Sunday, November 21, 2010

Soap Making 2

I made soap today. I have an abundance of pork fat from the pig we butchered so instead of using just bison fat like I did my first time, I used pork lard too. I spent most of the time calculating the proportion of lye to fat. I had a reference that gave me the saponification values (SAP) for beef and pork fat. That is the amount of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) in milligrams it takes to make soap out of one gram of fat. Beef tallow = 197 and Pork lard = 194.6.

I used a half pound of each and averaged the SAP value to 195.8. For one pound of fat I needed .1958 lbs. of lye. But since I used Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), I had to multiply by the fraction 40/56.1 to get a proper conversion. Finally, to make the soap milder and less caustic to naturally acidic human skin I discounted the lye by another 15.5% to come up with a final number of .1179lbs. or 53.47 grams.

While this seems a bit complicated, it's pretty cool. Once you know the SAP values of various fats and oils you can concoct you own mixtures. This time I tried a relatively simple 50% bison/50% lard mixture, but in the future I could throw in olive oil or another type of oil. Each fat and oil has different properties that can affect the hardness, amount of lather and other characteristics of the finished product.

In this picture I weighed half a pound of beef tallow.

I mixed the beef tallow and pork lard together in a pan over low heat. I then added the grams of lye crystals to water. The lye and water reacted and heated up to around 120 degrees with no outside heat required. I monitored both pots and once they were both around 95 degrees I poured the lye into the fat mixture.

After combining them I stirred the mixture for about 25 minutes. Almost right away the mixture smelled like soap.

After 25 minutes the mixture thickened up. I added purple dye and lavender scent and mixed it together. It actually took a fourth of the bottle to change the color very much.

Finally, I poured it into a rusty cupcake tin which I dedicated to soap making.

Here the soap will sit for a couple days to harden up. After that I will pop them out of the tin and let them cure for a couple weeks before using them. My hope is that using lard will make the bars softer and perhaps lather better than the 100% bison mixture.

The recipe I used was:
1/2 lb. bison tallow
1/2 lb. pork lard
53.47 grams lye crystals
enough water to dissolve the lye.
dye and scent to taste.

I read online that lye crystals are no longer sold in stores because they have been used to make illegal drugs. If this is true then I will eventually run out of a critical ingredient in soap. This gives me more motivation to harvest my own lye using wood ash. I hope to experiment with that in the future.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dehydrated Eggs

Sometimes I have more eggs than I can deal with. It's a good problem to have. When I can't get rid of them at work, I've started dehydrating them. Basically I just scramble them up and poor them out onto wax paper on the dehydrator trays. It can be tricky putting the trays in without spilling egg.

This is what it looks like after it's dehydrated.

The dried egg flakes off the wax paper easily. I next add it all into the food processor. This chops it up into little crumbles. This is where I stop. Using a mortise and pestle I was able to grind it further into a powder. The egg still caked together though, at least in the humidity of the Pacific Northwest. It's not really worth the extra effort to try to make powdered eggs.

It's pretty simple to cook them with a little water. They don't transform back into a nice scrambled egg consistency. Instead each little crumble hydrates and keeps it's form. They taste just like normal eggs, but the form they are in is strange.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Survival Trip 1

This post is actually one month overdue. I have been distracted by many things and am finally getting around to writing this survival trip debriefing. My friend Andrew and I drove out to the Tillamook State Forest west of Portland. We didn't have a definite spot we were heading for. A water source near our camping spot was a requirement and there were plenty of streams on the map. We discovered that there was BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land on the way to the state forest and opted to camp there. We passed many official camping sites as we drove towards the eastern boundary of the Forest.

Another requirement was that we were fairly isolated from other people. It kind of kills the survival vibe when you see other people around. We turned off the main road and drove a ways. We stopped when we saw a grassy clearing among the Fir trees. We inspected the area and found heavy Elk sign. Besides scat everywhere we saw where they had laid in the grass.

I immediately wanted to camp there. It was 50 yards from a stream and had nice shelter possibilities. Because we were in the hills a lot of the terrain was sloped but the clearing was flat.

