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Bike foraging

Setanta O’Ceillaigh

When times are hard it pays to ride a bike. Bikes can travel at a reasonable speed, carry a reasonable cargo, and there is very little that can break. They are light enough to carry over rough terrain, and they are very good on gas — they don’t use any. But a bike is more than a means of hauling cargo or getting from place to place; it is also a very valuable foraging tool if you know how to use it.

To forage with a bike, it should be outfitted with a basic kit for the task. A good mountain bike should have a basket in front, and two side baskets in the rear or a cargo bin on the back. A bike trailer is also very useful, but not a necessity. Any basket can be attached to the front of a bike, however my personal preference is a plastic battery box. To attach it, I bore out a few holes in the lip and use zip ties to fasten it between the handle bars. To keep rain water from collecting, I also drill out a few small holes in the bottom. For rear side baskets, I have used a heavy saddle bag basket I picked up in a yard sale and have also used square buckets that I attached to the sides. A milk crate can be added as a rear cargo bin directly over the rear wheel.

A good mountain bike can become an ideal foraging bike with a couple of inexpensive baskets, like these. The bike trailer is nice, but not a necessity.

A few tools are very handy for foraging, these include cloth and plastic bags, a knife, some kind of reaching tool (such as a can grabber or an old wooden cane), some light rope and bungee cords, and either a crack barrel pellet pistol or slingshot with a small amount of ammo. The tools should be stored within easy reach; the front basket is ideal. There should also be room for a water bottle, rain jacket, and any other miscellaneous tools that need to be kept at hand.

When foraging, stick to back roads. Bigger roads can be foraged along, but I recommend not picking anything close to the roadside. This is due to gas and oil runoff and other contaminants that might come from vehicles. Scarcely-used roads should only have a few feet for a no-pick zone, while busy main roads should have up to 100 feet for a no-pick zone. Use discretion.

 

Wild grapes

Recent logging sites might be filled with wild raspberries and blackberries. Old abandoned farms may yield wild carrots, parsnips, and other crops growing outside cultivation. Abandoned houses that are falling in might have asparagus, knotweed, Jerusalem artichokes, and rhubarb growing all over the yard. Forest edges might yield wild ginseng and ginger, hickory, walnuts, and butternuts. Many apple trees have grown near roadsides because someone threw an apple core out a car window. I have found old fences covered in wild grapes. Wetlands can be sources for cattails, duck potato, and wild rice. A gold mine of free fresh fruits and vegetables can be found as long as a bike forager knows what’s what and what is in season.

To collect things, I get off the bike and push it into the grass off the road (easier to do without a trailer attached — with a trailer it is best to use the kickstand).

If I find a dense area of wild grapes that are ripe, I twist the bunches off from the vine and pack them into a doubled up plastic bag (a grocery bag lined with another grocery bag). I don’t bother trying to separate each grape, plus the wild grape is mostly seed. I fill the bags and fill the saddle bag baskets with them. To use them, I dump them all into a large stock pot and pack them down, add about three inches of water, cover the pot, and set it on the stove. I heat the water to a boil and the steam wilts the stems and makes the grapes droop and weep. After a few minutes of boiling, the fruits are turned to a loose mush. I use a cheesecloth to filter out the mush, seeds, and stems, and set the juice aside to make wild grape jelly. Wild grape juice can be jellied following any grape recipe, but the result is a tart jelly not a sweet one. It’s really good.

Wild apples

For apples, I use the reaching tool to hook branches and pull them down to where I can reach them. I pick the best ones and make a big pile that I load into bags and cart home. Roadside apples tend to be small, but make for good cider. To make it without a press, I chop up the apples and crab apples and toss them all in a big stock pot and boil the same as I do for the grapes. After quickly filtering, the result is a tart juice that can be canned as cider or used to make a strong, cider-flavored jelly.

Hickory nuts and butternuts can be picked up off the ground, bagged up, taken home, and cracked with a hammer or nut cracker (depending on species). They can be added to breads and trail mixes, and a good breakfast can be had from boiled cornmeal mush, maple syrup, and hickory nuts. Locally, hickory nuts sell for $5 a gallon, and I know several people who make good money in the fall fighting the squirrels for them.

Cattails

When digging up roots, I use the knife from the tool kit to make a pointed digging stick on the spot. Roots can be piled into a bag, taken home, washed, and cooked.

Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, black raspberries, currents, and other berries can be used fresh, canned as jams, jellies, and pie fillings, or sold for $5 a pint.

I keep note when I see things like asparagus growing wild, that way I can return to the spot in the spring and transplant them to my homestead.

