All posts by Chris

We Felt The Need To Honour These

These are the last of our canned peaches from last season and they are the best we have ever done.

The secret was adding cinnamon to the syrup.

Before that, we would add different mints from the garden, but this year Gerri went with cinnamon and it was a total winner. She just threw some sticks in as she boiled it and voila! It was a wonderful treat all winter long.

Now we are looking forward to canning two cases this year.

Come on, who likes to ration yourself and still run out? Not us.

Disaster must be averted

(I’m going to start copying posts that we put on Steemit over to here because why not? This is one of those posts.)

tomato-food-nutrition-plant-161554.jpeg
(photo from pexels.com)
I have set alarms in my calendar to remind me to plant things. This is due to last year when we had hundreds of tomatoes die from frost when they were still green. The cherry tomatoes that we bought from the greenhouse were great, but the ones I started were a bigger disappointment than the governments concern over our environment.

For one thing, I started them a month late. I didn’t know it was a month late, because I had never planted vegetables before, but it most definitely was. The plants were lush and beautiful, and showed a lot of promise, but the light moves kind of weird up here and by the time things should have been ripening up, we weren’t getting the sun we were when the plants were younger as it was mostly behind the neighbour’s trees.

So today I am planting the Beefsteaks. I have about 35-40 seeds and I think I’ll plant 1 per plug because I planted two last year and almost all came up. Then I was trying to separate them and mangling the odd one. I figure that if any don’t germinate I will just have some extra seed starting mix.

Keep in mind that this is only our second year of trying to garden, so we are going on a small scale until we learn the ins and outs of it. We have a tiny, mostly shady yard, so we can’t go crazy. Yet.

After the tomatoes, I think we’ll try a few cabbages again. The same thing happened with them last year. A couple of fist-sized heads and some huge leaves was all we got. The potatoes did well, so I guess we will plant them in containers again this year. Gerri canned up a bunch of them last year and they were delicious. They were just red seed potatoes from our local hardware store, but they produced well. I might try the stacking thing again, but I will put it on a board or plastic to keep the ants out. They are who I am blaming for the bad batch we had. Two kilograms of seed potatoes produced 2.4 kilograms of potatoes. Not really worth the effort in my opinion.

We’ll see how it fares this year.

Tomorrow it’s the snapdragons.

Any tips and tricks for growing in a northern climate would be gratefully accepted. We’re between zone 2 and 3 here.

Cheers!

Canning: Under Pressure

So last year we picked up a Presto pressure canner from Amazon.

We were torn between it and the All-American canner, but in the end, we went for the better value. I would have preferred to buy something made in North America, but we couldn’t justify the cost. I’m sure that over many years it would pay for itself, but even after canning 400 jars of food, it is still adding $1 to the cost of each jar.

So far, we are very happy with our choice. I think that it has paid for itself a few times over, when you figure out the savings we have been able to take advantage of.

Our very first batch was months after we bought the canner. There was a big sale on pork loins for $1.77/lb and we bought two at about nine pounds each. We were going to cut them up into boneless chops and have a whole bunch of meals for a very reasonable price.

It turned out that we didn’t have quite enough freezer space so we decided to try out our new pressure canner. We cubed the pork up and put roughly a pound in each pint jar. We then put a pinch of various spices into the jars to see which combinations work well.

It turns out they all did.

We tried Montreal steak spice, onion and garlic powder, masala paste, chili flakes and a few others I can’t remember. The results were fantastic. We opened a can that night, because we were too excited, and we weren’t disappointed. We immediately started talking about how easy and delicious it was, and how much money we could save by buying and canning meat when it was at a heavily reduced price.

Then we started planning. We had a bag of chicken breasts that we got on sale, but after trying them and not enjoying their texture or flavour, we decided to can them in chunks to free up some more of our limited freezer space.

One taco Tuesday we opened a jar and mixed in a couple spoonfuls of taco seasoning and stirred it up in a frying pan. It was the best taco filling we had ever made.

We also canned up some ground beef with taco spice in it and it worked out very well.

Speaking of ground meat… Our neighbour had shot an elk and didn’t have enough space in her freezer, so she gave us a five lb pack of mooseburger from her hunt last year. We mixed in some ground pork, frozen corn and peas, taters and seasoning for delicious stew or shepherd’s pie filling.

