Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Power Outage

Monday after work I stopped at the pool and swam for about 45 minutes. I showered afterward (usually I just rinse and shower at home, but for whatever reason, I decided to do a full shower at the pool this time) and then drove home. As I pulled into the driveway, I could see the candles in the wall sconces in the living room were lit. Is my husband getting all romantic on me? Then I realized that our big overhead light (outdoors) wasn't lit and I could see that the brooder light in the garage was out. I glanced across the street (and across the field) and confirmed that our neighbors were also dark. Power's out.

My first thought was for the chicks. Without power, their brooder will be cold and they are not yet fully feathered and it was unusually cold out, too. Upon opening the door to the house, the first thing I noticed was that the woodstove was lit and that there was a box infront of it. Yep, my husband is one smart cookie! The chicks were soundly sleeping by the warmth of the fire.

My next concern was how I was going to use my Neti pot. I started using one as a way to cleanse the chlorine from my sinuses. I get nasty reactions if I don't use it within a couple of hours of swimming. So I pulled out the tea kettle, filled it with water and set it on the wood stove. Not 3 minutes later and it was already scaldingly hot! I mixed it with some cold water to get the right temp and did my duties. Phew.

Apparently we had a freakish wind storm that afternoon. It actually ripped the front awning off the goat shed and not long after that, knocked out our power. The power company said they'd already received over 800 calls about outages by the time my H contacted them. 800 homes out where we live covers a LOT of territory! This happend at about 4pm, so H hadn't even started dinner. We debated firing up the grill but opted to run out to a not-too-local restaurant (our whole town was dark - we had to go to the next one for food!). On the way back, we could see emergency crews, flood lights and activity on the main road that goes through our town. My guess is that some tree or branch took down the power lines and that was one of the spots. It must have happend in multiple locations because it was so widespread.

When we got back from dinner, we sat around talking by lamplight until it was time for bed. As I was trying to set my cell phone for a wake-up alarm, I noticed a light from under my husband's office door. The power came back! Good thing, I was worried I'd have a hell of a time getting ready for work the next morning with no power.

Anyway, this little incident made us realize a few things. First of all, we are too power dependent. We do conserve pretty well so our bills aren't high, but we still have too many things for which we require power (like laptop computers, clocks and the freezer/fridge). We've got non-electric light and heat covered, but we still need to work on food storage and communications. We also need to do something about the pumps in the basement. Lucky for us, this wind came during a slight dry spell. Had it been raining like the last two days, our basement would have flooded without the sump pumps. That's something else we need to take care of as soon as possible. Secondly, we need to make sure that we have plenty of lamps and candles that are not scented. Nothing is worse that getting stunk out of your own house by too many scented candles all at once! ;-) Lastly, we'll have to make sure to only hatch chicks in the summer so that we won't need a lamp to keep them warm!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Making Soap and Candles

Homemade candles! Soy candles in purple, melted beeswax tea lights, and rolled beeswax candles plus some of the beeswax 'foundation' sheets awaiting the next project.

This past winter, we signed up for a couple of classes at the bee supply place that we use. They were offering both soap making and candle making as ways of utilizing beeswax. We signed up for both and learned so much!!

The first class was soapmaking. We brought our own 'safety equipment' like goggles, aprons and old towels, but the class provided the lye, the fats, the scents and a basic soap mold. We had so much fun! We opted to make two different batches of soap from our mix. Both had the same oil/fat mix and the same lye, but when we got to 'trace' we split them up and scented them different. To over simplify, when you make soap from lye and fat (and beeswax in our case), you mix them together in very precise quantities (using a digital scale), stir until you get to the 'trace' stage, and then add scents or additives. Then you pour the mixture into a mould of some type and let it dry. You need to keep it warm (the reason for the towels) so that it sets properly and doesn't crack or bubble.

Soap cooling in the homemade mould (piece of pipe with a cap on one end). Once hardened, we slid it out of the mold and sliced it with a sharp knife.

This is the other 'scent' of soap - also hardening (usually takes 24 - 48 hours).

Once set, you slice it up and let it dry further. There is no need to let it sit for months and there is no danger of burning your skin IF you use the correct formulas. In the old days, when lye came from wood ash stirred over a fire, it was a very inprecise science. Soapmakers had to basically guess the strength and estimate the mixing quantities. Today's lye is so pure and regulated that it is very easy to calculate the right mixture and avoid creating soap that takes off more than dirt!

Soaps sitting on parchment paper to further harden. It is useable immediately, but it will last longer under water if allowed to harden up some (otherwise it disolves really quickly).

The two types we made are pictured above. The yellow colored soap is scented with zucchini flower and the browner looking one is scented with a mixture of scents including sandalwood and also has cranberry fiber added for a slight exfoliating effect.

We are both looking forward to formulating our own soaps at home soon. We are particularly interested in making goats milk soap that has it's own challenges and rewards.

After the soap class, we had the candle making class. This was a bit more difficult for my husband who now was the only 'boy' in attendence. He is secure enough in his manhood to laugh it off and I think he ended up having a good time. We made a couple of beeswax candles as a group (and took home some of the tea lights), a soy candle and we learned how to roll candles out of the beeswax sheets that are often used as foundation in hives. Of course, when they are used in hives, they aren't tinted such pretty colors!

I enjoyed all of it and even purchased extra sheets to make some roll candles as gifts, but I think the most helpful part will be the melted beeswax candles. I cannot wait until we get to harvest honey and an start saving up that beeswax for our own projects. Beeswax is wonderfully versatile and when used as a candle, burns steady and clean. It's really an amazing product and I'm thrilled that we have our own source for it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

More New Farm Friends!

Pepper and Skylark - half sisters (they shared the same mom) and our herd matriarchs.

We would like to welcome Skylark and Pepper to the crazy world of our tiny farm! These two half-sisters are Nigerian Dwarf does. Skylark is the one with the blue eyes and she is 3 years old. Pepper is the smaller all black goat and she is only two and has never been bred. Both are super sweet and we are pleased to have them as the founding members of our Nigerian Dwarf herd.

Yes, you read that correctly. We've finally decided that it's time to do what makes the most sense for our land/space and our goals so we are changing our goat herd. We will be keeping Buddy as a companion goat (he's our Pygora wether) but Sass is going to a new home.

We met a couple who operates a CSA a few towns north of us (near where I work, actually) last summer and they have a few goats already. They include the occasional homemade goat cheese in their CSA shares. I forget which breeds they currently keep, but they are not the heavy producer that Sass is, so they are excited to have her join them. She'll have a wonderful home where she will get to breed and where she will have other full sized goats to keep her company. Plus, we can visit her! We are not selling her as this isn't about profit - we just want her to have a good home. We plan to be clear about the fact that if their situation changes and they can no longer keep Sass, then we'll take her back. I think she'll have a great time there, actually!

We are also investigating our Nigerian Dwarf buck options at the moment. We may opt to keep one on site someday, but for now, we just need stud service. Nigerian Dwarfs cycle all year round, so our plan is to try and get Skylard bred at the end of March so that she'll birth in late August. Then we will breed Pepper sometime after that so that she'll kid in the spring. From there, we don't know what our plans are, but we are excited about our new decision.