I’m basically three phone calls away from having all the old entries updated for the 2015 edition of Route 66 for Kids, which I hope to have available on Kindle by January. Still playing with the idea of a print edition. I may run the idea by the Route 66 Yahoo! group and see how much enthusiasm I get.
Somewhere along the line, I must have miscounted my entries, because I could have sworn there were 166, but after removing a half-dozen that closed since the last update, I still have 175. Odd.
In addition to wrapping up the text updates, I spent a little time making Christmas candy today. I didn’t get a whole lot done, but I made a batch of fudge that was a riff on a recipe I’ve used before. Not sure how well it turned out, but we’ll see. I also made a batch of Reese cup bars, which were very quick and easy to throw together, and the caramel for the turtles should be juuuuust about finished, so I can work on that project and the peppermint bark tomorrow. I bought ingredients for coconut candy, too, which I’ll probably make tomorrow night.
When I finish the book update, I need to look into redesigning some websites. Route66Motels.com has never been updated (and looks like it), and I think the last redesign I did for Kidson66.com was in 2007 or something. I distinctly remember using GoLive! and my old Mac, so it’s obviously been a while.
W00t! Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I’ve updated seven states’ worth of entries in Route 66 for Kids since Wednesday, and I fully expect to get through the California entries tomorrow. So far, I’ve only found five places I’ll have to call to confirm hours. That’s a huge change since I wrote the first edition in 2003, when very few businesses were online, and I found myself sitting on the floor of our office in Belleville, making more than 100 phone calls to places all the way from Wilmington, Illinois, to Pasadena, California.
Over the years, I’ve noticed an enormous uptick in not only the number of websites, but also the quality. A few still lack critical information such as hours or admission prices, and a handful are too clever and cumbersome for their own good (Grand Canyon Railway, I’m lookin’ at you), but I’ve gone through 146 entries, and so far, only seven have lacked functional websites with all the information I needed. Of those, two had websites that were just missing information but included valid email addresses I was able to use to secure information quickly; one was a drive-in movie theater and amusement park that had replaced its usual website with a single page announcing it was closed for the season and would reopen in April; one had lost its domain name; one had everything except its hours posted online; and only two lacked an online presence altogether.
It really amazes me to see how far we’ve come in 11 years.
I had some good intentions about updating Route 66 for Kids last winter, but then I got busy chiseling my car out from under umpteen ice storms and picking up extra projects at work and replacing my hard drive after the old one crashed and starting tomatoes and insulating the basement and covering a murder trial and raising quail and planting the garden and setting up beehives and shopping for lawn gnomes and covering an execution that ended up being postponed, and by the time I got through all that, vacation season had started, and there really wasn’t any point in releasing an update after people had already started traveling, so I just gave up and let the whole mess slide another year.
Anyway, I’ve had the Mother Road on my mind the last couple of days, and the book is past due for an update, so I think I’m gonna start that tonight and see how far down the road I can get before bedtime. I’m kind of looking forward to the excuse to call old friends. I don’t get to see the roadie crowd often enough now that I’m a two-hour drive from the nearest alignment of 66, and as much as I enjoy the Blues Highway, it just isn’t the same. (Yet, anyway.)
I expect to release the new edition before Memorial Day weekend. I’m playing with the idea of doing a print edition as well, since Amazon now offers a print-on-demand service, but I haven’t decided whether it’s worth the effort yet. We’ll see.
Today was warm enough that I finally had a chance to clean out the pond. It desperately needed it; that cold snap we had a few weeks ago came on so quickly that I didn’t have a chance to rescue the floating plants, so I ended up with a thick layer of decaying vegetation floating on top of the pond. Yecch.
I’d been planning to wait until spring to change the water, but once I’d scooped out most of the dead plants, I could see how nasty it was, and I was a little concerned the decaying organic material would compromise the oxygen level in the water — endangering the goldfish — if I left it all winter, especially when it gets cold enough to warrant shutting off the pump, so I went ahead and swapped out about 30 gallons of water, which Ron poured onto the garden.
I also hosed off the top of my homemade filter, which had gotten clogged with roots from the dead plants, and used a quarter-inch drill bit to enlarge the holes, which instantly improved the flow rate on the pump.
Water lettuce and water hyacinths are pretty, and they definitely kept the algae down this year, but those long roots kept clogging the fountain this summer, and I suspect they were responsible for its premature demise. I’ll swap them for duckweed next spring. It’s just as good at preventing algae bloom, but its roots are shorter and less likely to clog up the equipment.
I am pleased to report that my goldfish are thriving. I found the body of one very small fish caught in the roots of a rotting hyacinth, but I couldn’t determine the cause of death; it might have frozen, but given its size in relation to the other fish, I suspect it simply succumbed to the law of natural selection. The dead fish was only two inches long, and the three survivors are all four or five inches long, so I’m guessing they just out-competed the little one.
BTW, there is no need to spend ridiculous money on fancy goldfish for your pond unless you just have your heart set on a particular breed. Koi are fine as far as they go, but they’re expensive ($12 to $150 or more) and require more space and better water conditions than plain old feeder goldfish — a.k.a. comets — which are cheaper (25 cents or less), tougher (I’m pretty sure these guys could thrive in a mud puddle), and IMHO, just as pretty as their fancier counterparts. They’re just as smart, too; I’ve heard koi owners brag about how their fish come right up to the edge of the pond to greet them when they come outside, as if that’s some amazing feat of intelligence. I’ve kept comets on and off for years, and I’ve yet to see one that wouldn’t swim to the surface and beg when it saw me walk outside. These guys know a gravy train when they see one.
