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

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Making the most of a good harvest

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

The harvest season is reaching a high point at this point in the season. Hardy winter vegetables are putting on growth in the garden, and the first apples are coming in. Our first apple to ripen is the Yellow Transparent. I wrote about why I think this variety belongs in every frugal garden that is concerned with self-reliance here.

But, I also want to squeeze every bit of summer goodness out of these tart treats that I can. To do that, I only need to look back on methods that my mom taught me. Of course, we like to eat these juicy beauties out of hand, too. They aren't keeping apples, but they are great for fresh eating and cooking.

I prepared some for canning chunky applesauce.

Made a pie.

Apple pies are the easiest to make of all fruit pies. No thickener needed, I don't peel these either, just add seasoning to taste, dot with butter and bake.

In modern times we have become more wasteful, in the vein of convenience. Purchasing apples or fruit to make butters and sauces, not unlike making a modern day scrap quilt out of yardage, instead of the carefully saved snippets from sewing projects. Guilty of that one too!

So I literally called on memories of what my mom had taught me about waste not, want not. When she made her chunky applesauce, she would save the peels and cores and cook those down for apple butter. After cooking, she would run the cooked apple peelings and cores through the food mill, add spices and cook the apple butter down to a thick, mahogany treat.

I need extra canned goods for Christmas gifts and this would be a perfect way to add to my Christmas canning cabinet.

Normally, I would share these apple leavings with the hens and milk cow, but I saved some damaged apples for them and decided to see just what I could glean from about 12 pounds of apples.

While I was canning my applesauce, I put the pie in the oven, and cooked down the peelings. I had about a 5 quart saucepan of peelings and cores, I added two cups of water to prevent sticking, cooked these until soft and then ran them through the food mill.

This is all that is left of that small box of apples. The yield for apple butter was about 7 cups of sauce.

I always cook my apple butter and tomato sauce down in a crock pot, I never scorch it this way, and I can have the rest of my stove free for cooking. It is also a great way to heat up sauce in preparation for canning too. The sauce will get piping hot and be ready for your sterilized jars.

For apple butter, I added sugar and spices to taste. As it cooks over several days, it will thicken and get darker.

Cook to desired thickness and can for long term storage or gifts, or you could store this in the refrigerator for several weeks.

To can this apple butter, heat apple butter in crock pot and ladle into sterilized jars leaving 1/4 headspace, process 10 minutes in water bath canner.

Monday, 27 July 2009

My Cloth Revolution

by Colleen

Over the past year and a half, I have been a Cloth Revolutionary at my house. Little by little, disposable paper items are disappearing from our landscape, only to be replaced by colourful, reusable Cloth replacements.

The first step in our Cloth Revolution was the switch to cloth diapers. We did this when our daughter was 11 months old, after visiting with some friends whose daughter was using cloth. The cloth diapers seemed so cute and cozy, and more "natural" than the crinkly perfumed plastic ones we were using. I was nervous about the workload, but found them not to be that much work. We have a small washer that plugs into our sink, and we dry them (as pictured) on our collapsable drying rack.

The main benefit I saw right away was cost. We went with cotton prefold diapers, which are about the cheapest you can go, and we used some high-tech fleece-lined, microfibre-insert pocket style diapers for night time. I think the four night time diapes cost around the same as our two dozen prefolds with four or five covers. It has been great not to worry about having to drive out to Costco to get the best deal on diapers.

My next Revolutionary Act was to replace my tampons and pads with a set of beautiful, comfortable, reusable Lunapads. This was after doing some reading about how tampons have dioxins in them left over from the bleaching process, which can then be absorbed into your body when you use them. Also, after having my baby, I found them uncomfortable to use, and pads were bulky and expensive.

As the stickers say, "I ♥ my lunapads"! They are so comfortable and beautiful. The nicest thing about them is that I never run out! I had bought myself an "Intro kit", and then after using them for a couple of months, I got another kit to round out my collection. It has a good selection of sizes, thicknesses, etc. for different stages of my cycle. My only disappointment is that I got pregnant again right after my second kit arrived! At least I know they are waiting for me when I start my cycle again.

Next I replaced paper towels with cloth napkins. On a trip to Sudbury to visit my parents I stopped into an adorable new store called Mimi & Lulu. They have all sorts of beautiful handmade clothes, aprons, bags, toys and crafts, as well as a selection of fabrics so beautiful I thought I was looking at a magazine or something. I honestly don't think I've seen such gorgeous fabric in stores, ever.

The best thing (for me) was their remnant bags, a bunch of colour-co-ordinated fabric bits from their collection, mixed with some cute vintage finds, all for $13. Inside was enough fabric (in the right size) to make more than 10 napkins, some of which I kept & use, and some of which I gave away as gifts.

It's so nice to use cloth napkins, especially ones in such cute fabrics. They seem to add a touch of class to every meal.

Home-Made Toilet PaperThe next item is a bit more . . . unusual, and I hesitate to mention it in my first post on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, but here goes: the next paper product I replaced was toilet paper. Well, not entirely, but I made some lovely wipes that my daughter and I use for #1. Being pregnant and having to drink a lot of water, this saves me a huge amount of toilet paper. I just throw them in with the diapies and wash them often.

My most recent Revolutionary change was to make some cloth kleenex (tissues). Once again, so cute! Once again, so comfortable! I made them from some cloth I had in mystash, so I consider them basically free to me. We haven't yet been through a major cold or flu with these, but I will report back on how they fare. I just throw them in any wash I'm doing (except for darks!) and they stay nice and absorbant.

Besides these recent changes, I have always used cloth rags for cleaning rather than paper towels or even J-cloths. It's a great way to re-purpose old towels and t-shirts, and if a rag gets too dirty, I just throw it away.

