DIY
Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.


Needle Felting is Fun and Easy to Learn!

hdgehgfamly 

I’m very much into fiber arts as anyone who knows me will tell you. I’ve been a seamstress since junior high when I first took a Home Economics class and I’m now an Old Granny! We called it Home Ek back then and we learned by making simple A line skirts and such things. After that I made my own clothes all the way through high school because the selection of clothing styles in the stores in our small town in Iowa weren’t to my liking. Since then I’ve branched out into crocheting, specifically rag rugs, and within the last year I’ve taken up spinning with a drop spindle. I’m now learning to weave on a Navajo backstrap loom.

Needle felting is a simple craft with a short learning curve that uses wool. It also doesn’t take a lot of expensive equipment to begin. You can get going quickly and pretty soon you’ll be making gifts, toys, tree ornaments or anything you can think of.

You only need three tools to begin needle felting: a felting pad, felting needles, and wool. I, personally, think you also need finger thimbles to protect your fingers. I use a utility sponge easily procured from the hardware store and Merino or Corriedale wool roving. For the needles I use a size 36 with a star point.

I recommend finger thimbles because if you accidentally poke yourself it’s a most unpleasant experience! Felting needles have tiny little barbs on them that cause the wool to grab onto itself. They’re not ordinary smooth needles. I’m going to tell you how to make special finger thimbles. I’ve never gotten poked so far.

Thimble supplies

  • Lightweight cardboard or heavy paper
  • Scissors
  • Duck tape

You might be familiar with the special band aids that fit over the tip of your finger. Using lightweight cardboard or heavy paper, cut 2 of these shapes for your thumb and index finger. Cut them so the material covers most of the length and width of your fingers as shown in the picture. Then fold it over your finger and cover it with duck tape. You might need help covering. You hold the cardboard in place while another person covers it with duck tape. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just effective.

thimbles 

Make your thimbles first so you’ll be ready to start felting.

Now let’s get a feel for how felting works before going on to a project. I’m going to start with a round ball that will become a pumpkin.

General Supplies

  • thumb and index finger guards
  • wool roving at least 5 ounces. More is better because it’s not fun to run out mid-project.* (if you want a realistic pumpkin buy half orange and half brown dyed roving.)
  • Felting needles size star 36 ** (Buy a variety set. Needles break on occasion.)
  • Felting pad (I use a utility sponge from the hardware store).

Pull off a short length of wool and roll it into a rough ball about 2 inches in diameter. After the wool gets poked it will shrink by about half as you work.

 1 roll up

Position the rough ball on the pad and start poking. I poke from many directions with short quick jabs straight up and down. You can poke in & out at any angle as long as the tip of your felting needle stays straight. Don’t poke all the way through. Like I said, short quick jabs. Also don’t bend your delicate needle or pick at your wool with the needle. Needles are relatively easy to break.

Wherever it’s lumpy poke there until it smooths out. I do not recommend holding the ball with your bare hand for the reason I mentioned above. I don’t have my thimbles on in these pictures because I’m experienced and living dangerously!

2 poke

Roll the ball in your hand like you’re making meatballs and add more wool as you need. Keep poking until the wool is firm to the touch and in the shape you want. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. You might even find that your “mistakes” can be used to make something later. Don’t throw them away.

3 rolling

Pull off a short amount of wool for the stem. Roll it in a small cylinder.

 4 stem

Felt it. This time I used thimbles. Too close for comfort!

 5 poke stem

Once you have it felted to your satisfaction spread the ends out a bit with your fingers.

6 spread stem

Holding the stem poke the spread ends into the top of your pumpkin.

7 poke stem base 

This quick project should give you a feel for what it’s like to felt and you can move on to other projects.

hdgehgfamly

I made these hedgehogs with natural colored wool and toy eyes and noses purchased from a toy-making store. Colors used were natural off white, black, gray and light brown. No dyes were used. The bodies are simple hot dog shape. The faces are a small round ball slightly pointed. The backs are covered with a flat coat of felted wool. The ears are little balls with indentations. The mouth is drawn on. The same technique used to make the pumpkin is used to make a hedgehog.

Sources

Wool Roving link

Felting needle link

Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


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Building a Covered Wicking Bed

Clinker cinders, also called scoria or lava rock, is great for the base layer of a wicking bed 

Clinker cinders, also called scoria or lava rock, is great for the base layer of a wicking bed.

