When I moved to my new home a few years ago I left my Harbour Freight 10×12 greenhouse and the nearly four extra months of growing season (two months on each side) that it provided – a not insignificant boost here in Ottawa given our frost free timeline is generally accepted as the end of May until towards the end of September.
Heavy duty corner brackets installed on the hoop house
So after making due with row covers and some very low tunnels last year I put in some medium hoop houses, that were hinged to open from the base. These worked pretty well – being able to grow taller crops and hold more than the single row hoops but were still a bargain cost and time wise compared to higher walk in hoops.
Heavy duty angle bracket
The base of these was made from 2×6 lumber – which provided strength and weight to keep things anchored down… but unfortunately in the process of opening and closing them the screwed together corners began to pull apart.
I tried reinforcing with 4×4 blocks but the forces were too much for that solution to last long. So now I’ve gone and built some extra heavy duty corner brackets from some flat steel bent up in the hydraulic press and some U steel to provide further reinforcement. With these bolted in place the frames are rock solid and should offer a great long lasting solution – even better, the cost to fabricate these at home was a fraction of what it would have cost to buy them would have been. That’s the advantage of having some solid tools… now it’s time to get everything into the ground!
Bottom heat can give your seed starting a real helping hand – particularly for some crops such as peppers. For a home scale operation that usually means using one of the flexible rubber mats with the heating loop imbedded into it that slips under your seed starting trays. I’ve been using this method for over a decade and it really does make a major difference for some heat loving plants – BUT, I’ve found that these tend to wear out and I end up having to replace them every few years.
The Seed Start Heat Mat in position and active
Given these are fairly expensive when my last one gave up the ghost last year I decided to come up with something better and longer lasting than simply to order another and continue the cycle.
Here’s what I came up with – a STC1000 digital temperature controller – 110volt model (under $10 on ebay from china ) and a 250W 110V cartridge heater ($5) form the basis of the system.
Both the cartridge heater and the thermocouple for the temperature controller fit into holes drilled in a 3/4″ thick block of scrap aluminum that is then lag bolted through a 3/16″ thick piece of aluminum plate to a 2X3 piece of lumber. The aluminum plate is long enough to fit two grow trays while allowing a gap for the heater at the center.
Heat mat under construction
The temperature controller is housed in a 3D printed box that is mounted on the top of the 2×3 with the cords all held nicely in place by a strap at the back of the wood piece.
The whole assembly is supported by some scrap 1″ thick pieces of pine left from building beehives over the usual trays on my growlight assembly.
I used a couple of additional sheets of aluminum to spread out the heat more evenly under the grow trays.
In operation I set the temperature of the aluminum block and by trial and error move it up until the temperature of water placed in my grow trays hits the desired temperature for the seedlings I am producing. If you were using a much thicker block of aluminum you could set the temperature much more in line with the desired setting – but with this setup the temperature of the block ends up being considerably higher than you would normally want in order to see the necessary amount of heat generated to be distributed through the aluminum plates.
Peppers started with the DIY Heat Mat
It’s not a perfect system, but for about $20 and some scrap I have a solid bottom heat source for seed starting that should last decades and allow me to produce loads of heat loving seed starts at home – paying back the investment in less than a year compared to buying transplants at the garden center.
So down to business – doing the layout and cutting of the pots to form the conical. The first part is to figure out the layout for your conical cone. Basically your cone will be made from a circular segment that is larger in diameter than the base of the upper pot segment. The greater the diameter of the circle that will form the cone vs. the base of the pot the taller the cone. Simple enough right? So how did I figure out the diameter of that circle? Well to a significant extent that was limited by the material I was going to be using to form the cone – the sides of the 5 gallon pot.
One piece of the segments of the conical taped to the 5 gallon pot
With this figure as the upper limit I then laid out a couple of circles with a compass on some newspaper in preparation for some trial and error folding.
A key part to making the cone is cutting out a pie shaped segment from the circle you’ve just laid out – determining what size that needs to be is simple enough. You need the length around the big circle you’ve just laid out when the pie shaped segment is removed to equal the cirucmference of the bottom of the pot you’ll be using as the upper portion of the conical.
