I want to try timber framing with logs I mill from my property. Which timber framing tools should I use, and where should I begin?
One of your most affordable options is a chainsaw mill, or a set of rails that attach to a chainsaw bar to help guide it through wood. Chainsaw mills aren’t the most efficient way to mill lumber, but they are portable, reasonably priced, and require only a chainsaw, which you may already own.
To mill timber, begin by felling a tree, preferably one with few branches or defects, measuring at least 16 inches in diameter. Next, remove the limbs with either an axe or a chainsaw, depending on the limbs’ dimensions. Then, cut — or “buck” — the log 6 inches longer than your desired finished length. Because windblown sand and debris collect in bark and can be exceedingly abrasive on a saw blade, consider first de-barking the log with a bark spud.
Careful bucking is key to creating a precise final product. Use a straightedge to ensure your cuts are uniform. If your mill doesn’t come with a straightedge, you can line a ladder up to the log and secure it with screws by drilling holes into every third rung. (Be sure the screws don’t extend too deep, or the chainsaw’s teeth will hit them.) Use a ripping chain on your mill if possible, as it leaves a smoother finish than a standard chain. Adjust the depth, begin cutting, and you’ll soon have usable lumber. Finally, you’ll want to dry the lumber, though the length of drying time will vary depending on its size and the time of year.
When it’s time to frame, create pegged mortise-and-tenon joints. Because this method of joining logs together doesn’t require glue or nails, be precise when measuring and cutting; the more precise the removal of the wood, the snugger the fit. Mark the timbers with a large “X” where you’ll create the holes and shape the tongues. Using either a circular saw or handsaw, cut into the line on the mortises, but leave the lines visible on the tenons. Chip away unwanted wood with a mallet and chisel. On the mortises, you can use a drill bit to speed up the process of removing excess wood. (You can do it all by hand with chisels, but it’s very laborious.) Because all timbers are different, test mortise-and-tenon pairs as you work, or your final project won’t fit together. When you’re ready to assemble, fit the parts together, bore through the joint, and pin it with a hand-hewn dowel. I use ratchet straps to help position and hold large projects, such as cabins, together. Finally, remember: The sharper your tools, the easier your job.
This article and its accompanying videos are presented by the Wranglerstars, who live on the Wranglerstar Homestead and run a YouTube channel about modern homesteading, and who recently authored Modern Homesteading: Rediscovering the American Dream.
Cody, aka Mr. Wranglerstar, uses a metal detector to double-check for nails before cutting wood with a chainsaw. Photo courtesy The Wranglerstars.
I’d like notifications about when and where pesticides and herbicides have been sprayed in my area. Is there a place where I can look for pesticide warnings or pesticide application signs?
Over the past decade, public concern about the potential hazards associated with chemical lawn care products and services has steadily increased. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 176 million pounds of pesticides are applied on non-agricultural lands per year. Of that, at least 70 million pounds of pesticides are applied to lawns, including residential lawns, golf courses, and parks. As a result, there is widespread public exposure to pesticides in towns, cities, suburbs, and rural areas.
Notification. Pesticide application notifications allow people to take precautions to avoid direct exposure to hazardous pesticides. Twenty-three states, plus Washington D.C., have adopted laws requiring hired applicators to warn people about lawn, turf, and ornamental pesticide applications by giving prior notification to the owners of abutting properties, posting pesticide application signs, or establishing registries. Because not all U.S. households hire a lawn professional, some states also require homeowners to notify neighboring properties.
State notification laws usually require the listing of which pesticide has been applied, the location of application, and the applicant. Prior notification, if required, generally must be given 24 to 48 hours in advance.
Posting. In the states that require commercial applicators to post notification signs when they apply a pesticide to a lawn, they usually must put the pesticide application sign in a conspicuous point of access to the treated property and leave it in place for 24 hours. Warning signs vary in language but typically state something like, “Lawn Care Application: Keep off the Grass.”
In Connecticut, homeowners and commercial applicators must post notification signs if applications are made within 100 yards of any property line. Wisconsin pesticide retail stores are required to provide warning signs to homeowners when they purchase pesticides.
