May 31, 2012

More Shelves For The Kitchen

I already showed you the shelves Dan made when he built my kitchen peninsula. I also mentioned in my "Kitchen Wall Cabinets" post that we would use shelving to connect the different styles, shapes, and colors of the cabinets we installed. Well, here are they are, plus a few more.

Shelves for mugs, coffee grinder, & tea pot

These will be painted the same green as the cabinets and will serve for coffee and tea making items.

I also wanted a place for cookbooks. The shelves below will be for just that, and were made from leftover pine flooring planks.

Shelves for cookbooks

Being above the peninsula gives easy access from either side of the kitchen. And here are some I'm just thrilled with...

Cubby shelves
(For a closer look at the doors on the wall cabinet
above, visit Dan's blog, Daniel Tate Pyrographic Art)

Dan made me some cubbies from leftover floor planks, just like the cookbook shelves. I haven't decided how to finish them yet. I've got enough green, so I don't want to paint them that. I'm thinking either stain them dark, to match the Amish cabinets, or leave natural and finish with polyurethane.

A shelf also solved an unexpected problem area. In the original kitchen, the moulding over the door to the addition (where the pantry, 2nd bathroom, and utility room are), was unconventionally tall. You can seen it in the photo below, but you have to look closely.

When we pulled it down to move the pantry door, we found a huge opening in the wall behind the moulding.

Dan suggested putting a shelf above the door to help hide it.

All of my new shelves need to be primed and painted, but I'm very glad to have every one of them. :)

May 29, 2012

Kris's Turn. Poor Kris

Kris, who has perfected the "poor puppy" look. :)

We've had a poor Jasmine post. Now we have a poor Kris post. Fortunately he has not broken his leg (or anything else), but he did start limping, which alarmed us. Upon taking a closer look, we discovered that his elbow was enlarged. He got to where he would lay around most of the day, not moving much and looking forlorn (a look he has perfected, BTW). Diagnosis? Probable elbow dysplasia.

Kris, 5 month, & Kody, 4 months

I say probable, because even though elbow and especially hip dysplasia are common in large breed dogs, and even though symptoms can be seen in puppies as young as 4 to 10 months, a true diagnosis can't be made until the dog is 24 months old, according to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. X-rays are commonly used to diagnose, also cat scans. Treatment is surgery and anti-inflammatory drugs. Arthritis always sets in, apparently even with surgery.  Rather devastating news for a puppy barely 5 months old.

I still have to get my photos from the other side of the fence
Otherwise I'm mobbed by wiggles and puppy kisses

Heredity and diet are considered key factors (fat dogs are more prone to it). Besides the medical regime, I wondered if there wasn't something else we could do. I presented the question to the Holistic-Goats group.

A response came back quickly, about a Golden Retriever who had been diagnosed with dysplasia. Her owners started giving her a couple tablespoons of unflavored, unsweetened gelatin twice a day, simply mixing it in with her food. The results were reported to be amazing, and the dog continues to be active and pain free 7 years later.

Pet me! Pet me! Pet meeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I had run across similar information when I was researching for Dan's arthritis, and in fact mentioned it in my "Honeysuckle For A Good Cause post. In particular, I had found an article by biologist and researcher, Ray Peat.
"For a long time, gelatin's therapeutic effect in arthritis was assumed to result from its use in repairing the cartilage or other connective tissues around joints, simply because those tissues contain so much collagen. (Marketers suggest that eating cartilage or gelatin will build cartilage or other collagenous tissue.) Some of the consumed gelatin does get incorporated into the joint cartilage, but that is a slow process, and the relief of pain and inflammation is likely to be almost immediate, resembling the antiinflammatory effect of cortisol or aspirin."     Ray Peat, Ph.D. "Gelatin, Stress, Longevity"
The particular substance responsible for this is a simple, nonessential amino acid, gylcine.