In this case the diameter of the cone I chose was 18 1/2″. Measuring these is most easily done with a very flexible tape measure such as those used for sewing. Now I should note that I added just a tad to the circumference in order to have the cone be just a bit wider at the mouth than the base of the upper pot since it’s always easier to trim material out than try to fill in significant gaps.
I decided to cut out half of the cone circle in one piece and the smaller segment, that is the other half of the cone circle less the pie shaped segment that isn’t needed for the cone in another piece. It seems to have worked out OK, but now that it’s done I wonder if it might not have been easier to have the two pieces of the cone eaually sized thus providing a greater gap between the final welds. It shouldn’t be a big deal either way, but I might try out the other variation just to see how things work out as I refine the design.
OF course if you are using a solid sheet of stainless steel you only need to remove the pie shaped segment, but the five gallon pot offered me a low cost readily available source of the steel sheet so that is what I used – thus requiring a bit more assembly work.
So that is how the template for the cone was established. I then taped it to the sides of the five gallon pot and marked out the shapes with a sharpie marker.
To cut them out I used my angle grinder with a thin abrasive cutting disk. It’s not perfect but with care it’s a pretty good result. I then cut the bottom off of the 5 gallon pot from the pot side – not the pot bottom – to free the segment.
You can check out these videos for a quick overview of how that work was accomplished.
Instant Hot Chocolate Mix is a great convenience – especially when you head outside. That said, really good rich hot cocoa mix isn’t cheap – but you can easily make gourmet all in one mix at home with quality bulk ingredients for a fraction of the price of buying it already prepped very easily and quickly.
These also go great with homemade marshmallows which you can flavor any way you wish – peppermint or cinnamon anyone?
Once you’ve given these oat bars a try chance are good they’ll replace your prepared granola bar purchases. They are super quick to pull together, decidedly tasty and cost a fraction of what commercial granola bars cost.
Now to be sure these aren’t super health food – they have quite a bit of fat and sugar mixed in with the whole grain oats – but then at least in terms of sugar content that’s not really different from the commercial product. All the same, these are our favorite for packing along when we head off into the outdoors on adventures where we’re burning loads of energy.
Once you give them a try I’m sure you’ll be keeping this recipe handy.
The foundation material for the conical needs to be stainless steel in order to keep the vessel from rusting. Now for grade of stainless – something like 304 or 18/8 which is used for stainless pots and buckets should be just fine and is fairly common. With that determined what options exist for us to get that material at reasonable cost. Well, free is obviously best, but since I used up much of my pile of salvaged stainless steel sheets (mainly BBQs) building the wood fired pizza oven I don’t have much of that left.
Then there’s the buy option, and actually as I am going forward I find myself buying some stainless material for the legs – but now that I consider it I could have gotten away without making that purchase, but more on that once we get to that stage of the build…
Materials with which to build the DIY Conical
Anyway back to the fundamental parts of the conical – the vertical segment and the cone. Well since the top is basically like a pot without a base I thought I might as well go that route and build it out of stainless steel pots which are readily available and low cost. As an added bonus the top segment is already nicely rolled and sealed.
Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since I couldn’t find one easily and at low cost I figured I would just form one up from some more stainless steel sheet (or pot bits). It’s more welding but I kinda want the practice to improve my skills so really not all that bad. Plus as indicated before – by brewing in the conical with the associated 90 minute boil I would be able to achieve excellent sanitation even where weld imperfections might otherwise thwart chemical cleaning.
Now for the disadvantages… well these pots are pretty thin – definitely thick enough to do the job without problem but thinner material is often more difficult to weld effectively. Still cost and availability prompted me to consider this my best option – especially since I was reasonably sure that I would be able to handle the welding of the think stainless with the Henrob OA torch based on my experience with the stainless pizza oven.
