A Grain Mill Power Drive

Adding a simple power drive to a grain mill – be it the homestead grain mill you can build yourself or a good quality commercial mill like the Grainmaker or the country living mill – is nearly as essential as the mill itself.   The reason is simple.  Even a small electric motor can make grinding flour at home from whole grains nearly effortless.

Whole grain flour without effort using the power drive

Whole grain flour without effort using the power drive

That means you will grind the grain into flour and in turn use that flour to produce your own baked goods regularly rather than relegating the mill to a dusty corner of your pantry and leaving buckets of grain in the corner of your larder.  Shouldn’t that be your goal – live better today – and fresh baking using whole grain flours is a nice component of that philosophy.

If your grain mill is of any size, and if you intend to use it, it should be large – the homestead grain mill for instance features 6″ burrs – it will take quite a bit of torque to turn those burrs as you will no doubt have discovered if you’ve hand cranked one.

This means you will need to step down the speed of an electric motor which increases the torque.  You can do this with a worm gear speed reducer, with a gear drive speed reducer – either one integrated into the motor or separate – or the most easy route with belts and pulleys.

I’ve used all three routes, employing the first ones on my previous iterations of the homestead grain mill as I worked to perfect the design.  But the design is now much better (and simpler) and I have settled on a correspondingly simple power drive using pulleys and belts.

Grain mill power drive - view from the top

Grain mill power drive – view from the top

There is an intermediary pillow block to allow me to slow the speed of the vintage 1/4hp motor down from 1725rpm to about 45 rpm on the mill.  The belt design is also allows me to quickly clamp the mill to the power drive setup and is forgiving of slight miss-alignments – my previous mill used a chain drive that would rip the mill from the mounting blocks if the alignment wasn’t close to perfect.

As discussed in an earlier post you can’t expect to bake fine products with coarse flour – so I always grind to pastry flour fineness.  By hand that usually takes three passes with the burrs progressively closer together.  With the power drive I tend to do that reduction in four passes.  Not being quite as aggressive ensures that the drive system isn’t inclined to stall out – though it sometimes does need a pull on the pulley mounted to the mill to get started.

I use a couple of super magnets to hold plastic bags to the mill shroud to catch the flour.which works wonderfully.

Build a grain mill

Build a grain mill

I wouldn’t give up the hand crank – I think it’s essential not only to ensure that you can produce flour if the lights go out, but more importantly I think cranking out the flour to bake a loaf of bread every once and a while really increases your appreciation of how great mechanization can be.  However, just as I think a bread machine is a nearly essential kitchen appliance because it makes baking easy I think the same can be said of the power drive for a grain mill.  Make things easy and it’s more likely you will actually incorporate them into your life.

While my setup for the power drive isn’t part of the Building the Homestead Grain Mill book, I should have a supplement done up shortly that will be in new copies of the book and will be sent to those who have already purchased a copy.

So if you already have a grain mill that isn’t motorized – motorize it.  If you don’t yet have a grain mill – you should probably get one, either by building it yourself or by purchasing a quality mill – and when you do motorize that one.



Rooted grape cuttings leafing out

The grape cuttings I started rooting earlier are coming along nicely and have leafed out.  While I have not yanked on them to check they appear to have rooted nicely so I haven’t bothered to trim the leaves to reduce transpiration as I have done when I’ve been rooting cuttings outdoors.

Rooted Grape Cuttings leafing out

Rooted Grape Cuttings leafing out

I’m rather pleased since going the cuttings route has allowed me to get varieties I would be hard pressed to find otherwise and it’s saved me a load of money.  The cuttings were $1 each rather than $7 to $10 if I’d been buying stock from a local nursery.

Along one side of my yard the previous owners planted some cedars up against the fence.  They add a nice bit of green and an additional bit of privacy to the yard.  BUT, I can’t eat cedars so I am planning to remove them and put in grapes trained vertically.

What really got me primed was the fassadengruen website from Germany which shows step by step how to train the grapes in this fashion.  It looks much easier than the other methods – and frankly the grapes I’ve grown in the past haven’t been very well trained – and should allow me to grow and edible privacy screen!

