Showing posts with label self reliance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self reliance. Show all posts

Wednesday, 13 June 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

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Man skills

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I don't know what else to call them - most people will know what I mean by 'man' skills, much as it irks me to divide labour along gender lines in this day and age. These are the areas of production that, in peacetime at least, have been the domain of men. Perhaps we could call them hard skills, as they involve sharp edges, hard surfaces, fire and electrical currents. A little danger, if you will, when contrasted against the much softer, rounder edges of garden, yarn and kitchen crafts.These are the industries that most commonly employed men and the skills kept alive, mostly by men, tinkering in sheds.

Until this week, I knew not a single person that shaped metal and welds in their spare time. I work in facilities management and the maintenance teams, comprised entirely of men, are obviously quite handy. But the older ones complain that the younger ones coming in from college lacking old skills - mental arithmetic, a working knowledge of their allied disciplines, a willingness to think outside the box. The number of jobs in these practical sectors seems to be continually shrinking. Whether this is a reality or not I don't know, but all of the people that I know that work in less tactile service industries do not pursue these hard practical skills in their spare time. They have hobbies - cooking, yarn crafts, gardening and may have an admiration for cars and gadgets. Few of them however, myself included, can fix a cooker, make a spinning wheel, re-handle a spade, perform an oil change or build a PC from spare parts.

Part of the problem I think is that these skills are less accessible and more expensive to learn. They require dedicated workshop space and tools. Many of them require a solid knowledge of scientific principles which many come out of school lacking. Part of it might be a mental block - these are the things that so many who are trying to simplify and transition to a lower energy future really can't imagine having to supply for themselves. I would hope against hope that women are not held back from them because they are unladylike, though I fear that may often be the case. But the idea that a powered down future is going to be built solely with knitting and seedlings is dangerous. I fear we may end up with an overabundance of skilled cooks, knitters and gardeners; and an under abundance of welders, tool sharpeners and ham radio enthusiasts.

Why is this on my mind?

This is the plough our allotment neighbour built. He spent the winter in Bangladesh on his family farm and brought this back with him. It is made from scrap metal, hand cut and shaped, welded together. It fits into a extendable paint roller handle. He shipped it back from Bangladesh, I suppose, because his expensive diesel powered rotovator was mangled by a piece of scrap metal buried on his plot. It is sturdy. It cuts through soil and weeds like a knife through butter and ploughs an allotment row in minutes. It laughs in the face of the scrap metal buried on his plot - and if it does get mangled, it can be repaired by hand with pieces of scrap metal. I am in awe of the handiwork and ashamed that I would not have a clue where to even begin with a project like this, short of 'Step 1: find scrap metal'.

My own grandad was a ham radio enthusiast. He built his own aerial in the back garden. He was an early adopter of computer technology and tinkered with all things electrical and mechanical. If I had grown up around him I may have been more handy than I am, but regardless of our crafts, I think that his example is why the DIY ethic courses through my veins. But my skills are all distinctly 'soft' and I felt both in awe and completely inadequate when confronted with this plough. Awe and inadequacy combined are an inspirational combination and I am now on the look out for my own 'hard' skill to develop over the next few years, though what it will be I do not know.

What 'hard' skills do you possess and are you trying to pass them on to others or revive them? Is there something you want to learn and what is stopping you? And what should I do? Ideas much appreciated...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Fencing in the Wild

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

I've ticked off one of my New Year's Resolutions. We've just come home from a week in wild weather at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island - one of the most beautiful wild places on earth. I went swimming in the surf every day, collected seaweed for my seaweed brew, and walked around North Gorge every morning.

North Gorge walk at Point Lookout is spectacular. I never ever walk it without seeing wildlife - pods of dolphins surfing in on waves, sea turtles, manta rays, humpbacks in whale season. When we were kids the walk was a goat track round the rocks, a narrow unfenced track with sheer drop-offs 40 metres down to ocean so blue you can see turtles swimming metres underwater.

I vividly remember going round the gorge once as a child - I must have been about nine or ten - in wild weather. Lashing rain, huge waves crashing against the rocks sending spray up even to the 40 metre height of the headland, sea turquoise mixed with gunmetal, the gorge full of mermaid foam.