Traditional diets were richer in glycine than modern diets today: head cheese, fried pig skins, pork ears and tails, chicken feet for soup broth, fish head soup, pork chops, chicken drumsticks, etc. All of these are rich in collagen, which is what makes gelatin what it is. Today's highest sources, (per 100 grams) are gelatin powder (19 grams of glycine), followed by pork skin (11 grams), and pork meat and products (4 grams). Another good source would be homemade bone broth, also called meat stock (how to make it, click here), though I don't have numbers on that one. The highest plant sources are raw spirulena seaweed, sesame and sunflower seed flours, and soy isolates, all 3 grams of glycine per 100 grams of food substance.

Dogs would ordinarily get glycine from eating skin, tendons and cartilage, something they do get from a raw meaty bones diet (which my dogs get as much as our budget allows). As a treatment, the use of gelatin in dogs is known to be effective not only for dysplasia and arthritis, but also canine epilepsy. For more information, read this article, "Gelatin," at The Epi Gaurdian Angels website.

Kody and Kris, enjoying their raw meaty bones

I started Kris on plain Knox gelatin on a Friday, 1 packet twice a day. By the following Tuesday, (5 days later!) he was running, jumping, and playing with Kody like he used to. The swelling in his elbow was gone and felt exactly like the other one. What a blessing! I will say that buying gelatin as Knox brand packets at the grocery store is not an economical way to do it, so I found a bulk source online (but you can check with your local co-op or bulk food store). Much cheaper that way.

Kody & Kris, BFFs

Guess who else this has helped? Yup, Dan. The honeysuckle tea brought great relief, but had to be sipped all day, every day. Within a matter of days after starting the gelatin, he had excellent results. Mixing a heaping half tablespoon in juice or water twice a day is a super easy way for him to get this on the road.

I've also started Kody on it and me too. The long term goal would be to incorporate more glycine rich foods into our diet. Since pork is so high in it, it's got me thinking about our goal to raise pigs. Maybe even learning how to make head cheese (something I never thought I'd do). So. Does anybody have a gelatin based recipe or two they'd like to share?

A happier, tail wagging, Kris

May 27, 2012

"Pain-ted?" (To Quote Mike Wazowski)

Our kitty doorbell

Our kitty doorbell works very well for it's intended purpose. However, when I finally get around to painting the back door, methinks it had better be a dirty kitty footprint color.

May 25, 2012

Winter Wheat 2012

Winter wheat, ready to harvest

Last year I grew an experimental patch of wheat in our garden. This year we tried to grow about a quarter acre. While the experimental patch did very well, this year's was not without problems. The biggest of these was nitrogen deficiency. I blogged about that here, "Worried About Our Winter Wheat." It responded well to blood meal, but I didn't have enough. Growth was stunted and won't have a high protein content.

Another problem was several areas where it looked like something was spending the night. This didn't photograph well, but I had deer sized patches where the wheat was flattened to the ground. Was it deer? That's a possibility. I know too, that wheat is susceptible to lodging, which is where the stems bend over to ground level. I read that lodging in wheat is sometimes associated with excess nitrogen, which I don't think was the case here. What I do think is that part of it is due to the vetch that's grown in with it. That stuff climbs on top of it and weights it down. No matter the cause, it is near impossible to cut wheat that's lying down.

Dan scythes & I rake

We took a break from the kitchen last week to harvest about half our wheat. Dan scythed and I raked. Since we don't have a barn, storage ends up being on our front porch. The ground was still very wet from a previous rain, so we didn't use Dan's pickup to haul it. His next favorite method is to rake it onto a huge tarp....

Our method of hauling the wheat to the house

... and then we dragged it to the house. The fun part was wrestling it onto the front porch. That was an afternoon's work. Rain came again the next day, so the remaining harvest was put on hold. This will be the more challenging half anyway, since more of it has been knocked over.

