Summer Vacation

I normally take vacations twice a year. The first time is during the Christmas holiday (see Learning to Unplug). The second time is at the beginning of summer. Our Christmas holiday is definitely the more restful of the two.

Summer vacation usually means getting out into the garden every day to weed and then there are animal needs to address. We’ll process a certain amount of food during this time as well. This is the time of year when we’re starting to see the benefits of having our garden. However, there is normally so much work to do that I really do need the time off in order to help Rebecca manage it all. So, the vacation part comes from not going into the office each day to write. It would be easier if we could go to Rental Cloud and book somewhere to go to. Being away from home helps someone relax, after all.

It’s not as if we won’t take some time off. There will be a few days where we go fishing first and do chores later. Though we have been thinking of taking a fishing vacation and finding a nice place to go for it. According to this article, one of the best things to do In Broken Bow is fishing so it’s on our list of considerations. At the end of the day even we should decide if we get to have a bit of fun. . Though it would be nice to be able to go away for a stereotypical resort relaxation holiday, maybe to something like a resort victoria. Laying by a pool and drinking cocktails… now that is the life! It would be the perfect opportunity to get away from the struggles of everyday life and spend it relaxing under the sun and getting a suntan. It sounds amazing. Although, if we had to go anywhere, I’d rather go somewhere where we had the option of staying in one of the amazing accommodations found at Exceptional Villas as they just look out of this world. An ocean view would be my choice but I would be fine with anything. But if that isn’t a choice, we must find another way to have fun during our summer break.

Summer is the time for picnics, so we’ll probably go for a picnic or two to one of our favorite spots. Every summer vacation we also have some activities we do, such as putting together the annual summer jigsaw puzzle. It’s a fun way to spend a bit of time when we decide it has gotten too hot outside and want to spend a little time in the coolness of the house. Of course, kicking back in my hammock under the big maple tree next to the garden Rebecca has created for me is quite nice too.

The one big thing we do every summer vacation is barbecue every day. Normally I make the meat dish every day and Rebecca makes up a vegetable to go with it. Sometimes I cook both the meat and the vegetable dish to give Rebecca a day off cooking. The smell of roasted meat is a mighty nice way to spend an evening meal. I’ll use a combination of herb seasonings from Rebecca’s garden, butter or olive oil, and selected woods to give the meat a special taste.

This summer vacation will hold something special for me. I have an abundance of construction wood this time, so I’ll probably take a bit of my time out of the office to put up new shelving in our larder. Rebecca currently lacks a good place to put empty jars without cluttering up the shelves containing food. In addition, there have been times where we had such an abundance that we had to scour locations to put it all. The new shelves will ease some congestion.

We’ll be back to work on July 17th. If you have any questions regarding my books, please be patient and I’ll answer them when I get back. In the meantime, don’t worry if your email message goes unanswered. I assure you that I’m not going to ignore you. Happy computing!

Sunday Surprise!

Most people view a self-sufficient lifestyle as an experiment in boredom. It’s possible to think that the only entertainment one gets is watching the grass grow. That’s really about as far from the truth as you can get. We’ve had all sorts of excitement over the years. This past Sunday was no different. We were just about ready to head out the door for church when the post office called. Let’s just say that I thought it was a prank at first. I’ve never heard of the post office calling anyone on a Sunday.

Our laying hens and second batch of meat chickens were supposed to arrive Monday morning in Reedsburg—the small city about ten miles from us. The post office was calling to let us know that the chicks had actually arrived in Portage (52 miles away) on Sunday and that we needed to pick them up before noon. So, it was off with the Sunday attire and on with the regular clothes. We piled into the car, found a place to stuff some breakfast down our throats, and then drove to Portage as fast as country roads would allow (and believe me, there is no 65 on a country road—it’s 55 on a good day).

On the way home we stopped at a Kwik Trip to buy some Gatorade for the chicks. Then we rushed home, set the brooder box up for chicks, and started showing the chicks how to drink the first time.

There is a misconception that all chicks are bits of yellow fluff. Chicks actually come in a range of colors. The meat chickens are certainly yellow, as are our Delaware laying hens, but the Ameraucana and Buff Orpington chicks look much different.


The Ameraucana chicks are actually quite pretty with all of the shades of brown they possess. These chicks have a beautiful dark streak down their backs. The Buff Orpington chicks are almost an orange color. Think of it as a lovely brownish orange, rather than a pumpkin color.

