Monday, December 16, 2013

Random Photos

Ever since I got this new Galaxy, I've been taking pictures like mad. I thought I would share some, and give my carpal tunnel a rest.

Two months after we set it up our aaquaponics system we picked our first salads. Snow and 1F temp didnt stop it!

We were given 3 young Barred Rock hens, bring the total to 18 hens.
The top is bare because I'm 5' 4" and the tree is 7' 6", heh.
All the rabbit cages hung up in the rabbit house.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Garage Aquaponics

I have 400 minnows and 30 baby channel cats coming in on Tuesday so we decided to set up a nursery tank in the garage for them using a dust collecting 160+ gallon stock tank. Rather than hook up a filtration system I picked up some 6"Hx20"Wx28"L mixing pans from Tractor supply to use for grow beds, and we pulled the second pump out of the other system to turn this into a small scale AP setup.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Flower Pot Heater

After seeing a Youtube video of a radiant heater made from some clay flower pots and a couple of candles, I had to give it a try. Naturally the comments were full of hand wringing hysterics wailing about how unsafe it was and how we'd all set ourselves on fire. One particularly shrill nannypants, who apparently stalked down everyone who had made a similar video in order to voice his objections, insisted a child would see the video, create the heater, and subsequently burn to death, and he of course would be there to offer his "common sense testimony" to the lawsuit that the video maker would earn from it.

I really hate the nannypants crowd.


I've had a dozen pumpkins cluttering up my kitchen counters since the end of October, and would have been content to leave them there until next spring, except I needed an excuse to avoid cleaning the kitchen. Gutting, roasting, pureeing and freezing pumpkins looked like a good one.

I usually just grow the little New England Sugar Pie Pumpkins but this year I planted a few Musquee De Provence, Howdens, and the Jack Be Littles that took over the place. The Howdens were a complete bust, and I only got one and a half Musquee (the half got pecked to death by a wily hen before it was half grown).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chicken stock 'n Gravy

I'm always on the lookout for chicken to go on sale, or for a pack to reach it's "OMG SELL IT NOW" date and get marked down to nothing. My favorite are the thigh packs. I skin and debone them, chop them up into bite sized pieces, and toss them into whatever stir fry marinade I'm hooked on at the moment. Using my $4 garage sale Food Saver sealer, I divy it all up into 1 cup portions and freeze for some night when I'm in the mood for a stir fry but not the prep work.

Once that's done I'm staring at a pile of chicken bones and skin. I toss the skins all into the deep fryer until crispy, then salt them and toss them into a bag. The bones go into another bag, and it all goes into the freezer, where it waits until a day like today rolls around.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Aquaponics - PVC Cold Frame

Aside from a few hiccups the aquaponics system is coming along brilliantly, which means by this time next year I'll have torn it down and rebuilt it at least four times. The old "don't fix what ain't broke" adage never seemed to take hold with me.

However with winter just a month away, I couldn't put off building some sort of protection for it any longer. The priority for the build was cheap. Having blown the bulk of my book royalties on a used Camry, extra cash is a bit spotty right now. Fortunately for me, someone is always giving away something cool on Craigslist and as I was wasting time avoiding work taking a second to check out the ads I came across a listing I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Joining a group

Over the weekend I decided to pull out of the retreat group I'd joined back in the spring. Some of the reasons involved a serious personality conflict I had with another member of the group, but most of it was due to the group's lack of direction and overabundance of grasshoppers. Ultimately I did not feel it benefited us to remain in the group. It's a shame too because I really liked a couple of the members.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Best Laid Plans - Rabbit Poop Boards Take 2

This is a continuation of this post.

After I got the dropping boards hooked up, it came to light they wouldn't work. Not only could I not get the sheets to lie flat, having the gutter in the front meant I would have to lean over a pee soaked gutter every time I needed to reach into a cage. I also found out the hard way that rinsing the boards off always resulted in water (that's what I pretended it was anyway) sailing over the gutter and splashing all over me. I'd suspected it would do that, known better than to set it up like that, but I always do things the hard way. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rearranging the hoard

One of the downsides to being an author is that I never really know how much money I'll make from month to month. Other than I don't have any way to track sales, so until the royalties draft into my account I just don't know what to expect. They arrive like magic, the majority from my main publisher on the 16th, chump change from Amazon thanks to a few self-published stories appearing around the 28th, and then a halfway decent check every quarter from another publisher. One month might be a down payment on a two year old Camry, while another might barely cover the electric bill. If I'm industrious and remember to submit short stories to various anthologies I can usually pull in an extra $50 to $200 each on those, but I've been lazy this year. As a result, my hoarding tendencies have been greatly limited.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Aquaponics Project, Part 2

The trip to get gravel for the system, using an open sided flatbed trailer, warrents a post all of its own under the "stupid things I do" label. Suffice it to say it's a wonder I got home with any gravel at all.

