Prepping, homesteading and living the simple, green, independent life.

Monday, October 31, 2011

My Birthday Present: 3 Bin Compost System!

My birthday went by recently and I got a little bit of money so I decided to create myself a 3-bin compost system, "borrowed" from Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast.

I already have a nice compost bin that my wife bought me a while back but the problem is with just one bin our compost is never fully complete because we're always adding new stuff too it.  I've got some really nice looking compost but mixed in are chunks of stuff that haven't broken down yet.

So with a 3 bin system, the idea is to begin in bin #1 and a month or so later dump it in #2. New stuff goes in bin #1. Later dump #2 in bin #3 and so on. This way you're turning over your compost and not mixing new with already composted stuff.  We've already got "bin 3" so I only had to make two of these.

Also, the thing I really liked about Jack's system was that it used a tube through the pile to circulate air through it. The idea is that the compost will warm inside the bin as it breaks down which then warms the air.  Warm air rises so it will go out the top of the tube and new cool air is sucked up through the bottom of the tube.  I picked a black garbage can as my bin because the colour will also help keep the insides warm.

This 3-bin system is pretty easy to make and I did two under an hour; here are the steps:

1) Materials: dark coloured garbage plastic garbage cans, PVC pipes, right angle PVC connectors
2) I used a rotary tool (Dremel) to cut a hole the size of the PVC pipe in the bottom front
3) Cut a hole through the top of the lid.  Space pipes and mark off where to cut.  They should stick out a couple of inches.
4) Cut your pipes to length, attach together (I used an epoxy on mine)

5) Drill holes in pipe about an inch apart and on all 4 "sides".  Don't put holes on bottle bend to allow for "suction".  Now just fit it all together and you're done.  


Monday, October 17, 2011

Last Harvest of the Year

Here's the last harvest of the year that I picked this morning. I'll be cleaning up my garden for the winter over the next week or so.

So kinda from left to right I've got red onions, carrots, ground cherries, a small cucumber, a jalapeno pepper, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and pole beans.

I was really surprised to find a jalapeno and by how much the garden is still producing this late into October.  In fact this really won't be my last harvest since there's probably a dozen cherry tomatoes that will be ripe soon, a few dozen ground cherries and a few more tomatoes that are almost ripe.

I'm really pleased with the ground cherries.  My youngest daughter loves them and often before we'd go on a car ride I'd grab a dozen or so of them to eat on the way.  I might add another plant for a little bit more next year.

Cucumbers did pretty well and both my daughters love them so I think I'll double the amount next year.

Tomatoes did ok and I think I'll add a plant or two next year.

My red and green peppers did not do well at all for some reason.  I planted some on all 3 sides of the garden and they did poorly on all locations.  I only got 3 peppers all year; maybe it was just a bad year for those?  I'll try again next year but if I get similar results I'll give up on those to make room for things that do better.

For some reason though the jalapeno peppers did pretty well and I collected about a dozen or so of those despite expecting to get poor results. 

My carrots did not do well at all.  I think I'll have to put more effort into them next year with better spacing and thinning.   Though they were located in my west side garden which gets the least sun because of the hedges between us and the neighbour.  I think next year I'll try to grow things that I can trellis upwards so they can get more sun: tomatoes, cucumbers, beans.  This will also create more space to grow things.

I'm planning on putting a keyhole gardenbed in my front yard for next year.  Our front yard really isn't used for anything so might as well make it productive.  Secondly, that would be less lawn that needs mowing.  Maybe the carrots would do better there?

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Batch of Ground Cherries

Here's my first batch of ground cherries.  I'm pretty impressed by how well my little bushes have grown and I think I'll plant more next year.

The berries are about the size of a marble and taste a bit like pineapple.  My wife and youngest daughter loved them!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Green Lawn: Now Mother-In-Law Approved!

I finally got around to mowing my lawn today.  I normally hold off mowing when there hasn't been much rain lately and this summer has been horrible for that so far.  We've had such little rain that it's been almost 3 weeks since I last mowed.