The quality of cuttings I received from Burt Dunn was excellent.  Thanks Burt!



Whole wheat breads – dough moisture levels

So it’s probably pretty obvious that I grind a lot of whole grain flours and do a considerable volume of baking with them.  I’ve learned a couple of secrets over time.

1. You need fine flour to get something that is acceptable quality, you can do that on the home built grain mill or a good quality one you purchase.

2. You need a really good recipe to make a whole wheat breads that is something folks will be happy eating day after day.

3. You need to ensure there is adequate moisture in the dough at when it is just starting out to compensate for the slower

Desired moisture level in whole wheat dough at the start of the cycle

Desired moisture level in whole wheat dough at the start of the cycle

absorption of the liquid into the whole wheat flour.  This is something I always monitor at the start of the bread machine cycle and add water as necessary to achieve the consistency I am looking for.  While the consistency is always the same the amount of water can vary depending upon the moisture content in the flour and things like the size of the eggs.

You want the dough at the start of the cycle to look considerably more moist than you would want to achieve with a white dough.

I shot a video to give you a better idea of what you are looking to achieve.



Dude where’s the door? A failure to demonstrate resiliency.

Last weekend I shifted my bees from one location to another on the same farm.  Now the distance wasn’t all that great – maybe two hundred yards but it’s a better location for a number of reasons.

At the same time I did the spring maintenance – swapping the upper and lower brood boxes, opening the lower entrance while closing the upper and cleaning out the dead bees that had accumulated at the bottom of the hive.

The  "dude when's this door going to open up" hive on the right.

The “dude when’s this door going to open up” hive on the right.

The reaction of the bees was rather interesting.  While the move was accomplished  fairly early in the morning while it was cool some bees still exited at the original hive site.  Those “flyers” had several opportunities to follow the hives as we loaded them into the bucket of the tractor and slowly progressed over the field – some did but quite a few stayed glued to their original site.

When the hives were being prepped at the new location and the lower entrance was opened and the upper closed the reaction was just as interesting.  Bees from one hive that had taken flight as the hives were opened started to congregate at the level the upper entrance would have been at – but on the opposite side.   A few figured out where the lower entrance was – but many just hung around in the wrong place in the forlorn hope that somehow the pine would part and readmit them into the hive. It almost appeared like one or two had gotten there and attracted the others, as if hanging out with the folks who were clearly wrong was more comforting than leaving and looking for a real entrance.

By the time I was finally cleaning up the winter wraps at the original hive location the bees that remained there had caught on to the fact they were in a bit of a pickle and were agitated.  If they’d tagged along earlier they would have been ok… but by that point they were pretty much out of luck.  By the time I pulled out of the new bee yard shortly after noon there were still a couple of good clusters of bees on that one hive handing around where they though the hive entrance should have been – but obviously wasn’t.  I’m hopeful they found their way back into the hive but they were obviously confused and not doing anything terribly productive to rectify the situation.

That got me to thinking – how much were those bees like humans?  Clearly some bees were much better able to adapt than others.  So how resilient in the face of challenges and changes am I and for that matter are you?



Egg ‘n Ham Breakfast Bagels – breakfast on the go done right

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Fast food gets loads of flack including the blame for making folks fat.  But consider that McDonalds – the quintessential fast food chain has been around for decades – including a whack load of time during which folks were in pretty good shape.  No question the portion size has a bunch to do with it as well as the frequency of a patron’s visit – but those are in the full dominion of the patron.

Ham and Egg breakfast bagel - whole wheat

Ham and Egg breakfast bagel – whole wheat

OK, so  where am I going with this – well to some of the fast food breakfast offerings.  Not only did the introduction of these mark a capital utilization and financial breakthrough for the fast food joints but also in many respects created many new food  items in the form of breakfast sandwiches.  Moreover, those breakfast sandwiches are great!