No sooner did we get the first bed finished off with gravel than the 4" pipe that serves as a guard around the bell siphon shifted and a ton of gravel got underneath it. If you ever try this project, be smarter than me and silicone that guard in place before you fill the bed with rocks. Digging a hole in slippery, slidey gravel isn't my idea of a fun afternoon.

But eventually, it all came together, and we kicked the pumps on.

DIY Rabbit cage poop boards

Back when I only had a few rabbits in cages on the fence, I had some 55 gallon drums cut in half and set underneath to catch the poo and pee. Let me tell you now, you don't want to go that route. It seems like a great idea until you have to carry a half barrel full of sloshing, urine fermenting poop across the yard to dump in the garden, tripping over every root and twig and stone that has magically appeared in your path along the way.

I only had to do that about nineteen times before I decided to come up with a better idea. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dehydrating Eggs

I did the math and there's really no reason for me to dehydrate eggs.

#10 can of powdered whole eggs from Shelf Reliance costs $22.29 at the moment. It is listed as having 216 eggs inside... or servings, and one egg is a serving so same thing. That's 18 dozen. I sell eggs for $2 a dozen, so I make $36 on 18 dozen eggs. I could sell 36 dozen eggs and buy the equivalent of 54 dozen, already dried and neatly packaged for my convenience.

So why am I dehydrating eggs?

DIY Automatic Chicken Waterer

I was going to write a post complete with pictures about the chicken waterer we built, but since I'd already done a video for it, I figured I'd cheat and just pull it over here.

In hindsight, if I had to do this over I think I'd go with the screw in cups instead of the nipples. In the summer, it seems like the hens get frustrated trying to get enough water from the nipples, and if I let them out to run around in the yard they beeline for the bee watering station and guzzle it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Eggshells for Feed & Garden

During my fall egg drying/freezing marathon I accumulate a ton of egg shells. I toss them into a pie pan lined with foil and into the oven @350F for ten minutes or whenever I remember to go take them out. If Facebook is involved, that could be several hours. Baking them will make them very brittle, and much easier to crush.

Trust me, you want the foil. The little bit of egg goop that remains on the shells will burn onto your pan otherwise, and it's the dickens to get off. Once they've been baked they go into the food processor to be pulverized as close to dust as I can get them. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Freezing Eggs

The Mr. and I really don't eat all that many eggs, perhaps 4 a week unless I'm baking. Compare that to the dozen+ I get every day and you can see we have a bit of an overproduction problem. No matter, I have a dedicated buyer who will eat all the eggs I can supply him, which is usually around 10 dozen a week.

Except for that week he accidentally dropped all ten dozen in the floorboard of his truck. That week he only ate around two dozen. :D

Since the temperatures are cooling off, I turned off the automatic lights on the coop on September 1 to allow the girls to go into molt and have plenty of time to refeather before the real cold hits. One month later the coop looks like a sorority had a feather pillow fight in there.

Knowing the egg production was about to come to a screeching halt, I stopped selling and started hoarding the eggs for the months to come. Of course you can only keep so many in the fridge before there's no room for anything else, so I turned to freezing.

I decided to ignore conventional wisdom and try my own idea out on this one. I really don't bake all that much, so our primary use for eggs is fried on Saturday morning, or scrambled for the Mr.'s breakfast burritos for work. Ergo I didn't want to go to the bother of separating the yolks or scrambling and freezing in ice trays. Since these won't last past the next four months or so I don't figure it will be an issue if I don't "do it properly".

Instead, I broke out the muffin pan and dropped an egg in each slot.
Ready to go into the freezer
Into the freezer they went. Once frozen, I planned to pop them out and toss into a freezer bag. 

Frozen Eggs
Except they didn't pop out. Not. At. All.

First I flipped the muffin pan upside down on a cookie sheet and beat it a bit. When that didn't work I tried laying my hands over the back of the pan, hoping to warm it just enough to get them to pop out. Nope, not gonna work either. Finally I pulled out the hairdryer, set it to high, and went to wafting hot air all over the back of the pan. 

This resulted in melty eggs that I had to pry out with a butter knife. But now they were sloppy on the bottom, so tossing them in the bag was out of the question. They'd all stick together. Instead I tossed them into a cake pan and back into the freezer, remembering to shuffle them around after fifteen minutes so they wouldn't restick (they already had). Much fiddling and a great deal of annoyance later, they finally made it into the freezer bag.

At this point I was questioning just how much I really gave a shit if we ever ate another egg again, but with ten dozen eggs still in the freezer, I couldn't give up just yet. However, I got a little smarter on the next run. I used PAM cooking spray in the pan, and just did one egg.


It didn't fall out when I flipped the pan over, but the edges had pulled away from the side just a tad and I was able to pop it out easily with the butter knife.

