Wednesday, January 15, 2020

DIY Yogurt

This is the first post in our series on Doing It From Scratch.

Even before we moved to our off grid location I was making my own yogurt. I first tried it back in the '80s using an appliance that I had bought from Consumer's Distributing (Any well aged Canadians that remember that place?) It was a plastic box that you plugged in to heat and it had 9 small glass jars that the yogurt went into. I don't recall how long it had to be plugged in before you had yogurt but at that time in my life I really wasn't ready and only used it a handful of times. Fast forward some 20 years and we had moved to buying plain yogurt and adding our own jam/fruit and now I was ready to once again try a DIY.

By that time we had the INTERNET and I could look up the many different how-tos that were available. Of course there were the ones that suggested some source of heat and even ones that suggested leaving it in your oven with the incandescent light on as a heat source. The one that really stood out was one that did not require using additional heat to process the yogurt. Although we were still on the grid I was working on keeping our hydro use as low as possible. Shouldn't we all be doing that?

The no heat method uses a large wide mouthed thermos to keep the yogurt at temperature during the process. I had one of those handy and so it began.

Thermos Method Yogurt Making

1 bag of Milk* (my preference is whole or homogenized milk)
3/4 C of Instant Dry Milk
Scant 1/4 C of plain yogurt (room temperature)
* In Ontario Canada our milk comes in 3 bags that total 4 liters. That means I use 1 1/3 liters to make my yogurt. You can adjust to the amount that works for you.

1. Scald the milk. Heat milk, while stirring often, to 180-200 F.
 2. Cool the milk. Remove from heat, stir in the powdered milk (I often do this before I heat the milk), let cool to about 120-125 F.  It is important that the milk not be too hot as it could kill the active components of the yogurt.

3. Add the starter. Place the plain yogurt in a small bowl and stir until creamy. Slowly add warm milk to your starter to bring the yogurt closer to the milk temperature. Remember it is important that the milk not be too hot as it could kill the active components of the yogurt. After adding in a cup or so of milk stir the starter mixture into the remaining milk. Mix well.


4. Incubate the yogurt. Pour the yogurt into the thermos and cover. Keep the thermos undisturbed for 4-6 hours (6 works for me) Additionally I wrap the thermos and place it into a box to help keep it undisturbed and at temperature.


5. Refrigerate. Remove lid and place in fridge. You can pour into containers before or after it has cooled  It will thicken slightly when completely cooled

6. Stir well and enjoy.

Eat plain or enjoy with some vanilla extract and honey or your fav fruit. We place frozen fruit in the bottom top with yogurt and enjoy at lunch once the fruit has thawed.

This means of making yogurt continues today on a biweekly basis for us and is terrific with being off grid but you can do it too.

We would love for you to share some of your favourite  'From Scratch' ideas. Help inspire us all.

Comments are what keeps a blogger motivated so even an 'Oh this is boring' comment is productive.  Besides Tricia gets lonely with just Ed and the dogs day after day... ;-)

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Magical 2020

New Year New Decade

The first full week of 2020! Incredible to write that year for someone born in the 1950s. There is something magical about 2020 and we are excited to see what the year brings. From the climate crisis, to multiple governments who clearly do not care about their people, everything seems in need of a reset and we are no exception.

Although there has been much happening around the homestead blogging felt like it needed to be something profound and so it just didn't happen. More recording of what is happening whether it turns into something profound or remains small will start now. That was the way Facebook worked, as record keeping, for the past 12 years. Who doesn't love looking back at the memories? But now that Tricia has been steering away from Facebook (and she is really is our recorder) not much has been posted.

To that end we are sharing a recent roof video...

This winter has been quite different from those of the past. Although there was a decent accumulation of snow before the new year, the last week of December was quite mild and as we had noticed a significant ice build up under the snow, we took advantage of it to clear off the roofs of the trailers. The view from our roof is lovely and we really don't go up there as often as we should. Well this reset year will have that happen with regularity.

