Backyard Viticulture (AKA Catching A Buzz Off The Land)

One day, while deciding what to plant for a long term perennial plants, and wrapping up on the latest batch of home brew, I thought it would be a great idea to start to grow some grapes for wine making. Our favorite wine type is Cabernet Sauvignon and, luckily for us, it appears to be one of the more forgiving varieties that are available in our region. When I was growing up, my neighbor had some growing on a trellis that was attached to their garage, and I used to love the sweet taste of the grapes regardless of their thick skins.

Since I was brewing while thinking about this, I decided to try to train hops to grow horizontally on the trellises as well. I planted two cascade rhizomes and two millennium rhizomes. These had to be planted in the early spring, so I planted them before I made the trellises.

After deciding that we wanted the grapes, I knew that I had to build a support system for them, and this is what I came up with:

First I started digging holes for the end poles that I picked up from our local hardware store,


Then I placed the pole in the hole and drove it in as far as I could using a T-post pounder, then filled it with dirt. Next I ran a string between the two poles to help draw a straight line so I could place the t-posts where I wanted them,


Then I went through and placed 6 ft tall t-posts every 6 ft along the distance between the two poles, and used the string to verify that the T-posts were the same height. I went thru and ran the wires for the trellises using 12.5 gauge high tension galvanized wire,




After I built the trellis system, I had to find a source of grapes which seemed harder than I originally imagined. After all we are in the heart of wine country aren’t we? Well, due to that last bit of info, it makes it harder to order grapes since there is the possibility of importing pests and diseases. The  FDA has some strict rules about shipping to states that have an agriculture output as to protect those crops. I finally came to the conclusion that I had to find a local source. After a lot of well crafted Google searches, I found a wine grape producer that was only an hour and a half away that would ship to me. They normally deal in bulk, so the smallest order I could place was 25 plants. Guess I better get serious about making some wine in a couple years, huh? With an average yield of 20-40 lbs per vine, there will be a decent amount of grapes to use, I’d even bet that our chickens will love the leftovers after we juice them.

I was excited to see this shoot break thru the ground, the first of the yummy Millennium hops which are used in my favorite beer… Stout.


A Cascade is coming thru the leafy mulch.


Now one month later it looks like this, crazy how fast these things grow


Stick around lady bug, there’s lots to eat around here!


Now its time to plant the grapes!



The baby grape plants were in great condition, packed with sawdust instead of shredded paper! Paper absorbs moisture and can actually harm your plants. I love it when I receive a plant that’s taken care of.


Had to get a hold of the master Gardner for some help, thanks Eli!


Two weeks after planting and we have some amazing growth already!


I layed a drip line going to each plant and have it set on a timer to water 2 times a day now since its starting to get hot out. We are looking forward to having some great grapes, and possibly the ability to make some awesome wine!

Hanging Fruit Basket



This isn’t exactly a “prep” persay, but it is DIY and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna spend $30 on Amazon to buy something that I can make for $25 and an hour of my time (lol!). We have been having issues with the dogs sneaking up onto the counter and eating the fruit in the basket on the counter. It was a daily occurence to come home from work to find nothing left of a new bunch of bananas, aside from the stems on the living room floor. While cleaning up kids’ toys one day I had the brilliant idea to use the Dollar Store baskets they got for Easter and hang them for our fruit! Well, I will just say don’t try it with Dollar Store baskets. As soon as I put any weight in them the wicker cracked and we almost had a lot of bruised fruit. So, I went on a mission to Michaels craft store to find clearance Easter baskets and something more sturdy than hemp string to hold it together. Make sure the baskets have a metal frame or thick, strong wicker, or it will collaple under the weight of all your produce. I ended up finding some cheap baskets, and some not-so-cheap chain and metal rings to use, but I was done shopping around for materials so I just bought them. If I did this again, I might use circular baskets instead of square, but I think it still turned out OK.


Pliers come in handy. I connected the chains to the handles of the smaller top basket like so:


Then I connected the chains from the bottom corners of the smaller basket to the top corners of the larger bottom basket:




Make sure you use a sturdy hook in the celing. You wouldn’t think bananas and apples weigh that much, but it adds up quick. Hopefully the dogs won’t jump up and rip it out of the celing! It is also nice to have reclaimed some kitchen counter space. Happy fruit hanging!



Last spring we took on a project to take up some “dead” space that we had in our front yard. You know those hard to mow 90 degree corners that end up with weeds and require a large amount of weed eating and pruning to keep looking good. We decided to make a triangle with some cedar fencing that we had left over and make it a small raised strawberry garden.

