Vela Creations is an in-depth resource for off grid living. The site documents our research and experiences, hoping that they might help others interested in pursuing this lifestyle. This blog is designed to document our day to day experiences as we build our new, sustainable homestead. If you are interested in seeing more photos and videos, we have a flickr account at the following url:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A freezer full of pork

On Wednesday, we processed the pig we'd saved for ourselves.

A couple of friends came and helped Abe with the nitty gritty. We had prepped pretty well and things went very smoothly. Nonetheless it was a lot of work. They began at 7am and finished at 12pm. All three were pretty tired, but a hearty meal of, yep you guessed it, pork helped out.

I weighed and bagged the meat before putting it in the freezer:
7lbs 14oz ribs, 1lb 5oz back strap, 12lb 4oz steaks, 17lb 12oz roast cuts, 1lb sidepork, 2lb 1oz stewing meat.

SANY7842 On Thursday we rendered the lard, which took a LONG time, but produced 9 liters of lard, and some leaf lard (we're rendering that today, so not sure how much, although considerably less than regular lard). Plus there was a bunch of cracklings, over 7 pounds.

Also on Thursday we ground up all the meat we'd put aside for ground pork and sausage - 7lb 4 oz ground pork and 8lb 11 oz sausage.

Not sure how much the hams and bacon weigh. We will weigh them when we take them out of their cure in 10 days.

The guys that helped us took the head to make tamales, the skin to do crackling and the liver. Plus we'll give them some steaks when we cut them up and some sausage and ham when they're done.

In all, a year's supply of meat for us, and extremely tasty meat too from what we've already sampled.

We'll be posting full instructions on our site soon:

For more photos, click here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hair cuts

SANY7819 I just cut my boys' hair, and they both look so cute that I thought I'd post the photo. There's also some more photos and videos of Leo here since my last blog.

Our weekly chores

We seem to be so busy at the moment, what with running the homestead, earning money, additional projects and anything else we can squeeze in before the baby arrives (we know from experience that we will not be getting much done right after Nico arrives in about a month). So we decided to organize our chores into a weekly schedule, to help us remember to do some of the bits and pieces that need to be done every week. Then we fit all the other stuff around this list.

If interested, here it is:
Monday - Rabbits: breeding, weighing, weaning, separating females that are due, butchering, tanning hides, etc.
Tuesday - Watering trees. Moving chicken pen and tractor.
Wednesday - Garden: making soil blocks, transplanting, planting, collecting seeds, canning, drying, etc.
Thursday - Day off... well, day off chores at least, but that just makes it a better day to tackle big projects!
Friday - Water trees. Check on bees (every other week). Clean house.
Saturday - Laundry (by hand of course). We will now be starting to use the rest of this day to work on our site, as it is in pretty dire need of an update.
Sunday - Mushrooms (every other week).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Freezer

SANY7769 Last year, we bought a Sundanzer Fridge. They are expensive, as they are designed for off-grid systems and are extremely efficient, but worth every penny in the long run. The fridge has never made a dent in our batteries and we love it.

Well, we have been saving and have now bought a Sundanzer freezer. We have put it in the (half-buried) powerhouse, where the temperature stays a constant throughout the year. We also bought some extra solar to make sure it didn't tax our system.

SANY7814 Abe installed the solar yesterday (look at our beautiful, but ramshackle set of solar panels) and our batteries have been floating all day, which basically means that they are as full as they can get. So we decided to turn on the freezer. We don't really have anything to put in it yet, so I filled up a bunch of water bottles and ice trays to give it some thermal mass. Oh yes, and it has one rabbit in it. Next week it should be filled with a year's supply of fresh pork, ham, bacon and sausage. Until then, I may have to make it a little more useful by making some ice-cream... doesn't life suck!!

This little piggy went to market

SANY7800 This week we sold two of our three pigs.

We had set up a ramp into our little Toyota pickup a couple of days beforehand, where we started to feed them. In hindsight, we should have done this sooner, for they were not quite comfortable enough with it when the time came to load them up. We spent about an hour with Abe trying to push them up the ramp, when they wouldn't go voluntarily, and that just stressed everyone involved out. So he then tried something he'd read on a pig forum - he put a bucket over their head and pushed them (without too much force) backwards up the ramp. They were trying to get their head out of the bucket by running backwards. In fuve minutes they were both loaded and calmer, looking for food.

We have a formula to estimate their weight, using their length and girth, but we had obviously been doing it a little wrong, as they ended up being 10kg lighter than we had thought. Oh well, you live and learn.

SANY7794 We have kept one pig, which will be for our family's needs. She was the smallest of the three, so we are going to let her gain a little weight first. I had been worried that she would pine for her siblings, but she actually seems very happy. Being the smallest, she was always the last to the feed and mud pit - now, she's king of the castle and seems to really enjoy it.

