Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bovine Hydration System (BHS)

Last winter we had to carry water out to our animals. This year we wanted an easier system. Our small barn area is attached to the wood shed, which is attached to our house at the mudroom. In our mudroom are the washer and dryer. We decided to plumb off the washing machine water to use for animal watering.

Here is how we did it:

We used 4” schedule 20 PVC pipe and put it overhead in the woodshed at a slight downwards pitch towards the bovine quarters.

Then we ran 1” black plastic water pipe inside the PVC pipe, the PVC pipe stays rigid and prevents the black plastic from sagging. The pipe on the barn side hangs over the water dish.

The black plastic pipe comes through the mudroom wall at the ceiling and is connected to a garden hose “y”; on one side we connected a hose that ties into our washing machine cold water faucet (we used another “y” on the cold water side of the washer. One end is connected to the washer hose and the other to the BHS). The other side of the “y” has a short hose connected to it that we use as a vent to help drain the water out of the black plastic pipe.

We discovered after our first real cold night that the pipe wasn’t draining completely and it froze. Luckily it warmed up during the day and we tried using air from the compressor to force out any water left in the pipe. This has worked very well, even with -8° F temps.

Happy cows, happy people.

This photo shows the connections by our washing machine. The garden hose connects to the BHS (Bovine Hydration System)
Washer Connections for BHS

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Update On Making Malt Vinegar

On June 29, 2009 we wrote a post on an experiment we decided to try, making malt vinegar. Here is an update.

Between June and September we looked at and smelled the "vinegar" every few weeks, things were looking good.

On September 26th the one with the bread had some mold on it, so we removed it and put the liquid into a clean jar. The other looked fine.

On October 25th we took off more mold and decided to add some apple cider vinegar "mother" to it, hoping that the mother would get the vinegar going.

By November 29th the whole thing was moldy so we threw it away.

The jar that did not have the bread still smelled fine, but just like stale beer. We decided to add some mother to that as well in hopes that it would get the vinegar process started.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rhubarb and Pea Pod Saute with Feta Cheese

When rhubarb season is here we like to cook as many different dishes with it as we can.  This side dish is delicious enough to make a meal out of!

Rhubarb and Pea Pod Saute with Feta Cheese

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup garlic scapes (or 2 cloves); sliced
1/2 cup rhubarb; sliced thin
1/2 cup mushrooms; sliced
1 cup pea pods
1/4 cup water
maple syrup; to drizzle
feta cheese; crumbled

Heat butter over medium heat. Add garlic, saute about 1 minute.

Add rhubarb and mushrooms, saute about 2 minutes.

Add pea pods, saute 1 - 2 minutes and add 1/4 cup water and heat until water is gone.

Move to serving bowls, drizzle maple syrup over and add crumbled feta cheese on top.

Serves 2

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hot Weather Solar Water Experiment

Solar Hot Water Experiment
Have you ever noticed how hot water can get in a garden hose that has been lying in the sun? There have been times when we have almost burned ourselves (or killed innocent plants) from just such a thing. This inspired us to do our hot weather solar water experiment.

Here is the list of our materials:

100’ of 1 ½” black plastic water pipe
4 12’ 2 x 8s painted black
8 90° elbows
2 garden hose adapters
16 pipe clamps
Plumbing strap to hold pipes to 2 x 8s
2 garden hoses
Miscellaneous screws

Our wood shed roof is about 30 feet long, so cutting the 100 feet of plastic into 4 pieces, each 25’ long, worked well for us.

We secured the 2 x 8s to the roof, two of them end to end to give us 24’. We made 2 rows, with about 6” in between the rows.

Next, we cut the pipe into 25’ sections, laid them flat and attached them to the lumber; each board has two rows of pipe. We then attached the elbows and pipe clamps.

The cold water goes into the bottom piece of pipe from a garden hose that is connected to our outside water faucet. The system fills from the bottom up to the top pipe. The other garden hose is connected to the top for the hot water to come out. This hose we have connected to a separate faucet at our kitchen sink.

It takes a little time for the hot water to get to the sink, but has worked out great for doing dishes and cleaning up.

Next summer we will try adding some wooden sides around the pipes to help hold in more heat. We can not enclose the pipes because the pipe will only withstand temperatures of about 160° to 180°

This photo shows where the two garden hoses will be connected.
Solar Hot Water

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sunday Morning Doughnuts

Sunday Morning Doughnuts
Sunday Morning Doughnuts

2 cups flour
2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup honey

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well (clean hands work great for the job).

