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Showing posts with label lost skills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lost skills. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Butter Production on the Farmstead

by Throwback at Trapper Creek





Often times the only thought of dairy products on people's minds is fluid milk, and with a weight conscious society, butter is frequently overlooked.  I happen to think though, that good fat is what's missing in many people's diets.  Enter the family cow, a real workhorse for the farmstead if you have adequate land and pasture to support a bovine.  Milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are all delicious and are necessary items for the home kitchen.

If you're reading this blog I am probably preaching to the choir, so I'll just run through my butter making scheme to give you a general idea of what is possible for stocking the home larder with butter.

Jane is raising her calf in addition to providing enough milk for the house.  A purebred Guernsey, she is currently giving about 6 gallons of milk each day.  Two plus for the calf, and four gallons for the house.  As the calf grows larger it will drink more to support its growth and we will take less. 



I milk twice a day, and strain the milk into wide mouth gallon jars with the idea in mind that I will be skimming the cream for butter.  It takes about 24 hours for the cream to rise completely, so I skim the cream from the milk after that time, and when I am going to make butter.  The real method to my madness (and it is madness this time of year) is to make as much butter with early lactation cream as I can and store it for later.  I freeze my butter, but you could also make ghee if you don't want to use electricity to store your butter.  Why early lactation you ask?  Because I am a lazy churner, and during the early lactation period the fat globules are larger and it churns faster.  Of course, Mother Nature designed this to benefit the calf, but anytime I can hop aboard the lazy train and make hand churned butter in 7 - 10 minutes I do it!  So I churn to beat the band in the first three months and about the time I have a good amount of butter stocked up, and the calf is needing more milk, the fat globules are getting smaller and the butter takes longer to come.  Sure, I could buy an electric churn and who would care how long it took to get butter, but also the urgency to stockpile is part of our genetic make-up and I am harvesting sunlight after all.  That means I have to behave in a seasonal manner and stock up on the bounty when there is truly a bounty, not a faux bounty that the store bought mentality has given us.

Fitting butter churning into an already busy farm schedule takes some planning, and is dictated by the amount of milk in the fridge.  I can only store so much milk, and I only have so much time.  It doesn't take any longer to churn two pounds of butter than it does one, so I go with my two gallon churn and churn every other day, rather than use a smaller churn and make butter every day.  That works out the best for me.  It's half the cleanup too, which is where the largest portion of my time is spent when I say I spend and hour and a half a day "milking" the cow.  The actual milking, "pails" in comparison time-wise to the milk handling and processing. 

I skim the cream into squatty wide mouth half gallon jars that I have just for cream.  With hand skimming, it takes about 4 gallons of milk to yield a half gallon of cream, mileage may vary depending on the cow, stage of lactation and your hand skimming skill.  To keep from exposing the milk to bacteria over and over, I wait until a few hours before I am going to churn to skim, and I skim all the jars at the same time.  The cream needs to be at about 60 degrees F to churn fast, much colder it becomes grainy  - much warmer and it is greasy.  I know that sounds funny, but butter has lots of similarities to dough and all its quirks, once you see and feel these subtle differences you'll know what I mean.  After skimming, I leave the milk to reach room temperature or 60 degrees and then I have a little leeway to do other chores or fit in churning while fixing dinner.

After churning the butter needs to be washed and worked thoroughly to get out all the buttermilk, this is very important for longer storage.  Adding salt at this time is a personal preference, I have never found that it makes much difference in the keeping quality.

To figure out how much butter I need for the year, I use my loose 52 week plan I keep in mind when I am canning.  How much butter do you use per week?  One pound, three pounds?  Multiply that figure by 52 and see what you get. We fall somewhere in between that number, and luckily that works out to be an attainable goal for the resident butter maker.  At this point I am getting about a pound a day, so if I can keep up that pace, in four months time and when the sunlight is starting to fade I can have 120 pounds of butter stored up, maybe. 

So there you have it, from 4 gallons of milk, you get 1/2 gallon of cream, which magically turns into a pound of butter and a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk.  Plus you still have almost the 4 gallons of milk that is perfect for cheese of some sort, or clabbering for hens and hogs.  And after all that there is gallons of whey too.  The family cow, the true workhorse of the farmstead :)

Jane Butterfield

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Skills

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Last year, I wrote about reskilling here.  And just this week I was thinking that reskilling really is a way of life for us now.  We're actively learning to do new things all the time.
image from energybulletin.net

Some of the things I have learned to do in the past year or so:
- different ways to grow sprouts
- making toothpaste and other personal care products
- cooking more sauces (like worcestershire, chilli)
- cooking with various cuts of beef
- making feta cheese with jersey milk
- using the food dehydrator for various things
- treating sick animals with natural remedies

It's amazing how much we can do just by learning a handful of skills each year!


I'd like to learn how to plaster fibro walls, grow potatoes more successfully, catch a fish in the creek (will get my boys to take me fishing), build a trellis, grow more legumes to use as dried beans, dig up my sweet potatoes at the right time, make hard cheese...