The first night we eased our way into survival mode. No tents or mattress pads. We gathered grass for bedding and used our sleeping bags. The next day we began in earnest. I allowed myself the following items: the clothes I was wearing, a knife, and a 40 oz. stainless steel container full of water.

Typically shelter is the first priority, but we kind of cheated by finding our shelter location the day before. Because the weather was mild and the sky was clear we bumped water up to our first priority. Since we had also found our water source the day before we made fire our first priority so that we could sterilize water for drinking.

The biodiversity of the forest was low. We theorized it was because of the logging that had gone on there and because of the elevation (1500+ ft). As a consequence, we only found a couple of tree species to make fire by friction with. We tried alder first, constructing a bow drill kit from trees by the stream. I dug up roots to use for the bow string.

Andrew assembled the kit and gave it a try while I prepared our shelter. The roots snapped before too long. After a few more tries he quickly exhausted the supply of roots. At that point we could have made some cordage from plant material, but it would have taken a lot of time and likely would have broken too. We decided that in a real survival situation we would have a used a shoelace. We substituted in some paracord instead.

Neither of us could get a coal, although we made plenty of smoke. We decided that alder wasn't going to work and set off on a hike to find a different type of wood. We took the opportunity to graze on thimbleberries on the way. Eventually we found a Big Leaf Maple tree along the road. We took several dead branches with which to make a fireboard and spindle.

When we got back to the camp we made the kit and tried again to make fire. We had hope because Andrew had made fire with Big Leaf Maple before. Despite our best efforts and plenty of smoke we could not get a coal.

By that point it was close to 4pm and we had been working on making fire most of the day. We built a fire and lit it with a lighter. Once we had a fire going Andrew filled my bottle from the stream and set it in the fire. Before the trip I bought the stainless steel bottle specifically so we could boil water in it. Otherwise we would have had to make some container to boil water in.

We had fire and water and I had somewhat prepared a place to sleep. Because the weather was nice we decided that instead of a shelter from the rain we would use the fire for warmth and try to reflect as much of its heat at us.

In the clearing there was a downed tree that provided a natural wall. I cleared out the area and made it level. I laid down the grass we gathered from the night before and gathered more as well.

We then built a reflecting wall opposite the downed tree. This way we would have the heat reflect off both walls onto us. We added branches to the top to contain more heat. Finally we gathered a bunch of firewood to feed the fire all night. We finished at dusk. In truth it was a pretty sloppy shelter and if the weather had turned bad we would have been sleeping in the car.

It was interesting sleeping on the grass bed with no cover. It was a balancing act keeping the fire small enough to be in control and big enough so I didn't have to wake up every 20 minutes to stoke it. I woke up cold several times throughout the night to feed it and eventually just grabbed my sleeping bag as a cover.

The next morning we contemplated our situation. We had fire and water. We could definitely improve the shelter. I had eaten naught but thimbleberries and wood sorrel for the past 24 hours. Food became our priority, but throughout the past day we had seen little in the way of wild edible plants. The stream had little to no fish. We could attempt to make and set traps and then wait till the next day to see if we caught anything.

We decided that in a real survival situation we wouldn't have stayed there. We would have headed downhill along the stream until we found more diverse life. At lower elevations we could have been fat on blackberries and hazelnuts.

We returned the camp to the way we found it and headed out. The donuts I left in the car were delicious, but truthfully going a day without substantial food was pretty easy. I didn't really think about eating that much and by not eating, I was able to make the water I brought last a long time.

So it seemed that we failed in most aspects of survival, but the experience taught us a lot. Next time we go out we decided that we would focus on one or two aspects of survival instead of trying to do it all at once.

Later that day we met up with some of my friends for a long labor day weekend camping trip. It was back to cozy camping. We had a great time and used the opportunity to practice and teach some skills. Andrew gathered cedar and made another bow drill kit. After a couple people tried it, I was able to make fire, somewhat redeeming our failure of the day before.

We taught a few of the other guys how to make some traps. My friend Dan set up his first figure four deadfall. I made sure he knew that that log was going to fall too slow to catch anything.

