December 29, 2012

2012: Year In Review

This year has flown by. If I had to describe it in a short phrase, I'd say it was our year of ups and downs. Here's a look back .....


view of a warming fire in the firebox of my wood cookstove
January was the month we got my wood cookstove going. 

We spent most of the January on the kitchen remodel. While waiting on the new plank flooring to be delivered, we accomplished a lot of little things. We installed the tin ceiling in the dining nook, and modified our hodge-podge floor cabinets. We got the wood cookstove going! I harvested my homegrown ginger for the first time. January was also the month we had to make a difficult decision about our rooster situation.


The goats were totally suspicious of the new critter

The big news for February was that we got a puppy. After the next door neighbor's dog climbed our fence and chased our goats and chickens, we decided we needed a livestock guardian dog. Kris was a Bernese Mountain, Anatolian Shepherd, Pyrenees mix. The long awaited kitchen floor finally arrived. In the meantime we started to make plans for the hall bathroom. We also used our leftover tin ceiling panels to make cabinet doors for the kitchen.


Cutting boards to fit around the wood cookstove hearth

Our old kitchen floor had a lot of problems, but after much preparation, we installed our new wide plank kitchen floor. We got started on our pasture improvement program, and I prepared for compost worms. In puppy news, Kris developed "Kennel Cough." I also discovered he was allergic to corn (a common ingredient in commercial dogfood).


Riley's April Wordless Wednesday

In April we stained and polyed the new kitchen floor. We installed the base cabinets and finished the compost worm bed, ready for the arrival of the worms. Kris's hind leg became swollen from (we think) bug bites. A prescription for antihistamines took care of that.


Kris, 5 months, & Kody, 4 months

In May, we took in a Great Pyrenees puppy, Kody, becoming a two dog homestead. Kris developed elbow dysplasia, which was worrisome, but we discovered gelatin as a treatment for arthritis pain. We had goat problems too, when Jasmine broke her leg. In the kitchen, we installed the sink and finished the plumbing, I lined the cabinet shelves with vinyl floor tiles, we got the wall cabinets up, also wall shelves, and Dan built the peninsula.


my 2012 peach crop
In June, we harvested peaches & dealt with peach problems

In June we made more progress on the kitchen remodel: a problem led to a pull-out spice rack, Dan trimmed out the sink window, made a utensil rack, and accomplished numerous little things. We had a difficult decision to make about Jasmine when her leg didn't heal properly. I also tried to break a broody hen for the first time.


Mama Chicken & Chicken Little

In July, my persistent broody hen hatched one egg. It was the month Kody killed one of my chickens and had to be returned to his former owner. I also bought my 1st two Nigerian Dwarf goats. We faced a test in true preparedness when Dan lost his job. Since we had no money to work on the kitchen remodel, we started gutting the bathroom instead. In July I also lost my computer from a lightning strike.


2 Nigerian Dwarf does
Edy & Nessie, my new Nigerian Dwarf does

August was definitely a better month, except for losing Kris. That was devistating. On top of his other problems, Kris contracted Lymes Disease. This was compounded by severe anemia, for which the vet could not find a cause. Later, as I tried to piece together all the clues, my suspicions leaned toward some sort of auto-immune disease. In better news, Dan got his old job back and was compensated for all the money we thought we lost. I also received a new computer. In goat news, I bought two more Nigerian Dwarf does. In the kitchen, Dan made a new dish rack. Outside, we had the dead limbs cut back from one of our two ancient oaks and made plans for a new place to store firewood.


A privacy fence is the perfect place to stack firewood

September, we pronounced firewood month. We finished our new privacy fence / firewood storage, as well as cutting, chopping, and stacking the coming winter's firewood. We also revised our homestead master plan.


Remineralizing the soil is part of our land stewardship

We finally got back to the kitchen remodel in October and tackled the last two projects. When Kinder goat breeding was looking unsuccessful for the second year in a row, I sold my Nigerian Dwarfs except Ziggy, and purchased a Kiko buck and another Nubian doe. In October, we finally got the last of the soil amendments to remineralize our pasture, tilled them in, and planted it. In October I discovered kefir.


