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Archive for February, 2009

butchering
Red only added for the drama of it all

Originally published at Women Not Dabbling by emphelan of A homesteading Neophyte

I have been pondering today’s subject for awhile now. How should I approach the subject of home butchering without offending people? Then it hit me, I never cared if I offended most people, of course there are always exceptions. I still see the wisdom in approaching Butchering in a sensitive manner. On A Homesteading Neophyte I give me readers a couple days advanced warning. I realize that there are people out there that do not wish to hear or see the subject. I use to be one of those people. I was a vegan for 15 years. Things changed for me. But I will not and have never pushed my ideals onto anyone, be it carnivore, omnivore or herbivore.

When it comes to home butchering, I feel that anyone that eats meat should participate in the practice at least once. Many people spout about knowing where their food comes from, but in reality, they only know that it was raised in a certain area. To truly know your food, you must witness the evolution of your food, from birth to death. And to truly respect your food, and to be more gracious for it, you need to get your hands dirty.

I will not get into details of butchering here, in respect for the WNDN readers. I will link you about to various post covering the how-to’s of it. But be forewarned, those posts are graphic in their details and their content.

It is difficult to butcher your first time. It is emotional and you almost feel like it is wrong, until you realize that you already have a freezer full of meat. You come to respect the animals for their lives and their deaths. My first time was difficult, I was a suburban girl, these things were for the uneducated back woods people to do, not me. But it is a huge part of the journey to self-sufficiency. (vegans excluded) Don’t allow anyone to tell you that it isn’t. It might not be a requirement, and it isn’t about having to, it is about needing to.

You do bond with your animals on a homestead. You are dealing with them one on one on a daily basis. They look to you for food, and comfort. But raising livestock of any size will lead you eventually to the need of butchering. Usually when you have too many roosters in the bunch.

There are many local lockers in every one’s area that will butcher for you for a price. And I am not saying that it is wrong to do this. Having a locker do it saves you time, and keeps it out of sight out of mind. Call around, see who has the best prices, find people that have used their services and check to see their USDA inspection is as current as possible. Also make sure you have a list of the things you want back from your animal. If you leave anything out of that list, they will not give it back to you.

Now for the home methods. My first suggestion is that if you can find someone that has done it before, that is willing to help you, grab them. If not, if you like my ‘stead have to go about it alone, grab your favorite homesteading book (most should cover butchering in them). Be prepared for mistakes. Your first time will not be easy. And we find that peppering it with humor helped us on our journey.

If you are interested here is a list of links that will take you to various animals, and our first time doing it. And remember, it does get easier each time, so don’t give up out of frustration. (and believe it or not, these links are my most popular posts)

Chicken

Duck

Turkey

Goat

Pig

Fellow blogger Applehead has a good post on his first time with Rabbits. Warning, video.

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When people start making plans to move to the country or to grow more of their own food, many start planning to bring a family cow into their lives.   A pastoral scene is etched in the minds of many homesteaders, and that picture usually contains a contented cow grazing lush pastures, and the cow comes when you call, and calmly lets her milk down for you, and you easily milk her and carry your foaming milk bucket to the house.  There your rosy faced children greet you, and open the door for you, and you tend to your milk.  After that, you don your prettiest apron and make butter, and all kinds of cheeses.   That is all in the morning.  Repeat in the afternoon, leaving out the butter and cheese part.  I know, I’m being mean, it doesn’t really work like that.

It can come close though, (except I don’t wear aprons, unless I’m playing dress-up) if you truly want a family cow, and all she can provide for your family.  You will be rewarded with a close relationship with an animal, plenty of fresh milk for all kinds of dairy products, and a calf that will grow into a future cow, or beef for your freezer, and the best fertilizer (according to Steiner) for your garden.

What your cow expects in reward is grass to graze, fresh water, minerals,  some grain or root crops to supplement her while she is lactating, comfortable housing, and daily kind care taking from you.  She expects you to buy the best hay for her that you can buy, not the cheapest or best deal.  Cows can get by on cheap feed, but it will cost you in the long run.  