Frozen eggs

I'm also in the middle of dehydrating my fourth batch of eggs, and lemme just say freezing wins this game hands down. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Aquaponics Project - Part 1

Two years ago I learned about the wonders of aquaponics and decided we had to set up our own system. Our neighbor kindly gave me a bunch of 275 gallon IBC totes that he didn't need, and we promptly got to work cutting them all up. 

After cutting them all up, we shoved them out of the way and let the mess collect dust for two years.

Procrastination is the order of the day around here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pumpkin shenanigans

Every year I plant pumpkins with grand schemes of raising a thousand plus pounder for the fair. Visions of blue ribbons and that $100 prize money consume my common sense and lead to me planting 3/4 of our backyard in pumpkins. Every summer I lovingly tend them, catering to their every whim, chasing the bugs from their leaves and making sure my special organic compost tea infused watering system is working 100% properly. 

Actually I mostly ignore them in favor of Star Trek reruns.

The result of my neglect is a yard full of 4-8 pound pumpkins that thoroughly shame their 500 pound parents. Given that all those in the know swear pumpkin seeds are a natural livestock wormer, it isn't a total loss. Do they really work as a wormer? I have no clue, but I've never met a critter who didn't love pumpkins so if the pumpkin eating orgy going on in my back yard now is also resulting in the purging of parasites, I'll consider it icing.

Cochie Mama chows down
This year I planted 4 Jack 'o Lantern type pumpkins (Howden), 4 Cinderella type pumpkins (Musquee de provence), 2 pie pumpkins (New England Sugar) and 4 mini pumpkins (Jack Be Little). Thanks to heat, neglect, lack of water, and laziness on my part, I wound up with:
0 Howden
2 Musquee de Provence (one was stunted and deformed so really, just 1)
14 New England Sugar Pie
56 Jack Be Little

I probably had a lot more of the mini pumpkins, but the vines in the front yard wound up overtaking the entire bed and running into the driveway. I didn't keep track of how many the Mr. ran over every morning as he left for work, or the ones my neighbor's kids swiped to throw at passing cars.

My Runaway Jack Be Little Pumpkin Vines

See those branches sticking out there on the left side? Those aren't sneaky weeds, those are desperate rose canes trying to get a little sunlight. The first time I planted Jack Be Little the vines were as miniature as the pumpkins. I must have gotten some seeds on steroids this time. The upside is that my roses hated that spot anyway because of the wind and I'd planned to relocate them this winter. The pumpkin vine gave them protection and believe it or not, they bloomed underneath all that!

From a survival standpoint, I'd go with the mini jacks. Sure they're small, but they thrived where others died. Properly hardened off and stored in a cool, dry location, they'll easily last the entire winter. The only drawback as far as feeding them to animals is the rind gets so hard you'll need a hacksaw to bust into it.

Next up was the New England Sugar Pie, but they took up a crapload of room, and while the minis suffered no ill effects from being denied the ability to root along their vines, I'm not sure the NESPs would fare as well. If any regular size pumpkin can grow vertical though, it's them thanks to their mad crazy thick stems. I may give them a vertical try next year. Having stored them in a cabinet in the kitchen two years ago, I already know they'll last 4-6 months... probably longer but I didn't have any left after 6 months.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A House for Lola, aka Rabbit Cage House Part D'oh

Most of my rabbits do just fine in their cages. They eat a lot, sleep a lot, and crap a lot. Sometimes I let them run around in the yard, but for the most part they're cage bunnies and they're ok with that.

And then there's Lola.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Chicken Coop

Our chicken coop has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a chicken tractor barely big enough for three hens. I couldn't find a photo of it when it was new. This was the day I drug it to the back gate to give to someone else. The chickens had long since left it. I'd used it for rabbits for a little while, then some baby chicks I raised for someone else, but it was falling apart and the time had come to say goodbye. 

I sat down with pen and paper and came up with a coop design that would allow me to up the number of hens to around twenty, plus not require I get on my hands and knees to catch a hen should she need catching. I wanted it to allow for plenty of airflow for our hot summer months, but also have an enclosed roosting area with decent ventilation but no drafts. I also wanted nest boxes that I could access without going inside the coop.

Since we live in city limits, it had to look nice. I may live in the sticks, but there's no shortage of grouchy old busy bodies out here with nothing better to do than call the city and complain about them damn outsiders dragging down the property values. They'll still talk smack, but it won't go past the lunch table at the town's Senior Center.

The foundation consisted of concrete blocks from Home Depot. Notice how we made zero attempt to make them nice and level? This failure will be cursed many times by the Mr. as the build progresses.  You can already see problems developing as this first wall frame section goes up. :D

Rather than fix the foundation while we still could, however, we plowed ahead full steam!

