Monthly Archives: November 2011

Nature Doesn’t Use an Autoclave

I was studying up on propagating mushroom spawn. The instructions I found at first started with an emphasis on requiring a clean room, or an air filtration hood, HEPA filters, an autoclave, 90% wood alcohol and chlorine, and pasteurization equipment. They babbled on about agar and petri dishes. By the time I was finished reading it, I had two prevailing thoughts:

  1. There’s no way in the world I could ever manage to do that the way they described.
  2. There’s GOTTA be an easier way, to simply replicate nature. Because NOTHING in the procedure they described had ANYTHING to do with nature.

So after a little more research, and some careful thought, I was able to come up with a process to do the same thing they were doing, in half the number of steps, that never once mentioned a clean room or autoclave.

The process they described not only called for sterilization of anything introduced into the process, it also called for sterilization OF the product. Now… Sterilization KILLS living things. That is the purpose of it! They were trying to PROPAGATE (that is, encourage the growth and reproduction of) a living thing. Sterilization of that living thing is counterproductive, to say the least! Even if it only involves sterilization of the outer surfaces, it will introduce genetic alterations to the entire body.

They were SO concerned with sterilizing everything, that they were willing to GUARANTEE damage in one way, in order to avoid the POSSIBILITY of damage in another way. Silly!

Nature doesn’t work that way. Nature works in a happy jumble of controlled and balanced contaminants. As long as you don’t get them out of balance, the risks are minimal.

Mushroom culture in an artificial environment has a HIGHER incident of bacterial and foreign fungal contamination than outdoor grown mushrooms. Now, people who grow them outdoors do not sterilize everything, and they don’t wear clean-room suits and booties to harvest. Artificial environments DO require that – and they chase themselves in an ever tightening circle of contamination elimination, which is a pursuit that is completely futile because you can NEVER eliminate all contaminants. NEVER.

What they have done, is create an environment with no natural limiters. So if a single contaminant gets in, it just runs unchallenged. This is blamed in careless or sloppy conditions. But it isn’t that at all. It is because of too MUCH control, not because of insufficient control. This is a primary problem with ALL industrialized farming and food processing.

In nature, naturally occurring bacteria and fungus balance and limit one another. This happens in the human body, and in the garden and forest, and even in your kitchen if you are not too much of a germophobe. The more sterile you try to make things, the more out of balance they get. Reasonable cleaning with water, and once a day with soap, keeps things IN balance. Washing hands after handling obvious contaminants is also wise. But trying to sterilize every surface is not only futile, it is counterproductive.

A little more research on mushroom culture shows that people have had great success in chopping up a mushroom with a clean knife, putting the pieces between sheets of fairly clean, damp cardboard, and letting it do its thing. The mushroom – having been intentionally inserted in LARGER amounts than any opportunistic contaminant, quickly propagates and overcomes any opportunistic contaminant anyway. Things stay in balance, with lots of peripheral contaminants running around doing their thing, and not hurting the mushroom culture that you wanted to grow in any way at all.

Nature is the same way. Mushroom spores culture every day, and they don’t do it in sterilized soil.

I heard the comment “But what if some other kind of fungus grows instead of the one we wanted?”. Not to worry. There are thousands of different kinds of fungus in the world. You are surrounded by them all the time, and they perform all kinds of useful tasks inside and outside of the human body, and in nature all around. Only two or three of them EVER look anything like the one you are trying to grow. The chance that one of THOSE would grow at all in the environment in which you are attempting to culture your prize mushrooms, is a gazillion to one chance against that ever happening. Everything else that might grow there would be present in SMALLER concentrations than your deliberately cultured mushrooms, so they’d have a hard time producing much visible fruit in the first place, and in the second place, if they did manage to, it would look so different than what you are culturing, that you’d easily recognize it. The WORST possible outcome would be that it might SLIGHTLY diminish the productivity of your mushroom environment. That just isn’t even anything to worry about!

I’ve used mushroom culture to illustrate the point here, but it applies to all areas of life. Properly managed gardens and farms are never sterile, and the fact that they are not is a BENEFIT, not a problem! Once we start trying to introduce unnatural controls into a natural environment, we begin an escalation of a sequence of problems that only grow the more we try to constrain them. You can’t put nature on a leash and not expect to get your hand chewed off. It isn’t reasonable to expect that man can do something better than nature. Nature has just had way more practice at it!

