14 Immediate Natural Remedies for Lymph Nodes

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Your lymphatic system runs throughout your body in much the same way as your circulatory system. It works to fight off infection, and isolate pathogens from the rest of your

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Forgotten Foods The Pioneers Ate Midwinter

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Forgotten Foods The Pioneers Ate Midwinter

In our modern kitchens, we hardly feel the passing of the seasons. We have the luxury of New Zealand apples, Chilean grapes and Hawaiian pineapple, all cheap and plentiful even in January.

For our ancestors, winter meals were a very different thing. They were limited to whatever they could store, hunt or harvest. Those same food traditions survive in our modern cooking, in wintertime “comfort foods.” Foods heavy with flour, fat and salt.

Salted Meat

Even with modern refrigeration, salt-preserved meats still make their way onto our modern tables. That’s because they’re more than just practical, they’re delicious.

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Some people will tell you that all you need is salt to preserve a whole pig without refrigeration. While that is technically true, there’s an art to preserving it well. Each cut has its own flavors, brought out by time-honored preservation techniques.

The pioneers would have known how to make the best use of each and every part because it was knowledge passed down through every family.

Beyond charcuterie, there are plenty of other ways to preserve meat without refrigeration.

Grains & Dry Goods

If left whole and not ground, wheat berries will last for decades, and have the added bonus that they can either be planted in a pinch or ground into flour at home.

Other dry goods, like dried beans, oats and rice, are great staple winter foods used by the pioneers, as well. Though you might not be happy about it, you can survive the winter on beans and rice alone.

The pioneers would have had dried beans and grains on hand to get them through not only this winter, but possibly the next winter, too. Crop failures are not uncommon, and if next summer’s grain crop never comes in, keeping two years worth on hand may just save your life.

Root Cellar Fruit & Vegetables

Modern fruit and vegetable varieties are a bit different than their heirloom counterparts. The pioneers had specific storage varieties of just about every fruit and vegetable. True, some kept longer than others. The best storage grapes will keep about on month, while the very best storage apple variety, Newton Pippin, will keep for over a year.

Many other apple varieties will keep for five-plus months, more than enough to get you through the winter.

Lacto-Fermented Vegetables

Now that people know about the benefits of probiotics in your diet, fermented foods are making a comeback. Historically, lacto-fermentation was a practical way of keeping vegetables fresh for six months or more. A crock of sauerkraut bubbling away in the basement or root cellar would have kept until springtime, adding much-needed nutrition and variety to heavy winter meals.

Just about any vegetable can be lacto-fermented at home with just a bit of salt and patience.

Nuts

If left in their shells and kept in a cool, dry place, most nuts will keep through the winter and into the following spring. The pioneers didn’t just keep the nuts we know and love today.

The Little House on the Prairie books record that the pioneers foraged beechnuts in the fall in great number, and processed them using the same thresher that they used for oats, beans and grain. With three times the protein in acorns, and none of the tannin, beech nuts were a smart choice for winter.

Even today, most of the wild nut varieties foraged by our ancestors are still available and plentiful.

Hard Cheese & Eggs

While we think of cheese and eggs as highly perishable today, the pioneers managed to keep them for extended periods. Unwashed eggs keep at room temperature for weeks, and they’ll keep longer if waxed or stored in ashes.

Hard cheeses were once waxed to keep them shelf stable in a root cellar all winter long.

Lard

Cows don’t produce nearly as much cream in the winter. Hay isn’t as rich as summer forage, and the composition and flavor of the milk changes. True, you can still make some butter, but wintertime is by and large the time for making use of lard from fall processed pigs.

Properly rendered lard doesn’t taste like pork. It has a clean, neutral flavor and snow white color. It’s perfect for making pie crusts and biscuits, and for frying homemade doughnuts.

Even more importantly, it’s a source of much-needed calories and comfort. While lard may not be as appealing in July, it’s a welcome friend in January.

Liquor

Like it or not, liquor is a practical way of preserving food and calories. Cider (fresh sweet cider) as we know it today was almost unheard of. In as little as 24 hours, sweet cider begins to ferment into hard cider. Once fully fermented, it’s only about half as strong as wine.

Beyond direct fermentation, settlers would make something known as “gentleman’s jam” in a crock in the root cellar. Layering in fruit, covering with sugar and then submerging in spirits, summer fruits were preserved all winter long.

A single large crock would begin with the early summer fruits like strawberries, and then layer in summer and fall fruits  A few months to condition, and by midwinter the flavors had combined into a sweet, albeit highly alcoholic, treat.

What foods would you add to our story? Share your thoughts in the section below:

How to Make Ginger Oil To Counter Prostate, Ovarian and Colon Cancer

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Most people are prepared to deal with common everyday first aid needs. Medicine cabinets contain the basic medicines you’ll need to treat everyday illnesses, or at least keep you limping

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7 Super Cheap Foods To Stockpile That People Usually Throw Away

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If your great-grandmother saw half the things you just throw away, I’m sure she’d have some stern words for you. These days, food comes pre-packaged, prepared, trimmed, peeled and neat.

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8 Wild Nuts You Can Forage For Each Fall

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8 Wild Nuts You Can Forage For Each Fall

Hazelnuts. Image source: Pixabay.com

If you enjoy foraging, nuts are one of the easiest ways to harvest a lot of protein in a very short time. Many other foraged foods contain mostly sugars and complex carbohydrates, which provide good fuel, but are not enough to sustain us in the long run.

Unlike meat, foraged nuts will keep at room temperature for months without deteriorating. In a survival situation, knowing which nuts are available in your area could help keep you nourished through the winter months.

1. Black walnuts

Notoriously difficult to crack, black walnuts hide a valuable prize. You can literally harvest them by the bucket full in the fall. (But wear gloves!) Start by de-hulling the nuts either by hand, or by driving over the nuts to pulp the hull off the outside. Nuts tend to hull easier when they’re a few days old, so if you can’t get them off, take a break for a few days.

Once the hull is removed, wash the nuts with a hose and pressure nozzle and allow them to dry in the sun for a few days. Black walnuts, like most nuts, store best in their shell to prevent oxidation. Keep them in a cool, dark place or if you have the space, they can be stored in bags in the freezer.

Properly prepared, black walnuts can be just as tasty as commercial walnuts. Try them fresh out of hand, or get creative and bake them into a black walnut pie.

2. Beechnuts

Though they produce every year, once every 3 to 5 years is known as a mast year for beech nuts and they’ll produce extraordinary harvests. Individual nut masts are inside a husk that cracks itself open when they’re ripe and fall from the tree.

It’s difficult to husk beechnuts when they’re fresh, but they easily come from the shell once they’ve been roasted. Roast them in a low oven or over a fire until they’re toasted and then rub them between two towels until the husk comes free.

3. Acorns

If you know a thing or two about history, you know that acorns were a staple food source for Native Americans for centuries. They’ve fallen out of favor as European nuts and grains came to America, but acorns are still plentiful if you know where to look. They’re especially high in omega fats, and they’re commonly touted as a survival grain for making tasty cookies in the absence of modern grains.

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8 Wild Nuts You Can Forage For Each FallAs any squirrel will tell you, acorns keep well all on their own. Just keep undamaged acorns in a cool dry place until you’re ready to process them.

But before you eat acorns, you must remove the tannic acid. The fundamental process involves either a boiling water bath or cold-water bath (perhaps multiple times). This process can take a couple of days up to a week or more, depending on the amount of tannins in the acorns.

4. Hop hornbeam

Often overlooked as a food source, hop hornbeam tree produce hop-like catkins that contain edible nutlets that are about the size of a sunflower seed. Though each individual seed is small, they’re produced in papery husks containing many seeds in a group. In heavy production years, trees produce large amounts, meaning that they can be a meaningful food source.

Hornbeam tends to grow in the understory, and in areas with wet soil that are not suitable for oak trees. If you don’t have acorns in your area, you may have hornbeam. When foraging hop hornbeam, look for the green hop-like seed clusters anytime during the summer. They’ll be ready for harvest around October.

Store the dried catkins in a cool dark place until you’re ready to husk them and eat.

5. Butternuts

Buttery and mild, they’re the perfect substitute for pine nuts in a pesto or eaten straight out of hand. The butternut canker is causing the trees to decline, but tolerant trees and resistant hybrids still linger on in the wild throughout the northern latitudes.

They’re easier to crack than black walnuts, and well worth the effort to find. They keep best in the shell in a cool dark place all winter long.

6. Hickory nuts

The nuts of shagbark hickory and smooth bark hickory (pignuts) are tasty and sweet. The trees are common throughout the northeast, and bear heavily, especially when they’re along roadsides in full sun.

As foraged nuts go, hickories are relatively easy to crack. Leave them out in the sun for a few days to allow them to dry a bit so that the nut meat pulls away from the shell easier, and then they should come apart with a nutcracker, or lacking that, a moderate blow from a rock.

7. Hazelnuts

Growing in dense thickets in many parts of the country, hazelnuts provide a readily accessible food source. They’re easy to pick, and they naturally store longer than any other nut. Hazelnuts can be good for 9-12 months after harvest if stored in a cool place. Pick them by the bucketload, and remember that your biggest risk is an invasion of your stock by rodents, so protect your harvest accordingly.

8. Sweet chestnut

If you’ve ever tried to pick up a chestnut husk, you’ll remember your mistake. They’re exceptionally spiky inside the husk, but those spikes are guarding a delicious high calorie prize.  Immature nuts fall early, but the fully ripe fruit won’t be ready until sometime in mid to late fall.

Score the shells to open them, then blanch or roast them before you peel them.

What would you add to our list? Share your tips in the section below:

How To Make All-Natural Dye With Black Walnuts

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How To Make All-Natural Dye With Black Walnuts

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When we think of foraging, we generally think of food. But once your belly is full, there’s a lot more to life than just eating. When you’re learning to forage, it’s important to keep in mind that clothing, tools and art are a vital part of the human experience.

Black walnuts are a great source of foraged food, containing healthy fats and high levels of protein. And the husks of black walnuts are useful in making dyes for clothing, leather, yarn, hair and naturally made ink for writing.

From a purely practical perspective, a dark-brown, earth-toned dye can be useful for creating camouflage clothing. Even light-colored hair against a dark-brown muted background can give away your position if you’re trying to hide. Using black walnut husks to dye both clothing and hair can help keep you concealed.

Let’s Get Started

To make dye from black walnut husks, start by collecting about a dozen black walnuts – that’s enough for a gallon of dye. Husk them immediately. The husks will begin to rot quickly, which makes them a lot less fun to work with.

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Husk the nuts by placing them on a rock or stump and whacking with a hammer or another stone.  It can take quite an impact to get the fibrous husk off the nut. The outer husk (not the actual nut shell) is what you’ll be using to make the dye. Once you get the husk off, you still have whole walnuts in shells that can be dried and stored for later eating.

Keep in mind that the dye is very strong. If you’re working without gloves, your hands will be dyed brown/black and it may take weeks for them to get back to normal.

Crush the green hulls into small bits, about the size of a pea to maximize surface area. As you work, the hulls will quickly oxidize and turn to a dark brown color that will eventually be your dye color. Place the hulls from a dozen nuts into a large non-reactive enameled or stainless steel pot. Add 1 gallon of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for about an hour.

While your dye is cooking, you need to scour the material you plan to dye. This gets it really clean and removes any oils that will interfere with the dye process. Fill a pot with water and add in 1 tablespoon of washing soda and 1/2 teaspoon of household detergent. Place your cloth or natural fiber in the pot and simmer for an hour while your dye simmers in another pot.

Rinse your cloth to remove all the soap, and then place it in the pot with the black walnut hulls. Simmer with the walnut hulls, occasionally checking on the color. When your cloth is about a shade darker than your desired final color, take it out of the dye bath and rinse it until the water runs clear.

Allow the cloth to dry, and watch as the color changes slightly as the dye oxidizes further while the cloth dries. If it’s not dark enough once it’s dry, repeat the dye step of the process.

How to Avoid Stains

Be sure to wash clothing once or twice before wearing it or before washing it with other clothing to ensure that all the surplus dye is out; otherwise, it can stain skin or clothing.

To make ink, simmer the hulls for several hours before filtering through a muslin cloth or cheesecloth. For a darker color, concentrate the ink by simmering longer. Add a small amount of alcohol, like cheap vodka, to the final bottle to preserve your ink.

For hair dye, it’s a bit trickier. You’ll need to soak your hair in the dye for 10-15 minutes once the simmered dye has cooled. Apply a neutral oil around your neck and along your hairline, such as coconut oil. This will help prevent the dye from staining your skin (but it’s not foolproof…).

Place a bowl of the dye outdoors in a grassy area, and tilt your head back into the cooled dye. When you come out, be prepared to wrap your hair up in an old towel to keep it off your neck, and allow the dye to soak in for a while longer.

Rinse the dye thoroughly and allow to dry to check your color. If you want it a bit darker, repeat.

Have you ever used black walnuts for dye? What tips would you add? Share your advice in the section below:

The Easy Way To Grow Lemon Trees Indoors

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The Easy Way To Grow Lemon Trees Indoors

Image source: Pixabay.com

Local lemons can be hard to come by unless you live in an area with a year-round warm climate like California or Florida. While cold climates may never have commercially available local citrus, it’s surprisingly easy to grow enough lemons indoors to supply your own family in just about any climate.

Seeds started today raised indoors could produce lemons in as little as 3 years (though 5-7 years is more common). Since lemons don’t require a second plant for pollination, a single tree in a sunny window is all you need for fresh, home-grown lemons.

Seeds or Grafted Trees

Lemon trees, like most fruit trees, don’t come “true to seed.” That means that planting the seeds of your favorite lemon variety will result in fruit that’s similar to the parent fruit, but not exactly the same variety. This can be an advantage for indoor lemon growers in cold climates because lemon seeds are easy enough to come by, and germinate easily, meaning that you can start a lot of different seeds and select for the plants that grow the best in your house.

Lemon tree seeds germinate so easily that some people actually grow them densely, planting 20 or more seeds to a pot, and simply use them as an air freshener in their bathroom.  The natural fragrance oils produced by the leaves give off a light pleasant smell, but planting them in this way will stunt their growth and you’ll never be able to grow healthy trees and harvest lemons.

The downside of planting from seed is that you cannot get a specialty dwarf variety, and you’ll need to regularly prune back your tree to keep it at a manageable size. Even indoors in a cold climate, a seedling can reach 6 feet tall within the first 2 years. Be sure to cut back the top regularly to encourage a bushy habit.

If you don’t want to deal with lots of pruning or are looking for a named variety like Meyer Lemon, you’ll have to buy them grafted from a nursery center or online source. Plants are usually sold 1-2 years old, which will give your tree a head  tart, but they generally are quite expensive, sometimes $100 or more per tree.

Temperature

While some citrus varieties require lots of heat to bear fruit, lemons, on the other hand, can do quite well indoors without scorching tropical temperatures. Comfortable indoor temperatures, mid 60s to mid-70s, are sufficient to keep a healthy lemon tree, but colder temperatures can be problematic. Even though they don’t strictly require very warm weather, they’ll do better if taken outdoors during the hot summer months for the extra heat and humidity.

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Anytime the temperature drops below 55 degrees, your tree will become inactive and take protective measures to avoid damage caused by low temperatures. They’re highly frost sensitive, and even a half hour at or near freezing can kill a lemon tree, so be sure to bring them indoors on cold nights.

Humidity and Air Flow

High humidity combined with good air flow help to keep a lemon tree healthy. An ideal location would be a sunny window in a well-ventilated bathroom, where a bath fan can maintain good air movement to prevent diseases. The occasional boost to humidity provided by hot showers or baths will benefit them in the winter. Near the heat and humidity of a kitchen is also a great option.

While winter humidity will benefit the trees, it’s not strictly necessary. If a humid place cannot be found, just make sure the trees are taken outdoors in the summer and kept in a sunny protected space indoors in the winter. If you notice mold or mildew forming on the plant or soil, increase air circulation with a fan or by moving the plant to a spot with better ventilation.

Sunlight

Sunlight can be a limiting factor for indoor lemon trees, as areas with cold climates also tend to have shorter days in the winter months. In the northernmost parts of the contiguous United States, the shortest days of the year have between 8 and 9 hours of sunlight. A lemon tree needs a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight per day to survive, and prefers at least 12 hours to really thrive.

Avoid putting the tree in a spot with filtered sunlight, and opt for a south-facing window to maximize sun exposure. If you don’t have a window with excellent sun available in your house, you can always supplement with indoor plant lighting.

Potting and Fertilizing

A lemon tree requires a substantial amount of root space, and at minimum will need a 16-inch pot. Ideally, your tree would have a pot that’s at least 20 inches (or more). Topping the soil with an inch of well-made compost several times per year is enough additional fertility to keep your tree healthy and productive.

Yields

Under ideal conditions, a small 3-foot-tall well-pruned lemon tree will produce as many as 20 lemons per year. While a lemon tree does not require a second tree for pollination, they tend to produce more fruit if there’s more than one tree available to help set fruit. While flowers tend to set fruit readily, if you’re seeing flowers but no fruit, try manual pollination by sticking a cotton swab or small paint brush into each of the flowers.

Have you ever grown lemon trees indoors? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: 

The Easy Way To Grow Lemon Trees Indoors

The Easy Way To Grow Lemon Trees Indoors

Image source: Pixabay.com

Local lemons can be hard to come by unless you live in an area with a year-round warm climate like California or Florida. While cold climates may never have commercially available local citrus, it’s surprisingly easy to grow enough lemons indoors to supply your own family in just about any climate.

Seeds started today raised indoors could produce lemons in as little as 3 years (though 5-7 years is more common). Since lemons don’t require a second plant for pollination, a single tree in a sunny window is all you need for fresh, home-grown lemons.

Seeds or Grafted Trees

Lemon trees, like most fruit trees, don’t come “true to seed.” That means that planting the seeds of your favorite lemon variety will result in fruit that’s similar to the parent fruit, but not exactly the same variety. This can be an advantage for indoor lemon growers in cold climates because lemon seeds are easy enough to come by, and germinate easily, meaning that you can start a lot of different seeds and select for the plants that grow the best in your house.

Lemon tree seeds germinate so easily that some people actually grow them densely, planting 20 or more seeds to a pot, and simply use them as an air freshener in their bathroom.  The natural fragrance oils produced by the leaves give off a light pleasant smell, but planting them in this way will stunt their growth and you’ll never be able to grow healthy trees and harvest lemons.

