June 2014 HAC

Here’s some pictures of the June HAC at Pete & Rebekah’s.  Thanks Josh for the pics!  We started off stacking two cords of wood;  got a lesson on processing corn, had lunch, and finally a tour of the very wonderful Heart’s Content gardens.

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HAC at YAWFT

Here are some photos that Josh Fecteau (thanks Josh) took at the last HAC at Fred and Amy’s homestead on May 10th.  A wood shed was built, trees were hauled to where they could be picked up by a lumber truck, and ……………IMG_1568 IMG_1570 IMG_1573 IMG_1576 IMG_1578 IMG_1579 IMG_1585 IMG_1586 IMG_1587 IMG_1588 IMG_1591 IMG_1592 IMG_1594 IMG_1608 IMG_1609 IMG_1612 IMG_1613 IMG_1614 IMG_1615

I dropped a tree on to Fred’s car!  Maybe he or Amy will send me a picture to post.  You just can’t fix stupid.

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Compost Tea Processor

Last year I purchased an incomplete biodiesel processor, but when I decided not to set it up (for several reasons) I basically had a pile of parts on my hands.  The two main components were 30 and 60 gallon inverted conical drums.  I  figured we would turn the small one into a compost tea processor and the larger one into a  solar shower (yet to be built).  At Greenlife Garden Supply in York I saw a compost tea processor using the same type drum, so I took note as to how it was put together.  Pete (our WOOFer extrodinare) helped me disassemble the bioprocessor.  The two drums were set together on a homemade stand which we had to separate like Siamese twins and re-weld into two different stands.

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Re-welded stand.

The stand was the most complicated part.  I did reconfigure the plumbing out the bottom of the drum with a 90 degree brass elbow and a ball valve.  All we had to do now was clean up the drum, insert a bag to hold the compost, and a bubbler.  A couple of years ago we got a couple of fish totes given to us by our friend April.  They had been used for holding live eels and an aerator came with them.  Last year I tried to make compost tea by putting a bunch of green material in a 55 gallon drum, adding water, and running the aerator in it for a few days.  What I got was a smelly mess.  This time I hope will be different.

Pete inserting the aerator.

Pete inserting the aerator.

We had a bag from apple pressing that I thought would be perfect to hold the compost.  I stitched in a draw string, we shoveled in compost, and tied it to the drum lid after after filling the drum with water.  We drilled a hole in the lid to accommodate the aerator hose.  Above Pete is attaching the hose from the compressor to the aerator block with a pipe clamp.  What we did then was hook up the compressor to a 12 volt car battery.

Side view of contraption.

Side view of contraption.

It is running as I write.  Now we just have to wait a few days to see what we end up with.  I had great luck with foliar feeding last year and hope this will work as well as seaweed extract and fish emulsion.

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Grafting Fruit Trees

This is the third year I’ve tried my hand at grafting.  My success rate is about 1 out 25, so certainly don’t take my advice as expert.  A few years ago my neighbor Al gave me a jar of pruning sealer and an old pamphlet entitled Grafting Fruit Trees published by the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Extension- bulletin 0062- which is where my info comes from.  I also went to a grafting workshop given by the Greater Seacoast Permaculture Group, but it didn’t cover the type of graft that I wanted to do which is the Cleft Graft.  We have a lot of wild apple trees around here most likely spread by deer.  Al gave me the idea of grafting on to the wild stock which he did a number of years ago.  So, for the last two years in the Maine Primitive Gathering field I’ve been grafting.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I’ve only had two grafts take- which, of course, is better than none at all.  There are some minor tweaks which I think has kept me from a better success rate as well as the problems of not being sure the scions are fresh enough and weather/timing being right.  I wasn’t going to graft this year and didn’t order any from Fedco, but we did order a selection of ten cider apple trees which we planted yesterday after the rain.

New cider apple orchard

New 10 tree cider apple orchard.  Doesn’t look like much huh?

After the trees were planted I went around and pruned them up.  I’ve learned from experience that fruit trees with a Y is a disaster waiting to happen.  We lost a peach tree a couple of years ago after a bumper crop split the trunk in half.  So, I ended up with a bunch of scions which are basically straight branches sometimes called water sprouts if they come out of major limbs or the trunk.  We only have one wild apple near the house, and I have been clearing around it hoping it would bear apples but hasn’t, so I decided to graft it today.

Wild Apple

Wild Apple

The first step was to cut the tree flat at about 5 feet.  I try to cut it as high as possible because Al told me the deer have a penchant for the scions.

