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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Never, ever think you are in a safe zone!

I read a blog recently that said if you lucky enough to be in a safe zone away from natural disasters and it got me thinking.  What is a safe zone?  I have never seen one.

Now, some people live in the interior (or if you are not in Alaska, lets say fly over country) and it can be just as damaging to live in the "middle" then it can be living on or next to a coastal region.  No matter where you go, you will have fault lines, flood plains and so on.  Someone a few weeks ago said that to have an earthquake in theri region, wouldn't be to bad.  I argued, as I love a good arguement, that the people living in an area that has not recieved an earthquake in over a hundred years are going to be the "Katrina" of the next natural disaster phase. 

Why am I saying this?  Because no matter where you are, there will be a disaster.  It is the law of pyshics and of course Ol'e Murphy.  If you live on a flat plain (such as farmers) there will be a flood eventually.  As well as tornado's.  Even Alaska has had a few tornado's whether anyone wants to admit to it or not. 

But, I digress.  Earthquakes in the fly over of the U.S. happen rarely but there are quite a few faultlines in those areas.  They are more stable due to the limestone and other natural stone that are soft but firm.  But what is the issue is that water (above ground or below which is more deadly) can and has been able to disinegrate the softer stone and can leave huge marks as well as availibilty for some movement from below.

Take under ground coal mining.  Most people do not realize that to get to the coal you HAVE to get through a section of what are called traps.  Traps are what many in the oil and gas industry look for for pockets of oil and gas and in some cases water.  But sometimes there is a fissure or a crack that the oil, gas, and water can escape.. with that the pressure of anything left, usually some type of carbon elements such as an old pond, leaf and plain grass decay etc, can make what ever is left in that area turn into a coal like substance.  Lignite coal is what many do not realize is used to generate electricity around the nation.  It can be either a stick brown coal or a darker sulfer smelling.  Now, you have this coal mine and you are drilling, blowing up and taking our traps.  The traps are part of fissures which are smaller faults... and in some cases are ajoined to large fault lines.  Now what does this have to do with mines and earthquakes.  Well, sometimes the fissures that are still "attached" to larger fault lines set off a wave when disturned causing a small amount of vibration... which can start the rumble of a small magnitude earthquake.  After that happens, it is only a manner of time in which either the fault will "pop" or shift the trillions of tons of gravel and start an earthquake and possibly make these mine shafts collapes.  This also happens when oil companies drill.  It is a fact of life and many hours of research goes into this before drilling the fault and trap to get the oil.

Now, flooding of an area or excessive winds can also make this a nightmare.  Since water and wind are the biggest erronding factors, even under human possibilty, they are the main reason why there are small tremors around the world.  Underground river can errod an area under the crust of someones farm faster then you can say, Jack Rabbit.  Causing either a "sink hole" in most cases but also, if deep enough triggering a small earthquake.  Italy is notorius for this type of activity and their lava tubes around their region.

We also have those fun caldera's or underground volcano's all over the world.  Some are like Yellow Stone, when you have no clue when it is going to blow it's "top".  But there are other types of volcanos no one really knows about that can be just as bad.  Like mud volcanos, which are level or a little sunken with the ground around it and can send either a sulfer like mix mud gyser (think yellow stone but far smellier) and this stuff can give you first degree burns, and in some areas (like south america) has been known to take out whole villages due to a fissure collapsing and making the mud sulfer mix flood an area.  Alaska has a few mud volcanos, if you are curious to look for them.  They are by the Wrangell Mountains, 50 or so miles due east of Tok.

When someone says that you are in a safe zone, just remember... no where is safe when it comes to natural disasters.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seeds a starting... and cabin fever as well as Fur Rondy in full swing!

Awww life, you know how it gets in the way of a good thing. Well life decided to smack me and unfortunately I had to deal with it before blogging on what I enjoy.

But on to nicer details!

