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Making Infused Vinegar for Non-Toxic Cleaning

March 5th, 2012

The Non-Toxic cleaning series will be coming up soon. I’ve been taking photos of my cleaning products, writing down the recipes I use and researching answers to some of the questions that were asked in the Q & A Post (there’s still time to get questions in). Until that happens, I have a quick project for you that you can use in some of the recipes that will appear during the series.

Making infused vinegar is so simple and easy you won’t believe it. Simply add citrus peels to a jar or your bottle of vinegar. Yep, that’s it. I know so easy. For the photos I used a quart jar, but you can simply add the peels to your gallon jug of vinegar if you want to.

I’m guessing lavender, mint, or other herbs would work just well, perhaps roses would too. I’m not much of one for floral scents so I’ve never tried that. I stick to grapefruit since I buy them by the case this time of year and have grapefruit peels coming out of my ears.

You won’t believe how the vinegar smell simple disappears. This is perfect for those of you that want to use vinegar to clean but don’t like the smell of plain vinegar (my sister being among that group). This would even make a great febreeze alternative. Did you know that vinegar will mitigate odors? Mix this 50/50 with some water and spray on and around furniture to keep them smelling fresh & clean.

What scent would you like best for cleaning? Are you a floral or a fruity kind of person when it comes to cleaning products?

Stocking Your Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit
Learning to Love Castile Soap
Make Your Own: Foaming Soap
Make Your Own: Infused Vinegar
Make Your Own: Multi-Purpose Cleaner
Make Your Own: Color Safe Oxygen Bleach
Friday Favorite: Charlie’s Soap
Friday Favorite: Twist Sponges
and more to come

Building Hoop Houses out of Electrical Conduit

April 17th, 2010

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about our hoop houses that we have over our raised beds here at Chiot’s Run. They show up in a lot of photos. They sure come in handy for covering with frost blankets, netting to keep insects/birds out, supporting peas, as well as for winter garden protection. The first year I overwintered some spinach I didn’t have these hoops over the garden. I simply bent some bamboo poles and floated a row cover over them. This did a fabulous job protecting my spinach crop throughout the winter (we live in a zone 5).

The next spring we decided to build more permanent and sturdier structures for overwintering crops. We didn’t have enough space for a big greenhouse or a big hoop house, so the next best thing was to make small hoop houses over each raised bed. I researched a little and found that a lot of people use irrigation tubing or PVC, which is plastic and pliable. You drive some stakes or rods into the soil leaving 8-12 inches sticking out of the soil or make a base with holes in it to insert the tubing into. I found these photos on Flicker to give you an idea of other options (thanks to oceandesetoiles for these two images)

We decided we’d rather use electrical conduit because of it’s rigidity, we get a lot of heavy wet snows here and didn’t think the tubing would hold up as well. This conduit is very inexpensive as well and we figured it would outlast the irrigation tubing as well. The conduit was $2.19 each length of pipe and we used 4 per raised bed (our beds are 4×10).

Now I’ll have to warn you that pipe bending is not the easiest thing in the world. Mr Chiots and I worked together and our hoops are fairly nice. Not perfect, but not too bad either. I’d recommend buying an extra piece of conduit for a practice piece. The first thing we did to help with even bending was to mark the conduit 21 inches in from each end and then in 2 inch increments in between these two marks.

We used a hand pipe bender and practiced on one or two pieces to learn how much force was needed for a small bend each 2 inch increment along the length of the pipe. We over bent the pipes a bit, so they did not look like a hoop when we were finished. Ours looked more like teardrops since we left the ends straight, then we stretched them back out a bit to put them over the beds.

I will once again warn that this isn’t the easiest thing to do to get these things nicely rounded (read through the comments on this post I wrote about it last year). Mr Chiots and I are adventurous and willing to try to do anything ourselves though, so we were not daunted by the task. We were also OK with less than perfect hoops. We joke that ours have character since they were made by local artisans.

You can now buy a special tool just for bending garden hoop houses from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They came out with it the year after we made ours. It’s a little pricey at $69, but if you want to make a lot of hoops or have someone to share the cost with it would be a worthwhile investment.

We attached the hoops to the raised beds with two pipe clamps, one up top and one at the bottom. They’re very sturdy and will last a long time. I do love these because they come in handy for so many things. We use them to hold up netting over the strawberries to keep the birds out. We throw row covers over them to keep the deer out of the peas. We also throw blankets over them to protect from late spring frosts.

I ordered some greenhouse plastic this week and I’m hoping to use them as mini greenhouses this winter. I’ll be using a floating row cover on short wickets inside these hoops (you can be sure I’ll blog about it this fall). They also have come in handy to steady myself if I lose my balance or when I’m reaching in to the middle of the bed.

What measures do you use in the garden for extending the season and protecting crops?

A Little Light Maintenance

March 20th, 2010

This time of year I take advantage of these beautiful days to do a little maintenance. I’m not always doing gardening, I have other chores to do. The other day I was noticing that our outdoor light fixtures were getting really faded.

Good quality outdoor light fixtures are not cheap so it’s important to give them a little love every now and then. I spent a couple years looking for the right fixtures for the outside of our home and I want to make sure these stay beautiful for a long time! This past week I spent some time giving them a protective coat of linseed oil and scrubbing up the glass globes. The difference is AMAZING! They look better than they did when they were new.