For me, this process has been about saving money, being green, and more importantly, finding a better product to replace the cheap disposables in my life. If you have replaced something I've missed, please let me know! I'm always open to making more frugal & green changes in my life, and sharing them with the world.

Monday, 11 May 2009

"but I'm not creative!"

Consumption Rebellion

I've started showing my friends my recent efforts in house decorating recently. Many of my friends have commented on how creative I've become.

Whenever I hear them say that I always feel like laughing. See in highschool, I never saw myself as "creative". In fact, when it came to the arts and home arts my grades were:

Art = 'C-' final comment by my art teacher in my highschool certificate was "Eilleen draws/paints to the best of her ability".
Cooking = "D"
Sewing = "F"

My experiences in highschool pretty much ended up with me believing that I was not creative at all. In many ways, this view stopped me from trying to live a simpler life for a long time. To me living a simpler life would mean that I would need to learn how to cook (but I can't cook!), I would need to learn how to sew (but I can't sew!) and I would need to learn how to make do with what I have (but this would mean my house would look like crap because....I'm not creative!!)

For years, I fell into the "commercial" view of what makes a beautiful home (ie buy furniture/home decor to look exactly the display room), what makes a good meal (ie a good restaurant) and buy all my clothes. Every now and then I would have "brilliant" ideas of how something could look better or taste better but I would quickly dismiss those ideas because....I'm not creative.

Believing I was not creative left me no option but to be an over-consumer.

Then one day, I stopped consuming. I made my impulsive decision not to buy anything brand new for a year. And suddenly I learned home skills...bit by bit. I still didn't believe I was creative, but now I am being forced to sew buttons back on shirts and coats. I slowly learned how to cook.

And then something strange happened, the more I did these things, the more ideas I had about how something could be altered in a different way to achieve different looks. Now that I can sew on a button, I can now sew on lots of buttons (to hide stains on my daughter's shirt):

Now that I learnt that I can add flour to a basic stew recipe to thicken it and that thickened stew can be the filling for a meat pie:

And the more I did these things, the more confident I became of what I am capable of doing. My children started to ask me to fix or make things for them. And I was now more willing to give it a go. And one day, as I finished a drawing my son had asked me to draw, I realised that little voice inside me that used to tell me that I was not creative had been silent for a long time.

And its amazing how freeing that can be. So now I try my hand at anything. Some things don't turn out well, but I learn from it. Being creative doesn't mean not making mistakes. To me, being creative is having ideas and turning those ideas into reality... and this includes working out what won't make that idea work.

For me, being creative meant having to learn some basic skills then surrounding myself with people in real life and on the internet who can show me the many ways of using those basic skills to maximum effect.

And more importantly, being creative means NOT listening to that voice telling you that your idea will never work because you're not creative.

my latest creative effort - mirror painted to achieve a stain glass look and old hallway table restored and painted for shabby chic look.

So now whenever I hear other people say "but I'm not creative!" I tell them, "Me too! but its amazing what non-creative people like us can do!"

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

How to become more self reliant and sustainable

by Marc from GardenDesk

Do you desire to be more self reliant, self sustainable, or more simple? How about being more frugal or more green? Do you wish you knew more about home making, keeping livestock or gardening? These would be wonderful Earth Day goals, but how do you achieve them?

A great way to improve in any of these areas is to try new things. Simple, but true.

Many times it is human nature to stay in our comfort zones. We get good at something and stick with that and only that. We rationalize away why we wouldn't be good at other things. I know that I am often guilty of this. I have become comfortable with organic vegetable gardening and that is what I write about here and on my blog. I have always wanted to have farm animals too but never thought I could. Well, now its time to stretch a little and try something new. We now have 17 baby chicks!

I know that may seem like a small thing to many of you, but we know almost nothing about raising chickens yet. My wife and I have been inspired by this co-op site, the bloggers on this site and other homestead bloggers enough to give raising animals a try. The chickens will be first and then we will be getting rabbits. We are raising worms too, but I don't know if that actually counts. If you want to know more about our chicks, I wrote about them on my GardenDesk site. The purpose of this post is not to highlight our chickens, but to encourage you to try something new this season too.

If you have trouble with new things, what can you do? I approach things in three simple steps.

Number one is Belief.

Denis Waitley once said this about personal achievement - "If you believe you can, you probably will. If you believe you can't, you most assuredly won't. Belief is the ignition switch that gets you off the launching pad." You must believe that you can learn the new thing and that you can master it in time. Luckily for me, my wife Renee is good in this area. She has complete belief that we will be able to raise chickens and rabbits.

Step two is Study.

You have to read and research about the topic you want to learn. If your goal has to do with any of the topics that I mentioned in the beginning of this post, then you are in the right place. Simple Green Frugal Co-Op is a great resource. So are the member blogs and many of the blogs of those who comment on these posts. In addition to reading online, I am a big fan of books. I absolutely love to read "how-to" books. I have been reading many books about chickens lately and listed my favorite four books on my chick post. I have been learning from them in the same way I have learned much of what I know about organic gardening from my 25 favorite gardening books. Reading about your new topic really helps you become comfortable with it and feeds your belief as well.

Step three is Action.

You have to be able to put what you've learned into action. Without the reading step you often don't know what to do, but without the action step your reading is useless. The famous Liane Cardes quote comes to mind here; "Continuous effort -- not strength or intelligence -- is the key to unlocking our potential."

Believe, Read, Act. Do these things and your new endeavor will be a joy to you. I am now moving into step three with our new chickens. What about you? What new thing or things would you like to try? Do you believe you can do it? Go for it!

