Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Country Living Expo

    I taught two Mason Bee classes this past Saturday at the Country Living Expo in Stanwood, Washington.  It was a lot of fun as usual.  As an instructor I get a free prime rib lunch and can take any classes I want for free.  The prime rib lunch is a holdover from when it was called the Cattleman's Winter School. They have since diversified into many other areas, but fortunately they kept the prime rib lunch.  I enjoyed browsing at all of the commercial tables. There were at least five different vendors selling various types of fleeces to include llama, alpaca, angora goat, and a good number of sheep breeds. It was a hard thing to just walk away from all the fleeces, but I have a pretty good supply at home already. Instead I frittered some money away on goat cheese.  One of the fleece vendors had a very nice selection of drop spindles, but I can't bring myself to buy something that I know how to make.  All the more reason I need to buy a replacement wood lathe.

    One thing I enjoy about the Country Living Expo is that the people who attend it really are my kind of people.  I must have met close to thirty bee store customers while attending the show.  I don't know what their attendance was this year, but last year it was over 1200.  The place was packed so I'm sure it wasn't any less than that. What's not to love about 1200 people in one place who are all into raising animals, growing gardens, and general self-sufficiency.

    This year I didn't do a display table to sell my wares. Instead I took three classes.  My favorite was the one on growing dry beans in Western Washington, with the class on incubating eggs a close second.  I also took a class on ducks but it was less enjoyable as I didn't learn anything new from it.  I'd like to think that is a positive reflection on the level of my duck knowledge as opposed to a negative reflection on the duck knowledge of the instructor.

     The dry bean class was taught by one of the professors at the WSU extension farm in Mt. Vernon, Washington.  I've tried my hand at growing dry beans before and had some success. However, it will be nice to do it with a better base level of knowledge.  I think the threshing will be much less tedious after having taken the class. Also I learned about Uprising Seeds, a source for local heirloom bean seeds.  The down side to dry beans is that an average harvest is only one pound of dry beans for each ten feet of row.  At that rate I would need a pretty big garden to grow a year's supply of dry beans.  That is even less practical than my current obsession with indian corn.  I  still like the idea of learning to grow my own dry beans and corn.  Not everything in life has to be practical.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Duck Pen Update

     I spent about three hours today mucking out our duck pen.  Its a pretty nasty job that needs to be done more frequently during the wet weather.  If my drake, Popeye, could talk he probably would have quoted his namesake and described the duck pen as "absolutely disgustapatin".  I made good use of my pile of cedar sawdust in the front yard and put down a nice clean layer of sawdust throughout the duck pen.  I also had to do some repairs to the upper support structure of the pen.  The new chickens have taken to roosting on top of the duck pen. That, together with the foot of snow we got a few weeks ago resulted in a partial collapse of the duck pen roof.   Now that the duck pen roof is fixed I need to modify my chicken pen so the hens can't access the roof of the duck pen.

Popeye, Olive Oyle, and Sweetpea in their newly cleaned home 
Clean water in their wading pool is the ducks'  favorite part of a clean pen.

I was surprised to find eggs this early.
     I am trying a new "permaculture" technique in my garden this year.   I'm covering my new garden area with cardboard, covering the cardboard with a layer of old hay, and then topping it off with a layer of compost or duck pen muck.   The idea is that the cardboard helps smother the existing grass and weeds while the worms incorporate all of that organic matter deeper into the soil.  Supposedly it results in a lot less weeds compared to rototilling.  

      Its actually somewhat of a labor of love to muck out the duck pen.  I wouldn't go to that much work if I didn't really like having ducks.  The fact that it all is recycled into the vegetable garden makes the task less painful.  I also took advantage of the cleaning to force the ducks to spend a little time foraging in the yard and garden area. This particular trio of ducks are serious home bodies and don't seem inclined to wander around much.  I usually have to force them to leave the pen and then they will sneak back in as soon as they can.  I would like them to have some supervised foraging time over the next three months in order to knock down our slug and snail population before I plant my garden.  I say supervised because I'm not the only creature in the neighborhood that likes to eat duck.  Once the garden is planted I can't let them wander about as much. They are too inclined to eat the tender little garden plants or to carelessly trample them while they are foraging for slugs and snails.

