Monday, January 25, 2016

Fixing Our Electric Chainsaw

Last summer, we needed some trees taken down in the yard.  The trees being large enough to smash something valuable in any direction they fell, our landlords outsourced the operation to professionals.  The wood from the trees, representing a disposal cost for the arborists (and a valuable source of heat for us), stayed in the yard, but in barely-small-enough-to-move portions.  This spring, we got an electric chainsaw to convert it into more bite-size bits.  It worked gloriously.

This summer, we tackled another tree on our own (being amateur arborists ourselves) that was less dangerous, but had a bit of an ingrown fence problem.  As luck would have it, the last cut of the felling operation saw a chainsaw tooth collide with a link of chainlink fence.  The result was that the electric motor continued to spin, but the chain, not so much.  The fix turned out to be relatively simple, but there were a few tricks we wanted to make note of in case we have to do it again.  It's here on the blog because 1. we'll know where to find it and 2. someone else might also find the tricks useful.  Here goes:

Sprocket gear comparison: well, there's your problem!  That there sprocket gear on the left only has half his teeth!  Solution: buy a new sprocket gear.  Useful trick #1: the sprocket gear assembly sold by Sears for this model is the wrong part for our saw, which came from Lowe's.  Fortunately, PartsTree has us covered and gives two options, which prompted us to count the teeth to make sure we got the right one.  Our saw has (had) 59 teeth on its sprocket gear.

Drive gear in place, then new sprocket gear on top like this.

Then the bar, the sprocket cover and e-ring (it's not just for getting electronically engaged anymore!).  The sprocket cover isn't shown directly on the parts diagram.

When putting the shield back on, the chain tensioner has a hook that has to engage with the bar in order for the tension screw to work.  Useful trick #2: the best view of that is from the bottom of the saw, although it's not great even from there.

With the new sprocket gear, it cuts like a boss!  Or at least, the chain moves with the motor now.  It would cut a lot better if the chain were sharp.  Guess we know what the next task is!

Do you have any other tips for replacing the sprocket gear on a chainsaw?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reminder: B2B eBook Bundle Sale Ends Today!

We just wanted to post a reminder that if you were still thinking about getting a copy of the Back to Basics eBook bundle, the sale ends today!  It doesn't just go back to regular price after today, though--the bundle actually won't be available at all!

So, hop to it if you still want a copy!

You can read our thoughts on the bundle here.

It's cold out there--bundle up!

Note: The above links (other than to our recent post) are affiliate links.  If you prefer to get the bundle from a non-affiliate link, go here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2015 Review (and 2016 Goals)

One of the best parts about having a blog is that there's a definite record of what we get done around the homestead.  And the turn of the calendar is a great opportunity to look back and compare what we wanted to get done with what we actually got done, and revise the plan for the coming year.

Last January, we wrote down four main goals we wanted to accomplish:
  1. Finish our butcher block kitchen counter top and cabinet
  2. Expand the garden
  3. Raise more bugs for chicken food
  4. Do more foraging
How did we do?  We're pleased to report that #2 gets a big check mark.  We hit our target for growing space and pulled in more than 150 lbs of vegetables, which was enough to make a significant difference in the amount of veggies we would have had to buy.  The expanded garden also gave us a chance to do more experimenting with green tomato dishes, which are becoming more and more popular among household correspondents.

We could have probably broken 200 lbs if it weren't for misbehaving chickens and squirrels!  On the plus side, the chicken feed bill must have been a little lower.

We definitely prioritized the garden, and (possibly as a result) ended up a little short of our initial expectations on the other three.  But let's paint that in a more positive light. :-)

Instead of permanently finishing the the butcher block counter top and shelves, we spent the year testing them in beta mode.  And, it turns out that they're exactly what we need in our kitchen.  So now, we can feel much more confident about finishing them off without risking that we'll want to change the design later on.  Really, we should have made it a 2016 goal to begin with!  We were so young and foolish last January.  Keep an eye out for another post on that soon.

The butcher block counter as it appeared last winter.  It looks different now.  Hang tight--we'll fill you in in a few days!

