Must have been about 30 years ago my mother became enchanted with spinning wool, then weaving it. She made a few things, and produced some rather lumpy yarn (we call this "artisanal yarn:), and just about the time she'd learned about washing wool, cleaning and carding wool, making rovings, spinning it on a small classic spinning wheel, weaving fabric, and then making a coat from one of the weavings, she quit - her back demanded it! All her equipment stayed with her, however, and it was so valuable and symbolic to her that she'd never part with it.
I was interested enough that I studied up on it. I was READY to spin and weave. Just never had the chance to get the equipment. It is all very expensive. Considered a drop spindle, but never got to it - I had no fiber, and could not afford it at any time I was interested in actually starting a new skill. Figured it maybe needed to wait until I could raise sheep!
Twenty five years later my mother is on her way to a nursing home, and the spinning wheel, carders, niddy-noddy, and all the rest are given away. Her furniture, yarns, and other supplies are taken out of the house. At the very last, nobody cares about what is left behind with the clean-up.
Some fancy yarns, and two bags of oddball fiber come my way.
Fiber I now have. A means of spinning I do NOT have - ok, so technically you can use a rock, or even a stick. But I'm not into it enough to want to go to that length, and learning to spin with a rock is far more challenging! A drop spindle would do, even though it isn't that far advanced from the rock. At least it would allow me to learn, and a drop spindle goes anywhere, and is easy to transport.
You can tell I'm trying to justify it, but I cannot even afford that at the moment. I look them up anyway, and lament the absence of a more functional type than you can usually find (trendy has won out over function at the moment). Spinning is in vogue in a certain part of the crafting world, and a wide range of very cheaply made, expensively priced, and barely functional drop spindles have proliferated across the crafting world, to enchant the people who want to try their hand at a skill they'll play with and then put away forever. As long as it LOOKS like it will work, quality is not really required. I cannot even justify the cost of a drop spindle today, even though I now have wool.
I look over the fiber to decide what to do with it, anyway.
One bag I cannot use, it is angora rabbit fur. Maybe someday, but not today. You need wool or cotton to spin that into, since you don't use all angora, it is too slippery and straight to hold by itself. You blend it or spin it into wool, and I have no appropriate wool, you need something with some crimp. It isn't something you'd begin with, either.
The other is long, and curly, but not crimpy. I take a guess, and figure it is either sheep long wool (too shiny, I'm thinking), or mohair (angora goat). Finally learn it is kid mohair, or angora goat hair from a young goat. It is truly beautiful, a light off white that has a gorgeous sheen to it. Soft to the touch - softer than the mohair I've handled before. Some of it is carded, some is still in locks - NONE of it is prepped into rovings.
This wool is long enough that it will be hard to spin, and usually mohair is blended with wool, but can be spun by itself. My hands and mind are beguiled...
I really want to USE this wool. I know I can't now, so I put it downstairs, to be packed into the boxes of "things we do not use here".
I have a friend who spins, so we took the angora rabbit fur out to her - it is half brown, and half white, separated in the bag.
We talk about spinning and weaving a bit - she is threading a 2 heddle loom and getting ready to weave... something. She does not say what. But it could be a large something, the warp is very long, and 200 threads wide.
I tell her I have a bag of some kind of wool, but I'm not sure what it is. Would love to spin, but that isn't possible now. I try to tell her what kind it is, but it doesn't matter much. It is wool, it can be spun!
She asks me if I want a drop spindle - she insists she'll never use it, she has two very nice spinning wheels, and a drop spindle is too much of a hassle to use.
I try to convey my delight, which is difficult since her husband is here and I cannot risk a happy dance. I'm not sure she quite understands that I really DO want to spin the wool, and that a drop spindle is truly a blessing to me. That I've been wanting to spin for many years, and now that I have wool, I must have spinning!
We talk a little more, and we leave.
I took out the drop soindle today (she gave it to me yesterday... you see, I wasted no time!), to see if I can learn how to spin. With that. A too-light little spindle with a wheel on one end, called a Whorl.
There are two basic types of drop spindles - and a few oddballs (and supported spindles which are not exactly drop spindles since they do not drop). One is a top whorl, one is a bottom whorl.
There used to only be one kind - the bottom whorl. Someone came up with the bright idea of turning it upside down. It is currently trendy. It doesn't work well, but it is trendy. So you really CAN'T get anything else!
Sure enough, this is the standard top whorl. Fortunately you can use it either direction since it has a finial. And you really NEED to turn it upside-down if it is a top whorl, because you'll save yourself half the hassle if you do. (I'm writing this after using it as a bottom whorl, I can't even manage to work out how to twirl it efficiently if it is whorl-up.)
I pull a bit of wool, twist it, and tie a knot in it to hold it to the hook under the whorl. The knot promptly unties and slips off. This wool is so slick the knot will not tighten and stay tight, it just slips open.
Scratch my head. There's a standard solution here, but I don't know what it is, and nobody is here to teach me, so I have to figure it out and pray for inspiration.
Spin a bit in my fingers, pulling it out into a fairly small thread - about the size of baby yarn - unspin it, fold it over into a loop, then spin it back on itself, and put the loop over the hook. This works admirably.
Spin a bit more (all this just free hand, the spindle is NOT working yet). run it up around the whorl (through the groove in it), and work enough to wrap around the spindle a few times and then anchor on the finial at the top - just a half-hitch, which will hold if you get it tight without unwrapping all the yarn from the spindle. It's a trick. Pull the OTHER way. It takes three or four times of doing it to master it.
I finally get the hang of the spindle. Twirling it to twist the yarn, spinning out about 8 inches, and then flipping the half-hitch off, winding the new yarn onto the spindle, and setting a new half-hitch, pulling it tight.
I've watched people spin before, but never with a drop spindle. So I have seen the yarn produced, both by someone who spins a fairly even fine yarn to make into a two-ply, and someone who spun a single ply worsted weight yarn with quite a bit of texture. So I know you can do some really awesome stuff, and I want to do this well.
I find that I CAN produce a fairly even yarn.
It is tricky to get the thickness right with any fiber, but this is particularly obstinate.
It is a long wool, and slick. Long wools are harder to get even, and more difficult to draw out, because the fibers just don't move as easily, and they build up to a thicker weight yarn very easily. Since it is kind of a slick wool, the fibers WILL draw if you work them just right, but sometimes they just slide right apart and you have a broken thread. It isn't like they pull apart - they just SLIDE apart. You feel it start to slip, and stop pulling, and the wool just keeps right on separating! It is not like sheep wool that kind of catches itself together as you work with it, this is more slippery.
I had to work with this stuff for more than an hour to get the hang of it. Between the drop spindle and the tricky mohair, it was difficult to get a method for producing an even yarn, without fighting with it all the time.
You really need four hands for tuis, and I only figured out how to have THREE.
So I'm pulling small layers of the carded wool off, and fussing with them until I have a strand roving of even width and depth, and then I can spin it fairly quickly, and then work up another thin layer. A small tray table in front of me helps me lay it out ahead, and if I get THAT right, the spinning is fairly easy. If I do not get that right, the fiber is so difficult to work with that I cannot get an even yarn from it.
Kevin comes home for lunch, and I stop for a bit.
I have to figure out how to anchor the spun yarn so I do not lose my work. The half-hitch I use for anchoring it between episodes of spinning does not work. This yarn won't hold a half-hitch without tension on both ends, and when I let go of the unspun end, the whole thing just loosens and comes undone.
I add another half-hitch. Better. Then a third. That will do - it holds well enough that I feel good about putting things up for a bit.
My pants are wearing the evidence of my efforts - I look like I wrestled with a shedding animal, only the hair is curly. A few minutes picking wool off and putting it back into the carded wool takes care of that.
All I've been working with is the carded bit of wool that I found at the bottom of one bag. Another bag was stuffed inside that bag, and the inner bag has the uncarded wool - nicely washed, thank goodness! I am not sure what I'll do here, because buying wool carders is NOT in the budget. Those things are just too expensive! I may be able to just loosen bits into strands and spin it anyway, I've been told this is the historic poverty method, and so far that's the track I'm on, so I might as well follow it as far as it is convenient to follow it.
This fiber is difficult. I know I keep saying that, but it is. Fortunately it is just slick enough to be able to pull into thinner strands prior to twisting it. Too hard and it slips apart, and you then have to fuss to get it to merge together again. Too little tugging on it and it ends up too bulky, and it can build up to a massive bulk VERY easily due to the length of the fibers.
I work it a lot, and have to pull hard to loosen and thin out the fiber cluster as it approaches the spun work. This is one way in which it is different than short wool - shorter fibers slip more easily, long ones sometimes don't, because they go so far into the spun yarn. I can only imagine how much more careful I'd have to be with the thickness if I were working with a long wool that was not so slick, because the slickness of this is about the only thing that makes it manageable to keep the width even - and then it has that down side of sometimes just sliding apart when you don't expect it!
It occurs to me to weigh the wool just so I know how much I have. Everyone says that it will make FAR LESS yarn than I think it will, so I want to know if there is enough to even make anything from once it is spun.
The bag weighs out at 1 lb. A WHOLE POUND of mohair! That stuff sells for dollars to the ounce now, in the condition I have (nicely washed, not carded, but neat and usable). I'm guessing I have $50-$100 worth of wool here.
There is a label - it identifies it as Mohair, and lists the weight as 1#, and the price as $12.
That's right. TWELVE DOLLARS. Once upon a time, a long time ago, someone spent a very great deal of money on a large amount of mohair. And today, I have that same mohair, which would cost a very great deal more.
I am rich!
I am also a little sore. I sometimes get rhabdo in my hands if I've worked at something repetitive for an extended time (this happens if I get toxed too badly due to chemical exposure), and the lace shawl I'm crocheting has caused my hand to have a VERY sore muscle between my thumb and my wrist. This is not enough rhabdo to cause kidney issues, just enough to HURT LIKE BEJEEBERS and keep me awake at night right after I stress it. So today I am trying hard not to make that hand any more sore than it was.
My back took a beating - I figured it would, which is one fear I had regarding spinning and weaving. But again, it was not as bad as I figured it could have been.
I feel good about picking it up again tomorrow.
At the rate I'm spinning it will take about three or four days to fill the spindle. Once I start on the uncarded wool my speed will change. Faster or slower, one or the other, likely a touch slower. But experience also speeds things up, so I should gain a bit of speed over the next few days.
The slow speed of the drop spindle is a disappointment, and a spinning wheel would certainly make it easier to get it done. But I am feeling very grateful for what I AM able to do, and that I have the opportunity to master one more skill at a time when I did not think it was possible.
One more thing checked off my list.
UPDATE: Today I ran out of carded wool. I have just the bag of locks (as pictured above). So I am pulling it out to tease apart and use, by hand. I have no carders, this is my only option.
It isn't much harder to work with - I have to pull a small bit of debris from it as I work, and I have to separate the locks some, and then kind of pull them out to mimic the carded wool. It is fussier about slippage though, and I run into some thin spots that just slide apart until I get it overlapped enough between pieces. It is so slippery that it does not CATCH like sheep wool. It just slides. So I have to hold the overlap.
Mohair was used traditionally, and still is a little, for making doll hair. It is finer than human hair, very silky when kept in locks, and has a lovely curl, though the curl is not even lock to lock. You can really SEE the curls and shine in this uncarded mohair wool. So if you imagine spinning with very fine doll hair, you get the idea that maybe this actually ISN'T like spinning sheep wool!
I am pulling the mohair apart into thin locks to spin, which is the roughest form of a technique known as finger carding. It is different than working with hand carded wool.
You can see that the spinning here is rougher, with more tufts and loops,
and the yarn is harder to get thin, so it ends up thicker. I am spinning
from this kind of locks. The more I spin, the more I realize I need to work the
wool more before spinning.
The spindle fills up. It gets awkward to use when it has too many layers of yarn on it. The yarn does not anchor as easily, because it wants to unwind from the spindle, and it gets harder to stop it from doing so as the yarn ball gets larger.
You can't fill the spindle with a cone of yarn, like you so often see in pictures online. If you do, you really CAN'T anchor the yarn at the top of the spindle - you could do that if you figure out how to make a top whorl spin - oh, I know... It spins easily enough, because this is how I start my yarn on the spindle. But once you get working, the spindle is too LOW DOWN to work easily, and you end up with your spinning up there, and the spindle down there, instead of the two just inches apart, and you work much harder to do the same amount of work. This is why I say it is harder to use a top whorl, and why I say I cannot figure out how to spin it conveniently.
