Category Archives: Homestead

Methods to build self-reliance and therefore independence.

This is stupid…

Burning diesel to cut grass.

Someday I’m going to turn this grass into meat, with the help of some sheep.

Before I can do that I need some capital to invest in fencing and sheep, and time to set it up.

The plan is to buy three sheep in the spring, paddock shift them in the pasture over the summer, and harvest them in the fall.

By raising three, I can keep two, and offset the cost by selling the other. At the moment, I’m leaning toward hair sheep vice wool sheep.

Using permanent fencing to establish my paddocks will be more work up front, but will make it easy to move the sheep. I can also follow the sheep with chickens, or use the paddocks to isolate a flock to control genetics for reproducing.

The sheep have the potential to improve the quality of the pasture by mowing it while fertilizing it, but I can also seed it after I move them out of a paddock to promote specific grasses or variety.

On an aside, while I was mowing I saw some vetch in the field. I’m fairly certain it came from the fall manure mix I planted in my garden last fall, which I’m a super fan of.

Much of the material I’ve learned about paddock shift pasture management has been experimentally researched and published by Greg Judy.

There is something inside a lot of us to want more land. I have it inside me, so I’m confronting it with the reality that the parcel that I do have is far from producing its potential. I have several ambitions with the acre of pasture that is currently in a stall pattern of getting mowed a few times a year.

Cutworm, you devil

It’s kinda hard to see in this picture:

A cutworm chopped down my pepper seedling.

But the stem is cut just above the soil.

What happens, is, you come out in the morning, and those pretty little seedlings you just put in are cut down.

Nice healthy plant. Laying next to, but removed from, it’s roots.

The culprit: Cutworm.

It’s a little worm hanging out in the soil. It crawls up your little seedlings and takes a bite, and when the plants are this small, it’s enough to chop them down.

The solution?

Build a fortress around your seedlings.

I used newspaper.

A newspaper fortress around my tomato plant, impenetrable by the cutworm devil.

Other good options are: toilet paper rolls, soup cans (bottom removed), small yogurt containers (bottom removed).

After protecting each of my seedlings with newspaper I didn’t lose any more transplants. Before then, it was like 1 or 2 every morning. Enough to decimate a small scale gardener.

Log this as organic pest management.

Applied Permaparenting

Applied Permaparenting – or – How to stop driving your kids away from projects.

First thing, let them participate.

Hold on. Better yet. First thing, communicate openly with them, listen, and then, let them participate.

I drove my 4-year-old daughter away from beekeeping after our first hive inspection. She said, “I’m bored” and walked away.

How come no one wants to play with me?

Between inspections we spoke about it, and in doing so, I learned that I need to let her in on it, even if it means doing some things her way.

So, for the second hive inspection, we both geared up together and I asked her to collect and carry all the tools out. We planned ahead the portions of the inspection that she would do, such as, opening the hive, and we also spoke about the portions that I would do, like handling the frames.

The inspection went well. I helped her get the cover off, the hive top feeder, and the inner cover. Then I directed, and let her set up the frame rests and tools. We shared our observations of the frames, and when she got bored, I decided that we’ve seen enough, so she helped me put a new super on the hive, and close it all up.

Here’s the big question…what’s my why?

Why am I getting up at 5am to get an hour in the garden before the family gets rolling?

Why am I compelled to document the things I’m working on, and post them on the world wide web?

The genesis is in my desire to be an awesome father and husband. By growing and raising the best food on earth: we eat better, we save money, we grow together as a family, we value food and the conversation that should be had while enjoying the harvest.

What good is all that if I’m so anal about the details that I drive everyone else away.

Don’t step there!

Put that down!

Those of you in the game know exactly where I’m coming from. It’s hard.

Somewhere there’s the balance of patience, yet not having everything trampled, dropped, thrown or otherwise destroyed.

I’m learning. Learning to find the parts that everyone is interested in and letting go of some control of them. I think harvesting will be a big one that my daughter will find joy in.

Two events have reinforced that this approach (homesteading) carries value.

First, after our hive inspection, when my daughter was on her way back to the house, she was confronted by our bantam rooster. He gave her quite a fright. She ran to me crying, I got down with her, eye to eye, and asked her to do a self-assessment. What hurts? Nothing. Just scared the bejesus out of her. Together we walked past that rooster. We still have a ways to go before she’ll stand up to that rooster, but that path is a great opportunity for a little girl to learn about courage.