As far as raising specific bugs for chicken food, we became less enamored with that when we started reading about Karl Hammer's compost operation up in Vermont.  He's got an amazing setup in which he mixes manure and straw and lets it sit until the mixture cools off a little, then adds it to a another mixture of food scraps.  The whole mess is scratched through (i.e., aerated) by chickens, who eat the bugs in the compost, as well as anything else in the mix that catches their eye.  The compost stays warm enough through the Vermont winter to support the chickens year-round.  So ultimately, Karl gets his chicken feed for the price of hauling it, free aeration of his compost, and dozens of eggs every week to boot.  On top of that, he keeps all that food waste out of the landfill and all that manure from creating polluted runoff.  It's brilliant.  So for us, instead of growing a few worms and black soldier fly larvae, we want to do what Karl does, but on a back yard scale.  That's going to be our #1 priority for this year.

On the foraging, we were moderately successful.  We didn't get out of the yard too much, but we did manage to catch a fish (even if it was catch and release, and too small to keep anyway).  And in the yard, we did some experimenting with the weeds, and learned how their nutrition stacks up to some cultivated veggies.  We'll still look to expand on this one in 2016 (in particular, procuring more wild meat), but we can give it at least a little check mark for now.

Look at that lunker!

Ok, then, time to write down the 2016 goals. (Yes, they look a lot like the 2015 goals that we didn't complete to our expectations.  Focus and finish, right?) 

1. Build a compost-making, chicken-feeding device that's large enough to a) stay warm through the winter and b) cover most of the feed demand of the chickens.
2. Finish that counter top.
3. Bring home wild meat to eat! (grunt grunt.)

Lastly, a goal that isn't specifically homesteading related, but we want to tweak the layout and operation of this blog a bit.  So don't be surprised if there are a few changes in the coming weeks.  Some changes you might have already noticed, like fewer distracting AdSense ads in the side bars. We're always aiming to give you the best reading experience possible, so we're definitely keen on getting feedback from readers.  Feel free to chime in if you have been wishing for a widget we don't currently have!

What do you want to get done on your homestead in 2016?  Any ideas to improve the blog readability?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Back to Basics eBook Bundle Available...Now!

Being students of the blogosphere, one thing we've noticed is a significant uptick in the number of self-published eBooks as of late.  Some eBooks are basically 10 pages worth of blog posts electronically stapled together, while others are 50+ pages of valuable, original research combined with first-hand experience and first-rate photography.  We've seen plenty of both, but eBooks that have been selected to become part of a bundle or anthology seem to tend toward the second category.

Along those lines, if you're into eBooks about homemade stuff, there's a pretty good deal going on right now (through January 24).  The Self Reliant School has put together a bundle of eBooks and eCourses from dozens of authors and bloggers, and made it available for one week.  (Sort of like a Black Friday sale, but for online indie authors instead of big box retail stores.) The bundle contains 55 eBooks that you can download individually or as a huge electronic bookshelf, and 10 eCourses (or temporary memberships to sites with eCourses) that you can work through.  The cost for the total package is $29.97.

The main artwork theme for the bundle features a field full of dandelions, so they've obviously got their priorities straight.

Good eBooks start at $0.99 and go up from there, so 55 eBooks for $30 is a pretty good deal already.  eCourses are normally more expensive than eBooks.  The Self Reliant School estimates that the bundle price is a little over 90% off of the cumulative price if you were to buy each eBook and eCourse individually.  Not many people (including us) are so into these things that they'd ever buy all 60+ individually, but if we find even a quarter of them useful, we'd likely still come out ahead.

This link has a list of the titles, the authors, and where they come from.  The featured categories include Cooking from Scratch, DIY, Frugal Living, Green Living, Homeschooling, Homesteading, Natural Remedies, Preparedness, and Simple Living.  Some categories are lighter on content than others, so definitely check out the title/author list before buying.  But overall, there are lots of enticing titles, and we were intrigued enough to buy ourselves a copy.  We just found out about the bundle last week from electronic friend Leigh (one of the authors featured in the bundle), so we obviously haven't had time to go through everything yet. 

But, after skimming through a few of the eBooks, we were impressed enough with the contents that we felt comfortable recommending the bundle to our readers (especially since it's only available through this week) and decided to become affiliates of the bundle ourselves. So, if you use this link to check out the bundle and eventually buy a copy, we'll get a small commission and it doesn't cost you anything extra.  If you prefer not to go that route, you can still get the bundle here; no harm, no foul.  In either case, if you do buy the bundle, but end up disagreeing with our assessment of its quality, there is a 30-day money back guarantee.

