Simply Resourceful

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

A lot of Changes...

Since my last post, our family moved from West Virginia to Minnesota; I started a pottery studio focused on lacto-fermentation crocks and fermentation weights which you can see here ( or buy here (, and we put in a new large garden. As you might have expected, this has sapped all the time I used to have to keep my blog up to date. Minnesota provides new challenges like a Zone 3b/4a growing zone, but surprisingly our garden harvests are bigger than we've ever had before because the bug pressure up here is not very strong. I'm sharing a few of the pictures we've taken over the last couple of years. Presently we are in a moderate drought which is providing a new challenge to short-season gardening. I'll let you know how it turned out.


How to Build a Bicycle Powered Grain Mill

This little contraption has become one of the most fun things to do in our house - especially in the winter. It is our own personal exercise bike, but with the added benefit that our spent energy goes into grinding various kinds of wheats and nut butters. If you've ever tried to grind wheat into a fine powder, it's a chore! This contraption makes it easy and quick.  I can get the wheat flour so fine that I can use it as a 1:1 substitute for all-purpose flour which is saying something!

I looked far and wide for plans on how to build a bicycle powered grain mill and just couldn't find anything out there.  So, I decided to build my own.  The best part about my design is that it is a variable speed design - you can shift gears and grind as fine or as course as you want with very little effort. There's a couple of key concepts that you need to remember.
  1. You're dealing with a lot of force, so 2x4's are the minimum size board I would use.
  2. The force is being applied in different directions, so you have to account for the different pulls and pushes
  3. Every bike size is different, so there's not a one size fits all design, so I will not give measurements, but rather show you the techniques and components that I used to make a working human powered grain mill.
  1. Grainmaker Mill - $700 - we chose the model no. 99. So far it has performed spectacularly and is well worth the ~$700 price tag. Though any mill with a V-belt wheel drive should work.
  2. Sprocket - $4 - The most difficult piece to figure out of the whole setup. The problem is I could not find anyone who makes a sprocket that fits a standard bicycle chain and that will connect to a 5/8" keyed shaft.
  3. Old bicycle rear wheel sprocket - free or find an old back tire at a yard sale.  You will have to take it a part and get the sprocket off. Weld this onto the sprocket that you buy above. If you don't have a welder, have a friend weld it like I did. It takes about 10 minutes to get the sprockets lined up just right, but this has to be precise. If it's not, your chain may fall off of the sprocket.
  4. 5/8" keyed shaft - $20 - This is used to drive your V-belt pulley
  5. V-belt pulley - $30 - This is used to drive your grain mill wheel
  6. V-belt - $10 - I used one off of an old lawnmower.
  7. A bicycle chain (in addition to the bicycle - that is you will have 2 chains) - $6
  8. 5/8" Bore Diameter Pillow blocks (2) - $24 - Used to hold the 5/8" keyed shaft.
  9. Bicycle stand - This lifts the rear wheel off the ground and keeps the bike and mill from shifting left or right. I found mine at a yard sale, but you can get a cheaper one for $20.
  10. 2x4's (3 to 5) - $8-12 worth. I use them all over for bracing.
  11. Quite a few screws...put one in if you feel any give
  12. A multi-speed bicycle: free to a couple of hundred dollars. I'm using Holly's bike.
Total setup cost including mill: $850-900

First make a stand for your grain mill to sit on. I reused the same stand that we use for our honey extractor. The eventual height of the grain mill wheel should be approximately at the height of your rear bicycle sprocket to prevent the mill bouncing up and down. As you can see from the first picture, it doesn't have to be fancy, it just needs to hold the screwed down mill.  Position the mill towards the side of the stand, so the drive belt doesn't get in the way and this also allows for better placement of 2x4's when counteracting the side-to-side forces.

Top down view showing placement of 2x4's to prevent side to side forces. Notice how they attach to the bike stand.

Put your bicycle on the stand and shift up to the largest sprocket. Loop the second chain around the smallest bicycle sprocket (you may need to take the wheel off to put it in there) and extend it out towards the pulley.
You're going for something that looks like this.
Once you have that done, you can get a pretty good estimate of where to place the pillow blocks, so that tension is tight on both the chain and the belt leading to the grain mill. It took some trial and error, but I eventually got it in the right position and made a quick frame out of 2x4's and screwed it together. The frame requires a place to screw the pillow blocks in and also a vertical support that touches the ground to prevent bowing/bending in the vertical direction. Also, be sure to have the chain lined up as straight as possible. The less angles in chains and belts the better.
Pillow blocks, keyed shaft, sprocket, chain, v-belt pulley all working together to drive the mills wheel.
If you look closely, you can see the welds that connect the industrial sprocket to that of the old bicycle sprocket. Your bike chain goes on the old bicycle sprocket. Finding this trick was the most difficult part of the design.

Here's another view. Notice the notch for the chain so it doesn't rub.

Front to back, notice the braces that connect to the bike stand. They keep it from shifting side to side.

Notice notches in 2x4 to cradle the bike stand cross bar. This is an important cut, don't cut your 2x4 too short - this adds stability in the side-to-side direction. Also notice the vertical support that touches the floor.

 Finally, here's a video showing the bicycle powered grain mill in action.