Secondly, death came up at her school. Her teacher shared with my wife and I that death can be a tough topic in the classroom. My daughter took the opportunity to share her story about death with her whole class. The death of our dearest little silkie, Soufflé. Death sucks no matter how you shake it, but learning about it on chickens is a nice precursor to coping with it on people.

Reflections on the homestead.

Do more, be wonderful.

The Greatest Gift?

Time, is probably the greatest gift we can give one another.

A fruit bearing tree, however, is a solid contender for second place.

Mindfulness and meditation teaches us to recognize the wonderful things in our life every day, and to be grateful for them. I am aware of being particularly fortunate as the recipient of generosity lately.

Oh, and the gift of planting a tree with a child! Both literally and figuratively, there are probably fewer things more noble for us adults to do.

Someone I look up to in many ways thought of me when the cherry tree he and his wife purchased proved to be a poor fit for the location they had in mind. The string attached was that he had to help plant it.

What a guy.

This sort of thing has me, quite literally, seeking ways to be kind and generous to other people.

It works. It’s contagious.

Catch that bug.

Do I give enough?

Just the other day I asked my wonderful wife if we give enough.

Meaning, are we charitable enough?

It’s more of a reflective question than a cut and dry, yes or no.

We could give more. And that probably applies to everyone who has the resources to read this blog post.

My daughter recently turned four, and it brought me joy to see her obtaining joy from giving things to other people; bubble wands, cupcakes. I spoke to her later about the joy we feel from giving things to other people, and how we balance that with the joy we feel when we receive gifts from others.

It was with great surprise and joy for me to receive this generous gift, the KD-8000 kitchen scale I commented on desiring in my recent fermentation blog post.

The sender of this gift is unknown to me at this time, so, in the event you read this, I want you to know a few things:

First, thank you!

Second, your gift serves as motivation for me to continue this pursuit of documenting my path toward home-based sustainability.

Third, this generosity inspires me to be more gratuitous.

Fourth, if I find you, there is some sauerkraut with your name on it, and if I don’t, take comfort in knowing that I’ll pay the generosity forward.

Trash to Treasure

It Happened!

I’ve been getting chips from the dump for the last several years, but that requires pitch forking them all from a pile into my truck, and then from my truck into a pile in my yard.

Earth’s gym at it’s finest, but I am so in love with chips, I just wanted more, more, more.

So I called around. I kept track of the chip trucks I saw on the road to give them a call asking for a handout.

I left a note on the windshield of a parked Asplundh truck.

I carved a sign and stuck it at the end of my driveway: “CHIPS”.

Then, one day, I get home from work, and WAZAA! A truck load of chips in my driveway.

I’m not sure who dropped them off, but when I find out I’ll ask to sharpen their knives.

The point, here, is that these chips are a byproduct of the arbor service. They make outstanding mulch and compost supplement. I use them in my garden, around my trees, in my chicken run, all over the place.

Nature has no waste. I’m always looking for ways to turn waste into a resource.

I buy my lumber from a local guy who has put millions of board feet through his Woodmizer. He has a mountain of slabs in his yard (the half-rounds left from squaring up a log), so I asked if I can have some.

First, I used them for camp wood and kindling. This year I’m trying them in my garden in the footpaths and around the perimeter. Hoping to be a trendsetter for a recycled, organic, impermeable weed barrier.

In a casual conversation with a buddy, he mentioned he had to clean up some fallen wood from a rental property. Harmlessly, I ask what he did with it. Sensing my real question, he asked if I wanted it.

Heck ya!

I rolled over to his place after work and got a little truck load of firewood.

It’s all around us, especially if we’re looking. The trick, however, is to not get fooled. Stay realistic. Don’t let crap pile up on your lawn that is just never going to get used.

I remind myself of this all the time; if I’m not going to make the time to maintain it, I shouldn’t have it.

Fermented Foods? Start here.

I’ve done this twice. So, I’m not a pro. But it worked both times so my homework paid off and my approach seems sound.

One of these is probably a reason why you’re interested in lacto-fermentation:

  1. The health benefit.
  2. Longer term storage.
  3. The flavor.

If you’ve never even considered it, maybe you should. If you do, here’s the summary of the homework I did prior to my first ferment.

What to Ferment:

My motivation is to ferment a badass salsa to have with my backyard scrambled egg breakfast. I’m not there yet, but to learn I started with sauerkraut. I think you can pretty much ferment whatever you want but study up on it before try something unconventional.