Believe, read and act! Something to ponder on this good Earth Day.

Keep Growing!

- Marc

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Healing Cottonwood Salve

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

A well stocked medicine cabinet should include some homemade soothing, and healing ointments and salves. Making your own salve allows you to control the ingredients, and keeps the expense down. A common salve that is easy to make is Calendula salve, but I'm going to show you how to make Cottonwood Salve today.

Supplies needed:
Dormant Cottonwood Buds
Olive Oil (organic, extra virgin is best for your skin)
wide mouth jar to make infused oil
assorted small jars and lids for salve
double boiler or a small and large kettle and canning rings

A popular European and Native American remedy for burns, it is just as useful today. Containing salicylates (think aspirin) it is also useful for pain, sprains and inflamation. Known for its natural antiseptic properties, it also helps with tissue regeneration.

Commonly known as Cottonwood or Balsam Poplar, Populus balsamifera, Populus trichocarpa.
A tall vigorous tree, look for it next to rivers, lakes and streams or in any moist area. If you are not sure if you have found the right tree, rub a leaf between your fingers, and an aromatic sweet scent will tell you if you have hit paydirt. But, mark the location, as the buds need to be gathered while the tree is dormant, in late winter through early spring.

How to gather buds from a 100' tree? Let Mother Nature help you. With cottonwood being a somewhat brittle tree, winter wind and ice storms will take their toll, and bring down limbs for you. I am not too keen on widespread wildcrafting, because if everybody is out foraging, the natural landscape will suffer, but Cottonwood trees are prolific and can take losing a cup of buds here and there. Look for tight, pointy buds that haven't started to open yet. They should be a little sticky and very aromatic. The scent is heavenly.

There are many ways to make infusions. The easiest is to place your buds in a wide mouth jar and completely cover with oil, so the buds do not mold. I prefer not to use heat, and I leave the buds in oil for a year, in the dry pantry. If you are in a hurry, you can heat the oil and buds gently and strain when the oil smells strong enough to you.

Cottonwood buds are antioxidant so no vitamin E or gum benzoin is needed. Good olive oil also is not prone to rancidity, so this infused oil keeps at least a year or more and is useful in itself. The addition of beeswax adds to the keeping qualities of the cottonwood, so you can expect this salve to keep several years.

Cast of characters: Beeswax, and infused cottonwood oil.

Decanted oil, I used wide mouth pint canning jars. That way I know at a glance how much oil I have, so I can measure my beeswax accordingly.

I wanted to make a firm salve, and the general salve recipe is 1 oz of beeswax to 5 oz of oil. Firm salves form a protective barrier, softer salves (less beeswax) will allow for more absorbency of the herbal properties. If this is your first salve making experience, use half the recommended amount of beeswax, when the wax and oil have melted, pour a little into one of your containers and let it set up. If you like the consistency, you're done. If it is too soft, reheat and add the rest of the beeswax and continue.
To get my beeswax down to a manageable size, I chopped it with a hatchet. I use beeswax in my some of my soap recipes too, so I can eyeball 1 oz sizes. I do weigh the beeswax though, after I have it in smaller pieces.

I made a double boiler with a large kettle, and some canning rings. The oil and beeswax should be gently heated to preserve the herbal qualities of the cottonwood.

While the oil and wax is heating, wash and dry your jars and have them ready for pouring. For this batch, I used an assortment of jars: 4 oz jelly jars, wide mouth 1/2 pint, recycled mustard jars (for the barn) and a real salve jar so I can share some salve as a gift. Always try to have a extra jar or two, I always do this when I am canning too, just so I don't have to go looking for one more jar when I have hot food waiting. Put down some newpaper too, if you pour like I do.

Pour the warm oil into your jars...

While the salve is cooling, you can wipe your pan to clean it. If the salve in the pan starts to harden just put the pan back in the water bath to remelt and wipe again, and then you can wash with warm soapy water.

When the salve has cooled, you can scrape the paper, (if you're as messy as me) and the jar threads and add the cleanings to your jars. Let cool overnight, or all day and wipe the rims clean and put the lids on for long term storage. Too soon and it may sweat and add moisture to your jars.

Once you have made and used some of this salve, you will love it!

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Pantry Dwindles: Winter Diet Report

By Kate
Living The Frugal Life

It was never a formal goal of mine to become a local or seasonal eater in 2008. But it seems to have almost happened that way, largely on its own. We're not strict about this; we do still cook with olive oil, drink tea, use bread flour, and eat some chocolate, none of which are produced in our region. But a very significant percentage of what we eat is local or homegrown. This is likely a function of my insistence - on frugal, more so than ethical, principles - that we eat what we've grown first, before purchasing food from the grocery store. We're in the depths of winter here, and I thought a little confessional on our diet would be in order right about now.

We're still making soups, pasta dishes, and casseroles with our homegrown ingredients. But these days there are a lot of purchased ingredients going into our meals too. Much of what we have left of our own produce is coming out of the freezer or a canning jar. We've noticed that even store bought green salads that we eat when invited to someone else's home taste amazingly good to us right now. Despite our frozen supplies of homegrown kale and chard, there's no replacing fresh green things. This has prodded us to think very hard about ways of providing ourselves with homegrown salad greens for a longer part of the year.

We ate our last homegrown pumpkin very recently, and only the smallest, most-time-consuming-to-wash potatoes remain in the garage. Some few leeks still stand in the frozen garden. I harvest a couple whenever it gets above freezing, which is rarely these days. I will try to have leave more of them this year for winter use. Our homegrown and canned salsa and tomato sauce still form ranks in the basement. We need to use them both up at a faster rate than we have been.

