Tag Archives: preservation

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.

A Little Autumn Update

The Soap

We got a big box of fragrance oils in, and amongst them were some holiday scents that we hope to get out before next spring. There’s some pretty nice ones, so we have been smelling bottle caps for a week or so. Nobody has passed out from the fumes yet, so that’s good.

We also had the fall fair last weekend, where we entered Wildfire, the shampoo bar, and Gerri put in some red pepper jelly.

The soap and shampoo got first place and the jelly got third, so we were pretty proud and happy while we manned the Dirty Bird booth there.

Next year we hope that someone else will put in some soap and shampoo to go up against us.

Oh yeah, our friend Sarah made us a shelf and a bunch of soap holders. These are them.

The holders are teak and the shelf is reclaimed pallet wood.
The holders are teak and the shelf is reclaimed pallet wood.

The Chickens

So the last update told you that Red was laying, but now Henny P is laying too!

She also uses the nesting box, which pleases me to no end, but the really cool news is that I noticed a trend that I hope keeps happening.

Red started eating earthworms and ants, and a few days later she was pumping out eggs. Same thing for Henny P, so when I was digging out the slabs of stone in the walkway, I was pleased as punch to see one of the Barred Rocks steal a worm from Red’s beak and gobble it down. Then she started actually standing her ground with the Rhode Islands and digging up her own worms. Yahoooo!

I am guessing that it has to do with them knowing that their bodies need protein to keep up with the egg laying, just like the oyster shell that I see them peck at now and then. I will probably look that up, but not right now, as I want to see if I’m right about the trend on my own.

This is either Oreo or Pepper. They're identical twins to me.
This is either Oreo or Pepper. They’re identical twins to me.

We are starting to get the amount of eggs that we use, so it shouldn’t be long before we are getting abundant in them. I hope that leads to more cakes and other treats being baked, but I would settle for just knowing we have enough food for us and maybe a friend.

It’s a pretty good feeling when things work out.

The Harvest

I told you about the apricot and plum trees, but I had no idea at the time about how amazing the plums were going to be. We didn’t think they would amount to much at all.

This is what we shook off today.

The egg was harvested at the same time. Good old Henny P.
The egg was harvested at the same time. Good old Henny P.

Altogether we have taken about three gallons of plums from what we thought was a waste of a tree. I don’t know what kind of plum they are, but they are very sweet and juicy. I am going to try rooting a few cuttings from it, and planting a few seeds, because if it is hardy for this area, then I want to keep it going.

It is also pretty diseased now, so in case this is a last hurrah, I want to have some sort of stock for the future. I would hate to think that it will last for years, only to lose it in the winter.

The Boy

Since Blue got away in the spring, and decided to run rampant through the mountains, he has slowed down considerably. He did go for a little toot through the neighbourhood last weekend, but other than that he sticks pretty close to his folks.

Sometimes he gets tired after a few chases of a toy.
Sometimes he gets tired after a few chases of a toy.

We aren’t quite sure what he tangled with, but his slight limp hasn’t gone away, and he doesn’t like running for much more than a kilometre or two any more. We are okay with that.

One thing that I was worried about when we got the chickens, is that he would always try to chase them, but after a bit of gentle correcting, he is actually more timid with them than they are with him. Unless he’s running towards them, then they get out of the way.

I actually think that he would make a pretty good farm dog, and we hope that he makes it long enough to see that. He’s slowing down a lot, but I like to think that he’s just pacing himself for when he has acres to roam leisurely about.

Here’s hoping, Boy.

Chris

A Couple Of Updates

It’s been pretty busy here this summer with the chickens, worms, mealworms, soap, and both of us working full time, so it’s been hard to get in here to post anything.

I guess I can start with the surprise apricot trees.

It's possible that these trees are frauds
It’s possible that these trees are frauds

We were told that the three fruit trees in the yard were supposed to be ornamental pear trees or something like that, but last summer one produced some measly plums, and this year the other two produced two different breeds of apricot.

Needless to say we were surprised and excited. We have been picking up grounders for jams, sauces, and liquor, because the trees are quite shaded and the only fruit ripening was twenty feet in the air and out of reach for our little stepladder. This fall they will be getting a pretty severe hack job to get them to a manageable level, but until then we will try to make the best use of their bounty.

We have also registered Dirty Bird Soap with the province, and will be applying for a business license with the district this week.

This means that we are really loving it, and plan to keep at it as long as we can be creative and viable. It’s not something that we are planning on getting rich with, but when we are retired and self sustaining, it will definitely help us out with not having to work as a Walmart greeter to make ends meet.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it would mean that we would have to be close to a Walmart, and who wants that in their life?

These will be getting cut shortly and getting themselves prepared for your armpits
These will be getting cut shortly and getting themselves prepared for your armpits

After a great couple of Saturdays at the Hudson’s Hope Farmer’s Market, we had to spend this weekend making seven batches to play catch up with. We have run out of a couple and almost ran out of a few more.