    I was very pleasantly surprised to find eggs this early.  These eggs are a little under sized because these are the first eggs the ducks have laid.  I was also very happy that they chose to lay the eggs in their nesting area.  Sometimes when a hen duck first starts to lay she will drop the eggs just anywhere, including in the wading pond.  Obviously the eggs will be much cleaner if she lays them in the nest rather than just drops them in the mud.  I should add some kind of counter widget to my blog that I can use to keep a tally of the egg total for the ducks and chickens.  Right now its Ducks 3  Chickens 0.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Grandpa Jim's Lumberyard

     It took a little over two full days, a lot of sore muscles, and a very long suffering friend, but my cedar logs are now lumber.  There was more than 1200 board feet just in the 1x6 planks, about twice the amount we will need to make tongue and groove planks for the ceiling in our living room and loft.  We briefly considered using the surplus planks for deck boards but decided we didn't want to wait six months for the boards to cure.  Mark also cut a part of one log into 2 inch slabs that I can later cut into 2x4s or something else on the table saw.   I'm thinking I could use them to make a nice arbor over our new gate when I get around to building our new fence.  The fence is on my "To Do List" somewhere after the new deck so the cedar may be cured in time for that project.

    I was truly amazed at the amount of useable lumber we had amassed at the end.  The main reason I was so amazed was that we also had a very large pile of "off cuts", or less than useable lumber.  It looked like so much wood was being wasted and yet the piles of planks kept growing.  Its almost like the wood multiplied as it was cut into smaller dimensions.  I'm sure I have another cord of firewood in the off cuts.  I also have a nice pile of 1x1/2 cedar slats that can be used to make a trellis or two or three.

   I'm well over halfway getting all of the lumber stacked and "stickered" in the garage. Bee frame bottom bars made great stickers and I can still use them for their original use after the cedar planks are dried.  I estimate I have about 850 board feet in the stacks of 1x6 planks shown in the picture.

   We had a little kitten show up just as we were starting to mill the first log on Thursday.  I asked a number of the neighbors but no one claimed her.  I'm suspicious that someone abandoned her because she is way to friendly for a wild cat.  We tried for a while to find her a home while she lived in our garage.  She spent a good part of Thursday and Friday playing in the piles of lumber, scrap wood, sawdust and logs, looking for a good opportunity to get seriously hurt.  Initially it looked like Mr. Buttercup was looking at the kitten as a potential chew toy, but they seem to be getting along better now. It looks like we are stuck with her unless someone needs a little kitten. We'll be very happy to send this one your way if you need a kitten.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

   Mr Buttercup and Little Miss Buzzsaw seem to be getting along much better now.  At least Mr. Buttercup isn't acting like the kitten is either a chew toy or a possible snack. Two days in a row I've found them taking a nap together on the back of a stuffed chair in the living room.  The kitten has also started taking naps snuggled up to Linda's laptop.  I'm afraid we've become a two cat family.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hot Sauce and Wild Yeast Update

    Now that I've actually given a few jars of hot sauce to several family members who actually use hot sauce I finally have some feedback.  Chris Kang commented that it had some kick to hit. Considering Chris' gift for understatement I would translate to mean it was pretty darn hot.  Chet and Rachel Arnett also thought it was pretty good.  No one complained that it was too mild.

    I guess with all of that positive feedback I will do it again next year, assuming Terry Johnson has a good  hot pepper crop and feels inclined to drop another bucket of hot peppers in my lap.  I doubt I will go to the trouble of raising hot peppers in my own garden since I am personally not a hot sauce user.  A few days ago I spoke with Terry at the bee store and he told me that the long skinny red peppers were cayenne peppers.  He was unsure of the variety of the fourth type of pepper he had given me, but was pretty sure it was something relatively hot.