I have been interested in aquaponics and hydroponics for a long time, and they are the reasons I built the nice personal greenhouse that I built at my home. Our growing season is fairly short here on the Southern Colorado River Plateau of Arizona, and winters can be bitter, bitter cold, so the greenhouse made sense for that reason as well. I spent years researching various methods and setups for both growing styles and one doesn't spend much time researching hydroponics or aquaponics without learning about a wicking bed sooner or later. 

Popularized by Murray Hallam of Australia, the wicking bed works much like an oversized self-watering pot. The water, whether from the fish tanks as in aquaponics, or nutrient water, like in a hydroponics setup, sits under the growing medium and wicks itself upwards, keeping the growing medium moist, but not soggy, and growing the plants in the top. 

The beds are very often fashioned out of large fish tanks, vinyl-lined wooden grow beds, or even old stock tanks, just something that will not leak and is at least 24 inches deep or so. A fill-pipe, usually like a 1.5-inch or 2-inch PVC pipe, is run down from the top of the bed to the bottom. Some designs have notches cut in the bottom end of the PVC to allow water to flow down, some have holes. Some designs, like the one I found, uses an elbow and a bottom pipe that runs the width or length of the bed, just for filling ease and to help the pipe stand upright. 

The beds are filled to a level (at least 8”, but could be more) with some sort of very coarse scoria (also called lava rock or clinker cinders if you get them from a landscaping company, see photo above), then covered with a sheet of landscaping fabric or fine shade cloth, so moisture can wick through, but it will hold the planting media from going down into the water. An overflow pipe should exit the wicking bed just about the level of this landscape fabric, so that water doesn’t accumulate at the planting media level and leave everything soggy. The planting media, in my case a mixture of peat moss, good quality homemade compost, and some store-bought organic potting soil, is laid on top of the landscape fabric, at least 12 to 16 inches deep. The water then wicks up through the landscape fabric into the planting medium, supposedly keeping it moist. (See terrible drawing that I made, below)

Terrible drawing, but you get the picture

As I said, the wicking bed seems to have gotten its popular start in Australia, and although some parts of the land Down Under are very jungle-y, some is as arid as my part of Arizona, so I thought I’d give it a try here. The first thing I did was research online (why reinvent the wheel, right?) and then I hit up all my hydroponics, aquaponics, and Kratky groups on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and I learned there are no gardeners in those particular groups who have either done what I was attempting, or none that wanted to share, so here’s what I came up with.

IBC containers come in two common sizes; 275 like this one, and 330 gallons 

**It is important to note at this point that I do understand not everyone has the same access to the same materials for the same prices. For me, this entire build was completed for the cost of a couple hinges, some 2 ½-inch wood screws, and a couple 2-by-4s. It cost be about $20 to make this entire thing, given MY particular situation and access to materials. For someone else who doesn’t have access to hundreds of linear feet of recycled lumber, free IBC containers from a nearby shampoo factory, basically unlimited amounts of homemade compost, and buckets and buckets of PVC fittings, bulkhead fittings, hinges, and hardware, this could cost several hundreds of dollars to replicate.**

I used two 275-gallon IBC containers, like this:

I cut off the top 14 inches, for the lid. IBC containers come with Aluminum cages. I cut the cages with an angle grinder, and cut the plastic container, also called a tote, with the jigsaw. My son is helping me cut this one. 


I drilled a hole in the side of each tote, about 24 inches from the bottom, for the overflow pipe. I used 3/4" bulkhead fittings that I had laying around from a previous aquaponics project that never worked well. They are about $6 to 7 each on Amazon, if you buy them new. 

After I had the cages and IBC totes cut, and the drain pipe hole drilled, I laid them out where I wanted them in the yard: 

Cut IBC totes in their new home

And then I used old 2x12 boards, from old raised beds, and made a nice cover to keep light away from the water reservoirs and make it look nicer:

Wood around the beds keeps out light from the water and looks nicer

I put the fill-pipe, which I used 2-inch PVC and an elbow, next. I did drill 1/2-inch holes in the bottom pipe to help water flow out in all directions.

I put the lids on before filling the beds, so I'd know how everything was going to fit and I could be ready to cover them as soon as I had soil mix in. 

Cleaning out all the dirt and plastic shavings is important at this point. 

Clean the containers before putting the cinder in

Then I put in about 24 inches of coarse cinder. It is available for  $20 a ton from my local landscape company. I understand that you can get small bags of it from big box home improvement stores, but I needed about a cubic yard for the two bins, so there was no way I was going to buy it in tiny bags. 

