Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Market Days * Life Lessons

 Market season starts just as Norah gets out of school. And now that she is 7 yrs old, its a lot easier, not having to chase a 3 yr old around the booth! She helps with the signage, selling, setting up, and of course wooing the customers. Really, I think we sell more when she starts talking to them ..hehe
She loves shopping at the market, and was so excited to get her Purple Cauliflower from Zydeco Moon Farm. She also loves the sugar snaps and of COURSE the homemade chocolate chip cookies.

She has been quite a help around  the homestead too! Last week she helped us process 18 chickens, she plucked, carried plucked birds to dad, filled the coolers with ice and water..

I am so proud of her and hope she carries these lessons into adulthood....

This week she has camp, so I guess I am left harvesting, washing and packaging solo.

We love Market days!! A great way to spend the afternoon as a family..

Find your nearest Market and Support your LOCAL farmer!!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Solar Hot water Round #2

So. last year, if you read our previous posts, we built a passive solar hot waterbread box for our hot water in the summer. And while it worked, it was just too far away from the shower, so by the time the water got back to the shower the tank filled up with cold water, it was just too far of a run. So we really only got a about one showers worth of hot water on a sunny day. and as soon as the sun went down the temperature of the water in the tank dropped immediatly.

So this year my husband built a solar hot water collector. Which is actually a solar panel. Some people think of solar panels as the part that generates the electricity, but this is actually not true, that is called a solar module. A solar panels are actually water heating devices.

So we are going to do our best to explain to you  how we built our solar hot water panel.


- repurposed glass ( we used sliding glass door, you want something about that size , about 32x80", which is pretty good size) double paned is better
-some lumber to build a frame, treated 2x4's and treated plywood ( because this will be sittting outside on your roofe)

- some type of insulation , foam board insulation  to line the inside of your box

- a metal absorption plate, we used some repurposed metal roofing spray painted black

-spray paint, black, flat works best

- some type of copper tubing to build your heat exchanger, depending on size .. we got a couple peices of 3/4" pipe and also a few rolls of the soft copper refrigeration tubing.
( please note that there are many different ways to build an exhanger which will require different amounts of copper, fittings etc) we chose this method because I could drill holes in the 3/4" pipe and insert the small tubing braze around it to make like a ladder type effect

- temperature controller, ours is a a close on rise temperature controller. ours is a honeywell.

-fasteners, misc nuts and bolts and glues and caulk etc :)

- air vent

- pressure releif valve ( Very important, for safety issues!!!!)


We decided to keep our hot water storage tank (which is well insulated) so that way the water you heat up stay hotter longer.. so if the sun goes down you still have time to take a shower.. so its not connected anymore, its just a storage tank.
So first we built a box for the sliding glass door to sit on.

Then, we put blueboard insulation on the inside of that wooden box.

Then we put our metal roofing , cut to fit, and set on top of the insulation and then screwed it down.

Next we built our heat exchanger to fit inside of that box..
You can sodder or braze or the copper. Robb Chose to braze. it saved money on purchasing extra copper connectors etc..

once you build your heat exchanger you need to locate your air vent and your pressure temp relief valve at the highest point of your heat exchanger so that they operate correctly.

After the panel is built you can run your water lines to your storage tank, (our storage tank serves as a storage tank for our wood fired hot water in the winter as well) so all we had to do was put in some T's and a couple of extra valves and we were pretty much set.

Since our sytstem is shared with the wood fired system, we have a second temperature controller, which is split my a center off switch, so for example: on a SUNNY winter day, you can have wood fired hot water in the morning, switch the center off switch to the other position and finish it off with SOLAR hot water... which we arent sure how many of those days we will have, but we will see.

We also put in some T's and some valves a the lowest part of the system so we can drain the water from the exchanger during the cold winter months, so it doesn't freeze,

I hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration !!
Here are some photos to give you a better idea ! There are so many ways to do this, find what works for you and go for it!

