7.31.2019

The Philippine Blackberry Bush

The Philippine Blackberry Bush


blackberries in a blackberry


Update 2-2020


As DaneDane points out in the comments, this is not the same as what many, myself included, consider to be a blackberry bush. This is a mulberry bush, as opposed to the blackberry that many of us are familiar with. As that first link points out, it is still proper to call the bush above a blackberry, as it is only a name common within localities.

end update*******
 

My wife and daughter harvest blackberries almost every day from late April through the end of May.

They gather the beautiful fruit by the handful.




The blackberry fruit ripens quickly and almost jumps off of the branches. 

Our dogs love ripe blackberries as much as we do and wait for them to fall.
 

The local birds also love to eat our beautiful blackberries and give us some competition, but there are always plenty of blackberries for everyone who wants them.




blackberries on branch


Our blackberry bush is growing vigorously and I think that it will continue to grow even bigger. 

We can always make cuttings and create as many bushes as we have room for.


a large blackberry bush

We plant blackberries by cutting a short piece of branch at least 4-6 inches long and planting it in moist sandy soil. That is how our now giant blackberry shrub started out.

If you ever have the chance to plant a blackberry bush be sure  to place it in good soil and water it every day.

7.09.2019

Philippines Washing Machine Guide

Philippines Washing Machine Guide


 

Don't Underestimate The Importance Of A Good Washing Machine

 
When we left the U.S. we sold our Maytag washer and dryer pair. We had owned that set for almost ten years. Neither unit ever gave us any problem in all that time. They were like new when we sold them. They were basic models and cost $700 for the set (2003). I recently checked a US based big box store's webpage and I could not find even a basic Maytag washer/dryer pair under $1200. Times have changed.
 
While our house in the Philippines was being built we were busy buying appliances and wares and the washing machine was a top priority right up there with the fridge. There were many choices, but just as many adjustments that we had to make to our expectations.
 
The first little shock was in price. You can get full fledged American appliances in the Philippines, but they come at a premium and the selection is limited. I would have loved to purchase a stackable Maytag washer/dryer set, but the price is more than $3,000. A plain and basic Maytag washer was almost $1000 at that time (2011).
 
We decided that we could live without a dryer and focused on finding a full size U.S. style washer.
 

Choosing A Washing Machine In The Philippines

 
Every good size town has its share of appliance stores and many of then will carry very low priced washers. Some of these washers do not spin at all, but only wash. Other machines have separate tubs for spinning and washing:

 
You can pick these up for five or six thousand pesos (about a hundred dollars). 
 
One thing to be careful about is the different usage of terms. Many times you will see a unit promoted as a combo washer/dryer. There are true combo washer/dryers available that are fully capable of completely drying your clothes. This type of unit generally cannot be bought for less than around P50,000. Most of the time the term "dryer" simply means that the unit spins, but does not completely dry clothes.
 
Our First Washer Was The Electrolux 9kg Unit:

I have to say that this has been a great unit overall. We paid P20,000 for it, which at the time equated to about $450. Over time we have had to manage our expectations with these appliances. In hind sight over eight years I am thankful for this Electrolux unit because it has been a faithful workhorse through a lot of use and abuse.

There have been problems.


The first problem that we had with the unit came a few years after buying it. This was not the unit's fault, but maybe ours. The power co-op shut down the local grid as a preventative measure about a half day before typhoon Haiyan struck. Our washer was running when they did that. The power was out for several days and when they re-energized the grid there was a surge. We had neglected to shut off power to the washer and the power surge blew out the main control board. The price for a new unit was P800 - less than twenty dollars. I installed the board - that is another good thing about this unit...repair is usually easy.

The next time tragedy struck it was double, but only half our fault this time.

The spring suspenders that allow the tub to move freely had worn out. This was probably our fault because we had a habit of tending to overload the tub beyond its working capacity. The replacement and labor was about P1700.

The water intake solenoid valve also failed at that time and this will be discussed in detail later (very important). 
 

Our Samsung 12kg Unit

 
It took a very long time to get the struts for the tub, so long that I decided to just buy a new washing machine:

Our Samsung machine was advertised for P33,000, but we paid P26,000 for it. 

 
I was so happy with our new Samsung. It looked so cool (stainless) and it was silent running.

But there were problems.

The Samsung has "wobble" technology that performs the agitation for cleaning:

Beautiful, right? Yes, it's beautiful. But what do you see? Rather, what don't you see? 

The Samsung does not have a finned central agitator. I am used to washing machines that have that central agitator and the Electrolux did have one:

 
In our experience the wobble wash does not do as good a job in washing as the central agitator. To my knowledge, as of 2019 Electrolux is no longer selling any model in the Philippines that uses a central agitator. They have all move to a system similar to wobble tech.
 
