New Product in HS Store: PERKY Tea Blend

This tea came about because Mikey, like most geeks, loves natural stimulants and staying up late working in his electronics lab. Ephedra is a great stimulant but has not got much taste, mint and hibiscus make make the tea delicious while supporting the headache that often comes a lack of sleep (staying up late working) while the hibiscus is soothing and gives the immune system a boost of vitamin C. Thanks Mikey!

PERKY TEA is sold as a pack of 12 individual tea cup sized bags containing: 

EPHEDRA (wild harvested) Native Americans have been using Ephedra for millennia. A bronchial dilator and decongestant. A genuine stimulant that can replace coffee or tea. The stimulating effect from ephedra is more mind alert than coffee. Very effective as an alkalizing tea.

PEPPERMINT (home grown): Wonderful relief for headache and indigestion, common symptoms to those who eat on the run, are generally dehydrated, and stressed by rushing about.

HIBISCUS (organic cert.): Naturally cools and soothes, provides lovely color and a hydrating taste. Helps lower blood pressure, a diuretic. Rich in vitamin C hibiscus strengthens the immune system for those who push themselves.


Pen Pals Junk & Romance

My friend Blanka is one of five or six people that I pen pal with. I don't mean email, I mean longhand. We write snail mail letters to one another regularly. Blanka is particularly colorful and you can see this by what she sends me, bright and bold and of late in Greek. She moved to Greece last year. Much of what she sends she herself can not read, she doesn't speak Greek. I love her packages so much that I have a wire in my home that runs from one end of the window to the other. I adorn it with the contents of her packages, each odd piece attached to it with a clothes pin. It's in the kitchen where I see it often. It's an ever changing collage that reminds me of friends. This mailing came in a juice box cleaned out and taped shut.

It's romantic. One can experience romance with platonic friends. I know this because I do. That's how I feel about all the friends that I pen pal with. We are engaged in magic, courting, love. Over time we have all taken to the habit of adorning our packages with stickers, drawings. Mail is cheap. No matter the economy, .44 can get you to Greece. We proudly stuff them with whatever catches our eye on route to writing the next time we do. Yeah, it's garbage, sort of. But imbued with meaning and scribbled on with the thoughts of a friend. . .  suddenly the junk is irreplaceable, precious, priceless.

Kombucha Reviewed

We've been making and drinking kombucha for a couple of years. Our mother has stayed healthy and we've passed on dozens of daughters. We're both convinced that one of the reasons we have been so healthy is because we drink kombucha and eat lacto fermented kimche regularly.

A quick review: 
Mother stores in glass jar with cotton fiber lid tied with string. She needs to breathe.
She steeps at room temp in a tea brew (any tea, must have some black tea in the mix) plus 1 cup of white sugar per gallon water (minimum). Our favorite staple is black orange tea.
Fermentation time: 10 to 14 days. Longer if you wish to make vinegar.
We produce 4 wine bottles full per week.

Process for starting anew and bottling each week: 
Start with a glass bowl, strainer, funnel, sweetened tea (made in advance and cooled), empty bottles
Be sure all are very clean. Wash your hands 2X.

1) Move mother and throw or give away any newly produced and unwanted daughters. Store her temporarily in a clean glass bowl.
Using a funnel pour the tea into bottles. Optional strain here, depends on if you like drinking the kombucha 'boogers'
Clean bowls that your mother lives in to ready them for a fresh batch of tea.
Strain tea as you pour it into a large bowl that mother lives in. I do this because I often have tea leaf floating in it.
Cover mother with cotton cloth.


Easy Tomato Towers

Sometimes I forget how little I knew when I started this homesteading lifestyle 5 years ago. On that note I'm going to post the details of making tomato towers including the tools needed.

We keep a couple of rolls of 4" re-mesh around as it comes in handy and not just in the garden. This is what I used to make the tower, tomato plants love to climb it. I cut it to size with a smallish bolt cutter, a tool everyone should have. And then I tied them together with their own metal extensions and with a bit of bailing wire, anther item a homestead can not live without. I used to say, after a few years of building at Burning Man, "I can build a temporary city out of zip ties." And I did. Now I say, "I can build a homestead of out bailing wire." And I do.

