Thursday, November 30, 2017

November 30, 2017 Part Two

Too many things going on to put it all in one blog post.  One of the things I LOVE about DIY is having leftover materials to do another project.  For example, when I decided that I figured out why Christmas decorations have been annoying me all these years is that not only do you drag out extra clutter, but because it is not in the same color scheme as your decorating, the visual chaos is upsetting.  This year I decided to do something about this and change all of my Christmas decorations to match my accent colors of purple and green.  The great thing about this is since I have been decorating with purple and green, I had lots of materials to choose from.  I had enough material leftover from upholstering my barstools and covering the chair cushions on the porch to make a tree skirt. 

When I looked at my stairs with all the burgundy and gold stockings, I knew something had to be done.  So with additional leftover material from the barstools, as well as leftover material from making my bedroom curtains, I decided to make new stockings.  I just created a pattern from one of the old ones, cut them out, and sewed them together.  The feeling of peace I get from them being in harmony with the room is amazing.  Why did it take me so long to realize this about Christmas decorations?

Next, I wanted to put together a new decoration for my front door, so I came up with some wood trees, made with the leftover strips of plywood we had from replacing the subfloor of our main floor this winter to put down wood floors  (talk about scrap wood).  I was amazed that they came out looking just like the ones that were in my head and I created them to fit in the planters we already had by the front door so I didn't have to find another place for them.  For the bottoms, I made some heavy cross pieces to keep them upright.  My husband helped me to toenail them onto the cross pieces.  Bless that man for helping me with all of my crazy ideas and all his handy skills!  I did spend $2 on this project ($1 per tree) to buy some glittery snowflake stickers from the dollar tree.  The green paint was left over from painting our front door (what do you know, it matches perfectly!) and I just used some purple acrylic paint I had, along with some white acrylic paint to add splashes of white paint (snow) to the tree to tie it in with the snowman wreath I made last year.  If you look carefully into the background, you can also see the cushion covers on the chairs that are made from the same fabric as the tree skirt and stockings.  Then add a little greenery provided free by nature and voilá!

November 30, 2017

Heating seems to be the order of the day around here.  The nights have been around 30, and the days in the 50's and 60's.  So far this winter, we have had the heater on for 2 days.  That was before we got the wood stove thoroughly installed.  Now that we have the wood stove, we haven't turned it back on.  Our house is really efficient, we designed it as a passive solar with most of the glass on the south, and have flash and batt insulation.  The addition of a wood stove and a lean-to greenhouse on the southern side has made it about perfect.  So far, we are usually only putting a fire in the wood stove in the mornings, and opening our bedroom windows about 10 am to let the sun heat the house for the rest of the day and store heat for overnight.  This minimizes wood collection.  Since we installed the wood stove late, we bought one load of wood for $40 (very good deal), and have gone to collect some already felled wood that we split ourselves for the price of two cartons of eggs from a neighbor.   My husband and I made a good team, with him doing the splitting and me loading the truck.  I did give the splitting a try, and found that I am more successful with the wedge and sledge hammer than the splitting maul my husband likes to use for speed.  He does tell me that the red oak we were splitting is very hard wood, though, so maybe I can try a different wood in the future.  We love having a fire in the morning while we are enjoying our coffee.  I told my husband I feel like I am at a Swiss Chalet, it seems so luxurious watching the flames.

Having a wood stove brings with it a number of issues to solve.  We are well on our way to finding permanent solutions for most of them.  The first one we solved was where we were going to store the wood, and how to get it close to retrieving without having to re-stack it.  Research brought me to a wood caddy on wheels, so I set about constructing one. It works great but still needs some tweaking.  I am not happy with the wobble in the top and plan to add some stability in that area when it is not stacked so full.  Additionally, I designed it so we could use the top of it as a work surface when we were grilling out or doing our canning on the propane fish fryer.  However, I still have not decided what kind of countertop I want to put on it that will be waterproof (keeping the wood dry), that I will be able to slant (since the wood sits under the eave of the house and I want the water to roll off), and that will last.  Currently we are keeping a tarp on the top until we come up with a good solution and make time for that.