The downside of planting from seed is that you cannot get a specialty dwarf variety, and you’ll need to regularly prune back your tree to keep it at a manageable size. Even indoors in a cold climate, a seedling can reach 6 feet tall within the first 2 years. Be sure to cut back the top regularly to encourage a bushy habit.

If you don’t want to deal with lots of pruning or are looking for a named variety like Meyer Lemon, you’ll have to buy them grafted from a nursery center or online source. Plants are usually sold 1-2 years old, which will give your tree a head  tart, but they generally are quite expensive, sometimes $100 or more per tree.

Temperature

While some citrus varieties require lots of heat to bear fruit, lemons, on the other hand, can do quite well indoors without scorching tropical temperatures. Comfortable indoor temperatures, mid 60s to mid-70s, are sufficient to keep a healthy lemon tree, but colder temperatures can be problematic. Even though they don’t strictly require very warm weather, they’ll do better if taken outdoors during the hot summer months for the extra heat and humidity.

Finally, A Backup Generator That Doesn’t Require Gasoline!

Anytime the temperature drops below 55 degrees, your tree will become inactive and take protective measures to avoid damage caused by low temperatures. They’re highly frost sensitive, and even a half hour at or near freezing can kill a lemon tree, so be sure to bring them indoors on cold nights.

Humidity and Air Flow

High humidity combined with good air flow help to keep a lemon tree healthy. An ideal location would be a sunny window in a well-ventilated bathroom, where a bath fan can maintain good air movement to prevent diseases. The occasional boost to humidity provided by hot showers or baths will benefit them in the winter. Near the heat and humidity of a kitchen is also a great option.

While winter humidity will benefit the trees, it’s not strictly necessary. If a humid place cannot be found, just make sure the trees are taken outdoors in the summer and kept in a sunny protected space indoors in the winter. If you notice mold or mildew forming on the plant or soil, increase air circulation with a fan or by moving the plant to a spot with better ventilation.

Sunlight

Sunlight can be a limiting factor for indoor lemon trees, as areas with cold climates also tend to have shorter days in the winter months. In the northernmost parts of the contiguous United States, the shortest days of the year have between 8 and 9 hours of sunlight. A lemon tree needs a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight per day to survive, and prefers at least 12 hours to really thrive.

Avoid putting the tree in a spot with filtered sunlight, and opt for a south-facing window to maximize sun exposure. If you don’t have a window with excellent sun available in your house, you can always supplement with indoor plant lighting.

Potting and Fertilizing

A lemon tree requires a substantial amount of root space, and at minimum will need a 16-inch pot. Ideally, your tree would have a pot that’s at least 20 inches (or more). Topping the soil with an inch of well-made compost several times per year is enough additional fertility to keep your tree healthy and productive.

Yields

Under ideal conditions, a small 3-foot-tall well-pruned lemon tree will produce as many as 20 lemons per year. While a lemon tree does not require a second tree for pollination, they tend to produce more fruit if there’s more than one tree available to help set fruit. While flowers tend to set fruit readily, if you’re seeing flowers but no fruit, try manual pollination by sticking a cotton swab or small paint brush into each of the flowers.

Have you ever grown lemon trees indoors? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: 

Eating Wild Animals You Never Thought You Could Eat

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Eating Wild Animals Without Catching Rabies

Image source: Pixabay.com

Humans, for the most part, raise and eat vegetarian animals. From an agricultural perspective, that makes sense. A cow fed on grass is a more efficient way of producing meat than raising a meat-eating animal on meat, only to later harvest it for meat.

Animals that would otherwise eat a meat-based diet in the wild, like chickens or farmed fish, are fed corn and soy and labeled “vegetarian-fed” as though it somehow made the meat more desirable. In reality, though, eating corn-raised salmon and chicken deprived of their natural prey (bugs, frogs and even rodents) actually results in meat that’s less flavorful and less healthy, containing fewer omega-3 fatty acids.

Some animals, such as deer, are opportunistic omnivores. Deer have been observed eating birds, which scientists speculate is “a source of protein to help them grow antlers.” Scientists conducting a forensic experiment with human remains actually documented deer eating human meat when they had access to it in the wild.

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Other cultures around the world have a history of eating meat-eating animals. In modern America, it’s a taboo to eat dog meat, but many other places in the world regularly consume dog as a part of their diet without ill health effects. I’m not advocating eating the family pet. That’s not a part of our culture. But when thinking about whether or not there are health consequences to eating meat-eating animals, it’s good to note that it’s common practice in other parts of the world and does not cause harm to the humans eating them.

Bears are popular to hunt in many parts of the United States, and while their diet does include roots and berries, they’re putting on their winter weight with meat. Bears are omnivores, just like pigs. Both bear meat and pig meat tend to taste a lot like what they were eating in the few weeks before they are harvested. Pigs raised domestically are often intentionally fed a specific diet in the six weeks before harvest, such as whey or apples. With bears or wild boars, you don’t have that luxury.

Smart hunters will take wild boar in areas where there’s an abundance of food that will make their meat taste sweet, such as windfall apples. Bears, on the other hand, especially near urban areas, are likely to have been eating anything they can find. Bears near good fishing holes, for example, often have fishy-tasting meat.

Hunters who have cooked coyote describe it as a fatty dark meat that tastes a bit like overcooked duck. They note that made into sloppy Joes or covered in BBQ sauce and served like a pulled pork sandwich, you’d never taste the difference.

In the American South, raccoon is still a reasonably popular food. It’s said to taste a bit like dark meat chicken. Raccoon meat is mainstream enough that the famous chef Alton Brown wrote about how to cook it. It’s become less popular to hunt because of a fear of rabies, but he notes that as a general rule rabid animals will not be out feeding. If you find a raccoon busting into your chicken coop, grab the .22 and you could be eating well tonight.

But what about rabies, you say? Rabies is no joking matter, and it’s a serious disease that can kill humans and animals alike. Obviously, never eat an animal you know to be infected with rabies. Nonetheless, so long as the meat is thoroughly cooked, the rabies pathogen is killed. According to the Louisiana department of health, the main risk is to the person processing the raw meat, especially if he or she comes into contact with the salivary glands, brain or spinal cord. Be careful processing any animal, and use good sanitary practices.

Any hunted animal could potentially be contaminated with rabies. The incubation time is generally 90 days or less from exposure, but 90 days is a long time to carry the pathogen without showing any symptoms. Rabies, in reality, is a rare disease, but one that you could catch just as easily from raw deer meat in an animal not displaying symptoms.

In times of hardship, it’s good to know that meat is meat. So long as it’s cooked completely and thoroughly, just about any meat can provide a meal, be it coyote, bear, wild boar, raccoon or just about anything else. Clean it carefully, cook it fully and enjoy the protein.

What are your favorite wild meats? Share your tips in the section below:

American Homesteaders Are Growing Rice. Here’s How They Do It.

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American Homesteaders Are Growing Rice. Here’s How They Do It.

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In the western part of the world when people consider growing their own staple grains, they generally think of wheat or oats. Rice is predominantly grown in eastern countries, but that’s largely due to historical preference. Rice can be easily grown on a small homestead, even in cold climates.

While rice is typically thought of as a tropical plant, there are actually two sub-species, one of which is hardy in cold climates. Long-grain rice varieties such as jasmine or basmati can only be grown in warm southern regions. Some varieties of short-grain rice, however, are cold tolerant and can be grown in short-season cold areas, all the way up to zone 4. It’s currently grown in cold climates such as northern Japan, Romania and the Ukraine.

Cold-climate rice strains thrive where average summer temperatures are as low as 68 degrees, though it’s ideal is 68 to 86 degrees. Still, farmers in areas where the average summer temperatures only hits the low 60s are having some success and harvesting adequate crops, even in the northernmost parts of New England.

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Farmers in the Northeastern United States are beginning to cultivate rice on a small scale, and selecting for cold-tolerant strains.  At this point, the primary selection criteria are quick maturity and disease resistance. As more strains become available, farmers will eventually have the option to select for high yields and better taste.

To aid the plants’ survival, a few cold-climate adaptations have been developed, and cold-climate rice producers must take extra steps to ensure a harvest.  Rice is soaked to stimulate germination before being started in greenhouse flats well before the last frost date. At four weeks before the last frost, the rice is transplanted outside into paddies. Water levels are kept high during times of increased frost risk to provide extra protection for the plants.

While rice is grown semi-submerged in patties, it cannot be successfully grown in wetlands. Wetlands are protected areas in most places, and not available for cultivation. Beyond that, the water level needs to be carefully controlled, which is generally not an option in a wetland. The ideal soil is poorly drained, but not an actual wetland, like a soil that has a clay hardpan under layer that prevents full drainage. From there, runoff is controlled and a series of ponds are created to help manage water levels.

American Homesteaders Are Growing Rice. Here’s How They Do It.

Image source: Pixabay.com

Before the water gets to the paddy, it flows through a series of warming ponds that are shallow, dark bottomed and exposed to the sun. This pre-heated water prevents cold snow melt and rain runoff from cooling the growing ponds and helps accelerate the growth of the plants while at the same time buffering them for cold nighttime temperatures.

Quarter-Acre Patch Equals 1,000 Pounds Of Rice

Rice grown in marginal poorly drained agricultural soils that currently grow second-class hay can yield as much as two tons per acre. A small homestead quarter-acre patch could yield as much as 1,000 pounds of rice in a good year, or enough rice to supply a family of four with about half of their calories in a year.

In many parts of the world, rice is still tended and harvested by hand, making it ideal for a small homestead without specialized equipment. For harvest, the rice is cut and bundled by hand, and then threshed against logs to dislodge the grains.

Rice paddies also can be beneficial in other ways, by preventing flooding and managing runoff. With a series of ponds, water is held on the land, which prevents erosion, rather than quickly running off and damaging the topsoil.

Ducks are often incorporated into rice paddies to increase yields and add a harvest of meat and eggs from the same land. Ducks cannot consume rice or rice plants because they have too much silica for the ducks to digest. Ducks can, however, consume insects that infest the rice and weeds that compete with it in the paddy. Their droppings help to enrich the paddy and add fertility.

Most duck species are capable of feeding themselves and raising young independently in this environment, even without supplemental feed. By adding ducks to the operation, most farmers reduce their workload, increase their rice yields and add meat and eggs to their table. Ducks tend to fare better than chickens in cold climates, which is an added bonus.

If you want to grow rice on your land, try starting with a series of plants in 5-gallon buckets. This will allow you to monitor the progress of your rice and test viability before investing in creating a series of ponds and patties.

Have you ever grown rice? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

The Smart & Easy Way To Make Your Own Essential Oils

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The Smart & Easy Way To Make Your Own Essential Oils

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It’s surprisingly easy to extract homemade essential oils at from home-grown herbs.

The health benefits of aromatherapy have long been documented in peer-reviewed studies, and they’re now being used in hospitals by nurses as complementary alternative medicine. Essential oils also have been shown to have antibacterial properties, and are being studied for their uses in creating food-safe disinfectants for fruits and vegetables. Other oils, such as rose geranium, have been shown to be especially effective at deterring ticks.

Commercially produced essential oils are inexpensive and readily available, but it’s easy to imagine an emergency scenario where you might have a need for a safe and effective oil.

The properties of essential oils vary based on the type of plant. Choosing which type of essential oil to extract depends both on what you have on hand and how you’d like to use the oil. Good plants to start with include rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, cedar and geranium. To learn more about using essential oils once you’ve made them, try this beginners guide to essential oils.

Steam Distillation of Essential Oils on the Stove

While there are plenty of places online to find complicated instructions for creating a homemade essential oil still using a pressure canner and copper tubing, you can accomplish basic steam distillation with just a steamer basket, mason jar and a pot with a glass or metal lid.

Just 30 Grams Of This Superfood Provides More Nutrition Than An Entire Meal!

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a deep pot and place a steamer basket over the water. Place a mason jar inside the pot on top of the steamer basket. A wide mouth pint tends to work well. Chop your herb material and place it on top of the steamer basket, all around the mason jar. Put a lid on the pot upside down. Inside the top of the lid, add some ice or cold water if available (optional).

Turn on the pot and simmer the water. The steam will come up through the herb material and collect inside the lid. It’ll then re-condense on the lid and flow down to the middle of the inverted pot lid, where it will drip down into the mason jar.

Cook at a low simmer until almost all the water has boiled off and re-condensed into the mason jar. Place the mason jar into the refrigerator overnight. When the water is cold, you’ll notice a small layer of oil on top of the water. This is your steam distilled essential oil.

Carefully scoop the essential oil off the water into a tall and narrow container. Place it back into the refrigerator to re-settle. The oil will again come to the top, and a small amount of water will settle below. Use an eye dropper to carefully extract the oil off the remaining water.

Leave a little bit of the oil on top of the water, and this remaining oil/water is now a hydrosol, or mix of water and essential oil. Hydrosols can be used diluted further and used as cleansers or perfumes, or preserved by adding a small amount of alcohol.

The oil you extracted off your hydrosol is your finished essential oil. Leave the container open on the counter for 24 hours to allow it to off gas a bit, which will remove any harsh off smell that developed in the extraction process. Afterwards, cap tightly and use as you would any essential oil, depending on what plant type it is.

Steam Distillation of Essential Oils in a Crockpot

Essential oils can be extracted from plant material in a crock pot using a similar method. Start with 3-4 cups of chopped plant material, and place it in a crock pot. Fill the crock pot with enough water to cover the plant material. Place the crockpot lid on, upside down, so that the evaporating water collects and drips back into the pot. Be sure the water level is low enough that the inverted lid is below the water level. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, and then turn the crock pot off and allow it to cool.

Place the crockpot in the refrigerator and allow the essential oil to collect on the surface of the water. Carefully scoop off the essential oil using the same process outlined above for the stovetop method.

Have you ever made essential oil? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

The Smart & Easy Way To Make Your Own Essential Oils

The Smart & Easy Way To Make Your Own Essential Oils

Image source: Pixabay.com

It’s surprisingly easy to extract homemade essential oils at from home-grown herbs.

The health benefits of aromatherapy have long been documented in peer-reviewed studies, and they’re now being used in hospitals by nurses as complementary alternative medicine. Essential oils also have been shown to have antibacterial properties, and are being studied for their uses in creating food-safe disinfectants for fruits and vegetables. Other oils, such as rose geranium, have been shown to be especially effective at deterring ticks.

Commercially produced essential oils are inexpensive and readily available, but it’s easy to imagine an emergency scenario where you might have a need for a safe and effective oil.

The properties of essential oils vary based on the type of plant. Choosing which type of essential oil to extract depends both on what you have on hand and how you’d like to use the oil. Good plants to start with include rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, cedar and geranium. To learn more about using essential oils once you’ve made them, try this beginners guide to essential oils.

Steam Distillation of Essential Oils on the Stove

While there are plenty of places online to find complicated instructions for creating a homemade essential oil still using a pressure canner and copper tubing, you can accomplish basic steam distillation with just a steamer basket, mason jar and a pot with a glass or metal lid.

Just 30 Grams Of This Superfood Provides More Nutrition Than An Entire Meal!

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a deep pot and place a steamer basket over the water. Place a mason jar inside the pot on top of the steamer basket. A wide mouth pint tends to work well. Chop your herb material and place it on top of the steamer basket, all around the mason jar. Put a lid on the pot upside down. Inside the top of the lid, add some ice or cold water if available (optional).

Turn on the pot and simmer the water. The steam will come up through the herb material and collect inside the lid. It’ll then re-condense on the lid and flow down to the middle of the inverted pot lid, where it will drip down into the mason jar.

Cook at a low simmer until almost all the water has boiled off and re-condensed into the mason jar. Place the mason jar into the refrigerator overnight. When the water is cold, you’ll notice a small layer of oil on top of the water. This is your steam distilled essential oil.

Carefully scoop the essential oil off the water into a tall and narrow container. Place it back into the refrigerator to re-settle. The oil will again come to the top, and a small amount of water will settle below. Use an eye dropper to carefully extract the oil off the remaining water.

Leave a little bit of the oil on top of the water, and this remaining oil/water is now a hydrosol, or mix of water and essential oil. Hydrosols can be used diluted further and used as cleansers or perfumes, or preserved by adding a small amount of alcohol.

The oil you extracted off your hydrosol is your finished essential oil. Leave the container open on the counter for 24 hours to allow it to off gas a bit, which will remove any harsh off smell that developed in the extraction process. Afterwards, cap tightly and use as you would any essential oil, depending on what plant type it is.

Steam Distillation of Essential Oils in a Crockpot

Essential oils can be extracted from plant material in a crock pot using a similar method. Start with 3-4 cups of chopped plant material, and place it in a crock pot. Fill the crock pot with enough water to cover the plant material. Place the crockpot lid on, upside down, so that the evaporating water collects and drips back into the pot. Be sure the water level is low enough that the inverted lid is below the water level. Cook on high for 3-4 hours, and then turn the crock pot off and allow it to cool.

Place the crockpot in the refrigerator and allow the essential oil to collect on the surface of the water. Carefully scoop off the essential oil using the same process outlined above for the stovetop method.

Have you ever made essential oil? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

Pressure Canning Hamburger Meat for Long Term Preservation

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The 4th of July is famous for juicy hamburgers fresh off the grill. After an emergency or unplanned event, it’s important for everyone’s morale to still have access to traditional

The post Pressure Canning Hamburger Meat for Long Term Preservation appeared first on Ask a Prepper.

How To Make Money Off Grid: Making A Living From Your Homestead

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There are literally hundreds of ways to earn an income from your off-grid homestead, the trick is finding a way to earn income that still allows you time to enjoy

The post How To Make Money Off Grid: Making A Living From Your Homestead appeared first on Ask a Prepper.

The Homestead Rabbit That Can Make You $240 Per Year

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The Homestead Rabbit That Can Make You $240 Per Year

Image source: Betty Chu

Angora rabbits can be loyal and loving pets with an added bonus: valuable angora fiber. Angora is highly sought-after by hand spinners and can fetch as much as $10 per ounce. A single rabbit can produce 16-24 ounces of fiber per year ($160-240 per rabbit), which can provide a healthy side income if you keep a few.

To harvest fiber, you must be prepared to take on extra grooming and tending tasks that are not required with most rabbit breeds.

Rabbit Breeds

Angoras come in several different breeds, each with their own characteristics. The two main types are English and French angoras.

English angoras have long fir covering every part of their bodies, including their faces, ears and feet. Their hair must be clipped or sheared to harvest, and though it can be cute, the hair on their faces and feet can be quite inconvenient.