A final note, use the bolt cutters to remove the bottom ring of metal so you are left with spikes. These go into the earth so that the tower has a base of support and does not fall over.

Vegan Sous-Vide Cauliflower "Steaks"

Vegan Sous-Vide Cauliflower "Steaks"
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I have been exploring vegan and vegetarian options for sous-vide cooking. Most of the sous-vide recipes out there are about eggs, meat and fish which leaves the herbivores on the sidelines. An afternoon of google searches brought me to the "What the Hell Do Vegans Eat Anyway" Blog. There I found this delicious description of indian spiced cauliflower dish. I used a vacuum sealer, crock pot and YATC temperature controller. This recipe brings a much needed Indian meal into our geographically limited food options.


- 1 head of cauliflower (sliced)

A few pinches of each:
- garam masala
- salt
- lemon or lime juice
- cilantro
- curry
- red chili powder
- turmeric powder
- chipotle powder

sous vide crock pot setup


Wahoo - Back to the Beach

Wahoo - Back to the Beach
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

The temperatures here are quickly approaching 90 degrees F. This afternoon we loaded up our beach mobile and drove off to Elephant Butte lake to enjoy the water. I immediately found a great skimboarding area while Wendy and Sesame went exploring. I can't believe we are already going into the lake and it's still March. On the way home Wendy commented at the complete lack of people. We only saw one boat go by and no vehicles or people on the beach.

30 More Bottles of Wine on the Floor...30 More Bottles of Wine....

30 More Bottles of Wine on the Floor...30 More Bottles of Wine....
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Just bottled up our chianti kit. It tastes pretty good on day 1. I believe it is our highest alcohol content yet at 11%.

Refreshing Mormon Tea Recipe

Refreshing Mormon Tea Recipe
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

This is a yummy mormon tea recipe I have been experimenting with for a few years. It is a mix of mint, hibiscus and .25 oz of mormon tea. I prefer it cold with honey as the drink does a great job of helping me recover from the intense heat of our New Mexico sun. Wendy and I had
radically different reactions. She had a cup and went to sleep with the dog. I had two cups and started cleaning like a college student on amphetamines avoiding studying for a final.

Refreshing Mormon Tea Recipe

Wendy and Sesame


Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

I made this gouda cheese from cows milk last week. My intention is to cold smoke before letting it age for 3-6 months. Anyone have some tips for cold smoking cheeses? What's your favorite wood, temperature and duration to smoke it for. Any pitfalls to look out for?


Rootstalk Festival A Sign of the Times

For anyone who thinks that homesteading or herbalism is a trend that's nearly over, please note the appearance of a new festival produced by Mountain Rose Herbs, an excellent source for extracts, tea, essential oils and supplies for herbalists.
Rootstalk is a three-day, three-night festival which takes place on 300 acres of old growth forest just outside of Salem, Oregon. 

It is a celebration of herbal living, love of wilderness, homesteading skills, 
folk-infused music, plant lore and organic agriculture.  
All profits will be donated to Cascadia Wildlands.

Best of luck Rootstalk!  


Wildcrafted: Ephedra aka Mormon Tea

Ephedra is one of the first medicinals to wake and be ready for wildcrafting this year. We noticed it during the first week of March as it put on new bright green shoots. We gave it time before hiking out to harvest.

I'm now cutting and drying the batch to store for the coming year and put in the Holy Scrap Store. The labor of the task comes down to finding pristine plants in a proper location, avoiding both rattlesnake holes around the base and punctures from the sharp thorn like growths that adorn the joints of the plant and then finally cutting the plant into useable form.

Ephedra's medicinal uses are many and well tested, Native Americans have used it for millennia.

A bronchial dilator and decongestant.

Some report that when taken as a tea allergies are greatly reduced.

