This is a blog about trying to do more with less. At the moment I am in a position where I am able to experiment with a number of ideas that are a little outside the mainstream way of doing things. These include geodesic domes, papercrete construction, aquaponic greenhouses, earth bag construction, rocket stoves, square foot gardening and more.

My hope is that as I muddle through this, others can learn from my successes and failures. I believe it is possible to live comfortably without debt and without constantly having to increase income. The next few years should prove if I am wrong about this.

Friday, May 16, 2014

20 Days of Emergency Food Storage for Less than $43.

I don't think the world is coming to an end.  But I have been wrong about a lot of things and this would be a bad one to screw up.  It does seem fairly likely that there will be some kind of calamity in the next 30 years or so, at least to me.  I am a computer programmer.  In my experience when systems become more complex and interconnected they are more likely to fail catastrophically at some point and then people panic until things are fixed.  With software, when things go wrong people loose money, when infrastructure goes wrong people start to fear for their lives.  In Arkansas when it is going to snow we panic... grocery stores run out of food people get a lot less friendly and a lot more competitive.  I remember when gas went to $3/gallon the first time, there was a man threatening to kill the attendant at a gas station at 5am.  As a rule (some) people behave badly when things are not going as expected.

If we were to have a major environmental disaster, or a significant disruption in fuel or electricity then I guarantee it would be a bad time to be trying to get to the grocery store.  This is where a food reserve comes in.  The crisis will likely pass, and if you have spent a little effort preparing then you will not be one of the people fighting over whatever is left when something goes wrong.

There are a number of places that will sell you dehydrated or freeze dried food with a 30-year shelf life that tastes really good.  My favorites are http://www.thereadystore.com/ and http://www.mountainhouse.com/.  I use this stuff when I go backpacking since it tastes great and is lightweight. The problem is that a one month supply of food will cost about $520 or about $17/day.  This makes is a little prohibitive if you are on a budget.  If the option is spend $500 on something you will probably never need or pay off a credit card, most people will hopefully pay the credit card.

However, we are talking about an emergency situation here, we are not eating for fun or flavor, but for survival.  If that is the case, once people start starving I guarantee they will be happy to eat just about anything.  With that in mind I suggest the old standby - beans and rice.  This is a staple of people all over the world.  It provides most of what you need to survive and stay healthy, and it goes well with just about anything else that you are able to come by.  Most importantly it is really inexpensive and stores for a long time.  See here where I ate some 14 year old beans.

The cost of surviving on beans and rice is less than $1.50/day.  Even with extras such as salt, sugar, spices and oil it is still only $2.30 per person per day.  Starting with a 5-gallon bucket you can start preparing for about $43.  If it is a choice between paying down a credit card a little bit or having almost a month of food if things get bad.  I suggest you get some food.  The breakdown is below, the prices are from Walmart May, 2014.  If you eat this for a month you will be pretty hungry all the time but you will not starve.  Portions are for an adult woman who is not extremely active.

ProductWeight LBSServingsCalories per ServingTotal CaloriesGramsProtein / ServingGrams Protien TotalGrams Carbs / ServingGrams Carbs TotalPrice
White Rice10101150151503303353535$7.98
Pinto Beans81039092707721202060$7.98
Chick Peas2261102860718221546$2.74
Black Pepper0.56320000000$4.44
Coconut Oil1.685612067200000$7.36
Hand Warmer$0.70
5-Gallon Bucket$3.00
Sealing Wax$0.20
Daily Recommended2000Daily Recommended56Daily Recommended130
Days of Food20.405Protein/Day =59.10316099Carbs/Day =389.9534428

The hand warmer is used to remove oxygen from the bucket after it is sealed.  Get a bucket with a rubber gasket in the lid.  The sealing wax is melted and poured around the lid just to make sure it is air-tight.  Keeping the contents sealed and free of oxygen will easily double the shelf life.  I would expect that this would last easily 5 years.  After that it should still be good for a long time although it may not taste or cook as well.  Beans that are really old tend to not get as soft when you cook them.  If possible store in a place that is cool and does not have a lot of temperature variation, such as a basement, or even dig a hole and bury it in your yard or under your house.

