Saturday, January 28, 2012

(DF) SPRING IS IN THE AIR!!!!

With the relatively warm weather, the air has certainly begun to smell like spring. Gardening has been on my mind and thoughts of hooking up the plow and working the fields have led me to start working on equipment. About a million other springtime projects have suddenly taken on a frantic new importance.

It seems I am not alone in these early feelings of spring. These daffodils also seem impatient (and yes the picture really was taken today). This is something I always look forward to but know not to expect until late February or early March.

I am not sure how this has happened so early. It could be blamed on the mild weather, but that has happened before. This is not something I will use as evidence that spring is really here, simply because for that to be the case would have implications that I am not ready to imagine.

Whatever the case, I will take a moment to stop and enjoy this little springtime tease and take in the smell of damp earth every chance I get. Meanwhile, If you know of a reason the flowers are blooming a month or so early, please let me know.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

(DF) TIME TO PLANT TOMATOES ??????

Of course it isn't time to plant tomatoes ................. at least not out in the garden. However, if you read my earlier article, "GARDEN PLANTING TIME ................ ALREADY???", you may realize that I tend to get a little impatient. In fact you are probably shaking your head about now, and wondering what makes me think I can raise a garden.

Before you chalk this up as some kind of a joke, let me assure you that I am serious. So serious in fact, that I planted about fifty tomato seeds today, twenty of one variety and thirty of another. I fully intend to plant more varieties as well as some hot peppers in a few days.

No, I am not fooled by the mild winter. The worst months of winter here are NORMALLY February and March, and most of April can be a bit iffy as well. So knowing this, why am I starting seeds in January? Simply put, it is because of the word "normally". Normally, it would be too cold to plant tomatoes out by the time they are big enough. Normally, by the time they can be safely transplanted, they would be nothing but spindly, yellowing runners that would be hard put to survive in the best of conditions. However, this is eastern Oklahoma, where "normal" is a well known myth, at least where the weather is concerned.

Within this broad range of what passes for normal, I have transplanted tomatoes in March and they flourished, and in May only to have them frosted. I have also planted them in mid April (which is customary) to have them blooming nicely in time for weather hot enough to prevent production. There have also been years (last spring in particular) when near record spring rainfall almost drown the tomatoes, followed by record heat which pretty much finished them off.

With these things in mind, I tend to start the seeds early, in the house, with mini-greenhouses made of clear trash bags, (until we can get the greenhouse frame covered, probably next year). By starting a lot more than are really needed, there are plenty to plant out early if the weather looks reasonable, then plant some out at the "normal time", and more (which may have to be moved to larger pots for awhile) for planting late, just in case winter hangs on longer than hoped.

In the not so "normal" event that spring is early, long and leads to a warm, damp early summer, there will be a bumper crop. If that happens, there will be lots of canned and dried tomatoes to store for several years to come.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

(DF) BREAD PRICE ALTERNATIVE

Today, with a cold wind blowing and me already dealing with a nasty chest cold, I opted to work on some projects, mostly inside. I did however have to go into town for a few errands and thought I would pick up a loaf of bread while I was there. Overcome by the distaste of paying more for a loaf of decent bread (and I am not talking specialty bread) than the price of a 5lb sack of good quality unbleached flour, I opted for the flour with the intent of making bread.

I fully realize that many people are intimidated by the prospect of making bread from scratch, but it doesn't have to be hard. Yes, it does take some time, but not really that much. I have also heard many times that the recipe has to be exact, and I beg to differ.

Arriving home, I checked my yeast. It has been in the fridge well over a year past the use by date, but not to be swayed, I put some raw sugar in a cup of warm water and added some yeast. When I say I added "some" or "a bunch of" something, I mean just that as I am not big on measuring ingredients. As soon as the yeast started to bubble and grow, showing it was still alive, I put a bunch of flour in the mixing bowl, added a little unrefined salt and a little olive oil. In went the yeast and sugar from the already mentioned cup along with enough additional water to make a proper dough. The dough was then kneaded, oiled on top with more olive oil and placed in a warm area with a damp cloth cover to rise.

The process took less than fifteen minutes and I was back at other projects, looking in occasionally to see if the dough had risen. When it had a bit more than doubled, I spent another five minutes or so Kneading the dough back to original size, cutting it in two and placing it in oiled loaf pans to rise again, and back to my projects.

When the dough had almost reached double size, I turned on the oven, waited a few minutes, kneaded the dough down again and popped it in the oven. Then back to projects until time to pull out the finished product.

The point is that with a few minutes here and there between projects, I made bread for much less than the cost of ready made. Not using a recipe insures that my bread is different every time, but it has only been inedible once. That instance was simply because I forgot it was in the oven and it turned to charcoal.