Gradually, over the years, the walk has been tamed, first with steps in the rock, then fencing along parts, then broadwalks. This time, for the first time, most of the way is broadwalk. It is a beautifully built broadwalk, and I can see the point. I have walked it with my kids with my heart in my mouth. I have feared to take other people's kids, especially in wild weather. But there is a part of me that mourns the taming.

We humans have an appetite for thrill. On the way there we passed Dreamworld themepark at the Gold Coast,  advertising "The Tower of Terror" where "riders soar 100m into the atmosphere dangling for several seconds of stomach-churning weightlessness at its peak before plummeting back to earth". Dreamworld says the Tower of Terror mark 1 had over 8 million "panicked passengers."

It's an odd idea. A hugely expensive, constructed mechanism designed to create the thrill of fear, the illusion of danger without real danger. Artificial. Unreal. A lie.

I don't think that kind of exploitation of the taste for terror is healthy, but I do think there is something valuable that is lost - maybe necessarily, but sadly - in the broadwalk around North Gorge. That walk taught me, as a child, some valuable lessons, like some risks are not make-believe but permanent. Wild nature is spectacularly beautiful and can take you to profound places, but it doesn't take care of you.  I can do things that are risky and keep myself safe.  Fear is not a reason to stop, or a reason to go, but a reason to take care.

North Gorge offered the opportunity to look at real danger, to experience the thrill, but to have total control over the risk. Fishermen have been washed off the lower rocks, but I can't find a record of anyone actually slipping off the track. It's a lot more relaxing and meditative a walk these days, and still spectacularly beautiful. But thrill that is both real and confrontable is rare, and it's a bit sad to lose it.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Winter Checklist

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Sweet Meat Winter Squash.

Just a quick winter checklist from the farmstead:

1) Check stored vegetables and fruits for signs of spoilage, use up blemished specimens first. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

2) Check home canned foodstuffs for bad seals. Discard any spoiled food safely.

3) Make a mental note of what home preserved foods you are really using up and which are not too popular. This information will be helpful when planning your next garden.

3) Stock up on winter emergency kit supplies, such as stored water, first aid supplies, batteries, flashlights, lanterns etc.

4) If you have livestock, try to keep at least two months of feed on hand. In extreme cold weather animals can easily eat twice as much. Count salt as feed too, adequate salt intake along with water really helps an animal regulate their body temperature.

Stay warm and have a great holiday!!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Considering Staples in the Garden

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Harvest time is still in full swing in our garden, and while we are busy, it is still a good time to assess the garden and think of next years garden. Consider growing staples. Staples in the garden are usually easy to grow, and easy to store for long periods. Many take no processing, just harvesting and proper storage. And many don't require any energy to store, just proper attention to the particular vegetable and its storage requirements which may vary. Cool, dry, room temperature, and high humidity are the factors you need to consider when choosing a staple crop to grow and store.

Crops that I consider staples in my garden are potatoes, winter squash, dry beans and storage onions in addition to root crops like carrots, beets, rutabagas, and parsnips. Your list of staples may be different due to climate and growing conditions. Sweet potatoes are a marginal, fussy crop in my area and Irish potatoes are not. The path of least resistance is the most energy conscious footprint for the garden. Grow what suits your area.

The downside to growing staples is that to be a staple, that implies that you need a large amount to last into winter and maybe spring until the garden gets going again. Large amounts of vegetables require space to grow. Growing staples just may become a community building exercise. Garden too small? Ask a neighbor to allow you to expand your garden, or collaborate with a friend and instead of growing all your crops in one place, trade off. Grow up too, the sky is the limit, many plants take well to trellising, and can be trained on various types of trellis materials.

I'm just tossing ideas out there for more pantry building gardens. Soon the garden will be put to bed and seed catalogs will start appearing in our mailboxes. Winter is a good time to rest, rejuvenate and plan for next year. Bring the new seed catalogs on!

