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Insulating Can Lights: The Rest of the Story

In my post of 4 February 2015, I discussed “energy leaks,” and specifically leaks that I thought were due to air flow through “can light” fixtures that penetrated the ceiling of the kitchen and floor of the attic.  I noted at the time, “The only break in the insulation envelope, is a pair of can lights above the kitchen counter, their location corresponding to the left (west) edge of the heat shadow on the roof.”  A “small and slow improvement” was made, which was basically to add more fiberglass batt insulation on top of the can lights.  The folly of this effort was soon in evidence, as after a more recent snowfall I could again see a “heat shadow” forming on the roof in the same location.  Fortunately, my friend Sam saw the post, and gave me some good advice:   “As for your fiberglass experiment over the recessed lighting. In my experience the air flow through fiberglass batts make excellent air filters and not much else.  Recessed lighting is notorious for being leaky devices that as you rightly state let the warm conditioned air of your living space into the unconditioned space of your attic.  Fiberglass loses its insulative capacity and is short circuited by air flow, so if it is not installed in a situation where there are an air barriers the R-value is decreased.  You might want to try recessed lighting insulation covers (yes, they are a thing) and then place the insulation over the top of those.  The covers allow you to seal around the light and reduce the air exchange going on with the hole in your ceiling.”  Indeed!  And thank you Sam! Read more

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Winter 2014/2015 – Work in the Woods, Hunting, and Planning

The forest in snow

Winter is hard, though perhaps not always in the sense you would at first imagine.  In one sense, there is of course the weather, but I rather enjoy winter, absent the freezing pipes of winter 2013/2014, and the aftermath.  I spent all too many hours under the house replacing the plumbing.  In terms of the variety of the work there is to do, there is less in winter it seems; there is no gardening going on, the bees do not require any management, no maintenance of other plantings, and so on.
Temperatures have been relatively mild compared to last year, so there has been no ice fishing, yet.  There have really only been three activities calling for my time and energy; hunting, wood harvesting, and 2015 planning. Read more

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Forest Products: Hard Maple Flooring

American hophornbeam for fencing

I have posted on more than one occasion, regarding the felling of trees, bucking and splitting to produce wood fuel, and chipping to produce mulch.  There is also American hophornbeam (aka ironwood, see under “Trees” on the Plants & Animals page) growing on the homestead, which makes great fence posts; I have perhaps 15 to 20 such posts air drying now.  Hophornbeam can also be used to make long bows and re-curve bows, which I intend to attempt in the future.  Of course maple syrup is another  forest product, and one we intend to expand our production of in the spring of 2015.  And the list goes on.

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A Jackie Clay-Atkinson Homesteading Seminar, Summer 2014

Earlier this year, I had decided to give my wife for her birthday, the gift of attending a Jackie Clay-Atkinson seminar.  For those of you who might not know of Jackie, I submit the following from the Backwoods Home Magazine entry on Wikipedia, “Jackie Clay-Atkinson, an independent off-grid homesteader in northern Minnesota, writes articles on all aspects of self-sufficient living, from growing herbs to butchering elk. In addition, her “Ask Jackie” column answers questions from readers on many topics, with emphasis on home skills like safely preserving foods. She brings similar topics to her Backwoods Home blog.”  To find a list of Jackie’s articles at Backwoods Home Magazine, click on this link.  At first I had not planned to attend the 3-day seminar, but as time passed, and the date approached, I finally decided to see if there was room left in the seminar for me.  Fortunately there was, and in a effort to make it more than a purely educational endeavor, I decided to rent an RV and make a vacation of it.  Geri loved the idea of the RV, and on Thursday the 5th of June we headed for the far north of Minnesota, and the homestead of Jackie and her husband Will, just 90 miles from the Canadian border.

The trip was 12 hours more or less, with occasional stops for rest and to refuel.  On the drive, we listened to the audio-book Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education, by Michael Pollan. Audio-books, and podcasts, are both good ways of putting your daily commute, or a long drive, to productive or entertaining use; this book by Pollan was both entertaining and educational.  Pollan has written several other books, the most well know of which might be, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals; you can check out Michael’s author’s page on Amazon at this link.  If you are in need of a laugh, listen to A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson, though you will be laughing so hard you may not want to be operating heavy equipment at the time!

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Beekeeping: A Short, Cautionary Tale, From a Beginner

In recent weeks I have thought of the need to add a 5th box to the bee hive; I have been seeing many bees congregating at the hive entrance, and was worrying that they might have expanded to fill the available volume, and bee looking to swarm.  Since Nathan was around as an able assistant, having helped me to add the 3rd and 4th boxes back in June, the time to add the 5th box had come. After adding the 3rd and 4th boxes, I summarized the event in a blog post by stating, “The process of adding the boxes went more smoothly than I probably had any right to expect; it was executed without incident.”  As it turns out, I indeed did not have any right to expect that it would go so smoothly.
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Home Improvement – Heat Loss Prevention

Last winter, our use of propane was exorbitant, and with propane prices high and climbing, and availability limited, the situation presented real financial hardship for many.  Fortunately, Geri had locked in low propane prices when we moved in, otherwise it would have been literally twice as painful to absorb the cost.  In two deliveries, we put almost 1,600 gallons of propane in our 1,000 gallon tank, between December and February.
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The (Early) Education of a Homesteader

I have heard several questions along the lines of, “how did you learn how to do that,” “where did you learn to do that,” “when did you learn to do that,” or “did you grow up on a farm,” and so on.  The short answers to the “where and how” questions are, between the covers of books, on YouTube, or by trawling the internet, and by asking folks who know more than I do, either in person or in on-line forums.  The answer to the “when” question is, recently, in most instances.  And to the final question, the answer is “no.”