After the cinder was in, I covered it with an old shade screen I had from a dog pen cover. I did wash it carefully and dry it in the sun, but it was HUGE, and it was laying around, so it worked. I know big box home improvement stores carry this, too, but they also carry landscape fabric and all sorts of other things that would work. I just happened to have this, so I used it. I had to cut a hole in the shade cloth, so it would fit over the top of the fill-pip and be snug around the cinder.

My little grandson decided he needed to try out the cinder layer before we put soil in. Such a good helper. 

Children love to help!

Then I filled with a mix of quality homemade compost, peat moss, store-bought potting soil, and a little soil from my garden piles. 

Layer the cloth, then the growing medium on top of that

Once I got the soil mix in, I went ahead and planted the beds. As of the writing on November 15, I have spinach and beets coming up in the raised beds!

Here are some more pictures of the build:

Soil mix in one bed

Testing the overflow


 Regina Hitchock is a high school biology teacher in St. Johns, Arizona, where she co-founded the Gardeners with Altitude organic garden club and brings gardening, aquaponics, aeroponics, hydroponics, and seed starting into her classrooms. She serves as Secretary for White Mountain Community Cooperative to promote food- and economically secure self-sufficiency in Arizona. Connect with Regina on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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7 Delightful Mini-Indoor Garden Ideas to Liven Up Your Living Space

Adding a bit of greenery to your living space is especially welcoming during the winter months. As the outdoor world is lacking color at this time of year, indoor gardens can bring an element of life and vibrancy to your home. When space is an issue, a mini indoor garden will add just the right amount of verdant ambiance to your space.

There are many creative ways to create mini indoor gardens, but the greatest ones incorporate innovation with the simplicity of plant life. Let’s take a look at 7 examples of indoor gardens and learn how you can make them a part of your own living space.

Lightbulb Planters

With lightbulb planters, you can enjoy the delight of Edison’s creation for longer than the life of the bulb. Repurposed old lightbulbs can find a new use as mini terrariums to create an inexpensive mini garden. Combine a few of these to a window sill or shelf or create a hanging version to accentuate your living space.


Lantern terrariums take up very little space and bring a beautiful element of life to any room. Making them can be as complicated or as simple as you like, but the idea is that the sealed space of a terrarium creates a perfect environment for indoor plants. It’s basically its own recycling facility. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Sunlight and carbon dioxide are taken in through photosynthesis and the plants provide food for themselves and water from the condensation from terrarium walls.

Assorted Potted Plants

Anyone can create a lovely mini indoor garden space using pots and plants, and then arrange them in an interesting way. It can be as simple or as bold as you’d like. You can choose a variety of shapes and sizes for the pots, or keep everything uniform. Even the type of plants you choose can be simple or elaborate. The arrangements can also be as effortless as stacked shelves or an intricate as hanging shelves for pots.

A garden of potted plants is especially wonderful if you grow your own plants from seeds. After they sprout and grow a bit, they can find a new home in your garden.

Mason Jar Wall Planters

mason jar plants

Mason jars are one of the most versatile everyday household items, and they make especially nice hanging herb gardens for the kitchen. With a few simple supplies, you can create a mini indoor garden that’s not only easy to create, but also easy to maintain.

Vertical Wall Garden

Vertical wall gardens require a bit of wall space, and they can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like. The one pictured above can be purchased from Williams-Sonoma, but with a little research and some legwork, you can produce a DIY version for your home.

Mini Hanging String Garden

hanging indoor plants

Add some height and depth to an indoor space with a hanging garden. The beauty and structure of the indoor plants is the focal point of hanging string gardens because the eye is not distracted by pots. Their simple elegance makes them one of the best ways to finish a room’s décor.

Bottle Garden

A bottle garden is a self-watering mini indoor garden. Using any type of bottle, from a pony beer bottle to extra-large wine bottles, you can create a unique conversation piece that doubles as an indoor garden. If you’re busy and don’t want to add more plants to water to your to-do list, consider a low-maintenance bottle garden.

When space is of concern or you’re looking for something small to add the finishing touch to a room, mini indoor gardens might be the answer. They perfectly couple simplicity with innovation, and add the perfect touch of greenery to a living space.