I know I promised to write a threshing post last year, but confess that my experiments in threshing were not to my satisfaction. I will say the worry about the berries falling to the ground before harvest were largely unfounded. It's not that easy to get that stuff threshed! I'd really like to try Paul Wheaton's method, video here. Seems easy enough to construct, but there just haven't been enough hours in the day. Once the kitchen is done though, we plan to switch gears and wheat threshing will be near the top of the list. In the meantime, the chickens know exactly what to do with whole wheat heads, so there's been no loss, no waste, and less chicken feed to buy. Even if I've not made very many homegrown pancakes yet. :)

May 23, 2012

Building The Kitchen Peninsula

Original idea for a peninsula
For a larger view of the entire floor plan, click here

The design of my kitchen peninsula has gone through more revisions than Carter has pills, as my grandmother used to say. The final version didn't actually present itself until we were halfway into building it! And here that is, in pictures.

One thing I wanted to incorporate was a small kitchen island we bought over a year ago. This was my starting point ...

Photo taken April 2011 in the "old" kitchen

I liked it because it matched the doors of my two Amish cabinets (pictures in this post, Kitchen Project: Attention To Detail). However it needed to be modified, starting with the wheels we didn't need. Dan removed those and built a base for it...

He also removed the butcher board top, and the knife holder and towel rack on the ends. I changed out the door and drawer pulls.

Top drawer has been temporarily removed

One thing I puzzled over for the longest, was how to best deal with blind corners. For the peninsula, we decided to build shelves from the corner base cabinet, across to the back of that former island.

Shelves were then built onto the end of the peninsula.

Next he started on the countertop.

Once this was cut to size, it was time to cut and glue on the laminate.

We opted for inexpensive laminate countertops rather than granite, to stretch our kitchen budget dollars. We saved more by not special ordering, but by buying store stock. We got a molded laminate counter for the sink wall, and a matching 4x8 foot sheet for the peninsula. We had to make this ourselves, because of the size I wanted, 36" wide.

The sheet was cut a little larger than the base and glued on with contact cement. With no proper workshop, most projects get done in whatever space is available. This project was accomplished in the dining room. And of course one has to purchase special tools for the job.

Gluing on the laminate

Dan used his router to trim it to size (that job outside :), and we secured it in place.

Countertop in place

Usually strips of the same laminate are glued to the edges to finish them off. We decided to trim the edges with a wood trim, stained and polyed to match the Amish cabinets and the floor.

Trim for countertop edging.

The finished size is of the peninsula is 52" x 36". It is short enough to give a 48 inch clearance from the front of the wood cookstove, and does not impede foot traffic from the back porch or dining room, to the sink, fridge, or bathroom. The distance between the peninsula and base wall cabinets is 36", which might be considered narrow by some. What it creates for me however, is a u-shaped, kitchen workstation: convenient, efficient, and out of traffic's way. The sink and all of my most used tools and ingredients will be easily accessible.

My newly created kitchen workstation. All I need is a tall stool.

A tall stool will fit underneath, for me to use when I have long hours of cutting, slicing, and chopping to prepare for canning or dehydrating. In my mind the stool was a must, but figuring out where to put it in a small kitchen was a puzzle. Besides resolving that, I think this design was a good solution for the blind corner too.

I don't reckon this is a conventional set-up. Most kitchens are based around the so-called "work triangle," which I think a useless concept (that opinion discussed in the body and comments of this post, I'm Curious About Your Kitchens.) A customized work station makes more sense to me.

Still on the checklist are to finish painting, make an end splash, and install overhead lighting. Other than that, it's already becoming the most used countertop in the kitchen.

May 21, 2012

Garden 2012: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Sometimes I feel like I'm getting nowhere with my garden. I'm not talking about visible progress, like planting, harvesting, preserving, or terracing my garden beds. I'm talking about progress that seems to be illusive because it never goes away, like battling the weeds.

Before - garden partly mulched, partly not.
Where it didn't get mulched, weeds are a problem

This will be our 3rd garden in this spot. The first two summers we tilled, last summer we switched to permanent beds. Ours aren't exactly raised, but with our garden on a slope, I would call them half-raised or terraced. As much as Dan loves his tiller, we hoped it would be less work to not till every year. Theoretically this is true, but the tiller also killed or deterred a lot of weeds, which now grow unhindered in the garden.

After - I mowed the center aisle, Dan tilled the lower part.

