Friday, October 30, 2015

Stove Firebox Grate Maintenance

We purchased our new Heartland wood-burning cook stove in 2003. It's worked well ever since, burning over 40 cords of wood to keep us warm every heating season. Its stovepipe does require an annual cleaning as does the flue around the oven. But this year the grate that supports the fire and lets ashes drop into the bin burned through. A large hole then let burning coals drop, resulting in too much charcoal in the ash bin.
Our Kitchen Stove Hard at Work
Most of the central cast iron zone had oxidized in the dozen years of red-hot fires making it very fragile. It took only a few minutes to break it apart and remove the pieces. The original design was way too fancy, with a two part sliding gate structure that stopped sliding the first year. So I left it in the full open position and cleared the holes every morning before building up the fire. The stove came with a tool that made this process very straightforward. I removed the sliding part a few years ago to make cleaning even easier.
Cast Iron Grate After 12 Years of Fires
I replaced the grate with four thick-walled stainless steel tubes that are spaced apart so that ashes, but not coals, can fall between them into the bin below. It's much easier to clear the five slots between and around the tubes to send the ashes down than it was to probe many more slots in the earlier grate. It only took two hours to cut the tubes to length and attach them to two straps so they stay properly spaced. So if they last as long as the cast iron grate, I won't have to redo them until 2027!
The Four Stainless Steel Tubes Spaced So That Only Ashes Drop into the Bin Below
View of New Tube Grate From Above: The Oval Ceramic Firebox Walls Frame the Tubes

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Woodworking Project: Round Robin

The Northeastern Woodworkers Association has a program that has a few teams of five woodworkers sequentially develop objects that are presented and auctioned off at the NWA Family Night in December. There are two stipulations for contributions: 
     1. Primarily use wood; and
     2. Insure it fits into the given large cardboard carton, with lid closed.

Our team has three men and two women. I received the project from two folk before me. The first lady had scroll-sawed an elaborately beautiful abstract flat piece of cherry wood, 6 by 11 inches. 

The second person incorporated this into the top of a cherry wood box suitable for displaying jewelry, very small compared to the two cubic foot carton it came in. Since the cover of this box was separate, I connected the top to the bottom by adding brass hinges. This involved cutting away some of both the top and bottom so that the top only opens a bit over ninety degrees. I also added mahogany separators to partition the inside. I made them short enough so a tray could be added to provide additional storage surface without hitting the top.
Cherry Wood Box with Scroll-sawed Design in Top
Open Box Showing Partitions and Hinges
View of Open Box Showing Top Detail
Because the floor of the box was made of masonite that is not very attractive, I procured adhesive-backed felt to line the inside. I did not apply it because it would be difficult to keep clean while the last two participants add their touches, including applying some type of final finish to the wood. I received the box with some kind of varnish applied that required me to remove it in order to add my details. It would be best if the fifth person, a lady, has the freedom to finish it as she likes, without having to deal with layers of other finishes. She can then add the felt, or something else, if she likes.

I can't wait to see how it ends up!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cape Cod Trip

