Making Mullein Oil for Cold and Flu Season

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Mullein plants along the freeway

Just before the weather turned back in October, we went on the hunt for mullein. And when I say hunt, I mean we drove about half a mile and walked into fields of it. What is mullein and why would we want it?

Mullein is a medicinal plant that can take care of many ailments. I first started using mullein oil about 8 years ago when my little one had an ear infection. We didn’t have health insurance at the time and quite frankly, flat broke. I had already been dabbling in natural medicines for a bit and wanted to give the mullein oil a try.

It cost me about ten bucks for a tiny bottle. I used a dropper and put a few drops of the stuff on a cotton ball, popped it in the microwave for about four seconds and put it in my baby’s ear. I can tell you within a day he was on the mend. Ever since, we have used mullein oil, which thankfully was only needed a couple of times. We are fortunate to have a very healthy family.

Mullein has many different names and has been used for centuries. Native Americans used this plant to take care of diaper rashes, respiratory illnesses and it is soft enough you could use it as toilet paper in a pinch! The leaves are incredibly soft and almost feel like velvet. Mullein oil soothes an achy ear and has antibacterial qualities that can help clear up an ear infection.

The part that we were after was the seed stalks that are at the top of second year plants. First year plants are low to the ground and only have leaves in a tight flower shape. The stalks are long, up to a foot or more. You can see a ton of tiny little buds on the stalk. As the plant matures, the buds open up and you get a tiny little yellow flower. That’s the stuff I was after. Unfortunately, the flowers do not all open at the same time. In fact, I would say it is more like less than a quarter of the buds open together.

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Mullein stalks with yellow flowers

We spent several days walking up and down the stretch of the freeway they had put in a couple years ago. Mullein, mullein everywhere. We used scissors to cut the stalks off. I had bags and bags of stalks. I let them sit on the counter for an hour or so in the bags. Then it was time to start plucking those little yellow flowers. I kept trying to find a more efficient way, but couldn’t think of anything, so it was a slow, tedious process of plucking flowers.

Once I finished plucking, I pushed the flowers into jars and then filled the jars with olive oil. I stuck the jars in a sunny window and left them alone for a few weeks. I opened the jars, strained the oil to remove the flowers and was left with some awesome medicine.

While I was collecting stalks, I also collected some leaves that were in pristine condition. That was a little harder to come by. I dried the leaves in my dehydrator for a couple of days. Once they were nice and crunchy, I mashed them up and stored them in another jar. Making a tea with these dried leaves is great for taking care of a stuffy nose and chest congestion. I had never tried it before, but back in December, the husband got the dreaded man cold. After suffering (and I mean both of us) for about a week, I made him the tea before heading out to do some shopping. When I got home that evening, he sounded much better and admitted he felt better.

He has been my only test subject this far because the rest of the family has managed to avoid getting the nasty winter cold thus far. Knock on wood.

Fractions Made Simple with Mason Jars

One of the biggest struggles I have with homeschooling my youngest son is his difficulty understanding certain math concepts. He can name all fifty states in a couple of minutes, but math—not his thing. Math has always come naturally to me and it seemed to be pretty easy for my older boys. My youngest—not so much. He gets frustrated quickly, which is understandable. It takes all my patience to keep my own frustrations in check.

As many moms and dads can relate to, I lie in bed at night worried about my kids. With my little one, I worry about how I am going to teach him something like fractions. He is 9 years old and technically in the third grade. I have homeschooled him since he started school. We have our ups and downs and let me tell you, days we are learning new math concepts, are down. Like I want to tear my hair out kind of down.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to figure out a way to get the kid to understand basic fractions. We started them in the second grade, but he wasn’t ready for them. I realized it was time when he asked me how much of a sleeve of crackers he could eat. I told him half. He didn’t know what half was. Mom failure. Teacher failure.

As I tossed and turned, contemplating the pizza game that we had tried to use before for the fractions, I quickly dismissed it. He didn’t get it then and I didn’t think he was going to get it now. Then it hit me—hands on. He is the kind of student who needs that learning by touching. I thought about using my kitchen measuring cups, but honestly, I don’t have a matching set. I have like 3 sets and not all of the cups are even there. I am a guesstimator when I cook.