Mixing The Ingredients

Turn onto a floured board and knead for a few minutes. Let rest.

Kneading The Dough

Roll out to about 1/2" thick and cut out with a doughnut cutter.

Rolling The Dough

Ready To Cook

Heat about 4" oil (vegetable oil works fine, we use lard) to 360°F

Fry 3 or 4 doughnuts at a time, turning when one side is browned - fry until both sides are nicely browned.

Doughnuts Cooking
Drain on paper towels or on a paper bag. Makes about one dozen doughnuts.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Decorating, Giving New Life

Wine Glass Candle Holder
As the holidays approach we look for creative ways to decorate that don’t cost a lot of money. What better way than to give something in your home new life.

Each year we search the cupboards for items that can serve dual purposes; this year we are using wine glasses as candle holders. Candles add a cozy and festive touch to any meal, and a tea light placed in the glass is all it takes.

The glasses can be plain or fancy, short or tall. Having different heights together can make a lovely arrangement. Place them on a tray; add some greens and you have an instant centerpiece.

Decorative bowls can also be used as candle holders. Add glass beads for a sophisticated look, or polished stones for more of a natural feel.

There are many options, just be creative and start experimenting!

Wine Glass Candle Holders
Wine Glass Candle Holders

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wood Fired Water Heater

For about 5 years we have had a propane on-demand water heat for all our hot water needs. Last year we had the chance to get a second hand wood fired water heater. It ain’t pretty, but it sure does the job.

We tapped into the hot and cold lines of our on-demand water heater and plumbed in the wood fired one and connected valves so that we can isolate one or the other.

Since there is no way to regulate the temperature of the water, we piped the pressure relief valve into an old copper water heater (which had belonged to my great-grand parents) that we use as a holding tank. This way if the water gets too hot and blows off it goes into the extra tank (instead of all over the wall….this actually happened and was quite a wake up call). We then can drain the copper tank into a bucket, there is a valve at the bottom that we attached a short hose to, and once it has cooled it can be used to water animals or plants.

One thing that I really love about the wood fired water heater is that we can burn sticks and all sorts of small scrap pieces of wood. The tank holds about 5 to 6 gallons of water, plenty for a nice hot shower. In fact, it works so well that we shut off the propane water heater last winter and it hasn’t been on since!

Wood Fired Water Heater

The copper holding tank is situated behind the chimney so I can't show a picture of it. The plumbing goes in behind the chimney.
Close Up

Picture of water heater with door removed to show the fire box. We have the heater up on a metal stand to make using it easier.
Water Heater With Fire

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prepared Horseradish

Horseradish is an easy plant to grow and harvest, simply dig up some roots! We have tried many ways to preserve it, but this recipe has worked well; it is easy and tasty!
Prepared Horseradish
Prepared Horseradish

1 cup horseradish root
1/2 cup vinegar

Wash horseradish root and peel.
Chop the roots and put in a blender with the vinegar.
Blend until well chopped. Be careful removing the lid, the horseradish will be quite strong.
You can also grate the root by hand and then add the vinegar, mixing well.
Pack into clean jars and store in the refrigerator.
Prepared horseradish will start to loose its strength after about a month.

Horseradish Plant

Homemade Horseradish on FoodistaHomemade Horseradish

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Easy Listening

12-volt radio
We are always looking for creative ways to save energy and power, and we also love to listen to music. For us the solution was a 12-volt car radio to run off of solar.

We picked up a used car stereo at a yard sale for $3.00. My husband built a cabinet for it to be mounted into, which is just big enough for a 12-volt battery to sit at the bottom. We went online to find the specks for our brand of radio; found out which pin was power and how to hook up the speakers properly.

We mounted the stereo in the cabinet and connected two 5 watt solar panels to the battery (probably one would be enough, but we had two so we used both).solar panels to 12-volt radio

There were two power connectors on the radio. We connected the one that holds memory to a fuse and to the positive side of the battery. The other power connector (which turns the radio on and off) we ran from the fuse to an external switch, which acts like the key in a car. That way when we turn off the radio (by the external switch) there is no power draining the battery.

We then connected the speakers, which are mounted on the walls and ceiling through out the house.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Autumn Soup

Fall is my favorite time of year. The weather is nice and the garden is full of things to be harvested. Here is the perfect soup for a cool fall day.

