Tag Archives: homesteading

The Other Brown Flour (Part 1): How To Make Acorn Flour

This post is a looong time coming.  So long that I’m trying to piece together my pictures to remember what happened.

Last fall (2014), I gathered some acorns and pretty much just wasted a bunch of time.  All of them turned out to be garbage, with worms laughing in my face.  But, I’m stubborn, so I wasn’t going to give up that easily.

Last Christmas, my brother gave me a book about eating things in the wild, and wouldn’t you know it; there was a whole section on acorns!  I had a renewed sense of hope in acorns now that I had a mentor on paper.

Apparently, the first time I tried it I went about everything wrong.  All of my instincts led to the acorns that were definitely bad.

  1. I went out entirely too early, which means I was only gathering the rejects rather than waiting for the fully matured ones.  (The tree releases an acorn if it knows that it’s no good, rather than waste energy on a dead seed)
  2. I was mainly picking up acorns that still had the tops attached, but it turns out that’s actually a sign that they’re bad.  (When an acorn matures it loses the top)
  3. I was grabbing them willy-nilly, rather than checking for the super obvious hole in the shell (which means a worm has already eaten the nut meat and skipped town)

So, this time around, armed with new knowledge and a slight confidence, I filled my pockets once again.  The results were much better.

acorns-green

Many of the acorns I gathered at first were green.  I don’t really know what that means, but I expect that they were slightly under “ripe.”  Some that I let sit for a few days darkened up, but most of them I just cut into fairly quickly.  Unlike before, when I had what I thought to be a 10% “success” rate, the first acorn that I cut into this time around was perfection.

acorns-perfect

acorns-harvest

Now, I ran into plenty of non-perfect acorns in this batch, mind you.  But what I thought were my keepers before were ones that I threw away pretty quickly this time.  If it had a small trail of brown that I could cut out, I’d keep it.  Otherwise, it would be a lot quicker to just go outside and find some more acorns rather than trying to butcher the save-able “meat.”

acorns-shelled

I shelled a bunch, and then came the fun part.  In the book, my new mentor said that “some people insist that you must remove the skin from the nut meat.”  But he didn’t follow it up with, “but it’s ok if you don’t” or similar, so I figured I’d better do it then, if some people insist.

That.  Took.  For.  Ever.

acorns-skinning

Left side is skinned, right side is shirts.

Early into this part of the process, I was no longer having fun.  I think that small amount of acorns took me about two hours to skin.  It’s not like a peanut, where you can just twist or squeeze the skin and it falls off – these little jerks have wrinkles and folds where the skin would be clamped into.  The mentor said it would be easy, and said I could just dip them in some water if I had any trouble.  I started thinking my mentor was full of crap.  I also seriously started wondering if it was worth it to skin all of them, or if I should just take my chances with the skins.

acorns-ground

After the horrible part was over, I tossed them into a coffee grinder (my wife made me buy one so that I wasn’t using the same one as her for some reason).  It quickly ground the nut meat into “flour.”  I had to take some time scooping everything out of the grinder, because the oils in the acorns were keeping some clumped at the bottom.

Unfortunately for me, acorns contain a large amount of tannins, which is used to tan animal hides.  It also makes the acorn very bitter, and you can get sick if you ingest too much of it.  The process of removing it is fairly simple, though (again) tedious.

acorns-leech1

There are two ways to get the tannins out of the acorns, according to my mentor: Hot and Cold Leeching.  For Hot Leeching, you just boil the acorns in water for a while, then drain.  I think you can even leave them whole if that’s the case.  However – apparently that process removes a lot of nutrients from the flour – and who needs those empty calories?

For Cold Leeching, you just soak it in water then drain it until it stops tasting bitter, usually 6 to 20 times.  I’m no expert on this part, and I really didn’t want bitter acorns on my first go ’round (especially since I’d already invested so much time into it), so I let them sit for days, and did the whole process eight times.

acorns-leech2

I think the above is was just the first time.  Surprisingly, the color of the water changed drastically each time.  Not to say it was getting darker or lighter – it just changed back and forth, so I don’t know what to say about it.

acorns-tannins

After I decided each leeching session was done, I would strain it through cheese cloth and do the whole thing again.  After it wasn’t soaked, but still moist, it caked together just like wheat flour.

acorns-leech3

After using the cheesecloth a handful of times, I noticed I was losing a lot of flour in the layers of the cloth.  That sucked a lot, considering how much work I had already put into what was going to amount to very little acorn flour.  And not only that, when I tossed the cheesecloth to the side, waiting to be used again, it still had junk in the folds.  It ended up getting really nasty and moldy, so threw it away.

acorns-mold

For the next several batches I used coffee filters, which took forever to drain.  I mean, I’d let it sit for hours and it would still be letting just a single drip through.  With the cheesecloth, I would be able to squeeze the water out to speed up the process – but if I did that with the coffee filters, I would bust a hole and everything would fall out, which meant I would have to start the draining process all over.

acorns-spill

I had an accident

I was still losing a lot of flour with each drain, too…

acorns-filter

Anyhow, after all that – which took a couple of weeks, by the way – I spread my findings on a plate to let it dry out.

acorns-patty

And after that, I did another batch with skins on them, so I could find out if I would be one of those crazy people who insists that they be removed.  After they completely dried out, they turned pretty dang dark.  And the saddest part was that there’s maybe a 1/4 cup that made it through each process…

acorns-done

I haven’t actually made anything with the flour yet, so unfortunately this is where I leave you.  Will I cook something that cures ebola?  Will I find that I’ve actually made gold?  You’ll have to wait until next time…

censored-meat

Another Level of Crazy: Why don’t you raise maggots?

[***WARNING – if you have a weak stomach, skip this post***]

I don’t often scare myself, but I might have just tipped the scales.

