Pruning Your Grapes After a Major Freeze

Previous posts, Pruning the Grapes (Part 1) and Pruning the Grapes (Part 2), have discussed techniques for pruning your grapes. In most cases, these two posts contain everything needed to prune your grapes using the four-cane Kniffin system. However, pruning grapes sometimes involves more than simply dressing them up. In general, your canes can remain fully productive for many years, but sometimes mother nature steps in and causes severe damage. In my case, all of my young caned died completely and there was nothing to do about it. In addition, two-thirds of the mature canes suffered above ground loss, which is what I want to talk about in this post.

Good hearty canes will come back after a major freeze that kills the top of the plant. No, you won’t get anything in the way of grapes after the top is killed off, but the root stock is well-established and coming back after the freeze is a lot faster and easier than planting new canes. The spring after the freeze will see the old canes looking like gray skeletons and you might think everything is lost, but give your plants time. Look carefully at the ground around the old canes.

The first year after a major freeze will see all sorts of suckers coming out of the ground. Just leave them be. Let them climb up using the old canes as support. What you’ll end up with with look like a horrid mess. The new canes will grow everywhere. That’s fine, just don’t look too often if the mess offends you.

In the spring of the second year, carefully work with the mess. Remove the skinny trunks. One or two the trunks (with their associated canes) will look quite hearty. Leave both for the time being. Also remove the old, dead, trunk and associated canes with extreme care. You don’t want to damage your new canes, which may very well end up resting on the ground for a while. It takes time, but work slowly and carefully. (I find that working through the mess usually requires an hour or perhaps two per plant, so allocated plenty of time and don’t rush.) Eventually, you’ll clean up everything but the two strongest canes.

Now that you’re down to two contestants, carefully look at the canes attached to each of the trunks. You need to consider which trunk has the heartiest canes placed in the right positions for the trellis system you’re using. In my case, I looked for the best trunk with four canes—two upper and two lower. Cut off the trunk you don’t want to use.

It’s important to remember that your plant is frozen and won’t be very flexible during this time of year. Carefully tie the canes to the trellis using a stretchy material that won’t harm the canes. I cut up old, clean pantyhose. It’s stretchy, holds up moderately well in the sunlight, and is inexpensive. Plus, it tends to dry out quickly after getting wet, which means you won’t introduce mold to your plants. You’ll likely need to work more with the canes later in the spring, after they defrost, but before they become productive.

In most cases, mother nature won’t kill your plants. The roots will survive even if the top of the plant is completely dead. Unlike most orchard plants, you don’t normally need to worry about grafts when working with grapes, so using those root suckers is a great way to get your grapes back after being killed off. Instead of the seven years required for new plants, you could potentially get grapes from the restored plants in as little as three years, so the time spent coddling the damaged grapes is well worth the effort. Let me know your thoughts on grape pruning at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

3D Printing – Fad or Practical Tool?

For a while, it seemed as if 3D printing would take the world by storm and that we’d all have 3D printers in our homes pumping out anything we needed. However, since my last article on the topic, 3D Printing Done Faster and Better, the number of articles about 3D technology have decreased noticeably. In fact, the trade press has been a lot quieter on the topic, which makes some people wonder whether 3D printing is actually a fad. The problem with much of the new technology that becomes available is that people initially think there are all sorts of uses for it, but then discover that those uses aren’t practical or that they’re too expensive, and they end up dropping the technology (rather than revise their vision).

You can still find some fanciful uses for 3D printers. For example, the Washington Post recently ran an article recently ran an article on how 3D printers can change the presentation of food. The idea is that you really can have the food presented in a manner that is both pleasing and unique. The idea is to make food in unusual shapes, sizes, and colors, so that it appeals to a larger group of people. However, the original vision was to combine ingredients to actually make the food—this application scales the idea down to a more practical level.

It also looks like 3D printing will see practical use for various higher end needs that aren’t quite professional, but are out of reach of the home owner. Think of printers like the da Vinci 1.0 Pro 3D as a middle ground for experimenters (see the ComputerWorld review). The price is out of reach for the general consumer, but definitely within the range for experimenters and early adapters. Again, the vision is scaled down, more practical, and infinitely more usable.

The military is also using 3D printers to perform practical tasks. Having been a sailor myself, I can tell you without reservation that I would have loved to have been able to print some of the items I needed. Waiting to get back to port before I could even order parts meant serious delays and downed equipment. Imagine having the ability to print a new drone or other needed items while out to sea, rather than waiting for a supply ship or in port visit.