    I have been making bread with the wild yeast or levain for about six weeks now.  It has been fairly consistent as far as the "crumb" or interior texture of the bread is concerned.  It has been even textured with no big holes in the middle.  However, it has failed to produce a loaf tall enough to make a decent sandwich.  I suspect I am just not putting in enough dough so I'm going to try increasing the recipe.  I mixed up bread today with a total of 500 grams of flour and 400 grams of water.  Due to the increased volume I am going to try adding 5 minutes to the bake time.  I also read in another bread book that you can increase oven spring and get a lighter loaf by basting the crust with water immediately before it goes into the oven.  I'm going to give that a try as well.

    If anyone is interested in trying out my wild yeast starter, just let me know and I'll be happy to grow a little extra to share.  I've already given starters to my daughters Sarah and Rachel who both live in Oregon.  I'm assuming this blog has a limited readership and I won't be overwhelmed with yeast requests...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happiness is a Large Stack of Cedar Planks

     A marvelous thing happened today.  Mark Salser brought his woodmiser portable sawmill to our house and we started to convert our four large cedar logs into 1x6 planks.  It was a wonderful thing to watch although it was a lot of work moving the logs onto the mill and removing and stacking the green planks.

Mark Salser

The Woodmiser Portable Sawmill

The Logs on Thursday Morning
   Just the other day I read something interesting that the great German poet Goethe had said about happiness.  When Goethe was eighty years old he said that the times in his life when he was so happy that he wanted the moment to stay had only lasted a few seconds.  I can only surmise that Goethe wasn't a woodworker and never experienced the joy of seeing his own large cedar tree converted to a beautiful stack of cedar planks right before his very eyes. I guess even famous German poets can lead sheltered lives when it comes to life's simple pleasures.  I had several hours of happiness on that level.  It didn't really start to abate until I was pretty tired from stacking planks.
Our First Log Loaded onto the Mill
1 Inch Slabs

    Milling the first two logs went very smoothly.  We were able to move the logs into position using two peevee poles and a large metal pry bar. However, we ran into trouble with the two largest logs.  I called in the cavalry and had Quentin shut down the bee store for a few hours to help us move the logs. We tried several methods including the use of a hydraulic jack. After several hours of effort we decided to call a halt and try again the next morning. The logs were just too big to move into position using the available equipment.  Mark is going to come back tomorrow with a larger hydraulic jack, a large chain, and several comealongs.

    I expect we will get the remaining two logs finished tomorrow.  Now my big challenge is to clean out space in our garage so the planks can be properly stickered and dry without warping.  Stickering consists of stacking the boards neatly with sticks placed every several feet so that more surface area is exposed yet the boards are kept straight by the weight of the stack.  Over the next six months the boards will dry gradually until they are sufficiently dry to be used. I then plan to plane the boards and use my router table to make them into tongue and groove planks for our ceiling.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


   So we finally got tired of all of the cedar needles on the roof and living in the shade.  The week before Christmas we hired someone to take down the big cedar tree in our front yard.  We left the one that is a little further from the house (due to the grandkid swing hanging from its branches). I tried to talk Linda into having both big cedars removed but she wouldn't budge on the one with the swing.  I hired Bill Martin, a bee class alum, to do the job, and a nasty job it was.  The ivy went clear to the top which made the upper half of the tree very difficult.  They limbed the first 50 feet using a bucket hoist, but the upper part they had to do with climbing spurs.  Using the climbing spurs on an ivy covered tree is no picnic.  It took two guys the entire day to take down the one tree.

And the mulch pile grows

This was very difficult, removing ivy as he climbed

The tree split into three tops

The bucket hoist only reached the lower 50 feet of the 100 foot cedar

One more section left to cut

   We are quite happy with the results.  Linda loves the improved view and additional light in the living room.  We no longer have to worry about the very large tree falling on our house. I'm delighted with my big pile of mulched up branches and leaves, more than a cord of firewood, and four big cedar logs laying in our front yard.  I expect this to make an amazing difference in our front yard and means we now have room for some reasonable sized trees in the front yard.  Linda wants to put in some ornamental trees while I'm thinking nothing is more ornamental to me than a few more pie cherry trees.

