Low Power Morse Code

I typically write about matters of farming, food preservation and nutrition. I figure since most folks are familiar with me through my books on these topics, that’s what they’d be seeking here!  But though I have no intention of writing regularly about the topic, I think ham radio has a place in these discussions.

One of the major benefits of growing and preserving your own food is that you are well prepared for an unforeseen emergency long before an emergency occurs.  The time to start raising your own food is *before* all the supermarket aisles have been cleaned out.  The time it takes to start seedlings and grow food to the point of useful harvest is long enough that you’d starve while waiting for the food — so it is something you should have running all along so you are already prepared no matter what time of year an emergency occurs.  And if there is no emergency?  Well, you’ll just have superior food while saving a ton of money in the meantime!

People are generally aware of the risk of food shortages, which is why you’ll see grocery stores cleaned out just before major storms.  And they are aware of the risk of electrical outages, which is why so many people buy generators.  But few people are aware of how delicate our communications infrastructure really is.

In 2008, my region was hit with a major ice storm.  Practically every utility pole in my town was snapped.  Trees and utility poles littered the roads, making them impassable for three days.  Nobody in, nobody out. I don’t live in Alaska or the backwoods of Montana.  I live within a 90-minute drive of Boston, so this scenario is not a far-fetched thing that can only affect people living in the hinterlands.

There was no electricity at all in the region for anywhere from six to twenty days.  There was no land-line phone, and no cable service.  But what most people didn’t expect was the lack of cell phone service.  The cell tower backup generator ran out of fuel before the downed trees could be cleared sufficiently for fuel to be brought.  The ONLY communications out of the area were by radio.

VHF radio and UHF radio is strictly line-of site.  The reason the VHF walkie talkies work over longer distances is because of repeaters.  But the repeaters had no power after their backup batteries were exhausted.  So the only communication was via satellite (for those equipped for satellite communication) or HF (high frequency) radio.

And this is where low power Morse code shines.  In ham radio speak, that is QRP (low power) CW (continuous wave a/k/a Morse Code).  A SSB (single sideband) voice signal requires 2Khz of spectrum, but a CW signal requires only 200 Hz of spectrum.  Because of the power density, a 5-watt CW signal is more easily detected and interpreted than a 100-watt voice signal.  And these low power CW transmitters can work for hours and hours on small 5Ah and 7Ah sealed lead acid gel cells or for days and days on a car battery.

Of course, just as it would have been too late to start a garden and feed the family in the midst of an ice storm, it would have been too late to develop ham radio skills too.  The time to have the garden and saved food is before you need it, and the time to have ham radio skills and gear is before you need them.

In the aftermath of the ice storm in 2008, we wanted for nothing while the infrastructure in the region was rebuilt.  We already had plenty of food set aside, and I harvested fresh eggs from the chickens that we fried on the wood stove.  And though I didn’t need to make any emergency communications, my station was at the disposal of local authorities should it be needed.  I felt better knowing that if those radio skills were needed — I had them along with the requisite (inexpensive) gear.

If you are interested in growing your own food (and better food than money can buy!) — you are in the right place!

But if you want to go beyond that in your preparedness plans and enhance your communication abilities with low power Morse code, I would encourage you to get in touch with the American Radio Relay League to get your license, and with the North American QRP CW Club to get pointers on QRP and learning Morse code.


Your Gut Bacteria and Your Mind

I have worked long and hard to write what I believe to be the most comprehensive book out there on caveman diet, and it will be available in the spring.

Among the subjects I covered was the impact of gut bacteria on behavior.  There are so many neurons in your gut that some scientists call the complex of nerves in your abdomen “the second brain.” Much more information flows TO your brain from your gut than vice-versa. Bacteria in your gut secrete various substances based upon both the species of bacteria and the diet those bacteria are fed.  Your immune system, your environmental exposures and your diet will all effect which bacteria are in your gut, the substances made by those bacteria, and thus the effect on your brain.

NPR recently did a short segment on the way gut bacteria affects your brain, and I think you’ll find it interesting.

Here’s the link: Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Workings of our Minds

With so many people suffering from anxiety and depression, it is worth considering that a short fast followed by a purge with saline laxative and replenishing with a broad-spectrum probiotic could be more helpful than a whole pharmacy full of pills.

Spooky Music for Halloween!

I always loved Halloween as a kid.  “I vahnt to sook your blooood!”

In celebration, here’s a DRM-free mp3 download of the spooky song “Frozen People” from my White Sky album.  The song is protected by copyright so you can’t redistribute or sell it, but I encourage you to download it for your own personal listening.

The vocals in this are by the extraordinary Veela, and the music is composed, recorded and produced by me when I’m not busy Mini Farming!



Learn More About Gluten!