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Extend Your Living Space

 basement being finished

When COVID lockdowns first appeared earlier this year, summer was on its way in, providing opportunities to get away outdoors. If lockdowns come again, some of us will face what amounts to another round of house arrest, except with the added burden of cold, wet, freezing winter weather outside. All this is why more and more people are scrambling to extend their indoor living space while they still can, and three approaches are popular.

Basic Basement Finishing

An unfinished basement offers the single most useful opportunity to do things to increase your household living area, and the work doesn’t need to take a long time or cost a lot of money if you follow what I call a “basic” approach.

Basic basement finishing is a simplified process that aims to deliver all the physical comforts of a fully finished basement, but without a finished appearance. Heat, paint and a comfortable subfloor are the main ingredients of basic basement finishing and you can make it all happen on your own for a few thousand dollars instead of the twenty or thirty thousand needed for full finishing.

Making It Happen: Lay down subfloor panels on all parts of the basement floor you intend to use. DRICORE is the most widely available, they’re the best I’ve seen, and they’re made right here in North America. You can leave these panels bare as they sit on the floor or paint them. Even urethane looks pretty good on them. While you’re at it, a fresh coat of paint on masonry basement walls makes them look so much better, and painting the exposed ceiling joists and underside of the subfloor makes a huge difference in how the space feels. Most furnaces have the capacity to heat the basement as well as upstairs rooms, but only if cold air return ducts are extended so they draw air up from the basement floor. This makes a huge difference.

working out in garage

Garage as Workout Space

One of the hardest parts of enforced isolation has been the way public gyms have either been closed or sufficiently restricted to make them unusable. This is why people are buying their own gym equipment in record numbers, but that’s not enough on its own. An indoor area to use that equipment is also essential, and this is where a garage upgrade can help. You don’t need much. A comfortable floor and a little heat during winter will do the job.

Game Plan: Lay down subfloor panels in a section of your garage to keep our feet warmer and more comfortable. Panels will also greatly reduce the shock on joints and tendons that would happen if you exercised directly on concrete – something you’re not supposed to do. The kind of plastic-bottomed subfloor panels I recommend for this application can handle more than 6,600 lbs per square foot, so they’re more than strong enough to work out on. A 5,000-watt electric construction heater costs about 75 cents per hour to operate, yet it’s large enough to take the chill off most garage spaces during workout sessions.

kid playing indoors

Tough Indoor Play Room

Got kids at home for longer than usual each day? You can reduce the damage they cause while playing with decent sized space as an indoor play room.

Game Plan: Take down and store pictures and wall hangings, then protect the current finished floor with subfloor panels. For temporary applications like this panels can even go down over carpet, too.

Alter your house a bit and it can go a long way towards extending the living space in your home. And by all accounts, it looks like some of us are in for a very interesting winter of 2020.

Steve Maxwell is a DIY expert and longtime contributor to MOTHER EARTH NEWS. “Canada’s handiest man,” Steve and his family homestead on Manitoulin Island, Canada, cultivating a little patch of farmland surrounded by a sea of forest. Connect with Steve at BaileyLineRoad.com, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Basic Tractor Maintenance

 

Photo by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

As most of us know, when it comes to self-sufficiency, the more that you can do for yourself often saves time and money. This is especially true when it comes to maintaining your property's equipment and machinery. The tractor, being a heavily used piece of machinery, is a great place to start realizing basic tractor maintenance yourself. This post is not intended to be all inclusive in its coverage of basic tractor maintenance. It merely attempts to point out some of the primary areas of consideration for maintaining your tractor.

Tractor fuel, oil, filters, battery, tires, and brake maintenance

The Fuel. When the tractor's been stored for over a few months, it is a good idea to replace its old fuel with new. New fuel ensures a quality grade of fuel, without water build-up. Water build-up often results from condensation. This water build-up can accumulate and be distributed through the fuel lines. Water in the fuel lines can then be introduced into the engine, compromising the engine or its performance.

The Oil. The tractor's oil should be changed regularly, usually at 100 hour intervals, after a heavy use period or in particularly dusty operating conditions. Check the manufacturer's maintenance manual for the specific type of engine oil to be used.

Changing the Oil. To change the oil, make sure that the tractor is securely parked and free of movement. Place a large oil drip pan beneath the tractor's oil reservoir. Remove the plug screw. Allow the old oil to drain down into the drip pan. After the oil chamber has fully drained, replace and check the security of the plug screw. Open the oil refill cap, insert a funnel down into the oil chamber and refill with the recommended amount of new oil into the tractor.

