Sunday, March 30, 2014

Testing Old Seed Viability

Now that it's the time of year where we think about starting seeds for the garden, it's time to test the viability of the seeds we already have.  Normally that wouldn't be too much of a concern to us, but we got distracted last fall (we're very easily distracted), and left our seed collection out in the garage all winter (and exposed to all the freeze-thaw cycles that a Colorado winter entails).  Also, when we went through our beekeeping stuff (which had been in storage since 2010), we found a bag with another dozen seed packets or so, which in addition to this winter's cycle, were exposed to other varying amounts of winter-summer cycling in the upper midwest.

Through all of this, the seeds had no humidity control, no real protection from bugs, or mice, or even nanites, and some dated back as far as 2008!  Since temperature fluctuations and moisture content are critical parameters in how long seeds remain viable, we need a test to decide which seeds to keep and which to toss in the compost.  Yay, an excuse to do an experiment!

Quite a collection we've got here!  OK, seeds, which of you is going to grow when we plant you in the ground?

We took ten seeds from each packet (unless there were fewer than ten left).  We were going to put them in a paper towel, but we (Jake) couldn't find any around the house.  How about this miniature roll of paper towels from the bathroom?

We folded the ten seeds in the middle of the conveniently sectioned-off squares and wetted the paper with a squirt bottle.  (In hindsight, using this type of paper towel was a bad idea.  It was a nightmare to try to tease apart the wet layers to find the seeds and inspect them for germination.)  It's a good idea to get the paper as saturated as possible because some of the water will evaporate.  Having a uniform moisture level is an important control, and we were a little bit out of control on this parameter.

We grouped a bunch of like-feathered seeds into a flock and stacked them in a plastic bag.  We stacked the seed packets in the same order so we could keep track of which was which.  (In hindsight, stacking them together was also a bad idea because roots and shoots had no respect for boundaries between layers.  Sometimes, roots from the top layer would come out the other side, which was part of the reason it was so hard to pull apart the layers.  Individual plastic bags or something like wax paper between each variety would have helped.)

Some of the seeds thought they were partying on spring break.

We stacked all the bags in a white tub, and since the spring chickens don't need the heat lamp yet (they won't be born for another five weeks or so), we borrowed it to make one corner of the dining room a little hot pocket.  The lamp like this kept the temperature at about 85 °F.

A week later, we took out the paper and counted how many seeds of each had germinated.  We should have done this step sooner, since some of the fast-sprouting seeds, like cucumbers and swiss chard, had taken over the paper, and had preliminary designs for how to break through the plastic bag already drawn up.

The good ones we planted in dirt to see how they'd do.  (After one day in dirt, most look healthy!)

...and here's the data!  An Excel file with numbers for each variety can be downloaded here, but the graphs show the different 'classes' of veggies grouped together.   If there was more than one variety, the bar represents the average (generally different varieties of the same group performed similarly, the exceptions being beans and radishes).  A couple of notes: the pumpkins were from 2008, and there were only nine seeds in the packet.  One of the carrot seed packets was from 1997!  The swiss chard was so unruly that it was impossible to tell which plants came from which seeds.  We tested 30 seeds and ended up with 45 sprouts that readily detached from the seed, so we just assumed all of them worked (it seemed fair). 

Some of the variation here could be due to differing moisture levels--some of the paper was fairly dry when we opened it up, and those seeds appeared less viable (the driest ones were the carrots, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes).  It's also possible that some of the seeds needed more time to germinate, but since we could see cucumber roots after only 24 hours, we didn't want to let it go too long.  Having an easier way to check on the seeds after a certain amount of time would have been helpful.

The seeds that had less than 70% germination rate went in the compost, so they'll have one last chance to prove us wrong.  In any case, it'll be some fresh tomato and pepper seeds for us this spring!

How do you test your seeds for viability?  If you save your seeds, how do you make sure they remain viable through the winter?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Our meal planning around St. Patrick's day is usually something like this: corned beast, cabbage, and potatoes O'Brien the day of (and bread pudding for dessert), leftover cabbage and potatoes with Reuben sandwiches for 3+ meals/day for one week after, and then back to our regularly scheduled programming of not Irish food.  Actually, a fair bit of our normal cooking comes out resembling some kind of Irish dish, e.g., colcannon, but it's mostly coincidence.  (Also, it's funny that Wikipedia's list of traditional Irish alcoholic beverages is half as long as the list of traditional Irish foods!)