Any time you see instructions for cultivation of anything that starts with “you will need a clean room environment”, or “a ratio of 18% protein and 13% soluble fats”, or even “a finely prepared soil-bed that has been double dug and enhanced with a 1″ layer of compost tilled in to a depth of 6”, you may know you are in the presence of a fool who thinks they know more than they really know. A mushroom does not grow best in a clean room environment, a chicken does not naturally eat soy meal or calculate the protein content of the food it eats, and Adam and Eve cultivated food for their rather large family using wooden tools which were not capable of finely tilling the soil (yes, there are easier ways, but the point is, they grew a successful garden without double digging).

Humanity prospered long before scientists analyzed everything to death and determined to make it more complicated than it has to be.

Keep it simple, and go back to the way nature really does it, and everything gets amazingly simple, and solidly successful.

Update: Since writing this, we have successfully propagated mushrooms in non-sterile conditions. Multiple types, in various mediums.

Cutting Firewood for Extra Cash

I remember cutting firewood with my father. He’d use the chainsaw, and us kids would stack. It seemed that he cut just about as fast as we could stack. There were usually two or three of us. I’d also used a chainsaw plenty in my teen years, and a little since then. So when a neighbor kindly offered some trees for us to cut for firewood, to earn a little extra cash, it seemed like a good idea. Another kind neighbor found a buyer who would take all the mixed hardwood we could cut, at a price of $50 per rick, and the buyer would provide pallets and wrap, and would pick it up. They did not need it chopped, just cut to length. Average price of cut and chopped firewood of this type was about $75 per rick, so it was a reasonably good deal.

We tromped down and surveyed the trees. Lots of brush to clear off, but some good wood in there. Kevin fired up the chainsaw, and started cutting. The saw was having an off day, and it fussed and fumed. We managed to get about half a rick cut. All elm. People here don’t like elm much. No one seems to be able to agree on the reason, but everybody agrees that they like everything else better. So now we had half a rick of elm. Slow going, and the saw was having a hard time keeping up.

We cut some cedar as well. That was slow too, because cedar has so many limbs to remove. We got about a quarter of a rick of that. We figured the cedar was worth it if we split it into kindling and sold it by the bundle.

We then started cutting oak. The saw was feeling a bit better when we started, but it chugged its way through VERY slowly. After a few cuts, it started smoking. Badly. And bar oil was pouring off the end of the bar. After Kevin pulled the bar out of the log, the chain was still steaming.

I let it cool some, and sharpened the chain. You could SEE the rounded corners on the ends of the teeth. You could also see them sharpen up as I filed. Not good.

It was good for four more cuts. Exactly four, I counted. Then it started smoking again. A generous neighbor joined us to help. He brought his own saw. He fired it up and started cutting circles around Kevin. Our poor little saw chugged and choked its way through a log, and in the same time, the neighbor chewed his way through about six. After four more cuts, the saw was again, smoking and dripping.

When the neighbor quit, we quit. Our saw was just not up to it, and never would be. No amount of sharpening would ever make that chain right. No amount of babying would get that little saw to handle oak logs.

Some facts about chainsaws:

They come in different sizes. And the smaller sizes are made for different purposes than bigger saws.

The baby ones – 14-18″ are made for “occasional home use”. That means if you have to trim a few limbs off a tree now and again, they’ll do fine. These saws have a narrow kerf, and a low powered engine. And the saw chains are made from softer metal, so the teeth wear down MUCH faster. I guess with the smaller kerf they thought they could get away with it. Generally, the smaller the saw, the punier the chain width, and the weaker the engine. Some brands are complicated to start, hard to keep going, and difficult to service. Others are made with the attitude of dumbing down the servicing, but usually the parts are of such poor quality that what was meant to save time just results in a LOT of frustration.

The middle sized ones – a few 18″, but mostly 20-24″, are made with a larger engine, and harder chain metal. They have a wider kerf, and they can cut circles around the baby ones. The larger ones again, are more powerful. Ease of servicing varies widely. There are also Professional and Home models in this range, but usually even the home models are far more durable than the smaller saws. They may have either a medium kerf chain, or a wider kerf chain – wider is generally the most durable chain, but also takes the most power.

