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Homemade Potting Soil

May 18th, 2011

I grow a lot of things in containers each year and if I bought potting soil I’d spend a small fortune. So I make my own every spring. I also like knowing exactly what’s in it so I don’t have to worry about chemicals and other weirdness.


Mixing up your own potting soil is actually very quick and easy if you keep the ingredients on hand. I always have a stash of peat moss and vermiculite so I can mix up a batch whenever I need it.


I won’t write an entire post explaining how I make my own potting soil. I filmed a video explaining the process. Head on over to the Your Day Blog to watch the video on how to mix up your own potting soil.

Do you grow a lot of plants in containers?

Friday Favorite: Homemade Ice Cream

May 6th, 2011

I have fond memories from my childhood of Saturdays at the family cabin with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. All of us kids would spend our days running around the acres of woods, collecting rocks, feathers, bones, and all kinds of things children find fascinating. We built dams in the little creek, caught crawdads and gathered berries along the edges of the woods.

The best part of the day was evening when the old fashioned ice cream makers would come out. My grandma would make custard and we’d all have a turn cranking until it got too hard for us kids. Then we’d wait by with bowls in hand for the finished ice cream.

We still make homemade ice cream on special occasions. This past Sunday we celebrated my dad’s birthday and a belated Easter since he just arrived home from Colombia. We enjoyed a delicious meal of ham and other side and had to finish it off with homemade raw milk ice cream.



The kids wanted to help of course, but quickly tired of turning the crank. They played happily nearby while asking “is it done yet?” every couple minutes.

After 20 minutes or so it was done and we dished it up. We all enjoyed a bowl of fresh homemade ice cream with a piece of my mom’s famous pound cake. It was the perfect ending to a family meal.

My ice cream recipe is fairly simple, warm some whole milk with vanilla beans, let steep for 30 minutes. Mix a few egg yolks with some sugar and a dash of salt. Slowly pour in hot milk while whisking. Add some cream and chill for a few hours. Freeze in an ice cream maker, old fashioned or electric. I don’t have specific measurements, I taste and add and taste again and the amount varied depending on which ice cream maker we’re using. Sometimes I add more egg yolks if we can more custardy ice cream, sometimes I add fewer for a lighter ice cream. I also make mine slightly less sweet and with a little less cream than most recipes. This is a great recipe, you can swap the milk/cream to make it less creamy if you want.

It’s nice to know that we’re passing along the love of homemade ice cream to the next generation. I’m sure our nieces and nephew will have fond memories of making old fashioned ice cream just like my brother, sister and I do!

Do you ever make homemade ice cream? What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Make Your Own: Suet Cakes

April 7th, 2011

I’ve been wanting to make suet cakes for the longest time but I had trouble finding suet for them. Finally I broke down and bought a 5 gallon pail of pastured beef tallow from US Wellness Meats (I know 5 gallon is a lot). We’ll be using some of this in our cooking, and some of it will be added to the homemade pet food. It will also be used to make suet cakes for our little feathered friends. We love providing suet because we get a lot of woodpeckers at our feeder by having it. A lot of other birds love it as well and it provides a good source of fat and energy for them during the cold winter months.

One of the reasons I want to make my own suet is because I try not to support CAFO’s in any way – buying ready made suet cakes supports them. I asked around and none of the local farmers were able to get suet from their cows, so local beef tallow/suet was out. I found a small farm on-line, but they were out and weren’t going to get any in until later this year. Finally I decided to purchase some from US Wellness Meats when they had it on sale. US Wellness now has ground grass fed suet for sale (they were out when I bought my tallow). If you don’t want to go to the trouble of melting suet, you can simply put out the suet as is for the birds, they’ll eat that as well.

Another reason I wanted to buy pastured organic tallow for homemade suet was because birds are very sensitive to chemicals (you know the whole canary in a coal mine thing). If you notice your oven booklet will tell you to remove birds from your home when you use the cleaning cycle. This is because birds are very sensitive to VOC’s – which always makes me wonder why they don’t recommend humans leaving the house? I know that the beef tallow I purchased will not be contaminated with any hormones, antibiotics or chemicals that will hurt my feathered friends and their offspring.

Making suet cakes at home is really simple and surprisingly, even with the cost of pastured suet, cheaper. I spent some time researching recipes on-line and didn’t particularly find any that sounded great, so I made my own.

HOMEMADE SUET CAKES
1 1/2 pound of beef tallow or lard (preferable organic & pastured)
2 cups birdseed mix
2 cups black oil sunflower seeds
2 cups organic whole grain flour
1 cup dried fruit or peanuts (I used dried cherries from my bounty this past summer)

Mix all seed and flour in large mixing bowl while melting tallow or lard in a skillet over low heat. When tallow is melted, mix in with birdseed. If tallow thickens too quickly place entire bowl in a warm oven until melted again. If your house it cold it would be beneficial to warm birdseed mix and bowl in oven before adding melted tallow. Pour into 9 x 13 pan lined with a sheet of parchment paper. Let cool for a few hours. Cut into 6 squares, which fit perfectly into a regular suet feeder.

I put some of this out on Sunday and the birds are loving it. They’ve been flocking to the feeder. I haven’t figured up the cost to the penny, but this suet cost me about $5 for this batch of 6 cakes and they’re larger than the ones you buy at the store. This would be a great project to do with your kids, especially for a handmade gift (time to start thinking about your handmade holidays).

