Building a Rainwater chicken waterer

We have built a LOT of chicken waterers in our years of chicken wrangling. They break, clog, or otherwise just become a pain to deal with. No matter the size, filling it is always irritating.

With that experience in mind, we set out to build an easy, affordable and quick to put together rain water chicken waterer.

The supplies

Note: that might not sound inexpensive to some – but bear in mind it has all be eliminated all water hauling for the chickens for about 9 months of the year and has eliminated the need to use well water for the same duration.

The process

Once the materials arrived, we simply laid out eight holes about 2″ up from the bottom of the barrel and drilled them (the drill bit size recommended comes with the packaging for the drinker cups).

Next, we screwed the cups in the filled the water up several inches above the cups to and let it sit a while to ensure there were no leaks.

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We then drilled a hole for the fill hose adapter that came with the rain barrel diverter and screwed in the adapter.

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We then took the waterer down to the coop where we installed the rain barrel diverter into the gutters of the coop. Per the directions, we installed this just a little bit above level with the rain barrel input hose. If it is too high, the overflow won’t easily flow back into the diverter. Too low and you won’t get any rain in your barrel. Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert

Installation was easy. Just make a cut in your gutter, slide the diverter on (requires some finagling) then trim down the excess gutter, insert it into the bottom of the diverter and re-attach all to the wall. Note: we found that this all worked best with some silicone caulk around the inside. Fiskars should really have designed this to slide INTO the gutter, not over it. Physics – duh!

 

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Easy diverter installation

 

Once all that was done, we simply trimmed down the hose to our desired length put the diverter into the ‘divert’ mode and waited for rain. What does that mean you ask? The inside flips over to direct all water down the spouting (ie. in the winter) or flipped the other way directs water first into the barrel. When the barrel is full, the back pressure of the water causes it to flow back into the diverter where it exits via the gutter.

The first mild rain filled the bucket half way. We’ve not watered our chickens by hand since the installation! We used our fingers to allow enough water to flow into each cup. From there the chickens figured it out quite quickly.

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Lessons learned

  • The Fiskars diverter works okay, but required caulking and some tweaking of the positioning to get the water flowing properly.
  • Take time to observe the water flowing into (hopefully) the barrel during a rain.
  • This won’t work when it begins to freeze, but sure saves labor and time until then!

Inexpensive plant edging

We were growing tired of trying to keep the grass encroaching on our blueberries, so we decided we needed to surround them with some sort of barrier. Unfortunately, most of the barriers sold at big box stores were over-priced and not the most fun to install.

In our neck of the woods, barrels like the one below can be purchased for about $8 used.

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Photo from bascousa.com 

We had the idea of taking a barrel, cutting off the top and bottom, and then cutting the barrel into slices horizontally. Doing so, we were able to get about 6-8  slices, leaving us planting rings that were roughly 3-4″ tall and about 24″ in diameter. The size was just right for surrounding our blueberries.

We then lightly tapped these into the ground and mulched only within the planter ring. The rest of the patch we filled with left-over decorative gravel from our kitchen garden bed project.

The results looked like this:

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Here is a slightly better angle:

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A simple, strong materials rack for the workshop

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I like to keep my materials up and outta the way, mostly because I am a procrastinator and don’t get to things right away (I’ve been thinking about changing, but…. I haven’t gotten to it yet).

I wanted something simple and durable. So I just picked up a few 3/4″ pipe flanges, a few sections of 3/4″ x 12″ pipe, and a few caps. I didn’t want to wait until I could get some pipe insulation because in addition to being a procrastinator, I’m also impatient (which means I can’t wait to stop procrastinating), so I opted to repurpose a pool noodle with a coordinating color for the purpose.

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I just cut this to lenght with my pocket knife, cut a slit down the middle, then secured each pipe flange to a stud using one 3-1/2″ exterior grade screw and one 4 1/2″ lag screws (that I already had). I wouldn’t try to hoist an engine off of these, but they seem plenty strong for holding misc materials.

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One note: I would recommend cleaning the pipes off with a good degreaser prior to use, it will make for much less mess and grime.

 

The $2, 20-minute neck-breaking prevention for icy homesteads

Where we live in northern Pennsylvania, winter is some combination of snow, rain, muck and ice. We occasionally see some sunshine in there too!

Mud and ice make for miserable homesteading conditions. Whether it’s navigating steep and slick terrain to cut firewood, or taking care of livestock on icy mornings, opportunities abound for slipping and injury.

We’ve tried shoe spikes that we pull on and pull off, but they are clunky, expensive, and prone to jettisoning off our boots when we’re not looking, and I’ve got better things to do than search 25 acres of woods for a missing shoe spike, especially if that means hopping on the remaining spiked foot!