The daddy saws. Ok, so most loggers use a 24″ bar, a few have a 36″ bar that they use for extremely large trees. But a 24″ is standard. So here we are mostly talking about larger engine size. More power. You’ll pay twice the price for them. Sometimes more. But they’ll work more reliably, and cut much faster, and they’ll be worth repairing when something breaks. They will generally have chains with the widest kerf, which are made from a harder metal, so they last longer, and require sharpening less frequently.

Some facts about wood:

Cutting evergreens is easy, and even a bad chainsaw can cut through it without completely choking up. Other softer woods too. They can make a mediocre chainsaw look ok, and you can make pretty good time. I don’t remember my Pa ever stopping to sharpen a chainsaw during work – though he did so at night in his shop.

Cutting hardwoods is hard. And harder. Some hardwoods are hard, and others are like trying to use a breadknife to saw through granite. They’ll systematically dismantle all but a good saw, and they are even hard on that. You’ll still have to stop to sharpen every hour or two, at best.

So… back to the original topic. Earning money doing this. Yes, you can earn money cutting firewood. You can earn enough in a day’s work to replace a full time job, if you want to put in a long day, or if you have a helper.

You’ll have to get the wood for free too. If you have to pay for a permit, or pay someone else a cut off the top, it isn’t going to be worth it. But you CAN get wood free, if you find out who has property that they are clearing. Often they’ll bulldoze trees, and then just light them on fire. If that is the plan, they are usually perfectly willing to have someone come in and salvage some firewood first.

But you can only do it if you have the right tools to start with. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a lot of frustration, and VERY little output to show for it. If you don’t already HAVE the right tools, then it isn’t going to be worth getting them if you are desperate for cash, because it is probably going to cost you several hundred dollars to get a chainsaw that can keep up – and you are likely to need two of them to really produce.

If you have a little backyard chainsaw and think that you can go and cut hardwoods all day, and make something at it, you’ll be disappointed. A little one can’t even handle an entire day of work, even if you keep sharpening the chain. You’ll need something better, and bigger.

If you do happen to have it though, firewood can be a nice way to earn a little on the side, or to fill in the gaps if you are unemployed.

But you gotta have the right tools.

If you don’t, then look for other ways to profit locally – You might be surprised at what you can do.

The Twitter and FaceBook Marketing Myth

How many times in the last two years have you heard people tell you that if you are going to market online today, you HAVE to use Twitter and FaceBook? How many times have you heard people extolling the virtues of those two platforms for marketing a business?

I’ve got news for you. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who says that is SELLING something to do with Marketing on Twitter or FaceBook. They have motive to tell you that.

The truth is, Twitter and FaceBook are both VERY POOR marketing mediums. They both violate one of the most important rules of marketing:

Put your message in front of an audience who is likely to be interested in buying what you are selling.

People on FaceBook or Twitter, for the most part, are NOT THERE as consumers. They are there to party. So unless you are selling Red Solo Cups, it isn’t going to be a highly effective method for marketing.

There. I said it. I expect I’ll get a storm of denials from people who are selling FaceBook and Twitter marketing services. But my clients generally agree with me, and they are real business people, selling the typical products and services around which business in the US largely revolves.

Five years ago, we were able to tell our clients to go to forums and sites where people congregated who were interested in the general topics around which the client’s product or service revolved. For us, that meant we would go to small business forums, and we’d chime in with helpful information regarding website and marketing. We gained an entire client base this way. Literally hundreds of good, solid clients came our way through this means of marketing.

Enter FaceBook and Twitter. Exit most forums. The business forums simply dried up. They went away, and NOTHING came in to replace them. Oh, some people may disagree, but the few that are left are lethargic at best, and pretty much a waste of time.

You can spend and awful lot of time talking to nobody, with the illusion that someone is listening, but it won’t help your business grow. And right now, you have the choice of participating in old forums where nobody IS, or participating in new social media where EVERYBODY is talking, EVERYBODY is there, but nobody is LISTENING.

So now we have a disappearance of an incredibly effective marketing tool, and the replacement of it with a social tool. Sure, you can reach a LOT of people on FaceBook. But they are NOT targeted listeners. They are there to party, and if your marketing messages interfere with their party, they’ll just tune you out. They have short attention spans, and are looking for distraction, not for practical help in their lives.

FaceBook users are basically two types:

The ones who are addicted to it. They use FaceBook as an online party, where they go to simulate real life. They want distraction, and they want things to keep moving. They have NO attention span, they do not want to have to act on ANYTHING, and they like freebies. They are quick to subscribe to pages – in fact, most of them have SO MANY on their lists that there is no way they could ever keep up with them all. They are equally quick to forget what they just subscribed to, and to turn it off in their feed.

