Eggs and Coffee and Big Fat Tomatoes



Early in our marriage, my wife and I started gardening. We lived in town on a small lot but it gave us an excuse to get outside. During each spring we made the pilgrimage to the local hardware store or greenhouse to pick up seeds, starter plants, fertilizer and soil. Now, eons later in our lives, we live on land with room to grow about whatever we want. My wife still makes out the list of items to pick up but as the years have passed, the list has shrunk. The more time I spent driving into town and  loading dozens of 40 lbs bags of powdery dirt into my truck, the more I realized there are better ways to prep a garden. People, even 50 years ago, didn’t spend three times the cost of the produce in peripherals before they even put a seed in the ground. My wife believed if it came from the greenhouse then it must be good dirt. Yes, that is likely true. It is also true that the black mulchy dirt just inside our timber line is just as good, and without a doubt 100% organic. She had her epiphany and ran with it, but I digress. While you sit in your house staring out the the window into winter pergatory and marking the days with a knife on the table, there are things you can do to prep for the growing season without even putting on a coat. 

Eggs shells and coffee grounds are in most every cupboard and icebox in America as well as every kitchen trash can. But it has become fairly common knowledge among those with the alleged green thumbs, that coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and a fantastic supplement to garden soil. They hold a ph somewhere around 6.5. Whether you add it to a compost pile or use it as a separate application to the topsoil, it is a very beneficial and organic, and didn’t I mention it was free? When adding to our compost collection, we simply try to mix it in with the dead grass, vegetation, leaves and whatever else you rake up. You can actually throw most paper coffee filters in there as well for good measure, but keep the pot in your hand. Flip that mess over a couple times each month to keep it cooking properly. 

Eggs as well, can provide a cheap and healthy boost to your flowers and produce and has nature’s seal of approval. Eggs contain a great resource of calcium and can be used in a variety of ways. They do not break down quickly; a shell simply broken in your hand can remain in that condition for several years. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will become one with the soil. 20150131_072024The method we use is to just place them in a clear plastic bag and crush them using a rolling pin. Doesn’t take very long and justifies why you keep that thing in the drawer and never use it. I’ve read online articles where folks will grind eggshells up in a blender, food processor, etc. It works, but I would advise that if you go that way, buy a second hand blender at a flea market. My experience is that the really small bits of the shell can be difficult to clean out of a blender, and I prefer not to find them later in my smoothie. There is no perfect science to the application. Some gardeners will sprinkle the bits of shell over the topsoil; others may blend it into the dirt. It continues to fertilize your garden long after you apply it. You can think of the eggshell bits as a sort of time release bouillon cube. 

Egg shells have also been used successfully as plant start containers. A half shell with a little soil, placed into the original egg carton is free, natural and disposable. Set them on a window sill or table next to the glass just as you would with store bought containers. When it is time to transplant, just move the shell holding the plant directly into the ground. Egg shells do not spoil or “go bad”. They won’t start to stink up the house, but you might want to wash them beforehand if you have any concern over bacteria from the contents.

“Egg juice” and “egg milk” are a few names we call the potion we created for spraying plants. We take crushed shells and put them inside a milk jug and fill it with water. After letting them sit for a couple of days we end up with a nice milky mixture of calcium and water that we will transfer into a watering can. We do a lot of container and raised bed type gardening and usually mixing about a cup of the solution to a gallon of water per treatment is about all we need to use for a small area of plants. The shells by the way, are reusable. 

While there are plenty of tips and tricks on line regarding how to keep insects and pests off of your plants, and we use several, one method we have found to be very successful is simply laying out broken egg shell pieces around plants such as tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, broccoli.  Snails, slugs and other assorted vile beasts bent on dining locally and after hours at your place find the sharp edges of the shell to be cutting and dangerous to their health. A snail may think it is rude, but it works and it is easy.

garden 3

In my mind I am a master gardener bar none. In reality, I’m a hobbyist slash amateur who is cheap as hell and always on the lookout for ways to save money and repurpose my trash. Our gardens don’t tower over the land like a cluster of giant green redwoods and I don’t expect I’ll be posting 200 lb Beef Steak tomatoes anytime soon. I have noticed though, that we used to have small, average looking vegetables that were slightly inferior to what you could find at walmart, using the best chemical enhancing sprays, granules, powders and solutions I could buy. Using organic methods, and tips such as these, have really paid off and now I’m only washing bug poop and dust from my beets and lettuce instead of agent pink or some third eye producing chemical from the sci fi channel. Here’s hoping you have a bountiful harvest.



US Stove 2000 Woodburner

“Go to sleep in your fireplace and you will sleep like a log.” Ellen DeGeneres


After running thru a 500 gallon tank of propane in about 45 days, I decided several years ago that I ought to be taking better advantage of the oak trees on my property. I clean up their droppings, stand beneath them and keep them company from time to time; they can return the favor. Year one I drug an old rusty Franklin wood stove out from under a pile of debris in the chicken coop. I had picked it up years earlier while cleaning out a house I had bought to remodel and rent out. Long, and heavy, I figured it would pay for itself in a shop or barn at some future point and help keep my wallet in my back pocket where it belonged. So after some course mutterings, I get the old iron widow maker into the house and over to the corner in our family room where I had already built the platform, fire and heat resistant walls,  piping etc. It looked pretty good hooked up and sitting on the pedestal, sort of like my old black lab. Well, maybe more like a gargoyle. Anyway, that moment was the high point for that old iron maiden. For the next two weeks it was a smoky, leaky, creaky, drafty, cranky and very inefficient (and somewhat unsafe) example of how not to heat your house. In order to prevent any further threats and ultimatums from my wife, that antique woodburning treasure took a short ride down to the auction house and is now someone else’s blessing.