    I have another bee store friend, Mark Salser,  who is going to bring his wood miser portable sawmill to our house to cut up the logs into 1x6 boards.  That is scheduled for tomorrow.  After about six months of drying I intend to plane the cedar boards and turn them into 3/4 inch tongue and groove planks for our ceiling. I know there will be some waste, but I'm very curious as to how much lumber we'll get out of those big logs.  We counted rings close to the bottom and the tree was over 80 years old.  I'll be able to do a better count when I've cleared out the ivy and count the stump itself.

Wild Yeast Bread

   I visited family in the Portland area the week following Christmas but was unable to get this blog posted before losing my computer access for a week.   Tuesday's highlights included a trip with Rachel and family to Powell's bookstore in downtown Portland and 45 minutes waiting in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. The wait at Voodoo was well worth it as I got to experience true doughnut nirvana. The particular item of doughnut perfection was a maple bar with several strips of bacon on top.  While I admit that it sounds a bit strange, when you take a bite it becomes instantly obvious that these flavors belong together and you ask yourself "Why didn't someone think of this sooner?"

    My big find at Powell's was a used book on raising ducks and geese with detailed instructions on incubation to include plans to build your own incubator.  I was seriously tempted by a number of their bread books and other cookbooks but decided to read a few more from the library before I make a commitment to a particular author.  Speaking about bread, Rachel and I used my wild yeast to make a pretty decent loaf of 50% whole wheat bread.  We had it for dinner along with a yummy homemade Turkey and noodle soup. It really hit the spot.

    The particular bread I've been making is a variation on Cibatta bread. I use a wet dough and no kneading.  I begin with 400 g of my sourdough starter.  The starter is a 50/50 combination of whole wheat and white flour and half the weight of the starter comes from flour and half comes from water.  That means I am starting with 200 g of water, 100g of whole wheat flour, and 100 g of white flour.  When you make bread by weight every ingredient is measured as a percentage of the weight of the flour.  My starter is 100% as the weight of the water is the same as the weight of the flour.  I want to end up with a ratio of 80% with the amount of water in the dough being 80% compared to the weight of the flour.  This sounds complex but it is really pretty easy to do with a simple kitchen scale.  In order to get my 80% ratio I simply add 100 g of whole wheat flour, 100g of white flour, 120 g of water, and 4 g of salt.  I mix the dough together, cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it sit out on the counter for a few hours.

   After the dough has started to rise, I put it in the fridge until a few hours prior to the time I want to bake it.  I can do this the evening before if I want to make bread the next morning or I can do it in the morning if I want to make bread that evening.  This time in the fridge is important as it stops the yeast growth while the gluten continues to develop.  When I take it out of the fridge, I transfer the dough to a greased bread pan.  Since the dough is pretty sticky I simply use a fork to pull it away from the sides of the bowl and let it drop into the bread pan and even it out a bit.  When the dough has risen sufficiently to fill the bread pan I heat the oven to 450 degrees and bake it for about 25 minutes.

     A few important notes:
1. It is a virtual impossibility to measure a sourdough starter accurately by volume as there is a lot of variation in the amount of air in the starter.  The only way I can know exactly how much of the starter I've used is to weigh it.  Flour is also difficult to measure accurately by volume as there is a varying amount of air in the flour depending how it has been handled.
2.   It is much easier to make good bread with actual bread flour rather than all purpose flour.  "All purpose" actually means all purposes except making bread.  Bread flour is made from higher protein wheat and has more of the gluten necessary for the structure in bread.
3. This may seem complicated, but it really isn't.  This whole process only takes about 15 minutes of my time and who wouldn't give a mere 15 minutes for yummy homemade bread.  It does require a minimum of planning ahead as in "I want to have bread for dinner tomorrow night so I had better mix it up tonight or tomorrow morning.  Since I'm currently using my bee store scale I also have to remember to bring the scale home from work.