French angoras have short fir covering their faces and feet, and their harvestable wool is only on their main body. Their fir naturally sheds, and once it reaches the appropriate length, you brush or pluck it out gently and it’s naturally released by the rabbit without scissors. Spinners tend to appreciate French angora more because the fir doesn’t have the blunt ends associated with cutting, and keepers like the ease of not having to untangle faces and feet.

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More recently, two new breeds have been developed through cross breeding. Giant angoras are a cross between Flemish giants and angora rabbits, and they are extremely large and productive. Satin angoras are a cross between satin rabbits and angoras, and their fir has an intense sheen that comes from the satin rabbit genes.

Housing

The Homestead Rabbit That Can Make You $240 Per Year

Image source: Betty Chu

Angora rabbits can be kept in much the same way as any pet rabbit. A hutch with a wire floor is ideal, so that the droppings fall through. Solid bottom hutches with bedding tend to be a bit problematic, because the bedding becomes tangled in the long fir.

They’re generally clean animals, and they can be litter box trained easily. Many owners keep them as house rabbits, with a litter box and no cage at all.

While some people keep meat rabbits outdoors year-round successfully, angora rabbits are not quite as hardy in cold climates. Even with the thick coat, they’re not cut out for winter conditions outdoors. In cold climates, they should be protected in an insulated building through the winter. Hot climates also can be problematic, and they should always have access to shade and cool water, or better yet just be kept indoors.

Feeding

They can eat standard rabbit pellets that are 16 percent protein, but they do a bit better on show rabbit food that’s 18 percent protein. Since angoras self-groom sometimes in the same way that cats do, they can become impacted from their own fir if their diet doesn’t contain enough fiber. It’s essential that they have a constant supply of fresh hay for roughage. Fresh vegetables and fruits such as apples, lettuce and carrots also help to prevent impaction.

Grooming

The hardest part about keeping angoras is the need for constant grooming to keep their fir in top condition. Ideally, they’re brushed and handled daily to keep them tangle-free and clean of debris. Under worst-case conditions, once a week is required at minimum. That’s easy enough with a single in-home pet rabbit, but keep in mind that it’s a big daily commitment if you have several.

Harvesting Fiber

Depending on the type of angora you’re raising, you’ll either be brushing/plucking out the fiber or shearing off the fiber. Whatever the case, an angora needs to be completely plucked or shaved every three months year-round. In areas with a long winter, that means you’ll be clipping them down in the coldest part of the year, which is yet another reason they need to be kept indoors.

Without their fir, angoras are sensitive to sunburn and dry skin until their new coat comes in, so be sure to keep them completely out of the sun until they’re protected.

Using Angora Fiber

The things that make angora desirable, like it’s soft and silky texture, also make it difficult to work with as a hand spinner. It’s one of the most difficult fibers to spin, and if you’re just learning to spin, try starting with a coarser sheep wool until you get the basics down.

Begin by carding your fiber if it’s in a mass, or skip this step if you’ve ever neatly hand-plucked.  If hand-spinning with a drop spindle, you’ll need the lightest drop spindle you can find to successfully spin angora. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, experienced spinners turn heads at fairs by spinning directly off the backs of French angoras, plucking as they spin, and incorporating the fiber directly into the yarn on a spinning wheel while their docile pet naps patiently in their lap.

Angora fiber also felts easily, and can be made into felted sweaters, toys and art. Small felted angora handcrafts sell well at fairs and farmers markets.

Selling Fiber

Angora fiber is valuable, and experienced hand spinners will pay top dollar for high quality angora fiber. Keep in mind that most people who keep angoras are not spinners themselves, but just pet hobbyists who then sell the fiber, meaning that the market is flooded with small-scale sellers.

Still, if you intend to sell your fiber, it’s easy to differentiate yourself from the average hobbyist by grading your fiber, describing its attributes accurately (staple length, carded, sheared or plucked, etc.) and taking quality pictures if you’re selling online.

Have you ever raised angora rabbits? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

How To Trick Nature & Stretch Your Hardiness Zone

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How To Trick Nature & Stretch Your Hardiness Zone

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As more and more households move toward self-sufficiency, there’s a pressure to be able to grow it all, right in your own backyard. If you live in a particularly warm or cold hardiness zone, though, there are certain things that you’re told you just can’t grow successfully.

People living in the north country want to grow peaches, while those in the California heat yearn for rhubarb.

But hardiness zones don’t have to be that limiting. With a few simple tricks, you can stretch your hardiness zone and grow things you never thought possible. Though you may never be able to grow mangoes in Vermont, with effort you can increase (or decrease) your hardiness zone by one zone to dramatically expand the types of crops available on your own homestead.

Growing Warm-Weather Crops in Cold Climates

For warm-weather crops, it’s important to understand exactly why they’re considered incompatible with your zone. Is it that the minimum annual temperature in the winter gets too low? Is the growing season just not long enough? Maybe the growing season is long enough, but it’s a fruit tree that flowers too early in the spring and the blossoms are killed by late frosts before they can set fruit. Perhaps the growing season is long enough, but it’s either too rainy or soils never seem to warm up enough to keep the plants happy.

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All of these represent very different problems with different solutions.

It Gets Too Cold

If the minimum winter temperature gets too cold, which can be a problem for some perennial crops and fruit trees, then you need to find a micro-climate that stays just a bit warmer than the rest of your land. Even small yards have warm spots. If you have a pond, stream or fountain, the water has a moderating effect on temperature and plants near them will stay warmer on the coldest days.

Perhaps your house has a brick wall that absorbs heat during the day and can help moderate the temperatures at night. Espaliered trees, or trees that are pruned to grow flat against a wall, were developed for this reason. They help to maximize the moderating effect of warm walls and allow you to grow trees that shouldn’t thrive in your region.

Growing Season Isn’t Long Enough

This is one of the easiest problems to solve. If your growing season isn’t long enough for long-season tomatoes or really big pumpkins, the solution is as straightforward as the problem. Just extend your growing season. There are many simple ways to do this, like starting transplants indoors, using cold frames or mini-greenhouses, or taking advantage of row covers to extend the season early in the spring or late in the fall when there’s risk of frost. Speaking of that problem …

Late Frosts

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, if you’re plagued by late frosts that kill your fruit tree blossoms, the best thing to do is keep your fruit trees colder. Provided they can take the coldest winter temperatures in your area, planting them in a cold pocket or a bit of shade will prevent early spring heat from causing them to break bud. If they break bud later, then they’ll be less likely to flower early and lose blossoms to late frosts.

Too Little Heat Or Too Much Rain

How To Trick Nature & Stretch Your Hardiness Zone

Image source: Pixabay.com

For annual crops especially, too little summer heat or too much rain can be a problem. Raised beds stay warmer and dryer than the surrounding soil and can be a solution if it’s just a little bit too cold or wet. For more warmth and dryer conditions, consider a small hoop house or row covers, or for a quick and easy solution, try black plastic row covers to both heat the soil and allow extra rain to run off.

Growing Cold Weather Crops in Warm Climates

While keeping things warm enough is a problem in the north country, some plants require winter frosts or a chilling period to cause them to break dormancy in the spring. Cherries, for example, need a certain number of chilling hours each winter so that they’ll produce in the spring. Other crops, like rhubarb, require winter frosts to go dormant in the soil and regenerate.

Low-Chill Varieties

By choosing low-chill varieties, you can extend your growing capacity to plants that otherwise wouldn’t experience enough chill days to thrive. Cherries often require 500+ chilling hours to grow, but some varieties, such as “Royal Lee” and “Minnie Royal,” require only 200-300 hours of chilling time. That can make a big difference if you only have a few cold days to work with.

Creating Artificial Chilling Days

If your climate doesn’t even have 200-300 chill hours, like in some parts of Texas and Southern California, you can create artificial chill days mid-winter. You don’t actually need to get the soil to freeze to count as a chill day. Temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit work great.

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Plant the tree in the coolest part of your yard, ideally with some shade. Keep some milk jugs filled with water in your freezer and when it’s going to be a cold day, but perhaps not quite below 45, bring them out and make a circle around your tree’s trunk on the ground. When they’ve defrosted, bring them back in, refreeze and repeat. This will allow you to create an artificial cold spot that might just be enough to get you fruit in the hottest climates.

Digging Up Perennials & Refrigerating

In northern climates, digging up perennials and forcing them in the winter is a normal practice. Dig up rhubarb roots and store them indoors in the refrigerator or root cellar. Then, set them by the wood stove to “force them” to grow mid-winter for a cold weather treat. Gardeners in hot climates can make use of this, too.

Rhubarb, in particular, requires 500 chilling hours (or roughly 20 days) at 28 to 45 degrees each winter. In the early winter, cut off all the shoots and leaves and dig up the roots. Place them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about a month and then replant.

What tricks do you use? Share your tips in the section below:

4 Crazy Off-Grid Uses For Pine Sap (Our Favorite: No. 2)

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4 Crazy Off-Grid Uses For Pine Sap (Our Favorite: No. 2)

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Pine sap is a sticky substance secreted by pine trees in response to injury. It’s full of antimicrobial compounds to protect the tree’s wound from bacteria and fungi, and it’s naturally adhesive so that it stays put on a tree wound. It’s also a natural sealant, to prevent the tree from losing moisture through the wound.

All these qualities that make it a survival tool for the pine tree also make it very useful to human off-grid survival.

Pin sap (or resin) has been used by humans for centuries, for everything from medicine to construction. As far back as around the birth of Christ, there was a thriving pine resin trade, where sharecroppers would claim rights to pine trees to harvest their resin as a cash crop. Long before that, it was used by humans for survival and medicine.

Let’s examine ways it can be harvested and used.

Harvest

Pine sap is easy to harvest, and in many cases you’ll be able to find a fresh wound already dripping pitch. This is especially true near public parks, where the branches are frequently trimmed. To protect the tree, if possible only harvest pitch that has dripped away from the wound. The pitch directly on the wound surface is helping the tree fight infection, and harvesting this portion may damage the tree.

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If you need to harvest pine sap in large quantity, intentionally creating “V”-shaped wounds in trees is the traditional method. Attach a small container at the tip of the “V” so that the pitch can run into it. It’ll be even more efficient if you cut a small bark tag at that point to help direct the sap into your collection container, much in the same way a maple tap directs maple sap into a bucket.

1. Sealant

Dissolved in alcohol, pine pitch is used as a natural wood varnish to help protect wood from the weather. It takes relatively strong alcohol to dissolve the pitch, so stick to grain alcohol or the highest proof you can find, ideally near pure 190 proof for varnish purposes if you can get it.

As pine sap is a natural tree wound protectant, it makes sense that it can be used to make a graft protectant by mixing it with a little beeswax and oil to improve the pliability and workability.  Smear the mixture around graft cuts or pruning wounds to seal them and protect your trees.

Pine sap that has been heated to remove excess moisture is called pine tar, and it’s commonly used to make things water-tight. Boats and tents can be sealed with pine tar; just be sure you don’t heat the pine sap too hot as it can easily catch fire.

2. Medicine

Pine pitch is commonly used as a drawing agent to help draw foreign particles or poisons from a wound. Soft fresh drops can be harvested in the field and applied directly to spider bites or even splinters to help the body expel the poison or splinter. It’s known as a counter-irritant, helping signal the body to send more white blood cells to the site of an injury to fight infection. Pine pitch is also naturally antiseptic and antibacterial.

4 Crazy Off-Grid Uses For Pine Sap (Our Favorite: No. 2)

Image source: Flickr / Creative Commons

To store pine pitch for later use in your herbal first-aid kit, place a few globs of pitch in oil and leave it in a warm place for a few weeks, shaking regularly to help dissolve the pitch. Filter the oil through a cloth to strain out any remaining pitch pieces, and use the pine pitch oil as it is applied directly to wounds or add bees wax and form it into a medicinal salve.

3. Adhesive

Pine pitch glue is incredibly durable and was used traditionally for many purposes, such as attaching arrowheads to arrows along with sinew twine. It’s simple to make with almost no tools. Melt the pine pitch slowly on a stove or over a low fire, and then add finely crushed charcoal from the fire. The ratio of charcoal to pine sap varies, but a ratio of 3 parts sap to 1 part coal is a good starting point. The charcoal is what makes the glue durable and long-lasting, but be careful because too much charcoal will make the glue brittle.

4. Fire-starter

Pine sap is flammable and can be used as a fire-starting aid. A few dried gobs kept at hand can help a tinder bundle catch light in wet conditions, or melted sap can be used on a cloth on the end of a stick as a makeshift torch. Keep in mind that melted resin gets very hot, is quite sticky and drips easily, so handle with care to avoid causing serious burns.

What advice would you add on harvesting and using pine resin? Share your thoughts in the section below:

The $100 Simple Outdoor Canning Kitchen

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The $100 Simple Outdoor Canning Kitchen

Image source: Pinterest

Canning is a fun and rewarding summertime activity that helps preserve your garden’s bounty, saves money and increases your self-reliance.

But it also involves work at a hot stove during the hottest part of the year, when fruit and produce are at their peak. Back in the day, when cooking was done on wood cook stoves, many households had a second detached “summer kitchen,” where summer meals were prepared without adding extra heat into the house.

Outdoor summer kitchens are mostly a thing of the past, but serious home preservers and canners can set up an outdoor “canning kitchen” to make their jams, jellies and preserves.

Basic Setup

While you can use an old-fashioned wood cook stove to equip your canning kitchen, most people opt for the convenience of large portable propane burners. A simple high output propane burner (55,000 BTU or more) is available for under $40, and can connect to a standard exchangeable propane tank.  These large burners can bring a five-gallon pot of water to a rolling boil in just a few minutes, which beats waiting as much as an hour for your indoor kitchen stove to do the same job.

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A second, small scale camp stove to cook up your preserves is a necessary expense, as a high output burner would quickly burn preserves and wreak havoc on your small saucepans. These are similarly inexpensive and sell for as little as $20.

The $100 Simple Outdoor Canning Kitchen

Image source: Pixabay.com

Assuming you already have canning jars and pots, the only other thing you’ll need is a propane tank for about $40. All total, for about $100 you have the basics of an outdoor canning kitchen that can be set up temporarily outdoors on a small table or even the ground in a pinch. With even a few batches of jam or pickles in a summer, you’ll be thankful for the investment, both for the cooler house and the reduction in humidity and mold potential, as all that water bath steam is released into your kitchen.

Canning on Wood Heat

If you’d like to further reduce your ongoing costs, or simply avoid the use of fossil fuels, it’s easy enough to can outdoors on wood heat, or with a hybrid method. For the least expensive option, try creating a small wood stove by making a U-shaped fire pit out of cinder blocks and topping it with a BBQ grate. With this setup, you’ll need to be careful not to damage your canning pot with the open flame. For a less primitive option, try a wood cook stove, which you can get, second-hand, for as little as a few hundred dollars.

If you’re truly looking for the best long-term outdoor canning kitchen solution, try a dual-fuel wood and gas stove. With a dual-fuel stove, you’ll be able to use wood as your primary heat source to bring canning water to a boil, but still use a more gentle heat from a small gas burner to gently cook down jams and jellies before they go into the water bath.

Temporary or Permanent Canning Kitchen

It’s easy enough to set up a temporary canning kitchen for the afternoon by simply hauling your propane burners out to a safe spot, but if you’re canning more frequently, it might make sense to set up a semi-permanent or permanent canning kitchen.

A semi-permanent option with a tarp or tent canopy roof means that you can leave your materials outdoors and can several times a week without exhaustive setup time. A simple sink built into a 2×4 framed countertop can be plumbed in with a garden hose. With this option, you’re still at the mercy of the weather to some degree, as tarps don’t fare particularly well in high winds and storms — and flies, honeybees or mosquitoes are sure to be a problem.

If you can afford it, the best option is a permanent screened-in outdoor structure that has a solid roof and fully screened walls to protect you from the elements and unwanted pests. Keep in mind: If you set everything up correctly, you could do just about all of your summer cooking in your outdoor canning kitchen to help keep your house cooler.

For a truly year-round option, try integrating your canning kitchen into a sugar shack. A sugar shack is already set up to vent heat and steam, and most are designed with a bit of counter space for making value-added maple products like maple cream and candy. If you’re considering building a sugar shack or summer canning kitchen, why not design them together into one structure to save both space and money?

Do you have an outdoor kitchen? Share your ideas for one in the section below:

8 Coffee Substitutes You Can Grow In ANY Climate

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8 Coffee Substitutes You Can Grow In ANY Climate

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If you’re trying to raise as much of your own food as possible, a coffee habit can be a real problem. Most people’s morning cup comes from thousands of miles away, involving a lot of unfortunate environmental and human consequences.

Enjoying coffee is a daily ritual that brings comfort and time for contemplation. A casual conversation with friends or family, the warm mug in our hands, or just the excuse to take a few minutes for ourselves. If you’re looking for a coffee substitute that you can grow or forage yourself, there are a lot of compelling options.

1. Beech nuts

Beech trees are easy to identify and produce large amounts of a distinctive nut that can be collected in the fall. The thin shells are easily and quickly peeled off by hand, allowing the nut to be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. Deer are particularly fond of beech nuts, and if you don’t know if you have beech trees in your area, ask a local hunter where you can find them.

2. Chicory root

Perhaps the most common and well-known coffee substitute, some brands of coffee actually include roasted ground chicory root in with the coffee to enhance the flavor and stretch the coffee further. In the U.S., this is known as New Orleans Style Coffee, and results in a smooth coffee with a slight mocha flavor. Straight chicory coffee has a blacker-than-black color, and is delicious drink with a bit of sugar to balance out the flavor. Harvest the roots before the plant flowers for a less bitter brew.

3. Dandelion root

8 Coffee Substitutes You Can Grow In ANY Climate A bit easier for most people to find and identify, dandelion root makes some of the best-tasting coffee of any wild substitute. Fancy farm-to-table restaurants across the country are marketing dandelion lattes with their local bacon on the breakfast plate, and why not? It’s a much-cheaper alternative, but still tastes great. Just like chicory coffee, for the best dandelion coffee harvest the roots before the plants flower for the most delicious brew. If you only notice your dandelions after they’ve gone to flower, harvest them anyway; they’re still almost as good.

4. Burdock root

Burdock is easy to identify in the fall of the second year by its large leaves and round burs that stick to just about everything.

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Growing nearby the second-year roots, you should be able to find smaller first-year plants without seed burs. First-year roots make the best coffee and can be harvested in the late fall, dried in an oven and roasted to produce a naturally detoxifying coffee substitute.