What skills have you learned recently?  What would you like to learn this year?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Few Notes on Seed Saving

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

While everyone is poring over their seed catalogs and dreaming of warmer weather, (at least us here in the Northern Hemisphere) planning for seed saving needs to be part of the scheme too.


I always say the work of gardening and farming is half observation. And this is especially important if you're going to save seeds. Paying attention all year round from seed storage during the off season, how the plant behaves during the growing season, and finally at harvest time all have a bearing on the success or failure of your endeavor.


Good seedling vigor is important, and can be an indicator of your seed selection from the year before. Or a big one, seed storage. No matter how good your seed was, if you don't take care of it during the off-season you risk poor germination. Dark, cool, and dry are the best and easiest to pull off for the home gardener. If you have room in your freezer (I don't) that would be the ideal situation. I store my seeds in a cabinet in a cool room in our house, and I don't have any trouble with the viability of my seeds.


Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita pepo

While you're planning your garden layout, plan for seed saving too. Some plants freely cross, so you have to do your homework for isolation, and how plants are pollinated. Wind, insect, self? Do I need only one plant or do I need a large number to insure the plant variety doesn't run down? Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth are good books on the subject.

I save seeds from winter squash and naked seed pumpkins, who will not cross, so they can be planted near each other. Summer squash will cross with my naked seed pumpkins so I have to plant my zucchini in a different garden.

I have found that growing the Naked Seed pumpkins are a good fill-in in my food pantry for nuts. They are delicious in pesto, and take the place of more exotic and expensive nuts. There is no competition from squirrels for these seeds, and they are ready within one growing season. Planting nut trees is always a good idea, but these pumpkins can help you weather the gap between nut tree planting and bearing age.

They are easy to harvest, and will keep in storage for a few months while other pressing garden and preserving duties take place.

It's been nice to peck away at this job. I store these in the barn, so I can throw open the doors on a sunny day and get to work. My limitations on harvesting these seeds are getting it done before they rot, since C. pepo's aren't know for keeping, and being able to dry these properly for storage without any molding.

Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin.


My method is pretty simple, I just cut or break open the pumpkins, pull out the seeds with my fingers until I have a colander full of seeds. That is about the quantity that I can dry in my kitchen without taking up too much space. Mileage may vary. While I'm doing this, I am observing or asking questions. Do larger pumpkins have more seeds? Do I see any variation in seeds in correlation to size of pumpkins? Do some have less stringy flesh? Are some rotten and others not? Any evidence of cross pollination? Do they taste good or bitter? All these questions get answered and go along with any observations I have made during the growing season, and are important if I am to save the seeds best acclimated to my garden.

After harvesting the seeds, I wash the seeds in the colander and pick out the remaining bits of flesh. The water seems to break the bond between the two and makes it much easier to separate the seeds. After washing, spread the seeds on screens if you have them or baking sheets, no more than a layer deep. Air circulation is the key to proper drying. For seed saving I only air dry, but for the pantry, I may occasionally put a tray in the warming oven of the cookstove, or in the electric stove oven after baking something. Note to self: Check oven for seeds before turning on to bake again. Don't ask how I know that...

The flesh is pretty stringy compared to my winter squash, so I feed the pumpkin leftovers to our cattle or chickens. They get a treat, and I can get rid of the mess. And if you're cramped for space in your garden, I think these would be perfectly edible.

I like to think that observing the plant through all the stages, makes gardening that much more interesting. The joy of gardening is not just the eating.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Great Reskilling

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Something which keeps popping up for me in conversations and community work lately is the term 'reskilling'. And I see it's now part of our new header banner here at the Co-Op blog!

Reskilling is "re-learning the skills that our grandparents took for granted, such as how to use hand tools, how to build our own structures, how to mend and make clothing, how to make our own medicine, how to forage, grow, preserve and store our food."
Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Town movement

The Great Reskilling refers to how society-at-large will be affected by Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Crisis in the coming decase or so.

When considering topics for our local Simply Living Workshops, we first identified the people within our community who have these 'old skills'. We then went about planning our workshop series, which includes:

growing food, including climate-specific workshops
permaculture
food forests
storing and preserving food, including lacto-fermentation
sourdough bread baking
home medicinals
massage
first aid
weaving and fibre crafts
alternative building and energy
crisis comprehension
keeping poultry
home dairying
fermented dairy products
cheesemaking
animal husbandry - general
raising and using livestock - from hoof to horn
horse care - basic

Which skills have you learned since reading this blog, or otherwise researching simple living? Which skills do you think we need to add to our list above?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Making Music

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I learned to play the accordion when I was eight years old. I was really interested in the piano, but that was financially out of the question. When my parents found a used accordion they could afford, they convinced me to learn that instead. So I took a couple year's worth of lessons, learned to read music - both bass and treble clef, and eventually learned how to play an instrument where you can't see what your hands are doing.

After a couple of years though, I got interested in other things, and stopped taking lessons. I grew up, and eventually moved out on my own. For a few years, that accordion sat in my parents' house, but I never would let them get rid of it. Eventually, when I'd matured enough to be a bit more stable in my living arrangements, I took it back. It's since made every move with me.