Last week I had a moment and started a few seeds. Some heirloom winter squash that can be canned for pumpkin pies. Some heirloom lemon cukes, a couple different varieties of tom’s and all my herbs as well as a few other seeds that I can’t think of. This year I am going to take my herbs inside and see how they do, but I need to start them early so I can stick them in my green house. I would say sometime in the next two weeks or so, I am going to start on my heirloom and hybrid mixes of veggies. As I said earlier, I only buy the variety of hybrid that doesn’t wilt if we have a frost. I am looking forward to the TAM jalapeƱo seeds we bought as well as other things like squash, zukes, cali’s, cabbage, and my normal gardening entourage of flora and fauna.

But I also decided to TRY to grow corn and have 5 seeds sprouting. There is a variety that I guess grows in Alaska, a variant or a hybrid type. I will be keeping them in a more shaded area of the yard so they may be able to grow at least a little. Also, I am growing blue berry bushes from seed. I have NO clue how long this is going to take as I bought them from a “Post card” thinking why the heck not. It couldn’t hurt to at least try. I will keep everyone post on how they do, but I am not expecting miracles.

I am acquiring the buckets for the city container garden at my house and of course some for the big garden. I have purchased perilite for the soil as I am sure it is going to need some soon and I also bought some mixing potting soil.

I have to say I am looking forward to Break Up (our version of spring in Alaska) more then ever as I have cabin fever horribly this year. I would have to say this is the worst case I have had in years. But you can’t complain as this IS Alaska! 

If you haven't heard or just didn't know, Fur Rondy is in full swing and soon the Iditarod will be a running (pun intended).  The Iron Dog is also in full gear (hehe) and soon Arctic Man will be upon us.  Yet, I have this odd feeling that we are going to have a early break up.  Maybe it is just me and wishful thinking!  Maybe I should go run with the reindeer this year?  What do you think?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Potatoes and old tires... awesome recycling idea!

If you have ever grown potatoes, you know how they like to grow up.

But did you know that growing them in old tires is the way to go for containing your potatoes as well as getting the maximum growth and potatoes for the year!

Picking your potato is the first step. I personally like the little Alaska Red which is a small to medium sized red potato which is sprung from a Red Beauty and Alaska Russets for their small firm body and golden colors. They are both good if there is a frost and do well in even chilly or cool summers.

Now, on to the tires and what to do when you acquire them. You can get these for free in most cases, such as posting on craigslist or another free website asking for bald tires. Do not pay for them if you do not have too. I would recommend at least 10 tires; there is a method to my madness.

After you receive the tires… pick one side of the tire and take off the wall of the tire. But only cut off one side! Pick a spot in your yard that gets partial sun, good drainage. Take a tire and put it on the ground, cut side down and add some of your soil that you choose to use and put a few potatoes in it. Then stack another tire (cut side down) on top of the first tire, add some soil and let it sit. The reason you do not want to use the whole tires is 1. Water can collect in the rounded part of the tire and rot your potatoes, 2. You can breed insects you never wanted, and 3. It will make life easier for you when you take them apart to harvest them.

When you start seeing the tops of the potatoes coming up, you will need to have at least 4-6 inches of growth. You will then take another cut tires, stack with the cut side down on top and add soil. You will need to keep doing this throughout the summer. Adding the tires to the new top growth of the potatoes will actually MAKE the growth sprout, and sprout MORE potatoes!

When I finally decide to pull the potatoes, it is or can be anywhere from late August to the beginning of October. Make sure to pull your potatoes BEFORE a big freeze or you are going to be working your buns off. Frost resistant types work best for Alaska… but I also say experiment.

My easy way of working potatoes. You can have as many “stacks” as you would like but I do not recommend that you go over 5 tires a stack. Be careful with child concerning these stacks as you know how they like to climb on things. And when you pull the tires off, throw the dirt in a corner with some lime, fertilizer and other goodies to use again. Do not use the same soil more then 3 times on your potato stacks and transfer what soil you have into your garden.

