All posts by Chris

Our First Sale – Worms

I’m pretty excited about Thursday. That’s when I deliver our first pound of worms to a customer. The money will go towards yesterday’s excitement.

This was very exciting. We haven't even smelled anything yet.
This was very exciting, and we haven’t even smelled anything yet.

Yes, our next foray into soaping begins this weekend, because we just got our huge box of natural dyes and un-natural scents.

That one smells like cotton candy.
That one smells like cotton candy.

When we decided to start making our own soap, I had these romantic visions of making essential oils and using as many natural, hand made, local products as possible. I was going to be walking through the woods, picking wild rose petals, rose hips, spruce branches, and other assorted wildflowers. I would then take my bounty home, where I would distill everything down and add it to our soap made of all natural, organic local oils and butters and lye made from the ash of local trees.

Then came the reality check.

First off, the only oils I will get to buy locally will be [easyazon_link identifier=”B0011WFONE” locale=”CA” tag=”chathetop0f-20″]sheep and beef tallow[/easyazon_link], and lard. That suits me fine, but apparently there are a lot of folks that are not into animal by-products.

That leaves us with having to buy the different vegetable based oils that are needed to produce a non-animal fat based bar of soap. Have you priced out [easyazon_link identifier=”B00BJ5UOKQ” locale=”CA” tag=”chathetop0f-20″]organic olive oil[/easyazon_link] lately?

Needless to say, until we get a better footing on the processes and whatnot, we will be working our way toward my dream of all natural at a slower pace than I had expected. I guess you have to crush a lot of [easyazon_link identifier=”B004XD8FFW” locale=”CA” tag=”chathetop0f-20″]cotton candy puffs[/easyazon_link] to get enough essential oil for a batch, and anyone that knows the ladies in our house knows that they would never allow a sacrifice like that.

So fragrance oils it is. They are phthalate free, so apparently that’s a plus.

Why would anyone even create that word? Phthalate? Seriously? That makes no sense.

Anyhow, I went over our [easyazon_link identifier=”B00ASF1JU2″ locale=”CA” tag=”chathetop0f-20″]moulds[/easyazon_link] and rewrapped anything that was getting worn out, washed anything that was still solid, and bolted them all back up for Saturday and Sunday’s marathon.

They're beauties, they are.
They’re beauties, they are.

So anyways, back to the worms. I got an order for a [easyazon_link identifier=”B01BTETW4U” locale=”US” tag=”granligh-20″]pound of red wigglers[/easyazon_link] for tomorrow, or today, because I wrote this last night, if you’re reading this today? Anyhow, I may have got a little exuberant, because I weighed out the pound about 5 days early, and then threw in another big handful for good measure. Then, because I didn’t want the worms to be uncomfortable, I gave them a good feed of red pepper, strawberry tops and some shredded flyers, with a little bit of ground egg shell for a topping. By the time I was done, this is what I was left with.

It weighs about 4 lbs. Better safe than sorry, right?
It weighs about 4 lbs. Better safe than sorry, right?

I figure that it’s better to make sure that people are really happy with their purchase. My worms are pretty good breeders, so they won’t be too long getting back to their original army, and after I get the next order ready, I should have about the same amount that I started with last year, and will have made back all of the money I have spent in buying them.

My time, well that’s a different story, but it is something I truly enjoy, and it was a great learning experience.

If you ask me, that’s priceless.

Chris

Preserving Our Future

20160326_152446

I had to make some space in the back room for putting soap up to cure today. That meant condensing the canning shelves into a few spots from their once sprawling positions. If this was Risk, the preserves would own North America and Australia, which as you should know, will win you the game in a hurry.

While I was doing this, I started thinking back to last summer and fall, when I brought a completely overwhelmed family from an hour east of Toronto, to a town of about 1000 people in the middle of nowhere, BC.

I remember being so worried that everyone was going to end up resenting me for uprooting them from the life they knew and plopping them into a town where this year’s graduating class is four students. I can adjust to pretty well anything, but I know from experience that not everyone is like that.

I mean we went from $45, unlimited bandwidth, ultra high-speed internet to $90, 80GB limit, sometimes fast enough to watch The Office Xplornet. You can see why I might be worried, right? Two teenage girls with computers and gadgets don’t like to wait for Miranda Sings or PewdiePie to spread their wisdom with the masses.

