Friday, April 27, 2012

Making Bentwood Garden Structures

About a year ago, I discovered the book Making Bentwood Trellises, Arbors, Gates & Fences by Jim Long. I loved the idea, but didn't have enough wood (or time!) to implement any of his plans.
But the idea stuck with me, and when I saw the brush pile my husband made after pruning the apple and maple trees (and clearing out a ton of brush out back), I knew I could finally bring some of those ideas to fruition. 
Raw Materials!

I was a little nervous that I was biting off more than I could chew, but once I actually got going, the projects turned out to be really easy! Here's what I made first:

Not bad for a first try, I think! My front garden is very "blah", but I think this accents it nicely. I plan to grow scarlet runner beans up it this summer (a variety I'd never even heard of until I read Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy - another book I highly recommend!) This fence is held together with galvanized deck screws, and supported from behind with steel fence posts (the three main uprights are held to the fence posts with deck screws). I also set the three main uprights on top of concrete pavers, which hopefully will make the fence last a little longer than if I had simply sunk them into the ground). This project took less than three hours to put together.

Excited by this first success, I decided to try another bentwood project (here's what it should look like this summer - this is the picture that gave me the idea, from Green Renaissance)

Here's what my version looks like (and remember, it's only April, so there's nothing growing on it yet. I'm planning to grow more scarlet runner beans on this, so imagine lots of green foliage and pretty little red flowers):
For this project, I don't plan on it lasting more than a year, so I just sunk the poles around 8 inches into the ground and tied them together on top with twine. My husband put a ridgepole along the top (it was a little too high for me to do comfortably), and I'm planning to put two more support poles along the sides, to give it a little more stability and to give the beans something to twine around.

Meanwhile, there's still a lot of wood in that brush pile out back, and I could use some tepees for the peas, and tomato supports, and an arbor would look really good, I think . . .
This post is part of the Farmgirl Friday bloghop.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Making Liquid Soap from Bar Soap

I love my homemade bar soap, but I've discovered that my 4 year old boy thinks of it more as a toy than as a cleaning agent - he loves to get it wet and play with it when I'm not looking. This means we go through soap a lot faster than absolutely necessary, which kind of defeats the purpose of saving money by making my own soap!

So yesterday I finally went online and looked for ways to make liquid soap, thinking that if anything it will at least take him longer to go through it! I found a few different ideas, and took what I liked out of each and put them together into my own simple method. Here's what I did:

First, shred a bar of soap (I used my tallow soap, which I honestly wasn't impressed with; even after it was fully saponified, it still smelled like beef! My dog really liked me, but my husband wasn't as impressed . . .)

(Thankfully my boy liked being part of the solution as much as he enjoyed being the problem!)
Then take one cup of this shredded soap (packed down a little bit so you get a full cup) and add it to 10 cups of hot water (I boil the water, then turn off the heat just before I add the soap, so it's very hot but not actually boiling anymore). Stir it well, so that the soap is fully dissolved. It will be really runny at this point, but don't worry! Cover loosely and let it sit overnight, or until it's completely cooled. When you come back in the morning, stir it up well one more time. At this point, it should be thick, like purchased liquid hand soap, and you can now put it into your empty hand soap pump and use it.

If it's not thick, you can try mixing 3 tablespoons of salt into 8 oz of water, and then stirring this into your runny soap - a little bit at a time! - until it thickens to the consistency you like. I haven't tried this myself, since my batch worked just fine without it, but apparently it works really quickly so you can see if it's working right away.

An added bonus to making liquid soap is that you can add scents or oils very easily - just stir them in just before you pour your soap into your pump. I added tea tree oil to mine, thinking it would cover the beefy smell, and it seemed to work just fine.

(By the way, you don't have to have any special separate equipment like you did for making the original soap - after all, you're working with finished soap. Your pots and spoons won't be touching any dangerous chemicals, just good, clean soap!)


In case you were wondering, here's the cost breakdown for this soap:

1 bar of my tallow soap cost 64 cents, and I used half of it - so 32 cents for the whole batch;

the whole batch filled up four 7.5oz soap pumps, plus a 48oz spaghetti sauce jar, for a total of 78 ounces, or enough for more than 10 soap pumps.

Dividing the batch cost - 32 cents - by the number of pumps you can fill - 10 - you get a total of a whopping 3.2 cents per container, or .4 cents per oz (that's four tenths of a cent).

A quick check on amazon found that the big soap refill bottles cost anywhere from 5 to 40 cents per ounce, so you can see that this idea could save quite a bit of money!

