Tag Archives: recycle

I’m Getting Out Of Control

Yeah, in the worm department.

A couple of years ago, during a visit home, my cousin Ryan was telling me all about mealworms. He was telling me how they are the protein of the future, easy to raise, and very tasty and nutritious.

I immediately discounted this. I have eaten a few seasoned and roasted mealworms before, and I sure don’t want to make a meal out of them.

He explained that they were extremely easy to raise and breed, and that they take a phenomenal percentage less water per ounce of protein than beef or pork.

I told him that as long as there was enough water to get steak, I wouldn’t worry too much about low water protein and then we had a hearty laugh, as we are wont to do while having a social ale or two.

Then, the other day I was reading about mealworms as chicken food on a homesteading forum. I thought about how easy my cousin said they were to raise and then promptly forgot about it. I already have a bunch of worms, what do I need more for?

Until two days later, when I saw on a local buy and sell page that a woman was looking for mealworms to feed her gecko. I said to myself:

“You should get some mealworms and breed them too. There might be some people around that would buy them from you, and you will be able to feed them to your chickens when you get them.”

I then replied, “I will look into it, and I’ll let you know.”

Before I looked into it, another local lady said that a few people would be happy to have a local supplier, so that pushed me towards purchasing my breeding stock today. Some of them seemed a little bit dead, but apparently they get like that after a while in the fridge.

(Update – Nope, they’re dead. I don’t think that they would still be laying in the same, motionless position after a day.)

I took them home, ground up some Red River Cereal and some rolled oats, and dumped them in a bin with some cabbage, a broken grape, and some cardboard shreds. I separated everything to see what they like best. I’m going to get some laying mash as well, because I’m told that stuff is like gold for them, as long as it isn’t medicated.

I'd breed in there. If I was a worm, I mean. And didn't have asthma.
I’d breed in there. If I was a worm, I mean. And didn’t have asthma.

Apparently that’s all you have to do. I hope.

I will keep checking on them, but I guess it will be a while before they turn into pupa and then beetles, so I think I have a bit of time to perfect the setup. Most of the “real” farmers use one of these four drawer plastic container systems that you could steal from a friends garage or get on Amazon if you wanted to help a guy out. (wink wink)

I kid, but not really. I actually was looking at some of these ten drawer ones and was dreaming of when I would have them full of worms and styrofoam.

Yeah, you heard right. Apparently mealworms can safely survive on a diet of pure styrofoam and convert it into usable soil. It has something to do with the enzymes in their gut, so scientists are trying to figure out how to use them to combat the 33000000 tons of styrofoam in US landfills each year. I don’t know how much us Canadians go through, but it sure looks like a lot as well.

You know, because you wouldn’t want to quit making styrofoam and just throwing it away. That’s just crazy.

Where we live, styrofoam is not recyclable, so I’m hoping to eventually be able to process it with mealworms. I will keep those ones separate from the feed and sale ones, but any excess could be tossed in a bin full of styrofoam and we could at least see for ourselves whether it’s a load of bull or not.

I hope it’s not, because we can’t keep going the way we are right now. Our planet and our bodies can’t take all of this pollution, so anything we can do to help will matter in the future.

Chris

If We Had This Soap When I Was A Kid…

…I would have done a lot more swearing in front of my mom.

Except the one on the left. That's just laundry soap.
Except the one on the left. That’s just laundry soap.

Well, until I tasted them. No matter how good they look and smell, they are still soap.

We had a great weekend of soap making and wax rendering. It really was amazing, partially because it was wet and we really needed some rain, but also because we banged out seven batches of soap and rendered down a bunch of honeycombs that a wonderful local apiarist had dropped off for us.

After rendering all the dead bees,honey, and beetles out of it, we got this handsome specimen.

That was the first render. We got another decent disc from the second as well.
That was the first render. We got another decent disc from the second as well.

We then turned all of our beeswax into these.

And they pop out of the cups without ripping them. It's recycle time.
And they pop out of the cups, so we can reuse them.

Many of our recipes call for beeswax to harden up the bar, so we portioned them out for each recipe. It was a huge pain, but will totally be worth it in the end. It sucks to be hacking and grating the wax from the block to come up with a certain weight. This way you just plop it in with your oils as they heat up and wait for it to melt.

