July 29, 2015

An Etsy Shop for Dan, Contemplating Self-Sufficiency, and Masanobu Fukuoka

I have several posts in my drafts folder, although none of them is quite ready for you yet. That's because I've been helping Dan set up an Etsy shop for his pyrography, [now closed] and I wanted to share that with you. We're still getting pieces added, but at least it's presentable enough for visitors.

It probably seems pretty off topic from homesteading, but on the other hand, he would love to be able to work from home rather than off the homestead. Most homesteaders can relate, because that seems to be part of the self-sufficiency formula. I'm guessing it's one of the biggest frustrations for a lot of folks, i.e. having to have a job to support oneself and buy the things it takes to become self-sufficient. Ironic, isn't it, that self-sufficiency can only be obtained with a lot of money?

Dan and I talk about that a lot, actually. I've concluded that the biggest problem is that we (speaking of homesteaders in a generic sense here), are trying to support the lifestyle from which we came. It seems to me that most folks assume that the way things are, is the way things are supposed to be. I've talked about this in other posts:

Obviously it is something we are still trying to figure out!

I just finished reading Masanobu Fukuoka's book, The One-Straw Revolution. It is interesting to me that someone from the another culture on the other side of the world can make the same observations we have and come up with similar conclusions. Namely, that science and industry are destroying agriculture and, thereby, destroying the environment (and the earth). The consequence is that we humans are no longer content with simply growing food as a lifestyle, because now life is only about making money. This is the very dilemma we find ourselves in as homesteaders. If that sounds harsh, well, I suggest you read the book for yourself.

July 26, 2015

Pizza Sauce

I had a couple of people ask for my recipe for pizza sauce (see "Too Many Tomatoes"). I thought I had it in a blog post, but only found comments about it scattered here and there. So here it is, all in one post.

Homegrown Pizza Sauce

There is actually no difference between my pizza sauce and ordinary spaghetti sauce. It's just that we eat more pizza than spaghetti, hence the name. Ingredients are simple:
  • tomatoes
  • sea salt
  • seasonings of your choice
  • lemon juice or citric acid

I usually freeze my tomatoes and make my sauce when the weather turns cooler.

Bags of tomatoes in the freezer for canning later. TIP: Frozen tomatoes
are easier to peel than with boiling water & ice baths. Just dunk the
frozen tomato in lukewarm water. The skins easily peel and slip right off.

To defrost and prepare for sauce making, you have two options. If you have something like a Squeezo Strainer or a Roma Sauce Maker, then the tomatoes can be defrosted and processed into juice with one of these.

The Roma removes seeds and skins easily

Alternatively, pop the frozen tomatoes into a large pot,

Frozen Amish Paste tomatoes 

and cook down until soft. Then run them through something like a Foley Food Mill to remove skins and seeds.

Processing them with my Foley food mill.
Pour all that lovely tomato juice into a crock pot or slow cooker and add your favorite herbs and spices.

Tomato juice cooking down with homegrown thyme, oregano, & rosemary

Cook down to the consistency you desire. I find it takes about two days to decrease the volume by half.

Crock pot tomato sauce
I can my sauce in pints, which is a couple weeks worth of pizzas for Dan and me.

I add one half teaspoon salt per pint, plus either one tablespoon lemon juice or one quarter teaspoon citric acid. They are processed in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

And there you have it.

Friday night special

July 24, 2015

The Up and Coming

Our Australorp chicks are going on 11 weeks old. They are all feathered out now and look like little chickens.

Of the original chicks, twelve remain. Three were killed by a rat, and one was lost due to an accident. Of those twelve, we appear to have two roosters.

The two on the right have the reddest and most developed combs.

Of those two, one is larger and can always be found with the pullets.

This one is attempting to crow!

The smaller one is more of a loner, usually to be found on the periphery of the other Australorps.

The Loner

Choosing a rooster has always been a much deliberated task on the homestead (see "Rules With an Iron Claw"), but this time, the choice appears to have been made for me. The chickens themselves made the choice.

What do my older hens think? For the most part they go about their own business, while the young 'Lorps all stick together.

The Buffs and Speckled Sussex have pretty much left the chicks
alone. The Wyandottes, on the other hand, chase everybody. 

The hen who had been trying to crow is no longer doing that, although none of them seem to care one way or another about the presence of roosters once again. These are all older gals, some of them in their fourth summer of laying. I'm only getting about four eggs a day now, so their production is not impressive.