We have a lot of moles that live on our property so I put a piece of fine metal fencing down below where we built the bed to keep them from coming up into the bed. Then I framed out the corner with Cedar fencing, drove some rebar into the ground to hold the fencing in place and filled it with dirt and planted our Strawberries throughout the corner.

It was great to come home from work and just stop by and grab a couple of these Strawberries and take them inside and feed them to our kids. In my mind it looks better and is defiantly more productive than the wasted space that was just poorly maintained grass.


Prepper Data Backups

Something that is commonly overlooked in today’s age is the value of data storage and redundancy. In previous generations, families had shoe boxes or fire safes full of pictures and paperwork that they deemed valuable, now we just save all of these pictures on a cheap hard drive that has moving parts and a four year life expectancy and somehow we expect that data to stick around so we can pass it down to our kids. We built a file storage “server” that has drive space available over our network that is also mirrored onto another drive that is connected to that server for redundancy. My concern was while I believe that the data is safe and backed up what if something physically happened to the house like a fire or a flood. I decided to try making a wireless network attached storage device so we can backup that data to a remote outbuilding. For this I used an Asus RT-N16 router it has a great amount of storage space on it, a usb port and a lot of ram so its great for 3rd party firmware such as DD-WRT.


We used a couple of these at work for random things so I knew it would be worth the purchase for this job. The firmware that I ended up using was the v24 mega release which means it has all the main features that DD-WRT supports. Some firmware that DD-WRT releases is carved down to specific jobs so it can fit on hardware with less storage space/ram ect. I had a Seagate external drive laying around that wasn’t getting used and it was enough space for what we needed so I decided to use that instead of spend more money on this mission.



After I flashed the router with the firmware i configured the wireless network as a client bridge and connected it to our network, then I turned on the USB support for the external hard drive and verified that it showed up on the router.


then under the NAS tab I set up the network share and created an account that has permissions to write to the drive


After I created the shared folder I mapped it in windows and then used backup maker which is a great freeware tool to create backups of folders. Scheduled it to go out once a week and copy the contents from our pictures folder and compress it into a zip file and then move them out to our remote storage. I still log in every once in awhile to verify that the backup has processed.


Homemade Sauerkraut

If you are thinking of making your own delicious, homemade sauerkraut, the first think you’re going to need to know about is Lacto fermentation. Lactic acid fermentation is the process when glucose, sucrose and fructose are broken down anaerobically (without oxygen) by hungry lactobacillus bacteria. In the case of sauerkraut, we use salt to make the water undesirable for bad bacteria that could make us sick, while the good bacteria (lactobacillus) can make short work of all of the sugars held in the cabbage. The lactobacilli are everywhere and on everything; in our homes, on our food, literally everything. In your gut, the lactobacilli help your body to break down the food you eat and aid in absorption of vitamins that otherwise would pass thru your system. Because of this, lacto-fermented foods are a wonderful pro-biotic and are greatly beneficial to our health. This is also a great long term food storage method, and a skill that most have forgotten about. It requires little effort to create, and the health benefits are terrific.

Making kraut is ridiculously simple, but there are a few guidelines. All you need is a container of some sort, a way to keep your kraut under the brine, cabbage, salt and maybe a little water. The containers can vary from a bowl with a plate to keep the kraut down, to fancy crocks meant for this express purpose. Some people like to add garlic, onions, juniper berries, carrots, or other ingredients, but these are purely optional. We like to keep things simple around here so we stuck to cabbage with a little onion thrown in. It is best to use sea salt or canning salt. Don’t use plain ol’ table salt. Also, don’t use chlorinated city water for lacto-fermenting. Chlorine is made to kill micro-organisms, which is exactly what we do not want to do. Boil your city water to dissipate the chlorine, or get yourself some distilled or well water.

Here’s a pic of the fermentation crock we used to make this batch:


We made this batch with 4 white cabbages from the local grocery store. We started by peeling off the first couple outside leaves and coring them 0ut to get the gnarly cabbage chunks out. Then cut them in half and thinly slice them like so:


There is no set method to cutting everything up. The thinner you slice it, the sooner it will be ready. But, some people like  big thick chunks of kraut, so experiment and cut it how you like it.



The ratio of salt to cabbage varies greatly as well. The minimum to keep the water salty enough to keep the bad bacteria at bay is about 3 tablespoons per 5 gallons. For this recipe we used the old 1 lb of salt to 40 lbs of ratio and weighed it on a scale. We had about 9  lbs of cabbage so we weighed out 3 1/8 oz of salt.