Obviously, everyone that knows me pretty well thinks I’m either crazy or…  Well, crazy in a weird, responsible way.  I’m not sure which camp would be right in this scenario.

Remember the free meat that literally fell at my doorstep?  Well, what I ate of it was really good!  Unfortunately, the rest of it was in the freezer in my garage, which one day decided to stop working.  :(

I won’t lie – I was very upset.  Lane and I spent a lot of time butchering that thing, and after it had been sitting in a room-temperature container for who knows how long, it was ruined.

I was complaining to my friends Walter and Matt about it.  Luckily, they happen to be a little crazy, too.  (Sorry for throwing both of you under the bus, guys, but you know it’s true.)

“Why don’t you raise maggots?,” Walter asked with dead-pan seriousness.

I can’t say that it had crossed my mind, even in my wildest off-grid homesteading dreams, but it made sense.  My chickens love eating little bugs, and these specific little bugs love rotting meat…  So, I started thinking about what I might do to start my own hobby maggot farm.

Around that same time, there was a little bit of uncooked chicken in our fridge that had gone bad, so I just tossed it and the deer meat in a bucket.  (Meat doesn’t often spoil in our home – pretty much never, in fact – so maybe it was a little nudge from the Man upstairs to try this thing, eh?)  I hadn’t thought much about my plan, so I left the bucket in the garage until I could figure out what to do with it.

I concocted a plan to basically construct an elaborate cage in the woods on the edge of my property, so that predators aren’t attracted to rotting meat beside my living chickens.  I’d start with a tray at the bottom, then wire mesh that would allow maggots to fall through but would catch pieces of meat.  Above that I’d hang the meat, which would give greater surface area for the maggots to slip off and onto the tray.  Around that I’d put at least one sturdy cage (possibly two), so that animals couldn’t get inside.  It would be a self-sufficient maggot factory after I hung up some old meat.

That was the plan, anyway.  The reality is that I left the bucket of rotting meat in my garage for weeks.

uncensored-meat

The packaging was frozen to it (because I was testing the freezer), and I didn’t hassle with getting it off.

Yes.  It smells exactly as you would expect.  Every once in a while I would go into the garage, forgetting that I left the bucket in there, and would very quickly remember.  I’d step back outside, suck in a large amount of air, and then hold it in while I retrieved whatever I needed from inside.  Over time, I guess I just expected the garage to smell like that.

My wife didn’t really know that was going on until while I was away from home one day I asked her to get something from the garage for me.  I received a text soon after that, which said she almost threw up after stepping into the building.  I texted back a smiley face with a halo above it.

At that point, I realized I should probably do something about it.  The first thing I realized was that I hadn’t even asked my chickens if they specifically liked maggots.  Since my chickens don’t speak English (despite what you might think from previous posts), I realized the only way to get that answer was to present those maggots to them.

So, one Saturday, the experiment continued.

meat-maggots

I opened the garage door to let it air out a bit and brought the bucket outside.  Sure enough, moving the meat around revealed a gob of the little squirmy things.  I could easily put my hand in and scoop a hundred up.

So, of course I did.

maggot-hand

Yes, I realize there aren’t a hundred in my hand, but it’s hard to take a picture of a handful of maggots with the other hand holding a camera.  The little boogers were incredibly slimy, and I could feel them squirming through my fingers as soon as I picked them up.  It was disgusting.

I tossed a few to my chickens, and they were delighted!  If I threw a clump of maggots in front of them, they didn’t really know what to do, but if there were stragglers outside of said clump, they didn’t last very long before a beak would dispatch this from this world.  I assume the chickens’ eyesight isn’t so great, and a giant ball of pulsating slime probably isn’t as appealing as an obvious gyrating worm.

Not long after I started doing this, I noticed at least a dozen vultures circling overhead.  It dawned on me then that that was the reason I’d been seeing a lot more of them perched in the trees on my property lately.  Lucky for humans, our sense of smell isn’t nearly as ken as theirs, because I’d say that they had sniffed it from miles away.

maggot-bowl

I continued to scoop the maggots into some tupperware, thinking I might store them to give them to my chickens over time.  But then I started to consider how would store them.  I suppose I can put them in the fridge, but I didn’t know if that would kill them, or if they needed some meat with them to survive (and I didn’t want to purposely make my fridge smell like rotting meat for the rest of it’s existence).  So, I ended up giving all of the gathered maggots to the chickens, storing none.

Actually, I used the maggots to entice the chickens back into their coop, because I had to leave for the rest of the day and that was a lot easier than chasing after them.

And, yes, I put the bucket of rotting meat back in the garage.

Don’t worry, though – I have a plan.

coop-detat

Coop d’etat: How to Build a Chicken Tractor. Sort of.

My chicks were starting to not be chick-ish anymore, and were long overdue for a home renovation. And I know all about home renovations.

wood

I have a good amount of scrap wood leftover from our house, but not a lot of good clean 2×4’s (or studs, as those of us in the know call them; my constant joke when trying to find a stud is to simply say “I’m right here.” Always a crowd pleaser, amiright?), so I picked up a handful from Lowe’s. I also picked up some 2×3’s because I thought it would be more efficient to make the run out of those to keep it light. Looking back, I should have gotten only one or the other – not both.

Getting Started

I kind of drew up a plan – to the point that I could figure out about how many studs I would need.  I didn’t follow that plan very long, because of the following reasons:

  • I was not building a house, so I didn’t need to have studs every 16 inches
  • My plan was not very good, and I left out just about everything I actually needed

One thing I thought I knew for sure is that I needed 4 square feet per chicken in the coop, and 8 square feet per chicken in the run.  (My brother informed me that I actually needed 10 sq ft in the run, but I was close!)  I decided to go a little tight on those numbers, though, because I want to build a stationary coop and run big enough for 20 or more feathered friends – so this is simply another step along the way.  The main reason for keeping it tight is because since I was building a chicken tractor – meaning I would move it around as they eat everything in the patch of grass it contained – I didn’t want it to be huge and hard to move.  It’s still pretty huge and hard to move even at its current measurements.

