Category Archives: Homestead

Methods to build self-reliance and therefore independence.

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

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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

This little tractor OWNS the snow

Reflections on a small tractor as a tool on the homestead.

My 1980 Kubota L245DT owning this late winter dump.

On the one hand, they don’t make them like they used to. On the other, this tractor is only as old as I am. Do we make humans like we used to? Hopefully better. But this tractor is a tough little machine. She’s been beat up over the years, but she still fired up when it was 1 degree out the other morning. She smoked and whined for a minute but did everything I asked her to.

I wonder if I’m a hypocrite for owning a tractor. Burning diesel to move things. First, let’s look at the numbers.

I bought the tractor to move snow. Let’s say we plow 7 times a year and it costs, rough guess here, $50 to hire a plow guy, per storm. That’s roughly $350 a year, which means it would take roughly 14 years to cover the $5k I spent to purchase it a few years ago. She’s 36 years old now, what’s another 14?

I also mow the field with it, to keep the prickers at bay and to promote the grass, but I really need sheep to be doing that job for me. I don’t garden with it because I’m an anti-soil-compaction dude. I move dirt, sand, and compost with it. But I could use a wheelbarrow.

Based on rational thought, it seems that it might just not be worth it.

But, I feel no urge to part with it. I love having a tractor. It’s a tool in the toolbox and I feel comfortable knowing that I have this tool in the event a need comes up.

A nice rabbit hole to jump down is the concept of a community tool library. I presented this idea to, and am still brainstorming it with, the my town Sustainability Committee. Then we’d only need a few tractors in town, and we could all just share them, right? I’m not sure yet.

Before closing this little reflection I feel compelled to discuss the details of the mechanism by which I move snow with this tractor. First, the blade on the back. The first year I had this I only pulled the snow, because I didn’t know better. Then, I saw a YouTube video of someone pushing snow with it. Derr, a humbling moment. Pushing snow works way better. So, I push snow around, and then pile it up with the bucket. And if it’s real bad, I make a path with the bucket, then slowly clean back the path with the blade. I also just realized this year that the hydraulic arm to control the bucket has a detent to ‘float’ the bucket, meaning gravity holds it to the ground, as opposed to hydraulics pushing against the ground. The latter causeing the front wheels to come off the ground so that gravity takes over steering the tractor.

I read that the blade is also a great tool for making swales. I look forward to finding out first hand in the near future.

A project for which I have a tool available. Nice.

How to Build a Planting Schedule

A tutorial on the methods I am using to plan my vegetable garden.

There are a lot of ways to skin this cat, I’ve changed my method every year, so perfection is still being sought.

That said, here’s what I’m doing this year:

  1. Referencing Clyde’s Garden Planner, purchased from Baker Creek a few years ago.
  2. Finding the last frost date for my location from my local University Cooperative Extension.
  3. Building a Google calendar for the plants that I’m growing based on the output from 1 and 2.

Screenshot of plant action in April. Derived from Clyde’s Garden Planner and local frost dates.

Historically, I tend to try to do all my planting in one weekend. What I like about this method is that it breaks up the work by phasing it over the spring in week long windows. I am writing this in early Feb and I’ll be starting cabbage inside in a couple weeks! That seems early to me because, in the past, I would mostly just wing it with starting dates.

You can spend some money on garden planners from Jung. This software/app allows you to draw your garden and will alert you when you need to start indoors, transplant, and harvest. It also serves as a good record for crop rotation purposes. I used a trial version once, and I liked it, but not enough to put up the money for it.

Instead, I layout my garden using PowerPoint. It’s crude, but it works, and it’s free. Especially with the time phased planting, it’s important to know where plants are going in the ground.

The plan for this year’s garden.

I will continue to hone the plan, so I welcome any feedback or insight.

This year’s garden plan is a little old school. I built a permaculture inspired plan, but did not put enough energy into the design to feel comfortable implementing it. If you’re unfamiliar with ‘keyhole’ gardening, and think you might be interested, read Toby Hemenway’s Gaia’s Garden.

A permaculture inspired annual garden still in the design phase. Maybe next year.

My Russian Queen from Georgia ~ Applied Permaculture Project Update for Jan 2017

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My shopping cart with Johnny’s Selected Seeds is currently sitting at over 300 bones!

That seems like a lot to me, but, it’s comparable to 2 weeks of groceries for our family of three.

Can we shave our grocery bill by $300 this year?

Will we eat better food?

Subscribe to the blog to find out how our harvest goes as well as all the other suppliers we’ll be using for bees (Bobo and I are down for some Russians for Georgia), chicks (hatched baby chickens) (did you know chicks come shipped live in the mail) (it’s cool), blueberry plants, apple trees (holler for that Honey Crisp cross with a Gala) (dang!) and anything else we can get into this year.

I’ll confess I have not grossed $300 in knife sharpening, yet. So, we’ll have to dip into the old annual salary to get this year off the ground, but I’m using that as inspiration to press up my knife sharpening marketing.

Fifty free knives!

Tell your friends. One free knife to set the hook for an eternity of sharpness snobbery.

Eat smart,

Matt

PS. Let me know if you cook with cast iron. I’ve been doing some experimental research with seasoning and I think I might be onto something.

PSS. Lilly wants bees. I’m taking a course that blows my mind every week. Check out the Bees Knees category at my site for my collection of the most fascinating aspects of bees.