Halfway through today the whorl fell off. Just dropped down onto the loop of yarn below, mid-spin! Made me feel really silly trying to twist the thing!
I can see that it was glued on with some kind of substance no doubt labeled as "all purpose really tough glue that sticks to everything", because it has separated so smoothly that it is clear it stuck to nothing.
I manage to get the whorl back on, and shove it into place. The anchor yarn below is messed up, but I manage to get that fixed also - the anchor yarn was just there to make it easier to get the ball of yarn started anyway, it serves no purpose in the actual spinning.
The results of the spinning are DIFFERENT than they were with the carded wool. More little curly bits and loops sticking out, and the yarn is not as smooth on the surface. It is still looking good, just much more handspun. This difference is remarkable enough that I am having to decide whether I need to work the wool more before I spin it (pull it out into something more like a batt), or whether I am ok with the amount of curls and loops on the yarn.
The left side is the carded wool, the right side is the wool spun from locks - so we have
fine yarn, and tufted yarn.
I am having to be more careful with slippage and thin spots also, especially if there are curls on either side. The curls just unwrap, and the thin spots just slide apart. This is specifically a problem with working with locks. It did not happen with the carded wool. So I am adjusting the way I separate the locks and pull them into workable strands.
You can't just SPIN with locks, you have to work them first. You pull out a bit, then pull it apart - not into more strands, but into a flat, slightly matted layer. If you leave too much in locks, it won't merge with the strands you are attempting to spin it into. When you work it into flat strand rovings, or thin batts, it is called "finger carding".
I have finally spun enough to wind it OFF the spindle, and onto a dowel. It has taken three days, working a little each day, to make this much yarn. I wonder how women did it in earlier times, only because it is so very slow. It is not as hard on my back and hands as I feared it might be, but it is clear you could not make a living at this unless you had a good spinning wheel, and even providing enough for basic clothing would require spinning a little every day.
It makes a nice looking ball on the dowel, though not large. The dowel will hold more than one small ball of yarn, so I'll wind another onto it, and then wind them off together to ply the yarn.
I should have something a little heavier than a worsted weight when it is finished. And I HAVE to finish.
I have just enough wool to actually make something. It would be a pity to not do so.
On the positive side, every day I work at this I end up a little less sore than the day before.
My goal, after producing one ball of yarn that is thin, relatively smooth, and pretty even, which was produced from carded wool, and then another ball that is absolutely FULL of character, with little curls and loops on the edges and more variation in the width, which was produced from finger carded locks, is to figure out how to work the fibers better when finger carding, to get results more like the first ball of yarn, from finger carding. Failing that, I need to be able to purchase a flicker or other inexpensive tool for combing those locks and producing better strand rovings.
While I kind of like the look of the yarn with more character, it is FAR more difficult to crochet or knit it, because loops and curls just give you fits with the needles or hooks. The tufted yarn is just NOT something I can work with!
I'm pondering taking the second ball apart, unspinning it and re-carding, then re-spinning. But this is hard enough work that I dread THAT also.
So... a few days later...
I have worked out how to do this. And I am getting yarn almost as SMOOTH as I was working from carded, but it is not quite as fine (thiin).
I can now explain how to get very good yarn from 100% uncarded Mohair.
Yes... I KNOW nobody spins Mohair by itself, because it is too difficult. Yes, I know they blend it with wool. And yes, I know WHY they do so.
But I have MOHAIR. I do not have wool. I cannot afford wool. So I am spinning MOHAIR.
Admit it... you would too!
So here is the way you do it.
You card it. If you do, it is still DIFFICULT to work with. Lots of pulling. It does not draw. But sometimes, if you tug really HARD, it PULLS.
If you have no carder, you go poverty carding. That is, you FINGER CARD.
You pull, you tease it apart, you separate EVERY SINGLE LOCK, even the small ones. You tug one end of the locks so they thin out. You gently (or forcefully sometimes) pull the mats apart.
You pick out EVERY BIT of debris in it, even the small bits. Sometimes you lose fiber doing this. Sometimes you do not.
You make sure that the resulting strands and sections of wool are ALL THE SAME DENSITY AND WIDTH. So when pulled out, they produce an even yarn.
This ONE THING is what makes the difference between even yarn, and lumpy yarn, and it is the thing that lets you produce very fine yarn if you are aiming at that.
The end result is thin and wispy Strand Rovings that spin up with very little effort.
It is SLOW, and PATIENT, and FUSSY work.
You can do it if you have nothing better to do.
You cannot do it if you are impatient.
I have nothing better to do, so I finger card Mohair, and spin it into yarn that is getting better and better. It is almost as fine as the yarn I worked from hand carded (this means using Carders).
Here's what I learned to do:
You can't really SEE the difference here between some of this, because of the way
the Mohair shines and reflects the light.
You can see that the clumpy locks and the separated locks are different, and HOW they are
different. With Mohair, it is ALL about the locks. They either cling together and mess you up,
because they loop and curl out of the yarn (making it a torture to knit or crochet with, even though
it looks REALLY cool), or they curl back on themselves creating lumps and knots in the wool.
Big ones. If you pull them apart though, they can be worked the same as carded Mohair.
Mohair NEVER handles the same as sheep wool. I keep saying that. But it does not. So you
can SEE, above, that one batch of locks is clumped, and another is separated.
You CAN spin from separated locks. But you get the curls and loops. So we finger card it.
The ROUGH finger carding is just pulled out - we start with some locks. We pull them out and
tease them apart. The ROUGH finger carded is a thicker batt, and wider, and a little less
worked than the fine finger carded. You CAN spin with the Rough Finger Carded wool, but
it will produce a MUCH THICKER yarn, with more tufting and looping. If you pull it apart into
smaller mini-batts or into thinned strand rovings, it is far easier to spin, and produces a
MUCH finer texture and thinner yarn.
I now finger card into much finer strand rovings than the fine finger carded locks
shown above. Doing so results in much faster spinning, and far more even yarn.
A few terms I learned while spinning long wool:
Roving: Historically a thin layer of carded wool that has been rolled, preparatory to spinning. Rolling on the diagonal works best for short wools, rolling with the orientation of the strands works best for long wool - and long wool must have very thin layers if you want fine yarn. These may be labeled as Rolled Rovings, or not, and with the confusion in terms today, you may not know what you are getting unless you see it in person, or make it yourself.
Long Roving, or Cut Batt Roving: This is what sells as rovings (without any special naming) in most fiber and yarn shops today, and it will be shown rolled into a ball. It is carded wool, oriented in a single direction, built up into about a 1" thick batt, then cut in strips and rolled up. This spins easily, but also breaks easily because of the cut fibers on the edges. Some people end up with a lot of short fuzz from the cut edges, it depends on the type of fiber.
Strand Roving: Narrow pieces of carded long wool that has been laid or rolled with the orientation of the wool. This may also be just called "Strands", though if properly prepared, the rovings are of similar size, thick or thin, for specific spinning purposes, and you may separate them into thinner bunches for spinning thinner yarn. Long wool is handled and worked differently than short wool, so the preparation of the roving is more important than it is with short wool. When prepping strand rovings by finger carding from locks, make sure the ends are pulled out so the ends are all at different points, no abrupt cuts. The better you prep the rovings, the easier it is to spin a consistent yarn.
Batts: A batt may be either a cleaned fleece, or a single layer, or multiple layers of carded wool - somewhat like quilt batting. Once you card wool, you can stack the carded layers into thicker batts, and you often have to for storage. But you cannot easily separate the layers when you go to work them. What I had was batts made of carded wool layers, and they were folded. I could separate some of the layers, but not all, to create rolled rovings.
Locks: Locks are long wool clumps that cling and curl together. You can finger card locks, but doing so leaves you more ends and loops in your work - you can separate them into strands or pull them out somewhat into something like a batt. This WORKS with long wool, but is different with short wool. You may have to clean some debris as you work with this, and the locks need to be pulled to offset them, and worked apart enough that they'll grab when you overlap them to merge one piece to the next. Mohair and sheep wool handle differently as locks, and mohair is more difficult to merge if using locks. Pull out very thin and tug diagonally if you want fine yarn with very little texture variation. Leave a few fine clustered locks if you want yarn with more character.
Tufts: Clumps of short wool, which can be carded, or can be spun without carding - spinning them without carding them is the old quick and dirty method. And it really is dirty, even if the wool has been washed, because wool ALWAYS has debris in it. If you are desperate to spin, though, and the equipment is too expensive, a washed fleece and a drop spindle are enough to get you started, if you don't mind learning a more inconvenient method. The trick to this one is to pull small pieces out to work with, not large ones.
Our old and character riddled car broke down on the mountain, on a 60 mile trip from town to home. A kind local couple offered us a ride back home.This is small town out here, with a series of small towns clustered together, all of us attending the same stake within the church (a local congregation is a ward, and a cluster of wards is a stake). So everybody knows everybody, nobody is afraid to stop and help. Good thing, it was COLD out (below zero up there), and I had no coat. It was not that cold when we left, and this has been a mild winter until the last week or two.
A mile and a half after we got into their car, they hit an elk with the front corner of their car. Cars are not safe around us tonight. Apparently the change in weather has the elk migrating. This is the only time I've ever seen elk on that mountain. Lots of deer, but elk are more rare.
Details: We are fine, nobody was hurt but the elk. Their car has a broken front windshield, a flapping side view mirror, and dents in the door and front side panel. For hitting an elk, it is pretty minor damage, and they didn't hit it front on at least, that would have thrown us and killed the car.
The elk were in the ditch, and the lights startled them, and the whole HERD with adults leading, jumped up into the road! A bull elk headed for the car, and missed - literally reared up and turned just in time, a whisker from the driver and Kevin (on that side of the car). It was really a magnificent sight, seeing that bull elk pivot on his hind legs.
Driver swerved, but a cow elk kept right on coming, and slammed into the side. The broken windshield was caused by her head (sorry about that image), so we doubt she made it. He called it in, but kept on going. I think he was afraid that if he stopped the car might have damage that would sideline us. Fortunately it did not, the elk managed to miss everything vital, even the windshield in front of the driver - all the windshield damage was in the lower left corner, just completely fragmented (still holding together) in a spot about 12" around, and radiating UP about another 6", but NOT across the windshield.
Our car has been picked up. We put towing back on it two weeks ago. We made the first payment on the increased amount just hours before we had to call the tow truck. We are still just BARELY profitable for our insurance company... JUST.
The next day our son was rear-ended in a minor accident. But I MISSED two deer by a narrow margin while heading back home on the same road as the night before - slammed on the brakes, and swerved a bit, and both managed to move in time. I'm not sure if the car coming the opposite direction was as lucky, I saw their brake lights go on, and they stopped for a moment before continuing on more slowly.
Yurt living is a trendy thing, not quite on a par with tiny house living, but a fascinating option that people explore mostly because it is unusual.
Usually you hear one side though, when you study it out. There are two sides to it, and one of them has serious issues for some kinds of situations.
I have seriously studied out many kinds of housing, looking for options that are not common, in the hopes of finding something extraordinary. I do have a tendency to get kind of romantic about some options, and a yurt is certainly one that appeals to that side of me. But in studying it out, a picture emerged that is not commonly talked about, so I decided to write down what I learned.
Yurts are a traditional dwelling on the steppes of Mongolia, and have been adapted in similar ways to other nomadic peoples. Mongolia can be a pretty harsh environment, and because of that, people have the mistaken idea that a yurt is a good housing option for severe weather conditions.
A traditional yurt has no covering on the center of the roof. It was left open to let the smoke of the fire out - they now use a stove with a chimney but still often leave that area open for ventilation. When it is closed, there are still air gaps around it. So it is a drafty thing no matter what.
The outside was traditionally covered with animal hides (they now use tent canvas) - very waterproof, very durable, but quite heavy. Modern yurts use a lightweight synthetic tent fabric - waterproof, easier to pack, but not nearly as durable as animal hides. Mongolian yurts also usually (but not always) have a single piece top and side covering, instead of them being two separate pieces, which reduces potential for wind damage. The sides are bound on with ropes, around the outside, very tightly, with either two or three bands of cordage, to keep the side walls firmly in place so they don't billow in the wind. This further reduces potentials for both damage, and drafts.
