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Low Hoop Houses in Snow

This year I decided to put the plastic up on the hoop houses late in the fall – partly to provide winter cover to extend the season and secondarily to get things going faster in the spring then would inevitably happen if I needed to dig the plastic out and fix it into place.

The question though…. would it stand up to the snow load?  Well, we’ve had some good snow (a couple of feet) and some good cold spells… and the hoops have bent a bit but nothing much – and that’s without ever brushing off the snow.

Well, today I went and knocked the frozen snow layers off – last week we had a mild spell and even a bit of drizzle.  The snow came off quickly and the hoops and plastic look great!

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DIY Countertop Brewing System

I started brewing beer using kits back before I could purchase beer in the store and got pretty good at it.  I graduated beyond that to brew in a bag setups but about a year and a half ago decided that I wanted to go with a brewing system and my fancy fell to the brew in a conical systems… After a lot of cutting, geometry, and welding… well I still have leaks… obviously my stainless welding on thin sheet leaves a “bit” to be desired.

Nesting stock pots

Nesting stock pots

I was still working to get the holes patched when I saw some stainless steel stock pots on sale at one of our local grocery stores.  Now the cool thing was that the same lid fit all three sizes of pots (12, 16 and 20 quart) and the pots shared the same taper.  That meant the 16 quart pot would nest tightly inside the 20 quart one while leaving a gap at the base – perfect for a heating element.  So the 16 quart pot would make a perfect malt basket within the larger brewpot. For Canadians it was the Superstore where I picked up the pots so all of the Loblaws should have the same ones – no doubt they will be available stateside as well.

With the pots as the basis of the unit I decided that I wanted to be able to put together a functioning weldless automated brew system in a weekend.  Did I succeed, well nearly… I found that the silicon gaskets that came with the weldless fittings wasn’t quite up to snuff – so I ended up using them in conjunction with food grade silicon sealant which needed a few days to set.  But to do it again… well it would take a full day of work and then after waiting a week just to be on the safeside you’d be brewing next weekend. Oh, and apart from using an air powered nibbler with my compressor to create the hole for the element it didn’t take any fancy tools.

How’s the capacity… well I can brew just over 2.5 gallons which allows me to either do half batches or when I do a double run a full 5 gallons.  How does that net out in terms of time?  Well a double batch is roughly a whole day… but seeing as how things are pretty automated the time commitment from the brewer ends up being about one hour total.

Now how are we set in terms of cost… well, excluding the brew pump you’re looking at about $100.

Here’s what you’ll need in terms of components…

  1. STC 2000 temperature controller – available with either a 12 volt DC or 120 volt AC output – I used the latter because I had it but if you are buying one choose the former so that you can operate the relay without an adapter.  Price is about $10
  2.  Relay –
  3. (3) Electrical cords – just pulled some three prong (grounded) ones from my project materials pile
  4. GFI Outlet
  5. 120v 15 amp stainless steel water heating element
  6. Stainless Steel Nut for the water heating element
  7. (1) 1/2″ stainless steel bolt (X”long) and nut
  8. (1) 1/2″ weldless fitting
  9. (2) 1/2″ stainless steel ball valve
  10. (4) 1/2″ stainless steel hose barb
  11. ( X ft) Braided Silicon food grade tube for suction side into pump
  12. (X ft) Silicon food grade tube (pressure side return from pump)
  13. (1) 1/2″ stainless steel pipe cap
  14. (1) tube food grade silicon sealant
  15. (1) roll of teflon tape
  16. Conduit parts for the power boxes and end of the heating element.
  17. Project / electrical boxes for the electrical components

Tools

  1. Corded hand drill
  2. Step drill bits (up to 3/4″ diameter)
  3. Sheet metal nibbler and compressor if necessary
  4. Adjustable wrenches (including two large enough to handle the nuts on the heating element
  5. Screwdrivers, wire cutters, etc.

