Tag Archives: Lifestyle

Gardening, plant babies and weed control

2009 is starting off as a great year for the garden. As you can see here, the plant babies are growing strong. We started the plants in the green house, rather than using plant lights, and you can see by comparing these photos, just how well they are doing.

plant babies a week later
plant babies

My two youngest, inspired by the “Little House” books, decided to plant wheat. We had a section of yard where a tent was left out a little too long, killing off the grass. They cleared out the dead grass and had a perfect place to grow wheat.

Rather than purchase wheat seed, they used some un-ground wheat berries we already had. The wheat sprouted and is growing fantastically. The patch is just the right size for us to learn the entire process, from growing to harvesting, without being overwhelmed with work.

I’m sure that fresh ground, home grown wheat will make totally awesome sourdough bread.

a small patch of wheat

Last year, after reading that roto-tilling is a no-no, we started looking for alternative ways to control weeds. In last years garden, we pulled the weeds and used them around the plants as green manure. While this worked, it was quite a bit of effort.

This year, we are trying some different methods. In one area, where we have bindweed, we planted buckwheat. It’s very competitive and should smother out the bindweed.

In other areas, we have straw from the chicken barn, PVO (Peas/Vetch/Oats) and black plastic.  The chicken barn straw has chicken manure in it and works quite well, but the chickens only produce so much.  

PVO is a ground cover mix from Fedco seeds.  It’s planted in the middle section in the photo below.  Later, when we are ready to plant our actual food crop, the PVO will be turned into the soil.  

The last section has black plastic.  The plastic blocks out the light and works well, but it’s not very sustainable.  It also does not allow water to reach the soil and hard to keep in place.  We had high hopes for this method, but it was looking like it would not meet our expectations. However, as you can see by the bottom photo, there were relatively few weeds. Also, turning the spoil was much easier than if we had not used the plastic. There were many worms and bugs, indicating that the soil was still alive.

3 types of weed control
3 types of weed control
Results of black plastic
Results of black plastic

I can’t wait to see how the rest of the year turns out.

Sourdough Bread

Photo by hannes2002, from flickr.com
Photo by hannes2002, from flickr.com

My son made the most fabulous loaf of sourdough bread.  So fabulous, that I didn’t get a chance to photograph it. I had to hunt Flickr for this photo.

Sourdough bread is made without yeast, or at least not commercial yeast. Instead, it’s made from a wild yeast starter.

To make the starter, my son used 1 cup flour and 1 cup of water in a 1 quart, wide mouth Mason® jar.  This made 1 and 1/2 cups of starter.  He stirred it and waited…  When the starter started to bubble (about a day later), he added another cup of flour and cup of water and covered it with a washcloth.  Once it was bubbling again (another day) he used it to make bread.

How much to add to the recipe?  That’s the easy part. 1 cup flour and 1 cup of water were used to make 1 and 1/2 cups of starter, so he used 1 and 1/2 cups of starter and counted it as 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of liquid.

The first loaf made from this starter did not work, but the second did. To make the project easier, he choose to make an over night-bread, similar to this “no knead” bread recipe from the NY Times. His actual recipe came from The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live it.

Sourdoughhome.com has some great tips on making your own starter.  They suggest that you keep feeding your starter, taking some out and feeding again for a week or more before using, to build a healthy starter.  Our experience confirms this.  The first loaves he made, did not rise. It wasn’t until after some starter was taken out and it was feed again that it really took off.

Cherry mead update

Plastic pail fermenter (actually taller than carboy)
Glass carboy (not to scale, actually smaller than pail)

This weekend, I racked (transferred) the cherry mead from the fermenting bucket into a glass carboy, to get it off the fruit and start clarifying.  I started with a bucket because it has more room top for bubbles while fermenting and it is easier to get all 12 pounds of cherries in and out.


With all brewing projects, it is important that everything be clean and sanitized.  I start by filling the carboy with sanitizer.  After the carboy was sanitized, I transfer the sanitizer to a 5 gallon bucket.  I’ve learned is that you don’t dump out the sanitizer until you are done, even if it means that you need an extra bucket.

Once everything was sanitized, I started with a standard siphon.  This is a great time to collect a sample for tasting, and I had a cup handy. While siphoning, it is possible to lift the racking cane up, off the bottom, allowing clear mead from the middle of the bucket to flow.  It was a very nice pink, nice aroma and tasted great.  It was just on the dry side, with some tartness and some fruit flavor.

When I had all I could siphon (and taste), I put the strainer in the really large metal bowl and began dumping from the bucket into the strainer.  The bowl was filling so I stopped and dumped the liquid into the carboy and then continued until the bucket was empty.

After emptying the really large metal bowl into the carboy, I used the smaller bowl to squeeze the cherries and collect any remaining juice.  This worked really well and netted about 1/2 gallon of liquid.

This process stirs up the mead quite a bit, which is not a good thing.  I didn’t want to stir in oxygen or bacteria, so I worked as gently as I could.  After everything was in the carboy I stopped it up with an airlock and moved it to the basement.  The yeast and sediment that was stirred up is already beginning to settle.

The next part is the hardest, even though it requires the least amount of work from me, waiting until it’s ready to bottle.

December 2008, Mead, Chicken & Repair update

The Cherry Mead stopped bubbling this week, so it took about 4 weeks to ferment completely. Any time now it can be transferred (racked) into a glass carboy and allowed to clarify. It smelled great while bubbling, so I have high hopes for it.