As I was mowing my mother-in-law stopped by and complimented me on how good my lawn looks.  I almost fell over since most people seem to think my "green lawn care" strategy just means lots of weeds and grass that always looks too long.

So here's what my lawn looked like tonight.  As before, our property ends where the hedges start (the second, taller bush).

Here's what my neighbour's lawn across the road looks like:

It appears that both my neighbours are the type that believe in mowing their lawn once a week whether it needs it or not, no matter what, even if it hasn't rained in over a month.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Garden Update

I didn't have enough time to plant everything I wanted this spring, but I'm pleased with the results I'm getting so far.  My strategy was to try to mix things up a bit to be more permacultury and to so what grows best where in the different levels of sun and shade.

I also wanted to get one of those big boxes of wildflower seeds and sprinkle those in between the veggies to give it more eye appeal and permaculture street-cred but I couldn't find any in stock this year.

So first up is a pic of what's supposed to be my porch herb garden.  I've got some rosemary in the foreground that's hanging on for life (I started it indoors) but nothing else is really doing well.  Dill and some lettuce are slowly coming along and some chives are popping up but that's about it.  I think there must be too much shade contrary to my original opinion.  Also what doesn't help is that these are probably the ones that I water the least since the hose is so far away on the other side.... Ya.  Basically when ever I talk about permaculture or green lawn care I'm actually talking about lazy gardening.  I'd like to install a drip system attached to the gutters but until then I think my porch will be an herb graveyard.

Next up is my side entrance garden which has had really surprising results.  The tomatoes are doing the best here and the onions are doing well too.  I think it's the early morning sun it gets.  Based on the results of those I thought the pole beans would go like mad, but they haven't taken off at all.  In fact the pole beans are going wild in the back yard planters where I thought they'd do horribly.  The broccoli is really getting bushy but no heads yet and the pepper is doing fine with one pepper on it so far.

To the left is my front yard garden, and the shadow of myself and the apple tree.  Once you get a front yard garden you've crossed a line.  The results here were surprising too.  I thought this would have the best results since it gets the most sun but the tomatoes seem to have done the worst here so far.  Onions are ok and the peppers are coming along but not as well as the front entrance.   This is the only place I planted jalapenos though since I thought it was the only place with enough sun for them which seems to have worked out well.  I've got at least 8 jalapeno peppers which are around 2 inches long each.  Along the wall I planted sunflowers, which did well last year to at least give some decoration.

 Last up is the side garden that I put in last spring and things aren't doing too well here.  The hedges across from them have grown really quickly and I don't think there's enough sun here now.  The hose across the wall if you're wondering is the overflow for my rain barrel to drain into a second.  I'll have to find some stuff that grows well in shady areas, though the cucumbers seem to be doing ok here.

One other neat little thing that seems to be doing well here is a ground cherry plant.  These things have a nice visual aspect with their "paper lanterns" but inside them are orange coloured berries that I find taste a bit like pineapple.  This particular one is located in an area that gets more sun than the rest of this section so that may be helping, but if it continues to do well, I may plant more on this side and see how they do.  I'd also like to plant some raspberry bushes on each side of the basement windows so the thorns will discourage people and animals to go near.

So far, this season is hit and miss, but I'm learning a lot which will help me in seasons to come.  I could be doing this by the "textbook" but I'm having fun experimenting.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Front Lawn Update

So this year I'm really trying to go natural with my lawn care.  No watering, mowing high, no weed n' feed etc..

So far the results are pretty good.  We haven't had much rain in the last month or so and as you can tell by this picture, there's a noticeable difference between my neighbour's and my lawn which ends at the hedges.  Basically right around where the brown stuff starts.

In that picture you can also see a bit of the apple tree that I've planted.  I picked a cortland apple tree because it supposedly has high and early yeilds and does it ever!

After a week we had at least a dozen apple-buds already.  I wasn't expecting any apples on this thing for at least a couple of years!  Unfortunately only 3 of those buds have survived this long and are now golfball-sized apples.  At least 3 apples are better than none and it's a great way for my daughter to learn about where her food comes from.  From her room she can see the tree and I asked her to watch out for people stealing our apples!