Inside wall coverings were either felted wool, or quilts with felted wool inside them. Very good insulation, but so thin that you really don't get a huge insulation factor from them - more than modern alternatives, but still not all that great. Traditional use was either on top of the frame, under the outer covering, or fastened to the walls on the inside, depending on tradition and the type of covering. They are more standardized now, and the quilts have gone the way of many historic skills.
Mongolia is between about 3000 and 8000 ft elevation. Wind is common on the steppes (which are not at the highest elevations), but not as strong as in Wyoming, because most of the country is at lower elevations. Higher up, you'd have to site your yurt in a sheltered location.
Areas where yurts are used do NOT have a lot of deep snow. The snow blows around some, though not as much as in Wyoming, and it does not pile up extremely deep. The yurt did not have to stand up to heavy loads of deep or wet snow.
They were traditionally lived in by a people who dressed WARM, and spend the majority of their days out of doors, who became well acclimatized to the cold each winter.
This is a primative home. It is NOT a modern day temperature controlled environment! It is VERY basic, and at best, is an insulated tent.
Contemporary Yurts now run the gamut from the new Mongolian Yurt (made of standardized materials, not inspired craftsmanship), to a minimized American version (no felted liners), to wood sided, and a collection of polygonal shaped or round buildings made of various materials going by the name of Yurt even though they share little with the traditional yurt other than being made of the least possible materials. If you make it round, and call it a yurt, you can get away with ignoring construction standards!
A contemporary yurt may be a basic yurt where there is no plumbing, no electricity, no built-in furnishings. Or it may be a finished house, with either cloth or wood walls, a full modern kitchen and a full bath and laundry. They run the gamut.
This is what we learn when we really study the yurt, as a housing option.
1. Cost. It isn't less expensive for what you get - in fact it can be MORE expensive. The price you pay for the yurt is the shell only. Walls, and a roof. Some companies include a floor - but you usually have to pay more for that. You'll pay $20 k and up for one that includes a floor, interior wall covering, and more than one window. For the same price, you can get a really LARGE shed that includes more living space, and a sturdier structure.
If all you want is a tent, then you can do ok with a basic yurt shell, and no modern amenities. If that is all you have in mind, you'll still be spending $6k or more for that tent, no floor, and you'll have to put it up yourself.
If you want to expand and add a second floor loft, you'll be increasing the price tremendously, because a typical yurt frame has no supports for a second floor. You'll have to add quite a bit of additional structure to support it - because it does not have rigid walls, you need sturdier support beams than you do for a lofted shed, and beams cost far more than wall studs.
It all comes down to value for the dollar. All in all, a yurt, finished out into a real home, will cost you about $100 per square foot, the same as any other dwelling. If you skip the built in kitchen and bathroom, it goes down from there.
2. Financing is ALL on YOU. Yurts are strictly cash sales. If you are not able to get a personal unsecured loan for the price of the structure. For people without $20 to $40k on hand, a yurt just isn't going to be a reasonable option at all. If you get one big enough to live in, and actually put it on a floor, with even basic insulation in the walls, you are already in for $15 to $20k, often much more. If you need heavy duty insulation, a floor kit, a wind and snow kit, or alpine reinforcing, you can easily double that amount, and that is without adding any additional windows, doors, or upgrading any of the base materials to more durable options.
Nobody finances yurts. The only way they'll do so is with a personal loan, and rates tend to be pretty high for that kind of loan, especially if you are credit challenged.
For people who qualify for a home loan, a round house build is going to be a better option, or just keep looking for the right quirky deal that a bank WILL finance.
3. They don't generally come with insulation, so the price you are quoted won't include it. It is available from some companies for an additional fee. It may be nothing more than reflective plastic, or you may find traditional wool felt if you look hard (costly), or a reflective bubble insulation.
Sometimes the insulation is pre-cut and fitted. Often it is not. Don't assume.
If you move into a rigid roof (metal roof) you have more insulation options, you can cut your own foam insulation and permanently install.
- Reflective plastic can add about 5-10 degrees f protection against cold or heat.
- Reflective bubble insulation can add between 10 and 15 degrees f protection.
- Wool felt can add about 15 to 20 degrees f protection if there is no wind, less in the wind.
- Quilted covering with wool felt inside can give you 20 to 25 degrees protection f if there is no wind, less in wind.
Cloth is always going to let air through. Plastic will always let heat out, especially when there is a wind blowing. These are unalterable facts. So wind is the real enemy of heat retention.
Yurts weren't designed for really foul weather. While they were developed for people living on the steppes in Mongolia, and were lived in year round (still are), they are much like a log cabin. I keep hearing from people that if they are lived in on the steppes of Mongolia all year, they must be warm enough. But entire generations of people lived in log cabins (and lesser dwellings), which are drafty, uninsulated, and cramped. A log cabin takes a LOT of fuel to heat in the winter if it is not insulated and improved with interior wall covering. It was a different time, with different standards, and those people who lived in them did not expect to live in 70 degree even comfort all year around.
Make no mistake, without spending quite a bit for heat or cooling, a yurt is COLD COLD COLD in the winter, and HOT HOT HOT in the summer, and is most suited to temperate climates without a lot of wind or humidity. It CAN be heated, but it takes quite a bit of heat if temps get really low, and when the wind blows. I could not find any actual costs regarding the heating, only that electric was not recommended due to the high cost, and that heat was a real concern for those who lived in them. They said you can stay warm, but it takes a lot of firewood, or propane, or whatever you are using.
The prevailing consensus on heating a yurt seems to be that it takes a lot of heat to warm the space, but the space inside can be warmed by a single fireplace or heater. It needs to be operating continuously to keep the space heated though, because there simply is no mass to retain heat, and a significant heat loss through the walls and roof. I've heard owners cite anywhere from 3-10 cords of wood per winter, and locations ranging from Arizona to Washington state, to Pennsylvania.
I did find references to them being unbearably hot in the summer, even with some air conditioning. Since they are designed to warm through the roof in the winter, they do that in the summer also. Layers of insulation slow that down, and a white covering will reduce solar heating. Best to avoid dark coverings, I'm thinking.
4. Humidity and Mold. A traditional yurt has a vented ring at the top, quite large. Various yurt designs convert that to ventilation that is more or less effective, depending on the method they use.
Traditionally the yurt is much like a summer camping tent with light wood lattice walls and light wood framed roof. The structure is well ventilated because there are so many places for drafts to blow in.
Once you start enclosing it more and more, ventilation becomes an issue, to keep moisture from building up on the walls and ceiling - it may occur between your insulation and outer lining, where you do not discover it until it is a serious problem. If it does, mold may be a problem. Again, the type of yurt, and the method of insulating may be really critical in some climates, especially those with high humidity, so if this is an issue for you, check it out, and investigate reviews of the brand you are looking at, from people who are in the area where you are building.
5. Portability. The original yurt is moderately portable. Less portable than a tent (a tent is easier to take down) or an RV (which can be moved without disassembly). More portable than a house. But HOW portable it is depends on exactly how you have built it, because the thing that makes them portable is that they were built to be easily disassembled.
Trendy yurts now are a long way from the traditional Mongolian nomadic yurt. Theirs had no permanent floor, and had two layers of covering on the walls, just the outer covering, and the inner felted or quilted insulating covering (one of which could be removed for summer). They had no second floor, no stairs, no built-in kitchen, no bathroom, and no indoor plumbing. They were, to our way of thinking, just camping.
The roof and walls were designed to be easily disassembled and collapsed. If you have reinforced them to make them more robust, you lose that advantage.
If you have constructed a house out of a yurt, even if it has fabric walls, it may be no more portable than any other structure. Once you add a floor, the process of moving it is complicated tremendously. Once you've added a real bathroom and kitchen, moving it becomes VERY problematic. And a second story has to be built in a way that will pretty much remove all possibilities of disassembly for moving it.
Portability equals temporary in the minds of zoners, permitters, appraisers, inspectors, and banks. So reducing portability, after you own it, may be a GOOD thing, in the long run.
6. Wind. We can presume that the steppes of Mongolia are windy in their season, they just have that kind of landscape, and SOME (but not all) of the winter landscapes show low snow drift indicative of strong winds. It appears they are not as windy as Medicine Bow Wyoming (the most consistently windy place in the world, according to one source), because there is often accumulated snow WITHOUT drifts. I do know that having LIVED in Medicine Bow, I would not choose a yurt as a dwelling, not even for camping where wind is a persistent visitor!
Tent fabric walls and roof don't stop wind. They barely slow it down. Wind will just shove the cold right through them. While the round shape does deflect some of the wind, it does not deflect it all, and it robs heat from every side of the yurt as it passes. One manufacturer suggested that you might build a storm shelter, and dismantle your yurt before a storm rolls in, and take shelter in the storm shelter instead. I'm thinking if you have to do that for a wind storm, maybe you should just make a bigger shelter and live there instead!
Lattice walls flex. Tiedowns may not be enough to stop that from happening. The yurt would be crooked within an hour of exposure to persistent hard winds. Many yurt designs don't actually fasten together, they just kind of sit one on top of another, tied here and there but not much, and rely on the outer covering to hold it all together. Some interlock a bit, and a few have actual fasteners. In windy areas, fasteners would be vital.
Fabric layers, no matter how well anchored, will pull apart at the seams. Persistent wind will just grab an edge, and worry it until it either rolls back, or tears. It will happen in a matter of days under hard winds. If you have a little bit of loose canvas, then you'd better repair it sooner rather than later, because a little thing can cause you to lose a lot more, or even lose the whole cover.
If you live where wind is perpetual, cross the yurt off your list. It just isn't going to hold up, even with extra anchoring.
If you live where there are regular storms with high winds, cross it off your list. The yurt is too lightweight, and too fragile to hold up even with additional reinforcement.
If you live where there are occasional windy storms, you may be able to get by, if you have reinforced the walls, and anchored all around with tiedowns both on the base, and the roof. Inspect the outside for irregularities before a storm, and make sure everything is anchored snug and tight if you want to have the best chance of handling periodic strong winds.
If a yurt is your ownly option, where there is wind, then site it in a sheltered area. This is how the designers of the yurt managed to keep them together, though I'd imagine if you asked them about wind, they'd laugh and have some real stories to tell.
7. Snow. Lightweight structures do not take snow well. The advantage here is that you can just take a pole or a broom, and knock the snow off the roof from the INSIDE if you have a fabric roof with no solid underlayment. If your roof is solid, you'll have to do it from outside. This is no joke, apparently the collapse of the house due to snow load is a spectacularly destructive event.
Reinforced wall beams will help bear snow loads better, but you may also need sturdier rafters in your roof, depending on just how much snow we are talking about. Wet snow is also far heavier, and builds to a point of overload much faster.
Don't make the mistake of leaving snow on the roof for insulation. While it can provide some additional insulation, another blanket of snow in the night may prove too much, and if rain falls instead of snow, it will get heavy REALLY fast, as snow will absorb quite a lot of rain before it melts enough to wash off the roof.
At least one company does offer an add-on package for snow and wind, but pretty much any yurt can be reinforced to handle heavy snow a little better. It is an additional cost though, and reduces portability if that is an issue.
8. Durability. I don't know how long a hide and felt yurt lasted. I'm thinking the women spent a lot of time stitching seams on those walls and roofs. With animal hides, the hides last pretty much forever, but the seams wear pretty rapidly. Tent fabric just isn't as durable as animal hides, and has some issues that hides never did.
Tent fabric tends to tear right beside the seams, so it is very difficult to repair. You can patch it, but it has to be done by stitching the patching on, nothing seems to stick well enough to patch a tear on a tightly stretched tent fabric wall or roof. Once it starts to tear, it doesn't want to stop tearing, so even if you patch it, you can pretty well figure its days are numbered.
The windows may be screen, clear plastic, or glass. The screen and plastic windows will tear, and they tend to do that right beside seams, the same as the cover. Screen, once torn, is very difficult to repair or patch, but it can be done - looks messy though. Most companies sell replacement parts, but with sewn in screening or clear plastic insets, once they tear, it will look messy until you replace the entire cover.
Word out and about is that the exterior roof and wall covering needs replacing every 8-15 years, depending on your climate and the type of covering. Sun and wind will both degrade the fabric more rapidly. Cost is between $1k and $3k for each (side covering, and roof covering), depending on yurt size.
Now you may hear that you can have a local tent and awning maker repair the yurt cover. You probably can. But for them to do sewing repairs, you'll have to take the roof or walls off your house and take them in to someone, to have them repair them. Not a good idea!