But they do wait.

Without complaining.

And I love them for that.

I was worried about the culture shock that Gerri would feel when she got here as well, and I know it was really hard for her to deal, so she completely immersed herself in canning to keep her mind busy.

It started with Saskatoons, when a friend showed her that there was literally tons of berries within a mile of our house. I think she got tired after about her tenth gallon, and it trickled out from there. Then there was a PSA (more on them later) about a lady bringing a truckload of fruits and vegetables from the Okanagan. I think we got a case of nectarines, Roma tomatoes, cucumbers, and a bunch of other things that we don’t grow.

We need to expand our back room soon. Maybe a new shed for worms and soap curing?
We need to expand our back room soon. Maybe a new shed for worms and soap curing?

After that, it was our abundant crab apple tree and a tarp under it, with Gerri and Lannie shaking the multitude of fruit down to make jelly, butter, and applesauce out of it. (I was able to get a bag out of the freezer later, and add it to some jars of moonshine. It really helped to cut down the harshness of the liquor.)

Then came the Fall Fair. She entered three things. I believe it was mango chutney, raspberry lime jam, and salsa. This was the result.

There was a little excitement.
There was a little excitement and I don’t know why it says Alberta Horticultural Association.

So needless to say, we had a few shelves packed full of canning, and now it’s reduced to part of a shelf. I would always decide to not grab something when I was in there, because I would tell myself that it had to last all year.

Well, all year is almost up now. We made it through nine months of our new life, and everyone is relatively unscathed. I say “relatively”, because I think the girls are adjusting to it, but they haven’t completely left their life in the east. I know it took me a lot of years to be comfortable being away from everything I knew.

Yes, the snow is melting in our sleepy town, and soon it will be green, with budding trees and flower lined streets and parks. Soon the fruit will ripen in the bushes and the cycle will begin again.

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So I’m putting some of these roasted peppers on my pork chops, and I bought a huge vat of vanilla ice cream to smother in canned peaches and Saskatoons, because we don’t have all year anymore. We only have a few months.

It makes me feel really good when I eat something that the person I love the most in this world put so much effort and heart into. I know that it was done when she was struggling to make sense of her new world, and to try and put her old world to rest. I also know that there are so many other “addictions” she could have turned to to help cope with this change. The fact that she chose canning over heroin or booze has proven that she not only loves her family, but that she loves herself, and to me that is more important than anything else.

Thank you, Baby. For everything you’ve done, and continue to do for us.

And for continuing to wear my toque. No matter how much it makes you look like a gangsta hobo.
And for continuing to wear my toque. No matter how much it makes you look like a gangsta hobo.

Chris

P.S. At the top left on the side bar are the social media outlets that we are currently employing. If you could choose your poison, we can let you know of future posts that way. I’m sure fans of other pages/communities are getting sick of me hijacking their space.

Also, if you are on Google+ we have started a community at Backyard Homesteading.

DIY Soap Cutter For Under $20

So I was crying to my buddy, Johnny, about trying to cut the soap straight with a knife, on the chopping block that I bought at the thrift store for $2. I had measured out the inches down either side of it, but it was still coming out all wonky.

I told him that the top is an inch apart, but the bottom could be a quarter inch out either way. I know that it wouldn’t make a huge difference, weight wise, but I lost a bar on each loaf from over compensating. I’d like to make sure that all of the bars are uniform, because if you lost a bar on every loaf, it would be really cutting down on profits.

That’s going on the assumption that we will sell any of the bars. If we don’t, then there will be a lot of misshapen solstice gifts being handed out this winter.

I showed him the picture of my dream cutter. (Only because it looks awesome, not because I have a clue that it even works)

[easyazon_image align=”center” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”160″ identifier=”B00L61R780″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://granolalight.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/511fwvNhqFL.SL160.jpg” tag=”granligh-20″ width=”160″]

When he saw that it was $259, plus exchange, plus shipping, he said that I could make one for about $75 or $100, after he quit choking on his ramen noodles and cursing with that Cape Breton flair.

Apparently he forgot that you also need some skill in woodworking, and that’s not something I’m known for.