Fuel Filter. Since the tractor has been refilled with clean oil and maintenance is being accomplished, it makes sense to change the engine oil and oil filters simultaneously. Changing or cleaning the filters prevents any old dirt, dust and debris from being introduced into the new oil /or the engine. You may be able to wash and clean the filters yourself if they are not too dirty or deteriorated.

Battery. Inspect and clean the battery terminals. Check the battery's terminals for rust, cracks, corrosion or grease residue. When the tractor sits for extended periods without operating, the battery can discharge. As the battery discharges, it can weaken and overtax the alternator.

Photo by Adrienne Andersen from Pexels

Tires. Check the tires' overall integrity, making sure that they are not split, worn or cracked. Check that tires' tred depth and air pressure is adequate for proper performance. If you find the tires are in poor condition, consider getting one or more good replacements.

Brakes. Follow these instructions for replacing tractor brakes.

  1. Raise and secure tractor. If necessary, take off the rear wheels to provide easier access to the brakes.
  2. Take off the break linkage by unhooking it from its cam. Take the bolts off the cover.
  3. To take any pressure off the brake shoes, make sure that the brake cam is in neutral.
  4. Using a flathead screwdriver, or other prying tool, carefully pry off the cover. Be careful not to break or bend the cover. Remove the shoes, brake cam and O-ring.
  5. Before replacing the parts, make sure to clean any dirt and build up from the brake cam and it's cover. This prevents contamination with these substances on the reinstalled parts.
  6. To prevent excessive wear & tear on the brake shoes from the brake drum, make sure that no rust or debris is on the brake drum. If so, sand drum until smooth and clean.
  7. Install new brake shoes, O-ring and if needed, new springs. Ensure brake cam is fully lubricated.
  8. For moisture and rust prevention, add a new gasket.
  9. Replace any remaining parts, plus the bolts, linkage, and cover. Lastly, replace the rear wheels.
  10. Check and adjust the brake pedal, if needed.

Tractor belts, blades and body 

Belts. Like tires, check the overall integrity of the belts, ensure there are no cracks, splits or tears. Check that the drive belt is in good condition. You may want to observe the drive belt with the engine running. This will allow you to check that the belt is properly aligned around the fly wheel. The tractor relies on the belts to drive power to all of its internal functions

Blades. Check the security of the blades. Make sure that there are no loose nuts, bolts or screws. Once satisfied that everything is secured properly, you may then remove and sharpen the blades. With a sandstone or grinding wheel, sharpen the blades as necessary. Oil and properly replace and secure the blades back on the tractor.

Body. Finally, regularly inspect for rust on the body of the tractor. Rust breaks down and weakens the integrity of the metal. For rust prevention, conduct a thorough, (topside and underside of tractor) body inspection. If any rust is observed, sand, smooth & paint the affected area.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Converting a Refrigerator to a Cheese Cave

Homemade Aged Cheese 

When we first got started with our Milk Sheep, we were very excited about the cheesemaking possibilities with the milk. We knew that to make aged cheeses we would need a cheese cave. A cheese cave is a space that is used to store cheeses while they age. Most cheeses need to age at 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit, and 85% humidity for anywhere from one month to many months. Cheese caves can be as big as a room, or a closet, or something smaller. The size depends on how much space you need. After some research, we realized that the easiest and most cost-effective way to get one would be to make it with a dorm-sized mini refrigerator.

Supplies for a DIY Cheese Cave

Here's what you'll need:

  • refrigerator (mini/dorm size is easiest to convert)
  • digital temperature controller thermostat that has cooling setting option (I found mine on Amazon)
  • digital thermometer/hygrometer with high/low memory
  • various shallow tubs and cloths to hold water for humidity
  • bamboo mats for the cheese to sit on

Refrigerator. We have made two different cheese caves. One from a small dorm-type refrigerator, and one from a full-sized refrigerator. We live in a very dry climate, and thus getting the humidity up where we wanted it was even more challenging than it would be in a more humid climate. It was much easier to keep the humidity at the right setting with the smaller refrigerator, and that is what I would suggest you use to get started. You can often find them for free or for very inexpensive on buy/sell/trade type of websites. If you need more space, you could use multiple small ones, or you could try to convert a larger one.