That led me to my canning jars. Lord knows I have plenty of those.

I used four jars, pint in this case. I filled them with water. One jar full, another three quarters, a half and a quarter. Just to make it easier to see the water and to make it a little more fun, I added a couple drops of food coloring to the water.

Then, I used notecards and wrote the corresponding fractions. He was tasked with putting the right fraction in front of the jar with that amount of water. Obviously there was a little discussion prior to and of course, a little more teaching during the process. I moved the jars around and had him place the cards several times.

Once he had it down, I asked him to pour water from one jar into the other to make a whole or half or whatever the case may be. He was thoroughly entertained for a good 15 minutes and he got it. It was a total hallelujah moment for me. Next week, we will do thirds. I’m excited for him. He got to learn something new without feeling like I was forcing it down his throat. I got to check something off my list of ways not to fail my kid. Win-win.

My Life with 2 Deaf, Dominant, Large, Male Dogs that Want to Kill Each Other

Magnus and Blue in happier times.
Magnus and Blue in happier times.

Our home has gone to the dogs in a very literal sense. We are the proud dog dad and mom to six beautiful, precious dogs that we love dearly. We didn’t set out to have six dogs, but it just kind of happened. Each of the dogs, except the most recent addition, is a rescue dog. Two of the dogs are deaf, which is not an issue for us. In fact, we have decided deaf dogs are pretty awesome and wouldn’t hesitate to get more in the future. And when I say future, I mean down the road a bit. Go back and read the part about having six dogs.

Unfortunately, the two deaf dogs hate each other. I don’t mean growl at each other and snarl. I mean knock down, drag out they want to kill each other kind of hate. The situation isn’t quite so cut and dry. They are both male, young, dominant large breed dogs.

Blue
Blue

Let’s talk Blue. Blue is a 4-year-old 70 pound boxer, 100 percent deaf and the biggest cuddle bug you will ever meet. There isn’t a human or dog for the most part he doesn’t love. Blue doles out hugs to anybody who will let him. He gets up on his hind legs, wraps his front legs around you and hugs. He is my precious, precious boy. Blue has to be near his people and gets quite loud and agitated if he can’t be with dad. He is a daddy’s boy through and through. We took him in with his mama almost 2 years ago. I am not sure what the situation was, but when Blue came to our home, he was healing from no less than 20 knife slashes. His mama had stitches from a deep gash on her back. He was extremely timid and had obviously been abused. Within a few months he came out of his shell.

Now, let me introduce Magnus. Magnus is 2.5 yr old great dane who is a bit on the small side at 100 pounds and deaf. He can hear some sounds like Blue barking and me shouting. Magnus came to us after he had been in doggie jail after being dumped and allowed to run as a stray for who knows how long. He was adopted and returned and then rescued by a pet rescue only to be adopted and returned again. What he went through during the first year and a half before he came here is hard to say. He didn’t like men and actually snapped at my husband several times in the first few weeks. Magnus took to me instantly and like most danes, he guards me with his very life. If my husband tried to give me a kiss or sit next to me, Magnus took offense. We took steps to curb that and the two have bonded as well.magnus

I need to add in that 7 days after we got Magnus, he suffered a horrible injury that nearly cost him his leg. During the months of healing, we became very close. The first day the bandage came off, he decided he was top dog in the house and the first fight with Blue ensued. Blue had come to sit by me, which had never been a problem before, but that evening, it set Magnus off. Magnus was obviously feeling better and ready to make his place in the pack.

We bought muzzles, kept them separated for a couple days and then let them be together in their outside domain (2 acres fenced in) and things were fine. Over the course of about 10months we had about six fights, but things always returned to normal fairly quickly. And then one day, they didn’t.

It was early Sunday morning, Blue and his mama were outside playing. Blue got rough and Magnus took exception to it and jumped on Blue. Between my husband and I (in my slippers on the gravel) we got them apart. This time, Magnus and Blue continued to growl and lunge at each other. We decided to keep them completely apart. That night, we allowed them in the living room together with their muzzles on. They still tried to fight!

