Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

When Does Maple Sap Run?

Maple sap runs when the temperatures fluctuate from the teens and low 20's followed by a quick rise in temperatures to the 40's and above.  Using the graph above you can quickly see when the sap will flow.  My husband created this forecasted temperature and precipitation graph which has been an invaluable tool for maple syrup season and gardening.

According to the graph you can quickly see when it will precipitate (green colors) and when to cover the garden plants (the red line is temperature and the blue dotted line is 32°F -- freezing).  The best thing is, you can get this for any location in the USA. Simply go to this website: and click your location on the map and this graph will appear. This website works best on a desktop computer or tablet, not a phone.

We hope you find this tool useful for your syrup and garden planning activities!!

Our first maple syrup boil this year, February 8, 2015.

When should I start my seedlings indoors? Try the Seed Start Planning Tool

My husband is always itching to get started planting seeds and usually ends up planting them too early. He got tired of his seedlings becoming spindly while waiting for warmer weather to arrive, so he developed a solution. He made a Seed Start Planning Tool. :-)

You can use it here:

Here's our last frost date of May 1st:

Handmade Fabric Valentines

Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays because it taps into that giddiness I felt as a young girl making my valentine box at school and looking at each and every valentine I received over and over.  It is a special day to tell those you love that you really care about them.  This year during my mom's visit over the Christmas holiday, we made heart pillows using scrap fabric, felted wool, buttons, and antique lace.  These pillows were really easy to make and most didn't even require a sewing machine.  My mom designs and sells quilt patterns and other fun things on her website and has a pattern for these delightful little pillows called "Tokens of Affection."

Every heart pillow is unique with it's fabric combinations and details on the front.

This was my favorite pillow all stitched by hand using felted wool for the red heart, three small white buttons, and a running stitch along the edge.  Simple and elegant.

All of the hearts have different thicknesses using combinations of fiberfill and quilt batting.  

There are so many fun combinations that we just couldn't stop!  All together we made 32 heart pillows.

I really like the hearts with pockets that can hold a valentine or love note!

In addition to the heart pillows, we made vintage valentines printed onto aged scrapbook paper found at an antique store. Some ribbon was also used to give it that old-fashioned look.

Making the heart pillows and paper valentines was so much fun that we couldn't resist selling them at The Wild Ramp!

How to Prevent Peach Borers

On a warm January day, Jon, Paul, and I took a walk around the property and discovered a pool of  jelly-like substance around the base of the peach trees.  I did a bit of research and there seems to be a lot of reasons for the sap leakage.  Some say borers are the main culprit whereas others suggest a bacterial or fungal infection.  One peach grower on a forum says this can happen to young trees when sap pressures are high in early spring and there is a weak graft that has not closed completely,  
After clearing away the sap and a little investigating, we did see holes that would indicate borers. These borers feed on the cambium layer of the tree between the bark and sapwood.  They typically attack the tree between 3 inches below ground to 10 inches above ground. 

This is our first time raising peach trees and we garden using only organic methods.  Besides sticking the end of a paperclip into the borer hole to kill the feeding larvae, organic growers suggest using Tanglefoot, a sticky paste made from natural gum resins, vegetable oil, and wax.  You first wrap the first 12 inches of the tree trunk and a few inches below the soil with strips of stretchy material (e.g. t-shirt) and then apply Tanglefoot directly to the t-shirt.  Tanglefoot traps insects because it is so sticky, thereby preventing the moths from laying eggs on the trunks of the tree.  This is more of a preventative approach and a fine example of why you need to do your research and be proactive rather than reactive.  After three years of watering, weeding, and pruning, the trees may be too weak to survive.  Now that the borers have established themselves, it will be nearly impossible to keep them under control because the borers laid their eggs under the bark last summer/fall.

A Knife Made By a Local Blacksmith

We had the privilege of meeting our blacksmith neighbor, Charlie, two years ago at a festival.  Jon and I were mesmerized watching him hammer away at a red-hot piece of metal while talking to others about the art of blacksmithing.  He had an infectious personality with a knack for educating others and we just had to talk to him.  Some time during our conversation with Charlie we learned that we only live about a mile from each other!  Charlie and his wife Evelyn, are one of those neighbors you are happy to wave to when they drive by, and they never miss a honk of the horn when they see us.  They are pretty awesome people to know, and give more than a generous amount of their time volunteering at the Heritage Farm Museum in Huntington, WV.