Bonus: Because comet goldfish are marketed as food for larger species, when you buy one to live in your pond, you’re saving a life.
Yeah. Comets. Getchu some.
One happy side effect of getting the flow rate up on the pump is that it’s aerating the water better. The fish spent a lot of time playing in the ripples near the surface this afternoon, so I’m assuming they liked it, too.
The bees — who were very active today, thanks to the warm weather — were none too pleased with me for messing with their water source and taking away their landing strips, but I’ve been saving wine corks to serve as replacement perches, and I threw a few out there today.
In other news, the quail have quit laying. I could use artificial lights to get them going again, but the whole point of raising my own birds was to ensure they weren’t subjected to the kind of evil crap that goes on in factory farms, so I’ll just trust Mother Nature and let them set their own schedule. If they need the winter off, they can have it.
Hope you had a productive Sunday, wherever you are. I think I’m going to wind mine down by bottling some pinon-infused beer we started a couple of weeks ago and racking a batch of cider. (Homemade hard cider will be an Eco-Saturday one of these days if I ever remember to take pictures of all the steps. It’s a little time-consuming but very easy to make, and the end product is magnificent.)
The motor in my pond’s all-in-one pump and filter burned up a few weeks ago, as motors are wont to do. Rather than spend $120 to replace the whole unit, I decided to install separate components this time around so I’ll be able to replace individual parts as they wear out.
After some online research, I decided I could make a biofilter a lot cheaper than I could buy one. Here’s what I came up with for our pond, which has a capacity somewhere around 50 gallons. A bigger pond obviously will require a bigger bucket and more pot scratchers and Scotch-Brite pads.
1-gallon tub with a lid (I used an empty ice-cream bucket)
10″ long PVC pipe, threaded at both ends (in plumber parlance, these are called “nipples”; you’ll want to take your pump along to the hardware store to make sure the nipple you buy is the correct diameter to fit)
12 plastic pot scratchers
6 Scotch-Brite pads
Pond or fountain pump
Hole-saw bit the same diameter as your PVC pipe
Good-sized drill bit (at least 1/4 inch)
Utility knife and/or sharp, heavy scissors
Start by preparing the bucket lid. Cut a hole in the center of the lid to accommodate the pipe, drill holes all over the lid, and cut a notch at the edge of the lid to accommodate the cord on the pump. (Note: The holes you see above are much too small. I used a 1/8-inch drill bit, thinking it would be sufficient, but the holes clogged quickly, dragging down the flow and putting unnecessary strain on the motor. The pump and filter functioned much better when I enlarged the holes to about 1/4 inch.)
Wrap one end of the nipple with Teflon tape and screw it into the pump.
Slide the free end of the nipple through the hole in the lid.
Set the pump in the center of the bucket and tuck the pot scratchers and Scotch-Brite pads around it. These materials will serve as a medium for growing the good bacteria your pond needs to break down organic material and keep the water clear.
Snap the lid onto the bucket, running the cord out through the notch you cut.
Set the pump in the bottom of your pond, holding it down if necessary for a minute or two to let it fill with water so it doesn’t float back up to the top. Plug in the pump and watch the clear water come out the top. (Note: You may need to adjust the flow rate on the pump to control the height of the spray.)
If you have a yard, and you don’t have a pond yet, I highly recommend building one next spring. Our bees love ours, as do the local toads, who bred out there all summer.
I built my first worm bin on New Year’s Eve in 1999. No, I wasn’t drunk; I was just bored at the office (holidays tend to be slow in a newsroom) and decided to kill time on the Cityfarmer website. I’d made a resolution to shrink my environmental footprint as much as possible while living in a second-story apartment in town, and when I ran across an article telling me I could install a functioning compost bin under my sink, I knew I needed one RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
One might reasonably question the feasibility of acquiring redworms at 10:30 p.m. on a holiday in the middle of winter, but at the time, I lived in Belleville, Illinois, where a nice older couple ran a 24-hour bait shop out of their house. I called, and the lady said of course I could stop by on my way home to pick up 200 red wigglers for my New Year’s Eve vermicomposting project.
Worm bins are an awesome winter project, because they allow you to do something nice for the garden without going out in the cold. Worm compost is great for starting tomatoes.
Here is what you need to construct your own worm bin:
Plastic storage tub with a lid
Container to use as a drip tray
Small blocks to elevate the tub
Shredded newspaper or wood shavings (don’t use cedar; worms hate it)
Small handful of potting soil
Redworms, sometimes called “red wigglers”
Fruit or vegetable scraps
Drill holes in the sides and bottom of your plastic tub for drainage and aeration. I drilled about 50 holes in mine.
Put a couple of wood blocks in the drip tray and set the tub on top.
Put the newspaper in the tub and douse it with water until it’s about as wet as a wrung-out washcloth. Add the worms at one end and the fruit or vegetables in the other. Don’t feed your worms anything too harsh, like citrus or hot peppers.
Don’t overload the bin. Start with a couple hundred worms (this should cost about $10 to $15 at the bait shop) and a handful of food. Check your worms once a day to make sure the bin is still damp inside and they have enough food. When the bin contains mostly castings (a fancy word for worm poop), shove all of it over to one side and put some food, fresh bedding and potting soil in the other. The worms will all go to the side with the food, so you can scoop out the castings the next day and use them in your garden or on your houseplants.
Your worms will breed. If you end up with more than the bin can handle, you can build a bigger bin, start a second small bin, sell the excess worms to a bait shop, or put the worms in the garden and let them aerate the soil.
If your worm bin smells weird, it’s probably too wet, or you’ve put too much food in there.