Digital Temperature Controller Thermostat. Most refrigerators won’t hold at 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. They generally stay colder than that, even on their warmest setting. This device plugs into the wall, and then you plug your refrigerator into it. It has a thermostat cord that goes into the refrigerator. The device will turn the refrigerator on and off, holding it at about 50 to 55 degrees. The brand we use is Inkbird, and it is very important that you get one that has cooling. If it is just heating, then it won’t work. Ours has both the heating and cooling option.

digital temperature controller thermostat

Digital Thermometer/Hygrometer. It is important to be able to make sure that your cheese cave is indeed holding at the necessary settings. So, having a thermometer and hygrometer inside of it is important. I check it when I am turning my cheeses, or at least twice a week to be sure all is well. It would be awful to have a nicely aged cheese that is months old go bad because you didn’t keep an eye on the settings in the cave. And if you get a digital one that has a high/low memory then it will tell you the high/low for that day, which is helpful too because you want to be sure it is staying in the right range.

digital thermometer/hygrometer

Shallow tubs and cloths. To keep the humidity up around 85% in the cave, you will need water. We have found that it is kind of an art to figure out the right amount of water in what size tubs to get the humidity just right. We also use some small terrycloth towels to help as well. Surface area (the area of the water exposed to the air), is very important to humidity. Eight ounces of water in a tall, skinny glass will not increase the humidity as well as eight ounces of water in a short, wide container would.

Set Up a DIY Cheese Cave

Clean thoroughly. First, and most importantly, make sure the refrigerator is super clean. Give it a good thorough scrubbing. Cheese is obviously very sensitive to mold and bacteria, and you want the cave to be very clean to keep your cheese from getting contaminated.

Check temperature. Next, focus on getting the temperature right. Start by plugging the temperature controller thermostat into the electricity and plug the refrigerator into it. Set the thermostat at 52 degrees. Put your digital thermometer/hygrometer into the refrigerator so you will know what temperature it is in there. Leave everything for a few hours and then come back and check to see how it is doing. It should be holding around 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Adjust humidity. Once you have the temperature stabilized, work on the humidity. The set up of your fridge will determine exactly where and how you will set up your humidity containers. In ours the bottom was narrower than the shelf areas, so it made sense to set up the dishes down there, leaving the shelves with as much space for the cheese as possible. What worked best for us was a shallow dish of water that had a terrycloth towel dangling with the corner of it in the water and the rest of it draped over a metal rack.

tubs and cloths for humidity

The terrycloth will continue to wick the moisture up and stay wet as long as we keep the dish of water filled. The terrycloth provides a lot of surface are for the water to evaporate off of to increase the humidity. As you can see in the photo, the rack was set over top of another shallow dish, which also had water in it.

If your refrigerator has a drawer in it, you might be able to pour the water into the drawer and then somehow drape a towel into it and have it up out of the water to evaporate. There are many options. Be creative and play around with it until you have reached optimum humidity with the smallest amount of wasted space in the cave. You need to leave the humidity set-up for several hours and then check your hygrometer to see where it is. Then make changes as needed, wait again, and check again. It can take a few days to get the humidity just right. Remember, more surface area means higher humidity. Having a hygrometer with a high/low memory for the day will help too, so you can see the range that it is staying in. Don’t forget to add water to your dishes as needed, if they dry out the humidity will drop.

Mini Fridge Cheese Cave Ready

Photo Jul 29 8 47 48 AM

Add cheese. When your temperature and humidity are doing well and staying in the set ranges, it is time to add your cheese. We use bamboo mats on the shelves so the cheese is getting the proper air circulation. Be sure to keep an eye on the cave, checking your temperatures and humidity at least a couple times a week to be sure nothing has gone wrong. You don’t want to lose all that great cheese to some sort of malfunction.

Cheese in Mini-Fridge Cheese Cave

Making your own cheese cave from a few simple supplies and a mini refrigerator is much easier than you realize. Within a few days you can be filling your converted refrigerator cave with your delicious homemade cheeses, and in a few months, you will be enjoying eating them.

Homemade Aged Cheese

Kat Ludlam is a wife, homeschooling mother, and homesteader living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She and her husband own and operate Willow Creek Fiber Mill. Kat enjoys teaching others about homesteading through her writing and photography. You can read about their adventures homesteading at high altitude on her blog Willow Creek Farm and read all of Kat’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

 


 

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Winterizing Your Tractor

Well, it’s that time of year. The trees are almost bare or completely so, depending on where in the country you are. Some areas are experiencing their first snowfalls of the season, and it’s only 7 weeks till CHRISTMAS !! Time to prepare the summer tools of your trade for a long winters nap, especially the fossil fuel powered ones.