Then there is the problem of how to haul enough wood in the house so we don't have to keep opening the door (counter productive), as well as not having to re-stack it once we get it in, and solving the problem of how to store it inside.  I had thought of a metal wagon, but we did not have one and I was surprised at how much they cost.  Then someone from Off Grid and Homesteading Ladies suggested a hand truck.  We happened to have one just sitting around, so once we gave it a trial run and decided we loved the look of it inside in it's laying down position, I painted it to match our wood stove and it solved that problem.  I love that the profile is so nice and low that it works well in front of the window.

Then there is the problem of cleaning out the ashes.  When I was trying to figure out what to do with this, I read several accounts of issues I wanted to solve from reading people's complaints.  One was I wanted it to have a lid so it wouldn't blow around the ashes  and it would keep the ashes dry, and the second was I wanted it to have feet so if there were hot coals in it, it wouldn't burn the floor.  I was thinking of a bucket with lid on a low plant stand when I ran across this old coal hod that I found on Ebay.  It was not in very good shape when I bought it, so the first thing I did was sand it down and repaint it with high heat barbecue grill paint.  As the hand truck full of wood already took up a lot of space, we decided to keep it just outside the door, since we don't have to clean out the ash all that often yet.  The bucket that hold the ash is a great design that tips easily into the wood stove door so we can just scrape the ash and coal into the bucket.  I had read that some people keep it inside in a room that is distant from the fire for an additional heat source with the hot coals inside.

We still have to find the right tools for the wood stove, especially an ash shovel.  As our fire box is small, it is difficult to find one that has a short enough handle.  In the meantime, we are making do with what we have.  A spatula (that is being missed in the kitchen) and a set of barbecue tongs. . .

On other matters, we processed another steer, this one being larger than the last at 1320 pounds, with the carcass weight being 833.  Our freezer overfloweth.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

November 7, 2017

Finally, our wood stove is installed.  You ever do something that really doesn't take long, but it is so challenging it seemed like it took forever?  I would land our wood stove in that category.  The main thing that made it so challenging was my husband insisted on doing it himself (with me as the general helper and gopher), and it was done on our 12/12 pitch roof which is very steep.  Since it was on the side of the house with the walk out basement, it was also two stories up.  He also did it with rudimentary equipment, using a 75 foot rope tied to the beam of our front porch and thrown over the roof to tie around himself so he could work on the incline and use two hands.  We were both quite stressed out when he was up there.  Of course being the gopher sending things up in a bucket or climbing up on the ladder with items falling in your direction was a little scary as well.  Honestly the short days this time of year did not help.  Imagine not only the challenges I mentioned before, but doing it with a headlight on your head when you are still working after dark at the end of a work day.  Once we got the right adapter, that part went in well.  I think the harder part was putting in the extension bracket to hold up our tall chimney since it had to extend two feet above anything within a ten foot diameter.  Another challenge was finding the roof rafters to nail in the pieces to that attach to the extension bracket for a solid hold.  Then everything had to be caulked in anticipation of the rain that is supposed to be coming all this week.  Anyway, we are looking forward to being able to watch the fire in the wood stove on a cool evening and enjoying relatively free heat.  Thanks so much to our friend Don who let us borrow the roof scaffolding, as it made a great place to set tools, provided something to stand on, and provided an extra stop should my husband happen to fall.  We also borrowed the ladder stabilizer from Don.  What a great friend and neighbor!

I finished one more thing on our to do list that has been waiting for a few years to get finished.  That was the last part of the rails for the stairs from our back deck.  Yay!!  Off the list.  I didn't realize that lifting the drill and impact over my head all afternoon would effect my shoulder so badly (Thanks so much honey for all you do for us!).  To add insult to injury (literally), when I was putting in the last screw, a yellow jacket came and stung me on the same shoulder.  I am still glad I accomplished it.  Pushing myself to new challenges makes me feel really good about myself.