The next step is to put a layer of cabbage into the crock and mash the crap out of it with a potato masher or other fairly solid, heavy or blunt object. Then sprinkle a layer of salt and then layer on more cabbage. Repeat until you have no more salt or cabbage. Normally, as you mash the cabbage they release enough cabbage juice to make their own brine and don’t require any additional water. We weren’t so lucky. Our cabbages barely gave us any juice at all, much less enough to cover the mashed cabbage no matter how much we mashed.



So after thoroughly squashing the cabbage in layers with the sea salt tightly into the crock, we laid the weights on top of the cabbage. We then added just enough water to cover the cabbage (about halfway up the height of the weights).


If you are using a container without a lid, you will accumulate “scum” floating on the top of the water after a week or so of fermenting. Although it looks kinda gross, it is totally normal. Keeping the cabbage below the level of the salty brine keeps the mold away from precious kraut. Skim it off every couple days and let those bacteria do their job. Depending on the temperature of your house, kraut can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to complete. It also depends on your taste. Some like it super sour and krauty, others like it more mild. Don’t be afraid to taste it throughout the fermentation process to see how it is coming along. When it reaches the point that it tastes good to you, throw it in a jar and put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for a year or more.

Here’s a link to the Survival Podcast Episode on Lacto fermentation 

TONS of great information on lacto-fermentation in that episode! (and way more in depth than this post)

Murs Perimeter Security

We were looking for something to help secure the driveway and notify us when someone shows up even if we are out in the back corner of the property, I stumbled across the murs radio system from Dakota alert


These devices are battery powered and  sense motion up to 80 ft away and then trigger a radio that broadcasts a message like “alert zone 1” and can transmit up to 6 miles away to a hand held unit depending on the terrain. Murs is a group of channels that the fcc has allowed people to use without a licence much like the CB radio band. Instead of buying the receiver to go with it I used a existing hand held scanner that I had.


The murs band uses these 5 freqs

     151.820 MHz
151.880 MHz
151.940 MHz
154.570 MHz
154.600 MHz

If you are a ham radio guy you can program the murs freqs into your handheld


Here is some shots from the inside of the radio.

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It appears that the motion sensor part just relays power out to the radio board so i’d assume you could use the radio board as a stand alone for many things, you could hook it to a dry contact for a door sensor, you could hook it to a float switch for monitoring water in a tank or a basement that floods, you could hook it to literally anything that you want to monitor. I haven’t played with it much yet but I could see the possibilities to be endless with some creativity. Thinking of adding a solar panel to mine first so I don’t have to change batteries every 6 months. I could see it being handy for a remote watering station and all sorts of security applications.

House Backup Power

Adding a whole house backup generator,

First I ended up getting a great deal on a Coleman  8000 watt nominal, 10,000 watt peak generator. For the first year I just used extension cords to run into the house to power needed devices throughout a power outage. After that I wanted to do something a bit more permanent and manageable if i’m not around during an outage. First I made a list of the important things that I wanted to run and the circuits connected to those items.

1) Well pump, 2) Refrigerator, 3) Deep freezer, 4) Hallway lights, 5) Home networking equipment, 6) Son and Daughters rooms, 7) Front room tv radio ect. Our well pump is a 240v 2o amp  circuit and the rest were an assortment of 15-20 amp circuits. I started doing research on manual transfer switches until I found something that would run the circuits that I needed. I came across a “Q510C Pro/Tran” transfer switch that would meet my needs plus a little bit more.


I purchased it and an outdoor power box that lets you plug in a l14-30r power cord, then I found a 2 breaker box that I could put a 30 amp 240v breaker in for an outside power disconnect, Bought a bunch of the proper gauge wire and conduit and male and female l14-30p (male) & l14-30r (female)


 ends for a homemade extension cord. Also bought some flexible exhaust pipe and conduit fittings so I could enclose my generator inside a tool shed and pipe the exhaust outside.


I mounted the transfer switch next to my power panel and ran conduit between the units, shut off the breakers that I was moving over and took the leads from the transfer switch and wired them into my panels corresponding  breakers and connected the output leads from the transfer switch to my home circuits with wire nuts


Then I ran the conduit and wires outside to the power from the generator input breakers and power plug-in


Plugged the extension cord that I built into the generator and then into the receptacle and fired the generator up, turned on the outside disconnect and then flipped the transfer switch breakers over to generator power and verified that it all works. Tested the load on the generator with the well and the hot water heater. The heater was a later addition since I had an extra 240v circuit that wasn’t being used. This is the max capacity that it would be consuming and in a real power outage we would probably just use the essential circuits and have the well running when we need it.


