Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tips For Planting Fruit Trres & Common Mistakes

"The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The next best time is now." -- Japanese Proverb*

I spent part of yesterday planting pear trees on my property. I've planted other fruit trees in the past, with and without success. The following are my tips for planting fruit trees, along with what I consider the mst common mistakes people make.  

Tips for Planting Fruit Trees
  • Dig a hole large enough to hold the entire root ball without the  roots touching the sides of the hole.  Common Mistake: If the roots touch the sides of the hole and bend or wrap around the edge of the hole, then the hole is not big enough. Digging in red clay or rocky soil is difficult and exhausting, and the temptation is to say "good enough" and plant the tree with some of the roots bending at the sides. This is probably the most common mistake many people make when planting trees. 
  • Plant the fruit tree to the proper depth. Plant the tree so that all the roots are covered with dirt without having to mound up the dirt around the tree, but do not cover the spot of the graft union with dirt or mulch. The graft union should be about two inches above the dirt and mulch. Common Mistake: Burying the graft union for dwarf and semi-dwarf trees is another mistake people often make. If the graft union is below soil/mulch level, the scion (the tree grafted onto the root stock) will put out roots and the tree will become a standard size tree. 
  • Loosen the soil for a couple of inches at the bottom of the hole. Compacted soil at the bottom of the hole will be difficult for the roots to grow into.
  • Place the fruit tree in the hole, making sure the roots are not bending or wrapping around. Fill in the hole with good quality top soil, packing it gently with your hands or feet.
  • Staking fruit trees is not absolutely necessary, but is a good idea in most cases to ensure that the tree grows straight. This is especially true in windy areas. 
  • Establish a "weed-free zone" at least three feet in diameter around the young fruit tree. Weeds compete with the fruit trees for water and soil nutrients. Mulching can help control grass and other weeds, but be sure not to cover the graft union with soil or mulch.
  • Most fruit trees  tolerate shade well, but will grow quicker in full sunlight. 
  • Most fruit trees need another tree of the same species, but different variety, to cross-pollinate with in order to produce effectively. Even self-pollinating trees will be more productive with a partner tree.  Common Mistake: Planting only a single tree, or multiple trees of the same variety, will likely result in smaller, or no, yields. (For the record, I planted three pear trees, one each of three varieties - Moonglow, Bartlett, and Ayers.)
  • Most fruit trees should be planted in spring, after the danger of freeze/frost has ended.
  • Give the fruit trees plenty of space to grow by not planting them too close together or to already established trees - 12 to 15 feet apart in most cases.  
  • Thoroughly water newly planted fruit trees, and keep them well-watered for the first few months until they get established. Common Mistake: Letting the soil dry out around a young fruit tree before it gets well-established (takes at least a few months) is a major cause of death of young trees. It is easy to remember watering the first time or two, but it is also easy to forget to keep watering them weeks later.
*The exact origins of this  quote are unknown. It has been attributed as a Chinese proverb, a saying of Confucius, a Japanese proverb, and a Native American proverb, among others. The best time is also given as 20 years, or even 30 years, ago in many quotes. I have a Japanese friend who assures me it is a Japanese proverb, the English translation is I have given above. Regardless, I like the quote and believe it is a timeless truth.  
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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Why You Should Include a Cotton Pillowcase In Your Bug-Out Bag

Here's a piece of gear for your bug-out bag that I rarely hear recommended: a cotton pillowcase. Why a cotton pillowcase? Lightweight and not taking up much space, a cotton pillowcase has a myriad of potential uses in a survival situation.

1- Makes an instant bag for collecting wild edibles, kindling for your fire, or anything else you for which you need a good size bag.

2- Can be used to pre-filter water to remove bugs, leaves, stems, algae, and other rubbish before boiling or otherwise treating it.

3- Can be cut into large (or small) bandages, or fashioned into a sling, for first aid.

4- Can be cut into patches to repair clothing (a small sewing kit is a good idea for a bug-out bag).

5- Can be cut into pieces to use as reusable toilet paper (just boil to clean/disinfect before reusing). 

6- Can be fashioned into a reusable diaper (just boil to clean/disinfect before reusing). 

7- Cotton burns, so it can be used in fire making (it also makes for excellent char cloth).   

8- Can be pressed into use as a dust- or smoke-mask.
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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Unboxing my new Japanese Hori Hori Garden Knife

Just got my Hori Hori knife from Amazon. Here are my initial impressions:


Japanese Hori Hori Garden Knife: https://amzn.to/2HrYh1L

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Operational Security (OPSEC) - Part 3: Countermeasures

This is part 3 of my Operational Security (OPSEC) article. Part one defined operational security and described the five-step process used in OPSEC. Part two gave a practical example of how millions are unintentionally revealing critical information. This final part gives practical tips and countermeasures folks can take to protect their information. 