Thursday, 4 August 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
food forests
storing and preserving food, including lacto-fermentation
sourdough bread baking
home medicinals
first aid
weaving and fibre crafts
alternative building and energy
crisis comprehension
keeping poultry
home dairying
fermented dairy products
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?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

I Occasionally Want But I Don't Need

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I'm not sure about you, but for many of the people I know I am the only person they know who lives a simple, green, frugal and downshifted life. Many of them would never elect to go without their SUV's, drive through dinners, busy schedules, quest to climb the career ladder, extensive clothing/shoe/jewelry collections, the convenience of disposable diapers or even the use of paper plates {I have a friend who uses paper plates, cups and cutlery for all their meals - going through 72 of each per week!}. One of the main things I've noticed is they struggle to understand why anyone would choose to wash dishes by hand, hang clothes to dry, live without a vehicle, wait for books at the library and wonder how anyone can want those things. I try never to seem perfect or totally put together either on my blog or in real life and I certainly share that there are times I do really wish for a little bit of convenience {usually after a long hard day!} and yes, occasionally I want. The other day after a long day, I thought about all the things I occasionally want and I wrote them down. A few minutes later I countered my wants by identifying what my needs were...

I want to drive a car down a big open road, listen to tunes on the radio & gaze at the sky...but I don't need to own a car.

I want a week of no dishes...but I don't need a dishwasher, I have two hands that work perfectly well

I want a weekend where I don't have to make time to take my food waste to the city compost when my vermicomposting worms aren't quite up to the challenge...but I don't need that time, in fact I like my weekly walk and I certainly like my worms {most days!}

I want to be able to eat 3 mouthfuls of a cookie {which contains gluten} without spending the night with skin bleeding {like it is tonight!}...but I don't need to eat cookies to survive, in fact going without cookies is a good way to make my frugal budget stretch further

I want to have some reprieve from life & eczema by sitting on a beach in the sun for a week or more {just like my Dr. recommended!} and enjoying a good 5* service...but I don't need anything except inner peace and the earth certainly doesn't need those carbon miles!

I want a much healthier bank account...but I don't need anything more than trust, sacrifice and perseverance and I certainly don't need more work hours to give me that bigger bank account

I want a microwave to make my meals in 2 minutes flat...but I don't need things to be ready at the push of a button, there is a rhythm to waiting for good nourishing food that fills my evening routine, which I'd be sad to say goodbye to

I want a week of no dishes...but I don't need a dishwasher, I have two hands that work perfectly well

I want a new wardrobe that doesn't need to be built around my skin issues or a non-existent budget... but I don't need anymore than I have, even if compared to the world it is more than frugal.

I want my clothes to be dried in a dryer with no creases and no extra work of hanging to dry...but I don't need a dryer and there is something exceptionally mentally cleansing about hanging clothes to dry!

I want land with lambs, donkeys, rabbits and chickens {oh my!}... but I don't need anything more than myself in order to live the frugal, simple and green life.

Once I finished writing out my list, I reflected on what life would be like if I had all those wants. The truth is, my life wouldn't be something I personally would want to lead. I have enjoyed my little journey in downshifting, learning self-sufficiency skills and the peaceful rhythm which finds its way into my daily and weekly life. I like that my choices reflect the values I have and that I aim to tread lightly on this earth. Yes I occasionally have hard days, every so often I wish there was a little button I could push to make that particular day easier, but the truth is, I wouldn't swap my new life, or my new choices, to return to my old ways. Nope, no going back!

What things do you occasionally want that you don't need? Do you think about what life would be like if you weren't on this journey? Could you ever go back?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Sweetest Time