Autumn Soup
2 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion; chopped
5 carrots; sliced
5 cloves garlic; sliced
1 1/2 cup beet greens or spinach; chopped
1/4 cups scallions; chopped
1/4 teaspoon rosemary; ground
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek; ground
1/4 teaspoon horseradish; chopped
1 tablespoon celery flakes
1/2 teaspoon dill
8 cups stock, vegetable or chicken
8 small potatoes; chopped
1 1/2 cup squash; chopped
dash hot sauce; optional
dash hot pepper flakes; optional

Melt butter in a skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, carrots and garlic and sauté until onions are translucent. Add beet greens or spinach, scallions, and seasoning. Sauté for about 5 minutes more on medium heat.

In a large stock pot combine stock, potatoes and squash. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are about half done. Add ingredients from skillet and simmer until the potatoes and squash are cooked. Add hot sauce and paper flakes, if desired. Simmer about 15 minutes more and serve.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to Season Cast Iron Cookware

We follow the directions in Old Fashioned Recipe Book: An Encyclopedia of Country Living
Be sure your cast iron is clean before seasoning; all rust removed and well washed and dried.

Preheat oven to 425° F. Rub pan all over with a generous amount of lard or shortening. Place in oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and apply a second coat to the inside only of the pan (be careful…the pan will be very hot!).

Return to the oven for another 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and apply a third coat. After applying the third coat leave the pan in the oven for two hours, then turn the oven off and let the pan stay in the oven until it has cooled.

Be sure not to leave the lid on a Dutch oven while doing this, the lid will stick on.

Re-season whenever necessary.

Lodge Logic Dutch Oven with Loop Handles

Cooking With Ground Beef: Meat Loaf Burgers

Ground beef is so versatile. There are so many options besides the plain hamburger. Here is one way we "dress 'em up" a bit.

Meat Loaf Burgers
1 pound hamburger
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 small onion; diced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon parsley

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well (clean hands work well for this job). The mixture will be gooey.

Preheat a frying pan and cook the burgers as you normally would.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Making Lard

Whenever we, or someone we know, have a pig slaughtered we always ask for the fat to make lard. Rendering lard is quite easy and nothing makes better doughnuts than homemade lard.

We follow the directions in Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide
Start with your pieces of fat and cut into 1/2" cubes. Put about 1/4" inch of water in a large heavy bottom kettle and add your cut up fat to it, being careful not to fill the kettle too full; it is better to add to it as it cooks. Keep the burner on as low as it will go. A wood cook stove works well for this, as you can slide the kettle around to get the heat you want. You want it to melt, but not scorch.

fat to turn into lard

It takes a very long time for the fat to melt; we have been as long as 4 days to get all our fat cooked. Be sure to stir frequently to mix in the new fat and to keep it from sticking. Patience is needed.

As the lard renders, the cracklings, which are the pieces of fat that do not cook down, (why, I do not know) will float to the top and eventually sink to the bottom. That is when it is time to jar your lard. (The temperature will be about 255o F)

Sterilize your jars, strain the cracklings, and pour the strained lard into your jars, filling to the top. Chill as quickly as possible to produce a finer grain shortening (we set our jars outside….for us, lard making is always done in the fall for a few reasons; it is usually the time people slaughter their pigs, the wood stove is going and it is cool outside)

Store the finished lard in a cool dark place.

Many people enjoy the cracklings (the part that didn’t cook down that was strained off before bottling) and eat them with some salt or as bacon bits. We haven’t really enjoyed them too much, but are still hoping to find a use so they do not go to waste.

Lard, the finsihed product

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Compost Tea

Compost Tea

Compost Tea Made Easy

For a few years my husband and I lived in a small apartment with no actual garden space; however we did have a deck. On that deck we grew tomatoes, all kinds of greens, herbs and flowers. A compost pile, however, was something I missed having.

We spotted theSpinning Composterfrom Real Goods and ordered it. It worked out great on our deck and we were able to make some nice dirt.

When we moved back to the country we were afraid our composter would go unused, but that was not the case.

We no longer use it to make as much compost, but we do use it for making compost tea. The base the composter sits on is hollow and fills with water when it rains; the rain goes through the compost and settles in the bottom, leaving us a liquid that the plants love.

We dilute the liquid with water and use it as a liquid fertilizer.

