June 1, 2009

Double Digging with Dryer Drums

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:45 am by robwinfield

I have had very good luck with a modified French double digging technique for building raised beds. The original technique for French double digging was a complicated system of multiple trenches.

I went to appliance stores and salvaged dryer drums from discarded clothes dryers. Below is the dryer drum in a hole, with a feed bucket full of horse manure next to it.


The dryer drum is in a hole about 6 to 9 inches deep. This is not quite as deep as recommended by French double diggers, but my trick is to use the drum to build the bed higher out of the ground. My raised beds start 6 inches below ground, and about 4 inches above it, for much improved drainage, a clear demarcation of the bed versus the walking path, and plenty of loose soil for the roots to go into. Also, having very loose soil go down this deep makes weeds easier to pull out, roots and all. Weeds are better able to “hold on” in compacted soil.

Here is the dryer drum filled with horse manure and native soil.


I put about 2 or 3 parts manure to 1 part of native soil. I have several sources of horse manure in my area, from local horse farms, and I add horse manure very liberally. The dryer drum method allows me to mix in layers of native soil with layers of horse manure, but when I start filling the empty dryer drum initially, I fill it about halfway with manure. I put 2 to 3 of those large feed buckets filled into the dryer drum, and then add in layers of native soil and manure. I usually pull the dryer drum about halfway up when it’s full, and fill it once more, so I have a very large mound.

I can’t emphasize enough — if you have a truck and locally available horse manure, use this opportunity to add as much horse manure as you can, because you don’t know when you’ll get more. I get horse manure that’s aged 3 years, so it has the consistency of fine soil full of worms. One truckload lasts for about 10 dryer drum mounds.

After I do several mounds in a straight line, I rake them together into a raised bed. Here is a raised bed with garlic:


If I ever start using a rototiller, land that has been prepared with the dryer drum method is pretty well cleaned out of rocks and roots, and a tiller will have an easy job. If you are starting a farm from scratch and plan to use a tiller, I recommend that you do this dryer drum thing at least once to clean out the rocks and root systems and get a layer of horse manure 6 inches under, with native soil on top. It takes me about 20 minutes to make a mound. It may appear time consuming, but other methods involve going over the same piece of land over and over again. When I do a mound, that piece of land is 100% done. My finished raised beds are about 2 feet wide, and I have about 500 feet of them under cultivation right now, all done by hand.

A very important consideration in the dryer drum method is physical health. I like it because I get a lot of exercise out of it, but I regularly do yoga and qigong to stretch and loosen my joints and strengthen my midsection. If I did not practice these rejuvenative exercises, my body would likely not tolerate that much repetitive and vigorous muscular effort. I noticed that most garden bloggers speak negatively of French double digging for precisely this reason, “the aching back.” Dryer drum bed building does not make me ache; it makes me feel great. But if you are not willing to do about 2 or 3 hours of rejuvenative body work every week, you probably should not do this gardening method.

There are free instructional videos of regenerative body work on the Internet, and they are very good despite being free of charge. This is Falun Gong, be sure to download the one that says, “All 5 In Succession.”


This is a free yoga video, exactly an hour in length. It is very complete and very effective:



April 14, 2009

Inexpensive Hunting Rifles

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:14 pm by yjohn

by John Young

Ever since the blog entry on The Frugal Hunter, a lot of folks have been asking about the suitability of various military surplus rifles for hunting.

In terms of the power of the rounds, most of them are comparable to the .308 Winchester, and are thus suitable for most North American game when loaded with proper bullets and the ranges are kept within 200 yards. Proper bullets are the key. In terms of penetration and weight retention, moving up to a Nosler Partition, Swift A-frame or a Barnes X bullet can give a .308 the effective hunting power of a heavy magnum loaded with a lesser bullet.

I reload all of my own ammunition. In fact, the majority of the rifles I own have never seen a round of factory ammunition. So when I take a military surplus rifle hunting, you can be certain that I have tuned the load to the rifle for the best combination of accuracy and velocity, and that a premium bullet is being used. Likewise, the rifle has been shot quite a few times using that particular load; and I have sighted it in well.

Preparation and practice, no matter what the endeavor, are the secrets to making your own luck.