The pullets will be five months old in October, so we can expect our first pullet eggs then. After that we'll get down to a core group of chickens for the winter. The rest will be canned for chicken stew.

It's a lot of fun to try out different breeds of chickens, but we've pretty much decided that we're through experimenting. For better or for worse, we'll stick with the Black Australorps, assuming some will go broody. I've had mixed reports on that, so we'll see. The plan is to let them raise half a dozen or so of their own chicks every year, and replace the oldest hens from those numbers. As long as we can have a fairly steady supply of eggs, I'll be happy.

July 21, 2015

Living Without Air Conditioning

"In what seemed like a one step forward, two steps back move, we ended up using the last of our homestead savings on two things: a wood cookstove for the kitchen (one step forward), and an electric air source heat pump (two steps back)."
Chapter 8, "Energy Self-Sufficiency"

It was almost five years ago that we replaced our old oil-burning HVAC with a new heat pump. I blogged about it, sharing my mixed feelings over getting it. I also mentioned that if we had an air conditioner I would use it. And we have, until this summer.

Energy self-sufficiency has been the most elusive and problematic of all our lifestyle goals. Many folks (including us at one time) think it is simply a matter of replacing purchased power with an off-grid alternative such as solar and/or wind. If one can afford to buy and maintain the systems, and has adequate sun and wind, these are feasible. If not, well, they aren't. (See "Energy Self-Sufficiency? Still Just A Dream")  Even with alternative energy, however, I doubt that very many off-gridders run their air conditioning, even if they have summers similar to ours.

(That's 35 - 37 Celsius). July has been a few degrees cooler. 

The other option to being off-grid, is to be non-electric. I lived this way for close to three years in the past. But that was a long time ago and everything was simpler then. No electricity simplifies things tremendously in some ways, but presents problems of its own.

Our part of the country (southeastern US) brings a number of challenges when it remains this hot, particularly with food preservation and storage. (See "Food Storage in the South") Perishables and leftovers don't keep long when the kitchen and pantry are 90°F (32°C). Lacto-fermenting (sourdough, sauerkraut, kefir, cheese making) becomes difficult as well. If we could somehow manage to generate even just a little of our own electricity, it would go to the refrigerator and freezer.

The decision to not use our air conditioning this summer was one we both knew was coming. I've kept the thermostat set at about 82°F (28°C) anyway, so that turning it on never really cooled the place, it just took the edge off the heat and humidity. This was not for a noble cause, such as reducing our carbon footprint, this was simply what our budget allowed. Taking the next step was just a matter of making the decision and living with it.

How Riley beats the heat.

Obviously, we're surviving! And we are not non-electric, which I think needs to be pointed out. We open the windows when the outside temperature cools down in the evening and use box fans to vent the hot air and pull in cooler air. In the morning, when the thermometer climbs until both indoor and outdoor temperatures are about the same, I close the windows and pull the curtains and blinds on the sunny side of the house. We start the day at about 15 Fahrenheit degrees cooler than outside and end it about 10 degrees cooler.

Replacing most of the old, original windows with energy efficient ones, plus proper insulation in the walls, has helped tremendously. We installed ceiling fans in the kitchen, living room, and bedroom, and the moving air makes all the difference in the world.

One thing I have become aware of, is how much heat the refrigerators and freezer generate. I have an extra fridge and my chest freezer in the pantry.

An extra refrigerator and small chest freezer reside in my
pantry. I've been dismayed at how much heat they put out.

My pantry is now the hottest room in the house. The fridge in the kitchen puts out a lot of heat too, as does washing dishes, which adds a lot of humidity (as do showers). I could add cooking, but I use either my solar oven or my summer kitchen for most of my cooking plus canning. That helps keep a lot of heat and humidity out of the house.

I confess that I'm looking forward to cooler weather, but have to admit that an electric bill of only $65 a month has been one small reward. We find ourselves willing to work outside more too, because the temperature difference between inside and out isn't shockingly severe. In fact, if the humidity is lower outside and there's a breeze blowing, it can feel more comfortable than inside, even though the thermometer says it's hotter.

Of course, not everyone has the same homesteading and lifestyles goals we do, and there's nothing wrong with that. That being said, reaching one's goals (whatever they are) is not always easy. Challenges and problems present themselves along the way which must be dealt with if the goal is ever going to be reached. Dan and I still don't have all the answers when it comes to energy and electricity, but we're taking whatever steps we can.