The Vessel:

While in a state of mind that you probably wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain it, I ordered my wife, well, me, a 10 liter fermentation crock while I was deployed to Djibouti. My wife gave me a raised eyebrow ‘thanks’ when it showed up at the doorstep, but regardless, that’s what I’m fermenting in.

My neighbor just dove into fermenting using ball jars with specialized lids available from Amazon. A tad easier than the investment in a big crock, but at the rate we’re going through the sauerkraut, I’m glad we have the bigger vessel.

For reference, the 10 liter crock was less than half full with 3 cabbages and 3 beats on my last batch. That batch made 2 quarts and 3 pints, or a pint shy of a gallon of ‘kraut.

The Principle:

Naturally occurring bacteria tag a ride on lots of veggies. The good kind thrive in an oxygen depleted environment with just the right concentration of salt.

So, to lacto-ferment you need to submerge vegetables in a salt water solution called brine.

The trick is to nail that salt concentration in the brine. The best way to do that is by measuring the weight of the food and the weight of the salt. In reality, though, few kitchen scales have the precision low in the operating band to weigh the salt, so the process turns into a ratio of weight of veg to volume of salt.

For example, for sauerkraut, I use 1 Tablespoon of salt per 1.75 lb of cabbage. (1.75 lb = 800 grams)

For extra brine I use 1 Tablespoon of salt per 2 cups of water. I warm the water to help dissolve the salt, but I’m careful not to put hot water on the cabbage because I don’t want to kill the little bacteria buddies.

For reference, the weight of the last 3 cabbages I did, that were store bought, were: 710g, 890g, 885g.

That weight is after processing the cabbage, i.e. cleaning, cutting, shaving, etc. So if you want to try it, and just can’t find a scale, you’ll probably be fine with 1 Tb of finely ground salt per cabbage.

The Process:

  1. Gather all your goods.
  • A vessel – super clean.
  • Cabbage
  • Salt
  • Mandolin (cutting board and knife will do)
  • Big mixing bowl
  • Kitchen scale
  1. Clean and cut up your cabbage.
  2. Put the cabbage in a big mixing bowl. (I do batches, 1 cabbage at a time.)
  3. Weigh the cabbage.
  4. Sprinkle the right amount of salt on it.
  5. Massage the salt into the cabbage. It will begin to release entrained water.
  6. Pour all the cabbage and brine into your fermenting vessel.
  7. Repeat for all the cabbage.
  8. Place weights or stones on the cabbage to keep it submerged.
  9. Close up the vessel such that gases can get out but not in.
  10. Check it weekly for texture and flavor keeping sanitation in the forefront.
  11. It should be done in about 3 weeks.

References:

Must read to understand brine and salt – Erica Strauss

Reinforce the basics – Holly Howe

The crock I use – Harvest Essentials

The salt I’m buying for my next batch – SeaSalt.com

The scale I want – KD8000

It might not be your F150 Fuel Pump

Chances are, if you found this as a reader of my blog, you don’t care about this, at least the details.

But!

Here’s some perspective.

YouTube has revolutionized education. It is now the go-to for all walks of life for anyone that needs to do anything, almost.

I use YouTube all the time. In fact, for this job, I learned most of what I needed to do by watching YouTube.

This video addresses the gaps in that education. It’s my attempt to chip in so that the next guy can potentially cut hours off his troubleshooting and repairing.

I have a personal mission to help make people’s lives better by offering words of encouragement towards self-reliance.

A few projects lately have had me on the verge of calling in the ‘professional’. I recently fixed a fuel leak on a marine diesel, but I was close to losing confidence. With this fuel pump I had actually given up, I was going to drive it until it happened again hoping to have a better clue as to why, and then tow it to the shop. A good friend and neighbor hooked me up with a little advice and words of encouragement that probably saved me HUNDREDS of dollars, maybe a $G.

Money is a good reason to work toward self-reliance. I have legitimately saved hundreds, if not, thousands of dollars working on my own cars.

But what’s better…

The Pride.

Man, it feels good to persevere. To be on the cusp of giving up, and powering through.

That first bolt is the hardest. Just suck it up, do your homework, and dive in after it.

Why grow your own food?

This lesson took on a new twist the other day with my sauerkraut.