After having this unit in place for over a year I have been checking the oil and starting it up once a month. I noticed that after the generator ran for about 15 minutes it started to bog down and stutter so I determined that it was an exhaust leak that was filling the shed with co2 so I added an extension cord and a box fan to the generator so when the generator turns on i can put the box fan in the doorway to help blow some fresh air into the shed. I will probably work on a way of piping direct air from the outside into the intake but until then this works like a charm. I decided I needed to help it keep its battery charged since pull start on this big of a generator is a bit of a chore. I added a five watt solar panel and charge controller to the shed so it will keep a trickle charge on the battery at all times.

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Solar Shower & Hot Water Heater

Two years ago I decided I wanted to be able to harness the suns energy to create hot water. As a proof of concept and usefulness I decided to make an outdoor shower. After spending a day outside working in the pasture mowing ect being able to just run into a shower without going inside covered in dirt is a great thing not to mention when one of our dogs are covered in mud or sprayed by a skunk is awesome. So I started looking up plans for solar water heaters and found all different kinds of plans.

I started to think about what we had laying around that I could use for an insulated box and with a sad turn of events our refrigerator of over 20+ years died on us. I saw this as a great resource and a possible new life. I took the doors off and cut out the divider that goes between the freezer and the refrigerator. I measured the inside of the refrigerator and guessed after looking around that a standard 5o gallon water heater tank would fit inside of it. After that I posted an add on craigslist looking for a dead hot water heater that didn’t leak. I received probably 20 emails from people that were looking to haul their heaters to the dump but didn’t want to have to pay for it. I ended up picking one up and brought it home and stripped the outside insulation off, the one that I picked up had foam insulation on it and if I had to do it all over I might of looked for one with fiberglass insulation instead because removing the foam was kind of a chore.

I fit the water tank inside the refrigerator with a couple pieces of wood that I cut to help support it and covered the entire inside of the fridge with reflective insulation to help point the sun light at the tank. Next I painted the water tank flat black to help it absorb as much radiant heat as I could get from the sun. I installed the tank, cut a couple holes in the top for the plumbing and installed a drain valve off the bottom of the tank so I could drain it in the winter time. Then I mounted the refrigerator at a 45 degree angle on the southern side of the house and ran plumbing to it. Currently its just hooked up to a good quality garden hose so I can disconnect it all in winter. Finally I added a sheet of glass that I purchased from a local vendor for $35

I ended up covering it with some cedar fencing to make it more aesthetic than having a refrigerator in your back yard and added some privacy and a bit of a wind break on those windy days. I will vouch on a sunny day this thing will hold hot enough water to take a shower at 2 am. During the hot part of the summer I have to add cold water to it because it can almost burn you. I dug a hole for the drain in the middle and burried a 3 ft pipe with holes in it and gravel around it for a drain. Here is some pics from the finished product, I wasn’t blogging back then so I didn’t take any pictures during the creation of it but here ya go, I hope you get the idea.

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Heat From Junkmail

This summer I was annoyed at the literal barrage of junk mail that we received so I found this at on sale for 19 bucks, I figured hey its worth a try right? Instead of using gas to haul something away why cant I just make use of it on our property. This was originally made for newspaper but with a paper shredder which we already had it made short work of even cardboard to turn into presto style logs.


After soaking the paper in 5 gallon buckets and turning the mixture every couple days to help break up the paper and card stock. I came up with this after about 20 minutes of pressing the liquid out of it and then let it dry outside in the summer heat.533053_2321659016593_334025834_noverall thoughts, its a defiantly good use if you have a fireplace, the press could be built a bit sturdier but for the price I’m not complaining. I still haven’t signed up for all the free junk mail I could find but if your ever in a pinch financially id bet if you were determined enough you could collect your neighbors unwanted junk mail and heat yourselves thru the winter. Just remember to remove those plastic windowed envelopes and fake plastic credit cards from the mail.

Honeycrisp Apples

Here is our honey crisp tree, it took about 3 years for it to start producing Flowers and then fruit, its irrigated with a timed drip irrigation system and fertilized every year with compost that’s created from our compost bin enriched with manure from the chickens we have, makes for great fruit, last year we had probably 30 apples off this now 5 year old tree.

The first 2 apples got hit with a bit of hail but its definitely on its way to becoming great486470_2231850491436_1792628497_nThe first apples, delicious! 58422_1187713228657_1027049_n