Since planting, I extended my rain-barrel/soaker hose system to the tree so it will always have water and added mulch.  I'd like to get a bunch of rocks at the base of the tree to act as a heat trap to increase the warmth of the soil and extend the growing season a bit.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mason Jars: Great Invention or Greatest Invention?

I'm seriously falling in love with mason jars.  They're just so useful!

It seems like every week I think of new ways to use them.  I'd even use them to drink out of but my wife would kill me.

One thing that's been bothering me for a while are the amount of ziploc-type bags we go through.  I mean, it seems kinda wasteful doesn't it?  I know some people who wash these bags and re-use them but my wife again isn't too keen on that either.

 Plus the thought of plastics degrading overtime in contact with food...I know, I'm probably just paranoid.

So a few weeks back I'm at the grocery store and I decided to buy some of those mini-hamburger patties (sometimes called "sliders") that my girls love.  I did them on the BBQ and after we ate there were a bunch of them leftover.

Since all our containers weren't cleaned yet I was about to use a ziploc bag when I thought, "I bet those mini-burgers will fit well in mason jars...".  And they did!

Then I decided that since they were in the jars, I might as well vacuum seal those suckers, freeze them, and then they'll last a long time (the vacuum sealer instructions says up to a year if you trust that).

So that's what I did.  I also froze the little buns too so now I can pull out a few burgers for them for a quick meal for my girls.

I also rehydrate a little bit of dehydrated onions for them which they love.  The dehydrated onions turn out like those little onion pieces that McDonalds puts on their burgers; the dehydration increases the sweetness.

This got me thinking of what else I could put in mason jars and freeze but so far the only other thing I've done is ground beef.

I try to buy the bulk packs of ground beef and split it up into smaller portions in ziploc bags.  Sometimes I'll cook it up before freezing it for quick meals later but thawing the beef in the microwave while in the ziploc was always kinda gross.

So what I'm doing now is cooking the beef when I get home (throw in some dehydrated onions for flavour) and portion it out into mason jars that are then vacuum sealed.

This makes it super-easy to make pate chinois (French-Canadian style sheppard's pie).

All I do is microwave the ground beef in the mason jar, boil some dehydrated corn, and make some mashed potatoes, which is the hardest part.  I could use dehydrated potato flakes but it's not as good.  Maybe someday I'll have discovered the secret to making your own dehydrated mashed potatoes.

We've also started going to a Bulk Barn that opened up in my home town and instead of leaving everything lying around in the plastic baggies the store supplies, I've been putting the stuff in mason jars and vacuum sealing them if we're not going to use them right away.

With all these uses I'm finding for mason jars I think I'm going to buy one of the dedicated mason jar vacuum sealer attachments.  The canister work-around is great but the largest mason jars, which I didn't think I'd use often, wont fit inside.

I think I'm also going to pick up some of those plastic lids for the jars instead of just using the metal ring and lid.  Once the vacuum seal is broke, what's the point of fooling around with the ring and lid right?  Might as well keep them in good condition to be re-used.  I need to conserve my supplies 'cause once you get started with mason jars you can't stop! At least that seems to be the my case.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Phantom-Load Buster

A few weeks ago I bought one of those energy-saving power-bars but I only got around to installing it yesterday.  I really should have done this a long time ago though because I love it!

You might remember that I had previously set up my "entertainment system" to a switch on our wall meant to turn on/off lamps.  The idea was that I'd flip the switch when we went to bed or when we left the house.  It worked fine except for two problems:

1) 90% of the time I'd forget to hit the switch

2) My wife hated it because she'd sit down on the couch and press the remote's on-button for a few minutes before realizing the power was off, necessitating her getting up and turning on the wall switch.

I'd seen a similar item at our local Canadian Tire made by Noma, but it was going for around $80!  Way too expensive in my opinion.  Frankly I doubt that a gadget like that could ever save you the $80 it costs to buy it.  It just didn't make sense to me that a relatively simple item like that should cost so much.

So I'd looked around for similar gadget and found one on  Unfortunately doesn't carry them so I had to pay a couple bucks to get it across the border.