At our house, Muck Boots (what I like to call “homesteader flip-flops”) can be found in abundance. Since they cost so much, we hate to throw them out when we get a new pair.

Since we don’t need serious traction all the time, we’ve opted to turn our old much boots into Mad Max-styled, all-traction homesteading boots – and we’ve done so for very little investment. These things have some wicked-good traction!

The solution is simple and requires about 20 minutes, a bag of 1/2″ hex-head sheet metal screws, a screwdriver, and some old footwear (unless you don’t mind taking the screws out at winter’s end). Some slick surfaces for testing might also help.

We’ve found that hex heads work the best because there is a tiny lip around the edges that provides the bulk of the traction.

 

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We use about a 1/2″ to 5/8″ sheet metal screw with a hex head.

 

 

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Notice the hex heads have a lip around the outside. This seems to make all the difference for traction. They’re like mini ice spike.

 

The process is simple. Using an appropriate screwdriver, just press slightly into the rubber sole of your boots and begin to turn the screwdriver. It will begin to bite into the rubber sole and once it does, just screw it in until the head of the screw comes to rest on the sole of the boot. There is no need to over-tighten. You’ll need to routinely replace an occasional screw as it is.

 

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The effort is pretty minimal to get these to go into muck boot soles. Upon removing them, the holes are hardly noticeable.

 

Pick whatever pattern you want. This is how I have mine:

 

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The pattern I use

 

These things are the bomb! We could run a sprint across a sheet of ice and not even think about slipping! Perfect for the icy days we encounter, and really helpful in most of the mud and muck we get as well!

You might be wondering… “will these poke through and stab my foot?” Well, we’ve not encountered that so far, even with kids boots. If you’re uncertain, start out by putting one or two in the heel and test it out. Proceed with a few more at a time, testing them along the way and see how they feel.

You might also be wondering… “will the holes let the water and muck into the boots?”. We’ve not encountered this yet. It doesn’t appear that the holes are deep enough for such, which is also why they probably cannot be felt.

You might consider adding in a glue of sorts of you’re super-concerned about water infiltration, or screws coming out. We’ve not felt the need but could see where it might be helpful.

 

Making your own Kombucha

What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink thought to have originated in eastern Europe or the far-east. It’s very popular in natural-health and medicine circles and for good reason!

Why would we want to drink it?
Kombucha is full or all sorts of nutrients and helpful nutrition. It contains the range of B vitamins, particularly B1, B2, B6 and B12, which give the body with energy and help process fats and proteins, and also support a healthy immune system. It’s also rich in vitamin C. This is all in addition to several organic acids that promote health and wellness and are thought to provide a detoxifying effect to the body. Wikipedia has a great article on Kombucha here.

But I heard that…
Like all natural health foods, Kombucha has its detractors. Some people have been harmed drinking Kombucha – that’s true. People are also harmed eating every food known to mankind! People get harmed when they have an allergy, don’t prepare or handle foods properly, lack moderation, or just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Such is the case with Kombucha. We’re not willing to dismiss the claims of thousands of people throughout centuries who’ve used this stuff just because a handful of people have experience harmed from “edge cases” which all tend to be from controllable circumstances. Use common sense. Have a clean environment to prepare this stuff in. Don’t prepare it in containers that could leach chemicals, lead, etc. If it looks moldy, start over, etc. etc.

What’s all this business about Mushrooms and a SCOBY?
Komucha is a fermented beverage (mildly .5%-1.5%). Fermentation is done by a SCOBY which is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Doesn’t that just sound delightfully appetizing? It’s often called a mushroom because it looks like some sort of fungus, but in reality, it’s the above. We think it looks like a blintz that has been soaked in tea for a long time. Again, it’s not too visually appealing, but without one, you won’t make real Kombucha. Many people buy them from sources online, etc. sometimes spending a bit of cash in the process! We’re not very comfortable spending money to get one from a source we know nothing about. So we set out to make our own.

Here’s how we grew our own kombucha SCOBY:

  1. First, we rounded up a few 1 gallon glass jars. Easily appropriated from local sub shops.
  2. We purchased a few bottles of plain “GT’s Kombucha” from a local grocery store. What? They sell the “deadly” stuff? (sarcasm). It’s best to find one with lots of floaty stuff.
  3. We purchased some organic black tea. (Not Earl Gray!)
  4. We then prepared about 3 quarts of organic black tea. We used decaf, although some say you should not. The point of going organic with the tea is that you don’t know what kind of chemicals are in non-organic tea that you might not want to ferment 😉
  5. Next, we added about 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar. Some say not to use raw sugar – we did, and it’s fine.
  6. After this cooled to the 85° F range, we poured it into a 1 gallon glass jar (clean of course),
  7. We then poured in one whole bottle of the plain GT’s Kombucha,
  8. Next, we topped it off with spring water to within a half inch of the top.
  9. We then covered this with a clean cloth napkin secured with a rubber band, then stored this away from direct sunlight in a warm spot.
  10. Because the Kombucha ferments best around the 85° F range, we placed ours on top of a heating pad.

