We’ve been consuming a lot of hot tea around our home lately. With a teakettle always hot on the wood stove, it’s so easy to make up a quick cup or even a whole pot of tea whenever the mood strikes. In our home during the winter, that mood strikes at least a couple times a day!
I don’t think there’s anything cozier on a cold day than a warm cup in my hand. I feel like I can accomplish any boring chore as long as I can have some tea nearby while I’m working. I do love the convenience of tea bags, but lately I’ve been leaning more towards herbal teas that I mix myself. I was shocked to learn how much cheaper herbs are when purchased in bulk either from a health food store (like Wild Oats or Vitamin Cottage) or online (my favorite is The Bulk Herb Store).
Just before our baby was born this year, I stocked up on all the herbs for tea that are our family’s favorites. We enjoy matching our tea mix to whatever is going on around us, so each pot is slightly different. Around bedtime, I’ll mix up lavender, chamomile and maybe some catnip to calm everyone for bed, then throw in either peppermint or cloves for flavor (plus it’s good for the tummy after dinner). In the mornings, I’ll make up a pot with lemon peel and cinnamon for a good start to the day (the lemon gives extra vitamin C and the cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar) along with oatstraw and red raspberry leaf for the vitamins they provide.
I know how comforting tea can be for my kids when they’re sick, especially wild cherry bark to sooth a sore throat or licorice tea to calm a cough. If upset tummies appear, ginger or peppermint tea are one of the first things to help out.
By its very nature, wheat is able to be stored for prolonged periods of time. Flour will become rancid within 72 hours unless most of the nutrition is stripped out (as with store bought flour, white or whole wheat), but wheat, if left whole, can last for decades. There are even news reports of wheat found in Egyptian tombs that could still be sprouted (that is, it was still a living seed!).
When asked by our customers what they need in order to store wheat, we ask the conditions under which the wheat will be stored in their homes.
To store wheat effectively, it must be kept fresh, free of bugs and rodents. Temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity level below 40% are ideal for this, along with a secure container to eliminate infestation or the introduction of additional moisture.
Many homes can store wheat in the bags in which we sell it. As long as the bags are kept dry, off of bare concrete floors and presuming that rodents are not a threat, the grain can remain fresh for many years.
If rodents and insects are a worry, plastic buckets are a wonderful deterrent. Some folks I’ve talked to (generally folks selling them) insist on using mylar bags inside of the buckets – if you’re having extreme issues with rodents, the mylar bags can completely block the smell of wheat. Personally, over the last 10 years, we’ve never had a rodent attack a bucket – but if you’re looking for the ultimate in protection, they’re worth considering although at almost $12 each, it’s an expensive layer of protection.
In humid climates, moisture can be held at bay with a treatment of dry ice. Simply add 3-4 inches of grain to the empty bucket add a layer of dry ice and top the ice with grain until the bucket is full. Close the bucket with the lid, but don’t seal for 15 minutes, until the dry ice has had a chance to evaporate. Oxygen absorbers can also be used effectively, although some report that wheat will not sprout if these absorbers have been used.
These buckets are also great for stacking wheat in storage areas – we’ve even had customers who use these in unobtrusive areas of the home. Some have told us they use these buckets topped with a decorative cloth as a substitute end table! We’ve even seen bookcases made using buckets – a very creative way to find space for wheat and books!
There are many other methods of storing grain long term – canning, vacuum sealing and freezing. It has been our experience that buckets and dry ice or oxygen absorbers is sufficient in most cases.
Let me start by saying that our electrical company is top notch. We only have electrical hiccups a few times a year, and those generally only last a few seconds at worst. This morning, however, we’d finished breakfast and had just gotten through family chapel. The kids were hustling off to make their beds and do their chores, when I heard a pop and noticed the kitchen light go out. I looked outside at the meter, and sure enough – we were without power.
After about ten minutes, it became clear that the power wasn’t going to come back on immediately and I began changing plans. I was literally a few seconds away from sitting down to get some work done, but with no power and an old laptop battery, I’d only be able to get 10 or 15 minutes of work accomplished. I reached for the refrigerator and realized I’d better not open yet – no telling how long things would be down. As I went into the garage to get a flashlight for the basement, I heard Jesi telling the kids to pick up since she was about to vacuum – it’s incredible how quickly we forget the ways that electricity impacts us.
Our neighbor came over to see if it was just him or if the whole block was out – he was worried about his fish if the power was out for a long time. I was getting antsy to start working and I actually considered firing up the generator so that I could power the internet and our computers. Now, as things go, we’re pretty comfortable functioning without electricity. The house is heated with wood and the water is gas heated – the electricity is only needed for the freezers and the fridge – plus the kitchen stuff and lights. After about an hour, the power came back on and life resumed as normal – but I’ve been left thinking about how quickly progress was brought to a halt this morning. Granted, my biggest concern was that the coffee was getting cold, but I’m realizing just how appreciative I am that electricity flows freely from my wall sockets.