5. Cleavers fruit

Known as cleavers for its reported ability to “cleave” illness from the body, this natural medicine also makes an excellent coffee substitute. It’s an extremely common weed, slowly spreading across the ground and climbing in a tangled mass over rocks or stumps. It produces small flowers that turn into tiny cleavers fruits that can be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute.

6. Kentucky coffee tree

As the name suggests, Kentucky coffee tree beans can be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. The name stems from a marketing ploy, back when coffee was expensive and hard to get in inland areas away from ports. Land developers told people that in Kentucky, they could harvest a plant that would make a great substitute.

7. Sow thistle

An aggressive weed closely related to the dandelion, sow thistle produces prickly leaves and sends up long shoots with yellow, dandelion-like flowers. Its greens are edible and medicinal, and in some places in the world it’s actually cultivated as a vegetable, but more importantly, the tap root makes an excellent coffee substitute similar to dandelion coffee.

8. Acorn coffee

Though bitter if not prepared correctly due to the tannic acid, if acorns are first thoroughly soaked and ground, they can be roasted into an acceptable coffee substitute. Some mention this as a tastier use for them than trying to use them as flour or porridge, but others note that they’re a far cry from real coffee.

What is your favorite coffee substitute? Share your tips in the section below:

How To Make Sure Your Pond Never Dries Up, Freezes Or Gets Algae

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How To Make Sure Your Pond Never Dries Up, Freezes Or Gets Algae

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A fish pond can be an attractive and rewarding addition to your land that helps to attract wildlife, stores water in times of drought, and provides a swimming hole for your kids — all while producing fish for your table.

Raising your own fish give you the peace and serenity of private access to your own fishing hole, and it also can provide a unique opportunity to encourage a fishing hobby in your children, since they’re much more likely to make a catch in a stocked private pond.

Whether you have a pond on your land already, or are considering constructing one, it’s important to consider that a pond will require maintenance to stay attractive, healthy and productive. To take proper care of a fish pond, you’ll need to maintain a depth, prevent chemical contamination, and minimize algae growth.

Pond Size and Depth

While it may be tempting to hand dig and stock a miniature pond in your backyard, ponds under half an acre of surface area have trouble supporting stocked fish in the long term. Below half an acre, the pond just doesn’t have enough space to keep a thriving population alive, and it is likely to dry out in the summer or freeze solid to the bottom in the winter.

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Deep water ponds are the only type capable of reliably maintaining a stable ecosystem for your fish year-round. Ponds with 25 to 50 percent of their area at least 10 feet deep are considered “deep-water ponds.” Depending on your climate, your pond may need to be significantly deeper than 10 feet to prevent winter kill of fish, or to prevent summer overheating for cold water species such as trout. Different fish species have different temperature requirements.

Minimizing Sediment & Evaporation

To maintain depth in a stream-fed pond, include a small sediment settling pond to slow the water and allow fine sediment to drop out before the water enters the main pond. Water should flow slowly out of the sediment pond into the main pond, and if designed correctly, should enter the main pond clear.

How To Make Sure Your Pond Never Dries Up, Freezes Or Gets Algae

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Ponds not fed by a stream have less concerns about sediment, but are more likely to lose depth in times of drought. Minimize surface area where evaporation occurs by having a round or oval pond shape with relatively steeply sloping sides. An irregular pond edge means more surface area, but also more shallow edge space that encourages evaporation without providing deep habitat for fish.

Preventing Chemical Contamination 

It’s important to prevent chemical contamination of your pond, because what goes into your fish pond will eventually land on your family’s table. Ideally, avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on your land, but if that’s not an option, do not use them within 100 feet of the pond or the stream that feeds the pond. Avoid mowing or excessively trimming vegetation within 100 feet of the pond, as well. This vegetation buffer zone helps to filter out contaminants and keeps your pond cleaner in the long run.

Preventing Algae Overgrowth

Excess algae growth in a pond can lower oxygen levels and suffocate fish, and certain types of algae can be toxic to both humans and fish. Algae blooms are caused by a number of complicated ecological factors, but the best way to prevent them is to limit or eliminate excess nutrients entering the pond. Abundant vegetation near the pond edge helps to absorb nutrients that would enter in run-off. Preventing runoff from agricultural areas, and keeping pets and livestock as far from the pond as possible, prevents their wastes from entering the pond to feed the algae.

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How To Make Sure Your Pond Never Dries Up, Freezes Or Gets AlgaeAnother way to prevent algae in a home pond is to add a small amount of hardwood ash to the pond. Hardwood ash promotes native vegetation by adding soluble minerals to the pond. When these minerals are lacking, algae can out-compete vegetation for the nutrients in fertilizer runoff. The minerals in hardwood ash help give vegetation a leg up over the algae and can prevent harmful algae blooms. It doesn’t take a lot to have a big impact, and it’s suggested that ash be added slowly, as too much can do more harm than good. The suggested rate of application is only 1 tablespoon per 1,000 gallons of water.

Choosing Fish Species

The type of fish will depend on your family’s tastes, your location and your pond’s specific ecosystem.  Trout are a cold-water fish, and require deeper water (12 feet minimum) to stay cool in the summer months.

Other fish species, such as bass, thrive in warmer water, but require the addition of a prey species for food. With a predator and prey species in a pond, it’s important to maintain the right ratio of predator to prey to ensure the survival of the larger predator fish you intend to harvest.

To choose your fish species and stocking density, it’s important to talk to your local extension or to consult a fishery biologist, as pond ecology varies by region.

What advice would you add on maintaining a pond long-term? Share your tips in the section below:

The Homestead Meat Bird That Sells For $20 Per Pound

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The Homestead Meat Bird That Sells For $20 Per Pound

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You’ve tried raising chickens on your own land and enjoyed spending afternoons watching their antics in your yard, but now it’s time for something new. Provided you have a large yard and a taste for adventure, why not give emus a try? Raising emus on your homestead can be a great investment, as just about every part of it is useful and valuable at harvest time.

Housing

Emus are capable of reaching high speeds and need ample space to run. It’s recommended to keep them in a long and narrow enclosure, no smaller than 120-feet long and 18-feet wide for a pair of adults to maximize their running space. On a larger scale, as many as 50 adults can be kept per acre. Fencing should be at least six-feet tall, and have relatively small holes such as chain link or two-inch by four-inch woven wire.

Though they’re relatively hardy, they do need a shelter to get out of the elements and a few inches of bedding such as shavings of straw for bedding. For the coldest climates, a full enclosure or barn is recommended, but a three-sided shelter is sufficient in most places.

Handling

Emus are very friendly and docile if hand-raised from hatching, but if allowed to reproduce and raise their own young naturally, the resulting chicks imprint on their emu parents rather than their human caregivers and take up wild habits, making them nearly impossible to handle and potentially aggressive.

Given their intimidating size and the requirement for a long and narrow enclosure, they could potentially make a good guard animal if you were willing to surround your property with a fence.

Feeding

Emus have very specific feed requirements, and should be given a specialized feed to ensure they’re getting the proper nutrition. Since they lack a croup like other birds, and have a very quick digestive system, they need high-nutrient food to meet their daily requirements. In the wild they eat high-nutrient fruit and seeds, which helps them develop the valuable back fat for emu oil.

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An adult needs between one to one and a half pounds of feed per day, while growing adolescents need higher protein feed and two or more pounds per day. Specialized emu food can cost as much as twice the price of chicken feed, and you’ll need to secure a reliable source of feed.

Emu Products   

The Homestead Meat Bird That Sells For $20 Per Pound

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Emus are often referred to as the most useful bird, because so many different products are made from their bodies.  A single emu produces usable meat, oil, leather, feathers, claws, bones and eggs.

Emu Meat

Emus have lean red meat that cooks well into burgers and steaks, and can fetch as much as $20 per pound in some specialty stores. It cooks quickly and readily absorbs flavor from a variety of marinades.  If you’d like to try emu meat before committing to raising one, try a tender, top loin steak marinated and then grilled to medium rare for the tastiest emu sample.

The average emu, harvested at 16 months of age, produces just 26 pounds of usable meat. They’re relatively expensive to process commercially, meaning that profit margins would be quite low or non-existent if they were only useful for their meat. Fortunately, while the meat sales only pay for raising and processing costs, there are many other valuable parts of an emu.

Emu Oil

The main reason emus are raised is for their oil, which is used in cosmetics and skin care products, and can sell for as much as $150 per quart. A single emu can produce as much as five quarts of emu oil. Emu oil is made by refining the back fat harvested from the bird during slaughter. Emu use this fat to incubate them from cold weather and as a reserve against hard times when food is scarce.

Emu Leather

Beyond meat and oil, emu skin is tanned into a high-value leather that’s used to make wallets, purses and boots. Due to the uniqueness of the leather, products made from tanned emu fetch premium prices, especially in overseas markets.

Emu Feathers, Eggs and Bones

Emu feathers are unique in that they produce two feathers from a single quill, meaning each feather is like two feathers attached at a single point on the emu’s body. This makes them desirable for craft products, fishing lures and high fashion.

Emu bones are also used for craft and science projects due to their light weight and large size. Whole skeletons sell for as much as $150. Decorated emu eggs and preserved emu claws are also commonly sold for their novelty value.

Do you have experience with emus? Share your advice on raising emus in the section below:

9 Clever Ways To Jump Start Your Garden During Winter

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9 Clever Ways To Jump Start Your Garden During Winter

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While garden season may seem a lifetime away when you’re hauling wood and shoveling snow mid-winter, there are many things you can be doing now to ensure a healthy, productive garden in the coming season.

1. Collect wood ash

Wood ash, used in moderate amounts, makes excellent garden fertilizer. The ash is comprised of non-combustible minerals that the tree took out of the soil to fuel its metabolism. Those concentrated nutrients can go back onto your garden soil or into your compost to give both a boost. Wood ash can impact soil pH, so use in moderation.

2. Browse seed catalogs

Real gardening starts with mid-winter dreaming. Browsing seed and nursery catalogs early can help ensure that you’re organized and prepared in the spring. It also can build a good bit of excitement to keep your mood up until the warm weather comes back. Try something new this year and consider planting varieties you’ve never even heard of.

3. Start a worm compost bin

Compost bins tend to stall in the winter as the cold temperatures slow down micro-organisms from decomposing your food scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer. An indoor worm compost bin is an easy way to keep your compost going all year to ensure you have an ample supply to start seeds in the early spring.

4. Research new methods

Have you heard of permaculture? Back to Eden gardening? Hydroponics? Tomato grafting? Small scale mushroom farming?

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There are all sorts of innovative gardening and food production techniques that go well beyond just planting a few novelty tomatoes in a raised bed. Use the winter to research new methods to keep your mind sharp and your garden fresh and exciting.

5. Build cold frames

Winter is a great time to build a few cold frames either to get your garden started earlier in the spring, or to extend the season later into the fall. Cold frames are like mini-greenhouses that insulate a small area or growing bed from the mild conditions of the “shoulder seasons” or spring and fall. If you get started assembling a few now, they’ll be ready to be set out with greens by late winter, giving you a heads start on the gardening season.

6. Start long-season seeds

9 Clever Ways To Jump Start Your Garden During Winter

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While most garden crops, such as tomatoes, need to be started just six weeks before the last expected frost date, there are others that will need to be started as early as mid-winter if you expect to have a full harvest. Leeks and onions need to be started from seed indoors as much as 10-12 weeks before the last spring frost. Early cold weather crops that you’ll want to plant and hope to harvest before the mid-summer heat, such as broccoli, also might need to be planted well before your other seeds.

7. Trim or cut shading trees

Most annual garden crops need full sun to produce full crops in a single summer season. Winter is a great time to prune back branches to ensure that your garden beds are getting as much sun as possible.  With the trees dormant, winter trimming will do the least damage to them in the long term. Winter also is a great time to cut down trees. With the soil frozen and leaves gone, cleanup will be much easier.

8. Plan a root cellar

If it’s mid-winter and you’re desperately missing your garden produce, perhaps take this time to plan ahead for next year to ensure that your garden provides for you a bit longer. Root cellars don’t need to be complicated affairs involving lots of land or heavy equipment for digging. Even a cold closet on the north side of your house can keep storage squash in prime condition all winter long. Evaluate the space you have and determine if you can convert part of your basement to cold storage, or in warmer areas, perhaps a buried cooler or refrigerator just outside the back door will be sufficient to keep things cool.

9. Force perennials indoors

Consider planning ahead to force perennials indoors. Rhubarb and asparagus roots are some of the simplest plants to dig in late fall or early winter and store in cool moist soil in a basement or back closet until you’re ready to give them an early start. Planted in buckets and brought into a warm room in the house, both rhubarb and asparagus can provide a dependable indoor harvest over a few weeks, even in January.

How do you jump start your garden? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Food Preservation Method The Rest Of The World Uses

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The Food Preservation Method The Rest Of The World Uses

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Most people are familiar with fermented foods in the form of alcoholic beverages, like beer and wine. Humans, though, have been experimenting with fermenting food for preservation and flavor enhancement for millennia, and yeast-based ferments that produce alcohol are only one type of fermentation.

Lacto-fermentation, or fermentation with lactic acid-producing bacteria, is used around the world to make and preserve food, and you may be surprised to learn that some of your favorite foods are actually produced with lacto-fermentation. Yogurt is one well-known example of a lacto-fermented food, and it’s where lacto-fermentation derives its name.

Lactobacillus is a strain of bacteria first studied for its ability to convert milk sugars into lactic acid — thus the reason for the “lacto” in the name. However, milk or dairy products are not required. It was later learned that lactobacillus can convert just about any sugar into lactic acid, even the naturally occurring sugars in raw meats and vegetables.

Some of the easiest lacto-fermented foods to make at home include vegetable-based ferments like sauerkraut, and naturally fermented pickles and kimchi. Condiments like Sriracha, soy sauce, miso paste and Worcester sauce are all fermented to give them their characteristic taste and long shelf life.

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Salt-cured meat products like salami, summer sausage and prosciutto are also lacto-fermented foods. They’re actually preserved less by the salt added to cure them, and more by the fact that lactic acid bacteria thrive in a high salt environment. Once the meat products are salted, lacto-fermentation takes over and cures the meat before the bacteria that grow more slowly in a high-salt environment can gain control.

The easiest way to get started with lacto-fermented foods is either with yogurt or sauerkraut.

Homemade Yogurt

With yogurt, you’re starting with heat-sterilized milk and adding a yogurt starter culture that contains Lactobacillus bacteria, usually just a few spoonfuls from a previous batch or a freshly bought plain yogurt from the store.

Start with a freshly sterilized jar, boiled for 10 minutes or put through a sanitize cycle on your dishwasher. Bring milk to 180 degrees (Fahrenheit) on your stovetop to freshly sterilize it, and then pour it into your clean sterile jar. Wait until it cools down to 90-100 degrees, and then add a few heaping spoonfuls of fresh newly opened yogurt, or a clean uncontaminated container from your last batch. Wrap the jar in a towel or place it in a warm water bath to keep it warm for 8-12 hours while the culture incubates. Be careful not to let the mixture go above 115 degrees, as it may kill off your starter culture. After 8-12 hours, you should have a thick tangy yogurt, and if not, give it a few more hours, and then place it in the fridge and enjoy.

Homemade Sauerkraut

For sauerkraut, you’re relying on the naturally occurring Lactobacillus bacteria present on the surface of all raw vegetables, and encouraging it along with the presence of a high-salt environment.

Finely chop a cabbage and pack tightly into a clean sterile jar. Cover with a brine made by dissolving 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt into each quart of water. Alternatively, mix the chopped cabbage with 3 tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage, and allow the salt to draw liquid out of the cabbage to create its own brine. Top off with a 1 1/2 tablespoon to 1 quart of water-salt brine if the water level does not completely cover the cabbage.

Make sure that the cabbage stays well below the water level, as any cabbage exposed to the air will likely spoil the batch. Use something clean, non-porous and non-reactive as a top weight to keep the cabbage below the water line. Try a small plate, smaller jar or a sealed plastic bag filled with water. Avoid anything made of metal, as it may react with the ferment.

Allow the sauerkraut to sit on the counter, ideally between 70 and 75 degrees and out of direct sunlight for 3-4 weeks. At that point, it can be placed into the refrigerator to slow the ferment, or kept on the counter for another week or two while it’s consumed. On the counter the flavor will continue to intensify as the ferment continues. Likewise, in the fridge the flavor will continue to develop, but much more slowly with the colder temperatures. Fully fermented sauerkraut should keep in the refrigerator for several months if kept uncontaminated.

Next Steps

Once you’ve tried these basic ferments, you can begin experimenting with more advanced techniques. Try making your own fermented hot sauce or naturally fermented pickles. Once you’re confident in your abilities, even seemingly intimidating meat ferments like duck breast prosciutto or summer sausage are easily made at home by just following simple recipes.

Have you ever made yogurt, sauerkraut or other lacto-fermented foods? Share your tips in the section below:

The Easier-Than-Chicken, Egg-Laying Bird You Can Raise Indoors

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The Easier-Than-Chicken, Egg-Laying Bird You Can Raise Indoors

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Keeping backyard chickens is a great way to begin your journey toward self-sufficiency, but the term “backyard chickens” implies that you have a backyard. What if you’re living in a small apartment, hoping perhaps one day to move to land, but wishing you could get experience to try your hand at it before you commit?

Quail are a great and easy way to get started with poultry and experience the independence of raising your own eggs and meat, without the need for anything more than a small bit of indoor space. Simple rabbit hutches with wire floors and solid trays beneath make excellent quail housing, and can be kept indoors anywhere you could keep either rabbits or a domestic bird such as a parakeet. There’s even the occasional story of a country farm kid keeping quail in their college dorm room because they missed the fresh eggs and company of poultry.

Housing & Space Requirements

Quail are very small animals, and the average bird is only 3.5 to 5.5 ounces (roughly 1/4 pound) and about five inches tall, though some commercial meat breeds can be as heavy as 12 ounces (3/4 pound). They’re mostly a ground foraging bird, and need floor space rather than high ceilings, which makes short but wide floored rabbit hutches an excellent housing choice. Shorter cages are actually preferred, as the low roof keeps them from trying to fly when startled, with may result in injury.

Wire floored cages with removable trays beneath are generally preferred because the droppings fall through the wire, keeping the quail clean and healthy. On solid floors, quail tend to stand in their feces and often eat them, spreading disease and parasites. To keep quail feet healthy, use no more than ¼-inch square wire for the floor. Quail are also often reluctant to use nesting boxes, so wire floors make it easier to find the eggs and keep them clean than with solid floors and bedding.