The chickens started laying the week before Christmas. I brought the chicks home on July 1st, so they are 5 months or about 25 weeks. Chickens need more than 12 hours of light a day to lay. I have two 250 WATT infrared lights on a timer to give them 13 hours of light and keep them warm. It appears to be working.

Sunday night I discovered that the sump pump had quit working. Actually, it was trying to work, but the pedestal that supports the motor had self destructed and the whole thing was turning. I was able to put together a splint using 1 1/2 PVC pipe and hose clamps. It should hold until I can replace the pump this weekend.

I would like to be able to pump out the sump without electricity. Lehmans has this hand powered transfer pump, which looks like it would do the trick. I may have to pick up one as a backup.

New project: Hand water pump installation

There is something quite satisfying about using a hand pump, knowing it’s your own power lifting it out of the ground and into your kitchen.

This pump was purchased through Lehmans. When it arived, I discovered that it was made in Maine by Bison Pumps, whom I contacted for assistance. They listened to what I wanted to do, answered my questions, then helped me figure out what parts I needed to connect the pump to my well.

I wanted to be able to switch between the hand pump and my existing electric pump. Bison said I needed two shutoff valves, a check valve, water line and various other brass and plastic parts and pieces. They made a diagram, showing how to connect everything, and were extremely helpful.

read about this project here

Rise of the scythe

Some inspiring and amazing videos…

The End of Cheap Oil and Rise of the Scythe:

A Good Scythe at Work

I used to have a hard time using the scythe for any length of time.  These videos made it look so easy, so I did a bit of research, and tested my theories this weekend.  Here is what I learned:

  • Allow the back of the blade to drag on the ground.  All this time I’ve tried to hold to keep the blade from hitting the ground.  With the blade in the air, If you hit a large clump of grass, the handle pulls against your hand and you have to fight to keep it up.  If you allow the blade to brush the ground, when you hit a clump of grass, the blade pushes against the ground, so you don’t have to fight it, just keep pulling.
  • Use your legs to turn your body, pulling the scythe with your left hand, guiding it with your right.  Being right handed, I want to do the opposite, pull with the right, but that is much harder.  If you use your legs to turn and pull with the left hand you will be surprised how much more you cut.
  • Keep the tip of the blade down.  As you turn, the tip of the blade wants to tip up.  Keep it down, close to the ground.  According to this page on www.scytheconnection.com, the snath (handle) can be adjusted so that the blade rests in the proper position.
  • Working first thing in the morning, while there is still dew on the grass is much easier.  I found a few patches in the shade, that still had dew and compared it to dry grass in full sun, only a few feet away, and the difference was quite noticeable.
  • Proper sharpening makes a huge difference.  I’ve always sharpened the blade perpendicular to the cutting edge.  Once I started running the stone parallel to the cutting edge, it stayed sharper and cut longer.  The odd thing is that when I first started sharpening this way, the blade got duller, then it began to get sharp again.  Maybe, sharpening perpendicular gives the blade an rough edge like a serrated knife, good cutting some things, but not good at staying sharp.
  • The snath (handle) should match the user.  See this page on how I changed my handle to suite me better.

More scythe resources at www.scytheconnection.com

Cherry harvest 2008

This weekend, we harvested 12 1/2 pounds of tart cherries.  It was our largest harvest ever, which is a surprise because the top half of the tree is dying.  Maybe trees and plants set more fruit when under stress. Whatever the reason, cherry mead has always been the best and I’m looking forward to using these.  I’m not ready to make mead, so I rinsed the berries and stored them in the freezer.

Kitchen faucet repair

Most modern faucets have the breakable parts (valves and washers) in a replaceable “cartridge”.  The best place to get replacements is directly from the manufacturer.  Some manufacturers, like Price Pfister, warrant their faucets for life to the original purchaser, and consider you the original purchaser as long as you have the owners manual.  Save those owners manuals, you might be able to get replacement parts for the cost of shipping.

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Reuses for Dishsoap bottles:

Icepacks.  As the summer season approaches, it is the perfect time of the year for this.  Rather than buy commercial icepacks, dishsoap bottles can be filled with water and frozen.  Because of their small size they can fit into the smaller chests, or you can use many to fill up a larger chest.  You could use other bottles, but dishsoap caps make it easier to squeeze the air out, allowing room for the water to expand as it freezes.  I have about 8 in the deep-freeze right now!  Bonus: they will probably help keep my food cold in the event of a power failure.

Replacement glue bottles: I’ve gone through quite a few bottles of wood glue building my projects.  Some have worked better than others, but they always get clogged.  It might have something to do with the long necks, or maybe I should just close them properly when done.  Once clogged, they are impossible to clean.  I had a glue bottle that was so damaged I threw out the cap, covered it with plastic wrap, and had to use a stick to apply the glue.  One of my children suggested that I use a dish soap bottle.  It worked perfectly.  The bottle was easy to open and close, spreads the glue easilly, and doesn’t clog. I made a quick paper label so no one uses it as dish soap.  Now I can buy my wood glue in large, bulk containers and save money too.

Water heater repair

Our water heater was doing something weird. A valve on the side, with a tube running down from it was leaking very hot water onto the floor. We turned off the water to the water heater to prevent a major catastrophe.

According to the owners manual, the valve is a safety valve that opens up if too much pressure builds up in the water heater. This happens if the water overheats and can be very dangerous. 55 gallons of almost boiling water could drain onto the basement floor.

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