You could chop it into pieces if you are too impatient to let it melt slowly, or somehow make your wax into pastilles when it’s melted. They look like a great way to melt wax fast.

Anyhow, we have enough beeswax to last us for a while, which is good, because we have a Farmer’s Market meeting this week, and hopefully we will be selling a lot of soap soon. I really hope so, because we are going broke on ingredients for this stuff. It’s like an addiction to heroin, except better for you, and I could make a batch before work in the morning, and still drive all day with no problems.

We are noticing that our comfort level is growing, because we are straying from the recipes and trying to create our own signature soaps. I really like trying new things, especially when they work out like they did this weekend.

Well, we think they worked out. We won’t really know until they are cured and we can make sure that they are all in good working order, but man, oh man do they seem great now. The prettiest, and tastiest looking one is Gerri’s creation. It’s called Berry Vanilla Cheesecake. I bet you can tell which one it is from the photo above. It also smells as good as it looks.

The best one, for a man, is probably the hot process Savvy Woodsman bar. It smells like a forest got it’s butt kicked by a dream. We named it after our friend “Savvy” back home, because we designed it on his birthday after he asked us to send him some soap. First bar is free, Savvy. You know the drill after that. 😉

Another beauty was the Orange Chili Pepper bar. It was the second attempt at hot process soap making (which happens to be Gerri’s new favourite thing), and one where we went outside the box and added ground up chili pepper flakes to the bar after it gelled. It looks and smells fantastic, but we will definitely be testing that one out before selling it. Especially around the eyes and tender bits.

(Free sample bar to whoever wants to guinea pig that experiment. 😉 hehe)

Last but not least is the French Vanilla Cappucino bar. It really excites me, but it still feels pretty soft. I should have maybe put beeswax in instead of avocado or sweet almond oil, but we won’t know for sure until it cures. It is totally coloured and scented by real coffee and some vanilla fragrance. We used a very strong coffee(that we will try freezing next time) with the lye instead of water, and then used the grounds and vanilla in the batter at medium trace. You can’t really smell the vanilla, but the bar still smells so good. It will be like you’re showering in a fancy coffee shop, but you won’t have to deal with the hipsters and the line ups.

That’s a win-win.

We also made a nice sandalwood cold process, my mom’s birthday bar, and a plain lard soap with no fragrance or colour. It will be grated up for an all natural laundry soap that I want to try. I did one before with a really nice fragrance oil, but the bar dried brown, so that might not be cool in someone’s dainties. I will have to check it to see if it discolours fabric when it’s cured.

I am really happy at how well we work together, especially with two people who are creative and are really struggling to figure something out. It is the highlight of my day to see Gerri’s face light up when she goes to “visit the soap”.

It really is.

I absolutely love our new passion, and who knows, it might even make enough money to pay for itself. As good as that would be, it won’t compare to hanging out with your best friend on the weekend, and maybe discovering the next big thing.

Chris

Our Dump, Is A Very Very Very Fine Dump

With two vans in the yard. Behind them a couple cars. My shopping is so easy ’cause of you.

Apologies to CSNY for ruining their lyrics, but that was what came to my mind.

I love the district dump. It reminds me of my youth.

When things were free a little more free than they are today.

Our dump back east never really allowed you to scavenge. Luckily it was probably some drunk kid that got caught with a stolen bag of sheep manure or breaking a $12 window that was doing their community service hours at the landfill (*cough* Brad Campbell *cough*), so there really wasn’t any worry of getting busted for taking home more than you brought in.

I remember my stepdad and I taking our trash there and finding a bunch of old cast iron cook stove lids and parts, and throwing them in the backseat of the Bronco, because we needed them for the cabin. When we went to weigh out and pay, I had to walk around the back side of the scale shack. Not because we were trying to rip off the dump, but because we weighed more leaving than when we came in. Apparently the dump doesn’t like to pay you money to drop off your garbage.

The last time I was there, there were security guards running the scales and they made sure that nobody was getting any of their garbage. It was a shame to look down into the bins and see so many useful things that were going to be crushed into a cube. Never to be enjoyed again by anyone.