Each of these layers will provide different sized eggs and have different characteristics. For example, the Delaware chickens will lay a moderate number of jumbo brown eggs quite well all winter long. The Buff Orpingtons will produce a larger number of large brown eggs, but produce a bit better during the summer months. Ameraucana hens produce copious quantities of the most beautiful medium eggs you’ve ever seen. The colors range from buff, to blue, to blue-green. All three types of chicken are bred for cooler climates and won’t require any weird drugs to keep them alive. More importantly, because they’ll all be free range chickens, we’ll get superior eggs from them.

Farm life does come with a wealth of surprises. This Sunday was just a reminder to be ready for anything. Let me know about your latest life surprise at [email protected].


Weeds, Weeds, and More Weeds!

I must have struck a chord with a few people on Monday (see Real World Global Warming). My inbox has received more than a few notes about weeds. Apparently, Wisconsin isn’t the only place that has been hit hard with them. I’ve received e-mail from a number of locations in the Midwest and a couple of places in areas like Texas. They do seem to be a problem this year. I think that weeds from prehistoric times have taken a sudden urge to sprout.

As I mentioned in my post, we’ve taken a new approach to weeding this year. The weeds are so bad that we’re weeding and immediately mulching. Otherwise, within a couple days time, it seems as if the weeds are coming right back. So far, the mulching technique seems to be working. The areas that we’ve managed to eradicate weeds from are staying weed free with the mulch in place. I can only hope the mulch lasts through the summer.

I’ve noticed a difference in the weeds this year too. We’re having more problems with quack grass than normal. Quack grass is especially troublesome because normal pulling does little to remove it. In fact, if you use normal pulling techniques (or worse yet, cultivate with a rototiller), you only help spread the quack grass. The major problem with quack grass is that it can grow through anything. We actually had it grow right through our potatoes and you’ll often see the stuff growing up through even tiny cracks in concrete and asphalt.

I’ve seen any number of sites recommend using roundup on quack grass. Don’t do it! You’ll only succeed in damaging your soil and other plants. In order to get rid of this pest without damaging other plants in the garden, you must loosen the soil completely and remove the long runner rhizomes.  The grass invades from the grassy areas surrounding the garden, so you should work from the inner part of your garden, outward. I’ve removed rhizomes four and five feet (yes, that’s feet) in length. When done carefully, you can remove enough of the quack grass to keep it controlled. I have never managed to eradicate quack grass from our garden, but I do control it well enough that it’s not much of a problem after the initial weeding. Even one rhizome nodule left in place is enough for the plant to start all over again.

I use a combination cultivator/mattock to remove our quack grass, especially considering the hard baked clay soil this year. This isn’t a genteel weeding device. Use the cultivator part to carefully break up the soil by going straight down on the edge of the quack grass that points away from the edge of the garden. Raise the tool up slowly and carefully. You’ll normally find the quack grass rhizomes on top of the cultivator tines. Keep working to remove as much of the rhizome as possible in one piece to ensure you get it all. Use the mattock end as needed to break up the soil or to sever the rhizomes when you get to the edge of the grass.

Is quack grass bad? Not really! It’s a good plant for controlling erosion. You can’t ask for a better grass to hold a hillside in place. It’s also the best grass I’ve found for the areas where we run our chicken tractors. The chickens can’t seem to kill the stuff off. They will kill absolutely everything else off at some point, but the quack grass keeps coming back. The quack grass also provides good nutrition for our chickens and rabbits. So, it’s not a bad plant—it’s just not wanted in the garden.

We’ve also been seeing more pigweed and lambsquarters this year. Both are easily pulled, however, even in the dried out soil we’re currently dealing with. I wasn’t surprised to learn that both of these plants have different names in other areas of the world, so I provided links to them. Finally, our dandelions are growing profusely everywhere. All of these plants are theoretically edible (especially the dandelions) if you can find a clean source of them. I’m contemplating making the dandelions pay the ultimate price for invading our garden—consumption in a salad. The leaves also taste quite nice boiled with a bit of lemon and olive oil. However, for now, we’re just weeding furiously to get the garden in shape and aren’t taking a lot of time to separate the plants. The chickens and rabbits, however, are in seventh heaven.

What sorts of weeds are you having to control this year? Do you think we’ll eventually get some rain? Let me know at [email protected].