There are a few items that we must now buy regularly from the store. We're completely out of fresh homegrown garlic, and there's no local garlic to be had. We will not willingly go without garlic. I mean, really: is it reasonable - or even sane - to go without garlic? It was galling to have to pay for garlic though, and to realize we won't have any of our own again until late June or July. We've always bought our starchy staples, such as rice, pasta, pearl barley, oats, and flour at the store. But this year we also have a small supply of our homegrown soup beans, which we've been enjoying. We'll grow two kinds of soup beans this year.

I've been baking a lot of bread this winter. I'm also putting more effort toward finding bartering opportunities with my homemade organic loaves. Fortunately, I've found that farmers are very willing to barter dairy products, eggs, and some other items for my bread. That has kept us in yogurt, cheese, honey and eggs through the winter months. I don't do much baking during the hot summer months, so it's especially nice to be able to supplement our diet by way of a homemade product when the garden is bare. We don't grow our own wheat for the flour, but my skill and labor are still securing food for us for very little cost.

I anticipate that as we eat through our remaining preserved homegrown foods, we will increasingly shop for produce at the grocery store in the next few months. I expect that March and April will be the months when we will be most obliged to buy non-local food. After that the earliest crops in our garden will start coming in, and the local farmer's markets will re-open. I've already been buying onions, carrots, celery, and fresh herbs at the store. This year I'm going to do my utmost to grow a large crop of onions, so that we needn't purchase the other indispensable cooking ingredient. I don't know how to cook without onions.

We still have a fair supply left of our own cider that we pressed from our untreated apples late last fall. This raw cider is a treasured drink for us, so sweet that I sometimes must dilute it with a little water. The concentrated taste of fresh apples is an incredible treat for us during the winter months. Augmented by my stores of frozen berries and dried fruits, it mostly carries us through weeks without fresh fruit. My husband has an unbreakable banana habit though.

On the other hand, I'm not running to the store for salad greens yet. Instead I found myself flailing about for strategies to extend our growing season for this year. I've decided to grow stinging nettles for their early spring emergence and their incredible nutritional qualities. This will be a plant to enjoy during a short season each year, since the plant becomes increasingly potent and unpalatable as it develops through the year. I also took the plunge and ordered a very durable row cover from Johnny's Seeds. I plan to use this very early this year to start lettuces, arugula, scallions, and spinach. Then in late spring I will use it to get the tomatoes and peppers into the ground a week or two before I otherwise would. At the far end of the year, I'll again use the row cover to raise and protect a crop of greens that will feed us through at least a few months of cold weather.

From a nutritional perspective, we're not doing very well right now in terms of getting our quota of fresh green vegetables. From a frugality perspective, we're doing incredibly well at feeding ourselves for very little money, and with very little waste. And from a homesteading perspective, we're doing a so-so job of providing our own subsistence. The upshot is that I see at least a few strategies that can help us improve both the quantity and the quality of the food we are able to grow for ourselves this year.

To sum up, our gardening habits and our diet are co-evolving. Our dietary preferences inform our gardening decisions. And the climatic and soil properties of our garden inform our eating habits to a large degree. As we go through the seasons, notice how our diet affects us, and listen to our bodies' messages about what we are eating, we adjust our plans. We'll experiment with growing and eating a few new crops this year to see how they might fit into a sustainable, frugal, healthy, and local diet. This deepening connection to our own backyard and foodshed feels right, natural, and inexpressibly satisfying to me. I don't feel any particular craving for fruits or vegetables we cannot grow in our abundantly productive region, only a keen interest in making the best use of the possibilities we have.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Raising meat chickens

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

For a multitude of reasons meat chickens are a popular type of livestock to raise. They are small, don't take up a lot of space, and in 2 to 3 months you have meat in your freezer or to can, that you were in charge of from day one. You control the type of feed, how the birds are handled and finally processed. Those are the trademarks of a responsible meat eater. If you process them at home and compost the offal, you can make your meat raising endeavors even more integrated into your personal foodshed in a permaculture manner.

We used to raise pastured poultry for sale ala Polyface, but decided that shipping grains in from far points did not suit our personal vision for our farm. We now just raise birds for ourselves, and a few extra for barter. We still raise the Cornish X, which is the bird that gets so much attention for being dumb, too fast of grow out, ugly, and the list could go on... . I will detail how we raise our birds and offer some different approaches for integration into a urban garden setting.

I do agree the birds are ugly from about week 4 or 5, but that isn't their fault, and it certainly may make for an easier transition to the freezer for first time growers. The rest is myth, I enjoy them and the fertilizer they provide for the pasture while they are alive and we certainly enjoy them at the dinner table.

Through trial and error on our farm, we discovered that almost all the problems encountered with this heavy meat breed (and actually our layers too) stemmed from the feed and minerals. Once we got those details worked out, we have had clear sailing since. We use Fertrell's Poultry Nutribalancer, and have our feed mixed with Fertrell's recipe, which is available on their website. The recipe is for a ton, but when we first started we purchased the raw ingredients and made our own feed in 50# batches. This is very doable for the homestead chicken flock. By using this Nutribalancer you're really adding good minerals to your chicken manure for your garden or pasture. Besides the minerals the biggest difference we noticed was that whole grains, ground for mash were better for the birds than the industrial pelleted or crumble feeds so widely available. Check out the section in Nourishing Traditions on breakfast cereal for humans. To make the pellets, the grains are cooked into a sludge and extruded at high heat. Plus, you really can't tell what ingredients are in those pellets, as long as the protein content is what is stated on the label, the feed companies are obeying the law. Even the poor maligned meat chicken should have a diet close to what his ancestors probably ate, especially if we are going to eat him.