I love my new kitchen, but admit it was a huge project.

In November our kitchen remodel was finally done. Dan didn't miss a beat but started preparing to work on the bathroom shortly after that. He added a girder to support the bathroom and bedroom floors, and repaired the water damage to the bathroom floor itself.


Our new bathroom window

It didn't rain for weeks after we planted the pasture, but finally on December 1st, I had the first growth to show you. We mostly worked on the bathroom remodel this month: window, ceiling, ventilation, electrical, and plumbing. We also got the wall paneling installed (photos and details about that soon).

All in all it's been a busy, if not memorable year. In spite of problems, we have much to be thankful for, and that includes all of you. :)

2012: Year In Review © December  2012 

December 26, 2012

Bathroom Remodel: The Unseen Stuff

If it hadn't been for plumbing problems in our hall bathroom, we probably would have done nothing more to the room than a coat of paint, new flooring to replace the poorly installed, curling vinyl, and possible a water efficient toilet.

Our hall bathroom when we first moved in.

Oh, and I probably would have replaced that medicine cabinet too. And Dan would have wanted to refinish the tub and sink, with their pitted, badly worn, and stained enamel surfaces. That, some new towel racks and a curtain, and we could have lived with the rest.

When we bought the place, the hot water faucet on the sink didn't work and we had recurring drainage problems with that sink. Nothing seemed to be able to permanently unclog it until at last, it quit draining altogether. We also discovered there was a leak in the toilet and that there had been enough water damage there at one time, to make the floor mushy and the toilet lean a bit. The final straw was when the tub faucet started to leak and couldn't be fixed. Dan turned off the water to that bathroom about ten months ago and the room has been nonfunctional ever since.

So far we've repaired the floor and replaced the window. The next step was plumbing repairs and electrical work.

Medicine cabinet will be replaced with a mirror

Plumbing upgrades have included replacing the cast iron drain pipes with PVC, and replacing the cast iron supply lines with copper tubing. Dan also added a vent for the sink.

Electrical work has been moving the outlet so that it's not directly over the sink, and an exhaust fan.

Beginnings of the framework for the drop ceiling

We lived almost nine years in a house with no air conditioning and no bathroom exhaust fan. I battled mildew on the ceiling and walls the entire time we lived there. Dan said never again, so both bathrooms have better ventilation.

The fan was the primary reason he wanted to drop the ceiling; it made it easier to install. All the ceilings in the house are tall, 8'9", so this one will now be a standard 8 foot height.

The fan in the kitchen bath included a light and heater, but this one is an exhaust fan only. The lights we installed on either side of the mirror are adequate, and we're doing to do something else about heat - more on that later.

Next we'll finish the ceiling and do the walls. After that, the floor. Then we can start putting things back together.

December 21, 2012

November kWh Report

Earlier this year I took a preliminary look at the feasibility of us getting off-grid. Even though my conclusions were not promising, we have nonetheless continued to work toward being less dependent on our electric company, even if we can't be independent at this time.

With winter arriving, I have been curious as to how our changes will effect our electrical usage. Our first winter we froze because our newly installed wood heater (our only source of heat at the time), was located in the front of the house and was unable to get heat to the back of the house (which was poorly insulted back then). By the following winter our electric air source heat pump was installed, and I tried to figure out a way to keep costs down by using both. True, the kitchen and back bathroom were warmer, but our electric bill skyrocketed. Finally in January we got the wood cookstove installed in the kitchen.

This winter we decided to only use the heat pump occasionally, in mildly chilly weather. It becomes increasingly less efficient as the outdoor temperature drops, often blowing cold air out the registers. Then the auxiliary heat strips finally kick in, which really guzzle down the electricity. The goal is to avoid that.

The other day I paid November's electric bill and was pleased that compared to last year, our kilowatt hours had been cut by more than half. Weatherwise, temperatures were about the same but last year, November's electric use average was 33 kWh. This November, we averaged 15 kWh per day. I think that's pretty good for an all electric house.