Review of The Art of Readable Code

I encounter a lot of unreadable code because I work through a lot of code I download from the Internet for learning purposes and rework code from failed projects. So, it was with great interest that I opened The Art of Readable Code by Dustin Boswell and Trevor Foucher. After reading this relatively short book, I’m convinced it should be picked up as a college text. If developers would follow even half the advice in the book, many of the truly weird errors in code today would simply disappear because developers wouldn’t end up overwriting the good parts of other developer’s code due to a lack of understanding it.

The authors rely heavily on humor to make good points about writing code that is easy to read by others. The cartoons are engaging and fun. I wouldn’t necessarily call them funny—some of the jokes are tongue-in-cheek and others are a bit dry, but they’re all in good taste and make important points. As for the good points in the book, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone suggest that a developer actually turn to a thesaurus to find a better name for a variable, but the authors make this point on page 9. The point is made in a humorous way—not as a command as I’ve seen some authors do. I did laugh relatively often. For example, “The Ultra Hard Metal Nail Smashing Rod” reference on page 13 gave me quite a laugh. You’ll need to see the reference for yourself to understand it.

You’ll want to pay attention to the frequent Advice blocks in this book. In fact, if you’re short on time, skim the book looking for these blocks (and the Key Idea blocks I describe in the next paragraph) and you’ll improve your coding technique significantly. Some of the advice is obvious to a veteran programmer. For example, on page 25 the authors advise putting max_ or min_ in front of programming elements that describe some sort of limit. (If only novice programmers would follow that simple advice.) I only wish that the Advice blocks appeared with greater regularity later in the book. I would have welcomed advice from the authors on some of the more complex topics.

The Key Idea block is another useful addition in the book. For example, on page 122 you find the authors advocating that you create code that only performs one task at a time. Even though this idea seems quite obvious, you’ve probably seen code that is trying to do too much and ends up not doing anything well. The authors back up their Key Ideas with good coding examples (some relatively complex). Unlike the Advice block, the Key Idea block does appear with good consistency throughout the book and the authors have used it quite well.

The section on Eliminating Variables that starts on page 94 was especially useful for me. I often create intermediate variables while writing an application to aid in debugging it. The authors provide techniques that greatly simplify code without making it much more difficult to debug later. Even so, sometimes you really do need that intermediate variable for a while. The point is that you should simplify your code as it nears production to reduce complexity, provide fewer failure points, and improve performance.

As with any book you buy, this one does forward the author’s agenda. If you follow all of the advice in the book, your programming style will closely reflect the style that the authors use. Anyone who has written a lot of code knows that there are many perfectly acceptable styles of coding. The point is to make your code readable so that someone coming behind you can pick up on your style and quickly discover how your code works. For example, I still prefer to use a form of Hungarian Notation for my applications. Because I apply the notation consistently, my code is readable, but many developers feel that the notation is outmoded. Whether you use Hungarian Notation or not is not the point, the readability of your code is. The authors express their view of Hungarian Notation on page 17—as with many other parts of this book, they take a firm middle ground approach that should serve the reader well.

There is a lot to like about this book. As I said at the beginning of the review, colleges would do well to incorporate it into their curriculum. The authors do press their style of coding strongly at times, but I imagine that if I were writing this book I would do the same things, so I can hardly fault them on this point. The content is a bit simplistic for the veteran programmer at the beginning, so you might want to start around Chapter 7. Overall, I think this is a good and much needed book.

Real World Global Warming

Every time I hear someone talk about global warming, they discuss the issue in terms that have no real meaning to me. Yes, I understand that the average temperature is going to increase as a result of global warming and that I’ll see weather pattern changes. However, what does it really mean to me? Why should I care? I don’t mean to appear uncaring, but prognostications of impending doom are better served with a dose of reality.

I’ve already discussed one direct result of global warming-the USDA has defined new hardiness zones as described in my Contemplating the Hardiness Zone Changes post. However, even this direct result of global warming doesn’t say much to me. It’s not an indicator that I see every day-something I can point to and say that it’s the result of putting too many of the wrong chemicals into the air. This is the case for a lot of people. As they aren’t seeing the direct consequences of global warming, they don’t consider it to be their problem. However, every person has a part to play in global warming. Global warming is always happening, and we are all partly to blame. Luckily, there’s still time and there are things we can do. One of the most popular methods to prevent global warming is tree planting. As trees absorb carbon dioxide, they can lower the amount of CO2 in the air. That’s why trees are so important. Thankfully, more companies are understanding the challenges of global warming and are trying to plant trees themselves to save the planet. are just one of the companies looking to build a greener community by planting trees, so members of the public might want to take a look at their products to help them in their quest to plant more trees.

