Saturday, January 25, 2014

Scavenged Treasures: January 2014

Last week's scavenged treasures
The bulky trash collection in Austin is a scavenger's paradise. I've written about it previously (here and here and here ). I hadn't done much scavenging in the last couple of months because I felt like my materials collections were sufficiently full. I recently built a new raised garden bed out of scavenged lumber from my materials yard and felt like I was a bit low on lumber afterwards so I decided it was time to make the rounds. I looked up the bulky trash collection schedule on the city website and saw that west Austin was scheduled for the third week of January. I only make the rounds relatively close to home and west Austin was just close enough for me to warrant going. 

I set out in my trusty minivan with a cup of coffee and some leather gloves. As soon as I turned onto the first street scheduled for bulky pickup I spotted this little jewel (the chair, not the child):

Isn't that a riot? Big Sister took one look at it and proclaimed, "It looks like a throne! We can use it when we play King Tazo!" Little Sister delights in its velvet upholstery. The cats love to knead it under their paws. And when I brought it inside I realized it looks lovely next to our cabinets with the Frida Kahlo fabric doors. 

After I loaded the throne into the back of my van I headed through the neighborhood and found a rabbit hutch. Yes. I call it a rabbit hutch because that is what it will be at my house but I suspect it was originally a bird cage (doves, probably). It's made of cedar and hardware cloth and it is still in great shape. Somebody just didn't need it anymore. I have spent the last month planning how to build rabbit hutches and then the universe smiled upon me and gave me this first one. 

After I loaded the hutch I moved on to a different neighborhood and found a sweet pile of lumber on a cul-de-sac. (This is where the leather gloves come in handy.) I picked up several uncut eight-foot long pieces of wide lumber (two-by-sixes, maybe?) and some good wooden shelving as well as a few shorter boards. In a separate pile I found an eight-foot long two-by-ten. I'm pretty sure I paid for the gas for my scavenging trip with that single piece of lumber alone. 

Moving right along I gathered a medium-sized folding table, two flexible plastic downspouts (brand new and destined for rainwater catchment), three plastic under-the-bed boxes with lids, and a very large plastic tote. The very large tote had a brittle and breaking plastic lid, which I left behind. I don't need it anyway because I'm going to raise chicks and ducklings in the tote and it will be topped with an old baby gate to keep the cats out. 

Nice, right? Little Sister helped me scrub out all the totes, clean the folding table, and thoroughly vacuum and wipe down the throne. I sorted the lumber into the appropriate piles in the materials yard and now I'm ready for my next building project. I have a big scavenging run planned for March when the bulky trash pickup comes to southwest Austin, my favorite and closest scavenging region. Let me tell you, the best place to scavenge is the 'burbs. 

Scavenge on, my friends.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Vaccinate Your Goats: A Guide

Materials Needed
1 bottle CDT vaccine
2 syringes (at least 2 ml)
4 needles (20 gauge, 3/4 inch)
cotton ball
dark chocolate
a good friend with injection skills
leftover pot roast

Ask a dear friend (preferably a student nurse) to come over and shoot up your goats. Have her bring her kids so that your own kids are occupied. Watch your friend clean the top of the vaccine bottle with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball. For fifteen seconds, no cheating. Watch her attach a needle to the syringe and draw up 2 ml of vaccine, flick air bubbles out with her finger, then remove that needle (now dull) and attach a new one. Replace needle cap to maintain sterility. Repeat for second goat.

Go outside and catch a goat. Know that the front armpit (legpit?) area is good for subcutaneous (under the skin) injections such as these. Feel up the goats and realize that they are so small there isn't a lot of flesh to work with. Wonder how you will pinch up a little tent of skin for the injection when they are covered in thick hair and tight skin. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of giving an intramuscular injection instead. Wonder where you can find enough muscle to give an IM shot. Worry about giving a shot in the hind legs and hitting the sciatica nerve. Decide to go for the sub-Q injection. Restrain your 18-pound miniature goat on top of a giant wooden spool while your loyal friend scrounges up enough goat skin for a sub-Q injection. Success. Realize that the goat didn't even seem to feel the shot. Repeat with the second goat.

Go inside and wash your hands and sit down with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, two ice-filled glasses, and a bar of extra dark chocolate (85%, please). Convince your friend that she doesn't really need to go the grocery store tonight and make her stay until past the kids' bedtimes. At some point heat up yesterday's leftover pot roast and eat it all before the kids realize there is hot food.

And that, my friends, is how you give a goat a shot.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Emergency Preparedness for Non-Preppers

I'm no prepper.

I don't hoard caches of guns on my property or talk about the coming zombie invasion. (At least not without laughing.) I don't lie awake at night worrying about self-defense tactics or whether I have enough food stored away for a nuclear holocaust.