What I don't need is a harder routine. What I do need is a smarter one. Now, I'm not talking about "easy," you know, where I go out and buy all sorts of labor saving devices to do the work for me and then go buy a membership to the gym so I can get some exercise and stay in shape. I think physical work is good. It's good for us physically, good for us mentally, and good for us emotionally. It gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. ("Adam, till [עבד , 'abad = cultivate, work, labor, dress, serve] and keep [שׁמר, shamar =  observe, heed, guard, preserve, protect] the garden.")

The mulched beds remained relatively weed free

The answer to this is deep mulch. Our main homestead resource for this is leaves, some of which come from dynamic accumulators and so enrich the soil. My goal last winter, was to mulch it all. Alas, I did not achieve that goal. I suppose telling you that we have 26 beds in the garden, all approximately 4 by 24 feet might explain one reason why it didn't get done. But that makes me sound not very diligent. If I add the fact that we had a mild winter with lots rain so that everything just kept growing all winter, well, that might be another reason too. Really though, we've been putting most of our time and energy into finishing the kitchen. The truth is that I often feel like I'm pulled in two directions, the house needing so much repair and updating, and trying to establish our homestead. There isn't enough of me to go around.

I did make progress. The beds that did get mulched are still relatively weed free and the few weeds that do grow there, have spindly stalks from trying to push up to the sun from under all that mulch. The beds I didn't mulch are another story, as are the pathways between the beds. I didn't mulch those either. And since there are so many of them I don't know if I'll every get the entire area mulched of a winter.

Now that it's time to plant, my work smarter plan has been this.....

Raking back the much in the bed

I'm raking the mulch from the beds, and piling it onto the aisle

Leaving the mulch in the pathway

That should help smother some of the weeds growing where I want to walk, and give my seeds a chance to sprout. Once they're big enough, I'll rake the mulch back around the plants.

The ends of the beds is where the wire grass wants to creep in and take over. I have already accepted that I cannot eliminate this stuff. I can only hope to slow it's growth enough to get what I want out of the bed. I've been covering it with the paper feed sacks I've saved all winter.

Feedbag mulch to deter wire grass. I'll cover these with more leaf mulch.

Bed is ready to plant

I'm hoping all this will at least enable me to stay ahead of the game so that I can find the seedlings I've planted. Problem is, the weeds grow faster and anything that looks like progress is soon lost. If I can just keep my head above water this year, maybe next year will be better, after the kitchen is done.

May 17, 2012

Kitchen Wall Cabinets

Dan was on vacation last week so we made good progress in the kitchen. The first thing we worked on was installing the wall cabinets.

green over the fridge wall cabinet

First one up was the over-the-fridge cabinet. We originally hadn't planned on one of these, until we saw it where we bought the used base cabinet. I got it for about $22.

pair of Amish cabinets on either side of the kitchen window

Next up were the two Amish built wall cabinets we purchased in Pennsylvania almost 3 years ago. The doors on these cabinets were the inspiration for the entire kitchen.

green painted corner wall cabinet

Then the corner cabinet. We debated on whether to purchase one of these or make it (free online instructions, here). In the end we bought it from the same discount building supply where we've bought so many things we've needed for this project. There's much to be said for making things ourselves, but the balance of time and cost were in favor of buying it. I didn't get one with a lazy susan. One reason was because they were more expensive. Also, they leave a lot of dead space in the corners. We're going to do the same thing to this cabinet's door that we did to the sink cabinet doors.

wall cabinets up, shelves yet to be added

Turns out I did a pretty good job with patching the wallpaper, didn't I? :) The fridge will cover the last big bare spot on the left.

Since we are using an eclectic mix of cabinets, we decided the best way to tie them together will be with shelves. Rough idea sketch below...

sketch of where the shelves will go
Click sketch for a little better view.

A plate rack will go under the cabinet to the left of the window. Under the right cabinet will be a cup shelf. Shelves will connect that cabinet with the corner cabinet, including some shelves for spices. I think.

Next up was the 3-door Amish cabinet Dan bought.

3-door Amish built cabinet hung, sans doors

He woodburned the doors to this one, photo here.

