Simply Resourceful

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

Life After a Long Winter

This blog has a lot of how-to and informative posts, but sometimes I need to step back from routine and highlight all of the great things that are going on at the homestead.  Sometimes I can get discouraged when following other blogs and seeing all the pristine photos with weedless gardens and blemish-free produce, but I remind myself that we keep things real here at the Wolfe house.  This is the beginning of our 3rd year at this house and we are excited to see many of our efforts spring to life with the warm weather slowly creeping in. I think many of us can agree that spring was slow to arrive, but each day this week I am thrilled to see bits and pieces of the property wake up to warm weather.  I look at the soil and see so much potential with the green manure putting nutrients back into the soil and flower buds swelling on the fruit trees!  So here's a virtual toast to a bountiful harvest this summer!

This week, 3 colonies of Italian honeybees arrived from Kelley Bees.  This season I am taking on an apprentice beekeeper who paid for one colony of bees in exchange for hands-on education and a share of the honey crop.  Having an apprentice will keep my mind sharp on the inner-workings of the hive and give me reason to go into the hives more often.

Our girls are tuckered out with all the scratching!  After months of cold weather, they are eager to get out of their coops every morning and scratch under the leaves for all those tasty grubs coming up to the surface.  After a few hours, 2 of the chickens decided to take a sun bath on the front steps to give their legs a rest.     

This picture was taken a month ago.  Many of the seedlings are already transplanted in the garden.  Some days the greenhouse gets so hot (110 degrees) we have to prop the door open. 

At the end of February I started sprouting potatoes but the weather was really wet and cold the week we wanted to plant them.  The potatoes were quickly starting to shrivel up so Jon put them in the rain barrel planter on the porch under a layer of moist dirt and composted chicken manure.   

After 2 weeks, the potatoes were hydrated and growing roots so they were transplanted into the garden. 

The mushroom logs started sprouting this week!

All of the fruit trees have blossoms and many have already opened.  We hope no more frosts!

A snapshot showing half of the garden.  The green strips show the green manure growing back after dying in the winter. 

Here's the other half of the garden with the green manure tilled under and ready for planting. 

The cold frame was a success this spring... lettuce and spinach coming up! Varieties: hotshot mustard mix, arugula, gulley's favorite, lettuce mixture, and giant winter spinach

The brassica plants (cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli) have been transplanted.  This year we plan to use remay to keep the cabbage moths away.  We'll be posting about that sometime in the near future.  Cabbage is shown in the above picture. 

In the fall Jon planted music and great northern white garlic at the end of each row.  We keep reading how garlic keeps the "bad" bugs away so instead of planting a patch of garlic, we are growing 2 bulbs at the end of each row to hopefully maximize the benefits of garlic since our garden is so large.  It's hard to see the garlic in the picture above since the green manure is growing in areas but they are on the far left side. 

The asparagus are poking their heads through the soil.  This year we can finally harvest the spears!

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

Homemade Pasta Noodle Rack in 5 minutes

This winter we have been making a lot of homemade egg noodles and often times make triple or even quadruple batches for future meals.  Finding a place to dry the noodles can sometimes be a challenge so Jon got frustrated one night, ran out to the garage and made a noodle rack in about 5 minutes!  It is 28 inches tall with 11 dowels sticking out the sides.  I like to put a flour sack towel around the base of the noodle rack to keep noodles from sliding off the counter if they fall.  

Here is a closer look at the base to show how he stabilized it using a 45 degree cut on the miter saw and then just screwing those to a  2 x 4. He also toenailed the main support in using screws on all four sides. Easy peasy and economical as our lil munchkin would say.

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

You can eat acorns? Apparently...

For Christmas, a friend sent me a bag of acorns.  Having never eaten acorns, I did a quick Goggle search and discovered acorns were commonly used as flour many years ago.  The shells are easy to remove using a vice.  The picture above shows the nutmeats with shells removed.

After shell removal, the nutmeats soaked in a bowl of warm water for about an hour.  The water was replaced three more times. 

Before the third soak, I cut up the nutmeats.

After letting the nutmeats dry overnight, they were put in a food processor and pulverized.

The texture was more like flax seed meal than flour.  This meal was stored in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage.

I replaced half of the flour in the berry breakfast bars with the acorn meal.  Strawberries from last summer's harvest were used.  The results: awesome!

Acorn Berry Breakfast Bars
2 c fresh or frozen berries
2 T sugar
2 T water
1 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 c acorn flour
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c oatmeal
2/3 c packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c butter (melted)

In mixing bowl, stir together flour, oats, brown sugar, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, and baking soda. Stir in melted butter and combine thoroughly.  Set aside 1 cup of the oat mixture.  Press remaining oat mixture into an ungreased 9x9 pan.  Bake 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. 

Filling: In saucepan, combine berries, sugar, water, lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat.  Simmer uncovered, for about 8 min or until slightly thickened, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat.

Carefully spread filling on top of baked crust.  Sprinkle with reserved oat mixture.  Lightly press oat mixture into filling.  Bake another 20-25 minutes. 

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

How to Crack Walnuts the Easy Way!

This year we had a great walnut harvest!  In a recent post we describe the details of collecting and removing the hulls. 

The nuts were stored in a paper bag in the basement for four months before the nutmeats were removed.  Black walnuts have a very hard shell.  Without spending money on a nut cruncher, we found the best way to remove the shell is to crush them in a vice.  Placing a cloth around the nut prevents the shells and nutmeats from shattering everywhere.  Note: the cloth you use will get torn up in the process so choose an old rag. 

After cracking you can see the four chambers of the nutmeat. 

We don't have a nut pick set so I used a large sewing needle to pick out the smaller pieces inside the shell.