But today I came across Little House in The Suburbs' (LHITS) announcement of a Prep-Along. After the recent chemical spill and extreme winter weather in her part of the country (West Virginia) Deanna from LHITS decided it would be a good idea to be more prepared for disasters. She wrote:
Not that this is anyone’s view of a good time, but it’s something we should all do, at least on a basic level.  So, for this first Prep-Along, we’re going to follow the FEMA requirements found at  Exciting right?  Let’s follow a government program together….YAY!
Let's face it, it is really smart to be prepared for the unexpected. No matter where you live there is the potential for natural disasters, not to mention the man-made kind. I am always shocked at how folks in hurricane-prone areas don't have enough supplies on hand to weather the storm, and yet I myself am mostly unprepared for emergencies.

In April of 2011, two weeks after we moved into our house, there was a large urban brush fire directly adjacent to our neighborhood. One hundred acres of woods burned, as well as 20 homes. My in-laws had just arrived in town that morning and we had all headed out to a nearby soccer field to watch Big Sister's team play. During the game we noticed an enormous plume of black smoke billowing up to the west and joked about how it looked like our new house was on fire. As we drove home we grew increasingly nervous as it seemed more and more possible that our new home actually *was* on fire. When we reached a major intersection just one mile from our house the entire horizon was filled with enormous orange flames. Frankly, it was terrifying.

Image from The Oak Hill Gazette

We turned off the highway into our neighborhood and were stopped by a patrol car. The sheriff's deputy was evacuating our neighborhood. We dashed home and grabbed our cat, dog, and a file full of what I only hoped were our most important documents. (We had just moved in and the whole house was still completely disorganized.) My in-laws drove their car out and Mr. Chanclas drove his and we all convened at my friend Erin's house, who lives nearby but not within the danger zone. (It's a good friend that you can surprise in the middle of the day with your whole extended family and your pets in tow.) From there we tried to get more information via TV or the internet about exactly where the fire was burning. I was shocked at how little information was available considering the fire was threatening a large urban area.

Throughout the afternoon helicopters dropped water on the fire. Then small airplanes dropped loads of fire retardant. By evening we learned that the fire was burning maybe a quarter mile from our home. Luckily for us the wind was blowing hard in an easterly direction, spreading the fire directly away from us. In the late evening Mr. Chanclas returned to our house with his folks to assess the situation. We were no longer under evacuation and many of our neighbors had stayed put. The wind continued to blow hard to the east. We decided to bring everyone home for the night.

It was a long night, with multiple low-flying helicopters shining incredibly powerful spotlights down on a neighboring area as homes were evacuated at midnight. Mr. Chanclas spent hours pacing in the front yard watching the sky. I paced inside the bedroom, searching the eastern horizon for flames. We were ready to load up the cars and leave at a moment's notice. To this day the sound of helicopters makes us both cringe.

In the end, we suffered no damages and neither did anyone else in our little neighborhood of fourteen houses. We were spared only by the direction of the wind.

My point is that emergencies are always unexpected and the best we can do is to be somewhat reasonably prepared for them. Since the fire I have learned to store all of my important documents in one brightly-colored plastic binder so that I can grab it in a hurry. I'm going to join Little House in the Suburbs for the Prep-Along, even though it's not the most exciting use of my time. I imagine that quite a bit of the preparations will dovetail with my other homesteading activities such as preserving and canning and rainwater harvest and storage. Anybody want to join me for the Prep-Along? You can start with the first LHITS post here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Joy of the Veggie Box: We Joined a CSA

Our second box of CSA veggies
Our home garden production has been less than stellar. In an effort to get some fresh, local food on our family table I placed an order for four weeks of veggie box delivery from Johnson's Backyard Garden. JBG is a very diverse, local organic farm here in Austin. Theirs is an interesting story: they really did start out in their backyard. Amazingly, they ran a 30-member CSA from the produce they grew in their urban backyard (and side and front yards). From those urban beginnings they expanded to 20 acres five miles east of downtown Austin and another 50 acres in nearby Cedar Creek. They now have 1,000 CSA members and also sell their produce at area farmer's markets.

If you have never heard of a CSA before, here's a quick explanation. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you purchase a CSA membership (or "share") you pay the farmer up front for a portion of the upcoming harvest. The farmer benefits by receiving income up front when it is needed most (think of all of the up-front expenses of farming: seed, irrigation, labor, etc) and you, the consumer, benefit from fresh local produce harvested right before delivery. Your share of the harvest is boxed and available for delivery or for pick-up at a selected site (usually a member's home or a local business or farmer's market).

Check out the size of that turnip!
JBG offers the most flexible CSA program I've ever seen. Most CSA programs require the customer to pay up front for a whole season's worth of vegetables, which can be a steep one-time cost for most folks. JBG does offer and encourage this kind of traditional CSA membership but they also offer shorter-term memberships. I signed up for four weekly boxes to be delivered to our home. I pay a few dollars more for home delivery but I knew that I would loathe having to make a special errand to pick up my box every week. The home delivery has been worth it.

JBG offers four different box sizes and I chose the largest one, intended for 4-7 people. I cook a lot and we eat a lot, even though three of us are children. Brother, who is six years old, is in the middle of a huge growth spurt and is currently eating more than some grown men I know.