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The Easier-Than-Chicken, Egg-Laying Bird You Can Raise Indoors

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As a general rule, each quail needs 1 square foot of floor space, and should be kept at a ratio of 4-5 females to each male. Some people choose to keep their quail in lower ratios in smaller cages, and will put 3 females with 1 male in a standard 18 x 24-inch rabbit cage without issue. Keep in mind that at least 1 square foot is ideal, and smaller conditions could lead to stress for your birds.

Life Cycle

Quail egg incubation varies based on breed, but the most popular breed, the Coturnix, incubates for 16-18 days. Once hatched, the chicks reach maturity for meat or to begin laying eggs at 6-10 weeks. This compares to 21 incubation days for chicken eggs and no eggs laid until roughly 20 weeks. That means that your female quail will be laying for as many as 12 weeks while a chicken started at the same time is still growing and maturing.

It’s easy to see how they could be quickly reproduced to yield a large flock from just a small number of initial hatching eggs, with only roughly 12 weeks between generations.

Quail tend to live 2-4 years and can produce 200-250 eggs per year.

Feeding Quail

Quail are not common enough to have their own commercial food mix, but their nutritional requirements are similar to turkeys. They’re commonly fed turkey feed based on their life stage. Adult quail only need about 15-20 grams of food per day. Quail keepers commonly supplement their feed with small seeds (flax, etc.) and leafy greens to improve the nutritional quality of the eggs and encourage good health in the flock.

Egg Production

The Easier-Than-Chicken, Egg-Laying Bird You Can Raise Indoors

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Quail tend to lay eggs at roughly the same rate as a heritage breed chicken, producing as many as 250 eggs per year starting at 6-10 weeks of age. They require 14-16 hours of daylight per day to lay, which is easy to provide indoors. While the main benefit of quail is the small size, which allows them to be kept indoors, it also means that their eggs are very small. It takes 5 quail eggs to equal 1 chicken egg in volume, although quail eggs are slightly more nutritious. Still, quail eggs peel easy as hard boiled eggs and make adorable deviled eggs or fried eggs on top of hamburger sliders. What they lack in size you’ll have to make up for in culinary creativity.

Meat Production 

Quail dress out at roughly 75 percent of their live weight, and the yield will depend on the size and breed of your original bird. Though they’re more attractive roasted with skin on, plucking is very time-consuming for the amount of meat produced; for small-scale home consumption it’s generally recommended to skin the birds rather than pluck them. Since they’re so small, a single serving is generally considered to be 2 birds per person. This may seem like a lot, but remember that they only take 6-8 weeks to reach harvesting size, meaning that even incubating eggs in small batches you’ll have plenty of meals.

Have you ever owned quail? Share your tips on raising them in the section below:

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7 Little-Noticed Ways to Use Tree Bark for Survival

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7 Little-Noticed Ways to Use Tree Bark for Survival

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If you find yourself in a survival situation in the woods, you’re basically standing in a goldmine of potential resources, all of which are literally at your fingertips along the trunks of nearby trees. Knowing just how versatile tree bark can be might just save your life.

1. Cordage

Tree bark, specifically long strips of inner bark, can be wrapped or braided together to create durable and flexible cordage quickly. Simply cut away the flaky outer bark from a section of the tree, and then begin to peel the inner bark away in long strips. Don’t remove more than one-fourth of the bark around the tree, or the tree might not be able to survive. Longer cuts top to bottom are better than wider cuts going further around the tree.

Good tree species to try include cedar, aspen, basswood/linden, maple or willow.

2. Food

While eating tree bark may seem to be an act of desperation, it’s actually a traditional food in some cultures, eaten for its distinctive flavor even in times of plenty. The indigenous Sami people of northern Sweden use the inner bark of birch trees, first drying and then grinding it into a flour for baked goods.  It’s described as giving a “sweet woody aroma” to baked goods, and actually boasts 1,000-1,200 calories per kilogram.

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Pine bark is also used by northern Scandinavian people for food, and rather than being relegated to a famine food, there is historical evidence that rich, well-off families collected the largest amounts of the nutrient rich inner bark. While it is also commonly ground into flour, it can be eaten fresh during harvest and has a mild sweetness and texture similar to coconut meat. As an added bonus, it contains plenty of vitamin C to help ward off scurvy during the wintertime.

3. Medicine

While the medicinal properties of willow bark, the native source of Tylenol, are well-known, there are many other tree species that also have medicinal bark.

Witch hazel extract is an antibacterial wash made by cooking thin witch hazel branches on a slow simmer for many hours to extract the compounds in the wood and bark.

Beech bark tea is used to treat lung problems and was once used to treat illnesses as significant as tuberculosis. Even common apple tree bark has medicinal properties when used to treat fevers and diarrhea. For a more comprehensive list of medicinal tree bark, take a look at 10 Medicinal Trees that Heal Virtually Everything.

4. Basketry

The inner bark of basswood, elm, hickory, willow, ash and maple trees all can be used to weave sturdy and long-lasting basketry. Strip off the outer bark, and then peel the inner bark into long flexible strips. Roll up the bark strips for storage until you’re ready to begin working, and then rehydrate them with warm water to make them more workable before beginning to weave your basket.

5. Fire-starting

7 Little-Noticed Ways to Use Tree Bark for Survival

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Most devoted campers know that the outer bark from birch trees makes excellent fire-starting material.  It peels easily from the trees without harming them and is full of flammable resin that ignites easily.  Pine bark from dead pine trees also makes great tinder because of its flammable resin.

6. Cooking

Tree bark, especially from trees with flexible bark that comes off in large sheets, can be formed into cooking vessels and used to make just about any food you want. Well-moistened birch bark sheets can be used to create an impromptu wok for cooking over hot coals. Let the fire burn down to a thick layer of very hot coals, and then cover with ash to create a barrier. Place the well-moistened birch bark on top and cook your food on the clean hot surface.

Tree bark containers also were traditionally used for boiling maple sap into syrup, as well as storing the finished maple syrup for long periods of time (up to a year).

7. Bedding

In a survival situation, it’s essential to insulate yourself from the cold ground while sleeping to prevent hypothermia, even in relatively mild climates. Tree bark is an excellent insulator because it can be peeled in large sheets that can be flattened to create a smooth and comfortable surface. The corky nature of many species of bark also creates a natural insulation.

Do you know of other survival uses of tree bark? Share your tips in the section below:

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Foraging During Winter: 7 Cold-Hardy ‘Survival Plants’ That Could Save Your Life

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Foraging During Winter: 7 Hardy ‘Survival Plants’ That Could Save Your Live

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Winter is obviously not the best season for foraging for wild plant edibles, but in a survival situation there are many plant-based foods you can use to keep you eating even when prospects for wild game come up short.

With a little work learning what’s edible in your area, you’ll be prepared should you find yourself hungry and on your own in the dead of winter. Here are a few options available throughout the United States:

1. Frozen or fermented fruit

Though by January, apple season has been over for months, many types of apples hold their fruit on the tree all the way through winter, especially native crab apples. Some heirloom varieties of apples have been selected for their ability to hold fruit without dropping them well into cold weather. One such variety is D’Arcy Spice, which is traditionally picked in November months after most apples have dropped, and then stored hung from bags off the tree in winter. The apples themselves will freeze, and slowly begin to ferment into calorie-rich hard cider within their skins when the temperatures rise above freezing. Scientists believe that our ability to digest alcohol stems from the ancient practice of harvesting fermenting fruit in winter and early spring, and needing to get as many calories from it as possible.

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Foraging During Winter: 7 Hardy ‘Survival Plants’ That Could Save Your Live

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Other fruits also hang on the tree or vine through the winter include grapes and hawthorn fruit (an astringent native fruit, similar in some ways to a crab apple). For grapes, many wild species ripen long after birds have already migrated, and hang on the vines to be eaten by returning birds in the spring.

2. Water plants

Water has a buffering effect on temperature, and in less extreme climates the ground near small ponds may be workable during warm spells. That’s a good time to go looking for cattails, which can be identified by their dry stalks sticking up out of the water. Their roots are similar to potatoes and are a rich source of carbohydrates. Watercress growing along banks is also high in nutrients, though unfortunately low in calories. Together, steamed cattail roots and watercress can keep you going until your prospects improve.

3. Tree bark

Foraging During Winter: 7 Hardy ‘Survival Plants’ That Could Save Your Live

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The inner bark of many trees is easy to harvest and contains starchy calories that are easily accessed in winter with the use of a sharp knife or even a pointy rock or stick. Trees such as pine, aspen, beech, maple and linden are excellent choices, and some restaurants are jumping on the foraging bandwagon and making a pine bark bacon by marinating the inner bark in salt and spices before roasting it to a crisp in strips.

Though I’m sure pine bacon won’t fool a true carnivore, it’s something that might add a bit of comfort to an otherwise dire situation, and perhaps help you forget that you’re actually eating bark to survive.

4. Wild berries

While many softer fruits are long since eaten by birds or rotted away, some berries hang on through the winter and are a welcome calorie and nutrient source if you can locate them. Teaberries are the fruit of the wintergreen plant, a creeping forest ground cover. The berries remain edible all winter and can be found in melted patches of the forest floor. Cranberries, similarly, remain tasty all winter and can often be found as late as June of the following year still clinging to the low-trailing stems. Rose hips are a bit astringent, but generally hold on roses, wild or propagated, throughout winter and can help fight off vitamin C deficiency.

5. Nuts

Image source: Public Domain Pictures

Image source: Public Domain Pictures

If you’re winter tree identification skills are decent, you can find acorns, butternuts and black walnuts by digging in the snow at the base of those trees. Take care to identify those trees ahead of time, noting the distinctive branching pattern of the butternuts and black walnuts, as well as the diamond bark pattern particularly prominent on butternuts.

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Once you know how to spot them, they’ll likely be a great high calorie mid-winter food source anywhere squirrel populations are not exceptionally high.

6. Biennial roots

Biennial roots, or the roots of plants that store energy in the first year for seed production in the second year, are a great source of calories in the winter in milder climates where the soil can be worked. Good examples include burdock, wild parsnip, wild carrot (also known as Queen Anne’s Lace), Jerusalem artichokes, thistle root and dandelion.

7. Winter hardy greens

Many nutrient-rich salad wild greens do not die back in winter. They keep their leaves and pause growth during cold and snow-covered spells only to continue growing when temperatures warm slightly or snow cover melts off briefly even in mid-winter. Good examples include sorrel, chickweed, miner’s lettuce and watercress. While they’re not calorie-rich, they can help to balance a diet based on starchy roots or meat by providing micro-nutrients, and help to boost moral by giving you a taste of spring even in the coldest parts of the winter.

What would you add to the list? Share your winter foraging tips in the section below:

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3 ‘Survival Crops’ That Store (Naturally) More Than 1 Year

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3 ‘Survival Crops’ That Store (Naturally) More Than 1 Year

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If you’re growing or foraging your own food for winter storage, there are plenty of options for keeping your family fed in the early days of winter. Many root crops, fruits and greens can keep for a few months cool and out of direct sun, even without a proper root cellar.

As the winter presses on, though, options start to dwindle and there are fewer and fewer choices in dependable home-raised crops that will take you all the way through the hunger gap into the first productive days of late spring and early summer. Nonetheless, humans survived millennia without refrigeration and long-term food shipments, so there’s plenty to get your family by.

There are multiple reasons you should look into long-term storage crops. What if spring and early summer crops fail? What happens when a full summer’s worth of crops fail and you’re heading into winter again, with just what you still have on hand?

In 2013 the Northeast experienced record rainfall and cloud cover in June, meaning that the growing conditions were more like an average northeast November. Crops rotted in the ground, and normally dependable summer and long-season fall crops were delayed by months or could not be grown at all. Looking back further, the year 1816 was dubbed “the year without a summer” because a volcanic eruption caused widespread climate problems, and many areas experienced blizzards and hard frosts literally every single month of the year.

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Of course, you also could pressure can, salt cure or dehydrate food to increase storage life, all of which require either special equipment or considerable time and effort to ensure that a food that would otherwise spoil stays palatable for longer than it would on its own.

There is a better way. By selecting foods that naturally store for extended periods of time without specialized effort or processing, you ensure survival and food security with minimal extra effort and in general minimize your consumption of processed foods of any sort. There’s something to be said for providing your own home grown, long-term food security, all without the need of special equipment or elaborate processing.

1. Nuts

3 ‘Survival Crops’ That Store (Naturally) More Than 1 Year

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While annual gardens and fruit orchards tend to get a lot of attention for providing food self-sufficiency, nut trees are a great investment to provide a stable fat and protein source to balance out your family’s diet. They have the added benefit of a long storage life, especially at cool temperatures.   All nuts keep best unroasted and left in the shell.

Hazelnuts, a high-yielding, easy-to-grow home crop, can keep up to two years held between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (in a cool unheated basement), or for just over a year at 50-60 (F) degrees in a back closet on the north side of your house in cooler regions. They have the added benefit of being one of the most versatile nuts, because they can be grown anywhere between zone 4 and 9 successfully. There are even some zone 3 cultivars.

Pecans come in second place in nut shelf life, and can keep just over a year at cool, unheated basement temperatures. Very high fat nuts such as walnuts don’t keep quite as well as the others, but remain good for 9-12 months at cool temperatures.

Be sure to check your nuts for rancidity by smell before eating them. Nevertheless, rancid or not, it won’t harm you to eat them during an emergency situation as long as they don’t have visible mold or pest infestation.

2. Dried corn and beans

3 ‘Survival Crops’ That Store (Naturally) More Than 1 Year

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While many forms of grain and staple legumes store for extended periods of time, dry corn and beans are the most practical for growing and processing at home without equipment. Beans and corn can be harvested, cleaned, dried and stored all by hand without specialized equipment, unlike other grains such as wheat. If dried thoroughly to a low moisture content and kept cool, home dried corn and beans can last 2-3 years, without the need to invest in long-term storage options like vacuum sealing and oxygen absorbers. With the additional investment to reduce or eliminate oxygen, corn and beans can hold successfully for up to 10 years.

3. Honey and maple

Natural sweeteners like honey and maple are full of beneficial enzymes and micro-nutrients, not to mention a ready source of calories, and they boast considerable shelf lives. Honey, if kept uncontaminated and well-sealed from moisture, can last at room temperature indefinitely. Maple syrup, packaged very hot into glass jars such Mason jars, has very long shelf life potential – upwards of 50 year or more. Maple manufacturers recommend a storage life in glass of no more than four years for optimum flavor, assuming the jar is unopened. Maple stored in plastic jugs should not be kept more than 1-2 years, and metal jugs are only rated for six months of storage life.

What would you add to our list? Are there other foods you grow and store for long-term survival? Share your tips in the section below:

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11 Crazy-But-Practical Uses For Wood Ash (Got Pets? Try No. 5)

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11 Crazy-But-Practical Uses For Wood Ash (Got Pets? Try No. 5)

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When heating with wood in the winter, you’ll inevitably have a surplus of wood ash. Thankfully, wood ash has a lot of great uses around the home, and once you begin putting it to use, you may be wishing you had more of it available.

1. Melting ice

The leftover ash from wood is made up of nutrients that are not volatilized by fire, including many forms of salt. That salt isn’t quite table salt, but is made up of other charged ionic compounds such as calcium. These function to melt ice on pathways in much the same way as commercial ice melt compounds, but without the danger to pets and damaging effects on the soil. Sprinkle a little on icy paths and driveways to melt ice and improve traction. Just keep in mind that you’ll likely have dirty boots as a result.

2. Fertilizer

The carbon burns off in your wood stove, leaving mineral-rich ash that is especially high in calcium. Calcium-loving plants can get a big boost with an application of wood ash in the spring, and it’s especially effective for tomatoes and asparagus. Wood ash is alkaline, so it is not appropriate for low rainfall areas out west with naturally alkaline soils, and also should be avoided around acid-loving plants such as blueberries.

3. Homestead soap making

Our ancestors didn’t have commercially produced lye, but they did have soap. How did they do it? Anthropologists believe that soap was invented when a nomadic tribe tried cooking meat over an open fire near a stream, and when the animal fat dripped into the wood ash it was saponified (turned into soap) before running into the water source. The people noticed the suds, and soon learned that clothing washed downstream of a cooking fire came out cleaner. A simple soap can be made by boiling hard wood ashes with a little rain water and animal fat.

4. Dust bath for poultry

Wood ash is an especially effective anti-parasite agent for poultry, and providing them with a dry ash corner in their coop or yard is a great way to encourage them to dust bath and remove their own parasites naturally.

5. Flea and tick removal for pets

11 Crazy-But-Practical Uses For Wood Ash (Got Pets? Try No. 5)While poultry will voluntarily dust bath in ash to remove parasites, your dog and cat will take some more convincing.

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Saving wood ash to dust into the fur of your pets throughout the year can be an effective way to control fleas and ticks. Just remember that your pets, especially cats, may not always be willing to cooperate.

6. Remove odors

Wood ash works much the same way that baking soda does to absorb ambient odors, and a small container in the refrigerator or root cellar can keep odors down if things spoil. It’s also a great way to remove skunk odor from yourself, your loved ones or your pets.

7. Deter vermin

Rats, mice, ants and roaches hate wood ash, and a sprinkling in the dark corners of your house and the back of your cupboard will help keep them out of those hard-to-reach places.

8. Compost nutrient boost

Adding wood ash to your compost heap can help increase the mineral nutrients to promote faster decomposition and a higher nutrient value at the end. It’s especially good at breaking down hard-to-compost items such as orange peels, corn cobs and banana peels. Place those items in a bed of wood ash to break down before adding them to your general compost heap. Be careful, as too much ash can change the pH balance and make your compost too alkaline, possibly ruining it. Use ash in your compost bins with caution.

9. Control algae

Small amounts of wood ash in ponds can control algae by giving regular pond plants a boost, just enough to outcompete the algae and keep the pond water clear. Keep in mind that you’ll only need a small amount. Most recommend 1 tablespoon per 1,000 gallons of water, and if you can’t accurately calculate your pond volume, use with caution and add small amounts, waiting for results.

10. Clean glass and silver

The small particles in wood ash make a great gentle abrasive that helps to clean silver dishes, silverware and jewelry, and is also used on a wet sponge to clean the glass on wood stove doors.

11. Control garden pests

Slugs and snails are deterred by wood ash because it contains non-sodium salts that can dehydrate and kill them. Dust around vulnerable plant beds in your garden to naturally keep them under control.