Even though I didn't play it for months, even years, at a time, I never did think about selling it. Every once in a while, I'd pick it up - just to see if I still remembered anything, and to make sure it was still playable. And now, recently, I've started playing it regularly again. I found an old guy nearby that did accordion repair, and had him fix a broken strap bracket and one stuck reed. He blew the dust out of the inside, and said my accordion is still in fine shape - I'd obviously taken good care of it over the years.

Having learned to play so young, the muscle memory came back quicker than the mental exercise of reading music. But that's coming back to me too. As a kid I had to play polkas, waltzes, and marches, but recently got myself some zydeco and movie soundtrack sheet music. I've even started to think about memorizing a handful of tunes and trying my hand at busking downtown.

So I'm just wondering: how many of you out there play a musical instrument?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Homemade Jerky

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I have a few hard to buy for omnivores on my Christmas list and the other day the idea of homemade jerky popped into my head. Making jerky was a hit-or-miss affair at my house, and I never really liked the end result or the ingredients in the recipes. And then one day I happened upon a fine blog and an even finer jerky recipe (among all his other fine recipes.) It was like a fairy tale, the meat princess finds her true love...a jerky recipe with all natural ingredients and actually ingredients I have on hand all the time.

Getting this recipe has allowed me to look at all those meat cuts I ordered with good intentions, but never got around to just yet. You know the ones, when your next order of beef comes in and you still have the odd things here and there. This recipe has also been a god-send to our beef customers too. Who wants to take carefully raised grassfed beef and dump Liquid Smoke on it? Not me and certainly not my customers.

I have tweaked this a little since the first batch, and Kevin has too, so I will post the recipe as it was when I started making it and will put my changes in bold. It's a great recipe that lends itself to monkeying with and the batches may turn out different but all are good, and be forewarned once you start making it, you better hide it or resign yourself to the fact that you will be making jerky often enough to become proficient.

In Kevin's words: "I’ve made a fair whack of jerky, both in the oven and over wood fire, sweet-glazed versions, plain versions, smoked and unsmoked. I’ve recently come across a recipe that’s worth sharing. Not only is it dang tasty, it avoids the onion/garlic powder route which even ‘Charcuterie’ suggests [a rare shortcoming of the book]:

per pound of meat [in this case, very tough 09 moose]:

1 tbsp kosher salt (Redmond Realsalt or Celtic Sea Salt)

1 tbsp soy sauce (Tamari wheat-free soy sauce)

2 tsp dark brown sugar (Rapidura)

2 cloves garlic, minced (I microplaned my garlic for more flavor)

1 tsp dried chili [optional] (Chili powder)

1 tsp cracked black pepper [optional] (not optional)

Slice meat thin and most importantly – evenly – while still partially frozen. Mix with marinade ingredients above, and refrigerate for a day or three. Dry via your method of choice. Note that jerky pieces never finish all at the same time, so you have to pull them off as they get to a texture you like."

I have had good luck drying my jerky in our wood cookstove oven, with the oven door open and a medium fire, it's a day long process to dry it and it does need going through to check for finished pieces. Smoking and any method you have at hand would work just as well.

I have found that Kevin's instructions for a day or three of marinating is best if you can hold out for the three days, the flavor is so much better, and forgiving on the thicker pieces.

If you use meat that has been languishing awhile in your freezer, trim off all fat and silver skin, or you will have old tasting jerky.

I plan about 5 days out for finished jerky. 1 day to thaw and quickly do a partial refreeze on cookie sheets for uniform slicing, then 3 days to marinate, and 1 day to dry. I tried slicing my meat when it was partially thawed to save time and I ended up with some too soft, and some too frozen, or in the case of a roast, I could not cut it while in its original shape. And the end result looked like Lizzie Borden had been hacking away at it. I decided to do the extra day.

Besides a being a homemade gift item, we have put a small jar in the vehicle emergency kit too. It's a good high protein snack to have on hand, and keeps indefinitely.

For me this has been a good way to use up so-so meat cuts that I have neglected, and the recipe is simple enough to change ingredients to suit what I may or may not have on hand - I can't wait to try Kevin's onion suggestion next!

Do you have any jerky making tips to share?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Crinkle Skirt Care

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
The crinkle skirt, sometimes called a broomstick skirt, is a staple in many women's wardrobes. And for good reason - the full, but pleated, skirt flatters almost any figure, the cotton fabric is cool and breezy in summer but wears just as well in winter with sweaters, tights and boots, and the lightweight cotton fabric is easy to wash and dries quickly. But once washed, how to get, and keep, those nice, vertical crinkles?

I've seen posts that suggest wringing and twisting the damp skirt, but that leaves crinkles that look more wadded than vertical. Other posts say to tie the skirt with lengths of string, then cut them once dry. Besides being time-consuming, this can leave the crinkles uneven, and I'd be afraid of possibly snipping fabric instead of string. Some wrap the skirt around a broomstick before tying, hence the now-common broomstick name for such skirts. But I prefer the old-fashioned method.

