Zipties on a weed-whacker: an experiment

weed-whacker experiment

Have you’ve seen the post going around facebook that shows a homesteader using zipties on a weed-whacker instead of the spool of weed-eater line?

This post came across my facebook feed last week and seemed like an ingenious idea, so this weekend as I worked in the garden I gave it a try to see if it really works.

weed-whacker experimentI removed the spool from my Ryobi weed-whacker, put on a couple of zipties and trimmed them to length. Then I set to work in the garden to knock down some grasses and pig-weed that had gotten away from me.

The zip-ties cut the grass, but it wasn’t as clean a cut as I get with the weed-eater line, and my trusty weed-whacker made a lot more noise then she usually does─if you can possibly imagine a weed-whacker being any louder. Then, as I went to tackle the pig-weed, I brushed the weed-whacker up against a post in the garden and one of the zipties snapped right off!

weed-whacker experiment fail

After my failed experiment I reviewed the comments under the facebook post and found a few folks who also had tried the zipties-on-a-weed-whacker experiment. They report similar findings─that the zipties broke easily. One person suggested using industrial grade zipties, to which a woman in Arizona reported that the industrial zipties are all they use because in their heat and sun lesser plastics degrade too quickly, and she still had this method fail for her.

I wouldn’t say this experiment was a total fail, it did work and in a pinch you could certainly use the zipties. Probably if you have just a lawn to maintain and were only using your weed-whacker to trim things up after you’ve mowed this would work just fine. However, if─like me─you have a large area to manage, a large garden and more, and you have weeds that sometimes get unruly, I feel like the weed-eater line is still the better option.

Have you tried the zipties-on-a-weed-whacker experiment? If you have any thoughts or suggestions feel free to leave a comment below! Be sure to subscribe to the Runamuk blog by email to receive updates directly to your inbox; OR follow us on Instagram for sneak-peeks into the day-to-day happenings at Runamuk Acres!

Baking to stretch the food budget

baking to stretch the food budget

Now that we’re all settled in at the new Runamuk homestead, I’ve finally been able to unpack my kitchen and cook-wares and get back to my regular baking routines.  With a new mortgage, maintaining our budget is more imperative than ever before, so I spend time each month to plan out meals ahead of time, then on Sundays I make it a point to spend the day baking my breads, rolls, tortilla shells, muffins, etc. in preparation for the week ahead.  What is made and baked is dictated by the menu, and then what is not needed within the next day or two is put into the freezer to maintain it’s freshness.

baking to stretch the food budget
Amish White Bread–as a rule, white bread is not something I make often, but on occasion–this is a very delicious bread.

Why bother to bake?

It may sound like a lot of work, and I confess that baking–like other household tasks–is not my most favorite thing to do–that would, of course, be beekeeping and gardening, and practically any other chore out of doors! lol  But the benefits are worth the time and effort; once you’ve learned the skills you’ll be surprised how quickly you can whip up a batch of muffins, or make a pizza dough–even baking bread takes less time once you gain the experience and know how!

Tastes better

Homemade breads and baked goods simply taste better; you can make them to suit the taste preferences of you and your family, use fresher ingredients, include more grains and increase nutrition, and significantly reduce or even eliminate preservatives altogether.  By making your own, you can be sure–if you so choose–that you’re avoiding high-fructose corn syrup, GMOs, and using only the best organic ingredients.

Save money

Baking your own breads definitely saves money.  I’m not going to go and do the math, but I know that when you consider that a half decent loaf of bread at the grocery store is currently running $5 a loaf (and that’s not organic or gmo-free for sure!), and if you’re going through at least 2-3 loaves a week like we do–you’re bound to save money by doing it yourself.  Then when you figure in some of the other breads and baked goods you use in a week–such as bagels, english muffins, burger or hot dog rolls, tortilla shells, cookies and crackers–that list and expense really begins to add up.