Bike foraging can be enhanced with guerrilla gardening. This can be done by planting onion sets or garlic or by deploying seedbombs. Seedbombs are made from a mix of seeds, fertilizer, and clay, rolled up and air dried and thrown into abandoned areas. When rain water hits the seedbomb the clay dissolves so the seed can start growing with a little fertilizer. Many roadside apple trees grew from accidental guerrilla gardening, and the same method can be used for over ripe garden produce, throwing squash or tomatoes into random places. Sometimes the seeds will germinate and grow wild, sometimes they won’t. Nature has been spreading seeds this way on its own forever. A bird eats a berry, flies away, and the seed is dropped out somewhere else with a little fertilizer. Seedbombs are just mimicking a natural process.

Wild asparagus

Bike foraging can also be used for opportunistic hunting. By keeping a loaded pellet pistol or slingshot in the front basket, it is possible to take rabbits, grouse, squirrel, and woodchuck when so see them as you ride by. (Just know that shooting from the road is illegal just about everywhere, so don’t do that.)

The few dangers I have experienced while foraging on my bike are the same as using a bike in any other way. The biggest danger is aggressive dogs. If a dog gets close, I get off the bike and push it, keeping on the other side of the bike so it acts as a shield. Most dogs back off when I hold up the cane; they know a human with a stick means trouble. Having the pellet gun helps even the odds in an attack. I have been bitten by a few dogs while foraging and don’t take any chances now. The only other dangers I have faced are from reckless drivers.

When foraging, I stick to the back roads, stay out of peoples yards, and only forage from land known to be public (such as state or federal land), from abandoned properties (like run-down, falling-in houses with weeds and shrubs all over the yard), or from other tracts that are obviously not being used for anything. By regularly scouting, it is possible to forage large amounts of free produce. With the right mindset and some simple tools it is easy not only to stay fed, but also make a small income doing so — both things always worth considering when times are hard.

Laundry line tips from an old hat

By Amanda Woodlee

Nothing warms my pioneer blood like clothes hanging on a line to dry. For me it’s a chance to unwind while I take care of household business. It’s a wonderful basic country skill, but, after so many years of doing it, I have found ways to make it easier and avoid its pitfalls, such as dust and scratchy towels.

There are also monetary benefits to line-drying your clothes. The most obvious is how considerably it lowers your electric bill — twofold! First, by not using power for the dryer, and, second, by not heating up your house and forcing the AC to work harder.

A second benefit is whiter whites. Ever leave something in a window too long and find the color faded? Sun-bleaching is an ancient tradition that is still practical. Bonus: the sun has germ-killing powers!

Hanging laundry is pretty simple stuff, and I’m not here to complicate it. Whether you’re new to it or an old hat like me, if you’d like to get the most out of it, here are a few tips I’d like to share from doing this a few years.

Towel the line — It’s warm out, and that means pollen is everywhere. Unless you’re into yellow stripes, take a minute to run a damp cloth down every inch of hanging surface.

Double up — Hang a piece with two pins, then overlap it with the next piece and use the second pin to hold up one side of the next piece, so that they share it. This works best on thinner pieces, and keep in mind it will slow the drying process a smidgen. This, along with grouping like items, is also helpful when you have a lot of pieces to hang so you don’t run out of pins.

Flip out — Remember what I said about the sun? That’s good on whites — leave them be. But, if you want your colors to last, protect their exteriors by turning them inside-out. This is also great for pants because it helps pockets dry faster. Pro-tip: turn underwear inside out. Don’t make me explain why.

Whip it good — Give everything a good shake when you hang it. Helps get the dog fur and wrinkles out. If there’s not any wind, clothes dry in the shape they’re left in, so make it a good one.

Fluff ‘n stuff — When finished, I like to toss the load into the dryer on the air-dry setting for 5-10 minutes; helps get the dust off and softens. Save this task for late at night or early in the morning before the temperature climbs.

Bring it in — Don’t leave clothes on the line overnight, and don’t leave the basket outside all day; the sun dries and weakens the plastic. And if your clothespin bag doesn’t zip, best take it inside so critters don’t move in and surprise you next time you reach inside!

Don’t be such a snag — If you have delicate fabrics (satins, laces, hosiery), consider investing in soft-grip plastic clothespins with rubber feet to avoid snags. For everything else my 50 or so wooden pins do just fine.

Scoot yer boot — I hang my pin bag over one of the middle lines and move it down as I go so it’s always nearby.