I learned the secret of perfect crinkles when I inherited a 1950's Albuquerque fiesta dress - the original crinkle skirt fashion. Its solid-color red cotton fabric is heavier than today's lightweight skirts, to hold up to the rows of rick rack and ribbon. When I ended up with my aunt's blouse and skirt combo, she had kept the skirt encased in a nylon stocking with the toe snipped off, the crinkles perfectly formed and maintained. Eureka!

Of course, nylon stockings are a bit harder to come by now, so I reuse snipped-off legs from tights or pantyhose. After hand-washing your skirt, holding the skirt by the waistband rolled together, squeeze out (don't wring or twist) as much water as possible, down the length of the skirt. Since the fiesta dress is such heavy material, I'll hang it up by the waistband to drip-dry a just a bit - you want the skirt to still be damp to dry crinkled. Stretch the pantyhose leg down the length of the damp skirt, pulling the hem down equally, and hang or lay out your skirt "sausage" to dry. It will dry that way without any further fuss, but I usually take the skirt out, shake it, and re-encase the skirt a time or two to make sure it gets completely dry. The clean skirts then stay in their stocking cases in my closet, either hanging or laid out horizontally, to keep their pleats from flattening. Easy-peasy perfect pleats, every time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Soap Making Tutorial

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

I have been making soap with the able assistance of my good lady wife Kim since January this year, and we find the finished product wonderful to use.   We have also been holding soap making workshops for our Sustainable Living Group free of charge.

As I said, back in January we embarked on the giddy world of lye, vegetable and essential oils, with half a hand of botanicals thrown in. We bought a cold press soap kit from a local soap supplier for $45 that had everything in it to make the first 20 odd bars.  I am a bit of a kit bloke, mainly because I like to have everything supplied to start with and then find the cheap alternatives afterwards.  This is similar to my cheese making hobby.  I started off with a simple kit and it grew from there. 

There are two types of soap making methods that we researched, melt and cold press.  We choose cold press because you do not have to keep going back to a specific supplier to get the necessary ingredients.  Most of them you can buy from local suppliers, like the supermarket in the case of oils and the lye, or caustic soda from the hardware store. 

I have had such a fantastic response on my own blog that I was encouraged to make a video tutorial on the process we used.  We utilise various sustainable harvested vegetable oils and lye to make the soap.  The good thing is that we have the raw materials readily available that are grown in Australia and it is cheap to make as well.  Here is our recipe;

Gavin and Kim's Bubbly Cream Soap Recipe
makes about 1.2kg

Ingredients:
300gm Olive Oil
300gm Rice Bran Oil
300gm Coconut Oil
100gm Sunflower Oil
140gm Sodium Hydroxide (lye/caustic soda)
380gm water
25gm Fragrance Essential Oil (the choice is yours)
Soap colouring to your personal preference.

So sit back and enjoy our soap making tutorial.  I hope everyone including those who already make soap in this method gets a tip or two from it.

Part One;





Part Two;





If anyone has any questions, please let me know via comment.  Also, if anyone has any other soap making tips using this method, I am more than happy for them to share.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Quick Herbal Bug Bite Salve

by Chiot's Run

Several years ago I read about the wonders of Broad Leaved Plantain, a "weed" that grows everywhere. It's also known as: Bird's Meat, Common Plantain, Great Plantain, Rat-tail Plantain, White Man's Foot.

I have it growing all over the gardens here at Chiot's Run and I'm quite happy about it. It comes in very handy when I'm out working late and get bit by mosquitoes or if I get stung by a bee.

All you have to do for a quick salve is grab a leaf or two, chew them up and apply them to the bug bite. I often do this while I'm out working if I need to, but I prefer to make a poultice with some baking soda as it stays on better and I think it works better. (as with all wild plants, make sure you know exactly what you're picking & using!)

What I usually do is take a few leaves, cut them finely, add a pinch or two of baking soda and a little water. Then I grind them to a wet paste in my mortar & pestle and apply to the bug bite. It instantly works to get rid of the itch or sting and keeps it coming back.

This salve is also very beneficial for using on cuts and scrapes, I often add some turmeric and comfrey when I'm using it for this purpose as turmeric helps with inflammation and pain and comfrey speeds healing.

Plantain has medicinal uses of all sorts: bites, cuts, scrapes, rashes, skin problems, intestinal pain & issues, worms, boils, bronchitis, coughs, colitis, hemorrhoids, diarrhea, dysentery, vomiting, bed wetting and incontinence and many other things (for more info read this and this). I have yet to use it internally, but I use it often for bug bites, stings and cuts. I'm trying to make plantain oil for using medicinally. Since it's an herb with no known side-effects I definitely want to try using it more often.