Somehow I managed to not take any photos until nearly six months later, after it was finished and the far end was sinking into a crater that soon turned into a pit just off the edge of the newly installed storm cellar. That's a whole 'nother story for another day though.

I had to include a pic of the chicks when they arrived in the mail. CUTE! :)

The coop has since been divided in half, with the far end being converted to a rabbit room with one of the fish tanks for the aquaponics system in it. The rest of these are of the nest boxes and the roost section.

Nest boxes from inside roosting room

Outside the coop, nest boxes

Inside the coop looking at the roosting area and nest boxes. The end where that hen is, is wire mesh to allow for air flow 
Nest boxes with lid open

Friday, September 20, 2013

Pallet Project: Rabbit Cage House

Since we got the pallet planter done so quickly I figured I'd add another pallet project to the mix. After all, I only have 3 partially completed projects so what's one more?

When it comes to rabbit housing I don't do wood, at least not anywhere they can chew or pee on it. You simply cannot get wood clean after a buck has spent half a year liberally spraying the entire back wall of his hutch. HOWEVER, I've doodled up a plan for a cage house where I'll use all wire cages, but mounted in a wooden frame that is a) out of reach of their teeth, and b) protected from flying pee.

If you like to design stuff but don't have any thing more modern than a pencil to do it with, I suggest you check out Tinker CAD. It's free to tinker with CAD online.

Using pallets we have, we'll rip the 2x4s from them for the framework of the cage racks.

Amazing how fast they turn into just so much scrap

Next I'll build 8 of these pieces (or 10, need to measure area this is going). Each opening will be 37" wide and 19" deep. My cages are 36" wide and 18" deep. The idea is to slide a cage through that opening into a slot where it will rest on metal hangers. It will take 2 of these frames plus the side braces to hang one cage, and then I can attach these horizontally to hang more cages on down the row. I'm going to do this facing our fence, and run a roof from the top edge of our fence down to the back edge of this hutch frame.

After putting together the first cage holder, it became clear I was going to need a lot more pallets. A lot of these 2x4s are beyond salvage, others have those notches in the worst possible place. I thought I had enough to make two of these, but one was all I could pull off, and that was after I retrieved a 2x4 that's been sitting in the yard all summer long. Least it wasn't too warped to use!

This is the frame that will hold the cage. It's 2' by 3' plus 1" on each side, which will allow the cage to sit slightly back from the wood frame. It's held together with 2.5" wood screws. Notice I've already begun to ignore my original plans above. This was bite me in the butt on down the road.

I added 2x4 legs, and don't ask me what size because I didn't measure them. Probably 42". I measured 4" from the top edge, marked that, then from that line measured 19" and screwed the base frame on.

Then I screwed these L shaped things on, flush to the top edge of the base frame. The rabbit cage will rest on these. 

Here it is all put together. When I build the next one I'll build it the same way, but minus the legs on one side. I'll screw it onto this one through the horizontal side braces.

Or wait, maybe not exactly like this one. 

Remember how I ignored my own design plans? I didn't think anything of it until I went to slide the cage into the opening and found it was wider than the gap I'd left. If I'd followed my plans it would have worked, but I got fixated on the opening in the base and forgot about the opening I needed in the front. I still got the cage in, but had to go in from the top. Not a huge issue, but an annoyance nonetheless.

This group of cage holders will be roofed off of the side of the rabbit house so I don't have a cover on it ATM. For now I'll probably just throw some sheet metal over the top and call it good.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pallet Project: Raised Bed

I have finished a project.

More accurately, I started it and my husband finished it before I could abandon it for something more entertaining. I do love this man. :)

Click For Full Size
The uncovered lower edge is intentional. See how the pallet to the left notches up under it? I'm going to run that same size pallet along the front edge and down around the building to the rabbit room door, and the walkway will notch up under there. I'll screw through from the bed to the walkway to anchor it together.

Underneath and wrapping up the inside walls are cardboard boxes. I get them free, more than I know what to do with, and they do a good job of smothering weeds and unwanted grass. Or at least they're supposed to. Traditionally I put a layer down, and the bermuda gobbles it up by July. This time I went about 6 layers thick, all crisscrossed and interwoven, so hopefully the grass will find somewhere else to infest. On top of the cardboard went about an inch of old chicken crap from the roostbox, then about 4" of three year old, very rotted straw. Then came a liberal dose of old coffee grounds courtesy of Starbucks, followed by a few buckets of rabbit poo and about a pound of kitchen scraps. I'm picking up a load of topsoil tomorrow and will throw a layer of that on, then go from there.

Click for Closeup
I'm probably going to throw a layer of water sealer on there just to keep it looking nice. 