I’ve always noticed, instinctually, an increased value I place on food that I grow myself. With my own food I’ll carve around the worm hole, shave off the rotted or bruised part, and do whatever it takes to maximize my harvest.

With store bought food, I’ll probably just go buy another.

My first batch of sauerkraut came out real good. Even with my own personal bias, it’s good ‘kraut. But I made it with store bought cabbage.

Well, the other night my wonderful wife made potatoes and ‘kraut for dinner. She heated up a nice load of ‘kraut on the stove such that we didn’t eat it all with our ‘taters. While cleaning up it struck me that if that ‘kraut had come from a can, the amount left would have been considered compost, or waste. But because I made the ‘kraut, I’ll be damned if every last bit didn’t go back in the ball jar, and back in the fridge.

I think we use a lot of superficial reasons to try to encourage people to grow or raise some of their own food. They’re mostly all true; it tastes better, it’s more nutritionally dense, doing so reduces your carbon footprint, it’ll save you money, it makes you more resilient, maybe you can even sell some and turn a dime at it.

I wonder if the real reason we should grow your own food is to enhance our respect for what keeps us alive?

This has spawned a little mental exploration for me into other things that we may improperly value. Money. Time. Family. Health. Birds.

Millionaires who are miserable.

Families in poverty who project true happiness.

I’m not going to pretend I have the answers. I think it’s worthy of thought, though, so I hope this helps you think about your own values.

And hopefully even try growing some of your own food.

You’re Smarter Than you think… ~ Applied Permaculture Update for February, 2017

Subscribe to my email list to receive these monthly updates and special offers. Posted here, time late, for future reference.


You’re smarter than you think…

I mean that.

I was hustling my knife sharpening in a local eatery and in a casual conversation I learned something that I believe to be true in most households.

They don’t sharpen their knives.

Well, they said they do it themselves.

But they’re about to buy a new set, because the ones they have are just getting too old.

That blew me away!

One of my biggest challenges in running a knife sharpening business is to educate people on the importance of maintaining their blades. But there’s more!

That eatery also told me that they took a knife to a local hardware store and it came back worse than it left!

I’m concerned that, in the interest of time, some sharpeners use bench grinders and belt sanders to sharpen knives.

Zing, Zing and you’re done. But…

Using your mind’s eye, imagine the very, very edge of that blade. The thinnest point where the two sides of the blade come together. The EDGE. Well when you put that on a grinder it’s going to heat up something fierce, and in doing so, it will change the mechanical properties of the metal, for the worse.

That’s why I use the long and slow method of whetstones. And so do you. Because you’re smart.

Speaking of being smart, I want to share some updates from the homestead and some resources I hope you find worthy of exploration.

I hope you know that my motivation to sharpen knives is so I can grow the best food on earth for my family. I recently heard Robyn O’Brien speak on the Tony Robbins Podcast about topics she covered in her book, ‘The Unhealthy Truth’. It’s all old news to me, but what I want to share in case you think I’m just a permaculture fanatic. It reinforced all my motivations and I want it to do the same for you, and more importantly, your kids.

In that same vein, I want to share some information on fermenting foods, namely, sauerkraut.

In a recent conversation with a dear friend she told me that she always keeps sauerkraut at home and has some whenever she has a stomach ache.

Brilliant!

Know why?

It’s the probiotics. Those little living things inside our gut that make us feel good when they’re in balance, and terrible when they’re not. Eating lacto-fermented foods promotes a healthy balance.

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage.

If you read my post about how I know when to plant seeds, indoors and out, you might already know that the cabbage has been started indoors, and they’re doing great!

We also started our first batch of sauerkraut with some store-bought cabbage!

It’s been fermenting for two weeks, and going well. We’ve sampled it every week and I’m confident next week it will be done.

It’s way easier than you think. Cabbage, salt, water, done. With a little bit of measuring putting it all together.

I got hooked on fermented foods by Erica Strauss at Northwest Edible Life. Her site is a good resource, but if you really want the proof that she’s a genius, search for her at The Survival Podcast and listen to her answering audience questions. She’s good. Real good.

Lastly, if you’re not using Pink Himalayan Salt in your kitchen, please do yourself a favor and get some. Your grocery store probably stocks it. Trust me.

Phew.

That’s it for now.

Do me a favor and forward this to the smartest person you know. If they read this far they’ll learn that they can email me to get on my monthly update and subscribe to my blog here.

Stay awesome,

Matt