Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Update at Making Shift

We've had a full summer thus far. Much of my homesteading activities have been conducted on autopilot lately since I've had all three kids at home for summer break. The bees, chickens, ducks, geese, and goats are all thriving, but I have not expanded any operations or started any major new projects. (I have some major fencing and garden projects in mind for the coming year, but it's too hot to start on anything yet.)

I'm behind on updates so I'm going to tell the story of this summer in photos. Here are some of the things we've been up to.

1. Reading
We always read a lot but I've really allowed myself to read lots of fun fiction this summer. Unlike most women (or so the librarians tell me), I read mostly nonfiction. At any given moment I might have on my bedside table: one book about drywall application, two about electrical wiring, forty-two about permaculture, and a few cookbooks.

The library book shelving overfloweth.

 2. Cooking and Food Preparation
My sister lives on a tiny lot in the suburbs of a large city but she sent me home from her house with grocery sacks full of mint and sage from her yard. Brother took it upon himself to pick all the mint leaves off the stems, where we let them dry and then stored them away for making tea. Big Sister learned how to make chocolate chip cookies all by herself and they were the best cookies I had eaten in years. She is ten years old so it's really past time for me to get her cooking more.

3. The Animals
The geese and ducks are nearly full grown and doing great. They free range in the yard all day and I close them up in one of the poultry tractors at night. I can't wait to get some eggs from them. So far the geese haven't attacked anyone and are really quite calm.

A goose walking down the front steps
 I made a new dog bed for Zeus because his old one was too thin and flimsy. I had a piece of thick, quality foam left from our old dog's bed and I covered it with an old bedsheet. My neighbor had given us a hand-me-down set of fancy-brand queen sheets. They were very nice and all except they felt like tarpaulins. Industrial grade. Perfect for a dog bed!

Newly covered dog bed
 4. The World Cup
We were totally immersed in the World Cup. We don't have a TV but we were able to see all of the games live by streaming them online! We moved our couch in front of the computer for the whole month of June and even did brackets with our extended family. As you can see, we were a house divided for the final game:

4. Family
We've had a lot of good family time. Big Sister taught Brother how to play chess. We went to Mexico and spent a wonderful week with our family. My two older kids are still there, having adventures with their grandparents.

I hope your summer has been as full and fun as ours! I'll be back soon with new projects and updates.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Homegrown Honeycomb

It's time for a bee update! Those bees have been extremely busy. While it is still too early for us to actually harvest honey from them, we have gotten to eat several pieces of comb that were being built along the sides of the hive (instead of hanging from the top bars as they should). I had never eaten honeycomb before, which is the actual comb (made of wax) filled with honey. You chew it up, slurping down the honey, and then spit out a tiny ball of wax. It is delicious. And it is ours!

I have some interesting photos of the hive that I took about two weeks ago when Mr. Chanclas was checking on their progress. I should  note that these photos were taken just one month after our bees arrived. They have done so much work!

Bees arriving at the entrance to the hive
Mr. Chanclas removing the roof to the hive
Replacing the jar of sugar water that helps feed the colony
Removing one of the top bars to look at the comb
A small piece of comb being built on the side of the hive. Chanclas removed it with a knife and we ate it.
One of the larger combs. Notice the golden brown in the center. That's the honey!
A closeup of the comb. Honey glistens in the center. The upper cells are capped with white.
The largest comb we have at the moment
The smallest, outermost comb. The bees started building comb at one end of the hive and are working their way down, building comb on the successive bars. Eventually they may fill or almost fill the box.
Lantana blooming near the beehive. This is one of many plants blooming at this time of year and providing the bees with nectar and pollen.

I find the beehive to be such a wonder. We do almost nothing for them. Mr. Chanclas makes sure they have some water nearby and he still gives them some sugar water to supplement their food. The combs themselves are gorgeous, made of perfectly formed, precisely sized cells. The beauty of a top bar hive, as opposed to the traditional bee box hives, is that the bees decide what size cells to build. There is no template that they are forced to build on. They build what is best for their colony.