July 19, 2015

Seed Saving Fail

I was sooo sure I was planting cucumbers as companions to my green beans.

A not-cucumber

It appears I need a better system for labeling my saved seeds.

It was a nutmeg melon, tasty with fresh blueberries

So instead of a salad, it made dessert. Not an unfair trade, but I surely do lament no pickles this year.

July 16, 2015

Piglet Report

Two of our six American Guinea Hog piglets

Polly's piglets are ten days old now. They are still pretty small, but they are beginning to fill out. We have three males and three females. They follow Polly around but take frequent naps too.

They startle pretty easily so I don't handle them much. At the moment we humans are the big things to be avoided.

Time to tank up.

Polly is a very good mom and accommodates them whenever they are hungry.

Sometimes they accommodate themselves

Waldo is still separated but not because we think he would harm the piglets. In fact, the other day they all slipped through the fence into his pasture. When I found them Waldo was sound asleep with four of the little piggies trying to figure out how to get a meal from papa pig! He is separated because I want to feed Polly extra and Waldo would want to eat it himself.

Rooting comes instinctively.

They are beginning to root in the dirt and nibble on grass. Hard to believe they'll be ready to wean at 5 or 6 weeks old.

July 13, 2015

A Little Progress on the Living Room

Besides the new window, we've managed to make a little progress on the front porch/living room, namely, finishing the front door.

The front door as it's been since last December. 

To start, a threshold was needed.


Dan made this one out of a 1 inch oak board.

Screws were countersunk and the holes filled with dowel rod.

For the interior trims the goal is to simply cover the rough edges. The problem is that none of the doors and windows we install seem to be the same depth as the walls of the house. Oh well.

There were lots of gaps. Polyurethane foam fills them and insulates.

Ready to fill the gaps and paint

Our living room walls are cement board & difficult to work with.

My splurge was a new vent register! About $12 at Lowes.

Colors in this photo are probably the most accurate.

Now it's my turn to caulk and paint.

Photos of the finished living room (at last) can be seen here.

July 10, 2015

Another "What in the World Did We Get Ourselves Into?" Project

Do you remember that big stock tank we bought back last January? Well, we've been discussing where to put it and finally decided that right behind my studio would be a good spot. It could catch the runoff from several roofs plus be out of the way.

Studio windows on the left, dining room window on the right.

We've done nothing to this side of the house yet, having put all our efforts into the kitchen and addition, bedroom and bathroom, and front porch. We figured it would probably be a good idea to tend to the windows and exterior of the house before getting that tank in.

And so it began. Could it really be as easy as simply replacing the windows and putting up the new siding?

Old windows removed (chimney on the left)

New window framed out and installed

Then we did what we should have done first, remove the rest of the siding. Here's what we discovered.

A rotted rim joist/sill beam

Rotted ceiling girder

Obviously there had been a leak at one time where the chimney was. Now what?

Properly, it seemed as though the whole room should have been torn down and rebuilt from scratch. Since that was financially impossible, we had to look for alternatives. Dan spent quite a few hours searching YouTube and finally found some "This Old House" videos showing how to repair similar problems. 

The sill beam was a doubled 2x8, with only the outer part being rotted.
Dan cut it back to solid wood and replaced that section.

The wooden beams were sitting directly on the brick, which didn't help.
Dan put a steel plate to keep the beam & post from sitting on the bricks.

Dan made a new post for the corner with doubled 2x4s. The post was placed directly on the plate. For the ceiling he managed to cut back that rotted to solid wood and replace the section.

Before installing the post (of which I didn't get a photo)

Here's what the repairs looked like on the inside after the sheathing was up.

Ceiling corner after repair

Floor corner after repair

And here's where it stands now.



The next step will be the siding, trims, and paint

July 7, 2015

Polly's Piggly Wigglies

Polly farrowed! And we missed it. Yesterday, she was out in the pasture all morning, but when I went to check on her after lunch, she was lying down in the pig shed. I called Dan, started running, and discovered six little piglets.

We did arrive in time to witness her eat the placenta.

She seems to be a very good mom.

And Waldo? He was only mildly interested.

Even so, we've moved him in with the bucks for the time being. When the piggies are a little bigger we'll see about reuniting the family.