Have you ever used plantain? Do you use herbs/weeds for medicinal purposes?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

This Journey Is Like Learning To Knit

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















I think, when I started out on this journey, I thought it was going to be flip flops and applesauce - also known as having more time to do things I love (like wear flip flops) and learn the skills to make things (like applesauce). Oh how wrong I was! For me this downshifting, simple living has at times not been so simple, although it has certainly been memorable and mostly humorous too! There have been many mistakes, teary days, joys and a whole lot of frustration. It has at times, felt all too easy to be misunderstood and some days, living a life which felt far too different from the norm; I've yeared to be part of the simple living, homesteading, crafting posse but didn't have the land or crafting skills to make that happen. Finally, I documented here sometime earlier this year that I was going to simply take my time to get to where I want to be, with no self-induced pressure, no time lines, no stress and what do you know, suddenly it became a little easier. After what seems like years trying to learn to knit, making mistake after mistake (most of which I had no clue how to repair!), starting and re-starting, switching patterns and getting a whole slew of advice, I just decided to knit and knit and knit, adding in a few rows here and there, in my very own style, with no set pattern, all in my own time. Slowly but surely it got easier and over a period of about a month my first real knitting creation was born (pun intended); suddenly I was filled with renewed hope.

Life is a journey, finding the simple, green & frugal lifestyle that is right for you in your particular season can be bumpy, it can be a bit like one step back two steps forward (although sometimes it feels like one step forward two steps back!) and we'll each succeed (at what success is for us!) in our own way, in our own colours, with our very own stripes, in our own time...and let's just say, this knitting gig is here to stay!

Did you ever have a moment where you realized just how far you'd come on your journey? If you are a knitter, what was your first knitting creation?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

These Boots Were Made For Walking...Going Car Free!

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















Just shy of a month ago, I moved abroad. I left my little eco friendly car behind (no room for it on the plane you see!) and arrived car-free, but not quite care-free. The decision to go car-less for as long as possible was both purposeful and intentional and while I had a small moan yesterday on my blog, the reality is, I have found it a very blessed experience. I suppose, for me, owning a car is like owning a TV, it provides opportunities, but it is very easy to over-use. If a car, or TV, charged $10 for a 30 minute use and you had to pay to drive/watch I would probably find it easier to choose to walk when the car is in the driveway or find something else to do rather than stare at a screen...but alas "free" at point of entry is too tempting at times. And while I didn't own a car from age 17-24 I have gotten a tad too comfortable with the convenience of it all!

The weather has been hot, well over 100 degrees each day, yet my commitment to walking everywhere has meant I've simply found a rhythm which works for me, a rhythm which makes me be more purposeful and sacrificial, which chooses priority over apathy. I walk to a pool and swim (to exercise and cool off), walk to shops, job interviews, visit friends, run errands, go to the bank, volunteer or pretty much do anything else. Most of where I need to go is no more than about a 75 minute walk each way and to be honest, walking has opened up a whole new world. While I'm in a smallish city on my walks I've seen deer, beavers, raccoons, groundhogs, robins, blue jays, cardinals and an adorable yellow bird I've not yet been able to name. Friends of mine who go the same route in their cars have never, in 10 years (compared to my month), seen any such beauties. Through walking I've met people, happened on community farmers markets, found new places to explore and felt an incredible connection not offered by the disconnect which is an easy consequence of using a car to get from point A to B, B to C, C to D. I've noticed that many people are happy to "go for a walk" but not to "have to walk" to a specific point. Many people have asked me how I've walked in this heat and the answer is, I try to accomplish tasks early in the morning (which has provided a natural rhythm to my days), I wear long sleeves and a hat, I drink water and when it gets too much I simply "pull over" and find a new place to explore for a bit of a breather! I've also found that walking everywhere has made me need to be organized, I can't simply "nip to the shops" when the shops are a 65 minute walk each way, so being purposeful about my time has become a necessity!

The reality is, at some point I may "need" to get a car, because in my line of work 90% of jobs advertised list one as essential for being hired. Many years ago, I remember seeing a neighbour who lived 40 feet (1 house away) from the postbox drive down her drive and stop at the postbox, collect her mail and drive back. I asked her if she forgot something and she said she simply couldn't be bothered to walk. I hope, my couple of months with no car makes me choose to connect when possible rather than disconnect, helps me keep with the simple, frugal and green commitment of walking whenever possible and makes me less like my old neighbour and more like the person I am today.

While I know for many a car is a need, if for some reason I find a job which doesn't require a car, I am seriously considering trying to go a year without. When you add up car insurance, tax, petrol, break-down cover and (for many) the car payments, compared to my two working feet it seems like a very expensive want...or I could find some sort of a pay as you go system, $10 for 30 minutes which I think would mean I choose my feet a whole lot more and sitting behind the wheel a whole lot less.

Have you ever gone without a car out of necessity or circumstance? What did it teach you? Did you find it a simple, green and frugal choice? Have you ever cut down on your use of your car and how did you keep yourself motivated when it was there to be used?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pass It On

I have been thinking a lot here lately about education and passing on knowledge. I submitted the forms necessary for our area to be "official" homeschoolers this year, as my daughter is of the mandatory reporting age. Our reasons for keeping our children home are numerous and varied. From personal experience, there is so much learning that should happen at home, anyway, that it made a lot of sense for us. Much of that knowledge is of the homemaking variety. My daughter and son can be whatever they choose when they are older, but I expect them to be able to make dinner for themselves, sew clothes if needed, plant a garden and various other homesteading tasks that get easily left behind in modern schooling.