So, we kept them apart for a couple of days and then I made the biggest mistake of assuming one dog was out on the property. I opened the door to let Magnus out and Blue happened to be there. Within a matter of seconds, Magnus was on top of Blue. It was only me and my 8-year-old son home at the time. I pulled Magnus by the collar and got him in the house, kicking the door shut at the same time. The door didn’t latch and Blue rushed in, tackling Magnus and ultimately me to the ground. From there, the worst fight I have ever seen ensued. I tried drenching them with water—in the house and out. Nothing stopped them. Not a broom handle between them or furniture. It quickly escalated and I had to get my son out of the house. We stood outside listening to the horrific sounds of them fighting, furniture toppling and pictures falling off the walls.

My son called my husband who was 45 minutes away. I called 911 in a desperate attempt for help. The animal control officer was 30 minutes away. In what was probably the longest 45 minutes of my life, I saw my two, loving babies shred each others’ necks, ears and legs and there was nothing I could do to stop it. When my husband got home, both dogs were covered in blood, but they had stopped fighting. They could barely walk. The house looked like a crime scene. There was blood everywhere on the floor, the walls and the furniture. Holes in the walls and turned over chairs were evidence of the power each of those dogs wielded.

We rushed the boxer to the vet first. He had a nasty gash on his neck and looked the worst overall. Magnus was next. We had to make two separate trips so they wouldn’t see each other at the vet’s office. Surprisingly, they both only ended up with a few staples each. From that day forward, about three months ago at the time I write this, Magnus and Blue cannot be near each other. Three months that feels like three years.

You can only imagine what that means for us. We cannot sit and watch television in the evenings with our dogs spread all around us as we used to. We cannot “let the dogs out” in the morning or when we need to leave the house. We couldn’t even sleep with our bedroom door open for fear Blue would wonder in. Mag sleeps next to mom—always has, while Blue prefers the couch in the living room.

The first few days and weeks I was desperate. I was afraid the dogs would kill each other the next time. I made the decision to rehome Magnus. He was the aggressor and was the one dog I knew needed to be in a home without other dogs. I couldn’t give away 4 dogs to keep one. I reached out to numerous rescue groups, all that specialized in great danes or dogs with special needs. The answer was the same—no. No, we cannot take a dog that has shown aggressive tendencies, is that big or deaf. It was three strikes against the dog that had stolen my heart. I understood their reasons and knew Magnus being forced to leave me would probably cause more problems for him.

I argued that he wasn’t aggressive to the neighbor’s male doberman or any of the other dogs he encountered. He just plain didn’t like Blue. They explained it wouldn’t work and my only and best option would be to put him down. I can barely even type those words. How could I kill the dog who had become so bonded with me? I stressed about it for weeks trying to figure out how I could give him away or put him down. I couldn’t. In my heart I knew I would never forgive myself for killing a dog that wanted nothing more than my love.

So, that brings us to the point we are at now. Our house has gone to the dogs. We have made some major changes to our house and still have more we plan to do. Is it a pain in the butt? Absolutely! Is it worth it? I think so. There are days I will probably tell you it isn’t, but in only takes one look into Magnus’s beautiful blue eyes or one hug from Blue to remind me why we do what we do.

Do I recommend this for everyone? Heck no. My life is all about which dog is where and is everybody safe. I am constantly on alert, even when I am sleeping I have one ear open. Two deaf, dominate large breed dogs are going to struggle to live together in peace and happiness. However, I talked with a woman who has taken on 14 deaf and blind great danes. About half of them hate each other and must be kept separated. I figured if she could do it, so could I.

My husband has been gracious enough to go along with my craziness and has used his ingenuity to come up with some safeguards. Even with everything in place, there is still the chance of a run in. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I was thinking about dinner and spaced off the fact I had Magnus in the house and I walked Blue right in! I didn’t have time to blink let alone push Blue out of the way. Thankfully, my husband was home and was able to help me get them apart. Since then, we have put up signs on the front and back door to remind me when I am doing what we refer to as “the dog switch.” I know I have to change the signs and their placement every few weeks so it doesn’t become normal. I need to be reminded and I need anybody who walks through the door of our house to remember they are walking into a situation that requires them to be alert.

Complacency in our house could be disastrous.