I told him that I would pay him to build one for me, and he said that he would. I was excited about that, but he wasn’t sure when he could get it done by. I explained to him that I needed it right away, because I couldn’t keep cutting the bars the way I was.

That was when he had a brilliant idea.

[easyazon_image align=”left” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”73″ identifier=”B00A47BF5I” locale=”CA” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://granolalight.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/31g7MwO1XiL.SL110.jpg” tag=”chathetop0f-20″ width=”110″]

Plus

[easyazon_image align=”left” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”77″ identifier=”B0000VLVW0″ locale=”CA” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://granolalight.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/41OLCgGw3xL.SL110.jpg” tag=”chathetop0f-20″ width=”110″]

Equals
I didn't see the grey one until later. It looks like a better box for the soap, but this one will work.
I didn’t see the grey one until later. It looks like a better box for the soap, but this one will work.

I think the grey one is pretty much the same box, except it might be a tiny bit deeper than the one I got. This one doesn’t leave more than a couple of millimetres above the bar to fit the blade into the guide, so even a little bit would help. The $2 chopping block came in handy, because there is a lip on one side of the mitre box for stabilizing it against the front of the bench.

The chopper isn’t as wide as the Norpro, but it will do until the good one comes in. Either way, for under $20 I can accurately measure and cut my soap bars. That’s all there is to that.

You are probably thinking to yourself, that it’s going to be more than $20 with the shipping, but it isn’t if you get yourself a bunch of beeswax to get the price up over $25 to take advantage of Amazon’s free shipping.

[easyazon_image align=”center” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”160″ identifier=”B0009IG124″ locale=”CA” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”http://granolalight.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/51iknlQ2B2BgL.SL160.jpg” tag=”chathetop0f-20″ width=”160″]

Just a suggestion, you know you’re going to need it. 😉

Chris

P.S. We did cut up a loaf with it, and I have to tell you that it worked so much better than freehand with a knife that I couldn’t stop smiling while I slid and sliced. I’m such a newbie nerd.

We Made Soap!

The back is Blueberry Hill, and the front is Gingerbread.
The back is Blueberry Hill, and the front is Gingerbread.

Yep, we finally did it. Now we will wait five weeks to see how it turned out. We got a really great deal on the soap making tools and ingredients, so we are going to use up the fragrances and dyes that came with it while we are learning.

Oh, and it was really fun. Except for the freehand knife cutting. I really need one of these when I win the lottery:

I ended up having to work, so Gerri got the lesson and made the first batch, but when I got home she was still so excited that she wanted to make another one. I was glad, because I thought I was going to have to wait five weeks until it was cured. That’s when I found out that we were the proud new owners of four moulds, and that you can take them out of the moulds and cut the bars after about a day.

That means that we can make four loaves a day, every day. Do the math.

4 loaves x 15 bars x  = BILLIONAIRES

This should last about three days.
We aren’t sure which one is best, and they were all on sale, so…

I think that if I sell a kidney, we can afford to make soap for about a month, and then a week later we will be able to start selling the first day’s soap. That should give us enough working capital to make another three batches and the circle will begin again.

Dreaming is good.

Not about the kidney. That was a joke. Unless you know a buyer.

I’m talking about a life that’s dedicated to more simple days. Like getting up in the morning, making a bunch of soap, having lunch, sorting some worms and going out to feed and water the animals. I could really get used to that.

It sure beats getting up at 2 am so that you can get your job done before the road bans come on at 10, but still end up chaining up and slopping through the mud for the last hour, because the sun came out too fast on you.

Not that I wouldn’t jump at the chance to do that right now, I’m just dreaming about the future. You know, when I don’t have to jump at those chances anymore.

Anyhow, I should get off of here. I need to go in and watch the soap cure for a while before bed… and maybe bathe, but I really want to make this last bar of the good stuff last until ours is ready. I figure if I wash every fourth night, I should squeek slide by.

Chris

Desertion Or Sedition?

I’m having a hard time with this. At first I thought of it as an exodus, but I think an exodus is a mass departure. I don’t consider 20-30 as much of a “mass”.

I guess I should explain.