Installing the heating element

Electric Element and Nut

Your element and the associated nut will look something like this…

 

 

 

 

Marked out ID marked out on pot

 

Use the nut to trace out the inside dimensions of the hole you’ll need on the bottom of the bigger pot – you’ll see about how high up in the next picture.

 

 

 

Drill a pilot hole roughly at the center of the circle you’ve drawn.  Ideally center punch to make starting the drill easier.  Then switch to a step drill to enlarge the hole so that the nibbler can fit into the hole.

 

Step bit on Element hole
Use the nibbler to expand the hole to roughly the correct diameter

 

 

 

Element hole expanded with air nibbler

  

You can either file or use an air die grinder with a grinding stone to finish up the hole to dimension.  Trial fit until the element threads through the hole you’ve just created.

 

 

Air die grinder finishing up the hole

Element installed in the pot – nut on the inside

Here we are with the element and gasket threaded into the pot for test fitting.  When you do the final fit you’ll want to apply food grade silicon sealant on both sides of the fitting

 

 

 

 

Installing weldless fitting – pot outlet

Marking out diameter for weldless fitting hole

You’ll need to go through the same procedure to install the weldless fitting that you used for the element.

 

 

 

 

 

View inside the lower pot – element and exit port installed

 

Here’s the view of the inside pot with the element and the drain installed.

 

 

 

 

In the next installment I’ll cover the steps necessary to wire up (and cover up) the element leads and the rest of the fittings on the boil pot, as well as the steps needed to modify the inner pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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King Arthur Flour Sourdough Starter Review

King Arthur Sourdough Starter in KA Crock

I’ve been using a variety of sourdough starters for a couple of decades, it offers both great flavour for your breads – that particular sour tang, while also giving you a more resilient method of leavening bread compared to commercial yeast.

Those starters – some of which were home made, starting from commercial yeast, from airborne cultures, from those on grapes or rye, and others which were purchased both dry and liquid or shared from others – varied in quality.   Compared to the King Arthur starter some were more sour but none matched the effectiveness at leavening bread.

Using sourdough is a great and low cost means to produce great beads at home, and the starter from King Arthur is probably the easiest way to boost your chances of success.

https://youtu.be/zSKxpjbwuGY

 

 

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Simple Hop Basket for Brewing

I love the diversity and control that all grain homebrewing gives me, and the fact that it moves me a bit further towards producer on the producer – consumer continuum.  Part of producer component comes from growing much of the hops that I use in my brewing on lines up the side of my two story house.

Construction of the hop ball from two stainless steel strainers.

Now in brewing there are a number of options on how to handle your hops – some of which are pretty pricey.  One method I’ve found to be quick, cheap and effective is using all stainless steel strainers from the dollar store.  I use two strainers and some stainless steel wire from the hardware store to effectively build a big hop ball (like a tea ball only bigger).  The far side of the handle part of the strainers is permanently wired together while the short section of wire keeping the handles together is removed to fill and empty the ball.

Fast, simple, cheap and useful – a pretty sound project endorsement.

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Homemade Butter Toffee

Homemade butter toffee

Butter toffee has to be one of the best candies out there – growing up I had a mild addiction to Macintosh toffee – if I had the choice between a candy bar and one of the Mack tartan box I’d jump at the hard and chewy later option every time. Corporate consolidation saw the Canadian version I had in my childhood disappear a while ago, and while a modern version came back out after a few years it just doesn’t measure up in my view.  Fortunately homemade butter toffee has to be one of the easiest candies to produce in your own kitchen.  Simple ingredients, quick to produce and no pulling required.

So if you’ve missed that original tartan candy or never experienced it – give this recipe a try.

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Homemade Christmas Candy Boxes – The Christmas Tree

Letterpress Christmas Candy Box

The three stages, 1. Print, 2. Cut and Score, 3. Glue to finish

For the last several Christmases we’ve gotten a bit creative with our letterpresses – first the kids have to do their own lino-cut suitable printing block for our Christmas cards, and secondly I design, carve and print up a box to hold the homemade candy we’ll give to family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

I find the box making to be a fun and creative process that also makes the homemade candy stand out – or at least I think so!