I think it was worth it though.  These things basically work by having a "master" outlet with a sensor to tell if that outlet is being used or not.  If it isn't, the power bar cuts the power to the other outlets (except for two that are "always on").  It's really easy to set-up, basically just a power-bar, and it works like a charm.  I plugged my digital video recorder into the master outlet and now a few seconds after I turn that off , my TV and video game systems/Blu-Ray player also turn off. 

Plus I love it because it's one less thing I have to remember!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nobody Dead So Far

A Bulk Barn opened up in my home town and I've been having lots of fun messing around with new ingredients and recipes for our dehydrated food.

The other night I made scalloped potatoes using sliced potatoes that I dehydrated back in September and everybody is still breathing.

I just rehydrated them in boiling water for a few minutes, mixed in some powdered cheese from Bulk Barn, a little bit of dehydrated onions, little milk and some margarine.  After being in the oven for 20 minutes they came out better than the big-name boxed brand!

I'm gonna start making these a lot more often and next time I think I'll mix in some broccoli and/or bacon bits!

I've also experimented with dehydrating frozen hash-browns and corn.  I've read that dehydrating frozen veggies is easy because they're already chopped up and blanched.  I've also read that the hash-browns rehdyrate well and taste great.

From left to right: corn, cheese powder, hashbrowns, sliced potatoes

I'd like to report that what I've read is correct.

I'm especially impressed by the hash-browns.  You have to be careful not to rehydrate them too much because they can get mushy but they do rehydrate well and taste exactly like the non-dehydrated ones.  I fried them up in a pan with some dehydrated onions and they were really good.

This experiment has made me wonder if I could dehydrate french fries?  I suspect the hashbrowns are actually the french fry bits that fell on the factory floor so I suspect it'll work.

The corn turned out well too but I found it difficult to rehydrate properly.  At first I just pour boiling water in a bowl with them but I was unable to get them to fully rehydrate so they were a little chewier than normal.  On the other hand, they tasted great!  I think the dehydration concentrated their sugars.  I figured that to properly rehydrate them you'll need to boil them in water for a few minutes.

With that in mind, last week when I made a slow-cooker stew and threw the corn in they rehydrated perfectly.  This seems to confirm that boiling them will work.

So after all this I think I'll try other frozen veggies and maybe some frozen berries.  Only thing that's holding me back is waiting for them to go on sale!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I've Never Enjoyed Badger Hair So Much

Just before Christmas, after about 4 years of use, my can of shaving cream was about dry.
Around the same time I'd read on Cam Mather's blog how he shaves only with olive oil.  I'm not brave enough to try that yet out when my wife asked me what I'd like for Christmas I asked for a shaving kit.
My wife gave it a good try but it seems like nobody sells shaving kits anymore.  Fortunately they still sell the brushes and soap individually and I got my Grandfather's old shaving mug from my Grandmother.  You could probably use any old mug though. 
Then I had to find the  aftershave. They don't make High Karate anymore so I was tempted to go for Aquavelva but since I had my Grandpa's old mug I decided to use his aftershave too: Old Spice.  If it's good enough for hobos it's good enough for me.
Using a shaving mug and soap instead of canned shaving cream took a little getting used to.  The lather doesn't last as long and is more watery so it drips a bit.  Because of this I divided my face into sections and do one at a time.  Neck, left cheek, right cheek, chin then upper lip.
To make the lather you don't need much water.  I just run hot water over the brush for a couple seconds and then stir away.  One of the nice things about shaving this way is that the lather feels warm on your skin.  Plus I find it gives me a much closer shave.  Maybe the hairs in the brush lift up my stubble somehow?
Although this doesn't have much to do with prepping or energy efficiency I think shaving with a mug and soap is better for the environment in the long run.  Those aerosol shaving cream cans can't be recycled but the good old shaving soap comes in a small recyclable (or compostable) paper box and is probably healthier than whatever chemical makes the canned lather last for hours.  Plus my soap is made in Montreal and I suspect a the canned cream comes from China (or if it doesn't it probably soon will).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

This Topic Sucks

I finally got around to using the Foodsaver vacuum seal system that I got for Christmas and I love it!