It can replace coffee or tea as a stimulant.

A diuretic that can safely be used for urinary tract problems.

A fine source for calcium, higher than any other nontoxic plant and so it is often used for osteoporosis.

Very effective as an alkalizing tea.

We often just chew the toothpick sized cuttings for a natural stimulant effect.  

Right now I have dried plant that can be used as a tea. I'm not likely going to have more than a total of  ten 2.5 oz portions. It's just too labor and time intensive.  In a few weeks I'll add an alcohol based tincture which I hope to offer in greater quantity.

(Some  material paraphrased from Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West and Kane, Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest. )

New Beds: Climbing Arches & Soil Ammendments

We're excited about these two new 12'X4'X12" beds. As we built them I was reminded of how much work goes into making a couple hundred square feet of garden.

We have to make all our own soil here in NM. To do so we hauled sand from the edge of the Rio Grande and combined it with peat moss, mature camel poo, compost and worms from our own worm farm.  We cover the top of the soil with hay to hold in moisture and protect the soil from the harsh sun.  This new soil is heavy, unlike the soil we started three years ago which is very light.

Each bed is lined with weed cloth. Several layers of newspaper and cardboard line the bottom on top of that. I also add natural fibers I gather for this purpose, stuff that would otherwise go in the trash such as pillow cases or sheets with holes in them. They add a layer of weed protection, at least until they compost.

We also extend the cardboard outside the beds and make walkways all the way round which we cover in mulch. We can't do enough to hold humidity in and block the bermuda grass.

The climbing arch and 4" wire cylinders will host tomato plants, the larger varieties. Last year this same set up produced a good 100lbs of tomato plants.

Im not a fan of the cute white trellis, but it was given to us by a friend and since our name is Holy Scrap we're gonna use it, at least until it falls apart which will probably be one year since the desert eats wood. When it dies I will replace it with a rebar and thatched salt cedar arch done japanese style to match the shade structure.

Garlic: Always a Winner

Garlic is a reliable crop for us. This is our third year growing it in mass. We grow 100+ bulbs annually which lasts us a full year. Last year I bought one bulb to carry us over to the new crop. The first two years I tested a few locations and found that garlic is happiest in the direct sun in a hot location. The bulbs that I planted in diffused light or cooler microclimates were small, those in hot spots we're giant.

I plant garlic in the winter for a spring harvest. These bulbs were planted in November. The tips are just starting to brown now. They'll likely be ready to be picked in May at which time I'll hang then indoors for a time and then store them in clay pots for the coming year.

We trim the green tops for salad seasoning, they taste like garlic of course.

Seedling Life: Direct Seed and Indoor

I do not usually plant warm weather crops in the ground until April 15th. But since the mesquite trees are showing new leaves we will not likely have another freeze.

Our kitchen windows have three shelves per window (3 windows in total) of seedlings getting their start before they are hardened off and then planted in the garden. They're coming in fast. I've already planted a dozen beans in the beds.

Outside we direct seeded loads of cold weather crops that I'm now thinning. Lettuces, broccoli, beets, radish, celery, fava, dill, celantro and the like. After thinning them I covered the beds in reed to give the plants a break while they get used to the shift.


Gardens, Ants, Bacteria & Chaparral

Every day we're out in the dirt preparing gardens, beds and trees. But I really know that it is spring because I got two ant bites today.  I stood near the entry way to their underground city unknowingly. They ran up the leg of my Dickies and got me, one on each leg. I ran into the house and sprayed the area with chaparral spray that I make from tincture to relieve the sting. The smell of chaparral reminded me, oh yes sting and bite season. Last year I relied on chaparral often as I got stung by more than a handful of wasps.

The other day while in Albuquerque I applied chaparral oil to my mom's leg, she's suffering from cellulitis (a skin infection caused by bacteria). The doctors keep giving her awful salves made chemicals. Her condition has become chronic. I showed up with the salve and applied it to her skin. The next day the skin flaked off and this marked the first action around the area which had been stagnant and unchanging. Then the relief of pain came. We're keeping an eye on it.

