Monday, January 2, 2012

Canning, Candles, Venison, and Electicity

Happy New Year! New year, new post. I hope and mean to post more often than I have been, but holidays are busy, etc. etc. Anyway, something I've been meaning to share with you all is how the electricity at the cabin works:

We start with a gas powered generator:
We keep the generator and all the rest of this setup inside this shed, which doubles as pump house for the well and triples as tool shed. Actually I should post another photo in a day or two though, because Mike just built a little simple covered extension on the right side of the shed, so that we don't have to move the generator in and out of the shed every time we run it. We do this because it produces a lot of heat/exhaust, and we don't that to stay contained in the shed, but we don't want the generator to get rained on, and before now we haven't had another covered area.

Anyway, all that said, we run the generator (which also powers our well pump and washing machine) every 2 or 3 days for 3 hours in order to power this battery pack:

Four golf cart batteries tethered together. This is so that we can use electricity in the cabin without having to run the (quite noisy) generator every time we want to turn on a light or plug in a computer. The batteries are charged through this inverter:
and the inverter also converts the DC power running from the generator into AC power, which is what regular house power sockets and most normal appliances use. We try to only turn on the inverter when we're actually using power in the house - the inverter itself drains a small amount of charge from the batteries. But we manage to be pretty good about how much we use. In early December, I filled our 2 5-gallon jugs and 1 1-gallon gas jugs, and we have used around half of it by now. That's only about $25 in electricity for a month!

Of course, our stove and fridge run off of propane, which we've been moving through more quickly, especially with two fridges running to hold the influx of fresh meat we've been getting, and extra stove use for canning.

The point, though, is that we tend to be much more aware of how much power we're using, since we have to be this much more involved in the maintenance of it.

In case you were wondering what fresh meat I was talking about, we've recently came into a large amount of fresh venison. We made jerky out of most of the first deer, and sausage (venison meat mixed with beef fat) out of the second one. Here's the meat grinder we used: (I'd show the sausage, but it's all frozen in ziplocs and doesn't look like much...)

We've also been canning a lot. I finally canned tomatoes for the first time, and I learned from this go round that I could have packed the jars a lot tighter, due to the loss of liquid and volume due to processing in a pressure canner:

For Solstice presents for family, we canned hot pepper jelly and sunflower seed butter, and also gave some of our pickled okra we'd made over the months prior (I have about 35 jars of okra in the closet-under-the-stairs!).

I don't know if I've said this yet on the blog, but my (perhaps lofty) goal is to can enough fresh veggies to be able to have enough to not have to buy any from Whole Foods over the summer, while the farms aren't producing down here. That means we've got a lot of work cut out for us this spring, but I think it's doable!

We also made beeswax candles from wax bought from a woman who lives a few miles away from us who keeps bees ( It was (as is all of the rest of the activities and adventures herein described) an experiment, but turned out pretty well. We didn't think about wicks early enough to order or find somewhere to buy pre-woven wicks, so we bought twine from a hardware store and square-braided them. A little thick for the size of some of our candles, perhaps, but a learning experience, and they work just fine! The candles we gave away we made in 4 oz. mason jars, but we made some for ourselves out of milk jugs, votives, this little porcelain dish, and beer cans! Beer cans were the actually the best molds. They made the candle in the back left corner of the photo below (made from the melted down ends and drippings of old candles, not from the fresh beeswax), which is a very nice size and shape, and even tapers at the bottom toward the ring at the bottom of the can, and after it was cold and hardened, we could just peel the can away in strips! Easy and satisfying! I'd recommend beer can candle molds to anyone. (Or soda, or whatever you drink in cans, although I'd recommend anything from Oscar Blues brewery!)

The nice thing about making this kind of thing (preserves, candles) for gifts, is that you can make large amounts (most of these things aren't really worth the time if you don't make a whole lot..), and have plenty left over for yourself while also being able to give away several of each thing. Mike and I have been particularly enjoying the hot pepper jelly!

And last for today, Mike working on his bow. He's been working on this bow for a couple months now, and it's nearing the final stages. He set up this work stand out by the river to have a nice outdoor space to work and be able to clamp the bow to - here he is contemplating his next move:

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