Vanishing Bees, Constipated Dogs, and Mite Infested Chickens: Reality on the Homestead

I’m pretty sure that after four years of reading our blog (If you’ve managed to hang with us that long), you know that this is not one of those that paint a wonderful, rosy picture of homesteading. We would be lying if we did that, and the Lord frowns on lying (among other things).

So you share in our successes, and more often you share in our failures. We hope you can learn from our mistakes and not make the same ones. If nothing else, it might give you a good laugh.

To us, however, this particular post isn’t funny, but it is an example of how quickly things go can wrong, and how bad they can get if you don’t get ahead of them just as quickly.

First, a couple weeks ago, Ed went out to set fresh hive beetle traps and check on all the bees. I was working at my computer, and Ed came in and said that two of the hives are gone. At first, I thought he meant they were dead, and my mind raced to figure out how that could have happened so quickly without us noticing something. Then, I realized he meant they were gone, like swarmed, only we really aren’t sure if that is what happened either.  The two hives in question were the ones  sitting closest together: the original hive that we split last summer, and the nuc that we bought last spring. The split hive, sitting out in the pasture, is still intact. I imagine that Ed will want to write about all that, but it may take him a few weeks to process it. It’s hit him pretty hard.

Then, Monday morning, Chicken Girl came back in from letting the chickens out, carrying a hen with her. She said the feathers around her vent were completely gone, and as she turned the hen around to show me, she gasped and said, “She has mites!” (Oh wonderful.) I told her to take the hen out to the garage and I would bring out the diatomaceous earth.

We have had unseasonably cold weather this week. We’ve had temperatures dip down into the single digits and we’ve even had some snow. That is more like late December and January weather for us, not early to mid November. Monday morning, it was cold and snowing. That’s why I told her to go to the garage. It’s not heated, but it would be out of the wind. So we dusted that hen with the DE, and then we examined the other three in that coop. One more had some, but the others didn’t. We treated them anyway. This morning, Chicken Girl told me she thought the mites were gone, but she’s going to keep a better eye on it. The chickens in the little coop were fine, but Chicken Girl is worried about moving them to the big coop once we get it finished.

Now, for the true highlight of the month. As you know, we have our big dogs, Meeko and Libby, outside in a large enclosure. You know this because we have written several posts about the seeming impossibility of keeping them in it. Two years ago, we reduced it in size by half, which actually put them farther away from the house. We go out to feed, water, and spend time with them twice a day, and were taking them out for a walk with us about once a week. However, once Bam Bam moved back in with the little dogs, the walks became problematic, and we hadn’t done it in awhile.

Libby has always been rather aloof. She isn’t crazy about being handled unless it’s her idea, and it’s hardly ever her idea. Add that to the fact that Meeko is a big attention hog. Getting past him to get to her is a challenge. OK, it’s nearly impossible without someone else distracting him.

Libby is also one of those dogs that gets a thick, heavy undercoat in the winter, and then spends all of spring and summer getting rid of it. By fall, when it’s time for her to coat back up, she looks semi emaciated, but it’s just that she’s lost all that hair.

Well, A few weeks ago, I noticed that Libby’s winter coat didn’t seem to be coming in. She looked even more thin than usual. She was eating the little bit of canned food we give them every morning (in case we have to sneak some medicine), but it didn’t look like she was eating a lot of dry food. We were trying to watch that anyway because she has worn her teeth down pretty far, and we wanted to make sure she could still eat the dry food. That being said, she was still taking dog biscuits from us and seemed to be chewing those just fine.

I wanted to get my hands on her, so I told Ed to get hold of Meeko. I was shocked. She felt like skin and bones. Later that day, I brought both dogs in the house and started watching what she was doing. I thought she might not be getting enough to eat and gave her a whole can of food, putting her in Ed’s office so that she could eat with out having to fight off the other dogs. She didn’t touch it. That was Thursday afternoon (Nov 1). By Friday, I realized that not only was she not eating, she wasn’t pooping. Thinking I might have to have her put to sleep, I called our regular vet. They were swamped and couldn’t get her in until the following week. I didn’t think she could wait, so I found another vet, and got her in that afternoon.

The diagnosis? She was constipated. No, she was Constipated. Her colon was completely full and it was backed up into her small intestine. She had lost 15 lbs! I don’t need to tell you how we felt, do I? The vet did tell us that her blood work looked great. Other than the obvious problem, she is in good shape.

So the vet gave us laxatives and instructions for the weekend, and told us to call her back on Monday. Since part of the laxative regimen required miralax in her drinking water, we couldn’t let the other dogs get access to it. So we confined Libby to our bedroom. Meeko did not like that at all.

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Meeko moping outside our bedroom door.

Monday nothing had changed, so we took her back. That was Monday, November 5th. She got to stay with the vet for a week, and we brought her home Monday November 12th. (The same Monday Chicken Girl discovered the mites). We did go visit her on Friday the 9th. They had a cone on her to keep her from pulling the IV port out. They took it off for our visit and told us to watch her because she’s quick (like we don’t know that!).

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Visiting Day: She was not happy.

When she came home, she was mostly cleaned out (I won’t give you all the details…yes, thank me), but they want her to stay on all the laxatives until Thursday. Then they will tell us how to start backing them off. The good news is that she obviously feels better, she’s eating and she is no longer constipated. However, thanks to the laxatives, she has no control over her bowels. Oh, and her weight had dropped to 50 lbs for a total loss of 22 lbs!

We cannot put her back outside because one, she has neither fat, nor winter undercoat, and it is cold, and two, we have to watch her to see how things are moving. We can see it alright. We can smell it too. We’ve already given her four showers to help keep her clean (yeah, she loves that), and are in a constant state of washing towels and blankets.

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After her bath this morning, she was shivering, so I put a blanket over her. She seemed to like it.

Oh, did I forget to mention the bill? $2365.00! That blew what little budget we had, and we had to remind ourselves that the Lord is our provider. We do the best we can and leave the rest to Him.

Don’t be too surprised if, in the next few months, we write a post about building in new dog pen right off the house, probably utilizing the front door. Also, I imagine Ed will want to tell you about what it was like living with Meeko in the house for a week, without Libby.