However, this spring is providing something in the way of a wake-up call to me personally. Spring came early this year; very early. Odd spring weather is nothing new to Wisconsin-we get odd weather every year. In fact, it’s the variety and uncertainty of weather that attracts me to Wisconsin. However, no one can remember spring coming this early. Our spring has also been quite hot and dry. As a result, vegetables that normally do quite well in our garden, such as broccoli, are doing poorly.

In fact, all of our brassicas are doing poorly. I should have planted the brassicas earlier this year to accommodate the warm spring, but I didn’t. Local wisdom says not to plant too much, especially not tender plants, until Mother’s Day, which was simply too late this year. After talking to a number of other people, I find that I’m not the only one who planted too late. Everyone is complaining about how their broccoli has bolted without growing a head. Yes, you can pick the pieces and use them, but what you get is more like a second crop, rather than that perfect first crop in the form of a head.

The weeds, however, are doing marvelously. Rebecca and I can hardly keep up with them. We’re grabbing bushels of weeds from the garden at a time when we’re normally looking at light weeds and are able to mulch to keep them controlled. This year, we’re battling the weeds with vigor and mulching as soon as we get a patch freed from their grasp. However, I’m thinking that the late summer weeds we normally get poking up through the mulch are going to appear by mid-summer this year, long before we’re ready to harvest some of the end of season offerings (assuming they grow at all).

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad. We’ve just had the best asparagus season ever. Not only have we had spears vigorously poking their heads above ground, but the spears are thicker and more tender than usual. Rebecca has quite a few meals worth of asparagus already frozen because we can’t even contemplate eating it all without making ourselves sick. So, we’ve learned that asparagus loves exceptionally warm springs, but brassicas don’t.

We’ve also had a pleasant surprise in the form of cantaloupes. Normally we have a hard time growing them, but we try anyway. The other day I noted that our cantaloupes are already flowering. They also appear quite vigorous this year, so I anticipate getting a lot of a cherished fruit that I often have to buy at the store as a “nicety” instead of picking it from my garden. This change in garden does lend credence to my number one rule of planting a wide variety of items to see what works and what doesn’t in a given year. Next year may very well prove to be the year the brassicas fight back, but this year I’m expecting a lot of broccoli soup.

I had mentioned in a previous post that our trees have also been affected by the spring weather. It turns out that our tree fruit harvest is just about ruined due to the odd weather because our trees simply aren’t used to it. We had thought we might get an exceptionally good berry harvest (the bushes are certainly full enough), but the exceptionally dry weather has already caused the black caps (a kind of raspberry) and the blueberries to fail. On the other hand, the grapes apparently love our spring and are putting out more than I’ve ever seen them put out. We can still hope that the blackberry and gooseberry harvests will be good too. The point is to look for the good and bad in the situation (as I described in my Every Year is a Good and a Bad Year post).

When you hear people discuss global warming in the news, it really doesn’t hit home. A degree or two temperature rise doesn’t quite make an impact. Even seeing the loss of ice at the poles doesn’t really hit the nail on the head like seeing your gardening conditions change so significantly that you never imagined they’d be the way they are now. Most scientists now accept global warming as a reality, but they continue to spout facts and figures that most of us can’t begin to relate to. What does global warming mean to you? How have you been affected by it? Let me know at [email protected].


Building a Brooder Box/Rabbit Cage Combination

It’s important to provide any animals you care for with comfortable surroundings. In past years we always placed our chicks in cardboard boxes and then recycled the cardboard box when we placed the young chickens in chicken tractors (see the Getting Started with Chickens post for details). There are a number of problems with using a cardboard box for your chicks:


  • The box sits on the floor so the chicks are exposed to some level of cold.
  • The box traps moisture, making it hard to keep the chicks completely dry.
  • Chicks can become crowded as they grow.
  • Keeping the box clean is difficult because the cardboard isn’t very tough.
  • Chicks can escape when they peck through the side of the box.