Little Sister peeling a giant turnip from our veggie box
We ate all of the veggies in our first box within the week except for two giant sweet potatoes and a few sprigs of parsley. I had recently bought several sweet potatoes at the grocery store so I had a bit of a glut of camotes, which is fine because Mr. Chanclas and I love them. (Note: we ate the remaining sweet potatoes and parsley the following week.)

Our second CSA box was delivered at about 5 pm as I was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee wondering what to make for dinner. I brought the box inside and immediately set the oven for 425 degrees for roasting. With the addition of some chicken, dinner was solved!

Roasted cauliflower, turnip, daikon radish, sweet potato, carrot, and beet
We love roasted root vegetables and Mr. Chanclas and I love braised greens so we are in vegetable heaven right now. I decided to ferment the red cabbages and the daikon radishes. I can't tell if the daikon pickles are going to be that good but the purple sauerkraut is already delicious.

The sauerkraut is already delicious after just a few days of fermentation

Daikon radish pickles

Another nice thing about the Johnson's Backyard Garden share is that you can add a few other grocery items to your delivery. I ordered some free-range eggs and made a frittata with the eggs and some leftover vegetables.

Veggie frittata made with leftover broccoli and goat cheese
I haven't found cooking all the vegetables to be challenging at all. There was a root vegetable that I didn't recognize in the first box but that didn't bother me. I never met a root veggie I couldn't roast so I roasted it, too, and it was delicious. It turned out to be a watermelon radish, which looks a lot like a turnip but is bright purple-pink inside.

I love the veggie box. It's like getting a big, vibrant Christmas present every Wednesday afternoon.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Building a Woven Wire Fence: Part 2

It's official. The goats now have their own paddock. We call it "the goat run". In early December we tore down most of the old fence and got ready to put up a solid, woven-wire fence. (See Building a Woven Wire Fence: Part 1.) In the meantime Kiki and Clementine have been kickin' it in a jerry-rigged enclosure I made out of a roof panel, two pallets, two cattle panels, some zip ties, and two bungee cords. It looks like this:

Niiiiice, right? I know. It worked out great. The blob in the middle is an igloo-style doghouse I liberated from the curbside trash last year. It's the perfect size for two little goaties and they stay nice and warm in there on old nights. I threw an old blanket over the top as a little extra insulation and to provide a flap over the door. They have a thick bed of hay in there and some drinking water.

Mr. Chanclas' mother, father, and sister came up from Mexico to visit us for Christmas and New Year's. We had a blast although I think my father-in-law thinks we are trying to kill him. First he helped us chop down two dead trees and then we enlisted him to help us build the goat fence. He was a huge help, teaching me how to hang a gate and helping Mr. Chanclas stretch the woven wire and attach it to the posts.

Mr. Chanclas mixing concrete for setting the corner posts
First Mr. Chanclas pickaxed some holes for the wooden corner posts. Then he filled them with fast-setting concrete and set the posts.

The original dog run had only had one gate and it was awkwardly placed. We decided to keep that one as it provides easy access from the house but planned for a second gate on the opposite end to provide better access. I built the second gate out of scavenged wood from my materials yard, a latch and hinges I had picked up at the Habitat Re-store, and some corner braces I had to buy new (damn!) from the building supply place.

Salvaged lumber I used to build the second gate
I also made a wire stretcher out of a couple of old two by fours, four half-inch bolts, and the corresponding nuts and washers. I got to use my favorite drill bit, the Speedbor. With the Speedbor  drilling through two by fours feels like drilling through butter.

This is a great bit for drilling big holes FAST.

My homemade stretcher bar resting across two wooden stands.
Mr. Chanclas and his dad attached one end of the woven wire mesh to the first wooden post using fencing nails and then used the stretcher bar, two chains, and a come-along to stretch the mesh tight across the wooden post at the next corner. They attached the mesh to the second post and then loosened the come-along, moved the stretcher bar, and repeated the process at the next corner.

The first section of wire mesh is attached to the first wooden post and ready for stretching.

Mr. Chanclas attaches the stretcher board and chains

The fence after being stretched and secured
After all the wire mesh was stretched and attached we hung the gates and installed T-posts between the wooden corner posts. I was supposed to make the new gate to fit the gap they had left me but I got excited and built the gate before measuring the opening. Whoops. The gate was a few inches too narrow so we had to affix a dummy post to the wooden gate post to fill in some inches.

Oops. I made the gate too narrow so we had to fill in the gap

Mr. Chanclas hanging the wire mesh on the T-posts using wire clips

Using The Blue Tool to attach wire clips

Amy Lou from Solar Rain Bucket gave me some priceless advice when she told me to buy a wire clip tool for hanging the wire mesh on those T-posts. The tool, which we shall call The Blue Tool, cost me about $12 at Tractor Supply and was worth its weight in gold.

We still have a few things to do before the fence and run is truly finished but I am already able to let the goats out into their bigger yard while I'm at home. They love it. They went right to work doing what they do best: eating the shrubbery.

Kiki enjoying access to new greens
Building a Woven Wire Fence: Part 3 will be when I make a chicken-wire skirt around the bottom of the fence and replace the old floppy wire that is still hanging in the front section of the run. For now I'm just happy and relieved that the majority of the fence is done!