Every year in early October my wife, a friend and I spend a few days on the northeast tip of Cape Cod. This year our daughter, Zoe, accompanied us and joined me in my annual trek from the Highland Lighthouse to a bet east of Race Point and then into Provincetown.
View of the Angry Ocean at Our Entry Point: Wind >30 mph
North Tip of Cape Cod with Red Tracing the Route We Walked
Typical View of the Northeast Shore of Cape Cod: Sandy Beach Terminated with a High Dune Covered in Vegetation. This is Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore with Few Road Access Points. Every Year the Ocean Reduces the Width of the Beach and Consumes Ever More of the Dunes
Every year the trek is different: beach conditions, number of marine animals and birds, amount of seaweed at the high tide line and the varieties/quantities of flotsam and jetsam. We collect a variety of "bait bags" every year and keep them in hopes of finding uses for these rugged net cylinders. They are usually drawn closed at one end with a drawstring at the other end and come in many lengths and diameters. They are used to hold fish heads or other bait inside lobster, crab and shrimp traps. Most prized are those that are pristine or of an unusual color: purple and peach this year. Those that have been torn apart by crustaceans or too weathered don't make it home. Many have been probed by hundreds of pincers and have wear rings with broken strands of the strong twine they are made of. Each one has hundreds of bowline knots that form the netting with pinkie-size holes.
The 39 "Bait Bags" We Brought Home This Year Showing that Orange Was the Most Popular Color: Last Year Yellow Was More Common.
A Strong Bag That Uses Heavy Twine
Closeup Showing the Bowline Knots
A Lightweight Bag Made with Slender Twine
Our Peach Color and Purple Bags
We no longer bring home foam floats that mark each trap and enable retrieving. This year we saw more than 200, many pristine, along the 12 mile beach we travelled. We did keep a few shiny plastic buoys and an inflatable bumper that we'll use on our pond or for making molds. 
Hard Plastic Floats and an Inflatable Bumper
We also collected a variety of balls and other plastic items that we hope will become dog toys or other uses. Most valuable are unbroken bins that fisherfolk use to pack fish and lobsters. They are very rugged and readily carry 100 pounds of fruit or vegetables.
Every lobster trap has a rope connecting it with the float at the surface. The lower half is usually more coarse than the top half. Over the years we've collected so much of this rope we only keep almost new examples of the fine variety that is easy to handle with bare hands.
A Pristine Football and other Plastic Objects Worth Bringing Home of the Many Thousands of Similar Objects Strewn Along the Beach
Fish Bins: Great for Harvesting  Fruits and Veggies
Two Lengths of 3/8 inch Diameter Rope
A Piece of New Netting That May Decorate a Wall Someday
The most exciting find this year was not plastic but the remains of a reptile: probably a leatherback turtle. The length of the carapace was more than four feet. Its head was gone but the shell and other bones were still intact, though seagulls were hard at work removing anything edible.
Probable Leatherback Turtle Carcass
For many years there were sandbars about two miles north of the highland light that attracted a hundred or more gray seals at low tide. This year these had disappeared along with the seals, though there were individual seals watching us from the water almost the whole way. A few miles farther north we did find the large colony on the beach.
A Large Colony of Gray Seals, with a Few Harbor Seals Mixed In
Beaches concentrate and collect stuff that floats. High tides push it into a windrow as far up the beach as it can. This year the seaweed that has gas bladders to make it float dominates stuff generated by people. We seem to be working hard to compete with garbage and trash - most of it some form of plastic: bottles, take-out foam clamshells, various containers. There are also toys, parts of boats, homes, docks and clothing. There are no longer any tampon insertion devices that a few years ago were the most common objects. So we are making some progress. But not in reducing the number of balloons/ribbons that wash up. We saw about one every 150 feet or so, sometimes in clusters. The ribbons may be worse than the balloons because they last so much longer. Once on the beach, though, they eventually get buried in the sand by waves, no longer a threat to wildlife.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dehydrating Fruits and Veggies

This year's apple and pear crops are the largest ever. We already have enough jars of canned applesauce so we were looking for other ways to preserve bumper crops. We tried dehydrating slices of apple in a small round plastic dehydrator but the heater failed so we ordered a large, all stainless steel appliance that has 10 large rectangular shelves. 

Granny Smith Apple Slices: Fresh
Granny Smith Apple Slices: Dry Are much Smaller than the Plump Slices Above.
Tomato Puree, 0.13 Inches Thick Covering a Layer of Teflon-coated Fiberglass.
Fresh Tomato Puree Ready to Lose Water: One-eighth Inch Thick Layers Became Paper Thin Chips. The Tomato Puree Coats the Teflon Coated Fabric.
We've now tried three different ways to make kale chips, three forms of apple slices, apple leather, two ways to dry tomatoes and make hot pepper slices. Next we will try slicing pears, many varieties of veggie chips, and venison jerky. 