WHERE TO BUY A COW?

Family cows can be scarcer than hens teeth.  Ask around, the local Weston Price chapter may have information on raw milk producers who are selling a cow or know of someone who is.  If possible, try to avoid the auction barn, usually a cow there will have health or behavior problems, she is a cull, that’s why she is there.

If you want to treat a cow organically, check organic dairies.  If you practice Western veterinary medicine check conventional dairies.  Dairies may have a cow that doesn’t produce enough for fluid milk sales, but will give plenty for a family cow.  The dairyman will probably give you an idea too, about the cow’s manners.  You are looking for a gentle, inquisitive cow.  Not one that blows snot when she sees a human. 

Craigslist, feed store bulletin boards, 4-H clubs are also good places to check.

BREED?

I’ll leave that one up to you.  Popular breeds are Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Dexter, Guernsey, Holstein, and crossbreeds of any of the above.  Some breeds have higher butterfat, some give more milk, some are small, and some are large.  And be prepared if you start asking, people will tell you that you HAVE to get the breed they have because… .  I won’t list the reasons, the more questions you ask, the more questions you will have.  A lot of it depends on availability, you may have your heart set on a sweet doe eyed  Jersey, but you just can’t find one that fits your criteria. 

HOW MUCH SHOULD I PAY?

That depends on how bad you want a cow.  Registered stock costs more.  Grade animals and crossbreeds will cost less.  A quick check on Craigslist today showed Jersey’s going for $1500.00.  One had a sketchy sounding life in the ad, and one sounded like the cow had been managed well.  If you buy from a novice, you may not get the whole story on the cow because the seller really does not know what to look for in the way of problems.  If you buy from an experienced person you  may not get the complete story either, there may be something to hide.  Ask why the cow is being sold.  There are no lemon laws to protect you from a bad cow deal.  You have to be informed. 

And remember no matter how sweet the cow is, and how much you want her, if you have to sell her because of problems – she will only be worth what she brings at the auction barn.  In other words, cow price at the stockyards, usually about $.50 a pound.  If your cow weighs 900 lbs, you can plan on selling her for $450.00.  Then subtract commission fees, hauling fees and heartache – you don’t end up with much. 

If she gets sick and needs certain drugs, she can’t be sold into the food chain and must be put down.  Depending on where you live, you may have to pay a renderer to come and get the carcass.  Or you may do the deed yourself, and bury the cow if the laws in your state allow it.  Just some things to think about, before bringing home Bossie.

DO I HAVE TO MILK EVERY DAY?

Yes, and most of the lactation twice a day.  I share the milk with my cow’s calf, so when the calf gets old enough to take one of the milkings, I let the calf milk.  I keep the calf separated and let the cow and calf together at milking time only, then separate again.  Before turning the cow out I make sure the calf has drank all the milk, if not, I finish the job.  Leaving milk  that has been let down, in the udder, is a sure way to get an infection going.  Mastitis can be hard to treat, so if you can prevent it, your milking life will go easier.

DO I REALLY HAVE TO HAVE PASTURE?

Well, I’m going to say yes, because that is the natural feed for cattle, with a little browse mixed in.  You can purchase all the feed your cow will need, if you don’t have pasture, but that is how confinement dairies work, and we all know how good that works.  We have more and more medicine to treat livestock with these days, and the livestock is sicker than ever.  The idea of having fresh milk is more than the milk itself.  The life the cow leads is important too. 

I would say if you have to buy a good portion of the feed, you may as well get your milk from the store. 

CAN I SELL MY SURPLUS FRESH MILK?

In most places NO.  You can’t advertise.  You can give it away, or sell it as pet food.  But the easiest way to sell your raw milk, is to feed it to a pig or two and sell the pork, or just raise the pig for your own consumption or for barter.  Perfectly legal, and tasty too!