My next plan for the birds is to try to find a local source for healthier organic bird seed. When the new garden area is finished I’ll have some space to grow some grains and sunflowers just for the birds. Then the birds will be able to glean naturally. I’ll be adding a lot of bird friendly shrubs to my new garden area as well, I’ll be talking about that specifically soon.

Do you consider the birds when you select plants for your garden? Do you put out suet?

Do-It-Yourself

April 6th, 2011

It’s not easy to see through the consensual illusions that buying stuff will make you happy. But the people I’ve met through MAKE have succeeded, to one degree or another, in deprogramming themselves of the lifelong consumer brainwashing they’ve received. They’re learning how to stop depending so much on faceless corporations to provide them with what they need (and desire) and to begin doing some of the things humans have been doing for themselves since the dawn of time. They’re willing to take back some of the control we’ve handed over to institutions. They believe that the sense of control and accomplishment you get from doing something yourself, using your own hands and mind, can’t be achieved in any other way. They make things not because they are born with a special talent for making but because they choose to develop and hone their ability. And yes, some of the things they make are mistakes, but they aren’t afraid of making them, because they’ve rejected the lesson from Bernays school of brainwashing that says handmade stuff is bad because it isn’t perfect.

Mark Frauenfelder (Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World)

I posted a new article on the Ethel Your Day Blog about why I’m a Do-It-Yourselfer. I’ll be doing sister posts here whenever I post over there. You can also see when I post at Ethel on their Facebook page.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long you know that if I can make it myself, I will. I’m a DIYer to the core. It’s not that I was born with the skill to make stuff, I have to study and research before I try something new. I think it’s more about not allowing the fear of failure to hold you back. We live in a world that doesn’t value the importance of failure and the learning that can come through it. As Mark says in Made by Hand: “Mistakes are not only inevitable-they’re a necessary part of learning and skill building. Mistakes are a sign that you’re active and curious. In fact, recent brain research suggests that making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn.”

Mr Chiots and I are willing to try to just about anything once or twice. Sure we’ve failed at plenty of things, but that never holds us back. We have our share of mishaps here at Chiot’s Run, we were just talking the other day about how I need to write more about these on the blog. For example, sadly our bees did not make it through this winter. We’re going to start again next spring with a new type of hive that we’re going to build ourselves. We’re also going to requeen not long after with bees that have been bread to be more hardy in our climate. Our beekeeping wasn’t a failure, we simply learned through the process and next time we can implement the things we’ve learned.

We also had trouble with the fish in our little pond, the ones we got from the pet store didn’t make it, they all got ick. Which I found out is common with pet store fish that are constantly medicated for it. We got some from my parents pond that lived for quite a few months, but they didn’t make it through the winter. We’ll try again this spring now that the water should be much more conducive for fish.

I spend a lot of time reading and researching the things I’m interested, before I start. Usually by the time I’ve started the project I have read tons of website articles and 4-10 books about the project I’m tackling. My next DIY project is to grow my own mushrooms. So I’m reading a 500 page textbook about it and have a few other books waiting on deck. I ordered mushroom spawn for 6 different kinds of mushrooms and started setting up my mushroom growing area in the woods. You’ll be hearing more about this fairly soon.

Mr Chiots and I are also thinking about purchasing a tool that will allow us to mill our own boards from the large oak, maple and poplar trees that we’re going to have taken down on our new lot. With these boards we’ll be able to make a new dining room table and some raised beds. How wonderful it will be to sit at our dining room table made of wood from our garden eating vegetables that grew where the tree once stood. We’re also in the beginning stages of planning a tiny teardrop trailer that we’re going to build for our travels (remember that month long trip out west we’re planning this summer?) I think we’re DIYers because we love to do things for ourselves, we’re not afraid of failing, and the process is definitely memorable – some of our best memories were made while working together on a project!

What is something you’ve always wanted to try to do for yourself?

For further reading on the benefits of doing it yourself check out these books:
Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World
Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
The Craftsman
Thinking Through Craft

Light at the End of the Tunnel

March 14th, 2011

This year sugaring season has lasted so much longer than the previous two years that we sugared. On Saturday, I finished off what will mostly likely be the final batch of maple syrup for the season. I still have 30 gallons of sap to process and I’m going to try reducing it slightly and using it to make maple vinegar (should be an interesting endeavor).

We tapped our maple trees on February 13th and collected 240 gallons of sap so far. We’ve processed about 210 gallons of that sap so far and have about 5 gallons of syrup. Gathering, straining, and boiling down sap has been taking up all of our spare time over the past month, especially during the last 2 weeks. At least we know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we have a lot of sweet reward in the basement pantry!


What are we going to do with all that syrup? Use it on pancakes, french toast, for sweetening tea and in baking. Fruit sweetened with maple syrup makes a fabulous pandowdy or cobbler. If you haven’t tried sweetening your chai tea with maple syrup you’re missing out! I’m most excited about a fresh batch of french toast as it’s my favorite way to enjoy maple syrup. I’m baking up a few loaves of cinnamon raison bread today and we’ll be enjoying some delicious french toast for breakfast later this week.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy maple syrup?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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