I've also been surprised at how docile the bees are. Mr. Chanclas bought a smoker but has yet to use it. We move slowly and carefully around the hive and the bees tolerate our presence. I have found bees to be very different from all of the other animals we keep. Namely because we don't "keep" the bees at all. They could leave any time they wanted. We just provided a nice home and they decided to stay. We don't manage them or interfere with them much at all. They just go about their business and we will be lucky to reap some honey rewards at some point.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

DIY Dryer Vent (aka I'm Winging It)

Two weeks ago I decided I couldn't stand looking at our dryer duct work for one second longer.

When we bought this house there was all of this weird, convoluted, and decidedly dangerous tubing that was used to vent the dryer through one of the turbines in the roof. Not one single piece of this system was anything less than a code violation. I am pretty sure the previous owner did all of his home improvement projects while drunk. (I have ample evidence.) Even though I was worried about this dryer venting situation from day one, I was in no place to do anything about it. When we moved here we still had two children in diapers and one was still a nursing baby. I didn't even get all of the boxes unpacked for at least six months.

This was the terrible, code-defying scene in the attic
Two weeks ago I looked at that ridiculous snaky hose that was cut through two sides of a wall and a ceiling and decided I couldn't take it any longer. So I ripped out all of the ducting and proceeded to start over. Our utility room is located in the center of the house so I was either going to have to vent the dryer through the attic to the roof or through the attic to a soffit vent. I was nervous about cutting a hole in the roof so I ordered a soffit vent. Then I realized there was already a perfectly good roof vent (with cap and everything) directly above the dryer (accessible via the attic). Which makes me wonder why the previous owner did not use it. (Enter drunkenness theory.)

I was unable to route the new dryer duct through the utility room wall because there were too many electrical lines, plumbing lines, and even the electrical subpanel present on that wall. So I routed the duct through the ceiling, through the attic, and straight up to the roof vent. I installed a quick-connect piece at the ceiling so that I can easily disconnect the duct for cleaning.

New, rigid dryer duct in the utility room
New dryer duct passes through the ceiling via a quick-connect

I'm thrilled with the results and I can hear the dryer running as I type these words. In addition to eliminating a fire hazard I also made my dryer much more efficient. I can now dry a large load of clothes in 50 minutes instead of 70. That means I'm using almost 30% less energy to dry our clothes. I still prefer to dry most of our clothes outside on the clothesline but on rainy days like today I really appreciate the dryer.

Like almost all home repair projects, this project spawned at least three others, which is why I have been insanely busy these last two weeks. In order to install the new vent I had to tear out the old cabinets above the dryer. These cabinets served as our pantry and kitchen storage area, so they are crucial to the proper functioning of our kitchen. It took me two hours with a hammer and a cat's paw tool to pry the ancient cabinet off the wall. There was a lot of sweating and swearing involved and I bruised and scraped every finger on my left hand. But I emerged victorious.

The ugly, offending cabinet
After I had dragged the one-ton cabinet out to the driveway I had to start on drywall repair. The cabinet had left some deep gouges in the wall, not to mention the two enormous holes left by the old dryer duct (which had run from the utility room to an adjoining hallway). Drywall repair led to repainting the whole room. Repainting the walls led to repainting the ceiling, doors, and trim (because they all desperately needed it).

Tearing out the old cabinet led to a need for new shelving. I scoured my lumber collection for some good shelving boards. I came up with a total of twelve good shelves, including three which had been used as walkway across the joists in the attic. They all got a good priming and double painting and I scared up some brackets from a box in the carport. I didn't have to buy a single thing for the shelving.

Then Mr. Chanclas asked me why I was leaving a gaping hole in the other wall when I was making the rest of the room look so nice. Good question. So I decided to fix the other gaping hole, which involved removing two four-plex electrical boxes (installed while drunk, most definitely) and replacing them with a single duplex outlet. This, of course, involved more drywall repair.

My (still unfinished) drywall repair of the gaping electrical disaster that was installed here by previous owner
You get the point. One thing led to another to another to another...... I think it never ends. But I am nearly finished. I haven't installed the shelving yet and I'm still working on the electrical outlet, but the end is in sight. And the end is a whole lot prettier than the beginning. And before anyone starts thinking that I'm "handy" I'm here to say that that adjective probably doesn't apply. I didn't know how to do any of this except for the painting but I did some online research and checked out a couple of books about house-wiring and I was ready to go. All it takes is time, a willingness to get dirty, and some research.