Do you know of other uses for wood ash? Share your ideas in the section below:

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6 Dirt-Cheap, Low-Tech Ways To Water Animals During Winter

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6 Dirt-Cheap, Low-Tech Ways To Water Animals During Winter

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Watering animals in the winter can be a huge headache for both small-scale homesteaders and large-scale farmers, especially if you’re off-grid. Certain animals, like dairy cows, need lots of water to keep up production. Producing 10-plus gallons of milk per day means they have to drink a lot more than 10 gallons of water. At the same time, water can be dangerous and create slippery conditions for animals like pigs and ducks that are prone to climb in and spill their buckets.

The most common tactic used by livestock owners is to try and keep water from freezing. This can be more daunting than you realize. Commercial farms water their animals in centralized tanks that can be heated electrically, but that may not be an option for a small-scale or off-grid homesteader. Propane heaters are one potentially good, automatic off-grid option, but they can be dangerous if the pilot light goes out or if they are not adequately protected from the animals themselves. A number of other options are listed here.

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But there are a few low-tech ways to keep the water from freezing without a big investment.

1. Hauling warm water

For some animals, the best way to ensure they have water is to haul in fresh water every single day. Chickens and rabbits are small and require relatively little water per day, and can easily be managed off-grid by bringing them fresh water daily. For larger animals, you’ll want to employ one of the low-tech strategies below to keep the water fresh longer, meaning that you’ll only have to water them every few days or only need to provide a small amount of water each day, saving a lot of labor and time.

2. Raised water platforms

The cold ground robs heat from water buckets placed directly upon it. Raising your watering station even a few inches off the ground can keep it from freezing in milder weather. Try a suspended water system for chickens, or a bucket latched to the barn wall for larger animals such as pigs. Even a few inches can make a big difference.

3. Watering indoors

6 Dirt-Cheap, Low-Tech Ways To Water Animals During Winter

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By watering the animals indoors, even in an unheated structure, the protection from the elements will keep the water in a liquid state much longer. Insulating both the structure and the water tank will further delay the water’s freezing, and may mean that you only need to bring fresh liquid water every few days.

4. Passive compost heating

The water also can be passively heated with the use of active compost. Place a water trough near a corner of the structure, and then each time the pen is cleaned, toss manure behind and around the trough to keep the water insulated with the manure — and perhaps even heated if the manure is in the right balance to make it hot. Remember to keep a clean path to the water by only piling on three sides of the trough.

5. Watering in feed

For animals like pigs and chickens, wetting down their food into a warm mash is a great way to prevent dehydration on an otherwise dry ration, and to help reduce feed waste, as well. Pig feed crumbles and much of it can be lost to dust if it’s not wet into a slurry. Adding a bucket of hot water to the feed will encourage the animals to consume all the feed while keeping them hydrated. But they can’t get quite all the water they need in feed, so making sure they have a good supply of liquid water (or snow if appropriate) is still important.

6. Watering with snow

Knowing that deer survive all winter outdoors without a liquid water source can help encourage you to provide snow to your animals to supplement their water supply. As long as there is ample fresh snow that hasn’t been packed down into ice or covered with excrement, many animals, including horses and ducks, can do quite well. Fussy animals, such as many (but not all) breeds of chicken may refuse to eat snow, even to the point of dying of dehydration before leaving the warmth of their coop. You’ll need to evaluate on a case-by-case basis based on the temperament and breed of your animals, and even if they readily eat snow, it’s still a good idea to bring them a small bucket of warm water daily to make sure they’re staying well-hydrated. Dairy animals producing a significant amount of extra liquid in the form of milk will still require daily supplementation with a large supply of water.

When Not to Water

Believe it or not, there are some animals that should not be watered when temperatures are below freezing, such as water fowl. Ducks and geese love fresh water, but they use it more for bathing than drinking. No matter how small the outlet, ducks may thrash against it to create a puddle to bathe in, which will satisfy them temporarily, but if the temperatures are more than just a few degrees below freezing, they’re likely to create an ice slick, gluing themselves to the ground by their chest feathers and feet. Once they realize their predicament, they’ll thrash and injure themselves, often mortally. To avoid these risks, only provide fresh water to water fowl on days when the temps are above freezing. Otherwise, make sure they have an ample supply of fresh snow, even if it means shoveling it in from outside of their yard.

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6 Indoor Homestead Projects To Keep You Busy All Winter

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6 Indoor Homestead Projects To Keep You Busy All Winter

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Homesteading doesn’t have to stop just because it’s winter. The garden may be put up, and the outdoor projects put on hold, but there are many useful ways to keep your hands busy and pass the time all winter long.

Here are six ideas:

1. Bee hives.

Constructing bee hives and honey frames is a simple, but very time consuming process – and winter is the perfect time for it. If you plan to keep bees during the spring, you’ll have to start early to get all of your equipment assembled in time. If you’re not an advanced woodworker, it’s common (and cost effective) to buy all of the hive pieces already cut, but you’ll still need to assemble them. Hive boxes need to be nailed together, glued and painted, but the real work comes in assembling the tiny fragile honey frames and attaching a paper thin wax foundation where the bees will begin their work. A simple work bench, a tiny hammer, and box upon box of tiny brad nails are all you need for tools. You’ll then need patience and time as each of anywhere between 40 and 60 frames are assembled for each hive you plan to keep.

2. Crochet blankets.

6 Indoor Homestead Projects To Keep You Busy All Winter

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Perhaps one of the easiest crafts to learn, basic crochet is great for anyone with two hands who can count to three. Simple repetitive motions help you feel productive as you sit by the fire to pass the time. Working on larger crochet blankets has the added benefit that it, by definition, keeps a blanket (the part which you’ve finished thus far) on your lap, helping you stay warm. There are dozens of beginner blankets online, easy enough to be made by grade school children.  Once you’ve mastered the basics, the sky’s the limit and projects can become more complex if you choose. Or, keep it simple, and pull out that half-finished blanket each winter for slow additions that keep you warm while you work.

3. Felted hats.

While you spent most of the summer trying to keep things in your life, literally and figuratively, from tangling, felting is just the opposite. When felting, your goal is to get wool to tangle intentionally into an attractive shape such as a warm wool-felted hat that can last a lifetime. If you’re intimidated by the complicated patterns and precision required for knitting, perhaps give felting a try.

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While there are a number of ways to felt wool, wet felting is a great way to start. The simplest projects layer wet wool on top of a child’s ball, wrap it to keep it in place, and then have you bounce the ball around the house. The impact causes the wet fibers to tangle. Needle felting is also an option, and the wool is placed over a foam hat form, and stabbed repeatedly with specialized barbed felting needles that hook the wool and tangle it into layers.

4. Hooked rugs.

In a cabin mid-winter, regardless how warm the air is from the wood stove, a cold floor will dampen your mood and make you acutely aware of the winter chill. Hooked rugs are a simple way to keep your feet warm while adding an attractive accent to any room. The process is simple. Beginning with a backing such as burlap, you use a rug-hooking hook that looks a bit like a very small metal crochet hook to pull loops of cut wool strips through the burlap. Each loop forms a loop in the rug, either small, tight and compact, or big and fluffy. While rug hooking is physically very easy, having the artistic vision to take small loops of wool and design an attractive masterpiece can be a bit of a challenge. Start with simple patterns and designs, and soon enough you’ll be ready to tackle more complicated artistry, such as the elaborate shaded flowers so common in antique hooked rugs.

5. Soap making.

6 Indoor Homestead Projects To Keep You Busy All Winter

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As a hot stove-top task with shelf-stable ingredients, soap making is an ideal wintertime task. If you’re looking for the most basic home soap craft, then try melt-and-pour soaps. Just melt the soap down and pour it into a beautiful custom mold to create unique gifts for your family. Once you’ve mastered molding your own soaps, try making cold process soap, which involves mixing lye and a fat base, including anything from fancy store-bought almond oil or shea butter, or simply making a basic tallow soap out of your own rendered fat. While you’ll need to be conscious of safety — using eye protection, gloves, long sleeves and working in a well-ventilated area — soap making is easy to learn at home.

6. Home remedies.

Winter is a great time to bolster your supply of home remedies. Tinctures that start with dried herbs and alcohol need only a cool dark place and time to extract. Herbal teas can be mixed, and recipes refined to combine good taste with the medicinal properties you’re seeking. Beyond these simple tasks, there are also more complicated remedies, like healing salves, that take time, heat and patience. Salves start by infusing herbs into oils, such as olive, almond or sunflower. Those infused oils are then mixed with emulsifying wax to make them into smooth creams or solid lotion bars and lip balms. These topical remedies can be used all year round and are a great way not only to keep your hands busy in winter, but also to keep them moisturized.

What winter projects would you add to the list? Share your tips in the section below:

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7 Reasons An Outdoor Boiler Is Just Plain Better Than A Wood Stove

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7 Reasons An Outdoor Boiler Is Just Better Than A Wood Stove

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Heating your home with an outdoor wood boiler can be a great way to save both time and money during the winter months. Modern fossil fuel-based heat methods are almost always more expensive than wood, which can be sustainably harvested from your own land or purchased for a modest sum. Outdoor boilers allow you more flexibility than wood stoves, since they can burn almost any type of wood and help keep your house clean by leaving all of the bark, dirt and bugs outside.

Here are seven reasons you should consider an outdoor boiler:

1. Greater efficiency.

Outdoor wood boilers are often referred to as “wood gasifiers” because they technically burn the wood twice, extracting extra BTUs of heat energy that are otherwise lost up the chimney in a traditional wood stove. In the initial burn chamber, wood is burned as it would be normally, and the energy begins heating a thermal reservoir that will be piped to your house. The gas created in the initial burn chamber is then “re-burned” to extract additional heat energy from the volatilized gasses produced by the initial burn.

2. Works with softwood or hardwood.

Since the wood gasses are burned more efficiently in an outdoor boiler, you’re able to burn softwood, including fir, white pine, cedar and hemlock, all of which are dangerous to burn indoors in a normal wood stove. The re-burn helps prevent buildup in the chimney, and lowers the risk of chimney fire when burning soft woods. Still, it’s important to keep your chimney clean with a thorough sweeping each year.

3. Warm floors.

When you’re warming the air in your home, often you still feel cold as you walk around on cold floors. With an outdoor wood boiler, you use the heat generated for radiant floor heating, meaning that the floors stay toasty warm and slowly diffuse the heat into the room.

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This means more consistent warmth, as the heat slowly diffuses throughout the room and helps keep your home at a constantly comfortable temperature.

4. Cleaner household.

7 Reasons An Outdoor Boiler Is Just Better Than A Wood Stove

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An outdoor wood boiler means that all the mess, dirt, bark and bugs that accompany firewood stay outside in the boiler shed rather than coming into your house. Unless you have extra money to burn on clean kiln dried bug-free firewood, firewood in the house means extra mess in the house. Some homesteaders store wood in the basement, but that can create another problem in that it can continue to dry and release moisture in your basement – creating mold and health issues.

5. Less wood hauling.

With both the wood and the heat source outdoors, wood can be split and stacked once, outside under cover and ready for use, rather than having to be hauled indoors before burning. It’s already enough work to haul wood out of the woodlot; keeping it outdoors saves you a lot of time and a few slips on the ice during winter time.

6. Less cutting & splitting.

Outdoor boilers are generally much larger than in-home wood stoves, allowing you to use longer lengths of firewood. This means less cutting and splitting for the same amount of wood — a great labor savings! Feel free to use wood as long as your boiler will hold, but make sure that the wood is still split into small pieces, as the boiler will work much more efficiently if the wood is kept to a manageable size, avoiding wasted space and extra empty air pockets in the burn chamber.

7. Safer.

Indoor wood stoves are dependable and generally easy to work, but they can be hazardous to small children playing nearby because of the direct heat source. They also pose a risk of chimney fire, which can catch and quickly spread throughout the house.

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With an outdoor boiler, the risk is outdoors — and in a completely different building. They’re also generally safer because the re-burn process helps prevent chimney fires. Nonetheless, avoid burning garbage or excess paper in your boiler, which can send flaming ash into the pipe and potentially start a fire.

Downside of an Outdoor Boiler

There are also a few downsides to heating with an outdoor wood boiler. A traditional wood stove does not require electricity, while a wood boiler requires electricity to run both a fan to keep the gasifier functioning efficiently as well as pumps to conduct the heat to your house. With a little home ingenuity, both of these can be wired to run on DC power straight from off-grid batteries, but it’s still wise to have a backup wood stove in the house just in case power is out for an extended period of time.

The second major drawback is cost. While they’re inexpensive to maintain, the initial investment can be sizable. It’ll pay you back in efficiency and the ability to burn low-cost wood in the future, but in the short term be prepared to lay out some cash to get your outdoor boiler installed.

Have you ever used a wood boiler? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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6 Guaranteed Ways To Boost Egg Production During Winter

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6 Guaranteed Ways To Boost Egg Production During Winter

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1. Light

Chickens need at least 14 hours of daylight in a day to trigger their internal clocks to lay. By supplementing light, as is done in commercial production houses, you can trick a chicken’s internal clock to think it’s spring so that they keep laying all winter long. Be sure to turn your light off at night when you go to bed to give them rest, but even a few extra hours of light in the evening can make a huge difference in production.

2. Food

In the winter months, chickens are using a lot of the calories they get from food for warmth. In order to lay eggs and stay warm at the same time, they need more protein than they normally would during the summer. Add in the fact that they don’t have ready access to bugs or grass in the winter, and you’ll need to supplement their food to keep them happy, entertained and productive throughout the winter months.

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Generic egg-laying feed generally contains 16 percent protein, while in the winter to increase egg production you’ll want to aim for 18 to 20 percent. A small amount of high protein scratch feed every day or every other day will get the ladies up and moving and provide them extra calories. Homesteaders have reported that once given adequate light, adding in scratch feeding doubled their daily egg production.

3. Liquid water

Egg production takes a lot of water, both in the metabolic process for the chicken and in the egg itself. In order to keep laying, chickens will need a ready source of fresh, liquid water. While they can technically survive on an ample supply of fluffy snow, they won’t lay with that as their only water source. Chickens will eat snow to survive, but it’s not in their best interest. In warmer climates, keep the water liquid by bringing in fresh warm water every day and placing it up above the ground by 6-8 inches. In colder climates, heated water sources can help but might be impractical for those living off-grid. Try bringing them small amounts of warm water several times a day if possible, and giving them at least one wet meal a day by soaking some of their food in water or milk.

4. Sprouted green fodder

6 Guaranteed Ways To Boost Egg Production During Winter

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Growing your own small scale animal fodder has increased in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. When seed grains are sprouted, they shed their protective enzymes and convert otherwise inedible starches to sugar. Feeding your chickens fresh sprouted fodder will not only endear them to you, but it also will provide nutrients they’re otherwise lacking outside of the growing season.

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To sprout barley seeds, pop a few holes into an aluminum baking tray (or plastic tote) and spread an even thin layer of barley seeds. Water them daily, ensuring that the extra water drains out the holes (to prevent mold and mildew). Place them in a warm sunny spot, indoors, until the grains have grown a thick lawn, about four to five inches high. At that point, you can peel out hunks of fresh barley “sod” for your chickens each day. Lacking fresh green fodder, try throwing them a chunk of alfalfa hay each day, which will provide many of the same results, though be slightly less appealing to the birds.

5. The right breed

While heritage breeds may be attractive if you’re looking for dual-purpose birds worth culling out for the dinner table, in truth the best egg production comes from modern compact bodied commercial hybrid birds. There are many breeds that are available to the home farmer that tend to be more productive than others, including Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns. For a good general list of productive breeds, read “The Eight Best Egg Laying Breeds of Backyard Chickens.”

6. Stagger bird ages

Egg production peaks in most breeds of chicken somewhere between six and 18 months of age. At 18 to 24 months, chickens will naturally take a break from laying to molt and replenish their feathers. They’ll come back to laying at a slightly lower rate for another year or two, and then egg production will drop off dramatically as the chicken ages. To keep a consistent supply of eggs, you’ll need birds of staggered ages to ensure that some are in their peak laying period while others are taking time off to molt. For most breeds of chicken, they’re ready for egg laying retirement at the age of three. While they’ll often keep laying one to two eggs a week throughout their lifespan (often six to eight years), you’ll be feeding them the same ration for 1-2 eggs a week as you feed your younger ladies for 5-6 per week.

What advice would you add? Do you try boosting egg production during winter – or do you give your chickens the winter off? Share your thoughts on this topic in the section below:

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6 Surprising Luxuries You Didn’t Know You Could Run Off-Grid

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6 Surprising Luxuries You Didn’t Know You Could Run Off-Grid

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Before moving off-grid, I had a lot of preconceived notions about what “off-grid living” meant. Say goodbye to grandma’s antique 1000-watt waffle iron, put away the power tools and don’t even think about a dishwasher … right? Well, not really.

While “off-grid” can mean living without electricity and hauling water and all of your meals on a wood stove, it doesn’t necessarily have to.

To my surprise, with a small rooftop array on an off-grid cabin in rural Vermont, we’re able to enjoy more luxuries than the average suburban home has available. Even in a cold northern climate, there’s more than enough free solar energy at least 8 to 9 months of the year to power things you might not consider owning with the expense of grid-purchased electricity. Add in a wind turbine to collect energy from winter storms, and you may be set up for quite the life of luxury.

1. Whirlpool bath tub

For off-grid homes, a whirlpool bathtub can be a great way to relax after a long day working in the woods. While it may not be an option most of the winter except on the sunniest days, March through October is whirlpool bath season. Imagine relaxing comfortably, submerged up to your neck with jets flowing all around you after an eight-hour session hauling logs and splitting wood. Some of that wood, once dried, went into your wood-fired boiler to heat the water for your tub, and the surplus electricity generated throughout the day while you were outdoors is powering your evening tub.

2. Dishwasher

Believe it or not, a dishwasher can be a great way to utilize solar electricity during peak hours. Unless you happen to live where a gravity well is an option, a water pump uses a significant amount of electricity.

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6 Surprising Luxuries You Didn’t Know You Could Run Off-Grid

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If doing dishes by hand, the best time to run water is mid-day when production is at its peak. The question is: Do you want to spend the most beautiful part of the day trapped indoors with your hands in a sink, or do you want to be outside enjoying the fruits of your off-grid life? By wiping off your dishes and loading the dishwasher in the evening, all it takes is a second to turn on the dishwasher mid-day when you come in for a lunch-time break.

