February Skills Update

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As some of you know, I have been using the 13skills website to help guide me in learning new skills in 2013.  Since today is a cold and rainy introspective kind of day here in Tucson, it seemed like a good time to refocus on my progress.  Admittadely, I have done a fairly bad job in the last few weeks about keep skills foremost in my mind.  All of the stress of getting ready to move has taken quite a bit of my brain power away from where it belongs.


Some sad news on this one at least.  I knew that I was doing it wrong, and I was right.  So granted, I have no one to blame but myself, but I didn’t really put enough thought into setting myself up for success the first time.  As I chronicled in my earlier pieces, I was trying to make some lacto-fermented sauerkraut.  Unfortunately, I didn’t use enough salt, and to top it off, I didn’t weight down the sauerkraut inside the jar.  So little pieces of it kept floating to the top.  Long story short, it started to mold, and not in the good way.  I did learn thought that in addition to being able to use rocks of some sort, you can fill bags up with water and set them on top of the veggies.  That will keep them below the water line.

I have to say, so far I didn’t like the taste of what I was fermenting, to which I conclude I was doing it wrong.  I think next time in addition to the salt, I will use a bit of either yogurt water, or vinager with “Mother” in it to start the fermentation.  Since I don’t have a garden right now, I can’t count on using natural veggies that haven’t been cleaned to get that starter bacteria.  I might try this one more time before we move, if we get some tasty veggies to play with.

Writing – This one I actually completed, which is excellent.  My goal as to make at least $1 from writing, and I have done almost 5X that good with the launch of my book.  So I marked it off as complete.

Moving – My goal was to execute the sale of our home by April 1st, and be gone.  This one is still a bit up in the air, but largely under control.  We did have the one showing of our house, and not a single one since then.  One made an appointment and cancelled.  Then we had one yesterday that called us at 8:30am on a Sunday, to show that morning.  Really?!  We were still sleeping, so we said screw it.  Little tip realtors, if you do your work sometime other than last minute, more stuff might happen.  Regardless, we are looking forward to going up there and exploring.

Sadly, many of my other goals rely on having already moved, so there is some inherent demotivation involved in starting something new.  I want to do everything on my list still, but it seems foolish to get heavily invested in something that I will just have to tear down in a couple months.

So my next goal to achieve is meditation.  I am a naturally high stress individual, so I think meditation will be good for me.  I tend to get a pain in my side when I am too stressed, and I am hoping that by meditating I can keep that stress level under control and hurt less overall.  I am a born again Christian, so I don’t ascribe to some of the more mystical aspects of meditation, but I think the very act of introspection and thought is good for all of us.  There is something to be said for calming the stormy tempest of your mind before you cast out from your safe harbour of the home.  It will allow me to take the world more in stride.

So, officially, my goal is to meditate for 10 minutes a day, preferably in the morning before work.  I think this will help my health overall, and allow me to be calmer.  I will keep you posted.


Follow up on feed and fermentation

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Well, for some reason today my mental wheels were just sliding all over the road, and I was having trouble putting a coherent thought together on paper.  That happens to everyone some days I guess.  So instead of trying to force out what would undoubtedly be a disjointed narrative, I figured I would just do some quick follow up from some experiments we started in the last few weeks.

The first, the chicken feed experiment is working out great.  The girls are loving their food.  In fact we got a little behind with making it, and ran out of it for a few days.  The girls were loud and strident in letting us know that was not OK.  Our feeding routine of one show box a day supplemented with other stuff for the nutrients is doing quite well.  The best part of all is that the girls are starting to put on some weight.  They had been so skinny up until recently, it was actually kind of worrying.  Now they are finally growing up, and filling in.  This should make the remaining cold a lot easier to handle for them.  Jenn and I went to Costco yesterday and got 50lbs of dry ingredients for them for about $30.  Which will of course be much more than 50lbs once cooked.  So far, a great way for hens to go.

The second, is my lacto fermentation experiment.  The good news is that it is fermenting.  I waited about 4 days to taste the mixture, and it was considerably tangier than just cabbage, water and salt should account for, so it is working.  The bad news is that I don’t really like the taste yet.  It’s not something I would just dive right into willingly, but I could eat it as medicine if I had to.  It’s a first experiment, so I consider it a victory that I was able to get it to ferment at all.  Taste can be fine tuned later.