But this year, we came up with a dish that is distinctly Irish to follow up on our annual Reuben gorge.  We combined the Irish staples of corned beast hash (kind of--see below), potatoes O'Brien, and cabbage into that wonderful layered casserole known as strata!  Here's what we did:

We started by browning some ground venison and frying some potatoes with onions.  We seasoned the meat with the same seasonings we use for cooking a corned beast, except instead of whole ones (e.g., coriander), we used ground, and we added about a tablespoon of dried parsley.  (We ground them up with a mortar and pestle!)

When the frying pan was freed up, we sauteed some cabbage and red peppers.  We would have added green peppers, too, if we had any.  These are seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper.

Katie made a loaf of bread, then tore it into little pieces and made a layer (or stratum, if you will) in the bottom of a 9 x 13" pan.  (Katie has a similar reaction to a fresh loaf of bread as a puppy has to a new chew toy, but she has the good sense to put the pieces in a baking dish instead of scattering them across the living room floor.) 

Next we added layers of potatoes/onions, cabbage, corned ground beast, cheese and peppers, then another layer of bread.  The order of the layers isn't important, just as long as they're collated (go through all the types of layers before repeating the bread layer), and cheese is on top.

When the baking dish was full, we poured over it a mixture of six eggs beaten with  enough milk to make three cups total volume.  We didn't season the egg mixture this time, but in the future, we'll probably add some spices to the mixture like we normally do for a strata.

On the top, we added a layer of crushed corn flakes rolled in melted butter.  It's the Irish version of a cherry on top.

The Recipe:
1 loaf bread, sliced or gleefully ripped to croutons
1 lb. ground venison, browned and seasoned with ground pepper, mustard, cloves, coriander, bay leaves, and parsley
1.25 lb. shredded cheese (we used Swiss and mozzarella)
3 c. sauerkraut or chopped and sauteed cabbage
1 red pepper, diced and sauteed
2 large potatoes, cubed and fried
1 large onion, cubed and sauteed
6 eggs, beaten
3 c. milk, minus the juice from the sauerkraut
0.5 t. garlic powder
0.5 t. onion powder
0.5 t. ground black pepper
0.5 t. ground cloves
1.5 t. salt
0.5 t. ground mustard

Layer bread, cabbage corned beast, potatoes/onions, red pepper, and Swiss cheese in a 9" x 13" x 3" pan (or equivalent pan volume).  Mix eggs, milk, and spices together, pour evenly into pan.  Spices may fall to bottom of mixture, so re-mix frequently.  Chill overnight, or at least 2 hours.  Bake at 375 °F for 50-60 min until egg mixture is set (toothpick inserted in center comes out clean).

What did (do) you do with your St. Patrick's Day leftovers?  What other Irish foods do you eat this time of year?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Garden Protection Plan

When we moved to our new place last August, we had just enough time to put in a small fall garden and get a few meals of kale from the 9' x 3' bed.  We also had enough time to raise a few meat chickens, and we're planning on scaling up both endeavors considerably this spring.  Although it was a little painful through the fall to not have a full-size garden with tomatoes, chard, etc., it was nice that we had a chance to realize just how brazen and shameless the squirrels and raccoons in our neighborhood are.

So, now that we're planning our garden for this coming summer, we know that we're going to need a multi-pronged squirrel-deterrent system in order to bring our crops to harvest.  We also know, having studied squirrel behavior for many years, that simply testing their tiny rodent brains with increasingly complex challenges is unlikely to keep them out completely, but would definitely make gardening harder for us.  Instead, we need solutions that are more...permanent.  Here's what we came up with.

Our place is surrounded by dogs, so our primary line of defense (after the fences around the yard) will be a series of squirrel launchers that send the furry vegetable pirates into the neighbors' yards.  Not that we want to make the squirrels our neighbors' problem, but they've all got dogs who will quite enjoy helping us out.  (And both permaculturalists and ninjas recognize the principle of working within one's surroundings.)  The second line of defense will be a squirrel pit trap.  What awaits the squirrels at the bottom of the pit trap is still a matter of debate.  A snapping turtle?  Punji sticks made from sharpened toothbrushes?  A tunnel that leads to Texas?  (Let us know your vote in the comments section.)  The last line of defense will be a marauding honey badger, discussed at length below.