Finishing things up
Normally, Kombucha ferments in about 7-10 days. To grow a SCOBY takes longer. After about a week, we started to notice a film on top of the liquid which ultimately became our SCOBY. Our plan was to just leave it in place until it grew a SCOBY, which it did after about three weeks. By then, we thought our Kombucha tea would be no good, but it tasted just fine, so we bottled it in smaller bottles to be consumed in the next few days.

Final thoughts
Despite the fact that you’re drinking liquid that has been sitting out for  10-21 days with a bunch of yeast and bacteria floating on top, this stuff tastes pretty good! Even the kids like it, which ought to tell you something. It has a bit of a vinegar after taste, but is also sweet. It’s very much a sweet and sour drink. We serve it chilled and find it quite enjoyable in 8 oz. servings. It makes a great alternative to soda since it’s 1) a little sweet 2) it’s slightly carbonated (because of the fermentation) and 3) non-caffeinated (ours is as at least)!

So what does this have to do with simple life? Well, for one, it supports a healthy lifestyle which keeps us out of the doctor’s office. Secondly,  kombucha, like many fermented foods, is self-sustaining, meaning it’s always giving you what you need for the next batch! We like this idea because we can use simple materials to produce food that is beneficial and tastes good. So long as we can make tea, and have some sort of natural sweetener, we could make Kombucha.

We’ll post more on our Kombucha experience in the days ahead.

Why water-saving shower heads are a good investment

Many people might not think to look at their showers as being a source of potential energy and cost savings. That’s unfortunate, because there’s money to be saved in the shower along with natural resources too.

Consider the following scenario: Here’s the simple math for a family of four each taking a 7 minute with an average water-saving shower head (2.6 gallons per minute, or “gpm”):

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 2.6 gallons = 72.8 gallons per day
  • 72.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.11 per day
  • 72.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $1.46 per day
  • Cost per 7 minute shower = $.37
  • $1.46 + $.11 = $1.57 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $1.57 X 365 = $573.05 per year!

Here’s the math for the savings this family would see by just installing a high-efficiency shower head:

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 1.6 gallons = 44.8 gallons per day
  • 44.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.07 per day
  • 44.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $.87 per day
  • $.87 + $.07 = $.94 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $.94 X 365 = $343.10 per year!

So just by installing new shower heads, there’s several hundred dollars a year to be saved in water and energy cost. We’ve installed Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome units that cost us less than $15 – money well spent!

As you can see, hot water heating can be a major expense. As we aim for a simpler life, we’re aiming to use less water, and less commercially-provided energy heating the water. Stay tuned for our future posts about our attempts to heat hot water in some non-traditional ways!

Kefir: The dairy “swiss army knife”

One if the things we’re interested in doing is maintaining a good variety of healthy foods, but in a way that is affordable and sustainable. At this time, due to where we live, we cannot  get a cow or goats for milk. Despite this, we still want to be able to produce simple dairy products on our own without having to depend on the market for every dairy product. We still have to purchase milk, which we get raw from a local farmer.

Enter Kefir – an ancient fermented milk drink that has been around for eons. We think that kefir is the swiss army knife of dairy for those looking to be able to use one item to produce a variety of other items. Kefir on it’s own is much like yogurt and offers all the same benefits, but in bigger doses and with less work. If kefir grains are added to fresh milk, they will ferment the milk within 24 hours. Once fermented, the resulting kefir can be left to sit for another 1-3 days during which time it will separate into curds and whey. The curds can be eaten, or further refined into “laban” which can be used as cottage and cream cheese right away. Or, salt can be added to this laban and becomes the basis for harder cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan cheese. Also, kefir can be fermented to different lengths and strengths producing different tastes and usefulness.

This whole process does not require refrigeration and is a good way of getting usefulness from milk without energy use. Further, the kefir grains are constantly growing and multiplying, thus keeping the owner in a constant supply of kefir grains to eat, use, or share with others.

This is all in addition to many health benefits known to accompany kefir!

If you’re looking to add a “tool” to your simple life arsenal – particularly if you have access to a fresh supply of milk – consider kefir! You won’t be disappointed!