Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Harvesting My Crops And Putting Them To Good Use!

OK, so my  harvest for the year isn't the biggest.  At least I can say everything was grown organically!  Labor Day's almost here, and with it comes the family gathering at the cabin.  Everything's spiffy, the grass is mowed, and the garden is cleaned up too.

Well it's said that size doesn't matter.  Good thing cause most of my harvest was on the small size.  None the less, quality makes up for quantity.

A few weeks back I picked up a nice big package of beef stew meat.  I knew when I got it I should have enough veggies to make a good old fashioned Hobo Stew in my cast iron Dutch Oven.
Come Saturday morning I'll be peeling spuds and creating enough food to feed a small army.

A 5lb chicken did it's time in the smoker today along with a larger Pork Butt roast.

I forgot to snap a shot of the pork roast but this very black chicken should give you a good idea of how the roast came out.

Everything gets to hang out in the fridge until Saturday when it gets finished off in the electric turkey roaster.

Mostly a reheat but I hope an hour or so in the portable oven will return the meat to simple pull apart condition.  I carefully rapped everything in aluminum foil, hoping to keep all the juices in place.  I'll be real disappointed if the meat comes out dry.  Not to worry though, I've got plenty of BBQ sauce to go with it.

We're not likely to starve.  Beyond Beef Stew, Smoked Chicken, and Smoked Pork Butt, there will be fresh Cast Iron Frying Pan Corn Bread.  Tuna Pasta Salad, and the usual veggie and fruit platters.

I almost forgot the Baked Beans.  It took me overnight to soak the beans, three different kinds.  I sampled them when they finished up this morning, Mmmm that's some good eating right there!

You might thing this a bit extreme for a group of 10 people, but then there are special diet requirement to consider.  This way, everyone gets something special, and there'll be lots of leftovers.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Testing My Trail Rated Jeep

It was like Alice in Wonderland, the trail was getting smaller and smaller!  Yep, it was time to take the Trail Rated Jeep off road.

Years back I lived just north of Island Lake (North of Duluth MN).  During those years I traveled many of the DNR Forest Roads in the area, this seemed like a good afternoon to renew their acquaintance.

The weather was pretty warm, but what the heck, the Jeep's air conditioned.  Funny, we compared notes about the last time we were up this way.

I had a 79' CJ5, canvas top and no amenities.  Now the ride is smoother, the cab is nice and cool, and we're listening to country music on the radio.  The older you get, the more important it is to rough it in comfort.

This came particularly clear as we traveled down the Buzz Ryan Forest Rd.  Flies swarmed around the Jeep in such a cloud there was no way we would think about rolling down the window, never mind getting out to take a pee.    Check out this short video to see what I mean:


The end result of our venture into the wilderness was Barney's Canoe Landing on the Cloquet River.  The end of the south leg of the Carroll Trail does bring you to a great spot to camp, or head down the river toward Island Lake.

After a short stop, we headed for the North leg of the trail.  Signs indicated a bridge was out 3.3 miles in.  Of course we wanted to see, and take pictures.

This leg of the trail is quite a bit more rugged.  Lots of ruts, rocks, and dips.  It was pretty slow going.

It seemed like forever getting back there but finally we found a spot where 3 large culverts had been put in earlier in the summer.  Apparently the bridge out issue had been resolved, but they never took the sign down.

It was during the long slow ride who knows how far back away from any sign of civilization that a thought came to mind.  It's been most of a year that I've been trying to take the responsible route when it comes to survival.  What with Bug Out Bags and Every Day Carry Bags being promoted by most Government agencies, I've got a pack sack of common sense survival tools and supplies hanging nicely in the bedroom closet.

Never gave it a thought that this little outing takes us so far away from help that even the smallest issue could become life threatening.  If it broke in the woods, we were on our own.  Instead of thinking about survival, our afternoon road trip preparations amounted to a couple Cokes and a bag of mini-donuts.  Aren't we just about the sorriest survival experts you ever saw.

The next time we head off the main highway into the wilderness rest assured we will be prepared to spend a night or two in the woods in relative comfort.

For sure we won't forget the Deep Woods Off. You wouldn't believe the flies, I've never seen that many.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Portable Power, A New Generator!

The motorhome's gone, and with it went it's generator.  Our new, smaller and more cost effective, travel trailer has both a microwave and a 13,500 BTU air conditioner.  Only problem, unless you're plugged into a current bush, they're useless without a generator.

Most problems like this can be easily cured.  The easiest way is to throw a lot of money at it.  I guess these days I opt for the easy way more often than not.

Years back I bought a generator of sufficient wattage to handle this type of chore.  Not being flush with funds, I had to settle for what's considered these days to be a "Contractor's" generator.  Noise is of no concern on a job site, and that generator made plenty.