We've done a lot of thinking about it, and the more YouTube videos we watch, the more it seems like a (trained) honey badger would be an awesome livestock/produce protection plan.  They hunt both day and night, and have no fear of large predators.  They eat anything from grubs to snakes to raccoon-sized rodents.  They can even climb trees to get to the raccoons, which gives them a leg up on canine-type marauders.  They can be socialized and trained, which might even mean that after a few generations in domestication, they could be deterred from chickens and bees.  They're also excellent diggers, so they can help with soil preparation and root crop harvesting.

The only legitimate downside is that tame or trained honey badgers aren't currently available to the general public.  Unfortunately, we're also explicitly forbidden from owning a badger in our neighborhood.  But while the honey badger vernacular seems to consist mostly of hissing and snarling, if we could teach it to bark, we might be able to convince an animal control officer it's a weird-looking dog.

In any case, we think there is a legitimate business opportunity here for anyone with experience in importing (or smuggling), breeding, and training exotic and dangerous wild animals, influencing policy decisions regarding what counts as a pet, and marketing progressive ideas to typically conservative crowds.  Let us know if you want to partner up on this venture! (We don't bring any of those skills to the table, though.)

Now that we've got our anti-squirrel system figured out, we just have to decide what to plant in the garden!  That's a nice position to be in.

How do you protect your garden from mammalian intruders?  Do you have any ideas for improving our system?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Economics of Growing Greens by Artificial Light

We had a thought the other day about growing greens like lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and kale inside during the winter months.  What would it cost us to do that, in the limiting case that the greens would get no natural light through our windows?  (That's actually not too far from the truth--most of our windows face north or are shaded for all but a few hours a day.)

We went back to take a look at our aquaponics setup, which makes use of four 4-foot-long T8 fluorescent light bulbs, and which we used to grow some swiss chard, thyme, basil and dandelion greens at our old place (there were other plants, too, but those were the four that grew fast enough to give appreciable yields).  We were pretty satisfied with the amount of greens we were able to produce from that little 48" x 24" area, but we never actually crunched the numbers on the economics.  So, today we decided to do a quick calculation to see how much it was costing us to grow all those greens, at least as a ballpark figure.

A picture of the working aquaponics grow bed at a young age.  Later it would look much bushier.

The lighting system uses four 32-Watt bulbs, and our electricity rate is about $0.13/kWh. That is, it costs us thirteen cents to consume 1,000 Watts for one hour.  Watts are actually a rate of energy consumption--Joules per second--but total energy consumed is what gets billed.  So instead of doing the logical thing and using Joules as a standard unit, utility companies use the convoluted unit of kilowatt-hours.  Add that to the list of science-business conventions that don't make sense.  But at least it's based on the metric system!

So, when the four bulbs are all lit up, we're consuming 128 Watts (or 0.128 kilowatts).  If we run the lights for 10 hours a day, we consume 1.28 kWh of energy, which costs us $0.17. (Differences in rates for peak hours, sales tax, and all the other junk the utility company charges for are included in that number.)  Seventeen cents per day doesn't sound too bad.

In the aquaponic system pictured above, we had four swiss chard plants among the other stuff, and were harvesting about 0.1 lbs of chard /week total based on our records, which works out to about 1 lb from those four plants over a 60 day period, or $9.97/lb. (!!)  Not nearly up to expectations, but keep in mind that chard wasn't the only thing in the bed (so the whole cost of the light can't be attributed just to chard), and since our fish were stubbornly refusing to grow, these plants were extremely nutrient limited.  Fortunately, the thyme and basil that we grew at the same time cost a lot more at the store than chard, so it might all even out.  

 But, just for kicks, what would the cost be if we filled the grow-bed with dirt, planted all chard, and it grew a little closer to expectations?

We can assume that ten swiss chard plants will fit in the grow-bed since we had four plants in less than half the space.  A generally-accepted representative time-to-harvest for swiss chard is 60 days, although it's usually possible to start selectively eating the leaves well before that (which we did).  But if we take a 60-day baseline, and equate one plant to one 'bunch' that you'd find at the grocery store, we'd have 10 bunches in 60 days.  So, the calculation then becomes $0.17 per day, times 60 days, divided by 10 plants to give $1.00 per plant (or bunch).  Considering that we currently find it for around $1.99/bunch at the grocery store, that seems like a much more reasonable deal.