Also you should consider getting a pressure cooker.  You will use less than a quarter of the fuel when cooking and it will make cooking the rice and beans a simple 30 minute process, instead of a all-day ordeal. A dutch oven would also be handy if you end up having to cook over a camp fire.

Other things you should consider storing are water, candles, fuel (gas, and propane).  Also bleach and soap and something to purify water.  You can use bleach if you need to for water purification.  A person needs about a gallon of water per day at least for cooking / drinking and minimal hygiene.  A supply of seeds would be handy even if you don't have a garden at the moment.  I suggest something like this.

Hopefully nothing goes wrong, and every 5 years you can open a bucket and not have to worry about shopping for rice or beans that year.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Homemade Inline Propane Hot Water Heater

The first year I moved out here, unless it was mid-summer, showers were a pretty unpleasant prospect.  It basically involved taking a deep breath, and grabbing the garden hose.  In the winter there was a lot of dancing around hyperventilating, but I figured it was just a few minutes a day so just get it over with.  Then a friend pointed out these inline hot water heaters that you just hook to a propane tank and the water hose and they automatically come on heat the water to a comfortable temperature and shut off when you turn off the water.  It seemed kind of extravagant, but I found them at walmarts online store for $100 so I decided to give it a shot (they have since gone up to about $180).  It was a bit of a revelation... apparently in the year I had gone without hot water I developed a whole new appreciation for the stuff.

All was well for a few months until the heater froze and started leaking.  It turns out that there is a little cast-iron part that cracked.  I tried fixing it with solder and jb-weld, but could not ever get it to work right again.  At this point I  had gone all soft and was addicted to hot water.  I bought another one along with valves so that I could drain it when I was done (to prevent freezing).  The second one worked for about six months, but I don't think they are meant to be used outside long-term... it started acting funny, shutting off randomly, it kept getting worse until it would not stay on for more than 10 seconds or so which made for a unpleasant, but probably very comical shower.  Got a third one which somehow started leaking after a few months, even though it was drained completely after each use.  At this point I was getting tired of buying these things and decided to try to make my own out of more durable and repairable materials.

It turns out that "making my own" was not nearly as simple as I had assumed.  It took multiple tries and modifications to get it working adequately, so if you are planning on trying it please read on to see all the things I screwed up.

The first attempt was a lattice of copper pipes soldered together on top of a propane fish-fryer burner.  The way these work is basically you can control the flame and the speed of the water flowing through it.  If the flame is all the way up, then the temperature of the water is controlled by the rate of the water flowing through the heating element.  With version one (in the picture), it was hot enough only when it was barely dribbling out of the shower-head.  Not great but adequate.  I used it for a few weeks then the temperature got down to 8 degrees Fahrenheit and the pipes burst in about 6 different places... you can see a few in the picture.  I was going to repair it but I thought I would try a simpler design using coils of copper so that i would not have to do all the cutting and soldering.

Version two used 20 ft of copper tubing bent into a cone like shape.  It worked about as well as version one.  I tried covering it with a clay pot to trap more heat and that helped a little but it was still just kind of dribbling out once the water flow was reduced enough to be hot.  It also only had one water valve where the garden hose attached and it got vapor lock unless the flow rate was adjusted just right.  Vapor lock is caused by air in the lines that blocks the flow of water.  It basically makes a thumping noise and causes the water to come out in intermittent spurts instead of a constant flow.

For version three I added another 20 ft of tubing in a coil around the first one and then added another valve between the heater and the shower head.  This one determines the flow rate and prevents vapor lock, while the one by the garden hose determines on/off.  The result was much better... pretty much equivalent to the store bought version.  I thought that I could get it even better by increasing the surface area again.  So I got a bunch of stainless steel scrubbing pads at the dollar general and pushed them between the coils.  This basically acts like the fins on a radiator and conducts more of the heat from the flame into the copper tubes.  More copper tubing would have done the same, but this was less expensive.