If you purchase a new one, it WOULD be a good idea to have the old one repaired for a spare, if it is repairable.
9. Resale Value. A yurt is REALLY difficult to sell on land. The thing is, if you've improved it with permanent improvements, it costs as much as any other home, but is not WORTH as much at the market.
Yurts put on the market with property typically stay there longer than comparably priced frame homes, even shed homes, and only sell at a reduced price. They often do not add any value at all to the property itself, appraisers just laugh at them.
Nobody finances used yurts, or a property with a yurt on it unless they finance only the property. This is a HUGE hit if you have invested very much into the thing. People just don't pay cash for anything that is more than about $10k in price, and even that is a stretch.
Used yurts in very good condition (almost new), sold to move off the property they are on, sell for 1/2 to 2/3 the price of new, and down from there - the older they are, the lower the price. They are still slow to sell if they are priced more than $5 to $10 grand, and if you have household fixtures in place in it, you'll rarely get anywhere near full value out of them even if you sell them separately.
Those yurts that do sell typically are ones that are easy to tear down and move, and that are priced low. Very much structural enhancement, or permanent fixtures inside, and you'll find it impossible to sell it to anyone who wants to move it, and you won't be able to sell it on the land where it sits either.
One way to sell it, if you own the property outright, is to carry the financing yourself. People who will be most likely to buy are those with poor credit, and little to no money for a down payment. It is just the reality. They are those who will also be hardest on the yurt, and least likely to keep it in good repair. If your down payment is too high, you are right back where you would be trying to just sell the yurt separately. More than about $5k and people just won't do it. You pretty much have to overcharge for the land, and carry a contract for deed, so if they bail, you take everything back. It can work, but it is problematic, and only works if you are reasonable about what people WILL actually follow through with.
10. Zoning. Not many places will let you put in a yurt and call it a house. Varies widely place to place, but you better ask some questions before you assume. Those that do let you will generally only accept a wood or metal structure that is on a foundation - in other words, a real house that just happens to resemble a yurt.
A traditional yurt is a temporary structure, and as such may be ignored, or treated as a mobile home.
11. The Build. As with everything, you either hire it done, or you do it yourself. Somewhere on YouTube there is a video of a family putting up a yurt - they had a group of people helping them (just looked - there are a bunch, all kinds of yurts, but could not find the one I saw before). There ARE some tricky bits, and some really awkward bits to work out. A really large yurt can require a pretty good sized team to complete it.
This is the one advantage that people list over and over though. It is much simpler to assemble than a frame built structure. A shed kit with pre assembled panels is just as easy, and just as quick, but other than that, pretty much everything else is harder. As I said, there ARE some tricky bits with a yurt. But you can get a shelter in place fairly quickly if you have some friends or family who can help you.
If you build it yourself, it can cost less than a cabin built by someone else for the same square footage. If you hire someone to built it, it can cost MORE than a cabin of the same size.
12. Windows, and Rain. Who knew? Rain presents its own challenges in a yurt. The windows are generally two or three layers - clear plastic (sometimes absent), screen, and a storm flap that rolls up, and zips down on the sides. When glass windows are inset, they may be put in with a roll up storm flap on the outside.
A yurt is designed to be watertight. Traditional yurts have NO windows, just a single door. Many newer yurts are designed to be watertight when the window flaps are closed. It is a different story if they are open when the rains descend.
Some yurt designs channel the water right into the house through the windows if the flaps are open. Since the flaps are outside, you have to go out to roll them down and zip them closed.
In a permanent installation, where you've sacrificed mobility for stability, the window problems can be permanently fixed in a number of ways, but water tightness around the windows and doors is always an issue.
Options for addressing this vary from company to company, and with individual ingenuity.
- Someone does make a gutter for yurts. They also make a roof cover that has a fabric dam around the edge, for water collection.
- Pacific Yurts uses a diverter - just a raised shallow upside down V structure - over the doors, so rain channels to either side. Unfortunately, it channels the rain right into a standard window placement on one side!
- If you have screen doors, you don't have to use the screened windows as much, and this can reduce some of the hassle of drenching summer rains, as long as your doors are not suffering the same issue (some do).
- Awnings can divert the rain away from the windows, but they are not terrible sturdy, so this is probably not an option in windy locations.
- You could probably build a diverter out of flashing or even corrugated plastic, buy tucking it up under the top cover and bending it outward - 8-10" of overhang should push the water out enough to keep it from pulling back into the window. Again, difficult to keep in place in windy locations.
This would be more of an issue in hot climates with monsoons, or where there is constant rain, than it would be in other areas, but even here in the alpine desert it would strike us three to five times per year.
The yurt is one of those things that when you hear about it, you think that maybe just maybe there is a more cost effective option than a frame built house, or shed house, or tiny house, or cob, or whatever the latest trend is, at least to get started. But like all of those, when you really investigate it, you find that it is no more affordable, because the things that are not included in the price are just as expensive as they would be if you were putting them into anything else, and the base price for the shell is the same as the base price for everything else!
What you have, when you are done, is a structure that has cost you the same per square foot as a frame built home, but which has liabilities that a frame built home doesn't have.
It may be a reasonable option for a guest cabin that does not need a kitchen or bath, or for someone who has no plans for a contemporary kitchen or indoor plumbing, but otherwise the promise falls way too short in so many ways!
I would consider a yurt under very specific circumstances.
1. A guest cabin. It would work well for that, especially if the use were seasonal. But only if it does not require plumbing.
2. A temporary residence, if I had the funds for both the yurt, and the final structure. I don't think I'd want to live in it for more than a couple of years, because I would not want to invest in plumbing or much wiring or permanent improvements for a yurt.
3. A seasonal residence, in a situation where I did not mind living in a dry cabin for the duration of the stay.
4. If I could work out a way to morph a yurt into a permanent residence. This would be best done with one that starts out with a metal roof, but would always include finishing with a solid roof, solid walls, and eventually a foundation. Some of that is easy, some of it isn't.
Consider carefully, because there are aspects to this that are a hard thing to run into after you've sank your house money into something that won't ever quite BE the same as investing that same money into a permanent structure.
Ok, so are you tired of those "Never never have I ever" things? Well, I think we oughta have bragging rights, no dodging it.
When we take the hit, and tough it out, it counts.
Honestly, I'd have used stronger language on that title, but if I did, I'd never be able to live it down with my Mormon friends. So I toned it down. Sigh! Roll your eyes, I can hear you thinking you are going to anyway!
So here it is. Add up your points. Share the link for this page and post your points anywhere you like online. You deserve the recognition!
If you think I should add things SEND THEM TO ME! My email address works!
NOTE: This list is organized, from things ANYONE can do, in ANY situation, to things that require increasingly more difficult circumstances or equipment in order to accomplish. They are worth more points partly for that reason, but they are also more difficult. They take more time, more skills, more determination, and more dedication to self-sufficiency.
ANOTHER NOTE: Couples MAY do this together. I mean, you have to work as a team! Some things I have not done but Kevin has, while I did other things, and we did it that way so both things COULD be done. So team up as couples if you like.
1 point for each
- Built my own shelf or other furniture
- Canned food with a Waterbath or Steam canner
- Dehydrated food and used it (Freeze Dryers count)Made my own clothing (any kind)
- Hit the bullseye target shooting
- Made butter
- Made apple sauce or apple butter
- Made peanut or other nut butter
- Made yogurt
- Made Aloe ointment/salve
- Grown mushrooms
- Darned a sock
- Made my own ketchup
- Made my own medicine
- Had a Homemade Christmas
- Baked bread
- Made soup from scratch
- Grown sprouts or microgreens
- Snapped beans
- Made a candle
- Made fruit leather
(I got 19 on this section, there is one thing I still need to do.)
2 points for each
- Planted a tree that lived
- Grown a vegetable garden
- Been snowed in more than 2 days
- Eaten an invasive weed
- Gathered eggs
- Dug potatoes
- Made apple cider
- Made cheese
- Made sausage (add a point for smoked sausage)
- Driven a tractor
- Ridden a horse
- Made sauer kraut or brined dill pickles
- Used a chainsaw
- Used an axe
- Eaten Venison
- Eaten Rabbit
- Eaten Quail, Pheasant, Pigeon, Dove, Guinea Fowl, or Partridge
- Eaten Heritage Chicken
- Gone more than 1 week without cosmetics
- Shelled peas
- Gone without a microwave for more than a week
- Replaced a glass windowpane myself
- Own more than one oil lamp
- Rendered Lard
- Used a clothesline
(I got 50 points here, but we are doing this as a couple.)
3 points for each
- Snacked on Wild Edibles in the woods
- Foraged and eaten wild mushrooms
- Slogged through mud without boots
- Repaired broken frozen pipes
- Cleaned up snow damage
- Been bitten by an animal you were caring for
- Watered a garden with a watering can
- Cut and Split Firewood
- Cut down a tree
- Grown a vegetable garden that saved money
- Started plants indoors for my vegetable garden
- Canned food with a Pressure Canner
- Smoked meat or fish
- Made a meal I grew/raised (mostly)
- Wove a basket
- Made a blanket (any kind)
- Re-roofed a house
- Built an animal shelter
- Built a fence
- Battled Canadian Thistle
- Raised my own Thanksgiving Turkey
- Cured a ham (large or very small)
- Made your own bacon (any kind - buckboard, hog jowl, side bacon, etc)
- Thrown (on a wheel) and baked a clay pot
- Carved a useful item
- Driven an animal drawn vehicle
- Milked a cow, goat, sheep, or other milk animal
- Mucked out a barn
- Picked fruit from my own tree
- Spun or woven natural fibers
- Canned something the government said is "not recommended" NOTE: "Not recommended" does NOT MEAN "not safe". It simply means there is some kind of result that is considered unsatisfactory to those who tested it, such as discoloration, separation, or taste changes.
- Backed a full horse trailer
- Hauled 5 gallon buckets of water for animals
- Brooded chicks
- Hatched eggs
- Bottle fed a baby animal
- Ground your own hamburger
- Plugged a stump with mushroom spawn
- Eaten Hostas or Sweet Potato Vine
- Built a Martin House, Bat House, or Swallow Ledge
- Grown duckweed
- Raised mealworms
- Served a meal entirely from home preserved food
- Made my own medicine from something I gathered/grew
- Lived without shopping for 30 days or more
- Built a piece of furniture without power tools (shelves count)
- Made lye soap from commercial ingredients
- Made a useful object by melting or cutting glass
- Upholstered a simple chair or ottoman
- Grown food in a greenhouse
- Washed clothes on a scrub board or rock
- Had a child pull all the vegetable plants in the garden instead of the weeds
- Taught a child to collect eggs
- Washed and carded wool
(Well, I got 150 here, there were several things that I have not done and neither has my husband. Some are things I will likely end up doing in my lifetime, some may not be.)
4 points for each
- Overseen an animal birth NOTE: If you have pulled on a baby animal during a birth, and that animal was not IN TROUBLE, then you must SUBTRACT 50 points from your total! This is SHAMEFUL, and injures animals, so knock it off!
- Butchered an animal I've raised
- Filled my hunting tag
- Dispatched a predator
- Been skunk sprayed
- Canned meat I hunted or raised
- Plucked a chicken
- Tanned a hide
- Bucked hay
- Nursed an animal back to health
- Tended a sick or injured animal that you lost anyway
- Thrown 50 lb feed sacks
- Gathered weeds and plants by hand to feed farm animals
- Herded ducks
- Obedience trained an animal
- Cooked a meal on a woodstove
- Baked bread in a wood fired oven
- Raised dubia roaches for chickens
- Hauled hay in a family car
- Hauled a goat, pig, sheep, or calf in a family car
- Stopped weeding the lawn so you can use the weeds
- Tapped a tree for syrup and cooked it down
- Made a musical instrument
- Field stripped a firearm and correctly reassembled it
- Sheared a sheep or other fiber animal
- Broke down on a lonely highway at least 10 miles from the nearest help
- Camped overnight in winter weather (below freezing) and did not pack up in the middle of the night to go home
- Camped in the snow for more than one day in a row
(This section got me 96 points. There are a few things we have not done, but we probably will.)