Registries. In 16 states, a state agency or, in some cases, individual companies, have to establish a pesticide registry where people can sign up for prior notification when a commercial applicator treats a property with a pesticide. In some of those states — including Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania — individuals requesting notification must provide documentation and certification of a physician-diagnosed sensitivity to pesticides. Because these registries only provide prior notice to those who make a request to be notified, the general public is left unaware.
Under the New York state lawn pesticide notification law, counties can adopt specific provisions that require commercial applicators to provide 48 hours prior notice to all neighbors if treatment occurs within 150 feet of abutting property and require homeowners to post notification signs of lawn application.
Learn what your state’s notification regulations are by looking up or contacting your state’s pesticide regulatory agency. For more information on turf and lawn pesticide applications, see Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes page.
Photo by Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker.
You don’t need to purchase a commercial composting toilet to safely recycle human waste. A simple setup of a bucket, seat and sawdust — giving these toilets the name “sawdust potties” — will do. We asked members of our Facebook community about their experiences with DIY toilet setups, as well as any building or sanitation codes they had to follow. Their consensus? This natural method is unexpectedly inoffensive, and it saves water to boot. — MOTHER
I’ve lived with a DIY composting toilet for 13 years. I’ve used just about everything as a composting medium, including pine shavings, coco peat, peat moss and sawdust. Sawdust is by far the best. I found that mice loved the coco peat, and I had problems with flies until I started using sawdust. I’ve discovered it’s best to keep as much liquid as possible out of the bucket, so I have a separate urinal. We have no code outside of the city limits here, so we didn’t encounter an inspection problem. — Michael Bandeko
We add a few scoops of coffee grounds to our coir shavings and lime. Flies hate it, and it adds an earthy smell. — Beverly Jones Miller
We use a composting toilet at home as a backup for bad weather. We’re planning on using it exclusively soon, as well as installing a greywater recycling system. Water conservation is a priority, and our city charges way too much for sewage. We also have a composting toilet in our RV to save water. — James Bill Riley
My mother wanted to use a piece of land that she purchased decades ago as a weekend and vacation destination. However, the newer codes in western Pennsylvania prohibited the installation of a composting toilet. The only “sewerage” system allowed was a mounded setup that would have easily cost $20,000. She ended up selling the land because the cost of the system was prohibitive, and the land wasn’t worth keeping without a sewage-disposal setup. — Sarah Menchini Anstey
My husband and I once neglected to empty our composting toilet bucket before we left for two weeks in the middle of summer. Much to our surprise, there was zero smell when we returned. We’ve found that the bucket toilet works great and plan to use one in the off-grid cabin we’re currently building. There are no codes where we are, so we’d rather go this route than shell out thousands to install and maintain a septic field. — Bee Kielb
I loved my DIY composting toilet and can’t wait to have another when we settle into our new home. I thought the smell might be a problem, but it wasn’t with mine. I oiled my wooden toilet with homemade rose oil and was rewarded with no offense to even the most delicate of noses. — Martha Hill
Photo by David Omick
Do I need to test my soil before growing a garden? What’s the process?
If your garden has grown productively in the past, you’ll probably have no problem proceeding without testing your soil. But if your plants are struggling, or if you’re starting a new garden, knowing how to test soil may be useful in determining which fertilizers and amendments your plot will require to cultivate healthy crops. By having statistics about your mineral nutrition on hand, you won’t apply too much or too little fertilizer.
A soil test will tell you the soil pH of your garden — that is, the numerical rating of its acidity or alkalinity — which is an important measure of your soil’s makeup. According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, if your test shows a pH level outside a particular plant’s preferred range, you’ll know to expect slowed growth or ill health unless you amend the soil to accommodate the plant. (Learn more about soil pH and testing in Your Garden’s Soil pH Matters.)
A soil test will also clue you in to the levels of available essential nutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, manganese, copper and zinc. Depending on where you live, a basic soil evaluation from a state soil-testing lab can cost about $25 — though in some cases it may be free. Check with your local extension service to see whether it offers a soil-testing kit with instructions for taking and submitting a sample. Results from soil-testing laboratories will be more accurate than those from home kits, but if you’re determined to go the DIY route, Missouri extension experts have singled out the $20 LaMotte home soil-testing kit as a trustworthy choice with a high accuracy rating.
