Thoughts of: After the storm

Palm fronds lay strewn over the soggy green lawn like children’s beach toys tossed across outdoor carpeting on a summer day.

I turn the valves and set the breaker before exiting the noisy pool shed.  The water is high, allowing me the luxury of time.   With nothing to do but wait, I drink in the surroundings.

A warm breeze thrums in my ears as it gently flows through my hair.

Branches and bushes wave to and fro as they imitate the waves on the pond.

Iron grey clouds veil the sun and contrast pleasantly with sharp rays of a Florida summer.

A mix of earth and lawn gently spice the air, filling it with fragrance.

Absent of high humidity or heat, I breath deep, drinking in the coolness.

Opening my eyes, I see the pool water is lowered.

Shut the breaker.

Back to work.

Thoughts of: The next Campervan

I caught The Bus today.  Not in the usual fashion as you would expect. I didn’t have to stand on the street waiting for it to arrive, worry about exact change, or even concern myself with finding a seat once it came.  Nope I just rushed home and threw on the Documentary Channel after work.  You see, The Bus I’m referring to is a movie and not public transportation.

The Bus”, by Damon Ristua, is all about the Volkswagen Vans (Station Wagons) and Campers from the 50’s to the 90’s and the various owners that love them.  Along with the obligatory hippies and surfers, you also get some explorers and people who use there van as a work horse.

It was an entertaining and honest movie showing the benefits of being able to fix and maintain the thing with a hammer and adjustable wrench, while showing the pitfalls of horrendous front end safety in a crash (think tin foil in front of your legs and the car that just braked late), potential engine fires, and general lack of power.

As I sat, watching the movie, one question kept screaming in my head.

Can there be another campervan?

In the light of today’s safety, emission, and fuel efficiency regulations, can you make a camper that has the same persona as the original VW?  More importantly, Can it be done affordably?

The first thing I’m going to throw out the window is the ability to work on it with basic hand tools.  With computers, various vacuum hoses, multiple fuse boxes, relays and sensors everywhere, there is no way an average person can work on any modern vehicle without schematics and computer programs designed specifically for that vehicle.  (And that’s not including hybrid or electric vehicles.)

The rest might work though.  I would not use the VW Routan for a base vehicle.  With a $27,000 M.S.R.P. starting price, that thing is way too expensive.  Besides, the Routan is secretly a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan!  Dodge has a version that starts at roughly $21,000.  But even with the fantastic stow and go seating, there still are some problems with the Dodge.  The roof’s too low and it doesn’t seem to have the “personality” that the old bus has.  Is there one that does?

How about the Ford Transit Connect?

The Transit Connect has a high roofline to make moving around easier than a standard minivan.  In fact, the dimensions are fairly comparable.

  • Height:  VW 78”         Ford 79”
  • Width:   VW 71.2”     Ford 77”  (83.2” counting the mirrors)
  • Length:  VW 172.4”   Ford 180.6”

Ford has made it possible the most factory customizable vehicle out there.  You can choose how many windows you want.  There’s seating for two or five. And there are various factory and supplier options available.

You can start with a two seat, XL van for as low as $22,265 or move up to the five seat, XLT Premium Wagon for $24,040.  That’s roughly $3,000 to $5,000 less than the Routan.

Now we need a pop top to sleep in.  The VW campervan had theirs built in and while recreating that would cost a good amount of money, we can create a similar place by adding a specialized camping tent to the roof.  Multiple companies make them and they sell anywhere from $900 to $1,500 depending on make and model.  The $996 ( + 145 shipping in the lower 48) poly-cotton 2 person tent by Cartop Campers comes with a 2.75 inch foam mattress, and ladder. While it doesn’t give the headroom of the original “pop top” VW, it is larger and just as comfortable.

Next we need a good fridge.  I’d go with an ARB fridge.  Made to withstand the rigors of off road use while out in the elements, this fridge is compact and sturdy.  Perfect for the job at hand.

But what about storage?  The VW camper van had built in cabinets as well as a sink and stove.  How do you get that?  I’d go with one of Ford’s listed affiliate companies, Sortimo.

Sortimo makes all sorts of wonderful shelves, drawers, boxes, and other items that can be switched out and interchanged with each other.

Their Globelyst M. system has metal framework that secures the plastic accessories to make the cabinets system you want.