At Thanksgiving we cooked a fifteen pound turkey and ended up with tons of leftovers. Gerri sliced up a bunch of celery, onion, potatoes and carrots, threw in the meat and topped it up with broth.

I tell you, we’ve been very happy with this one on these cold winter days. A quart of that and a couple of fresh made buns and we’ve got more than the two of us canshould eat.

Another excellent use was jars of potatoes. Drain them and throw them in the skillet with some butter and onions. Voila! Some very fine homefries are a great addition to your breakfast.

I know that we’ve been focusing on dinner stuff, but look!

We got a case of Okanagan peaches and put them in jars with a pinch of cinnamon in the syrup. They go great with a bowl of Gerri’s homemade ice cream. (Which I might add is better than any we’ve bought at a store.) They are even better than the ones we did with mint last year, and I loved every last jar of those ones.

We have tons more, but I think you get the point. We encourage you to go out there and get canning. You don’t need to have a homestead to do this, either. You can take great advantage of sales and give yourself a sense of freedom knowing that if there was an emergency, you aren’t going to starve. At least not for a few days.

Needless to say, we are very happy with this canner.

While it would be nice to have the All-American,

we can’t really justify it on our budget. I guess if the Presto dies for some reason, but I can’t see that happening in the next twenty years.

Chris

Well, I Guess An Update Is In Order

It’s been a long time, but I doubt anybody was waiting around for it, so it’s probably not that big of a deal.

I guess I’ll start with the grow room.

This is the base of the grow room. All the soil starts with worm castings.

I make a few different soil mixes for the grow room. One is for starting seeds, and it is castings screened through an 1/8″ sieve, perlite and vermiculite. I also add sand to that for a cacti/succulent mix.

For the potting mix I screen closer to 1/2″ and mix the vermiculite and perlite with that.

I use the term “grow room” loosely.

You might wonder what this mess is. Well, I’ll tell you.

Mostly catnip, cacti, and jade plants.

The catnip was a glorious mistake, when I planted six seeds out of a packet of over 400, but the bottom of the packet got wet overnight and I decided to just plant the whole lot in a half tray that was sitting there.

Needless to say, the cats are quite happy, and we’ve been able to give plants away to friends. I will keep a bunch of them alive to plant outside as well. We should be just rolling in nip for a while.

The cacti and jade plant that made the trip from Ontario on the Cool Bus are now a whole bunch of other plants. Sometimes when you learn new things, like propagation, you get a little carried away. I guess we will be giving a bunch of those to the annual perennial sale at the senior centre this spring.

In the middle of all that is the most exciting thing so far.

Tee hee.

Yep, that’s two asparagus plants. I planted 20, and didn’t expect any, so I’m pretty happy, even if no more come up. I guess I will just let them grow until they get bigger and then plant them outside. That’s a good start to a bed anyhow.

I also have a new basil plant started, and this wondrous contraption.

Arriba!

Oh yeah, some fresh cilantro will be here soon. There’s a ton growing in the front herb garden, but it won’t be up for six months or so.

If you’re wondering about the Aerogarden, I traded two bars of soap for it, unhooked the air system and now I have a cool little countertop garden to use my worm castings in.

I do have a problem though.

They’re like Twins.

What do I do with that tomato that just popped up in there?

I was going to pinch it, but then figured I could try to grow a tomato plant in here. I will look into it, because if I can’t get fruit from it, there’s no point in wasting the nutrients. Also, if it was going to be huge, there just isn’t room.

You might be wondering about all the mugs and teapots in here. I bought some ceramic tile bits and poked holes in them for drainage. When we see cool containers at the thrift store, we now have a use for them.

The mealworms are the same, just more of them, and we also have another cool thing in the grow room.

It was more full, earlier.

Since the summer we have bought a pig, and a hind quarter of beef from local farmers. We also won a turkey from Legacy Village Market, our local grocery store. There was a whole bunch of other groceries that came with it as well, but they’re mostly gone.

We’re really lucky to always have an abundance of food. You don’t think about it until you see or hear of people that don’t have enough to eat. Of course the kids can rarely find a morsel that they want, but we sure aren’t starving.