Those who use it for business, family, or friends, to keep in touch, but who limit the amount of time each day that they spend there. They are going to unsubscribe from anything that wastes their time, they won’t be there to be marketed to, and they’ll skim over things and get to the stuff from people that they know. If they KNOW you personally, they’ll sometimes leave your page feed visible. But if they don’t know you personally, they probably won’t even subscribe.

If you get past that, and actually get subscribers to your page, the chores have only just begun. You can post to the wall on that page, and you can work at getting more and more subscribers. But that isn’t the same thing as getting CUSTOMERS. Because most of them do NOT want to listen to the sales pitch. They want you to bring the drinks to the party instead. And if you do, they MIGHT like them enough to buy them later – but most of them won’t. Most of them will just go looking for the next free drink instead. And you’ll have to give away a LOT of drinks just to sell a few.

If you HAVE a FaceBook page, you have to post things to it on a regular basis, or it won’t help you sell anything. Posting ads won’t be effective, your prospects will ignore them. Remember, they are there to party. The big companies hold contests, do giveaways, and are constantly offering “fun stuff”. They aren’t exactly bringing drinks to the party, but they are bringing pencils and a fun little word puzzle. Cheap stuff. Lots of it. An endless flow of trivial little bits of distraction for an audience with the attention span of a gnat.

For a small business, keeping up with a constant stream of that kind of thing is EXHAUSTING! Especially since the return is so low. And the return IS low.

When we ask our clients if they are using FaceBook or Twitter as a marketing tool, most say yes. When we ask them if they have ever made a sale that they knew resulted from FaceBook or Twitter, they say no.

As a direct marketing tool, they are pretty much useless for 99% of businesses in the US. Oh, don’t comment with hot denials unless you are using FaceBook and Twitter for a business that is NOT involved in selling services related to FaceBook and Twitter, AND you can verifiably show that you are GETTING active customers or clients from them.

So what is the answer? Do they have a place in current marketing?

I think they do. But it is not in having a cute and active FaceBook page, or in posting to Twitter every half hour with your latest product. Honestly, those two things are probably nothing more than a waste of your time.

Both can be used in developing relationships. Every once in a while, a conversation will allow you to share your expertise, and at that time, it may benefit your business. But this is weak, and circumstantial at best.

The real reason to USE them for business has to do with search engines. They now index websites higher if they are mentioned on FB or Twitter. And they also rank sites higher if they are LINKED to a site mentioned there. I do NOT recommend trying to game the system here – but if you are smart, you can use it in natural ways, to cover a lot of ground with a few simple tasks each week.

1. Create a blog. Post to the blog one or two times per week. It does not matter WHAT you write, as long as it is YOUR writing, and NOT someone else’s. It must be completely and totally unique and original. The more interesting it is the better. The more it relates to your lines of business, the better. But there is NO NEED to have a separate blog for each topic, that will just make you neurotic because it will be too much to keep up with. One good solid multi-purpose blog is sufficient.

2. Feed your blog into Twitter. This will create a post automatically every time you post to your blog. But it will also give you the ability to feed your blog into ANYTHING that accepts a Twitter feed.

3. Feed Twitter into FaceBook and LinkedIn. Just feed it into your FaceBook profile. A FaceBook page for your business isn’t really necessary, and it isn’t even helpful for about half or more of business owners (you have to have a purpose for it if you want it to be successful). Now your blog goes into FB and LinkedIn, automatically.

4. Feed your blog into your website, into the sidebar, IF the topics you cover on the blog are relevant to the website. If they aren’t, then skip this. This does NOT help your search engine rankings! But it does provide a way to make use of your content to inform your website visitors. It can also increase calls and emails if you put the feed right below a Contact Us box, with a phone number, and a link to your contact form, because recent blog posts indicate that someone LIVE and REAL is behind the site, and it encourages people to call.

5. Link your website to your blog – put it in the blogroll, in a category called Related Sites, or My Websites, or something like that.

6. If you have more than one website, you can interlink all of them. Again, just create a box called Related Sites, or Our Other Websites, or something like that, and put a link to each site in there. Put this box on every page of the site, at the bottom of the left or right sidebar, or in a box at the bottom of the site. DON’T hide the links, and don’t put them on more than once.