I have a plan for the shelving for that wall too, which I originally showed you in my "Kitchen Remodel: A Place for Each Thing & Each Thing In It's Place" post...

An idea for my wall of shelves (click for bigger).

Thankfully everything is passing inspection...

Riley has been a bit jealous of all the attention the puppies get, so he's keeping close to make sure he gets his fair share.

After we put up the wall cabinets, we put the trim and baseboard in the corner the refrigerator belongs in. Then we brought it in from the porch.

kitchen remodel, fridge corner complete

After the wall cabinets were up, we started in on the peninsula. That required a bit more thinking, because we're not following a standard plan. But then, I never wanted a standard kitchen. Hopefully I'll have an update on that soon.

May 15, 2012

Two Soil Tests, A Comparison

My soil test results are back. This is the one I had done on the back field we are preparing to plant to pasture. Actually it's the second test I had done on that field. The first was done by our state cooperative extension service last August. I've always had all our soil testing done by the state, until I started reading Neal Kinsey's book, Hands-On Agronomy: Understanding Soil Fertility & Fertilizer Use. When I learned about his Agricultural Testing Service, I decided to get a second soil test.

The two test results aren't the same for a couple of reasons. One is that the samples were taken 8 months apart, the second being after we'd scraped away the saplings and vines that were taking over the field. Much of the topsoil was scraped away as well, so we expected the results to be much worse. In reading Mr. Kinsey's book I've also learned that there are different methods of doing soil tests, and that the results can be measured differently too. Even so, I can't help but compare, especially the recommendations. So for my benefit mostly, but also for anyone else who's interested, here's a look at the two tests.

Soil test from the state cooperative extension service:

Results (open in its own window to biggify)

Recommendations (open in its own window to biggify)

Soil test from Kinsey Agricultural Services:

A one page report, open in its own window for a closer look


The test from the cooperative extension service was inexpensive. It varies from state to state, but mine one was about $7 for a basic test. There were several pages for which a link was emailed to me. I captured them with the PrtScr button ("print screen" which in Ubuntu brings up "save screenshot"). Also included was access to a free pdf file called "Understanding Your Soil Test Results." This doesn't tell me very much. It give me a basic definition of soil pH, briefly mentions nutrients in a broad sense, and explains what their self-explanatory ratings mean.

The Kinsey Ag Services test was much more expensive, $50 for the basic test, plus I requested an additional test for cobalt, which was another $15. Cobalt is important though, because ruminants need it to synthesize their vitamin B12.

To understand the test, I really need Neal Kinsey's book, Hands-On Agronomy, Written primarily for the farmer, this book is not what I'd call over my head, but I have no experiential knowledge to follow along without pondering what I'm reading. Still, it's an invaluable resource.


The state test covers soil pH, buffer pH, CEC (cation exchange capacity, which I'll try to explain below), phosphorous, potash (potassium), calcium, and a panel of minerals. It does not tell me how much nitrogen is in the soil, and in fact the "Understanding Your Soil Test Results" tells me that nitrogen testing isn't recommended because soil nitrogen is so elusive. That would be a separate test at an additional cost. Results are given in pounds per acre, along with a colorful bar graph for an "at a glance" idea of basic soil health. "Understanding Your Soil Test Results" also tells me my state has no established levels for copper and sodium, which is a concern because copper deficiency is common in goats and too much or too little can be fatal.

The KAS report tells me my soil sample pH, Total Exchange Capacity (TEC, also explained below), humus content, and target calcium / magnesium percentages. I also get a base saturation of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Nutrients and micronutrients are divided into anions (nitrogen, sulfate, & phosphates), cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium, & sodium), and traces (manganese, boron, iron, copper, zinc, & cobalt at my request). For each I'm told the desired value, the value found, and the deficit or surplus.


The state recommendations to correct my soil are specific for what I want to plant, in this case, pasture. Amounts needed are reported in pounds per acre. Recommendations are for the dolomitic limestone I need to adjust pH, and how much chemical fertilizer I need for nitrogen (even though they didn't test for it???), phosphorous, and potassium. No recommendations are made for the minerals.