The end result is hot water at a satisfying flow rate.  Hopefully you can see it in the picture.  It is about 70 degrees at the moment, so the flow would be less in the winter to maintain the same temperature.  I will probably add more stainless steel pads this fall to keep it hot.  The clay pot has cracked in several places, but has not come apart yet.  A metal bucket may have been a better cover.

The cost was about $50 for the propane burner, $60 for the copper, $10 for the two valves, and about $20 for various other materials, joints, solder, etc.  So at $140 I am not saving much, but I expect this one will last a lot longer and is easier to repair if something does happen.  It is still likely to freeze this next winter so I need to figure out how to fix that before then.

It is definitely not as automatic as the store-bought one, you have to turn the water on first, then the propane, light, shower, then turn the propane off and finally the water.  Screwing this up will probably break something... the solder will melt if there is no water flow, and the water will turn to steam, build up pressure and rupture something if it goes on too long.

If I were doing it again, I would probably try to buy a 50ft coil of copper, and would use a metal bucket instead of a clay pot.  Basically the larger the coil the more surface area you have and the hotter the water becomes.  Let me know if you figure out any other tricks to improve or simplify what I have above.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

14 Year Old Beans Taste Test - Cooking for the Apocalypse

Whenever someone gets the urge to prepare for the end of days the first thing they go out and buy are a stockpile of beans and rice... well perhaps after they get a bunch of guns and ammunition.  But after that beans and rice are certainly among the first things to be found in the aspiring preppers stockpile.  There is good reason for this, primarily that they are cheap in bulk.  They also supply a decent amount of carbs and protein and can be quite flavorful if you manage to get a few mice, or a large rat or squirrel to throw in the pot.  So the choice comes down to two weeks of premium mountain house professionally prepared and freeze dried cuisine.  Or a huge heap of rice and beans that will last for a very monotonous and musical year.

One of the problems with this plan is that most places will tell you that rice and beans will only last about 3-5 years even with careful storage whereas freeze-dried meals supposedly last over 30 years.

So in the late 90's, preppers the world over were convinced that the infamous y2k bug was going to bring about the end of life as we know it.  I will admit I was freaking out a little along with the rest of them but I was broke at the time so my preparation consisted of buying a bunch of mouse traps and sharpening a few long sticks as I watched the clock tick down before it would all go dark.  Lucky for us all, nothing really happened.  At the same time a yet-to-be friend of mine with a little more money was busily stashing bags of beans in his parents basement.  

Fast forward to 12 years later.  When the previously mentioned friend comes to my little dome carrying a box of beans that he pulled out of his basement and was going to throw away.  Realizing what an opportunity this was for the advancement of science and all that, I snatched them up and today I have just finished cooking them.

So, I have pinto beans, red beans, and lima beans.  These were stored in a cool basement for 12 years inside an unsealed popcorn tin without oxygen absorbers or mylar bags.  Then they were transferred to my dome for about a year (before I got around to trying this) where they sat in a cardboard box under my sink.  Yesterday I dumped some of each into a soup bowl and let them soak for 24 hours.  Then I cooked them all together in a pressure cooker (10lbs of pressure) without any salt or spices.  I was not expecting this to turn out well.  The results were as follows:

After 30 minutes in the pressure cooker the red beans and pinto beans were not that bad.  They were not as soft as fresh beans and were a little gritty.  Fresh beans should have been mush after 30 minutes and these were not, but the flavor was recognizable if a little bland.  The lima beans were still very gritty and the flavor was not that good... however I am not a fan of fresh lima beans so maybe the flavor was acceptable, the texture was definitely not though. 

I put them back on for another 30 minutes in the pressure cooker.  This time the pinto beans and red beans were just about what you would expect fresh beans to be like.  With the addition of some salt and pepper they were actually quite good.  The lima beans were no longer crunchy, but I was still not a fan of the flavor.