Special techniques

I have techniques for hanging every article of clothing. Socks and underthings get one pin each. Shorts and briefs get two — I fold the waistband over the line. Pants are hung upside-down by the leg with a pin on each cuff. Tees, blouses, and polos get a pin at each shoulder.

Button-up shirts, however, have their own special way to hang, a technique handed down for generations in my family. Take the two seams on either side of the shirttail, and pin those. This way the shirt hangs upside-down, and the breeze can flow through the armholes.

As soon as the daily temperature is in the 50s, I start hanging laundry; this year that was February. And I don’t quit until October-November. If I get up early and the sun is warm, I can get three loads done. For my husband and me, I do one a day during the week to maintain.

If the wind is over 10-15 mph, I wait. Better to put it off than risk damaging the clothes. Save sturdy loads (blankets, towels, heavy sheets) for blustery days.

Drawbacks? Not many. The occasional rogue bird needs target practice. Spiders and other critters (mostly boxelder bugs) have met untimely ends in the dryer during post-hang fluffing. I sometimes find their shriveled carcasses on my socks and shake them off. The boxelder bugs have been eating my baby raspberry bush leaves — the meanies deserve what they get.

Feta cheese

 By Melissa Souza

 
As a child I remember my Yiya having balls of curds draining around her kitchen. She was from “Greece’s Old Country” as she called it. Her homemade feta cheese was maybe the best thing I have ever tasted. We used to sneak big chunks of it as it was aging in her fridge. We lost Yiya a few years ago, but keeping her recipes alive for my own children has always been very important to me. In the Old Country they didn’t use things like calcium chloride, but since they are readily available, and make the process a bit easier, I have tweaked Yiya’s recipe a bit.

    1 gallon raw goat milk
    ½ tablet rennent
    1 Tbsp. plain greek yogurt
    1 tsp. calcium chloride
    6 Tbsp. pure fine seasalt (for a later step)

 

 
Heat milk on medium low heat (stirring) until it reaches 88°F. Remove from heat, and stir in one tablespoon greek yogurt (mix it with a tablespoon water so it’s easy to blend), and one teaspoon calcium chloride (this will make your cheese curds more firm). Cover and let sit for an hour. (1)

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Dissolve half a tablet of rennet in about four tablespoons of cold, unchlorinated water. Wisk gently into milk. Cover and let sit overnight or about 12 hours. (2)

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The next morning there will be a layer of whey on top of the pot, and the curds will have separated. Take a long, sharp knife and cut ½ inch slices into the curds. Turn the pot 90 degrees and cut ½ inch lines the other way. (3) Take your clean hand or large spoon and lift the curd strips from the bottom, then cut any large pieces. (4)

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Strain the whey into a large pitcher or jar and save for a later step. (5) Wrap the curds tightly in cheese cloth, and allow to drain until no more whey comes out (about four hours). (6) Unwrap your curds, sprinkle with one tablespoon of pure fine sea salt, and break up curds to mix in all of the salt. (7)

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Transfer curds into your cheese press or mold. There are online ideas for making one if you don’t own one. In my case, I just have the mold, but no cheese weights, so I press the cheese inside by placing my husband’s exercise weights on top. The cheese will sit like this overnight. (8)

Once the cheese is in the mold, transfer 2½ cups of the whey into a jar and add five tablespoons of salt. This will be your brine for your cheese. Let the brine sit out 12-24 hours. Allowing it to sit out will make it acidic, and it must be or your cheese will melt. I set it next to the cheese press, and let both do their thing for 12-18 hours in the summer, or longer in the colder months.

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In the morning dump your cheese onto a flat surface and cut into chunks. Place all the chunks in a container, and cover with the brine. (9) Store covered in fridge, and allow cheese to age in the brine for 3-5 days before eating.

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Why gardening is such good exercise, especially for women

By Tom Kovach

There is an old maxim about exercise: “The best exercise is the one you are willing to do.”

For us rural folk, one of the exercises we are usually willing to do is gardening, because it is part of the lifestyle of living in the country. How lucky for us, because a growing body of scientific evidence says that gardening, even when compared to such strenuous exercises as swimming and jogging, is one of the best exercises a human being can do. The reason is gravity and our evolved need to interact with it.

Ilene Duffy, whose mom, Kathy, suffered from osteoporosis, gardens as a way to help stave off the symptoms of the condition.


Gardening has us bending, digging, twisting, stooping, lifting, carrying, and huffing and puffing to overcome gravity as we plant, nurture, and harvest our vegetables. Swimming lacks the pull of the earth against our bones and muscles, and jogging lacks the constant flexing of our bodies that gardening requires.