When I met the Apache man in the park the other day he too concurred, chaparral is a master plant for healing and the natives know this well.


The Wind

Years ago I read a cultural interpretation of the words el duende. It was while working on world music book and CD that I was titled El Duende while I still worked in the music biz. The cultural interpretation was, "the wind that blows the soul into the faces of listeners." I liked them enough to remember them.

Yesterday the wind in New Mexico whipped and lashed upon us relentlessly. I drove down from Albuquerque in it pushing hard against it while it kicked in the opposite direction that my Beetle was traveling. I was rushing home to meet guests soon to arrive. The car's aerodynamic shape meant little to it as I watched the fuel dial move from full to less. It was frustrating and I came home cranky. When I got here Mikey was cranky too, from the wind. Everyone I talked to since yesterday has been cranky. "The wind!" they said. "I know!" I replied.

This morning we woke and took Sesame on a walk to the river as we always do. The wind was calmer but not gone. A small man with a plump face and open eyes appeared as if waiting for us. "How are you?" he said, "The wind, its crazy!" I said as I hoped he was not a local drunk. We got close enough that I could see his dark skin and toothless smile full of sweetness as though he had a secret he could hardly hold back. "We need the wind," he said "It's cleaning. It blows the germs out of the crevices. After it there will be clear sky. My people know these things." The Apache man then turned so that he stood with his back to the rising east sun. He leaned into his walking stick and told us many things about the earth, life, the wind, and people. All of my anxiety about the wind fell away and all that was left was my memory of el duende, "the wind that blows the soul into the faces of listeners." 


Thank You Stanley - Poop For a Garden

It's been two or three years since we visited our friend Stanley. He's a friendly, gentle, giant camel. He  poops a lot in spite of the fact that he eats only a half a bail of hay a day. His owner says he is overweight. Our worms and garden will certainly appreciate Stanley's contribution this summer. 
"Thanks Stanley!"


New Tin for Herbal Smoke Blend - 7 Left

I'm trilled to have received nifty new tins for the Herbal Smoke Blend that I make and sell on the Holy Scrap Store. As an x-smoker I liked the idea of this smoke mix coming in an easy to carry container. I also love that it's a useful and reusable container. This item has outsold all others in our store. And I've heard at least one report of someone getting off of tobacco and using it as an aid. Hooray!

There are only 7 tins of Herbal Smoke left. I'll restock once mullein can be wildcrafted sometime in mid/late summer, so grab em while I got em.


DIY to Takeover World

DIY to Takeover World
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Congratulations to our buddies over at Adafruit. If Limor and Phil's business plan is world domination I'd say they are doing a pretty good job. It seems like just yesterday they were out visiting us in TorC for our 2006 New Years party. Limor gave a demonstration of some of her work including the much loved cell phone blocker. Now Limor is on the cover of Wired and has been written up in newspapers, blogs, and has been featured on many news programs. She's a well deserving poster child of DIY. I welcome the new open source hardware overlords.

Mikey Blabbing for 45 Minutes

Mikey Blabbing for 45 Minutes
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Perhaps you have some time on your hands. Would you be interested in watching 45 minutes of me talking about uses for our temperature controller (fermentation, sous-vide, and meal automation). Special treat, I am wearing a rare Chewbacca t-shirt. This is the talk I gave on March 15th at the Albuquerque hack space Quelab. Thanks to Gabe and Adric for posting this.


Seedlings, Where Life Begins

Today we began our first round (of what will be at least 10) of seedling starters. I make a mix of sand, peat moss and vermiculite that I fill standard but deep starter trays with. The seedlings germinate on shelves we added to our large kitchen windows.

Using a bakers rack (from an out of biz supermarket), I fill the starter trays, label them with a popsicle stick (that I later move with the plants to the beds) and place the seed pack of the seed that I'm considering along with the tray. By not planting it right away, but laying it out first, I get an overview of what I'm doing before committing. This is helpful because I often need to make changes once the whole thing is in perspective.