You could easily fit a propane stove in the shelf system and create your own pump sink system for water.  (I’d also wager that if enough people asked for it, they would make one to meet demand.)  A table is easy to toss in too.

About the hardest part would be the lay out.  VW put the passenger seats in the way back, over the engine.  This created an open floor plan to maximize efficiency.  The Ford Transit Connect has the dilemma of placing the passenger seats in the middle as well as having two sliding doors.  If you only want the front seats, there’s no problem for the passenger row, but I’d like to see an aftermarket company create a proper mounting kit that would let you relocate some if not all of those passenger seats to the very back of the van.  As for the problem of the second sliding door; just pick one not to use and place some Sortimo items in front of it.

All in all, when finished the new Camper Van should cost between $28,000 to $30,000.  Not cheap by any standards, but comparable with the starting price of a Ford E-Series Wagon or Super Duty Pickup.  Definitely do-able.

The VW camper was a great way to get generations of people off the couch and into the world around them.  The Ford Transit Sport could do the same.  Love beads not included.

Thoughts of: Chasing the Dragon

It’s amazing the power a three year old has.  One little sentence and you’re off on a quest that spans many miles and multiple hours to find elusive treasure.

The treasure in question?  A bike helmet.

Not just any helmet mind you, it has to be a “Dragon Helmet”, just like the one she grew out of.

You quickly dismiss the idea of finding a Dragon helmet and figure any old helmet will do.  Until you get the call.  You know.  The one where the father tells you that your granddaughter has been telling everyone that you are getting her a Dragon Helmet.

So, you quickly find there are none in your town.  You drive forty-five minutes away to the fancy new mall only to find that while the third store visited does indeed have the coveted Dragon Helmet, it’s only in the same size that she has outgrown.

Alas.  What to do?  Give up and concede victory to the illusive dragon?  Never!

Like an arrow, you shoot into the next big-box store and find a bicycle helmet of proper size and color (purple with sparkles) and quickly carry it back to the fortress.

But what of the dragon?

Fear not for now is time to find the legendary wizard of color that’s been rumored around these parts.  A mage of pigments and tint, this man will  conjure forth the mystical dragon you’ve desperately searched for.

Unfortunately the guy is off for the next two weeks following a Grateful Dead tribute band.

Standing on the precipice of oblivion, you dig deep into your soul and find a way.  Moved by sheer will alone, you trudge into the custom T-Shirt and License Plate store in the mall and ask if they can print out some vinyl decals that you can stick on the helmet.  He smiles and says yes.

Rejoice!  For all saved!  You scan through the myriad of dragon images conjured on the screen until you find one that is age appropriate and fits the color of the helmet.  In a show of joyous optimism, you also throw in the addition of her first name to the decals to be made.

A day later you pick up the decals and ride triumphantly to your castle knowing you have slain the dragon and have saved the young princess from what could only be a horrendous and disturbingly loud birthday.

Gardening Tip: Amending the soil

While congress might be on vacation from a rigorous session of doing nothing, you can follow in the footsteps of our nation’s founding fathers by creating your own amendments… to the soil that is.

After finding your soil’s composition and PH, you want to decide if it needs any supplemental ingredients in the form of amendments.

Amendments can help one or multiple jobs of the soil.

They can help hold in moisture.

Help soil aeration

Provide a better hold for young roots.

Provide long term, slow release nutrient availability.

So how do you know if you need any amendments?  By sight and feel.

Look at the soil in your planting area.  How does it look?  Is it nice and dark or does it seem dusty and ashy like campfire residue?

Grab a handful.  How does it feel?  Does it feel moist and crumbly like a crumbly cupcake, or is it dusty like flour?

If you think your soil leans to ashy flour, then it’s a good idea to amend the soil.

Amending the soil is a very simple process.  The hardest part is deciding what to amend it with.

Here are some basic choices:

I’ll also add in salad fixings and egg shells.

Perlite and Vermiculite will resemble either clean or dirty Styrofoam shavings.  Both are made from rock and hold moisture very well.  Their multiple “pockets” slowly release the moisture into the soil and provide oxygen to the plants.  Bought in bags, it is quickly spread and easily tilled into the soil.

Tree bark, Pine needles, and Sphagnum moss will give young roots a better hold into the soil while providing wither better moisture or aeration to the soil as well.  Be careful though as they are all acidic to some degree and can change the PH of your soil.  Being plant material all three offer a very slow release of nutrients.

