Saturday, February 28, 2015

Phoebe's Top Ten Homesteading Gadgets


The Top Ten List of My Favorite Homestead Gadgets

Slow Cooker
I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not know the true value of this appliance until last year. One thing held me back- I thought Slow Cookers were for soup. But the reality is that they are little ovens too.
Since then I have made some amazing meals in this unit. Sweet and savory, from bread pudding to Cajun flank steak. And roasted beets are shockingly easy in the Slow Cooker. Wash the beets, rub them with olive oil and put them in on low for 8-10 hours and do not add water. They come out wonderfully sweet and you didn't have to heat a huge oven for three beets.
How can you beat something that let's you put raw things in in the morning, press the appropriate button and at the end of the long work day, dinner is magically ready? All the while using very little energy.
But that is not the end of it's uses. I have used it as an axillary heater when severe cold snaps have overtaken the Homestead and it worked very well. It wasn't balmy in the Oasis trailer by any means, but it made it warm enough to keep my bedside water glass from freezing. In addition I have used it very effectively to dry my (clean) wool socks, while it cooked dinner, while it heated the trailer. Now that is something worth having in a tiny house.

Ask any friend of mine and they will tell you that I sing the praises of the dehumidifier all winter long. If I could attribute a sense of coziness and cleanliness to any one thing in our Tiny House it would be the dehumidifier. It keeps things from feeling damp all the time, which is a real problem in small space living. Humans breath out a LOT of moisture. Add to that, rain soaked jackets, dogs and cooking steam and you have a situation in which mold grows on your windows and dust mites rein supreme (dust mites thrive in moist environments). And your wet work clothes will never dry. A Dehumidifier is worth the footprint for sure.
I have owned several Dehumidifiers and my advice on choosing one is to buy a major name brand and buy one that has simple controls like this one. All the dehumidifiers that I've had die were because of the electronic control boards. Believe me you don't need digital readouts and smooth control panel buttons. The plastic just cracks on the "buttons" anyway. This one is 2 years old and humming right along with daily use. It also has a bucket that is easy to empty without spilling the water and an air filter that is easy to remove and clean.

Espresso Machine
Before the Art Shack, we had no place for this slightly frivolous gadget and instead made our coffee with a Mocha Pot, something I still use when having company for coffee. This may seem a stretch, but the Espresso Machine definitely earns it's keep in my mind and not just because it makes my blessed cappuccino. It provides hot water for tea and pours me a glass of warm water to brush my teeth and wash my face when it is so cold out that the pipes have frozen. Oh, and this one will also dry socks while it is heating water.

Toaster Oven
This little Toaster Oven has been the best little unit I've encountered in a long time. I bought it for Buck when we lost our counter space for both a Toaster and a Toaster Oven.  Buck was sad about losing the real toaster. As a toast lover, he felt the Toaster Oven did not really toast, it just dried out the bread. That Christmas I ran across this little unit. It has a real toaster slot on top and a little oven. The oven works great and although it uses barely more counter space than a toaster, it is big enough for a bread pan. I've made some awesome pumpkin bread and square pizzas in this little oven.

Waterproof Case for Smart Phone
I had to almost ruin my phone by dropping it in the wet grass, for the third time, before I finally got this waterproof case for it. I know that many of my friends feel they don't want their phones to be bigger or uglier but none of that matters because I will tell you that this case is worth it's weight in gold.
A very heavy weight lifted from my shoulders when I got this case onto my phone. I paid $500 for this phone, cash, so to replace it is the very last thing I want to do. Literally, THE DAY I put this case on my phone, I accidentally dropped it in the bath tub. My phone has since survived many drops into mud puddles, wet grass, toilets (2) and many a corner drop onto hard surfaces. It is now 2 years old and still working great.