The price – well a pot set from Harbor Freight where the largest pot is 4 gallons cost me $20 and and a 5 gallon pot at the local homestore cost me another $20. Now some folks I’ve seen building conicals use a cone made from spun stainless funnels – but since
Now for the cool part right – the triclamp fittings that make the conical so versatile. Well, these are available at low cost off ebay or amazon from manufacturers in China. How low cost is low cost? Well a 1.5″ weld-on tricalmp fitting runs $1.99 with free shipping! So I purchased a bunch of 1.5″ fittings, gaskets, caps, threaded fittings, valves and the like along with a few 2″ fittings to allow me to pass the electrical heating element into the conical.
Total cost for the bits and bobs… slightly over a hundred bucks. Not bad for a prototype.
I’ve been brewing beer at home for quite some time – since before I could legally drink what I was producing. Much of that has been from kits or from malt extract and my homegrown hops in large part because of the ease with which that can be accomplished. When I’ve gone over to the all grain side it’s been with cobbled together motley collection of coolers, strainers, bags and the like – which all things considered has gone pretty well.
Recently I’ve wanted to increase my all grain brewing in part because it offers more control but truth be told because it also promises to be significantly cheaper since malt extract and kits are now getting to the price point they produce beer for half the price of purchased product.
DIY Conical Fermenter and Brewing system half completed beside a 3 gallon keg
In my review of the systems that are out there I’ve been drawn to the one vessel systems – either the brew-in-a-bag systems, or the brew in a single vessel like the braumeister out of Germany or the more recently introduced grainfather – which really resembles a large commercial coffee urn. But the one that really caught my fancy was the system that has you brewing in a single vessel that vessel being a conical – now that is efficiency!
I’ve wanted a conical for some time now, and since I’ve started to get a hang of welding stainless steel with my Henrob oxy-acetylene torch when I built the stainless steel pizza oven I wanted to give it a try – but since my welding isn’t exactly commercial grade the idea of doing a 90 minute boil in the conical – which would sterilize the nooks and crannies left in my imperfect welds that might be otherwise hard to get clean – efficient and able to accommodate my stainless welding limitations.
Because I didn’t want to invest too much money into the project I decided to start with a few cheap stainless steel pots – a four pot set from harbor freight, the largest one a 4 gallon unit, and an additional 5 gallon pot. Both the set and the larger pot were nineteen bucks each. Tri-clamp fittings from e-bay, direct from China added another $40 or so, toss on a pound of stainless tig rods and we’re looking at about a hundred bucks.
Now, I’m frugal, but one of the other factors here is that this is a prototype, and as such it won’t be perfect, so it doesn’t make sense to dump a lot of cash into something that inherently will be less than the optimal design.
The other thing is that this won’t handle a full five gallon batch – but it should be sized right for three gallon batches, which if this system is as easy to use as I would like to make it is about the perfect size for turning out loads of different beer variations.
Oh, and I’ve got a twist up my sleeve that I’m going to explore, but I’ll save that for later. Stay tuned to see how it works out.
This is a desert that is guaranteed to WOW those to whom it is served. I know, it oft been the desert I’ve been requested to bring, and it was the desert I would request in return for straight A’s when I was in school – it may explain why I was honor role. For all of that awesomeness it is an incredibly easy desert to prepare. IF you are one of those folks who can’t seem to make a piecrust – then this is definitely a desert for you. Click on the post title for the full recipe and for a detailed step by step walk through the steps watch the video. You won’t regret it!
Owning a meat grinder is a great way to save money on your food bill – which let’s face it isn’t likely falling. In fact, there’s a good chance you can pay for the addition of the grinder to your household the first time you use it – and that is a pretty incredible payback.
#32 hand cranked meat grinder – simplicity and durability
You’ll often see bigger cuts of meat, beef and pork roasts and whole turkeys selling on special for a fraction of what ground meat costs. While you could make a paying proposition of simply grinding up these cuts instead of buying ground meat there is an even more lucrative possibility. I like to cut up roasts into thick steaks and chops and then trim off the parts that will be extra fatty or gristly – you know the parts that would otherwise end up being left on the plate. I wrap the steaks or chops in a good butcher paper and toss the trimmings in ziplock bags and everything goes in one of my freezers. Then once a year I’ll grind and process all of the accumulated trimmings.