Fresher ingredients

The breads you find at the mainstream grocery store have been made on an industrial scale and engineered not to grow old while they are shipped and then sit there on shelves waiting to be taken home.  It stands to reason that bread you bake at home is going to be fresher.  But you can also include fresher ingredients like your own fresh eggs if you raise chickens, or farm-fresh eggs from your neighbor or the local farmers’ market if you don’t raise your own chickens.  You also have the opportunity to use locally produced grains, raw milk, lard or butter rather than oil–the possibilities are endless and open to your creative experimentation.

Here are 2 of our favorite bread recipes:

Amish White Bread

  • rolls for dinner
    My mother used to make some delectable breads too–she taught me how to make rolls and I’ve never forgotten!

    2c. warm water

  • 2/3c. sugar
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. yeast
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 vegetable oil (extra virgin olive oil is my go-to vegetable oil)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4c. powdered milk
  • 6c. all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl dissolve the sugar in the warm water and stir in the yeast.  Allow to sit until creamy and foamy.  While you’re waiting, take a separate bowl and put your oil, egg, and powdered milk into it–whisk together til well combined.  Set that aside and measure and sift your flour and salt.  Next–when you’re yeast is ready, add the egg and oil mixture, whisk together to combine.  Now use a wooden spoon to gradually stir in your flour and salt.  When the dough begins to pull together, turn it out onto a well floured surface.  Knead for about 7-8 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  At this point place the dough into an oiled mixing bowl, cover with a cloth or towel and allow to rise until doubled in size.  Punch down the dough and turn it out to knead again to work out any air bubbles before cutting into loaves or forming into rolls.

Note:  The original recipe calls for this to make 2 loaves, but I’ve found that those loaves come out very large.  When cut into slices they do not fit well in a toaster, and since the boys like to have toast for breakfast, I’ve gotten in the habit of cutting the dough into 3 and making slightly smaller loaves–which, if you ask me–are still plenty large.

I bake my breads at 450-degrees for the first 5 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 350.  The bread is done if it sounds hollow when you tap on the top of the loaf.

Honey-Wheat Oatmeal Bread

  • 1c. quick or rolled oats (the quick oats give the bread a smoother texture, while the rolled oats at more substance).
  • 2c. boiling water
  • 1/4c. butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4c. powdered milk
  • 1/2c. honey
  • 1/2c. warm water
  • 1-1/2 tsp. yeast
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3c. white flour
  • 3c. wheat flour

This is my go-to bread recipe, my sister raves about this bread and always asks for it for her birthday and holidays.  It is nutritious and flavorful, and delicious.

In a large mixing bowl place your oats, and cover with the 2 cups boiling water.  If you choose to use the rolled oats you will want to let them sit for 30 minutes before proceeding.  When the oats are “cooked”, proof your yeast (in a separate, smaller bowl, put the warm water, sugar, and yeast–leave it to sit until frothy.  While you’re waiting add the butter, powdered milk, egg and honey to the oatmeal.  In another mixing bowl sift together your salt, white and wheat flours.  When the yeast is ready, use a whisk to add it to the oatmeal combination.  Then use a wooden spoon to gradually stir in the flour until the dough pulls together.  Then–much as described above–turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead 7-8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Place the dough into an oiled mixing bowl and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until doubled in size.  Punch the dough down and turn out to knead and eliminate air bubbles from the dough.  Cut into 2 or 3, depending on how large you prefer your loaves, and form into loaves, place in bread pans or try your hand at artisan bread!

Conclusion

There’s not a single perfect method to baking great bread.  What works for one person may not work for another.  I confess that I still consider myself a novice bread-maker, though I have had some luck–there is still much to learn about bread-making that, given the chance, I would love to discover.  The beauty of bread-making though, is that there is a depth of knowledge and history to the art that we can draw from, since bread-making is an ancient art-form that has sustained mankind for thousands and thousands of years.  Feel free to try new recipes, methods, and learn as you go along–you will find your family willing participants in your experiments!