DOES THE COW HAVE TO HAVE CALF TO GIVE MILK?

Yes, and if they are healthy they should have a calf every year.  And be prepared, you will have to possibly end that calf’s life at some point.  If it is a heifer (girl) and you want to increase your herd she may get a bye.  If the calf is a bull, he can grow up to be your meat supply.  He will have to be castrated, and that will make him a steer and a little easier to manage than a young bull.

WHAT ABOUT BREEDING?

You can rent a bull, or have Artificial Insemination done.  The old fashioned way (bull) works the best, but there isn’t always a bull available.  Artificial Insemination can give you a purebred replacement for a good price if that is the way you want to go. 

IS IT WORTH IT?

You’re asking the wrong person!  Of course I will say it is worth it, I love cows.  But yes, a cow will provide you with enough manure to compost for a 1/2 acre garden.  She will provide you with milk, and a calf for beef and this is every year. 

But this is a personal choice, and a huge monetary and time consideration, so make sure all family members are involved in the decision – and happy milking!

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dscn18692

the washing area next to the back porch, complete with hot and cold running water.

although i have a washing machine, i had the opportunity to try first hand doing all my laundry without it for 8 months. our washer broke down and for one reason or the other, no one bothered to examine it for that long. i purchased and acquired a few items in my quest to make this chore as streamlined as possible.

first off, i bought a glass washboard and metal plunger. why glass for the washboard? glass seem to be more durable than the metal ones and they seem to be gentler on the clothes. i reserved this for really heavy, grimy stuff that needed a good scrubbing to get clean.

as for the plunger, i have read you can use an ordinary toilet plunger and get nearly the same effect but the metal one has some fancy construction to it that allows air into it while it plunges into the clothing, helping to blast out dirt from clothes.

to begin with, i used both of these inside in our bathtub. i put about an inch of water into the tub along with a teaspoon or so of detergent, added the cleanest clothes first, rolled up my skirt hem, took off my socks and started stomping and plunging. after several minutes of this, most were clean. i’d wring them out and throw them into a laundry basket and grab the next set of the next dirtiest clothes and repeat. once i got through my stack, i’d scrub anything that was still showing dirt with the washboard. if anything needed to soak longer, i’d transfer it to the sink for soaking. then, i’d drain the water and start over, this time without the addition of detergent. i usually had to do the ‘rinse’ cycle a few times just to get all the dirty water and detergent out of them. then, i’d hang them on the line to dry.

this eventually evolved to outside using a double wash basin. of course, i couldn’t jump in there anymore, but having the plunger waist high made it a lot easier to do the job. about this time, i purchased a wringer that mounted between the two basins. while i LOVED the wringer, it saved me from so much pain with my hands, it started falling apart at the clamps and started rusting in areas. not cool for an item i paid over $100 for. so, i sent it back and never purchased another one.

one washer i’ve always coveted but never could fork out the money for is the james washer. with the wringer attachment, it will agitate and wring out your clothing for very little effort on your part. if we ever lose this washer and decide not to get a front end loader, i’ll be investing in this instead.

after awhile of washing all the clothes and diapers by hand, i decided i’d like to try the wonder clean washer. this little thing will hunt! while it can’t tackle the larger items, it is super for smaller items. i used it to wash diapers, wipes, shirts, socks and undies, even a few skirts and shorts. fill the washer with the amount of items to be washed, add up to 6 quarts of hot water, a teaspoon or two of detergent, place on the lid (this can be tricky, make sure you get it sealed. i found that standing on a stool above it and applying my body weight helped to to get it to close properly), and start cranking. once the drum gets going, it is super easy to continue the spin. i’d just watch the clock and spin it the recommended minutes, stop it, drain it into the kitchen sink and rinse the clothes in the other side with a bit of water.

