Simply Resourceful

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

Homemade Soap Gone Bad

So...I'm cleaning out cupboards and came across a box of soap that looks like this.  The soap should be a pale, creamy color.  This castile soap was made several years ago and it went bad.  It's a shame to throw it away but it's considered caustic at this point and not safe to use.  It may have not traced properly or the bars didn't receive enough air during storage.  Whatever the reason, I have to toss it.    

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The Best Bean Trellis Ever

This summer we finally have a sturdy bean trellis.  In the past we used the traditional tepee design using logs tied together at the top.  The picture on the left was taken the previous season.  The problem with the tepee is the height and lack of airflow.  When the vines reach the top, they twist on themselves resulting in fewer flowers and beans.  It is a gnarly mess, and by the end of summer, the logs are sprouting mushrooms.  This year after removing the greenhouse plastic, Jon decided to use the frame as a trellis.  This trellis has produced great results!  There is plenty of airflow and space for the vines to sprawl without twisting on each other. Every day we walk through the greenhouse to gaze up at the hanging beans.  It is pretty to look at!  I included some pictures taken from different angles (click to enlarge).

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Snapshots of a Summer Day

It's been awhile since I wrote a post about a typical day here at the Wolfe house.  Our day begins with opening the chicken coop and closely watching the hens scatter into the weeds to lay their eggs.  With the snake coming and going from the coop, only two hens lay eggs in the coop.  Finding the nests in the weeds have been a challenge because the hens only lay in the same spot for a few days before they make a new nest.  The nest in the picture was located next to the creek where a very large snapping turtle lives so I promptly moved the eggs.  We would love to have baby chicks (in case they get broody), but the snapping turtle is a bit of a threat.

The snake left for about a week but promptly returned to devour two eggs before I gathered them.

Most days we throw something outside the garden fence or patio door for the chickens to eat.  In the picture above they are devouring a squash that was half rotten.  We did cull one of the barred rocks a few weeks ago.  She was the runt of the litter who was bullied by the other hens and she even started pulling out her own feathers.  When she stayed in the coop all day and lost a lot of weight, I decided it was time to cull her.  For weeks there were eggs in the nest box without shells and ones that easily broke when touched.  It was no surprise that when she was culled, she was egg bound.  Her grooming habits had lessened and she also had a terrible case of lice.  I promptly treated the flock with Poultry Protector even though they all looked really good thanks to daily dust baths.  

Fresh produce decorate the kitchen counters all summer long.  This year we have a beautiful assortment of tomatoes.  The yellow ones are Wapsipinicon peach.  With the temperatures being somewhat cool this summer, we have been enjoying fresh bread as well!  Using the oven and keeping windows open all day long is a treat!

The garden is a jungle right now with so many weeds, sprawling tomatilloes, and never-ending squash vines.  I'm not sure how or when this happened, but the tomatoes took over!  In the picture above there is no room to walk and you can barely see two distinct rows.  This crowding is a bit of a concern for spreading of disease and picking the tomatoes without damaging the plants.

Many of the tomato plants have some blight but these black tomatoes are looking terrific!  The stalks and leaves are healthy and the tomatoes don't show signs of rot.  We aren't sure what the actual name of these tomatoes are because we saved the seeds from a tomato our friend Anna, so we affectionately call them "Anna's Black" tomatoes.

And of course, it's not summer in our home without the small room next to the kitchen cluttered with preserving supplies...canning jars, food dehydrator, canning pot, cider press, etc.  It is nice having this extra space so I don't have to put things away after each use.

This summer the honeybees have been left alone to do their own thing.  Each hive started with not even 10 frames of partial comb so harvesting honey was wishful thinking.  During our recent inspection, one hive was very prolific with four frames of solid capped honey whereas the other had not a single frame of solid honey.  Both hives look healthy with a good population and laying queen.  Entrance reducers were put on both hives because last August, the hives were robbed by the yellow jackets and wax moths.  The entrance reducers should help the colonies defend their home and reduce any robbing that may occur between the two hives.  In the picture above you can see Paul wearing very little while my friend and I are performing an inspection.  He is not afraid of the bees and is always present during inspections.  The last incident of a honeybee sting happened when he was 2.5 years old in a small pool.  Three years later he is still running around barefoot through clover wearing only a pair of underwear all summer long.  Paul is a pretty care-free child who runs across gravel barefoot and rolls in the weeds filled with chiggers.  

Every year we use a different trellis for beans but we are never satisfied with the results.  The beans always seem to run out of room, trellises fall over, or the beans are too crowded.  This year Jon came up with a brilliant idea to use the greenhouse as a bean trellis!  There isn't much use for the greenhouse during the summer because of our hot and humid temperatures so we removed the plastic covering and planted things in and around the greenhouse frame.  I will be blogging about the bean trellis soon but everyday we stop by to marvel at the number of hanging beans and to observe the pollinators on the sunflowers.

And after a day of hunting for eggs, preserving produce, pulling weeds, and making plans for the next day, we take some time to walk around the garden and mini orchard to enjoy the fruits of our labor.  It is so easy to get caught up with all the work that needs to be done, but we stop and do what we call a "walk around."  This is a time for meandering around to observe everything and pat ourselves on the back.  While Paul runs ahead of us to marvel at how much his asian pear tree has grown; Jon is squeezing a peach to check for ripeness; and I watch honeybees make their final trip home for the day covered in bright orange pollen.  

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Shitake Mushroom Harvest!

After a few weeks of dry weather, we received a few days of rain.  Everything here needed a good drink, including the mushroom logs we inoculated in 2013.  This is our first large harvest from these logs: 5 lb 3.2 oz

They were recently moved from the side of the house to behind the barn in a shady, humid area.  The logs are elevated off the ground with cinder blocks to allow air circulation and minimize rot.