This isn’t a complaint, it’s excitement that you feel coming through these words. We get pretty stoked up about how our creations are received, so we were pretty much vibrating as we churned out the loaves this weekend.

The top shelf is Wildfire. So far it's our best seller, so we made two.
The top shelf is Wildfire. So far it’s our best seller, so we made two.

Notice how light our canning shelves are looking? That’s getting remedied right shortly, because we hit up the Okanagan fruit lady for twenty pounds each of peaches, roma tomatoes, and black plums.

Here’s what most of the peaches look like now.

There was a bit of shrinkage
There was a bit of shrinkage

We’ll finish the tomato sauce tomorrow, and the plums should be ready in a few days, so that will give us a couple of nights for soaping, gardening, and maybe even eating a couple of meals this week.

That’s pretty decent, if you ask me.

All in all it was an exhausting weekend of soap, rendering beeswax, canning and trying to manage the rest of life, but as I sit here in this filthy kitchen, typing out this post and staring at what will garnish a lot of bowls of ice cream this winter, I can’t help but to smile and dream of when I can be this kind of rushed every day.

When you have the right partner in crime, every day is an adventure.

Happy Canada Day! I know it's a bit late, but this is where we were.
Happy Canada Day! I know it’s a bit late, but this is where we were.

Have a great rest of your summer,

Chris

P.S. Look how big the baby mealworms are getting.

For reference, the outline is a slice of potato.
For reference, the outline is a slice of potato.

Cute Chicks And Dumb Boys

Well, I brought our new girls home todayyesterdayrecently.

I think the one on the left is a Barred Rock and the other is a Rhode Island Red, but could use some verification.
I think the one on the left is a Barred Rock and the other is a Rhode Island Red, but could use some verification.

I guess they aren’t chicks still, but I already had the title in my head, so I misled you. Sue me.

I have to tell you that I am in love with the Barred Rock. She absolutely melted my heart when I closed them up for the night.

I didn’t realise that they roosted when they are this young, or at all when they are laying hens. I just assumed that they nested, so I put a bunch of shavings in the box and left them to their own devices. When I went out at dusk to lift the ramp and close them in, they were sitting on the edge of the water dish and teetering.

They looked so disoriented that I felt sad for them. I started stroking them and then the Barred Rock climbed onto my hand and up my wrist. I wasn’t sure what she was doing, so I just let her go. She then nuzzled her head into my armpit and seemingly fell asleep.

I felt so happy that I was contemplating taking her in and letting her sleep in the bed with me, but then I remembered my mom telling me about this. (It’s only thirty seconds long. Go ahead.)

Remember The Waltons? I wish they made shows like that still.

She remembered it as Jim Bob, and she used to laugh so hard about how gross it would be to have a chicken pooping in your bed all night. (It’s fine when she does it, but when it’s a chicken, that’s gross.) 😉

Anyhow, I didn’t take her to bed, but I did make them a roost the next morning.

We're still working on names. I picked Mary Ann and Ginger, but we have to have a proper vote.
We’re still working on names. I picked Mary Ann and Ginger, but we have to have a proper vote.

You know, when I was a kid, I hated our chickens. I only remember the dirty, overweight, white meat birds, but I know we had Banties, pheasants, and quail for sure. I don’t remember any of them being as friendly as these two, but that could have been that they sensed my surliness at having to clean out the coop.

I don’t know why I hated doing it so much, but I know I did. It was probably an hour job, but I think I dragged it out over a few days. I guess it was because I was a spoiled rotten a–hole back then. I must have thought I was too good for that job, but I know now that I wasn’t. It’s funny how the realities of life and time change a person’s attitude.

Well, I know it’s very late, but I’m sorry Mom and Paul. I promise I will care for these better than I did for yours.

I’m also sorry that I didn’t see your vision in raising our own food. It was hard to see that growing things for ourselves and caring about what we nourished our family with didn’t mean that we were poor.

It meant that we were smart.

Now that I’m trying to eat as healthy as I cana bit healthier than I was, I see these things a lot clearer, especially when we’re trying so hard to make ends meet. I’ve really come to appreciate the lessons you guys taught me, so long ago.

I also wish that I had realised the happiness you could get from chickens, and the different personalities that they have. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to mind looking after these girls at all.

The little salt and pepper lady is very loving and sweet. She seems to step aside and let others go first, and I’ve really taken a shine to her. I can feel her nervous tension release a bit when I hold her tight, and it makes me feel like I can make her life easier than it could have been. I think that she will be the broody one, if there is one, and I predict that should a rooster sneak in there some day, she will make a great mama hen.

I'm the king of the castle...
I’m the kingqueen of the castle…

The redhead has a really spicy flare to her. She is adventurous and tries to get her head out every time I open the door. I see her eyeing up the great big world and wanting to be out in it. Also, she has so far lightly pecked my partially blackened fingernail, my nose and my arm when I was petting her sister. It wasn’t hard, like say a glass Coke bottle, but I noticed her doing it and wondered if it wasn’t a warning. She doesn’t do it when I pet her, so I don’t think it’s from fear.