That daily 15 kWh was for:
  • electric lights, used only as needed & all energy efficient type bulbs
  • 2 refrigerators (one energy star rated)
  • 1 chest freezer (energy star rated)
  • ceiling fans to circulate heat from the wood stoves
  • fan at night for "white noise" (barking dogs & the occasional zooming car)
  • 2 LED night lights with switches to turn off during the day (I got rid of the ones with light sensors)
  • computer
  • occasional use of power tools
  • occasional use of electric dryer on rainy days
  • occasional use of electric stove when I don't cook on wood cookstove, and for canning
  • occasional use of toaster oven
  • occasional use of bread machine 
  • rare use of the electric skillet
  • rare use of the little hand mixer I got for shelling cowpeas
  • rare use of crock pot or slow cooker (wood cookstove is excellent at this)
  • occasional use of heat pump, for mildly chilly days
  • vacuum cleaner a couple times per week 
  • television for watching DVDs a couple nights per week
  • radio when Dan's home
  • electric water heater, mostly for showers because I use heated water from the cookstove water reservoir for washing dishes when I can
  • morning coffee, otherwise I keep a kettle on one of the woodstoves and use a coffee press or tea pot

Something else I've been doing is to unplug things that aren't in use (that teeny digital clock on the coffee pot is worthless anyway). We put the TV and DVD player on a surge protector, so they are easy to turn off with a flip of a toggle switch. I turn off the computer at night. Another thing that has helped, has been not having to use the electric heater in the kitchen bathroom when we shower, because the wood cookstove keeps the bathroom nice and warm as well.

We do not use home heating oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, etc., so to me, this is a significant indicator of successful lifestyle changes. I don't mind saying that I'm mighty pleased.

See also:
December kWh Report

November kWh Report © December  2012 

December 16, 2012

Our 2012 Homestead Goals: How'd We Do?

Last January 1st, I listed our homestead goals for the year. Hard to believe that was almost 12 months ago! So what can we cross off that list?

  • finish kitchen DONE
  • stiffen bedroom floors  DONE
  • Then start on front of house: porch, siding front door & continue with new siding on the rest of the house. Postponed.
    • Because we finished the kitchen so late in the year, we opted to save the front porch and exterior of the house until next summer. These are outdoor projects and we need good weather.
    • Instead, we started on the bathroom, which will be a good indoor winter project.

  • worm bed for composting DONE
  • continue bordering my terrace beds DONE
  • Expand front yard herb garden by at least one new comfrey bed. DONE
  • find another (3rd) new home for the strawberries &  DONE
  • plant the old strawberry and comfrey beds in annual rye or something that might help choke the wire grass out partially done. Done, sort of.
    • The old comfrey bed is still mulched with landscape cloth, (one of my biggest mistakes ever). This is now overgrown with wire grass (Bermuda), which has effectively glued the landscape cloth to the ground.
    • I did plant buckwheat where there was no cloth, and it did very well, even reseeding itself. 
  • need an edger / weed whacker for the beds in the front yard. GOT ONE. Though we rarely use it. Just can't get in to those electric and gas powered gizmos!
  • incorporate more permaculture techniques. Not successfully, except in planning.
    • I did let part of our wheat reseed itself, hoping the straw would mulch out the weeds and we'd have a volunteer crop of wheat. Instead, the weeds choked out the wheat.
    • No till in the garden is less than hopeful so far as well. I did make permanent beds, but am finding the wiregrass (Bermuda) is terribly invasive and tenacious. True, tilling does not kill it, but it does keep it at bay temporarily at least.

  • Fence in blueberry bush to protect from the goats DONE
  • Think about getting turkeys  DONE
  • Continue pasture improvement DONE
  • Prepare for pigs - PLANNING DONE.
    • Since we we didn't actually do anything material to prepare for pigs, I won't cross if off the list.
    • We did decide on where to put them. The area is already fenced, so all that will be needed will be a shelter, waterer, and feeder. These will be done next spring.

