Sustainable Heat – Year 2 of Our Journey

Sustainable Heat; Resilient Home Heating Systems

Our home was built in the early 70’s, and I have to say, it’s infrastructure, particularly the foundation, crawl space, attic, septic system, electrical system, plumbing, and HVAC systems, were not well thought-out, executed, or maintained.  So far, the only item on that lengthy list that we have not at least substantially addressed, is the foundation.  The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) was particularly inefficient, unreliable, and costly.  Sustainable heat: Not.  We inherited from previous owners, an old propane-fired forced air heating system, using two package units (you usually see these used industrially, the entire heating and air conditioning apparatus is outside the house, only ducting and wiring connecting it to the house), with installed electric baseboards as “back-up,” I suppose you could say.  The first time the propane-fired forced air system failed, due to operator error I might add, we learned that the electric baseboards were not capable of bringing the house up to even 45°F; they’ve not been energized since.  So what have we done, and what are we doing, to improve the sustainability and resilience of a system for providing sustainble heat?  Read on for the details. Read more

Making a Living, and a Life

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What Making a Living Looks Like from Here

Massive lifestyle change; that’s what it looks like.  Living closer to the land means that the days of a single-point source of income is only history, and has little, and hopefully no place, in the future.  There are at least a couple of reasons for that, the first that come to mind are:

  • Time.  In the end, that’s one of the few things you have, and precious little of it.  A “job” simply takes too much time away from everything else that matters; family, friends, community, health, the land, and so on.  A job is what I call a “mutually exclusive circle,” which is to say that usually, your family, friends, the community, your health, and that of the land, are not a part of it, they’re not inside the job circle.  Where does that leave those people and things?
  • Earning money at a job is taxed heavily, relatively speaking.  That means that what you earn is significantly devalued simply by virtue of how you earn it, especially if that something results in a W-2.  The Feds take a big fraction, the States follow suit.
  • Then, most of what you buy with what you earn is also taxed, the earnings on your savings, if any, are taxed, etc.  And let’s not forget the systematic devaluation of the dollar.  All-in-all, it’s a Win-Lose proposition, and the earner/saver is not on the Winning side of the equation.
  • Resiliancy?  Not.  With a single-point source of income you are generally employed at the whim of your employer; it’s called “at-will” employment; your will, and more importantly in this context, your employer’s will.  You can be let go for more or less any reason, or no reason at all, eliminating your single-point source of income.
  • Passive income.  Nope.  With a job, typically, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.  Especially as we age, it is important to have streams of income that do not require our active participation.  You know, like book royalties, or rent from that spare space in your barn; gifts that keep on giving.

At least that is the belief system I operate under.  So what does that mean? Read more

White-Tailed Deer Tree Stand Safety

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Fall Prevention and Tree Stand Safety

Tree Stand Safety – Background

Hunting is obviously not one of our three lines of business, Sawyers, Sugarers, or Soapers, but it is part of what I refer to as Primal Woods Life, and it is About Us!  Indigenous peoples have not been particular about food, other than to ensurethat it was safe and nutritious, so they ate what the land had to offer; plants and animals.  In the midwest, White-Tailed Deer are a part of the fat of the land, and so they are a part of how we now sustain ourselves.  If you want to know more about White-tailed Deer and their conservation, check out the post I wrote, Top 7 Messages from The Land Ethic Reclaimed.  Hunting safely is about your Health, and it is about your Community, including your family and friends.  I argue that you cannot afford to get hurt, and your friends, family and community cannot afford for you to get hurt.

Tree Stand Safety at Primal Woods

Part and parcel of hunting white-tailed deer in this part of the country, are tree stands.  Now I religiously wear my safety harness in all ladder stands that I hunt from, regardless of height, which ranges from 12-15 feet.  I don’t care who you are, a fall from that height can hurt you, badly.  However, the safety harness only protects you once you are in the stand, not when climbing to, or descending from the stand.  We inherited a high “hang-on” stand from a tresspasser a few years ago, and this stand requires some additional safety considerations.  The seat of the stand is about 25 feet above the ground, and access is not via a typical ladder, but rather by use of a “climbing stick,” which is strapped to the tree.

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Yup, that qualifies as a long drop

This tree stand requires 16 feet of climbing stick, and another 8 feet or so of “tree steps,” which are screwed into the tree.

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An example of a “tree step”

Tree Stand Safety – Fall Prevention

Now, let in be said, I’m not a big fan of heights.  And I am certainly not interested in falling from 20 or 25 feet while trying to access this tree stand, or worse yet, while climbing down from this tree stand in complete darkness and the dead of winter.  So, today I installed the Gorilla Gear Fall Defense G-Tac Fall Defense Line Tree Rope.  That’s a mouthful.  It is the larger rope on the right side of the climbing stick in the photo.  This piece of safety equipment uses a curious knot, called a “Prusik Knot,” which you can slip up or down as you climb or descend, but which pulls tight and arrests your fall if the knot is put under tension by the force of your fall.

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Prusik Knot in the Gorilla Gear Fall Defense Line

A carabiner attaches your safety harness to the Prusik knot when climbing or descending.  The green and white in the larger black rope is reflective.

The other rope in the picture, on the left, is what I call a haul rope.  Again, this is tied off up at the stand, but is equipped with carabiners at the ground-end to allow the hunter to leave his gear on the ground, attached to the haul rope; freeing his hands for climbing.  Then, once the hunter is safely situated in the stand, with safety harness attached, the gear is hauled up.  So both ropes, for fall prevention and for hauling gear up to the stand, are important from a safety perspective.