The Samsung also has an issue in draining, especially when washing blankets. There tends to be sediment that collects on whatever is being washed as the water drains, even though the Samsung spins extremely fast. 
 

Samsung v Electrolux 

 
In my opinion, the Electrolux just plain does a better job of washing clothes. I attribute this mostly to the central agitator. Not only does it seem to foster a superior scrubbing action, but it creates a central open channel allowing sediment to drain freely without settling on clothing.

Even so, we used our Samsung without issue for a little more than a year and kept our repaired Electrolux in the storage room at the ready should anything go awry with the Samsung.

Just outside of the warranty period something did go wrong with the Samsung.

The water intake solenoid valve failed just as it had with the Electrolux.

There are two issues that tend to cause a problem with the intake valves: hard water and solenoid electrical failure.
 
When electrical power is applied to the solenoid it activates an electromagnet that pulls back the plunger that is held in its closed position by a spring. This opens the valve and allows water to flow. When the solenoid fails it can no longer pull back the plunger and the spring keeps the plunger in place fixing the valve in the closed state.

The solenoid can be tested with a volt meter - a good thing to do before you accept one that you have purchased. I tested the bad valves and they all measure 500 ohms of resistance. This is a good value for a functioning valve. This result lends evidence to the possibility that it is the hard water causing our intake valves to fail. There could be some other mechanical issue causing the valves to fail so I should crack some of them open and get to the bottom of it. 

The Electrolux intake valve has two solenoids: 
 

and the Samsung intake valve has three solenoids: 

The third solenoid on the Samsung unit is for the hand wash basin that is built into the lid on the washing machine:

The other two solenoids are not for hot and cold water, as coming from the U.S. might expect. There is only one water intake. Those two solenoids are for the detergent and softener dispenser trays:

Our Electrolux washing machine is going on ten years old and we have spent about P4500 on repairs in that time. That brings its total cost of ownership to date to about P25,000.

Our Samsung washing machine cost P26,000 and we have spent P2500 to replace its solenoid intake valve. We have only had the Samsung for less than three years and it has cost a total of P28,500.

Now we use the Electrolux almost daily to do our washing, while the Samsung waits in the wings

We keep a spare solenoid intake unit for each washer. The two-solenoid Electrolux unit costs P1500 and the three-solenoid Samsung unit costs P2400.

One thing that I do like about the Samsung is the gravity water waste removal:

That tan flex pipe fits directly into the drain hole in the floor. No pump is needed to remove the water because gravity does the work. There is only a valve that closes to keep water in the tank and opens to drain it.

The Electrolux, on the other hand, requires a standpipe because it lacks the valve:

The gray drain pipe comes out of the bottom of the washing machine, like the Samsung, but then it winds its way into the blue stand pipe. A pump is required to remove water from the washer tub in this setup.

The last item to talk about and contrast between the two units is the control panel.

The Samsung has a sleek and modern looking membrane button panel:

We have had no problems with our Samsung's membrane button control panel, but then we have not used the unit a great deal either. I tend not to trust the membrane buttons as much because they lack the reliability of the old mechanical button/switches and they cost a lot more to replace if they should fail.

The Electrolux has an old fashioned dial to select wash program and six mechanical buttons, only three of which I care about (on/off, water level and pause/start):

 
At this point it is just a matter of personal bias with me, but I prefer old fashioned dials and mechanical buttons. My old Maytags had nothing but dials and you almost needed a monkey wrench to turn them. They just screamed quality. I think they each had only one or two mechanical buttons as well.
 
UPDATE
 
The statement a few paragraphs above where I mention the 4500PHP that I have spent on repairing the Electrolux included 800PHP for the main power board. Haiyan knocked our power out for four days and we never turned the washer off when it was cut off mid cycle at the start of the black out. When the power came back on it spiked and killed the power board. Well now years later the board died again. This time it cost 6000PHP to replace the board. I will pay it this last time, because I like the machine and I still have other unused parts for it, but if it blows again I am finished with it. I have to admit that I am starting to like the Samsung more than I did previously.
 

The Perfect Washing Machine For The Philippines 

 
If I had to go out and buy a new washing machine today I would like to find an Electrolux. 
 
The sad thing is that even Electrolux sold its soul and no longer sells machines with a central agitator in the Philippines.
 
When I do get ready to buy a new unit these features will be the ideal that reality has to compete with:
  • The unit will have to be equal to or greater than 12 kilograms in capacity.
  • The unit would have a vertical finned agitator. (not possible to find anymore)
  • The unit must not have a hand wash basin. The basin adds to the upfront cost and it also drives up the price of a replacement solenoid valve.
  • The unit should have gravity waste water removal - no pump needed.
  • The unit should have more old fashioned dials and fewer push buttons and domed tactile membrane buttons.
  • Unit must have a rat guard! They forgot to install the rat guard when they delivered the Electrolux and we never found it. We never knew that we needed it until I found a rat resident who had constructed his nest inside the unit. The cats were happy.
  • I would also order at least one extra solenoid valve because they are guaranteed to fail.
I have no problem with buying another Samsung washing machine if it can tick most of those boxes.