The Cools

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Shiitake Mushrooms. Grow your Own!

Spring is here,, the birds, the flowers, the greens from the garden, and this years new addition, SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS!
Last year Robb and I innoculated 50 logs. We plan to do about 50 or more this fall, maybe more!.

some things don't do well here in the Hollar.. but some things do,, and one of them would be mushrooms. We actually live in a temperate Rainforest ( lots of rainfall , forest canopy), so our conditions are pretty much Ideal for mushrooms. Robb suggested that I see how it goes, and if all goes well to maybe start a small scale mushroom operation.

For anyone thinking about growing them I say go for it. Although It can be labor intensive ( getting the logs can be a lot of work or money if you don't have access to down trees) bot other than that , it is a fairly easy process.

The spawn can be purchased and many different places. We purchased our from Fieldandforest.net , they have a plethora of different mushroom spawn to choose from, that will suit your climate.

After you order your spawn you will need to find logs.. For shiitake mushrooms oak logs work best, other wood can be used but you may not see the best results.. A freshly fallen tree is what you want, you do not want the logs to be fresh, but not dead. Ours are anywhere from 3'-6" in diameter and about 4 ft tall.

there are different forms of spawn .. we chose  used the plugs,, they are about and inch long and maybe an eighth of an inch in diamater.

You will receive instructions with your plugs, but basically you drill holes in the logs, pound in the plugs, cover with wax ( we used beeswax), and place the logs in a shady place... depending on the water content of the log , you may need to soak before innoculating but it is not completely necessary.
If you do not have a shady spot, you can always use shade cloth to cover them! I purchased our shade cloth on ebay for about 25.00
Keep the logs at about 30% moisture at all times,, after about 6-9 months ( depending on strain) you should see your first flush of shroomage!
Shiitakes mushrooms (depending on variety) fruit in the spring and the fall. and you can Force Fruit them as well every 8 weeks. This will shorten the life of the log, but you will receive many many mushrooms from a  force fruit.

How do I Force Fruit my logs??
Once the temps have reached a nice steady 60-70 degrees, you can take your log,, get a big ol THUMP on a stone or hard surface and then soak the log in ice cold ( or cold) water for about 24 hours( I use a kids swimming pool to soak mine).. This tricks the log into thinking its springtime and its time to wake up! and BOY does it WORK! once they start pinning , be sure to mist them so they don't dry out!

Picking the Shrooms:
You want to pick your shrooms when the underside of the caps are about 80% open, you do not want to wait until they are completely open.. They grow fast,, so if you check in the morning and see that they are pretty open, i would go ahead and pick them.
Use a knife to slice the mushrooms off as close to the log as possible , or gently twish and the mushrooms will make a clean break.

Basic Maintenance of Logs:
Keep them wet,, I do believe there is a little doo dad you can buy them measures the water content in the log,, but i just kinda guess,, and water then about every other day when its dry out.
It is recommended that you soak your logs every 2 weeks as well..
DO NOT let them dry out during the innoculation period, this is very important!

So this is a very watered down version of how to grow shiitakes, but I hope it gave you some insight and inspiration to grow your own!  When you order your plugs you will recieve a pamphlet and instructions that give you all the details :)
They make a beautiful addition to your other garden goodies and are so very good for you, not to mention beautiful :)

The Cools

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Build it and they will come.................

There has been an enormous amount of Building and painting going on here! We are getting ready to add 15 more nucleus colonies to our Bee yard and hoping to go into winter with 40+ hives. My husband hand builds all of his own equipment.. (with Help from me and our daughter of course ;)
We are gearing up for the 2014 Garden and Bee season as are the Honeybees! There is fresh Brood in the Hives and they are bringing in pollen ( they feed the pollen to the brood/baby bees).. :)

A shed full of hives


Safety first ..hehe

Building hive covers

The Queen is marked with A red dot. If you look on the top left, you can see brood.

until Next time,,
The Cool Family

Friday, January 17, 2014

More HoneyBees Please!!!