By the way, if you can afford to buy your meat like this, you save a lot of money. Not only that, you put the money in the pockets of your neighbours, not some megacorporation that doesn’t give a whit whether you succeed or fail.

As long as you have enough strength to work your 40 hours and buy their crap, they don’t see a need for you to actually thrive.

Chris

My Little Worm Project: Update #1

So on April 11, 2017 I started My Little Worm Project. So far, it has been a rousing success.

This was on May 3.

Apparently this is called parasola plicatilis. There is some debate as to its edibility and possible psychoactivity.

I didn’t test for either.

After two months, I was completely surprised to open it up and see this.

DO YOU SEE THAT?

That is a pile of worms. And a bit of fungi.

Some of the first babies are now adolescents that are over an inch long, but all of that spaghetti looking stuff is dozens of baby worms. In another couple of months, they should be close to full size.

I put a chunk of watermelon rind in there when I saw the first food start to disappear, and it didn’t take them long to get it down to just the skin. I think I grossly underestimated the breeding power of these red wigglers. I’m pretty sure that this Cool Whip container won’t last the year without having to split it.

I guess we will see.

Seeing as they have almost finished the watermelon, I threw in some cilantro that was starting to get mushy. I have some broccoli ends in the freezer, so I will probably try that as well.

I just put the cardboard in to dry it up a bit.

Okey dokey, let’s tap the brakes a bit

The four month mark has just passed, and I had to move the worms into a bigger tub. While I was sorting, I did a count and found 153 worms, that were big enough to count. I’m sure there were a bunch of babies, and I know there were at least 50 cocoons that went into the big bin with whatever scraps of cardboard and watermelon rind was left.

Here is a clump that obviously made a great nursery.

All of the yellowish ovals are cocoons, and you can see a few deflated ones as well. One was releasing a new baby as we were taking this photo, but we didn’t even think of filming it. It was just cool to watch, and give a squeeze to help out.

I’m really glad that I chose to do this now, because I think that the bottom was getting a bit too wet, and possibly turning anaerobic. For that reason, I threw a bunch of dry material in the new, larger bin, and in the CoolWhip container where the castings, cocoons, and any babies that slipped by will go.

That is the new bin, and this next one is the old one.

I’m starting to add in some of the siftings from other batches. I figure they will break down eventually. It’s mostly old spruce needles and twigs, but there is some dried clumps of castings that could be rejuvenated. I guess I will have to lay off the watermelon, and any other really wet food, plus an occasional turn wouldn’t hurt either. I put some more holes in the bottom as well, so we’ll check back in in a couple of months and see how it is going.

My thoughts on this type of project

I was really floored by the activity in the small container, but have learned through forums and YouTube, that the breeding will slow down when the space becomes cramped. I think that this would be an excellent school project for young kids, that might get them into a life with one less strain on the system. If they were allowed to get a bigger bin for home, it wouldn’t take long to have a good setup with the capacity to detour a couple pounds of waste from the landfill, while producing some high quality amendments for their gardens, house plants, or even just to throw on the lawn.

Kind of a win/win situation, there.

Chris

Hugelkultur Boxes?

Alright, so before we begin, this is all new to me. Actually, pretty much all gardening is new to me, but I’ve always been a bit adventurous and experimental, so here I am.

When I was a kid, my mom and my nana were gardeners. They had big gardens in the ground that got rototilled up at the start and end of every gardening season. I thought that was all there was to it.

Then my stepdad built some 4’x8′ raised beds instead of the traditional bed. They grew lots of food in them, and it seemed easier to look after. That seemed a lot better than packing down the soil in between the rows.

And now, since I have been looking into permaculture, I find out about hugelkultur. If you haven’t heard about it, click on the link. It’s pretty neato.

So, yesterday, we were at the dump tearing our trailer apart, when we found some pretty big crates. Once the deck was clear, we loaded them up and took them home. Gerri seemed a bit hesitant, but she is pretty good at letting me have my head.

When we got the boxes home, I set to figuring out what to do. I knew I was going to plant in them, but they were two feet deep, and I didn’t want to use that much soil or fill them up with rocks. Then it hit me.

Hugelkultur in a box!

I had just felled a couple of dirty poplar the day before, so I measured out the inside of the box and started sawing logs for the bottom. I also had a couple of dead birch limbs that went into the mix.

I didn’t say they were fancy.