Christmas Tree Candy Box Template

Christmas Tree Candy Box Template

So this year I came up with a Christmas tree design box.  It actually just fits on a 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper – so tight that the upper flap has the corners missing – but since it gets stapled closed that doesn’t really detract from it – and I wanted the maximum volume for the candy – so it seems a fair trade off.

While you might not have a letterpress you can produce these boxes for yourself.  Download the image and print it out on cardstock.  As a heavier weight it works well for making these boxes, regular printer paper is OK for demos but won’t stand up when filled.

Cut out around the external solid line and then score along the internal solid lines in order to allow for easy bending.  Fold and glue the tabs to the back of the tree sides and your box is complete and ready to be filled.

Have fun and some great holidays.

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Simple Plywood Jigs for Welding

Jigs are commonly used in industry to speed production of repeated assemblies, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t be using them in your own shop to make your life easier too.

Plywood jig for welded T's

Plywood jig for welded T’s

Now one of the key things whenever you are undertaking a project is to assess the tolerances required – I think that’s becoming less of a factor in industry with computer controlled equipment, but if you shop is like mine – pretty manual, then tolerances are a key factor.  Keep that in mind when you produce the jigs.  In this case I’m welding up parts for an iron and oak shelf for my brother and sister in law.  It has to be square but doesn’t need to be super precise – so a quickly put together jig made from scraps of plywood is just the think to make the repeat assemblies quickly and accurately.

Plywood Welding Jig for table legs

Plywood Welding Jig for table legs

While there are six T’s those are fitted into two larger leg assemblies – while there isn’t a whole lot of repeatably required with only two assemblies quickly assembling a jig to ensure that the parts get put together and are square and in the right spots is well worth the ten minutes it took to screw the plywood pieces together.  The end result is that the leg assemblies were identical – and I ended up saving a lot of time and cursing because they made holding the elements in the correct space without having to double and triple check.

Tack welded table leg, making sure it stands square before final welding

Tack welded table leg, making sure it stands square before final welding

Now, wooden jigs for welding are not necessarily long lasting given wood deteriorates when heated to a temperature that will melt metal.  Sure, but you probably aren’t turning out hundreds of assemblies so this is a bit irrelevant, and the speed, ease and low cost offered by using wood more than offset the limited life-cycle of flammable jigs.

So, next time you have a welding job consider using jigs in your setup if it’s appropriate.

https://youtu.be/gYuXsY6IUVA

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Nut Milk Press Concept

I was recently asked for a proposal on how to increase the amount of nut milk expelled from a mix of the remaining nut pulp after the free liquid had drained off.

Nut milk press concept

Nut milk press concept

Here’s my first go at a design formulation.  The key here is to apply pressure to the pulp to force out the remaining liquid.  There’s a couple of ways to go about that but a lever is probably the easiest and most sanitary with out special provisions.  There are alternatives though – you could for example use a car jack for greater pressure – but I’d tend to want to strip off the regular grease and then grease the screw up with a food grade product.

First I’d start with the press basket – a tall stainless steel container.  Tall containers offer the same volume as wider shallower ones but because the press disk will be smaller in size the pressure applied to the disk will be greater.  Think Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI) – bigger disk more square inches therefore less pressure for the same force.  There could be some tall mixing bowls or maybe one of those stainless steel kitchen cutlery containers.

Now the press basket needs holes in it to allow the expressed liquid to leave the vessel.  Holes can be a pain to drill on a round surface –  a much faster route is to use a dremel type tool with the small abrasive disks to cut slots along the side of the basket – I used settled on this technique when building the electric countertop brewing system after struggling with drilling.

A press disk – preferably some good hardwood – oak or maple would be my choices.  Cut the disk so it fits into the press basket – shouldn’t be a tight fit.