Here's to a magical year for us all.

Comments are what keeps a blogger motivated so even an "oh this is boring" comment is productive. Besides Tricia gets lonely with just Ed and the dogs day after day...

Looking for more on Northern Dirtbags? You can find us on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram

Monday, September 23, 2019

Keeping our promise

We promised to be more diligent in our blog posting. So let's start with a bit of an update.

Over the long weekend (Labour Day in Canada and the U.S.) we planned to process our 21 meat chickens (we still have our 11 layers).

       Layers purchased from a local in April

Our meat chickens are all grown up
In preparation we wanted to pick up another freezer specifically for chickens. We have a 7 cubic foot one now but found it is well used and we could not have cleared enough space for adding in the processed chickens.  After a bit of online research Tricia found that a 5 cubic foot would be a good size for the amount of birds we do yearly. Did you know that a cubic foot holds approximately 7 gallons and the average chicken is about the equivalent to 1 gallon? We found that our local Canadian Tire had one available but also that Best Buy had one cheaper with free delivery. Well that seemed like a no brainer.

We ordered it online late on Wednesday evening only to find that it had an anticipated delivery date of Tuesday the 5th (after the long weekend). We asked around and found a couple of people who could "hold' the chickens in their freezer for the weekend. Imagine our surprise when the freezer appeared on Friday! Love when the Universe conspires to meet our needs. We were thrilled as we could process and freeze them ourselves without running around to put them into the freezers of our generous friends.

To prepare the new freezer we put a 5 gallon bucket filled with water in to freeze and hold some space while we finished the birds up over 3 days. Although the energy rating on this new freezer was such that we felt it would work with our system, the weather, read lack of sunshine, this time of year meant running the generator. We kind of expected that as the empty freezer would be grabbing a lot of power to get and keep cold.

     Everything is finished and
     the freezer is now packed

This additional draw on our batteries has caused Tricia's interest in the workings of a solar system to be peaked. She really didn't have any interest in 'knowing' how things worked previously. To that end she has delved deep into what Ed calls his 'bible' on the subject The Renewable Energy Handbook: The Updated Comprehensive Guide to Renewable Energy and Independent Living by William H. Kemp

You can expect some future posts on what she finds of interest.

Share with us your own chicken dreams and nightmares.
Are you off grid or just living vicariously through us?

Comments are what keeps a blogger motivated so even an "oh this is boring" comment is productive.

Besides Tricia gets lonely with just Ed and the dogs day after day...

Thursday, September 12, 2019

5 Years In the Making

How our off grid journey has evolved

It has been well over a year since updating our blog. Things have changed and sharing simply wasn't a priority.

Thinking back on how this journey was expected to go and how it has gone felt like failure. There have been many conversations discussing different possibilities. Talks with people who had taken similar leaps and found them equally difficult were encouraging.

But money has become a real issue. How we thought that we could possibly survive the remainder of our lives on so little was our biggest error. Now in debt and with a limited income the build has become impossible. It feels like complaining and may come across as such. But more so it feels like the shame of failure. It is very risky to share failure but if risks are not taken and vulnerability shown, real joy cannot be experienced. Thanks Brene Brown for that insight.

For this reason this post is being written.

It was wonderful having time and money for the first couple of years, then the money slowly disappeared and although we had some of the materials needed for the build the lack of locally available materials and weather made the first summer a wash. The materials we had prepared that first year were not able to be used the second summer and without the equipment we hired the first year we could not make further use of them. Although we were optimistic that we could recover, once again the lack of local materials along with the physical labour needed to make what we did have on hand workable become a hurdle we could not overcome. The joys of being closer to 60 than 50.