  • The woods - Consider what would be the best thing to do with them. DONE.
    • We're losing a lot of the old pines which is a concern.They are falling over rather haphazardly, often getting caught up in other trees. It feels hazardous to even walk back there.
    • We went so far as to inquire about having it logged, but this isn't likely to happen (it's only 2 acres). We will clear as needed, for example this winter when we will start fencing off an area as browse for the does.
  • Need to consider how & where to store and process our grain crops.  DONE. (Good thing I only said "consider")
    • We've talked about it a lot and have experimented a bit with threshing. We've made some mistakes and definitely need an area to process and store.
    • A barn is in the planning stages, so we'll see how to incorporate it with that.
  • Try another grain crop DONE Planted 2 experimental patches, one of hulless barley (a no show), the other of hulless oats. That one is growing now.

Honestly, I didn't think much about our goal list this year. We seem to be at a point where the next steps are more obvious than they were at first, when we had so much to do. Even so, I'm pleased to see how many things I could cross off.

December 13, 2012

Bathroom Window: What About the Inside?

In my last bathroom remodel post, "Installing That Pretty Bathroom Window", I showed you the installation challenges we faced with the outside of the house. In this post, I'll show you the challenges we had with the inside. I'll start with a before shot.

Bathroom before, with old window

Tearing out the old window was no problem.

Moulding torn down. You can see the old  sash weights on the sides.

I already mentioned that it wasn't nailed to framing, it was simply stuck into the side of the house, so it pulled out easily.

Window out. Happily the weather was lovely that day.

Framing for the octagonal window

As you can see from the framing Dan built for the new window, it is quite a bit smaller than the original window.

Window in with insulation & exterior siding
Details on all that in this post.

Since he had cut away the tongue & groove wall boards, the framing and studs remained exposed after the window was installed. If our walls were drywall, this wouldn't be a problem because drywall can be patched. Our old oak tongue & groove can not.

What to do. The original plan was to simply replace the window and paint the walls. Dan is not real keen on our old T&G but he agreed paint would be simpler than gutting the room and putting up new walls. That was before we got the octagonal window. Replacing at least that wall with drywall would be a logical choice, but as much as Dan doesn't like the T&G, he doesn't like doing drywall either. He put it in the kitchen for me because I wanted wallpaper, but he didn't enjoy doing it.

We spent quite a bit of time discussing this. How about paneling? (Yuk.) Well, maybe the same beadboard paneling we used as wainscoting in the kitchen bath? He wasn't very enthusiastic about that either. More brainstorming. Then I suggested, "How about something like T1-11?" Not your typical interior wall covering, but Dan likes the look of T1-11 (example photo here) so he liked the idea.

To ensure the new wall would be flush with the window, he tore the T&G down on the window wall only.

Pulling out the T&G

We'll leave the T&G on the other three walls, and nail the T1-11 to that. We'll lose a teensy bit of floor space, about 3/4 of an inch total, but that is more acceptable than tearing the rest of the walls down.

Wall gone.

The wall is filled with blown-in insulation. What is amazing is that there is insulation below the window. This wasn't the case with either one of the windows in the kitchen!

Dan added a wall stud (hidden by the step ladder)

Because there was no wall stud under the window, Dan added one to have something to nail the panels to. We used both canned foam insulation and foam board to fill in some spots that needed it.

Window in and wall ready to cover

Lastly he covered the entire wall with plastic to keep that loose insulation from falling out or blowing around. In the photo above, you can see the beginnings of a drop ceiling frame. More on that later. 

Now I'm looking forward to getting the walls done, although the electrical and plumbing have to be done first. Another advantage to adding new wall panels is that Dan can tear into the old wall to fix the plumbing and update the wiring, without our having to fix the wall.

The T1-11 has a rough cut look, and combined with a stained glass window, the overall effect is going to be what I call rustic elegance. There's probably no way I would have considered the combination, except for the problems we ran into. And we like the idea. All the result of working toward a solution we're both happy with.

December 10, 2012

What I'm Learning About Rennet

Here is a compilation of all my notes on rennet, the key ingredient to making hard cheese.

~ Rennet is a coagulant. Its function is to separate milk solids from milk liquids, i.e. curds and whey.