Each year when we drain the base we fill a gallon jar and use it all winter (diluted) to feed our house plants.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Easy Baking Recipes, Desserts: No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

No bake cookies are fun and easy to make, perfect for unexpected company.

No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups quick oats

Bring the milk to a boil over medium high heat, being careful not to scorch.

Add the honey, cocoa powder and butter.

Turn the heat down to low and cook for one to two minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and oats, mixing well.

Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper.

Drop teaspoonfuls of cookie onto the paper and refrigerate until firm. These will not firm up as much with honey as they do with sugar, but the taste is wonderful and the honey makes them a bit more health-ful. 1/2 cup of sugar can be used instead of the honey.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Friday, October 9, 2009

Easy Baking Recipes: Breads, One Rise Bread

One Rise Bread
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup water; warm
2 tablespoon butter; melted
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon salt

Place all ingredients in bowl of an electric mixer. Using the dough hook mix well, about 8 to 10 minutes. Grease a bread pan. Place dough in pan and let rise until about 1" over the top of the pan. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes.

We do this recipe as a one rise bread. The loaf comes out a little more dense than a 2 rise loaf, but the flavor is great and the time we save makes it well worth it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Free Cold Weather Refrigeration

My husband is always thinking of new ways to become more self-sufficient. When he said “free refrigeration“, I was all ears; and ready for another project. Here’s his story:

In this off the grid homesteading life we live, there are a few issues that require a bit more attention than most, such as water pumping and refrigeration. Of those two, refrigeration is probably the most difficult to address, at least it has been for us. We have been using a propane refrigerator for the past few years (a solar one is just too expensive for us, and we are not sure if our system is large enough to handle one), but with the cost of propane on the rise we are trying to find an alternative.

We have managed to come up with a partial solution, at least for the cold months of the year. We got a small electric refrigerator someone was going to throw away because it stopped working. I have a friend who does appliance repair remove the gas from the compressor. Then I removed the compressor and the coils off the back of the unit. I left the thermostat in the refrigerator and found the two wires that control it on the back. These I left in place. Our mud room is on the north side of the house and from there you walk out into the woodshed. We cut a hole in the mudroom wall just big enough to fit the refrigerator into; the only part in the mudroom is the door and about an inch of the refrigerator. The rest is actually in the woodshed.

I made a shelf for the refrigerator to sit on because the woodshed is lower than the mudroom floor. I drilled a 4” hole down through the top of the refrigerator and put in a 4” diameter dust gate. A dust gate is a 4” round device with a sliding door so you can open or close the hole. I use them in my woodworking shop for sawdust control. I took a 4” 90o PVC elbow and mounted a 3 ½” muffin fan (computers use these, so they are easy to find and not expensive, plus they run off 12 volts) inside the elbow. I drilled a small hole in the elbow to run the fan wires through. One wire connects to one of the wires in the thermostat inside the refrigerator; the other connects to the positive side of our battery bank (which happens to be in the same room). The second wire on the thermostat connects to the negative side of the battery bank. This enables the thermostat to control the fan. When the fan is on, it pulls cold air in from the outdoors. With the elbow in place, I then cut a hole through the outside wall of the woodshed and ran a section of 4” PVC pipe from the elbow to the outside. The pipe extends about 4” past the wall. I put a piece of aluminum window screen over the end of the pipe and then slid a 22o elbow over the end. This holds the screen in place and keeps bugs etc from entering the pipe (all pipe is schedule 20).

Once everything was put together and tested, I sealed around the refrigerator with insulation and added trim.

By the end of October or so we are able to move our food to this refrigerator and can turn off the gas one. Last year we had a cool spring and didn’t have to start using the propane refrigerator until mid April….almost 6 months of free refrigeration!

Winter refrigerator, inside house, before finish work.
Winter Refrigerator

Vent pipe (with fan inside) on top of the refrigerator(black flat part at the bottom is the dust gate).
Vent From Top Of Refrigerator

Friday, October 2, 2009

Drying Fruits and Vegetables

This year has not been a good one for our gardens, production is way down. Usually we can many, many jars of food; this year we are drying more.

Living off the grid, we do not have an electric dryer, so the drying has always been done in the gas oven. This year we did some in the oven, but really wanted to get away from that, so we have been experimenting with drying in the greenhouse (bringing things into the house at night to avoid excess dew) and air drying. So far things have been going well.