Gluten is the protein that makes wheat flour such a delight for spinning into pizzas and stretching into pie crusts.  But only a tiny fraction of the world’s population — about 0.6% — has genes that make them immune to problems with gluten sensitivity.  Everyone else — 99.4% of the world’s population — is at risk of developing health problems related to gluten consumption.

Dr. Tom O’Brien has organized a number of experts on the subject who will be interviewed on video for The Gluten Summit.

If you are unfamiliar with the interactions of gluten throughout the body, you may think of issues attributed to gluten as being fringe or even junk science.  Even worse, it may even seem trendy. But the qualifications and positions of the 29 people interviewed for this event show that this is REAL science — and like all real science, it is ahead of the dominant mode of thinking.

The event itself takes place on-line and in real time for free.  Simply register at The Gluten Summit, then log in and watch.

The Gluten Summit is online from Nov 11-17.  I’ll be logging in specifically to see Dr. Allesio Fassano, Dr. Loren Cordain and Erica Kasuli though many other very interesting folks will be interviewed.

If your health is less than you’d like, you have autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety or depression or are just curious — I encourage you to take the opportunity to sign up and listen to what these folks have to say.

Fall is the Time to Get Ready!

The best time to get your beds ready for next year, or prepare beds for the first time, is in the fall.

The reason is because MiniFarming relies on organic methods, and organic methods though superior in the long run, are slow.  The additions made to beds — alfalfa meal for slow nitrogen, compost, dolomitic lime and similar materials — are not instantly available.  Instead, they need time to break down and become fully incorporated.

It’s also inevitable that certain weeds will escape your notice over the growing season.  These should be pulled in the fall before they set seed because if you wait until spring, their next generation will become a problem.  Instead, pull them in the late summer or early fall before they have dropped their seeds.

Fall is also the best time for sowing cover crops.  Keep in mind that bacteria is the actual engine that powers your soil.  Bacteria act as a translator between the minerals in the soil and the plants you are growing.  Making a bed utterly sterile for the winter by removing all plant materials can starve out the bacterial populations that have been thriving all season, and a cover crop helps to keep them in good shape.  If a cover crop is not practical, then at the very least cover your bed with a couple inches of compost to give them something to work on.

Time in the late summer and fall is a bit less frenzied as well. In the spring, to get the most out of your season — especially here in the Northeast — you need to plant on a pretty tight schedule.  Onions get transplanted in early April, cole crops get transplanted in late April, and so forth.  Given that we often have snow on the ground until late March, that doesn’t leave a lot of time.  If you incorporate your amendments in the fall, that leaves you time for last minute weeding, bed preparation and repairing bed frames before planting at a more leisurely pace in the spring.


Why BMI (Body Mass Index) is a Crock


The obesity epidemic?

BMI, also known as Body Mass Index is a simplistic notion that only a government bureaucrat could love.  It divides your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters.  If your BMI is greater than 30, you are obese.  If it is greater than 25, you are overweight.  If it is lower than 18.5, you are underweight.

The problem with BMI is that for those who are athletic, especially those who are quite muscular, it vastly overestimates how much body fat they have.  On the other hand, for those who are sedentary and soft, it vastly underestimates how much body fat they have.

I have attached two pictures of myself taken in the past month.  According to the government and insurance companies, even though you can see my ribcage, I am not merely overweight — I am OBESE.  Though I’ll grant that maybe I could stand to lose five pounds for greater abdominal definition, I am most certainly not obese, and am well within a normal and healthy weight range.

And I am not alone.  The simple fact is that I double-dig garden beds, split firewood, swing kettlebells and otherwise develop plenty of muscle that is much heavier than fat.  And lots of other people do those things too.  But all of these people are also labeled as overweight or obese. Because statistics about obesity are based upon BMI, and BMI labels guys like me who do lots of pushups as “obese” — those statistics are not meaningful. There are millions of people who skew the results.

There are many other measures that are far more reliable in determining whether or not someone is overweight.

Body fat percentage is a far better measurement.  It used to be that you’d have to use calipers and skin folds or an immersion tank to measure body fat.  But nowadays, you can use a simple tool that you grasp with both hands that uses bioelectrical impedance to measure your body fat.  Just use it a couple of hours after your last meal and the results will be accurate. I have one that cost about $30. Just measuring your waist also works.  Is your waist bigger than your hips?  Then you are overweight.

This concept is not rocket science.  You can usually tell if you are overweight or not with the naked eye.  If not, then a simple tape measure will do the trick in most cases.  As an added check, measuring body fat percentage using bioelectrical impedance is inexpensive and accurate.  BMI is unnecessarily complex and based on a host of assumptions that are inaccurate for both fit and sedentary people. The problem is that public health agencies are using this erroneous measure as a way of setting public policy, and I’m sure at some point insurance companies will start using it if they haven’t already.