I do know for sure that I didn’t use enough salt.  Having more salt in the mixture might solve the flavor issue by itself, but the cabbage still isn’t releasing its juice as fast as they say it should.  The other issue is that I used canning jars to store it in, but I just used paper towels to cover, not lids.  This means my liquid keeps evaporating and I have to refill it.  Not the end of the world, but its probably not doing wonders for the fermentation process.

So one experiment is a clear victory, and one is working, but not as well as I hoped.  Pretty good record.  Hopefully I will be back at 100% tomorrow, and I will try to lay out something more informational.

Starting our Saurkraut


In keeping with the 13 skills challenge, yesterday I started making some Lacto fermented sauerkraut for the first time.  If I work on one skill a month for the whole year, plus move to Idaho, I will complete my 13 new skills for the year.  I decided to start with the fermentation because of two reasons.  First, in the summer its too hot to let stuff just sit out on our counter without it rotting, so it’s definitely a winter activity here in the desert.  Second, we have been eating a ton of pork lately, and I wanted to try this with it.

So what is lacto fermentation?

Lacto fermentation is one of the easiest ways to preserve and enhance food.  It’s basically taking vegetable, salting them to get them to release their water as brine, and submerging them in that brine for anywhere from a week to several months.  Since the food is not exposed to air, and is anaerobically breaking down, it will not spoil.  The carbohydrates in the veggies themselves break down and form lactic acid.  The only ingredients you really need are food, salt and a container to hold food submerged.

Why lacto ferment food?

Their are two main benefits to fermenting food.  One is the preservation of the harvest.  When you have fresh veggies from the garden, you can only realistically eat so many of them before they go bad.  Fermenting, like canning, can help extend that life.  Unlike canning though, you can ferment without any inputs other than salt, so its a lot easier and quicker than canning.

The other are health benefits.  This is my first batch of lacto fermented anything, so I don’t really have any first hand knowledge yet.  However, I have seen the personal benefits to my digestion from both taking probiotics as well as drinking raw milk.  Both of these things introduce the often much needed lactobacillus bacteria back into your gut.  This is especially true for people that have taken courses of high dose antibiotics recently.  They will wreak havoc on your guts, and disrupt digestion.  Lactofermenting your foods will introduce those elements back into your body in a much more natural (and inexpensive) way than buying pills.

I have also heard many convincing arguments that a lot of our modern digestive maladies are caused by no longer eating fermented foods.  Clearly our ancestors didn’t have access to freezers and refrigeration, so one way they had to preserve food was ferment it.  It fits quite well with my paleo philosophy to try and recover that input into our body.

So how do you make Sauerkraut?

Well, there isn’t really a wrong way to do it, as long as your veggies release brine, and you keep them submerged.  Its much more about ratios than it is about a recipe.  In general online, I found the guideline to be about 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of cabbage.  When this batch is done, I will know more how it need to be adjusted.

Lacto Prep

First, a warning.  This is a process that basically needs two things.  Salt and food.  That being true, make damn sure you have BOTH of these things in good supply before your start.  Mid chopping is a really stupid time to realize you don’t have the thing of salt you thought you had.

So since this was my first time, I just tried to make it as simple as possible.  I took a small head of cabbage and sliced it into thin strips.  About every quarter of the cabbage, I would salt the cabbage in the bowl and mix it by hand.  I used some pink Himalayan sea salt from a grinder, in addition to the last of the regular salt we had.  I think I got the ration right, but we will see.  I also peeled a small carrot, and sliced it into tiny pieces as well.  This was to give it some color, as well as to experiment with a second veggie.  Lastly, I took some caraway seeds and dumped them in for flavouring.

The goal of the salt is to extract the moisture from the veggies and form a protective layer of brine over them while they ferment.  They make expensive fermenting crocks for this, or you can use a plate and a bowl.

Lacto Crock Replacement

It works pretty much the same way.  I did see that the cabbage wasn’t releasing enough brine to cover itself.  This might be from me not having as much salt as I thought, or it might be because the cabbage sat too long in the fridge and dried out.  That’s what experiments are for, to learn how to do it better.

So took the mixture out of the bowl, and put it into two jars.  When I did this, I saw how much the cabbage had shrunk, so I know it was working.  I took some water, mixed in some granulated salt we had, and poured it over-top of the veggies until they were submerged.  Then I packed them down with a wooden spoon to drive out any air and keep them preserved.

Finished in a jar

So far I have to say this process is very easy.  I do look forward to trying to out in a few weeks when its done.  Good sauerkraut is amazing.  Try it out at home and let me know how it goes.  I will report back my own findings once its done.