The logs were moved because the top logs were drying out from too much sun exposure and lack of moisture. The bottom logs produced much better. 

Looking good!

After saving a few for fresh eating, the rest were dehydrated: only 0.4 pounds after dehydration.

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Canning Carrots and Using a 41 Qt. All American Canner

The day started with only one simple task: preserve carrots.  Little did we know how much of an undertaking this was going to be...

This year we were a bit over-zealous with the carrot patch.  Last year, all of our root crops rotted with all the rain.  Thankfully we had enough jars left from the previous year that we managed to have enough carrots to last us through winter.  The idea of preserving a little extra because of next year's uncertainty is something I find very important in homesteading.  
This year's varieties: Danvers, Dragon, and St. Valery

Pulling root crops is so satisfying---you just never know how big the carrot will be!

There is a dual benefit to using the broadfork at this stage.  It helps find carrots that were missed during the first picking and it loosens the soil for buckwheat planting.  The soil doesn't stay bare for long!

That's a lot of carrots...

For Mother's Day this year I received the Bron Mandolin and a pair of cut resistant gloves.  While I cleaned the carrots, Jon cut them, and Paul put them in bowls.  Thank goodness for the help...a lot of work for one person!

This year Jon splurged and purchased the All American 41.5 quart liquid capacity canner.  There are many aspects about this canner we like: 
1. Made in Manitowoc, WI  
2. No rubber seal to replace  
3. It can process 19 quarts and 32 pints at one time!  

For six years I have used a seven quart canner, but Jon wants to save time in the kitchen and keep the heat from the canner outside during the hot, humid days.

The only negative aspect about this canner is its sheer size and inability to fit on my current glass-top stove. We threw around the idea of an open fire, but that adds an entirely different challenge with keeping pressure constant.  Jon and I would prefer not to use propane but short of getting a new range our choices were pretty limited.  In the future, we would like to have an outdoor kitchen with a sink hooked up to a grey water system and an old stove just for canning.  Until then, we are using the current set-up. 

It was a long grueling 13 hour day of processing carrots from start to finish.  Paul was a great helper and found ways to entertain himself.  This kid loves to build and design structures like this carrot castle!

I prefer to push through large projects in one day rather than extend them into the next day.  It was satisfying to wake up the next morning to all 73 quarts sealed waiting to be wiped down and stored.  

I think we have enough carrots to last us awhile, don't you think?  A few weeks ago Jon planted 2 rows of Solar Yellow Carrots for a fall harvest.  Jon just can't resist trying new varieties!  *sigh*  I think Jon and I can agree upon one thing: only plant carrots for fresh eating next summer. 

* I look forward to your comments. If you have trouble commenting, please contact me using the form at the right. Thanks!

Some Chickens Love Japanese Beetles

You know the phrase, "One person's trash is another's treasure?"  Well, the same thing can be true for bugs.  Some garden pests such as Japanese Beetles are a huge problem in our garden, in particular when it comes to grapes, berry plants, and edamame. These beetles have a hard exoskeleton and are not easy to squeeze between the fingers so we knock them into a bucket with a little water in it.  (The water keeps the beetles from flying out easily.)  One of our chickens, who we affectionately call "Turkey", absolutely LOVES the Japanese Beetles (and their grubs in spring) and she comes running to us from across the yard whenever she sees us carrying a bucket---talk about a good example of classical conditioning (remember Pavlov and the salivating dog from Psychology class?).  Turkey is so eager to eat the beetles that she literally climbs into the bucket to get them!  Turkey has made it very clear to the rest of the flock that only SHE can have the beetles; we don't mind - she literally eats hundreds of them at one sitting.

Damage to the edamame (soybean) plants from the Japanese Beetles.  They are most prevalent in the early morning and evening hours.

A Happy Turkey after a Japanese Beetle snack. 

* I look forward to your comments. If you have trouble commenting, please contact me using the form at the right. Thanks!

Using Row Covers for Pest Control

Every year we try something new in the garden.  This year we are using row covers for the plants that receive the most pest damage.  This list includes: members of the brassica family (e.g. broccoli and cabbage), eggplant, squash (e.g. Turk's Turban and Hubbard), and bush beans.  These plants seem to attract pests that do heavy damage to the crops.  By using row covers, we are essentially keeping the moths and other pests out which will save a considerable amount of our time.  The pests include: cabbage worms, flea beetles, squash vine borers, and mexican bean beetles.   

The row covers (Agribon 19 83'' x 50') were purchased from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.  We used #9 wire that was purchased through Grower's Solution on eBay. 

Each wire was cut about 6.5 feet long.  

Plants were put under the row cover on May 4th. 

The above picture was taken on May 17th.  This spring has been abnormally dry which makes watering under the row cover a challenge.  A drip line would be great for this.  We have noticed that the plants under the row cover have required less watering than the plants exposed to the direct sun all day long. 

The above picture was taken on May 30th.  No cabbage worms so far!

The row cover was removed about 2 weeks before our first broccoli harvest because the plants were pushed up against the row covers and the fabric couldn't raise any higher.

The squash looks beautiful this year because squash vine borers haven't gotten to them yet.  They are too big for the row cover so they are out in the open.  The squash are putting down roots along the vines so we have been covering sections of the vines with dirt.  We were told if the plant is rooted in several places, it has a better chance of surviving the squash vine borer because even if the main stem is injured, the remaining vines should be okay.  We'll see if this "trick" works!

* I look forward to your comments. If you have trouble commenting, please contact me using the form at the right. Thanks!

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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