Claudia making a flat cut as high as possible.

Claudia making a flat cut as high as possible.

The next step is to cut a chamfer around the rough edge with the grafting knife.  This is done to make sure the bark is tight to the wood where you place the graft.

Cutting a chamfer around the edge.

Cutting a chamfer around the edge.

Then I use a froe to split the tree since I don’t have a grafting tool, but you can use an axe.  Always use a wooden baton to strike a froe or axe otherwise the top of the tool will deform/mushroom.

Split made with froe.

Split made with froe.

The scions need to be prepared by cutting a tapered triangle and inch to an inch and a half at the base.  The taper is started just below a bud and the bottom bud should be facing outward (the fatter side of the taper facing away in the picture).

Prepped scion.

Prepped scion.

Two scions are inserted in the crack so the cambiums (inner bark) touches.  The reason for two is that it gives you double the chances for the graft to take.

Scion inserted while the froe is left in to keep the crack open.

Scion inserted while the froe is left in to keep the crack open.

The pamphlet says “The cambiums of the scion and stock must be in contact for the graft to grow.  To insure contact, slant the scion slightly.  Although maximum contact is obtained when you set the scion straight, there is also a chance that the cambiums will not touch at all if you do not slant it. It is better to be sure of getting some contact by slanting the scion than to try to get more and miss completely. Where the cambiums touch is important. They must touch where the stock is tight against the scion.  It is better for this contact point to be about 1/4 inch below the shoulder of the stock.”

Finished graft.

Finished graft.

The final steps are to coat all cut surfaces and cracks with pruning sealer, and cut the scions so that only three or less buds are left- if you leave more the chances of survival diminish.  Cut the scions at a slant(which hadn’t been done in the picture) and coat with sealer.  Oh, the very last step is to pray they take.  Last year I didn’t think any of the grafts took, but I left them be and noticed in August that one had, so be patient.

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Butchering Beef (Warning: graphic pictures)

Well, I’m a little behind posting this as I’ve been working for Chris W at Ravenwood Tree and Landscape down in Mass. part time.  So, as the story goes, a month ago my neighbor Joe showed up with a request to help butcher a cow that wouldn’t stand up.  That changed our day pretty quick for that Sunday.  I hadn’t butchered a cow before, so I came up with a quick plan that, of course, was radically changed as the day progressed.  Claudia and I went over with the tools we thought we were going to need.  The cow was lying in the barn near the door while the rest of the cows were tethered to the wall.  We had to wait for someone who was buying Joe’s pigs to show up and load them.

Joe had wanted the cow butchered that day, but I explained to him that the meat needs to hang so that it will firm up as well as age.  We settled on killing, skinning, gutting, and then letting it hang for a week which would be more than enough work for that day.  This would work out perfect since Amy and Fred, who were supposed to host the next Homesteading Arts Cooperative (HAC), wanted to postpone until May.

I said a quick thanksgiving and prayer in my head (since I could tell Joe is not one for such weirdness) and then shot the cow at the X between the ears and eyes with my 9mm.  She went down clean which was a relief after the debacle I had with our giant sow last fall.  I had used self-defense ammo, not full metal jacket(FMJ), and it took me 5 shots to put her down- a mistake I will not make again.  Joe lifted her up with a rope that broke several times before we were able to lift her up over the compost pile and slit her throat to bleed her out.  We then loaded her on our trailer and brought her over to our place to do the rest.

Removing the hide.

Removing the hide.

We started by cutting off the head and feet with a reciprocating saw.  Luckily we had Joe’s tractor which we used to hoist the cow up and start the skinning process.  We skinned the legs and belly down to where we could get enough hide to use the old rock and rope trick (see lower right side of photo) to pull the hide off with a truck.  I had not used that method with a hide before, and it did work reasonably well until the rope broke.  Hides come off easier the fresher the kill; otherwise, I would have left it on to keep the meat clean.

Gutting

Gutting

We got a quarter 55 gallon barrel underneath the carcass and spilled the entrails into it as we gutted.  Joe didn’t want any of the organ meats, so we saved the heart, liver, tongue, and pancreas for ourselves.  After that we transferred the carcass from the tractor to the chain fall and hosed and scrubbed it down the best we could.

Joe and Mike

Joe and son Mike with the carcass on the chain fall.

We wrapped the cow in row tunnel cover cloth (not shown) to keep any flies off.  That week it was just barely cold enough to age the meat properly.  While we waited for next weekend and the HAC, Joe got a large roll of freezer paper from the butcher he usually uses- who gave him a hard time for butchering the cow himself.