all these methods were eventually used in conjunction with each other. over time, i learned what worked best for what items. for instance, it’s easier to wash towels, sheets and blankets in the bathtub although wringing them out by hand is very hard. having two people to do this job makes it easier. each person grabs the opposite ends and then one holds their end while the other twists or they both twist in opposite directions. jeans, shirts and long skirts are best washed in the double basin washtub with the plunger. smaller hand towels and wash cloths wash well in here as well. and, as i mentioned above, the smaller items wash up quick in the the power washer.

towards the end of my tour of laundry, i purchased an old electric maytag washer and wringer. (i know, it’s electric but i figured i’d give a shout out to this amazing washer that can be purchased for about $20).  to this day, i prefer that to my other electric washer and i hope to have it running again this spring (the hose came unattached and had rotted through. i’ve never had clothes clean so thoroughly as using this thing. and the wringer is amazing at getting the water out. i wish it had a hand crank option so i could use it with the double basin! it handled large loads well and washed things quickly, without all the whistles and bells of the modern washer. the woman i bought it from only did so because she was elderly and her husband was in a wheel chair and could no longer help her with the maintenance of it. and, she had gotten her thumb caught in the wringer and almost tore it off so he didn’t want to risk that anymore (the wringer can be extremely dangerous, if you get one, always, ALWAYS keep children away from it and pay attention to yourself).

i look forward to hand washing our laundry again some day…when there are less kids, less diapers and less clothes!

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seed-packs

(Shown above:  homemade seed packets in various stages of completion)

It’s that time again…to pull out the seeds (or order more!), and to do some cleaning out of some of the clutter that’s collected during the winter season in anticipation of Spring’s arrival!

If you’re like me, you may find yourself with some odds and ends you’d prefer not to throw out, and might be too nice to compost…but what to do with them?

materials2

A lot of the paper goods can be turned into your own homemade seed packets.  It’s really easy and is something nearly anyone can enjoy assembling during a little down time.

You make them as plain or fancy as you like, from whatever materials are on hand.  I’ve heard of some of the nicer ones being used as favors at baby showers, or as favors for guests at weddings.  With a little imagination, the possibilities are endless!

Mine are pretty homespun compared to some because I’m using what’s collected in my desk for some time…greeting cards I’m reluctant to part with (and the envelopes they came in),  junk mail reply envelopes, the odd thank you card or other card that is missing its envelope, or vice versa…the odd-sized envelope missing its card.  Then there are the favorite magazines, especially the older seed catalogs from last year, with those gorgeous color pictures that are a shame to throw away.

There are some innovative ways to cut and fold…and there are a lot of resources online for customized packets.  Just Google it under “Make Your Own” and you’ll see templates and origami folds.  For myself, a good glue stick, some inexpensive clear tape, and a pair of scissors will suffice for now.

I prefer to have one side that can be clearly labeled, with the option of the back of the packet being clear enough to write specific planting instructions  (optional…for some, I don’t need to get that specific).  I also have a rubber stamp and ink pad for envelopes or paper lacking much design.

For full pages that I want to cut up, I simply make a business letter fold, and then slice that into sections the size I want for packets.  I seal the individual sides with clear tape or stick glue and leave the little flap at the top open till sealing the seeds inside.

seed-catalogs

Something I found I like to use for labels is just that…labels.  Printer label sheets, after being printed, often have one or two blank labels left at the bottom.  Even if that is not so, those sheets of computer labels that have already been printed and removed still leave behind borders of blank peelable label stock that can be trimmed up with scissors just to the right size for adhering to the front of the seed packets.

Old used envelopes (canceled stamps and old addresses included!) can be turned inside-out and then sliced into the right size packets as well…no one is going to be paying attention to what’s printed inside the packet.  It’s just another way to get another use from a perfectly good envelope that would otherwise be thrown away.  Paper grocery bags or brown wrap paper would be great, as well.

old-envelopes

Shown in an above photo are various materials I used to assemble seed packets.  The pictures of the packets show them in different stages of completion, but you get the idea.