It will be very sad to see her go and be without pigs - they truly are a joy and benefit to any homestead - so we have decided to buy two breeding sows. They are already bred and are big and beautiful. We will pick them up over the next couple of weeks, once we've moved their pasture and pen.

For photos click here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Setting up the bait hives

SANY7753 We went down to a friend's apple ranch yesterday and put up the three baithives Abe had made. They are each in a quiet spot, amongst trees, close to the river, right next to all the about-to-bloom- apple trees. We have only ever seen swarms of bees later in the year, but we wanted to have them up now in case any hives are ready to swarm soon. Hopefully we'll catch a few extra hives to add to our property.

For more photos, click here.

Gifts for the Grandparents

SANY7739 As my belly gets bigger and more cumbersome (I now only have 6 weeks to go, give or take whatever Nicky decides), travel will be limited, so we decided to go and visit Abe's folks one last time before our family increases.

We split the trip into two days as we were all kind of sick and tired with Leo's cold. This is definitely the worst cold I have had (and still have, almost two weeks later) in a long, long time. And, in the spirit of family sharing, we left the grandparents with the gift of our germs... very sorry, Mo-mo and Po-po.

SANY7650 On the second day of our journey, Abe had some running around to do, so he left Leo and I at a MacDonalds. Now, this is normally an establishment we do not particularly favor, and have never been to in the 10 years we have been together, BUT it was right next to our motel AND it has a huge play area! It was all I could do to get Leo to eat some food before he ran delightedly to the maze of colored slides. He had a blast, especially when another little boy arrived and joined him. He was sorry to see papa return and say it was time to go, although there was a very large consolation: "We're going to Mo-mo and Po-po's".

SANY7657 Leo loves it at Jim and Vickie's. There are of course the horses, cows, chickens, fish, and the feeding thereof to keep him entertained. More thrilling though are the vehicles. There's the big bike with the basket on back, his little tricycle (which after an hour or two he had learned to ride - you can cycle at our place, but off-road mountain biking would be a fairer description of the activity), a red wagon which he wanted to hook up to every other vehicle, the four-wheeler. He was constantly pulling on either Jim or Vickie's arm to get them to go for a ride with him, and they usually acquiesced! In fact, it was generally a chore, and often ended in tears, to get him to come inside at all.

SANY7660 We had a great few days and are now back home, with what seems like a million things to do.

For more photos, click here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sick again

SANY7631 Leo has only ever been sick a handful of times, but two of those have come this year.

He started off with a high fever one day that went away without any other symptoms. Then a day later the cold came out. He spent a couple of days with stuffed nose and cough - mostly on my lap, in my arms or asleep. He seems a lot better today though and slept well last night, so looks like we might be past the hump (until we get it off course!).

I had to take this photo - even sick and stuffed up, he still manages to keep a good grip of the important things in life!

There's a couple of other photos and videos in 35th month. My favorite is when he becomes the chocolate cake monster (not sure where the monster came from, but I took it as a compliment to the new recipe I was trying out).

In separate Leo news, we went to visit some friends in a neighboring village, who have some small kids, and Leo had his first ever soda. Unfortunately, but very predictably, he loved it. His first reaction was "bla", but then he took another sip, then a gulp, then it was gone! He'll have to wait until we go back there to have his second taste.

Finished pantry

SANY7638 We finished off the last few details of the pantry this week - moulding and painting. Photos

We've done other bits and pieces, but one newsworthy thing is that we sold our tractor. The guy came and picked it up yesterday. We used it a little, but for the most part our property is too steep for a tractor without tracks. We decided it was best to sell it to someone who would use it more, so it's gone!

Wicking Beds

SANY7601 This weekend Abe got a couple of lads from the village to come and help him make two wicking beds (I am not much use with a pic and shovel at the moment).

A wicking bed is basically a box-type planter, which is watered from the bottom.

To build it, they:
- Dug into the ground a little, making sure the bottom was level.
- Buried 6 stakes, which mark the corners and middle of the box.
- Attached shade cloth to the inside of the stakes.
- Lined the bottom half of the box with black plastic and a vinyl tarp (to protect the plastic from being torn by rocks.
- Put a 4" drainage pipe (with holes along it) in bottom of box, and then put 4" PVC into it. This is where you water your plants from.
- Filled up bottom half of the box with gravel and sand.
- Filled up rest of box (where there is just shade cloth, no plastic) with compost.

You add water into the PVC pipe, which drains out into the gravel. The soil will then wick the moisture up to the plants. To wick well, it must have high organic content. It is highly efficient with water. We will also be adding a frame above that can hold either shade cloth or greenhouse plastic.

SANY7637 For more photos, click here.

Our gray water interior flower beds work on a very similar principle. As you can see by the photo, it seems to be working pretty well. Here are some more photos of them.

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