IMG_0626

Probably not the right way to add a roof – but again, these are chickens, people.  I decided on a run at 8’x4′, and a coop that would sit on top of half that – that way I could keep it fairly compact while not sacrificing the space on the ground.  You might or might not be able to see the differences in the 2×4’s and 2×3’s, but I started getting nervous when I got to joints that were made with the two types of wood.  It ended up being fine, but I had to finagle them a bit.

Hopefully you won’t see from the pictures that it’s definitely not squared up.  Almost none of the angles.  But I blame it on working on an uneven surface.  And also on the fact of never checking to make sure my angles were square.  Lesson learned.

IMG_0627-edit

There’s a better picture of the ramp, which is braced by a couple 2×4’s nailed into the coop floor and the corner board.  It’s mostly made from scrap, but they don’t seem to mind.

IMG_0628

I pretty quickly realized that even though I planned on having nesting boxes that were accessible from the outside, I hadn’t planned on it.  I had to add the braces because they were sagging pretty badly – and I figured that adding the weight of birds and eggs and bedding would not somehow lighten the load.  I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, though, after calling my brother a couple times and doing some research on the interwebs.

IMG_0630

Some of the “finishing touches.”  Kind of looks like a fort – like the ones that my brothers and I used to build in my parents’ basement when we would launch empty plastic bottles at each other.  If I had this fort, I would’ve been unstoppable.  Which is not to say I wasn’t unstoppable without it.  (Ok, I was not unstoppable.)

IMG_0634

It’s really ugly and probably dangerous, but I have a lot of metal flashing leftover, and wanted to make sure my nesting boxes were super weatherproof.  Just don’t touch the edges.  Or if you do, make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.  It took a long time, because most of these pieces were cut off after they were formed together, so I had to pretty much unform the edges to form them again.  And because I’d never done this before.

IMG_0636

I added some 6 inch lawnmower wheels to be able to move it around.  However (spoiler alert), I ended up replacing them with 7 inchers, because the smaller ones weren’t easy to work with on uneven ground.  The larger ones lifted everything off the ground just enough to keep me moving, but not enough to worry about leaving enough space to let them shimmy out.

IMG_0640

Here ’tis with all the chicken wire on the run – which was a very tedious and laborious process.  I had to cut each individual wire, and then staple almost every individual wire.  If someone knows of a better way to do this, please let me know in the comments – because I feel like the way I did it can’t be the most efficient way.  This is also a peek at the new waterer and feeder, because…

IMG_0646

I just couldn’t let my birds sit in a cramped box when I basically had a finished run for them.  I screwed a piece of wood over the coop entrance and put them inside.  After a time of obvious confusion (they had only ever seen a roof above them and sand/paper towel below them – never the sky nor grass), they were super excited to run around.  As were my cats.

I was nervous that the cats would get aggressive with them (one of my cats, while pregnant, chased down a squirrel and ate it), but they seemed to simply be curious.  I kept my eyes on them for a while, but they apparently like to watch the fowls just as much as I do.

IMG_0662

Almost done!  Added a door, walls, and a roof.  I also added a few more 2×4’s to brace those things (but did it after I had much of the plywood on, so they’re not included in the ‘skeleton’ pictures.  I sealed up the roof pretty well with caulk (the contractor’s version of duct tape), but later added some roofing paper to make sure and keep the leaks out.

IMG_0664

There’s another thing I forgot – roosts!  It’s a chicken’s natural instinct to sleep off the ground to keep away form predators, so this was another thing that I was planning on, but didn’t include in my plans.  I ended up adding some more 2×4 braces – which is much more difficult when all of the walls are on.  Then I just cut some 45° angles on some roost-ish wood I had and drove some awkward nails.

IMG_0672

I added some bedding, and voila!  One by one, they started figuring out that their home had doubled in size.  The first to find it (a rooster, I think) wanted to see just how high he could get.  Luckily, as soon as he got to the highest point of the coop, he pooped.  Thanks for the commentary on the craftsmanship, big guy.

IMG_0682

I also added some chains to the waterer and feeder so that I wouldn’t have to take them out to move the tractor, and also to try to get them to stop pooping in both.  Because they do that constantly.  That can’t be healthy.

Funny story about the bedding: I went to Tractor Supply for the waterer and feeder, and told the checkout guy that I wanted to buy some pine shavings (which were outside the entrance).  He asked me if I wanted flake or fine shavings, and I just randomly said fine.  A guy who walked in, but had paused to watch me check out (creepy…) said “You want the flake.”

I simply said “Oh?” with a surprised look on my face.  “For chickens?”

“Yes,” he said.  “The fine stuff will fall out of every crack in your coop, and you’ll have to add more all the time.  The flakes will last longer.  I noticed your feeder, so I figured I’d help you out.  This is my third year.”

Ah – not so creepy now.  I said thanks and told the checkout guy “Flakes, please.”  I definitely see how flakes are better now – especially because I’m still losing a lot of it through the hole by the ramp.  I think I’m going to build a small ‘fence’ around it so that it won’t fall out so easily.

Now that I’m a farmer I feel like I’m in a club.  A club where, when I’m at Tractor Supply, random people – who are passionate about some of the same stuff – will gladly look awkward for a moment to help a brother out.  Same for bee keepers…  Every single one that I’ve talked to has been super excited to help out and show me anything I want to know.  Reminds me of a simpler time, growing up in Cairo, Ky, when everybody considered you to be a neighbor even if you were a 20 minute bike ride away.  Hopefully, I’ll have some awkward wisdom to give to someone at Tractor Supply before too long.