But you and I are neither governments nor insurance companies, so we can feel free to ignore ideas that are clearly flawed, and replace those ideas with measurements that actually work such as body fat measurement and the trusty tape measure!



Compost as a Hunting Aid

The time soon arrives when hunters all across America will stalk the elusive whitetail deer.

North America’s most sought game animal has superior hearing, eyesight well into the ultraviolet range and a nose with more scent receptors than a dog. Scent control is job #1, particularly when still hunting from the ground. There are a lot of expensive products on the market to help with scent control, but if you are a Mini Farmer, you already have everything you need to do it for free.

Prior to the hunt, wash all clothes to be worn (including undies) using Brett’s handy-dandy no-scent no-UV-brighteners hunting wash: 1 cup of baking soda + 1/4 cup borax

Hang them outside to dry instead of using the drier, which is probably permeated with dryer-sheet smells.

No matter what, during the day, your natural body odors will start to permeate the clothes.  That’s when a cover scent comes into play.  Here is what I do.  After washing and drying my clothes, I go get some finished compost (about a cup) from my pile, and put it in a drawstring muslin bag.  I put that bag and the clothes into an unscented trash bag, and knot it.  I leave it like this in the wood shed for a couple of weeks before the clothes will be used.  When I pull out the clothes, they are filled with a nice earthy compost scent that will last all day.

If you are a MiniFarmer, you already have borax because you use it for micronutrients in your beds, and you already have compost.  Baking soda is in every cupboard.

So, for zero extra cost, you have everything you need to remove human scent from your clothes and replace it with a natural cover scent.

Finally, a bit of a break!

I haven’t kept this blog updated much because I have been working on a massive book. It is finally done and in to the publisher, so it will be out in the spring!

The new book is on the increasingly popular subject of ancestral diet and exercise, along with other lifestyle issues.  It required crazy amounts of digging to get beyond hype and marketing and find truth.  With over 300 citations — primarily of peer-reviewed studies — and weighing in at several pounds, it was simply such a large project that I couldn’t be diverted to do blog posts.

But now its done!

I love writing books, especially books that I believe will help people in various ways.  I love the fact that there are people all over the world whose lives have been materially improved by my efforts.  But I also love coming up for some air, refreshing and renewing.  Its good to write about life, but even better to live it!

And the Results are In!

Folks who read my blog know that just before last Christmas, I scattered parsnip and carrot seeds on some of my beds to see if they would take.

The theory behind this is straightforward: if you duplicate what nature does, nature will lead the seed to sprout at exactly the right time for your area and environmental conditions.

As part of this experiment, I used four beds — two for parsnips and two for carrots.  In each case, one bed was used for randomly scattered seed and in the other bed that seed was lightly tilled into the ground.

Where I live, we get heavy snowfalls after Christmas and it isn’t unusual to have three feet of snow on the beds in March.  Winter temperatures usually get no lower than -5 degrees, and typically hover in the teens at night.

The results are thus:

Parsnips did better in the beds where the seed was randomly broadcast but not tilled.  I have so many parsnips I don’t know what to do with them all!  Carrot seeds did best in beds where they were lightly tilled in.  In both cases, planting just before the heavy snows resulted in seeds sprouting at the perfect time and getting a head start on weeds.  By the time I weeded, the seedlings were large enough to be well differentiated.

Parsnips and carrots are part of the same family as parsley and celery — so it is possible that these latter two crops would do just as well with similar treatment.

So if you live in the North, now you know the deep dark secret for getting lots of parsnips and carrots with hardly any work except preserving them after harvest!

The Sanitation Emergency

Have you ever had a problem with your toilet and while you waited hours for the plumber to arrive it became a disgusting smelly mess?

Now, just imagine if the problem was caused by a total lack of running water, and you were without running water for days or weeks. What then?

Living as we do with instant and unquestioned access to clean running water and flush toilets, it never occurs to us that in places where those amenities are lacking diarrhea is one of the biggest killers on the planet. The diarrhea is caused by lack of proper sanitation. Diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhus run rampant when adequate sewage treatment is not available.

Properly composted human waste is safe, and eliminates the disease risks that come when our regular sanitation systems break down.

In the past few years we’ve witnessed a number of disasters where regions in the United States lacked electricity and running water for periods ranging from days to weeks. Because of this, I decided to cover the proper composting of human waste in my most recent book, The Mini Farming Guide to Composting.

Naturally, I have long maintained facilities for safely composting human waste. I don’t usually use them, but I’ve been grateful for those facilities during the handful of extreme weather events that have necessitated their use over the past several years.

Getting yourself setup to handle human waste safely via composting is easy and inexpensive. Because emergencies can manifest when least expected, it is better to be ready in advance than to be scratching your head at the last minute wondering what to do!