Do you remember earlier, when I said that I wanted to name them Mary Ann and Ginger? I’ve changed my mind. I think I want to name them Pat and Brenda. It’s just as fitting, and it will mean a lot more to me.

Now if I could just find a golden feathered cockerel. 😉

Chris

P.S. I originally named this post, because of the way the dogs were acting since I brought the birds home, but it turned into me being the dumb boy.

They were definitely curious, but mostly they seemed insecure. I figured I was imagining things, but I woke up like this in the morning, and I knew that something was up.

Dover is well camouflaged in the duvet. Blue wants to stand out everywhere.
Dover is well camouflaged in the duvet. Blue wants to stand out everywhere.

I guess there’s only so much “How are my pretty girls?” that a dog can take.

P.S.S. Sorry for the vague, personal jokes, but Pat is my mom, Brenda is my aunt, and the cockerel is my uncle Keith.

Wildfires And Evacuations

Wildfires are no laughing matter, and as we speak, there are three burning in our area. One of them was/is just a few miles from our house right now, but the 80 km/hr winds are taking it past us, and not into town.

This is from our driveway.
This is from our driveway.

For the moment. You know how wind can be.

When we first were told to go look up the hill this evening, there was talk of packing some bags and getting ready to leave. Gerri  started looking for things to pack up, and went into the bedroom to make sure that wallets and ID were ready to go, and to pack some clothes. You know, just to be ready. She’s really good like that. She likes to be ready for things.

I’m a different sort of bird. I like to think that I’m born ready, and any emergency will test my ability to adapt. Where she might take four lighters, I rely on the few times I made a bow drill as a kid and got a fire going that way.

In perfect conditions.

What I’m getting at is that when possible evacuation was mentioned, she started planning our escape in her head, but I was just sitting there thinking I would like to write a post and if the emergency workers came around to tell us to book out of here, I would grab the family, dogs and Cheeto included, and as much of the soap and soap making equipment as I could, and head for higher ground. I would probably take my other pair of fat pants and a couple of shirts as well, because I may need to change in the next week, but basically I’m ready to go. I have the Swiss Army knife in my pocket, and a $50 bill. I know there is enough gas in the van to get us at least 300 kilometres away, so I had no worries there.

Good to go.

We then went up the hill from the apartment building in the first photo, to our friend’s place to see how close it was getting.

This gives a better idea of distance.
This gives a better idea of distance.

As we were going home, Gerri looked at me and said “Thinking of having to pack up go like that, really makes me realise how much we need to purge.”

10-4 on that Little Mama. I read you, loud and clear.

Chris

We Rendered Lard!

Yep, that’s right. We bought half a pig from a local farmer, and I asked him to save the fat from it, so we could render it down for soap. I would never have thought of it, but the lady we get our eggs from had mentioned it to us one day this fall, and we decided, after reading several accounts of how nice the soap is, to try a batch or two and check it out for ourselves.

So this morning I started the process. She had told me the basics of putting some water in a pot, then put in the fat. Seemed simple enough, so I took my large hunks of frozen fat and threw them in the pot. Then I started to watch a YouTube video on rendering lard the proper way.

I was quickly running to the pot, pulling the chunks of fat out, and cutting them up into small pieces.

That was a handy tip to know. As it was, the rendering took about ten hours, but apparently it would have taken much longer if I had left them in huge chunks. Everyone on the internet says that it is way better to get it ground up by the butcher, but those people maybe didn’t get one of these when their Nan died.

That old grinder has had a lot of use.
That old grinder has had a lot of use.

She used to grind up everything with that thing. I haven’t used it since it was in her kitchen, but if we end up with a bunch more fat, I am going to pull it down and put it to work. Even if it’s just for nostalgia’s sake.

So after a day of hanging out on the stove we ended up with this.

Apparently, that is good lard. I really don't know lard though.
Apparently, that is good lard. I really don’t know lard though.

and this

We weren't sure about the cracklins, but after a bunch of salt, pepper, and onion powder, we came around.
We weren’t sure about the cracklins, but after a bunch of salt, pepper, and onion powder, we came around.

So this weekend, we will be trying out the lard in soap. There are tons of recipes out there, so we will try a few of them and see. If any of you have tried it before, maybe you could let us know what worked, or didn’t work, for you. We would really appreciate and hints or tricks that you have.

We would also love to hear any scents that really get you going. For me, it’s always been patchouli, but I really love other woodsy scents as well. That’s what perks me up during a morning shower. It makes me feel like I’m in an old Irish Spring commercial.

Except it’s in India.

But with more green, and cleaner water.

I’m maybe not as simple as I think.

Chris

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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.

20160327_165528

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.