Of course, the medical and other high end uses for 3D printing continue to evolve. For example, 3D printed hands are becoming ever more usable. Expect to see all sorts of new medical uses for 3D printing evolve because humans are notoriously difficult to fit. I envision a day when it becomes possible to print just about any body part needed in the right size, color, shape, and characteristics. New printing strategies may even make the use of organ replacement drugs a thing of the past.

The point is that 3D printing is expanding, growing better, becoming more practical, and still evolving. Yes, you might eventually have one in your own, but don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. Practical uses for 3D printing are becoming more common. Until 3D printing becomes a must have technology for industry, science, military, medical, and other industries, the price won’t come down enough for the home user. To answer my initial question, 3D printing is becoming more practical tool than an interesting new technology, which is why you hear a lot less about it today. Let me know your thoughts about 3D printing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Advantages of Making Your Own Extracts and Tinctures

It might be easy to initially dismiss someone who makes their own extracts and tinctures, but knowing how to make your own is an important skill. I commonly make many of my own extracts and tinctures because the products I create offer these benefits:

  • Cost: Even though you can get fake vanilla at a low cost, the flavor just isn’t the same as the real thing and buying the real thing is incredibly expensive. For example, buying the beans and making your own vanilla is significantly less expensive than buying it from someone else.
  • Customization: I don’t just make vanilla with vodka or some other relatively pure alcohol. Vanilla made with a moderately priced brandy or rum has a unique taste that is fuller than anything you could ever buy in the store. Sometimes adding vanilla to flavored alcohol, such as Grand Marnier, produces some amazing results.
  • Strength: It’s possible to make your extract or tincture to any strength desired. This feature means that your recipes end up tasting as you expect them to, rather than lack the pizzazz that you’d get with a store purchased product.
  • Characteristics: Many of the tinctures and extracts that you obtain from the store, even when pure, rely on the least expensive source of flavor. However, when making your own product, you can choose ingredients with specific characteristics. For example, the three kinds of vanilla bean you can commonly obtain are: Madagascar (traditional), Tahitian (a fruity flavor), and African/Ugandan (bold smoky flavor). Other sources are likewise robust. For example, a mint extract can combine the best characteristics of several kinds of mints.

Creating your own extract or tincture isn’t hard. The goal is to use some sort of solvent, normally an alcohol product, to extract the essential oils from an herb or spice. To create the extract or tincture, place the product you want to use, such as vanilla, into a glass jar. Fill the jar with the solvent, such as vodka, place the covered jar in a cool, dark place, and then wait. Just in case you’re wondering about the difference between an extract and a tincture:

  • Extract: A solvent containing the essential oils of an herb or spice. The solvents can include glycerine, vinegar, alcohol, and water. The product can be heated to induce more rapid extraction of the oils from the herb or spice (with some subsequent loss of strength). The herb or spice isn’t normally macerated. You can use some extracts the same day you start them (such as when steaming mint to make mint jelly).
  • Tincture: An extract that is always made with alcohol and no other solvent. The extracted item is normally macerated for maximum penetration. Tinctures are typically stronger than extracts and require more time to make.

Making your own extracts and tinctures is a lot of fun and experimenting with different formulations can produce surprising results. Most importantly, you know precisely what your extract or tincture contains, unlike the products you obtain from the store. Let me know your thoughts on making extracts and tinctures at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Adding Vinegar to the Chicken Water

It’s winter in Wisconsin and the chicken coop isn’t heated. In fact, the chicken coop lacks an electrical connection as well, so except for taking pots of heated water in on the coldest days, trying to heat the coop must come from other sources. The slant of the roof and placement of the window ensure that the coop receives maximum winter heat. The tree that normally shields the coop from the sun during the summer months is bare, letting the sun come through. Even with all these measures, the coop is cold enough to let the chicken’s water freeze.

My goals for various activities on my small farm include doing things in a manner that makes my carbon footprint small and keeps costs low. Consequently, I always look for solutions that don’t involve much in the way of high technology, such as obtaining heated chicken waterers. I did seriously look at a solar powered unit for a while, but decided that the chickens would probably destroy it in short order. The better solution turned out to be adding vinegar to the chicken water.

It turns out that vinegar has both a lower freezing temperature and higher boiling point than water. The freezing temperature of vinegar is 28 degrees, but that level increases when you add more water. I tried various levels of vinegar in the chicken water and found that ½ cup per gallon seems to keep the water from freezing for about an hour longer when the outside temperature is in the 15 to 30 degree range. Above 30 degrees, it kept the water from freezing at all.