Container Gardens in Alaska. How you can make it inexpensive.

Container gardens are something I flourish in. I enjoy them as you can move them around your yard or if they need to be in sunlight but not certain types of dirt as well as moving them closer to your house and draping them if the weather turns. Container gardens work for everyone. Apartments or Houses, they are versatile and easy for all.

How I usually start is asking any restaurant or business that uses buckets, if I can take them off their hands, rather than dumping them in the trash or buy them off the business for a small fee. Most restaurants have them in 5 gallon sizes or larger. Hey, you can’t get everything for free. I do not ever go over a dollar a bucket and since I am picking them up they really can’t say it is a bad deal to take them off their property.

When I finally have the amount of buckets I want, I wash them thoroughly with a mild soap and warm water and use a spray bottle with a little bleach to kill any mold or bacteria that may be bad for my soil and plants. In which after I wipe them down well and let stand and dry overnight. I then grab a cordless drill, and find a good drill bit in which to drill holes in the bottom and on the side of the bucket no more than an inch from the bottom of the bucket. Good drainage is always wanted with container gardens. Make sure to have at least 10 to 20 holes in the bucket, depending on size of the drill bit.

Now, with that done, I usually mix my own soil. I have a wheel barrel (or you can use a tarp) and put 3 buckets of soil, 2 cups of lime, 2 cups of fertilizer (your choice), half a bucket of peat moss, and my secret ingredient…. 4 cups of ash from a wood stove. I take my shovel or spade and mix all these ingredients in. If the soil is for tomatoes or peppers, I make sure to add some egg shells, and some “moose nuggets” as it will help with the growth and drainage.  You can always call around to the gravel companies and ask how much they charge for good soil... it will depend on the time of year but May is a good time to call since they are not selling the soil as much or fast as the summer.

Fill the buckets till you have about 2 inches from the top of the bucket. You want to make sure you have 2 inches as it will give you space if you need to add extra soil later in the summer as the plants will absorb quite a bit of the nutrients. It is almost like a natural fertilizer that they have been already cultivating in.

Do this will all your buckets and however much soil you have. Leave out for two days in the weather so the lime in the soil can perforate the bucket and the plastic as well as whatever was in the buckets to begin with can transfer their properties and not kill the plant. After the two days, plant no more than two plants of your choice in each bucket. If you have a lot of seedlings…. You will need a lot of buckets!

Water normally, check the soil once a week (as it will settle) and add soil as needed or if needed and make sure to follow the directions via the seed packets.

The best types of container plants are lettuce, spinach, kohlrabi, herbs of all kinds, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and you can go on and see. I do not recommend doing this with carrots or potatoes in large bunches…. As they will rot at times.

Good Luck and have fun with it!

If you are looking for more information.  There is something called Bucket Brigade which is based out of Seattle Washington.  It would be good to start a preppers bucket, me thinks.  Anyone else up for the challenge?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The power of Irish Spring!

Oh yes, that smelly soap of the 80's works wonders in the garden.

If you have never heard why, well Moose hate the smell of it.  HATE IT!  Bears and deers, I understand, don't care for the smell either... even though we as humans don't mind it.  What do you do with it?  Well if you are near a large box food over stock box store, you can buy it in bulk as bar soap never goes bad.  I only recommend bar soap for this. 

Take said bar soap, and slice it up if possible.  It may be difficult.  If you choose not too I don't blame you, but try to chunk it up some how.  Take a big pot of water and set to a boil.  When it is at boiling point, put it on medium heat and add the soap.  Let it sit there until all the soap is disolved.  When all is said and done you are going to have a bluish/greenish and milky white water.  let it cool down just enough so it won't scald you.  Grab a bucket and dump the pot of water in it and add water to the top of the bucket.  Use a large spoon or a small bowl and pour around and on your garden area(s).  The smell will keep the moose, deer, bears, and other critters away.  It also has an effect on slugs and I had had success with keeping them at bay with this.