I filled in the cracks with a mix of wet fruitwood chips and half finished compost. I figured it would help with the decomposition of the green wood.

Then I put in a layer of twigs and leaves.

I’m guessing that this is a decent nitrogen layer.

I don’t know if it was a good idea, but it seemed good in my mind, so why not? Experiments are for experimenting, right?

After that, some more soaked chips.

Should I keep going? Okay, I will.

I then put a few more inches of the composting mix, because why not? That’s what I’m making all of this beautiful, rich stuff for.

Mmmmmm, soily.

Now a friend, who shall remain nameless, grows in pots every year and then throws the soil mix out, because they think that they have used all of the nutrients in it.

Believe me, they haven’t. Last year I watched as they mixed their soil and there was peat moss, Pro-Mix® HP, some other organic fertilizer, perlite, bloodmeal, bonemeal and bales of compost.

It was absolutely beautiful. Then, in the fall, I was asked to help with a dump run and there were fourteen heavy black garbage bags in the pile. I asked what they were and was told they were full of the used soil.

So here they are now.

I’ve been mixing it into everything!

Other than it was full of roots and stems from the flowers, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. A few hours of picking through and composting the browns gave me a lot of excellent soil for this year. I only hope that they grow the same amount again. I have already called dibs on it, and helped for free to sweeten the pot.

I soaked it all pretty good today, and I was going to mix up tomatoes and green peppers in here tomorrow. It gets about 7-9 hours of sunlight in a few different increments of 2-3 hours each where it is and from what I read, that is probably enough.

What do you folks think? Will this setup work? Should I be planting something else in it? I also have a few cabbage seedlings. I’m open to any feedback I can get.

My Little Worm Project

As I was  poking around on Red Worm Composting, I saw that Bentley was doing an experiment with four red wigglers in a ziplock bag of bedding and food. I thought it was pretty neat, so I borrowed his idea to try on my own. Just to see how long it would take to get a worm bin going with two breeding pairs of worms.

As you can see, I opted for a plastic tub container instead of a bag. That was mainly for my personal preference in being able to poke around in it to see any babies or pests that might have got in. (I killed a red mite and two fungus gnats in there already.)

In my experience with worms, so far, I have found that they like hiding in folds.

I use a lot of shredded newspaper in my bigger bins, because we get flyers and stuff here and there, but I find that the worms really like the paper that comes in the Amazon.ca boxes, so I used that. I think it’s kraft paper, but not sure. It comes pre-crumpled, and they love to burrow into the moist folds and lay their cocoons.

I also put a carrot, some chopped kale, and a bit of red pepper slurry in, so there were different stages of decomposition.

I did all of this on April 11, 2017. Today is May 1.

I noticed quite a few castings and the food seems to be getting eaten up pretty well. There is basically just carrot left, so it will soon be time to add some more. The bedding is holding up quite well, so I foresee it lasting quite a while longer. I don’t think I was quite prepared for the scope of this, because I know that the cocoons have been hatching, but it’s going to be a while before they are breeding.

See him/her poking their bum out? Right in the middle of the carrot.

Even though it will take a while, I realised that if someone did get themselves a dozen red worms, it would go by pretty quick until one day you looked in and had a pound or so.

Another worm butt.

I threw a little bit of potting soil in as well, for grit, but I’m also going to sprinkle ground egg shells in also. I will probably update this every few months, because I know now that every month won’t have many changes.

Oh yeah, one more thing before I go.

Unfocused babies, but babies nonetheless.

Chris

We Were Going to Rent a Chipper

Something like this one, but probably not from Amazon.

Between pruning and heavy snow damage, we lost a pile of our fruit, spruce, and lilac branches. Over the winter we tried to burn some of them in the fire pit, but that was  futile as it took more good wood to keep the fire going just to burn up a bit of lilac.

Sadly, this photo was taken today, April 20th.
This was April 19th. Way better.

We lamented about how nice it would be to have a chipper so we could mulch all of the piles up and at least get some benefit from the destruction.

 

We tried advertising locally to see if someone had one that they would like to rent out, but nobody responded, so we started looking at nearby rental businesses.

The problem is that the closest rental place to carry wood chippers is two hours away in Dawson Creek. There’s four hours of driving and at least $50 in gas on top of the $150 a day rental fee.