Here at Chiot's Run the first warmup in the spring signals the start of sugaring season. Early last week we had a day that warmed above freezing so we went out and put taps in all of our maple trees (about 25 taps total). Our predictions were correct and the sap started flowing in some of the trees immediately.
A Little Valentine's SweetnessA Little Valentine's Sweetness
Tapping your maple trees is a wonderful way to get back outside in the spring weather. The season starts before you can do much of anything else in the garden. It really helps cure my cabin fever. Many people think that you can only tap sugar maples, but that is not the case. Most types of maples can be tapped. You'll get a little less syrup as the sap has a little less sugar in it. None of our trees are sugar maples, and our final syrup is fantastic! Of course you have to live in an area with the right climate and you have to have days above freezing and nights below freezing.
A Little Valentine's Sweetness
If you're interested in sugaring your maples I'd recommend it. It's really not that difficult, basically you collect sap from maple trees, boil it down, finish to a certain temperature, strain and enjoy. I'd highly recommend getting a book like Backyard Sugarin' to read through before you begin. I'd also highly recomend reading the book Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup, it only the how to of making maple syrup, but some history and an explanation of the beauty of the process. OSU has a great article about hobby maple syrup production that is very in depth if you want to get started right away and don't want to get a book (and it's FREE).
A Little Valentine's Sweetness
You can purchase supplies at on-line, if you don't need tons of supplies Tap My Trees is a great place. I go my local Lehman's store to purchase what I need, you may also be able to find a local store if you check around. There are a bunch of places on-line so search around, I'm guessing if you live in an area where you can tap your trees you'll be able to find supplies locally.
Finishing Off Maple Syrup
We already collected 25 gallons of sap, then the weather turned cold and the sap stopped flowing. It will start again when it warms and we'll keep collecting sap until the trees bud out. Last year we were able to get over a gallon of syrup from our 10-15 trees, hopefully this year we'll get more if the season is longer!

Do you or have you considered tapping your maple trees?

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.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Seed Starting 101

by Chiot's Run

"Judge every day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you sow."
-Robert Louis Stevenson

Here at Chiot's Run I start all of my vegetables and many of my herbs and plants from seed. I do this not only to save money, but because enjoy doing it. It's a great way to help get through those long cold dark winter months here in NE Ohio. I also enjoy the wonder that comes from seeing tiny seeds grow into big beautiful plants.

Another reason I grow everything from seed myself is because I want to know what goes into my food. There isn't an organic greenhouse around here from which I can purchase organic seedlings. That means that the ones I buy are coated with chemical fertilizers and insecticides, which is not OK with me when it comes to my food, or any other plants in my garden.

Last spring I did a Seed Starting 101 Series on my blog with ten in depth posts dealing with the different aspects of seed starting. I won't re-post them here because the comment section of each post is filled with fabulous information from other seasoned gardeners. If you have never done it and are looking to give it a whirl head on over and read through this series. If you start all you plants from seed and are an expert head on over and add some advice to the comment section.

The Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
Getting Started
Soil Mix
The Needs of Seeds
My Workflow
Diseases and Problems
Hardening Off
Learn More Each Season

Do you start your own plants from seed?

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.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Trying my Hand at Winter Gardening

by Chiot's Run

I'm lucky that we have a year round farmer's market that opened up last year. I can now find local produce all winter long, which is wonderful in our cold climate. Last winter I happily purchased all kinds of wonderful vegetables from various local farmers to get us through the winter. I'm always trying to expand my gardening so I can produce more and more of our food. Since we live on a small lot and don't have much more gardening space, I'm starting to expand the seasons that I grow. I installed hoops over my raised bed specifically for protecting crops from our cold NE Ohio weather. A few weeks ago I covered my raised beds with greenhouse plastic in my efforts to grow all winter long.
Four Season Gardening
Most everything in these beds were seeded in early October, and they seem to be thriving in the cool fall weather. They do take longer to reach maturity, mostly because of the reduced daylight hours not as much the cold. I have 3 raised beds at my house and 2 in my mom's garden. They're filled with cold tolerant lettuces, spinach, bunching onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, celery, arugula and kohlrabi.
Four Season Gardening
I searched out cold tolerant heirloom varieties of vegetables for my experiment. I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to provide a lot of my own vegetables (mostly greens) during the long cold winter months. (If you want to learn more about four season gardening I'd highly recommend Eliot Coleman's book The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses)

Have you tried winter gardening? What do you use to protect your crops?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Assembling a 1st Aid or Emergency Kit

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

Recently I was fortunate enough to have a young man with EMT training and work experience as a guest in my home.  When I told him I was interested in putting together first aid kits for my home and car he kindly retrieved his own emergency medical kit from his car and spent about an hour going through it with me, explaining the use of each item.  I thought this would be valuable information to share with the readers here.  This is a summary of what he told me.

Look at a surplus military supply outlet for a good backpack to hold your kit.  It should have one zipper that allows the pack to open up completely and lay flat, so that you can see most or all of your supplies at a glance.  It's helpful to have small slots to hold some medical tools and supplies in place so that they don't jostle around inside.  He also liked the particular pack he carries because it can expand outward by means of "bellows" construction compartments, but the pack can also be fastened down as tightly as the contents allow by means of straps on the outside.

