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: http://flickr.com/photos/35090117@N05/collections/

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our First Cider

SANY9586 We have made our first batch of cider, although it isn't ready yet.

We wanted to make a small batch this time, to try it all out and get our "mother" (starter for future batches of cider, containing the right kind of yeast).

We cored the apples, and then ran the chunks, with peels, through our meat grinder. Abe then put together a make-shift press out of stuff we had around the place.

We got a little under a gallon of apple juice. It is by far the best juice I have ever tasted, and I was ready to drink the whole thing right there and then. However, Abe got the rest bottled up, with a fermentation lock on each bottle before I could. We now have three bottles stored in the power house to ferment. In a week we'll taste all three and see which is the best - that will then become our "mother".

SANY9596 We are going to the city tomorrow to buy parts to make a grinder and press to do this faster and more efficiently. We are in love with juice, cider, apples in general, and totally understand how apples have got the reputation for being a cure for all that ails you.

By the way, did I ever mention that we get all our apples for free if we go and pick them ourselves?

For more photos and videos, click here.

New Pig Pasture

SANY9558 Abe put up a new pig pasture this week. We like to rotate the pigs fairly often, so as not to eat down any one pasture too much. And seeing as this year has been so dry, we decided to move them off their last pasture after a month.

This one is much larger and should keep them happy for a while longer.

They are now pros at the whole pasture thing. When we got our two sows (then gilts), they weren't sure what to make of pasture, having spent their lives in concrete pens. Now, Abe opens that gate and starts walking into the pasture and they snap to his heels, munching all the time we walk them round the new paddock. They are happy as pigs!

For more photos, click here.

Johnson Grass

SANY9531 On one of our foraging expeditions we decided to get a load of Johnson Grass. Abe had been reading online about it, and it turns out that it is farmed as a hay in Europe, from where it originates. We had always assumed that this was an unwanted (and impossible to get rid of) weed, but if you process it correctly it's pretty good, sitting at 13% protein. The issue with it is that it contains a lot of prussic acid, which can be bad for animals in high dosages. However, if you leave it to dry and make hay out of it, all the prussic acid disappears. What's great about it is that there's a a lot of it, no one else wants it, and you can collect a truckload in no time flat. We will definitely be getting more of it to store for winter, alternating it with loads of orchard grass. SANY9604

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More Gathering

SANY9527 This week, we have been doing a bunch of gathering, and will continue to do so over the next couple of weeks. We want to stock up on storable feed for the pigs and rabbits. This year has been so dry that we have no idea what the prices and availability of animal feed will be like over winter.

We drop Leo off at Kinder garden and then go to our friend's place (he has a beautiful property near ours, which has over 5000 apple trees and a bunch of water and thus weeds). We load the truck up with either grass and weeds or apples. We dry the weeds to make hay, but the apples are a little more complex.

This past week, we gathered about 500 lbs of apples. We have dried about 30lbs so far in our solar food dehydrator. We made another 30 or 40 lbs into apple sauce and chunks for apple pies, which we have frozen (we also pureed some of the sauce and froze it in ice cube trays for Nico - he loves them and the coldness seems to feel good on his aching gums). We are fermenting a bunch in a 30 gallon tub for the pigs, and they also get fresh apples, while they wait for their preferred vinegary ones.

SANY9524 Over the next day or so we will be making our first cider and then vinegar. Cider is a good way to preserve apples, plus it gives a leftover pulp that we can dry for the animals. We'll let you know how it goes. On the other hand, we don't really drink much (if at all), so the sudden arrival of delicious cider may impair our typing abilities for a while to come. Be patient.

Barn Tank

SANY9492 We've started on a new 7400 gallon tank that will eventually be filled from the barn roof and will be for the animals, which are our main consumer of water.

It is 16 ft x 16 ft and 4 ft tall. It is located uphill from the barn site, so that the animal waterers will all be gravity fed.

We leveled out the area that the machine cleared and then compacted it. We then added a layer of sifted sand. There are galvanized posts every few feet all the way around, with the corner posts staked out for added strength. To these posts is secured a galvanized welded mesh. And that's how we've left it for now.

We will be attaching a stucco mesh, then a tarp, then a pond liner to the inside of this structure. And then, when the tank is full of water, we will stucco the walls with concrete to make it a little more permanent. The roof will be a tarp at first, which we will later cover with acrylic concrete.

SANY9498 The reason we've left it at this unfinished stage is that it seems unlikely that we will get the rain needed to fill it, even a little, and we are worried that the wind and weather will blow it around before we get more rain (next June). In the meantime, it makes a pretty good cage for a toddler!

So far this year we have had 9 inches of rain, and only September remains of our rain season (with no promise of rain for the next week or two at least). Our normal rainfall is 30 inches or more. We fear that we won't even get the house tank filled this year. I guess we need to build more roofs for catchment in case of a drought - add it to the list of things to do!

For more photos, click here.

4 Months old

SANY9507 Nico turned four months last week. He now weighs 7.3 kg (16 lbs) and is 62cms (almost 25 inches) long. I guess his weight gain is slowing down a little, although you wouldn't guess it by the way he chugs on his boobies. If I am slow in getting it out for him, he will literally push my shirt out the way, grab the breast and pull it to him.

We have now started giving him little bits of other foods. He gets to suck the juices out of any fruits we eat, and again, he will let you know in no uncertain terms if you're being too slow in giving him his share. Poor Abe usually holds him while we have fruit salad, and Nico is outraged when Abe takes a bite for himself. We have also tried him with rice cereal, although it may be too soon for that. He got the hang of eating pretty quick, but he then got a lot of gas and slept very badly, so we're going to postpone further attempts for a couple of weeks.

So far we haven't had to deal with any illness of any kind, although he continues to be a teething, drooling mess. No sign of any teeth breaking through yet, but there are several protrusions under the gums. He seems to really appreciate ice and water. He now drinks a bunch of water, a fan, just like the rest of the family.

SANY9518 He gets stronger and more capable each day. When he stands, holding onto your hands for support, he will pick up each leg in turn as though he wants to walk already. He certainly watches with keen interest each vigorous movement that his brother makes. He'll sit on his own, but you still have to put something or someone behind him as he cannot stop himself from falling backwards. He's really good at grabbing things as his coordination improves daily.

He is also very vocal. He likes to chatter away to his toys and to us, making all kinds of sounds that just DELIGHT Leo.

He continues to be calm and happy in general, but he has a temper on him. Though he doesn't often get mad, when he does it lasts for a while and there's nothing you can do about it. He doesn't want consolation, he wants to complain.

More and more we see a personality forming within this baby. He has learned his power over people, and will be quite the charmer. It seems like everything he does is funny to Leo, and Nico equally laughs loud at Leo's antics. Their love for each other is clearly growing.

Sleeping is definitely not his forte. He was starting to go longer intervals between feeds at night, and I was feeling rested, but then teething hit and he awoke far more frequently. Now, he has become accustomed to waking more often and I'm making it worse - I am now so tired that I often pick him up and put him at the breast lying down. We'll both fall asleep that way, which means he can wake up every so often and his snack bar is right there. I need to wake up properly and keep him awake to eat both breasts, so that he can sleep longer in between, but I'm too tired. Oh well, I'll work at it and hopefully by his next month's blog I can report an improvement in this field.

For photos and videos of this coming month, click here.