Tuesday, December 18, 2012

13 Skills for 2013

The reason my wife and I started our homestead in the country is because we want to walk the talk.  We believe that as a nation we are far too dependent on our systems of support.  We have become very specialized as a civilization and value entertainment more than anything else.  This throughout history has lead to a downfall of civilization.  For instance, we expect food to be in the grocery store and don't care how it got there.  It must taste good and look pretty.  We don't care how nutritious it is, just that the label says it is.  We don't question that even though we see our health declining as a nation.  Now as a nation we are slowly realizing the way food is produced puts toxins in our bodies and the ground.  The toxins lead to cancer.  The malnutrition leads to obesity and medical problems.  The raising of the food is inhumane to animals.  Most of all the modern farming practices in this country are unsustainable.  Unfortunately, we are addicted to the cheap food and cannot give up our comforts like cable TV to improve the quality of food we buy.  We can apply the above problems with the food system to all support systems like: energy, transportation, medical, financial, etc...

Our goal is to take back a little of the self reliance that our grandparents had.  My wife and I want to learn what it takes to supply some of our own systems of support.  This the reason my wife and I moved to the country and why I joined a site called 13 Skills.  The idea of the site is to log 13 goals for learning new skills for the upcoming year.  These are not supposed to be easy goals that require very little time.  These are not skills that have zero life meaning, like mastering a level in a game.  Instead, these goals need to venture a person into bettering oneself's life.  These skills require a new area of knowledge or fine tuning existing knowledge which takes education and practice time.  Our family always has goals to accomplish around the homestead which require learning new skills, but I rarely write them down.  I listed my goals on the site, but figured I'd explain them out on this blog.  This gives me some areas to blog on in 2013.  Instead of 13 goals we have 15.  Because some will be shared with my family, I figure 15 is perfect for 2013; it ruins the 13 in 13 thing I know.

About our goals:

Alternative Energy
This is my stretch project and requires a big budget.  It is really based on if we get a bonus at work and Obama doesn't kill me on taxes this year.  During the rainy season there is a stream that drops 50-60 feet on the property.  This is  on a 45 degree slope.  The rainy season in the Pacific Northwest is 8 months out of the year and is the coldest part of the year.  Since we heat the home mainly with an electric heat pump, this is also our highest electricity usage. 

My thought is to take a 55 gallon drum and set it up at the source.  The source is an 18" drain pipe that runs under a road on our property.  The drain pipe is feed by a seasonal creek.  From the drain pipe, I will run a 4" pipe down the drop to a micro-turbine.  The problem part is going to be running the wire back up the hill to the house.  Because of the slope and forested hill, I do not see how it could be buried.  Inside the garage I will build a battery bank and grid tie the system as well.  Grid tie is important because the power company will buy power back for twice what I am paying for it.  This turns my system into a pretty good investment, which I calculate will pay itself off in 6 to 8 years.

For skills I will need to learn about turbines, flow, batteries, and how the electrical components work.  In researching this area I found that the charge controller costs, wiring costs, transfer switch, meter and fees for grid tie and the turbine itself it ran a bit more than I was thinking.  Therefore, this goal didn't get started in 2012.

Instead for 2012, I bought some LED lights, cut down the dryer use and bought a Hybrid Water Heater on a great deal from Sears ($600 off for a total of $599).  If the bonus doesn't come through next year, I might still run all the piping and setup a small battery bank, but then look for ways to make the home more energy efficient.

Beekeeping
Because we are doing a lot of gardening, we were interested in providing our own pollinators.  More than pollination, fresh raw honey sounded like a deal.  Last spring we attended a Bee Keeping class by Jacqueline Freeman, she is local to our area.  She taught us quite a bit and sparked our interest in bee keeping. 

A few days after our second class, my wife was visiting her father's grave site and she came upon a swarm.  She walked right up to the swarm unafraid because we had taken the classes and were allowed to get close to Jacqueline's hives.  Unfortunately, we had no gear to collect the swarm and no hive built at home to put them in.  A week after the first swarm, my wife ran into a second swarm while on a walk with her son.  A few days later we got a call from Jacqueline asking if we would want a swarm she was collecting. I don't know if there is a clearer sign that we should begin keeping bees? Therefore, for 2013 I need to build a hive and get some gear so we are ready to begin our beekeeping adventure.  We will also take another class from Jacqueline to expand our knowledge.

Dairy
My wife and I have wanted to make cheese now for a few years now, but have no idea how.  My wife almost went to a cheese class last year but we couldn't make the dates and cost line up with the kids at home.  Next year we will take a local class and make our first bar of cheese.

Canning
This year we learned to water bath can, well my wife did.  We canned over 100 lbs of tomatoes,20 lbs of green beans and 20 lbs of Squash.  We also bought a nice pressure-canner, but it doesn't work on our glass-top stove.  My dad has recently retired and moved near us.  He has an electric stove with metal elements; therefore, we can try out the pressure-canner.  My wife makes a good chili  therefore, that is a great place to start learning how to pressure can.