Photo courtesy Water and Forage Testing Laboratory/Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service: Contact your local extension office about how to send in a soil sample for pH and nutrient testing before you plant this season.
Amanda Sorell is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine.
Is smell a reliable way to know whether the meat in my refrigerator is rotten meat? What other signs of spoiled meat should I look for, and what role does ensuring the proper cooking temperature play in killing meat spoilage bacteria?
While a change in odor may be one symptom of spoiled meat, it’s not the only sign you should rely on. If your meat smells unpleasantly pungent, you’re right to toss it, but even if its scent is normal, the meat could still be spoiled. With proper cooking, however, some “rotten” meat may not make you sick — but whether you should eat it is another question.
Meat is a veritable playground for bacteria and fungi and can pose a food safety concern if not properly handled. According to Marianne Gravely at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, two different types of bacteria affect meat: pathogenic bacteria, the kind that can cause food poisoning, and spoilage bacteria, the kind that can grow even at cold temperatures, and cause foods to deteriorate and develop unpleasant odors, tastes and textures. If spoilage bacteria contaminates your meat, your nose will likely know — and you’ll probably prefer not to eat the meat. Pathogenic bacteria, however, can grow rapidly in the “danger zone” — the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit — and your senses won’t be able to detect their presence, Gravely says. If you’re concerned your meat may pose a food safety concern, you must weigh several other factors in determining whether to eat it, and you must properly handle and cook it.
First, consider how long the meat has been in your fridge, noting that temperatures below 40 degrees slow bacterial growth, but don’t halt it completely. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, fully thawed, raw meat will remain safe to eat when stored in the refrigerator for the following time limits: Raw ground meats, poultry and seafood will keep for one to two days; raw roasts, steaks and chops will store for three to five days; and cooked meat, poultry and seafood will be good for three to four days. All meat will remain safe almost indefinitely and retain its flavor up to a year if in the freezer. Meat you have ground fresh at the butcher or that you grind yourself from whole cuts will be less likely to be contaminated with E. coli than vacuum-packed meats shipped to a grocery store from a large packer who combines scraps from many animal carcasses.
Even if the meat is safely within those storage limits, you must thaw, handle and cook it properly to eliminate the risk of food poisoning. Improper handling can significantly increase bacteria populations and the rate at which meat becomes unsafe to eat. Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat. Never thaw meat at room temperature — use a refrigerator or microwave to avoid the danger zone, in which bacteria thrive and quickly multiply. If you have properly stored and thawed your meat to avoid bacterial contamination, cook it to an internal temperature of 160 degrees to kill most harmful microbes. Use a meat thermometer to monitor the temperature, and keep the food piping hot prior to serving and storing it. (You can find cooking temperatures for meat on the Federal Food Safety's website.)
Harold McGee, author of Keys to Good Cooking, notes that microbes aren’t normally present in a piece of meat’s interior, but may exist if the meat has been cut into and will certainly be present in ground meat. So, you can prepare steaks and other whole cuts “rare,” as long as you sear the surface, without worrying about harmful bacteria. Shellfish can contain dangerous viruses that cooking can’t kill, so you should follow proper thawing and cooking instructions carefully. Eat any thawed or fresh shellfish promptly to minimize the risk.
If the meat you’re hoping to devour at dinner has surpassed reasonable storage limits, inspect its color. Discoloration could signal spoilage, though a fading or darkening doesn’t indicate danger. The appearance of green in particular is not good. Surface slime or skin that feels tacky to the touch are also signs of a rotting product. If your meat displays these warning signs, spoilage bacteria could have taken the meat past its prime, meaning you may taste the decay even after thorough cooking.
Photo by Fotolia/grinchh
Amanda Sorell is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine.
Are sprouted grains and seeds a more nutritious feed for my poultry?