So rather than specific makes and models of rifles, what I really want to stress is the importance of high quality ammunition, knowing your rifle, and marksmanship. If you have these down solid, you can do amazing things provided the rifle is mechanically sound.

The Mosin Nagant rifle that I mentioned in the Frugal Hunting blog post uses the 7.62x54R cartridge. I slugged the bore and it measured .312, so I use .312 X-bullets intended for use in a British .303. They work wonderfully!

I have also used a Yugoslavian Mauser in 8×57. It uses a .323 bullet. With this rifle, I use the Nosler Partition bullet because I get better expansion at Mauser velocities.

I have no direct experience with the Enfields except that one of my uncles never had any trouble using it to bring home dinner; but I have used one of the Hungarian M95 rifles in 8x56R caliber. Again — I fashioned my own ammunition from high-quality components. Unfortunately, its odd bore-size of .329 makes finding a suitable bullet difficult, but I found a nice selection through Buffalo Arms.

One common surplus rifle I want to mention in connection with deer hunting is the SKS. The SKS shoots a cartridge — the 7.62×39 — that is vastly less powerful than the others mentioned. If you are going to use an SKS for deer hunting, restrict the distance to under 100 yards and use a high-quality hunting bullet intended for use in that particular cartridge. Observing these cautions, my father has successfully taken deer with one shot from a tree stand.

Most military surplus bolt-action rifles, using handloads that have been matched to the particular rifle, are capable of sufficient accuracy to take deer at ranges up to 200 yards without difficulty if the marksmanship is up to par. In many cases, accuracy is sufficient up to 350 yards, which is the maximum distance — in my opinion — for a humane kill using cartridges in this category.

Semi-autos using less powerful cartridges, such as the 7.62×39 usually have a long bullet jump to the bore, combined with moving mechanical attachments to the barrel (such as gas cylinders) that limit practical accuracy to about 3″ at 100 yards under the best of circumstances. Combined with the fact that a 123 grain bullet from one of these is unlikely to be exceeding 2,100 fps at a distance of 100 yards; that is really their effective limit as a deer cartridge.

(As an aside, I have successfully modified SKS carbines to shoot 1.5″ groups; but you should not expect that from a rack-grade rifle.)

One thing you need to observe is the limitation on magazine capacity for rifles used while hunting. These limitations are completely unrelated to gun laws generally; and are intended to give game a sporting chance. Make sure you have effectively limited the magazine capacity of whatever you are using to comply with applicable hunting regulations. Both Enfields and SKSs usually hold 10 rounds which is way too many.

At some point in the future, I’ll go into a little more depth on reloading because I consider it to be an essential skill for gun owners.

For now,  though, I just want to emphasize the fact that any military surplus center-fire bolt-action rifle is sufficient for deer hunting provided the rifle is mechanically sound, high grade ammunition is used, and the hunter is a solid marksman.

March 27, 2009

Revolution in the Garden!

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:58 pm by yjohn

This year, in my garden, I will be growing 72 broccoli plants in two separate plantings. As these are harvested they will be cleaned, blanched, vacuum-sealed and placed in my freezer. This will amount to about 100 pounds of organic broccoli that, if purchased at the grocery store, would cost about $600 at today’s prices.

99% of the broccoli crop in the United States is grown in California and Arizona. The overwhelming preponderance of the planting and harvesting of that broccoli is performed by Mexicans.

When I grow my $600 worth of broccoli, I am pulling $600 out of a system supporting Mexican immigration.

And that’s just ONE vegetable!

Naturally, my cost for the broccoli is a lot less than the $600 I’d pay at the supermarket. But, when you add it all up, I pay less than $1/pound. when the cost of packaging is included, plus I get some exercise. Not a bad deal at all: I get to save money and eat well while supporting my Folk.

The same economic equation applies with practically everything I grow.

So — what is stopping you?

March 1, 2009

Time to Start Onions and Brassicas!

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:48 pm by yjohn

A gentle reminder: here in the Northeast it is now time to start onions, broccoli, cabbage, celery and parsley indoors.

If you haven’t started these already, you are running behind and need to get started!