Interesting apple statistics: it takes 26 large Granny Smith apples, weighing ten pounds, to make nine trays of skinless slices weighing nine pounds to make 1.8 pounds of dehydrated slices requiring eight hours of drying at 130 degrees F. 

Tomato stats: use a colander to remove five gallons of clear yellow liquid from six gallons of pureed tomato/tomatillos/garlic. Spread the thick ten pounds of red paste one-eighth inch thick on nine square feet of teflon coated sheets. Drying for ten hours at 130 degrees F. results in ten ounces of tomato "paper" that easily fits in a quart zip-lock bag.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Harvesting Chestnuts

Every year at this time I enjoy harvesting chestnuts. These are American Chestnuts, most of which were killed by a blight many decades ago. Three trees on my neighbor's property are 30 to 40 years old and produce many nuts. They seem to be thriving, though major limbs die off every year or two. These are not the hundred foot tall monster trees that dominated eastern forests a few centuries ago.
These Are the Chestnuts Now Drying on Our Front Greenhouse Counter
This Is a Chestnut That Dropped with the Nuts Inside: the Prickers Are Really Sharp!

The Three Neighbor's Trees That Produce Most of Our Nuts
These chestnuts are protected by very prickly hulls that require heavy gloves to pick them up without harm. It's nearly impossible to handle them with bare fingers without drawing blood. When they are ripe, the pods open up on the tree and the nuts often drop and can be collected without gloves. This morning I picked up four pounds and this afternoon, almost five pounds. I still wear gloves because I gather all the husks and place them around the trunks of the trees. That way, anyone under the branches is new and the nuts should be available.
The Collar of Chestnut Hulls That Surround Each Trunk
We like chestnuts very much because they are easy to peel while watching videos. Black walnuts, hickory and butternuts all require a hammer or other mechanism to break their shells, a process that is very messy (and not allowed indoors). It then takes lots of patience to separate the edible meats. Chestnuts can be opened with a paring knife (on the living room couch) and are ready for eating raw, or roasted, or boiled without making much of a mess (or risking dented fingers). 
A Few Days of Chestnuts Drying on Our Front Greenhouse Counter
Each of the last two years we harvested over 50 pounds of chestnuts. We don't keep track of how much our neighbor harvests for her family and how much the squirrels and deer also take so total production of these trees is much higher. This morning I picked up four pounds of nuts and six hours later another 4.7 pounds. This year, the nuts are plumper than last year and there are many fewer "blanks", nuts that did not get fertilized and end up being only shells, without meat. Chestnuts are fertilized by wind and air currents, not pollinating insects.

In years past, we planted 100 prime chestnuts among our garlic, hoping squirrels were deterred by their smell. Between ten and 25 germinated successfully and within two years became small shrubs. We now have so many of these small trees so we don't have to plant any more. We also have a few ten years old chestnut trees that are now producing ten to twenty pounds of fruit. Next year we will transplant about twenty small trees now growing in former garlic beds to properly spaced rows in one of our fields.

Winter Squash Harvest #2

A few days ago we had a light frost that ended the growing season for butternut squash. It did not affect sweet and hot peppers so they are still growing strong, as are the swiss chard, basil, parsley, leeks, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
First Light Frost on 4 October Damaged Tender Butternut Squash Vines
Final Butternut Squash Harvest: 111 Pounds for a 2015 Total of 790 Pounds

We added 111 pounds to the butternut squash harvest, now totaling 790 pounds, our best ever. Other winter squash didn't do so well, Most of the plants died mid-season even though they included genes from many different varieties: only 85 pounds, so far. We do have some volunteer pumpkins and spaghetti squash in the greenhouse and one late pumpkin vine growing in the lower garden that will add about thirty pounds more.
Gifted Seeds from A Friend Produced a Variety of Winter Squash
A Few of the Volunteer Pumpkins