What about you?  Do you bake?  What is your favorite thing to make for your family?

Innovation, resourcefulness & creativity in farming

This is part 3 in our “Establishing a New Farm” series, you can view part 1 here, and part 2 by clicking here.

Have you ever met a wealthy farmer?  Ever seen a farmer driving a flashy new sports car?  or any brand new vehicle for that matter?  Not likely.  People do not become farmers to get rich.

Most farmers are doing it because they love the lifestyle, or they’re passionate about what they’re doing.  While you can earn a living doing what you love, typically money is tight for farmers–and this is the reason behind farmers’ tendency to be innovative and resourceful.  Not because it’s fun or trendy–but because farming costs money!  Animals need to be fed, fencing is expensive, equipment is expensive, and new projects require supplies to get started.  Farmers need to stretch their budgets, and so many look for alternatives before they break down and head to Tractor Supply to purchase equipment.

What is Farming Innovation?

innovative, resourcefulness, and creativity in farming
Tom Roberts of Snakeroot Organic Farm in Maine has established his farm as the local repository for leaves and mulch in his community–people bring their leave to HIM!

Farmers are amazingly resourceful.  Innovations emerge out of the farmers’ experiences and wisdom based on his or her analysis of their own situation.

An innovation is an idea, a practice or object that is perceived as new by an individual or others in a given system.  Regardless of the time period that the idea or practice was originally developed, when a person first becomes aware of it, it is an innovation to that person.

For example–all of the old ideas and concepts that are cycling back into popularity is innovation for a new generation.

 

Innovation is using something old in new ways, or applying something new to successfully produce a desired social or economical outcome.

Ingenuity, inventiveness, and creativity all go hand-in-hand with farming and homesteading.

Creative Farming

To cope with today’s markets and economy, farmers are coming up with creative solutions to their problems, and they’re building farms that suit their needs and the needs of their community.  Despite naysayers, small and sustainably-bent farmers are proving themselves in a world geared toward industrial agriculture, and paving the way for others to follow suit.  And with the average age of the American farmer at 57–we desperately need to be encouraging the younger generations to follow this career path and lifestyle.

Creative farming at work:

Chicken tractors – these lightweight structures are moveable and can be dragged across the pasture, offering the birds a chance to free-range while still providing the shelter and protection of a coop.  Many new farmers are utilizing chicken tractors because the method not only gives the chickens fresh forage in the form of grasses, weeds, and insects which broadens their diet and lowers their feed needs, but at the same time delivers soil propagation for the pasture through the pecking, scratching, and fertilization services the chicken provides.

Urban agriculture – people are beginning to realize that farming and homesteading can take place anywhere, on any scale.  Urban farmers can be located in or around a village, town, or city, and their farms can involve anything from animal husbandry to aquaculture.  Roof-top gardens and roof-top beehives are two examples of urban farming, but there are a variety of ways that farmers are gaining ground in America’s urban areas.

Rotational grazing – this is the process of moving livestock strategically from one paddock to another, allowing the vegetation in previously grazed pastures to regenerate.  Using lightweight electric fencing, more and more farmers are opting to rotate their livestock to encourage even grazing patterns throughout a paddock, discouraging weed competition, and then allowing for resting periods between rotations to maintain the health of their pasture’s forage.

farming innovation
My mini hoop-houses are quick and easy to install and offer tender crops and seedlings protection from cold-snaps.

Season extension – anything that allows the crop to be grown beyond it’s typical cultivation season.  This can include row covers, hoop-houses, cold-frames, mulches, and raised beds.  These season extension methods (particularly cold-frames) have been utilized in Europe for ages, and were recently popularized by Eliot Coleman in his book, Four-Season Harvest.  Innovative farmers are pairing tools like hoop-houses with cold-loving crops like brassicas and greens to offer their communities fresh produce later and earlier in the season.