Recently I was given the opportunity to teach some classes at a local farm/store, and I have loved it. I love that the classes exist, period, really, though, as the fact that people will pay to learn something like making jams, making soaps, sewing aprons and cooking from scratch, tells us that priorities are changing, and for the better. There are so many crafts and skills that are getting lost-lost in a fast paced society and also due to changes in priorities. There was a time when schools (and grandmothers) taught girls how to do simple homemaking tasks-basics at the very least-so they could maintain a home when they were older. It didn't matter what path they were going to take-working full-time, having children or not-they needed basic skills. Young men were required to learn how to change the oil in a car and simple woodworking. Currently many of these programs are being cut from schools due to lack of funding and families no longer pass that sort of knowledge on, if they even possess it. I think the priorities of our society have shifted. What is even more troubling is that the older generations have even been removed from these skills in many cases. I know many families where the matriarchs or patriarchs are just as clueless about how to perform tasks many of us in the simple/frugal/green movement do everyday as their younger counterparts are.

Luckily, those of us who have learned, either from the internet, friends, grandparents who have been there, books or other classes are seeing the need to pass on that knowledge. I love showing others how to do things-whether it is mending a garment, recycling a sheet into something new and fun, baking bread or canning the season's bounty. I love to do it whether I am getting paid (which is just a nice bonus for a one income household) or not. I think education is vital for the survival of communities. Many people hear me talk about something and their response is "I didn't know you could do that!". It is important to keep up with our public display of the things we do to open up opportunities to teach others. It isn't that there isn't something for us to learn from folks who live faster, more modern "normal" lives, but much of what we do is getting lost and the only way to preserve these skills, which may be necessary someday-we cannot know-is to teach them, both to the next generation and to current ones.

I end in saying how very tickled I was about the attendance of the sewing class I co-taught over the weekend. A very close friend and I taught an intro to sewing class, and helped the ladies there to sew simple aprons. They were giddy that there was an easily accessible outlet to learn something of the sort, and we were happy to pass the knowledge on. The thing that got me was the ages of the people there; from a teenager (who turned red every time we mentioned tagging her in a picture of her in her apron on facebook for all her friends to see-which we had no intention of doing, but she was so darn cute) to ladies in their thirties and forties. The bread baking class last month had ladies in their fifties. It is awesome to see people willing to learn, no matter their age, and being able to make that happen. If those who have the knowledge do not pass it on, whether to their children or others, it will be lost. Knowledge is one of our most valuable resources, and one that is both easily wasted and easily given. I hope more people take opportunities to give it. It is so terribly fulfilling to see someone use their new skills, and in knowing that they now have the chance to pass it along.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dutch Oven Baking

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's summertime here, and for me, that means camping. My dad loved being outdoors in the Colorado Rockies - hunting, fishing, and camping - and passed that love on to his children. I now live in Nevada, my sister four hours away in California. Between us lies the Sierra Nevada mountain range - a perfect halfway meeting area for joint camping trips whenever we can manage it.

When we meet, shortly after setting up camp, it's show & tell time - to share any new camping gadget or accessory we've found. A couple of years ago, my latest toy was a small cast iron dutch oven. This is a real one - not a flat-bottomed one designed to be used on a stovetop or inside an oven, but one with feet and a rim around the top to hold the coals. And I wanted to learn to use it as an oven - serving up fresh, hot baked goods in my campsite.

As with all my cast iron cookware, I took the time to season the oven before using it, then clean it without using soap and heat it to make sure it's completely dry after use. It's pretty much non-stick now anyway, but I also grease it well while still cold, each time before baking, just to make sure.

I've turned out some pretty good cornbread, using my regular recipe, and camping pizza is next on the experimentation list. For these photos, I used a pop-open roll of refrigerated cinnamon rolls (a special treat for my nephews).

Maybe someday I'll be able to correctly judge the heat from campfire coals, but for now using charcoal briquettes is my best chance for something edible. Each briquette equals about 15 degrees F (-9.5C) of cooking heat, so for a 350F (177C) oven I need 23-24 briquettes. I count those out into my little starter chimney and get them going first thing. When they're pretty much completely covered with ash, I dump them out to start baking.

A set of tongs is useful for setting the briquettes in place. For baking, you want mostly indirect heat so a 2:1 ratio, top:bottom, is ideal. I evenly space one-third of the coals around on flat ground, set the oven on top of them, and then arrange the remaining two-thirds evenly around the top. If I have the heat right, timing is about the same as in a regular oven. My nose is also a pretty good guide - the smell of cinnamon is soon wafting on the breeze.

When done, a claw hammer makes a good tool for lifting the oven off the coals, and then lifting the hot lid without tipping the coals into the oven. With a metal spatula, I can then tip up an edge of the bread, and lift it out of the oven in one piece (for pizza, I'm thinking I might make lifting handles from a strip of greased foil pressed into the bottom before adding the dough and toppings).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Frugal Virtue - Patience

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

I was not brought up in a particularly frugal household.  I come from a middle of the road, middle-class American family.  My parents made decent money most of the time, though there were periods when my father was laid off.  They didn't tend to indulge in big, extravagant purchases, but neither did they sock away every penny.  Looking back, I know that a lot of money trickled through my parents' fingers by way of waste, and a steady stream of small but frivolous purchases.  I wasn't taught the skills of living frugally at home, so I had to learn frugality as an adult. 

