homesteader seeks to perpetuate the earth's wellness and not drain it of it's resources. The homesteader's proximity and willing codependence with the earth gives rise to natural bond between person and earth and this appreciation fosters a deep experience of nature's knowledge.

How'd I do?

The Never Ending Shade Structure

You may recall the many redesigns we had last year when we designed and built our shade structure. When you design something big on your own there are often modifications that come from the tests of real life. In our case the tests have to do with harsh UV rays of high desert life and high winds that come with spring.

Last year's
shade did OK until we got 70 mph wind which threw that reed on it's side. I like to build for the worst of conditions rather than fix things over and over. So today we built what I had originally had in mind for this structure, a ceiling of 8' spruce held in place with bailing wire. This will be permanent and the shade cloth from last year which goes below will go up for the summer months.

I love the natural look of the spruce, round and uncut. The tree is a fast grower and it is local. Spruce holds up to UV and gives no resistance to wind and so the durability of the material makes them a decent choice.

I wish I could say I was done but there is one more modification ahead. Because the shade cloth was done in a single sheet that served as walls and celling, it needs a redo. We get too much wind for a wind sail of this size. I will be modifying it to three pieces that make up a ceiling and two walls (east and west).

Reuse Gone To Far? Broom 2nd, 3rd 4th, 5th Life!

Pictured here is a broom head that I replaced today. Ya, pretty worn down. Truth is I got the broom from the trash. People are always throwing them away. What people don't realize is that a new broom (pole and head) is about $20 or more, while a new broom head is ten bucks. I pull these out of the trash all the time, use em till they even more dead then they were and the replace them for half the price.


Herbal Smoking Blend - Social Smoking Without Being A "Smoker"

I'm not embarrassed to say that I smoked cigarettes for a long time. When I was a vegan I still huffed butts (although not in front of the vegan restaurant!). Quitting tobacco is the hardest thing I have succeeded at.  For a while I could not go to parties and be around the social circle of smokers.

In New Mexico I became a wild harvester and learned that mullein, the best base for herbal smoke blends, was a native plant. I quickly learned to identify and find stands. Now I grow my own. I tried store bought herb blends but found them to smell funny, several reminded me of cat pee. Determined to come up with something I could sincerely enjoy I played with a variety of plant mixes until I found my own herbal smoking blend.

Last night we went to two parties. When the smoker's circle formed, I pulled out my herbal blend instead of running away. It's sweet fragrance attracted the attention smokers and mostly x-smokers. I've learned to bring along extra. I also gave the host, still a tobacco smoker, a bag of the blend as a gift. It's a nice offering since having a replacement for tobacco can really make a difference when one is considering quitting.

For the recipe I created you can check out the holy scrap store. Make your own at home or try my mix.  Either way, enjoy!


DIY Tree

I watch trees grow. About ten years from now my desert lot will be a shady oasis of fruit bearing trees. While I'm waiting I devised this simple DIY tree.  I stuck a pole deep into the ground (2 ft underground, 4 above) and tied bundles of salt cedar (an invasive tree in NM) to it with bailing wire.  The result is a nice natural boundary and the 'feeling' of a tree. I'll be adding more, they are quick, easy, free and have a big impact.

Holy Scrap Store Opens Today - Helpful Stuff For a Post Consumer Life

Our actions are often shaped by our vision of the future. Mikey and I have been anticipating cultural shifts in which we all move from consumers to reusers, reusers to makers of things from raw materials and makers to gifters. The final stage is a hope that one day it'll be obvious that our best investment is in the happiness of others. At that time giving will replace exchange.

In our time the post millennial virtual silk road (the web) certainly helped the home manufacturer become the new mom-n-pop and Etsy become the new mall.  This means hand made goods imbued with something only hand made goods offer - the creativity and intention of real people - can replace the crap that corporations are pumping down factory conveyer belts.

In the midsts of this environment Mikey and I are happy to be launching a Holy Scrap Store .  It represents our own trajectory through these stages. The site is a venue for us to offer you our home built, hand crafted and wild harvested goods right from our homestead in S. New Mexico.

Here you can find Mikey's electronic kits and products - devices he designs to make the labor of life  smarter and easier. Under "Gravity Free" I offer medicinals - teas, smokes, tinctures, salves and the like - home grown, wild harvested and home made from extraordinary plants unique to our region of the country.

