Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Came Early!

Each year, my family gets together before the actual Christmas holiday to have dinner and exchange gifts. This year, I received a lot of nice gifts that really showed that my family knows me very well. I received two gifts that are sort of homesteady in nature. My dad bought me this food dehydrator, so I hurried home to try it out:

I also received this really cool hydroponic kit. Next year, we hope to add an outdoor hydroponic setup. This will allow me to practice on herbs during the long cold winter. Mmmm...we love fresh herbs!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

But the Fire is So Delightful...

A lot of people like the warm glow of a fireplace when the temperatures dip low. In our house, we like the low numbers on our heating bill even better! Though we have had many a cold night, we have not used our furnace much at all this season. When we do use it, we just turn it up to a reasonable temperature and then turn it off. Our fireplace insert burns hot enough to maintain the temperatures the rest of the time.

We had it installed years ago after a major electrical and wind storm moved through our area. We were without power for more than a week and the nights were very cool. Though our house has a regular brick fireplace, we didn't really have any firewood to burn to keep warm. We vowed that we would never allow that to happen again! That storm taught us quite a few lessons about being prepared and though we know that there is no way to be prepared for EVERY event, we try to be ready for the one thing that we know will happen: WINTER!!! It arrived today in the form of snow, sleet, slush and (later tonight) wind.

For now, we are comfy and warm by the fire.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Energy Savings 101

With the encouragement of my friend, Jan R. Cooke, we have been tracking our energy usage around the urban farmstead for the past 3 months, actively seeking out ways to reduce our electric bill. We always thought that we were fairly good but assumed that we could get better. The results are in:

August Electricity KWH Usage............... 660 KWH
September Electricity KWH Usage............ 552 KWH
October Electricity KWH Usage.............. 439 KWH

The only significant change that we can remember during the month of October was that we began unplugging the upstairs television when not in use. I had heard that tv's burn almost as much power when off as they do when they are turned on. I still don't know if that is true or not, but I guess that the proof may be somewhere in our billing statement from the power company.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First Marans Egg!!!

It seems as though I have been waiting forever for this day! One of our little free loaders rewarded us with a small brown egg this morning.I feel so proud... .

Monday, November 9, 2009

Let There Be Light...

and there was...and it was good!

Our carriage house is a wonderful place to keep chickens safe, but with the waning daylight hours of the season, it is a decidedly DARK place to keep them! There is no electricity in there, so it can be quite inconvenient when I have to go out there after sunset. Hiring an electrician to wire the structure was completely out of the question, as well as the budget.

Instead, we purchased a portable power device to run a string of LED holiday lights.It is sort of like a marine battery that has outlets on it to allow you to plug in standard appliances. With the help of an inexpensive timer that we already had, the lights come on first thing in the morning to extend the daylight hours for the hens. This should encourage them to lay eggs throughout the winter and keep me from tripping over my own feet no matter what time I choose to chat with my girls!You might be wondering why we chose to use a string of LED holiday lights, rather than an actual lightbulb... The LED's provide a nice amount of light without using a lot of power. This will enable the portable power device to last a long time between re-charging.

The portable power device can also be used to run a few lights and things inside our home in the event of a power outage and can jumpstart a car! It isn't as powerful as a generator, but it feels good to know that we have a bit of a backup to keep us comfortable.Here is a photo of the one that we bought:

Next, we will try to find a solar power trickle charger to charge the portable power device for free. We are making baby steps, but it is all coming together! Now, if these darn chickens would just start to lay some eggs to earn their keep or at least help to pay for this equipment...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mission Accomplished

This weekend began on Friday for me, since I had the day off. The To Do list was long but I was determined to get as much as possible accomplished. I began by removing all of the old firewood out of the carriage house. Some of that wood had been in there for years. Each summer we would order up new wood which would end up stored on top of the old wood and the cycle continued, year after year.

I removed all of the old wood and stored it on the porch so that we'll actually burn it. Next, I cleaned the carriage house out to accommodate the quail cages for the winter. This was no easy task. The carriage house has a dirt floor and clouds of dust are kicked up whenever you try to move anything. My organizational system was to move everything to the edges of the barn and leave the center, wide open for the cages.

Though I had previously loaded up the chicken pen with plenty of pine shavings, I decided to make use of a free resource...LEAVES! I took them a couple of bags full for them to play in. Though the chooks were scared of them at first. They soon discovered that it was great fun to scratch around in them. I was sorry that my camera has been borrowed by a friend. It was hysterical watching them fly up in the air making the leaves scatter.I may try to put some up for them to have in the winter. It would help to cut down on pine shaving usage.

In an attempt to spread the fun, I also gave the quail some leaves to play in.They dug tunnels through them and peeked out at me.

Then it was back to (real)work...This time gathering up sticks and twigs in the yard and storing them away for quick kindling to get fires started. I went back into the house in an effort to escape the rain that started in the afternoon and made some firestarters. I make them out of leftover paper towel/toilet paper rolls, candle wax, laundry lint, and sometimes a handful or two of that shredded insulation made from paper. We used to spend about $30 per year buying commercial firestarters.Now we just make them from things that we used to throw out. Besides, mine smell better than the commercial ones.This batch smelled like plums...Just in time for the holiday season.

Next undertaking involved putting up plastic on the back porch. I like to hang the laundry there to save on energy(read=save $)Once the clothes are just about dry, I throw them in the dryer to soften them up. It is something that really saves on the electric bill and I'd like to be able to continue it through the winter, if possible. We've already saved a bundle on the gas bill by only heating the house with wood this season. Of course we know that we won't be able to continue that much longer but we are pleased that we've been able to do it this long.

I also drained the water barrels, put away most of the garden tools, stocked up on feed, urea fertilizer(for melting ice) and a couple of bales of straw for the quail.

Last,but not least, is a project I've been trying to accomplish for the past month...putting the gardens to bed. Well, it still isn't completely finished. I have a hard time pulling up plants that are still producing. We are still getting a few green cherry tomatoes. They don't ripen until I bring them in the house, but after not getting tomatoes for most of the summer, we are enjoying their meager bounty. We still have onions in the ground, one more potato plant, a few herbs, turnips and (of all things)several pea plants that are beginning to bloom. I still got some quail manure, straw and leaves into the gardens around the remaining crops. I may not actually till anything until the spring.

Tomorrow, it is back to work. Sitting at a desk sounds pretty good right about now!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fantastic New Blog About Being Frugal

Good morning! I wanted to shine a spotlight on a blog that was recently started by a Canadian friend and mentor. I first found his articles on the Homestead.org website and they really inspired me to think about ways that I could reduce the costs around my home. I have shared his articles with many people over the past year or so and find that I gain new insight and a renewed sense of frugality every time that I read them. He is light years ahead of me, utilizing both solar and wind power. I always get new projects to add to the To-Do list, which grows longer by the day. For those of you who think that you will never be able to afford a comfortable retirement, I offer up this article by Jan R. Cooke:

The Economics of Being a Cheap-O

His new blog is Cheap-O Economics

I hope that he inspires you as much as he inspires me!