When it comes to the turkeys, which can be offered up at crazy low prices to induce Thanksgiving and Christmas shoppers to visit one retailer or another I trim the breasts off first and wrap those to use in place of chicken breasts. Then once the breasts are off I like to cut off the easy to remove meat for grinding, and then toss the carcass(s) into a big pot with a bit of water and boil them down. I like to use a reciprocating saw to cut the turkey skeletons up so that I can cram more into one pot. Once the carcasses have been cooked cool them down and then strip the remaining meat off of the carcass and then pressure can the meat and broth for cooking and easy hearty soups. I usually freeze the cooled fat rather than can it and then add it after.
#12 Electric Meat Grinder
So a meat grinder makes a great fit into an active home kitchen – given this what are some realistic options. Well the lowest cost entry point is a tinned cast iron hand cranked grinder, they are a bulletproof design, and are very affordable. I’ve had one of the smaller ones – a #10 (about $30) and it did a good job, but while it is bulletproof and easy to crank it is limited in terms of throughput. One advantage is that it can be clamped on a counter – as long as your counter isn’t something that mars easily. I found this grinder too small for my purposes – but then I tend to do big batches in a single go.
I now have the largest of the hand cranked cast iron grinder, a #32 – which costs about $40. It requires a solid mounting to a working surface – usually by bolting them down, so it probably isn’t something you are going to be affixing to your kitchen counter. I generally bolt it to the surface of a workmate portable workbench which I then need to hold down with some of my weight applied with one of my feet while cranking. It does a great job but certainly does give a good workout. If you are smaller you might want to opt for the medium size #22 which like the #32 needs to be bolted to a work surface.
There are #32 grinders which come with big pulleys in addition to the crank. If you’ve got a bit of space this might be a good option – bolting the grinder and a big electric motor (a Harbor Freight farm or compressor duty motor would be my choice) to a solid work surface. This would combine the last a lifetime or two design of the cast iron mill, the capacity of the #32 and the advantages of electric grinding with hand crank back up. But you’ve got to have the space to store a setup of this size.
#32 meat grinder left and #12 grinder right with the plates in front showing size difference
On the electric grinder front, I’ve got a #12 Kitchener brand grinder which features a 400 watt motor. This is a pretty good home size grinder – I’ve done a lot of grinding on it, but it definitely isn’t a professional or industrial model. The construction is solid, but you can hear the motor laboring at points and it needs to be shut off an cooled periodically to avoid overheating. Now, it’s priced right – this brand and similar models run about $70, they have a pretty good throughput rate, and it doesn’t require any mounting to counters or work surfaces, but while I’ve been using it for about three years now I’d be surprised if it end up being handed down to my kids. I know my #32 hand cranked unit will be still going strong for my great grand kids.
I’ve also seen small grinders that are mostly plastic and use suction mounting to attach them to a counter. I haven’t used one of these, but even the #10 sized mill needs to be solidly attached to the end of a counter with the pretty strong built in clamp. Since I have used apple grinders that feature the same suction mounting and had them move around I can’t believe these will do anything more than waste your $25 and frustrate you – if you are looking for something on the smaller size go for a #10 cast iron mill, or one of the electrical ones.
What about one of the mill attachments for your stand mixer? Since they are similarly sized to the electric grinder I have my reasoned guess would be that they would be pretty good buy you’d have to watch the motor and ensure that you shut things off and let it cool unless you really do have a heavy duty mixer.
In terms of incorporating these into you food strategy, I usually spend part of a day or two once a year grinding the meat trimmings I’ve accumulated in the freezer from cutting up beef, pork and venison and making them into burgers and fresh and cured sausages. Another day gets spent grinding up those discount turkeys and then canning cases of stock that result.
Check out the price of these meat products in your grocery or butcher shop and it should be clear that this is a strategy that can not only add capacity to your home but save loads of money.
Marshmallows likely strike most folks today as some complex food that must contain several dozen compounds with long and complex names able to be made only in complex factories. The reality is exactly the opposite – marshmallows are simple and easy to produce at home. Moreover, you can make some great flavoured marshmallows – such as these peppermint ones that are the perfect accompaniment for hot chocolate.