Thursday, 30 September 2010

It's that time of year ... ...

Well it's arrived, autumn and all it's joys, don't get me wrong I actually prefer autumn and winter, winter more so, but the wet weather and the cold (when it arrives, probably soon) can cause issues around the house and garden, so I thought I'd give a little mention to WD-40 and good old 3-in-one oil, both of which can save time and money, here's how.

Say hello to my little friends -

WD-40 & 3-in-one, very handy.
I've used these 2 things for many years, and for various things and they have never let me down, they are great at what they do.
So what to use them for ? well it's pretty easy, and I'm guessing for most people this will be old news but I'm going to mention it anyway. Do you have padlocks in the garden ? maybe on a gate or a shed ? well as you may or may not know being exposed to the rain and the cold can cause problems with the locking mechanism itself, making the lock hard to open, this in turn might mean you bending or breaking a key in the lock and then it's pretty much useless, so with that in mind get a tin of WD-40 and make sure the little red straw is attached and then squirt a little in these 3 places 1 - the lock, where the key goes, 2 - in the 2 parts of the lock on the other side of it, the hole where you push the pad lock in to close it, and where the u shaped part is joined to the lock (basically you want to squirt lubricant anywhere there is a moving part) you don't need much, and be careful not to get too close in case it sprays out, this will sting if you get it in your eyes.

Once that's done make sure to put the key in and lock and open and close the padlock a few times to get the lubricant in as much of the lock as possible, this will help protect the lock from the rain, and also help it when things start to freeze, and if for some reason after doing this you can't get the lock open one day a little squirt of WD-40 on the moving parts of the lock should free it easily, this will also work for other locks, like bicycle locks for example, and even some older types of car door locks, you can also use a small drop or 2 of 3-in-1 oil for this as well.

One of my bicycle locks - 

Even a little squirt on a combination lock will help protect it.
It's not just locks either, WD-40 is good for all sorts of things, got a squeaky door or gate hinge ? a squirt of either will solve it, you can also use a little drop of oil or WD-40 on slide bolts as well.

One of our gate hinges - 

A little rusty I know, but they still work and they are sturdy despite the rust.
A slide bolt, we have a few of these on each door (front and back) as well as on our garden gates -

Slide bolt, I find the oil works better for these.
Do you have double glazing ? most houses have it now, least I think they do, but did you know that you are meant to lubricate the hinges from time to time ? I've always used WD-40 for this, first clean the hinges of any dust and dirt, then a little squirt on the parts that slide (see picture below) and this should be done at least once a year, again you don't need to cover it in loads of the stuff, just a little will do, then just open and close the window a few times to make sure it covers all the parts, you will notice a difference.

Here's a picture - 

Like it says in the picture :-)
It's best not to use oil for this because oil tends to collect dirt and dust more and may cause problems, so remember WD-40 is the best, and you can pick up a can for a quid (£1) yes you guessed it from a pound shop :-)

What else can we do ? well if you have a garden you may have a pruning knife or a set of secateurs for, well pruning and such like, there are other garden tools as well that this is good for, shears and lopper's.
Once you've sharpened them give them a good clean with some steel wool or fine emery paper and then get your 3-in-1 and a rag or cloth of some sort and squirt a little oil onto it, then rub the oil all over the blades of your chosen garden implements, you can also use a little to keep any moving parts working smoothly, this will keep the blades rust free over winter and when you come to use them in the spring they will be ready to go.

My secateurs - 

Just oiled.
My pruning knife, which if I'm honest does more cutting of things (like string) than actual pruning -

My pruning knife.
This is well worth doing, and for a couple of pounds for the oil etc it's not expensive, it could be if you don't look after your tools, and you can also use a little bit of oil on chisels and other tools, especially if they are out in a shed, giving them a wipe over with a little oil will help prevent rust and keep them in good condition, I have a set of chisels that I've had for nearly 10 years, giving them a wipe of oil now and then has kept them looking almost like new, I also use a little squirt of WD-40 on the tail stock of my lathe to stop the thread  up, and 3-in-1 oil is great for lubricating bicycle chains.

So for a little effort you can save money and time, just wish WD-40 worked on my joints :-)

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Woo hoo wine, and an ode to free-cycling ... ...

