Monday, March 24, 2014

Burning A Bowl

Okay, its not what you think. Unless you are into primitive technology, then maybe it is what you think... My friend Phil and I went backpacking in the Red River Gorge in January. We decided to burn a wooden bowl around the fire one night.

If you have never been winter backpacking you are missing out. No bugs, very few people, you can see much further through the woods and a fire is actually needed, not just a luxury. You will need the proper gear and knowledge to have a safe and enjoyable outing. Find a friend or a group that goes out in the winter to learn from. You will quickly learn what draws me into the woods every winter.

First order of business, fire. No Bic lighters were used in the making of this fire. Before all the primitive purists out there start trolling the blog, I know my K-bar is not a primitive tool, neither is the ferrous rod we are using, but I would never step into the woods without them, so just let it be. 

Reddit edit: I have learned you should not use the blade of your knife on a ferrous rod. If your knife has a 90 degree edge on the back, use that instead. If you have a K-bar like me, use a file and remove the coating to expose the metal first.

As I mentioned, we used a ferrous rod to start this fire. Let me tell you, it is not easy starting a fire with one. If you carry one of these and have never used it, try starting a fire with it the next time you are camping. Know your gear and its possible limitations. If you needed a fire immediately, because you slipped and fell in a stream, you would definitely not want your only source of fire to be a ferrous rod. 

Next order of business, bacon. When you have bacon, all of life's problems seem to melt away. 

I would like to bring your attention to, the backpacking hammock. No amount of padding or sleeping pads can equal the comfort of these light weight hammock systems. Once you try it you will never go back to a tent. 

My wonderful fiance Dara, bought me this Chainmate handsaw. It is made out of a chainsaw like blade. When I first looked at it I thought, well this is novel, but I bet it won't perform like my folding saw. Let me tell you this thing is amazing. I sawed through the downed log pictured on both sides in a matter of minutes. Sure my folding saw could have done it, but not as fast and easy as this piece of kit. Plus, it compacts down into a very small pouch.

On to the burning of the bowl. You will want a log about this big if you want to do a burn down the center. I have burned a bowl into the side of a log before, but the log needs to be very large and it is not typically movable, once you are done.

Start by carving out a small depression in the center. Place a coal in it and apply oxygen. If you have a tube of some sort this is much easier. We sacrificed one of Phil's cheap trekking poles to use as a blowing tube.

You will want some way of keeping the coals in the depression. A knife, or in this case, a Kukri works very well. Once you get the inside of the depression burning, you will no longer need to add embers, it will keep burning down and out as you add oxygen.

You have to be mindful of the sides burning out to far when you get close to the edge. Some clay or mud works well to stop the sides from burning while letting the burn continue down.

Keep burning it down until you get a vessel deep enough for your needs. Unfortunately for us, the sides of the log we used turned out to be very punky. Before we started burning it was very hard and seemed like a good piece of wood. Once the heat got to the outer part of the log it turned soft. Oh well, we still learned from our mistake. It is soothing having something to occupy your mind around the fire on a cold January night.

Unfortunately, since the punky wood made the bowl not usable, I didn't get a picture the next morning. Sorry. I will do this again, and make sure I get a finished product picture. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring Starts

Do you already have your spring starts going? The time is nigh, past nigh! I had to fight the urge to start my tomatoes and peppers in December. We planted our brassicas, tomatoes and peppers at the end of February this year.

What is that you ask? A dirt crab? A yeti fur-ball?  A comfrey root? Yes, you were right the third time. It is the Russian bocking 14 comfrey root to be precise. Symphytum x uplandicum for all the plant nerds. This cultivar is sterile, meaning it does not produce through seed. The only way to propagate this variety is through root cutting. It only takes a little bit of root to get a new plant, as many people who have tried to roto-till this plant to death have found out.

I potted up 48 comfrey starts all said and done. I will be giving most of them away to friends this year. I plan on planting about half of these around the property. I have comfrey in 5 spots around the property right now.

Here are some happy little brassica's growing in soil cubes. Here is a post I did on making soil cubes if you want to learn more.

Here are some tomato starts. We have peppers going as well. Hopefully this year we won't have the wet spring we had last year. We couldn't plant out our starts until mid May last year.

Here is the set-up this year. Looks very similar to the last three years. =) I can't wait to get out in the garden this year. We had poor garden performance last year, mostly our fault from neglect. We plan on paying more attention to the annuals this year as well as continuing to establish perennial plants that will produce with very little input. 

Get out and garden this year!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bedroom Full Of Chicks

That's right, I have 10 girls eating out of my hand in the bedroom! These chicks have a ton of energy and don't mind sharing the same bed.

They are also a pretty cheap date. A little apple cider vinegar, garlic, water, a handful of grain and they are all yours.

Meet my harem. I brought home 10 chicks last night (Edit: I brought 6 more chicks home three days later), so with Dara and Guen that brings my harem of chicks to 18. I have:

8 - Araucanas
2 - Rhode Island Reds 
2 - Black Sex Links
2 - Silver Laced Wyandottes
2 - Isa Browns
1 - Dara
1 - Guen

In my zeal to finally get some chickens, I bought two of everything they had in the store. I want more Araucanas, and will pick up 6 more this week (done). I had never heard of Isa Browns. I bought them before I researched them. It turns out they are a Trademarked breed bred for high egg production. They stop laying quality eggs after 2 years. I have them now, and they are very cute, so I will keep them until they stop laying well.

Here is their luxury apartment. It is a 100 gallon galvanized stock tank. Add a heat lamp, bedding, water and feed and you get a chicken condo. I can't stop watching them, people warned me about this but I didn't know what they were talking about until now. 

I told Dara last night, "we haven't even had them for 24 hours, and I can't imagine not having chickens now".

Everyone should get chickens! And here is cute proof, Dara went camera happy last night.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Our Last Hive Did Not Make It Through The Extreme Winter

Dara has been very positive about our one remaining hives survival. I kept saying, "I think they are dead" and she kept saying "no way". This is one case where I wish I was wrong. 

I found this small cluster of dead bees in the center of the hive. They did not have the numbers to make it through the brutally cold winter. Bees keep warm in the winter by forming what is called the "winter cluster". The worker bees cluster around the queen in the center of the hive and actually shiver to raise the temperature to around 81 degrees F. Once the queen starts to lay again the bees ramp up the shivering to bring the cluster temperature to around 93 degrees F. This hive did not have the numbers to keep everyone warm.

They did draw out a lot of comb. I will use this comb in swarm traps this spring to attract local honey bees. The last two years I have bought my colonies from a local bee supplier. He drives down to Georgia every spring and brings back hundreds of boxed colonies. I think part of my problem has been buying colonies from down south and expecting them to acclimate to our temperature extremes.

I will be baiting my hives and building 3-4 swarm traps this spring. If I catch bees, I will be a bee keeper this year. If I don't, I guess I get a year off.

At some point the original queen died or left. I found 5-6 queen cells on the comb. I will be making a bunch of mason bee houses this year. They are great pollinators and need no management at all. I hope I catch a couple swarms this spring. One of these days we will enjoy some honey produced on the homestead.