Quelab Hosted Cooking w/Microcontrollers Gig a Hit

Last night Mikey gave a presentation on cooking with a temp controller. It was immediately followed by a workshop in which participants assembled their own temp controller from a kit Mikey made.
The only reason that any of this could happen is that the host of the gig, Quelab, has a ready room full of soldering irons and tools for the task. They're a hack space that's well worth a visit.

Harvesting Begins Early- Radish & Other Curiosities

Many rounds of seed have been planted in our gardens. Some came to fruition at the time, bolted and dropped new seed. Others were planted at the wrong time (wrong temp) and so they waited a whole year and are now teaching me when they likes to grow. I just identified a hearty batch of chamomile that is doing exactly this. I enjoy trying to figure out what they are. In particular plants I'm growing for the very first time.

A whole lovely row of green appeared a couple of weeks ago. To our delight it is a row of radish. I just plucked these few to throw into our kimchi. Yahoo! It's hard to believe we're harvesting anything in March!

DIY Garlic Powder

While at a friends homestead a few months back I saw a bowl of browned, dried up garlic sitting around. It hit me all at once, "duh, garlic powder!" I never did ask her if that's why she had it, but I did immediately start saving browned, dried bulbs in a basket to later grind down to powder.

Right now we have a crop of about 100 bulbs of garlic planted in the beds. The tops are green and climbing each day and we clip them for salads, they taste like garlic. And in my garlic keeper I have about 4 bulbs left from last years crop. Last year I needed buy only one bulb to carry me from one year's crop to the next. This year it'll be close. I also froze a dozen bulbs to test out the method and I'll grab those if in a pinch.


Just in Case Kelp Powder

I don't know if I should be worried about radiation from Japan. But since I have kelp powder laying around I filled up a months worth of capsules for me and Mikey to take.

Kelp, as you may know, has the ability to protect the body from radiation. People in radiation therapy often use it to protect the thyroid. Kelp contains iodine and so if radioactive iodine finds its way to the body the body will reject it simply because it's already full. If the body takes in radioactive iodine than it can bind to the thyroid and cause long term dna damage, cancer and sickness.

It's important to note that long term use of iodine containing foods is not recommended. We'll likely take kelp for 2 weeks to a month at about 20 to 50 grams a day which should bring us to about 1000 mcg of iodine. This is a safe level. Emergency levels are significantly higher.


Reminder : ABQ Hackerspace Talk : Cooking with Microcontrollers

Reminder : ABQ Hackerspace Talk : Cooking with Microcontrollers
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

When - Tuesday, March 15th ( 7 - 11pm )
Where - Quelab ( 1112 2nd St. NW Albuquerque, NM 87102 )
Cost - $5 entry, $60 kits, $80 assembled
Register - www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=157534444299731

Tomorrow I will be giving a presentation at the new hacker space in Albuquerque called Quelab. I will be explaining how we have automated our meals using our open source temperature controller (YATC). There will be plenty of kits that we will solder up together after the talk.

The following configurations will be discussed:

- crock pot –> sous vide
- hot plate –> temperature controlled cooker
- fermentation chamber (bread, yogurt, tempeh)
- inexpensive cheese/wine fridge
- high efficiency chest freezer to fridge conversion

Sous Vide (pet food)

Sous Vide (pet food)
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

As wendy mentioned before we have been trying to move away from commercial pet food for our furry friends. We are trying to balance things out giving our pets a variety of meats, organs, poultry, pork and so on. All three of our pets gathered around me this morning as I vacuum sealed a pound of cows neck which is mostly bone. This will go in the sous vide at 150F for a few hours. Tomorrow they get chicken which came out to $0.77 a pound.

Two More Garden Beds

Two More Garden Beds
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We have started the lengthy process of adding two more raised beds. It
is cumbersome because we make all of our soil rather than using store
bought bags. We will probably need to do a half dozen trips to the
river to get enough sand for this two large beds (12' x 4' each).