~ Junket is a weak form of rennet used for making puddings and custards

~ Raw milk naturally separates into curds and whey as it sours. Rennet enables this separation while the milk is still sweet.

~ There are four types of rennet:
  • animal rennet - made from the 4th stomach of ruminant (calf, lamb, or kid) which has consumed colostrum only
  • natural vegetable rennet - made from plants
  • microbial rennet - made from various cultured fungiform microorganisms (molds): Rhizomucor meihiei, Cryphonectria parasiticia, Mucor pusillus, Mucor miehei.
  • recombinant (genetically modified) rennet called chymosin - derived from animal rennet

~ 80 to 90% of the commercial cheeses manufactured in the USA and Great Britain use chymosin

~ Natural vegetable rennet are proteolytic enzymes derived from plants, such as bromelain (from the pineapple) and ficin (from the fig), as well as biosynthetic chymosin.

~ Plant sources of natural rennets: thistle, fig, yarrow, ground ivy, Lady's Bedstraw, to name a few. An extensive list is here

~ Hard cheeses made from vegetable rennet are said to develop a bitter taste as they age, but apparently only in cows milk, not goat or sheep milk.

~ Some cheeses are always made with animal rennet: Parmesan,Grana Padano and Gorgonzola. They must be labeled "Parmesan style" for example, if using vegetable rennet.

~ Chlorine (in water) kills the active enzyme in rennet

~ Rennet cannot make curds in ultra-pasteurized milk because the milk's casein has been denatured due to the high heat involved in the ultra-pasteurizing process.

~ An alternative to renneted cheeses are kefir cheeses. I've not experimented with this but there is lots of information at this website, [Sorry it's not a link. The website owner requests permission before linking to their site, which I respect and did in my first kefir post. It's a bit of a hassle though, so forgive the addy with no link. Just copy and paste to go to the site.]

I definitely want to experiment someday with both kefir cheeses and vegetable rennets. I have fig trees, yarrow, and ground ivy (Creeping Charlie) readily available. Recipes for most of these are practially nonexsistent, so perhaps I can start with one of the thistle or nettle recipes. That project is still future, but here are some how-tos I collected from around the internet

A step by step how-to (with photos) for making animal rennet can be found at Dr. Fankhauser's cheese making website, Rennet Preparation

And a few more resources. These actually form my bibliography:

Do you have any tidbits to add? I'd love to hear them.

Click to join in or read more
Homestead Barn Hop posts

What I'm Learning About Rennet © December 2012 

December 7, 2012

Question For My Readers: Why Homestead?

I have a question for all you homesteaders, wannabes, and folks interested in the lifestyle.

To homesteaders: Why do you homestead? What motivated you to get started and what keeps you motivated?

To those someday planning to homestead: Why do you want to homestead? What motivates you to work in that direction?

To those simply curious about homesteading: What interests you about it? Why? Would you ever consider pursuing it yourself? If not, what stops you?

I'm interested in your answers.

December 5, 2012

Installing That Pretty Bathroom Window

We had two challenges installing our new bathroom window.

Interior shot of the new bathroom window

Not because of it's shape (octagonal), but because of it's position on the outside of the house, and the window's depth.

Old bathroom window from the outside

Position, because of the new siding we're putting up.

New siding. So far we've only done this section of the house

We're using 4 by 8 foot barn board look panels. The side of the house is taller than the panels, so two pieces are needed to cover the wall height. A 1x6 inch board for trim covers the join at the top. It is painted white, as is all the trim. The problem with the bathroom window, is that its location would be where the trim goes. Not impossible, we could trim out around it, but we really wanted a simpler solution.

The second problem was window depth. Like the long, tall window we installed in the kitchen, this one was 6 inches deep. We have 4.5 inch thick walls. We'd have to do something about the difference.

After much brainstorming about these two things, here's what we did.

This old window was original to the house.
Dan cut away the vinyl siding in order to remove it. 

It removed easily, because it wasn't attached to a header
or framing. It was just stuck into the side of the house.