Making Mittens From Wool Sweaters

I have been needing a pair of warm mittens for years and decided to make my own after scouring the internet for a reasonably priced, high quality pair made in the USA.  During my search, I found several websites selling mittens made from wool sweaters, and I said, "Those look easy to make, why don't I make myself a pair?" 

At the local second hand store, I purchased several 100% wool sweaters of various colors.  Before cutting the sweaters, I shrunk them in hot water followed by high heat so the wool fibers would get really tight.

The insides are lined with warm fuzzy fleece.

To date I have made fourteen pairs of mittens to sell at the Wild Ramp and for giving to friends.  

Adding a button to the mitten cuff gives the mittens a finished look and keeps the cuff from folding down.  When I add the button, I sometimes don't stitch down the cuff.

This video provided the best tutorial that I found on the internet.  A printable pattern can be found at:  I found this pattern to be a little small for my hand so I made the pattern a little larger.

Owl Water Bottle Cover

For Christmas this year, Jon gifted Paul and me each a Mabis Water Bottle to cozy-up with at night when crawling into cold sheets.  And of course, these water bottles are good for other things such as: sore muscles, sports injuries, and headaches just to name a few.  Instead of the rubber latex against our skin, I made a cozy for the water bottle using fabric scraps.  The brown fabric is a fleece jacket sleeve and stays closed with velcro in the back for easy removal.  A primitive stitch attaches the wool designs to the brown fleece fabric.  The owl wings are corduroy fabric.  This was an easy and fun winter project.  I am still trying to decide what cozy I should make for the second water bottle. 

Deer Girdled Our Fruit Trees!

After four years of care, our fruit trees finally reached a height where deer damage isn't a concern.  The deer will prune the lower branches for us, but the trees are tall enough to survive.  This fall Jon decided to remove the cages from around the trees because mowing grass around the cages are a hassle, weed-whacking inside the cages several times each summer is a hassle, and all that fencing is an eye-sore.  The trees looked absolutely beautiful standing proud in our field; until one night, deer decided to rub their antlers on their trunks and rip their bark off!   It only took one night of exposure for twelve out of the thirty-one un-caged trees to be girdled.  This was certainly a devastating blow after four years of care.  Some of the trees are even loose in the ground from the force the deer exerted on their trunks. 

A week after this happened, we ran into a retired DNR Forester who has had great success with hanging an empty pop can from a rope from a low branch to keep deer from rubbing.  If only we knew this before the trees were girdled!  

What can we do to help the trees that have already been girdled?  Some say the trees will either live or die no matter what an orchardist does to help the situation. One common treatment is covering the wound with latex paint to protect the inner cambium layer and seal off the potential for disease. 

If there is a strip of bark 1/4-1/2 inch thick still in-tact the full length of the trunk, the chances of survival are even higher. 

This is one hard lesson learned, that's for sure!

How to Make Wood Candy Canes

Years ago I saw wood candy canes hanging from our neighbor's Christmas tree.  I just loved the way they looked and thought, "I can make some of those!"

To begin, I rummaged through the scrap wood bin and cut out the candy cane shape using a scroll saw.

To give the candy canes a rustic look, I used the belt sander to make the edges jagged.  This was a quick process because I didn't want a uniform look on every candy cane.

Next, I painted them with white acrylic craft paint.

For drying, I strung them up with a piece of wire.

Using acrylic red paint, I painted stripes. 

Using a rough sand paper, I quickly rubbed each candy cane to give them a worn look.  

Finished!  If you want a more aged look, dry rub the candy cane with a dark stain.

Make Your Own Holiday Gift Bags

This holiday I am trying to use less wrapping paper by using cloth drawstring bags. Using up some fabric scraps, I made my own.  Listed below are instructions on how to make a bag followed by pictures of other bags that I designed.  Also, don't forget to check out my post titled Resourceful Gift Wrapping from several years ago. 

1. I cut two pieces of red fabric 9x10 inches and two strips of green fabric 3x10 inches.  For each piece of red fabric, attach the green strip by putting right sides together and sew along the top edge.

2. Next I sewed three sides of the bag.  On one of the long sides I left an opening for the ribbon by sewing 1 3/4 inches from the top, stopping, and then starting again 1/4 inch from the bottom of the green and continuing down the length of the red.  For a drawstring bag with ribbon coming out of both sides, you can leave gaps on both sides of the long edges.  (Optional: If you want to keep the edges from fraying, serge.)

3. There are a few ways to sew the bottom corners and there are several youtube videos showing the process.  With the bag inside out, open up the corner and line up the bottom and side seams, fold it flat.

4. Sew across the bottom and side seam one inch from the corner.  Before sewing the other corner, make sure that you fold the bottom seam in the same direction as the opposite corner so that it lays flat and isn't twisted.

When the bag is inverted, this is what a bottom corner should look like, and if you are lucky, the bottom and side seam will line up.

5. With right sides facing out, fold down the green fabric below the side opening, leaving about a 1 1/4 inch fold.  Stitch on the green fabric right next to the red fabric all the way around, checking that the side seams are facing the same direction and not twisted.

This is what the top of the bag should look like with a hole on one side for the ribbon. 

6. For a finished look, sew along the top of the bag.

7. Using a safety pin, thread the ribbon through the opening.  Finished!

Pictured below are a few more bags I made with applique and printed fabric.

I add two layers of batting behind the applique designs.

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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