Two More Garden Beds #2
Two More Garden Beds #3

Wine Bottle Drip System

Wine Bottle Drip System
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

After 3 weeks of testing the wine bottle waterer I have to say I am sold on this idea. Our plants that were placed near the wine bottles are performing better than I have ever seen. Here are a few random observations about using wine bottles in the garden.

- 2 liter wine bottles are more convenient
- use only rainwater in the bottles
- do not place bottles too close to any plants
- place bottles at slight angle
- if bottle is not draining just lift and shake mud
- if bottle is draining too fast push and twist a little deeper
- vary the bottle locations
- excellent for sick plants
- excellent for plants that have no irrigation

Warm Weather Means B100 Time

Warm Weather Means B100 Time
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Our night temperatures are now staying around 50F with highs near 80F. This is ideal weather to switch our VW Beetle back over to our home made biodiesel (B100). I made a batch last week and am doing a final filter before using it this week. The time we have invested into making waste vegetable oil and biodiesel work for us really pays off when diesel is over $4 a gallon.

Here is a video we made last year explaining how we make microbatches of biodiesel in 5 minutes.

Shade West Block : Salt Cedar

Shade West Block : Salt Cedar
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Wendy used wire tie to mount a piece of 10' wide cattle panel on our shade structure. Last year we used fabric, but it really wanted to be a kit as it was always being hit by our dominant wind. Now she is affixing the beautiful red salt cedar that we take from the river.

Spring Garden Update

Spring Garden Update
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

Our garden is launching into spring with no hesitation. We have been harvesting kale, lettuces and radishes for the last few weeks. The fruit trees (apricot, pear, peach, and almond) have all blossomed except for the apples. Cilantro and mint are really taking off in the beds. We are also seeing castor bean (toxic) that has reseeded itself from last summer.


Neighbors. . .

It seems that there's a cosmic game that gets played out through neighbors. We usually don't get to pick them and they almost always come pre loaded with just the right idiosyncrasies to drive us totally crazy. The field of neighborly relations is a button pushing land mine of strained smiles and tested patience.

Here's a pic of my neighbor engaged in one of his two most infuriating habits, he's spraying bee killing spray 5 feet from my back garden beds. Ironically he's also on oxygen. Actually this one action has two offenses built into it: killing bees (very likely my honey bees!) and poisoning my food. His other favorite hobby is watering bermuda grass, yes in a desert. Beyond that he is actually a fine neighbor. Sigh, insert a long eye roll here.

Garage Sale Day!

I swear this town has some of the best garage sales in the land!

Dog food without dog industry

Since we adopted Sesame 2 years ago we've explored the many ways to feed a dog. Manufactured dog food is crap and there's virtually no difference between alpo and the stuff that's 10x the price. Wondering what I could feed her for about a buck a pound I went out to study the options.

What I found is turkey (whole) and pork are the cheapest meats to buy from our butcher. The bird is only near a buck a pound if you buy a huge whole bird. With rice as an additive and our whey (from cheese making) it's easier to reach the $1lb mark and still provide nutrition.

Now I'm well aware that store bought meats contain hormones and bovine growth hormones and all sorts of nightmarish things, but the manufactured dog food does too. She certainly prefers the meat unabstracted. We drop it in the crock pot in a vaccume bag with a temp controller and hold it at 150 for a couple of hours. This way she gets a near raw seeming meat with it's bacteria's killed from the slow cooking. Add rice and some veggies and whey and you got a happy dog. I've also been making a thick with marrow broth from slow cooking the bones in water. This makes a decent meal too when poured over rice or adds nutrition to mediocre dry dog food.


Kale Chips

Kale Chips
Originally uploaded by mikeysklar

We just harvested our first round of kale from the garden. Kale is a super food that grows very well in our climate during the spring and fall. The summer kale tastes like crap so I like to avoid it during the hot season. We usually marinate the kale in a mixture of dried onion powder, lime juice, chipotle and salt. Then let it dry in a dehydrator for 24 hours.