Generalized equation to figure out the cost of growing a plant under artificial lights, assuming the artificial light is the only cost.  For "C," use the inverse of the number of plants in the bed (e.g., if you had 10 plants in one bed, use 1/10).  Similarly for "G," if you got, e.g., 8 pounds from 10 plants, use 10/8.

Looks like it might be worth giving it another shot at growing some winter greens indoors!  Next time we'll use real dirt, and won't count on a few anorexic minnows to provide all the fertilizer.  And now that spring is on its way, we probably won't get to this experiment again until the fall, but hang tight!  We won't forget!

Do you grow your own greens indoors during the winter?  How cost effective is it for you?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rendering Beeswax

 In our neck of the woods, spring is definitely in the air.  Chives and new growth on the strawberries poking through the mulch, grass in protected areas starting to green up, birds returning from the south side of things... That means it's time to start getting set up for the spring flurry of activity around the homestead!  On our list this weekend was the bees.  While we don't know exactly where we're going to site them in our new place, we know what we've got to do to get the hives ready.  This year, it's mainly scraping out old boxes and wiring in foundation.

The catch is that we had a place to keep bees three years ago, then not for the last two years, and now again yes!  So all our equipment has been sitting idle for two years.  When we cracked it open, we found some of our old brood comb had some damage from something that's been eating the honey (not sure what, but there were little grubs that looked like small hive beetle larvae in there), and some frames had the telltale scent of fermented honey (but not good mead, just to be clear).  There were also some frames that hadn't had comb drawn out, but that had the foundation busted up.  What to do?  Looks like it's time to take the unusable comb/foundation and render it down into beeswax!

The rendering process for beeswax is pretty similar to the process we use for other fats, like tallow and meat trimmings.  Except this time, we're not going to make cracklins out of the leftovers.  (Although maybe the leftover pupae wouldn't taste too bad...)  It's also pretty similar to the process that Don uses in his YouTube videos (which we found out after the fact!), but we don't have the luxury of dedicated equipment that doesn't have to be thoroughly cleaned.  (So we'll share a couple tips we figured out in that regard, too.)

Note: this is a cautionary tale and contains more information on what not to do than the best way to do this.  But, in case your intuition and forward-thinking skills are in a lull when you have some beeswax to render (like ours evidently were), let this be a lesson...

Here's the victim: nine frames of unusable wax and/or foundation.  Some of the combs are pretty dark.

We broke everything up so it would fit in a pot (with about six inches of water in the bottom) and started heating.  The darkest comb isn't shown in this picture.

The frames and wires got set next to the door so they could be quickly taken back outside before Katie found out what had inexplicably happened to the kitchen.  In retrospect, the comb-removal operation should have been done outside.  EDIT: Katie says the entire operation should have been done outside.  New house rule!

While it's cooking, we brought some of our misshapen foundation inside to flatten out in the warm kitchen.  We were pretty glad we saved the wax paper between the sheets!  We put a stoneware cookie sheet on top to weigh it down.  They're not perfectly flat yet, but we're not in that big of a hurry.

When all the meltable stuff is melted, there are four (or five) layers.  At the very bottom is a thin layer of dirt and other heavy stuff.  Then comes the water and all the water-soluble stuff.  At the interface of the water and beeswax is stuff like propolis and lightweight dirt.  On top of that is the beeswax, and at the very top is a bunch of dark-colored floaties.  The floaties are things like pollen chunks, dead bees and pupae, and other stuff from the bees' junk drawer.

When it looked like nothing else was melting, we scooped off the floaties and stacked them as tall as possible in a glass bowl.  A lot of wax ended up coming with them.  If we had another big vessel to add them to like Don did, we could have filtered through a t-shirt or something.  But we thought a kitchen strainer would be very hard to clean.

As it was, we poured what wax we could back into another bowl, but still weren't happy with how much we were losing. So, we filtered through a t-shirt anyway, dripping the liquid into the new bowl.  We figured out that if we put the floaties in the middle, and twisted on either side that we could squeeze out more wax without burning our hands.  (Coincidentally, this is also the point where the term 'diminishing returns' starts to be an adequate description of getting more wax out of the floaties.)  The t-shirt might not ever be wearable again, but it will make some good candle wicks!