I suppose that even most people who are raised in a frugal home must do the same thing, since most of us tend to rebel at least a little from our parents.  It took me a while to apply myself seriously to the study of frugality.  I went through a learning phase, really not so very long ago, when I read the books and actively looked for all sorts of frugal tips, techniques, and advice.  All those things are useful.  But I also found that there were a few larger, overarching values or virtues that profoundly shape a frugal life.  One of those is patience, or the ability to delay gratification.

Patience is regarded as a virtue in the Catholic faith I was brought up in, and by many other major religions.  It's not highly regarded or promoted in western culture though.  Our entire capitalist economy and in particular the credit boom of the '90s encouraged all of us to buy it now! don't delay! hurry! give yourself a break!  In trying to live a frugal life, we have to swim hard against that tide, and struggle counter to the cult of instant gratification.  It's a hard thing to learn patience, especially least at first.  It's not a skill easily acquired, or at least it wasn't for me.  After all, most skills need practice, and when the skill you're trying to develop is patience, well... by definition, those who most lack it are going to have the hardest time developing it.  I was one of them.  It seems incredible to me now, but even waiting until my vegetables were ready for harvest was difficult for me a few years back.

Patience is indeed a virtue, and one worth deliberately cultivating if you wish to live a frugal life.  I still wrestle once in awhile with the impulse to just go out and buy something I've taken it into my head to want.  But slowly it has become easier and easier to accept that I don't need to have everything immediately.  Age helps.  I've gotten this far without whatever it is that I think I want, so how important could it really be?

Patience allows me to request books that interest me through the inter-library loan program, when my own library doesn't have a copy, rather than buying them myself.  No small benefit for households that read as much as we do.

Patience often allows me to wait for something to turn up at an annual church rummage sale, or on a craigslist listing, at a yard sale, etc. Now, when that rummage sale comes around on the calendar and the very two items I've had on my list for months are priced at about $1 each, the satisfaction is enormous.

Patience helps me believe that many tiny changes and efforts will have big effects in the long term.  It's a form of faith, and confidence in the future.  Without patience, would I ever see the benefit of saving a few pennies each day by using cloth napkins instead of buying paper?

And yes, patience helps me wait for the potato and garlic and tomato crops to ripen in their turns.   The garden teaches patience and many other virtues if we but allow it.


Those of us who choose the frugal path will likely walk that path for years.  Our goals may vary from paying off a mortgage or saving enough to buy a home without one.  We may have children to provide for, or elders to care for.  They all take discipline over the long term.  Patience and frugality are bound up with one another. Patience allows us to hold to our path when it looks unending.  It allows us to persevere when we question why we do what we do, and when we wonder whether our efforts are bringing us closer to our goals.

 Is patience a skill you've mastered?  What other skills or virtues help you live the life you want?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Maple Sugaring at Chiot's Run

by Chiots Run

Last year we sugared our maple trees for the first time. I would have done it earlier, but I always thought you needed sugar maples to make syrup - not so. We have a back yard full of red maples. They have less sugar in the sap so it takes a little more sap, and the final product can be cloudy, but it still tastes as delicious as syrup from sugar maples. We also started late in the season, so we only got a few days of sugaring in before the trees budded out. We ended the season with a two pints of syrup and a passion for sugaring!



This year we started the season early by ordering more spiles and brushing up on our skills by reading a few books before the season started. If you're interested in sugaring your maples I'd recommend reading: Backyard Sugarin': A Complete How-To Guide or Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup or this article from the Ohio State University Extension. These are all geared towards small scale home sugaring operations, explaining how to do it without spending much money.



We tapped our trees on February 21 this year. It was a beautiful sunny day and the temperatures climbed slightly above freezing. Not quite prime sugaring season yet, but we wanted to get some of our trees tapped since tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be close to 40. We were just going to put one tap in the tree we can see from the kitchen window, so we could watch it. When it started flowing we would install the rest of the taps. As soon as we tapped the tree a little drop of sap appeared on the end of the spile. It was warm enough yesterday to start the sap flowing.



Since the sap was flowing we put in all 12 taps that we had on hand, then a few days later we added 10 more taps. The first day, the taps produced about a gallon of sap by dusk. We stored the sap outside in a few huge canning kettles to keep it cold so it wouldn't spoil. The weather was not great for a few days, but then at the beginning of March it started warming up during the day producing good sap flow. It was sunny and warm during the day (well 40 degrees which is warm this time of year).



The mornings were frosty, with temps down in the teens. All the sap that was flowing the day before stopped and was frozen in the spiles. It didn’t take long for them to thaw out with the sun and warmth and start flowing again. These are prime sugaring temps; you want it to be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.