So... it looks like pinto beans and red beans will be going into my stockpile.  I am not sure about the rice... if anyone has some to test please leave your thoughts in the comments.  It is also worth noting that beans are improved greatly by adding salt, so unless you live near the ocean it would probably be a good idea to store some of that as well.  Beans and rice are also much better with some oil and this is probably what is missing when it gets really old.  So adding coconut oil and some pepper would also be a good idea.  And if you don't have one, be sure to invest in a pressure cooker.  Otherwise you will be cooking this stuff for days and your rat will still be really tough.

So you can now be assured, as you watch the world burn around you, you can sit on your porch and watch the lunatics killing each other while you relax on your five gallon bucket eating a hot skillet full of mummified refried beans.  Ah, the good times we have to look forward to.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Giant Earth Bag Hot Tub.

It has been over a year since my last update.  There has been a lot going on but not much worth blogging about until this.  When I first got this land I had planned to build a giant hot-tub.  I outlined the original plan in the post here.  After the dome was basically done, I dug the initial section which was about 10x10x4ft.until I hit bedrock.  I had hoped to go down about 10 feet and make a cistern / geothermal heating / cooling system but it did not look like that was going to happen.  I even bought a small jackhammer to try to get through it but after several hours of getting nowhere I just kind of put it on the back burner hoping for inspiration.

And then a year passed.

A backpacking / world-traveling / friend of mine showed up about that time looking for a place to stay for a few months while on route to the Appalachian Trail and then to bicycle across China (again).  He took a liking to the hot tub plan and started digging for a few weeks.  I spent most of my spare money buying and renovating the trailer you see in the picture for him to live in (guest house).  So at this point I had a big hole with a bunch of earth bags filled.  My friend decided to go hike the AT for the fourth time, but I had a little money saved so I started working on it again.  Basically for the past three weeks for 3-4 hours a day I have been  filling bags and mixing cement to plaster over the bags.

The "hot-tub" is roughly 40ft long 10ft wide and 3-5 feet deep.  The idea is to use the last 8ft or so as the tub and the rest will be filled with gravel, sand, and dirt to make a giant filter on top of which I will plant bamboo and mint (probably).  There is a drain pipe on the floor of the tub which goes to an electric pump at the back. This will pump water continuously from the tub through a perforated pipe running the length of the "filter".  There is a 6 inch pipe at the bottom of the dividing wall through which the water can come back into the tub after having filtered through the sand and gravel.  Essentially I am trying to make an artificial creek so that the tub will be self-cleaning and not require any chemicals.  I may even put some small fish in during the summer. On the right there will be a big wood-burning stove (3ft by 6ft.) made from cement blocks with a metal top.  Hopefully by this winter I will have it so that I can divert water from the filter to the top of the stove where it will be heated and run back into the tub.  I believe I can also use this to make charcoal at the same time.

I had an old bathtub which is the white thing you can see on top of the bags in the picture at the top.  That is going to be part of an outdoor kitchen eventually.  There will be a prep area to the left of the tub and a brick oven (wood burning) across from it.  I also plan to build a screened in area behind the hot-tub so that during the summer I can sleep outside in that without having to worry about the bugs.  The eventual goal is to figure out a way to manage with about $1000 of solar panels.  This will mean limiting electrical use as much as possible and air-conditioning will have to go.

In the end this "hot-tub" will not be that cheap.  I estimate I will spend about $600 on sand, $400 on cement $500 on gravel, and $300 on the various plumbing.  So basically round it up to $2000 or so.  But it should provide a lot of bamboo and will be the starting point for a lot of other projects such as an aquaponic garden, fish farm / cistern, and mushroom growing bunker... more on that if I ever get that far.