However, I think for next week, he might be continuing his series on firearms. He probably needs to get his mind of his missing bees, and cleaning up after a dog with free flowing bowels.

Connie

 

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Preserving the Harvest

The reason for having a garden is not only to have fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer, but also to preserve them for the winter months. That can be done by canning, drying or freezing. This year, we didn’t have much of a garden so we didn’t have anything to put up, except for a few herbs that I am drying.  That is about the limit of my drying experience: herbs. My preferred method of preserving is canning although I’m still a novice and have a lot of learning to do. I save freezing for shorter term preservation.

As you know, we planted fruit trees last spring, and while they are all doing well, it will be at least three or four years before they produce any fruit. However, I am getting some preserving the harvest practice in this year because I was given several pounds of pears and granny smith apples.

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Pears are funny things. They do not ripen on the tree. They fall off and then ripen. You have to catch them quick because the window between green and rotten is very small. So what did I do with thirty pounds of pears in varying stages of ripeness? I made an enormous batch of pear butter. Let me just say in advance, that it wasn’t a good idea.

I used the pear butter recipe in the Ball Canning book. It called for pounds of pears per recipe and gives the approximate yields in pints (this is also where I rediscovered that my water bath canner is only large enough for pint jars) One recipe makes about four pints. First it says to peel and core the fruit. So Chicken Girl and I did that. We had to take a couple breaks to wash our hands and the knives because, if you didn’t know, peeling pears is a sticky mess.

Anyway, we filled my largest stock pot with pears. Then I was supposed to add some water and cook it until the pears were soft…um some of the pears were already soft…Then I needed to use a food mill or a food processor to make pulp, being careful not to liquefy it. A food mill is on my wish list, (and would have been a much better choice) but you use what you have right?

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Yeah, it’s full. Not a good idea.

Then I was supposed to measure out two quarts of pulp per batch. I had six quarts so that is three batches…but I started with thirty pounds of pears which was five batches? Fine, three batches it is.

So I added the sugar and spices and put it all back in the stock pot. I was supposed to cook it down until thick, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. What it did not say (anywhere in the book..I looked) was that this cooking has to be done on LOW and takes a long time (like hours). I had my fire too high and even stirring constantly, I could feel it sticking. What do do. I turned it off and went to look online for more information…Yeah low and hours…oh look there…crock pot! Yes! I have crock pots

So I pulled out both my crock pots and filled them. The bottom of my stock pot had thick black gunk stuck to the bottom that we are still trying to get out. My take from that is that I tried to cook too much at once over too hot a fire, in a pot with too thin a bottom.

Anyway, I left it all in the crock pot overnight. And canned it the next day. I ended up with twelve pints. I’m not impressed with it. Bam Bam said he thought it was ok, but then Bam Bam really likes pears.

As for the apples, learning from the pear butter experience, I went a little different route. First I made an apple pie (I don’t do home made pie crusts very well, but I wanted to give Chicken Girl the experience..she doesn’t do them well either). The pie tasted good, but it wasn’t very pretty. Then I came across a recipe for fresh apple cake. That was so good it was gone in about a day. Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of either.

Of course, I had to try apple sauce and apple butter, but only one batch at a time. If I could do that, then I would do more. I found recipes for both that used the crock pot. I’ll try the old fashioned way again, when I have better cooking pots.

I did apple butter first. I found the recipe here. So we peeled and cored the apples. I’ve had this little device for years, and I can’t tell you how much I love it. It pretty much does everything for you. Even if you need to chop them up more finely, it’s easy to do with them already peeled, cored and sliced.

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Love this apple corer/peeler/slicer!

Making the apple butter was an all day thing, because it needed to be in the crock pot for a total of ten hours. The first hour on high, the last hour with an open lid, and the eight hours between closed and on low. You can imagine how good it smelled. Anyway, it was supposed to make three pints. Well, it didn’t quite. It was more like two and and three quarters, so I canned two pints and left the third one open in the fridge. Ed and I had some with left over biscuits this morning for breakfast. Yeah, this is a keeper recipe.

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after the first hour

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All done!

Next came the apple sauce. Again, I found an online recipe. So, this morning, Chicken Girl ran five pounds of apples through the peeler. It took a little longer because the apples are beginning to spoil, so we had to go through a few bad ones. Sometimes, you can’t tell they’re bad until you cut into them, or until the corer gets stuck and you realize the core is no longer solid. Yuck. Anyway, back in the crock pot. This time on high for three hours. Again, the house filled with the smell of apples and cinnamon.

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Ready to cook

At the end of three hours, I opened the crock pot and took a look. Then I used a potato masher to mash the cooked apples and poured it into a glass bowl. Isn’t it pretty?

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Apple Sauce

It’s good too. It’s a little tart, which is ok with me. Ed liked it better than the apple butter and I did too. Like Bam Bam, he thought the pear butter was “ok”. I don’t. It tastes scorched to me. Looking at the jars side by side, you can see how much darker the pear butter is than the apple butter (the pear butter jars have labels).

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See how much darker the pear butter is?

Oh, and as for Chicken Girl? She won’t taste any of it. She only likes fresh apples. Once they’re cooked, she won’t touch them.

My thought for now is to see how many of the remaining apples I can save and turn them all into apple sauce.

What is your experience with preserving the harvest?

Connie

Soaked Oatmeal

Yeah, you read that right: soaked oatmeal.

There is a school of thought that says the reason so many people have digestive problems and do not tolerate grains is that we do not prepare them properly. Proper preparation includes soaking them before we cook them. It can’t hurt, right? I mean, we soak dry beans before we cook them, don’t we?

I found this recipe for soaked oatmeal in Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, but I have quadrupled the recipe so that we have leftovers. I do that because another recipe in the same book calls for leftover oatmeal to make what you could call oatmeal pancakes, and they are awesome!

Anyway, I take four cups of old fashioned oats, four cups of warm water, a half a cup of buttermilk (you can use apple cider vinegar if you can’t handle dairy), mix it up, cover it and leave it to sit at room temperature for at least seven hours. I usually let it sit over night.