Hello world

Framing for the new window,
deeper than wall depth

In the above photo, you can see that the framing was made with 2x6s and extends beyond the side of house. With the kitchen window, we made up the difference between window and wall depths with extra trim. With this window, we wanted to bump out the siding to match the depth of the window. This way the window itself didn't need extra trim, which would have been challenging due to its octagonal shape.

Solid foam insulation was added to fill potential gaps.
One can never have enough insulation IMO

Tar paper next

Siding up

Window in 

Trimmed out

Besides solving the problems I mentioned, this achieves a goal Dan had, to highlight the window architecturally. Hopefully (and I'm thinking it will), this will work visually with the rest of the new siding, though it will be awhile before we can get to that.

Window and siding primed & ready to be painted
Porch windows are to the left. Bedroom windows are on the right.

There was a discussion in the comments of my Rationale For A Pretty Bathroom Window, about the relative privacy a stained glass window can offer. In our case, the height of the window and the proximity of our next door neighbor facilitate that.

View of our house from our next door neighbor's. 

On top of that, the street view is blocked by our row of Leyland cypresses and a cedar tree. All of this is why I'm not really concerned about a curtain or blinds.

Happily, we had lovely weather for this project. Next we got to work on the inside. More on that soon.

December 3, 2012

Rationale For A Pretty Bathroom Window

Said rationale went something like this:

Let's keep this project simple. The kitchen remodel was detailed, time consuming, and intense, so let's keep the bathroom remodel simple.

That includes time as well as expense.

Let's replace the window though, from an old energy leaky one, to a new energy efficient one.

Window still needs to be small to maintain bathroom privacy.

Old window measures 29 by 32 inches.

Hmm, no one around here carries windows that size.

Special order? Way too expensive.

Oh look, Lowes sells octagonal windows closer to the right size. Hmmm.

Plain octagonal windows reasonable, fancy octagonal windows expensive. One of those plain ones is a definite possibility.

A couple days later....

I'm bored. Let's look online for octagonal windows.

Wow. Look at these pretty stained glass ones on Ebay. They're less than half the price for something similar at Lowes. And they don't cost too much more than Lowes' plain octagonal windows.

Let's see, 24x24 inches. Same size as the ones at Lowes and perfect for a bathroom.

Being stained glass, they let in light be can't be seen through from outside. Good for privacy.

That means I won't have to worry about a curtain or window blind. I need to subtract that from the cost.

Plus, Dan loves stained glass.

"Dan, what do you think?"

"Get it."

And there you have it.

Next: Installing That Pretty Bathroom Window

December 1, 2012

1st Peek at the New Pasture

Our new pasture is finally beginning to grow!

Pasture grasses, legumes, & herbs just beginning to sprout.
The goat & chicken shed is in the background.

I planted it on October 22nd, right after we finished remineralizing our soil. Then it was three weeks before we got any rain, and that was less than an inch. I admit I was concerned about the seed during that time. Even though I've been able to keep the chickens out, we had a flock of mourning doves visiting regularly, helping themselves! In anticipation of losing some to birds, I sowed heavily. We were supposed to use 25 pounds for our half acre, but I scattered two, 50 pound bags of grass and clover pasture seed mix, plus a few extras: wheat, oats, annual rye, orchard grass, chicory, radishes, Swiss chard, thyme, yarrow, hairy vetch, buckwheat, Austrian winter peas, and a handful of old alfalfa seeds meant for sprouting. Finally it's beginning to grow.

We haven't gotten any more rain since then, which is a concern. Delayed rain in the beginning didn't worry me as much as the birds, because I knew the seed would hold tight until conditions were good for sprouting. Now that tiny root systems are being established, they need continued moisture or they'll dry up. Cooler weather helps though. During summer, even after a good rain our soil can dry quickly because sun and heat evaporate the moisture right out of it. That was one reason we postponed planting until fall. Like so many other things in the homesteading life however, this is something that is not within our control. Still, when I look across the field and see it frosted with fresh green, I can't help but be thankful. Very thankful indeed.

Related Posts:
Pasture Improvement Phase 1
Pasture Improvement Phase 2: Remineralizing Our Soil

1st Peek at the New Pasture © December 2012