, , , , ,

Adventures in Traditional Soap-Making

A Brief History of Traditional Soap-Making

traditional soap-making

Pannikin of soft-soap on chair at left

Then Almanzo was left alone in the kitchen, to take his bath.  His clean underwear was hanging on a chair-back to air and warm.  The wash-cloth and towel and the small wooden pannikin of soft-soap were on another chain.  He brought another washtub from the woodshed and put it on the floor in front of the open oven-door.

He took off his waist and one pair of socks and his pants.  Then he dipped some warm water from the tub on the stove into the tub on the floor.  He took off his other pair of socks and his underwear, and his bare skin felt good in the heat from the oven.  He toasted in the heat, and he thought he might just put on his clean underwear and not take a bath at all.  But Mother would look, when he went in the dining-room.

So he stepped in the water.  It covered his feet.  With his fingers he dug some of the brown, slimy soft-soap from the pannikin and smeared it on the washcloth.  Then he scrubbed himself well all over.

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Chapter 7 Saturday Night)

That “soft-soap” is what we are after.  I’ve called it “man soap,” or “kick ass soap.”  The traditional methods of making soft-soap go back literally thousands of years.  The basic process involves leaching ashes in water to produce “lye-water,” and then mixing the lye-water with a fat, or fats, usually over heat, to “saponify” the fats.  In Almanzo’s case the soft-soap would probably have been made from cooking and heating-fire ashes, saved from the previous winter, and left-over fats from cooking.  Soap-making was springtime work, and it was work, without question, and usually the responsibility of the woman of the house.  In a perfect world, the resulting product contains neither fat nor lye, but only soap, the two ingredients having been totally consumed in the saponification process.  I’ve called it “man soap,” or “kick ass soap.”  It’s real, it’s natural, it was traditionally made from waste products, and it does the job.  And, the devil is indeed in the details; more on that to come in this post. Read more

, , , , , , ,

Chicken Killing Cone Fabrication

img_4115

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

IMG_4083

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.

Read more

, , , , , ,

Lessons from A Beginner in the Field

Or the woods, as the case may be.  It was an interesting sit between two big beech trees yesterday.  First, well before light still, I heard a branch come crashing down, I think it landed less than 10 feet behind me and a bit to my left. (Later investigation showed it to be less than 6 feet, the branch 4 inches in diameter.)  I instinctively moved, quickly, to the right around the trunk of the tree my back was against.  Scary.  Widow-maker.  Lesson Learned:  In your scouting for a location from which to hunt, check for widow-makers, be that a ground or tree stand location.  The chances of being hit are small, the consequences large.
I was sitting with my back against the tree to the left
Then, after first light, I heard what sounded like baseballs dropping through the canopy, dropping through the leaves and branches, and hitting the ground with heavy, distinctive thuds.  “That would hurt,” I said to myself!  I actually thought seriously about getting one of those hard hat shells that goes under a baseball cap, and Geri mentioned the same when I told her the story later.  I thought this was interesting because I did not hear any of it before sunrise, then, I heard maybe 10 or 20 fall over the course of 30 minutes or so, then nothing.  It had rained an inch the day before and into early hours, and an inch and a half the day before that.  There was a lot of water in the canopy, and under the trees it seemed like it was still raining as I sat.  At the time I believed that they might be black walnuts, that was all I could think of that made any sense, and I saw a relatively dark trunk (compared to the dominant sugar maples and beeches) maybe 20-25 yards in front of me; they are called black walnut trees for a reason.  I also looked this over during my “later investigation,” and sho’ nuf, there was a big black walnut tree and walnuts littering the forest floor.  Lesson Learned: Do not set your dumb ass under mature black walnut trees in the fall!

Read more

, , , , , , , , , , ,

A Calling

This post is along the same lines as my first, from back in February of 2014, titled “Spring 2013: In the Beginning…”  Focused on introspection, what’s going on inside, as opposed to the “how” of this or that.  Like all of us, consciously or not, I have been on something of a personal development journey, and the past 6 years or so, with Geri’s huge impact on my life, the speed of development has increased dramatically, and we have been on the journey together.  <Now some might say, “what personal development?”  Ha!  Well, if that is you, I will just remind you that there is this blind spot we all have, called “what I don’t know that I don’t know.”  And in this case you should thank God for that!>  As we have eliminated a lot of the noise from our lives, attracted the positive and eliminated the negative, systematically, and with intention, we have been able to feel and hear ourselves with increased sensitivity, it seems to me.  The most recent example of this for me, was Facebook.  It just had to stop, so for those of you wondering about my silence, there you have it.  The homestead Facebook page is still being maintained, but I have not been on my personal page in several weeks.  It has made a huge difference; I have a lot more stillness in my life.  That is not saying anything bad about Facebook, and there are certainly great aspects of the experience, which I miss, but for me it became just another addiction, and I invested more time and energy in it than I should have.  The point is, after eliminating a lot of modern day distractions, TV being the first several years ago, the resulting quiet is gorgeous.  In the space left behind is the work, and a state of more heightened awareness of ourselves is a key benefit of “doing the work,” as Geri likes to say, on ourselves and our relationships. Read more

, , , , , , , ,

It is Tapping Time, And That Means Spring!

Here we go, in southwest Michigan!  The 10-day forecast includes what appears to be an almost picture perfect start to the maple sugaring season.

10-day weather forecast for Kalamazoo, Michigan

Starting on Saturday, 7 March, you can see that the daily high and low temperatures will bracket the freezing point for six days in a row; that dynamic is what causes maple trees to develop a positive pressure when the temperature rises above freezing, pushing sap out of the tree.  I will plan to tap at least some of our trees on the morning of Saturday 7 March, and I would bet that they will start flowing that afternoon. Read more

, , , , , , , , ,

Top 7 Messages from The Land Ethic Reclaimed MOOC

Perhaps as I did, you might ask, “what is a MOOC?”  According to Oxford Dictionaries [1]:

Pronunciation: /mook/
Definition of MOOC in English:NOUN
A course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people:  ‘anyone who decides to take a MOOC simply logs on to the website and signs up‘ORIGIN
early 21st century: from massive open online course, probably influenced by MMOG and MMORPG.

My homepage in the Coursera iPad app

I believe I owe a debt of gratitude to Mary C., and the Van-Kal Permaculture Facebook page, for the lead to this treasure trove.  I am sure there are other sources, but this particular course was offered through Coursera, so I signed up on-line and also downloaded the app for my iPad.   There are many course offerings from a large number of prestigious institutions, accessible by browsing or searching the course catalog. Read more

, , , , , , , ,

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

, , , , , , , , , , ,

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

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Read more