If I were doing this again I think I would make it about 1/3 the size.  Especially the filter.  I think I would make it about 10 feet instead of the current 30feet (which is excessive).  That would probably cut the labor and cost in half and accomplish basically the same thing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shipping Container Sail Boat.

container-boat-v2-perspectiveYears ago I used to want to live in a shipping container.  I had all kinds of plans mostly involving burying it in a hillside.  Around the same time I was reading a few books about people who sailed around the world on homemade sailboats.  As often happens the two ideas kind of got mixed together and I ended up with this.  I thought it was pretty clever so I told a few people.  The general consensus was that it was the stupidest thing they had ever heard of.

container-boat-v2-frontSo a few weeks ago I started learning Blender (http://blender.org), a 3d modeling, animation and rendering package that is open source and free to download.  If you have not heard of this I highly recommend that you check it out.  I did this partly because 3D rendering software has always fascinated me and partly because I am a crappy artist and so am a little handicapped when trying to describe an idea.  If there is one thing I have a lot of it is strange ideas... everything from personal derigables (air ship/blimp) made from trash bags, to a combination catapult/outhouse (I get tired of digging).

So I present to you my retirement plan.  Click on the pictures for a larger version.  If I can manage it in the next 30 years or so I want to build this, and then instead of going to a retirement home I will float around until I sink ... and that will be that.  Hopefully it will not take 30 years... but that kind of depends on how motivated I can get to make some money.

container-boat-v2-sideThe basic idea is that you should be able to make this out of a 40ft and a 20ft shipping container cut up and welded back together.  The pontoons are made of bundles of plastic PVC pipes.  The sail is a "junk rig" mostly for simplicity of construction and operation.  It should be possible to make it out of common materials such as pvc or metal conduit pipes and tyvek without any complicated patterns.  In the pictures the sail pivots on the rear axle of a truck.  I wanted to try to reuse common cheaply available components as much as possible, but in retrospect it probably is not very practical in this case.

I would also like to add solar panels and have an electric motor for backup propulsion.  I think a small greenhouse in front of the sail might be kind of nice as well.  In any case this gives me a way to better plan this contraption and describe it to others.

If anyone else out there would like to make suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments.  If you want the .blend file to make the modifications yourself let me know and I will setup a link where you can download it.  If you think it is the ugliest most ridiculous thing you have seen so far today... well... yea, I already heard that.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Making Money with a Blog - Year One.

It has been a little over a year now since I started this blog.  Several people have asked how much I made off advertising... I don't really consider it secret so I thought I would share what I have learned over the last year or so.

Like everything else in my life, I want this blog to eventually be self-sufficient.  My long term goal is to get my total living expenses down to $2/day by eliminating recurring expenses.  My phone and internet are about $150/mo. so I will either have to get rid of them eventually, or figure out some other way to pay for them.  Some may consider this cheating since it is still "earning money"... my theory is that if I build something once now to resolve a recurring expense forever then it is no different than building a dome to end paying rent.  The dome required $3000 up front to build.  The blog will require an undetermined amount of my time.  After they are done though, the problem is solved in both cases with minimal maintenance.

The direct costs are the domain name (about $10/year) and the hosting (free on blogger.com).  Other costs are my internet connection ($60/mo. DSL) and time (about an hour per post).  My phone (android/verizon) is about $100/mo.  I may decide to get rid of it and use skype or google voice instead.  Or I may get rid of internet and use the phone for that also depending on the price whenever the time comes.  So... if I can make $61 - $161/mo. then I will consider the blog to be self-sustaining.

Which brings us to how much I have managed to make in the last year.  Which would be $17.  Not $17 a month... $17 total.  But it is not quite so bad as all that really.  $11 of that was in the last 30 days.  I found some things that I was dong wrong initially and made a few changes and so far the difference has been huge although still rather unimpressive.