A down side of meat birds, compared to a lighter, longer finishing breed is that they really need a high protein feed to grow. And we grew some of the dark Cornish for customers, but it took more grain, and time for less meat. I know the ideology sounds better to have a ranging bird, but if that bird eats more grain and you end up with less meat, you are responsible for more fertilizers, tilling, and petroleum use in the long run, and I think everyone agrees that is not a good thing. Even if the grains are organically raised, most organic farms are using shipped in fertilizers and soil amendments, and they are still making the same pass over that grain field with some kind of equipment. But my intention of this post is to maybe help a chicken eater become a chicken husbandman.

We receive our chickens in the mail. They are sold in lots of 25, that is for hatch run, males and females. These cuties are about 2 days old. We pick them up the next morning after they are hatched. Chicks are available at local feed stores, but they normally feed antibiotics as a prophylactic measure. We prefer our birds never recieve antibiotics. If you get them from the hatchery and provide clean conditions and don't stress them, antibiotics are unnecessary. We make sure all things are in order before chick arrival: brooder lights working, waterers filled, feed and grit available. The requirements are the same as for pullets.

We want to pasture our birds, so we time their arrival for when the grass is lush and succulent, and the weather is fairly nice, but not full blown summer. Our chicks arrive the last week in April, and depending on weather, are moved outside to a movable field pen at 3 - 4 weeks of age. However, if the weather is inclement, we wait. This puts us at a processing date at the end of June, just before we begin haymaking, and gardening in earnest. This way, our chicken chores are done for the year, before we really get busy, and we have capitalized on the young, palatable grass for that beautiful, golden schmaltz!

Always training, we have a waterer available like the one the chickens will have in their outside pen. This relieves stress, for us and the chickens at moving time. These Plasson plastic bell waterers are wonderful - gravity flow, easy cleaning, adjustable height as the chicks grow, and have lasted us for a long time.
At first the chicks are not too adventuresome, and we use the small waterers, and as they get older we begin placing the small waterers closer to the hanging waterer, and before they know it, they are BIG chicks, drinking from the BIG waterer.

We brood our chicks in a small greenhouse/brooder with a dirt floor, but the greenhouse is not necessary it is just how our operation evolved. We deep bed, and clean out after the season. Allowing rest for the next year. As you can see, grass grows in the off season giving the chicks a look at real forage from day one. At the brooding stage, we gradually wean them off lights, and this is where the greenhouse structure really helps. Most days, in the spring, it is warm enough to turn the lights off. And by week 2-3 they don't need the lights at night either, unless it is unusually cold. By having the lights off at night they get some rest from the feed too, to prepare them for their life on pasture.

Ready to move to the field pen, at four weeks they are quite large and fully feathered.

I move these birds at least once if not twice a day, once they are on pasture. This gives them fresh grass that hasn't seen a chicken for a year, (very important for parasite control) and it spreads their nutrient rich manure on the pasture in usable amounts.

My routine is pull out trough feeders, place wheeled dolly under the pen at the back, and move the pen forward one length. This takes about a minute. I close the lid and go do some other chore. If they see me hanging around, they won't graze, they will wait for me to feed them. In about 30 minutes I return and fill their feeders, and water bucket, and I'm done. It is same in the evening, if I move the pen, except I don't withhold the feed, because usually I have other more pressing chores to do.

For the broilers, I like the pen. These chickens are very young, and need aerial and ground predator protection. Crows, ravens, raptors, cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, and cougars are all things we have had to deal with. This works best for us. Providing shelter from the elements, and fresh grass.

Electrified poultry netting also works in conjunction with a shelter, but while making less chores, it gives the birds less option for fresh grass. By less chores I mean you only have to monitor the feed and water, and can allow the chickens to move about. But moving the fence requires quite a bit of time, and more than one fence section, which can get expensive. And it requires some way to electrify the fence to keep (some) ground predators at bay. Electric fence will not stop aerial predation. And most people don't move the fence often enough. By day 3, the grass and forbs will be picked over, and you will have 3 days of manure in one spot instead on 1 day of manure. This sets the soil equilibrium out of balance, but it hard to detect until after you have done it, and then it takes several years to correct.

An acquaintance raises a batch of meat birds in her greenhouse in the winter, to replenish her growing beds for the next growing season.

Another option we have used is a smaller pen, say 4' x 8', made to fit over a garden bed. This is a great way to build new ground. Lay down your mulch material, lasagna style, place the pen bedded with straw or leaves, and put in the chickens, bed each day to tie down the nutrient rich manure, and move after 3 or 4 days. At that time, lay down more newspapers or ??? and move the chicken pen ahead. It may take several people to move the pen, because it has to be lifted up and carried ahead, while the chickens walk to their fresh new spot. The next year you will have garden beds you won't believe! I actually think this would work great in a community garden set-up, plenty of hands to help, and once you have the chickens, taking care of 50 is not much different than 25. Enriched compost additives and some tasty "home" grown birds. Not unlike the city market gardens of Peter Henderson's day.

One thing I think should be changed is allowing birds like this in the city. They make no noise, and if you are tying down your nutrients (manure) with enough carbon, there should not be any odor at all. If there is, add carbon - straw, leaves, what ever you have available.

And as an aside to that, if you have a tall fence, do it anyway. These chickens will be gone before your neighbors are any wiser... and maybe a fresh chicken will insure their silence.