Here’s a mini tour of the Coop d’etat:

chick-banner

I’m Officially a Farmer

It took every ounce of willpower in me not to make a title like “I’m Surrounded by Hot Chicks” or the like.  I mean, that would probably get more hits from search engines…  I’ve already warned my wife that I’ll be using puns like that often from here on out.

I’ve got chickens!

Late Friday night, I thought I started hearing chirping sounds from my incubator – which I found a little strange, because none of the eggs had hatched…  I checked and rechecked, and each time I stood silently by the incubator I heard nothing.  As soon as I left the room, though, the little high pitched sounds drifted around me.

I thought I might be crazy, because hearing chirping from inside an egg would be a lot like hearing a baby crying while still in the mother’s womb.  Maybe that’s happened before, but I’m not aware.  And it would be very weird.

Around 3am, I was still awake, and checked on the eggs one last time before going to bed, and I did indeed hear the chirping coming from the incubator while my ear was right beside it.  I’m not crazy.  *whew*

I then woke up at 6am to the lively chirping of a definitely hatched chick!  (I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that the incubator has been in my dining room, much to my wife’s chagrin)  I tiptoed out of my bedroom and found this little guy (or girl) wondering what in the world was going on…

first-chick

My brother had told me not to open the incubator once they started hatching because any drastic change to the temperature or humidity could kill the unhatched chicks (either drowning them because the air bubble inside gets too small, or shrink wrapping them with the shell membrane), and I had confirmed it from websites that I’d been reading.  But in that moment, my excitement trumped any logical thought I had in my head.

I started freaking out because the humidity gauge was reading a little high, and I was scared that the open egg was – well I don’t know why I was scared of the open egg.  I opened the incubator without thinking, and put him in my temporary brooder and grabbed the broken eggshell.  I then had a thought that the egg might need to stay with him (because before they hatch, they eat the rest of the yoke, and I had the thought that maybe they continue to nibble on it), so I googled it.  I would be lost all the time if not for Google.

Google shamed me for opening the incubator, and reminded me that I needed to leave all chicks in the incubator until they were dry and fluffy.  As you can see from the above photo, it was definitely not dry and fluffy.  So I again opened the incubator and put it back inside.  Surely I learned my lesson, right?

I stared at the little guy (girl?) for a while, and then realized it was barely after 6am, and I went to bed at 3am, so if I didn’t go back to bed I would probably collapse soon.  I could survive on three hours of sleep in college – and did often, sometimes resulting in the best test scores of my college career – but I can’t do that anymore at 31.  I’m getting old.

So after a few more hours of shut-eye, I bolted out to the dining room to see what else had occurred.

Not much.

I did see a few eggs with some tiny cracks, which my brother informed me to be called “pipping.”   Basically, the chick inside is pecking at the shell and makes a tiny little hole, and they could hatch anywhere from immediately to 48 hours later.  So, I did what any rational person would do: I stared at the eggs for a very, very long time.

The day before, I had decided that I was going to get a lot done on this day, so I motivated myself to get on with my pre-determined projects.  Literally every 20 minutes or so, I’d hover over the incubator to see if anything else had happened.  Around noon, the second one emerged, and the first knew it was time to establish the pecking order – which I now know to be a very literal phrase.  Kind of the oldest-child syndrome to the violent extreme.

In no time, both of these little dudes were dancing around and climbing all over the other eggs, rolling them around like they were playing a game.  I’d probably be freaking out again, but I’d read that that’s ok, and it, along with chirping, actually inspires the other chicks to hatch.  It took a while longer (while I was busying myself with other projects), but a total of four eggs hatched that day.

I won’t lie.  I opened the incubator a few more times.  I was still freaking out about the humidity, and was terrified that the unhatched chicks were going to die because it was 1% off.  I also got impatient, because one little guy worked on breaking out for hours and hours, and I helped him along a bit.  At first I thought that I hurt him, because when he got completely out he was still connected to the egg by his bum.  I did some more googling, and found out that his umbilical cord was still connected – which happens occasionally – and it would fall off soon enough.  I couldn’t help but think that it was because I tried to step in…

After a lot more checking and rechecking, I went to bed that night.  This morning, I woke up to another chick!

Nothing else really happened – we went to church and when we got back they were all pretty much fighting as siblings do.  Except day old human siblings don’t peck at each others’ faces.  Maybe they would if they had beaks, but luckily they don’t.

Yesterday evening, I moved all five (yes, I know…  I opened the incubator again!) to the temporary brooder because they were all fluffy and dry at this point.  I quickly saw that my brooder is going to be too small if any other eggs hatched.  I’m very afraid that no others will hatch, though, because of my constant overbearingness.  And if they don’t hatch, I’m confident it’s because I killed them.

I started with fifteen, and I’ve still got five eggs left in the incubator, but I feel like hatching five of them is an accomplishment.  And next time, I’ll keep the incubator closed.

Ok, I probably won’t.

candled-egg-banner

You Win Some, You Lose Some

A lot has happened over the last three weeks!

First – The Bees

At the risk of sounding confident, I’m actually getting a hang of this whole beekeeping thing…  I guess about two weeks ago, I decided to remove the top feeders in both my hives, because both hives had a decent amount of “honey” stored up.  (I put quotes around honey, because a lot of the honey was made from my sugar syrup rather than nectar)  I figured that, while flowers were blooming, it would be better for them to go out and gather rather than lazily assume that food will always be raining down over their heads like manna.  That way, when I put my first medium honey super on, I’ll get pure honey rather than sugar water.

