Sunday, September 27, 2009


I have been wanting to try my hand at making beer for some time now. My friend Darian has a "Mr Beer" and has made some decent brew before. I however couldn't bring myself to spend 20-30 dollars on a small batch kit. If you are going to go, go all out. Unfortunately full batch kits are a little out of my price range right now.

I decided to scrounge a kit. I started buying beer in bottles that could be re caped. I got as many 5gallon buckets from bakeries as I could carry.I stumbled across some food grade tubing. Then, the mother lode. My friend Kyle mentioned that his grandma had some mason jars I could have, ( see previous post about mason jar addiction) and I was all over that. As I gathered the boxes of jars I noticed in the corner 2 glass carboys. Her husband had made wine as a hobby and she had never gotten rid of it after he passed away. She gave me all of it, including a caper and a bunch of bottle caps(we will get back to that) ,and the cool tipper seen on the left hand carboy.
As a birthday present I already had a ingredient kit and so did my friend Tim. he came up and we made some beer. ( the pictures didn't come out, sorry).

Flash froward a two weeks. The beer is ready and we get everything together to bottle.

The bottling went pretty straightforward, and the next thing we knew we had 10 gallons of home brewed beer.

When Tim and I get together its kind of like summer camp. Two 30 year old men regress into teenagers who are highly amused by fart jokes and quoting "Anchorman" incessantly.
The verdict? Tim's beer turned out alright. it was a American ale so it is pretty light and definitely drinkable.
Mine? Not so much. After making the beer I revisited my beer bible and realized we had made a couple of mistakes, the least of which was me using the 30 year old bottle caps with cork linings for my beer. The cork has disintegrated leaving a nasty taste in my COMPLETELY flat beer.
Oh well. Live and learn. I already have a list of equipment I will be purchasing before my next batch to make it easier and hopefully better.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ballroom dancing, Bobcats, and 77 cubic yards of fill dirt

Our backyard hasn't always been the veritable garden of Eden that is it now.
When we were shopping for houses our realtor said she had one with a pool in the backyard.

" A pool?" We thought. "Sweet." We thought. Not so much. The "pool" turned out to be a concrete hole in the backyard with no plumbing for water, no pump ,and no filter. We loved the house so much that we got it anyway and just planned to fill it in.

We were kind of perplexed at the amount of concrete around the pool but had bigger fish to fry with the mirrored walls and red shag carpeting to tear up.

Our house had been sold at auction and still had a lot of junk in it, including the home movies of the family who lived here before us. We were able to find a projector and one of the movies was of them Ballroom dancing in the backyard.

Mystery solved.

Flash forward to 2 years ago. With most of the work done on the house( any homeowner knows you are never REALLY done) we turned our attention to the backyard. We rented a bobcat with a hydraulic jackhammer on it.

The jackhammer attachment was necessary because I had rented a electric jackhammer and had spent 4 hours unable to break up ANY concrete. Turns out when you are planning on ballroom dancing on a concrete pad it helps if it is 2 FEET thick around the edges. I was able to break up the majority of the concrete and luckily I had a hole to put it in. Unfortunately the jackhammer rental ate up the budget for the dirt , so we spent the next year with half a hole in the backyard.

This spring we were able to finally finish the backyard with the money we saved through out the year. I called a couple of material supply houses for quotes and they figured between 35-40 cubic yards of fill material. They also figured I was rich considering how much they wanted me to pay them to come and fill in the pit of death,as it was now commonly referred to. So on a whim I called a landscaping supply company I worked with at my last job, and their price was a little more reasonable. The catch? it would be dumped in my FRONT yard. One call and a bobcat was once again mine for a day. If you have never had the pleasure of operating one of these I recommend it. It is like the unholy union between a bulldozer and a zero turn lawnmower. It also makes short work of moving dirt. Going off the estimates of the Professional landscapers I ordered 40 cubic yards. Imagine a cube made of yardsticks. Now imagine 40 of them. The landscape supply company said no problem and that would be three of their big dump trucks full. We will be there at 9. Promptly at 9:15 the next morning he arrived with 13 yards. He dumped it and I started hauling. By the time he got back I was slightly concerned at the amount of hole I still had to fill in. No big deal I still had 26 yard to go. Right? Buy the time I had the second load in and he was back with the rest I new I would need more. "Can I get another load?" I inquired. 'Uh, I have another job to do and the soonest I could get you some is Tuesday." (it is Saturday) hmmm I pondered. I only had the bobcat until Sunday. The thought of moving 13 more yards of fill dirt with my wheelbarrow hasn't that appealing. " Let me call my boss." he piped up seeing my dilemma. Score! the other job was delayed and I soon had 20 more yards of fill piled in the front yard with the other 13. Surely this massive pile of dirt will get the job done. Sadly no. By the time I had it spread it was getting late and I still needed more. A frantic call to the landscape house, some begging and the offer of a extra delivery fee ( he declined ) and I was promised a packed full truck. When the driver showed back up his truck was a little bulgy. "He packed in a extra 4 yards in the truck for you."

Perfect, another 17 yards would do the trick for sure. He backed up his truck, unlocked the bed release and went to dump the load of dirt.

It was stuck. In his overzealous loading he had loaded so much dirt in the back that it was wedged in there. After some head scratching from the driver and tongue biting from me, He finally settled on driving up the street with the bed tilted all the way up, putting it in reverse , gunning it ,and slamming on the brakes when he got to our yard. I worked and only left 30% of it in the middle of the street. After writing a check,and using the bobcat to get the rest of it out of the street I called it a night.
The next day I finished spreading the dirt, raked it out and spread grass seed. All in all about Par for the course when it comes to home improvement here at the farm.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hi, My name is Ben

I have a problem.
I am completely obsessed with mason jars.
Oh it started innocently enough. I bought a flat of jars from the store to can last years tomato harvest. Not having a canner of my own, my mother in law let me use one of hers that wasn't in use. while digging it out of her garage( and I mean DIGGING) I noticed some old boxes of jars in a corner. "what are those?" I asked. "Oh, just some jars we got out of the cellar before we filled it in. you can have them if you like." hmmm. Free jars?I am sold.
It was all downhill from there. Next thing I knew I was cleaning out every basement, well house,barn and even crawlspace on the farm looking for more mason jars. I had accumulated quite a collection in anticipation of all of the canning I was going to do this Summer. After all I was doubling the size of my garden and planting such a variety I would be lucky to have enough jars anyway. This is akin to counting chickens before they hatch. The backyard project went over budget enough to nix my 50/50 mix of compost and soil I wanted to use to fill my raised beds. "That's alright", I thought. "I planted right in the ground last year and they did alright". Well the dirt that we used for fill was fine for grass, but not for vegetables. That and the super wet,slightly cool summer has really decreased the bounty this year.
So I had more than enough jars. Did this stop me from acquiring more? No. While driving one day, I passed a house with 4 trash cans in front of it with the sign " free jars, take them all"
I briefly contemplated putting them in the back of my work truck, but I figured the package delivery company I work for might have frowned on that. So I worked the rest of the day just knowing that someone was taking MY jars. After work I jumped in the car and flew back to the house. Score! they were still there I began to load them, taking time to separate them by size and usability( some were non mason ). After the second trash can I realized that I would be to just lucky fit them in so I began to just pile. When I got home Jenifer and I sorted the good from the bad and came up with 4 large laundry baskets full. I now , not counting the jars with food in them, have enough jars to can 75 gallons of food. That's right, gallons.
Does this stop me from cruising craigslist for more free jars? No. eBay ,looking for the elusive gallon size? No.
I need help.