February 28, 2009

The Frugal Hunter

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:31 am by yjohn

Yes, I hunt. My family eats meat; and as far as I’m concerned if they are going to eat meat, it might as well either be wild or raised by myself so its the healthiest meat I can provide. Once you’ve decided to consume animal flesh, I believe it is morally better to kill it yourself than import a filthy third-world immigrant to kill a factory-farmed animal that may have never even seen sunshine. (I DO realize that some of our readers are vegetarians for either health or moral reasons — and I can respect that. If you fall in this category, the following article may not be your cup of tea!)

I’m not one those guys who likes to engage in elaborate self-deception by referring to what happens when I shoot an animal as “harvesting.” No — I harvest grain. I harvest tomatoes. But I kill animals. I have to be honest with myself about that. And I also have to be honest with myself about the fact that the plants I harvest are often killed in the process, and that plants are sentient, and so just as likely to feel pain as animals. (Sentience is measured on a scale from -70 to +50. On that scale, plants range from -2 to +2 and humans are about +13.) The fact that I am unable to understand and relate to potential pain in plants the way I can with animals makes it no less real to the plant.

But I accept this. Just as zebras kill plants and lions kill zebras; I fit somewhere in the natural scheme of things killing plants and animals alike — like a bear — as part of my own survival strategy. I do, however, try to be as humane as possible within my ability to understand. So I admit I take more care in inflicting the minimum amount of pain and fear in animals as opposed to plants because of the limits of my understanding of plant emotions and sensations. I don’t feel guilty about the fact that I use the lives of other things to survive, but I don’t see myself as necessarily the top of the food chain either. In the blink of an eye I could be an Ebola virus’s idea of a tasty supper.

That having been said, let me get to the “meat” of the matter. I hunt, and I hunt with inexpensive firearms. I’d like to share with you my experiences with these. For some folks, guns are like a religion; so it’s almost impossible not to cross somebody’s pet peeve. I’m a big fan of guns myself, so I understand!

Anyway, even though I raise a certain amount of my own free-range and grass-fed meat, I supplement that through hunting. Specifically, I hunt squirrel and deer. Depending on the rules for the locations where I am hunting I hunt squirrel with a Ruger 10/22 or a single-shot 20-gauge shotgun.

The shotgun was a gift from my father when I turned 13, and was what I used to kill my first squirrel under an aging American Chestnut tree that had somehow escaped the chestnut blight out back of my grandfather’s farm. The shotgun has a very tight pattern, and I always aim just a couple of inches to the side of the squirrel’s head away from the body so that no stray shot ends up in the meat. I found a used shotgun just like it — same brand and everything, in a gun store a couple of years ago. It was selling for $90. Clearly this isn’t a terribly expensive shotgun, but it has never let me down. I also like its safety features. You have to manually cock the hammer, and when you do, it automatically sets the safety which must be manually disengaged before the trigger will operate. Undoubtedly, this was also something that impressed my father as making it a good choice for a 13-year-old. I’m a lot older now, but still appreciate the safety features.

The 10/22 was purchased used for $125 about a decade ago. I got it for its ease in mounting a suitable scope and its 10-round semi-automatic repeating ability. There was a certain place where a ridge overlooked a ravine full of squirrels jumping tree-to-tree; and I anticipated getting into a nice comfortable spot on the ground where I could be a very steady shot, and getting my bag-limit of squirrels from that one spot in short order. The distance was too great for the shotgun, so the Ruger 10/22 was just the ticket.

I use three rifles for deer hunting: a Marlin model 336 30-30, a sporterized SKS and a Mosin Nagant 91/30. My father gave me the Marlin when I was 14. It sports an excellent scope and is very light and handy — an excellent rifle for the east coast where shots at over 100 yards are rare. Like the shotgun my dad gave me, it has solid safety features.

The SKS was acquired back during the first Bush administration. I really picked it up because it was cheap ($90 at the time) and looked really interesting. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with it until I had modified it extensively. Since then, it has been a work in progress and now bears a long-eye-relief scout scope, a customized sling system, free-floated barrel and a custom trigger-job that is as smooth as glass that I learned how to do myself. Now it shoots every bit as good as the Marlin which is more than adequate for the distances that I encounter deer in my area.