Carpentry
I don't know when I am not learning something to do with carpentry.  Just last month I built shelving in the garage.  Unfortunately, most of carpentry is rough stuff where being precise is not that important.  I mostly work on things like fencing, chicken runs, shelving, dog houses, etc... I would like to start making some things that are nicer for indoor use, where things need to be routered, plained and sanded.

I will start with a simple towel rack, then a book shelf.  I keep looking for these things but they just don't fit or cost $100s.   Why pay that for something that can be built for $30? 

Finally, in 2013 I want to graduate to an under the bed storage system and a kitchen table.  I found a great site by Ana White for these designs.  We disparately need a new kitchen table, our table sits 4 is just too small for a family of 5.

Conceal Weapons Permit
With all the crazy stuff going on in the world I need to up my firearms training and start carrying my weapon.  The Clackamas shooting hit too close to home.  My wife was there the weekend before the incident with my stepson.  I have a WA and OR license but would like to get the Arizona license to cover a few more states. I also want to get my wife a WA and OR license along with some basic pistol training.

Cooking
I don't have a lot of cooking goals for this year other than to cook more.  My wife is really cook in the household.  I just want her to stop making fun of me when I cut stuff with a knife.  Therefore, I want to learn how to chop, mince and cut with a knife.  I was going to try some videos on ITunes U with some practicing to accomplish this.

Computer Skills
I'm a database administrator and developer by trade. My programming skills are pretty basic and outdated.  For programming languages, I normally program in VB.Net more than anything else.  Last year I was moved to the architecture team.  The new software my company is developing is in C# with a ORM tool on top.  To be more helpful on the project I need to learn C# and work with an ORM to meet basic utility needs of the team.  We have a training budget so I need to see if I can take a class on C#.

Curing and Smoking Meats
I like making Brisket and ribs, but I never smoke them.  I have only used our smoker for jerky.  I think it would be tasty to try smoking some ribs and brisket.  

Fruit Orchard
We already have a fruit orchard started on the property.  The last two years we have planted cherries, apples, pears, blueberries, kiwis, black walnuts and gooseberries.  I would like to add figs and pomegranates in 2013.  The main thing I need to learn is learn how to prune them.  We are coming up on year 2 and 3 with the trees and bushes so it is important to shape them now.  So, far I have just been trying to get a leader growing.

Foraging
Foraging is just a small goal for me.  We have some stinging nettles, wild carrots and currants on the property.  We would like properly identify 5 edible plants, gather them up and cook with them.  I just want to get used to getting a few things off the land.  This year I bought a book on plants in the pacific northwest.  I figure my wife, stepson and I could walk around the property and learn somethings.

Gardening
This year was a pretty good year for gardening.  I would like to expand a couple of beds in 2013 to allow for more area to plant some additional crops.  I would also like to figure out how to grow broccoli and cabbage without having the bugs chew it apart. 

Parenting
We have three kids in our household.  At times it can get quite hectic and as parents we sometimes resort to yelling.  I've been listening to a lot of Stephan Molyneux and I am trying to improve on non-violent communication, NVC.  Therefore, instead of yelling "because I said so," I want to explain and ask questions of the children and guide them on the right path.  We have worked hard on our 2 year old daughter showing love and treating her as a person.  She is very bright and very affectionate.  I have only come into my stepsons' lives in the last 4 years and there is a lot of damage to work through.

I want my children to stop trying to lie or make excuses and form valid arguments.  I bought a book on fallacies and want to learn with my wife and oldest stepson how to recognize them and form real arguments.  The more I work on this in my personal life the more upset I get with the mainstream news.  Everything is argued on emotion, half truths, or purposely manipulated.

With my nieces and step children we have seen all sorts of bad parenting.  This ranges from the parent being non-involved, colliding, and even violence.  We want our kids to be intelligent and free thinkers that will make good decisions in life.  We also want them to experience what the real world is like and not to present them with a fake reality, so when they leave the house they are prepared to succeed.

We have decided to homeschool my 2 year old daughter.  She is already learning to count and the alphabet.  She also likes to pretend to read.  I think by the end of 2013 she should be reading some basic level 1 books on her own.

Permaculture Design
On our homestead we receive about 45 inches of rain a year.  Most of the rain is during an 8 month period from October to May.  I would like to capture the runoff from the house into a pond and stock that pond with some small fish to keep down the mosquitos.

Also, with 45 inches of rain, there are some spots around the house that are low and get very moist.  I would like to use trenches to move the water away from the house into a swale system or the pond.

This requires me to learn how to build a pond.  I would like to finish a small pond in 2013.  I will probably dig and tamp this by hand with the kids, maybe 10 x 10 x 3 foot deep.  Obviously, I will not want it to be perfectly round or square.

Small Engine Repair
This is a personal stretch goal.  Since we purchased our homestead, we have purchased a generator, lawn mower, ATV and chipper shredder.  These engines require regular maintenance and it would be nice to know how to do that.  Along with the maintenance it would be a good idea to know how to fix them if something breaks.  My grandpa used to fix neighbors lawnmowers all the time; therefore, there is some sentimental tie to knowing this skill.

To learn the skill my only goal is to do the regular maintenance tasks such as changing the plugs, sharpening the blades and changing the oil.  The stretch goal would be taking a class on engine repair.  


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