Monthly Archives: October 2008

Who picked this location?

Teets?  Hooters?

As I was cruising down through the city the other day, I noticed the placement of these two signs.  Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, this was just too funny to pass up.  I had to say something about it, but what?  I don’t want to make crude jokes on this blog, but I can’t let such a piece of art-in-advertising go unnoticed!

Well, here it goes – I have become aware of the role of the WV Department of Agriculture and incumbent Commissioner Gus Douglass through my involvement with the WV Beekeepers Assoc.  I think he is generally well regarded and has done a good job at increasing the visibility of agriculture in the state.  I am not sure that I see significant policy differences between Mike Teets and Gus Douglass and both care about the state.  I think both seem to be running a clean campaign and are both practicing farmers.

So, how does one choose the better candidate?  Does sense of humor matter?    I doubt Mike Teets drove by Hooters and thought, “I gotta get me a billboard up there…people are gonna love that!”  Still, I won’t forget the candidate’s name come election day.  Regardless of which candidate gets my vote, one has instant, though, perhaps unfortunate name recognition.  It may be vindication for the years of junior-high torture he had to endure.  I don’t know who I will vote for and surely won’t put such an opinion on here, but it really hit me how important advertising and simple name recognition are in politics.  It also really makes me appreciate the last name I have!

Sunflowers – redux

Sunflower harvest

Earlier this summer, I posted about our first year planting sunflowers.  They were glorious and grand and a lot of fun to watch turn into the sun as we worked in the garden.  Such beautiful plants couldn’t be left with just a single post.  I had to bring them back into the discussion as I am sure you have been curious how things turned out.

As it turns out, sunflowers grow very tall and get very heavy with the weight of seeds.  I didn’t really think things through when I planted them.  I watched them grow and was awed by their stature.  Of course, like Andre the Giant, sunflowers are in a different atmosphere with winds that we normal Earth-bound travelers don’t feel.  Sure enough, I lost a few to winds and gravity (which still works by the way).  As I am a quick study, I staked those that remained and we harvested 7-8 gigantic sunflower heads.  I had no idea when to harvest them of course and the first thing that occurred to me was that when the birds start devouring the crop, they must be ready.  Thankfully, I have access to the internets and was able to find that when the fronts turn brownish and the backs tun yellowish, they are ready.�
Sunflower harvest

Emily and I started de-seeding them this week and found out that sunflowers produce a very sticky sap.  I am still dragging my one cat to the office each day as he is glued to my left hand.  Anyhow,  we pulled the seeds from the face of the flowers and winnowed them in a screen sifter I built from 1/4 inch hardware cloth.  Most of the debris was removed by that process but we still put the seeds in the freezer to take care of any critters that couldn’t be persuaded to leave.  We plan to roast the seeds which I suppose would have killed anything still attached also, but it just seemed grosser that way.  Anyhow, after a 2-3 day freeze, we roasted them and will have several mason jars full of seeds!

Making Apple Cider – part 2

Yesterday I posted about how we found some apples and mashed them in preparation for pressing out the cider.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking mostly.  I’ll include some lessons learned at the end.
Smashing apples for cider

Adding smashed apples to the pressing basket
Pressing apple cider

Fresh apple cider

Fresh apple cider

First pour of apple cider

We quickly learned that adding one apple at a time into the crusher is much better than dumping in 10 at a time.  We didn’t empty the bucket for every apple but we made sure one was crushed before adding another.  We also learned that you get a lot more cider if you crush the apples a lot.  We ran several batches of apples through the press with a “poor crush” and got much less cider than when we really crushed the apples.  We only got 2 gallons of cider so we ended up spending $6/gallon which is not cheap, though it is still of value to me since it is fresh and educational.  Anyhow, we’re getting another bag of apples and will crush all of them completely.  I expect at least twice as much cider.  I’ll make a good crusher for next year so this won’t be a problem then.  Some folks completely pulverize apples in a new, only-for-apple-cider dispose-all (like in your kitchen sink).  I didn’t want to spend the money but they do get a great yield per pound of apples.  I’ll likely make some sort of hand cranked grinder.

Apple cider taste test

We learned that yellow jackets and honeybees can smell apples from thousands of miles away and that they can fly at supersonic speeds to get to them.  Cover stuff up whenever possible.

Get a piece of metal to put between the bottle jack and the top of the wooden presing frame.  I thought of it before hand and am glad I did.  The bottle jack would destroy the wood otherwise.  Also, have several blocks of wood around that will fit into the basket.  The bottle jack probably will not fully press all the cider out at its fullest extension without adding blocks at some point to lengthen its extension.

Listen for stress on the wood when you are pressing.  The jack puts the whole system under a lot of pressure and you could tear things up pretty good if you don’t pay attention.  Wood will tell you when it has had enough.  Listen to it!

Apple cider taste test

If the cider pours over the top of the wooden plunger, release the pressure and let it go back down.  Press it again and you’ll get more cider out.  Also, cut a drain hole in your catch pan or empty it often so the cider doesn’t re-absorb into the pomace when you release pressure on the bottle jack.