In retrospect, pouring back into the pot would have been a better idea.  (Katie rolls her eyes.)  But we got two thin cakes of wax instead of one thick one, and two is better than one, right?  Next time we'll find a bigger second vessel and strain through an old t-shirt.  All the hot water coming through the t-shirt will send most of the wax through anyway, and we'll avoid this messy step!  We set the pot outside to cool down overnight.  Then we added some water to this bowl, heated in the microwave until everything was melted, and set it outside to cool down overnight.

After the first melt, both cakes of wax were kind of dirty, like this.  So we put them back in the bowl with some water, and heated them in the microwave until everything was melted.

We repeated the process of adding water, melting, and cooling until the wax was clean enough for our standards. (It took three times for this batch.)

We weren't quite sure what we want to do with the beeswax yet (so many possibilities!), so we decided to store it in some canning jars until we have a better idea.  Looks a lot better than the dark brown mess we started with!

Now for the cleanup...we didn't take a picture during the process, but what we found works fairly well is almost-boiling water and dish soap.  Beeswax melts at 140-150 °F, so boiling water definitely melts the wax, and the soap helps solubilize it in the water.  For utensils like the slotted spoon, just pouring very hot water over it was enough to melt the wax and wash away any residue.  For the pot and glass bowls, we scrubbed them down with a dish cloth wrapped around a spoon.  Insulated rubber gloves or the hand part from Iron Man's suit would also work, but we didn't have either handy.

There was a thin residue that didn't show up until dry, but it's not likely to hurt anything and will wear off over the next few uses. (Or when Katie decides to scrub it the next day...)  Who couldn't use a glass bowl with some extra waterproofing? For the stove and counter top (and floor and walls and inside of the microwave...), we were able to scrape off the wax with a hard piece of plastic, and wipe up any residue with the hot wet dish cloth.  No residue when dry.  Yay!

What's your process for rendering beeswax?  What do you do with it once you have it purified?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Katie Made Hummus! (And it's pretty good!)

Guess what!  Katie's learning to be a magician.  Her first trick involved dried chickpeas!  Now we have a tasty dip for all our veggies!  Check it out:

She started with some regular ol' dried chickpeas.

Then soaked them overnight in the crockpot. The next day, she turned the crockpot on and cooked them for another 12 hours or so until they looked like this.  She saved some of the liquid to alter the consistency of the hummus if necessary.

Then she added about two cups to the food processor thing, along with three cloves of garlic.  One clove she crunched in the garlic press, then she realized that it was going to get chopped up in the food processor anyway, so using a hard-to-clean tool was silly.

Then she chopped up everything in the food processor until it looked like this, adding a couple tablespoons of chickpea water to get the consistency she wanted.

Then she added the rest of the ingredients: salt (~1 teaspoon), pepper (~0.5 teaspoon), hot sauce (4 squirts), and olive oil (3-4 tablespoons).  Not pictured: lemon juice (2-3 tablespoons).  Go easy on the lemon juice at first, because it can easily overpower everything and make the hummus not taste right.

Then she added about a third of a cup of sunflower flour.  Last time she ground up the sunflower seeds with a mortar and pestle.  This time she used a coffee grinder.  Most recipes call for tahini (sesame seed paste) since the 'hummus' is actually short for 'hummus bi tahina,' or chickpeas with tahini in Arabic.  We had sunflower seeds and not sesame seeds, so consider this hummus bi abed-i-shems.

Taste testing is an integral part of this process.  First she tasted the isolated hummus using a model vegetable.

Then she tested with a real vegetable.  It passed both tests.

Then she put it in a jar and set it in the fridge.  She's not sure how long it keeps because we've always outcompeted the bacteria for it!

The Recipe:
2 cups cooked chickpeas
3 cloves garlic
0.5 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 squirts hot sauce
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup ground sunflower meats
1 finger for testing
1 vegetable stick for testing

Soak overnight, then cook chickpeas, reserving water.  In food processor, puree chickpeas and garlic, then blend in remaining ingredients except finger and vegetable stick.  Use finger to test flavor and consistency, adjust as necessary by adding water or more chickpeas.  When hummus passes finger test, use vegetable stick for further testing.  When flavor is satisfactory on both accounts, transfer hummus to canning jar and store in fridge.