Today's it's all about convenience.  The Powerhouse 3100 has all the latest technology.  Inverter power so your sensitive electronics are protected, and close to the noise level of the comparable Honda generator at half the cost.  With this generator a remote start/stop is included from the factory, while it's a $250 add on for the Honda generator.

It's a hefty little bugger at 125 lbs, so you need a sturdy rack to carry it.  I opted for an aluminum unit that is still rated to carry 500 lbs.  The easy route was to buy an add on hitch that clamps around the 4" square tube bumper, making the whole package a simple and quick installation.

At 3100 watts the generator handles the air conditioner, but you sure know when it's cooling.  Air conditioners aren't very quiet on there own, and for sure it doesn't drown out the noise of the generator under load.  One consideration worth thinking about though is that when the temps and humidity are uncomfortable, you can forgive the noise level pretty easily.

The one item that makes it all worthwhile is the remote start/stop.  At the push of a button it's running and online.  My old contractor's generator would have me sweating and disgusted, what with it's being persnickety and hard to start.

Now it's off to the nearest Corp of Engineers campground.  We're set to go camping.

It's A Jungle Out There!!

Mr. Monk may be referring to San Francisco, but if you sleep with the windows open in North West Wisconsin you'd believe the jungle is in your back yard.
Numerous times this summer we've been awaken in the middle of the night to some terrible ruckus and carrying on in the nearby woods.  Just last week it sounded like a wolf or bear was dismantling some other creature without the courtesy of dispatching the poor devil first.

I heard my first whippoorwill a few months ago, and the cooing of morning doves is often the first sound of the day.   Last nights full Blue Moon quieted the beasts of the jungle until darker nights return.  I think the extra light of the moon lessens the ability of the predator's to prey.

When the blackness of overcast comes, all hell breaks loose with almost certainty.  Common visitors to our piece of land are deer, bear, raccoons, and  turkeys.  Other critters known to be in these parts include wolfs, coyotes, and even some wild boars.

More rare, but also verified, are cougars, badgers, and bobcats.  Who knows what else is lurking around just inside the treeline.   I know that whatever lies out there isn't the least bit bashful about tearing the hell out of their fellow creatures within close earshot of humanity.

Down the road about a 1/4 miles is a group of sled dogs.  Nightly you can hear them howling away in response to something in the woods.  For myself, I make sure my own little dog makes his last outing of the evening in our small fenced in spot out the back door.

He often spends the night standing between us on the bed, with his ear turned to the open window above our headboard.  He never barks in response to any noise from the woods, he just listens and waits.

I don't know what's going through his mind, maybe he doesn't realize his small stature.  That's how it was with my last small dog.  5 lbs of holly terror that had no problem sending a black bear running when it came into the yard while Mary was working in the garden with her back turned.

On the other hand Max always returns to his spot on the bed...Under the covers.  What do I really think is going through his mind?  Yo, Pa, save my stupid little ass!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

We're Good To Go Now!

After that disappointing trip using the Dodge Caravan to tow our new smaller trailer, something different had to be done.  I wasn't going to risk damaging the mechanicals of my primary transportation vehicle by overloading it.

Fortunately we were successful in selling our motorhome rather quickly, which freed up some capital to go a different route for camping.

It didn't take long to make a decision, car salesmen always have just what you're looking for.  Enter our latest vehicle, a 2004 Jeep Cherokee with the 4.0 inline 6 engine.

The engine is only a little larger than the Dodge Caravan, but the difference is this came with the factory towing package.

Rated to pull 5,000 lbs, it handles the roughly 2,500 lbs of our trailer comfortably.  No problem maintaining speed and not a speck of sway to be had.

I spent the day at the cabin hooking up the trailer, checking lights and installing wiring for a second battery in the Jeep.  The brake controller is mostly done but wasn't operable for our modest test drive.  I was somewhat anxious with concern that the 4.0 wasn't that much larger than the 3.6 liter,V6 of the Caravan.

The key is the inline 6 of the Jeep has considerable more torque and the tow package includes a transmission cooler, a mandatory protection for the automatic transmission.

Running solo, the Jeep is getting at least 20 mpg.  I expect that will drop some with the trailer.  Still it's way better than the 10 mpg of the motorhome.  And don't forget, we've got 4 wheel drive again for the Minnesota winters.

I'll be back to the cabin in a couple days to finish up the brake controller installation and to work on the cargo carrier I'm installing on the back of the travel trailer.  What do I plan on carrying back there you ask?

Check back for the next installment to find out.   I forgot to take a picture of it, so no point ruining the surprise.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fixing A Problem...Again!

Recently I bought what was said to be a "Light Weight" travel trailer.  I knew it was slightly larger than I had hoped to find, but the amenities it had and the price I got just seemed to make sense.