A paper grocery sack about 2/3 full gave us 1 pound, 7.6 ounces of ready to eat nuts!  The nuts are stored in the freezer.

After all the cracking, I was ready to toss the shells in the woods when I read online to burn them in a fire because they make hot coals.  They were used this year for making maple syrup.

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

Maple Syrup Summary 2014

This was our second year tapping maple trees for syrup.  We boiled sap three times and netted 20 pints and a few flasks for the refrigerator.  You can see a change of color in the syrup indicating the different grades with the syrup on the left being from the first boil.  If you look closely, you can see a cloudy appearance in the bottom of the jars.  The cloudiness is a result of tapping silver maples.  We only have one sugar maple on the property. 

Silver maples have about a 60:1 ratio of sap to syrup.  Boiling syrup takes put it plainly...20 hours of boiling gave us 8 pints of finished syrup.  Of course, we don't sit in front of the fire all day.  We have other projects around the property so we check on the fire about every 20 minutes and add a log, so our boiling time is probably longer than others. 

We aren't hardcore enough to stay up all night (a nice cozy sugar shack would make this more appealing), so we put a piece of tin roofing over the pan leaving about an inch exposed in the back to let the steam out.  The covering keeps animals from drinking the sap and Jon's worst fear is a mouse leaping in for a suicide dive that will ruin our hard work. Luckily this has been just a fear so far.  In the morning, the pan is usually half full because the heat from the coals continues to evaporate the water out of the sap overnight. 

This year we received a lot of snow but the days we boiled were warm so the snow melted before we had a chance to eat "sugar on snow," a process which you drizzle finished syrup on top of snow to make a chewy maple candy. 

With the cold weather, we had the unfortunate experience of collecting overflowing buckets of frozen sap.  We do have the perfect terrain for using plastic tubing since the property is hilly, but we like the traditional way of collecting from buckets. 

When the sap isn't frozen, we transport the sap in plastic carboys (water cooler containers) with our hiking pack.  We have 24 sap buckets on the trees at all times. 

Last year we used a cast iron pot for boiling which wasn't time efficient and seemed to leave a sediment and smoky flavor in the syrup no matter how much we filtered it.  This season we decided to purchase a pan designed for boiling maple syrup that has a thermometer and spigot.  We purchased it through Smoky Lake Maple Products.  We really like the pan and are glad we spent the extra money. 

And the fact that the pan was made in the USA makes it that much more enjoyable. 

And why do I include a picture of our woodpile?  Well, because you need a lot of wood, and also a reminder to cover it in the fall.  Last season we forgot to cover it and learned the hard way with longer boiling times, so this year we were prepared!

While gathering the sap I couldn't help but notice that the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also enjoy the maple tree sweetness.  The holes in this picture were made by the birds.  

Spring is around the corner even though while I write this snow is falling.  The buds on the maple trees are swelling and the maple syrup supplies are washed and stored in the basement.  Making syrup is a labor of love, but we will be excited to begin the whole process again next year.   

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

Simple Homemade Water Mister for Seedlings

Have you ever squeezed a spray bottle until your wrists ache?  With our new greenhouse and plans for an even larger harvest, Jon came up with this clever way of watering the seedlings without completely washing away the seeds and dirt.  Repurposing a water bottle from Jon's work, we simply drilled 12 holes using a 1/16 inch drill bit near the opening of the water bottle. Shaking or squeezing the bottle makes for easy watering without all the wrist pain.  There are automatic misters on the market, but with our recent chemical spill making our city water undrinkable, we came up with a clever way of watering the seeds using our well water.

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

Quick and Easy Handmade Seed Starting Trays

If you plant dozens, or perhaps even hundreds of seeds every year but don't have enough of those mini plastic pots to grow your seeds in, then making your own seed starting trays is an economical and efficient way to raise all of your little seedlings.

The trays are fast and quite simple to make:
1) Find some old pallets or scrap wood (we use pallets since we have a huge pile of them at the end of our road). The dimensions are roughly 1/2" thick x 2.5" width. The length of the sides are 17" and 12.75".
This will hold 48, 2" square soil blocks.
2) Assemble wood like this - but it really doesn't matter which direction you put the slats on the bottom just be sure the long side piece (17" gets screwed into the shorter 12.75" piece as shown in green below). The nail gun is not necessary either, but just makes it faster. You could just as easily use a hammer and nails. That's all there is to it.

You should end up with something that looks like this. Toss a single layer of newspaper down and then you're ready to make some blocks.

The soil mix is pretty simple. Feel free to experiment, just remember to not put too much vermiculite, perlite or coir in, or your blocks will fall apart because they will be too porous.  If you don't know what coconut coir is - it's a more sustainable approach to peat moss. It's made from ground up and shredded coconuts and is renewable. We use Beat's Peat ( This stuff really swells after you add water and becomes this fluffy gold!

Last spring we tried making our own soil block maker but discovered the round shape wasn't ideal because the blocks tended to dry out from the empty space between the circles.  This year we decided to go ahead and purchase a soil block maker with a square shape from Green Planet Naturals.  The soil blocker above makes 4 mini soil blocks at a time.  You can whip out a couple hundred blocks in 10 minutes - so there is no need to go much larger.

Pushing down on the spring-loaded handle releases the soil blocks.

One box holds 48 mini blocks with a dimple in the center for placing the seed. 

I place a spritz of vermiculite in each hole then place the seed and add a spritz more of vermiculite then press down on the seed with light pressure.

To keep accurate records, I write numbers on the perimeter of the box using a grease pencil.  The number corresponds with whatever is planted in that row and is recorded on a separate piece of paper. 

The record sheet.

* 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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