Finally, they're also offering a 15-day "Back to Basics Living Challenge," and you can sign up for free here (also affiliate link).  The challenge started on January 10, but we just signed up yesterday, and the confirmation e-mail says we'll get links back to the first eight days.  Nothing like upping the ante in a challenge by spotting the rest of the field a week-long head start!  To be honest, we're not totally sure what to expect from this 'challenge,' but it will probably be full of opportunities to buy the bundle if you need a few more nudges.

That's all we've got for now.  Happy eLearning!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Frozen Wild Greens Recap and New! Liquid Carrots for Dessert

When Katie's out of town, as was the case this last week, the kitchen experiments around here tend to get a little more curious.  In particular, the opportunity exists to use up things from the freezer that aren't allowed in the kitchen at the same time as Katie.  Not that she's particularly picky, but it's been a busy week nonetheless.

First, the last of the frozen wild greens are now used up.  There were a couple quart bags of dandelions and one of sorrel in the freezer.

If memory serves, one bag of dandelions was blanched before freezing, and the other just soaked to extract the bitter taraxinic acids, then frozen without blanching.  Both seemed to be functionally equivalent to frozen spinach, except slightly bitter (in a good way).  In the future, we definitely won't bother with the blanching!

The sorrel also seemed to be functionally equivalent to frozen spinach.  This one we didn't blanch because heating the fresh sorrel makes it turn a weird green-gray color.  Interestingly, after it came out of the freezer, it stayed green in the frying pan.  There was only one bag of sorrel, though (no replicate in this experiment!), so we'll have to try again next year to try to reproduce the lack of color change on heating.

One staple dish around here for frozen greens is a a mix of the sauteed greens, potatoes, plain yogurt (or sour cream if you're trying to get some extra calories in), and seasonings.  Pretty good stuff.  The combination of bold flavors also makes it a good hiding place for odd cuts of meat that some of the Homestead Laboratory resident scientists would object to eating as a featured course.

...such as this delectable bit, which was just as tender and scrumptious as the Curious Coconut promised.  Any guesses what it is? (Hint: click the link.)

An approximate total recipe for this iteration of the dish is something like 10 oz greens, 5 cups cubed, cooked potatoes, 1 lb cubed meat, 2 cups plain yogurt, and salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, basil, and cayenne pepper to taste.  Topped with some melty cheddar, it's a dish fit for kings.  Or at least, the king of this castle when the queen isn't around.

We're also big fans of cramming vegetables into our desserts, although Katie tends to be less excited about untested combinations.  For example, the picture shows the makings of a carrot-apple cider-caramel ice cream smoothy.  It took about three medium carrots (which the kitchen scale said was 5.65 oz), about 1.5 cups apple cider, and three big scoops of salted caramel ice cream.  Carrots got chopped in the food processor with the apple cider, then ice cream jumped in and everything got processed until smooth.  Before you wrinkle your nose, keep in mind that carrot juice and apple juice are no strangers to each other in the juicing world (search 'carrot apple juice' to find a litany of recipes), and apples and caramel are one of the best flavor combinations of all time.  (And that is a scientific fact!)  It actually tastes mostly not like carrot.
That's a big, tall glass of yum, right there.  Yup.

What kind of experiments have you been working on in the kitchen?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Trimming Root Vegetables--Do We Really Have To?

We made a big pan of roasted root veggies last night.  Potatoes, carrots, and onions.  Yum.  In the middle of judiciously cutting off all the green parts of the skins and all the eyes out of the potatoes, we started to wonder how much of this tedious prep work was really necessary.  Everyone knows that green potatoes will murder you in your sleep if you eat them, right?  And green-shouldered carrots are probably just as bad?  Green-shouldered onions will probably make you cry while they do it.

But what if these silent killers were just getting a bad rap?  As it turns out, some are, some, maybe not.  Read on--the Homestead Laboratory investigates!

solanine and chalconine
For potatoes, the green color comes from chlorophyll, but these guys (the glycoalkaloids solanine and chalconine) are the toxic part.  Plants in the nightshade family use them as a defense mechanism, and they ramp up production in response to stress or light.  Also in response to light, they ramp up chlorophyll production, which is why the green color is associated with the toxicity.  Strictly speaking, however, the green color is not required for high glycoalkaloid content. The glycoalkaloids are also bitter, though, so we can still tell when there is a lot of them without having to have any analytical equipment fancier than a tongue.