This combination of tactics really works. And unlike the pre-Twitter/FaceBook days, it is actually fairly quick. It used to take a year or more to see significant results from this. If you do this now, then Google will pick up your blog post from Twitter within hours, and the blog will benefit every site linked to it. You can see an increase in website traffic to a linked site within 2 weeks.

The great thing about this system is that you basically set everything up, and then just post to your blog. Sure, it also helps to promote the blog through blog directories, where they also pick up the feed to your blog, but basically, with the exception of posting to your blog on a regular basis, it is a “set it and forget it” marketing method.

Content marketing is still the most powerful and stable marketing method online, and this system gives you a means of using a single effort to its maximum potential, in a way that is fairly simple to do. Not only that, there is absolutely NO backlash or negative effect to it. Search engines LIKE it, you aren’t manipulating ANYTHING, you are doing it all open and above board. You are helping your customers through helpful and fun information, provided through your blog, there’s no pressure sales, no sales pitches. Just good stuff, that people and search engines LIKE, being presented where people can either read it or not.

Now that, is smart marketing!

Polyculture Farming


So what the heck does that mean anyway? Polyculture means more than one culture –  and in farming, it means you raise crops and animals, in a synergistic environment that BUILDS on itself, instead of CONSUMING.

If you delve into gardening books, you won’t get far in most of them before they start babbling about soil building and the sad state of a garden that is left too long without adding some kind of chemical fertilizer. The books that are aimed at vegetarians are the worst – they tell you that the best you can hope for is a 90-99% sustainability in a farm that tries to sustain itself with crops alone. They tell you to plant “green manure” crops, and till them under, to help replace lost nutrients. They tell you that you’ll “just have to” put on some kind of chemical fertilizer to make up the difference, and they say it in sort of an apologetic way, as though they really tried but there is no alternative. They’ll sometimes make a brief mention of animal manures, as though they are something shameful, or they’ll make a derogatory remark about them, and then move on as though they have been satisfactorily dismissed and now they can get on with the business of REALLY gardening.

And it is all hooey. Complete and utter tripe… garbage… balderdash… manure! The myth of 99% maximum sustainability is just that – a myth. On both ends.

First, because if you use plants alone, you can’t even achieve that, in spite of what they say. You can, at best, achieve perhaps an 80-90% sustainability. In other words, you are going to lose 10-20% of your soil fertility per year, and have to replace it with something besides just plant derived matter.

Second, because there is NO limit to the sustainability and soil building factor. If you choose polyculture farming, and add animals to the mix, you can achieve higher productivity per acre, and you BUILD soil at a rate which HAS no limit.

Of course, if you overload your land with too many animals, the land is decimated and becomes barren. So, ideally, you have a balance of animals and crops. And the simplest way to do that, is the most natural way… the way things used to be. Just grow ALL the crops that the animals eat, on your own property – and use the animal wastes to fertilize those crops. This achieves the highest degree of sustainability, and results in an enhancement to the soil of between 2 and 10% per year. It gets better and better, the longer you do it in balance.

  • The plants feed the animals with hay, grain, legumes, and veggies, and you with fruits and veggies.
  • The animals feed the plants with manure, and you with meat, eggs, milk, etc.

The garden and fields produce abundantly. The animals are healthy and produce better when fed crops raised without chemicals. The land is rejuvenated and vibrant. You and your family dine on the healthiest and freshest foods in the world. And it is all done without chemicals.

And all this happens on LESS land than it would take to sustain the same life with just green crops. Let’s illustrate:

It takes about a quarter of an acre to provide a vegetarian diet for a single person for a year – this assumes INTENSIVE cropping in a single growing season (it takes about half that if you practice year-round growing). This includes green manure crops to provide fertilizer – about half of your space has to go to producing green manure. It takes more than that for factory farms, which do not use intensive growing methods, and waste far more space, in spite of the fact that they do NOT provide space for green manure, and they use chemical fertilizers.

Now, there is a book out there that claims you can produce the “food” for one person on a vegetarian diet in about 4000 square feet per year. But he does not include grains or legumes in the amounts necessary. He just includes the vegetables and fruits, and a token amount of beans and peas. So his assumptions are different, and do not include what we are including. But the same rules apply – what he does in 4000 square feet can actually be done in less than half that space.