Just for fun we've added "Vintage Finds" so that we can share what we consider to be well designed or quality made goods from the past - treasures we pluck from the would be waste stream and move to the loved and adored stream. And finally a section called "Wearables" offers silk screens and modified "new to you" garments.

We've got just a few things up right now, a start. We hope that by sharing our discoveries you will experience the enjoyment, good health and happiness that we have. Check back often, we're adding stuff all the time.

Shame Shame: Homesteaders Try To Own Phrase "Urban Homesteading"

It is a bummer to report that a homestead in Pasadena has trademark the words "urban homestead." Not only that but they have been going after folks who are using the phrase. Not so unlike the yoga guru Bikram Choudhary's attempts to patent yoga huh?

What I find most perplexing is that any homesteader can miss the experience of abundance offered up by the homesteading lifestyle. The Dervaes family blog is chuck full of excellent first hand information and experiences. And frankly it would be a shame to see the hard work that helped them to amass this knowledge go to waste. To me this is an example of what capitalism does, it generates hefty doses of fear that lead to an unwillingness to share.

Its a reminder to stop and notice, celebrate and contemplate what we learn with the turn of each season and harvest and through the results of our labor with the earth. Gratitude has its function. The homesteading life is an excellent way to halt the wheels of lack and greed that capital sets in motion. It's a lifestyle that makes clear that abundance is the natural condition of life. But we need to be in the practice of remembering to appreciate this lest we take it all for granted. Many religious practices started off as just this-remembrances of things we're likely to forget. The habit of remembering can prevent our hearts from tightening back up due to a habit created by capitalism.

Needless to say the commons must be rebuilt if we are ever to regain our common sense, something sorely needed in our time. You could say that it is homesteaders who mine the common sense by reconnecting to essential earth knowledge. And so it is a responsibility that we make sure that the regained sense remains in the commons where it is accessible to all and free.

From my own previous post "Patents & Copyrights: Self is a Flimsy Ghost"on this blog, on the subject of ownership:

In my day, should I build a ship, the first of it’s kind, a marvel of good design, I must remember that there exists a history of shipbuilding and it’s knowledge that has accumulated enabled me to build my ship. This is nature sounding it’s spark through what appears as time. A multitude of beings gather knowledge over generations. The beings who collected it were life and I am life too. As part of life I can say that I have always been. In every generation I re-arrive. The “I” that is here now cannot take credit. The wood for my ship comes from the earth, the result of eaons of evolution. The water to sail it on too. I can not make wind, wood or water. I did not figure out that things float or how to attach two pieces of wood to each other. No idea and no creation can be property because there is no individual to own it. There is only life, which has always been. It has lots of names and forms but as life, life is unduplicated.

Continue reading this article. . . "Patents & Copyrights: Self is a Flimsy Ghost"

More reading on the subject. . . a Credo.


My First CNC

My First CNC
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I spent the last few days slowly assembling my little CNC. This is the 7x7 sold by Zen Tool Works and marketed as the "most affordable CNC". The assembly was super easy as Zen provided a 50 manual with clear documentation of all the parts and steps. I'm amazed at how many of my friends have been trying to build their own CNCs when something this inexpensive is available and only takes a few days to put together.

Homesteading: What Does it Mean?

While digging trenches to burry pvc pipe and extend our irrigation to newly planted trees Mikey asked me, "what does homesteading mean?" I replied that technically it meant something different from how we use it. What I was referring to was the definition of homesteading that is based on the federal Homestead Act of 1862 which reads, "an area of public land granted to any citizen willing to settle on and farm the land for at least five years." He then gave me his own definition, "it's the activity of continuous trenching and hole digging with occasional breaks to eat very healthy food." I could not disagree.

This got me thinking of our use of the term "digital homesteading," which we coined to describe our application of modern technology to solves the problems common to living on the land.

And this got me wondering what you think. How do you think homesteading should be defined in our day?

Seasons and Cycles

The cycles are making themselves known again. Winter whipped by last week stinging us with record setting sub zero temps. Just a few days later and it is now 75 degrees. We're ducking for cover from the strong UV rays already. The wind, in typical fashion for this time of year, blusters in to tell us that we're shifting from one weather system to another. The shops are putting out gardening gear. Our bees are in a frenzy taking in the heat and searching for early buds.