 

 

 

 

 

Wood ash adds nitrogen to your soil and will help break up clay intensive soil mixes.

Egg shells add calcium and salad fixings add organic matter as well as nutrients into the soil as they rot.  It may sound silly to say this, but make sure when burying the salad fixings that you don’t bury any seeds.  If it’s in a flower area, you just planted weed seeds and if in the vegetable garden, you’ve most likely planted a competing plant that doesn’t produce as well.  (unless your salad is created from heirloom vegetables)

Egg shells should be crushed up as small as possible to help release the calcium into the soil.

I like to amend the soil after the harvest.  I’m already disturbing the soil and it gives the amendments time to “settle” before the next planting season.

Also, don’t be afraid to chop up the rest of the plants and till them into the soil as well.  They create great compost to the soil and recycle some of the nutrients they took out while growing.

Daydreams of: Purgatory

Four hours.  That was the lay over time.  Long enough to be tedious, but not enough to go out and see anything worthwhile in this way station of a city.

The first flight was fine.  No drama at security and a smooth takeoff.  There was even enough time for the forgettable snack of honey roasted peanuts.

The second flight would be different.  At night with a long distance over the ocean.  Nothing to see but shades of indigo, gray, and black.  The morbid part of me wants to watch the opening part of “Cast Away” while the rest of me just hopes to sleep through it all without any noticeable turbulence.  But for the next four hours I am stuck in a little forgotten island of my own full of overpriced snacks and transient wanderers.

Nothing to do.  Nothing to see. Unplugged and disconnected.  The only thing I have for the next four hours is the time to look into myself and decide if I like what I see.

Four hours.

A lifetime.

For the Trifecta Challenge

Gardening tip: Getting down and dirty with soil

Next to weather and climate, the biggest influence on your plants is the soil they are planted in.  How your plant lives and thrives is pretty much determined by the soil.

Does it hold enough water?

Does it hold too much?

Is it the right PH for the plant?

Will hit hold it up right?

Are there enough nutrients in it?

These questions are really easy to answer and will help boost your plants potential.

When it comes to moisture control and the ability to hold the plant, a single test can determine both for you.

It’s called the ribbon test.

All you do is take a handful of soil from the area you want to put the plant and get it wet.  Not sloshy wet, but moist wet. You want that handful of soil to be like cookie dough or play dough.

Roll it up into your palm like you would with clay, so that it’s tubular, reminding you of a large Tootsie roll.

Then hold it in your hand and use your thumb to squeeze it against the middle of your first finger.

If the soil falls apart immediately upon squeezing, you have sandy or silty soil.  This soil will not retain water well and is less able to hold the plant correctly.  You want to add clay to it.

If it makes a ribbon about three inches long or longer, then you have clay soil.  This soil will hold water very well, but won’t let enough oxygen in, nor will it let roots grow.  Also, when dry, it will actually wick away moisture from the plant and act like a mini oven in the heat.  You’ll want to mix in some sand.

If the ribbon reaches an inch or two, then the soil is a good mix and considered a loam.  It will hold moisture well, hold the plant up right, and provide enough room for roots and oxygen.

What about PH?  What is PH?

PH is the acid or alkaline amount in the soil.

Why is it important?

Remember those Secret deodorant commercials?  “Strong enough for a man, PH balanced for a woman”?

Your plants are the same way.  They all want the strength of the soil to hold them against the wind, but they also want the PH to be personally adjusted for them.

So how do find this mysterious ingredient in your soil?

Well, you could go dig up soil from different areas and drive down to an agricultural extension agent and have them test it.

Or

You can buy a test kit at your local garden/hardware/home improvement store.

After you buy the test, just follow the instructions and it will tell you the PH of your soil by color spectrum or number.

PH of 1 through 7 is acidic, 7 through 14 is alkaline.   6.5 to 7.5 are considered neutral.

“Great!”  You say, “I now know the PH of my soil, but it won’t work for the plant I want.  Now what?”

That’s easy.  Change it.

If the soil is too acidic, add lime.  If it’s too alkaline, add sulfur.  The instructions on the bag will tell you how much to use and the plant itself will tell you if it needs a little more and when.

These basic tests will help you know your soil and give your plants the best chance for a good start and great life.  Given the amount of money and time you’ll spend on plants alone, this little bit will  help make sure it’s spent well.