Ok… so how about if you take the green manure crops, and replace them with rabbit forage, and three rabbit hutches? You can now grow all of your vegetable and fruit needs, and you can grow all of your rabbit food, in about a SIXTH of an acre, instead of a quarter of an acre. You use the rabbit manure on the crops, so the crops produce better than they could with green manure alone. So far, win-win. And we haven’t even taken the reproductive abilities of the rabbit into consideration, and we haven’t even provided you with meat to eat yet.

So, if you start those rabbits reproducing, the equation gets even better… Let’s start breeding them – assuming 2 does and one buck. They’ll produce enough rabbit for you to eat one rabbit per week – very likely more, if you breed them about every three months.

It will take a little more crops to produce the meat, because you’ll have to feed those babies until they reach butcher age (at about 9 weeks). But those babies will also produce more manure for the garden, which means your soil fertility can be further enhanced, and your crop productivity can increase a little more. And since you are now eating meat, the amount of crops you need drops by about half – and the amount the rabbits need is less than that. So you now have the ability to provide for your needs on about an EIGHTH of an acre (about 5200 square feet), using intensive single season cropping. If you use year-round cropping, you can do it on about a third less – around 3200 square feet, including the space for the rabbit hutches. And you might just have some extra rabbits to sell. This means you could do it in a 50X60 foot back yard.

If you add in chickens, it gets even better. Now, you can feed the chickens on the garden waste and on redworms, grown in the rabbit manure. Chickens help control the harmful insects in and around the garden, giving you increased productivity across the board. They also provide you with eggs, So your needs for vegetable, fruit, and grains decrease a bit more, and your health improves with the variety. And of course, they put additional nutrients back into the soil, making anything they take out, completely replaceable. But since chickens eat so much that neither you, nor your rabbits can eat, they’ll make your garden more efficient just because more of the food in it gets eaten. Your garden gets healthier too, because you no longer have to use pesticides.

There’s a funny thing about chickens. It seems that if you have enough hens to make sure you have eggs through the winter, you are going to have way too many eggs through the spring, summer, and fall. Traditionally, the “egg money” from the farm was the mother’s spending money, to use for the things that her husband did not think to budget for. People do still buy farm fresh, naturally raised eggs – and if you raise those chickens without commercial chicken feed, but with foods you grew yourself, your eggs will be of unbeatable quality, and the egg money will be pure profit. If you choose the right breeds, they’ll also reproduce – giving you additional meat, or chickens to sell.

The equations are not quite as attractive once you get into raising larger animals –  but they are not as distorted as people think they are. Properly managed crops and fields can easily produce more than we assume they can – astronomically more. Of course, natural pasture is easier to manage, and it is simpler to just let your cows, goats, and sheep graze without having to intensively manage the crops for the fields. But if you chose to do so, they could be fed abundantly on very little ground, with nothing brought in from outside.

Humans are, and always have been, omnivores. The human body was designed to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and animal products. When animal products are tainted with chemicals from modern production and preservation methods, they become a means of carrying higher amounts of toxins and poisons into the body – hence the supposed “harmful” effects of animal fats and some other products – it isn’t the animal product at all, but how they were produced that is causing the harm. But when you produce them yourself (or get them from clean sources), they improve health and longevity, and strengthen the body and the immune system (the Weston A Price foundation has information regarding health benefits of butter, eggs, pork, beef, etc). Polyculture farming, then, provides a means to supply humans with optimal health, and it provides a means to enhance our stewardship over the land, putting back what we take, using less land to provide for our needs, and to responsibly care for farm animals.

Polyculture farming works because it is the way nature intended for us to provide for our needs. A truly synergistic environment, where you stir the pot, and it bubbles up with way more than you put into it.

Psychology of a Sucker

P.T. Barnum said there was one born every minute. I think he underestimated. But then, I am a bit of a cynic.

So what defines a sucker? What characteristics do people have in common, who get sucked into fraud, scams, get rich quick schemes, and all those dishonest propositions that take your money and fail to deliver the implied promises?

I’ve been scambusting for more than 10 years. I’ve investigated, reviewed, and reported many scams. I’ve been brutally honest in exposing near-scams – you know, those half-lies that aren’t exactly illegal, but aren’t ethical either.