As a final note, raising your own meat birds won't be cheaper than the supermarket chicken that is readily available. But if you factor in your feed and bedding purchases as "fertilizer" for your garden needs, and the satisfaction of being less dependent on the industrial food system, it is a win - win.
The following link is of our grazing broilers right after a move to fresh grass.
I posted about how far we stretch one of these chickens here. And I detailed our expenses here.
My prices are for Western Oregon, where feed prices are high.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

How Do We Choose Between Budget and Environment? Here Are 25 Ways To Do Both!

by Melinda

Change is brewing. Yesterday was a very powerful day for many of us, as we listened to the first African-American president, full of dreams for a better world mixed with the reality of what is at hand. I am thankful that a new hope has spread across the world. I am hopeful that we will unite together and bring our world into a new, mindful era. I have written more about these thoughts here.

The future holds many promises.  But at home, the reality of our economic situation is beginning to set in for most folks. Here in the United States, we're feeling the effects of the global recession every day. I've heard many people use the word Depression who wouldn't have dreamed of using that word only a few months ago. It is grim. It is getting worse. And it will get worse still before it gets better.

Unfortunately, this poses quite a dichotomy. The Recession makes it difficult to get by, to save, to spend any more than we have to spend.  Yet the pressure of climate change and the ethics we've taught ourselves says we must buy what is good for the environment and our communities.

Often doing our best to leave a lower impact means paying a little more, doesn't it? How do we stay true to our values while simply getting by during an economic crisis?  

So I made a list of the different things we do at home to save money and save the earth.  Some of these may be old news for you - in that case think of this as a reminder! - but hopefully each of us will find some gems in this list. Please do share other ideas that come to mind! 

25 Sustainability Changes That Save Money
  1. Take advantage of your local library for books, music, and videos.
  2. Walk or bike, use public transportation, carpool with neighbors and co-workers, and consolidate any car errands to one or two days per week.
  3. Think about getting rid of your car to save money on insurance, maintenance, and gas.
  4. Use a clothesline instead of the dryer.
  5. Replace paper towels & napkins with cloth.  You can make rags out of old clothing, and cloth napkins out of old sheets and curtains.
  6. Barter and trade with neighbors and friends.
  7. Utilize Freecycle, Craigs List, and other local free exchanges.
  8. Shop at thrift stores and garage sales, and arrange clothing swaps with friends and family.
  9. Make your own lunches for school and work.
  10. Stop buying snacks and take-out food, and instead cook at home.  If you need to save time, there are many quick seasonal recipes.  I've posted a few here.
  11. Buy in bulk: buy from bulk bins at your local market, buy large quantities of staples via special order from your local market or online, buy a whole case which generally comes with a case discount, and buy large packages of food you use regularly. If buying in bulk leaves you with too much food, go in on the purchase with a friend or set up a community buying club.
  12. If you are really needing extra help, go to your local food bank.  That's what they're for!
  13. Buy fruit and vegetable seconds and day old bakery items.  These are generally significantly reduced in price - often by 50% or more.  Generally you'll need to cook with them right away.
  14. Pick your own produce at a local farm.
  15. Grow your own food.
  16. Learn to preserve food by canning, drying, root cellaring, freezing, and pickling.  You can find books about how to do these things at your local library.
  17. Plan your menus.  If you plan your menus for the week, you will use all of the food you've purchased, you'll be able to shop just once a week, you can make sure to utilize seasonal items, and you can save time and stress by not having to worry about "what's for dinner."
  18. Recycle and compost as much as possible to reduce trash collection fees.
  19. Mend and repair.  You can pick up books from the library on how to sew, knit, repair furniture and cars, and so on.  And there are often free classes on such subjects - ask at your local college, community center, bulletin boards, and do a search on the internet. You may be surprised at what's out there!
  20. Make your own cleaning and body products from simple and cheap ingredients like vinegar, baking soda/bicarb, hydrogen peroxide, corn starch, cooking oil, lemon juice, and water.  You'll find several recipes here at the Co-op, and at Down To Earth.  I've recently shared my deodorant and hair washing methods.  Eileen just wrote about going entirely no 'poo.
  21. Unplug or turn off power switches to appliances when not in use, to save electricity.
  22. As they burn out, replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs.  They cost more initially, but they will save significant amounts of electricity and will last many times longer than an incandescent bulb.
  23. Reduce shower times, bathe less often, and use bath water to water outdoor plants and flush toilets.
  24. Turn off the television, get rid of your cable bill, and take up reading, knitting, and walking more regularly.
  25. Use coupons.  I recently bought a book of coupons for local shopping.  The book cost $20. The first coupon I used saved me $25.  I win!
Stay safe, healthy, and happy.  Things will get better.  In the meantime, the most important thing to remember is that we all survive better if we stick together.  Now is a great time to be a strong member in your community.  You are probably more knowledgeable and better equipped than most of your neighbors, so if you can, try to help them get through this crisis, too!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Grafting fruit trees

by: Matron of Husbandry
Throwback at Trapper Creek

Want to increase your fruit tree varieties? Try grafting, an age old skill that is fun and economical. This post is a re-hash of a grafting post I wrote last spring. Only this one is a little more timely so you can try your hand at grafting this spring.

Now is the time to be gathering your scion wood while it is still dormant. These photos show apple tree grafting, but I will stay with basic instructions that will work for most types of fruit.

What you are looking for in scion wood is, one year old wood, or last years growth. Probably the most important thing for me to share here is, sharpen your pruners. Most information I see in print, or on the internet about sharpening recommends once or twice a year, that is for pruning not propagating. Death vs. Life. For propagation to be successful, the cambium layers on your scion wood should not be damaged. I used to propagate dwarf conifers for wholesale nurseries and I sharpened my pruners each day that I pruned for cuttings. My pay depended on a successful outcome. I use Felco pruners and they are easy to take apart and service.