When you are done pressing, keep pressure on the pomace a bit longer.  Cider will drain for a short while after you stop pressing.

I drilled holes in a single row around the lower side and the very bottom of the stainless steel pot.  I am not sure if more holes would be better or just make for a weaker pot.  I will not likely add more holes.

Run the cider through a coarse strainer.  It just looks better to me without chunks of apples floating in it.

Apple cider taste test

We read that apples sometimes (often?) carry E. coli and that homemade cider should be drunk at one’s own risk or else be pasteurized.  I have read several things but apparently heating it to 160 deg for 1 minute is enough to kill all sorts of stuff.  I also know that heating cider too much ruins the pectin and sort of erases the “cider” taste/texture.  We haven’t gotten sick yet but will likely pasteurize and can most of the cider.  Officially, I’d recommend you do too.  If you choose not to, at the very least, refrigerate it so it doesn’t ferment too quickly (good for 5-10 days).  Of course, you can ferment cider and make adult beverages too.  I’ll leave that for you to research.

Apple cider taste test

All-in-all, this was a good time and I’d recommend building one of these if you have access to apples.  The kids had a good time and the cider is hard to beat!  Holler at me if you want a parts list or more specific/detailed pictures.  I am happy to help!


Making Apple Cider – part 1

Deer apples for cider

Last week I posted about making a cider press.  We put it to the test this weekend.  We took a lot of pics and learned a lot of lessons so I decided to spread it into two posts.  In preparation for making cider,

Smashing apples for cider

I soaked the wooden plunger in mineral oil to seal the wood.  Mineral oil is food safe, and if wiped off after soaking, will not perform its usual purpose (look it up if you are unsure what it’s usually used for).  The plunger was made from 3-2x4s sandwiched between two pieces of plywood and it held together very nicely.

Smashing apples for cider

Anyhow, I was going to use our apples but the deer got a hold of many of them and I plan to make more jelly with those that remain.

Smashed apples for cider

We happened to swing by the farmer’s market on Saturday and a man there had “deer apples”.  I asked him about them and he said they were apples from his usual bins that were either too small or slightly bruised.  We got to talking and he mentioned that when he used to make cider, he used the very same sort of apples.  I looked at them some and they were perfectly good apples so I decided to buy a bag – 53 pounds for $12.  To buy them as “regular apples”, I would have spent $89.57.  The added bonus is that they were a mix of varieties which makes the best cider (as compared to a single type of apple).

Bag of apples for cider

The kids and I dumped a bunch of apples into a food-safe plastic bucket and mashed them with a new sledge hammer.  The mash smelled awesome which caught the attention of the yellow jackets also.  They weren’t a problem but I was surprised at how quickly they found our spot.

Well, that’s about all there is to prepare for making apple cider. I’ll post more tomorrow about the actual pressing and taste testing!

Stick Man

Shape man

Abigail has been learning about shapes in kindergarten.  I remember (somewhat) kindergarten where we learned about circles and squares and triangles.  So we started talking about shapes and a plan she had to build a “shape man” for Halloween.  She listed the shapes we needed, “1 triangle, 1 hexagon, 2 parallelograms and 2 trapezoids.”  “Excuse me?”, I said.  Yup, she had an entire plan worked out on paper with the shapes she named.


Shape man

I had to follow through with this so we worked on how to use a straight-edge to make proper shapes and then I cut them out of cardboard.  She drew most of the shapes so they weren’t perfect but we cut them out as she drew them.  We glued sticks we found in the yard to the back of the cardboard to hold the pieces together properly.  Sure enough, we had created a shape man (or, to credit my contribution, a stick man).

Shape man

She painted him and has plans for another before Halloween.  I am still amazed at her knowing about these exotic (for a kindergartner, anyhow) shapes.  Kindergarten has changed a lot (and a lot for the better in most cases, I think), since I was in that position!


Homemade Apple Cider Press

Cider press

Sometimes I get hair-brained ideas to build something that just seems cool.  My Mom says my Grandpa was the same way.  We prefer to build something rather than buy it if possible because we know we can do it just a little better (my own pride added there, for a bit of good measure).  I had a friend when I lived in PA that had an apple orchard and a cider press.  I remember a time or two going to her place and gathering apples and pressing cider.  Like most things home-grown, freshly pressed cider is better than store bought any day.

Cider press

So, my hair-brained idea this month was to build a cider press.  I had some scraps left over from the shed and a bottle jack from another hair-brained idea so I built this press from the left-overs.  My only real expense was a stainless steel stock pot (from Big Lots – $10) and a roaster pan to catch the cider ($5 at BL).  By the way, to drill holes in stainless steel, make sure you have a good, hard, sharp drill bit.