I know this is not the ideal situation for everyone, but we are making it work. Our dogs are important to us and worth the extra effort. Next spring we will fence off another section of the property so all of the dogs can be out at the same time, but in very separate areas. Because we are dealing with a dane, we have to make sure it is a 6-foot fence that is very sturdy and can keep him in. If he sees Blue, we know he will go through our existing fences. For those who question our sanity, I would ask you to imagine putting down your dog simply because it didn’t like another dog. I don’t like a lot of people, but I am fortunate enough to not have to live with them if I so choose. Our dogs don’t have that same luxury. Therefore, we will accommodate their clashing personalities.

So, here are a few things we have done to help accommodate our dogs. Everybody deserves to be inside where it is warm and comfy and we want to make sure the family and all of the dogs are safe while they are enjoying their inside time.

Our XXL crate that doubles as a clothes dryer which double as a curtain so Magnus can't see Blue hiding by the couch in the living room. If I don't have clothes to dry, we drape a blanket over the crate.
Our XXL crate that doubles as a clothes dryer which double as a curtain so Magnus can’t see Blue hiding by the couch in the living room. If I don’t have clothes to dry, we drape a blanket over the crate.
A gate outside the back door. The back door leads to the dog area, but it is also the main entry for my teen son. The gate ensures a dog doesn't sneak through the door while he is walking in. He comes in, latches the gate and then comes through the door.
A gate outside the back door. The back door leads to the dog area, but it is also the main entry for my teen son. The gate ensures a dog doesn’t sneak through the door while he is walking in. He comes in, latches the gate and then comes through the door.
Basic and to the point....
Basic and to the point….
Our French doors are covered, which sucks for natural light, but if they see each other, they try to go through the window.
Our French doors are covered, which sucks for natural light, but if they see each other, they try to go through the window.
door
The door that leads to our room is cut to allow heat from the woodstove while keeping one dog in and the other out. We will have the other half of the door put on shortly to create a Dutch door. There is also a slide lock on the door just in case one of the dogs manages to turn the door handle.

To the Asshat that Dumped Your Deaf Dog

I took your throwaway dog. I took the dog that you abused and abandoned. Your problem has become my problem. I am now the one who is forced to deal with the repercussions. I am the one who must decide the fate of your dog. A dog that could have been your best friend in the whole world was kicked to the curb because he is deaf and big. You are an asshat.

It is people like you who leave people like me to clean up your mess. It is people like you who have littered our little corner of the world with dogs that long for nothing more than a loving human, a little food and a safe place to sleep. These dogs are damaged goods. Some are so damaged, they cannot ever have the things they want most in life and are put to death. I have your damaged dog and I must decide if he is beyond repair.

I took the dog you damaged and gave him a home. I gave him love, attention, a very warm, comfy bed and I didn’t give a fig he was deaf. Or big. Personally, I like big dogs (go ahead and sing Sir Mix-a-lot) and I cannot lie. Deaf, dumb or blind, they are all wonderful creatures. Unfortunately, your dog has baggage. Your dog is carrying around the 18 months of abuse he suffered at your hands. His formative years were spent in your very inept hands. He wasn’t given any kind of training, which made him an obnoxious brute. Nobody wanted your dog, despite how gorgeous he is. He is damaged goods.

And then he came here. He was the obnoxious brute the previous four people who tried to adopt him claimed. Yes, he was kicked out of four additional homes after you threw him away. Can you imagine what that must have been like for him? He was a yo-yo. A dog that does not have one of his most important senses—hearing, was kicked out and left in the cold. He didn’t understand. You didn’t take the time to teach him. You are an asshat.

He snapped, he growled, he ate dang near every sock in the house, he dug in the trash, he peed on the floor and he gave the biggest, most loving bear hugs a dog could ever give. His one redeeming quality is his unconditional love for the person/s who would love him back. In time, he stopped the growling and snapping at humans. He only occasional tries to eat a sock and we have locked the trash can. We have changed our entire lives to accommodate your dog. In the 11 months he has been here, he has come so far. So now he is almost 3, but more than half of his life was in your crappy care and it shows. Despite his obnoxious tendencies, we love the big guy.