As part of our ongoing effort in being more self sufficient we have ventured into wine making, and so far we have made 2 batches of wine, with things we foraged for, we have one lot of blackberry wine and one lot of wild plum wine.
Last night I filtered the plum wine to get rid of the sediment using a filter we got as part of a load of wine making equipment from a very nice chap on free-cycle, in fact we got pretty much everything you need, apart from the ingredients (yeasts,fruit and stuff) we had bought a couple of demi johns from our local charity shop, but that's about it, we were looking in to what to do with the piles of fruit we had form our trips, and that's when the free-cycle e-mail came through offering all the wine making equipment.

The filter (even came with filter papers) -

Filtering the wine.
We did have to buy some sterilizer and some nutrients and we got some campden tablets in case we need them for future wines, which we will be making if the ones we have turn out okay, and so far they seem pretty good.

Here's a picture of the wine after I'd filtered it, it's in 2 demi johns because there's just a little too much to get it all in one, it doesn't seem to be affecting it.

The wine (this ones wild plum) -

I took the picture at night, under the kitchen lights, which doesn't do justice to the colour.
It tastes great, and luckily in amongst the wine making stuff was a hydrometer as well, so we can work out what percentage it is and other things, pretty handy really.
As it turns out there was an interesting looking air lock in with some of the equipment, on closer inspection it turns out it was a glass one, it's cool and makes a really nice sound as the gas goes through it.

Here it is - 
Glass airlock.
Here's a picture of the blackberry wine, which should be ready for bottling up soon.

Blackberry wine - 

This was taken before the plum wine (in the tub) was put into demi johns.
I can't really describe the colour of the wines, the plum wine is like a redish colour, and the blackberry wine is really dark red, almost purple, I will have to add a couple more pictures of the wines in glasses so you can see the colour, it has been a good experience and from what I've learned so far it isn't that difficult to make your own wine, there are plenty of good articles on the web about wine making,recipes and the like, google is your friend.

And now for free cycle, see with out getting the wine making stuff from free cycle we would have had to find other uses for our foraged goods as we probably wouldn't have been able to afford buying what we got in one big buy, so that's why I think free cycle is great, we have been lucky with the things we've found, for example the glass drying cabinet I turned into a dehydrator was from free cycle.

There are some other things we got, and perhaps the most unexpected was this - 

yes we really did get it for free.
As you can see it's a Newtonian telescope, and it has all the bits you need to start star gazing (we put it together to see if it was all there) I have since used it to look at the moon, it shows a very clear image, and I'm now working on a camera mount for it, so we can use dslr to take pictures.

The main reason we asked about the telescope when it came up on free-cycle was for our son, he has started to express an interest in planets and the moon and such like, so we figured if we were lucky enough to be offered the telescope it would be a bonus, we had no idea what sort of telescope it was as the lady who offered it didn't say, so I was quite surprised when she showed it to me, and I had to ask if she was sure she wanted to give it away, and to my surprise again she said she had been trying to give it to schools in the area, but can you believe none would take it ? I can't think why.
She also gave use some other things, like knitting needles and other knitting/sewing equipment and an un-opened chemistry kit, which again she had tried to give away to schools, but none would take it, so we will be using both the telescope and chemistry set for my sons education, and just for fun really.

I would like to say though that we only e-mail about things we can make use of, I actually managed to get enough parts to build a file server as well, but as I said unless we need it we don't ask, which seems fair to me ? I have heard stories of people who use free cycling to make money (one chap managed to make £700 from doing it) I think this is not in the spirit of it though, but I guess it's not illegal ? it just seems a little mean to take things under the pretence your going to use them and then sell them on, I can see why people do it, but I don't think they should.
Anyway enough of that, here's a link (opens in new window) to free cycles site - freecycle you should be able to find a group near to you, so why not join ? you might find something useful or you can use it to free cycle some of your un-wanted items.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A productive few weeks ... ...

I've been meaning to update this blog for a while, finally got round to it, so I thought I'd ramble on about how we have been getting on with things.
You may have read about our exploits foraging for things, and the comments we've had from people, we haven't received any more thankfully, and I still feel quite sad about it, mainly because the children of these people will miss out on a wealth of knowledge and experience, but not only that there's the heritage, will they ever learn that foraging for food in this country has been going on for many many years ? for example when Julius Caesar landed in Britain he and his troops had to forage for food, so if they hadn't known what to look for they might have not survived, but enough about that.