I found a fresh (one hour old) roadkill squirrel near the site and brought it back to the camp. I pulled out the plastic sheet I keep in my car for just such an occasion. :)


I improvised a hide rack with a plastic water bottle on top of a piece of wood. It's dried and ready for tanning.

I cooked the squirrel legs and back straps on coals and several friends joined me in the treat.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chicken Butchering

My friend Tess raised some meat birds this spring. We butchered them a couple weeks ago. She had three hens and a rooster. They were only a few months old and were already huge. They were so big that they didn't move much and when they did they waddled. The rooster was terrifyingly big. I was scared of him. I was happy that Tess was the one to grab him from the cage. It was a fine trade off for me to be the executioner.

Neither of us had killed or butchered chickens before so I did some research online. Two sources were particularly helpful. WARNING: Both these links show graphic bloody chicken death in picture or video form. The first had very detailed pictures of the whole process from killing to cutting the meat into pieces. We decided that we wanted to skin the chickens instead of plucking because we thought it would save time and energy. We were right. To get information on skinning I found a video on I assumed that the people in this video were interested in efficiency more than using the whole bird because they discarded some parts that were worth keeping such as the organs and neck.

Most of the sources I found showed people using a metal cone to secure the chicken upside down so its neck could be cut and it could bleed out without flapping its wings about. I wasn't able to find one or build one of my own. Instead I held both legs in one hand as Tess held the head and a wing. With my free hand I slit the artery under the jaw. Inevitably the birds flapped about a bit as the blood drained out. After we were sure they expired, we hung them up to finish bleeding.

We each butchered two chickens. Tess gave me the rooster. Fully cleaned and gutted he weighed in a 11 1/2 lbs! Almost as big as a turkey. You can see in the picture below how big his body was.

Tess began the skinning process the same as with any animal.

In this picture both of us cleaned our second bird.

The rooster fully skinned and gutted. Keeping the neck on made it easy to carry and rinse off with the hose.

Killing something is never easy to do emotionally and I was nervous about it. It was especially challenging to kill at close range and hold the animal as it died. Now that I know I can handle it, I plan to raise some meat birds next spring. I really like the idea of eating meat that I am responsible for from egg to oven. I'll probably buy baby chicks, but "egg to oven" sounds better.

So far I shared one delicious baked chicken breast with a friend. My roommate and I grilled up two legs and I made some stock from the carcass including the neck, hearts and livers. Its probably not the best season for chicken stew but I'm going to give it a try anyway.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pig Roast, Butchering and Stone Weapons Test

This is a very late post. This event actually took place at the end of May. My brother organized a pig roast at my place the week before his wedding. We had never roasted a pig before but my brother researched how to do it online.

We started Friday night by digging a pit in my backyard in the rain. With three of us it didn't take too long. We then lined the pit with scrap stone counter top slabs and added additional rocks to the bottom.

Early Saturday morning we started a fire in the pit. We let it burn for 2-3 hours to make sure the rocks were red hot.

While we monitored the fire, our friend Jason acquired the pigs. They were freshly killed and cleaned that morning. The pig we bought for roasting weighed about 80 lbs.

We stuffed it full of meat and vegetables. On the right side of the picture there is a chicken stuffed with a Cornish game hen stuffed with garlic. We also had squid stuffed with carrots and bison sausage. Other people put hot rocks inside the pig to help cook it thoroughly, but I think they might be wasting space where other food can go.

After we stuffed it, Jason sewed it up and then we wrapped it in foil and chicken wire. The foil was mainly to keep it clean and moist. The chicken wire helped keep it in one package when moving it.

Once we had it all prepared, we shoveled some dirt on the fire to put it out and create a level surface to rest the pig on.

Then we laid down freshly cut grass as another barrier against dirt. On top of that we laid the pig.

More grass on top.

Then we shoveled dirt on top to seal in the heat. We continued to add dirt where ever we saw steam escaping. We allowed the heated up rocks to cook the pig for about 7 hours.

When we removed it, we were very pleased with the results. The pig was completely cooked. Because there was no direct flame and all the moisture was trapped, the meat was very tender and juicy.