Quartering and break down.

Quartering and break down.

On Saturday the core HAC folks showed up which is extremely generous to help someone they didn’t even know.  I can’t express in words how much I respect I have for them all except to say thanks.  We had one table quartering and processing into whatever size Joe wanted and another table wrapping.  The wrappers were not at all happy with the bone dust the saw produced.  Next time I’ll try to find a finer saw blade.

Jen wrapping.

Jen wrapping.

We had started about 10am and were pretty much done by noon not including set up and breakdown.  You can get a lot done quick with a dozen people and a Sawzall.  After lunch we even had time for some more basket making.

Claudia and Mark hard at work scraping Brown Ash weavers and ribs.

Claudia and Mark hard at work scraping Brown Ash weavers and ribs.

In the end I think Joe was very happy and surprised to have a group of folks show up to help him out.  There are some mighty good people out there- you just have to find them.  Thanks again everyone!

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Root Cellar Upgrade

Over the years, we’ve had several root cellars.  We had a small refrigerator that we buried under the deck.  There was the small earth covered root cellar out by the old garden.  Then finally the root cellar in the Southeast corner of the basement.  At first it was the old kitchen/bathroom turned storage room that I insulated.  The insulation didn’t do much, so a couple of years ago I built a room within a room.  I framed out a 3′ wide by 10′ long insulated portion along the Southern wall.  I know, it’s not the best side, in fact it’s the worst side, but it was the only side.  I added an air intake pipe and used the old vent pipe as the air outlet.  It worked in the winter starting in December when the temperatures got cold enough, but it was only about 5 degrees colder than the temperature of the rest of the basement, and in the summer the temperature went up to 65.

Room within a room

Room within a room

This fall we were at the Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland and saw that in their cooler they used a gismo called a CoolBot to allow regular off the shelf air conditioners to be used as a refrigeration unit.  So, I started to read the CoolBot website (what a helpful website and great company), and the lightbulb finally went on.  The reason I could not get the root cellar cold enough was because I was fighting the below frost line temperature of the earth which is 52-54 degrees F.  The earth is too warm to be a refrigerator!  Now to explain, my idea of a root cellar has evolved.  At first I just wanted to keep vegetables through the winter, but the more I got into charcuterie and the more eggs we got, I realized that a temperature of around 40 degrees F. is what I wanted.

So what I needed to do was insulate the cement wall and floor to keep the cold air from being sucked out by earth.  The outside walls of the basement had  2″ blue board over the exposed cement, and the interior framed walls and ceiling were already insulated with 2″ foam.  Unfortunately, a cooler is supposed to have 4″ of insulation.  Week before last, apprentice Allan helped me puzzle piece more 2″ blue board between the shelves and pressure treat to cover the exposed cement wall.

Blue board installed over cement basement wall.

Blue board installed over cement basement wall.

 

We then used expanding foam to fill all gaps.  The next day I put blue board on the floor and covered it with 11/16″ plywood.  All I had to do was wait for my air conditioner and CoolBot to arrive.  Saturday, while waiting for the maple syrup to come up to temp, I installed the air conditioner,  a GE, one of the brands CooBot recommends, and the CoolBot.  The air conditioner was a pain to install because of the cramped space, but the CoolBot was a snap.  The instructions and trouble shooting guide are outstanding.  The AC was running all the time, but the CB guide said that the fan ran all the time but not the cooling unit, and all I had to do was switch the cool setting to energy saver for the fan to not run all the time.

The cool CoolBot!

The cool CoolBot!

Now all I have to do is wait and see what kind of electricity it draws.  The nice way it all evolved is that with the room within a room concept most of the leaked temperature will go into the outer storage room where we keep canned goods, hard cider, and wine.  If I have any wisdom to impart with all of this, it’s if you ever build a house, design it around your heating system and your root cellar.

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Chicks are in!

Our 2 dozen baby Buff Orphingtons arrived on Friday.  They will be the next generation to the dozen 2 year old layers we have now.  Claudia revamped the small pen in the (no) goat barn as a brooder.  When they are old enough they will be going in the chicken tractor and will finally end up in with the other chickens in the food forest.  We got the chicks from Great Works Feed Supply (support local!), and ended up with 22 chicks as one died in transit, and another died the first day in the brooder.

Baby Buffs

Baby Buffs

I’ll keep you updated on their progress.

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