As the title suggests it's been a productive few weeks, and to be honest this has been our most productive year in terms of actually putting the things we wanted to into practice, of course we have had to get set up for various things, but we have been lucky and found a lot of the things we needed on free cycle, or for a low price, we like being thrifty, makes things more fun.

So where to start ? well for the second year we have had a bumper crop of black currants, this resulted in making a couple of batches of fantastic ice cream.

We do have white and red currants, but haven't had anything from them this year, hopefully next year we will have 3 different types of currant, all home grown.

Our blackcurrants.

We have grown our own veg for a couple of years, since we've had a larger garden really, but this year we have tried to grow more, extra pea plants for example, although this is more so that we can actually get some peas before the kids eat them all :-) and next year we are planning to grow even more.
Our kids enjoy being able to go into the garden and pick raspberries, or pull up a carrot or 2 (my son takes great delight in this) it's not all about the food though, kids can learn a great deal from growing your own veg, you don't even need a big garden, you can grow things in plastic tubs if you don't have much space, what's stopping you ?

My lovely wife has been busy too, she has made some great courgette relish, there was 2 medium jars of it, but it seems I may have eaten rather a lot, well it's very tasty, if you're interested in the recipe you can find it here - courgette relish (link opens in a new window)

The relish before I started to chow down on it.

This is something else we have started to experiment with, it's all well and good growing your own food, but what do you do with it ? well anything you want really, if you need a recipe for tomato sauce,or some kind of relish, or jam then you can find a wealth of information on line, google is your friend :-)
Jam is something else we have made this year, our first time, my granddad used to make jam all the time, and out of all sorts of odd things, we haven't been that adventurous, but we have a good stock of nice jam for over winter, blackberry jam is great, we also have apple and plum jam (the plums and apples were foraged for, as were the blackberries) we also made crab apple jelly (which is like jam without the bits) it's really good on toast :-)

Making your own jams and other foods is a great experience, and you know what goes into it, you don't need to grow your own stuff either, just go out and check the hedgerows for berries, you can make jams from all sorts of things, blackberries, rowan berries (these need to be cooked before you eat them) and other things, it maybe worth while investing in a good book that shows what plants are what, and how they can be used, this one is a good one to add to your collection, there are other books along this line as well.

Blackberry jam,plum and apple jam and crab apple jelly.

Left to right - Crab apple jelly,plum & apple jam, blackberry jam.

We did have our own plums this year, which was a nice surprise as we have only had the tree for a few months (about 6 months I think) we got it for a pound (yes just a quid) and it's only just over 2 feet tall, it was in a garden centre reject section (where they sell of the half dead plants) and it looked well, half dead, but it soon perked up after we gave it some tlc, this is a good tip by the way, just because a plant looks half dead doesn't always mean it is, so have a good look in the bargain plant section before shelling out a load on a plant that looks healthy (it may not be)

Our plums from our baby plum tree.

Home grown plums, should get more next year.

Our wine making facility.

Blackberry wine, we've since added wild plum wine as well.

You can make other stuff as well, for example one thing we have tried using our foraged produce is fruit leathers, which is basically a sweet hard fruit jelly kind of thing, they are great for kids, and as natural as you can get, they consist of fruit and a little sugar to taste, and that's it, then all you do is turn them into a purée and dry them out for a few hours, you can do this in a oven or a dehydrator.

Fruit leathers.

Left to right - Apple,blackberry.

I have to say that even though we have had derogatory remarks while blackberry picking, and even though I got scratched,stung and covered in mud getting apples it has been great fun, we have experimented and next year we will do things on a larger scale, and try and forage more and make more from what we have. We have found that there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had, knowing that you did everything from start to finish, you found the food, or grew it, you made the jam, or wine, and strangely it makes everything taste even better.

And not only that all through the various things we have done our kids have been by our sides, watching and helping, asking questions about things, looking at how we do things, they have had great fun helping to collect berries, and seen some interesting wildlife, the best being lizards, yes we do get lizards in England, and you might be surprised to know that not a lot of people know that you can find lizards in this country, which is a shame, and shows that kids and adults are loosing touch with nature.

My son was extremely pleased to have seen lizards while we were out on one of our foraging trips, and I even managed to carefully catch a baby one so he could see it close up, seeing the look of wonder on his face was priceless, my daughter was equally excited by it.