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I think I took this picture the night before, right after I mixed it up. It doesn’t look like it’s been soaking.

The next morning, I put another four cups of water, two teaspoons of salt and a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon in a large pot. The recipe doesn’t call for the cinnamon, but we like it. Bring the water to a boil. You can also add nuts and raisins or other dried fruit. I didn’t do it this time because I didn’t have any, but normally I do.

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Simmering water, salt and cinnamon.

Once the water starts to boil, add your soaked oatmeal, and stir. Let it cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally. That’s it. I usually add a couple sticks of butter and let it melt in. Since we all have different tastes about sweetness, every one fixes their own bowl and then adds whatever sweetener they want. This makes a lot. Ed, Bam Bam, and I can eat this for at least two days and still have enough left to make a batch of oatmeal cakes. Chicken girl won’t touch oatmeal, no matter how it’s fixed.

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Stirring in the soaked oats.

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Yummy!

I’ve been making oatmeal this way for over a year now, and I couldn’t tell you one way or the other if its effect our digestion, but I can tell you we like it. A few months ago, I hadn’t soaked any the night before. I needed something quick for Bam Bam and I, so I just made it like it says on the box. We both decided that we didn’t like it nearly as well as we did the soaked.

If you try it, let me know what you think. If you want a smaller batch, divide the recipe by four. One cup oats, one cup water, two tablespoons buttermilk for soaking, then one cup water and a half teaspoon salt for the next morning.

In other homestead news:

We are nearly out of the drought, thank the Lord! We are now at level D0 which is “abnormally dry”. Last week we had nearly ten inches of rain, which lead to flooding and road closures. Our creeks are running full again.

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You can see what it looked like before here

This morning, a full ten days earlier than our “average frost date”, we had a hard freeze. We woke to find the pastures white with frost. The growing season is officially over. A few days ago, when I heard this was coming, I harvested all the herbs I could and took the potted plants I wanted to save back into the greenhouse. I also picked all the green tomatoes that were big enough to fool with. The plants were still blooming, as was the watermelon, volunteer pumpkin, and one of the blackberry bushes . There were some enormous green berries on it. Alas, they are no more.

Once it warmed up a little, I went out and looked at the wild grapes, since you are supposed to pick them after the first frost. What little I found is quite a ways over my head. So I don’t know if I will get those or not. I did however get this picture. Pretty isn’t it?

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butterfly on mulberry tree

I’m not sure what Ed has in store for you next week, so you’ll just have to come back and see.

Have a great week!

Connie

Baking Bread

Welcome to the homestead kitchen, where we specialize in cooking from scratch, and using real food. Today we’re going to talk about bread. There is nothing quite like the smell of baking bread to bring people from all parts of the house to the kitchen with anticipatory smiles on their faces. Ask me how I know.

I also know the idea of baking bread can be intimidating, but don’t let it scare you too much. We’re going to have some fun!

There are two basic types of bread: Quick Breads and Yeast Breads.

Quick breads use baking powder and/or baking soda as a leavening agent. Biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, and nut breads are examples of quick breads. Today, specifically, we’re going to talk about biscuits.

When I was twelve years old, I started visiting my dad and step mom in Georgia during the summer. My step mom, Dot, is a traditional southern cook, and her fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits are to die for. I watched her, in fascination, as she formed each biscuit by hand (without a biscuit cutter), leaving a pan of biscuits that looked like they came out of a machine, but tasted like they came out of heaven.

It was years before I actually tackled it myself, and no, mine don’t look like hers. None of my bread is “pretty”. It just isn’t. I must not hold my mouth right or something. It does however, taste good.

Baking powder biscuits just need a few things: flour, salt, baking powder and a liquid. If your liquid is butter milk, you will also need baking soda. Dot always used self rising flour, which has the leavening included, but I don’t. I use plain white flour, and sometimes, if it’s in the budget, I’ll use some whole wheat or spelt flour too.

So, let’s get started shall we?

First, we need flour. I’m using four cups of all purpose flour, to which I will add two teaspoons of salt, four teaspoons of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda. I use a whisk to mix it all together.

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Whisk the dry ingredients together

Then I add a cup of shortening. You can use whatever solid shortening you have on hand. Today I used what was left from some Crisco that I had for something else. Usually, I stay away from vegetable shortening because I don’t think it’s good for you, but I had it and I needed to use it up. Otherwise I would use butter or lard. I mix it in with a pastry blender until it looks like course crumbs .

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Adding the shortening

Next comes the buttermilk. The recipe would call for two cups, but it really depends on your flour, so I start with one and a half cups and add more if I need it. Mix well.

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this was still a little dry so I added more buttermilk

Now, you need to put your dough out on a floured surface. I use newspapers, because it cuts down on the mess. I can just roll it up and throw it away when I’m finished. You can roll the dough out with a rolling pin or pat it out by hand. You can use a biscuit cutter and cut them out, or you can pinch off pieces and roll them between your hands. I do the latter.

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my floured surface

Put your rolled pieces on a greased baking sheet, sides touching.

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ready to go

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until brown on the top.

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Ready to eat!

See, they aren’t pretty, but they sure were good! There were only two left after breakfast, and all four of us were home for breakfast.

Baking bread can seem like a daunting undertaking, but don’t let that put you off. Like many things, it just takes some practice. My great grandma Marie said of her bread making experience. “My neighbor asked me, ‘How’d your bread turn out Marie?’ I said, ‘right out there in that trash can!’” Grandma didn’t give up though and by the time I came along she was an experienced bread baker. When I was about 13, after what seems like months of begging, she finally agreed to teach me how to make the bread she only made for family get togethers at fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yeast Breads use yeast as a leavening agent. The yeast can come from a package or from the air as it does with sourdough bread. I haven’t mastered sourdough bread yet, so we won’t cover that today. I’ll keep working on it though and I’ll share what I’ve learned with you when I do. I buy my yeast at the store. Since I make a lot of it, I buy it in jars instead of the little envelopes.

Yeast breads really only need yeast, flour and a liquid, but if you want it to have a nice texture and taste you need to add a few more things, like shortening and salt. You can add sugar and eggs too, depending on what kind of yeast bread you’re making. Yeast bread recipes can also be used to make rolls and cinnamon rolls.