Do you have fruit trees?  If you can drill a hole in the middle of the bar of soap (long ways) and put a peice of twine on it and hang it on the tree.  The deer and moose won't munch on your fruit trees during the winter.

If you own any old CD's.  The way to make this work is simple.  Put the old CD's that you will never use again in a microwave for 3 seconds.  No more then 3 or you will have a house fire.  What the microwave does is makes the data on the CD unable to read and look like old fashioned crack glass.  Put the old and now crack looking CD's, taped to a Spoon or hung by a tree with twine.  Moose and deer do not like the reflective part and will spook around your garden in most cases.  If they see these they will general.ly leave your garden alone.

Two easy steps to making your garden critter free.  Other ideas are welcome!

Midnight Sun Pepper planting and some of my ideas.

It will soon be that time where you need to figure out what seeds you would like to grow. Right now, I am planning on starting (within the next two weeks) my pepper plants as they need a little more time to grow and stabalize in the land of the Midnight Sun. Usually I start them way early to get as much out of them as I can, but I have been slow as of this year and the Man is asking when I plan on sprouting his favorite food.

Depending on how you start, as I have stated in a previous entry, I freeze all of my seeds which include the peppers. As long as there is no moisture in the packets and they are in a plastic bag, they should be good. Always make sure that you let them sit overnight to warm back up to room tempurature after you freeze your seeds.

I use old cups, small butter or sour cream containers, with holes at the bottom, that have been washed and sanitized. I then put them on whatever they will sit on to drain. It makes life easier when I do this as I start them in my house as I do not have a stable greenhouse yet. I add an inch of sand to all my containers, than add a layer of pete moss and some good warm and fertilized soil at the top. I then place what seeds in the container and write on a plastic spoon as to what type of pepper they are. Spoons are cheaper in the long run and can be reused and sanitized in a dishwasher down the road and after growing season. What I do now, is different them other gardeners. I do not use a water can to water my peppers. I grab a little spray bottle with distilled water (I fill an old clean milk jug and let it sit for a week at room temp) at room temp and on a spray pattern rather than a direct stream and spray the containers until I see a small amount of water come out of the bottom of the container. The reason is that you don't disturb the soil as much and the plant when germinating can hold on to what soil it needs and it won't stunt the growth. The distilled water at room temp, seems to help germinate faster than plain cold tap or well water. I then take either plastic wrap or some plastic bags and put on top of the container with a rubber band wrapped at the bottom of the container to hold in the moisture.

When sprouting... I have noticed the frozen seeds germinate faster than the seeds those that have not. But sometimes, even the frozen seeds take a while. I would say 3-14 days depending on seed.

When the peppers become larger, do the same soil equation with large containers as you did with the starters. Peppers that do not drain properly will either become fungal or die and I have quite a bit of success with this method keeping them alive.

When it is warm enough, by Alaskan standards, put them in your now warm greenhouse or if you do not have a greenhouse you can do this. Visqueen is a great insulator. Grab a roll or if someone has a good section ask if you can have a 5 foot by 5 foot section. Find the sunniest location around your house. Do not plant your peppers there.. I would recommend you still keep them in their containers. Put a piece of 1 inch wide by 2 or 3 foot long wood onto your house via staples or small nails and do not go above 2 feet or so on the house. Make sure you know where the wire to your electric are as well as your water pipes. You don't want to have to call a repair man. After putting up your wood, grab your visqueen plastic and role whatever side a couple time so you can make the plastic stronger. Staple the rolled middle of your visqueen to your wood, hoping that you have at least a foot extra on both sides. Put peppers in there during the day and some of the night as they will need to cool down as well. This works well for most Alaskans and can be used for smaller variety tomatoes. Make sure to water after they are cooled off. If it becomes cold and rainy out, you will need to bring them inside.

These are some ideas for those who want to try, start and get going on the planting already.  I usually start my other seeds around Iditorod, which is about 4 weeks from now. 