Growing your skills

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Its now officially three days into the new year, have you worked on any of your resolutions yet?  I am guessing that most people probably haven’t.  Its so easy to sit down on a piece of paper at the beginning of the year and say you want to lose ten pounds, or get that big promotion, or look at rainbows more.  As I mentioned the other day, it’s only going to change if you put some action into them.  I personally set some ambitious goals for myself this year, and I found a great site to keep me motivated to achieve them, and I wanted to share so that you can start growing too.

Because everything is better with peeps, also they grow.

Because everything is better with peeps, also they grow.

How many of us grew up with a father or a grandfather that seemed able to fix anything with a hammer and some caulk?  I remember once my grandfather’s clock in his truck quit working, so be framed in an alarm clock on the dashboard.  Hilarious, and effective, I bet that truck was always on time.  How about a mom or a grandmother who could simultaneously can food for winter, embroider a beautiful piece of art, and make homemade soap?  Do you feel like any of that rubbed off on you?  I sure didn’t.  I would sit in my house hoping that the light switches never break because I was terrified of replacing one.  A saw was a foreign object meant only for removing fingers and a hammer was good only for breaking things.

While I am no longer completely terrified of wood working and home maintenance, I still feel my biggest area of improvement is in my skills.  I personally feel like my generation no longer knows how to do anything.  If something breaks, or we want something new, we call a guy.  We are afraid to even try to fix it ourselves.  In a homesteading situation, that can be both dangerous and very costly.  What if before calling a guy, we simply took a half hour to see if we could fix it?  Hell, with Youtube you can probably find a video showing you how to do it.  Which, by the way, is exactly how I hung the screen door on my back porch.

Thirteen Skils Badge

Thus I invite you to join the 13skills challenge.  At a basic level, the site is a way to set goals for yourself in different skills, and allow you to mark them off as completed.  There is even social media integration so you can share your successes with your friends.  Although this site is hosted by the Survival Podcast, its geared towards everyone.  Skills run the gamut from the classic “Firearms” and “Permaculture” through “Second Language”, “Social Media”, and “Entrepreneurship”.  There is literally something there for everyone.

In addition to being a great tool for self accountability, there is another component to this.  You are instantly inside a community of 4,000 people and growing who are all either learning or teaching skills.  Do you know how to woodwork, teach someone else on the site.  Do you want to know how to fix a sink, I bet you can find someone to teach you.  What a great way to help keep these skills flourishing, than to pass them directly to a new mold-able mind.

I personally am very excited about growing as both a person, and a homesteader this year.  You can check out my profile directly here.  I am absurdly proud to be member 346 out of 4079 so far.  Below are the goals that I have set for myself in the coming year.  I look forward to working on myself, and I would love it for you to walk with me as well.

Butchering — Planned

To humanely kill and butcher a chicken in such a way that the animal dies quickly, and the meat is edible. I have killed two chickens before, one which I ate, but had help from the wife, and another that I ruined on my own.

Container/Portable Gardening — Planned

To successfully grow at least three types of kitchen or medicinal herbs indoors.

Meditation — Planned

To be able to meditate for at least 10 minutes a day, preferably in the morning, to allow for a calmer existence.

Pickling — Planned

I would like to create at least three different styles of lacto fermented food this year, one of which just has to be sauerkraut.

Hunting — Planned

Neither my wife or I have ever been hunting before, and this year once we move to Idaho, we would like to go. We will take someone along who hunts to teach us.

Permaculture Design — Planned

I would like to attend at least one permaculture class or workshop.

Get Out Of Debt — Planned

Pay off our car and AMEX card to free us up to start saving for some land.

Making Salves and Balms — Planned

I would like to make at least one skin salve that actually feels like it solves a problem. Bonus points if it comes from herbs I grew myself.

Fitness — Planned

I would like to continue my paleo fitness journey, and achieve and maintain a weight of 210lbs.

Wood Working — Planned

I want to build for my wife the table and chairs she saw at Crate and Barrel. They look like they are just made from 2X4s, but they cost $4,000. I can make those.

Writing — Planned

I would like to continue the blog I have started, and success will be defined as either making $1 from something I wrote, or writing a minimum of 5 posts a week.

Fishing — Planned

I have never been fishing on my own in my life. I would like to take my lovely wife fishing with me at least once in Idaho.

Real Estate — Planned

I will successfully execute a short sale on our Arizona house by April 1, freeing us to continue to Idaho.