The bread that I make on a weekly basis actually comes from the book “A Cabin Full of Food”, by Marie Beausoleil at Just Plain Living, so I’m not going to actually share a recipe for yeast bread, but I will show you the basics that apply to any type of yeast bread baking.

One thing I do that is different is that I use a bread bowl. I found this one in a flea market several years ago. It saves a lot of the mess of having that “floured surface” on your table or counter, because you can knead your bread right in the bowl.
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Ok, the first thing you have to do is get your liquid hot enough to melt your shortening. If you’re using water, that means boil it. Liquid can be water, milk, potato water, and probably a few other things I haven’t thought of. Your shortening can be oil, butter, vegetable shortening, lard, and a combination of those things. Grandma’s bread used both butter and vegetable shortening. Like her, I only make that at the holidays.

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This is a half stick of butter. I just wanted to give you an idea of the size of this bowl.

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boiling water and butter

Then you have to let the liquid cool to luke warm. 105 degrees is what you’re looking for so you can add the yeast. You want the little yeasts to be cozy. Dried yeast is actually a dormant bacteria. When you put it in the warm water it wakes up. If the water is too cool, they take too long, and if it’s too hot, they die. So it has to be “just right”. It will feel just barely warm to the touch. Now at this stage, you can also add some sugar, or other natural sweetener. If you do, let it sit for about five minutes before you do anything else. That gives the yeast a chance to get good and awake, and start eating the sugar. You’ll know they’re working because your liquid will start to look bubbly.

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bubble bubble

Now stir in your flour and any other ingredients. You want a sticky looking dough. This is called the sponge. You can let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour at this point.

Now comes the fun part. You want to put your dough out on a floured work surface, or add flour to your bread bowl.

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flour in the bowl with the sponge

You want to work in enough flour to where the dough is smooth and elastic. You do this by pressing down on the dough, folding it over, and pressing down again. When it sticks to the work surface or your hands, you add more flour. Kneading like this can take anywhere between eight and fifteen minutes. You cannot over knead. Grandma always said you have to let the bread know who’s the boss!

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All kneaded

Some recipes may have you let the dough rise until double at this point, before you do anything else (like my grandma’s recipe) or it might have you form the bread into loaves and put it into greased pans before you let it rise. If you put it in pans you will only have one rising before you bake it.

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Ready to Rise

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Ready to Bake

After the dough has risen, you bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or so, until the tops are golden brown and they sound hollow when you tap the bottoms.

I didn’t get a picture when they came out of the oven. This was taken later after the first loaf was already gone.

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All baked. 

Well, I hope I haven’t scared you off too badly, and I do hope you try your hand at baking bread.

Connie

Repurposing on the Homestead

Y’all know I like junk, and I’m all about using what I have to make do.

Well, ever since we moved here four years ago (after I recovered from my accident), I’ve wanted a spot out in the detached garage to work on repurposing projects that were either too big, or too dirty to bring into the house.  At the same time, I had an idea for creating a table that would rotate, using some stuff we had out in the barn.

Well, about a month ago, we finally got the garage cleaned out enough for me to have my spot.  Since then, had been been moving stuff out there, and realized again, that I really needed a table. From the other times Ed and I (and Number One Son) had discussed it, I also knew that I needed a piece of plywood to join the two pieces from the barn. Extra plywood is not in the budget right now.

Well, a couple days ago, I was doing something totally unrelated in the house (I don’t even remember what it was), when suddenly, I remembered I had a piece of plywood that would probably work. To be honest, when something hits me like that, I’m not taking credit. That has to be the Lord.   Anyway, I used to do cake decorating many years ago, and I used pieces of plywood as supports for larger cakes. I knew I still had one left, I just had to remember where I put it. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find, and I showed it to Ed to see if he thought it would work. He did.

I think it was later that day that he and I went to the barn to gather the other materials. One was a round table top, and the other was the base from a swivel bar stool.  The table top was from a bunch of stuff that was given away after a yard sale. The bar stool base was here when we moved in.

Anyway, putting the whole thing together took about 15 minutes and didn’t cost us anything. We already had the necessary screws too.  I should say that the table top is actually particle board, so I don’t expect it to last forever, but it will do for what I need for now, and I’m thankful for it.

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Ed attaching the plywood to the table top

Looking at what remains of stenciled lettering on the plywood that I used for a cake base, I remembered where it came from. It’s from a sign that was made for a cub scouting event when my boys were in cub scouts, so it’s probably about twenty-two years old.  I got the board not too long after that. I stopped doing cakes like that about 19 years ago. Yeah, I don’t throw much away.

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close up of the plywood

Here is a picture of the bar stool base. You’ll notice the bee hive supers in the back ground. Ed had painted them and they were drying.  Further back in the picture are some old computers that Bam Bam is taking apart.  I’ll probably get whats left when he gets what he wants out of  them.

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bar stool base

There are holes in the base for screwing on the seat that will work perfectly for screwing it onto the table.

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See the holes at the ends of the cross bars?

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attaching the base. Notice the vitamin bottle on the work bench next to the table top? Those are great for keeping small screws.

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All done!

I have to tell you that I kept wondering about the pictures I was taking in the garage. It seemed like they were a little out of focus, or light was coming from someplace that I wasn’t accounting for. However, after taking pictures this morning, I realized what it was. There was something on the lens (Duh). Probably honey from the pictures I took out at the hives last week.

Here’s a picture of the table that I took this morning. I’ve been using it for about a week now.  It’s all ready for the next repurposing project!

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Ready to play!

Next week, Ed will bring you more about our bees. We should have our honey harvest done by then too. We’re also working on posts about the chickens and their new coop, and I’m working on some stuff for the “homestead kitchen”.

Come back and see us!

Connie

Late Summer Foraging and Plant ID

Officially, we are still at D4-Exceptional drought levels, but we did get some significant rain this last week. Depending on who you ask, we got somewhere between four and seven inches. Thank you Lord for that!