5 points for each
- Lived more than a month without a flushing toilet (if you lived with a camp toilet, it does not count as a flushing toilet for this quiz)
- Lived more than a month without running water
- Lived more than a month without electricity
- Heated a house entirely with a fireplace/woodstove
- Lived more than three months without Television
- Lived more than a month without Lightbulbs
- Lived an hour or more from grocery shopping
- Lived more than a year from self-employment income only
- Lived "tiny" for more than two months
- Fed animals without commercial feed for more than two months
- Milled my own lumber
- Built something from brick or stone
- Helped build a house
- Written an instructional book to pass on your skills
- Built an oven, or rebuilt a woodstove
- Made lye soap from wood ash and lard or tallow you rendered yourself
- Ran out of room for food storage in a normal sized house (NOT a "tiny" house)
- Homeschooled a child for an entire school year
- Homeschooled every grade from K-12
(A whole 70 points here. We've done some hard things.)
Poor Artie. No wonder he did not want a fourth bowl.
So I finally looked up what Burgoo actually is. Turns out it is a Kentucky (and neighboring state) thing. It is also a bit of a Stone Soup thing. When you don't have enough of any one thing to make a meal, you throw it all into the stew pot and hope it turns out edible. In some parts of the country, many years ago, having it turn out tasty wasn't at all expected.
Oh, these days there are carefully repeated recipes, to make sure it turns out at least edible each time. But back in the day... WAY back... Burgoo was survival food for long winters when game was scarce and all you had left in the pantry and root cellar were shriveled potatoes, your least favorite kind of beans that you grew every year because they produced better than the kinds you loved, and corn. Dry corn, that is. Not sweet corn. Cook for hours and hope it softens nicely, corn (it cooked better cracked). Or grind it into meal and throw it in as thickener, corn.
The versions that have survived have retained one major defining characteristic.
They contain at least three kinds of meat. Three kinds that are NOT usually used together. We are not talking about bacon and chicken. Or pork and shrimp.
We are talking about squirrel. Rabbit. Pheasant. Mutton. Pork (generally salt pork). Venison (any kind). Coon, skunk, porcupine, possum, and armadillo also get thrown in if available. Rats, bobcat, coyote, lizards, gophers, groundhogs, prairie dogs, magpies and frogs are also options when the more desirable game is gone - mole does not taste good enough to bother with, even for Burgoo.
Pick three. Or four. Thinking they'll taste good together is not helpful here.
The thing about Burgoo is that the ingredients are not really friends. They aren't usually even on speaking terms. You have to just throw them in the pot, and hope that you can find a way to get them to at least shake hands and ignore each other.
You read the recipe, and it is only as you realize that this is a Stone Soup type meal, that you understand that it may come out tolerable, or repulsive, depending on what goes in, and what is done to it. It is generally not considered to be a company dish... or even one that anyone in the family will request by choice.
Creativity is not only permitted, it is REQUIRED. Because you are down to having only a few things left in the cupboard.
You hope you have onions, maybe some garlic.
You hope you have some tomatoes - they seem to sort of enhance whatever is in the soup, and for some people, tomatoes are the difference between an indigestible mess, and a tolerable stew. Dried tomatoes are fine, in those days it would have been dried. Then canned - stuck in the root cellars in quart jars, probably open kettled so you expect to lose a few jars over the winter, and just hope it isn't that last jar when you really need it because it is all that is left - a swollen lid on that last jar just when you needed to make burgoo would be cause for grief indeed.
All those unharmonious meat flavors, and now you have to figure out how to actually make them into something that doesn't taste like you just put all the bits into the pot and hoped for the best. Only one thing to do - Well, the tomatoes and onions always help! But not enough with squirrel, and rabbit, and venison (just a little dried left or you'd have made the whole soup with it), ALL in the same pot. (And remember, this is the GOOD version... if it is skunk and armadillo and pine woods squirrel, you may doubt the benefit of long cooking.)
You have to cook it until the flavors meld. Well, the recipes now call for that. Then it may just have been that you made a big pot, hoped for the best, and treated it like Pease Porridge Hot, Pease Porridge Cold. Maybe you just hung it on the hook over the fire and swung it off for night, and brought it to a boil again before the next meal to make sure any happy bacteria were well killed before you served it up again.
But you have a better stew if you cook it well. Of course the potatoes just about completely dissolve, but that just thickens it nicely. The meat goes all to string, and the beans soften and fall apart. The tomatoes carmelize, and add a darkness to the already darkened overcooked meat flavors if you don't keep the water level up.
The problem with cooking things a long time is that the flavors DO darken and deepen. Meat takes on a kind of strongish tone, and the top edges and the stew on the bottom of the pot tend to develop very done bits, if not outright burned. It does reach a point where it can burn very easily, even if you are adding water regularly. Or it can just end up tasting overcooked, but not quite burnt. Like you pulled it off almost but not quite in the nick of time.
Making a stew with squirrel, rat, magpie, or prairie dog, or any other tiny critter, is that they have so little meat on them that cooking them and picking the meat off the bones is nearly impossible - half of it gets discarded. So they were often thrown in whole. Then you have BONES. Tiny bones. Often sharp if they'd cracked.
Long cooking means that sometimes, with some animals, the bones will soften enough that they'll crumble when you run into them with teeth. But most won't. Spine and neck bones are the most likely to do that. The sharp bones usually won't. And bones for squirrel and anything else that small are just terrible to try to sort out, even when picking them with your hands. Spitting them out of a mouthful of soup, without running into a real problem is just horrid. I make rabbit stew, and I cook the rabbit and pick it, and ALWAYS miss a bone or two, and that is bad enough, running into that when eating it. I can't even imagine having a whole pot of stew with all the bones still in it. It has all the dark and frilly edges of a lculinary nightmare.
The last element of old time survival Burgoo is that it was not a PLANNED food. Nor was it a food that you made and ate and then were done with. It usually lasted several days, and it could be a REVOLVING food. It then cooked overnight. Each day you came in and put your day's catch into the pot, and let it cook overnight. Whatever was IN the pot was blended with whatever you added to the pot. Some theorize that this IS Burgoo, not just a TYPE of Burgoo, and that this is how it came to have so many different ingredients tossed in together.
With a revolving stew, you may have food in it that is quite old, recooked each day. Safe to eat, but very old. Not years - Burgoo was late winter survival food, to keep you going until spring harvests came in.
Burgoo then (theoretically at least!), could be a good hearty meal of stew. Or it could be an unmitigated disaster that punishes your entire mouth.
Recipes now are written with the goal that you get the former - but even that may still be an acquired taste.
We are guessing Artie got one of the less enjoyable versions.
So the last few years we learned how to keep the eggs coming without any supplemental heat or light in our open air coop.
We noticed a few rules - and one of them is that the hens that molt or take a break due to winter will generally come back into lay very soon after the Winter Solstice.
It was surprising to me that the hens would notice the lengthening of days so soon, but every year they have come back into lay within about 1 week following the Winter Solstice. Not all, of course, but one, then another, then another, etc. No matter how cold, no matter how wet or wintry, eggs start to appear again that soon.
Not this year. The pattern was broken in a surprising way.
About a week BEFORE the Winter Solstice, one hen started to lay. Two days later, another, then a third.
We only have ten hens left after thinning the flock this fall, and we had only two new hens this year, but they were last winter's hens, not spring hens. We did not have a heavy molt in the hens, but we were without eggs for about seven weeks. I actually had to buy eggs. And I really noticed the difference in my ability to digest ours, as compared to commercial eggs (even getting the expensive ones).
We changed exactly three things this winter:
1. Fewer hens in the coop. Just two guineas, and ten hens.
2. No more layer feed. Lots of scrap, a rotation of various grain types, and several protein sources (including butchering scraps from everything but poultry). We also supplement with oyster shell when we don't have enough eggshells to toss in.
3. Mealworms were added to their diet whenever we did not have other sources of meat proteins. Just a handful once a day.
So we are not certain what it is that made the difference, but it is a good difference. Whatever we did, we did it right.
I do NOT like cooking shows.
They pretty much NEVER have "real" food, and there is this attitude that everyone OUGHT TO like the same things. Judges pontificate over the perfect doneness of pasta or rice, when peoples around the world like them done to different textures. They rave over the delightful spiciness or tanginess and how it is "just perfect", or "not quite right", when in fact no two people in the world have the same tastes in food. All winning on a cooking contest means, is that you happened to please the judge. It does not mean you are better than anyone else at producing edible food. Having your own cooking show doesn't mean you have any grasp on how to produce good food either.
My mother watches these shows, and I just roll my eyes. Martha Stewart is a great eye-rolling example (Sorry, Martha, I'm sure you are very nice in person.) - "There, a lovely cake that you can make for your next dinner party.".
Because I have dinner parties and I have the time to spend 7 hours fussing over a really weird cake with unidentifiable things sticking out on top of it. Thanks, but it is coming out of a box, or I am picking up a $5 special at the grocery store. If I HAVE a dinner party - which just means a couple of friends or family are doing potluck with us.
And then there's the lady who cooks fish bones. To eat. The head, and the spine, and the tail. And the cheeks are already gone from the head. She dredges it in flour, and deep fries it. And eats it. And laments why everyone throws out such good food. ?????!!
Another one features beets on her menu at her restaurant. She devises 3 or 4 recipes featuring them. A salad, a hot side dish, and a dessert. All very strange. And wonders why they are not flying out of the kitchen. The evening ends in discouragement, as the dishes are a failure. Nobody is enchanted with beets. So she tries turnips next. Or brussels sprouts. Episode after episode she just cannot understand why the local people do not like her New York take on "local cuisine". Why nobody wants a dessert made of turnips. Why rustic southerners will not PAY for her experimental chefery.
The smokin' and grillin' crowd always puts "just the right amount of heat" into their rubs and sauces. Tell me, please, what is "just the right amount of heat", according to the professional standard? I've yet to meet any two people who like the same amount of pepper in their food! And yet, they'd have you feel guilty and wimpy if you like less, and uncouth and unskilled if you put more than they personally use!
I wonder who it is that dictates the standards in the first place. Who is it that says what "al dente" really means? Who is it that determines the EXACT point at which broccoli must be pulled from the steamer and put upon the plate? Who is it that decided they'd rather be buried alive than place a morsel of "substandard" food between their lips? Who is it that decided that chocolate with bacon was trendy?
I really want to know! Why is THIS Philly Steak sandwich "too untraditional to be a REAL Philly Steak sandwich", and THAT Philly Steak sandwich is "too traditional to be creative"? What do you want? Do you want a Philly Steak sandwich, or do you want something that ISN'T a Philly Steak sandwich but reminds you of one JUST THIS MUCH???
And can you REALLY tell me that ANY discriminating food judge in the world would actually even TASTE food with leftover french fries or a half eaten dried out bagel in it? Seriously?
My mother insists that there is something to learn from the shows. I haven't the time to watch hours and hours of shows, to sift out the one little tidbit that I did not know, that is of marginal value, and that I could have done with out (or that I'd have learned on my own anyway eventually). Life is too precious to waste my time on non-essential drivel.
I don't have time to learn how to do things I will never need to do, using ingredients that are not even available in the stores here. We are working on developing a research farm, and part of that research is food research. I learn more from our own comparison studies and experiments than I do from an hour watching someone else puttering around with THEIR agenda (which has nothing to do with mine).
Ok, so the old Julia Child episode that shows which chicken is really a Roasting Chicken, and what the other age birds are, and how to tell how old the bird really is, was TRULY USEFUL to me! Because I RAISE CHICKENS! If I did not, I would not have been so thrilled to see it! Of course, her voice really is that annoying, but it isn't as annoying as the Food Nanny (who is also a very nice person, but has a really irritating show). I can put up with Julia's voice, because what she taught me was valuable. Some of her other lessons were totally irrelevant to me though.
This morning my mother has chosen to watch a puling children's show, with oversized stuffed animals that alternately sing meaningless inoffensive lyrics, and whine about problems nobody can fix because they are not real or not within the control of anyone (no solution, just whining). Food or cooking shows, whatever you want to call them, are just as irrelevant to me, and just as annoying.
A cricket was singing in the yard. Pretty loud. I wandered in the kitchen, the back door open, and then went back to writing. The book has to be finished after all, or there is no point in writing it.
The cricket kept singing, then stopping, then singing some more.
Back to the kitchen for a glass of water. The cricket was inside the house now. Probably behind the refrigerator.
Next morning he was singing in the livingroom. The dog would get up and stare hard at the heater vent, but had no idea what to do about that noise.
Somewhere around evening, the cricket was back in the kitchen. By the middle of the night, the singing was coming from the vicinity of the sink.