That’s for a chipper that will handle up to 3″ limbs or trees.

We couldn’t justify spending $1000+ on a new machine to mulch up a few piles of branches each year, so we started to look at local classified ads to see if there were any used ones for sale.

There wasn’t, but I did notice that there were electric chippers for as little as $200 when I Googled it, so I started to look into that option.

We really liked the design of the Earthwise GS70015, but it was more than double the price of similar units without the catch bin.

Then we found the same one with a different paint job at Canadian Tire for $199 and started to do a little research and comparisons. Overall, it seemed like a much better option, because we could easily trim our branches small enough to fit through the 1 1/4″ opening with the Cyndi Loppersand we loved the no cleanup aspect with the built in bin.

I had read a bunch of complaints about the product and the screws rusting into the blades and making it nearly impossible to get them out without stripping them, so I took the advice of one reviewer and put anti-seize on all of the screws before use.

Then we went out and fired that sucker up. It made great sized chips for mulch, and once the branches were cut down to size, it gobbled them up quite fast. It didn’t take too many crabapple branches to make this little box of gold.

I kind of want to roll around in them.

I’m going to do up enough to get 8″ of this stuff in the chicken’s run and let them work it around and build up some good compost. I wanted to try it in the coop for bedding, but I’m told that it isn’t a good idea for a few different reasons. All of the reasons include the girls’ health, so I don’t want to chance it. I was just hoping to save a bit of dough, because the bales of shavings are $10 a piece at the local feed store (which doesn’t seem bad after looking at Amazon), and that all adds up.

We also plan on making some good mulch for around the trees and in the gardens, so I will play around with the green/carbon ratios when I’m doing the chipping. I’m sure that I can find the right amount somewhere on YouTube.

Another thing we want to try is hugelkultur, so this is another way we will be able to use the chips and the bigger wood together.  I am going to  look further into it, but I do want to get at least one bed going this year.

I also got thinking that we might get a smoker and see if we can dry the fruit wood chips enough to use them for that. We have a bunch of crabapple, plum and apricot branches to do, so it would be free fuel. I mean why bury them when you can smoke meat to go along with your fresh veggies? 😉

Anyhow, if you are in the market for a little chipper, and you don’t mind a little extra work, you can save yourself quite a bit of money and hassle by shopping around for a small electric one. I can’t vouch for any of them right now, but this one seems like a good deal, and works really good so far. I will definitely update this if things go awry though.

Chris

P.S. If you get the Canadian Tire one, look at my review there. It will tell you about getting new blades from the company. What it won’t tell you is that they will send you free ones if you call before you have had it for two years and they wear out. That is all done over the phone, so you don’t have to take them into CT.

That’s if they weren’t lying to me, and if things don’t change in the next two years.

Third Generation Of Mealworms And A Little Update

Yep, the little farm is going quite well, in my opinion. Other than when the screen busted out of my top drawer, that is.

I guess I should get some more hot glue sticks

I think I had weighed it down too much, because I kept adding to it, and not thinking about the strain on the screen and glue. When large worms, pupae, and beetles started showing up in the drawer below, I reached in and saw the problem. Now everything is in the large bottom drawer, at least until I fix this up.

Nobody’s getting out of there until I let them

Good thing I bought the sieve set.

This isn’t the exact same as the one we bought, but they don’t seem to have it any more. It was about $10 cheaper than this one, and free shipping, so you should shop around to see what you can find. The nice thing is that we use it to sift the worm castings for the red worms as well. It works fantastic for that.

Anyhow, I also wanted to mention our project worms.

You may or may not have heard that mealworms can safely digest styrofoam, and turn it into soil-safe frass(poop). The only problem is that nobody has tested the actual worms to see if they are toxic. Well, they might have, but because they didn’t like their findings, maybe they didn’t publish them.

I’m just kidding. I shouldn’t accuse science of wrong doing, just because I suspect it. I just don’t understand why you would test the frass to make sure that it’s not toxic, but wouldn’t test a handful of the worms while you are at it.

I mean, you have the equipment right there. Literally. You just tested the worm poop with it.

Anyhow, that just means that I will have to keep this farm segregated from the other.

We don’t want the chickens to be eating potentially toxic food, and we sure don’t want to sell toxic worms to our customers.