In that time, I’ve learned a lot about the makeup of people who perpetuate those scams. And I’ve learned a lot about the kind of people who fall for them. They pretty much fall into two categories:

1. The ignorant. I mean truly inexperienced and uneducated about business, the internet, human nature, etc. It takes the average person a year or two of exposure to such things to really figure out what the warning signs are that something should be avoided, just like moving to a new town and not knowing where the slums are. There is hope for these people, they will probably gain wisdom and learn to avoid slumming it online.

2. The greedy. People who are willing to let their greed overpower their common sense. This group of people are the reason why internet marketing empires, resale rights products, Forex trading with eGold, mlm companies without a viable product, illegal gifting scams, and a gazillion other online establishments continue to flourish. They live by the motto, “It couldn’t hurt to try it, it just might work.”, and they tend to get scammed over and over with an unending parade of nearly identical cons, with only one or two facets that are different – the greedy person reasons that if one or two of the immaterial facets are changed, that somehow, it is different than the last scam that bit them, and they ignore the fact that it is build on the same shady and rotten foundation. There is less hope for this group – wisdom has a harder time triumphing over greed than it does over mere ignorance.

See, a greedy person KNOWS the thing they are reading is too good to be true. They KNOW it has a catch. That little voice in the back of their head TELLS then that it is wrong, but they ignore it. They ignore it because they WANT. They want the promised pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, even though they KNOW leprechauns are not real. So they spend their days chasing rainbows and illusions, and paying for the privilege, instead of telling the scammers exactly what they can do with their pressure sales pages and their “limited time offers”.

I heard a line in a movie I saw years ago. “You can’t cheat someone unless they’re lookin’ to cheat you first.” I wondered at that. And then it made sense. The card sharp could cheat a table full of men, because they figured they could put one over on him and get his money. He let them think that, just long enough to take THEIR money.

And so it is with scammers. They lead you on, let you think you are going to get something for more than it is worth, or that just this ONE time, the laws of common sense won’t prevail, or that the illegal thing they want to rope you into isn’t illegal enough for you to get caught.

In fact, this characteristic of greed, and the propensity for greed to overpower common sense is something that scammers count on. They make a living on poor choices of other people – and they count on the fact that most greedy people, once taken, won’t confess it to anyone else, out of embarrassment. Or in some instances, because they knew it was illegal or bordering on it. So the scammer gets away with it, and goes on catching other greedy flies in their spider web, because the flies that have been caught are too embarrassed to warn the prospective victims.

Now, while scams can only exist when the world has plenty of greedy prospective victims, the scams are created and perpetrated by people who are also greedy – but they are not only willing to let their greed overpower their common sense, they are willling to let it overpower their morals and scruples. They are willing to actively take advantage of people, or even actively harm them, in order to fill their pockets. The only kind of people who can make money at it for any length of time, are those who are completely ok with taking someone else’s money and not giving what was promised in return. Sadly, some people seem to progress from scammed, to scammer. Greed eventually degrades them.

The best protection anyone has against getting scammed, is to not let their greed get in the driver’s seat. Keep common sense firmly behind the wheel. That is also your best protection against becoming a scammer – because greed is a poor master, and common sense doesn’t like dishonesty, so it will steer you away from becoming something dishonorable.

If enough people did that, the scams and sucker traps would go away. But since the world seems to repopulate itself with suckers at a phenomenal rate, it is up to you and I to protect ourselves against the spiders, and to keep raising a warning voice to the flies.

Winter Gardening – Myth and Reality


Who doesn’t love luscious veggies and fruits in the wintertime? And we all have visions of dollar signs dancing in our heads when we think about buying them in the winter. We see those same dollar signs when we think of growing them ourselves, in a greenhouse. Because you’d surely have to HEAT that greenhouse, to get good stuff in the middle of winter!

Some common misconceptions about greenhouses lead most people to feel that it is too costly to buy one or build one, and too costly to operate one, and that the results are even then, so chancy that it is not worth the investment. They feel that it is not worth having a greenhouse when it is only used to extend the season by a month or two on either end of the gardening season.

Those ideas are completely false! A greenhouse can in fact, reward you through the entire winter with good things to eat, and it can do so at very little cost beyond the initial investment.

Actually, the truth is that many vegetables can be grown in a greenhouse, or even without a greenhouse, in the middle of the winter, in every state in the US. Even Alaska. Ok, not ALL of Alaska… but some of it.

