Archive for the ‘backyard’ Category

Back in March I built a solar still in my backyard.  As Arizona is a dry place and my backyard does not have a creek in it, I tried to suck moisture out of plants.

This did not work.

I finally got around to editing the video.  Watch below if you care to watch my failed attempt as well as my first use of the fast-forward function.  If you don’t care to watch the video, the short version is that a solar still is a ridiculous amount of work for a ridiculously small amount of water.

On a side note, the raised garden did not work either.

tracking animals

Posted: June 15, 2011 in animals, arizona, protein

As mentioned in a previous post, we learned how to track humans as part of the Complete Survivor Class from Ancient Pathways. During the weekend we also discussed tracking animals.

Most books center of what the impression of the animal looks like. This is not so useful because the print will quickly deteriorate so there are no details left to identify the track. Tony emphasized one should think about the “stride and straddle” of the animal to figure out what type of animal it was.

The stride is evidence of  if the beast was walking or running. Stride  would be how long is the step, and straddle would be how wide the animal is. Identifying this takes practice. I am planning on making a “tracking box” in my backyard and study the feral cats impressions and later compare this to a coyote sized dog. Cats and dogs have different tracks.  Most of the wild animals that can hurt us were originally cats or dogs.

Below: Hard to read prints. My guess is coyote.

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Up North, where there is winter, only the strong surivie.  In Michigan, a cat can have about one litter a year.  Here in Phoenix they can have three.  So Phoenix has a feral cat problem, much larger than cities outside of the sunbelt.  Lets assume that a feral cat living on wits alone is like living in the apocalypse.  The fact they can have three litters a year versus one provides further evidence that Phoenix is not that bad a place to be after the Apocalypse.

3 out of 4 cats caught and quiet.  The last one is too smart, or at least after seeing his mom and two siblings caught he decided to beat it.  Trap still set in case he changes his mind.  From my kitchen window, I watched how each one was caught.  With each successful capture they became more reluctant.  But the smell of oily tuna is one hell of a temptation.

Mom caught first.  6:30

First sibling caught 6:45

Second sibling caught 7:15.  The  last two stalked the cage together.  One watching out for me while the other inspected.  They were smart enough to play with the door from that was shut from the outside of the cage to see if they could work it open.  I find it odd that the two that were already captured did not freak out when they smelt their brethren close by.  The blanket over the cage to calm them works wonders.  Cats are both brilliant and also really dumb.  It was finally the smell of tuna, rather than curiosity that captured the third cat.

9:17  Trap still set.  The 4th cat remains elusive.  He seems to have satisfied his curiosity.  He is not lingering anywhere in the yard.  He is not patiently watching under one of the many dark shadows and corners in my chaotic backyard.

Saturday morning: 6:30  The chicken in the last trap remained untouched.  I had reset the trap and the bait around 11:00 to no avail.  Cats are currently at alteredtrails waiting for the knife.  I pick them up around 4.

Friday night, Cats!

Posted: May 7, 2011 in backyard

Well it looks like I am staying home Friday night to trap feral cats. Appointment Sat. to neuter then release on Sunday. After they are captured I have to put a sheet over them to calm them. I am tempted to re-read “The most dangerous game” while I wait.

Thanks Kate Benjamin for helping me figure out how to do this and helping me get the traps from altered tails.

Thank you Tommy Cannon for showing me how!

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I got the idea of making compost tea from the Grow  House as well as the book Gardening When it Counts.    It is also my first experiment with solar energy.  The solar panel pictured above hooks up to a tiny little air pump.  This system is supposed to be used in backyard ponds.   I bought it years ago, for around $120, when I was thinking about making a little pond in the back yard, which I finally decided against because of my irrational paranoia over West Nile Virus.

In some old socks I stuffed store-bought compost.  I let the compost soak in the water bucket, and the solar pump keeps the water gently moving.   I believe this is going to let me water less and help me deal more effectively with the heavy clay soil of Phoenix.

Update: The pump is dead. Oh sad day. I think I probably should have put a sock around it or something, because my guess is the crap floating around in the water junked it up. My other guess of what happened is the cats pulled the pump out of the bucket because they are like that, and then the pump blew a gasket when it was spraying air without the resistance of water. I went to Fry’s to see if they had another pump I could use, not luck. So I guess I got to buy one from, where I originally got the whole system.

Update to Update: I wrote the good people at to get there opinion of why the pump might have died.  They were very quick with response, which I like.  They said the pump being out of water would kill it,  which now is what I think happened.  I think the feral cats took the pump out of the water.  The siliconsolar folks also sent me a link to some trouble shooting videos, which I also like.

I am trying an experiment, based on what I think I read in Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon.

I filled bottles with compost tea and put the bottle upside down “above” the plants. The tomatillo seems to be doing the best.

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The rest of the plants still look a little thirsty, especially the squash.

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Also, after seeing what my friend Karina has done with growing plants in pots, I planted some plants in containers. Hopefully, I will be more succesful than in the straight soil. I planted tomatillo, tomato, and creosote. The seeds from the creosote I gathered myself in the desert. Creosote is truly the pharmacy of desert plants.

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Feral Cats

Posted: April 10, 2011 in animals, animals, animals, backyard, pets

I want to keep the three black cats who have claimed my backyard for Spain.  I think they help with insects, plus they keep the plants company.

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Altered Tails has a Trap-Neuter-Return program for  Feral cats,  which means I trap the cat, schedule an appointment, remove the cats special purpose, and finally release the cat back into the hood.   It is either that or kill them, and I don’t know about you but assassinating a family of black cats seems like bad mojo.

Plus it will give me a little experience of how to trap and animal without killing.   Do pacifists make for bad hunters?

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I been reading Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon and frankly it just overwhelms me. 

After reading the watering section I am not sure if he is telling me to water more or water less.  I suppose one needs a little bit of a mathematical mind to follow his recommendations,  maybe having a mathematical mind is part of  a green thumb?     I wasn’t sure what he was talking about in the watering section, much less the composting or fertigation sections.

I believe my soil in Phoenix is Clay, and he doesn’t seem to think it is worth growing in clay.  This makes me sad.  The reviews on for the book are mixed, some feel as I do, while others strongly recommend reading the book a second time in order to get everything to sink in. 

I did like the idea of making a compost-tea and then use a drip method on the plants.   That might be a good project for the weekend.

Below: A less-than succesful experiment of using an old pallet to make a slightly raised bed.

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