But just like you can make a better burger at home you can also upgrade the breakfast sandwiches by making them chez vous.  In my home I know that whenever I make up a batch of whole wheat bagels (which are so simple that you need to try them now) I had better have cream cheese and a fillet of our home smoked salmon or trout as well as eggs so that I can make bagels with lox and then breakfast egg bagels if any last to the next morning.  Failure to properly plan ahead – or at least warn the other occupants of the house that some component is missing (usually we’ve eaten though all of the smoked salmon) – will trigger a cascade of complaints.  And this is for something that is whole grain and pretty healthy no less.

So what are you waiting for?  Take the food you love from out there and make it better at home – starting with whole wheat bagel breakfast sandwiches.


Whole Wheat Bagels Made Simple

I think one of the most common afflictions that touch our society is not obesity – though that is certainly a concern, but rather “over-complication-itis”.  OK, so maybe the medical community won’t be adding this affliction to their standard list of diagnoses but that doesn’t mean it isn’t prevalent, nor that it isn’t serious.   So, how would you diagnose someone suffering from “over-complication-itis” – well it’s simple…  or rather it is an individual who lacks the ability to see simplicity.  More precisely, an individual who lacks the ability to examine and break down processes that lead to final products into their simple components.

Brunch - fresh whole wheat bagels with smoked salmon accompanied by asparagus

Brunch – fresh whole wheat bagels with smoked salmon accompanied by asparagus

These bagels provide a case study.  Bagels are awesome, but I bet if you asked most folks who buy them – even those who purchase them from shops that make them right in front of the customer if they could make them – they’d balk at the suggestion.  The complexity exists only in their minds.


If you’ve been following these posts we’ve shown our favorite tried and true bread recipe,  we then showed how to take the same recipe and use the dough to make some awesome buns – by forming the dough and baking it in the oven, bagels just add one step to the buns – boiling the formed dough before baking.  That’s it.  Really, no need for a wood fired oven, no need for a food science degree or even to convert to Judaism.  Those things might help but if you make them personal prerequisites you might as well check yourself into an institution with “over-complication-itis” because you won’t be checking out all of the opportunities that exits out here in the real world.

For those of you that haven’t dialed 911, click on the headline for the simple recipe instructions.

Oh, and the solution for obesity – eat reasonable amounts of good food – like these fresh whole wheat bagels and engage in physical activity.



Greenhouse vents from Harbor Freight

So last weekend a couple of nice medium high hoop houses went up.  The only item of any significance left to do to finish them off was to build and install vents so that the spaces wouldn’t overheat.

Harbor Freight greenhouse vent mounted to frame

Harbor Freight greenhouse vent mounted to frame

Often it is hard to remember that even when the outside is cool the solar gain in a cold frame or greenhouse can be significant.  Now before you’ve got plants growing I think it makes sense to limit air exchange so that you build up the thermal reserve in the soil – especially if that soil was frozen just a few weeks ago.  But once the soil is thawed and plants go in it becomes imperative to ensure that they aren’t baked.

There are thermostatically controlled vents of course – but those rely on and use electricity.  When I had my solar greenhouse I came to really like the vents that rely on the expansion within in a cylinder pushing on a lever to open vents.  These have the advantage of being completely non electric and in my experience completely dependable.  They aren’t nearly as controllable as electro-mechanical systems would be but they are pretty fool proof, low cost and get the job done.

Now, they are limited in what they can lift – think plastics not glass.  If the bulk of your cold frame or greenhouse is glass just make your vents out of plastic material and you’ll be fine.

Vent frame in place with hoop house plastic attached

Vent frame in place with hoop house plastic attached

For my setup I made a frame to fit a couple of pieces of plexiglass that I was given when I purchases a pantograph from a sign shop in Montreal that had served Zellers stores but when that retailer shut down the sign company closed the associated shop. The owner offered me all the plastic offcuts – some of significant size – and professional paints and hardeners that I wanted.  With the pantograph on my trailer I piled the bed of my truck high with the free material.  As luck would have it I drove back through a massive police presence – escorts for a Hell’s Angels and Associates motorcycle ride that traveled along with me.