The Mosin Nagant was acquired a couple of years ago for $80. It shoots the 7.62x54R cartridge that is ballistically similar to the .308; so it is more than enough gun for the deer around here. I did a trigger job on it to smooth out the trigger and installed a set-screw to limit trigger creep, and replaced the wooden stock with a synthetic. Equipped with a click-adjustable peep sight from Mojo Sighting Systems, it shoots 2″ groups at 100 yards. Nice! The only downside is this particular model is rather long and a tad unwieldy.

One thing I did to all of these rifles is modify them as needed to mount a sling system similar to what is used in NRA Highpower competition. Why? Because I was a high power competitor for many years (you shoot at 200, 300 and 600 yards with peep sights), and I am absolutely convinced that proper sling usage combined with marksmanship basics like trigger squeeze and breath control is the key to accuracy in the hunting field. In my view, I have an ethical duty as a hunter to do everything possible to assure the cleanest and most painless kill possible on game; and a sling is part of that.

This little trip down memory lane is probably getting boring, so let me cut to the chase of why I wrote this article. I wrote it to demonstrate that you can use military surplus, inexpensive and used rifles and shotguns effectively in the hunting field. Some of them will require a bit of modification to shoot their best; but most are passable right off the rack as long as you limit their magazine capacity to whatever your state requires in a hunting rifle.

It’s easy to open up Guns and Ammo magazine and believe that an adequate hunting rifle has to set you back $1000 or more. No doubt, these very expensive rifles are very fine tools and worth every penny. I have one or two myself for high power competition, and they are truly works of mechanical joy. So I certainly won’t deride these fine instruments. But, at the same time, they aren’t at all necessary for hunting.

There’s a dirty little secret out there about rifle accuracy; and it is hardly ever mentioned in the pages of magazines where expensive firearms are advertised, and that is the fact that most people are horrible marksmen. They don’t have even the basics down. They flinch and jerk, or actually close their eyes when they pull the trigger in anticipation of recoil. They haven’t the slightest clue how to work with their breathing to steady their sights, and they have no idea how to line up their bones for the steadiest shot. Along with this, most folks haven’t the foggiest notion beyond the so-called “hasty sling” how to properly use a sling to make a rifle rock-solid. All the sub-one-inch and sub-two-inch groups you see in magazines were fired from a steady bench with the rifle on an adjustable sandbag. When you put a fine instrument like that in the hands of someone who really doesn’t understand the basics of marksmanship, it is no more accurate in practical application than the cheapest most worn out rifle you can buy.

A man with an $80 rifle and serious marksmanship knowledge is just as accurate in the field as a person with a much more expensive rifle and less knowledge.

So what I am getting at is that you shouldn’t assume that you have to spend a fortune in order to be properly equipped as a hunter. All you need is a basic military surplus rifle in good shape with some easily performed modifications and a commitment to learn. If you don’t hone your marksmanship skills, all the money in the world won’t bag you a deer.

If you shop around, you can still get a single-shot .410 or 20 gauge shotgun for $100 and you can get an excellent deer rifle, complete with ammo, for $150. President Obama told us recently that things will get worse before they get better. Well — for those willing to consider it, during tough times learning to hunt can make a big difference in the family budget.

So get yourself a rifle, take a hunter safety course, get your hunting license, practice your marksmanship, and either find a mentor or read a couple of books on hunting in your local library. The cost will be small, and the skills will safeguard your family’s protein supply for many years to come.

December 19, 2008

Save your carburetors from ethanol!

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:17 pm by yjohn

The 10% ethanol content of current gasoline can be problematic for storage in chain saws, portable generators and so forth.

Ethanol is extremely hygroscopic, meaning that it will draw moisture right out of the atmosphere. When you leave gas that contains ethanol in your lawnmower or whatever, it will mix moisture right into your gas. This will create a number of acidic byproducts over time that will serve to deposit junk in your carburetors and make them unusable.

So when you are done with your gasoline-powered tools for the season; empty all the gas out of the tank, start them, and run them until they use up what gas remained in the lines and carburetor. You’ll be thankful you did, because nothing is more aggravating than going to use a tool and discovering that it needs an overhaul before you can get started on the task at hand.