Blue Tooth LG700
I have had at least five different blue tooth units and this one wins hands down. It has a ten hour in-use battery life. It will hold a charge on standby for days. It vibrates when you get a call so you don't have to keep the ear buds in, you can just put them in when you get a call. It is comfortable to wear for hours, unlike an in-ear blue tooth. It has the best sound quality I've ever experienced for both me and the person I am talking to. When a bad connection or environmental noise makes a call hard to hear, having both ears listening makes a big difference. I love the fact that I can listen to my music in clear stereo, without making everyone else listen to my music. And the ear buds are sound canceling and conveniently hanging around my neck, so I often pop them in when I use the chop saw or to mow just to protect my ears.
LG has since moved on with the 750 but I have read it might not be as good. After a year of wearing this all day, I finally wore it out (you can see the white duct tape on the wires as a final attempt to keep it together) and have, since it's demise, purchased a black knock-off of it on EBay. It works great and only cost $25. I will put duct tape on it now, while it is new, and hope that that will prevent the wire breakage. I am pretty hard on these.

LP Barbecue With Side Burner
Although I really do love my Wedgewood Gas Range at the Art Shack it is a bit overkill to keep the pilot light lit on it and burning fuel when I currently don't have time to cook a big meal here at the Homestead.
I have found instead that this old BBQ has been seeing a lot of use this year. This BBQ was headed for recycling when I brought it up here and put it on the deck. At that time I imagined repairing the rusted out gas burners inside the grill and using it for barbecuing. Instead it has become the regular go to, one burner cooking station of choice.
It holds pots and pans and sundries while providing a great burner for one pan meals. You can fund these rusted out BBQs on Craig's List for next to nothing.

Electric Mattress Pad
If any of these gadgets are a real luxury, it's this one. I can't tell you how fantastic it is to get into a warm bed after working in an unheated space for 12 hours. This one is a gift for a friend.

Pressure Washer 
I think a Pressure Washer is like a magic wand. Things other people would toss in the landfill, I pressure wash and use for another year- tennis shoes, area rugs, coolers, feed buckets, filthy gross mud boots, furniture etc. Every Spring and Fall, I whip out the Karcher and brighten our world.

Wind-up Flashlight
And last but not least is this wind up flashlight. If there is a Bang for the Buck Award it would most certainly go to this little wonder. I have one of these in every building on the Homestead. It comes from the Ikea children's department and it costs $5. I own several and have given several as gifts over the last three years and not a single one has broke. It's a life saver for long winter nights. And I never have to worry about the Little Ones, and not so little ones, using up the batteries. It lights up the night with very few windings and is fodder for endless pepper grinder jokes.
Buck and I would love to hear what your favorite gadgets are!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Starting Garden Plants for the Spring

Even though it seems way too early to be thinking about plants for spring, it isn't.
There is a lot to be done before you start the seeds for next years garden.
A list:
Read seed catalogs, choose too many seeds
Dig out saved and older seeds, figure out which ones are still good
Buy potting soil or use your own compost
Beg, borrow and otherwise gather enough 2" to 4" pots and waterproof trays
Cut plant tags out of yogurt cups
Make chamomile tea for watering seeds
Set up a card table in a warm room, near a plug in
Get out the old lamp and put it under the card table
Hang and plug in grow lights, if you don't have a window nearby

It is said that the best time to start tomato and pepper plants for our growing season in Oregon's Willamette Valley is mid February. The basic rule of thumb is 6 to 8 weeks before the time you will want to set them in the ground (with tomatoes and peppers that is when the night time temps are above 50 degrees.) It isn't good to set them out any sooner. I know from experience that the poor little plants will languish in the cold soil in that inevitable cold snap that comes weeks after the last frost.
I did an experiment a couple of years ago in which I started several tomato plants in my usual method. I planted several in the garden as soon as the last frost had gone by and then I planted more of the tomato plants a month later when the soil temperature reached a solid 48 degrees.
The result was extreme. The toms that were planted early never even reached two feet by the end of the summer. They were permanently stunted and barely produced. In contrast the later tomato plants did as well as expected. What surprised me the most was that even though the early plantings received more sunlight than the ones I kept in my window, they were so effected by the temperature that they just couldn't recover.

When is the best time to plant? This can be a complicated judgment call with erratic weather patterns and late Springs, but unless you are psychic, you have to just shoot for a goal time and roll with the changes.

A nice thing about starting your own plants is that you will have plenty to make mistakes with. No matter what happens to my plants in the garden, birds, bugs or weather, I have replacements on my windowsill.

And if I don't use them all, I have several friends who are happy to take them!