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Simple, Light Chicken Tractor DIY Plans

I have to admit, I've been reluctant to post directions for my chicken tractors (sorry, Lori!) because, honestly, I'm kind of embarrassed by how simple - and, frankly, redneck! - they are. Blue plastic tarps and zip ties aren't generally featured in Better Homes and Gardens! But, on the other hand, they do make it possible for a wimpy, carpentry-challenged girl like me to achieve my pastured poultry dreams.

So, excuse their homely appearance and simple construction - they really are useful (and cheap!)

This tarp is two years old, and obviously needs replacing.
. I haven't gotten around to refurbishing this pen for the current year yet.
10 2x2 furring strips
1 1x2 furring strip for door frame
8 corner braces
25 feet of hardware cloth
cable ties ("zip ties") and galvanized deck screws
6 foot by 8 foot tarp
2 carbiner clips or double-ended snap hooks
All of these should be available from your local home improvement store (Lowe's, Home Depot, Menards, etc.) I included the links in case you weren't sure what each item was.

You will also need some kind of saw to cut your lumber to size (I used my brother-in-law's compound miter saw, which was a lot more tool than necessary - but it worked pretty slick!), and a drill for driving the screws.

First, you need to cut your furring strips to size. You'll need 4 in their original 8' length, cut four others in half for seven 4' pieces, and cut the extra 4' piece and the two remaining 8' strips into 2' pieces (nine total) for the 4 corner posts, 4 roost supports, and one for the door frame. Also cut the thinner strip into four 2' pieces.

Once you have them cut to size, you just need to screw them together. Use the metal corner braces and 1" deck screws to make two big rectangles, then join these to the 2' uprights with 3" deck screws. It can be pretty tricky balancing everything, so if you can get someone to hold them for you that will be a big help.

Once you have the basic frame put together, add the roost supports, and then the roosts (you don't have to be too picky about the height of the roosts; I usually go for about 1/3 of the way up the supports).
Now it's time to add the wire - simply wrap the wire around the perimiter of the pen (leaving an opening for the door, of course), connect it to the wood with zip ties (or whatever other fastener you prefer), and trim it to size. There should be enough left over to cover the door. You can also add wire over the top of the pen (which I would recommend, but I didn't add that wire to the cost/materials list), leaving room of course to open the pen from above to add water and food (and a nest box, if you have laying hens). Add the tarp (also connected to the wood with zip ties) to the back of the pen, being sure to cover the back and sides.

Next put your door together - simply screw the 2' strips of 1x2 into a square, with the hardware cloth sandwiched between. Connect the door to the frame (I usually have to use two zip ties per "hinge" to make them long enough to go around both strips of wood, with a little play so the door can swing).

Once the door is finished, swing it to the "open" position and add your water support bar just behind where the door rests, so that you can swing the door freely without hitting the water bar (I have learned to add this step from frustrated experience). (See picture at top of post to see the water bar if that description doesn't make sense to you.)

To keep the door closed, I like to use either carbiner clips (pictured) or double-ended snap hooks. I can usually get a tighter close with snap hooks, although I haven't had any problems with either predators or escaping chickens with either one.
Obviously, this design is not going to win me any awards for beauty, but they are functional. Of all of the different styles of pen I've tried, these are the only ones light enough for me to move without straining my back.

And believe it or not, in the three summers I've been using these pens, I haven't lost any of my chickens to predators (while the chickens are in the pen, anyway - if they are out of the pen at dark, they rarely see the light of day again. There are plenty of coyotes, owls, hawks, skunks, raccoons, and other varmints around who love a free chicken dinner.)

So, even though they're pretty redneck, they're also pretty useful. I'd love to hear any ideas for improvement you might have (that preferably don't add any weight - I am still just one wimpy woman!)

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop and Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival.

My Every Day Easter Basket

I am a firm believer that Christ's resurrection is something that shouldn't be celebrated just once a year, but every day - and my chickens help me remember to celebrate by filling my "Easter basket" every day!

Cream Cheese Chicken Liver Pate with Black Walnuts

This is just too good not to share! I discovered this recipe a few months ago, and I've made it at least twice (one batch makes quite a bit (especially if you're the only one eating it!) I usually freeze three one-cup portions and eat what's left fresh). My favorite way to eat this is spread on sourdough toast. Mmmmm.

Cream Cheese Chicken Liver Pate with Black Walnuts
2-3 large onions
1 pound chicken livers
8 oz cream cheese
¼ tsp sage
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 oz black walnuts

Sautee onions in bacon grease until deep golden brown. Place in food processor. In the same pan, cook the livers until just heated through, in plenty of bacon grease. Add cooked livers, cream cheese, sage, salt, and pepper to the onions in the food processor and puree until smooth. Stir in black walnuts.

Spoon into jars while still warm. Freeze any portion you will not use within a week.