Not at our dump though. We have the Share Shed.

Sometimes it's quite full.
Sometimes it’s quite full. Usually in the summer when folks are cleaning out garages.

If you have something that still has some life left in it, or maybe has some parts that someone else can use, you can drop it at the share shed before going to the garbage bin.

You would be surprised at how much the share shed has helped us, and many others, to get through tough, and not so tough times. I hope that Gerri will write a post about when she first moved here and was at the shed almost every day. I have many great stories, and the day she staged the Share Shed is probably my favourite of all. She always seemed more relaxed when she came from there, unless she found a treasure, then she would be pretty giddy.

There is also a wood pile at the dump.

Need some logs for firewood, or a couple of 2x4s with a few nails in them? Help yourself.
Need some logs for firewood, or a couple of 2x4s with a few nails in them? Help yourself.

I haven’t had to pay for lumber yet, except for two sheets of OSB for the shed wall, but speed was of the essence there. If I had thought of it before, I could have pieced together something for free.

When I took this picture, I got five 2x4x8, a 6x6x8, and a pretty good sawhorse out of the wood pile. That’s a pretty good start to the chicken tractor I want to build. I wish we burned wood for heat, because you would never have to buy it again. This stuff will just get pushed up into a pile and burned, I think. They might push the tree parts into the compost pile. I haven’t been there while it was getting done.

The scrap metal pile belongs to another guy, and you aren’t allowed to scavenge, but you used to be able to donate to the fellow if you found something that you could use. I think I have donated $4-$5 and have a decent arbor, some angle iron, and a bunch of pieces of pipe that I wanted for some worm bins. He’s not going to make much off of scrap, so it probably worked out better for him if he can get a few bucks and not have to haul it an hour away to get very little money for it.

Sometimes you just need a bit of scrap metal.
Sometimes you just need a bit of scrap metal.

If I was handier, I think that the metal pile would be a lot more useful. I am thinking of taking a welding course or something along that line, because when we do get our property, it will be nice to be able to fix things myself, rather than have to rely on someone else’s schedule and rate. I have always envied handy folks that could do that.

Anyhow, I think that everyone should push their local councils to start working towards a truer “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” way of life, instead of a “Crush Everything and Buy New” society that we are in now. Tell them that you want a Share Shed at your local dump. There’s no reason not to have one. If they’re worried about insurance, sign a waiver before going to it. I can’t see it being any more dangerous than the rest of the dump, but you know how bureaucrats can get.

Throwing them in the trash isn’t that chance.

Chris

Almost Free Raised Bed Garden

So last fall I was working in the bush and went by this huge burn pile about ten times a day. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention to a fifteen foot tall pile of trees on a pipeline right of way, but this pile had a lot of short 2″x8″ planks all over the base of it.

I was thinking that it was a huge waste, so when the job was done, Gerri and I went out there and packed up the minivan with over seventy of these little beauties.

That's what they call rustic. People pay big money for rustic.
That’s what they call rustic. People pay big money for rustic.

We weren’t sure what they could be used for, but we figured that we could find something better than global warming, so we stacked them on a pallet and covered them in a mattress bag that we had saved for just such an occasion.

Then, the other day I was repurposing part of our flower garden. It was completely choked out with lily of the valley, and I wanted to put something a little more useful in it, so I cut out a corner that gets pretty decent sun, sifted out the roots and shoots, and mixed in vermiculite and some of the worm castings that I’ve harvested over the winter.

I love picking handfuls out of the bin and sitting on the kitchen floor with a couple of tubs beside me. Sorting the worms and organics from the rich compost soothes my weary nerves and also helps to fight ISIS. Don’t ask me how, but nobody has been killed by ISIS while I was sorting worms. Probably.

This is the screen I made for sifting dirt out of two refrigerator shelves crossed and zip-tied together. They were free from the Share Shed. It’s also the repurposed flower garden.

Hey, it's not fancy, but free is free.
Hey, it’s not fancy, but free is free.

I then dug up some of the wild chives that were growing at the side of the house and transplanted them to the new herb garden at the front.

There were a lot more than I needed, so I turned the chunk of old manhole by the street into a new home for the rest.

I don’t know how I got so far off track, but let’s get back to the story.