3. Internet

While a complete off-grid lifestyle is practical for a tradesman, what about those of us who were raised in a city and still need to make a living through a more “on-grid” line of work? While wired broadband is becoming more available in rural areas, the more remote areas still do not have those options. If you happen to be in an area covered by cell service, there are options for cellular-powered wireless adapters for computer use. In a slightly more remote area, there may be radio Internet options that still allow high-speed connection by routing the signal through a series or mountaintop towers, as is commonly available in rural parts of the northeast. For those in true wilderness, satellite Internet is remarkably dependable in all but the stormiest of weather.

4. Radiant floor heat

While an indoor wood stove is an exceptionally practical and dependable way to heat a home without electricity, it requires quality hardwood to burn to avoid chimney fires from softwood creosote buildup. For those living in conifer or hemlock forests, an outdoor boiler might be a better way to use your available resources. Fortunately, with the super-efficient models on the market today, they only require minor retrofits to run directly off battery power. A small inverter placed within your boiler shed to power the boiler fan, and the use of DC electric (directly battery powered) pumps to circulate your water or antifreeze, and you have a low-energy solution and warm radiant floors to boot. Still, make sure you have an electricity-free form of heat to get you through the worst storms, but most days your boiler will keep you toasty on just a small amount of softwood.

5. Dehumidifier or air conditioner

6 Surprising Luxuries You Didn’t Know You Could Run Off-Grid

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Really? A compressor on solar power? Yes! Peak summer heat and humidity often coincide with peak solar output. Around the summer solstice, our battery bank will be full by mid-day, meaning that a whole afternoon’s production will be wasted without an outlet.

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Once you’ve done all your electricity-using chores, go ahead and switch on the dehumidifier or air conditioner with your free electricity. Obviously you need to monitor closely to make sure it doesn’t stay on past peak solar output, but that’s a small consideration for a free burst of comfort during the heat of the day.

6. Electric cooking appliances

While many homesteaders are building summer kitchens to keep the heat out of the house during hot months, solar-powered homesteaders have the option of setting up an electric-powered kitchen either indoors or outdoors for the summer months. Single burner induction ranges can bring a large canning pot to a boil in no time, and will barely dent our mid-day production at high summer. A small countertop electric oven, like an oversized toaster oven, is great for baking summer pies or a quick meal using free electricity. Just as wood stove cooking accomplishes two tasks, heat and food, a separate set of solar-powered summer appliances means lower bills and quick meals.

What luxuries would you add to our list? Share your off-grid advice in the section below:

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8 Common-But-Foolish Mistakes Chicken Owners Make (Please, Don’t Do No. 4)

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8 Common & Foolish Mistakes Chicken Owners Make (Please, Don’t Do No. 4)

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1. Too many (or too few) roosters.

It’s true that you don’t need a rooster to harvest eggs, but a gentleman tends to keep the ladies happier and helps to break up domestic squabbles between the hens. He’ll also alert them to good forage and save it for his ladies to win favor. That said, too many roosters can cause territory disputes and lead to abused hens. A good ratio is one rooster to every 8-12 hens.

2. Inadequate protection from predators.

They don’t say “smart as a fox” for nothing. Predators are intelligent, and if they’re not they don’t make it very long. Chicken owners need to plan in advance to protect their flock. Raccoons have been known to break through mesh chicken wire, or simply reach through and kill birds through the fence. Weasels, believe it or not, can slip through the small holes. Hardware cloth is better to use for a chicken’s overnight housing. They’ll also need protection from digging predators, such as foxes and coyotes, as well as climbing predators such as raccoons, that can carry a hen with them over the fence. Make sure the coop is fully protected top to bottom, and don’t underestimate your predators. If all else fails, a trusty .22 is usually plenty to deal with unwelcome guests.

3. No access to forage.

8 Common & Foolish Mistakes Chicken Owners Make (Please, Don’t Do No. 4)

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The healthiest eggs come from chickens allowed to access forage. Chickens, while they do love their greens, are not (by any means) vegetarians. Even a brain as simple as a chicken’s brain needs stimulation from finding and hunting for food, and bugs are excellent entertainment and nutrition. Chickens living on a diet of corn/soy mush from the feed store are a sure way to harvest the status quo boring egg you can buy at the grocery store. Let your chickens forage, and they’ll thank you for it with tastier and more nutritious eggs.

4. No retirement plan.

All too often, classified ads have listings for “free chickens, 3 years old, no longer laying regularly, to a good home only, not the stew pot.” If you’re going to own chickens and raise them for eggs, you need to be realistic about their productive life span.

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Chickens produce best in the first three years of life, and after that their production drops off drastically. They generally live for 7-10 years, which is a long unproductive lifespan to feed your retirees. Trying to give away the problem to others and insisting that they go to a “happy farm” rather than the stew pot is unrealistic. If you want your chickens to live a long and happy life, you’ll have to support your pensioners yourself as pets, or know that their next best fate is the stew pot.

5. Too small of a coop.

You’ll need to plan a little extra space for chickens too young to lay while they grow into adults, but before you’ve retired out your older hens. If you retire your hens before the new batch comes in, you’ll have a long wait without eggs as the younger hens come of age. Planning for a coop that’s 1.5 to 2 times the size you expect to need is a great way to ensure that you can cycle your flock, and expand it without cost if your needs change later on.

6. Using recycled material.

8 Common & Foolish Mistakes Chicken Owners Make (Please, Don’t Do No. 4)

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While it may be tempting to hack together a nearly free structure from recycled materials, make sure you’re picky about what you use. Hens tend to peck loose or peeling paint, and those old recycled “free” boards covered in lead paint that you picked up beside the side of the road may come back to haunt your family in the form of lead poisoning. Be sure that any material you choose is free of chemical treatment, old lead paint, rusty nails, and ideally is smooth wood without splinters or rough edges, both for your safety and ease of cleaning and painting down the road.

7. Not counting your chickens.

Though they say you shouldn’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, after they’re hatched is a whole different story. Each night when your chickens are put in, they should be counted to make sure everyone has come in safely. One may have been picked off by a predator during the day, and you don’t want that to happen several days in a row before you notice.

8. Not checking local ordinances.

In most places in the country, backyard chickens are perfectly legal, but it never hurts to check your local ordinances. Many towns have rules against keeping roosters (as noise prevention) or keeping more than a very small number. To prevent fines and headaches later, check the rules, and if they don’t meet your needs, work with your town council to change them. Backyard chickens are becoming more accepted even in urban areas as people move toward self-sufficiency, and if your town doesn’t allow them, maybe it’s time for a change.

What are the biggest mistakes you have seen made with chickens? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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The Easiest Ways To Harvest Down Feathers

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The Easiest Ways To Harvest Down Feathers

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Raising ducks and geese can be rewarding — in many ways. They’re social animals that play out a backyard soap opera on a daily basis. Many species of ducks produce just as many eggs as your average chicken, but they’re much larger and richer than chicken eggs.

They’re also generally excellent, devoted mothers, and if you’re not careful a single duck can raise two clutches of 12-16 babies in a single year. That leaves you with a common duck owner problem: overpopulation. An overpopulation of ducks can be quite the blessing if you’re prepared to harvest the rich, beef-like meat from your home duck flock, with the added benefit of harvesting insulating feathers for homemade down pillows, blankets and jackets.

Plucking

The trickiest part about harvesting water birds is the plucking. When plucking chickens, most people scald the birds in 145-degree water to cause the base of the feathers to loosen, allowing them to be easily hand plucked without much effort, or mechanically plucked in a home use drum plucker in about 30 seconds.

Plucking ducks or geese can be a bit more complicated. Their feathers are water-resistant, and they’ve worked hard throughout their life to preen them into an insulated waterproof barrier. Drop them into a scalding bucket, and the water won’t reach the skin to loosen the feathers. Some people recommend dousing them in a mild dish detergent to break up their natural water-proofing oils so that the water can penetrate, but in reality that just creates a soapy mess and doesn’t make the feathers any easier to pluck.

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The fact that wetting ducks through scalding doesn’t make plucking them any easier means that hand-dry plucking is both easier and cleaner, which is good news for pillow fans. The feathers stay dry and clean with the dry plucking process, making them easy to store until you have enough to make your own down crafts.

Preparing to Pluck

If you’re expecting to harvest down from your birds, make sure you provide them fresh clean water to bath in before harvest. The birds love preening and cleaning themselves, and will do all the cleaning work for you if you give them the right tools. Supply them fresh clean water in a small kids pool or large rubber feed tub on a clean surface (think lawn or cement, rather than dirt that will get muddy). Give the birds a short break period (10-20 minutes) in a dry clean area to dry off before harvesting, because damp feathers can mold in storage.

If during the harvest process the feathers become soiled by just about anything (blood, excrement, etc.), simply wipe the bird down with a damp cloth until the feathers are clean and then make sure to allow them to dry thoroughly before plucking and storing the feathers.

Selecting Feathers

The Easiest Ways To Harvest Down Feathers

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Roughly 20 percent of the feathers on a duck or goose are considered “down,” and they’re easiest to harvest from the underside of the bird, on the stomach, breast, thighs and upper legs. Larger, tougher wing feathers are not appropriate for use. For home use, there’s a big gray area as to how big a feather you can use and still keep the pillow comfortable. Some of the feathers on the upper back between the wings can help fill out a pillow and keep it fluffy, but may not have the insulating power of down for a comforter or jacket.

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Commercially, the “100 percent down” label is reserved for items containing only the finest 20 percent of the bird down feathers. Other items labeled just “down” may contain other larger feathers as well, and are much less expensive to purchase. You’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference in a pillow, but keep in mind that feathers insulate less well than down.

How Much Down Can You Harvest?

While being very selective and using only the finest of down (20 percent of the bird), it takes about 12 Wild Canadian Geese to make a single standard-sized pillow. Domestic geese can be up to two to three times as large as their wild cousins, and it only takes 6-8 domestic geese to make a 100 percent down pillow. Using some slightly larger, but still soft feathers from the back and thighs of the birds, a single pillow can be made from as few as 3-4 domestic geese.

Likewise, it takes 40-55 geese to make a 100 percent down king-sized comforter, and it would likewise take a bit over half that number of domestic birds, roughly 20 to 30, to make a king-sized comforter.

Goose down is more resilient and durable than duck down, and has better insulating qualities, but high-quality duck down can still make an excellent pillow, and in many cases high-quality duck down is superior to low-quality goose down, so be choosy with your duck down and you’ll do just as well.

Ducks vary greatly in size, but they’re generally about half the size of a wild Canadian goose or a quarter the size of a domestic goose. Plan accordingly, and expect to both be very choosy with your duck feathers and use the feathers of a lot of birds to accomplish your task.

What advice would you add on making a down pillow or down comforter? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Easy-To-Handle Miniature Cow That Lives On Half An Acre

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The Easy-To-Handle Miniature Cow That Lives On Half An Acre

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Love the idea of farm fresh milk harvested at home, but lacking in space? Maybe you want milk for your family, but are not sure what you’d do with 8-10 gallons per day from a modern Holstein? Perhaps miniature dairy cattle are the answer.

Dexter cattle are a heritage breed of cow from Ireland, with unsurpassed hardiness, resilience and versatility. They’re considered a dual-purpose breed, ideally suited to producing rich flavorful milk and a high percentage of meat, and some owners even use their docile cattle as oxen.

Benefits of Small Size

The small size of Dexter cattle comes with many large benefits. A mature cow weighs in at roughly 600 to 800 pounds, or about one-third the size or your average Holstein, making them ideal for small land holders to manage. They’re a common choice for children in 4H projects because they’re docile and easy to handle, and their shorter stature makes them less intimidating to children. Their low weight means that they’re easier on the land, which can help prevent damage in wetter areas.

Space and Feed Requirements

A smaller size means Dexters require less food and pasture space than a full-sized dairy cow. Depending on the forage, one-half to 1 acre of pasture is enough to sustain a Dexter at high summer.

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In the winter, they require 12-15 pounds of hay per day with a little grain, or closer to 20 pounds per day on hay alone. When in sufficient supply, they can live on poor quality or overgrown pasture, which makes them even more adaptable for new land holders who may not have ideal dairy pasture on hand.

Milk Production

The Easy-To-Handle Miniature Cow That Lives On Half An AcreA Dexter can be expected to produce 1 1/2 to 2 gallons of milk per day as a rule for a 305 day lactation cycle, but as with any breed, there are exceptional cows that can produce up to 5 gallons per day, so yields will vary. Nonetheless, their production will reduce down to mirror the needs of the calf if they’re only milked once daily, rather than twice as is common in production cows. The milk contains 4 percent milk fat, which is more than most production species, but somewhat less than high cream production cows such as Jerseys.

Breeding and Calving

If you’re going to have milk, you’re going to need to breed your cow and tend a calf. Dexters are commonly crossbred with standard-sized cattle because they’re known for their ease of calving, and cross breeding with a Dexter can mean an easier time calving for a first-time mother. Pure-bred Dexters keep those easy calving benefits, and add in naturally strong mothering instincts, as well. They can continue to calve until they’re 15 or more years old.

Meat Production

Though Dexters are smaller cows, they produce a much higher percentage of usable meat than most breeds. Grain-finished Dexters can yield 60 percent of their live weight in meat, or 55 percent for grass-finished steers. In some exceptional animals, 70 percent is possible. This compares with 40 to 50 percent yield for other dairy breeds. This means 350-400 pounds of meat in your freezer every 18-24 months, or a high value calf to sell. Calves in the Northeast are currently selling for $1,500-$2,500.

Other Uses

Though officially considered a dual-purpose breed, they’re commonly used as small scale oxen because of their natural pulling instinct and readiness to follow commands. Though smaller than any other working breed, they can pull a disproportionately large amount of weight.

Finding a Breeder

Dexters are raised around the world, and though they’re much less common than standard-sized breeds, they’re becoming more popular as small-scale land holders seek new ways to be more self-sufficient. The livestock conservancy lists their status as “recovering” and they’re now common enough to no longer be an “at-risk” species. Expect to pay a bit more for your calf at the outset, but know that it’ll come back to you in ease of management and higher value calves down the road. Breeder registries are available online in most parts of the world, and there are many animals that are available from smaller scale unregistered breeders, as well.

Do you own a Dexter? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

The 3-Ingredient Ancient Home Remedy Used During The Time Of Christ

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The 3-Ingredient Ancient Home Remedy Used During The Time Of Christ

Pliny the Younger, the author and politicians of the late 2nd century – meaning it likely was used during the time of Christ.

Raw vinegar is full of antioxidants and is a natural probiotic, but it’s also been shown to sooth sore throats, improve digestion, reduce cholesterol, help guard against cancer and maintain a healthy weight. As a natural antibiotic, it can help clear out your throat and digestive system of harmful pathogens, allowing you get better faster. Raw cider vinegar has also been shown to help the body absorb nutrients from the foods you eat.

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The 3-Ingredient Ancient Home Remedy Used During The Time Of Christ

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Raw honey is a nutrient powerhouse, full of antioxidants, minerals and enzymes that promote health and wellness. It’s used throughout the world for its antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, as well as an immune system booster. Research shows that it can be just as effective as commercial cough syrup in treating coughs and sore throats. Taken regularly, raw honey can act as an allergy shot to reduce your sensitivity to pollen and allergens in your environment over time.

The herbs used in oxymel vary based on your goals, but in general, they’re often herbs designed to improve your immune response, or address a respiratory condition such as cough, cold, flu or sore throat. Whichever herbs you choose, do your homework, and make sure they reflect your needs, and the needs of your family; great choices include sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint, Echinacea, ginger, elecampane, fennel, garlic, mullein, hyssop, wild cherry bark and horseradish.  Sweeter nutrient-rich and health-promoting fruits are sometimes included, as well, including elderberries or sea berries.

One famous version, referred to as “fire cider,” is made with ginger, garlic, cayenne and horseradish. Other times, elderberry, ginger and Echinacea are combined for immune support. Another mixture is a cough syrup/respiratory blend that includes wild cherry bark, elecampane root, rose hips, ginger, slippery elm bark and peppermint.

Pre-mixed remedies sell in health food stores and online for as much as $5 per ounce, but can be mixed at home for pennies and a little patience. Recipes vary widely, but a common formula includes 1 part dried herbs steeped in 2 parts honey and 2 parts vinegar. Leave in a cool dark place for at least a month, and then strain. Feel free to use more honey if your tastes require a sweeter version to overcome the herb flavors you’ve chosen, or if you simply have trouble with vinegar.  Likewise, recipes with up to 5 parts vinegar and 1 part honey are also acceptable for those who like a little extra zing in their medicine.

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Some people choose to steep the honey with the herb in one jar, and then the vinegar with the herb in a separate jar, only mixing them at the end. That way, they can have an infused honey and an infused vinegar which also have a variety of uses, and they don’t have to commit all of the infusion to being an oxymel mixture.

While they’re generally pleasant to use on their own as a medicine by simply taking them on a spoon as you would a cough syrup, they can also be incorporated into meals to turn your food into medicine. Oxymel is a great way to enjoy sweetness without negative effects on your blood sugar. Raw vinegar has also been shown to balance blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in diabetics, which will help to balance out the effects of the honey on your system. With that in mind, these medicines make a great addition to cold sparkling water to make a medicinal spritzer, or when used to top a salad as a sweet and tangy dressing. Recipes using sweet herbs (such as elderberry) make excellent pancake syrups or yogurt/dessert toppings.

However you choose to take your oxymel, know that you’re participating in a medicinal tradition that goes back millennia, and taking your health into your own hands by crafting your own homemade medicine.

Have you ever made or used oxymel? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

Simple Tricks For Raising THE Healthiest Backyard Eggs

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Simple Tricks For Raising THE Healthiest Backyard Eggs

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We’ve all heard it before: Dark yellow yolks are a sign of healthy, nutrient-rich, farm fresh eggs. If you’re raising chickens for eggs, you likely already know that just about any egg will taste better than its commercial equivalent, but how do you make sure your hens are producing the healthiest eggs possible for your family?

Here’s six ways to ensure your chickens are producing the healthiest eggs possible:

1. Put them out to pasture.

A 2007 study found that truly free-range chickens, raised in backyards and on small farms, produce eggs far more nutritious than the USDA’s standard for commercial eggs. Compared to an industrially farmed eggs, home-raised eggs from chickens allowed to forage naturally contained:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more Omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene

What’s the difference? Home-raised chickens that are allowed to roam and forage freely have a leg up on commercially raised “free-range” competition. Eggs labeled free-range are legally required to be allowed outside space, but often that outside space is a fenced-in concrete slab with no forage and nothing to entice a chicken off its comfortable indoor perch. Eggs from chickens allowed to free range, even in a small backyard or chicken run, generally have access to bugs, and get an extra protein, calcium and trace mineral boost from a readily digestible source.