Part of my weekly routine is getting together stuff for my husband's lunches and to go breakfasts.  Every week, I make bread for sandwiches, a dessert, and usually some kind of muffins that I keep in the refrigerator ready for each day of the week.  It is so nice to have this in routine fashion so I don't have to make a decision every day.  Often, I lay out all his usual lunch dishes, then proceed with filling each one, which makes it pretty easy to put it together in the mornings even before your coffee has activated.  I made a cloth lunch bag just the right size to fit all of his lunch containers and have long enough handles so it could be hands free when draped over the arm.  The upholstery fabric and french seams made it very durable, so it has lasted about 8 years so far.  If you think about it and you take it to work every day from age 20 to 65 instead of going to Starbucks for coffee ($2.61 or more vs. $.20), McDonalds for breakfast ($6.39 vs. $.12), and out to lunch with co-workers ($10 vs. $1.00), you will save an average of  $17.68 per day, $388.96 per month, $4,667.52 per year, and $210,038.40 over your lifetime of working, enough to pay cash for a fairly nice house.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 31, 2017

Always stuff to do.  We have been working on installing the wood stove, had finished the interior work and were planning to do the exterior work.  After cutting the hole in the roof, we found we did not have the right adapter for a 12/12 pitch roof and no amount of finagling could alter the one we had without us worrying about leakage, so we had to stop and order the right piece, and will have to put it off for another week.  A construction garbage bag served as a temporary method of stopping leaks from happening.

I tried my hand at freezing eggs.  Thanks to the ladies at Off Grid and Homesteading Ladies Facebook page, I learned that I needed to scramble the yolks.  I froze them in muffin tins so I would be able to get out 1 egg at a time once I switched them to a freezer bag.  The picture shows them just before I took a fork and scrambled the yolks.  Often during the winter when there is less light and the chickens are molting, our egg production slows down or stops.

I designed and painted a barn quilt for our barn.  None of the traditional ones seem to fit us, so I made our heart and grape design in a geometric pattern.  Here's an in-progress look at it.  I still need to frame it and put it up on the barn.  It's 3 feet by 3 feet.

We are finished with painting the body of the barn and priming the trim.  I was able to do most of it, but when I got to the very high parts, my courageous husband took over on the extension ladder to help finish it.  Now I have got to finish the trim in a semi gloss, but I'm taking a break due to the fact that going up and down the ladders seems to have made my knees really sore.

We got together with our Dinner for Eight friends and had a great time at the Dunbars where their home really is their castle.  Here is a picture of their dungeon.  Since the dinner was Halloween themed, I volunteered to bring ice cream Sundaes with chocolate mice on top (made from long stemmed maraschino cherries dipped in chocolate, Hershey kisses, sliced almond ears, and frosting eyes.)

We took our Black Angus steer to the processor in our horse trailer.  He was not happy to be in there and busted out both of our windows (or perhaps it would have been smarter of us to open them first.)  Thankfully they were plastic so they didn't hurt him.  We were concerned at one point that he would push the window trim right off and the whole thing would land on someone behind us.  Thankfully, that did not happen.  The trailer was a mess when we brought it home and had to be cleaned.  The pressure washer makes quick work of that.  If you have any billiard skills, that would also come in handy, because if you can calculate where the water is going to land when you spray it and it ricochets off the sides, you might end up with a lot less muck on you.  I never was very good at that.