The other meat and vegetables inside were also pretty well cooked.

A slice of squid stuffed with carrots and bison sausage.

While the pig cooked for 7 hours, we butchered a 330 lbs pig. We strapped its legs to a long pole and four of us carried it over our shoulders like you would see in a movie. We rigged up a tripod with some long logs and hung it for butchering.

Before we started butchering it we tested some primitive stone weapons. My brother wanted to test the effectiveness of the Macuahuitl he made. A Macuahuitl is a wooden sword lined with flakes of obsidian. According to written accounts by one of Cortes's men, an Aztec warrior cut off the head of his horse with one.

Because the way pig was situated, he had to kneel to take a swing. He also had to be careful not to hit the tripod. Despite the less than ideal positioning, his first swing cut through to the bone. A few more swings and some sawing removed the head. The Macuahuitl is truly a deadly weapon and I imagine it could decapitate a man without too much trouble.

Next I gave it a thrust with my obsidian spear being careful not to damage the precious bacony parts of the animal.

Despite the tip being dull it penetrated pretty deeply without too much effort.

Andrew K shot my dacite pointed arrow and to his credit struck home on the first try despite the low quality of its construction.

Like the spear, the arrow penetrated pretty deep.

After our weapons testing, Jason led the crew in butchering the pig. Most of the meat went towards making bacon. Since then I've tried a few slices and it is delicious. There will definitely be more pig roasting and butchering in the future.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

New Chicken Coop

The chickens I bought two months ago have gotten pretty big. Too big to keep in a bin in the house. They are still too small to put out with the big girls though so Sunday I finished building a new coop for them. I found a design on that was pretty easy to build. I scaled it down 25% to make the footprint 3'x3' and made several other modifications.

This smaller size made it impractical to have a ramp lead from the bottom level to the top so I put in a ladder instead. The birds can actually just jump from the ground up to the top level. It took a couple days for the birds to learn how to go up and down. I had to move one from the bottom back up to the top because it couldn't figure it out and it was starting to get dark.

I added a built in feed holder. It allows me to dump a bunch of feed in and forget about it for awhile. The lid is slanted so the birds don't sit up there and poop on it.

I had intended to add a pretty big run, but realized I didn't have enough chicken wire. Instead I built a small run that adds another 3'x3'. In total it is way bigger than the bin they were in. It will be easier to expand the run if I want. I just need more chicken wire. In the picture below you can see the older ladies coming over to check out the new birds for the first time.

At the back of the run I left a movable flap of chicken wire so I could get to the water bucket. It is held firm with two rocks.

In the larger coop I finally installed the waterer that is gravity fed from my rain barrels. The valve opens when the weight of the water in the dish is too light. With a 55 gallon barrel dedicated to this water source, I essentially don't have to worry about water for my chickens except for when the temperature is below freezing.

The new coop has another use. If I decide to get a rooster and raise chicks, I can use this additional coop to isolate a mother and her chicks. I imagine I'll have to make some improvements to it to make it cozier, but the hard work is done.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

New Chickens

I stopped at the store on my way home tonight. I meant to run in quickly to grab some more egg cartons. I had forgotten to pick some up a few days earlier when I bought feed. I decided to check out supplies for raising chicks. I was surprised to find the aisle lined with feed bins full of baby hen chicks. I bought three Rhode Island Reds and two Leghorns. They were only about $2.50 each. Together with the gear and food, the total was $60. In my excitement I forgot to buy cartons. :)

The little ones chirped all the way home and haven't stopped yet. I put them in a plastic bin and they seem to be doing well so far. The infrared heat bulb kind of distorts the true color in the pictures below. The light colored ones (Leghorns) should grow up to be white, while the darker ones should be a reddish brown when full grown.


Rhode Island Red

On a sadder note I found one of my birds lying dead in the front yard Sunday night. I believe it jumped over the porch rail and Ace attacked him. He had been waiting for the chance since I first brought the chickens home.