The nice thing about this is the range of possibilities, and the fun it can be to think ahead to gift-giving.  Giving seeds to those who will use and appreciate them is always wonderful, but with homemade seed packets, they can be personalized in so many ways and tailored to the recipient.  Children can get in on this, too…I can’t think of anything I’d love better than children’s art designed for or recycled to make these types of packets.   Drawings, watercolors, coloring book pages colored in, finger paints, ink stamps, fun stickers, magic markers, glitter, real leaves rolled in ink and used to make imprints…what fun!  Calligraphers could have free rein, too…different styles would be pretty…vintage, grunge, modern art, geometrics, stripes, polka dots.  Non-adhesive (no paste on back) wallpaper discards would be great, as well.  Post cards would make stunning ones, and packets can also be cut into various shapes and sizes.

img_2260

If I ever made these with a business logo on them, I’d probably opt to take a bit more time and cut the packet from a template with uniform folds.  But since I’m not there yet, the variety and uniqueness of these more homespun ones will serve me just fine in the meantime 🙂

Got some odds and ends on hand?  Feel like cutting up?  It’s nice having a stash of your own seed packets on hand to save…and to share!

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Originally published by Gina

chowchowFebruary, according to many American Indian cultures, is known as Full Hunger Moon. At this point in winter, at least in many locations, hunting and foraging would have been difficult due to adverse weather conditions. It was also the time that homesteaders’ winter food stores reached their half-way point or were nearly gone. Even though the starvation would have been a dismal outcome, it is the last full moon before the moons of more plenty begin to bring a fresh bounty.

This year has been a difficult one for my family. No, we aren’t limited to daily hunting and foraging (yet), but we have had to reduce our expenses to nearly nothing. We are fortunate to have food stashed away and we will not experience the hunger pains of the February moon. All of my careful planning and preparations from the prior year are being used now and are helping us through this recession, depression, or call it what you will.

I have yet to tackle actual formal meal planning (I’ve had that goal on the list for a couple of years now ;), but I am using every last bit of food in the meals I cook. Because I am not following a “go shop, then cook” methodology, I have found myself staring at the colorful jars of canned food, mentality checking off foods that are not “typical” and dreaming up concoctions I never would have dreamed of combining before this episode in history.

Case-in-point: The other night I cooked a couple of chickens. I decided to make two since the oven was already on and I knew I could use the chicken in many different ways. I am limited to what I have on hand since one of my New Year’s goals was to only shop for food and essentials quarterly at the season changes and only buy what I can’t produce myself. In fact, relatively speaking, since the spring shopping trip is another five weeks out and the garden only a dream under the snow, we are in our version of Full Hunger Moon.

Here is an example of three meals created from the two chickens (both small roosters we butchered last fall):

Dinner 1: Roasted chicken, baked potatoes and a jar of green beans.

Dinner 2: I used some of the chopped up chicken, stir-fried it briefly in olive oil, added spices, and then threw in a jar of chow chow* (recipe follows for chow chow). I served it over cooked jasmine rice (from the food stores). I also used the extra rice to make rice pudding.

Dinner 3: Slow Cooker Enchiladas. I have to give Lisa at The Zahn Zone credit for this one. Basically you layer corn tortillas, sauce, shredded chicken, cheese, sauce, tortillas…onward three times or so. She used ground beef (which would be yummy), I substituted chicken. The sauce was a Mexican tomato sauce I made this summer from our own tomatoes and the cheese came from the last shopping trip up in the Amish community. Next year I hope to grow the corn for the tortillas.

Even though many things have been challenging of late, I know we are eating as self-sufficiently as possible, relying on some of the careful planning we managed the past year and this feels good. We are being self-reliant on our own creativity to not waste the food that is keeping us healthy and full-bellied even in these lean times.

If you are stuck on an idea for a dinner and, like me, you find yourself staring at a wall of preserved or stored foods, try something a little different. The chow chow chicken and rice was delicious. Had I not been faced with using what I have on hand, I probably would have never combined these two foods.