Here's the picture of a baby common lizard I caught for my son to look at, we let it go again, where we found it.

Isn't it fantastic !

Well enough of my rambling, but before I go I have to say get out there, look for berries, look for wildlife, teach your kids, and hey you might learn something as well, take books with you for identifying things (you can find reference books in most libraries) and may your travels be as productive as ours.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Dehydrator adapted from an old glass dryer... ...

Well I finally got round to finishing off one of the many projects I seen to have on the go at any given time.
 It was a stroke of luck really, we had been thinking about ways in which we could store things we grow, herbs mainly, but lately other stuff as well, after looking into it we decided the best way to go was to dry things out, this is all well and good, but we weren't sure how to go about it, we knew we could hang herbs up to dry them out, but we don't really have any where we could leave bunches of herbs and stuff drying for days or weeks.

After much considering we decided on the dehydrating method, which is just a kind of accelerated version of leaving stuff hanging for ages, how ever after looking into the prices of some dehydrators we figured it may be some time before we could afford one, so in my usual fashion I declared "I will make one" which is perfectly reasonable, and not really that difficult.

I set about looking for ways to make a dehydrator, I found many interesting ways in which people had made their own dehydrators, from custom built wooden boxes with custom built heating systems to foil lined cardboard  boxes with 100watt light bulbs in.
Then by a stroke of luck some one advertised on freecycle (do you freecycle ? you should) that they had an old glass drying cabinet that they needed to get rid of, we answered the e-mail and luckily the chap agreed to let us have it. It was an old drying cabinet for a school science lab, and was used to dry the scientific kit after being washed, as it turns out this was perfect for our needs.

Here it is -
Yes it does look a little worn.

Now I know what your thinking, something along the lines of "Hells teeth man you can't put food in that !" well no, but I did plan to make it safe to put food in, and it didn't really take much. The cabinet itself was ideal for this project because it had the heating element already fitted, along with a thermostat, which means we could regulate the heat, and as most thermostats have a built in fail safe we could be pretty sure it was going to get too hot and burn the house down.

The first thing to be done was to give it a good clean, and make a repair, although it's not in this picture the cabinet should have had 2 glass doors, it only came with one, and some kind of plastic make shift door, which wasn't very good, so I had to make a replacement.

Stickers and labels needed to be removed - 

Stickers put on by lab.

It had been safety tested, which was a bonus.

And as is often the case when you remove any kind of sticker or label you get a sticky residue, I have used the same method to remove this residue for years, and basically it involves either white spirit, or lighter fluid (the stuff you put in zippo type lighters)

The sticky stuff - 

This stuff is a pain to remove.
Same goes for this.

Here's what I used to get rid of it - 

Lighter fluid and a scourer.

Top tip, this also works on labels on glass jars as well, after soaking the label off, if there's any sticky stuff left get a little white spirit or lighter fluid on some kitchen roll, or a scourer and give it a little scrub, it should come off easily, then just was off with hot water and washing up liquid.

I made the new door from what I had round the house, which was some thin tongue and groove, so I cut 4 pieces to roughly the size of the glass door, and then glued them together, added to extra strips of wood to add a little more strength to it, and to stop it warping, and lastly I put a small wooden handle on it.

So with the door done I then had to set about cleaning the inside and the wire racks, the inside wasn't that bad, just needed a wipe over, the racks how ever were a little harder to sort out because they were quite rusty, so I got a wire brush and cleaned them all up so I could spray them.

The rusty racks - 

Rusty racks.

I also discovered that there was a wire support missing, so I improvised using the old steel rod from our old pedal bin.

Making a new support for the racks - 

New support in construction.

After that it was really just a case of spraying the whole thing to make it look a little neater, not that it will be on display, we have a space for it out in our back room. As the racks had quite large spaces between each part I bought some baking sheet things from a pound shop, and as it turned out the 4 I bought were enough to cover each rack, although I did have to cut them to size and the left over parts I stitched together to make new ones, other wise I would have needed 6 in all, I got 4.

The baking sheets - 

Baking sheets

Stitching the cut offs to make new sheets -

Stitching the parts of baking sheet together.

And here is the finished article -

The finished article.