When he opened his pack and laid it out on the floor, one side had a mesh screen which clearly showed the contents of that half of the pack.  Here, he said, he kept the items he might need most quickly, such as:
  • a face mask (for himself), 
  • latex gloves
  • blood stopper bandages - which can either be stuffed into a large wound or rolled all the way around a torso or thigh
  • Quickclot - a powdered substance that can be poured into a large wound to clot it very quickly through chemical action.  Interestingly, he would be prohibited from using this as a working EMT, but it's legal for ordinary people to carry and use.
  • antibacterial, single use towelettes 
  • triangular bandage, which can be used as a sling, comes with safety pins, and is sometimes called a "cravat"
On the other side of his pack he carried the following:
  • saline solution in a spray tip bottle - good for flushing out wounds and many other purposes
  • triple antibiotic ointment - both a large tube and single use packets
  • a space blanket - good for hypothermia victims, but he also said it's a good emergency shelter
  • Sam splint - a splint that can be cut to fit anything from a finger to an elbow, and though flexible, will hold its shape and support a great deal of body weight
  • tampons - sterile and designed to be highly absorbent, so as good for puncture wounds as for menstruation
  • fabric tape and water proof tape - good for all kinds of bandaging and splinting
  • Ace coflex bandage - looks like the familiar tan fabric binding, but this stuff sticks to itself which is very useful when you need a lot of pressure applied constantly
  • Instant cold pack - a chemical snap pack that can provide instant cold, but only over a very short period
  • burn gel - a liquid coated bandage used as first treatment for a relatively small 2nd or 3rd degree burn
  • sterile gauze pads in various sizes
In the outer pockets of his backpack were other items, such as:
  • plastic oral pharyngeal airways, also called "artificial airways" - these come in graduated sizes and are placed all the way at the back of the mouth of an unconscious person to maintain an open airway
  • medical shears - he said they'll cut through absolutely anything a person might be wearing, critical if you need to get at a bullet wound or cut through an underwire bra to use a defibrillator
  • CPR masks - these provide a one-way barrier against infection, in favor of the person providing aid
  • tongue depressors - good for depressing tongues or improvising finger splints
  • hemostats (2) - he said the most likely scenario for him to use them would be if he were to help a woman deliver a baby
  • seat belt cutter - looks like some envelope cutters I've seen, but used to safely and quickly cut through a seat belt to remove an accident victim from a vehicle
  • window punch - used to shatter tempered glass in cars, but won't work on the windshield, only side windows, and you need to wear a glove when using one of these
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • glucose gel - for diabetics in a coma
  • ear plugs
He also recommended a website to me as a good place to find the sorts of supplies he carries at very reasonable rates.  Although you must order from Moore Medical in bulk quantities, he said that the bulk quantities weren't huge, and in any case you'd often pay the same price for one or two bandages at a drug store as you'd pay for 100 by ordering through the website.   It seems to me that since I want three separate kits anyway, buying in bulk isn't so very unreasonable.  If I can find even one other family who wants one kit for their home and two for their vehicles, that's a six-way split for any items purchased in bulk.

Taking a first aid class and putting together first aid kits has been on my goal list since the beginning of this year. Although I have yet to schedule my husband and myself for Red Cross classes, I now feel that I can at least get started with putting together some basic supplies.  And perhaps paying attention to such hope-we-never-need-it stuff will encourage me to find a class at a time convenient to both of us.  

Do you have first aid or emergency kits in your home or vehicle?  If you do and you include any items not listed here, please share in the comments.

Thursday, 2 September 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?

Thursday, 10 June 2010

What Does Your Body Tell You?

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I'll be honest, I never used to listen to my body, in fact if you'd of told me my body was trying to tell me something I probably would have looked at you like you had 100 heads, or maybe 101 ;-) Slowly but surely as I started to work less and live more, stop running and instead being I learned that my body has a natural rhythm that I need to, when possible (or perhaps more correctly, as much as possible) respect.