Our plans now are to slowly build onto and add to the structures we already have on hand. A room and roof added to the trailer, another greenhouse, a sauna and a couple of additional storage buildings. This will take time and require working for additional money (all suggestions/ideas welcome)  but we are comfortable with this prospect. These things will make living off grid here, in the bush of Northern Ontario, a life we can be comfortable in for the remainder of our years. As our dear friend Cam Mather said 'Doing it from this magic place always made it worthwhile'. We hope you will continue to follow along for the ride. Tricia is promising to do more sharing here as she has more social media time available having given up Facebook.

Living in the bush in isolation is not easy. Moving to a community where you know no one is not easy. Being in our fifties (Tricia will celebrate 60 on November 19th) and working on the life of our dreams is not easy. But without the attempt we would have drowned in the life we were living and that simply was not an option. What are you committed to struggling through?

If you have read this far we are very grateful. While we have shared our struggles in this post it seems appropriate to also share that in order to supplement our income we have a distributorship with Young Living Essential Oils. We have been members for over 7 years and have found so many benefits with having these oils in our home as well as sharing them with friends and family. Tricia will begin to post more about how we are using essential oils as our first line of defence in staying  healthy. Most recently we have used them with great success with our 13 year old Tono, a Husky, Wolf, Akita mix, to help out with his stiffness and hair loss. You can purchase online, worldwide through the Young Living website,. Using our id of 1284131 when finalizing your purchase will be helping us financially, should you have that interest. If you are interested in purchasing essential oils or have questions we would be thrilled to help you out. You can reach us through our Facebook page, leaving a comment here or email us directly using northerndirtbags at gmail dot com. Your support of our blog and any help with our income is always greatly appreciated.

Now it's time to attack the never ending to do list and keep our dreams alive.

Edited to add - Hitting PUBLISH on this post was extremely difficult. TB

Saturday, February 24, 2018

This is a post by Edward.

 It was a snowy Friday morning in February and as usual I had the day off. Only working 4 days a week still has a little retired feel to it. The dogs were outside and a bark-fest started. This isn't unusual out here in the bush, there is always something in the vicinity to draw their attention. Sometimes it's even something living! This barking changed and we started to hear whines and yelps. Something was different. I put on my snowshoes and headed into the bush west of the trailer. It's thick Tag Alders there and the dogs have a labyrinthine maze zig-zagging through it. Their paths are not human friendly and if you have traveled by snowshoe through  Tag Alders you know what I mean. Only about 100' from our clearing and I found them at the base of a tree. There was whining and yapping... and the most beautiful sight. They had a playmate up the tree, a gorgeous Canada lynx!
 Having an idea what was happening I had a camera with me. Went to take a picture and it happened to be on video so I got this...

After a short video shoot it was time to get some photos...

Before I left there I shot another video clip then led the dogs away with the promise of treats and a walk, to keep them busy and allow their new friend time to escape.

Another glorious day in the bush! Hope this gives you some of the joy it brings me.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Our Newest Addition

When You Are Not Looking You Get Exactly What You Need

That was the case for us about 3 weeks ago. Ed was looking over a local pet page on Facebook and saw a post looking for a home for a 7 month old pup. While we have seen many pups available over the years we were not really looking for another dog at this time. We have the amazing Tono who, although he is 11, is still a puppy at heart. We knew that we would eventually get another dog and would like to time it so that the new dog could be trained by Tono. We also knew that another dog in our small home would be difficult. This time for whatever reason Ed decided to make a comment on the post. He did not say he was interested in the dog but just asked about the breed. This pup was 50% Great Pyrenees, 25% Akbash and 25% Anatolian Shepherd. These were breeds we were familiar with from our research in looking at what type of dog we would get for our property before we were offered Tono. These three breeds are all livestock guard dogs which is exactly what we would be interested in for our next dog. The owner asked if we would like to meet the pup. Well that was it... We traveled the 60 minutes and went to meet him. After 2 hours of visiting (we brought Tono along to make sure everyone would get along) Jax (his original name was Jack but we are SOA fans so the slight change made him ours) was in our truck for the trip home.