There's no handle on the door in this picture because I took it before I remembered where I'd put the little wooden handle I'd reserved for it.
It won't win any design awards, but it's more for function than form, and it works a treat, we have already dried a load of sage and parsley, and we have loads more to do, and the other day we used it to dry out some fruit leathers, it didn't take as long as we thought it would for the leathers or the herbs, it took just an hour on half heat to dry the herbs, I could have turned it up and dried the herbs faster, but I didn't want to disintegrate them.

I'm pretty happy with the results, the wooden door helps insulate the cabinet and it keeps loads of heat in, and even stays pretty warm for a good while after, not bad for a total cost of 10 quid, and surprisingly it doesn't use that much electric, less than a kettle, and a lot less than our oven, so drying stuff in the cabinet is more cost effective.

Here's a picture of our energy meter while the cabinet was running - 

Our energy meter.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Foraging, and the attitude of some people towards it... ...

We have been foraging recently, like a lot of people, now is the time for blackberries and other things, like wild plums and apples.

Now before I go any further in my short tale, I would like to point out that foraging is not a new hobby, as it has been described in various articles, in newspapers and on the internet, in fact people have been foraging for thousands of years, and even though we are now in the 21st century foraging is still an activity a lot of people participate in, after all it's free organic food, which would no doubt have a high price tag if you were to buy it from a supermarket, I know that this year we have saved around £25 quid because we picked our own blackberries, yes I did say £25, at the current prices of blackberries at our supermarket, that's quite a saving.

If you know where to look, you can find all sorts of things, so far this summer we have picked about 7kg of blackberries, and about 4kg of plums, this would have cost a few quid, after all the organic stuff you get in supermarkets are higher priced because they are left alone, not sprayed and treated with loads of different things (apparently) I don't recommend you go out an pick the first thing that looks like it might be edible, do some research, get a good book on the subject, while you out an about look at the trees and bushes to see what's growing, then go home and look it up, you don't want to make anyone or yourself ill, or worse.

Once you have found a source or sources of whatever get some bags, or tubs (we used tubs for our blackberry picking) and go pick your bounty, then you can do what we did, so far we've made two lots of blackberry ice cream, three large jars of blackberry and plum jam, a litre of blackberry cordial, which goes nice with lemonade, and I have about a gallon and a half of blackberry wine on the go, and all it takes is a little bit of research to find out where things grow, we're lucky as our blackberries quite near, same goes for the plums and apples, which I've yet to pick, and you can note down where things grow so you can find them again next year, and please if you find a field full of apple trees or such like it's best to find out who owns it, and ask them if they mind you going on to their land and picking a few apples.

Great isn't it ? food for free ? well apparently not, yes it's free, all it requires is a little work on your part, whilst you may get some nice produce you may have to endure what we did on one of our recent foraging trips, we had been into the city to get some shoes for the kids, and on the way back we decided to do a spot of blackberry picking, they are easy to find, there's loads growing on one of the cycle routes into the city, so we walked home down this route, tubs in hand merrily picking away, and after a while we noticed that we were getting some odd looks, that's when the fun began.

No one actually said anything directly to us (I guess they thought we were too strange) but we got the side ways looks that people use when they don't approve of something, those were easy to ignore, I can't ever remember getting such looks from people when I used to go berry picking years ago, but I guess that was another time (feels like it sometimes) as I said the looks were easy to shrug off, there's nothing wrong with foraging.
Then, and here's the best came some comments, now I'm an easy going sort of bloke, but I really wanted to have a go back, but I didn't, I guess I felt my kids and my wife were being insulted (I guess they were in a way) The first comment, was a shame really, a woman and her daughter walked by us, and the daughter was quite interested in what we were doing, however her mother soon squashed any curiosity, and as she walked by she said what we were doing was disgusting ! I swear I felt like sitting on her and feeding her berries until they came out of her ears, although that would have been a waste of perfectly good berries.

It was a shame because this woman's daughter had shown an interest in what we were doing, and her mother could have just as easily explained what was going on with out the comments and attitude, surely that would have been better ? sometimes people really puzzle me.

The next comment had more of a comic value than anything else, we are still laughing about it, shortly after the first comment, a bloke and his daughter walked by, we didn't hear all of the conversation, but we did hear the part when he said "the stinging nettles are there to protect the blackberries from being picked" I'm not making this up, what a plank, although the nettles do a good job, it was a few days before the rash on my arms calmed down :-)

Thanks for reading.