Ourselves also a part of nature we picked up all the appropriate clues and hauled out to a spot down river to gather buckets of clean sand to top off the garden beds. I'll mix these with our compost, hummus and maybe a little pete moss. We took advantage of the scenery and hiked along the river and picnicked before returning home to do more spring preparation. We started digging out trenches to burry PVC pipe, an extension of our irrigation system to accommodate new trees we just planted.  Luckily I mulched them in deep and I think they all survived the deep freeze. It was clear to both of us that we have to build back our spring/summer stamina. There is no shortage of labor ahead to assure that we do. 

Thumbs Up for T or C

I've always thought that T or C was a place that needs to be caught on the right day. The town can feel vibrant and exciting, even happening or desolate and desperate. It depends on when you hit it. Even when it feels desolate there is really life it's just that you wont likely know which door it's taking place behind, especially if your a tourist passing through. Locals need their own lives, especially when life takes place amidst tourism. Here's a review from an Albuquerqian who revisited T or C after a 5 year break, exactly the length of time we've lived here.


Latest Cheese : Monterey Jack

Latest Cheese : Monterey Jack
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

In process monterey jack cheese is like cheddar.  Our attempts at making cheddar have led to a harder cheese than intended. It does not bind well and we think that our recipe is flawed. This jack was hardened before vacuuming, a good sign.  A few chopped pickled peppers from last summers garden were added last minute for a bit of pizazz.


Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We started a 5 gallon batch of chianti this morning. The kit seemed to be a little off. It was missing the yeast and all the packets were incorrectly numbered and marked. We have done this enough to know what ingredients need to be added but this would confuse the first time vintner.

chianti #2chianti #3chianti #4chianti #5


Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

One of our lacto fermented kimchi's managed to blow out it's mason jar lid in just two days! If you have not seen it before this video explains how we make kimchi so fast.


Grown Ups Doing Crafts

There's something funny about a bunch of rugged New Mexican grown ups doing crafts together. This nice bunch is making star wheels. The guy in the center works in Tucson at the observatory. I guess he was passing through and so he offered up a little star party and a few great views through his 200X scope. We got to see the Messier star nursery in Orion's sword.

Pants Repair

Pants Repair
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Busted out the sewing machine and repaired 3 damage pairs of pants as well as hemmed two more recently acquired pairs. It's been years since I've sewn anything and I had forgotten the zen of sewing and instant gratification of having more clothes to wear.

CNC Arrival

CNC Arrival
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Our first CNC arrived this week. It is made by Zen Tool Works and is quite small with it's 7" x 7" work area. This device is supposed to be excellent for making circuit boards and enclosures for my electronics.
We will also try and make some fun wood, metal, stone and acrylic items for the digital homesteader. At the moment we only have a spindle option for cutting with metal bits, but the unit can be used with lasers or 3D extruders. The next few days will be dedicated to building the kit and getting a old desktop PC running linuxcnc (EMC2) for controlling the CNC.

OBD-II - Vehicle Maintenace

OBD-II - Vehicle Maintenace
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Most vehicles made after 1996 have a standard plug below the steering wheel. This allows for reading and clearing of any maintenance issues with vehicle. At the moment we have a dead glow plug which we need to replace and clear the error code for. Rather than having the local auto stores read us and clear the codes we decided to just purchase a $20 tool off Amazon. This is part of our commitment to avoiding overpriced mechanics who do mediocre to low quality work. We can do our own low quality work for much less!


Final Days of a Temporary Waterfall

This waterfall is just a little bump in the Rio Grande. We're lucky enough to live a rock's throw from it and so we walk Sesame there each morning and visit the awesome variety of birds who live there during the winter: blue heron's, ducks of every color and variety, gulls, eagle, hawk (to name a few). The damn also encourages visits from local fishermen and women. This waterfall exists to offset the fact that the damn has reduced the river to a trickle for the winter. By creating it the many hot springs in downtown Truth or Consequences will be able to maintain their warm temperatures. The bodies of water are related.  In days the city will move this man made damn and return the river to it's natural flow. We'll miss it, but of course it'll be back next year.