You can see it in its earlier stages in this post.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pallet Projects

I have a source of unlimited free pallets, but it wasn't until recently I decided to put them to use. Up until last week or so I just hauled them to the new retreat to be torn up for everything from firewood to building supplies to fencing. However the trip costs me a tank of gas there and back, and I've been feeling cheap lately. The last trailer load just sat in the grass by our drive, looking bad and annoying the neighbors.

Thankfully the daytime temps have begun to drop, thereby encouraging me to emerge from the blasting a/c and get some work done. Of course it wouldn't be me if I didn't start four projects at once and then quit halfway through, so naturally I plotted out four different projects for my pallet bonanza.

Chicken Coop Deck
Last winter we got a lot of snow, which resulted in the path from the back door to the coop turning into a muddy, slushy mess. Since our winter is predicted to be a bad one this go-round, I'm building a deck to run along the side of the coop, allowing me to gather eggs and get into the coop without having to go mud bogging. The Mr. gets these great little pallets from work that are perfect for this project. The slats are wide and thick and placed close together, and the size is perfect for the walkway back to the back door steps.

Of course I didn't bother to level underneath it before slapping the pallets down, so now I get to go back and do that after the fact. I'm getting a load of dirt in on Monday, and will level the ground out. Then I'll bolt the sections together, and run an end cap along that open edge to both stabilize the deck and make it look better. It's redneck engineering and in a wetter climate would probably rot to pieces in a few years, but out here where rain is an anomaly it'll last a good while.

Chicken Coop Planter
I'd put in a half assed bed here last year but within a week the bermuda had taken over. Have I ever mentioned how much I despise bermuda? I can't kill it all off because the Mr. is determined that it cover our backyard, so all I can do is try to thwart it's determination to take over my garden and flower beds. This raised bed is made from the narrow pallets ripped lengthwise. The top board comes from the pallets I source, which have rounded edges and are practically new so they look nice. I'll wind up covering the entire front with these since the pallets I used for the framework are rather ratty. The inside is lined under and inside with cardboard boxes that I get for free from a friend who works at the newspaper. Once I get it all lined, I'll layer in a mix of the powdered chicken poo from the earlier coop cleaning, rotted straw, topsoil, bunny poo, kitchen scraps, leaves, etc. This will be planted with smelly stuff to both sweeten up the coop smell, and drive off bugs. Rosemary, mint, lemon grass, marigolds, etc.

Chicken Yard Fence
These are those awesome pallets I get from my unlimited pallet source. They've only been used once, left indoors, and have those great rounded edges. I'd been letting the chickens out to run around the entire yard, but between pooping everywhere and eating all the grapes, it's time to restrict them to their own yard. I'm going to do a cheater foundation by pouring Quickcrete between the bottom two slats and framing a little on the outside. This will go down an additional pallet, then angle back towards the fence to make way for the garden. The gate will be a pallet on the angle, which can be closed to keep them in their yard, or opened and latched to a pallet garden fence to allow them into the garden during the off months.

Those license plates there shingle the hinged lid to the nest boxes. I got those free from the tax office, make great shingles!

Please excuse the horrible mess. That trash can is full of trimmings from the Mimosa in the chicken yard, and the bucket and duct and wire and whatnot was all stacked neatly but when things get in my way I tend to toss them wherever and deal with it later. Probably should have picked it up for photos...

Aquaponics Greenhouse
This won't get started until probably next month or so. I need to level the area it will be at. Think pallet walls, with PVC pipe arched from one side to the other going through the top rail of the pallet walls, then greenhouse film over that, for an 8' x 16' or 20' cold frame hoop house.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fall Coop Cleaning

I am terrible with remembering dates. I may be woman but my genetics fail me when it comes to birthdays, appointments, and anniversaries. When planning our wedding I'd initially planned to have it on 9/11 thinking, at last, a date I can remember! Wiser friends dissuaded me from this scheme and instead it wound up being on 9/12, preventing me from offending many and ensuring I'll never remember the date.

Like today.

The chicken coop gets cleaned twice a year, spring and fall. I use deep litter and though there's poo aplenty in it, it stays dry and doesn't smell. Since my allergies were already running haywire this morning I thought today would be the day to get this out of the way. It didn't take long to clear the night box deck of six months worth of poo and straw, most of which had long since crumbled to a fine powdery dust that quickly filled the air, my hair, eyes, nose, and of course my long suffering, asthmatic lungs. I needed to take the pressure washer to it, but since it's buried in the garage and I'm not feeling THAT energetic I decided to make the Mr. dig it out for me when he got home and deal with it later in the evening.

The evening of 9/12.

So here I sit, a liberal dusting of powdered chicken poo in my hair, grimy hand clutching my nebulizer, huffing myself into a stupor as I wonder when the two allergy pills I just took will knock me out cold. I'm filthy, wheezy, in dire need of a bleach shower, and due to pass out in about a half hour. That's when it hits me.