I put my second deep brood boxes on both hives about three weeks ago, before removing the top feeder.  The last time I poked my head in, they hadn’t drawn much of the new frames out – just starting on the center frames – but there were a good amount of bees exploring it.  I’m going to be checking in today – so it probably would have been better for me to wait to post with a fresh update, but I just wanted to post everything that has happened lately.  (Or I won’t – because it started raining as I was writing this)

Two deeps deep!

Two deeps deep!

I also removed the entrance reducers for both hives, which are used to simply reduce the size of the entrance so that a small hive can defend itself.  If they have a wide entrance, then robbers (bees from other hives that are low on honey stores) could come in and steal honey without encountering a lot of bees.  The first hive (the one with only one mark on the entrance, and the one that I thought had no queen for a while) pretty much immediately covered the entire entrance board, which proved that the reducer was getting in their way.  Later that day, the second hive, however, only had a few bees around where the entrance used to be, and seemed even less active than when I took the reducer off.  I put it back in, but somewhat awkwardly diagonal, so that bees could get in almost half of the whole entrance.  I checked on them a couple of days ago, though, and removed the entrance reducer at that point, and they’re defending like champs.

Strong defense of second hive entrance

Strong defense of first hive entrance

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer on the second hive

The picture is above is fairly late in the day, so there are a lot more bees hanging out than mid-day.  I saw both hives bearding the other evening, and I thought I took a picture, but apparently I didn’t.  “Bearding” is basically when all the bees are home for the night, and a whole bunch of them cover the front of the hive because it’s hot inside – way more than the picture above.  If they’re bearding mid-day, then you’re probably about to have a swarm (half of your bees will leave, if not all) – or at least that’s how I understand it.  If I’d seen a hive of bees bearding before I learned all of this stuff, I probably would have assumed they were plotting to kill me.

Here’s a little zen bee moment for you…  Their buzzing is actually calming to me these days, because I’m continually in awe of them, and of the design that they are following perfectly (that results in honey for me!).  Around 1:40-2:00 you can see the queen (bottom right at the beginning, then bottom center when I turn the frame around.

Second – The Chickens

Two weeks ago Holly and I went up to Kentucky to see my family for Father’s Day, as well as go to Hasting Plants (my aunt’s greenhouse) for her annual season-end blowout.  (If you’re in the southern Indiana/Illinois area, you should check them out.  But – next year.  Season’s over!)  My brother was originally planning on giving me some eggs from his meticulously bred Delaware chickens, but the roosters up and died not too long before he started breeding them, so I got a mix of 15 Delaware, Ameraucana, and Black Copper Marans eggs.  I promptly put them in my incubator upon getting back home, and they’ve been sitting there for almost the entire time since.  I’ve opened it a few times to add water to keep the humidity up, but I’ve been trying to simply leave them alone.  For the first day or two, I constantly looked in on them – as if my eyes would make the process any faster…  I’ve calmed down since.

Chicken Incubator

I candled the eggs a few days ago, which is taking them in a dark location, and putting a light behind them to illuminate the inside of the egg.  A few of the eggs are blue-green, and I couldn’t see through those shells at all, and I think I need a few flashlight because the others still didn’t give me a great look.  The image at the top of this post is what a candled egg looks like – though that is not my image because I could barely see inside even when I wasn’t trying to get my camera ready.

I candled them again today, because there were a few that looked to me like they weren’t developing.  I didn’t take them out of the incubator early in the week, because I didn’t want to make an assumption and throw away good eggs.  When I did it today, though, 5 eggs still looked completely undeveloped, so I pulled them.  I cracked them open to confirm, and four of them looked like they never started developing, most likely because they were jostled too much during travel (all of those yolks were broken).  The last one started developing, but died probably on day 7, based on how the embryo looked.  I couldn’t tell at first, because the eggs had a large shadow ring inside it, which I thought might be a big crack in the shell messing with the light.  I called my brother and he told me it was probably a blood ring, which basically is a sure sign that the embryo died – and that was confirmed when I cracked it open.

I’ve still got about a week before they start hatching, which means I need to get on the ball in terms of preparation.  The first living arrangement won’t be too difficult, but building their long term home will take some time.  I figured if I actually got the eggs first, I would have some hard deadlines to make sure these things happen!

beehives

Why You Should Have the Proper Equipment When Opening A Beehive (Lesson Learned)

Let me preface this with the following:

I am an idiot.

I’ve been thinking about getting bees for over a year now, and have been reading and researching a good amount in that time.  I attended a weekend seminar on beginning beekeeping, and feel like I’ve got the basic understanding down.

A few weeks ago I bought two complete hives (no bees), and all the equipment I’d need to go with them.  I then tried to find some bee packages to order, but to my dismay, there were none available.  After about a week, I decided I’d spend the extra money and buy some nuc colonies, but they wouldn’t be ready for another month or so.

I figured I’d use the time for more preparation, so I painted my hives, assembled frames, prepared the location, etc.  But my anticipation has been growing and growing…  I can’t wait to get them started!

My mother-in-law has a farm about an hour south of us, and my wife and I went down there this past weekend for a bridal shower – excuse me, a Tea.  As you might assume, I didn’t go to the shower (Tea!), but they did need a hand moving some furniture at the house that it was held, so my brother-in-law, Nate, and I went to lend some muscle.

Alas!  My mom-in-law recently had 7 bee hives placed on her property (they get a prime location with tons of pollen, and she’ll get pollinators and most likely some honey), and they were screaming “Come take a look at me!” in their steady collective buzz.  So, of course I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to finally get a look at what my colonies would look like soon enough.

Nate and I drove close to the hives, and I proceeded to approach the hives – sans any equipment.  He wisely kept his distance.  At first, I just walked along the front of them, not getting too close, because I didn’t want to cast my shadow on the entrances.  They were busily moving to and fro, clustering around the entrances, and…  well…  doing whatever bees do.  Part of which was checking me out as well – I had some swirling around me and landing on me, which is normal.

