Friday, July 4, 2014

Apple Cider Revisited

One of my most popular posts ever predates our actual homesteading start by a fair bit.  It seems like other people are also interested in being able to naturally and easily create something that has the ability to bring such pleasure (or pain - if unmoderated).

While I still don't have enough room to set up a 20 litre carbuoy, I did think I could go back to small batch brewing and create something we might be game to try.

My first attempt was really, really quick - I simply cracked the lids of two large plastic bottles of cider and added some yeast.  This worked well, but soon after I discovered a local source of larger, 5 litre glass bottles that allowed me to buy my cider in any format (that didn't contain preservatives) and use it for future recipes.  I treated these the same way I use to do for the gallon bottles I was able to purchase in Wellesley.  I forwent (forgoed?) a vapour lock, opting instead for a small metal cup as a cap to keep out dust and foreign yeast.

Bottling is a little more low-tech than previously; so far I have graduated to racking it from one large bottle to another to try to reduce the amount of yeast sediment, and then after a day or two, bottling into my Grolsch gurdles.

The first few batches were quite flat.  Both Donna and I like our cider to have a little snap to it, so the last batch I added about one or two teaspoons of sugar to the gurdles before bottling.  It will remain to be seen if that is enough to carbonate the brew for us before we put it into the fridge.  Timing may be important, to ensure that the yeast are still active enough when I bottle.

In any case, it's a nice sideline hobby that pays good dividends.  I am looking forward to seeing how well it will work in the dead of winter, with the bottles likely making their home on top of the warming closet.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Slow Cooker on Solar Power

This is not going to be some sort of fancy post about a "solar" cooker with mirrors or foil or glass or anything like that.  As simple and effective as they may be, I was more interested in something that would simplify our life, rather than complicate it.

Cookers of the solar type are generally home-built, something I wasn't all that keen to entertain at the moment, and I feel that they lose their power to keep food safely and consistently heated when a cloud passes overhead.

At the same time, I had noted that our charge controller has a habit of tapering off the amps going into the batteries shortly after peak output, as they take on more and more electrons.  This notably resulted in the solar system spending large portions of the day ignoring loads of potential energy.  We generally have been using that up by doing laundry on sunny days, and pumping water, and things of that nature.

After awhile I began to wonder about other loads that might be utilized during these times of overabundance of power.  Enter the humble slow cooker...

Research online revealed a great range of possible wattages, but the enticing price and overall hint of energy savings finally gave me incentive enough to at least try it and see.

I ordered one of the smallest ones I could find, while still feeling that it would have the capacity to cover the three of us, plus occasional guests.  I ended up with a 2.5quart model with a simple off/low/high range.

In practice, it has been really a great addition to our household and has so far this spring and summer earned a position in our pantry.

On low it seems to draw about 10 amps from our 12V battery bank, and on high I would say closer to 16 or 17.  This means that it is very realistic and not at all nerve-wracking to plug it in even at 11 or 12 on a sunny morning and already it won't be drawing down the battery bank.  We often turn it on high for the first hour or two before switching it to low to continue cooking our evening meal.

It also means that it doesn't heat up the cabin as much as starting some sort of fire would do at the end of the day.

One of our favourite meals has been to simply throw in a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs with a large helping of barbeque sauce and enjoy this on some buns with a side salad.

Here is my attempt today at turkey burrito mix - it was a "mixed" success though - I added a bit of water to make sure it didn't dry out, but instead, it turned into a burrito slurry.  Worked okay, but soaked through the tortillas right away.

You can see that in spite of it being set on high, my battery bank was charging just fine.

Donna has become a wizard at making different casseroles, and one that I could have over and over again is her perogie one.  Each one has been different, first with chicken and gravy added, then with ham and asparagus, and lately with sliced sausage.

I am so blessed to have Donna here, enduring one scheme or experiment after another, and making the good ones actually work and be enjoyable.  Her commitment to keeping Kenny and me healthy, grounded and happy never fails, even at the expense of her own needs at times.  I am constantly amazed at the good fortune I have had to find her, and often find myself questioning if I really deserve someone so great.  Homesteading really requires an exceptional spouse and Donna is one of a kind!

Speaking of which, one of my friends from Aikido just told me that they were getting married this fall.  I'm very happy for them, they were such a great training partner and exhibited a wonderful spirit on and off the mat, and their future spouse will be very lucky to have them in their life!  Best wishes!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Finishing Off Cutting the Slab Pile to Stove Length

It has been a very slow progress spring for me here on the homestead.  It has been at various times rainy, and buggy, and hot, and I've been fighting though some pretty severe fatigure.  My off-homestead work commitments have also increased.

In between the other obstacles, and naps, I managed to spend a couple of solid days plugging away at the slab pile down by the sawmill.  It took much longer than I expected!  At least I had the ATV and trailer running well and was able to use the trailer to haul away the cut up slabs.

For now I cut them up by laying them across two metal sawhorses, strapping them onto both of the sawhorses, and then cutting one end and then the other.  I alternated to prevent the weight from moving off centre and tipping over the whole thing.  Finally I cut between the supports and repeated the process.

Well, except for breaks.

And a second break.  It was certainly the highlight to have Kenny and Donna come to visit, especially when they brought a cool drink of water.

Eventually I was able to nearly fill my largest woodshed with all these slabs - that's a nice feeling.  But I still have three more to go before winter, and that's assuming that I'll burn much less wood this year if I can improve the overall insulation of the sauna and cabin.

A nice side effect of cutting up the slab pile was that after having sat for so long, the slabs readily gave up their bark.  I had so much bark coming off of them that I was able to spread it around the sawmill site in a manner that smoothed out the landscape slightly.  I'll see if this can continue.

Wait!  That's not where those are to go!