Monday, February 22, 2010

This Is What Healthy Lungs Look Like

Last Saturday my friends and I butchered a bison. Most of the pictures are similar to the first two times we did it so I don't have anything new to say about it. My friend did capture this interesting video of me. I learned this trick from my friend Tony.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Rain Barrels

Last weekend I finished installing my rain water catchment system. The system will function as an emergency backup water source. My house runs on well water that is powered electrically. If the power goes out, I have no water. If I owned the house I would install a backup system, but as a renter it doesn't make a lot of sense. Also, I learned that if a dog should happen to rip the faucet off the outdoor spigot, I have no water pressure which makes it hard to get water. So having 220 gallons of water stored is a little insurance against water system failure.

Although it will function as a back up water reserve for household use, it will be the primary water source for my garden. This is why I located it on the uphill side of the house. With the future garden being downhill of the rain barrels, I should have enough water pressure to water the garden. The catchment system is also situated near my chicken coop and will serve as the water source for my chickens as well.

To begin I obtained four 55 gallon plastic barrels from a friend. I researched quite a bit on the internet to figure out the best way to set them up. The following links are where I got most of my ideas. The first link especially contains the technical details I needed. If you look at it, you'll see from the pictures that most of my system uses ideas found within.

water conservation pdf pdf

August Home Publishing pdf

A Spouse's Guide to Building the Perfect Rain Barrel System

Each rain barrel has two bung holes on top.

The bung holes are perfect for this project because the have a built-in threading. I simply drilled out a hole in the center.

Here you can see the PVC piece threads into the bung cap perfectly. This made the project so easy because I didn't have to drill out my own holes and worry about making a water-tight seal. All it took was a little teflon tape wrapped around the threading of the PVC piece. Not using a permanent sealant also allows me to reconfigure or move the system with ease.

As you'll see in the pictures at the end of the post, the rain barrels are actually set up upside down. Therefore, I had to make an opening on the bottom of the barrel to collect water.

I added a screen over the intake to filter out debris and to keep mosquitoes out. My entomologist father warned me more than once to do this.

Below you can see the barrels set up in series. It took considerable time to get the cinder blocks level. They aren't the prettiest things to look at, but they are a cheap and effective solution. Elevating the barrels is necessary to have a place for the pipes to go, but the added benefit is that they are elevated above the garden as well.

After installing the outlet piping on barrel 1, I set up a piece of twine as a guide for installing the pipes for the other three.

The following pictures show the completed system. Rerouting the downspout was easy. I bought the elbow piece under the gutter and the plastic piece that wraps the corner and one piece to secure it to the wall. The other parts are from the original downspout.

Behind barrel 1 you'll notice a hose. I took advantage of the second bung hole on the barrel and added a pipe that terminates in a hose fitting. This hose will eventually lead to the chicken coop. I have a water dish that hooks into a hose that fills automatically using a valve triggered by the weight of the water in the dish.

There are a few special features to mention. First, in the picture below you'll notice a pipe at top between barrel 1 and barrel 2. Along with a valve under barrel 1 I can prioritize its filling. I simply shut the valve. As water fills barrel 1, it spills through the pipe into barrel 2. From there the water goes down into the pipes and fills barrels 2, 3 and 4 equally from below.

If I open the valve then all 4 barrels are filled equally. The purpose of this is to make sure the chickens always have water (which comes from barrel 1). At the end of the pipe under barrel 4 there is a faucet where I will connect a hose for watering the garden. With the valve shut, no water from barrel 1 will be used.

Barrel 4 has an overflow pipe at top with a hose fitting. I don't have a hose for this yet. I will most likely send this water to the front yard for use in the garden somehow.

One of the nicest things about this system is that I can easily add new barrels. None of the pipes are permanently in place. It rained Monday and last I checked barrel 1 was full and the others had 4-5 inches. For fun I opened the valve and watched the water level in barrel 1 go down and in the others rise. No leaks to report. It's working great!

Update 03/10/2010: After sometime I noticed that the water level in barrel 3 was not equal to barrels 2 and 4. I figured out that barrel 3 had no way to vent air. My solution was to drill a very small hole near the top to let the air out. There was so much are built up that it blew out air for a good 20 minutes straight. The barrels are all level now.