Tips and Countermeasures

1- The first and most important part of protecting your critical information is to make sure that everyone in your family/group understands what information to protect. You cannot do OPSEC without clearly defining to everyone involved what critical information needs to be protected. See Part one for
the five-step process to accomplish this goal.

2- Next, make a thorough and honest assessment of all the possible ways you are leaking critical information, especially to the bad guys who are actively looking for it and start taking countermeasures. 

3- Public, and even private, conversations, can be overheard. Be aware of your surroundings and topics of conversations. Even off-hand remarks can reveal critical information. Make sure your conversations are really private before discussing critical information. 

4- Be aware how certain information may reveal other information. For example, that "First Baptist Church" bumper sticker reveals not only your church membership, but also tells the bad guys you're probably not at home on Sunday mornings.Think through what the bad guys may able able to deduce from seemingly innocent information you do give out. 

5- Shred/burn (instead of throwing away) all unneeded paper that may reveal critical information, including bills, shopping receipts, insurance papers, bank statements, tax records, pay stubs, ATM receipts  & other financial documents, pre-approved credit card & loan applications, prescription labels & info, expired passports and driver's licenses, among many others. A good article on what to keep and how long is How Long to Keep Documents & What to Shred by Elizabeth Larkin.  

"The general rule is anything with the following information should be shred: account numbers, birth dates, maiden names, passwords and pins, signatures, and social security numbers." -- Elizabeth Larkin

6- Children, especially young children, tell EVERYTHING to their friends, schoolmates, teachers, neighbors, and other parents (even if you've told them not to). Be especially aware of what you reveal to them, and remember that they do have ears and overhear a lot more than you might think. Remind them often that privacy is important and that they shouldn't share certain information with others. There have been many news stories in recent years of schools quizzing students about their home life, including asking about topics such as the parent's political views and if there are guns in the home. Tell your kids to answer "I don't know, you'll have to ask mommy and daddy about that" and to tell you who was asking those type questions. Review this with them often (they quickly forget).

7- Be careful of what trash & recyclables you leave at the curb. Even empty boxes may reveal to those nosy neighbors what, and how much, you are buying. Options to roadside recycling include taking the boxes to the recycling center yourself, or even burning them or using them in composting or sheet mulching. Remember to shred/burn critical papers.

8- Be cautious in your use of social media, email, text messaging, and the Internet. Realize that if you are emitting electronically, your use is being monitored, logged and stored. NEVER use electronics to commit illegal acts, make threats, stalk or harass others (you shouldn't be doing these things anyway). When surfing the Internet, avoid the "Red Light Districts" (adult sites, illicit drug sites, or other sites used for illegal/unethical activities), as visiting those sites greatly increases your chances for computer viruses, phishing attacks, ransomware, and attracting the attention of both the bad guys and law enforcement. 

9- Never give away a password to  any account to anyone EVER!!! 

10- Keep all software up-to-date. This is especially true for your anti-virus and firewall software (they stop automatically updating after the free trial period is up), but is also true for your operating system, drivers, etc. Out-of-date software likely have multiple security issues.

11- Rethink your use of social media. Keep only those accounts you really use often or need professionally (I recently deleted my Facebook, Instagram, and Google+ accounts). Avoid oversharing or giving away critical information. Especially avoid giving away your schedule or travel plans (lets the bad guys know when you are not home). Don’t post personal information (real friends already know your workplace, school, home address, phone number, etc.- don’t  broadcast it to strangers).

12- How to Delete a Google+ Account https://www.wikihow.com/Delete-a-Google%2B-Account 

13- How to Download and Delete Your Entire Google Search History http://www.maketecheasier.com/download-delete-goog...

14- How to delete everything Google knows about you https://www.expressvpn.com/internet-privacy/how-to...

16- How to Permanently Delete a Facebook Account https://www.wikihow.com/Permanently-Delete-a-Facebook-Account

17- How to Delete an Instagram Account https://www.wikihow.com/Delete-an-Instagram-Account

18- Want an privacy-sensitive alternative search engine to Google, Yahoo, or Bing? I suggest StartPage https://www.startpage.com/ or Duck-Duck-Go https://duckduckgo.com/

19- Concerned about Microsoft's recent announcement that they will ban "offense language" and begin monitoring private accounts (Office, Skype, and other Microsoft products)? Looking for an alternative to Microsoft Office? I use Apache Open Office https://www.openoffice.org/ Its free and works great!

20- Want a good alternative web browser to Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and Google Chrome?  Try Mozilla Firefox https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/. It can be enhanced with a number of privacy-protecting add-ons, including HTTPS Everywhere and Ghostery, among others (go to the add-ons page after installing Firefox).