Green potatoes on cutting board
Next, is there enough of the glycoalkaloids to actually do any damage?  The dose commonly cited to cause toxic effects for solanine is 2 mg/kg body weight, or 140 mg for a 70 kg person.  The half life in the body for humans is 1-2 months, which works out to a total steady-state body burden of 50 mg if the intake of solanine is 1 mg/day.  How many potatoes would you have to eat to take in 1 mg/day of solanine?  Normal solanine contents of potato tubers are about 7.5 mg/100 g fresh weight (varying widely across samples).  The green parts can have more than 200 mg solanine/100 g fresh weight.  For reference, the four potatoes in the picture cumulatively weigh 211 g, and the stripes on the cutting board are 1" wide.  So, it wouldn't take much if you ate taters every day.    Looks like we'll definitely continue to trim the green parts, and probably space out our potato eating a little more, too. 

On the other hand, most researchers seem to consider the eyes as part of the tuber, so if they aren't sprouting, it seems there's no need for us to worry about additional solanine coming from the untrimmed eyes.  Looks like we can save ourselves a lot of time on eye-trimming.  However, if the eyes are sprouting at all, the solanine content in the tuber can go up, down, or stay the same, depending on the variety.  One thing is clear, though--the sprouts have the most solanine of all, so we'll be staying away from them!  In that case, we'll definitely trim more liberally, and probably make a bit of effort to ease off on our potato intake for a while once that dish is gone.

Also, some solace for french fry and potato chip lovers--the frying process doubles as a high-temperature extraction (reducing the content of the solanine in the fries) because the glycoalkaloids are somewhat oil-soluble.  Probably still would be good to not eat the green ones.

Carrot with greenshoulder
Carrots get some green on their shoulders from the sunlight, too, but aren't in the nightshade family.  So, while the green color still comes from chlorophyll, the glycoalkaloids don't come along with it.  The green color does still bring some bitterness, but the molecules that cause it have not been identified (or at least, they hadn't as of 2007, and we couldn't find any more recent papers).  It's known that some types of molecules, including terpenoids, can result in a bitter flavor, even in non-greened carrots , but apparently in the green parts, these are not the terpenoids we're looking for.  One would think they'd also have looked for glycoalkaloids.  But the whole carrot plant, including the top, is edible, so the green parts of the carrot roots might be unpalatable, but not likely dangerous.  Similarly for onions, the greening that happens on the shoulders of the bulb when exposed to sunlight is due to chlorophyll, but not likely dangerous.  It might even be beneficial due to concomitant flavonoid formation!  Maybe the carrots are also making flavonoids.

Of course, if the green parts of the carrots and onions end up being too bitter for us, chicken taste buds might handle them better.  Guten apetit!

What do you do with the green parts of your root veggies?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Root Vegetable Storage Guide

Earlier this fall, as we were bringing in veggies, we found ourselves referring often to curing-and-storing guides.  Most sources we found were overly comprehensive, including fruits and vegetables from all regions of the world and dividing up the information into unintuitive (to us, anyway) groupings.  Eventually, we decided to compile all the information we needed for our modest garden into one chart: what we grow (or will grow soon), how to cure it, how to store it, and what not to store it with.

In the off chance that you might find it useful, too, we wanted to make it downloadable as a .pdf to print off and hang on your fridge (which is what we did to help memorize the contents).  But you'll have to earn it!  It's not hard. Visit us on Facebook, where you'll find a link to the download.  You don't have to Like the page to download the file, but it will help us out a little (in Facebook's eyes) if you do, and it gives you another way to follow us if you don't want to subscribe to the e-mail list or add us to your RSS feed.  In addition to the free .pdf file, you'll also earn our undying gratitude for helping to spread the word about THL.  What a deal!

How to use the guide: RH = relative humidity; storage humidity is also given as relative humidity.  Avoid storing ethylene-producing crops  with ethylene-susceptible crops as much as possible.  Chill susceptible veggies go bad quickly if their storage temperature dips below the minimum of the recommended range.

(Alternatively, if you're not a Facebookian, you can always download the low-res image above as a jpeg.)
Also, if you have any suggestions for how to improve the chart, or additional vegetables you think would be useful, let us know in the comments section below!

Ok, ready? Go!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Economics of Hunting

Growing up in Wisconsin, the deer hunting season was as close to a holiday as one could get without official state sanctioning.  We were enthusiastic participants in the jubilee--countless hours in the woods and swamps waiting for a deer to walk by (watching the antics of squirrels and woodpeckers in the meantime), and countless more hours trying to chase those same deer past uncles and cousins, inventing hare-brained fail-proof strategery on a truck tailgate while eating sandwiches and apples, playing cribbage while cooking celebratory tenderloins, and playing poker late into the night.