Today is our anniversary.

Oh it ain't like I *remembered* it. The Mr. just sent me a text asking if I'd figured out where I wanted to go out to eat tonight. His suggestions all require that my hair be did, my makeup be on, and that I be at least semi-conscious.

I have two hours to shower, scrape, spackle and style. Wish me luck.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pass my venti iced chai latte sugar free vanilla please

Six months later I return. What can I say, it's been a busy summer. Gardening, building stuff, plotting governmental overthrows, selling rabbits, canning. Naw I'm just kidding, I haven't actually been canning. What I have been is lazy with a capital Z.

I call it Prepper Burnout. I'm sure you're familiar with the symptoms. Obsessive binging on depressing news, rising prices of everything and anything, layoffs, urges to hoard toilet paper, followed by the desire to never get out of bed ever again. Once this passes, the sufferer will be overwhelmed with the need to say FUCK IT! head for the nearest Starbucks, and bleat like a fat sheep.

What set this off was my inclusion into a loose knit group of preppers. At the helm of this group is a tough old bird who has graciously put up the land for a retreat, if only we will help turn it into one, but he doesn't want to be the Grand Poobah Leader... and the rest, while likable, are clearly followers. If my years of playing the leader have taught me nothing else, it's that I always wind up being the ant to a herd of grasshoppers, and so I'm not volunteering for the position either.

To get this group together for anything more than the occasional online posting is like herding cats, and so I find myself wondering if we are better off going with our original plans of hunkering down here. Once I returned to the reality of doing it all by myself, my usual obsession with being self sufficient has gone the way of a wet witch in Oz. I want to watch bad TV and drink Starbucks and pretend Obama really is the Dear Leader my parents insist him to be.

Except I can't, at least not for long, and so I'm back with my expired grits and cordless drill and Homer buckets and barely broken in Doc Martins.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Things I Wish I'd Stocked More Of

Once upon a time I worked for local government. Delightful job, got to be treated like $*#*& all day long by taxpayers who blamed me for everything wrong in their world. When I realized I was fantasizing about setting them on fire while they slept, I quit and went back to my first love of writing. I spent the next six months getting serious about something I'd only toddled about with for decades, and then went looking for a publisher. Thank goodness I found one that took on not one but two of my novels, or I'd be cleaning hotel rooms by now.

During that time, our household income was cut by 45% thanks to my paycheck evaporating. If it weren't for the years I'd spent hoarding stocking food and supplies, we'd have been in bad shape. Or maybe we'd have been in better shape. We could both lose a few....

My "STOCKPILE" shopping list has gotten a facelift this month.

Cheese Soup - Everything is better with cheese. I used to put shredded cheese on a plate and nuke it until it was one big greasy crispy cheese crisp. That came to a rude stop around last July, when I realized just how MUCH I was spending on cheese! Having run out and with an unbearable need for macaroni and cheese, I dug out an old can of Campbells Cheese Soup "Great for Baking!" and used it. It isn't as great tasting, but it beats the heck out of NO cheese. I had three cans, and they were gone by August. I'll be adding a lot more... and yes I know I can can cheese, but having done it I can tell you the texture is crap and it doesn't melt right and it doesn't save me a nickle. This was never on my list before, but now I'm aiming for 40 cans.

Corn Flour - Before I used boxed cornbread mix. Krustez, mmm. After, I made from scratch. Honestly can't tell a difference. Will be adding 50-100 pounds of corn flour to the pile now.

Canned Chicken - Dollar Tree sells pretty good canned chicken for $1 a can, which is way cheaper than anywhere else. Again, I could can my own but mason jars and lids ain't cheap and though I've managed to score some decent deals on Craigslist, I've never found the kindly old person who happily gifted me their lifetime collection of Ball jars. Also, I appreciate a small can vs a quart sized jar, because sometimes I just want to throw a little bit into my soup and don't want to waste an entire quart of chicken. Originally I had 10 cans but I've since added a 0 to that number.

Tattler Lids - I've stocked boxes and boxes of the usual lids but let's face it, if you're serious about canning then there's no such thing as enough lids. The Tattlers are reusable and I had never heard of them until AFTER I wasn't getting my nice fat paycheck or I'd already have a thousand of 'em. The upfront cost is a little painful but they'll pay for themselves over and over. Aiming for the bulk 200 first.

Powdered Buttermilk - You can make buttermilk by putting a little white vinegar into your milk in a non-reactive container, but I'd rather just keep a tin of powdered buttermilk on hand. Great for pancakes and biscuits, and no worries about the power going out either. I'll be putting a handful of tins of this back now.