Cider press

Anyhow, the idea is that the round wooden block(made by edge gluing 3-2x4s and then gluing 2 pieces of half inch plywood to the sides, then coated with mineral oil to seal it) will sit upon smashed apples and will be pressed down into the stainless pot with the bottle jack.  The cider will drain out through the holes in the pot and into the roaster pan.  I have seen some fancy apple smashers, but for this project, it was much faster and more macho to use a new sledge hammer.  I washed the new hammer and coated it in polyurethane.

Cider press

To smash apples, we’ll simply drop it on a bucket full of apples until they are pulverized.     While the press could crush whole apples, to make proper cider, the apples must be smashed prior to pressing.  Someday I may make a normal apple smasher but this will do for now.  I coated the frame of the press in polyurethane to protect it from the elements and to make for easier cleanup.

Cider press

We haven’t tried it yet as the poly is drying (poly is food-safe once properly cured by the way), but I expect we’ll have cider this weekend.  I’ll post again to let you know how it goes!

Introducing… the bottle opener

a humble bottle opener

Emily and Isaac were getting some stuff at the grocery store this weekend.  As they walked past the Mexican-food section, Isaac noticed single bottles of coke.  He asked Emily, “What is that?”  He had never seen real Coke in a bottle.  Of course, as a kid, I remember the carts of returnable bottles at the grocery store, hauling them back to get our deposit refunded, and getting to “pop the top”.

tongue out!
My poor kids had never experienced any of those things.  Isaac asked if he could get a bottle and try it and Emily obliged.  When they checked out, it rang up as “Mexican Coke”.  We got to looking and the stuff was actually bottled in Mexico and was made with real sugar rather than corn syrup.  Anyhow, they were pretty proud of the product as it cost $1.79 for a single 355ml (maybe 12 oz?) bottle.

Hard work!

Still, they brought one home and chilled it for several hours for the proper experience.  We then brought forth the mystic bottle opener and gave them a quick lesson in mechanics and physics.  It was pretty hilarious to watch Isaac “pop the top” and he certainly enjoyed the drink.

Worth it!

Most importantly, he approved of the burping experience produced by “Mexican Coke” in a bottle.

Summer home…or my new shed

Start of the shed

Our house is pretty fair sized but is seriously lacking in storage…especially “dirty storage”.  Most of our basement is finished and the unfinished part is small so I have no place for my air compressor, turkey fryer and shop vac.  We have an outdoor shed but it was pretty small too.  I have been threatening to build a shed and Emily finally called my bluff a few weeks ago.  We decided to make the new shed sort of match the old.

Walls going up

I figured that I am as likely as not to have to spend one or more nights in it so I decided to add some nicer features to the new shed.


Most notably is the addition of a “sun roof”.  Most of the thing is roofed with galvanized metal but one section across the back is covered with polycarbonate that one would use in a greenhouse.  It matches in pattern with the metal so they make a great weather-proof joint.  It’s amazing how nice it is to have light enough to see the shovel falling off the wall rack and headed for your mellon!

Sunroof in my shed!

Emily’s granddad helped me get the floor and walls in place and Emily helped me get the rafters and roof up as well as the siding hung.  She painted the last bits of it this weekend so I can move in…I mean, I can move my stuff in!

Finished shed!

I don’t think my kids learned too many new words on this project so I’d call it a success!


Fall Soccer

Isaac defending

The kids have participated in soccer for the last few years and here we are, better than half way done with another season.  I am the coach for Isaac’s team and an assistant for Abigail’s team so they are stuck with me.

Abigail defending

Anyhow, both kids are pretty good and seem to really enjoy playing.  I sort of dig being involved with the team as well.

Isaac playing soccer

Abigail has strep throat (it started this weekend…we went to the doc this morning) so did not play on Saturday.

Abigail playing

These pics are from last week’s game.  I played in high school, but I don’t think I ever had as much fun as the kids are having this year! Isaac’s age group is the first to have goalies and to use refs. I really enjoy having the refs run the game. Mostly the refs are 9th(?) graders but they are very professional and really great.

Abigail playing soccer

Coaches still run Abigail’s age group which its own sort of fun…just like herding cats! Either way, the most important part of the game is snack time at the end! I remember playing baseball as a kid. I mostly did not enjoy baseball but I absolutely loved riding in the back of someone’s pickup truck, hair (when I still had some) blowing in the breeze on the way to the tastee-freeze. I still love a good twist ice cream cone!

We don’t ride in the back of trucks anymore but snack time is just as big a deal!

Learning to read

I found this poem somewhere and it made me laugh out loud as Abigail continues on her journey of reading.  She already can read quite a bit though she needs more confidence in her abilities.  School instruction on reading is pretty easy right now so I have been working on spelling and Emily has been working on reading with her.  Language is tough but most folks seem to make it through just fine, though I have no idea how!

I take it you already know,
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead – it’s said like bed, not bead,
For goodness’ sake, don’t call it ‘deed’!
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose –
Just look them up – and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go and thwart and cart –
Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Why man alive!
I’d mastered it when I was five.