21- Delete cookies regularly or disable the use of cookies through your browser. You can “whitelist” cookies from sites you need/trust while still blocking all others. There are also several Firefox add-ons, such as Self-Destructing Cookies, that will do this for you. 

22- Never use the “remember me” function on websites, even from your own laptop or device. 

23- Be mindful of you use of affinity cards, credit/debit/checking cards, and even modern library cards, as they all collect and log data about you and your habits. This information may then be used by the company, shared with its vendors, sold to other companies, or stolen by company employees or outside hackers. It could also be obtained by the government (even without a warrant in many cases). 

Obviously, this list barely scratches the surface of the many countermeasures you can take to keep critical information out of the hands of bad guys and others (corporations, government) who don't need it. My hope is that it will give you plenty of "food for thought" and even many practical ideas for protecting your critical information.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Operational Security (OPSEC) - Part 2: Practical Considerations

This is part 2 of my Operational Security (OPSEC) article. If you missed part 1, click here to read it

How do the bad guys get our critical information?  The answer is we give it to them, most often without realizing it. For one example oif how we might give away our information, take a look at the back-end of the cars in the next parking lot you visit. Chances are that most are covered with bumper stickers, window decals, family stick figures, parking passes, and car magnets that reveal a lot of information to nosy neighbors and potential bad guys.


Take those family stick figures that are so popular today. Folks, justifiably proud of their families, put them on their back windows as representations of their family. But think about what it potentially reveals to bad guys:  number of family members, their sex and approximate ages, even what pets you have. Many of these stick figures often also show the interests of the family: Dad holding a fishing rod, Mom swinging a tennis racket, a young boy holding a baseball bat, an older girl wearing a cheerleader outfit.  And look, the family has two cats, but no dog. The bad guys now have a real good idea of the make up of that family, including many of their interests. 

But it doesn't stop there. That parking sticker reveals where you work. This bumper sticker reveals where you attend church (which, in turn, reveals something about your religious beliefs). Another bumper sticker reveals where your honor student attends school (which, in turn, reveals the general location of where you live). That Bass Masters window decal (along with the stick figure of Dad holding the fishing rod) shows that Dad is really into fishing. And look, there are two car magnets - one a yellow ribbon saying "Support Our Troops" and the other a red, white and blue ribbon saying "God Bless America." Hmmm... This family is patriotic and probably conservative. Bumper stickers and window decals can also reveal political affiliation and ideology, even who we voted for in the last election. Favorite sports teams, causes we support, what groups we belong to, and other interests can also be revealed. Quite a database of private information to put on public display without a second thought.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. A quick glance at the back of my vehicle reveals a NRA sticker and a GOA sticker, broadcasting to the world that I support the Second Amendment, and am most likely a gun owner and a conservative. The "Freedom From Government" bumper sticker pretty much confirms me as very conservative politically, as does the "Jim DeMint for Senate" sticker. (Wow, that's old. I'm surprised its still readable.) I even have a "Survival Resources" sticker, revealing the fact that I am a survivalist. And the Alumni Association decal reveals my education level, and from what college I graduated. Quite a profile can be built on me by glancing at my vehicle's back end. What do your vehicles say about you?  

Tim, are you really saying we shouldn't have any stickers or decals on our cars? Nope. I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is that we need to be mindful of what information we are giving away without realizing it. It doesn't matter if the information is being given away on the back of our vehicles, on social media, in our trash, through public conversations, or however. 

I said in part one of this article "The first and most important part of protecting your critical information is to make sure that everyone in your family/group understands what information to protect." If you don't understand what to protect, you're not going to be able to do OPSEC. If you haven't already done this, I highly suggest you sit down with your spouse and/or group members and make a conscious decision about what critical information you want to keep protected. What exactly you consider critical information will depend on your own personal circumstances and concerns, but part one of this article will help you think through this step.

Once you decide what information is critical to protect, then you can examine the back of your vehicle, your use of social media, what paperwork you just toss away without shredding, and other ways you may be giving that information away without realizing it.  Follow this up by taking countermeasures to protect this critical information (part three of this article). 

In closing, I will say that, like most things in life, OPSEC will be about balance. Unless you want to become a hermit on a remote deserted island, it is unrealistic and impossible to perfectly protect every possible scrap of information. The OPSEC process described in part one is designed to help you come up with a realistic plan to protect truly critical information. You have to decide for yourself what information to protect and what steps are reasonable to take given your circumstances. 

As for me, this exercise has made me decide to remove several stickers and decals from my vehicle. I'll keep the NRA and GOA stickers because it is important to me to show my support of the Second Amendment, but the others will be removed today.
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