Vertical gardening – a great method for urban gardeners who are working with a smaller space, vertical growing of crops allows vegetable to grow upwards, therefore leaving space in your garden for other crops.  There are a number of benefits to vertical gardening, from easier pest control and harvesting, to reduced waste of produce that might have otherwise been hidden in the foliage of low-growing plants.  Crops like tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, beans, gourds and melons all do well trellised.

Agritourism – a form of niche tourism that is considered a growth industry in many parts of the world, agritourism involves bringing visitors to the farm for some kind of agriculturally-related activity.  The activities that fall under this category are wide-ranging, but a few of them include farm stays, corn mazes, pick-your-own operations, and any number of farming or homesteading workshops.

CSA programs – many new farmers are offering CSAs–otherwise known as Community Supported Agriculture–because they afford the farmer an influx of funds at a time of year when it is so desperately needed.  Through these programs, individuals pledge to support the farm, subscribing prior to the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest.  Once harvesting begins the subscribers receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit.

Voices of Experience

farming resourcefulness
Tom constructs his outbuildings using timbers cut from his own property, and covers them with a variety of recycled materials. Photo credit: snakeroot.net

I asked my interviewees what some of the resourceful ways they’ve found to accomplish projects with little to no money, and Tom Roberts from Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield, Maine, came back with some examples of his own creative innovations:

  • Recycling like a maniac: picking the dump, getting customers to bring us used pots, using old greenhouse plastic for some building roofs and sides, using short boards for shakes, straightening bent nails, recycling potting soil.
  • Learning to use poles cut from our woods to erect building frames and farm tables.
  • Becoming the town repository for fall leaves, instead of townsfolk taking them to the landfill.
  • Learning html so I could build my own web pages from scratch.

Resources

As you can see from Tom’s description–recycling and repurposing are great ways to save money on your new farming venture.  Think outside the box.  Look for free materials wherever you can–the dump or local recycling center; often you can find free or inexpensive materials at yard sales or garage sales, or on Craigslist, Uncle Henry’s, Freecycle, etc.

Library

The library is a great source of knowledge that can help you learn how to tackle new projects, you may find building plans, DIY guidance, and generate brainstorming toward your own innovative ideas.  There are many, many books related to farming, homesteading, and sustainable living which will help you learn what you need to know.

Internet

Online farmers have an array of great resources.  YouTube has videos for every topic under the sun.  FarmHack is an open-source community for farmers who freely share their inventions and ideas; Pinterest, a visual database that allows users to collect and store photos, articles, videos, and more.  Check out the Homestead Bloggers’ Network for advice and idea from farmers all over the world!

Other farmers

While there is a whole host of resources online and in books–don’t forget that innovation can come to you in real life too.  Talk to other farmers and homesteaders, go to the farmers’ markets, join a local seed-savers’ group, participate in agriculture-related events (for example–here in Maine, MOFGA hosts their “Common Ground Fair” every September where farmers gather to sell their wares, and knowledgeable speakers and demonstration events teach the public more about organic farming and sustainable living).

Regarding marketing

Don’t forget that once you’ve built it and raised your livestock or produce crop–you still need to sell it, and to do that you need to market your farm and products.  John Suscovich over at Farm Marketing Solutions is a good resource for learning more about how to go about that.  And check out this YouTube video from Cornell Small Farms.

More examples of farming innovation

Financial Realities of Homesteading: Creative Employment – from Homestead-Honey.

How to Make a Pallet Barn – often wooden pallets can be found free or cheap, check out this article from the Free Range Life to see how they did it.

Forest Farming, Inoculating Mushroom Logs, and a Surprise – information about how to get started with forest farming and growing mushrooms.

DIY Sprouted Fodder for Livestock – article from Mother Earth News.

Do-It-Yourself Pole Barn Building – again from Mother Earth News.

Grower’s Guide – a great variety of resources from seed company, Johnny’s Seeds.