Although gardening is good for both sexes, it is especially good for women who are more prone to osteoporosis as they age. Some years ago, in a study undertaken at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville called Physical Activity and Bone Density Among Older Women, it was found that women 50 and older, who gardened at least once a week, showed higher bone density readings than those who engaged in other types of exercise including jogging, swimming, walking, and aerobics.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Lori Turner, then an associate professor of Health and Science at the University, said that research has long shown that weight-bearing exercise can help women maintain healthy bones. “By knowing which exercise provides the greatest benefit, women can design a workout regime that ensures strong bones as they age,” Dr. Turner said.  She added that such preventive measures may reduce the number of people who develop osteoporosis, a debilitating disease that threatens almost 50 million Americans.

“Within our study, more than half the women, 57 percent, showed low bone density,” said Turner. “There is no question that osteoporosis is a problem in our society. But if we persist in only treating the disease, the number of victims will never drop.  We have to find ways to prevent it.”

To gain a comprehensive look at the effects of exercise on older women, Turner looked at the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a data set collected by the National Center for Health Sciences, which contains information on more than 40,000 people. From a pool of women ages 50 and older, she examined how often they performed different activities including gardening, calisthenics, bicycling, dancing, aerobics, swimming, jogging, walking, and weight training. Turner’s research showed only two activities to be significant in maintaining healthy bone mass: gardening and weight training.

Turner said: “We hadn’t expected garden work to be significant. Gardening is sometimes taken for a dainty activity. It’s not. There is a lot of weight bearing motion going on in the garden, like digging holes, pulling weeds, hoeing, and pushing a mower or a tiller.”

The outdoor exposure to sunlight also boosts vitamin D production, which aids the body in calcium absorption.

But gardening and other weight bearing exercises are beneficial for everyone. Doctors noticed years ago that patients recover more quickly after major surgery if they are made to get up and walk (interact with gravity) the morning after surgery. Previously, patients were thought to need bed rest at the start of their recovery, but patients who were encouraged to walk the morning after surgery, even if only across their room and down the hospital hallway, seemed to jump start their recovery.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is conducting numerous studies today to ascertain the effects of zero-gravity over prolonged periods on astronauts. They have discovered that human cells do not properly grow healthy muscles and bones unless they vigorously interact with gravity. The debilitating effects of the lack of interaction with gravity became apparent when astronauts returned to earth after lengthy stays at the International Space Station. The astronauts can neither walk nor even stand, but must be carried from their re-entry capsules. It turns out the astronauts had lost both muscle and bone quality.

Since it can be expensive to study weightlessness on earth, some NASA earth-based studies have involved subjecting test subjects to six months of bed rest as a way to simulate near-gravity situations. They have the test subjects lie in bed for 60 days, eating, defecating, doing everything while laying down. They are hoping the tests will lead to ways to deal with the effects of zero gravity over prolonged periods. The same muscle atrophy and bone loss happens to these test subjects that happens to hospital patients who are bedridden for weeks at a time. Like the patients, the test subjects must undergo physical therapy to recover their former ability to interact with gravity.

Evolution has simply conditioned the human body to depend on gravity to help it produce the biological material that lets its cells successfully produce new bone and muscle. In a nutshell, humans must interact with gravity to remain healthy. The more vigorously we interact with gravity, such as when we garden, the healthier we remain.

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Try harvesting smaller diameter firewood with a bow saw and sawbuck

By Setanta O’Ceillaigh

 Chainsaws are important tools for harvesting firewood, but when money is tight, it is sometimes practical to use a bow saw and sawbuck for part of the task.

seto_sawbuck_0385_optStability is important in a sawbuck.
Bow saws don’t have many parts, don’t often break, and never run out of gas. They do require replacement blades from time to time. A bow saw with a 21- or 24-inch blade can be picked up for about $10, and the bigger 30-inch saws can run between $35 and $50. Modern bow saws are different from the older designs. Modern saws are made to use blades cut from a steel band; they are very sharp and flexible, but they are not easy to sharpen. The steel band-type blades are made to be replaced rather than sharpened, but with care, a single blade can last years. Continue reading Try harvesting smaller diameter firewood with a bow saw and sawbuck

How to make carved wooden bowls

By Evan Hoffman

One easy way to make extra money in your spare time that doesn’t involve the purchase of a lot of expensive, new tools or other large costs up front is to carve large wooden bowls from old burls. The burls can usually be purchased quite cheap from anyone in your area that harvests firewood, or you can collect them yourself if you have a large woodlot.

Continue reading How to make carved wooden bowls