I never really felt, or understood when my body had too much sugar, or needed more water, more rest, or perhaps more correctly a more restful life. As I began to make different, more homemade food choices, I noticed when I reverted to unhealthier food choices, I was thirsty or would get a headache. I found when I went to bed late and woke later, I had less energy than going to bed early and rising earlier. Gradually, I began to see my body as a story teller, of a tale which was beautiful, complicated, intricate and delicate. I began to see the link between how I was feeling with what was happening internally rather than externally. Before it was so easy to blame a busy day or a disgruntled co-worker or even the weather, now I know for the most part it is much more about me.

Health is defined not merely as the absence of disease, but according to the World Health Organization is about a complete physical, mental and social well-being. So what exactly does this wonderful story telling entity tell me now:

- When I need more water
- When I need more rest
- When I need time to myself
- When I need time with friends
- When I need to pull in
- When I need to branch out
- When I need to eat veggies or fruit or have more fiber
- When I need to pray, reflect, meditate
- When I need to exercise
- When I need to make amends
- When I need to be outside
- When I need the sun
- When I need to dance in the rain
- When I need to feed my brain
- When I need to nurture my soul
- When I need to nurture other's souls, give and serve

And last but by no means least, it also tells me when I need to knit. Yes, knitting is most certainly a need! ;-)

What does your body need? Do you listen to it's rhythm? Do you nurture your soul?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

It's a State of Mind, A Way of Doing Things

Working with the idea posted here earlier about family work weekends, I wanted to give a glimpse of our set up. We have our share of friends and family who are also homesteading on acreages, and then we also have some who live in town and urban homestead. Due to limited space/light/laws we end up sharing our space with them, so they can expand on what they do there. In exchange they help us keep up with what we do. Recently we added a new goat, already in milk to our herd, a sweet Toggenberg named Ginger. We weren't really planning on doing any milking until next spring, but Ginger came from a family who needed to find a good home for many in their herd, and we were itching to be able to supply our own dairy products. This lead to a scurry of gathering parts and pieces we were going to need, including (but certainly not limited to!) a milking stand. The home we adopted Ginger from had a wooden milking stand, which they had advised against, as they were having issues with mildew. After searching numerous pages of terribly-expensive-on-a-homesteader's-budget stands made of wood, pvc or metal, I decided that we would chance the wood. The cost of the stands available through catalogs and such were in the area of $175-$200 plus shipping which was generally around $65. The cost of materials for our homemade one: $30. No comparison.
This stand was also built by two terribly talented ladies, myself and one of my closest friends and partner in crime, er, homesteading (she's my urban counterpart, so to speak). It went together easily; we used the directions for a stand from Fias Co. Farm, which is also where we get our animal health products like the herbal wormer we use. I love Molly's site-she is very thorough in her explanations of how and why she does what she does with her goats. The stand works wonderfully, and has already served another purpose as I sheared our Border Cheviot sheep, Chrysanthemum yesterday. It is lightweight and sealed with oil. I wipe down with the same soapy solution I clean the milking dishes with each milking, and dry it to avoid any growth issues.
All of this is not to push Fias Co. farm's site (though I do love them!) or to brag or just chat about how I spend my weeknights, but rather to talk about how many resources (including this blog :)  ) are available to the simply, frugally, green minded individual out there that makes it easier for them to live the way they do. The internet has made it so easy to find others who have been through the same trenches we have been or are in. It is easy to order or follow the insight of the first site hits google brings up, but I find that there is great value in taking time to look at all your options and seek what fits you best. I respect the opinion of the fine farm family we bought Ginger from, and I agree they have an issue with the stand they use. I also know our situation and what we can make work. I took time (though I was on a deadline) and figured out what would fit our budget and time. That wouldn't have worked, though, without the help of our friends, either. I am not a craftsman when it comes to wood working, but by combining talents (every Thursday night, at that) we are able to achieve more, and work towards our goals for more self-sufficiency and frugality. And it was fun. I think too often we see work rather than opportunities for gathering. I actually enjoy working-I know it sounds crazy to some, but the feeling of accomplishing something is far more gratifying than the click of a button in ordering it from some distant company. All in the homesteader's day to day, and I wouldn't change any of it.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Work Weekends

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

My mother and her four siblings have regular get-togethers that really work for them.  Each of the five siblings, who are spread over four states in the northeastern part of the US, hosts all the others and their spouses once per year for what they call a work weekend.  This tradition was instituted about twelve years ago, and began as a "sisters' cleaning weekend."  That was just my mom and her sisters, pitching in together to tackle some of the biggest and most tedious house cleaning chores.  But then one of my uncles caught wind of this and wanted to know why he hadn't been included.  Thus the work weekends were launched.