Things I learned:

1. The biggest factor is the number of hits you get on your blog.  You make money from people seeing and clicking on your advertising... the more people the better your chances that someone will click something.  I am getting about 40 unique visitors per day, which is up from about 25 per day last month.  From month to month this is mostly search traffic.  However, adding content with a link back to my blog in other relevant high traffic forums and blogs will increase the hits substantially in the short term and seems to continue to do so to a lesser extent in the long term.  For example, here is a graph of my blog traffic for the past 30 days:

On the 7th of Sept I was reading http://thesurvivalpodcast.com and added some comments with a link to my blog for more information.  I got about 563 extra unique visitors.  This died off pretty quick though and it was back to normal until I did the same thing on http://www.survivalistboards.com on the 15th.  These are both high traffic forums, I had more feedback and encouragement in a single day from each than I have had since I started my blog.  As a side note, I highly recommend both these forums, they contain far more information than my meager blog and the people are extremely helpful and friendly.  It is important that you not just spam places like these with links, you have to participate fully in the forum you are on.  This takes time and effort.  I made sure the places I posted were specifically on subject with a pre-existing post on my blog.  In this context, both these forums encourage you to link back to your blog.  If it was not on-topic, relevant and helpful, I doubt the response would have been positive.  I would also suggest that you not just participate where you can sneak a link in.  These are communities of real people, they don't mind you sharing a link but will notice if you are just trying to drive traffic and not really participating.
As you can see from the graph above the traffic again died off, but I was still getting almost double my previous traffic on a daily basis.  I did nothing on the 25th, the surge in traffic was due to other people leaving a comment on one of the above forums which brings the topic to the top of the list on that forum.

2. Get on the major search engines.  I have mainly focused on Google and Bing, but the more the merrier.  My understanding of how search engines work is that they will generally consider your blog more important if you have other known high profile sites linking to it.  This probably will take time to take effect, but the more external forums and blogs you participate in the higher you will rank on the search engines and the more hits you will get as a result.  The goal is to get as many other sites to link to your blog as possible... some people cheat at this, it is called "link farming", basically they own thousands of junk blogs that all just link to each other.  This used to be a common practice, but there is a constant battle between search engines giving you relevant results and people trying to "game the system" to get their own sites higher than they deserve.  I would suggest you not try to cheat, it may get you banned entirely from a search engine and then your domain will essentially become worthless.

A search engine finds content by "spidering" the web... basically following all the links on a site to new sites like a spider crawling over the strands on a web.  Because of this if there is not a known site linking to your site it may never be found.  If you use blogger or wordpress then there will be an internal index that will point to your site and you will eventually get on the search engine.  A better way is to manually submit your site to each search engine.  There are various sites that claim to do this for you automatically, but I would not trust them.  For the major three (Google, Bing, Yahoo) there are what they call "webmaster tools", http://www.google.com/webmasters/http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster/.  I believe that yahoo and bing are now using the same tools.  You have to go through these and jump through some hoops but if you do so you are sure to be in the search engine even if you are not in one of the first few pages.  Make sure you register your XML sitemap so that all your content is known to the search engine.

3. The more content you have the more hits you will get.  This is my 35th article, so my blog is still really small comparatively speaking.  For search engine traffic the overall theme of your blog is not important... it will index each article and send traffic to an individual page.  However, if you do have a theme that someone appreciates then they may bookmark your site and return regularly.  These are the most coveted type of traffic.  Return visitors are more likely to try to help you by leaving comments and suggestions that make your blog more interesting.  Sometimes a good comment thread is better than the original article and it is work that you did not personally have to do.  You can think of this as volunteer labor to add content to your blog.  Do everything you can to encourage it.  If someone asks a question, reply promptly and thoroughly.  If they have a criticism, take it seriously and don't be offended.  People value honesty and the ability to recognize and fix a mistake more than they value pride.

There is pretty much a direct relationship to quantity and quality of content to the amount of traffic you get.  I expect that if I am making $5/mo. with 34 articles that I will make at least $10/mo with 70 articles... although I expect it will be better than this since my blog will be rated higher with the search engines by this point.

4. There are several ways to monetize your blog.  The major ones are search engine advertising, and affiliate marketing.

For search engine advertising I use Google Adwords.  Search engines make money by selling ads to businesses.  These businesses pay for the number of impressions (views) that their ads get and for the number of times people click on their ad.  Impressions are not worth much (about 1cent per hundred).  Clicks are worth a variable amount depending on the keywords the advertiser bought... they are sold like an auction.  Usually you get paid from $0.25 to $2 per click.  You basically add a bit of code to your site that will take a fixed amount of screen space that the advertiser can fill with their own content.  They will try to make the content as appropriate as possible to both the visitor and where they have been in the past and to the content on your page that they are visiting.  If I am taking about my garden then the advertising should show gardening supplies or something that the user has shown interest in on another site.