In my last post, I said that I had seen some different “weeds” this summer probably due to the drought. Maybe when the less drought tolerant plants don’t make it, room is left for these guys. Anyway, it’s always exciting to see new stuff.

Speaking of new stuff. Someone in the wild edible Facebook page I belong to, told me about this phone app called Picture This. When you come across a plant you don’t recognize, you can take take a picture of it, and the app will try to identify it. Most of the time, it gives you a few possibilities, with the first one most likely. If nothing else,  that means you have a place to start from. I’ve been having a great time playing with it!

This cannot be said often enough: If you do not know, with 100% certainty, what a plant is, don’t eat it! It could be fine, or it could kill you. By the way, all the pictures in this post were taken with either my camera or my phone.  With one exception, they were all taken somewhere on our place.

This is spurge. You DON’T want to eat it. It will give you a bad stomach ache and all the nasty stuff that goes along with that.

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spurge

This however, is purslane, and it is good for you.

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purslane

Here is a very good blog post with some good pictures that can give you more detailed info about the two. For me, purslane leaves look shiny and rubbery like succulents. They often grow close together, so once you know the difference, it’s pretty easy to tell them apart. An interesting side note is that, often edible plants and their poisonous look alikes grow close together. Another look alike for spurge (and as far I know this isn’t edible either) is knot weed. This grows all over my yard. I think makes great ground cover. I would like it better if it was edible.

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knot weed

When we got rid of the giant ragweed last spring, this came up in its place. It’s called “Lambs Quarters, or Pig Weed or Wild Spinach…anyway. You can eat it. It’s a cousin to amaranth. As a matter of fact, several years ago, when we lived in Independence, I planted some amaranth. When it came up, my ex-husband saw it and asked me why I planted pig weed.

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pig weed

Taking a walk with Ed the other day, we came across these. Yep. Elderberries. They are along the road, and I don’t know if they were sprayed (although they probably weren’t), so we didn’t pick any. You gotta be careful with roadside finds for that reason. Many places want to get rid of the “weeds” along the road, so they spray poison. You don’t want to eat that! We’ve lost some of our own elderberry bushes this summer, while others seem to be doing very well. It well be a few years before ours produce anything though.

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elderberries

This is sumac. No this isn’t the poison sumac. The berries and seeds are edible. Green Deane at Eat the Weeds has a great article about sumac. Going to have to play with this one if I can get to it. Taking the picture was kind of a challenge.

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Sumac bush. You can see a  cluster of fruit/seeds in the center of the picture and another one off to the right.

This is milk weed. Butterflies love it, but the leaves are poisonous for us. The Spruce  has some good information about milk weed, including the fact that caterpillars can eat the poisonous leaves and thrive, while becoming poisonous themselves to any potential predator.

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milk weed and guest

This is pepper grass. It’s growing out in front of our detached garage. I had to hold my camera down at ground level in order to get a decent picture. The leaves have a peppery taste, and the seeds can be ground and used like black pepper. Green Deane says the roots mixed with vinegar makes a great horseradish substitute. Ed and Bam Bam would love that. Chicken girl and I, not so much. You all know I’m going to have to play with it anyway, right?

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pepper  grass growing in the gravel

This stuff is growing everywhere around the house. It’s called Hornbeam Copperleaf, and as of yet, I can find no good use for it. If you do, let me know.

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hornbeam copperleaf

These were out in the dog pen. Don’t know enough about fungi to even venture a guess. I did ask about it, and couldn’t get a definitive answer, so we pulled them up and disposed of them. Don’t think the dogs would eat them, but you never know with Meeko. He eats ragweed leaves.

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Some kind of fungi. Notice the spurge at the bottom of the picture

This is…yes, it’s corn. We didn’t plant it. It’s out where the chicken pen was a few years ago, so we figure those were some seeds the chickens didn’t get. Don’t really expect it to do anything, but we’ll see. Morning glories are coming up around it. Talk about invasive! Morning glories are the worst! Even if they are pretty.

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Corn. See the morning glories kind of circled behind it?

This is called a hummingbird vine. Someone had to have planted it, because it originates in Mexico and South America.  It’s invasive too. It’s pretty, but it’s unruly. Good thing I like the wild look huh. Still if it gets too wild, I’ll have to cut it back.

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hummingbird vine

The wild cherries are gone as far as I can tell, but the grapes are hanging in. xs_1534532720530_resized

We have a ton of juniper berries, but still don’t know what to do with them besides making gin and I’m not doing that.

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juniper berries

Of course we still have plantain, dandelion, chicory, mallow, and goldenrod.

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goldenrod

Remember when we were talking about mint and I said that it’s super invasive and that’s why a lot of people don’t plant it directly in the ground? Well, I guess it doesn’t do well in drought, because I only have about three stalks of mint in my yard and they didn’t get very big. Maybe it will come back now that we have some water.

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What’s left of my mint.

For the second year in a row, we have a volunteer pumpkin growing under the maple tree in the front yard. It starts so late that it won’t be big enough before it gets cold. At least it wasn’t last year.

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volunteer pumpkin blooming

Next week, Ed we’ll be back to tell you more about our experience with the wild hive. It was awesome!

Hey, if you like our blog, please share the love with your friends!

Have a great week!

Connie

Drought!

According to Drought.gov, as of August 14, our portion of Missouri is in an “exceptional” drought or “D4”. That is as high as the scale goes. As of the end of July, our recorded rainfall was 13.4 inches below our yearly average. There is a lot of praying for rain going on here. I heard a few weeks ago, that a county official was calling area churches asking the congregations to pray for rain. It’s that serious. The Lord has been answering those prayers, because we have had some rain, and yesterday we had a nice slow drizzle. We still have a long way to go though.

This creek is up the road from our house.  I took this picture a couple weeks ago. As you can see it is dry.

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nothing but mud and trash

This picture was taken yesterday. There is a little water in it, but it is still low. Just past the other end of our road, the same creek crosses under the road again. That end is damp, but there is no standing water.