The Ever Simplified Life: Rock Replaces Soap

The no soap adventure continues, in my sixth week I made a remarkable discovery - the lava rock. It happened when I walked by a pile of lava rocks and thought "that looks a lot like a pumice stone." So I grabbed a couple of them and put them by the bathtub. As previously reported quitting soap greatly reduced dry skin itch, though it did not get rid of it completely. It seems this lava rock provides that last bit of exfoliation that was needed. I'm using the rock like soap, washing the entire body with it and getting an enlivening scratch that leaves the skin feeling like it was just dipped in peppermint. Consider what has been given up: bottles of 'stuff' filled with a variety of chemicals so complex that a chemistry degree is required just to pronounce them. And what's replaced it: a rock. The former cost hundreds of dollars a year, requires an industry and it wrecks the natural systems of the world, the later costs me a delightful hike in nature. The result - life improved!

Fermentation Delay

Fermentation Delay
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

The last two batches of kombucha were too sour to drink. We let the mothers sit too long.  We've changed our timing to a short 10 days for a sweeter and more drinkable live beverage. In keeping with the live foods theme, we prepared another batch of lacto fermented kimche. Yummmmmm!!!!!

Fermentation Delay


Xbee to Xbee using Direct IO ( DIO )

Xbee to Xbee using Direct IO ( DIO )
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I spent some hours trying to make two xbee wireless modules communicate. These will be part of our new flaming doorbell. The trouble was with my transistor setup for the relay. The modules were communicating, but the logic was backwards and each times I hit a button the relay would turn off. I need the opposite behavior otherwise their would be a 20' flame at all time at our place. I finally gave up on trying to convince the xbee modules to behave rationally and just switched to a PNP transistor for the relay.

The configuration for both xbee modules is straight forward (thanks ladyada for documenting this):

Remote - TX setup (attached to doorbell input button)
- D0 - DIO Configuration - (3 - DI) [data in]
- IC - Dio Change Detect - (FF)
- Set sample rate to 0 (unless you want synchronous updates)

Base - RX setup
- DO - DIO Configuration - (4 DO) [data out low]
- Under I/O Line Passing set "Input Addresses" to 0xFFFF (allow any
- Set IU - I/O Output enable to Disabled

Xbee to Xbee using Direct IO ( DIO ) #2


Arroyo Across a River

Arroyo's Across River
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Our neighbors showed us a fun hike on the other side of the Rio Grande. It was full of fragile looking rock structures.
Arroyo's Across River #2

Cold Snap

Cold Snap
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

It looks like we made it through the great cold snap of 2011. Nnormally don't have trouble with freezing temperatures but things got bad when we reached down into the negative numbers. We repaired three copper pipe breaks, in the process used five new compression fittings. I'm not certain, but our well pump is losing prime and I suspect that it cracked inside the casting which was full of ice.

We went for 3 days with no hot water and about 12 hours with no cold water. Even our rain water tanks were not accessible. But we got off easy on this one. Our neighbors have been telling us horror stories about how they have had no water for over five days. We also heard from multiple sources that northern New Mexico ran out of natural gas + rolling had blackouts and closed gas stations. Ultimately we did break the 120 year record making it down to -6F with windchill in the -20's.
Cold Snap #2Cold Snap #3


Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

This little cheese wheel has been drying out nicely. Tonight I will
vacuum bag it and let it age for the next few months. The ideal time
to wait is five months, I doubt we'll make it based on our history of impatience.



Hazrat Inayat Khan - July 5, 1882 - February 5, 1927

Following a bout with pneumonia, Hazrat Inayat Khan departed from this world on February 5, 1927.

In remembrance, a few of his words . . .

We do not mean to say that all races and nations must become one, nor that all classes must become one; only what we have to say is that whatever be our religion, nation, race or class, our most sacred duty is to work for one another, in one another's interest...

The Message is this: that the whole humanity is as one single body, and all nations and communities and races as the different organs, and the happiness and well-being of each of them is the happiness and well-being of the whole body. If there is one organ of the body in pain, the whole body has to sustain a share of the strain of it. That by this Message mankind may begin to think that his welfare and his well-being is not in looking after himself, but it is in looking after others, and when in all there will be reciprocity, love and goodness towards another, the better time will come.

The need of the world today is not learning, but how to become considerate towards one another. To try and find out in what way happiness can be brought about, and in this way to realize that peace which is the longing of every soul; and to impart it to others, thereby attaining our life's goal, the sublimity of life.