Then the frame for the press – probably 2x4s – two frames held appart with other pieces of 2×4.  A press pin in the back – probably 3/4″ steel pipe.  A lever – preferably hardwood but for a start go with another chunk of 2×4.  have the lever press on a block – probably  a 4×4 (or two pieces of 2×4 screwed together) that sits on the press disk.  You may need a couple of lengths of these depending upon how much you get your material to compress and the travel of the lever.

The press basket should sit in a pan or pot to catch the expelled milk – maybe on a wooden riser, and that pot should probably be supported with some pieces of 2×4 between the press frames.

The only question here would be if the unit would move too much with the pressure from the lever – I don’t know how much effort would need to be applied.  If the lever didn’t work I’d move to a car jack from the junk yard cleaned up.

Good luck.

 

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DIY FirePiston Fire Starting

Fire Piston cylinder (L) and piston (R)

Fire Piston cylinder (L) and piston (R)

There are loads of different ways to start a fire – but one of the neatest ones has to be with a fire piston.  Matches and lighters are well known, using electricity…  well that isn’t that unusual and flint… well that is pretty well understood too, but starting a fire with compression – especially the compression that you can generate with only your own force – well now that is different.  That latter method – compression is exactly the means that a fire piston uses.

If you’ve got a few tools you can easily make your own setup in a couple of hours.  I used an aluminum round for the body and bored it out so that a rod fitted with an O-ring to improve the seal would just fit.  The piston has a small cup machined in the end to hold char cloth and that’s it.

For those not familiar with char cloth it’s cotton that is carbonized to become great tinder.  It’s simple to make too.   Wash out a tin can put in some old cotton material – like bits of t-shirt, put the top in if you have it and then cover it all with aluminum foil.  The idea here is to keep air out – you want to char not burn the cotton.  Put it on a BBQ burner or in a campfire and keep heating it until smoke stops emanating.  Then cool it before removing the foil.

Notice cup in the end of the fire piston for the charcloth

Notice cup in the end of the fire piston for the charcloth

Now when you use the fire piston you’ll put a bit of the charcloth in the cup of the piston, slide the piston just into the cylinder and then holding the cylinder slam it down on a hard surface to drive the piston up.  Quickly remove the piston and you should find the char cloth has an ember ready to be gently fanned into the start of a fire.

It’s a cool way to start a fire, and a good way to come to appreciate the value of a lighter!  Have fun and safe machining.

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Homemade Whole Wheat Pasta

Home Pasta Machine

Home Pasta Machine

Fresh pasta is a feature of high end Italian restaurants – and with good reason its flavour and texture blows away the dried competition.  Underlying that foundation to a great meal though is the reality that making pasta at home is easy, quick and fun.

You’ll need a pasta machine – here we’re making rolled pasta not the extruded sort (that’s for another day).  These are low cost, I picked up one recently for the cottage on special for $20 and generally come with the main rolls whose gap can be adjusted as well as spaghetti and linguine making rolls.

To use whole wheat flour – I grind mine in the homestead mill for the freshest flavour – you’ll need to increase the hydration compared to using most commercial flours – so this recipe adds an additional egg to the dough.  While you can do the kneeing by hand a stand mixer makes life very easy and I would find it hard to go back to living without one in my kitchen.

Homemade whole wheat pasta with garden fresh sauce

Homemade whole wheat pasta with garden fresh sauce

The other thing to bear in mind is that while the overall process doesn’t take much time from you (particularly if you have a stand mixer) it can’t be rushed.  For the dough to be rolled out easily it needs to be left for a couple of hours in the fridge.  So make the dough in advance and toss it in a ziplock in the fridge – for a few hours or a couple of days.

When you are ready for your fresh spagetti or linguini put your salted water on the stove to boil and generally I find that by the time the pot is boiling – under ten minutes for me – the pasta is ready to be dropped in.

Cooking time for fresh pasta is significantly less than for the dry version so keep that in mind when timing the other components of your meal.