Does anyone else grow peoppers up here?  What varieties?  Organic or otherwise?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When you are in a jam on a cold night... always have a can of HEAT!

Yes, you read that right.  HEAT, that little plastic yellow bottle that you put in to your vehicle to take the moisture out.  Why?  Well here is some thoughtful advice if you didn't know already.

HEAT is extremely conbustable.  It is alcohol based and if anything ever happens to you, if is always good to have this one little bottle in your pack no matter where you go.  So here is what you should do if you ever are in need of it and what you should have.

1. HEAT (obviously)
2. paper of some kind, but if you have a half used roll of toilet paper in your house... stick it in a tight sealed plastic bag and have it in your vehicle.
3. a lightweight shovel.  Everyone should have one of these as you never know when it will be useful.
4. matches or a lighter.

Now, this is what you do.  Take the bottle of HEAT and put it into the baggy with the toilet paper in it, making sure you have a tuft of toilet paper sticking out of the bag.  The toilet paper will soak up the heat and the tuft is so you can light it .... LATER.  Makes sure to try to get any HEAT accidentally put on your hands off as you might ignite it.  Take your shovel and dig a hole.  If you are doing this on top of snow I will advice to you dig until you hit the dirt and make sure you have at least a foot showing.  If it is summer, make sure to dig about 6 inches or so down.  If you do not do this, and say it is raining, the HEAT may spread and you WILL be burned.  Put the roll of toilet paper still in baggy in the bottom of the hole while piling any small deadwood in a TeePee formaion.  Light the tuft of toiletpaper with match or lighter, becarful as not to burn yourself. 

VIOLA, you will have a hot, long burning fire if there is ANY reason to need one.  Mushers and trappers have used this method if they need to bed down for any reason, mainly blizzards.

Does anyone else have any other ideas or suggestions?  I would love to hear them!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Earthquakes... what you should do.

There comes a time when you will feel an earthquake here in Alaska, no matter where you live. Whether in South Central, Interior, North Slope, South East or the Aleutians, you will feel them.

What to do and how you do them is all up to you. There are two types in pseudo-geological terms to worry about. Shakers and Rollers. The difference of both could be the reason and way to save your life.

A “Shaker” is the type of earthquake that will shake uncontrollably. It usually does not have life threatening effect unless it is higher on the Richter Scale. I can leave buildings crumbling; it can break water/sewer and main plumbing and at times has actually shifted buildings. Damage from them is usually minimal, but can be devastating. These are usually closer to the surface of the earth and are usually related to a pressure releases in the crust. Imagine someone holding a glass to tightly, and it explodes. That is what is considered a “Shaker”.

A “Roller”, on the other hand, is a slippage of to different land masses, one on top of another. Imagine someone with a truck, hitting your little car, and you have that accordion like waves in the back of your car (depending on how fast it hits you). Those waves in your car are what can happen on the surface of the earth.

Rollers are frightening. If you were here during the 2002 earthquakes, you know the devastation of what they did. We may not have had much damage in the urban areas concerning buildings and such, but the scarring of the land was seen for hundreds of miles as well as those in little villages or communities whose cabins were literally moved off their foundations.

Now, what you and your family should do is look at your surroundings. Do you live in a newer or older house? Are you near power lines? Do you have either gas lines or a fuel oil tank? Do you have water lines or a septic system? These are something to look at, as it may be good or bad for your situation.

Owning a newer or older home (rentals included) are first to look at. Do you see problems with the foundation? Is the roof going bad? Do you see problems with “utility boxes” and such on the side of the house? If you see any problems are they small or large… this may be a problem. Roofs that are going bad or sagging may collapse in the house. Foundation issues (cracks, not sealed correctly, crumbling) may take the house off the foundation. Keep an eye on your house and surroundings and try to fix what problems you can.