Heat activated hoop house vent open

Heat activated hoop house vent open

Anyway the frames were built from the remaining used pieces of 2×4 and some plywood offcuts.  The plexiglass pieces were hinged at the top, with the screws extending through the sheet into hardwood sections salvaged from hockey sticks.  The opener itself is fixed to the lower portion of the window frame and the action arm was bolted with the included bolts through holes drilled in the lower part of the plexiglass window.

By the afternoon the greenhouse was hot enough that the widow had opened, so now I have no more excuses to delay planting… maybe I’ll take that on tomorrow if it’s nice.


Ham and cheese melt – Good food doesn’t need to be complicated

There probably aren’t too many among us who aren’t busy and find ourselves at points particularly pressed for time.

At those point it would be particularly easy to head out for a meal out.  Those meals in my view tend to be a bit of a waste – it’s not like most folks go out to a great restaurant for an awesome meal at these times… it’s more likely you’d head to a mid to low grade restaurant and plunk down between $7 and $30 for a “whatever” meal.  What’s the point of that?

Instead there are some great last minutes meals that can be pulled together that are not only healthy but taste great – especially if you mix them up a bit.

Take a simple grilled cheese and shift it up by making it with the whole wheat baler twine bread add ham and spice it up with dijon mustard and hot pepper rings.  You get a satisfying meal for a fraction of the price and with a fraction of the effort that it would otherwise take to drive yourself to a restaurant to wait for service.  Plus, if you’ve cracked open a bottle of wine or tapped the keg of beer you can begin refreshing while you’re cooking.


Whole wheat pancakes –

Growing up my parents had a pretty leave-it-to-beaver division of roles.  My father brought home the bacon and my mother cooked it.  They were both pretty happy with that division, and it’s only been since his retirement that my father has started baking.  But, like most rules there were exceptions – two in this case. When camping my father did all of the cooking, and when pancakes were on the weekend menu – well those were his too.  He got pretty good at making pancakes.

Maple syrup from our own trees to complement whole wheat pancakes

Maple syrup from our own trees to complement whole wheat pancakes

Those pancakes were always made with plain old white flour and smothered in syrup – often pancake syrup rather than real maple syrup.  Now, I’m not exactly up for the division of roles that suited both of my parents but, I still love pancakes and so do my kids.  That said, in my home pancakes are made with freshly milled whole grain flour – usually whole wheat, and the syrup is real maple syrup.

I love how the richness of the whole wheat combines with sweet maple flavor.  It’s interesting too, how four good sized pancakes with a drizzle of syrup forms a meal that satisfies for hours whereas it took a pile of white flour pancakes in a sea of syrup to fill me up at the table.


Get your tools to pay rent…

So I am being slightly facetious here but I think it is underlain by a solid point.  Tools are cool, be they for your shop, kitchen or garage – but are you getting your money’s worth?

Rolling tool cabinet in the shop on its welded base

Rolling tool cabinet in the shop on its welded base

If you aren’t using your tools you aren’t just not getting the value from the kit – you aren’t getting the experience of how to use them that you should.

Now, you don’t need to necessarily do some big projects to get the tools to pay their rent.  That said, doing something like building your own grain mill for $40 worth of materials when a comparable unit is pushing close to a grand pays a lot of rent.

In my experience though, some pretty good rent payoffs can come from pretty quick and easy projects that capitalize on presented opportunities.

Case in point my $23 rolling tool cabinet. While down visiting my brother at Christmas we took a trip to Lowes to price out materials for one of his projects and a couple of employees dropped off a bunch of tool boxes in the as-is section – one was a bit dinged but the others were fine – the price $7, $7 and $9 for the upper cabinet.  Now these aren’t terribly of much use without a rolling base.

Rolling base for tool cabinet set up for tack welding

Rolling base for tool cabinet set up for tack welding

So I fabricated one from angle iron salvaged from old bed frames and a few old castors.  It was a quick job with the cutoff saw followed by some welding.  The end product wasn’t perfect but for $23 it was a pretty solid step to organizing the shop and a good payoff.

So the chop saw and welder paid their rent for at least the month… and now I’ve got to figure out how that new rolling tool chest is going to start making it’s rent payments.