Socks - Face it folks, the quality of goods these days ain't what it used to be. I buy the same socks every time, Fruit of the Loom or Haynes white cuff socks. I have around a dozen pairs, all around a year or so old, and all worn thin. Some have nice little toe holes or holes starting in the heels. I thought I was good for a while, but apparently not. I'll be putting back several dozen now in addition to the dozen I'm gonna need to replace all these future dust rags.

Sport Bras - Same as above. Worn through material, blown elastic, not even that old. Next time I'm going with better quality than cheapo Walmart though. Need to see if there's a company that actually makes them in the USA, buy seven for now and put at least a dozen back.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Expired Evaporated Milk

I was digging around in the freezer looking for some chicken legs when I found two bags of pureed pumpkin in the fridge that got the corners busted off of them. Since I haven't grown pumpkins in the garden since 2010 so I figured I should go ahead and use them. The chicken legs eluded me but there were several packs of pork chops within reach so I decided to do braised pork chops and pumpkin soup.

Except I didn't have the mushrooms for the pumpkin soup. Never mind, pumpkin casserole worked just fine. One of the ingredients was a cup of evap milk.

You know where I'm going with this.

Yep, little over a year out of date. What can I say, I got a lot on sale and then kinda forgot to use 'em. Anyway, from extensive previous experience I knew two things.

1) It would be slightly darker than what it would have been had I opened it back before Nov 2011, and
2) It would be just fine.

I probably could have shook it a bit more, but I get thick crap like that from new cans sometimes too.

No rust, no bulges, no dents. Looked fine. Smelled fine. Tasted fine. Cooked fine. 

And, because I'm feeling all sorts of share-y today, here's the link to the recipe I used it in. :D

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pickled Eggs

Few things disgust my husband more than the sight of me eating a pickled egg. It isn't because I'm slobby about it, or chew with my mouth open.

It's because of what pickled eggs do to ya.

Gas masks on please. I'm about to lay out my pickled egg recipes. You can, if you wish, can these. I've seen people can them, both water bath and pressure. I'm not going to tell you how long because frankly I have no idea how long it takes to get the center of a hard boiled egg to reach 212F OR 245F so you're on your own there. All I'm gonna do is tell you how to do 'em for the fridge.

Easy Redneck Pickled Eggs
1 big can La Costena jalapenos
hard boiled eggs

Put your peeled, boiled eggs into a quart sized mason jar. Dump the juice from the jalapeno can over 'em. Throw in some jalapenos if you like, or not.
Done and eatable in 3-4 weeks.

Pickled eggs with ginger
16 hard-boiled eggs 
2 pints of vinegar (malt or cider)
½ oz of ginger
½ oz of black pepper
½ oz of allspice

Whilst the cooked boiled eggs are cooling, prepare the pickling liquid.
Place all of the ingredients into a medium sized saucepan, stir them together and heat to boiling.
Once the liquid reaches boiling point, reduce the heat and let the liquid simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, place the peeled hard-boiled eggs into a very clean large jar.
Once the pickling solution has cooled, pour it over the eggs in the jar and seal the jar tightly with the lid.
Store the jar in a cool and dark cupboard for at least a month. The eggs will be ready to eat then.

British pub pickled eggs
12 hard-boiled eggs 
4 cups of malt vinegar (this is British malt vinegar, not that loathsome crap Heinz pretends is malt vinegar, so get the real thing or skip entirely)
1 finely chopped chilli pepper
10 black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp of allspice

Pretty much all pickled egg recipes are the same in terms of preparation. Mix this stuff, bring to boil, simmer for 10, then let cool to room temp and pour over the eggs. No sense in me retyping it every time.


Beet pickled eggs with cardamom and anise
1 beet, peeled and roughly chopped into 1 to 2-inch sized pieces, cooked*
1 cup beet juice*
1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 onion, sliced
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 cardamom pods
1 star anise
6 hard cooked eggs, peeled
*Simmer the chopped beets in a cup of water, covered, until tender, 30-40 minutes, or used canned beets. Use the beet juice from the cooking water, or the juice from canned beets.

Peel the eggs and place in the bottom of a clean glass jar, quart sized.
In a medium saucepan, add the vinegar, water (or beet juice if using), the onion (and jalapeno if using), sugar, and spices. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until the sugar has dissolved and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes.
Pour the vinegar onion mixture over the eggs in the jar, covering the eggs completely. If you are making the beet pickled eggs, place some or all of the cooked beets in with the eggs in the jar (this will help to bring color to the eggs, and you will have pickled beets as well.) Secure close the jar's cover. Refrigerate up to a month.
The pickled eggs will be ready to eat after a few days. The longer the eggs sit in the pickling juice, the more the pickling juice will penetrate the eggs.