There are two factors which make it work:

1. Don’t try to grow tomatoes or strawberries in the winter. If you do, you will need heat. Don’t try to grow heat loving plants. This will only cost you huge amounts. Choose plants which naturally do well in the winter. There are a bunch of them, and you can grow them in a variety of ways, even if you don’t have a greenhouse, in most areas of the US.

2. Protect your crops from the wind, and use coverings that help hold warmth. Many plants can stand temps well below freezing if they are protected from wind. As long as your area gets enough sun, you can probably raise crops successfully in an unheated greenhouse.

Now, lest you think this is some sort of radical new idea, or hype that just won’t work, let’s give you a little history…

This is traditional gardening. This is how people survived the winter in the middle ages. It has been practiced for centuries, and still is used prevalently in France. Just look up the definition of the term “bell jar”. The art was lost to the US, partly because of the market culture that developed here. But it still works here, and has been proven to work even in Maine.

You don’t really even need a greenhouse. You can do it with coldframes, tunnels (plastic over wire hoops), or even floating row covers (lightweight fiber cloth) in milder climates. In severe climates, you use a combination of methods, to give two, or even three layers of covering – a double walled greenhouse or tunnel, with a row cover directly over the plants. You can even purchase an inexpensive rack style grow-house for less than $50, with four shelves, to get started on the cheap if you want a greenhouse (you can throw a quilt over it in the winter to keep it insulated on especially cold nights).

It really works. We have seedlings coming up right now under a floating row cover. It is about two months too late to plant a winter garden in Oklahoma, dipping well below freezing several times a week now, yet our plants are thriving – we decided we’d rather plant late and have small crops than none at all, and it looks like we won’t have cause to regret that decision.

So what did we plant? We planted mostly things that do well in the cold anyway. Crops that were developed to grow in the winter, or to thrive in colder temps.

We have planted a mesclun mix, two varieties of lettuce, and spinach. We have cabbage, broccoli, beet, collard, dill, and some other greens to plant as soon as the walls are onto the greenhouse. I also planted alfalfa, which we’ll let grow a few inches tall, and then harvest for the chickens (it is worth it to me to keep some crops in the greenhouse for the animals, because they give us other food that we need) – I’ll do the same with wheatgrass, which grows well in cool soil.

There are other plants that grow well in cool temps also – peas, arugula, endive, raddichio, miner’s lettuce, corn salad, and many others. I don’t happen to care for the pungent ones like arugula and endive, but look forward to trying corn salad.

This kind of crop will grow well without any heat at all, as long as it is given sufficient protection. In the event that you feel heat IS needed, you can use raw compost (fill the floorspace between your planting pots with compost, or put it around the outside of the greenhouse), or a small woodburner (even a small fire will keep things above 15 degrees until the sun comes up, which is all that is needed). When things get cold, just add another layer of protection – row covers over your plants inside the greenhouse or inside the coldframe, or a coldframe inside a greenhouse, etc.

These techniques keep the investments that you make constrained to primarily reusable items, instead of pouring money into the cost of heat. Most things will germinate as long as the soil gets warm at least for part of the day, and does not freeze. They do germinate and grow as seedlings better in the late summer and early fall than they do in the winter. But as long as you can meet that criteria, they’ll even do it later than you thought. They’ll just do it slower.

Plants grow more slowly in the winter than they do in the summer. The cooler it gets, the slower they’ll grow. That means they’ll consume less moisture also – so you won’t need to water often. When you do, you’ll want to make sure the water dries before the temperatures drop too cold at night, because it can cause more damage if they are wet and then the water freezes.

The real key to making it work, is one that we’ve been trying to infuse into everything we do in our farming efforts: Work with nature, not against her. When you do, you are letting nature do the majority of the work, while you just nudge it along to reap the harvest, instead of fighting against her, expending unreasonable resources, for a mediocre result.

Once you get winter crops growing, you’ll be surprised at what you harvest. Often, the plants are small, but they taste wonderful. Nothing beats the flavor of sweet green cabbage leaves, pulled from young cabbage plants in December. You’ve never tasted tangy flavorful cabbage like that – not a hint of sulfur in it! If you try it in the springtime, you’ll be sadly disappointed, because that flavor only comes from cabbage that is grown in the cold.

So if you want fresh veggies in the wintertime, don’t think that they need to be shipped in from Chile. You can grow them in your own back yard, if you select the right veggies, and protect them in the right way.

Of course, you may spend a WHOLE LOT more on salad dressing…

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.