With this in mind, I decided to build a brooder box this year. I wanted a permanent place to grow our chicks that would be easy to keep clean, provide a dry environment, and keep the chicks secure so nothing would eat them. The box also needed to provide plenty of space. The only problem is that a box used strictly to raise chicks would sit idle for most of the year. Normally, the chicks stay in the cardboard box between four and six weeks, so building a brooder box just for that purpose would be a waste of time.

I got the idea to build a combination box. Our rabbits are normally weened from their mothers about the same time as the chicks go to the chicken tractors. So, I created a combination box—one that would support both chicks and rabbits so that the box would remain in use for most of the year. With this in mind, the bottom of the box would have to use hardware cloth so that the rabbit droppings would drop through. When the box is used for chicks, a plywood insert provides a solid bottom that is easy to clean. So, I build a 4′ × 8′ bottom.


Notice how the 2 × 4’s are put together. They act as runners to make the cage easy to move around, yet provide stability. I had thought about putting the cage on wheels, but adding wheels would have been expensive and would have kept the cage too far off the ground for the rabbits to grab grass that pokes up through the bottom. In addition, given that we have no flat ground on our property, the cage would have a tendency to move around on its own. The bottom is covered with 1/4″ hardware cloth that I salvaged from the chicken coop some friends helped me tear down (see the Starting a Chicken Coop post for details). Keeping the bottom this high also keeps the chicks warmer because they aren’t feeling the effects of the cold floor. Any dampness also goes through the hardware cloth to drain off away from the chicks.

The sides are built using 2 × 4’s and are covered with 1″ × 2″ hardware cloth. I chose to make the sides 30″ high to ensure that the chicks couldn’t fly out too easily without having to cover them too early. In addition, the high sides would keep drafts off of the chicks during their early development. The high sides also make it less likely that predators will easily access the rabbits we put into the cage later.


Once I had all four sides put onto the cage, I started creating the inserts. Young chicks are incredibly susceptible to drafts. You have to keep them warm. In addition, the young chicks would actually do better in a smaller space. So, I added the 1/2″ plywood floor first, and then created four inserts for the sides so that the chicks would start with a 4′ × 4′ area like this:


After the chicks grow large enough that they no longer need the heat lamps, we can remove the four inserts and let them roam around in the full 4′ × 8′ cage.


The box is large enough that I can simply shovel out the newspaper once it’s no longer useful and put in new. The birds remain completely dry and their environment lets them get plenty of exercise. We keep about half the cage in sunlight during the morning hours so that the birds can choose to bask in the sun or relax in the shade.

An interesting thing happened with this new brooder box. Our chicks grew significantly faster and didn’t even go through the usual “ugly” stage as their feathers came in. The new brooder box has performed well beyond expectations and we expect to get many useful years out of it.

My next post will show how the cage is used for rabbits. It’ll have a removable roof in place and the plywood floor will be gone. In the meantime, let know if you have any questions about the chick (brooder box) configuration of the cage at [email protected].


Dealing with Stress

I want to start this post by saying I’m not a psychiatrist or a physician-if you have a medical condition, you really need to consult these professionals and not rely on Internet posts to meet your needs. If you find some of what I’ve written down helpful then great. Similarly, if you wish to try alternative methods, such as CBD or Cannabis gummies that’s good too, in the end, discover what is right for you. That said, a number of people have contacted me in the past about how I deal with stress and depression on a daily basis. I thought about the issue for a long time-several months, in fact.

Most people have sources of stress in their environment. Mine comes from trying to juggle book schedules, outside work, and family needs all at the same time. Planting and harvest seasons often conflict with book needs and vice-versa. Not meeting all of my requirements can lead to depression. Every person faces these sorts of issues and I’m not any different.

Under normal circumstances, someone can turn to friends or find other ways to deal with their problems. I use these same techniques myself. A good friend is the best balm to heal a crushed spirit. They can even give you some invaluable advice along the way and they may even have ideas that you’ve never thought of before, like deciding to buy CBD oil in your area to help relieve any stressful emotions that you’re experiencing. There are so many ideas that are available for you to try, and leaning on your friends for moral support is one of the best things that you can do. However, I also rely on other techniques that you could find helpful, which is the emphasis of my post today. In order to deal with these issues I use my MIND:

  • Meditation and Yoga: I’ll spend time talking with God or focusing on the beauty around me. Sometimes it helps to count the wonderful things in my life or to see that a single bad thing isn’t nearly problematic when viewed from the perspective of twenty good things. To meditate in this way means turning one’s thoughts outward and seeing the world outside the gloom of the current turmoil. I also like to do yoga whenever I get the chance. It helps me relax and it’s a great form of exercise too. I’ve found an online yoga teacher training 2020 course that looks interesting and I would love to be able to teach yoga for my full-time job. If you haven’t tried either meditation or yoga as a way to deal with stress, I highly recommend you do so.