The way it works is that all the siblings and spouses show up at one sibling's home on Friday night.  The host sibling puts everyone up, feeds them for the weekend, and creates a list of projects to be accomplished.  It's very much to the host's benefit to be organized in terms of having on hand whatever tools or materials will be needed for the work weekend, otherwise a run to the hardware store might interrupt work.  Everyone pitches in for a full day on Saturday, and a half day on Sunday, so that everyone can get home at a reasonable hour.  (Some of them have very long drives.)

The thing that's so neat about this family tradition is that it has really brought them all together, five times per year, and the visits are now enjoyable for everyone.  Previous family get-togethers had tended to be contentious if not acrimonious.  Having productive work to do together has really changed the family dynamic in profound ways.  My mother's family are all hard workers too.  So although it is a lot of work for the hosting sibling in terms of organization and accommodation, an amazing amount can be accomplished in a very short time.

The projects that my parents, aunts and uncles have worked on over the years are remarkably diverse: bathroom renovation, staining a deck, window cleaning, kitchen cabinet cleaning, breaking turf for a new garden, planting fruit trees, stripping and painting furniture, building raised beds in a garden, installing a fence, repointing a brick chimney, building a deck or shed, clearing brush, chopping firewood - you name it, they've done it.  After a hard day's work, there's always dinner and dessert, which are usually excellent because most of my mom's family are very good cooks.  Nickel-dime-quarter poker always follows dinner, and there's usually six or seven of us around the table.  Yes, I turn up for the poker whenever I can, even if I miss the work!

Because you see, although my cousins and I turn up at some weekends and pitch in, the generational divide has been made very clear to us. We're on our own for work weekends.  Our parents have their yearly schedule, and they're not going to commit to travel and work for my generation.  Which is fair enough.

Though I've tried a few times to interest my cousins in organizing a work weekend exchange, it just doesn't seem to be the right time.  Most of my cousins now have small children, and traveling the distances that separate us would be burdensome for them.  It's not the same time of life that our parents started their work weekends; they waited until their kids were out of the house.  So instead, I've arranged a work weekend exchange this year with three local friends who are interested.  We've modified my family's arrangement somewhat, because we're all local.  No need to put anyone up for the night, and we've agreed that the host is only responsible for lunch, not breakfast or dinner.  We're also only working for one full day out of each weekend.  While the plan is to work on Saturdays, we decided that everyone would reserve the entire weekend, just in case of rain.  The host can decide to take the rain date, and have everyone work on Sunday, or just organize a list of things that can be done indoors if it rains all weekend.

So far we've had one of the four work weekends, and it mostly involved window cleaning.  My turn is this weekend though.  On my agenda is adding a lot of compost to the garden beds, some weeding, and some lasagna mulching.  The plan for lunch is to set out roast chicken, beans, brown rice, avocados, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, and warm tortillas so that everyone can roll their own burritos.  A cheap, healthy meal that should keep my workers fueled.  And yes, I know how much it pays to treat your work weekend participants right, so chocolate chip cookies will be on offer too.  There will be beer for the end of the day as well. 

I wanted to mention this tradition that I'm attempting to borrow from my own family, because I know what it's like to have great ambitions for projects and yet feel like it's impossible to find the time to get it all done.  Work weekends require a commitment of organization, as well as the obligation to work as hard for others as we do for ourselves.  But I've seen first hand how much of a difference working together can make - not only how much gets accomplished in very little time, but also how working together knits relationships more densely together as well.  The old saying is that many hands make light work.  I've also seen that many hands working together over years and years have made my family much stronger, closer, more trusting, and more available for each other in bad times.  We still crack jokes at each other's expense.  There's still drama and hurt feelings from time to time.  But we know deep down - for certain - that we're there for each other as an extended family.  And I'm not sure that would be true if not for the work weekends.