Old heirloom trees will have their newer growth at the top (usually out of reach) so you may need a pole pruner too. If you have young trees, the last years growth that you seek will be close at hand.

I cut off more than I need and leave the twigs whole. Label and mark your scion wood with: who, what, where, and when. If you are trying to save an old variety this information will be important, also if your graft doesn't work out, some of this info. may lead you to the cause of the failure. But, also, grafting needn't be only for named varieties, you may have a favorite apple that you covet, but the tree is unmarked. Go for it, if it is a good apple, it is worth propagating.

After labeling, wrap with paper towels, and seal in plastic bags, and refrigerate or heel in, in a pile of deep sawdust, or dirt. The goal is to keep the scion wood dormant and not let it sweat and mold, OR dry out.

The wood on the left of the growth ring is one year wood, suitable for grafting. The wood on the right is too old and tough to make a succesful graft with.

Now besides gathering your scion wood, you need to be purchasing rootstock for your new trees. Size matters..., there are many different rootstocks to choose from. This is a personal preference. I have used both standard and semi-dwarf, and now years later I wish I had used all standard. There are trade-offs to both, standards grow very large, take a long time to bear and are harder to harvest, but they are long lived, and work well with livestock. Semi-dwarf and dwarf, bear early, are easy to harvest but may not last your lifetime due to poor root systems. All my semi-dwarf trees are uprooting and needing more mainentance, my young standards are coltish but not uprooting. Our home orchard here on the farmstead was planted in 1881 as part of the proving up. The trees that have survived that time span, still bear (weather permitting) more than we need. I want my grafted trees to be here for my grandkids!

If you do purchase rootstock, when it arrives, plant it in large nursery pots or in a nursery bed in your garden where the young trees can stay for a year. The grafts need to be protected from intense summer sun, so plan accordingly. If you have a lath house for shade plants this would be ideal. I use pots and place them under a tree, near a hose, so I can easily monitor them and water if needed.

Another option is reworking some existing trees you may already have. If space is your concern, this may be the best option. We have all seen the 3-in-1 trees advertised. Now you can make your own. The only criteria is you have to match scion wood diameter to the limb you're grafting on. No apples and oranges either - only the same types of fruit can be on the same tree.

An old timer taught me this skill, and his best tip was to graft when the rootstock had broke dormancy, and the leaves were the size of mouse ears. Easy to remember, and what he really meant was make sure the sap is flowing enough to make your graft successful.

He also instructed me to save prunings from my apple trees for practicing my cuts. Like a good pie crust, you want to make short work of it. Optimum is two cuts for your apical wedge, one on each side of the scion wood. This requires a sharp knife and practice. Professional grafters get good at this because they are grafting many trees, it is harder when you do a handful a year. I'm lucky to do it in 3 or 4, but my grafts still turn out OK.

When the big day (mouse ears) arrives you will need the following:

  1. Dormant scion wood
  2. Pushing rootstock
  3. Sharp pruners
  4. Sharp knife
  5. Tree labels and a Sharpie
  6. Polyethylene tape (tree tape)
  7. Nerves of steel (just kidding)

Close-up of cutting the apical wedge. Start about 1/2" up the stem and make a downward cut, like sharpening a pencil with your pocket knife. Yeah, that is how I usually sharpen my pencils, that are outside.

Turn the scion wood over and do the same on the other side. Lay your scion wood on a clean surface and prepare the rootstock.

Cut the rootstock horizontally, matching the size of the rootstock to the scion wood. Next make a vertical cut/split about 1" down the rootstock.

Gently push the scion wood down into the rootstock cut. Match the cambium as close as possible. Cut the scion wood down to 2 - 3 buds. Note: in this photo the layers are NOT lined up yet.

Keeping the cambium layers aligned is important and the most difficult part of the graft. If they don't touch, the sap can't bridge the gap and heal the tree.

Wrap the joined area tightly with polyethylene grafting tape, (sometimes called tree tape) to keep the graft from drying out. You can also use grafting wax or grafting rubber bands. If you use the tape, you can actually watch for the callous as the the two surfaces join.

Grafted April 2008.

Keep your new tree out of hot sun, keep it well watered, and rub off any growth that appears below the graft union. Soon you should be able to see new growth emerging on your scion wood.

January 2009. A new , old tree!

Monday, 19 January 2009

A new way to look at things...

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

Around our house there’s a simple if unwritten rule when it comes to replacing things. It doesn’t leave the house unless it either can’t be repurposed, is being donated to a charity, Freecycled to someone else or is just plain old completely used up. Even when the latter is the case, there’s often a lot of good use still to be had from them with a bit of creative thinking. So I thought I’d go over a few basics for those just getting started in this way of thinking and maybe I can give you seasoned “greenies” some new ideas as well.

First of all, I think the best thing we can all do to lighten our collective footprints a bit, is to really decide whether we need to replace or throw out things to begin with. That simple act helps to fight two of the greatest things affecting our world, making new products and disposing of old ones. And now, I want to take a minute to qualify what it is that I just said. I’m not at all against buying new things. I’m also not at all against responsible disposal. We live on this planet and we’re going to have a footprint whether we like it or not. The thing is, we can all take personal responsibility for the things that we do decide to consume as well as how we dispose of them when their usefulness has expired. That’s what I’m trying to get at here, thinking about the things we do and why we do them. When we do that, we’ve taken one of the biggest steps that we can to really make a difference.

So then, back on topic; deciding whether to keep something or dispose of it. I read an article a while back in Mother Earth News that really nailed the way I try to look at things. Paraphrasing it, it said to “train yourself to look at things not as what they are, but what they could be.” For instance, a bookshelf may look too shabby to sit in the living room, but it would make a great storage unit in a garage. Maybe you’re changing out your windows to be better insulated. Don’t throw out the old ones, They could be a great cold frame for the winter greens.