Some folks may use their tractors during winter. If you have numerous livestock to feed, or snow to plow, the tractor might be in operation anywhere from a couple times a week to once every couple weeks. If this is the case, your winterizing operations may be minimized.

If possible, store your tractor under a shed, or cover. A simple cover helps considerably with temperature extremes as well as protecting the seat, paint, and wires and hoses from the grueling effects of sun and bitter cold. If covered with plastic make provisions for it to breathe a little. Plastic covers can sweat and cause their own problems without air circulation.

Make sure the antifreeze is up to the necessary rate for your area. Use an antifreeze tester, available at any auto parts store to check the freeze point of your water/ethylene glycol mixture. It’s simple to use, just remove the radiator cap, insert the tube a few inches into the mixture, squeeze and release the bulb, and wait to see how many of the little balls float in the mixture. The more that float, the lower your freezing point. Testers usually come with a chart printed on the side, or on the packaging of the unit which will tell you what temperature you’re protected to. Remember, you need to be protected to the lowest expected temperature plus 10 degrees or so, not the average low temp.

The antifreeze is also a corrosion inhibitor; it keeps everything in your cooling system from rusting. The freeze protection is still there as long as it’s not diluted, but the corrosion protection wanes after a few years. I would recommend “freshening” the antifreeze at least every 3 years.

For gasoline models it’s best to remove all fuel for the winter months, unless you do in fact plan to use the tractor some. At the very least, turn off the fuel valve on the tank and run the unit till it dies. Ideally remove all fuel from the tank. This may sound difficult, but you can simply disconnect the fuel line, attach a length of rubber hose to the petcock, (or over the line if it’s easier to disconnect at the filter or carburetor) and drain into an appropriate fuel container. Fuel in the tank over winter will turn “stale” indicated by the varnish smell when started up the next spring, and in some cases build up residue on the tank sides which will cause problems later. The small amount in the carburetor will evaporate leaving behind all the additives in a varnish-like coating that will stop up all those little bitty jets and passages making your spring a hair pulling experience. Fuel treatments designed to keep your gasoline fresh can help, but really aren’t intended for long term storage, their purpose is more for the things you use about once a month, not 3-4 months of non-use. If you prefer, you may treat the fuel and simply start and run the engine for 10-20 minutes at least once a month. If you will be using your tractor, you might consider a water removing fuel treatment to prevent freezing of fuel lines in extreme cold climates if you have back to back days where the mercury just doesn’t make it above the 32 mark.

DO NOT, I repeat do not remove all fuel from a diesel tractor, and DO NOT run it until it dies. If you have owned a diesel for very long you are likely familiar with the great pains caused by running out of fuel and having to purge the air from the pump and lines. DO treat your fuel with a conditioner before storage, and if your diesel will be used during winter you might include a bottle of HEET, or “Diesel 911” or something similar to prevent gelling in extreme conditions. Many areas of the country have a winter fuel mix which starts rolling into the local retailers around the first frost dates. These winter fuels will have some anti-gel protection, but be prepared to add extra for extreme weather. Keeping the tank completely full of fuel reduces condensation and moisture content. If it’s full of fuel, there’s no room for damp air, or oxidation of metal tank walls. Again, running the engine once a month is a good idea, keeps things from gumming up and keeps the battery charged. Just don’t choose the coldest days to start ‘er up. Diesel just doesn’t like to fire off well in extreme cold, and using ether or starting fluid is not recommended unless really necessary.

Batteries should be protected for the winter. A discharged battery is more susceptible to freezing, and if there’s any drain on your battery a long term storage is likely to ruin it. Disconnect the battery at the very least, either cable will break the circuit and prevent any drain. Ideally, remove the battery and store it inside. Some recommend storing attached to a charger with a float switch, but a couple months won’t hurt, and a trickle charge before re-installation will bring things back up to par. There’s always the option to attach a small solar battery charger to keep everything up to snuff, or run the engine once a month.

Some folks recommend changing the engine oil before storage to remove acids and contaminates built up in the crankcase. Others recommend waiting till spring to remove the moisture built up from the winter. The former seems more logical to me. Moisture will be dispersed very shortly upon startup by engine heat.

A few simple steps now will make your spring startup easier and less expensive. Go into winter prepared and enjoy.







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