WARNING:  Please do NOT click the ads on this article in order to try to help me out.  The search engines look for this kind of thing and will ban me if it happens.  If you see something that you genuinely are interested in then by all means, click away.  Just don't do it more than once... if a bunch of people click on ads and then don't buy anything they consider it "click fraud" and will terminate my account.

With adwords you have to exceed $100 before you are paid at all.

Positioning of the advertising is important.  A month ago I just had one ad-box half way down the right column.  Nobody paid any attention to this so in the year or so that I had the blog going I think I had made about $2.  Last month I added another couple ad-blocks to the top and made about $5 in the first couple of weeks.

Advertising is obnoxious and in a perfect world it would not exist at all.  People would buy based on the quality and merit of the product and not how much it is hammered into their subconscious.  Unfortunately that is not our world... I apologize for having it on here at all, but it is the only hope I have of making this blog independent.  With that in mind, there is a balance between content and advertising.  If you have too much advertising on minimal content I believe it will drive people away.... and people are always the first priority.  Without people there will be no income so don't bite the hand that feeds you too hard.

I have a friend who blogs as well... her blog is at http://elegantastronaut.blogspot.com/.  It is mostly about space and science type stuff, and she gets about twice the hits I do.  Last I heard though, she has only made a few dollars so far.  This could be because the type of things I talk about are things that my readers may be working on and therefore buying stuff for.  If you talk about abstracts and beliefs then people are less likely to be actively researching for information and products.  If they are trying to find specific information and the advertising is relevant then I believe they are more likely to click on it.

Affiliate marketing is showing specific products that are hopefully relevant to your content that people will click on and get directed to a  specific place they can buy the product.  This works really well if you are doing a product review.  I used to use Amazon.com for this until they canceled all their affiliates in Arkansas due to a new Arkansas law that claimed they should pay state taxes.  In the year or so before it was canceled I made $3.70 which I got last week as an Amazon gift certificate.

I would still recommend Amazon for this unless you live in one of the states they have black-listed.  Basically if someone clicks on one of the links on your site and then buys something on Amazon then you get a percentage of the sale... like 3%-7% depending on how many clicks you are getting.  I only sold a couple of books so I did not make much.  If someone bought something for a few hundred dollars though then the income could have been substantial.  Amazon is nice because they have just about everything.  I am looking into other alternatives now that Amazon wants nothing to do with me and my fellow Arkansans though.  You can still see the Amazon links in some of my older content.

5. Know your audience.  Hopefully you will have some interaction with them and will get to know some of them personally.  But before that you should at least identify the type of person who you think may read your content and try to keep that in mind as you write.  In other words your blog should have a specific style and tone that you use consistently throughout.  For this blog I am trying to accomplish the following:
-Write as concisely and informatively as possible.  The people that I want reading this are people who do stuff... they don't have time to listen to me ramble on about something.
-Write about stuff that I have personal experience with, people don't care what I like or what my opinions are, they want solid information as unbiased as possible that they can use to come to their own conclusions.
- Write about stuff that I would want to read about.  Before I write an article I check to see what is already out there... If someone does a better job than me then I will just add a link to their stuff.
- Write honestly.  This is not a vanity blog, I will be honest about both my successes and failures.  I don't want "fans", I would rather have partners.
- Write about what you care about.  Sometimes I will start ranting about something that means a lot to me personally.  It may not mean much to the reader so I try to identify it as a rant so they can skip it if they want.