Please understand that, while edible, my bread does not in any way compare to the wonderful loaves Anna makes. With that said, if I can throw together bread that is edible, with no recipe or measurements, between projects, think what you can do with a good basic recipe and a little time.

Bear in mind the other benefits of making bread. It is a calming activity, saves money, you know it is fresh and you know what is in it. These are things you just can't get from buying bread off the shelf. So, if you have thought of making bread but thought it was too difficult, take heart and give it a try. Nothing quite like fresh baked bread.

Monday, January 16, 2012

(DF) HAMMER REPAIR IN THE BLACKSMITH SHOP

Throughout the past week, a week frantically filled with ranch work, car repair, warm weather prep for a strong cold front and numerous other frantic activities, thoughts of working at my recently set up blacksmith shop remained simmering on the back burner. There was also a nagging in my mind in terms of the rough texture of the small item I produced while testing my new forge parts. The problem was not with my technique, but with my tools.

It has been a few years since I have done any smithing, and in that time, my hammers have continued to be used for other things. Some of my hammers are wonderful antiques I have picked up at flea markets or that have been passed down through my family, while others are somewhat newer. They all have one thing in common, ABUSE. The amount of damage to a hammer face is not all that noticeable when hammering stubborn parts into place, straightening shafts or striking a chisel, but every stroke on properly heated steel will show every imperfection. With these things in mind, I decided to set aside a portion of the weekend to address these issues.

Needles to say, there were a lot of imperfections, making the work at hand also imperfect. The answer to this consideration is simple, fix or replace the hammers. If you will notice at this point, I said SIMPLE, not EASY.

Replacing sounds like the easiest of the choices, at least on the surface, but there are two major drawbacks. One of the big drawbacks is price. Of course, the value of good tools cannot be overstated, but when you consider the variety of hammers used in the blacksmith shop, the combined price would be quite high. Another drawback is quality and availability. Most hammers made these days are not used in the blacksmith shop, so the quality of material and workmanship is geared for other purposes. The finish on the face of many new hammers is another issue. In short, if you can see grind marks on the hammer face, you can also see them on your work, so you have to work on them before use. Add to these considerations the fact that many of the more specialized hammers are no longer produced and those passed down through the family are not replaceable. The option of replacing suddenly becomes not so easy after all. Besides, repairing the old ones gives a much better appreciation of what you have.

With the decision made to repair instead of replacing, I was truly appreciative of a good bench grinder. Yes, I know that is a departure from the handcrafting way but with serious time constraints, it came in pretty handy. The bench grinder, used carefully so not to overheat the metal, was quite effective for re-shaping the faces and getting past the chips and dings, but the grinder marks were another issue. One by one, the hammers were placed in the vice and gently attacked with a good flat file to remove the marks left by the grinder. When the filing was done, you may have already guessed it, there were plenty of file marks left behind. This had to be remedied with the use of very fine emery cloth and lots of elbow grease.

By the end of the weekend, all of the hammers I currently have in my shop for working metal, now have brand new shiny faces that I can see my own face in, and no dings or grinder marks. It was a lot of work, but though it took most of the weekend (leaving barely enough time to plant a few potatoes), the time spent was certainly no more than would have been spent making money to buy new ones. The satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that bringing these old tools back to life gives, simply cannot be measured.

Needless to say, there won't be a great deal of tolerance for people using my hammers incorrectly and the handles of those used for shaping metal and those used for chisels and such will be color coded for easy identification. A sign is in the works which will read, "Ding my tools, I'll ding your head". Of course I won't likely ding heads, but I may well hand the culprit a file and some emery cloth and make them fix the dings.

Though my antique anvil, passed down from my great grandfather, has a few imperfections that can't be addressed at this time, it isn't too bad. At first hint of an opportunity, I will have the neighbors wondering where all the noise and coal smoke is coming from. And I will smile while I am doing it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

(DF) "FORGING" AHEAD

With the holidays over and the new year just started, there are all the plans of things to be done. Unfortunately, there is the small and rather annoying matter of bills to pay. Nothing gets in the way of productive plans quite like having to spend time working simply to pay bills that will be due again a month from now anyway. Sometimes the best we can do is try to forge ahead through the work week, in hopes of accomplishing some of the important stuff on the weekend.

This past weekend was one of those times. After working at the ranch all week, doing everything from feeding and working cattle to hauling equipment, Saturday morning finally arrived. Of course, there was a long list of things to be done in the nature of playing catch up. Very frustrating but necessary.