I woke up the other morning at around 5:00 am. I won’t get into the details of why I got up that early, but I am getting older, and sometimes my body tells me things. This particular morning, on my way back from the kitchen, I saw that the door was open to the worm room and there were a couple of worms on the floor. I walked over and saw that I had left the screen off of the top and there were some dried out worm husks there. I also saw the sides covered in worms and castings, so I stepped closer to shoo them back in and put the lid on.

Squish!

Now I have stepped on lots of worms in my life, but it’s different when you are in your bare feet and on a wood floor. I looked down and saw a line of worms heading for the exit. They got crisper, the closer to the door that they were, so I knew that it had happened gradually over the night.

I was reminded of a story that I had read in the Old Testament about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.

The difference between the exodus of the Bible and the worms was that the worms were scattered out, there was only a handful of the worms that went with the leader, and it wasn’t 40 years of wandering. I would be surprised if they made it 40 minutes.

Oh, and I have evidence that the worms tried to escape.

No, it wasn’t an exodus, but it was something. Maybe sedition?

sedition

After, I started thinking about whether the first worm was trying to incite some sort of disorder amongst the rest of the worms, I realised that it might not have happened that way. It might just be like the worm websites tell me, and they just weren’t settled in to their new home.

Apparently they get used to a certain way of life, then they are bagged up in their own poop and some shredded cardboard and shipped off to some weirdo that stares creepily at them while digging around their new home with a pair of rubber gloves.

This brings me to:

desertion

This seems more like what happened. They actually liked living in the bag of poop and going for car rides. They don’t want the freedom of choice and they are perfectly happy eating moist cardboard. I guess they are like Domino’s Pizza customers in that regard. The shipping bag was just outside the room, so they might have been heading for the familiar scent of synthetic burlap or whatever it’s made of.

Real burlap is better

Well, they don’t have to feel the emotional turmoil any longer, because now they are dead. May they rest in peace.

I placed their lifeless, crumbly bodies back into the bin with their friends and family. Not because I wanted them to get a proper burial, but to let the others know what happens to deserters in this dictatorship.

It’s been two nights with not one attempted escape, so I guess it worked. Everybody is just quietly munching their lettuce shreds and banana peels, and acting like worms are supposed to act.

Civilised, unlike people at Donald Trump rallies.

Backstory – The Chickens

When I was a kid, we had what you might call a hobby farm. The hobbies were luckily not all at once, because I couldn’t imagine trying to raise quail, Cornish hens, Ring Neck Pheasants, rabbits, goats, cattle, and pigs all at once on a half acre farm that included the house.

It feels like I’m forgetting something.

Oh right.

Chickens.

Hey lady, whatever butters your toast.

The chickens that we had were all meat birds, so you didn’t want to get attached to them. Not that I ever thought I would, because they are by far the most soulless being in existence on this planet. I mean soulless and extremely stupid.

Also, processing them makes me sick to my stomach.  Not to mention the ammonia smell in the coop, and the sight of the red chicken butts that have been pecked out by the local bullies. It doesn’t matter how many times they report it to the authorities, the bullying goes on. You have to chop the bully’s head off.

I can’t see ever getting meat birds for myself, unless I found someone who would process them for a percentage of the birds. In that case, I guess I could stand their stupidity for a little bit.

Laying hens, on the other hand…

Them I don’t mind. There’s just something about fresh eggs and chickens scratching around the yard that makes me feel like a real farmer. Plus, if I get too many worms in the bin, I can throw a few to the girls. I think it makes them happy, and from what I hear, it makes the yolks a nice, deep yellow.

I really don’t know, as I have only been around the dumber, more male versions of chickens. I’m just going by what I’ve heard around the backyard chicken circles of Google+.

I do remember as a kid, I would go to friend’s places that had laying hens running around the yard and I always enjoyed watching their curious mannerisms and the way their beady little eyes would dart around, always looking for any sign of movement. I used to sit for hours sometimes, just watching them and wondering why they were content with so little, but then I remembered how delicious the eggs were and I quit caring about what was going on in their heads.

Lift up your butt there, Clucky. It’s time for breakfast.

Anyhow, I am just letting you know that when I do get my two hens, I am going to be looking for advice on raising them, but until then, I would like to hear which laying breed is the best for a northern climate. Also, if anyone knows a good place to order the chicks in Northern BC, you could throw it in on the comments or in any of the social media outlets at our disposal.

Chris