But is it enough? Is the damage you inflicted too much for us to handle? We are not professionals. We are not wealthy and cannot afford extensive professional training. We are simply dog lovers who have been fortunate enough to learn deaf dogs are actually some of the best pets in the world, when they are given the love and training they need to feel secure.

Unfortunately, your dog didn’t learn to share. He didn’t learn he could be secure with your love and that you would always be there for him. He does not like to share his house, his humans or his territory and has decided to defend it by attacking the other throwaway dogs that were here before he was invited in. He has become a danger to himself, my family and my other dogs and it is truly not his fault. He is struggling to feel secure in his place and is convinced the only way to accomplish that is through violence. That is on you. You are an asshat.

Your deaf Dane has become one of our own. He is like a child to me and you have put me in a horrible position. I am the one who must decide if the damage you caused is too much to repair even with all the love and professional training in the world. The rescue organizations I have talked with believe he is broken. He is not even 3 years old and he is already broken and jaded. What option does that leave for a giant, deaf dog that doesn’t like other dogs and only a handful of people? It is too horrendous for me to even say or type.

You are an asshat. You damaged this dog and HE is the one paying the price. HE is the one who is facing being removed from a home he loves or paying the ultimate price because he is struggling to unlearn all the nasty, horrible things you taught him. You are an asshat who deserves to be put down—not him.

Prepping and Wildfires–What Do You Do When Your Preps are Threatened?

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Within a few hours, the fire engulfed the mountainside.

Here in our little neck of the woods, we just learned a very valuable lesson about how quickly life can change with a single spark. It is something we all assume only happens other places and never next door. Boy, did we get a rude awakening on Sunday afternoon when a wildfire sparked and literally went wild.

We were about 8 miles from the fire. Of course, our first response was to put the sprinkler on and wait and watch. What else can you do? As we watched the mountain side become engulfed in flames, it was pretty obvious that our little sprinkler was no match for the fire if it was going to come our way.

Plan B

Start packing up anything we just couldn’t live without. That is a surreal experience. How do you decide what you will keep and what you will leave behind to char? My first thought were the pictures of my mother who passed away last year. Then, I thought about the CDs of all the digital pictures we have taken over the years. And then it was the photo albums from the last 20 years. Can’t forget personal documents. Oh, and I cannot imagine losing my hard drive on my computer—again, so the tower goes too.

My husband went straight for the gun safe. How many of his guns and how much ammo could he take? Which of course sent me into a bit of a panic when I realized all the food and other preps would be destroyed if the fire made it to our house. I think that was the one of the things that hurt the most. When you have been prepping for more than a decade, you accumulate a lot of stuff. That is my fail safe. That is what I am supposed to fall back on when disaster knocks on my door. If the house burns to the ground, there goes my backup plan.

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The following morning, the smoke blocked our view of the mountains and the fire.

I tell you all this because this is something every prepper must think about. Yes, I know the rule not to put everything in one place and technically it isn’t in one place in my house or on the property, but we only own one place.

So, we came up with a new plan. Box up all of our pictures and whatever we can’t live without. It is in a single tub or two. Easy enough to throw in the back of the rig. Since we have so many doubles and triples of our preps, we filled more tubs with gear, including food and have it stashed in the camper. We know who is driving what rig should we have to bug out. Our five large dogs will all have to cram into the two rigs, which should prove interesting. Yes, we may lose a large portion of our food and water preps, but we will have the basics, including our lives, and we can live with that.

What is an evacuation order?

Let me tell you another lesson we learned about disasters and evacuations. There are three levels of evacuation. Standby, recommended and you better get your butt out. A MANDATORY evacuation can only come down from the state level. You don’t want to risk the lives of first responders who have to try and save you after you ignored an evacuation guideline. However, if you get that level 1 or 2 notice, take it serious. If you leave, but the fire or whatever disaster doesn’t necessarily reach your house, you will still not be allowed back in until it is cleared. You leave, you leave, there is no coming back and forth. Don’t assume you can go back and get this or that or your pets. You HAVE to get it all in that one trip. Plan accordingly!

How Do You Know?

This was something else that kind of freaked me out. We have a scanner, but it is not exactly hi-tech and we were not getting any real information. Facebook was the source of the majority of the info. People were chatting up a storm and of course, there were the drama llamas who were doing everything they could to make it seem like the world was ending with no regard to the feelings and emotions of the people who were actually being threatened.