Most of you that follow our Blog know that we are beekeepers. We are entering our 5th season as beekeepers and want to expand!!!! 
Please check out our Kickstarter project. We are trying to raise 2700.00 dollars to purchase 15 more honey bee colonies. Kickstarter is an all or nothing deal. If we do not meet the goal, we do not get a dime. But you CAN go over ;).
If you have a moment, please share this with anyone and everyone you know!

Bee Kind Family Farm wants to supply more Raw *REAL* Honey, but we just can not keep up with the demand!! We need more Honeybees!!
There are some fun gifts for those of you who pledge! please check it out!!
Click the Link above to find out all about our project!!

Thanks in advance , for contributing in any possible way, that you can!!

The Cool Family

Friday, January 10, 2014

Arctic Blast

Ok, I am not gonna lie, I am so over old man winter.. After this last Arctic Blast, Ive moved on to warmer thoughts of gardening ( ordered some seeds!!), chicks, and another (hopefully super successful) year of Beekeeping at Bee Kind Family Farm

We have all been a little stir crazy here in this little house in the forest, and are ready to spread our wings.

In the meantime we have had some big projects to keep us busy, including and most importantly, moving our Batteries for our Off Grid system inside the house.
when we initially built everything, we decided to put the batteries outside, in a large plastic storage tote, and just insulate them really well. We knew putting them in the house was probably the best option, but being as we don't get too cold here in NW North Carolina, we figured they would be ok. It was also the easy option for my husband.

We soon discovered that we were losing about 30% of allowable usage, whenever the temp dipped below about 35 ! To give you an idea, we USE about 30% IN DAY. so we were losing about a days worth of power!

My husband finally decided ( about a month ago) to move them inside. He built a box in the bedroom, and that was that for about a month.... He knew he was going to move them in,, just needed to find the time, and a good day to do it ( we have to turn all the power off in order to do it)..

Well this Arctic Blast gave us alllllll the push we needed. With Temps plummeting to below 20, we knew we HAD to get these batteries in and quick.... these temps could do some serious damage.. and not only is it where we store all our power, they were NOT cheap.

So the day before the Blast, Robb came home from work, hooked our circulating pump from the cookstove to the generator( so we could have heat,, if you have a fire going you have to have the pump going or the stove could well, er,,,, explode, :o) and turned the power off..
He quickly and efficiently disconnected, carried and reconnected, 12 80 lbs deep cycle golf cart batteries into the house and hooked them up (using a headlamp for light).. It took about 2 hours but now we can sleep better on those cold cold nights, knowing our batteries are toasty and warm...

* To anyone thinking of going solar or off the power grid, we highly recommend you store your batteries inside, especially if you live midwest, up north etc... just be sure to vent them with a fan, to the outside of your home...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Nature Inspired Holiday

I saw the most peculiar thing a couple of months ago in the store.... Pinecones..... in a bag...... for sale.................  I realize not everyone lives in a natural environment and I think  they deserve pinecones as much as the next person. ;)
So here are some ideas and photos to inspire a Natural, from the earth, handmade Holiday.

A walk in the woods and a basket is all you need. This is a wonderful way to kick off the holidays with your family . Children love running through the woods collecting natures tiny gifts.
This Year I collected Holly( which is abundant around here) pine, chestnuts, and pine cones of all sizes.
You can fill bowls with chestnuts,  or arrange pine and holly around the house..
pine and holly  may need to be replaced about every week. Although I find that Frasier Fir ( which are also the tree of choice here) really hold their needles for a long long time.. After we get out tree, I take all the extra cut branches and decorate.

   The Box was made by us, out of reclaimed wood, and the Candle tree Branch Candle holders were made by us as well :)..
A beautiful display for the holidays, and it didn't cost us but a penny.

I would love to hear your nature inspired Holiday Ideas!

Blessings and Happy Holidays!!!
The cools