Oh, in case you were wondering, “chow chow” is a type of relish loved and mastered by the Pennsylvania Dutch (or Amish as we call them here). It consists of all the last bits and pieces from an Indian summer or fall garden: cauliflower, green beans, zucchini, carrots, cabbage, or whatever your garden has to offer!

Chow Chow

Variety of vegetables (I used green beans, green tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, green peppers)

Spices (celery seed, mustard seed, pickling spices)

2 QT water

¼ c. salt

2 c. sugar

2 c. vinegar

  1. Soak chopped vegetables in salt and water overnight.
  2. Rinse vegetables in morning.
  3. Combine veggies, spices, sugar, and vinegar.
  4. Heat to boil.
  5. Pack into sterilized jars and process.

You can use this as a side dish, relish or a cooking ingredient. There are many different chow chow (or End-of-the-Season Relish) recipes out there. I’m sure they are all good with chicken.

*Also known as End-of-the-Season Relish

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Lets talk about drills this time as we enter back into our power tool foray, with an added side of hammers and nails for those of you without a drill. I will not compare them directly to each other since most people have a pretty good idea of why they want one or the other but I will touch on a few pointers for choosing and using drills and hammers.

Before we talk about the actual tools…lets discuss a few things to consider when choosing screws versus nails which also helps with the drill versus hammer issue.
Will you take it apart? Much easier to take out a screw than a nail. Or how about these situations: Tight corners and narrow spots. A tight corner or narrow spot is much easier to drill in than to hammer in. Do you have something warped—over time a nail might be pulled out but a screw usually sticks for the duration. On the other hand I do like nails much better than screws, specifically shanked nails, for areas where livestock will be. A nice shanked nail is a booger to remove (a real booger!)—which means livestock also have trouble with it. In my garden too—I have had screws back out of things like trellising—but shanked nails stick. Though screws have their place in the garden and barn too. I think experience just kind of helps you with your choice. Sometimes it’s just a matter of what I have that is the correct length. Since I would prefer not to go into a long dissertation about nails here’s a link on choosing nails and screws—and yes, understanding the pros and cons of both nails and screws and the differing types/styles that are sold will help you do a better job (this link is not an intentional plug for Lowes)
http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=howTo&p=BuyGuide/ChsFastnrNailScrew.html
Basically buy the correct style and length – it will make your job and life much simpler.

So, on to drills.
When choosing your drill the first thing you will want to consider is corded or cordless. Though there can be a large price difference between the two styles do give it a bit of thought beyond just price. A drill is a very handy tool and once you learn all the ways to use it—you will use it. A lot.
Obviously one thing to consider about this issue would be: How far will you be from electricity?
I know it seems like a simple question since my chicken coop without electricity and is about 400 yards from my house pops to mind — but think of this other example: When your hanging a curtain rod do you want to hassle with extension cords while standing on a 6 foot ladder 8 feet from the closest wall plug? Even 15 ft of cord will be stretched out pretty well in this situation. Most drills don’t have very long cords — so pay attention to length (it will say) –and consider whether it will annoy you. I personally hate extension cords. So that is one consideration for me and, though not the entire reason, why we have a cordless drill. Actually we own a cordless and a corded and constantly use both.