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a little better

So what does a homesteader do during a drought? First we pray for rain. Second, we need to have back up plans for water. We haven’t done too well in that department. In some ways, we did better with it at the place we rented before we bought this place. The house in Independence literally sat on a rock. It was on the side of a cliff, and the dirt was only a few inches deep. There was no city water hookup and no well, so water was brought in and kept in a cistern. One load of water usually lasted about a week, as long as we were careful, and we were very careful, watching the water levels in the cistern closely. I think it only went dry on us one time in the four years we lived there. Running out of water completely was bad on two fronts. One, the obvious one, we were out of water. Two, turning on the pump, which is what happens when you turn on a faucet or flush a toilet, when there is no water, can burn up your pump. Then you have a really big problem. Anyway, we were careful.

So, when we decided we wanted a garden, we had to build box gardens, because there was no soil to speak of. Then, in order to keep it watered, we built a rain barrel to catch rain water. Of course, those years, we had rain. It worked beautifully. I only remember carrying water from the house two or three times.

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Ed and our box gardens at the house in Independence

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Ed with our blue rain barrel. Notice the jugs on the ground underneath the barrel. Those are old kitty litter containers that we used to carry water from the barrel to the garden.

When we were considering buying this place, we were both excited to learn that, yes, the house was on city water, but there was also a well that was used to water stock. Awesome right? Well, yes, there is a well. I’ve showed you pictures of it before. It’s an old, open, stacked stone well, that has a pump running down into it. However, it looks like someone tried to fill it in, and all the wiring to the pump has been stripped.

These pictures were taken right after we moved in.

The well and pump

The well on the left and some part of the pump system on the right.

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As you can see, all the wiring has been damaged. When we first saw it, it was full of yellow jackets!

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Looking down the well. You can see the water past all limbs, etc.

These pictures were taken this morning.

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Yes, it’s in there somewhere.

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Looking in. Ed said it was damp, but he couldn’t see any standing water.

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Overgrown here too

There are spigots outside the barn and at a few other places on the property, but they are old and do not turn. The one outside the barn is competing with a mulberry tree, and losing.

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The spigot and hose outside the barn

There is what is probably a cistern outside the detached garage, but it is covered with a cement slab that would take a tractor or a pair of mules to move.

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Possibly a cistern

We made plans to fix all that, and install our rain barrel that we brought with us.

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The rain barrel today.

Have we done any of that? No.

So, here we are, four years later, in a serious drought. County officials have asked that we use water for people and livestock only. Our trees seem to be hanging on, and we have had just enough rain lately, to keep our little bit of garden alive. It isn’t producing well though. In addition to the super dry and hot conditions, there have been pests I’ve never seen before, like Blister Beetles.

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Blister Beetle Image from blog-yard-garden-news.extension.umn.edu

The did a number on my tomato plants before I discovered them. Then I dusted with diatomaceous earth and haven’t seen them lately. I’ve also seen wild plants I’ve never seen here either, but I’ll save that for another post.

What should we have done? We should have cleaned out the well, fixed the pump and got the water tested. Even if we couldn’t drink it, we could have watered plants with it. Then we should have repaired and/or replaced the spigots at the barn and pastures. We should have fixed our rain barrel (the spigot is missing), got more barrels and set up a rainwater harvesting system. The University of Missouri Extension has an interesting three page PDF about rainwater harvesting. Lastly, we should have opened that cistern, repaired it if we needed to, and used it to store whatever water we harvested.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a neighbor who has lived in his house for about 30 years. This year, for the first time, he opened his cistern and pumped out what he thinks is 30 year old water, to water his garden. He doesn’t ever remember it being this dry, but he did have a backup plan, didn’t he?

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. The good thing is that we can still do those things, some of them will just take a little more work than they would have four years ago. Guess what just got moved up on the priority list after fixing the chicken coops? We’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

Connie

Endangered Skill 8: Making Do With What You Have

Much of what we have talked about in this series of Eight Endangered Skills can be summed up with the phrase “making do”. It means using what you have to meet your needs. When the people we know as the pioneers made their way across this country in covered wagons, they built their homes in places where there were no stores, and the neighbors were miles away. All they had was what they brought with them in that wagon, and what they could get from the land around them. They had to make do with what was available to them. Learning how to do that was often a matter of life and death.

Those lessons were passed down to their children, and in many cases, forgotten when life got easier. Many of our our grandparents and great-grandparents relearned them from living through the Great Depression. Again, those lessons have largely been forgotten. We really need to work on reeducating ourselves.

Today, for most of us, especially here in America, it is pretty easy to just go buy what we need. Even if we can’t get it today, we’ll be able to on pay day, right? Well, what if we couldn’t? What if there was no money to go to the store, and there wasn’t going to be any soon? Worse yet, what if there was no store to go to even if we had money? Then what do we do? Well, no, we’re not living that scenario now, and we may not any time soon, but I wouldn’t want to wait until we are, to figure out what I might need to do to survive.

While money is available, at its simplest, making do means spending frugally, and living within your means. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Get out of debt and stay out. If you don’t NEED it, don’t buy it. Just in case some of you need a refresher on needs and wants, let’s put it this way: You need to eat, you don’t need to eat ice cream. You may want to eat ice cream, but you don’t need it. Seriously think about your wants and needs. Do you need new shoes now, or do you just want a new pair. Can you fix what you have? If not then by all means, go buy it, but be a smart shopper and look for real value. That might even mean spending a little more for something that will last a lot longer. Buy the best you can afford, but make sure you can afford it. Buying “cheap” can really cost in the long run. There is an old saying that goes “you get what you pay for”, and it’s true.

Closely related to spending frugally is to take good care of what you have. Make sure you eat that healthy food that you bought. Having to throw out food because it spoiled before we ate it is super frustrating for me. It’s like pouring money down the drain, or into the compost pile. Buy the best food you can afford, or better yet, learn to grow it, preserve it and cook it yourself. Yes, that might mean spending some money initially, but you will save much more in the long run. Take good care of your belongings. Put tools away when you’re finished with them instead of leaving them somewhere where they might be lost, or ruined (like out in the yard where they can be rained on or run over!). I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Let me stop here and say that Ed and I are just as guilty as anyone else about this. We try to be good stewards of what God’s given us, but we don’t always succeed. When we don’t, we try to learn from our mistakes and do better next time. We still have a long way to go, but we’re working on it.