2. Provide fresh greens.

On a stale diet of commercial feed, chickens are receiving all of their nutrition from corn, soy and mineral powders. Corn and soy provide everything a chicken needs to survive, but baseline survival will not get you the best possible eggs. Science is just beginning to understand that all fat molecules are not created equally nutritionally, especially when it comes to omega fatty acids. Seed sources of omega fatty acids such as corn and soy provide omega-6, whereas grass sources provide a much harder-to-come-by form, omega-3.

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As it turns out, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in your diet is more important than the total quantity consumed, and it’s hard to keep that ratio in a healthy balance. By feeding your chickens green sources, rather than just seed sources of omegas, you’re enriching their eggs with a higher percentage of omega-3s and helping to balance out your family’s ratios through healthier fats in your egg yolks.

3. Supplement with herbs.

Simple Tricks For Raising THE Healthiest Backyard Eggs

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Beyond fresh greens, incorporating fresh or dried herbs into your chicken’s diet can have profound results. Try these three for starters:

  • Its aromatic qualities naturally repel rodents, and mint contains compounds that naturally help keep both human and animals cool in hot weather. Growing mint in and around your chicken run can help keep fleas, ticks and disease-spreading rodents out while keeping your chickens naturally cooler in the summer as they graze on the leaves.
  • A natural antibiotic, oregano is used by commercial organic egg farmers to help keep their hens healthy. It’s currently being studied for its ability to combat diseases in poultry, including bronchitis, avian flu and coccidiosis. It’s also a natural source of antioxidants and vitamins E and K.
  • Fed as you would any fresh green, parsley contains a number of essential nutrients, including vitamins A, B C, E and K, as well as ample amounts of trace nutrients such as zinc magnesium, calcium and selenium. It also naturally encourages healthy blood vesicle development, which can mean better nutrient transfer from the chicken to your eggs inside the oviduct.

4. Keep a low-stress environment.

There’s a reason cowards are called “chicken” in our society. Chickens are naturally predisposed to the “flight” part of the “fight or flight” response. They don’t have a lot of natural defenses, and unfortunately for them, they’re quite delicious to just about any able-bodied predator. Environmental stressors such as neighborhood dogs, wild predators, extreme heat or cold can cause chickens to lay malformed eggs in the short term, and can make the chickens susceptible to disease in the long term.

5. Manage your sex ratios.

In many places in the country it’s illegal to keep roosters, which is a shame for the health and productivity or your layers. Many people believe that hens will put more nutrients into fertile eggs, but the science behind that is mixed. The real reason roosters are important (other than for making chicks) is that a gentle, well-behaved gentleman rooster keeps the ladies happier. He guards them and helps them feel safe to lower stress, and he has a specialized noise to call the ladies when he finds a particularly rich source of food out free-ranging. Roosters also help to naturally manage the flock hierarchy, breaking up fights between the hens, and preventing any one female from becoming too dominant over her sister hens. All of these things contribute to happier, healthier hens and as a result, more nutritious eggs.

6. Don’t wash your eggs.

Of course, no one wants a dirty egg, but the best way to prevent dirty eggs is with clean nesting boxes, not by erasing the dirt after the fact by washing them. Eggs have a natural coating on the outside of the shell that allows air in for the developing embryo, but keeps germs and spoiling bacteria out. When you wash eggs, you’re washing that protective coating off and allowing your eggs potentially to become contaminated by just about anything in their environment. Unwashed eggs can be kept at room temperature, sometimes for months at a time in cooler seasons, whereas washed eggs will rapidly spoil outside the fridge. If you truly want the healthiest eggs, keep bacteria out and nutrients in by either not washing your eggs, or only washing them right before use.

What advice would you add on helping chickens produce the healthiest eggs? Share your tips in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

4 Surprising & Beneficial Uses For Charcoal On The Homestead

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4 Surprising Uses For Charcoal On The Homestead

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Charred wood, otherwise known as charcoal, is the perfect natural solution for a myriad of issues that arise on the homestead. Yes, grilling is more flavorful when done over a properly maintained charcoal grill, but there are many other practical uses for charcoal. Whether made yourself or purchased elsewhere, a supply of charcoal ought to be kept on hand at all times.

Charcoal is made by quickly eliminating a wood fire’s supply of oxygen. This creates a very porous material which allows it to absorb toxins, impurities and other organic materials, which means these unwanted materials stick to the entire surface area of the charcoal. It is this property that renders it useful in so many homestead situations. To better expose and develop these pores, the charcoal is treated with argon and nitrogen after it has cooled, and then it is heated again.  This activates, or opens the face of, the charcoal, creating a larger surface area, thus increasing its effectiveness.

Below are just a few of the many ways activated charcoal can be put to good use on the homestead.

(Note: The charcoal used for grilling is not safe to consume or for the uses listed here. Grilling or “barbecue” charcoal is processed differently.)

1. Medicinal uses

Those of us who prefer natural remedies turn to charcoal for its ability to adsorb toxins, especially when dealing with serious food poisoning episodes or simple insect bites or stings. Available in capsule form, charcoal taken internally will soak up toxins, bringing relief to the victim. For bites, stings and other skin rashes, poultice or thick paste of activated carbon and purified water will draw the poison out of the skin and eliminate the burning or itching that often accompanies it. It also can be used as a digestive aid, as it will reduce bloating by trapping excessive gas and removing it from the digestive tract.

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2. Cleansing agent

Ever feel like there are some things that you can never get clean? Activated charcoal can be added to handcrafted soaps for additional cleaning power. A note of caution, however: Cleaners containing charcoal may stain light-colored surfaces, such as white porcelain sinks.

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The soap may not be the most appealing to the eye, but it will trap dirt and excess oil, leaving everything feeling cleaner. Even your teeth will benefit from exposure to charcoal. Brushing with a tooth-powder containing active carbon will reduce the yellow and brown staining commonly found on some teeth, as well as pulling impurities out of the enamel overall, creating healthier teeth.

Activated charcoal is more useful for cleaning than just being an additional ingredient in plain soap, though. Most water filters contain some form of charcoal, and a good water filter is necessary for any water system.

3. Compost amendment

Adding charcoal to your compost pile benefits your vegetable and flower gardens by allowing you to create your own homegrown time-release fertilizer. The charcoal releases nutrients adsorbed from the compost pile into the garden as it breaks down in the soil over time. It has been shown that this method of mixing charcoal into the compost pile or barrel before incorporating the compost into the garden elevates the pH levels and increases the number of beneficial microbes found in the soil. However, avoid putting charcoal directly into the garden.

4. Feed additive

Digestive issues suffered by your livestock can be gently treated with doses of activated charcoal. For some, charcoal is now a regular addition to all livestock feed as a part of preventive care. Adding powdered charcoal to the feed has been shown to increase productivity of milk for cows and goats, increase laying for poultry and even reduce the fly population in key livestock areas.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or cure any particular health condition. Please consult with a qualified health professional first.

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All-Natural Fall Remedies That Smart Homesteaders Store For Winter

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6 All-Natural Remedies That Smart Homesteaders Make Each Fall

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The fall can be a busy time if you’re trying to stock a well-prepared larder. Perhaps you’ve put up or purchased enough food to get you through the winter, but have you thought about keeping your family healthy as well as fed? There are many natural medicines that are easy to make at home during autumn to keep your family healthy all winter long.

1. Herbal teas

A great place to start for the beginner, herbal teas can be as simple as looking for tasty and health-promoting recipes in your favorite reference book and mixing them ahead of time. Dried herbs can easily be purchased for your first batch, but harvesting and drying them at home is a much more cost-effective and reliable method of ensuring availability. Even if you haven’t planted an herb garden, try learning to identify and harvest wild elderberries, yarrow, rose hips, raspberry leaf and mullein as a first step. Drying can be as simple as tying them into small bundles and hanging them in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Once dry, store in Mason jars or other airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

2. Tinctures

Once you’re comfortable blending your own herbal teas, tinctures are a great next step. While there are many plant compounds that are water soluble in teas, some medicines are alcohol soluble and require a different extraction to get the full benefit. Examples of alcohol soluble herbs include most that are high in resins or naturally antibacterial alkaloids such as Echinacea, cleavers, nettle and elecampane. To make a tincture, start with a plain alcohol such as grain alcohol or vodka that is at least 50 proof (25 percent alcohol), preferably 80 proof or higher. For most herbs, a ratio of 1 part herb to 5 parts alcohol works well for extraction. Place the herbs and alcohol in a sealed jar out of direct sunlight for at least 2-3 weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain out the herb, and the tincture is ready for use.

3. Oxymel

An alcohol-free way to extract herbs that may not be water soluble is with vinegar. Oxymel is a mixture of a vinegar-extracted herb, with raw honey to both enhance the health benefits and the palatability. Ratios vary widely, but a common method takes 1 part herb, 2 parts vinegar and 2 parts honey for the mixture.

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Add all three parts to a mason jar, seal and wait 2-3 weeks before straining out the herb and bottling for use. There are many elderberry/vinegar/honey oxymels on the market today, selling for as much as $5-$10 dollars per ounce, when they can be made at home for just a few dollars per quart. Dollar for dollar, oxymel is one of the easiest and most economical natural remedies to make at home.

4. Infused oils

Following the same principle as tinctures and oxymels, infused oils extract herbal components into an oil base. Try a neutral oil such as sunflower, almond oil or light olive oil. A ratio of 1 part herb to 2-4 parts oil works well for most herbs. In the winter, herbal-infused oils can be great for treating burns, ear infections, topical fungal issues or respiratory issues when used as a chest rub.

5. Healing salves

Once you have an infused oil, a healing salve is a great way to improve the versatility of your remedy. Healing salves take infused oils and add a wax component to make them semi-solid at room temperature so that they’re easy to apply and store. Start with 8 ounces of infused oil and 1 ounce of beeswax. Slowly heat until the beeswax is melted, and then mix thoroughly. Pour into a storage container while hot. Healing salves often incorporate the use of essential oil and vitamin E oil to enhance their effectiveness, depending on the use.

6. Witch hazel extract

A commonly used astringent and topical disinfectant, witch hazel is easy to make at home. Witch hazel is a small bush/shrub that’s prevalent in the wild in the eastern half of the United States. An extract can be made from wild harvested witch hazel twigs, or if you prefer, there are many online sources to purchase dried witch hazel bark. For the most potent extract, harvest the twigs just after the plant has flowered late in the fall (October/November). Finely chop the twigs with pruning shears or scissors, cover completely with water and place on the stove on low to simmer. Most recipes slow cook the stems and bark for at least 8 hours, adding water during cooking to keep the plant material covered. Once it’s done cooking and cooled completely, it’s perishable unless alcohol is added as a preservative.  Add 1 part high proof vodka or grain alcohol for every 2 parts witch hazel extract, and store in a cool dark place indefinitely.

Which is your favorite home remedy? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar

Geese As Guard Dogs? Yep, And They Just Might Be Better At It, Too

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Geese As Guard Dogs? Yep, And They’re Better At It, Too

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A well-trained guard dog can be an excellent addition to any home security plan. The dog is an active, living threat that can alert you of danger, deter potential attackers and actively defend your home if needed. But training an effective guard dog can be time-intensive, and selecting just the right candidate can be tricky.

What if I told you there were guard dogs that did not need to be trained? Guard dogs that instinctively alarm at strangers, attack intruders, all the while laying tasty eggs and producing rich beef-flavored red meat? Sounds too good to be true? Perhaps you’ve never met a guard goose.

Geese have many instinctive traits that make them better guards than either humans or dogs, and all without any special training. They have been used as a low-tech security solution for centuries, and are still used to protect police stations in China and to patrol prison yards in Brazil.

Naturally Territorial

Geese, especially male geese, are exceptionally territorial. While most domestic geese can still fly, they don’t. Once a location has been established as home base, they’ll fight to the death to defend it from intruders. Geese are commonly used for flock defense (for other poultry) from predators as big as coyotes.

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They imprint as chicks on both their owners and the other birds or animals around them and identify them as part of the flock. Anyone or anything else is liable to be viciously attacked on sight.

Superior Eyesight & Hearing

With better eyesight than both humans and dogs, and exceptional hearing, they’re perfect for detecting threats both day and night. Geese can see in the ultraviolet spectrum, and with widely spaced eyes on the sides of their head, their field of view is exceptional.

Unstoppable Alarm Capability

Geese As Guard Dogs? Yep, And They’re Better At It, Too

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Anyone who has ever lived near domestic geese knows they can be exceptionally loud. Once they’ve detected an intruder, there’s no stopping their alarm. While a poorly trained dog can be deterred by tossing it a steak, geese actually get louder when fed. Toss anything in their direction, and the moving object will only strengthen their alarm instinct.

Crippling Attack Strength

As flock animals, they shouldn’t be kept individually. That means that you’ll have multiple guards defending territory. Each goose is armed with a sharp serrated beak capable of inflicting significant damage. The beak, however, is the least of your worries. Goose wings are equipped with bony club -like knobs at the wrists, and once they’re within range, they begin beating their opponent with a force capable of breaking bones. Humans venturing too close to wild goose nests have had arms broken, as well as severe head trauma. These injuries from wild geese are only a sampling of the capacity of a much larger domestic goose. The biggest wild geese only grow to roughly 9 pounds, whereas domestic geese have a lot more girth behind their punch, weighing in at up to 22 pounds.

Easy To Keep

While a dog needs to be fed every day, geese are grazers, and prefer to get most of their calories from grass when it’s plentiful. As excellent foragers, they only require a small amount of supplemental feed if forage is available. Domestic geese do not fly south for the winter, but unlike chickens, they hate spending the winter indoors. Even on the coldest days, they’ll be out patrolling the snow. Their webbed feet and downy coat make excellent insulation, and they only require a modest three-sided shelter even in the northernmost regions of the US. Most geese are excellent and devoted mothers, raising a new flock of guards each year that can be kept to bolster the flock, or raised out for meat to bolster the freezer. They can live for up to 20 years, so their ranks don’t require replacement often.

Other Considerations

On occasion, a goose’s guard instincts can be a little too effective, and they can be a bit overzealous if you do tend to have routine friendly visitors. Considerations will need to be made if you’re expecting a visit from a repair man or a social call from friends, family or neighbors, especially those with young children. While geese do not need to be fenced to stay in their home territory, you may wish to have a small fenced holding pen somewhere to stand down the defenses and allow welcome visitors.

What do you think? Do geese make good “guard dogs”? Share your thoughts in the section below:   

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The Simplest And Quickest Way To Make Apple Cider Vinegar, From Scratch

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The Simplest And Quickest Way To Make Apple Cider Vinegar, From Scratch

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Apple scrap vinegar is a great way to get multiple uses out of your apples each fall. If you’re planning on canning applesauce or pressing your own cider, chances are you’ll have a lot of surplus apple material around that can be used to make apple scrap vinegar at virtually no cost.

Once the apples have gone through the press, the leavings may seem fibrous and dry, but there’s still a lot of sugar and apple flavor left to be extracted. Of course, you could just compost your scraps, but why not get one more use out of them?

Whether you’re practicing skills and planning for a time when every last calorie may count to save your life, or you just live a practical and frugal existence today, minimizing waste while producing useful and healthy cider vinegar seems like an obvious choice. It’s easy!

What to Do

For a small test batch, fill a quart jar with the peels and cores from 5-6 apples. That’s roughly the amount of apple you’ll need to make a pie, so now you have an excuse to practice your pie-making skills, as well.

Cover them with water, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar for each cup of water added. That converts to 1/4 cup of sugar per quart, or 1 cup per gallon for larger quantities. The sugar is necessary because while there is still plenty of sugar remaining in the pulp and peels, it’s not quite enough to get the vinegar going before the scraps spoil in other ways (mold, etc.). Once the vinegar culture gets working, the acidity will rise and they’ll no longer be a risk of contamination, but in the beginning stages, they need that extra sugar hit to get a head-start on the competition. Feel free to use alternative natural sweeteners such as brown sugar, honey or maple for more flavor in your final product, but keep in mind that those sugars are a bit more complex and your vinegar may take more time to mature.

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The Simplest And Quickest Way To Make Apple Cider Vinegar, From Scratch

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Once the sugar water has been added, cover lightly with a towel or cloth napkin, and secure the cover with a canning lid band or rubber band. Fruit flies love vinegar, and they’ll find it quickly if left uncovered. Vinegar need oxygen to develop, so a porous cloth covering rather than a solid lid is essential.

Making vinegar doesn’t require a culture, because there’s enough wild yeast and bacteria in the air and on the fruit scraps to accomplish the job. The wild yeast will first convert the apples and sugar into alcohol, and since the top is left exposed to air (rather than sealed with a water lock as in home brewing), the bacteria responsible for vinegar formation will take over and rapidly metabolize the alcohol to convert it into vinegar.

Place the jar at room temperature, out of natural sunlight. After 2-3 weeks, test your vinegar by giving it a taste. If necessary, allow another 1-3 weeks for the vinegar to strengthen. Once it’s as strong as you’d like it, filter out the fruit and bottle up the vinegar to store indefinitely at room temperature.

Once you’ve got the process down after your test batch, large batches are only a matter of scaling up. Planning to can 100 jars of applesauce or press a whole tree’s worth of cider? Consider making your vinegar in a clean trash barrel, plastic tote, food-safe 55-gallon drum or old bathtub. Just be sure that the top is completely covered by a cloth, held down around the edges with cordage, bungee cords or something similar to keep out the fruit flies.

How Much Can You Make?

A single semi-dwarf apple tree produces 6-10 bushels of fruit per year. That amounts to roughly 10-15 five-gallon buckets full of fresh fruit per year. Juice-to-pulp ratios for cider and flesh-to-core/skin ratios for applesauce vary based on the type of apple, but when pressing cider, a home press should be able to make 2-3 gallons per bushel, or 12-30 gallons of cider per tree. In my experience, each bushel should give you 2-3 gallons of pulp, as well. Each gallon of pulp will yield about half a gallon of cider vinegar, meaning that a single semi-dwarf tree in your backyard can yield as much as 15 gallons of cider vinegar in a single season.

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Harness The Power Of Nature’s Most Remarkable Healer: Vinegar