Another decision, whether you have decided on cordless or corded, is size. It is classified as voltage for cordless and amps for corded. We had a cordless drill many eons ago—when they were not very powerful and weighed a ton. Now however they have much higher voltage drills that can pretty much compete with corded drills in the power aspect and the batteries are not quite as heavy. They also are more efficient in their use of batteries so the charge last longer and is “more powerful” seeming while it is in use compared to cordless drills of say…. 10 years ago. They can still weigh a lot if you buy a larger model—but then so can the corded drills. We have an older 12 volt cordless right now and it does most everything we need it to and is not heavy comparatively. The batteries are getting older and a bit weak so occasionally we pull out our corded drill for those “big time” jobs of drilling very large holes through thick/dense wood or lots and lots and lots of holes through thick and dense wood. Our corded drill is a 6 amp model and has never failed to do a job we asked of it. In both styles there are more powerful models but that gives you an example of what you might need to pay for. As many of you who read my posts know we do many jobs—both home and farm oriented –so unless you are going into full time construction either of those should work for you.
Two things to consider if you are women. Pick them up. Hold them in your hand. Does it fit your hand well? Your grip is part of your control of the drill. If you need to drive something slowly you will want to be able to SLOWLY squeeze the drill trigger which means your hand needs to fit around it correctly. Which brings me to the choice of variable speed. You absolutely want it to have that capacity—most all do but double check. Variable speed means that if you squeeze the trigger just a little —it will go slow. With non variable even if you minutely squeeze the trigger—it is off to the races.
All cordless have variable as far as I understand—but I could be wrong. Not all corded do so again: double check.
So anyway, if your hand doesn’t fit well around the handle you can’t correctly use the variable speed feature. Lack of trigger control (going full blast the entire time you screw something in) is one of the biggest mistakes people make with drills and it is one reason why screws strip. The second is using screws to drill their own hole into a material or using incorrect tips which we will talk of later. Also when purchasing your drill consider balance/weight. Our corded drill is very front heavy. Definitely imbalanced. Even my husband agrees with that statement. I have a bit of trouble with it especially when I have to hold something and drill at the same time. Better balance would be appreciated by me (and my husband I think) in that drill.

One negative about cordless is that their batteries will eventually fail. They are still very expensive to replace which is why most people purchase a whole new drill. I know…throw away society—argh. Maybe with time. Anyway…there are a few places to send off batteries and have them “redone” that are cheaper than new batteries and you don’t have to throw away a good drill or it’s used batteries. There are also sites on line that can tell you how to do it yourself (yes you have to be careful but no we aren’t talking about serious health issues if you do it) or where to send them for repair. This is something many people don’t know about…so pass the word along. Maybe we can keep a few drills out of the landfill.

Next you will want to purchase drill bits for your drill. Why? Because really not all screws are meant to drill their own holes—even in plain ole pine. You are suppose to do that for them with a drill bit slightly smaller in size. First and foremost pre drilling helps prevent splitting of wood and is well worth it for that alone. It also makes your job way easier from a “how long you have to spend trying” to get the screw into whatever you are putting it into. Even with drywall we sometimes need to pre drill a bigger hole to use wall anchors.
Maybe in the past you have stripped out a screw with a hand held screw driver or electric drill? A couple of reasons for that is that maybe you couldn’t/didn’t push into the screw head hard enough and the drill tipped slipped causing the edges to “wear” or else you were trying to make the screw drill it’s own way in and it was difficult—so again you slipped. Bummer isn’t it? I, and many others I know, have done both these things. In my case sometimes it’s laziness, sometimes it’s hurry, sometimes it’s just a difficult place to drill, but at all times it’s extremely annoying stripping a screw. Of course some screws are just crappy and will strip irregardless but a good set of drill bits is a helpful friend. Invest in them. One last thing about slipping that I mentioned above: Push and push hard into the screw head so the drill tip won’t slip. You will learn over time how hard is hard enough—but don’t underestimate it. That’s were trigger control comes in handy too.
Sometimes even with all of the predrilling and hard pushing etc—I still slip. Usually it is either a really dense wood or it’s too far over my head for me to push hard enough and not allow it to slip. With difficult situations I actually wedge the drill into my ribs and use my body weight to push. It’s a trick I picked up over time that makes a huge difference. When nothing I do helps, I unfortunately then have to do the girlie thing and ask my husband. Make him feel useful you know? 😀
Oh yes—-and buy the correct drill tip. Disregarding the fact that some screws have criss cross shaped heads or some are square or star shape —you need the correct size. Especially for the commonly seen criss cross style. They are the most common you will find in every package of anything you ever buy. If your tip is too small —it will slip and strip your screw head. Too big and it won’t fit causing frustration. Tips are cheap cheap cheap. Buy a multi pack for a couple of bucks. This is also true even if you always use hand held screw drivers—buy and use the correct size for the head size you have. This is another spot where I can be lazy sometimes and try to grab the first screwdriver or tip for my drill that I come across because it’s just “one screw”. One “quick job”. Hah….I should try and do it right the first time and save myself the aggravation.