One of Ed’s favorite phrases that he picked up in the Army is “improvise, adapt, and overcome”. That is the next part of making do. If you don’t have it, and can’t buy it, you need to use what you have. Many cooks know how to make “emergency substitutions” of missing ingredients. How do you make substitutions for other ingredients you might not have? You use ingredients you do have. You can learn to substitute what you don’t have with something you do in just about any situation. One of my friends told me once about someone using the soles of old shoes to replace broken hinges on a screen door.

My dad says that when he needs something, he makes it. What he is saying is that when he can’t get what he needs, he makes something that will work from what he already has. In order for that to work though, he must have stuff to work with. You have no idea how much stuff he has , but we’ll get to that in a bit.

In order to make do with what you have, you need to have something to make do with. So, the first thing you need to do is think before you throw something away. Ask yourself if that item might be used for some other purpose. If it might, hang on to it. Now before some of you freak out on me, I’m not suggesting that you never throw anything away. There are some things that need to be thrown out, but probably not near as much as you might think. We live in a throw away society, and it’s to our detriment.

Yes, you can take keeping stuff to the extreme. (You can take anything to an unhealthy extreme). I have to make myself purge my supply of junk on occasion before it takes over the house, the garage and the barn, but the thing is that when I need to improvise, I can usually find something that will work. My grandpa (Mom’s dad) was the same way, and he went overboard with what he kept, but he was very, very good at improvising.

There are many advantages to this type of making do. One is that we save money.  Another is that we learn to be creative. Once you start exercising that creative muscle, you’ll be amazed at how well you can improvise. A third is that we start to be appreciative of what we have.  The more we appreciate what we have, the less we need something more.

In addition to hanging onto some “trash”, you also need to think about learning how to repair what breaks, instead of throwing it away and buying a new one. We’ve already talked about this in another endangered skills post.  This also includes learning how to darn socks, sew on buttons, patch clothes, etc. Then when those clothes really do wear out, you can use the rags for other purposes, like rag dolls, rag rugs, or just cleaning rags.

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Last winter I made this rag rug for Bam Bam’s room in the basement. It’s made from old flannel sheets, and it’s great for keeping his feet off that cold basement floor.

You could even take it further and learn about appliances and electronics. Not only might you be able to repair things yourself, you could gain an understanding of how the parts work together, and what else might work instead. Bam Bam is really good at that. If you have an aptitude for that kind of thing, you might even build yourself a side business from it. Bartering is always a good way to make do. You trade something you have, or a skill you posses for something you need.

Back to my dad. He was on his own, for the most part, from the time he was about 13, and he learned early how to make do with what he had. Still functionally illiterate, everything he has learned came by watching, listening, and asking questions. He repaired shoes, dug ditches, ran construction equipment and built silos. For many years he worked in what he calls “salvage and demolition”. He and his partner tore down old buildings by hand. Sometimes, he was told he could have whatever was left in the building. In addition to that, he brought home anything from the building that was salvageable. Any time he sees something on the side of the road, he brings it home. He rebuilt an entire house from salvaged materials, and sold it. Last summer, Ed, Chicken Girl and I went to visit my dad in Georgia. It was the first time I had been there in 20 years. It hadn’t really changed that much, there was just more stuff.

He has a workshop down the hill from the house, and then he has other storage buildings that for the most part, aren’t buildings. They are things people wanted rid of, and he was happy to take them off their hands.

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This picture was taken from the car port near the house. The house down the hill is actually Dad’s workshop.  This is the tip of the iceberg.

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Closer to the work shop. Past the school bus, you can see some trailers. I’ts all used for storage

I took a lot of video. This is just a small sample so you can get the idea. My editing skills aren’t the greatest, and this is a free version of editing software, so, like I said earlier, you get what you pay for. The first part of the video is inside his workshop, the last part is inside one of this many containers. This one has hardware. He has others with antiques, light fixtures, electronics, books, lumber and probably just about anything else you can imagine. I mainly wanted to show you some of the things he has made. Oh, and Dad’s language can be a little coarse so, just be forewarned.

Yeah Dad is the extreme. If you think it’s overwhelming in the video, you should see it in person. I don’t know if you could hear the video all that well, especially in his workshop where the monster fan was running, but everything he showed us, he found either inside a building he was tearing down, in the trash by the side of the road, or someone gave it to him. He keeps it all. If the right buyer comes along, he sells it. If not, he just keeps it until he can make use of it. Oh, and every building on the place has it’s own hammer, screwdriver, pliers, etc., just in case he needs it.

For the rest of us, making do is really a mind set. You have to change how you think. Challenge yourself. How many ways can you make do? Let us know in the comments here, or on our Facebook page.

Connie

Other posts in the Endangered Skills series

Endangered Skill #1: Shoe Repair

Endangered Skill #2: Black Smith

Endangered Skill #3: Small Appliance Repair

Endangered Skill #4: Reading the Weather

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 1

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 2

Endangered Skill #6: Foraging

Endangered Skill 7: Making Your Own Entertainment, Part 1, Musical Instruments

Endangered Skill #7 Making Your Own Entertainment, part 2: Homemade Toys

Endangered Skill 7: Making Your Own Entertainment, Part 1, Musical Instruments

When I did the original post for Eight Endangered Skills, I listed making and playing your own instruments, and then said it also reminded me of making toys. The point is that our ancestors knew how to entertain themselves, and they learned to have fun with whatever was available. That may be the skill that is truly endangered.  Today’s post will focus on music, but we’ll look at toys and other forms of home made entertainment in a future post.

Music is universal. Yes, styles vary by era, by culture and by personal taste, but it is there nevertheless.  People have made and played their own instruments as far back as we can remember. In the Bible, musicians are first mentioned in Genesis chapter 4. “ His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (vs 22).  The one instrument we all carry with us, whether we use it or not, is the human voice.

I was hoping Ed would write this post, since he did most of the work,  but his job schedule has changed a little, and we are still adjusting. When we started working on this series last summer, I found this article from Mother Earth News.  I knew that we had to try and build a gut bucket, aka washtub bass.  We would need a wash tub, something for the neck, something for the string (a plastic coated cable was recommended),  and a way to attach the string to the wash tub.