Adding vinegar to the water also keeps anything from growing inside the waterer, which means that the water is better for the chickens longer. This feature of adding vinegar is especially important during the summer, when all kinds of green gunk grows inside the waterer and is quite hard to keep out.

If you look on other websites, you find that other people attribute all sorts of other benefits to using vinegar. Other websites warn against using vinegar. I haven’t personally tested any of these claims, so I’m not here to tell you that the chickens derive any benefit whatsoever from the vinegar in the water. However, I did try a simple experiment this past summer and found that given two buckets, precisely the same size, color, and make, one with vinegar and one without, the chickens always drank the vinegar water first. My feeling is that they seem to like it. So even if the chickens don’t gain any solid benefits from the vinegar, you can view it as a treat that helps keep the water from freezing longer and keeps their waterer cleaner. Let me know your thoughts on adding vinegar to the chicken water at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Time to Check the Larder

The seed catalogs begin to arrive in the mail and you look upon them as a bit of pure heaven—the announcement that spring is on the way. Your eyes nearly pop out as you see the multicolored carrots, juicy tomatoes, and fragrant herbs. The new kinds of fruit trees immediately attract your attention, and what about that amazing new berry bush that will pack your freezer with sumptuous berries? You go into a mix of information and appetite overload and you consider just how those new offerings will satiate your cravings for all things fresh. However, before you go into a swoon over the latest delights, consider the fact that you probably don’t need them all. Your larder is craving things too! The items you’ve used up have created gaps in the deliciousness that your larder can provide during the winter months when fresh simply isn’t an option.

Of course, everyone loves to experiment. After all, that’s how I found kabocha squash this past summer—that delectable mix of sweet and savory that will likely find its way into a pie this upcoming fall. Had I known then what I know now, I would have planted more and canned the extra as an alternative to using pumpkin for pies. Lesson learned, more kabocha squash will find their way into the mix this year, alongside the butternut and acorn squash I love so well.

Back to the larder though. You probably don’t have any idea of where the holes are right now and you really do need to find out. That’s why you need to perform an inventory of your larder. The inventory will tell you about the items you need most. This year I’ve decided to try canning three bean salad, which means growing green, yellow wax, and kidney beans. However, I already have enough green beans in quarts in the larder, so I won’t make a big planting of green beans.

Your larder inventory should include more than a simple accounting. As you go through your larder, you should also perform these tasks:

  • Ensure all of the canned goods are still sealed
  • Wipe the jars down to remove the dust
  • Verify all of the oldest products are in the front
  • Make a list of products that are more than five years old so you can use them up
  • Place all the empty jars in one area
  • Sort the jars by type (both size and the kind of lid used)

Taking these extra steps will help you get a better handle on your larder. You should have a good idea of what your larder contains at all times and the only way to achieve that goal is to actually look at the containers. Let me know your thoughts about larder management at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Technology and Child Safety

I recently read an article on ComputerWorld, Children mine cobalt used in smartphones, other electronics, that had me thinking yet again about how people in rich countries tend to ignore the needs of those in poor countries. The picture at the beginning of the article says it all, but the details will have you wondering whether a smartphone really is worth some child’s life. That’s right, any smartphone you buy may be killing someone and in a truly horrid manner. Children as young as 7 years old are mining the cobalt needed for the batteries (and other components) in the smartphones that people seem to feel are so necessary for life (they aren’t you know).

The problem doesn’t stop when someone gets the smartphone. Other children end up dismantling the devices sent for recycling. That’s right, a rich country’s efforts to keep electronics out of their landfills is also killing children because countries like India put these children to work taking them apart in unsafe conditions. Recycled wastes go from rich countries to poor countries because the poor countries need the money for necessities, like food. Often, these children are incapable of working by the time they reach 35 or 40 due to health issues induced by their forced labor. In short, the quality of their lives is made horribly low so that it’s possible for people in rich countries to enjoy something that truly isn’t necessary for life.