We’ve been considering having a “electricity free fun night” with the kids – throwing the breakers to everything but the food storage and camping out in the living room with flashlights and cooking on a camp stove. I’ve heard that these experiences can be invaluable for the real emergencies and ice storms – when those hit, your kids already think that no electricity is fun and not scary. Spending the evening camped out under a blanket tent with the wood stove cranking and flashlights sounds like a great way to spend time as a family and let the kids know that their world is much bigger than their local electric co-op…
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There are many professionals that are offering the best home services, and you can hire them to ease up your task. It can help you to save your time and energy which is also one of the best benefits that you can get from it.
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After keeping these things into consideration, you can take some vital facts in account to make an ideal choice. It can also help you find the professionals that can provide you the best home services that you really want.
Fall is in the air
Back when we were in the city, I did not expect how I would feel each spring and fall. Since much of our food comes from our land, the seasons mean something other than a change of wardrobe. I feel the changing of the seasons much more vividly than before, each season bringing with it a change of pace so dramatic that it is impossible to ignore. This inexorable passage of time brings about an excitement every few months that is breath-taking.
As a perfect illustration, this last week has truly been the beginning of a beautiful fall. We weren’t sure we’d get a true fall this year, since the snow came following a week of temperatures in the 80s! However, stepping outside today, I can feel the autumn all the way to my bones. One of my favorite parts of fall is the crisp feeling to the air as I take a deep breath along with the new scents – the last mowing of grass, the dusty scent of fallen leaves, the apple scent that seems to be everywhere.
This kind of crisp feeling in the air always stirs something deep inside of me – a primal, almost visceral need to burrow into our home. I feel a rush to get the firewood chopped and stacked. I long to be home instead of out running errands. I feel a deep-seated drive to stock up on foods that can be tucked away in the pantry for that day when the snow prevents us from leaving the house. I start craving hot cups of tea and cardigan sweaters and candles with a spicy scent and I have to admit that even knitting begins to sound exciting!
The craziness of the summer is starting to wind down, the baby pool has been cleaned out and stored for the winter, and the sled and snow shovels are ready in the garage. The baby bunnies are all grown, the chickens are scrambling to get the last of the summer bugs and best of all – the apples are being harvested. I’ve always loved the fall, but somehow, living closer to the land, I’ve fallen in love with it all over again.
We’ve had quite a few questions over the last few weeks as we’ve had our grain order come in and distributed – we’ve found a few new converts to the world of wheat grinding and a few questions have been brought up that I’ve found myself answering repeatedly – so I’m posting much of that information here so that I and you can reference it. First on the agenda is Electric Grain Mills. If you’re new to wheat grinding in general, there are a few decisions you need to make before you jump into the grinder market – as with anything, you get what you pay for.
As far as grinders go, there are many different kinds on the market. We carry 12 of the most preferred, and they can range in price anywhere from about $70 up to $400 (you can spend more than that if you like, but obviously most folks don’t)
The big decision to make is if you want a manual or hand powered one, or an electric. Most home bakers prefer an electric one – they’re a bit more expensive, but they grind wheat very quickly and with no effort – cranking a hand grinder can be a real exertion. Here are some details on the most popular electric ones – this is some information I typed up for someone else that I am going to copy and paste – if you want the same kind of info on a manual mill, just let me know and I’ll be happy to send you the info! As manual mills go, the Country Living mill is the best one available for a reasonable price ($395). We own one of the Family Grain Mills and It’s treated us very well – one of the big advantages to the manual mills is the ability to coarse crack grains for things like cornbread or cereal. Anyhow, here’s the information on the four most popular electric mills:
Arguably the best mill on the market today is the Nutrimill. It’s quiet, it has the largest variety of texture settings for your flourIn many ways, it has become the defacto standard if you do any real grinding. It’s on the more expensive side, but its value is unbeatable. It’s also one of the quietest mills available.
The Nutrimill Grain Mill
The Nutrimill took the spot of the WhisperMill, which dominated the market for many years. It’s company was sold and it is now marketed as the WonderMill. It’s still an excellent choice, and we own one (although ours is still from the WhisperMill days). It’s a little louder than the Nutrimill but it does an excellent job. It used to be slightly less expensive than the Nutrimill, although just last week we received notice that the minimum allowable resale price has gone up and now matches the Nutrimill.