I was wondering what else I was going to use my castings for, when I thought of building some raised bed gardens out of logs. That would be a problem, seeing as we don’t have a truck to haul the logs in, or any machinery to get them to the back yard. We also don’t have the money to hire it out, so my gaze fell on the pile.

20160421_092201
Mattress bags are a very handy thing to have around.

I cut one in half, and then ripped them in half to make corner supports, and then I just made walls two boards high.

Yeah, I know it's basic. That's why I was confident I could do it.
Yeah, I know it’s basic. That’s why I was confident I could do it.

Now one of the huge problems with gardening in this area is the deer. They are everywhere. If you don’t put up an eight foot high fence, or cover your garden with deer netting,  then you are just courting disaster.

Another Share Shed treasure we got was an 8 person dome tent that had some pretty large holes in the roof. We kept the base, because it was a good tarp with eye holes already sewn in, and we kept all of the poles. I drilled a 1/2″ hole in the top of each support, and Voila!

We don't know if it will work yet, but in theory it looks good.
We don’t know if it will work yet, but in theory it looks good.

I’ll cover that in the Ross Deer Netting that I bought, and then maybe some poly so I can start planting a bit earlier. I am going to build two more of these, so I should be able to fit quite a bit of the food we are hoping to grow in them. It’ll be about 30 sq ft of garden space, and I think that’s good for our first time.

So all in all, we spent:

  • $15 for gas to get the wood and Share Shed goodies
  • $4 for the screws
  • $30 for 100′ deer netting(I could’ve got used chicken wire for $2)

Under $50 to build and deer-proof your garden seems pretty good to me, if it works. I shouldn’t count the gas, because we just love driving around together, and it was our day off, but I figured it would still be a bargain and I’ll still have 50′ of deer netting for next year.

Let me know what you think. Should I change anything?

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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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)

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.

Plus
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.

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.

Backstory – The Worms

I’ve been looking into getting composting worms for many years now, but never had the time or space for them.

Then I found some.

I was hauling clay out of a guy’s yard where he was building a new house, to some big pipeline company’s new yard, when I saw a bunch of 1″x4″ spruce planks about four feet long in a burn pile.  I asked the guy if I could have them, and he said to take all I wanted, so I started loading up the dump truck. There were a lot of them, and as I got deeper into the pile my smile just got wider. I figured there were about ten or so of them at the start, but there was a fire ban on, so I was able to load about twenty armloads into the box.

All in all, I filled the trunk and backseat of the old Corolla to the top and got home with dreams of making worm boxes and changing the small, insulated shed into my wormy empire.

I just needed worms now.

I started looking online, but saw that red wigglers were going for about $60 a pound, plus shipping. I really couldn’t afford that, as we had just moved here from Ontario, and it was a pretty slow year, work wise. I figured that there had to be  a better (cheaper) way to do this.

I called the Northern Environmental Action Team in Fort St. John, while I was in town and asked if they knew anyone locally that had red wigglers for sale. They said that they had some for sale at their office, so I boogied right over there and bought a pound. They had them in one of these

I wished I had the cash for one of them, because they told me it worked pretty slick, but it kind of defeated my purpose. I’m trying to keep as much plastic out of my life as I can, so I’m kind of glad I was broke and couldn’t buy it.

When I got home, I poured the worms into their oversized new home, but it was mostly castings, with very few wigglers. I went back in a few days later and stopped in for some more. There were more worms in this batch, but it was still not as many as I was expecting. It didn’t really mater though, as I was still $20 under the pound from the internet, and there was no shipping costs.

I started to read a lot about composting worms, and watched a bunch of videos on them. The first book I read was

I might have made my box a little big at 2’x2’x10″ high. A pound of worms could easily fit in a tube sock, so I had quite a bit of overkill for the first several months. I ended up putting them in an old laundry tub that a friend was throwing out, and I really like it. They seem to be quite comfy in there, and as long as I mix it up every few days, it doesn’t get too wet.

It's a pretty good home for a few pounds of crawlies.
It’s a pretty good home for a few pounds of crawlies.

Anyhow, it’s been about six months, and I have probably six times as many worms as I started with, so they must like me alright.

Chris