Yeah, you heard me. We have three customers that occasionally buy some worms for their pets. We’re not going to get rich off of it, but I am socking each $3 away until I can buy this with it.

Eventually I want to go to this one, but at close to $700, it will be a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While we can’t go to full on homesteading right away, we are trying to acquire the skills and tools we will need for when we do get there. To finance the purchases, we aren’t using our wages from our regular jobs, but I took a very part-time maintenance job that bought us the distiller and we have the eggs bartered away until this summer, but after that we will be able to put the money from a couple dozen a week into the fund. We will also probably break even soon from the soap business, but I think that anything we make from that will go back into upgrading our equipment to some more efficient systems.

Soon we will be getting a pressure canner, but we are still researching which way to go with that. Apparently the Presto 23 quart is not as high quality as the All American 21 1/2 quart, but there is much less maintenance, and it’s less than half the price. Many people have had their Presto for over twenty years, so we figured that the savings are worth the risk. I don’t see them at thrift stores very often, but I don’t know if it would be worth chancing a used one that you don’t it’s history.

We are also looking at food dehydrators as well, so if anyone has a recommendation for anything, we are always happy for any information we can get. Amazon reviews are okay, but actually hearing, firsthand, of other people’s experience is the best way to gauge quality and usefulness.

We Bought A Joykit Water Distiller

For any of you that make soap, you know that the recipes seem to always call for distilled water. We weren’t sure how important it was, but we figured that it was best to go with what all of the experts said about it.

So we bought jugs of distilled water at the store. They were $4.49 each, and they didn’t always have them in stock, especially in the summer. We also didn’t like the waste of all of that plastic, so an alternative option was always on the horizon.

Then we went over to our friend’s newly built home in the country, and as they were showing us around, I noticed a 20L water bottle with a siphon hose coming out of it. Of course I inquired, so they explained that they distilled their own water, because of the contaminants in it.

They showed us their Megahome distiller, and said that we were welcome to borrow it anytime we wanted to. We accepted and went home to fill our jugs up with free (other than the electricity and a bit of vinegar for cleaning) distilled water.

We were very impressed with the results. We were soon Googling these distillers to see about purchasing one for ourselves, because after putting a few jugs through, we were shocked by the scale and sludge left behind. Even from our delicious, treated town water.

This was after less than ten gallons through it.

We started using it for drinking, as well as soap, and while I don’t notice any health benefits from it, I do prefer the taste, or lack thereof. We also like not having any of whatever is in the water coming from the tap.

I know that there are a lot of beneficial minerals, etc… in our water, but I can tell by the stainless steel bowl, that there are other things in there as well, and they might not be as good for you.

After doing a bit of research, we found that adding some pure salt, that is rich in trace minerals, to your distilled water will give it a bit more of the “water flavour” that people find lacking in it. It will also help give back some of the good stuff that was removed during the distillation process. That salt just happens to be what we had on hand, but you could save a ton if you bought this one and ground it up yourself.  (Just to make it easier to dissolve. I believe it’s the exact same salt, just in a coarse grind.)

So anyhow, I was going through my Amazon app to show Gerri the distillers that were cheaper than the Megahome one, when I accidentally clicked on the Joykit 4L Distiller. I didn’t realize that the 1-click ordering was enabled on the app, so within a few seconds I had purchased this sucker.

It was less than half of the other one, so we weren’t too worried, but we found a couple more that are probably the same, and are even less expensive. One is the Sodial and the other is the TMSL, although I don’t like that it has a glass jug that you have to put together. Glass has bad luck at our house, which is too bad, because I trust it more than plastic, ecology-wise.

We can’t vouch for any of these, except the Megahome and the Joykit, but from a glance they look all the same. If anyone tries one of the others, please leave a comment on here and let us know how it works for you. We have figured out that ours has almost paid for itself now, if we go by the jugs that we were purchasing. I know that in bigger centres you can get distilled water much cheaper, but we don’t live there.

This is where she sits and pumps out a jug every night for us.

Another thing that we are going to try, is liquid trace minerals to add to the water we are going to drink. I think we will try this one first, based on price alone, but if anyone has any other tips or ideas, we are certainly open to hear them.

If we get any updates on this, we will let you know, and thanks for checking it out.

Chris