  • Immersion: Focusing all my attention on some positive activity often helps me forget about the problems I’m having for a while. Often, my subconscious mind will continue to work on the problem and by the time I’ve finished the positive activity, I have an answer for the issue that’s causing stress. Immersing myself in something and then seeing a successful result helps create a positive environment in which to work on the issue that is causing stress. Often, I find that a creative activity works best because I can get so fully immersed in it that I don’t even think about anything outside of that activity.

  • Negation: You have a stressful event that’s causing depression. Negating that feeling-the feeling of helplessness, is essential. I often fight these feelings by doing something good for someone else. It doesn’t have to be much. Sometimes something as simple as a kind word is more than enough. Again, it’s a matter of turning my thoughts outward. Seeing the pleasure that the positive act brings to the other person makes me happy too.

  • Distraction: Sometimes you need to forget about your problems for a while. A positive activity can distract you long enough to help you break the grip of the depression that holds you in its grip. The positive activity need
    not be work-related. In fact, for me it often involves doing something with my
    lovely wife (seeing a movie, taking a walk, playing a game, or going
    fishing). Freeing your mind of activity helps relax you and can bring a sense of relief in a stressful situation.

When you have a problem, you can use your MIND to reduce your stress about it. You don’t have to do anything that costs money, involves lots of time, and is essentially inconvenient. Look for obvious avenues of turning your mind outward, doing something good for someone else, and generally focusing attention on something positive to free yourself. My techniques may or may not work for you, but they have been effective for a few others I’ve shared them with. If you have a serious problem with depression or stress though and you can’t resolve it on your own, I encourage you to seek the help you need. Life is too short to live it in pain.

Writing with Gusto

Many people have heard of the six questions that a newspaper reporter is always supposed to ask when writing an article: who, what, when, where, why and how. It turns out that those six questions apply to most forms of writing at some level. For example, when I write an article about a new technology, I might write these questions to myself as part of my preparation:


  • Who will use the technology?
  • Who will implement the technology?
  • What problem does the technology solve?
  • When is this solution used?
  • When it is important to avoid using this solution?
  • Where will the reader use this technology?
  • Where does the reader obtain the technology?
  • Why is this technology important?
  • Why will the reader want to use it?
  • How does the reader implement the solution presented by this technology?

My list is probably a lot longer that this one, but this is a good sample. I might fill the better part of an hour (or more) coming up with questions about the technology I want to discuss. When writing a book, I can usually come up with several hundred questions that describe issues the book should consider answering. This process of asking the six questions is important because you won’t think about the question if you simply start writing. Even if you have a great outline and terrific editors, the thought process involved in writing these questions is different from any other thought process involved in writing. Once you get into the question asking mode, you’ll discover that you’ll come up with all sorts of questions that you would never have asked otherwise.

Your list will probably end up being too long. My list usually ends up that way. At some point, you need to pare down the list to the important questions—the questions your reader is most likely to ask. The problem is that most authors are authorities on the topic they write about and most readers aren’t. The author must think critically about the questions. An assumption that a question is too simple can be wrong. Likewise, if you expend precious space writing about a topic the reader already knows, you’ll run out of space to discuss the issues the reader really wanted to know about.

I’ve read about the fallacy of the unlimited space offered by the Internet, so that it’s impossible to run out of space for an article. From a certain perspective, that’s true. You literally can make anything you write as long as you want. The problem is that no one will read the piece if it’s too long, so the time is wasted. If anything, your space when writing electronically is more limited than the space offered by a printed book. I’ve been learning the hard way that readers of electronic media have a shorter attention span than those reading print media. So, paring down that list of questions is important.

Roleplaying is an author’s most important tool in this situation. You can create a profile of your reader, determine how your reader thinks, what your reader needs. I actually consider it one of the better parts of the creative process involved in writing an article or a book. You can base your role on conversations you see online, e-mail that you receive, conversations you have with your readers, and external sources of reader information (such as marketing materials). The use of roleplaying makes it possible for you to see things from your reader’s perspective and eliminate the questions that you really don’t need to answer.