For some time now, I have been gradually working on getting my blacksmith shop up and running. It has been a slow process with lots of set backs, squeezed in between the higher priority items. Frustration takes a major toll, and I have been trying hard to remain philosophical about the whole thing. At this point, you may have realized that I truly believe patience is a virtue, JUST NOT ONE OF MINE! The most recent set back, after finally getting most of the equipment in the shop last week, was the realization that the tuyere grating (the thing with holes for the air to flow through) on the forge was pretty much burned out, and not a part you can just go down to the local hardware and pick up. This meant I would have to make one, and as luck would have it, the axle cap which was in my metal pile, salvaged from an old truck, looked like just the material for the project.

So, the weekend rolled around, with its pile of laundry, wood cutting, errands and hundreds of other things which were far behind by now, all needing done immediately. Somehow, I managed to do most of them and still find time to make the part for the forge and even fire up for a little practice. Not much practice, just enough to knock some of the rust off the tools and my skills. I'm not sure how I managed to get so much of the work done, but it sure felt good to finally be back at the forge again.

Today, I went back to work at the ranch, to make more money for bills AND for some much needed rest after the weekend.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

(DF) BAMBOO HARVEST

Today has been crisp and sunny, an all around beautiful day to do almost anything outside. There were a multitude of things here needing done and, as usual, not enough time to cover it all. I was not surprised when my step-grandson called to say he needed to stop by and pick up some things from me, because someone is always stopping by wanting something. It did however add to the frustration of things I needed to be doing, as most of them were away from the house, so I was left to think of what to do while I waited.

With a few seconds thought, I remembered the bamboo just outside the front yard fence. I planted a couple of small starts several years ago and it has since spread a bit. Though it has not reached the size this species is capable of, it is respectable. Last winter's extreme cold (extreme for here, at least) had killed back the leaves on some of the taller canes. Leaves didn't grow back through the summer, though the canes were still green, so I decided to harvest the damaged ones this winter. Today, while I waited, seemed like a good time for such a project.

So it was off to the bamboo patch with the pruning saw. What a tangled mess! Brush and vines had woven the thick growth of bamboo into a near impenetrable wall. With some work and patience (as if I really have patience), I soon worked my way through to the canes needing harvested. Within a short time, 29 freshly cut bamboo canes lay piled in the driveway.

Trimming the branches with a machete went quickly. Soon, the bundle was tied every couple of feet so the canes will keep each other straight, and ready to hang up in the dry. Now, the bundle is hanging from the rafters of the blacksmith shop. Yes, I did say blacksmith shop, but that is a subject for another post.

Now if Anna and I can just figure out what to do with the bamboo.

We Have NOT Deleted Anyone!!!

To all of our WONDERFUL members:

We HAVE NOT deleted any of you!! Something has gone crazy on Blogger today. At one point, ALL of our members were deleted! Please come back. We greatly apologize for this inconvenience and truly hope Blogger gets the problem fixed quickly.

At least we were luckier than some. Some have had their entire blog deleted today!

Thank you so much for your patience!

Dave & Anna

Sunday, January 1, 2012

(DF) MANY LEVELS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY ------ part 6, some final thoughts

Throughout this series, I have made many statements that could be interpreted as attempts to discourage readers from trying to achieve self-sufficiency. This could not be farther from my true intent. In fact, my only purpose for posting my thoughts on this subject was to inform and to encourage people to reach the highest level of independence their capabilities and personal needs allow.

If you haven't achieved level eight, don't feel bad, neither have I. Personally, over the years, I have achieved bits and pieces of every level, never any complete level above the lower end of the scale. There are many reasons, the excuses are endless. Lack of knowledge or skill, lack of money, lack of time, lack of energy, lack of a like minded partner, and the list goes on. Not that these and others aren't valid considerations but none, or even all, of them can take the full blame.

To be self-sufficient means that you can, and do, provide for all of your own needs. The fact is that there is not enough time in the day or skills and varied ability for a lone individual to provide everything. This fact makes it necessary to include others, making self-sufficiency for the individual difficult if not impossible.

There is one, more important reason, genetics. Yes, I am going to blatantly and shamelessly play the, "it's not my fault, it's genetics," card here. As a species, we are social creatures, we need companionship and preferably of like minded people. John Donne said it nicely; "No man is an island." Humans need each other, in order to remain emotionally and psychologically healthy. The interaction between humans in terms of spiritual beliefs promotes a strong, healthy spirituality.

When considering the apparent hopelessness of individual self-sufficiency, perhaps the outlook would be brighter if we looked at the possibilities small groups or communities provide. Looking at a group of like minded individuals with varied skills, knowledge and abilities, it would be much less difficult for the group to achieve higher levels. A word of caution; if the group gets too large, it becomes a society with all the political issues we are trying to get away from.

With that said, it is my sincere hope that the opinions I have expressed have increased awareness, answered questions, or better yet raised a whole new set of questions. The act of questioning is the beginning of the learning process.

Happy self-sufficiency!