That wasn’t enough, though, so I went around behind the smallest of the hives and took the outer cover off, then the inner cover.  Because it was such a small hive, there really wasn’t much to look at – I could only see just a few bees at the top of the frames.  I replaced the covers.

But I wasn’t satisfied.  I’d seen all the pictures and videos I cared to see – I wanted the real deal!  So, after successfully looking in the small hive, I decided to check the one next to it, which was about three times the size of the first.

Outer cover comes off easily.  The inner cover is slightly sealed shut – which is completely normal, but I don’t have a hive tool to pry it open too easily.  Instead, I just work it a bit, and it eventually comes off.

Bees!  They are all over the place!  It’s exactly what I was hoping to see, an I just stood there for 30 seconds or so, admiring their activity.  A few bees decide to flurry with activity in the thinning spot in my hair, I assume because there was a lot of salty sweat available to them.  Around this same time, Nate decided he’d had enough of the bees and quickly made his way back to the car.

I don’t know what really occurred at that point – maybe because I was starting to get a bit nervous about the bees making the top of my head a mini wrestling ring, or because I simply just realized that I don’t have any protection, nor did I smoke them to keep them calm.  Either they started buzzing louder to tell me to go away, or I just heard their buzzing amplified in my now nervous ears, but I felt like I was overstepping my bounds.  I tried to replace the inner cover without smashing any, which was difficult since I didn’t have a brush to move the bees off of the edges.  I think that was when I was first stung.

With one sting, I knew that more were on the way, and I wasn’t excited about that since there were so many on my head.  I basically let the inner cover lay where it could lay, without worrying if a bee or two met it’s untimely end.

And then I ran.

I ran past the car, and then again that same length, and then again even further.  Nate is yelling at me that I’ve got a bunch on my back – but what I was thinking about at the time was the bees crawling on my face and head.  I was trying to shoo them away, rather than smack, knowing that the angrier they got, the more stings I would enjoy.

Luckily, the stings didn’t hurt as bad as I remembered (I don’t know the last time I was stung), but I was still in a bit of a panic because of the sheer number.  I thought about taking off my shirt, but then I realized that that was basically saying “Here – why waste your time on the little skin exposed on my head, when you have this gigantic target?”  After a while, I got most of them off.

I walked over to Nate and told him to blow the bees that were on my head, to softly urge them to leave rather than force them.  I thought all of them were gone, so we got in the car and shut the doors.  I sat there, trying to catch my breath, both of us laughing a bit hysterically.

Buzzzzz…

Both of us jumped out of the car and ran around a bit, opening the back doors, trying to get the bee out.  After we were successful, we jumped back in.

Then I realized that I never put the outer cover back on the hive.

Crap.

Nate made the suggestion that we go back to the house to regroup, and maybe give them some time to calm down.  I didn’t know what else to do in that moment, so I felt like that was a pretty good option.

We walked in the house through the kitchen, where our wives were also a flurry of activity trying to prepare for the shower (TEA!).  We nonchalantly passed them by, and went upstairs to try to find anything that would work as a bee veil, and settled on a dirty clothes bag and hat.  I then grabbed a thick shirt and gloves.

With Nate momentarily distracting our wives in the kitchen, I passed by undetected with my new gear, and we made our way back to the scene of the crime.  This time, it was fairly uneventful.  With homemade veil adorned, I walked over to the hive, carefully replaced the outer cover, and walked back to the getaway car.  I stopped for a moment to make sure I didn’t have any on me, and jumped in.

Buzzzzzzzzz…

Again, mass pandemonium.  We jumped out and ran around until it was out.  We tried to jump back in, but the dog had taken the opportunity to sprawl in the front seat, since we were too preoccupied to keep him from jumping in.  After getting him out, we jumped back in, and walked through the house like we didn’t have a care in the world.

I didn’t tell my wife until around dinner, so that I wouldn’t be the topic of conversation at the shower (TEA!  TEA TEA TEA!), and a good laugh was had by all at my expense.  At the time, I only knew of about 4 stings – though during dinner, I found another stinger in my head just above my ear.

I was happy to know that I’m not too allergic to bees, because the stings that I knew of weren’t swollen or hardly irritated.  However, on the drive home, I had to swap seats with my wife, because I wasn’t feeling too good.  I ended the night with crazy convulsive chills, and then a 101.7˚ fever.

When I woke up, my fever was down, but I got a wonderful surprise in the mirror.

david-sloth

Perhaps it’s hard to see, but I have a swollen ear and brow.  We counted almost 20 stings!

My wife and I had a baby shower to go to, where I garnered the nickname Sloth (from the Goonies) because of my swollen face.  Then we had dinner with friends from church, who also enjoyed my antics.

Do I regret it?  Nah.  I’m glad to know that after 20 stings, I might have a fever and little sleep (all of which included dreams of bees), but I’ll still be ok.

I don’t think I’ll ever poke my head in a hive without the proper equipment, though!

How to Live Without TV

I won’t lie. I like television.

When I was young, my mom had a fairly strict “only one tv show a night” policy, and I’d seriously just watch the first thing that was on when I’d get home from school. Then, my brothers would watch something else, and I’d realize that THAT was the show that I really wanted to watch. But, I’d usually circumvent the rule by sitting by my dad when he watched TV later that evening. (But mom… I’m just hanging out with Daddy!)

I also played a lot of nintendo. There was another rule: we could only play nintendo on Saturdays before noon. UGH! Such a difficult, broken childhood.

As I grew up, both rules were loosened, and I could watch more than one show, and play nintendo when my parents weren’t home (the perfect babysitter!).  Incidentally, I got in trouble once when my mom went out the door, and I immediately went to the basement to play nintendo, only to find my mom yelling at me 3 minutes later. (She only went out to get the mail)

When I got to college, I was surprised at how little I cared about watching TV. There was too much to DO!