-  From "Our Sacred Task", Hazrat Inayat Khan (unpublished)

New Title on Omega Publications. Now available.
The Complete Works 1926 I: January - May (Hardcover) Original Texts: Lectures on Sufism
Hazrat Inayat Khan
ISBN: 978-0930872-830


YUM! Bean Mix as Pasta Alternative

A friend gave me a partial bag of a Trader Joe's bean mix to try: small garbanzo, quinoa, orzo, and an Israeli bean. I thought I'd try it out as an alternative to pasta since the protein count is much higher. I'm also seeking ways to get into healthier grains. I made up this dish which - holy wow - is totally awesome. Here is is:

Bean Mix (trader joe's or your own)
Broccoli Rabe
Mushroom of your choice
Butter few pats
Shallots half cup
Garlic 6 cloves
Milk 1/2 cup
Blue Cheese 2 tbs
Romano 2 tbs
Fresh black pepper

Start by making bean mix (boil water, add beans, simmer 15 min)

In a frying pan or skillet cook chopped broccoli rabe in 5 cloves of garlic, set aside.

In a frying pan cook down shallots in a pat of butter. When they become transparent add fresh ground pepper, tarragon, a dash of nutmeg and sliced mushrooms of your choice. Turn heat to high and deglaze with cooking sherry. Continue at high heat until mushrooms start to appear dry. Set aside with the broccoli rabe.

In a frying pan melt a pat of buttter. Add a half cup of whole milk turn heat to high. Let this bubble down and thicken and then add two tablespoons of crumbles of blue cheese and two of romano. Cook down till thick and dump in bean mix. Stir well.

To serve put the rabe and mushroom mix on top of the bean mix. Don't blend. The strength of the dish is how different the parts are. Enjoy!

Ginger Orange Whey Drink

Ginger Orange Whey Drink
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We are always looking for ways to use up the whey by-product from our cheeses. Beyond kimchi and occasionally convincing the dog to drink it we don't have much use for whey. I recently saw a recipe for a lacto-fermented ginger-ale on instructables and decided to give it a go.


- 2 cups whey
- 1 cup water
- 5 oranges pressed
- 2 cu. in. juiced ginger
- 4 Tbl sugar
- 1 tsp kefir whey
- 1/2 tsp salt


- Combine all ingredients in 1 quart mason jar
- Place in 75F environment ( I used our fermentation chamber )
- Leave for 48 hours and refrigerate

Automating Cheese

Automating Cheese
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

If you've ever made a hard cheese you know how much time it can take up. I setup a temp controller with a hot plate beside my laptop instead of doing laps into the kitchen all day. I was able to occasionally stir the cheese and adjust for the different temperature levels while doing some unrelated programming.

This romano I'm making needed to be held at two different temperatures for a duration of hours.


Aromatherapy No Longer Woo Woo

I admit that previous to last night I had aromatherapy sorted under "woo woo." I just never acquired any knowledge about it and so all I had to go on was sorta fluffy, an image of diffusers, full spectrum light bulbs, fad diet books and new age gaga all laid out around a wind chime in a little shop with flute music playing on a mediocre stereo.

I had an opportunity to find out what its really about this week when a plant and herb geek friend came to town to teach an aromatherapy workshop through The Bountiful Alliance, our local NGO.

Not only did she un woo woo it, she got me excited about having a distillation still and playing with chemistry that can make my life more interesting and improve my well being.

She has a site called Iris Herbalwhere she sells her own products from her homestead north of Taos, NM. I know she shops the world over for the best and most unusual stuff. Her bar for quality is very high. I personally recommend her massage oil blends, lineaments and spray blends.

Record Breaker

Record Breaker
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

The forecast just came in for tonight. To quote the weatherman "what
can I say but wow!". We are set to break the all time low temperature
(ever recorded) for southern New Mexico with a painful -7F (all time
low is 1987 @ -5F). The windchill will probably knock us down to -30F.
Ouch! I hope our homestead can take 3-days of weather below freezing.

Ear Oil

Mikey's had pressure in his ear since the summer when we went to the pool every day. I made him a batch of ear oil that we'll test out on it. He'd been using peroxide for months and with little effect. The oil I made contains mullein oil, st. john's oil and garlic oil each made by steeping in oil then straining. Fingers crossed.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Mikey had the good idea of keeping the sink on a low trickle to prevent frozen pipes. We have this one turned all the way to the hot water side to melt any existing freeze already in the pipe.