9 Garden Supplies You Can Get for Free – from the Free Range Life.

Create an Instant Garden with Sheet Mulching – another from Homestead Honey.

Become a Farm Innovator!

These are just a select few examples of some innovations resourceful farmers have come up with.  Obviously, when it comes to farming creativity it is only your own imagination and resourcefulness that limits you.  So explore new concepts in books or online, talk with other homesteaders and farmers to see what other people are doing, you may be able to adapt someone else’s concept to suit your own needs and purposes.  Brainstorm and experiment!  While you may never be a “wealthy farmer”–pinching pennies through innovation and resourcefulness goes a long way toward helping you earn  living doing what you love most to do.

If you have tips, tricks, or suggestions for great farm innovations that you’d like to share–please leave a comment below!

How to make your own laundry soap

diy laundry soap

If you’ve never made your own laundry soap you don’t know what you’re missing.  The laundry soaps that are available commercially are expensive, and filled with ingredients that I’m not even going to attempt to pronounce.

This laundry soap is very economical and simple to make.  It works just as well as anything you’ll buy at the store, with the added bonus that each load only costs pennies to wash.  We’ve been really happy with the results so far.

how to make your own laundry soapThe Recipe

fels naptha for homemade laundry detergent
Fels Naptha has a great soapy smell!

2 bars Fels Naptha laundry soap

2 cups Borax

2 cups Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda

6 cups water (plus a little more as needed)

It cost me just over $8 for the Borax, the Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and the 2 Fels Naptha bars, and each batch makes about 6 quart-sized mason jars.  Two teaspoons–seriously-2 teaspoons–per load, and more than two hundred loads per batch of soap, for pennies per load.

The boxes of Borax and Washing Soda will make several batches, but you will need to pick up more Fels Naptha to make another batch of laundry soap.  These are usually about $0.97 and you can find them at the grocery store or Wal-Mart among the other laundry soaps.

How to Make the Laundry Soap

making homemade laundry soap
I just use my cheese grater to grate the bar of laundry soap.

Step 1:  To make the laundry soap the first step is to grate the Fels Naptha bars.

Step 2:  Place the grated soap into a large kettle on the stove and add the 6 cups water.  Heat the mixture–but do not boil–to dissolve the Fels Naptha, stirring occasionally.  This part takes about 20 minutes.

Step 3:  Once the grated soap has completely dissolved, add the Borax and the Washing Soda, stirring well to dissolve and combine the mixture.

Step 4:  Now you can pour it into mason jars–I fill the jars about three-quarters full and then top them off with more water.  Cover them and leave the jars 8-hours or overnight.

In the morning the soap will have separated and look like this.

diy laundry soap
This is what is should look like in the morning, and you will simply puree it to combine it again.

Step 5:  The soap on top will be solid and of a cheesecake-like consistency, simply take a butter knife and slice it like a pie so that you can empty the contents of the jars into a blender.

Step 6:  I puree the soap one jar at a time, rinsing the mason jars out with a few tablespoons of hot water and adding that to the blender as well.

Step 7:  Now that the soap has been pureed it goes back into the mason jars and is ready to use.

Voila!  Laundry Soap!

making your own laundry soap
Finished laundry soap, ready for use.

This is what the laundry soap looks like all finished.

The laundry soap has a pleasant soap smell on it’s own, but if you so choose y0u could add any sort of essential oils that you desire to scent your laundry detergent.  I’ve been toying with the idea of adding lemongrass to my next batch.

Certainly it’s more time consuming to make laundry detergent yourself rather than simply purchasing it at the store, but just one batch will wash more loads of laundry than anything you’ll find there.  And for those of us on a tight budget, who like to know exactly what’s in the products we’re using, this is a great solution.

 

 

Have you tried making your own laundry soap?  Do you have a different recipe or method you’d care to share?  Feel free to leave your comments below!

This post was shared on Wildcrafting Wednesday.