I wish I could say it was all smooth sailing from there but things were a bit hairy for the first few days. You see we were told that Jax was from a farm litter. He was apparently not being allowed to eat by the alpha dog at the farm. This meant that he was quite hungry and began to eat the lambs. One of the ways to deal with this is to tie a bit of the animal they are eating around the neck of the offending dog. The dog is annoyed and will, apparently, stop the behaviour. The farm where he was from did not choose that method and were not effective in changing the behaviour. They were going to put him down. The wonderful woman we got Jax from had already added his brother Miller to their farm. When she found out what was happening she asked for Jax to try to locate him to a new home. That's where we stepped in. She had him for a little over a week and was able to bond with him however he was still very skittish around others and in particular men. We thought that given our initial visit we could provide Jax with a home where he could flourish. I was able to get Jax to bond and listen to me easily but he would not go near Ed. During the first two days Jax attacked Tono on three occasions. The third time we found Jax broke the skin on Tono's neck quite severely. We were having second thoughts about keeping this pup. We did some research and found that we could show Jax that Tono was in charge by being sure he saw that Tono was fed first. That seemed to do the trick as Jax is now following Tono's lead completely. We were comfortable that the two dogs were going to get along and we were right. They even managed to corner a skunk and kill it. Now that was a fun wake up call at 5am! Thankfully neither dog seemed to get sprayed but our truck was rather ripe for a few days.

The House That Jax Had Built

Since Jax is accustom to being outdoors we realized he needed a shelter and got busy constructing him a place out of the elements. We had saved a discarded building from the dump some time ago. We thought it may have been a rabbit hutch but regardless felt we could make use of it and this was the perfect time. 

 We went to work removing all the chicken wire and the wood that was not needed. The next step was to cut it in half.

Then it was time to add the insulation. We still had the sheets of insulation which initially were for the house build but after going flying around the property during the storm a couple of months back many were damaged. We gathered up all the pieces and this appeared the perfect time to put some of it to use. 

We did each half individually and then put them together. We found our homemade wagon a perfect location for completing the job.

With both sides together we put a tin ridge cap over the roof to cover the seam and keep the elements securely out. Now it was all ready to be moved to it's final location for Jax's inspection.

We have been trying to coax the ever skittish Jax into his house. It appears the idea of new is just a little bit much for the pup. We found that by placing treats in the house he has gone in and out on one occasion. We are not really too concerned as Tono also took some coaxing to begin to use his dog house.

To add another bit of drama to our pup's adjustment he managed to pull out of his collar and will have nothing to do with any attempts to replace it around his neck. This is unfortunate as he was scheduled to be neutured last week. We have rescheduled that for another 2 weeks down the road and hope that we will be able to get a collar and a leash on him comfortably by that time.

In the meantime Jax has taken to sitting atop the sand pile to look over his domain. This is the reason we chose the location we did for his house.

Who wouldn't fall in love with this beautiful creature?

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sunflower Sprouts - They're For The Birds

Our Chickens Favourite Treat 

We currently have 8 layer hens. A combination of the the original Red Sexlinks we purchased in 2015 and the Frey's Special Dual Purpose Hens saved from last year. While they are free range within a large electric fence enclosure (we don't feel comfortable enough with the wildlife to let them completely loose and quite honestly we also don't want to tempt our dog Tono) we like to supplement the wilds they have to feed upon. 

Last year we would occasionally put some of the black sunflower seeds under a wire box and allow them to sprout. When we removed the box the chickens loved it. This year we decided to make it a production. 

We have seven boxes lined up. 

Each day one is flipped and the chickens have a feast. 

They devour the patch quite quickly. 

You would never know there was anything growing there when they are finished

The ground is then covered again with seeds. The box is replaced and the seeds watered as needed. And the process goes down the line.

We use the same black sunflower seeds that we use in our bird feeders. It is purchased by the 50 pound bag making it a very inexpensive healthy treat for our flock.

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