Then after college, eventually the old routine came back… You get home from a hard day’s work, and all you want to do is plop down on the couch and turn on the ol’ boob tube and zone out. Problem is, we’d start with just watching the news over dinner, and then we’d look up and we’re watching the news again at 10:30. And the evening is completely gone.

Three months ago, when we moved into our new house, we decided to move very little inside, knowing that as soon as renovations started we’d have to move it all back out.  We didn’t think it would take long to get started (we’re still waiting on permits), so my wife agreed that it’d be ok to sleep on a mattress on the floor and have only a card table and chairs as the furniture.  We also didn’t sign up for internet, since we’d probably be living somewhere else temporarily.

The internet thing is a little hard, mind you…  I’m a web developer, so I happen to need that.  Luckily I have my phone as a hot spot – but unluckily AT&T throttles me after 5GB even though my plan is unlimited.  But that’s an unrelated rant.

So – no tv, no internet (besides coffeeshops, etc).  You know what we’ve found?

We talk a lot more.

We sit outside with our three cats (that she convinced me we needed for purposes of getting rid of mice I don’t think we actually had).  We make a camp fire a couple of times a week.  We grab coffee with people.

Time actually slows down.  There have been very few days where I’ve felt like I’ve got a bazillion things to do and no time to do it…  Not because I usually waste time in front of the TV when I have a bunch of stuff to do, but because without TV I get a lot of those things done early.  We feel like it’s midnight when it’s 8:37pm.

Maybe I’m just getting really old, but I often get to bed around 10pm these days.  There’s no “one more episode of…” that I can watch, or another billion random links I need to follow.  (I do spend a lot of time playing games on my phone when I can’t sleep at 10, but I convince myself that that’s different)

We have no idea what’s going on in the entertainment world right now.  We rented a movie last night to watch on my laptop, and we didn’t know what hardly any of the Redbox titles were.  We ended up getting one that was seriously an utter waste of $1.20, and it kind of shows us that we don’t need more of it.  I don’t know who’s getting off the island, or dancing with celebrities, or getting roses, or whatever else is going on on tv.

And it’s wonderful.

We’ve decided that instead of putting the TV in the living room when we’re done with renovations, we’re going to to put it in an upstairs room.  That way, we can still watch it when we want to, but we’ll have to decide to watch it rather than let it be the default.

I think the funny thing about technology is that its original intent (whether it be a phone, tv, microwave, washing machine, etc) was to save our time.  If it takes 2 hours to prepare a good meal, and now we can do it 6 minutes, then the thought is that we have an extra 1 hour 54 minutes freed up to do something more meaningful.  But the problem is, we usually just fill that extra 1 hour 54 minutes with something that isn’t meaningful.  We keep finding ourselves new ways to be busy.  We say things like “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” but the truth is – there are!

I’m not swearing off technology – nor do I feel like we should.  But I do want to use things for their original intent: to free up time for meaningful things.

So, maybe the title suggests a 12 step program for not watching tv (step 1: don’t watch tv.  step 2: uh….), but I guess it’s really more about how to spend your life rather than just wasting it.

But I need to get back to work…  I’m only at the coffee shop for another 20 minutes…

Pay no attention to the pale computer programmer skin...

What Country Living Looks Like

Those are my legs right there.

I know… Pretty hot, right?

My dad, oldest brother, and nephew spent some time helping me clean up my woods a few days ago, and this is the aftermath. I texted my brother that I found a handful of ticks on me, and just wanted them to make sure they checked, too. He texted back that he already found over 100 on my nephew.

Wha???

Upon closer look on myself, I found a whole bunch more. They were the smallest ticks I’d ever seen, and I just assumed they were freckles. I’d never had this sort of reaction from ticks before, but I’d also never seen the same kind of reaction from chiggers. Kind of a cross between chiggers, ticks, and poison ivy – and man, does it itch.

This is actually not the worst my skin has ever looked in the bug bite department. I’ve still got pictures of that, but if I posted it, this site would no longer be family friendly.

I also got into a fight with a tree, and the tree won. It hit square in the face, leaving a good scrape/cut on my forehead and my nose is still sore. We had the last laugh, though. It ended up being thrown in a burn pile (which was my intention when it attacked me).

Preparation

We were incredibly lucky to get our house and property.

(Actually, that’s not true… I don’t believe in luck – I believe whole-heartedly in the sovereignty of God. More on that later, I’m sure)

The House

Beautiful on the outside, the inside of the house is what we describe as wonky.

won·ky (wäNGkē) – adjective, informal
weird, whacked out, messed up, not working for no definable reason
(Urban Dictionary)

It was originally built without any bedrooms. Years after it was built, the previous owners’ health prevented them from going up the stairs to their loft where they slept, so they converted a garage into a bedroom. And it feels like a garage converted into a bedroom.

We obviously knew this going in, so we were totally prepared to renovate by adding bedrooms and fixing bathrooms, etc. What we were not prepared for is the process of getting the county government to approve permits for adding bedrooms.

We’ve been in the house for close to three months, and we’re still waiting on getting permits for changing our septic system to handle more bedrooms. Mind you – not the actual work, but permission from them to possibly do work. We have to have our soil tested, have duplicated soil sites the same size as the proposed septic system.

We had soil testing done well over a month ago, and the results were sent to the county, but their response was basically “meh.” They said the duplicate sites weren’t big enough. So – even though we have enough room for the septic system itself, the duplicated areas didn’t seem big enough. Then the guy said “you have seven acres, I’m sure you’ve got it.”

Then just give me the freaking permits.