The Kinsey recommendations are also specific to what I want to plant. These are given as "organics," which I requested. Since I have a half acre field, these are in pounds per acre. However, I could requested these in lbs per 1000 sq. ft, or Kg per hectare. I could have also chosen from several categories of recommendations: excellent, building, maintenance, or minimum input. I held my breath and requested to know what I'd need to bring my soil to excellent condition.

If you look closely at the KAS report, the recommendations are specific. Note that not all deficiencies appear to be addressed (potassium for example), and that for magnesium, I'm given two additives. This is because the Sul-Po-Mag contains sulfur and potassium as well as magnesium. This will address my potassium deficit and part of the magnesium my soil needs. The magnesium sulfate will make up the remaining magnesium deficit. The goal is a balanced soil, and that's what the recommendations give me.

I mentioned why the results won't be the same (note the differences in the percentages of calcium and magnesium), but I'd still like to hit a few highlights here, to compare these two tests.


The first thing I zero in on, is soil pH, and calcium and magnesium levels. The state lab tells me my soil pH is 5.4 with a buffer pH of 7.55. Unfortunately it doesn't explain to me what a buffer pH is. After a little online research, I learn this is a lab value for recommending the amount of lime I need and has no  practical use to me.

The Kinsey report gives only the soil pH, which it reports as 6.1. That one's not so bad. Because of what we did to the land I'm not expecting the two reports to be the same, but what was of interest, was the following statements from each service.

"Most secondary and micronutrient deficiencies are easily corrected by keeping the soil at the optimum pH value."           State Agricultural Testing Service
"Any nutrient required takes precedence over pH. This means you supply the deficient nutrients first, and when you finish balancing the nutrients, the pH will be right."           Neal Kinsey, Hands-On Agronomy. 

Do you notice the fundamental philosophical difference here? I know that too high or low a soil pH renders minerals inaccessible. But I also know that they have to be present in the soil in the first place. If they've been used up or washed away, then correcting the soil pH won't help. In that case, I need to add soil minerals as well as correct pH.


CEC (state test) is cation exchange capacity, while TEC (Kinsey Ag) is total exchange capacity. Basically these have to do with the chemistry of the soil and indicate how well it can attract, retain, and exchange available nutrients in the soil. It measures the number of "exchange sites" that are available for cations in the soil. According to Neal Kinsey, the CEC is less specific, and varies from lab to lab. Some labs measure all available cations, others measure only some. KAS uses "total" to indicate that they measure all available cations in the soil sample.

Nutrients & Micronutrients

Both tests give me a base saturation percent. This tells me to what percent the exchange sites in my soil are occupied by cations. The results for both this and the exchange capacity are very different on the two reports. Considering the amount of time between the two tests and what we did to the soil, I am not surprised but assume that the most recent test would be more accurate.

Humus Content

I don't get this from the state test, but KAS tells me my humus content is 2.2% Textbook ideal is considered to be 5%. Considering that we scraped most of our topsoil away, my results are better than I expected.


None really, except that I'm glad I had the KAS test done and will follow it's recommendations. Still, two problems present themselves that are worth mentioning.

The first problem I'm having is in finding natural soil additives rather than chemical fertilizers. I would have thought this would have been fairly easy, considering how many folks prefer organic gardening. The only additives I'm able to find locally are the small, 3 lb packages from Miracle-Gro. That might be okay of I had a 10 by 20 foot garden, but I've got half an acre to address. I did find this website, Fertrell, which manufactures natural soil amendments in 50 lb bags, but no one nearby carries these, including the recommended Fertrell dealer I found on their website. Direct shipping on the weight I need would knock the cost out of the box!

The second problem, is that I don't think I could afford this testing for my vegetable garden, especially since I'm switched to permanent beds, where my addition of compost, bone meal, and blood meal varies from bed to bed. The results of the test are only as accurate as the soil sample. Mixing all the bed soils would not give me accurate results.

Anybody still reading? Can't blame you if you aren't, LOL. Folks like to get "the dirt" on somebody, but the dirt on dirt? Not quite as interesting I think.