So I'm hopeful, going into my own first time hosting a work weekend.  The participants in this case are friends and not family, not even close friends yet if I'm honest.  I'd certainly love it if I could someday have a work weekend arrangement with my cousins.  But I'd rather get started with friends who may someday become as close as family than wait for my cousins' kids to all grow up.  I might end up with chosen family out of the shared work.

Does your family have any similar tradition?  Could you commit to working hard several weekends out of the year if it meant a willing crew of workers were available to you once per year?  What project would you most like to tackle on a work weekend?

Monday, 5 April 2010

The lazy preserver

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Maybe claustrophobic preserver would be a more apt description. I feel hemmed in by having too much preserved. Preserved doesn't mean food lasts forever, and it loses quality fast in the freezer compared to other methods that I have come to depend on. I can some, I freeze some, I dry some, I lacto-ferment some, I root cellar some, and some I just harvest all winter long.

Growing up, canning and freezing was it. You grew summer crops, and you preserved them in the fall, and then you ate canned or frozen summer vegetables all winter long... . Now I have nothing against eating summer fruits all winter long, in any shape or form. But vegetables - I want summer squash in the summer - and I want my winter squash in the winter, even though I grew it during the summer. I have definitely acquired a seasonal palate, and to sooth my seasonal palate I have changed my gardening habits too.

I no longer chase the 10 different varieties of any vegetable unless I am trialing it. And to trial in my garden, means you better produce lots, survive with minimal care, taste good, have a snappy name, and probably be purple ;) Ok, so the purple isn't that important - but it does catch my eye.

By changing what we eat, and when we eat it, things have fallen into place in the garden and in the preserving kitchen. I am always on the lookout for vegetables that store easily without any preserving or energy use, vegetables that can be left in situ and harvested as needed, or that overwinter in the garden without much protection before they begin to grow again. And like anything, not just one method fits: we have winter squash in an unheated bedroom, potatoes in the barn, root crops left in the row and hilled with soil, and greens growing in the garden. By eating winter type vegetables in the winter, and summer type vegetables in the summer, we are eating in season, and getting away from the store mentality of, everything is available every single day of the year. We find we enjoy different foods much more this way. After a winter of beets, I will not miss them in the summer. And the same goes for most of summer vegetables too - when the first brussels sprout is ready in October, I am glad to kiss lettuce good bye for awhile. Until we meet again in the spring, my deer tongue!

This week on our table, from the garden and our stores.

Succulent Kale raab or rapini from our overwintered kales. Much easier than trying to grow early broccoli and what we don't eat before the flowers open can be allowed to bloom to provide food for pollinators, when not much is blooming yet. Started in June and harvested throughout fall, winter and spring - this is one prolific plant to have in your garden. And I did not have to preserve any of it - just harvest, prepare, and eat.

To find out what will survive in your garden, you do need to do some trials. If a vegetable passes the eating test, then it progresses to the second year in the garden. This year I planted 6 kinds of kale. As you can see from this photo and the next, some are thriving and some are dead, knocked out by our frigid December weather. If we had been blessed with our normal snow cover, the varieties that succumbed may have made it. This year it was obvious who wins. I can't always count on snow to insulate our winter garden.

When I trial a variety, I subject all to the same conditions. I plant at the same time, in the same row or next to each other and treat all as equals. The plants will show you how to make your decision. As you can see they are not created equal.
Thrivers: Lacinato Rainbow, Wild Garden Kale, Redbor, and Winterbor.
Duds: Lacinato, White Russian.

Another winner is chicory. But fair warning, it is bitter even when cooked. An acquired taste for sure, but very good and very hardy.

Another winter staple in our house is winter squash. It keeps until May or June with proper curing, and storage. No need to freeze or can it - it keeps well. Winter squash is one of my favorite summer sunlight filled vegetables. We relish it for a vegetable side dish or in pie or custard.

And last but not least, plain ol' peasant food - the much maligned root vegetables. They grow well with in a medium fertility soil, and lend themselves to many methods of cooking or eating raw. Roots are also a winter staple for our family cow. By storing them in the row protected with soil, they are fresh and tender still, and I planted all of these last May or early June, almost a year ago now.

Winter gardening begins now with planning - I hope I gave you some ideas.

Tuesday, 23 March 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, 22 February 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

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!