I've been trying to dehydrated a lot of food and so far I've been storing it in mason jars with oxygen absorber packs. These O2 absorbers do the trick but they lose their efficiency the longer they have contact with air. This makes it tricky to store them. If you don't seal them up airtight, when you go to use them again they won't work anymore.

A vacuum sealer though can take the place of these O2 absorbers and you'll never have to worry about them going stale or running out. The O2 packs aren't expensive to buy, I paid about 30 bucks for 100, but its nice to never have to buy them again.

I'm sure most people are familiar with these type of vacuum sealers. Typically they seal food in plastic bags by sucking the air out and melting the end of the bags so air can't get back in. The company claims frozen vacuum sealed steak will last up to two years without freezer burn!

The model I have comes with an accessory hose which is where things really get fancy. There's all kinds of accessories; wine bottle toppers, meat marinaders, leftover containers, even a mason jar sealer.

What I have however are the vacuum canisters that come in 3 sizes.

The canisters are meant to actually hold food but somebody on The Survival Podcast forum had recommended these over the mason jar attachment because you can vacuum seal almost any jar inside them.

Basically you just loosely place the lid on the mason jar, put it in the canister, hook it up to the tube and turn the machine on.

The machine is rather loud but as air in the canister decreases it gets quieter for about 10 second, when it shuts off. This means the air is gone.

The vacuum in the canister removes the air from the mason jar and seals the lid tight. You can double check the seals by pressing the lids to see if they "pop". No pop means no air.

I've also read people claiming that this method will seal foods like pickles and jam in the original factory jar but I haven't tried this yet.

I really like it so far and recommend a Foodsaver to anybody who's looking to store food. The only problem I have now is that I've run out of mason jars!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Quiet But Still Busy

I haven't posted in a while here since it's been a pretty hectic few months for me and my family.  My wife went back to work after her maternity leave, I injured at work, left one position and started another, birthdays, Christmas etc..

Despite all that I've still been doing a few prepping things but nothing that really deserved a post of it's own in my mind.

Most importantly I installed a new entrance door in my basement.  We have a little stairway that leads to the basement and the door looked like it was an old barn door.  It was made out of planks and had an old latch for a door knob.  This latch was literally a hole in the door that lifted a metal bar on the other side.  Needless to say it was pretty drafty so I usually just covered it over with a vapour barrier and sealed it off in the winter.

I had been wanting to replace it for a while but since new exterior doors can be expensive I put it off and did other things that were less expensive or could be purchased a little bit at a time like insulation.

My wife and I reorganized our finances a few months back which gave us a bit more flexibility so I decided that with winter on it's way it was time to replace Old Windy.

I decided to go see a local manufacturer of windows and doors, Leo Groulx who's now in his 80s and recently had his 60th anniversary in business.  He's semi-retired now and his shop mostly consists of he and his son.  He said he sometimes calls in his old employees to help out but they were all retired!

I decided to get a door with a sliding window despite the lower insulation quality.  My basement is old and the windows are small so it gets pretty dark.  This way we get a little bit more light down there and I can open it in the summer to let in some fresh air.

It took Leo and his son about a month to build my door and he charged me $385. When I picked it up it was so "fresh off the line" that the caulking was still soft! Christmas was coming and I appreciated the personal service so I handed him $400 and asked him to keep the change.

I had helped instal doors before but this was my first time doing it alone.  It was a lot easier than I expected but it was difficult getting the frame square on such an old uneven basement.  I did the best I could but the door still sticks a bit. Oh well, it's much better than the old door and one of my motto's is "Perfect is the enemy of Good".  One trick I read about that really helped is to nail a short piece of 2x4 on one end into the frame above where you're installing the door.  When the board hangs down it will keep the door from falling out of the frame while you level and square it off.

Hopefully this will help us save a bit on our natural gas bill which is running about $160 a month now (way too much in my opinion).

As for all the other stuff I've done...after writing a few paragraphs about a door,I just realized that maybe I can write a post for each of the other things I've done recently so that's what I'll do!