Now about hammers.
When choosing your hammer they come in various weights. Ounces to be specific. Too light—and you will swing a thousand times to get the nail driven especially if it’s a long nail or a dense wood you are nailing into. Too heavy—and until you build up—you will tire quickly and possibly hit wildly as you drive your nail. Wild hitting invariably causes bent nails. What a pain—because half the time the darn wood doesn’t want to let them come back out or the nail head folds and makes it difficult to remove.
Another thing about size is that a too heavy hammer will feel unbalanced and you will choke up on it losing some of the natural leverage that helps drive the nail. Experience will be your guide as to the best weight for you. The more control we have over the hammer the less we will be likely to bend the nail.

Now, about that choking up. When using a hammer don’t hammer by “choking up” on the handle which means holding it too close to the head. To get the best swing you want your hand to be down the handle at least half the way or more –not almost touching the head. It’s that leverage that gives the power to drive the nail with a few swings. Yes, you will have to still practice actually making contact with the nail head—but really with the correct hammer and it’s use hitting correctly comes quicker than you think. And..not to harp on this issue: check out the handle thickness. If your hand doesn’t fit well around the handle you will find yourself choking up on it to avoid swinging it off behind you (and clocking someone in the head) during the nailing procedure. We have one hammer like that—and if I accidentally get stuck with it I look like a kid trying to nail since I have to strike each nail more times because of the lack of leverage. The handle is just too darn thick. I end up tap tap tapping away at the nail instead of driving it with a few blows. For some odd reason this is our lightest weight hammer and so therefor when a group is working—I being the smallest person—ends up with this lightest of hammers that also for some reason has a thick handle. Go figure. You would think I would buy a replacement—but so rarely do we hammer as a group that it has just not been that big of a deal. Usually I can always use my favorite hammer whenever I want to.

Anyway as you can see the choice is yours as to whether you use hammer or drills (corded or cordless). Each has it’s place and both I feel are needed —especially on a “farmette”. Do also realize that most all drills can be charged or used even in a completely grid free home. Good luck in your choice and if you have more questions just leave them as a comment and as I said in my last power tool article I will try and answer as best I can. Also too…come back after a few days and read the comments if this is a subject new to you. The comments on tools are pretty helpful and can hit areas I forgot or chose not to write about.

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Brewing Compost

Many of us gardeners are getting ready to seeds for the upcoming planting season.  Those seeds need lots of nutrition to get started right.  Consider brewing some compost tea to keep those seeds healthy and happy.

Brew compost tea by filling a container loosely with your compost and then filling the container with water.  A 5 gallon bucket works great.  Its best to brew it in small batches as it loses nutrients the longer it sits.  Stir the container once a day for a week.  At the end of the week, strain the mixture, to keep the solids out of your tea.  If you want to put the tea into a spray bottle, be sure to strain it very well so your sprayer doesn’t get clogged.  Otherwise, it doesn’t have to be perfectly free of solids.  The left over solid compost can be added to your garden or the bottom of your seed starting pots. 

To use your compost tea, you need to dilute it otherwise it might be strong and burn your seedlings.  Dilution to 10 parts water to 1 part compost tea is considered safe and nutritious for your plants.  Consider using this compost tea on your seeds, seedlings, garden, and houseplants.  If its strained very well, it could be added to a lawn sprayer and sprayed over your lawn and garden. 

Happy Brewing!  A tip: If you practice vermicomposting, like I do.  Use that worm water in the same fashion as compost tea.

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