This morning, it is definitely the sink. LOUD "zing, zing, zing" noises coming from the sink.
We never see the little bug, we just hear him. And for a small thing, it sure can produce a loud noise. We can hear it in the basement when it is singing upstairs. No idea if we can get it out of the house, since we can't really FIND the thing to begin with.
On one hand, it is a cheerful noise. On the other hand, it can be really annoying.
Our new houseguest, the cricket, will likely be staying a while.
Yes, and no. They may be extracted, pressed, or produced in other ways, but the processes by which they are made is fairly complicated.
Well, there is a lot of confusion over what essential oils are, in the first place. And a search on the topic just yields a variety of opinions, and the more you study it, the more confused you get!
At its most basic, an essential oil is merely a plant oil. Not all plants HAVE sufficient oil to obtain a pure oil. So they are distilled, extracted, infused, pressed, or otherwise obtained from plants, with or without the assistance of an extraction substance (water, alcohol, oil, solvent, etc).
So what we are after is not necessarily an "essential oil" that is made at home, but something that can be used in its place.
Most essential oils are highly diluted, even though they are used as, and sold as, a concentrate. This is the first thing - they are already diluted.
So if you want a substitute, you can use something that is not nearly as strong as a full strength essential oil.
I know of four ways to get something that can be used in place of an essential oil, depending on the use and required attributes, two of which can be used externally, two which can be used internally.
1. Oil extraction. This is like making a tincture, but with oil. It can be done on low heat in a crock pot, and I just put water in the pot, and set jars in the pot with the oil and plants in the jars, with the lids on. Does not stink up the kitchen, keeps the temp low, and takes about 3 days to make a pretty strong extraction.
2. Honey or Sugar extraction. Same thing as an oil extraction, but with water added. You can end up with some pretty smelly stuff this way, but it is generally only good for those things that need sugar anyway - in other words, best for internal use.
3. Alcohol extraction. This is very common, and results in a tincture. Smells like the plant, but with an alcohol base.
4. Syrup extraction. I do this instead of sugar extractions. And I do it in an electric pressure cooker (takes about 1 hour that way, no stirring). Easy to do, 1 cup of water to 2 cups sugar, and about 4 cups of plant leaves, petals, etc. Very useful for internal medicinals, and a great replacement for alcohol tinctures.
I have no patience with long and intensive procedures, but some say you can make an essential oil with a distillation system. You don't get a really strong one unless you are really patient and know what you are doing. So that is another option, if you have the patience and knowledge to do it.
The point is, if you know WHY you need it, you can probably make something that will work instead, that will allow you to get the job done.
Once upon a time, people did not buy animal feed. They grew it. Many people now are wanting to go back to a more self-sustaining type of agriculture, but they have no idea how to feed their animals without buying feed.
If you think differently about it, you can gradually move to a more natural diet for your animals, but some animals will adapt more slowly than others, since they've been bred for generations to eat less wholesome foods.
We have done this with some animals, not with others, and have learned some tricks to feeding them. To do it, you have to have some land, and how much you can do is often dependent on how much land you actually have, and how well it grows plants.
You can plant good forage crops all over, or gather forage by hand for animals. Either way, you are looking at a wide range of trees, shrubs, vines, annuals, perennials, weeds, things from your vegetable gardens, etc.
Our cattle roamed the woods when I was a kid, and were only fed supplemental hay in the winter (during which time they also grazed on the hay fields, fertilizing them nicely). They roamed under the trees in the orchard, eating lower leaves and twigs, as well as windfall apples in the fall. They ate blackberry vines, windfall plums, ferns, and all sorts of green plants that grew wild in the woods and meadows. They snacked on clovers, wildflowers, and other things that people just do not associate with animal feed anymore.
Our goats were in a smaller enclosure and did the same, receiving supplemental feed only at milking time. Of course the trees in their pasture were wrapped with hardware cloth to keep the goats from skinning the bark off, but there were also rose bushes, and blackberry vines there.
We have fed rabbits and chickens without buying commercially formulated feeds. We bought some grains and seeds for the chickens since we could not raise them ourselves at the time. The rabbits were fed pretty much entirely from hand-foraged plants, even through the winter in a mild Pacific NW climate (It is harder to do here, partly because we don't own the land so we cannot modify it to produce what we need). Dried apple peels, from processing apples for juice, sauce, or butter, or from the dried apples, make a really nice treat for rabbits.
Pigs without commercial feed - Pigs were traditionally raised on surplus and scraps. Garden scraps, garden surplus, table scraps, butchering scraps (including bones), windfall fruit, overblown zucchini and cucumbers, squash that was getting a little too soft, and potatoes that were just a little too shriveled to eat but not needed to plant, apples from the root cellar that were going soft, etc, as well as some crops grown especially for them - mangel beets, cabbages, the twisted or split carrots, and other storable crops. In addition, the family cow helped feed the pig, surplus milk was given to the pigs, and so was the majority of the buttermilk (helps to understand what buttermilk really is) - the milk was soured to make it easier to skim the cream, and the skim milk, and the milk from the defatted cream, were both classed as Buttermilk, and nobody had a need for very much soured skim milk, so they gave that to the pigs, and it was considered to be an essential part of the diet of the pigs. Whey was also given to the pigs (you can only use so much whey!). Grain really wasn't on the list until the late 1800s and early 1900s.
I can tell you from experience that windfall apples, picked up daily for about 2 months and tossed to the pigs, can make a measurable difference in their slaughter weights.
Some regions in the old country, and here in the US, turned out the pigs into the woods where there were plentiful oaks, and the pigs fattened on acorns through the year. They rounded them up once a year, sorted out the surplus in the herd, and butchered them, and turned the rest loose - virtually no cost involved, but you ended up with feral pigs, which is why we have wild hogs running through the South, and this is not something you could do now, unless you owned a thousand or more acres, they are too hard on the forest habitats. And having feral pigs is a different thing than having them confined - they are dangerous enough in confinement when they are accustomed to your presence, rounding up ferals is a dangerous task. But if you have woods that grow nuts, you can fence off sections and turn the pigs loose there for a few days at a time so they can eat the nuts or acorns, but not long enough for them to start digging for roots and grubs and destroying the woods.
The other factor in this is that you need to time the raising of the pigs more carefully than most people do now. You buy (or your pigs are timed to birth) in the spring. The piggies are just starting to really eat as the garden comes on. By the time they are eating a lot, you are starting to get too many zucchini, some fruit that is not good enough to use, and you are butchering the spring chickens (at least, that is how it used to be timed, how they come earlier - but the slaughter scraps can be frozen to use later if needed). The pig also gets the canning and preserving scraps, so those tend to increase through part of the summer and early fall. You keep your pigs going as long as the produce and fruit and butchering scraps are coming in, and by the time they dwindle off it is cold enough to slaughter hogs.
In order to do it on as little EXPENSE as possible (which is a different thing than as little FOOD as possible), you have to be on the ball, every bit of scrap or surplus has to be used for them, you have to preserve some foods for your breeding stock to get through the winter, and you have to be living in such a way that there IS a lot of scrap (plant a big garden, save the best for you or customers and give the damaged stuff to the animals, etc).
Essentially, there are two key elements here:
1. Learning all the things your animals can eat that you can grow, and encouraging edible weeds, etc on your property.
2. Storing feeds through the winter. This takes planning. Root cellaring, barrel storage, mixed hays, grains or other feeds, etc. Lots of dried foods if you want to hang them outside to dry in the good weather, or dry them in a barn or basement.
If you can get creative about that, you have food for your animals all year around, with minimal expense.
Mother Earth News strikes again! And the problem is, that once they publish something, people still keep getting caught in their "oh that is such a neat idea" trap! It is only a neat idea until you try it, and then you discover the reason why nobody keeps doing it, and why you never see a photo of it in use, but only a sketch!
Yeah, that one. The chicken coop that is built with two doors, with a tiny garden on one side, and a tiny chicken run on the other.
There are numerous problems with this. It may be a neat idea. But it is NOT a practical workable method!
My mother did this. Inspired, no doubt, by the same article which has been running around misleading people for many decades.
She build her coop on the front fenceline of the garden and run. The dividing line ran right to the middle of the wall on the coop. She had two doors for the chickens, one for people. The chicken doors opened into the two fenced areas.
The garden had been in use for a good 5-10 years, and was finally getting to where we had the nails from the old chicken barn that burned, out of the garden, the weeds were getting more under control, the soil was getting richer and easier to till and pull weeds.
In went that coop and the old garden was fenced on the left side, and the chicken run fenced on the right side. The chickens ran for a year in the run, then she flipped them into the side where the garden was. That spring, the chicken run was tilled up, and that is where the garden went.
Horrors. Weedy corners and sod with crab grass all tilled under. All the seeds from the hay fields and the weedy margin between the hay field and the new garden, blowing in and finding a nice happy place. It was a nightmare. Three times the work on that garden that year.
So over the gardening season the chickens are happily scratching in the old garden, and it too is gathering weed seeds, which sprout to feed the chickens. That IS what you want, you want a run that is large enough to help you feed your chickens, and give them a more natural life, right? So if you do it RIGHT, the chicken run will be good sized, and it WILL GROW WEEDS!
And then you switch sides again. And that lovely garden that was so much easier to work because of all the years put into it has reverted. You are starting over AGAIN! You don't just have to break in each side and have some kind of progress each year from the on like you normally do with a garden. You have to START FRESH EACH YEAR!
No, it is not the way my mother did it that is the problem.
The CONCEPT is flawed. If you do it RIGHT, the negatives are the natural outcome! It doesn't work with a no-till garden either, your chickens will dig up the mulch and mess up the layers of soil that are being created, and you'll just end up with a tilled garden instead of the cumulative benefits of a no-till garden.
The garden moved back to the original location (where the chicken run helped to buffer it from windblown seed from the fields), and we gardened there from then on. Never again did my mother switch sides. There was simply NO BENEFIT to doing so AT ALL, only an increase in work, which could not be justified in any way!
So STOP IT Mother Earth News! Stop inventing things that you never try, and telling people they work! They don't!
And STOP IT the rest of you! Quit thinking that just because it is Mother Earth News that it is actually credible! And quit sharing it when you have not tried it! It is a BAD IDEA, and it is not by any means lonely in company with other bad ideas dreamed up by city writers who have no clue what it is like to actually raise more than one chicken and who have NO CLUE how much of a garden it actually takes to feed a family!
If you want to build your coop so the chickens have access to the garden, there is only ONE reason to do so.
After abandoning the original principle, my mother would turn out the chickens in the winter to scavenge in the garden, and then move them back in the spring. She did not use no-till, or it would not have been smart. She also did not do any winter gardening - if you do, obviously you can't run chickens in it for clean up either!
We DO love to have the chicken and duck yards right beside the garden, because it makes it so easy to throw weeds and surplus over to them. We also like to locate them on the windward side so their yard provides a buffer zone to catch surface blown seed.
But NEVER NEVER NEVER would I rotate the use of them. I am just not into making extra work for myself where my only reward is a WORSE situation than I had before!
Last year I began what looks to be a lifelong love of Hostas. Not only are they an attractive shade plant, which grows happily where a lot of other plants do not, but they are edible. And I like to eat them!
Hubs will eat boiled or sauteed greens. He does not complain of it when I serve them, unless they have a sulphur brassica flavor. Then he is not happy (I think I could get him to eat sweet winter baby cabbage leaves, but I'd have to not tell him what they were!).
But he does not know what Hostas taste like. Last year there was only enough for me! I was not being selfish, I was having trouble digesting most vegetables, but hostas were one I could handle. I had only three little new plants, from which I selectively plucked leaves, as much as I dared. It was never enough to make even ONE serving of vegetable, let alone two! And hubs would never scold me for not sharing anything green with him anyway!
Hostas don't grow really fast. They do pop up before a lot of other food crops are ready, which is a nice advantage. But one plant may get to be a foot or three around, depending on the size of the leaves. The smaller ones taste better, of course! The bigger varieties tend to be tougher.
Another plant, Bishop's Weed, looks a lot like Hostas from a distance. It is reputedly an aggressive grower. It also happens to be edible, but I have not yet acquired it, and would have to find room for it if I do. I don't know what it tastes like, but it holds more promise as a food crop than Hostas. It may actually produce enough that a small patch would give us several meals worth of vegetable.