The best fare for your fowl includes age-appropriate feed and, if possible, the forage they’ll find by free-ranging or dining on pasture in a movable pen. Countless studies have confirmed that eggs from birds raised on pasture are richer in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and E. Seeking better poultry nutrition, some poultry enthusiasts are sprouting grains and seed for chickens, especially when green pasture is scarce. But the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) researched the potential benefits and concluded that sprouting does not significantly enhance the grains’ nutrient levels. A review published by Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition agrees, pointing out that studies have failed to find a substantive nutrient gain when feeding birds sprouted rather than ungerminated grains. Washington State University’s Vegetable Research and Extension Program has published similar findings, saying, “Many farmers soak grain [for sprouting] prior to feeding it to livestock, particularly poultry. There is little science-based information regarding this practice.”
Chickens generally relish sprouts, and offering them as a treat is fine (unless the sprouts have begun to mold). However, an article from the University of California explains why feeding sprouted grains (aka “hydroponic fodder”) on a larger scale isn’t cost-effective: “... seeds utilize the starch stored in the seeds during the first week or so of growth, before photosynthesis and root uptake of minerals kick in …”. This results in the sprouts containing 25 to 30 percent less dry matter compared with the whole grains. In most cases, this means that feeding sprouted grains would be considerably more expensive (and more labor-intensive) than feeding unsprouted grains.
Despite marketing claims that sprouted grains are a superior feed, University of Maryland extension specialist Susan Schoenian reports that, after many trials with many species in many countries, no consistent advantage has been proven. For a detailed discussion from the University of California, see Does Hydroponic Forage Production Make Sense? Learn more about feed options and find a map of organic poultry-feed suppliers at Organic Poultry Feed Suppliers Directory.
Photo by Superstock/Biosphoto
Amanda Sorell is an Associate Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine.
We heard through the tomato vine that ‘Indigo Rose’ tomato flavor was lacking. This newly developed variety is known for its dramatic purple hue and its antioxidant content, especially anthocyanins. Concerned that seed companies may be hyping the flavor, describing the variety as “delectable” and “sparkling,” we asked members of our Facebook community to report their experiences with growing this purple tomato variety. The reviews from this informal tomato taste test were mixed; here’s a sampling.—MOTHER
I grew ‘Indigo Rose’ this year. The fruits are stunning on the plant and vine, but lack the great flavor I was really expecting and looking forward to. — Pilar V. Hari, Washington
I grew them last year. You have to let them really ripen on the vine, until they’re soft to the touch, to get the best taste. Underripe equals less flavor. They get orange on the bottom instead of green, and the purple tops get almost blackish-brown. They worked best in a mixed tomato salad, as the flavor didn’t stand on its own. — Donald J. Shurtleff, Rhode Island
I grew this tomato for two years. I love the taste, which I describe as flowery. It doesn’t taste like most tomatoes; it has its own unique flavor. I liked to eat it right off the vine. I’m not growing it this year because it wasn’t as productive for me as other tomato varieties. If I had more garden space, I would grow several plants. — Frida Morpha, Oregon
I’ve trialed and grown ‘Indigo Rose’ tomatoes in my home garden. The plant is a fantastic producer in the heat — a big benefit to us Texas gardeners. It continues to set fruit through July and August, which is unheard of here. The fruits are beautiful, and the plants are compact, so they make great edible ornamentals for your foodscape garden. You have to let the fruits ripen on the vine for a long time — but luckily, the fruits hold on long enough to get really ripe without dropping. Is ‘Indigo Rose’ the sweetest tomato? No, it isn’t. But is the flavor good? Yes, and the variety offers a good balance of benefits. — Leslie Halleck, Texas
It’s beautiful on the vine, but its skin is incredibly thick and tannic, lending bitterness to its underwhelming flavor. This isn’t an eat-off-the-vine, stand-alone tomato, but the plants are vigorous and withstand both incredibly dry and wet seasons. — Susan Noblet, Ohio
I was initially intrigued by this little tomato, but, sadly, I’m not impressed. The color of ‘Indigo Rose’ is gorgeous, and it blends nicely in a tomato salad, but the taste is lacking, and the plant isn’t prolific. I’d rather have a ‘Cherokee Purple’ or ‘San Marzano.’ I’ll save seed from my strongest plant in hopes of better luck next year. — Amy Havens Kelly, Illinois
Photo by Shelley Stonebrook