The WonderMill Grain Mill
If you’re looking for economy without sacrificing quality, the K-Tek is the way to go. It’s louder than the others, but it has a hardcore following and people say you can grind rocks in it (obviously don’t actually grind rocks – stone bread is nowhere near as good as stone soup). It also doesn’t have the same capacity as the Nutrimill, but if you’re only doing a few loaves a month then it will be just fine. It’s very well made and does a great job.
The K-Tec Grain Mill
The Vitamill is the least expensive and it does do a good job – it’s made by the same folks that make the Nutrimill, and it’s the smaller cousin to it. Similar to the K Tek, it doesn’t handle the same capacity as the Nutrimill and its flexibility in grinding is more limited.
The Vitalmill Grain Mill
Personally, we’re very happy with the WonderMill, but when it finally dies (it’s been going strong for 6 years now) We will replace it with a Nutrimill. The K Tek has a following that is very devout – I’ve never used one other than to demo it, but I’ve never heard anything bad about them, and we’ve sold quite a few.
Up Next – The Manual Grinders
The benefits of having and using a good quality wood burning stove are plentiful – the pleasing aesthetics and charm aside, the practical uses for a wood stove extend beyond simple heat for the house. We’ve enjoyed cooking on ours this year – there’s nothing like boiling beans all day long on a heat source that was going to be hot anyway. It’s a great way to save energy and reduce your dependence on electricity. Properly placed and depending on the size and layout of your house, a wood burning stove can heat your entire house, possibly to temperatures much higher than you would otherwise afford with gas or electrical heating.
The general belief surrounding wood is that it is significantly less expensive than heating your house with other means, although this may not be true. Carefully consider the specific reasons you want to heat or supplement your home with wood heat. Everything depends on your specific situation, but here are some factors to consider.
Do you have a woodstove? Your house might have one already, and if so you’re probably in good shape – otherwise, you’ll likely spend $400 to $800 on a used woodstove – upwards of $2,000 for a new one of good quality. Obviously you can find deals, but don’t forget installing it if your home isn’t ready – another $800 in materials and the labor if you can’t do it yourself. Consider how many years it will take to break even on the savings you’d experience from wood heat – some homes cost close to $400 or $500 a month to heat in the winter – it may well make sense, or it may be 10 years before you get your money back.
What is your wood source? Are you going to buy wood for $150 a cord? Do you have a woodlot you can pull from? A source of free wood that you can cut and haul yourself? I was fortunate enough to find an excellent source of wood from a tree service company – they did tree removal and would dump large tree chunks in an old vacant lot. I asked them for permission and they gave me unlimited access to the wood they would bring back. Much of it was green and needed to be aged, but once I had built up my wood pile and got it into rotation, it has worked very well.
How much work is it going to be? Do you have a hydraulic wood splitter? Are you in physical shape to split, move and stack your woodpile? What is your time worth? I can generally split a week worth of wood (depending on how cold it is outside) in two or three hours on a Saturday. If it would only cost me $50 that week to heat my house by other means, is it worth it to me to lose three hours of my weekend, effectively getting “paid” $12 or $14 an hour? In our current situation, I’m more than happy to save the money with a few hours of physical labor – but if you’re making a reasonable amount of money, it might not make sense to take the time.
Are you ready to feed the fire? Beyond just the time it takes to split the wood, you also must consider the chore of feeding your stove around the clock. Generally this isn’t too big of a deal, especially since we like the house a little cooler at night. I can load up the stove and crank the air way down and still have plenty of warm coals in the morning. Every few hours during the day I throw a few more logs on and make sure everything is burning well.
Is there other equipment you’ll need? How about the gas for your chainsaw and log splitter? General maintenance on those pieces of equipment as well as your maul, sledge and wedges? Cleaning the chimney out every year? Gas for the truck to haul the wood? Are you going to be nickel and dimed to death?
Eventually the question must be asked: why do you want to burn wood in your home? Periodically to add atmosphere and memories? As a supplement when the temperatures get really cold? Full time as a primary source of heat for your house? There have been several times in the last few years that we’ve been thankful for our woodstove – particularly during power outages in the winter. We’ve stayed warm in -10 degree nights with no electricity – not just warm, but comfortable. As an emergency backup, the woodstove is unbeatable – and this year, having maintained and seasoned wood for many years, we’ve been able to cash in on the investment we’ve been making for quite some time. With very tight cash flow as we work to get our business off the ground, we’re nothing but glad to have enough wood to last us the whole winter.
Your situation may be different – as with anything, you’ve got to start down the path with your eyes wide open. Installing or using a woodstove in an economic way will depend entirely on your application, use and location – not to mention the friends you have and people you know who may be able to help you find free firewood. Personally, I can’t imagine trying to live long term without a good woodstove. This year, we’re depending on it exclusively – but next year, it may only make sense to supplement. Our woodstove is a living member of our family and it’s responsible use depends on us.