Utilities and fuel lines are a touchy subject. Power lines supply the electric, but if they snap off, can lead to igniting your house on fire, electrifying that gas meter or in some cases fuel tank on the side of your house which would be disastrous. You can call your power company and ask them if there are breaker lines (which can be added at a minimal cost) to your house if the lines snap. They can be also added to the poles that hold the lines, and have been in areas that have quite a few trees. I recommend cutting down branches near power lines ad they can be the reason the lines snap. Your Power Company may do this free of charge if you call them and ask about tree management vs. power lines. It makes life easy for them down the road as well.

Water lines, Wells, Sewer and Septic are a huge problem. If you have water and well lines, they can snap or in a wells case, it may move the pump. Not good. If you are in a urban area and the lines snap and start flooding your house. You may not be able to do anything unless you know where the shut off valve is near the street, in your house etc. Wells that have their pumps moved may not be able to get water. Always know where the shut off is for your water. It may save you and your house. Urban sewer lines are the same. There is a shut off valve; you will have to call your Water and Waste company for where the valve is. As for septic and if your main pipe busts, you are going to be in a world of hurt. You may have to go dig it up and repair it yourself. Most septic systems are plastic now, but if you do not know the size of your piping, you may not be able to fix it. Also in the winter, trying to fix a broken plastic pipe may not be a good idea depending on the temperature. The pipe glue may not stick if it is a low temperature.

Now that I have told you what to look for, here is what you may need just in case you can not stay at your house.

I would recommend a large-ish type back pack. An older Army ruck sack works and generally are inexpensive. Packing it with such items as:

1. a small first aid kit.
2. some type of food that you and your family may like.
3. small water purifying system with water bottle.
4. all medications you will need for at least 2 weeks.
5. warm clothes, socks and a pair of slippers. You will need to air out your shoes/boots when hunkering down for a night so not to have problems with your feet later.
6. a tent (light weight) or tarp in which to get out of the elements. (I recommend throwing in a couple of those thermal cellophane blankets, as you don’t have to just use them for a blanket but as a small tarp on the ground)
7. a light weight sleeping bag or blanket, depending on time of year.
8. waterproof matches AND a lighter all in plastic bags. You can have soggy water proof matches, so sticking them in a plastic bag will assure that you will HAVE a fire.
9. a small magazine or paper in a plastic bag. This will help with lighting a fire if the elements are a soggy or undesirable.
10. a bottle or two of HEAT. Heat for your car is an excellent way to get a fire going quick as it is mainly alcohol. Make sure to make a fire pit and only used it sparingly as it is EXTREMELY combustible.
11. Toilet paper in a plastic bag.
12. a light weight shovel.
13. A small radio. There are the hand cranked types but do not do so well in the cold. Please be aware.
14. a small-ish aluminum pot in which to boil water for food or just to drink in case you do not have a purifier.
15. a eye dropper size bottle of bleach.
16. a small bottle of body wash and a wash cloth. Do not use wipes as it dries out your skin.
17. small bottle of lotion, just in case you do need it
18. toothbrush and toothpaste
19. chapstick or something similar
20. Sunglasses and any eye wear (an old pair of glasses in a case).

21. A firearm with at least one box of ammo or shells. (.22, and 12 gauge) NO MATTER WHAT!

These items are quick to grab and go in any situation. You will be the one who needs to figure out what other items will be needed. If you have children make sure to put a light weight stuffed animal and a coloring books with a small pack of crayons in their or your pack. It will help later with their emotions as it is their way to get their emotions out.

Winter brings more problems. You can use exactly what I recommended in heavier duty clothing, tent and sleeping bags. You can also use a child’s sled to help with the items you bring, just make sure you have a sturdy rope so you can drag the bundles as well as the sled have higher sides. If you are in Tsunami areas, grab your bag and get to the highest elevation you can.  The higher you can get, the more it will save your life!

These are recommendations. Always layer clothing! Make sure that you have a plan. Whether going to a friends cabin, or yours, or hunkering it out. Be safe… for you and your family. Only you can protect you and your family!
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