I don’t get the requirements here… If I were to have an inadequate septic system, it would not affect them in any way. You and I both know that if there was an issue with my tank overflowing, I’d just dig a hole in the backyard while we fixed the problem. But I guess they’re just trying to save absolutely everyone from themselves, because it’s not fair to me to let me make my own decisions. But I digress.

After a month, the soil guys are back out today, and hopefully we’ll get that part squared away soon.

The Property

The house is nice (or – will be nice), and that’s what excited my wife when we first found it. But what gets me pumped up is the Land. (Yes – land is different than Land) I envision animals, gardens, orchards, etc, all over the place, and that means I’m happy to put up with a stressful time of renovating the house.

One unfortunate thing about our land is that it’s incredibly rocky. I don’t mean when you dig a hole, you find a handful of gravel; rather, there is a rock quarry about a mile away, and we have a natural rock patio behind the house. (As such, I realize that the soil guys have their work cut out for them)

Another unfortunate thing about our land is that the previous owners (or whoever “maintained” it for them) dumped garbage literally everywhere. There are a number of rock openings that someone deemed as landfill areas, I guess to avoid the two mile drive to the local dump. It amazes me that someone would live in such a beautiful area and treat it so poorly. I’ve got a truckload of junk that I need to haul off, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

My dad let me borrow Big Bertha – his name for a mower/bushhog/beast that will tear through underbrush like it’s cotton candy. I’ve been on it for probably at least an hour a day for the past month, and the overgrown forest now looks like a state park. (Disregarding the landfills, of course)

You might say to yourself “Hey – I thought this guy wanted to go off grid! Why is he using machinery and gasoline to devour wonderful trees?” This is Geek Off Grid, mind you.

I love technology.

My plan for getting off the grid includes solar panels (which I already have – more on that later), Arduino projects, homemade generators and general nerdiness. More than survivalism, I want to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. My homestead will be similar to one that you could have seen 200 years ago, but upgraded.

Homesteading 2.0

We’ve got a long way to go on both the house and property, but I’m enjoying the process. (Well – the process outside; not so much the process of getting permits)

house

Preface: The Beginning

I’m not yet off grid. But I definitely want to be. The majority of these first posts will be more about what I’m hoping to accomplish over the years, rather than what I’ve accomplished or am accomplishing.

I’ve been dreaming out loud for a few years about “when we have some land,” and all the projects that would ensue. For the past five years, my wife and I lived in a subdivision with about a fourth of an acre, and for three years before that we lived in an apartment complex. Over time, my dreams felt heavy – like they were too unrealistic.

To be fair – I have a lot of unrealistic dreams. There’ve been a number of times that I’d email my wife with a question like “airfare to Europe is only $xxx right now – we could totally sell everything and live there for a couple of years…” or “what do think about both of us quitting our jobs and starting an interpretive dance company…”

Well – not interpretive dance, but you get the idea.

I was using her as a sounding board, but she was always afraid that I was determined for all of these random things to come to fruition. So, over the years, I’ve learned that I need to ease into ideas and let her process them. So, many of my ideas don’t even get to that stage; they end up on a notepad and never come to the surface again. Probably a good thing.

Around the middle of 2012, I started talking a lot more about “when we have some land.” Both of us grew up on farms so it’s been a dream that we share – and it didn’t produce the panic attacks that she associated with some of my other ideas. I would randomly look for homes with acreage, more or less just to see the kind of property that would be available when we eventually escaped from suburbia.

I found one in October or so – a foreclosure that was not yet on the market. I showed Holly and, to my surprise, she loved it.

We took a Sunday drive to the property, peered through the windows (it was unoccupied), walked the land, and even had a conversation with a friendly neighbor. We could absolutely see ourselves (and our future children) living there.

We definitely didn’t want to have two mortgages (we’re followers of Dave Ramsey’s plan), so before we knew it, we were frantically getting our house ready to sell. We finally got around to all the things that we said we’d do – fixing this, painting that, replacing the doo-hicky. We called my friend Jerry at Award Realty (if you’re looking for a real estate agent in middle TN, I can’t recommend him enough), and he told us we were ready to put it on the market.

Boom. The dream was happening.

Our house went on the market in December, and Jerry told us it would take a while, since the market is slow in the winter, but would pick up by April.

What? April? But… That house! It could be gone by April!

We prayed a lot that we’d sell our house quick, and that the foreclosure would come on the market soon after – if it was the Lord’s will that we get that house.

Well, the foreclosure came on the market in February.
Our house had not sold.
We were freaking out.

We justified to ourselves making an offer, but we set a limit that was well under the market value for the house. Again praying that God would basically make it obvious that He did (or didn’t) want us in the house.

After an emotional week, we did not get the house. Which is a good thing, because our house didn’t sell until the beginning of April. (It sold! Yes!!)

The closing date rolled around, and we were homeless.

We had friends who needed dog sitters for about a month an a half total, so we packed everything we owned into a storage unit, and hopped around between houses. We had no idea where we were going to end up, but we were prepared to jump on buying some property (while trying not to get too emotionally connected to anything).

On the day of the closing on our last home, I found a house and almost 7 acres for auction, so Holly and I drove by soon after. We had Jerry contact the auctioneer and got us in to the house before the auction, and he gave us a renovation plan (because it was… unique) were we to get it. He agreed to continue to act as our realtor, even though actions generally aren’t done through realtors, because we felt much better with him walking us through the process. (and because he had done a TON of work for us, and didn’t want to just skip out on paying him)

Long story short, we bought the house at auction with Jerry at our side – for under what we’d agreed we’d be willing to spend on it. After a whole of bunch of headaches with trying to secure a loan (because we wanted to roll a construction loan in with it at the start, and we only had 30 days), we closed on the home 2 days before our friend returned from Sweden and we no longer had a dog to dog sit!

Thus, the dream begins.