Ok, all for now.  I just wanted to get out a quick note, asking you to care for yourselves, and by association, your family and friends.  Take safety seriously.

All the best, and kind regards,

John

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Peach Trees – Actions against Peach Tree Borer

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A brief update on 3 of the fruit trees, the peaches, planted in June of 2016.  The details of all of the fruit and nut trees and shrubs can be found in the blog post “FRUIT & NUT TREE AND SHRUB WALK-AROUND JULY 2016.”  It’s safe to say I have provided all of the trees and shrubs planted with near-zero support.  So far we have only lost one peach, the “Flamin’ Fury,” and that was last year; it did not look good from the git go.

Yesterday I was prompted to check the remaining peaches for peach borer by my friend PJ.  ‘Shor ‘nuf, they appear to have recently been at the O’Henry Peach, and perhaps less recently, and less aggressively, at the  Loring Peach. Read more

I’m a List Guy

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Yes, I am even one of those that will put something I have already done on the list just so I can check it off!  So last night I woke in the wee hours, and could not get my mind to shut off.  And today is tapping day of course, and I have procrastinated, of course, so now I am up against it, of course.  What’s new, that is the story of my life more or less!  To shut my mind off, I make a list of what is on my mind; this took about an hour fifteen, then I was able to get back to sleep.  See the image of my list below, or find the pdf, with clickable links,  HERE.  Now I need to power through the list, wish me luck! Read more

Improving White-tailed Deer Utilization – Part 1

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The first White-tailed Deer of the season, image from Instagram

I killed two white-tailed deer this year, field dressed and hung each to age a bit, and then took them to my processor to be made into cuts (steaks, chops, roasts, etc.), ground venison, and sausages.  I also helped my friend Jacob to get his deer processed, and it was during an exchange between us and the processor, that the processor mentioned that the amount of meat typically returned to his customers, as a fraction of hanging weight, is approximately 35%.  When recently picking up the meat from a 1/2 steer (grass fed) that Geri and I had purchased, that processor told me that the yield for beef is typically 70% of hanging weight; of course they have been bred to maximize meat production.  Still, I found the 35% yield from white-tails to be too low, unacceptably low in fact; if I am going to take the life of an animal I want to use as much of the animal as is possible.  With that in mind, I established the following goal in the 2016 Year in Review post:

Homestead BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) 2017 – Butcher, process and preserve at least one deer, on the homestead; improve utilization from 35% of hanging weight to >=60%

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2017 January – Deep Winter, So What?

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Central Boiler firebox after a 12 hour burn; overnight low 8°F

The wheel barrow full is about a 12 hr load-out at current temperatures

I suppose we all have those periods of time, when we are losing sleep because we have so much going on in our lives that it seems incredibly daunting to even consider what needs to be done to satisfy all of the needs.  So it has been for me in recent days.  It helped to put together the 2016 Year in Review post, and the goals for 2017 that it documents.

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2016 Year in Review

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What a year.  It seemed so long, and at the same time it was over just as it was getting started.  I suppose that is the nature of making big moves, physically, as we moved to Michigan full-time, and in business, as we started up the Primal Woods trio of businesses.  We also undertook some much needed home renovation and improvement projects.  And I’m only scratching the surface.  Some things went better than others; most failed to meet my decidedly optimistic hopes.  Still, we are standing going into 2017, and I would say better in every regard for the experiences of 2016.

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Chicken Killing Cone Fabrication

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Step 1: Design laid out with Sharpie on 24 inch wide roll of aluminum flashing

A brief “how-to” on how I fabricated the killing cone.  There are certainly more ways, and probably better ways, but I was able to put this together in about an hour utilizing materials I had on-hand.  So, it has that going for it.  Design courtesy of Anne Arthur; thanks again Anne!

In the first step (1) I laid out the design on some aluminum flashing material I had left over from a project for two tree-nesting duck nest boxes that I completed a couple of years ago.  I also used some as heat shielding last year around the maple syrup evaporator.  This material is inexpensive and useful.  It is light-weight, so this cone is not has heavy-duty as it might be, but I suspect that it will last years in my relatively light-duty application. Read more

The Chicken Experiment, and Meat Chicken Processing Planning

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The ruler of the roost – click to enlarge

Our roosters are now about 21 weeks old, we have had them for 10 weeks as of this past Saturday, September 3rd.  They are way beyond prime butchering age, but that has not been the only point of the experiment.  We will probably keep them a little bit longer, maybe a week or two, before butchering, for a couple of reasons: 1) we enjoy having them around, and 2) to further acclimate the dogs to their presence.  In recent weeks the dogs have been great with chickens.  A few weeks ago we did lose one of the original five birds to a predator, and we are not exactly sure whether the culprit was one or both of the dogs, or some other critter.  The dogs were caught with some evidence, basically the breast of the bird, in the yard, so they have that working against them.  Still, things have gone well since, and we have been free ranging the chickens all day every day for the past two or three weeks.  The chickens move around the yard and the nearby woods, no problems, and plenty of forage for small the omnivores that they are.

The chicken tractor that Anne Arthur designed and built for us has worked very well, we have had no issues.  The chickens return to the coop reliably at sundown.  For use in free ranging chickens, where they are only in the coop overnight, for the most part, it could accommodate 20 or more.  The chickens have not done any noticeable damage to flower beds, and we have fenced them out of the vegetable garden.  If we were keeping them, they would definitely be turned loose in the garden after we shut it down for the year.

All things taken into consideration, the experiment has been a grand success.  We are planning to raise somewhere between one and two dozen meat birds next year.

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