When I asked Charlie how he learned the trade of blacksmithing, he said, "I just taught myself along the way.  If you want to learn something, you can find the information in a bunch of places.  Don't be afraid to fail."  Charlie is truly an inspiration with a myriad of knowledge.  Him and his wife built their own home here in West Virginia using their own mill and have a lot of general knowledge about the area and homesteading.  Before leaving West Virginia, I wanted to take something unique with me from the area, so I asked Charlie to make us a functional knife, not just something decorative.  The knife handle is made from myrtlewood, a native evergreen from Oregon that a deceased friend (and coworker) gave to us during our five year stay in Portland, OR.  We have carried this block of wood with us for years, reserving it for something special because it is a unique hardwood from a special friend.  The seven inch hand-forged blade is 51-60 steel.  The sheath was hand-stitched by Charlie as well.  All together, the knife is a blend of OR and WV.

The knife and sheath.

A close-up of the knife handle with his trademark showing on the end of the knife blade.  A large C and B for Charlie Bradley.

A stamp on the blade that reads "C. Bradley Culloden, WV."

It's nice that Charlie stamps the knife with the type of steel used: 51-60.

Knife length.

The leftover chunk of myrtlewood the handle was made from.

The blacksmith shop.

I really like the details Charlie put on the front and side door of his shop.  It's like stepping back in time with the old-fashioned look. 

Inside of the blacksmith shop.

One of many projects he is currently working on, a cannon.

Many tools hanging from the ceiling.

The Decision to Butcher Two Chickens

Picture taken: 4-7-2012

This past week my family butchered two of our golden comets that were almost three years old.  This task has been put off for months because we do love our chickens, and we had no prior butchering experience.  I watched numerous YouTube videos and talked with a friend about the logistics and even lost two nights of sleep thinking about it.  What bothered me most was the ethical decision to end their lives.  These chickens were the start of our homestead two weeks after moving into our home. Not having them here will be the beginning of our final chapter here in West Virginia.  We had the original three golden comets last week and during one of their final free-ranging days, two neighborhood dogs killed one.  I was sad and upset that the chicken probably had a slow death and the meat was wasted.  It was the sight of the dead chicken scattered around the yard that ultimately led to my decision to butcher them myself so their lives would be ended quickly, and we could enjoy the meat.

It was not an easy task, and I admit that I almost cried when carrying the chicken upside down in a feed sack with her head poking out.  Doing the butchering ourselves really raised a lot of questions about our food choices and the disconnect even we feel about our food.  We grow a large portion of what we eat and understand where our food comes from, but actually butchering our chickens for the meat rather than just enjoy them for the eggs, started a new conversation between Jon and I.

I did consider giving the chickens to someone else, but the golden comets have an egg-eating habit and they are major bullies.  The pecking order in our coop has been a problem because one of the golden comets will pin down another chicken while the other two pull the feathers out of her head.  This was a problem last spring and one of the barred rocks was bullied to the point that she was in a failure to thrive state from lack of food and water.  We had quite the challenge keeping the two breeds separate during the cold days when they were not free-ranging every day.  Considering these two challenges, another chicken owner probably wouldn't want to introduce these habits into their flock.

I thought it necessary to include a few pictures of our birds as a reminder to how much joy they provided us on the homestead.

The girls sunning themselves on a warm day.

An afternoon at the spa (aka dust bath).

Land sharks hunting in the weeds.

Paul's pet parrot for his pirate ship.

Winter Bread Baking

It's January and cold outside with temperatures expected to drop into the single digits this week.  To give the house a cozy feel, I bake bread.  It tastes so good with a dab of butter next to a bowl of soup.  And do I even need to describe in detail the smell of baking bread?  I was debating on whether to include step-by-step instructions for bread making, but I realize there are dozens of blogs with tutorials on this process.  Instead I will briefly introduce the two varieties I make.

By far the easiest bread to make is artisan bread taken from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by: Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  The name sounds fancy, but the process is actually very straight forward and can be made in a normal oven.  For this bread, the dough is mixed in a container and stored in the refrigerator until baking day.  When you are ready to bake, you grab a cantaloupe-size ball of dough and throw it on a pizza peel to rest for about 40 minutes before sliding it on to a preheated baking stone in the oven.  A cup of water is added to a cast iron skillet in the oven to create that crispy crust that artisan bread is known for.  If you want to impress your friends with homemade bread, this is it!  There are recipes for different flours and other additives.  My family currently enjoys the Italian Semolina Bread.  

Another type of bread I make on occasion is a traditional white bread where the dough rises first in a bowl and then again in a loaf pan.  Different flours can be used in place of all-purpose flour if you choose.  I use a recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook.  What ever type of bread you choose to make, it will smell and taste fantastic because you made it. Enjoy!

About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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