But Hostas grow more slowly, even when they are really happy. Every shoot you eat is one less crown that will grow that year. Every time you want to eat leaves you have to rob a lot of plants of the tender leaves, and they just don't produce enough to do that more than a few times each year.
Even if I have 20 or 30 Hosta plants, all it will mean is that I now have enough to have a full serving of vegetable when I cook them up. Maybe, if they are well established (they take a few years to really get going), I may have enough for hubs also.
But I'd never have enough to serve a family, or to freeze and serve up year round. There will never be enough space and enough Hostas for that, even if I buy them every year and expand my hosta collection each year.
So I am in the difficult position of celebrating the edibility of this plant, and the digestibility of it for me, while knowing that it will never make a significant difference. It will never produce enough to be a significant food source.
And THAT is the limitation for Hosta as a culinary delicacy. This is why the knowledge of their edibility has been lost, and why they are not sold as an edible plant.
But they are worth it for me to grow, and to fix up, however much I can, those few times each year that I CAN do so.
I really LIKE Hostas!
Kevin came in from feeding the flocks this morning, and said, "We have a pigeon egg!".
After investing quite a bit of money into getting Utility Pigeon breeding stock last fall, this is good news. The first sign that the pigeons would do anything other than be expensive investments, and eat and eat and eat! They eat more than bantam chickens do (and POOP a lot more too!), but they are also supposed to be more productive. This is the first evidence of that!
When we got our first Quail egg, I brought it in, and fried it sunny side up. I placed it on the top of a dish of hash browns and sausage, and took a picture and posted it on my Frumpy Haus Frau blog. Quail don't brood their own eggs. Pigeons do. So the Pigeon egg stays in the coop!
We have Brown Kings, and Texas Pioneers. The Browns are more productive than the Pioneers, since the bloodlines on that breed have been better maintained for production than the Texans have been. Too many Texans bred for show, since they are an auto-sexing breed. Meant to be practical, hijacked for pretty.
True to their reputations, the Browns are the ones that have produced the first egg. They don't even have the cushiest apartment, the Texans got the better accommodations because they are bigger than the Browns.
We have two sets of racing pigeons also, chosen for colors that have the dilute gene in them, so we can use them for cross breeding experiments. They are about half the size of the Kings, so we will have to do a lot of selecting for size on the crosses, but we need the genetic diversity and hybrid qualities for where we want to go long term with these birds.
Utility pigeons are surprisingly expensive. They are also very rare (except White Kings). It can be really hard to find them, and afford them. And once you have them, you can build a flock, but you have to have containment for them all. Since we are doing 100% selective breeding, we have them in large cages. Not our preference. But resources are limited and we cannot afford a coop for every pair!
Once your pigeons start to produce, they are either meat producers, or you expand your flock, or sell breeding pairs. Whatever you choose to do, you have to have MORE CAGES! Or a grow-out coop. Or something. And that is not cheap either!
So while we now have our base stock (we do still need a few additional birds that we'll have to buy), we have begun the never ending process of building cages and coops to expand our flocks.
Today marks an important milestone in the process though, and lets us know that the rolls of wire in the basement will not be left there much longer!
I've been fighting a battle for a very long time, trying to heal my body. The story is too long to tell in its entirety. I'd heal from one thing and something else would blindside me. Doctors scratched their heads, tested this, tested that, came up empty, until I was finally given a diagnosis of Crohn's. I opted OUT of the medicinal route for treatment, since all they could promise me is horrible side effects and a slow degeneration with surgical removal of my intestines piece by piece and a slow and lingering death. I thought I could do better than that!
I did. A year later, Crohn's was no longer diagnosable as Crohn's. I still had a finicky digestive system, and chemical exposures (even airborne) still had the ability to knock my digestive system out of whack for a few days to a few weeks at a time. But it was nothing like what it had been.
The chemical sensitivities, perpetual exhaustion, progressive muscle weakness, persistent obesity, degenerative liver and kidney function, nerve inflammation, and brittle bones that developed over the years continued to worsen. I wasn't even aware that I had compression fractures in my spine until I ended up in the ER with angina (heart pain), which was diagnosed as "inverse angina", or angina that occurs when you are at rest, and not when you are active. They did a series of X-rays, MRI, and some blood work. There were three things that stood out from that visit.
A blood test result that, by itself, pointed to one thing. Metabolic deficiency.
Compression fractures, not caused by calcium deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, or a diet low in protein or phosphorus. This is consistent with metabolic deficiency which either causes protein (collagen) deficiency in spite of a high protein diet, or metabolic dysfunction which causes lactic acidosis and phosphorus deficiency.
Are we seeing a pattern yet?
The third thing is the inverse angina. Generally associated with metabolic disorders.
I took that and ran with it.
Through a series of strategies I changed the way I eat, going back to older heritage meats, vegetables, and fruits. Less commercialized varieties. It seems the protein and carbohydrate and fat structures are different in them, enough so my body knows what to do with them better.
Things started getting better. I'd have a week or two at a time when I actually was able to get a few things done! I took up canning. I could get 1 canner load done on a good day. I started canning meals and meal starters. Not only could I digest my homemade food better, but when all I had to do is open a jar and heat it to get a healthy meal on a bad day, we were eating much better. That added to the healing momentum.
I figured out some of the things that were triggering flare ups. Started finding ways to avoid them (figuring out which local bathrooms were "safe" and did not have toxic air freshener).
Each little bit of progress is SO HUGE, and yet it makes such a tiny difference in my life to an outside observer. So I spent only 10 hours today in my recliner instead of 14. So I got up at 9:00 this morning instead of 9:30. Not much difference to see, but OH the difference I feel when I make a bit of progress.
- When suddenly I can do a thing that hurts, and it does not hurt as much!
- When I can slowly accomplish a task in a few hours that I could not do AT ALL for the last 10 years.
- When I learn how to make a new kind of food that helps me heal, and I can SEE the difference.
- When I go to bed after a hard day and I do not have so much nerve inflammation that I crawl out of bed an hour later with a screaming headache.
- When I can go up the stairs in the morning without having to stop every third step just to get my thighs to stop aching like I've run a mile.
- When I can go to sleep at night, without insomnia, or racing thoughts, or back pain that keeps me up half the night.
- When I can take an extra trip up the stairs during the day and not have rhabdomyolysis from it.
Just little things. Things I took for granted for so many years. Things that made me think I was lazy, because I could not acknowledge to myself even, that the reason I had stopped washing dishes is because it made my back hurt so much I could not stand it (now the X-rays show me that the pain was real - my back was literally collapsing on me from ordinary tasks).
And I am healing. It is oh, so slow. But it is oh, so real.
Like watching a flower bloom. In real time. So very slow. But undeniably making progress.
I want to shout and celebrate every time some little thing happens.
But nobody else gets it. Normality just doesn't allow anyone to comprehend what these little things mean.
Herbs, and food, and clean air, good water, and not pushing my body when it has nothing left to give.
It is not easy. And I could not explain to anyone else how to do this. I could give them a list of herbs, and tell them go pray about it. But I find my way through, every day, and use various herbs and foods according to my daily condition.
Maybe, just maybe, there is hope. Because if this can get better, maybe other things can too.
UPDATE: Six months later, I am still in recovery mode. It is still very slow, but I am now walking about 1-2 miles a day, most days. I could not do that even three months ago. For me, this is like seeing the bud on the flower burst.
I have a soapbox! What? Another one? Ok, so I do have a plethora of soapboxes, but this is one that just makes me want to SLAP people!
Why is it that so many people think they have to "pull" a lamb, calf, or kid? That doing so is somehow NORMAL?
The fact is, doing so if the animal is not in distress is DAMAGING to your animal mamas, and virtually ALWAYS weakens their ability to give birth without assistance in the future.
It can tear vaginal tissue, overstress muscles, tear ligaments, and damage cartilage in the pelvis. It can CAUSE uterine prolapse, or contribute to it in the future.
One birth with someone forcing the exit of the baby before the mother's body is fully ready for it, can cause permanent damage, from minor, to fatal.
What makes us think we have to do it all for them anyway? They are better at it than we are!
How about you let an OB go rummaging around in you (or your spouse), grab a part and drag out whatever they find by whatever appendage they can get hold of? No? Good idea for an animal, but NOT a good idea for you or someone you love? Doesn't that tell you something?
(No, animals are not people, and we do not confuse them with people. But in the case of birth, there is little difference in the process, and what is, and is NOT a wise habit in regards to it!)
Except in EXCEPTIONS with good breeding stock, pulling a baby is NEVER necessary!
If you routinely HAVE to do so, you either have BAD breeding stock (genetically flawed - frequently the case with show lines, unfortunately), or you have animals that have previously been damaged by ignorant handling.
I first encountered this flawed assumption many years ago on the website of a "goat expert". She discussed birthing on a whole page of her site (which too many people have taken as being credible, sadly). She talked about being on "labor watch" as though disaster was sure to ensue if she was not there to PERSONALLY prevent it! She said every time her goats went into labor she would grab her "birthing kit", and go out and render assistance. She described what a goat owner "needed to do" (in her opinion) when a goat gave birth, and showed pictures. Her instructions included grabbing the legs as soon as they gave her enough to get hold of, and forcibly pulling the baby out! I was beyond appalled!
I grew up with goats. I remember one bad night, ONE... in all those years, when one of our goats really did get in trouble giving birth. She had been laboring with a mal-presentation far too long. My sister, an avid reader of James Herriot, and a studier of animal husbandry, carefully explored to see what the problem was, and did her best to straighten things out. She managed to help the doe get the kid out. The doe died. Cause wasn't certain, but my sister was very careful. It still ended in disaster.
That was the ONLY time anyone had to give aid to any of the goats. Most of the time, we would come out in the morning and find a mama and kids acting like nothing was out of the ordinary, when there had just been a pregnant goat the night before.
We never EVER even HAD a "birthing kit" for goats!
We had hoof care, disbudding irons, syringes, medications, wormers, and all sorts of other things (many of which we do not now use), but never even CONSIDERED a "birthing kit". We raised and showed goats for many years. Lots of goats.
The most agregious example of unwarranted interference I have ever seen is in a video that regularly makes the rounds (sadly it makes them on Homesteading groups with comments of "oh how cute", by people who OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER!).
A little dimpled darling of all of three years old is featured in this video, pulling a lamb.
Now, there are MANY things wrong with this, only ONE of which is that it is TOTALLY inappropriate for a three year old to risk broken bones sticking their hand into the pelvis of a laboring ewe! Yeah! That! It is not a remote possibility! Contractions are that strong!
Apparently though, when a three year old acts in a dangerous and stupid manner, people will applaud it as "mature", and "brave", and "darling". If an adult did the same thing she did, they would label them as "cruel", "stupid", and "unsanitary".
First off, she trots in and lifts the tail, and sticks her hand inside a sheep that has just delivered a lamb, and is RESTING before the second lamb is ready to present. The ewe actually shows no signs of pushing contractions the entire time this child is mucking around. She is obviously NOT READY to birth the second lamb, and the fact that the child has to stick her arm in nearly to the shoulder to find a pair of feet is also evidence that the lamb is NOT ready!
Second, her little hands are going from inside the sheep, to the floor, to the tail, and back inside that sheep! Who in their right minds would encourage such a thing? This is the stuff uterine infections are made of! Yet her parents stand by filming the whole thing, proud of their little destroying angel!
Third, she drags the lamb out regardless of any preparedness or participation on the part of the ewe! Poor mama sheep! It is clear that the lamb was NOT stuck, did NOT have a complicated presentation, and was in NO WAY in need of being dragged into the barn by an incompetent child. The lamb also shows no signs of distress, further indicating that there was NO reason to have a child shove filthy hands inside the uterus of a sheep!
Fourth, if the sheep were having contractions, that little girl would have got hurt! At the very least, her arm would have been squeezed hard enough to cause her to cry. At the worst, it could damage nerves, or break bones!
Fifth... If the sheep were in TROUBLE (There is no indication she is, she's placidly laying there, and there are no indications of distress.), then it was NO PLACE FOR A CHILD to be mucking around! That needed an ADULT who knew what they were doing! Someone with the knowledge to carefully assist the sheep, without just dragging the lamb out! No three year old is capable of assessing a potentially complex presentation, determining the way to correct or compensate for it, and then carrying out a difficult balance between the ability and health of the sheep and the safe delivery of a lamb who may also be in distress.
If the sheep is not in trouble, she should NOT HAVE BEEN IN THERE. If the sheep WERE in trouble, she should NOT HAVE BEEN IN THERE!