I hooked it up behind my new Dodge Caravan and headed off to our cabin.  It only took that one 50 mile trip to realize towing what was said to be a 2,500 trailer for any amount of miles would drastically shorten the life of my minivan.

As an immediate solution I coupled up the original Stealth Van and we had a very enjoyable weekend outing.  The 1-ton van hardly recognized that there was a trailer behind it.  It barely affected the mileage, and all was good.

Well that depends on what good is for some people.  The facts of the matter, this old fart and his misses seem to require a bit more comfort than most.  Don't get me wrong, the old Chevy Express still has a lot of life in it, but something this stout just isn't needed to tow such a small portable residence.

Just a few days ago I sold our 30' motorhome.  Why, do you ask?  At 10 mpg it was hard to justify the expense of heading out for a simple weekend. By all means I totally recommend a Class A motorhome for cross country travel.  You can't beat the comfort or the view.

Sadly for local camping around here, most of your more rustic campgrounds have a hard time fitting what I consider a highway grade RV.

The result, for the past three years our schedule and the expense involved meant the motorhome had turned into something that was just taking up space and requiring upkeep.  It was time for it to go.

The answer to our problem, or so I hope at least, is my latest purchase. A Jeep Grand Cherokee complete with tow package.  Rated to pull 5,000 lbs, it shouldn't have any problem hauling a trailer that when loaded will be substantially under 3,000.

Rated at up to 20 mpg, I expect it to be close to double what the motorhome got and noticeably better than the 1-ton van.

Plus once again we have a 4x4 in the driveway because every Minnesotan knows nothing goes better in the snow than a Jeep!

Of course there is one final step to my summer vehicle madness.  Now, for sure, the original Stealth Van will be up for sale.  I've got a little cleaning and maintenance to do before I list it, but for sure now, it must go.

Oh, and not to worry.  The new Stealth Van (Dodge Caravan) is still in the herd.  Look for a new adventure in the works for sometime next month.

Drying My Own Weed....Herbs!

This spring I planted a bunch of different herbs in a long narrow window planter.  Surprisingly they grew, quite well as it turned out.  Once or twice I clipped off a handful to add to whatever I was making for supper.  The fresh basil was most useful so I'm glad those plants look very robust and healthy.

My dilemma came when the planter was totally overrun with healthy plants and I didn't have an immediate use for the herbs.

It hit me this morning, why not dry them in my dehydrator.  Guess what?  That's the perfect answer.  I laid them out on the fruit sheets that I purchased earlier and plugged the slow heater in.

In only an hour the herbs had dried to a crispy crunch so I carefully dumped them into a mixing bowl.

A minute or so of crushing them up in my hand and just like magic I have enough fresh flat leaf parsley to bottle and probably last me a year.

I left the Basil to grow and even put a couple cuttings in water so I can enlarge my crop.

Fresh Basil is very useful to have on hand, especially when you think a small package from the produce aisle will cost you at least $2.50.  Hopefully I can enlarge my crop so I can dry some Basil for packaging as well.

At least for now, if the Narc's come knocking on my door, and start rampaging through my kitchen drawers, I'll have to put on a serious face when I say "Honest officer, it's not weed!  It's Parsley".

Friday, August 9, 2013

An Interesting Harvest This Year

If only the strawberries I harvested over the past two months were an accurate indication of what was to come.

My garden has been a puzzle for me this year. Granted I rushed the season by starting my seeds too early, and of course my first round of outdoor seeding didn't look like they survived the cooler spring we had.

The second planting almost jumped out of the ground, but darned if they seem more  interested in producing foliage and flowers than actually bearing fruit.  The tomatoes struggled while they waited for warmer days to arrive.

Only in the past couple weeks are the flowers finally turning into smaller green orbs.  As of today only one is starting to take on a crimson hue.

I have squash blossoms everywhere, vines are spreading like wildfire.  Except for one the size of a cigar butt, none have produced any food.

My corn looks healthy.  Only problem the stalks are about 16" high instead of the 4' plus expected by this time of year.  I don't see anything coming before frost does them in.

I thought the carrots had completely failed, but I found a few of these tiny ones growing among the squash plants I started after giving up on them.

My radishes were the size of small marbles with the texture of soft wood.  I knew the soil wasn't the best, but I'm going to have to do something different next year.

I'm going to build some waist high raised beds using 2x4 framing and plastic cement mixing tubs this fall.  Next spring I'll fill them with commercial potting soil complete with all the fertilizer they'll need for the season.  If lack of nutrients is the issue, I'll take the quality of my soil right out of the equation.

Not all is lost, I've got about a dozen green beans and half a dozen pea pods that look pretty decent.  Over all if I include the above bunch of carrots I think I can make a stir-fry dish for a squirrel.