Asking questions, the right questions, will make your writing robust and enjoyable. Readers will get the information needed in the shortest possible time. More importantly, the reader’s questions are answered completely when you ask the right questions. What sorts of other techniques do you use to write with gusto? Let me know at [email protected].

Keeping Track of Maintenance Costs

It’s spring and that means doing all of the start-up work for the summer. It also means you need to get all your gardening equipment out and make sure they’re still working! This is why it’s always best to buy high-quality machinery because, after months of being left in a cold shed, you don’t want to spend ages trying to repair them for you to use. For example, a lawnmower like the greenworks 25012 would be a good option as it has an engine that offers solid, dependable power without being too bulky.

And this is one of the issues that you need to address as part of being self-sufficient – maintenance. Every piece of equipment requires some sort of maintenance. Whether it’s your garden strimmer, zero turn mower, greenhouse or shed. Even the common spade requires maintenance in the form of sharpening (you do sharpen your spade, don’t you?). When you calculate how much you’re earning from your self-sufficiency efforts, you must consider maintenance costs. These costs come in several forms:

  • Parts
  • Consumables (such as oil and rags)
  • Personal Time
  • Third Party Support (such as when you take your equipment to the shop)
  • Down Time (when the equipment is unavailable for use)

Trying to assign a dollar figure to many of these areas is difficult. In some cases, you must make a guess. For example, you buy a box of shop grade paper towels to use as rags. Some of them are used for painting, some when you change the oil in your lawn mower, and some for spills. It’s incredibly hard to come up with a precise dollar amount for each use, so you must make an estimate and go from there. Of course, the total of your estimates should equal the actual cost of the rags. To make things harder, you may use old clothes for rags, which means that you have no basis on which to make a guess. Obviously, your worn, frayed pants turned into rags have little value, but they do have some value.

The problem becomes even more complex when you consider that some equipment is multipurpose. In order to account for maintenance costs, you need to assign them to a specific area of your self-sufficient lifestyle. For example, you may know that your hourly wage for growing green beans is $8.00 based on my Calculating an Hourly Wage post. Just how much is this wage reduced by the maintenance performed on a tiller used to till the soil in the spring? The tiller is also used to till the remainder of the garden, so at some point, you have to make an estimate of the maintenance costs for green beans in particular if you want to provide a precise accounting.

By now, some of you are probably wondering whether I’m a bit insane. After all, what do these costs matter? One of the motivators for being self-sufficient is knowing that, on some level, you’re saving money-that you truly are earning some amount each hour. People have ended up spending everything they earn, and even exceeding their earnings, by performing maintenance in the wrong way. For example, it’ll cost you in excess of $40 in most cases to have someone maintain your lawn mower. By following the simple instruction in the lawn mower’s manual, you can usually accomplish the task for around $10. The $30 difference in maintenance costs can mean the difference between earning something for your efforts and losing money. So sometimes it just makes more sense for you to purchase your own lawn mower, and look after your lawn by yourself. You can easily check out something like the best rated cordless lawn mower by YardMasterz here to give you a better idea of how easy it is to look after your lawn properly, without hiring someone to help you.

There is another good reason to calculate the maintenance costs (at least, within reason). When it comes time to get a new tool (motorized or not), knowing the maintenance costs and understanding how often a tool breaks down can help you make smarter buying decisions. A tool that sees use once a year is probably not a good candidate for an expensive upgrade. On the other hand, when you find that a tool breaks down a little too often because it’s not designed to take the level of use you need, an upgrade may make sense.

Maintenance costs can tell you something else. You’ll find that certain brands of machinery are quite expensive to maintain, even if you buy the parts yourself. Knowing how much it costs to maintain certain brands of machinery can help you decide between tool vendors. A vendor may charge a little more at the outset, but if you save a considerable amount on maintenance costs, the additional purchase price is worth it. You could source certain items like transmission clutch parts for heavy machinery from K&L if you find them to provide the parts you need at competitive prices.

Keeping track of maintenance costs is an essential element of self-sufficiency. You don’t have to become absurdly accurate, but well-informed estimates are essential. Create and maintain a log of your maintenance costs so you have a better idea of precisely how much you’re spending for each of the items you grow. These maintenance costs may actually change the items you grow because some items are prone to high maintenance costs. Let me know your thoughts on maintenance costs at [email protected].