No, it is NOT cute.
Yes, it IS irresponsible and stupid.
Poor kid is going to grow up thinking this kind of thing is good animal care. Poor animals that come under her care - and that of her parents! Yes, I'm making that judgment! Her parents' filming of the debacle and broadcasting it across the internet has invited it!
I'd be teaching a kid by talking to them while I was working with trouble situations while they were little. Let them start assisting at about 9-10 years of age when they are old enough to have the intellectual capacity and physical strength to handle the difficulties.
Don't PULL a calf, or a kid, or a lamb, or a cria, or anything else unless the laboring mother is in distress, and the baby is at risk!
Don't do it! You will HARM the animal rather than help!
And by the way, don't dry off the babies either! As long as they are born where they won't freeze to death before the mama licks them off, LEAVE THEM ALONE! Her care of her babies in the first few minutes of life is important to her, and to the babies.
There. I think I've said it.
*steps down from soapbox*
Fall came, and the eggs we gathered each day gradually declined in number. When you raise your chickens naturally, this is a yearly occurrence. We deal with it.
Then the chickens molt, and look like they've been dragged through a knothole backwards for several weeks. Some molted lightly. Some seemed to lose all but a little fluff here and there. But eventually feathers began to return, and the hens once again started to look sleek and healthy. Molting chickens never look healthy, even when they are!
And gradually the daily egg count began to rise.
It always kind of surprises me that this happens right after the Winter Solstice. Like, within a day or two!
Conventional farming lore tells us that hens need 14 hours of light per day to lay well. That means hens in some locations would never lay well! And that it would take until May for them to start to do so in our location! We haven't even reached the Spring Equinox yet, so we are still at about 11 hours of daylight per day.
The majority of our hens do not care! About 3/4 of our hens are laying now, with a good number laying daily, and the rest about every other day. We are up to a high of 15 eggs a day, and not less than 9 eggs a day. The new high of 15 was reached yesterday. Every few days they hit a new high, and the low increases as well.
There is something about that, every spring, that never ceases to please me. We scold the hens when they slack, we praise them when they produce a lot. I mean, you just DO that. Even though I'm NOT really much of an animal person, and as a rule, I'm not sentimental about animals. But I find myself doing it anyway.
We go so fast from using every single egg that is produced, to wondering what to do with them all, that I am always caught off guard by that as well. This year, we are canning pickled eggs. But I have to find some more ways to preserve them also, because even though I LOVE pickled eggs, I really can only eat so many of them! 200 quarts of pickled eggs (one dozen per jar) is going to be a bit much!
The quail (outside this year) just popped out their first egg of the season yesterday also. We are still waiting on the pigeons, doves, and guinea fowl.
Our rabbits finally have babies again, after a long dry spell due to some contaminated feed which caused breeding problems.
The weather is its usual fickle self here in the Rockies, snowing one day, sunny and warm the next, but the animals tell us unmistakably that spring is coming.
And around the corners of the field we are spotting dandelions coming up, and a few other bits of green here and there. Almost, but not quite, enough to start foraging for the animals.
In the mean time, I'm off to work on figuring out more ways to make the bounty of eggs last all year.
I have a friend who is a total city girl, works in a high profile job and travels a lot internationally for her job. She grew up in another country, with a maid and a cook, and had one most of her adult life also, until she moved to Jersey. I have a lot of respect for her, this is in no way critical of her background or knowledge level, she's one smart cookie.
Lately she has taken an interest (sort of a macabre fascination, I think, no intention to actually DO any of it) with the difference in our life as compared to hers. She cannot imagine living in the middle of nowhere (in her words, "with nothing to do"), and yesterday I had to explain to her what home canning is, in a conversation regarding pickling our surplus eggs (she did not know what those are either). Had to post a picture of canning jars, she has never even seen canning jars, nor had any idea that people actually still use such a thing!
At the end of the conversation, she said what so many people say (again having NO idea that it is not acceptable to say this), "If Armageddon happens, I'm going to you!".
I've noticed that most people who say this have NO IDEA what it is they are actually saying, nor how rude it is to say, "I am not prepared, have no idea how to prepare, don't want to learn and won't bother, but if I ever need anything I can take comfort in the fact that YOU are prepared and come to you so you can use your hard earned goods and equipment to support me!". They never think that this is what they are actually saying! Homesteaders, avid canners, and preppers know this. They've thought it out.
So I said to her what I say to everyone who suggests such a thing:
"When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, you'd be welcome, but you have to be willing to help us continue to produce the things we need. So as long as you are willing to help plant the garden, and butcher the rabbits, and slop the hogs, you are more than welcome!"
This is usually where people decide that maybe there is an easier way to get a meal in the middle of societal meltdown!
I honestly mean that though, I would not refuse any friend or family member, or hanger on, if they are willing to work to sustain themselves, and not just beg free meals. If they cannot do that, we have to require them to leave, because there is not enough of US to go around to do more than support ourselves in difficulty, we don't have enough resources or physical capacity to support others who are capable of supporting themselves.
Those words serve as a warning, and a promise. They can take it either way. But I've learned that most people, when they hear them, quickly make a mental note NOT to come to us!
We would always be willing to hand someone a meal, and send them on their way. Once. If they need more, they need to work for it, for their sake as well as ours.
Our family comes first. That is our first stewardship, whatever our family consists of at the time. We have never been unwilling to help another person in need, even when it meant giving from our own poverty. But we will not contribute to KEEPING someone else in need, especially when it harms us to do so. It does nobody any good if we ALL run out, simply due to bad management.
I am not a prepper, this is just day to day survival here for us. To take on other people means that the food we preserved from last year's harvest will not make it until next year's harvest, unless we have people who are willing to help us establish some winter crops to tide us over, or make products to sell so we can buy more supplies, or to forage for wild foods, hunt game, etc. It does not take SKILLS on the part of those who come. The skills are already here. It only takes willing hands. People who are not offended by being asked to get dirt under their fingernails, and manure on their shoes.
There are those who think they can take what they want by force. But there isn't a self-sufficient family out there who doesn't enjoy spending family time together target shooting. Most are willing to defend their family with deadly force if necessary.
My heart says, "Be generous.". And many times we are, even when it does not feel "wise" to be, because we trust in the blessings of the Lord, if we give as generously as we can.
But we also have a responsibility to wisely manage what we have been given, and God holds us accountable for that as well.
When I make apple juice from fresh apples, I peel and core the apples first, so I can use the pulp for leather (I add sugar and cinnamon and vanilla to it because if you remove the juice, you also remove the flavor - hubs likes this leather). I then dry the peels for winter food for the bunnies. Less waste this way.
So I figured I'd try juicing some pineapple and see whether I could do the whole juice here, pulp there thing with them.
Pineapples do not work the same as apples!
I ended up with two catch cups full of yellow foamy slime. One was barely thicker than the other. They were both pretty much the same otherwise. There was literally no drinkable juice in either one.
So THAT didn't work. Apparently a masticating juicer would work better than a grinding centrifuge juicer for pineapple. Something that presses the juice out, rather than grinding it finely and then trying to spin it out.
I did end up with a lot of pineapple leather though!
One of the experiments that DIDN'T work.
We drove up the lane, and a herd of dogs (it was not a pack, it was a milling herd) surrounded the car, a few barks just to let us know who was really in charge.
A few more dogs barked as we opened the car doors to get out, and right in the middle of the dogs was a lamb, doing its best to compete like any regular dog. "Ba! Ba! Ba!". Nearly full grown, it was pretty obvious that the lamb thought it was a dog.
The owners said the lamb had been bottle fed, and then raised with the dogs. It ate dogfood, chased cars, and threatened strangers just like the dogs did.
Somewhere in there, I think there is a story. I haven't found it yet, but I think there is a children's book in it if a plot could be devised.
I'm sure the barking lamb is long since gone the way of farm livestock, but it was amusing at the time, and still makes us smile when we remember and recount the memory with family.
It is almost poetic, this thing that happens to meat when salt, sometimes nitrates, and bold or subtle blends of herbs, fruits or other seasonings are infused into them, and the moisture in the meat is drawn out. The meat is changed. Made more while it shrinks.
It is also symbolic. The words do not exist to describe my delight in being able to do this, to produce our most favorite meats ourselves. Not the soft and watery cured meats that litter the coolers in the stores, but firm, dense and aromatic meats that burst with flavor upon your tongue. The flavor is complex, mellow, and salty enough to satisfy while not overwhelming.
These foods do not cause my lips to swell, my lungs to congest, and my skin to itch the next day, because of the load of chlorine and chemicals in them that I cannot tolerate. THIS meat helps me instead, delivering probiotics and enzymes that help my digestive system heal. Oh, yeah, didn't you know? You can eat this raw if you want to, just like proscuitto, and when you do, it packs a wollop in healthy microbes and enzymes. Even if you cook it, it is easily digestible, the proteins already partially broken down into usable chains.
The small boneless hams hanging in our basement somehow represent all that we are trying to do. A skill forgotten by all but a few, learned again. Not only is the meat made more as we process it, WE are made more. Food condemned by modern medicine as "unhealthy", becomes healthy again, when done in the traditional manner, rather than by contemporary shortcuts.
I've not yet learned to smoke my own meat. This requires more equipment we do not yet have. It is on the list. We will get there eventually. For now, we use other methods to get a natural smoke flavor into the meat. It isn't perfect yet. But even our imperfections are such an improvement over the alternatives which are all we've had up to this point.
This thing though, the handling of raw meat, the curing, the hanging it at room temp without refrigeration. It seems so scary, and so complicated. But once you do it, it is elegantly simple.
The most lovely thing is that even a person with limited physical capacity can do this! For those who must ration their energy day to day, this is a thing you can do!
Gather the spices together. If that is all you do one day, that is fine! Put them in a place where you can easily get them all the next day. The salt, the Tenderquick, the sugar, the herbs that make it distinctive.
Mix them up the next day. There is no hurry, if the meat is in the fridge, it has a few days for you to do this one task at a time. Check it off your list. You got something done that will become something wonderful.
The next day, it comes together. Get the meat and a knife. Trim the bits of meat off that you don't want to cure. It does not need to be picky. I use pork loin most of the time (cheap, and easy to handle). Pretty much no trimming needed. Today, you get to do two things, but it is worth it.
Get some ziplock bags - gallon size will do for a piece of pork loin, or some boneless shoulder.
Get a plate.
Get your salt mixture.
Put the meat on the plate. Salt it. Salt the edges. Flip it and salt the bottom. Make sure you have a good layer of salt clinging to it all.
Put it in a baggie.
Put the baggie in the fridge. Check a BIG thing off your list, you are officially curing meat!
Drain the liquid off the meat each day. Flip the baggie so the meat is on the opposite side. Keep it in the fridge. Every other day, sprinkle a bit more salt on each side to replace what is washing off.
Salt cured meat goes so many days for each inch of thickness. Research it online. Eventually I'll post a recipe, but not today. Today is about making you want to do it!
These smaller pork loin pieces go for 5-7 days.
When it finishes that phase of curing (the way you determine this depends on what you are making), you either wash off the salt, or you brush off the excess leaving bits of herbs on the meat - again, it depends on the kind of meat you are curing.
Then you hang it. Or not. Or smoke it. Or not. Depends on what you are doing.
Most of the ones I do, I hang. I wrap it in a clean piece of old T-shirt material to protect it from bugs, and then put it into a crocheted net bag, and hang it from a beam in the basement where the mice cannot get at it. An old pillowcase works well also.
It is easy to do, even if you have little energy. You just break it up as much as you need to. A little here, a little there. And the daily process is so simple that it works into a day of carefully metered energy expenditures.
Do little pieces of meat. 2-3 lbs. Nothing heavy to lift. Easy to move it to the sink, drain it. Easy to sprinkle it again because it is small. Not too many days to cure because it is thin (less than 3 inches thick). Doesn't take long to hang because of the smaller size.
Bacon. Ham. Proscuitto. Corned Beef. Dried beef. Lamb ham. Venison ham. You can do all of those as a dry cure.
Simple, not too heavy, gentle work, that makes magic!
I've got hog jowls in the fridge and another pork loin, waiting for the salt that I mixed yesterday. But today I am crocheting more net bags to put the cured pieces from the fridge into. When I'm done with that, I'll start the next pieces. They will wait for me.
The next one will be cured with maple.
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Coddiwomple Farm is located the United States.