23 November 2008

Things you can do with baling twine

Just about anyone who feeds round bales to their stock is familiar with baling twine. It's true that some people use netting to wrap their bales, but I have a deep dislike for that stuff - it freezes to the ground in the winter, as well as to the bale, and it always seems to shred rather than peel off nicely. Luckily for me, the people I get my hay from feel the same way, and they use plain old orange baling twine.

Now, plain old orange baling twine has it's challenges too - you do need a knife to cut it (you can't break it with your hands), sometimes it gets rather embedded in the hay of the bale and it's hard to pull it off, and it will eventually shred into frayed bits if pieces of it are left out for too long. Everyone gets into the habit of picking up any pieces that are lying around - animals can get it caught around their feet, and some will even eat it, although I have no idea why it would seem appetizing.

Still, it is useful stuff. You can use it to tie a gate shut, fasten the ends of rolls of fencing wire so they don't unroll, even weave a patch for a hole in the fence.

This week, though, I discovered you can knit with the stuff. It seemed to me that this fairly stiff plastic twine would make good raw material for a boot mat. So, I cast on 75 stitches on some 6.5 mm needles, and off I went in garter stitch. I haven't got very much completed yet, but it is working out just as I had envisioned. I found some comments online from people who have had similar ideas, so it's not exactly a novel thought ... but, it seems to be working.

I'll post a picture when it's done.

The Reluctant Farmer becomes a Fireman

The Reluctant Farmer has joined our local volunteer fire department!

I'm so proud of him.

Every week he goes to a meeting at the fire hall and learns something new - last week they tried out all the small equipment like chain saws, generators, and gasoline powered cutting tools. He even has a set of equipment hanging on pegs in the hall, just waiting for him to complete enough training to be able to go with everyone else when a call comes in.

Most of his training will be accomplished in the weekly sessions at the fire hall, but there are some 'bigger' things to be done as well. Last week, The Reluctant Farmer took two days off of work and attended First Aid training, and now has his CPR and standard first aid certification. He's been looking at all the different courses available and trying to figure out when he can fit them into his very busy schedule, so that he can start answering calls.

He says that all he really wants is to drive the fire truck ... but I know he wants to be a part of something important and do something for the community as a whole.

I can't wait to see him on the big red truck in the annual parade! :)

11 November 2008


Today I made two batches of broth. In my previous life, I didn't eat a lot of meat and what meat we did cook generally came in some kind of bone-free configuration. Now, however, dealing directly with the butchers, we tend to get more bone-in stuff ... and those bones are still a good source of nutrition and shouldn't be allowed to go to waste.

So ... I'm learning to make broth.

The Reluctant Farmer picked up a really big stock pot at Princess Auto (for oh, $14 or something) and we just put two additional filters in the British Berkefeld water filter (meaning it runs water through twice as fast, so it's not such a big deal to use up the water that is there). First two hurdles overcome: pot and water. Check.

Next, bones. I have been putting the bones from our meals (with whatever meat is still attached) in The Bone Bowl in the freezer, and then when it's time to make broth, I grab the bones and dump them in the stock pot with some water. Today I did two batches: one of ham broth (half of which subsequently became the base for a pot of pea soup), and one of lamb (and possibly some beef, I can't remember what all those bones were from). The Green Cookbook provided the list of spices to add to the broth, and somewhere or other I gathered the information that a shot of vinegar helps pull out the calcium from the bones. Since we were all home today (and it was cold), the fireplace was on all day, and the stock pot just sat there on top of the wood stove, burbling away. I peeled potatoes for the dinner stew (cooking in the slow cooker on the counter) and tossed the peels in with the simmering broth to add a bit more nutrition and flavour. I also added a shot of the dehydrated garden greens I put up this summer (mostly beet tops, but some carrot and radish greens are in the mix as well).

When the whole batch was done cooking, the broth was scooped out and poured through a filter, then set to cool. Any fat that congeals on the surface will be scooped off with a spoon and put in a different jar to be rendered into clean lard or tallow later on (or potentially just added to dog food in the winter to help them through the cold days). The clean broth can then go into the freezer for use in stews and soups over the winter. The leftover bits of meat and such are fed to the outside critters (after all the smaller bones are removed, to avoid having anyone choke).

It's really not all that time consuming, and it's certainly more cost effective than buying canned broth or even bullion cubes ... and when you know what all the ingredients are and exactly how it was prepared, somehow, that just seems like a good thing.

I do feel tired sometimes, thinking that I don't really "take a break" anywhere near as often as I would like - there is always something else to do. Sometimes I want to whine about that, it's true. Still, I try to remind myself that a big part of what I am doing is practicing new skills: if I didn't have a well-paying job to go to, I wouldn't mind doing these things ... mostly because I wouldn't be squeezing them in on weekends and days off, they'd just be part of my every day work. However, should these kinds of tasks become my every day work (because I no longer have my well-paying job, for instance) ... well, that wouldn't really be the moment to stop and learn how to do these things. If you need to be sure that if you had to, you could make broth from scratch or put in a successful garden or properly put up the harvest from said garden, well, you'd better have practiced those things earlier, back when you had other options in case your experiments didn't turn out as well as you might have hoped. This year, for instance, I'm really glad we can buy tomatoes at the store - our crop didn't mature before the frost hit. (Next year, I'm going to try some earlier varieties.)

Options. Alternatives. It's nice to have them.

When I bow my head to say grace at dinner after a long day at work, I try to remember to be thankful for the job that has made me weary, because even though I might have rather spent the day doing other things, my tiredness means I have a good paycheque coming and the bills will be paid. On days when I have worked hard on farm jobs or gardening or preserving and my body aches all over and I think I might just be too tired to lift my spoon, I try to remember to be thankful for the opportunity to have worked to exhaustion, because it means I have been making good use of the skills and the land that we have been blessed with.