Curried pickled eggs
1 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/4 onion, sliced
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
3 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (yellow or brown)
1 Tbsp yellow curry powder
6 hard cooked eggs, peeled

Jalapeno pickled eggs
3/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp white granulated sugar
6 cloves
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and discarded
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/4 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled
6 hard cooked eggs, peeled

Tarragon pickled eggs
3/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/4 onion, sliced
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon herbs de provence
6 hard cooked eggs, peeled

Friday, February 8, 2013

More "expired" food

I finished off the six month out of date can of grits the other day when I was showing off how old and perfectly fine it was. Wouldn't you know, I was in the mood for more cheesy bacony grits this morning and discovered that behind it was a much OLDER can. This one is over two years past it's expiration date!

Hey I'm the haphazard prepper, not the fully organized and meticulously rotating prepper. Deal with it.

So I opens it up, and all it has is cardboard all around and a little half wrap of clear plastic along the edge of the lid to protect it, and what do I find? Bugs? Mold? Mothra?

Eff no all I found was boring old grits. They weren't even discolored. Frankly I'm disappointed in all those folks who promised me legs and wings by not properly sealing up my foodstuffs. Perhaps it's because this batch was Quaker Oats and not that Walmart generic crap?

To celebrate the lack of eyes staring back at me in my two-years-past-date grits, I broke out my cheese powder (over six months out of date) and some very processed bacon bits (not at all out of date) and had me some cheesy bacony gritty goodness for my noon o'clock breakfast.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Rice Done Wrong

Back in 1998 I got caught up in the Y2K hysteria that was just starting to roll, not because I really believed everything was going to come to a grinding halt on 01/01/00 and we'd all be back to using mules and wiping our collective asses with corncobs. (I still wonder what happened to those folks who quit their day jobs and moved to ten acres in the Arizona desert). Mostly I got caught up in it because I made a LOT of money selling chit to panic buyers. I could pick up one of those mylar "survival blankets" from Walmart for $1.49, put it on Ebay with photos and a full, accurate description, and when the bidding war finally came to an end, sell the dang thing for $8-9.

Good times.

Which is not to say I simply cashed in on my fellow man's paranoia and continued my usual, decadent Western nation ways. I stocked a few things up myself, namely 5 gallon buckets of rice, beans, flour, pasta, etc, and did it in the very way everyone OMG OH NOZ about today.

Dumped it all into Homer buckets and called it good! :D

The one thing I did do, that I think is the real reason everything emerged unscathed (except for the pintos, which turned into rocks after the second year and that's just pintos for ya), was I froze everything for two weeks prior to bucketizing them. The freezing kills off any hitchhiking bug eggs, which are your biggest concern.

I don't have photos of those original buckets, sorry. I could take pics of the ones I have now though, since I still store things the same way, with the same results. In fact, I think I will. Here's my bucket 'o pasta! Note the bright orange Homer bucket! Note the lack of O2 absorbers and mylar! Note the date! I had a regular paint bucket lid on it until about three months ago, when I drug it out of the garage and slapped a gamma lid on so I could get in and out easier. Eating it now, veggie spirals and egg noodles underneath, and they're fine. No bugs, no funny colors (other than the original funny color on the veggie pasta), tastes fine.

I got those plastic liners from US Plastics, which is something fairly new for me as I've only been using them for the last two or three years. It started because I was getting free buckets from a restaurant and couldn't get the pickle stink out. The liners were supposed to keep my food from smelling like pickles. Yes I know the horrors of using non-food grade plastic buckets, but you know what? It won't kill me nearly as fast as starvation so I don't lose sleep over it. If I can get food grade, I do, otherwise it's Homers, and since _no one_ who disses them has ever been faced with the decision to starve to death or eat what was stored in 'em...... I'm just sayin. People who were dying of starvation in Poland during WWII found themselves sucking the grease from their combs and eating their fingernails. In Mao's China, they boiled leather belts for lack of anything else to eat. Keep that in mind when you hear someone yammering about only storing all organic, non-GMO food in approved containers with angel sprinkles and kitten kisses to seal it with.

The point of this post (yes I'm finally getting to it) is that while 4 mil mylar and O2 remover packs and food grade buckets and organic wheat is all clearly blessed by Jesus when it comes to long term storage, don't let it be the reason you put off putting food away. I promise you, that bucket of rice will last a _lot_ longer than the naysayers insist, provided you give it the two week freeze. I have a bucket in the garage now that's four years old and just fine to prove it. Don't freeze it longer than two weeks, as the bag will get ice crystals in it and then when it thaws it'll be damp. Moisture is the biggest threat to your food, even worse than those bugs coz if you were really starving you could eat the bugs. You can't eat molded food without some unpleasant consequences.

Set a goal for a year's worth of staples. I don't mean the canned stuff, though you should put aside a good bit of that as well, but the basics that cost nothing and make everything. If you can afford to package them all the way the "experts" tell you do, go for it, but if you don't it's ok. This post has gone well beyond windy, so I'll save that for another day.