Being the fall, it is a great time to plant trees.  We have planted eight of them this past weekend:  magnolia (part of our winter windbreak plan), a hybrid chestnut, a Blackyork Cherry, a Blackgold Cherry, an Oracle Almond, a Hardy Giant Pecan, and two Surecrop Pecans.  The Magnolia we got from my mom and the hybrid chestnut we bought on clearance when it was dead looking for a few dollars and brought them home to put in the shade under our deck where we had easy access to water and my husband watered them during their first summer.  The rest we got at a local Southern States that had some very large trees.  We have found that the more mature they are, the less likely they will die and we will have to replant them.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October 19, 2017

Not having enough rain necessitated running the cattle around the yard.  At first we just made a path from the front pasture to the back so they could get to the growing area.  It still delayed rain except for a few sprinkles here and there, and the cattle had soon eaten up the forage in that area.  Then we extended the electric fence into the backyard and other garden (aka, the chicken garden used for growing chicken food) so they could find more to eat.  I learned that cattle like to eat mums.  Who knew?  While they were out of the front pasture, I finished painting the logo on the horse trailer and sanded and painted the rust spots out so it will last for us for a while.  Now it is all ready to train our steer to eat in the back of it, getting ready for his appointment at the processor.  Additionally, I finally got around to painting the plywood on the back of the chicken tractor to make it last longer.

When the cattle finished eating what there was to eat and it was time to move them back to the front pasture, I was very proud of myself for getting them all to the front pasture together.  They do have a mind of their own and they do not always hang out together, so I had to gather them from two different places and hop electric wires to avoid getting jostled.

After getting them back into the front pasture, I removed the temporary electric fence that my husband had put up and fixed it for storage.  He told me that the wires get tangled when I just loop them, so he asked me to please wind them around something when I picked them up.  I looked around and found a small piece of wire shelving that was not in use and looked like the perfect instrument to wind up three different wires.  It was wide enough to allow me to wind two wires separately while I was headed down the fence line, and the last wire in the middle, so it was perfect.

Another project I had been wanting to do was to use some partial deck rails to finish up the deck by the barn loft.  I had already taken them apart.  When they were laying in a pile, they were just junk, but when put to use in a good way they are now useful.  My husband has been such a good teacher when it comes to building projects that while I am used to doing them with him and him usually taking the lead, when I was doing this by myself, his voice was with me every step of the way reminding me how to do it.

Last but not least, we have been making progress on installing our wood stove and can't wait until we get to see the fire burning in it.  So far we have installed the box in the ceiling and leveled the stove pipe.  We had to move it over about 3 inches in order to line up with the opening left by the placement of the ceiling joists and keep the stove pipe level, but it wasn't bad.  I will have to live with it not being in the exact center. . .

Monday, October 9, 2017

October 9, 2017

Moving on in my chores, but still painting.  Since finishing the plumbing shed, I have moved on to the barn and have finished getting the paint on the lower half of the barn and priming the trim.  I need to figure out how to paint the top of the barn.  We are looking at some scaffolding, but I wish we could figure it out without having to spend money. . .As you can see, while I am working on covering the trim, I am also working on making all the buildings up around the house to match the house and each other.

While my husband and I are trying to figure out how to paint the top of the barn, I am spending my time working on the rusty spots on the horse trailer as well as trying to get our logo on it.  It is a work in progress.

Another work in progress is the install of the wood stove to try to get it ready for this winter.  Here is my husband working on it, after cutting the hole in the ceiling to run the stove pipe out of the roof.  We discovered while working on it that we are missing some parts, so had to take time out to order them.  Hopefully, they will be in by next weekend and we can make more progress.

After transferring the cattle to the back pasture, we discovered that they were really enjoying our sweet potatoes.  At first, we thought them eating the plant was going to be a huge advantage since we normally have to cut the vine before we harvest.  Then we discovered that they were kicking up the sweet potatoes and eating them, so we had to take some time out to harvest them.  Many of them were damaged, so we are trying an experiment by cutting off the damaged part, laying them spaced apart so they won't touch each other to dry the cut portion, and crossing our fingers that they won't rot. Wish us luck!  Some of the sweet potatoes were so large that I took a sweet potato casserole to a neighborhood potluck and the whole thing was made with one potato.