In fact, in my inaugural post I stated:  “I also realized that what I do for money, provides directly for precisely none of my or my family’s needs, in fact I am quite practiced in doing nothing that can be bartered for anything, except for money.  This last piece of the puzzle is tantamount to having one’s “man card” revoked, or at least it was in my opinion.  Until 1995 I had never had a vehicle in a repair shop, I had never had a maintenance man of any sort in a home I owned, I had never paid anyone to mow my lawn, I was a fairly proficient welder with oxygen and acetylene, and could recharge my air conditioner properly with Freon, I had fairly recent memories of successfully hunting and fishing, and if I dug deeply enough, trapping.  Until only recently though, I had done none of that for the better part of 20 years.  And for food that is grown from the earth, I was almost completely blind to its sources; I didn’t know that broccoli was a seed head, or that Brussels sprouts were a bud and the plant a cultivar of the cabbage group, and worse.”

So in short, my ignorance, and lack of skills, or at least a lack of recently practiced skills, were key to my decision to homestead.
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Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part III, Beekeeping

The initial bee install took place the weekend of 5 April 2014, and I added a box to the hive the weekend of 12 April, as documented in the post, “Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part I,” dated 23 May 2014.  I checked on the bees regularly, and there was plenty of activity, with bees coming and going, and the bees were carrying in loads of pollen from their foraging activities.  The hive appeared to be very healthy.  I knew that I should be adding more boxes to the hive, and as the weeks went by I became more and more anxious that the colony might swarm because there was insufficient space in the hive for the growing colony.  Finally, adding the boxes rose to the top of my work list, and coincidentally Nathan was available to help me in the process.

Nathan (L) and I suiting up, inactive hive box after step 1 just to my right in the background

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Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part II

By mid-April, spring was in full swing, and I began to think again of working in the woods.  The cleared area around the house, in the shape of an egg in profile, with the fat end uphill and to the south and the small end to the north reaching to the lake, the yard if you will, totals between 2.5 and 3 acres.  Surrounded by old-growth trees, American Beech, Sugar Maple, and Tuliptree dominate, as well as some more recent introductions, 20 to 25 crab apples, and several willows closer to water’s edge.  It seems the forest would overtake the yard in just a few short years were the property to be abandoned.  Occasionally, it adds up over time, trees would fall, or branches would break off and fall into the yard, for a variety of reasons.  Since none of the woods was being put to directly productive use, the idea seemed to be to make the “problem” go away; the result of clean-up of the dead fall being large piles, 3 to 4 feet high, of brush and larger branches and main stems having been dragged just into the forest, and surrounding the clearing more or less completely, anywhere from at the yard’s edge to 20 feet into the forest.  I have made it a mission to deal with the piles more effectively.  Specifically, anything that is dry and 1 to 3 inches in diameter is used as stick fuel, green and 3 inches and less in diameter is chipped for use as mulch or on pathways, 3 to 4 inches in diameter and larger is bucked and split for firewood.  Odd-shaped pieces in the larger diameters are set aside for use in the fire pit, wood too rotted for use as fuel is set aside for use in Hügelkultur.  Virtually all of the wood can be reused in one form or another; waste not, want not.

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Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part I

It has been almost 8 weeks since I made a post, and I offer my humblest apologies; really, there has been little to write home about.  Well okay, perhaps, just maybe, that is a not entirely true statement.  Actually, the homestead has been a veritable hive of activity, in fact our life has been very busy over the past several weeks, and that level of activity seems likely to continue into mid-June.  And, it is wearing on me a bit that I have two blog posts to complete, “Warré Bee Hive Construction – Part II,” and “Winter 2013/2014: Lessons in Hardening Homestead Electrical, Potable Water, and Heating Systems.”  I will get to those eventually, promise.

Meanwhile, I will start where I left off, at the last post containing

homestead content, which was in late March, 26 March to be precise.  The weekend of 29 March offered the opportunity to evaporate yet more sap to the state of delicious maple syrup.  The yield was 16 cups of syrup.  While we stopped collecting sap on the 6th of April because temperatures were routinely staying above the freezing mark, and because sap had largely ceased flowing as a result, the business of evaporation continued through the weekend of April 12th; at that point there was no more snow to maintain the sap for extended periods of time without refrigeration.  In fact, we still have about 30 gallons of sap in the chest freezer awaiting processing.  We learned a great deal about maple sugaring this season, and I hope to be able to expand the operation significantly next year.  Our first season was great fun, and allowed us to connect with so many people while engaging in such a traditionally American endeavor; we will treasure the memories. Read more