With the sap flowing nicely, we started boiling constantly to keep up. We averaged 7 gallons of sap per day from our 20 taps. Mr Chiots collected the sap several times a day. Since we're using mason jars they're not that big and need emptied several times a day. We use them since that's what we have on hand and I'm not a big fan of my food touching any plastic.



After collecting the sap, it's brought inside to warm up a bit. I strain it through a coffee filter into a big stock pot on the stove, this strains out any wood chips, sticks and any other dirt. We warm the sap in this stock pot and when it’s boiling we transfer it to big kettle that’s boiling outside (or another kettle on the stove). We do this to keep the big pot at a rolling boil, if you keep pouring cold sap into the boiling sap it will take longer to reduce into syrup.



After boiling it down and finishing it off, we strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth and we have delicious homemade maple syrup. (read through one of the books listed above for info on finishing syrup, need to be at a certain temp).



Our sugaring season is over for 2010, it was a short one. We ended up with over a gallon of syrup. Sugaring is a fun relaxing hobby. We've really enjoyed the process and will continue doing it for years to come. There's something so satisfying about making your own maple syrup!



You can see the two different colors of syrup we got from our two batches. It’s so delicious, hard to believe we made it at home. One thing is for certain, not a drop of this will go to waste! When you take such a hands on approach to making your own food you really appreciate it because you know the effort that goes into it.


Anyone of you sugaring your maples, birch, or shagbark hickory trees?


for more photos & explanation of our sugaring process check out my posts on my blog:

Tap, Tap, Tap, Maple Sap


Prime Sugaring Weather

Finishing Off our Maple Syrup

Monday, February 22, 2010

Not just for wreaths

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Maybe you just read Sadge's recent post on grape vine pruning or are coveting a neighbors grapes, or that grapevine you see on your walk in an old vacant orchard gives you a sly look every time you pass by. This is the time of year to take cuttings for rooting, and bring that special grape to your small fruit orchard.

I know grapevines are abundant in catalogs and garden centers, but propagating your own is a skill that will stand you in good stead. It's fun, easy and a very inexpensive way to get more plants. This tutorial is about grapes, but the process is the same for other small fruits like currants, gooseberries, and kiwi, just to name a few.

Now is the time to take hardwood cuttings of last year's growth. If your neighbor is pruning his grapes he will have an abundance of trimmings that will be headed to the craft room or compost pile. Just ask. It only takes a stick or two to make a new grape vine.

Items needed:
Grape cuttings
Sharp Pruners
Large nursery pot with drainage holes
Well rotted compost or potting soil
Pencil or clean stick or dowel
Positive attitude

Optional:
Bored dog

A rooted cutting from last year.


Your cuttings will root and put out new growth over the course of a year and be ready to plant in a nursery bed or row by the next spring.


Grape vine prunings, make sure you only keep last year's growth for your cuttings.


Well rotted compost works well for a rooting medium. Or native soil will work with a little sawdust mixed in to ensure that the soil will hold some moisture. You don't want the cuttings to drown or dry out - strike a happy medium.

The process isn't as boring as he makes it seem... .



All the vines look dead at this time of year, if it is confusing, look at the cut end - if you see green, the vine is dormant and you're good to go, if it is brown, discard it, it is a dead vine.

To discern the top from the bottom, look at the buds - the buds grow up, not down.


Angled cut at the top of cutting.

I like to have 3 buds per stick for my cuttings. Top, middle and bottom.

Starting at the bottom of your pruned vine, make a straight cut about 1/2 inch below the first bud. Count up three buds. This will be the top of your cutting, make a 45 degree cut about a 1/2 inch above the bud. That bud at the top is where the new growth will appear. The angled cut helps the cut shed rain, since this baby grape vine to be will be outside for a year, rain or shine.

Move up to the next bud and make a straight cut about a 1/2 inch below it. If you make straight cuts on the bottoms and angled cuts on the top, it helps you tell the top from the bottom. Continue in this manner until you have made all the cuttings you will need.



A handful of cuttings. Plan on at least 50% to make it. You may get more, and maybe a little less. If more root than you need - a plant you propagated from just a dead looking stick makes a great gift for a gardener or foodie. A little provenance never hurts, a gift of an heirloom grape vine can be more meaningful than one purchased at the home improvement store.

Here is where the pencil or dowel comes in. You need a dibble to make a hole in the soil to stick the cuttings. Insert your dibble, make a hole.

Insert the cutting at least half way into the soil. The roots will form in several places along the stem under the soil line, as long as the soil is kept moist.


After your cuttings are stuck, water them in. Place your pot out of full sun, and in a place where you won't forget to water it. Most gardeners have nursery area like this. Come spring you should see the buds start to push and grow. And hopefully underground, the roots are doing the same. By mid summer it will be apparent if the cutting has rooted. Resist any temptation to pull out the cutting to check on the progress. Instead, watch the leaves on the new growth - if they wilt and die, the cutting did not root, if they are growing along, your cutting rooted.

The rooted cuttings should stay undisturbed until at least fall. At that time you could re-pot them or just leave them until planting time the next spring.

Happy propagating!