I’ve written other blog posts about the issues of technology pollution. One of the most recent is More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t. However, the emphasis of these previous articles has been on the pollution itself. Taking personal responsibility for the pollution you create is important, but we really need to do more. Robotic (autonomous) mining is one way to keep children out of the mines and projects such as The Utah Robotic Mining Project show that it’s entirely possible to use robots in place of people today. The weird thing is that autonomous mining would save up to 80% of the mining costs of today, so you have to wonder why manufacturers aren’t rushing to employ this solution. In addition, off world mining would keep the pollution in space, rather than on planet earth. Of course, off world mining also requires a heavy investment in robots, but it promises to provide a huge financial payback in addition to keeping earth a bit cleaner (some companies are already investing in off world mining, but we need more). The point is that there are alternatives that we’re not using. Robotics presents an opportunity to make things right with technology and I’m excited to be part of that answer in writing books such as Python for Data Science for Dummies and Machine Learning for Dummies (see the posts for this book).

Unfortunately, companies like Apple, Samsung, and many others simply thumb their noses at laws that are in place to protect the children in these countries because they know you’ll buy their products. Yes, they make official statements, but read their statements in that first article and you’ll quickly figure out that they’re excuses and poorly made excuses at that. They don’t have to care because no one is holding them to account. People in rich countries don’t care because their own backyards aren’t sullied and their own children remain safe. So, the next time you think about buying electronics, consider the real price for that product. Let me know what you think about polluting other countries to keep your country clean at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Calcium Nodules on Eggs

At some point during your time of working with chickens, you might encounter eggs that look like they have insect eggs on them. The view can be disquieting at first—all sorts of images could go through your mind. However, it’s more likely that what you’re actually seeing are calcium nodules that merely look like insect eggs. Here is an egg that has such nodules on it.

An egg may have harmless calcium nodules that look like insect eggs deposited on it.
Calcium nodules can look like insect eggs.

These nodules are completely harmless. In fact, you can wash them off the eggs quite easily. When crushed, the nodules feel gritty, much like crushed eggshell would feel. These nodules typically appear for two reasons:

The first reason is the one that occurs most often. Five of my hens are now four years old and one is five years old. The five year old hen (a Black Australorp) laid this egg, so the nodules aren’t unusual at all. (Most factory settings keep laying hens for one or two years after they start laying eggs, I’ve found that four years in optimal settings works well.) This spring I’ll replace two of the hens with new layers (the other four are pets and will die of old age). I also had one hen eaten by hawks and another died of an impacted egg, so I’ll actually get four new layers this spring.

I’m thinking of trying Barred Rocks (a kind of Plymouth Rock) because I’ve never had them before and they’re quite pretty. According Henderson’s Chicken Chart, they’re cold hard and produce large eggs. A friend of mine has them in her flock and feels that they’re a good investment. The point is that when you start seeing these nodules on one or two eggs and not on the eggs of your flock as a whole, you may need to start thinking about replacing the bird that laid it. Let me know your thoughts about keeping a healthy flock at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Predicting Processed Rabbit Weight

One of the issues that faces someone who raises meat rabbits is how to predict the dressed or processed weight of the rabbit based on the live weight. After all, you can’t add more weight after the fact. First of all, you need to weigh the rabbit before you feed it, rather than after. Using the before feeding weight seems to provide more predictable results. I’ve found that rabbits can be picky eaters at times, so using this baseline ensures I’m not weighing different amounts of ingested food. Couple the before feeding weigh-in with a same time of day feeding time to ensure you get predictable results. (I also feed right before sundown because rabbits are nocturnal and will feed better at night.) However, there is always some variance, so you need to expect some range in the dressed weight of the rabbit.

Younger rabbits tend to dress out at a higher percentage of their live weight. Most people wait at least eight weeks before attempting to process rabbits. However, these younger rabbits are also considerably smaller than a more mature rabbit. Waiting until thirteen to fifteen weeks often produces a nicer rabbit even if the live weight to processed weight ratio is smaller.

What you feed the rabbit will also make a difference in the ratio because some types of food tend to produce more fat, than lean meat. Adding corn or other grains to the feed will cause the rabbit to be more tender and grow faster, but at a lower ratio and with more inner fat (the fat that isn’t removed with the skin). When you feed anything other than alfalfa pellets, you change the texture of the rabbit and its fat content, and therefore the ratio of live weight to processed weight. For example, feeding the rabbit grass will tend to make it leaner.

The kind of rabbit can also make a big difference. A New Zealand rabbit may only provide a ratio of 55% live weight to processed weight, while a Dutch can provide a ratio as high as 60%. Mixed breed rabbits increase the uncertainty of yield, but do provide advantages in genetic diversity, which can improve the taste of the meat and reduce the need to use medications that pure bred rabbits could require. In short, you need to consider the trade-offs of various decisions you make during the entire process.

