Posts

Wellpump Failure!

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Background

Equipment failures never happen at an opportune time, and this was no exception to that rule.  It was about 0300 the moring of the 21st when Geri woke me to tell me that we had no water pressure in the house, and that day was our first running the new Primal Woods Pure Michigan Maple Syrup evaporator, and all of the associated new equipment.  I had no time for this wellpump failure!  But of course, I had to make time.  That time was this morning, when sap was not yet flowing, and when I did not have enough sap onhand to fire up the evaporator again.

Today’s Actions

Wellhead cover off

The braided line is connected to the body of the wellpump, and ensures that it does not fall to the bottom of the hole if the PEX tubing and wiring break.  Read on to learn more. 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

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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Warré Bee Hive Construction – Part II

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It is a rainy and cool fall day, in the middle of a week predicted to be rainy and cool, which has the benefit of finally bringing me back around to Part II of two-part series on building a Warré bee hive.  It is hard to believe that I wrote Warré Beehive Construction – Part I over two and a half years ago; I am not proud of that fact!

We started Primal Woods, LLC this year, and as part of the “Sugarers” subsidiary, of course honey is a part.  The plan is in place to double the number of hives each year until we have at least 64.  Even at a relatively modest 25 lbs of honey per hive per year, that would add up to 1,600 lbs of honey per year.  Having said that, with all of the various pressures that honeybees are under, from pesticides in particular, it is possible that their production might be cut in half, or more.  For now though, 64 hives seems like an aggressive target.  Inside of that number, the plan is to double each year until we get to 64, so this year that meant building an additional two hives; it will be four more in 2017, eight in 2018, and so on. Read more

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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Garden Improvements 2016

Rough plan view of garden and improvements, more or less to scale

We installed the garden in year two on the site, that would have been 2014.  Basically that involved designating a space, installing the five 4 foot by 8 foot raised beds, on contour, and filling those beds with topsoil.  The soil profile on the home-site is 2 inches of topsoil, atop five feet of clay, almost clean enough to throw pots with straight out of the ground, resting on sand, almost as fine as powdered sugar.  In short, it is not great soil as-is for a vegetable garden.  This year so far, we have added about 4 cu. ft. of compost to each of the raised beds; call that a wheel barrow full in each.  Now though, we are getting a bit more ambitious.

There are a few reasons why we are getting more ambitious, and why we are perhaps a little impatient in making our garden more productive.  First of all, our diet has changed pretty radically over the course of the past two years, for reasons I may go into in detail in a later post, but for now suffice it to say that it is for health-related reasons.  This past year we have got a better handle on what we put in our mouths, and we want to grow more of that food ourselves, organically.  Secondly, in partnership with a friend, we are going to raise a few meat chickens this summer and into fall; if allowed, chickens can be hell on a garden. Read more

Life’s Work

It seems like it has been forever since I posted, or was it yesterday?  To say that we have been caught up in something of a whirlwind is probably an understatement.  Just 4 days after my last post, on 24 September 2015, my now former employer made a public release, “BUILDING FOR A STRONGER FUTURE, CATERPILLAR ANNOUNCES RESTRUCTURING AND COST REDUCTION PLANS.”  Some of us have felt that tightening in the gut that follows showing up at the job only to find out that your badge does not work!  Typically the cause has nothing to do with an end to employment, rather it is a system malfunction of some sort, or you kept your badge to close to your cell phone, or another of the innumerable and perfectly innocuous possible causes.  Am I a part of the “stronger future,”  or am I a part of “cost reduction?”  Warranted or no, the guts tighten up a bit until the matter is resolved, or at least understood.  So it was on the morning of 24 September. Read more

Of Birds, Bees and Apple Trees

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It has been an active spring season on the homestead, and this post is the resulting “grab bag” of topics.  Last year I had made a commitment to myself to put up a couple of nest boxes, in hopes of convincing a pair of tree nesting ducks to stay, as opposed to passing through on migration as they did last year.  Perhaps it was a bit too late, but I did in fact build and install two nest boxes.

Everything I purchased for the project is pictured (L); 12 feet of 1 in. x 10 in. cedar board, cut in half at the lumber yard, a roll 25 foot roll of 2 foot wide aluminum flashing, and a box of 50 stainless steel deck screws; the instructions are from Ducks Unlimited.  In the second picture (R) the boards have been cut to length using the Skillsaw.  Not pictured are a few roofing nails for attaching the flashing to the tree, two big nails for mounting the box, and some 1/2 in. hardware cloth, all of which I had on hand.

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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