One thing to do, however, is to learn some basics of how to Do It Yourself. Tools are costly to invest in sometimes, but in the long run they pay for themselves when it comes to extending the life of things or to repurpose them to other uses. The biggest tool you can have at your demand though, is your imagination. Here's an example.This is a table that we had in outr house for a couple of years. It originally came from a salvage store and was repainted by the wife and put to use as a computer table. After a little reorganizing, we realized we didn’t need the table and it made its way to the garage. We didn’t get rid of it because we knew it was sold and well made. A few months later, A~ decided she needed a runner table to go along the wall in the front room. What do you know, we have here the makings of a fine runner table! A little sawing, some sanding and a repaint and Voila!Good as new, and for what? Nothing but some sweat equity. I’ll admit it took a little bit of skill and it’s not the type of project that you might want to take on to begin with, but it’s so possible. Start small, learn some skills and keep trying and next thing you know, you’re an official re-purposer extraordinaire.

So maybe right now the big DIY projects aren’t what you’re up to. Not to worry, there’s always things all around us that are perfect for some need that we have if we’re willing to put a little ego aside and just ask. And that, is the second most important tool available to us. A willingness to talk to others about what your doing, and when possible just ask if you can have something. You’d be amazed at what is available. I was able to pick up this fire pit for nothing a couple of summers ago. If you look close, you’ll notice that it’s actually a solid iron Manhole cover ring that’s upside down. While the family and I were off collecting some disposed of concrete to complete some landscaping work around our place, I spied this sitting in a vacant lot used by a construction company. I asked the foreman, he said yes and we had our selves a perfect fire pit!

So then, are you getting my point? There’s a huge amount of stuff laying around, probably at your own home that could go to great use if you just forget what it is and look for what it could be.

But what if something truly is just completely used up? Toss it right? Well, parts of it yeah…but not all. A little something I like to do, is to take the item apart and collect all those great little screws and washers that are all over the item. I have a bin at my workshop desk where I can store all the random screws and what not’s that I can find. You’d be amazed at how many things you can fix with those little suckers. And is the item metal, or aluminum or plastic? Chances are at least part of it is so go ahead and whack that part off and drop it into a recycle bin. Better it go to some good use than just sit around under the landfill for the next 200 years right?

I know this is one of those most basic of Simple Green and Frugal living tasks, but really, isn’t it also one of the most important ones too? Don’t be afraid to try things out or to tinker a little bit. The items that you reuse, renew and recycle will save you money, save the planet, and give you a great sense of accomplishment.

All the best to you all.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Line Drying Laundry Indoors

Beauty That Moves
Today I'm taking you into my basement to share how we line dry our laundry. We live on the top of a hill, and our basement is nice and dry. I actually find it remarkably bright and not so scary for an older house. By now most of you know my family lives on a pretty small piece of property; we don't have the best outdoor options for putting up a clothesline, so we brought it indoors!

We've lived in this house for about five years, this has been our main method of drying clothes for about half that time. Before that, we used those wooden collapsible drying racks. They definitely do not last long term, they can be flimsy (unless you spend a huge amount of money on the fancy ones), and they take up so much space... spread out from room to room. It is also nearly impossible to dry a quilt or sheets on them.

Before we move on, here's a little old house trivia... behind that door is a toilet. No sink, no tile floor, no walls to the ceiling. Just a very old style toilet on the cement floor. Many of the old homes in my neighborhood have them, nobody knows exactly why. The most common theories are: they are the original bathrooms to the houses, or they were put in during the Great Depression when it was common for folks in mill towns to take in boarders. If you have any thoughts on this, please share! It's a bit of a local mystery...

I asked my husband to build us something that could take the place of our portable wooden drying racks. We had a few discussions about the details... we decided the only new material we would purchase for the project was the length of clothesline, we simply didn't have that amount of rope on hand. The rest of the project was to be made entirely of supplies found already at the house. And there is quite a mix of supplies in here as a result. I think one of the stabilizers on the floor (in the front, top picture) is actually an old wooden curtain rod left by the previous owner.

A few more details... I wanted the rows of clothesline to stagger, similar to the design of those portable racks. Adam took this into consideration when he located and drilled the holes for the rope to be fed through. Staggered holes, staggered line. I also wanted it be wide enough to hang a quilt on, and it is! That is a pretty dreamy detail for an indoor laundry drying arrangement. And finally, I didn't want it to be too deep. I would need to reach back there! Well, all was achieved and we've been using this for almost three years now.

Looking at the photo above you'll notice a section of rope that is vertical, right in the front of the picture. When the frame was first in place, I thought Adam would just string each level individually and tie it off, then move down to the next. He explained that by running the rope continuously through the entire structure we would be able to untie it in one place should we ever need to "re-tighten" the whole thing as time passed. In the almost three years of use we've needed to re-tighten only once.

You can also see there are a few small hooks he put on the front. These are very useful for hanging ladies strappy things. :)

One more detail to note. Looking back at the top photo you can see he secured the framework to the ceiling rafters, and those braces on the floor are attached to the frame sides only, not the floor.

The measurements are: 78" wide (6 1/2 ft) x 19.5" deep. Approximately 117 linear feet of drying space!

I can easily hang three large loads of laundry on this drying rack.

The whole system works beautifully for us. Oh, in case you were wondering, my washing machine is just to the left of the screen in these photos. Everything about this is convenient as well as efficient. There is no correct way to do this, I bet if you look at the photos for a few minutes the wheels will start turning for how something like this could work in your home.