Do you make your own hummus?  What's your recipe?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Helping Wood Reclaim Its Former Glory

Some weekends, The Lab is a little bit like a firehouse.  We wake up on a Saturday morning, lounge around the kitchen making crepes or putting extra raisins on our oatmeal (because, hey, it's Saturday!).  Then all of a sudden, the call will come in.  Not a 'call' call, but an e-mail from IFTTT that reads something like 'Free wood!  60 feet of weathered cedar fencing, stacked in driveway at [address two miles away].  Will take down posting when gone.'

The kitchen erupts with activity.  Pancakes and oatmeal start flying around; some even lands in our mouths if we're lucky.  We throw the crosscut saw, drill, hatchet, and crowbar in the station wagon, make sure the ratchet straps are still in there from last time, and peel out of the driveway prepared to do battle with enormous fence sections and other zealots of the Craigslist 'free' section.  (It's close to, but not quite, the level of activity that ensues when Katie finds a large spider in a cupboard.)

The only catch is that the wood usually looks like an 85-year-old former boxer.  Jagged, beat up, dirty, limbs falling get the idea.  And who would want to make a shelf or a table out of an 85-year-old former boxer?  Well, we would!  All it takes is a little elbow grease and/or some specific tools, and that old wood will be back in shape in no time.  It might even have some extra character scars to serve as an artistic reminder of its former life.

In case you have the same vehicle for hauling reclaimed wood as we do, 60 feet of dismantled cedar fencing is about the maximum that a Saturn SW2 can hold.

Our first step is to dismantle the wood down to the raw boards.  Pull nails, remove screws, toss scraps into the burn pile.  The bent, rusty nails and screws will add up quickly, but can be taken to a scrapyard to recover some of the cost of your effort if they're not reusable.  Other folks say that burying them around fruit trees will help replenish iron in the soil, but beware of anything that's not rusty-looking, since it probably has some kind of corrosion inhibitor added, such as a zinc- or polymer-based coating (or both), which will keep the iron from getting into the soil while adding toxic (zinc) or plastic junk to your dirt.

Then, the boards.  Occasionally, a board will be fit for use as-is.  If it's not too splintery or dirty and the intended application isn't too cuddly, the board can go directly to any number of reclaimed wood projects.  But what if we need a closet shelf that won't snag sweaters, a nightstand that doesn't go bump in the night, or counter top to use as a kitchen workspace?

Enter the bench top planer.  (It works just as well on a garage floor or in an apartment living room as on a bench top.)  We got it for $50 on Craigslist, and it's the key to getting the wood from something someone would leave in their driveway for free to something Katie would allow in the house.  This particular planer can handle boards up to 5" thick.  For boards that are thicker than that (e.g., a 1 x >5), we set up our router table to be a jointer or just use a hand plane.

Usually a single pass will take off all the surface splinters and dirt.  A second or third pass takes out most of the remaining dings, leaving just a few artistic nail holes.  (Top = before, bottom = after.)  It's important to measure the new dimensions of the boards once they look nice, since the planer can remove anywhere from 1/32" up to 1/8" per pass.  Projects don't fit together nearly as nicely with an extra 1/8" on the end of every board, even if you do cut the wood square!

For Jake's projects, everything at this point gets screwed, glued, and called 'done!'   The shelf boards in this closet shelf are sections of old cedar fence planks that are probably too thin for almost any other application. (Maybe shimming door jambs would be ok.)

For Katie's projects there are a few extra steps like sanding and/or staining.

This is Katie's end table before sanding.  What a beaut'!

2 x 4s seem to be the most readily available form of free wood, which is great if you want to build a butcher block-style counter top or something similarly sturdy.  This thing will be heavy as heck, but able to withstand plenty of pounding!   In the background, a pile of unusable wood is visible.  Those are boards that are too warped, too short (i.e., scraps), or occasionally, too punky.  But for us, it's a beneficial side effect of collecting free boards because it provides a continuous supply of bone-dry firewood for heating the workspace.

What steps do you take when working with abandoned wood?  What are your favorite reclaimed wood projects?  Let us know in the comments section below!