We also harvested 5 gallons and one quart of peppers, some basil and some cayenne peppers that are drying in the greenhouse with the sweet potatoes.

Oh, and I want to give a shout out to our new friends at Providence Farm.  They are getting into providing educational programs at their farm, and we got to enjoy a conference on rotational grazing called "Growing and Grazing" from speaker Steven Moize.  It was excellent!  If you get a chance to join the Cobbs on one of their events, you will enjoy it!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017

Oh my goodness.  Farm maintenance never ends, does it?  So I have been concentrating on farm maintenance since my husband went back to work and I am now job free.  In many cases, it may also include those finishing touches that we never got around to, but are necessary to help our farm buildings last.  For example, last post, I published the new stained calf barn.  In addition to getting the red and white barn we always wanted, the two coats of stain seals the wood (and we all know that moisture ruins wood quickly) to make the calf barn last a lot longer and honor that time and energy we expended to build it in the first place.  The same goes for our plumbing shed.  We had only ever gotten around to putting a coat of primer on the shed which did not seal it very well, so I discovered this time it had to be pressure washed, scraped and sanded before I could re-prime, paint and trim it again to finally be sealed, as well as look the way it always looked in my head only.

Over the summer, my husband had devised a way to get rid of the Japanese beetles that he hated and feed the chickens at the same time, and I don't think we have given you a picture of it before, so here it is.  It simply involves a Japanese beetle trap and a tin pie plate filled with water.

We processed the rest of the Freedom rangers, this time freezing them as cut up chickens after discovering that our grown kids really don't know what to do with a whole chicken (we will have to do some re-teaching).  We decided to keep 8 of them because we need for them to scratch the cow pies in the pasture.  Truth be told, it is also because one of the remaining chickens is one with a leg deformity that we call "Gimpy" and we have grown too fond of him.  So, since we were going to have them at an older age, we decided to add a roosting pole and two nesting boxes to the chicken tractor.  The roosting pole is being modeled by Gimpy who kept me company while I was installing it.  The leftover bamboo pole made a perfect roosting post when secured by two screws so it won't roll or get kicked off. I created a new tab that includes the making of the chicken tractor.

I repainted our farm sign at the mailbox.  The wood had split so it needed to be put back together, which necessitated that it be totally repainted.  I used my favorite appliance epoxy paint as a base with simply acrylic paint for the logo and sprayed a clear coat on top for protection.  I think I must be getting better at painting, as I was much happier than the first time I painted it.  No matter that I am an amateur painter, it works!  As a friend said, I put out the bids for getting it done and I won!

I tried making this comfrey salve from a recipe I got HERE from the Prairie Homestead.  We had comfrey growing, I just gathered some broadleaf plantain that God had graciously provided, (I had dried and shredded the comfrey and broadleaf plantain) and picked some rosemary to just throw in the crockpot with it.  I tried it out on a Monday putting some on my left arm that had been in a lot of pain (I was wondering whether I had cracked a bone as it had been hurting for a couple of weeks).  By Wednesday morning my arm felt significantly better, and I assure you, it wasn't from resting the arm.  I had been drawn to it after reading that it helped sciatica and I was actually wanting to make it for my neighbor, so we got together and made some.  The rest, as they say, is history.

We got smarter and moved our electric fence so we can move our cattle from the front pasture to the back without having to herd them to keep them out of the flower bed.  Those darn steer sure have a mind of their own!  At least we learned that they like to eat daylillies and perennial collards.  They have been out of the front pasture for a few days and it works like a charm.  The grass was tall in the back, so we will give the front pasture some resting time.  We are hoping for rain soon to help the front pasture grow.