We live in an extremely rural area with most properties fenced and gated. We were told reverse 911 calls were going to landlines to evacuate residents. We didn’t have a landline. The levelheaded folks on Facebook did explain you can sign up for a reverse 911 call to your cell phone, which I did, but not for a full 24 hours and no sleep later! That would have been good information to have when the smoke was so thick we couldn’t see beyond our property line.

Don’t wait until you may face disaster. Get your cell signed up for that reverse 911 system. It could save your life by giving you enough warning to get the heck out of dodge. This is so important for folks who live in rural areas where door-to-door notifications are just not feasible.

With droughts afflicting a large part of the country, you would be wise to have your totes ready to go at a second’s notice. This will give you an extra precious few minutes to get some of the other items that you would like to have.

Be prepared and take evacuation orders seriously!

Will Ladybugs Control Aphids?

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1500 Ladybugs!

If it isn’t weeds you are battling during the growing season, it is the darn bugs. A couple of years ago we had a huge issue with bees. Well, technically, the problem started with aphids that brought the bees. Now, we have always had issues with aphids in the orchard, but 2 years ago, our maple tree became a giant bee hive, because of aphids. It was incredible! There were hundreds of bees swarming the thing and it became extremely dangerous. We had to call in pest control professionals.

Now, I don’t particularly care to use chemicals in or around the house, but we were desperate. Our dogs were getting stung and I was worried the kids were going to be attacked. When the pest guy came out, he was amazed to see the problem. Apparently, our maple tree was ground zero for a battle between bald-faced hornets and German yellow jackets. He told us the problem stemmed from the aphids on the tree. I was oblivious to the problem. Yes, there were a ton of leaves on the ground, but I assumed it was from the kids knocking them down or something. He pointed out the fact the leaves were shiny, which was the honeydew aphids release that attracts the bees.

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Maples leaves on ground

Fast forward to this spring and once again, I woke up one morning to leaves all over the ground beneath the tree. I went out to do an inspection and sure enough, those darn aphids were all over the place! I grabbed the hose and spray nozzle and shot as many of those aphids as I could see and reach. A spray of water will knock them off, but if you can’t get to the branches, that method is only going to get you so far.

Last year, I had read about ladybugs as natural pest control. We used them in the orchard and on the other side of the property where we have willow trees that are aphid magnets. I bought 1 bag of 1500 ladybugs. Waited until evening and then released them. Not only was it pretty ineffective, I was absolutely creeped out. That is a lot of ladybugs flying around!

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Aphids on back of maple leaf

This year, I bought another 1500 ladybugs specifically for the maple tree. This time, I was told to spray them with a 50/50 solution of sugar and water. I didn’t want to use one of my spray bottles (I am that cheap) so I mixed the solution in a jar and then doused the bag (its net). Probably not my best idea and if I buy another round of ladybugs, I will spend the dollar and buy a spray bottle. I was a sticky mess and the bugs were essentially paralyzed by my sugar treatment.

This time, I shook the ladybugs onto the branches of the tree. They quickly found the aphids and I hope they do their thing and save my tree! At our co-op, the ladybugs are $8 for 1500, which to me is a heck of a deal if it works.

Check your plants and trees often and make sure the tiny bugs don’t destroy all of your hard work!
Update #1—12 hours after releasing the ladybugs on the maple tree—I can’t find any! However, I did put some on a cherry tree that is afflicted with aphids and those lil guys are still there.

New Book Release–Poor Man’s Guide to Prepping

poorprepping coverI have been crazy busy planting and working in the garden these past few weeks, but I wanted to drop a line announcing my new book. The Poor Man’s Guide to Prepping is now on Amazon Kindle. It covers a lot of what I have learned over the past 15 years or so that I have been prepping. I am a penny-pincher and hate to spend more money than I have to. This book is geared towards those who want to prep, but don’t have thousands of dollars to put towards buying food, water and other basic supplies. Check it out and let me know what you think! Take care and be watching for posts about the greenhouse the hubby made for me for under $200 and lots of other tips and tricks to use in the garden and in your prepping. C.J.