We really are very fortunate. I could still be living in my little suburban duplex, trudging the long hour and a half commute to a soulless Dilbert job that left me drained and miserable, with bass stero rhythms pounding from teenager's cars outside my window every night. I still have a long commute, but it's a fairly pleasant country drive, and I work with great people doing reasonably interesting things. When I come home, I can look out the window and see the animals munching on hay, and I rest my head against the flank of my lovely cow every morning and hear the sound of milk streaming into the steel bucket between my feet. I look in the potato bin and the pantry and see the results of this year's garden, and I know that next year we can do even more.

Blessed indeed.

08 November 2008

The Green Cookbook

One of my most precious posessions is The Green Cookbook.

It's actual title is "Cooking for American Homemakers", and it was published by the Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago in 1965.

My mom received it as a gift from her mother, and she gave it to me. It has instructions for all sorts of basic things that people take for granted - like how to cook eggs in their shells, or how to cut fresh bread easily (use a hot knife). It has recipes for things we wouldn't consider 'regular food', like roasted squirrels and calf's brains (I'm serious). However, it also has information about everything basic to cooking ... like what "heated to the hard-crack stage" means when you're talking about candymaking.

I found an online recipe for mullein cough drops, and, since I grew mullein in the garden this year, I wanted to try it. I was stumped, however, by the directions. "Heat to the hard crack stage" means .. what?

Well, the Green Cookbook had the answer. The hard crack stage means the sugar mixture has been heated to 300 degrees Farenheit, or, when dropped into very cold water it separates into threads which are hard and brittle.

I did manage to make mullein cough candy today - it tastes a lot like molasses, and even if I did make a rather large mess of the kitchen, it was a good practice run.

Today's jobs...

Today was 'clean out the barn' day. On the weekends I try to give the barn stalls a good thorough mucking out - The Boy does the quick-and-dirty cleanup daily (there's probably a pun in there somewhere), and then on the weekend I try to get the big cleanup done.

The Reluctant Farmer was off doing errands in town this afternoon, so I fired up the bobcat and managed to move a bale of straw to a more convenient location. I took one of the windows out of the barn (they are held in place by moveable latches so that it's easy to get them out if need be), then unrolled part of the bale and forked it into the already-mucked-out barn through the window opening. From there, it was easy to distribute the straw to the previously cleared out stalls, and now everyone has lots of nice clean bedding to lie on at night. One of the sheep stalls is ready for use, and the other is serving as temporary straw storage. If we had to put someone in that stall in a hurry, it'd be a simple matter to remove the excess, but having it right there means it's easy to freshen up the cow's stalls with clean straw on a day to day basis. Lambing is still a ways off, so this seems workable.

I also noticed that we had gotten down to the last bit of the hay bale, so while the bobcat was running, I managed to pick up a new bale and position it in the hay feeding area. This was not as easy as it sounds: I had to use the new 'baby bobcat' (we sold the great big one, as it was more machine than we needed, and I'm not used to the new one yet). We have a set of forks that attach to the bobcat bucket, and it was a bit of a challenge to get everything set up and ready to go. Still, I managed. The Reluctant Farmer is way better at bobcat work than I am, but I try to be at least basically competent with all the machinery and tools we use, just in case I have to do things when he is not around. If he's here, I let him do it ... but it's good to be able to take care of things yourself, too.

I must say that our feeding strategy seems to be working quite well: having the sheep locked out while we lay the hay on the ground keeps them at least mostly clean, and they aren't wasting as much as I feared they might. Putting one bale at a time into the 'storage area' makes feeding everyone a matter of forking hay from bale to feed area (for both sheep and cows), with very few steps required. Efficiency is a good thing! Of course this past week the sheep managed to work around the previous fencing that surrounded the bale storage area ... so The Reluctant Farmer built a solid panel that has been highly effective at keeping the sheep away from the bale.

Other jobs today included relocating "chickenville" (the three chicken tractor houses) to a new location that is more level, brushing Mackenzie (who had some really nasty matted fur that had to be cut off, and very long dew claws that had to be trimmed), and scraping the feed pen clean with the bobcat.

Just another Saturday at Apple Jack Creek.

01 November 2008

We are wired for wind

The wind tower went up today!

Our neighbours came by to help with the installation, and the whole process went quite smoothly. We had perfect weather: no wind to push the tower around while we were putting it up, the sun was out and it was a beautifully warm day.

The tower is a telescoping style device: it starts off at about 12 feet high, and has two more pieces nested inside the base. You turn a winch to extend it upwards, and fully extended it's about 40 feet tall. The turbine is mounted on the top and a long wire extends from it's generator down the inside of the tower, through a piece of rubber conduit to the power centre used by the solar panels. At the power centre it is connected to one of the many wires in the heavy duty cable that runs from the solar panels to the house, and at the house, it is connected directly to the batteries. As Solar Neighbour explained it to me, the power from the wind generator goes directly to the batteries, and the power from the solar panels goes to the charge controller which feeds the batteries until they are full, and will shunt any excess power elsewhere if it becomes necessary. Since the wind generator will never produce enough power to overload the batteries, it can 'go first in line', and the solar panels can be managed to fill up the rest of the power capacity.

We have three guy wires attached to hold the tower steady, and there are three more backup lines to go up as well. If the tower ever collapsed, it would most likely take the solar panels with it so we are putting in some extra backup lines just to be sure.

So far the blades are still, as the wind is pretty much non-existent today... but it won't be long! It'll be really exciting to know that when the wind howls around the house in the middle of the night we're making power.

Solar Neighbour has more pictures ... check back for updates later!