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 10, 2017

When I was coming up, I can't tell you how many times I heard the phrase "a place for everything, and everything in it's place."  I don't think at that time it really registered with me just what that meant.  After I had my second child and decided to stay home full time, I was sinking fast in that direction until I wrote myself a job description, picked up all the books I could at the library to "sharpen my saw", and was lucky enough to come across the book "Sidetracked Home Executives".  This book taught me organizational skill and how to be clean and uncluttered.  I don't know if you have noticed, but homesteading requires a lot of "stuff".  For every different set of animals on our farm, there is more "stuff".  When you move onto your homestead, it is a great idea to live there for at least a year to figure out what you are going to use and where you are going to use it before you decide to try to get organized.  Of course, it is also best to find out if an item deserves to have their own place, even before you bother.  Sometimes you get what you thought was going to be essential and it just gathers dust. . .

Closet before with air intake LARGE
Then there is the fact that you have been brain washed your whole life to think a certain way is just the way it is done, and since everyone else is doing it, it must be the best idea.  One case in point is putting your clothes in a dresser.  Well, if you are the one that puts away the laundry, you might notice that when your hands are full of laundry, you have to wrangle with all of these drawers, one after the other, many heavy with clothes.  My son decided a long time ago that he didn't like dressers, and now I can see why.  Shelves are ever so much easier to use and you don't have to open and close them when your hands are full.  When you can put them in a closet so you don't have to see the clothes laying out, all the better.  We finally re-did our closet, took out the dresser and built some shelves.  I absolutely love how much easier this is making my life.  We also cut down an oversized air intake that was taking a large portion of our closet (after consulting an HVAC guy).  Here is a VIDEO of our made over closet.  The boxes at the top of the closet are made out of some cardboard copy paper boxes covered in fabric with a see thru pocket for labeling.  With the leftover clear vinyl, I made door flaps for the dog house to prepare our dogs for the winter and to keep me from having to wash and dry a lot of dog blankets.  I believe that if something is sitting around and not being used, it is junk, and if it is used, then it becomes useful
instead of junk.

Processing Station
In other news around the farm, we processed 20 chickens, and put two coats of Cabot stain in Fireside Cherry on our calf barn and trimmed it in white.  Now we have the red and white barn that
we have always dreamed of.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

August 25, 2017

Yay!!  We have finally got the chicken plucker together and it works!  We used about $76 worth of materials including a used washing machine, chicken plucker fingers and parts such as two pulleys, bearings, washer, collar, and drive shaft.  We are hoping that it will work next weekend when processing chickens, but cross your fingers for us!  Here's a video of it working:

Stay tuned for full instructions in a tab if it works for us next weekend!

So glad my husband is good with electrical stuff!  I am so proud of him.

Friday, August 25, 2017

August 25, 2017

Remember those basil plants and cayenne peppers that I was drying in the greenhouse?  They were done in record time.  After crunching off the dried basil leaves into a large pot and putting them through the blender, I have enough basil for the next year or two.  Additionally, since we cut the plants down to about 8" tall, we expect another crop before frost!  It is the best basil you will ever taste.  Same for the cayenne peppers that were dried in the dental floss wreaths.  Just separate the caps from the rest of the plant, run it through the blender and let it settle before you open it, then pour it into a container.  Oila!  These are my two staple spices.

Just for fun, I had a young guest over and one of our tasks was to show her how to cook fried okra.  I wanted to start with the picking of the okra.  If you have ever picked okra, you know how much it can itch your arms.  So we started with some old long athletic socks of my husbands, cut out finger holes and put that on our arms, then we added some gloves, collected our pruning shears and our buckets and we were ready to go.

My husband is a science teacher and thankfully, he teaches Environmental Science, Earth Science and Physical Science which happens to fit right in to what we are trying to do here on the farm.  Sometimes, that means we are able to pass on some of the things we have learned that are near and dear to our hearts.  I do an annual bulletin board for him, and this one fits right in with our farm.  "Help Yourself and the Earth - Reduce, Reuse, Repair and Recycle."

Finally, we are getting one step further toward our goal of sustainability, and we just got our new wood stove and finished tiling the hearth and back wall.