Cauliflower, berries, beets and fruit leather has been done in the gas oven. Greens and roots have been done in the greenhouse. Apples, grapes and green beans have been strung up and hung in the kitchen to dry, as have corn cobs. So far the apples and green beans have done very well, although they take a long time to dry.

The corn just got hung up two days ago, so we will see how that works out (I read that it takes a month for the corn to dry). After it is dry we will remove it from the husks and grind it into corn meal.

There are many books on the subject of drying and preserving, but one of our favorites is Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide In this book we can usually find most of the information we need.

Making Raspberry Fruit LeatherMaking Raspberry Fruit Leather

Raspberry Fruit LeatherRaspberry Fruit Leather

Drying CauliflowerDrying Cauliflower

Corn, Ready To DryCorn, Ready To Dry

Air Drying Corn, Grapes and ApplesDrying Corn and Apples

Drying Sunflower SeedsDrying Sunflower Seeds

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Turning Grapes To Wine

The grape harvest this year was not huge, but large enough to make some sauce and, more importantly, wine. Making a basic wine from grapes is quite easy, with very little equipment needed.

We usually make one gallon batches for a few reasons: you don't need as many grapes; if it doesn't come out quite right you haven't wasted a lot of ingredients and the equipment needed is minimal.

We de-stem the grapes and put in a kettle. Cook like you would if you were making grape juice; simply add a little water to the grapes and cook over low heat until the grapes burst. We use a potato masher to help things along.

Strain the grape mixture over another kettle to save the juice. Add the pulp to the compost pile.

Add honey to taste to the juice (over low heat) and get it to where it tastes good to you.

Sterilize a one gallon wine jug and fill 3/4 full of the grape juice, adding some water if necessary.

Pouring Liquid into Gallon Jar

Let cool to 100oF and add about 2 grams of wine yeast. Cork, and add your air lock. (Corks and air locks are available at home brewing shops).

We let the jug sit in the kitchen sink over night since it is possible that it could bubble over (the honey really makes the yeast work)

Let sit until the wine (air lock) stops “chugging.” Watch for bubbles in the wine. When the fermentation process has finished, bottle the wine.

This is the way we make our raspberry and blueberry wine, as well.

Grape Wine, FermentingGrape Wine, Fermenting

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Apple Pie

2 pie crust, 9, unbaked
8 apples; peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Grease pie plate and line with one pie crust. In a large bowl combine apples, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour. Mix well.

Place apple mixture in pie crust and dot with butter.

Cover with remaining pie crust, flute the edges and cut several vents into the top.

Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 350°F and bake 30-40 minutes more, until the crust is slightly browned.

Serve warm or cold with ice cream, if desired.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Using Straw Instead of the Lawn Mower

Bales of Straw
I really hate to mow. It seems like such a waste of time and gas to me; finish the job and it only has to be done over and over again.

We have pastured out a lot of our land, but anytime I can come up with ideas to cut back on mowing I am happy.

Our gardening is all done in raised beds but there is all the space between the raised beds that has to be mowed every 4 days or so all summer long (we have the most amazing grass that never stops growing.) I have been complaining about it for quite a few years and have even, in past years, stopped mowing all together. This only causes problems in as far as we can no longer see the raised beds and then have a big mess.

This year my husband is working for a local farm helping with the hay. They do a few fields of oats, and then straw. One day he brought me a bale of straw to use on the strawberries. It was a lot more straw than I needed for the strawberries, so I decided to start using it between the raised beds. I put it on very thick and have been quite happy with the results.

Straw in Garden Path

He has since brought home 2 more bales, so I should have plenty to finish and have some leftover to start the spring with. I am hoping this will be the solution we are looking for. It sure does look nice!

Straw Around Raised Beds

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Raspberry Vinegar

Making flavored vinegar is surprisingly easy. This raspberry vinegar has turned out to be one of our favorites.

Raspberry Vinegar

Simply fill a jar about 3/4 with fresh raspberries (I have never tried it with frozen, so not sure how that would work). Then fill with a vinegar of your choice (we use homemade apple cider vinegar, but a white wine vinegar would be very good as well) leaving about an inch head space. Be sure that the raspberries are completely covered with vinegar.

Let sit in a cool, dark place about a month and taste. Ours has been sitting about 2 months and has gotten a wonderful raspberry flavor.

Use on chicken, pork, stir fries, fruit desserts and salads.