I will admit that I kind of struggled with giving up my old washtub, but I have been promised a new one. Ed found an old closet rod for the neck and asked if I had any tin cans that we could cut the bottoms out of for washers. Was he kidding? Of course I did!  We did have to go buy eye bolts and a small cable.  After we got home, we both saw a cable we could have used, and I am quite sure eye bolts will turn up too.  We learned a long time ago, that the best way to find something you know you have is to go buy a new one.   Once we got started, the whole process took less than an hour.   I have to tell you that Ed had a great time making this.

Chicken Girl was the photographer today.

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hole drilled in the bottom of the tub

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Inside of the tub with the “washer” and the nut end of the eyebolt

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Eye bolt on the outside of the tub

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attaching a ring to the eyebolt

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A notch cut in one end of the rod

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A hold drilled in the other end

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cutting the hook off the cable 

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The cable attached. Notice the notch on the rod hooked on the rim of the tub

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attaching the other end of the cable to the other end of the rod

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The finished product

Most home made instruments don’t need anywhere near that kind of time or construction. Have you ever given a small child a pot and a spoon? Yep, instant drum!  Different surfaces and different materials make different sounds and lend themselves to all sorts of “instruments”.  Dried beans in a tin can?   Maracas!  A comb and tissue paper? A kazoo!  Glasses filled with different levels of water? Chimes! The possibilities are probably endless, limited only by imagination. The best thing is that you don’t have to be a “musician”. You can just have fun with it.

You can buy specially made musical spoons today, they didn’t start out that way.   Ed actually got some pretty good rhythm going for awhile with two spoons from our kitchen.

Musical saws can also be purchased, but you don’t need a special one to learn. You do however, need something to use for a bow.  Chicken girl was greatly concerned when I experimented with an old hand saw and her violin bow.  I did manage to get a little sound, but probably needed a more flexible saw. The bow was no worse for the wear.
This is a basic tutorial on playing the saw, and Wikihow has instructions for making a bow here.

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Well, something like that anyway

Several years ago, Ed and I started collecting primitive instruments.  We used to play music at a couple different places and we liked to hand them out to whoever was there listening, and invite them to play along. We never got too many takers, but we did have fun, which was the whole point.

In addition to our usual  instruments (guitar, mandolin, harmonica, etc), we have a washboard, a jug, a cowbell, and now, a gut bucket!  IMG_0638

Do you play an instrument? Have you ever made your own?

Connie

While We’re Waiting

While we’re waiting for Ed to figure out that washtub bass, I thought I would fill you in on our last year, and share some plans for upcoming posts.

Last August, we took our first ever family vacation. We went to Georgia to visit my dad, then to Charleston SC so Chicken Girl could see the ocean. From there we went to Greenville SC to visit Ed’s daughter, and on to North Carolina to visit Cherokee and see where Ed’s grandparents lived when he was a boy.  We put 2600 miles on my car and made some great memories. There will be more about that in later posts.

While we were gone, James was supposed to stay here and take care of the critters.  Well, that didn’t go quite as well as we had hoped.  To make a long, sad, story short, James was not able to fight his Meth addiction and surrendered his probation. The judge gave him nine years.  The blessing in that is that he is clean and sober.  We pray that this time he gets the tools (and the desire) he needs to stay that way.

In the meanwhile, Bam Bam’s life kind of fell apart too, and he is staying with us again, along with his two small dogs, Rex and Gracie. They have been with us since December. It’s been nice to have him home again, and he is a big help. The little dogs provide a lot of “entertainment” although the cats are less than impressed.

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Bam Bam with Rex (black) and Gracie (white)

The big dogs are doing ok. Some days, Libby really shows her age, but I think we’ve stopped her digging out. Meeko still climbs out, on occasion, comes to the back door and barks! I think he wants to play with the little dogs, who aren’t terribly sure that’s a good idea.

On a positive note, we have finished homeschooling and Chicken Girl graduated on June 3rd. She is now taking an online Voice Over class, since she wants to be a voice over artist.

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Chicken Girl at her graduation party

As for the chickens, with the exception of one hen we lost to illness (we’re not sure what), they are all doing fine. We get between one and two dozen eggs a week, which is more than enough for us.  We are working on rebuilding the coop (again), as well as some new chicken tractors.

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Sunny about ready to fly the coop!

This spring has been an exciting time with the bees. Currently we have four hives. One we bought as a nuc, two from a hive we split, and one we took from an old house. I know that Ed will want to tell you all about that, but I will say I have finally put on the bee suit and started helping him. Capturing that wild hive was amazing!

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The wild hive was behind this wall!

Weather wise, things have just been strange.  With the exception of about a week of frigid sub zero temperatures, last winter was mild and dry. We didn’t get much spring. It just went from cold to hot, and still very dry.  We finally got some rain yesterday, but we need more.  The grass is dry and crunchy, but the plantain is doing beautifully!

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All the green is plantain. The brown is grass

We bought some fruit trees as well as some elderberry bushes planning to create fruit tree guilds. Well, we didn’t get as far into that as we would have liked, but we did get all the trees in the ground and they are hanging on.

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An apricot tree with mulch inside the drip line. We plan to plant understory plants here later.

Ed and Bam Bam built me a basement greenhouse, so I was able to get some seeds started. The only problem was that when they were ready to go outside, the weather was still too cool, and then the tiller broke down and Ed wasn’t able to get everything tilled.   We improvised and got everything I started planted. Some things didn’t make it, but most are, like the trees, hanging on.

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The greenhouse

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Tomato plants in the garden

After three years,  the blackberries are producing! Then a few days ago, I discovered wild raspberries growing behind the barn. This must just be a good year for berries. The mulberry trees in the fence rows are full of fruit in varying degrees of ripeness. The wild grapes have taken off too.

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Blackberries!

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Wild raspberries behind the barn

Well, I think that is pretty much everything. Hopefully, Ed will have that bass built next week, and he’ll post about that and all the other ways you can make your own musical instruments.

Connie