In general, you can expect a ratio as low as 50% for a mixed breed rabbit and somewhere around 65% for a Californian/New Zealand mix. However, you must take all sorts of other factors into consideration as previously mentioned. To help me calculate the processed weight better, I started to keep records of live weight to processed weight ratios, ensure I fed the rabbits the same diet, and kept my stock as close as possible to the same mix. Even so, I find that each processing session provides slightly different ratios. Let me know about your live weight to processed weight insights at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Colorful Carrots

The carrots go by many different names, but the main idea is that they’re quite colorful. I have now tried two different kinds, Carnival and Rainbow. Both kinds produced yellow, orange, red, and purple carrots. The Carnival variety pictured below also produced white and, oddly enough, one green carrot. I’m pretty sure the green carrot was due to some oddity in the seeds (or possibly it was introduced to sunlight in some manner). They both produced tasty carrots where the color definitely affected carrot taste. Of the two packages, I obtained the largest carrots from the Rainbow packet, but a single season doesn’t truly provide enough testing time to say that this would always be the case. I may simply have had an exceptional year. I plan to buy one packet of each sometime and plant them in the same area of the garden in the same year so I can perform side-by-side comparisons.

Colorful carrots make for exceptional meals.
A Colorful Array of Carrots

The carrots weren’t just colored on the outside. Cutting the carrots showed that the white, yellow, and orange carrots were the same color all the way through. The red carrots were red on the outside and orange in the inside. The purple carrots proved the most interesting, with bands of purple, orange, and yellow. Eating the carrots raw proved to be a real joy because you got different flavors with each bite and adding a dip (such as ranch or blue cheese dressing) simply added to the variety.

Growing colorful carrots means seeing color both inside and out.
Carrots Can Vary in Color Inside and Out

Cooking the carrots will change the color of the red and purple carrots to a dark orange. The white carrots do take on an orange cast, but you can still tell they were originally white. The same holds for the yellow carrots—they grow a bit more orange, but are most definitely remain lighter than the orange carrots. Therefore, even when cooked, you end up with a colorful meal, but not quite as colorful as the raw carrots. The colorful carrots even can well. The taste differences between carrots tends to fade a little when cooked and even more when canned. I can still tell the difference between these carrots when canned and other, pure orange, carrots.

Even the canned version of the carrots are colorful.
Canned Carrots Retain Some Color Differences

Unlike many multi-colored vegetable choices, getting multi-color carrots will provide you with enjoyment throughout the year. I now have some colorful choices for a variety of uses this winter. Let me know your thoughts about colorful vegetable choices at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

 

Pullet Update – Current Egg Sizes

The fall brings a series of events that make for interesting visits to the coop looking for eggs. Because I have a mixed flock, there is a combination of pullets and hens out there. The hens haven’t been laying many eggs as of later because they’re molting. The pullet eggs are just now starting to get big enough to really count for something. I still get super jumbo eggs from my Buff Orpingtons. These eggs peg my scale and don’t actually fit well in the carton (even with jumbo cartons, I find I must exercise care in even trying to close it). The Buff Orpingons are the only birds who lay these rather huge eggs.

These super jumbo eggs don't quite fit most cartons.
Super Jumbo Eggs Peg the Scale

The Americauna eggs can get quite large too. The advantage of the Americaunas is that they produce more eggs and eat a bit less than the Buff Orpingtons. Plus, they have these really pretty blue eggs.

The Americaunas produce extra-large to jumbo eggs on a regular basis.
Americaunas Product Beautiful Blue Eggs

At this point, I’m getting eggs in every possible size. You can see the difference in sizes from small on the right to super jumbo on the left. The eggs are always measured by weight. In addition, I check my eggs individually, so a carton that is listed as having large eggs has all large eggs in it (when you buy eggs in the store, the eggs are measured by overall carton weight, which means that you might have a mix of medium, large, and extra-large eggs in a single carton).

Weighing eggs individually is the only way to get consistent carton size.
Eggs Vary Considerably in Size

Even though the medium egg (second from right) looks similar in size to the large egg (directly in the middle), they weigh differently. It’s not always easy to tell just by looking at an egg how much egg you’re actually getting. Of course, the size of your egg can affect the outcome of a recipe (which is why I’ve gone to weighing my eggs as described in Pullet Eggs and Cookies. Let me know about your experiences with various egg sizes at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.