It was a family gathering as much as anything, but the question sometimes arose--how did the price of the venison we were currently in the process of procuring compare to something comparable we could buy?  The question has become more poignant now that we now need to buy non-resident licenses at a premium price of 567% of the resident license cost.  This week, we realized we had never actually sat down and calculated it.  Fortunately, that type of calculation is just the kind of thing we do here on this blog.

Time to put on our number-crunching hats and look at some scenarios.  And time to make a spreadsheet!

First, here are the numbers we used, broken up into five scenarios.  Scenarios 1a and 1b incorporate the cost of a low-end, but serviceable rifle ($300 on sale from the local farm store), and a $25 box of shells for an initial sight-in.  Those costs are assumed to be divided up evenly over the first five years, and work out to $65 for years 1-5.  Another four shells are included for a tune-up and the kill shot, at a cost of $5.  (For bow-hunting, a likely-non-reusable arrow and a possibly-reusable broadhead could also be approximated at $5, maybe a little more.)  A resident deer license in Wisconsin is $24, and the cost for a typical excursion included travel to the hunting grounds at about 200 miles round trip (calculated at a travel cost of $102, using an approximate GSA mileage rate of $0.51/mile), about $25 in extra food (per person) for donuts, granola bars, celebratory beers, etc., and a processing fee of $85, if we were to take the deer in (Scenario 1a).  The "hanging weight" of the deer is assumed to be 80 lbs, which roughly equates to 110 lb dressed and 140 lb live weights, which are typical for upper midwestern whitetails.

Scenarios 2a and 2b assume that the gun is paid for, and is sighted in and close to accurate.  This is closest to the situation we had growing up. Scenario 3 is closest to our current situation, with $160 for a non-resident license, no travel costs (because Jake's parents now live in a cabin on the hunting grounds), and no processing costs, since we'll be gosh-darned if we let some careless butcher guy waste a single ounce of that deer.

Scenarios 4a and 4b are for comparison to elk hunting in Colorado, including a drive from the Denver area up to the legendary Flat Tops Range by Yampa (310 miles round trip). The lowest elk processing fee we could find was $275 (others were close to $1.00/lb), and the average field-dressed weight for an elk is in the range of 350 lb.

Scenario 5 is if dear old Dad wanted to drive out from Wisconsin to Colorado for an elk hunt, and also wanted to outsource his elk processing.

The total cost works out to $2-4/lb for Wisconsin whitetail venison, $0.70-$1.50/lb for resident Colorado elk venison, and about $5.69 for non-resident Colorado elk venison, if that non-resident drives from Wisconsin, with the breakdown shown above.  Processing adds about $1/lb to the total cost for the deer, and a little less for the elk.  The lower travel cost from Jake's parents' new digs pretty much offsets the increased cost of the non-resident license. (Thanks, mom and dad!)  Unfortunately, it doesn't work out quite as nicely coming to Colorado to hunt elk.

For comparison, the lowest beef prices we could find were about $3.51/lb (composite value from averaging ribeye, filet mignon, back ribs, sirloin, and strip steaks from here; it's bolstered by the ribs, but that brings it into the wholesale range recorded by the USDA).  The grocery store conventional beef (averaging prices for hamburger, sirloin, and strip steaks in the weekly ad of our local King Soopers store), came in at $4.92/lb.  Buying grass-fed beef directly from the farmer was marginally higher at $5.23/lb (from averaging prices here, here, here, here, and here).  To give an idea of the range of farm-direct conventional beef, the last link also offers that next to its grass-fed beef, at $4.50/lb. 

So, long story short, hunting venison is generally less expensive than buying beef, especially if you do your own processing and don't have to travel far to hunt.  A corollary is that if you do have to travel, you can probably decrease your price per pound by getting multiple tags to fill on the trip (e.g., elk plus mule deer plus antelope).

Of course, all of the above is predicated on the assumption that the hunt is successful.  That's not necessarily a given, as the Wisconsin deer hunting and Colorado elk hunting success rates show.  But if you do your homework ahead of time, your odds of success are probably higher than the average.

Practicing by hunting the rare and elusive feed bag target is an important part of the pre-hunt homework, but be careful not to shoot any chickens!

Have you calculated your hunted meat costs?  How do they compare?