That brings me to the United States Stove Company. I saw one of their products in the local farm store, did my due diligence online and decided their model 2000 would suit me just fine. Our house is a ranch style with 1500′ on the main level and another 1400′ of livable space in the finished, walkout basement. It is a rather long house with a stairway open on one side and located in the center of the house. The stove is heavy at 275 lbs but not as awkward as old smokey that it replaced. I unpacked it from the box, hooked up the blower and the flu (about 10 minutes) and  I was good to go. The 2000 model will put out almost 90000 btus with a 100 cfm blower to help push the heat around the house. US Stove considers this plate steel unit to be their mid sized model. The specs say it will accept up to a 21′ log; I’m pretty sure I’ve found a way to get something longer than that in the firebox a time or two. This is the third winter that I’ve used the US Stove 2000. Yes, the picture posted above shows ash and dust on the unit. It isn’t a showroom dealer photo; it is of my woodburner as it is being used.  I figured now was a better time to write a review since 3 years after the fact, I can say with certainty what I like and don’t like about this stove. First off, if you let it, it will run you out of your house. Screaming.  On a typical 35 degree day, with a slight breeze, we can keep the house at 70 on the main level. Downstairs may be 7-8 degrees warmer. In zero/sub zero temps, 65-67 is about the norm upstairs. Mind you, that is from a stove located in the corner of one end of the house in the lower level. Personally, there is something to being able to walk around your house in January in your underwear and a t shirt. I’m home several days during the week working out of my office, and my wife is home as well. As a result, I haven’t flipped the furnace on in 3 years. Of course what works for us probably isn’t ideal for the family in Minnesota that works 9-5 and is gone all the time. The stove drafts well, and the burn times can easily be controlled by the flu. The fan speed is adjustable and controlled by a knob. We usually have a cast iron kettle on top of the stove and filled with water to help with the dry winter air. Oak is the main dish on the menu, although hickory and walnut are served up on occasion. The air washed glass in front is clear and is cleaned occasionally and very easily using fine steel wool. I typically will put the last log in sometime around 9, close the flu and head to bed. I’m up by 5 and can most times simply reignite the coals in short order. What doesn’t work about the stove, for me, are mostly minor issues and likely just preference. There is an ash tray below the fire box for cleaning out the stove. I have found it to be cumbersome and tedious. It is much quicker for me to simply use a small metal scoop to empty the ash directly from the stove into a pail. The location of the blower fan is at the back and lower half of the stove. If you are intending to use the stove as a fireplace insert, you will find it very difficult to access. Likewise, while I have the specified distance between the stove and the wall, it is awkward to reach around the back of the unit and adjust the blower speed while so close to a very hot stove. I have an oven glove that I use on one hand to support myself against the stove while I reach in back.

I’m not a professional product reviewer. I am a consumer who knows what they like, or not, and why. There may be better stoves out there for similar money. I paid $599. The stove paid for it self in 60 days. The remaining winter I saved enough to pay for the cost of the install, the mantel, etc. I happy with US Stove and would buy another if I need one. But I don’t.

T Pharris

The White Hammer

Walk back from shop

“For many years I was a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms and did my duty faithfully, though I never received payment for it.” Henry David Thoreau

Thankfully the snowstorm that massed over the northeastern coast isn’t as bad as the media played it up to be. What was predicted to be 3′ or more of snowfall over a 12 hour period, has for the most part, been much less. The 80 mph winds never came to be. As of this morning, primary roads are clear enough for travel and mass transit in the city of New York has resumed. I suppose there is a benefit to the sensationalized reporting in that when people expect the worst, they tend to prepare for the worst.  I recall an Uncle that told me as a kid that if you do, you will always be disappointed. There is great fear in the unknown and storms are no exception. Myself, since sometime around y2k I have found myself to be somewhat cynical about the world around me. The media seemingly becomes a field of whackamoles, popping up in perpetual news cycles, trying to wring the last drops of juice from the turnip of a news story, adding a little water if needed to make more, until the next scoop comes along. Egg heads on one channel debating whether the next decade will be submerged in global warming, global cooling or climate repurposing while on the next channel they consider that aliens may have had something to do with the missing Malaysian airliner. Last night I sat in a dark living room and listened to minute by minute reports of the coming “Snowpocalypse”; a different news reporter every segment saying basically the same thing in a different octave. “The approaching white hammer” “The jackpot of snow” made me smile as I pictured some producer huddled with a writer scraping the barrels of newspeak between commercials for Liptor and Allstate. Thank God that the storm was only what it was. Thank God people were spared what was predicted. I hope the television media will survive. I’m sorry if the weatherman looked a little foolish. I know I’ll still try and tune in as much as I can. I’d just like to save a little of the drama for Hollywood.