This chore couldn’t be any easier, all you do is rub a light coat of oil on with a cloth or sponge. It will make sure the lights look great and last a long time, which will save me money in the long run. Sometimes a little bit of times spent in maintenance saves us lots of time and money in the future!

Do you do any kind of maintenance chores that save you time and money in the long-run?

Make Your Own: Brown Sugar

February 12th, 2010

There are lots of things you can make at home for much less than you can buy them at the store. Not only does it save money, but it saves time as well. No more quick trips to the store to get brown sugar when you start baking and realize you’re out. I’ve been making my own brown sugar for quite a while, mostly because it can be difficult to find organic brown sugar when you live in a rural area and it’s pretty expensive when you do actually find it! I definitely couldn’t get organic brown sugar for less than $1.50/lb, which is about what this costs me.

To make your own brown sugar all you need is white sugar and molasses. I use organic evaporated cane juice sugar (not Sucanat) and unsulphered organic blackstrap molasses. The general recipe is 1 cup of sugar and 2 Tablespoons of molasses. You can adjust the molasses amount or use a different kind of molasses to suit your tastes. I’m partial to blackstrap or sorghum molasses. I also like to use at least 2 Tablespoons or a bit more, since I like dark brown sugar.

After adding the molasses to the sugar all you have to do is mix. This can take a while, you can use a mixer if you’re making a large amount, the whisk attachment works very well for this task. Mixing by hand is quicker I think, that’s what I do. Using a fork seems to work best. Don’t worry if you have small lumps of molasses in the final product.

Another added benefit to making brown sugar at home, is that it’s always fresh. It smells wonderful and it’s always nice and soft. It has a much deeper flavor than store-bought brown sugar, which I really appreciate!

Now you can add this to the growing list of things you can make at home. You’ll have a constant supply of fresh brown sugar for baking all kinds of delicious goodies.

Have you ever made brown sugar at home? Any other great things you make at home you’d love to share?

Make Your Own: Butter

January 6th, 2010

We’ve been getting raw milk (also called Real Milk) from a local farm for a few years. Actually I should say that we’ve been getting raw milk from our cow for a few years. The sale of raw milk is illegal in Ohio, so we participate in what’s called a “Herd Share” program. We bought a cow and we pay the farmer’s to take care of it for us. It’s legal to drink raw milk if it comes from your own cow. This milk is as fresh as you can get, we pick it up the day after it’s milked, it’s unpasteurized and unhomogenized. Since it’s not homogenized the cream rises to the top, it’s also called cream line milk. If you look closely you can see the cream line in the milk on the right.

We pay about the same price for our organic pastured milk as we would for organic milk from the store. We are happy knowing that the farmers that take care of our cow are getting a much better wage for their work than from an organic dairy. It is really delicious milk, it’s hard to explain; but it tastes like milk, unlike the white liquid you buy at the grocery store. It’s fresh and delicious and slightly sweeter than grocery store milk. It’s also wonderful because I do not have lactose intolerance problems like I do with store-bought milk.

Making butter is super easy, all you need is cream and a jar. Of course you can make it in the mixer or the blender, but I prefer to make mine the old fashioned way. I simply shake the cream in a jar until it’s butter. It really doesn’t take long, between 10-20 minutes depending on the cream, temperature and how good of a shaker you are. I prefer to make mine in half gallon jars, but you can use quart or even pint, although the more cream you use the bigger you final batch of butter will be. Fill your jar 25-50% full of cream, I try to keep mine around 40%. The more cream you have in the jar the longer it takes to form butter because there’s less movement of the cream. I also like to keep the cream at about 50-60 degrees to make butter. If it’s too warm the butter will be kind of a whipped butter and it will be more difficult to rinse and knead later on.

While shaking you’ll notice the cream turn from liquid to whipped cream. It will become harder and harder to shake as it gets thicker. Eventually you’ll notice that it will break, this happens when the butter separates from the buttermilk. You’ll definitely notice the difference in sound at this point. As you are shaking, notice the color of the cream as well, it will start to turn more and more yellow as the fat molecules group together.

It will now be easy to shake and you’ll notice the butter will start clumping together. I like to rinse mine when it formed marble sized pieces. Pour the buttermilk out of the jar, but keep the butter in. Make sure you keep your buttermilk, it makes great pancakes, muffins or biscuits. Add some water back into the jar and shake again, do this two or three times until the water is just about clear. Empty butter into a strainer to strain off water. Transfer the butter into a bowl and knead with a spoon until it form a ball, you’ll notice you’ll be working water out of the butter. If the butter is too soft put in the fridge to harden a bit before kneading.

You can add salt to your butter if you’d like, I prefer to keep mine unsalted and sprinkle some salt on my bread after buttering. Homemade butter is really tasty, it has a different taste than store bought butter. I sometimes let the cream sour a bit before churning to make a cultured butter, this only works with raw cream though, you’ll have to add cultures to store bought cream if you want cultured butter. The first time I made butter I was amazed at the color, the stuff I buy from the store is almost white, as you can see mine is very very yellow. This is because the cows we get our milk from are pastured.

We’ve been making most of our own butter since we started getting raw milk. It has become part of our weekly routine, we make about a pound and half of butter each week. Around the holidays I sometimes have to buy butter from a local dairy because I don’t have enough to make all the holiday goodies. Making butter is a great hands on educational activity to enjoy with your kids as well.

Have you ever made butter? Do you prefer butter or margarine?

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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 moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.