All of this leaves the burning question: "how do we dry our clothes?" We strung up a clothesline on our patio. Another plus for the Samsung is that it spins probably twice as fast as the Electrolux, so the clothes emerge somewhat drier and need a bit less time on the clothesline. Sometimes blankets come out of the washer so dry that they only require an hour or two on the line.



7.08.2019

Lawn Maintenance In The Philippines

Lawn Maintenance In The Philippines


before & after


Cut Grass Or Be Covered In Grass


Disclaimer: I confess that this is not really lawn maintenance. I am just burring morning grass and weeds to the ground.
 
I just cut the grass here at the homestead in the province. We don't really have much of a lawn. We have a small front yard that my wife makes me be careful with. I have to take my time with the brush cutter so as to not create any bald spots. The portion in the image above is in the back and together with what you cannot see is about 1/3 of an acre. I do not have to take care with the area in back and usually burr it to the ground. Cutting and cleaning up usually takes two or three days. This time it took four days, since a lot of the grass had grown to three feet tall or more and also every day was interrupted by heavy rain. Yesterday I was completely soaked while raking up the cut grass.

In the U.S. I used a self propelled Sears Craftsman mower to cut the grass. that mower would only be practical for the area shown in the photo, which is relatively flat. Much of our property is terraced, bumpy, uneven and riddled with obstacles. 

The kind of terrain that I have to navigate to get our grass cutting accomplished requires a more agile tool.

The Honda GX-35 Brush Cutter





I love this machine. It is a bit under-powered for my taste at 1.6 horsepower, but it does get the job done. 

I just bought this cutter and it cost me P12,000. That is about $230 at the current exchange rate. This is another example of reverse inflation, as two years ago when I bought my first GX-35 I paid P15,000 for it. The exchange rate was a little lower then (about 50), so it ended up costing me about $300. The old unit was in the shop and now that it's fixed up I use it as my backup.

Another example of the huge difference that a quick trim makes:




I used to do this work with a flat shovel and a bolo knife, but that method took a week or more and was back breaking.

The one good thing about the shovel clearing method is that I was able to level of the ground very well.

With the rainy season now upon us the grounds will be more than in need of trimming in two weeks  or less. And we are talking two foot tall grass by that time.

Another good thing about the brush cutter vs push mower is that the brush cutter does not care too much if the grass is wet. A push mower would bog down, but the cutter plows right through.

Eye Protection When Using Brush Cutter


I have tried various solutions for eye protection over the years. I started with the little plastic glasses with the side-guards - these come with the unit and you can also buy them at any hardware store. The problem is that they are useless.


There is so much debris flying so fast that these safety glasses are almost no good at all.

Next I found goggles. The goggles are very effective at keeping everything out of the eyes. The problem with these is the fogging up and they do not protect the entire face.


The past year I have been using a face mask that has an adjustable head strap with a replaceable plastic visor. This solution works fairly well. It protects the entire face and there is good airflow to prevent fogging (mostly). But since the unit kicks up a lot of debris at high speed inevitably one in a million particles still finds its way to my face.



The Price Of Paradise


As I get older and my back begins to dislike lugging the cutter around I may opt for a wheeled mower for the flat portions. One good thing about a push mower is the fact that they can bag the grass. The drawbacks include the fact that only about 50% of our property is navigable by a push mower. Also, rainy season is pretty much the only time we need to trim the grass, but since it grows so fast and is perpetually wet a push mower may never be practical due to the bogging down issue mentioned previously.

I wear denim jeans and steel-toe shoes these days when I do cutting. I also use a cloth that overlaps my shirt to cover my head and neck to keep the copious flying debris out of my ears and to prevent it from getting inside my shirt. If you wear shorts and sandals to do this kind of work your legs will look like you have measles from the debris hitting you and the next day you'll look like black plague.

Each brush cutter came with a metal blade, so now I have one that I keep geared up with the blade and the other one uses rolls of nylon string line instead that cost P100 for 15 meters. I use the blade cutter to cut my brother-in-law's field that is next to our lot. I cut it maybe twice per year and it is full of very thick and woody weeds. I used to be afraid of the blade, but now I love it.

Cutting grass is a very gratifying activity because you get to quickly see the results of your labors as a shaggy mess becomes a beautifully manicured field. The smell of the cut grass lingers for days.

Food for thought if you are considering holding land in a tropical climate.