Saturday, July 11, 2015
My canning skills are well honed by putting up about four gallons of tomato sauce annually, so it has been a busy month for putting up pickles. I've a professional pressure-canner for the low-acid foods, and we've been using a simmering or boiling water-bath canner for produce that can be safe with that sort of treatment.
We froze a lot of green peas and now are doing the same for blackberries that grow wild around here. I am going to try to recall all of this abundance when winter arrives. It's easy to forget!
One trick to keeping things going will be our new "root shelter," a dry windowless room in the basement of a building where we store equipment. It's completely below ground.
It's not a true root cellar, since it lacks an earthen floor. The 8 by 8 room, of cinder-block walls was, in fact, a fallout shelter from the 60s. It never got finished, since it has no venting to the outside, which makes it less than perfect for surviving a nuclear attack or for getting air circulating for other purposes.
After I made the old door tight but before it got a coat of paint, I knocked out the panel over the transom and lined it with a layer of hardware cloth (a stout metal screening with 1/8 or 1/4" holes) and also window screen. This keeps out rodents and black snakes, one of which chases mice around our building and occasionally leaves a skin draped over the tractor seat or rafters.
With a drill bit used to bore holes in doors for lock-sets, I bored three large holes in the bottom of the door. Those too got covered with hardware cloth and screen. Shelving is basic: with low-humidity in the room, old 2x6 pine boards and cinder blocks serve us well. A small electric fan blows air out the transom, and that encourages cool air to enter the bottom of the door.
I plan to keep early-harvest pumpkins in there, since we have a local market that will buy all I grow. My garlic harvest, only about a dozen bulbs, and some onions I pulled after curing them in our utility room will also go on the shelves. This sort of "root shelter," as I call it, will store winter squash and sweet potatoes.
A damp root cellar would be perfect for vegetables that need more humidity. With a backhoe, a hillside that faces northwest, and lots of cinder blocks I think this will be a future project for my LLC's harvest. And it will vent to the outside world. No nuclear attack needed.
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
What follows is not a bragging list but a taking stock. I've failed at most of these things too. Still, how much of this would I have learned had I sat before this screen and played video games? Obsessively checked others' Facebook profiles?
What really counts in life? Socrates said that only the examined life was worth living. I am not very social, so you can guess that I'd pick items on this list over more time with online "friends." Sometimes over seeing people I cherish face-to-face, when I'm on-task, a habit familiar to every successful academic.
Anyhow, see how much of this arcana of DIY life would be new to you:
- Setting up an LLC and learning the basics of State and IRS rules
- Learning to scour Craig's List like a pro
- Honing my haggling skills with equipment suppliers, sellers of used gear, and repair shops. I will blame my Middle-Eastern heritage here for being tough when haggling.
- Cleaning points in a distributor
- Straining all gas and diesel through paint filters
- Knowing the difference between load needles and idle screws in a carburetor
- Learning how to set the gap on a spark plug
- Painting with an auto-paint gun
- Helping a friend tear down a tractor engine, replace a cam gear, and finally see how valves, tappets, and a cam dance together to make a big heavy machine move.
- Watching the life-cycle of pests such as squash-bugs and beginning to interrupt it
- Keeping ground hogs and raccoons out of the garden. Improving head-shots when these critters enter a trap. Live-trapping and safely releasing a skunk without being sprayed (skunk seemed to think it was a game and appeared to enjoy it)
- Learning how to air-cure garlic and onions and store them in a root cellar
- Building that root cellar
- Living with black snakes (those great mousers) in every out building
- Installing 400' of dog-pen fence and an equal amount of wooden-post-and-wire garden fence, using a tractor-mounted post-hole digger
- Figuring out how to hand-bale hay and straw
- Continuing to avoid pesticides and herbicides (we still paint stumps of Tree of Paradise with Roundup and will spray our apple trees next year--once, when not in blossom--with Captan)
- Expanding out rainwater-collection system to 1200 gallons (and getting closer to a goal of 3000 gallons for the main garden).
- Getting much more serious about canning. Mainstays now have grown from tomato sauce and pickles to include green beans, apple sauce, and grape leaves
- Freezing peas, squash, butter beans, and blackberries with success
- Drying and saving seed from hot peppers and string beans.
- Cutting out areas of rotten wood and repairing with Bondo
- Planing a sticky door until it closes and looks good
- Building sag-free garden gates 6' tall by 8' wide
- Learning to use well a router and planer
- Figuring out what to reuse and what to toss with 10,000 square feet of barns and out buildings.
- Installing a hardwood floor of salvaged oak flooring tucked in a corner of the barn.