Ultimately it is about a relationship... a distant and dysfunctional one to be sure, but you have to respect your reader the same way you would a friend.  When I learn to do that well I believe my little blog will be successful.  If you can do that then your blog will eventually be self-sustaining and maybe even profitable someday.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Garden Update Sept 2011

garden, sept 2011 001Just thought I would post some pictures of our garden.  Mostly because it is my first attempt at making a real garden of the scale that I can regularly eat out of, and I am kind of proud of it.  I am not a pro at this, and it is a community effort so I am only partly involved.  But for the sake of those who are thinking a small scale garden may be in their future there are a few things I learned that may be helpful.

garden, sept 2011 002We started this in the late spring with a single bed 24 ft by 4 ft.  There is a picture here, of when it started.  We made raised beds out of treated 2x6x8ft timber two high.  The original idea was to do square-foot gardening but lack of organization and muliple people being involved quickly ended that idea.  A few months later (early summer) we more than tripled the size, added two more beds with wooden walkways and a couple more corner beds.

garden, sept 2011 003

For fertilizer we used about 1 part old horse manure to two parts wood compost / leaf compost.  There are about 4 bags of store bought fertilizer in there somewhere as well.  We turned over the initial dirt that was there already with a pick and mixed this in as well to some extent.

We had to fence the whole thing since we are over-run with deer up here.  Any hunters want to come kill our deer?  Please?  It is only about 5ft high but the deer have stayed out so far mostly because there is not a good clear area inside that they could jump into.

garden, sept 2011 014garden, sept 2011 013I installed a automated watering system.  This has always been my issue with gardens in the past.  I would forget to water and a couple of weeks later the garden was dead.  The first attempt was to use drip-hoses but a couple of those burst within the first month... I think our water pressure is too high.  I could have gotten a pressure regluator, but decided to use cheap PVC instead.  I just drill holes where I want the water to go.  The water flow rate is not sufficient to run all the pipe so I had to make three separate sections, the water comes on at 5am and does each section for about 30 minutes.

garden, sept 2011 004The cost has been about $700 total.  $250 for fencing, $100 for automatic watering, $60 for PVC, $100 for wood and the rest for plants and misc. parts (hoses, connectors, etc.)  We also probably spend another $100 on watering.  This year we probably got about $200 of food out of it and will probably get another $200 by the end of the year.  Obviously this is not cost-effective yet.  Hopefully now that it is established, next year will be more productive.

garden, sept 2011 005Lessons Learned.
1. Gardens take time and practice.  If you are planning to quickly summon up a productive garden if things get bad then you are probably going to be in for an unpleasant surprise.
2. They take quite a bit of maintenance.  This garden probably gets at least 30 minutes of attention each day by somebody.  I am glad that I am not the only one working in it since I would probably neglect it more than I should.
3. Automate as much as possible.  Obviously the automatic watering saves about an hour of standing there with a hose each day.  There are way to plant things so that they control insects naturally, we are not very good at this yet, but we are learning.
garden, sept 2011 0064. Our garden is dense.  This is nice from a space perspective but it is hard to harvest stuff.  Given that we are trying to keep cost low we will probably make it just as dense next year, but it would be nice to spread out if we could afford it.
5. Bugs are irritating.  We are still "organic" so far, but we lost quite a bit to insects.  Hopefully in the coming years we will get an ecosystem of predator bugs to help but if you are thinking about a survival garden you may want to stock up on pesticides for the first few years.  Either that or plant twice as much.
6. Wood is cheap and fast to build raised beds with, but it will not last more than a few years.  We have started collecting old cement blocks, bricks and rocks to replace the wood with when it starts to fall apart.
garden, sept 2011 0077. Weeds require quite a bit of work to remove.  We have been putting down cardboard, old carpet, newspaper, wood chips and anything else we can find to act as a weed barrier wherever there are not plants.  It looks like a mess, but it prevents a lot of grass seeds from falling in the beds.

garden, sept 2011 008Like I said... I am not a great gardener.  I am trying to make as maintenance free a garden as possible and eventually will get back to the aquaponics, but in the meantime this is working nicely.  If you have any questions please leave them in the comments.... in this subject I could probably use any advice you might have so please leave suggestions also.

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