Monday, November 24, 2014

Using IFTTT on the Backyard Farm

The phrase Whittled Down Life implies an ever-increasing simplicity, as though somehow by cutting out enough excess, life will become magically uncomplicated. In reality, the more we simplify our lives in some senses (relying less on processed food, driving less, buying less stuff), the more there is to keep track of. When you grow your own food, you've got garden planning and maintenance, food preservation, and all that good stuff. When you drive less, you've got to plan your trips more carefully and pay closer attention to the weather. You get the idea.

Luckily, we live in the digital age, and there are tools out there that can make life easier for even the most disorganized punk domestic. Let's talk about one of those tools:

IFTTT (If This Then That) is an online service that lets you create recipes of conditional triggers for all kinds of things. Basically, it allows you to link different services together in an automated way. Everything from text messaging to Craigslist is included in their list of services you can use to make recipes.

With the right devices, you can use IFTTT to automate everything from remembering to open the cold frames to regulating the temperature of your tomato starts. Though IFTTT can't do everything, it is a valuable addition to the  digital homesteader's tool belt. As more and more tools become a part of the internet of things, the possibilities will only expand.

Here are some recipes we've found useful around our garden farm and home:

Text message a warning when it's getting too warm out for the coldframes to be closed.

IFTTT Recipe: Open the cold frames! connects weather to sms

All of your plants can get fried in a matter of minutes if a cold frame is left closed on a warm day. Cold frames act like solar ovens to keep plants above freezing in cold months. In those times of the year where temperatures fluctuate, like fall and spring, it can be hard to keep a constant eye on the outside temperature. This IFTTT will text you a warning when the tempurature climbs above 50 degrees. You can also set up your own to trigger a notification on your smart phone.

Email a warning when it looks like it's going to frost tomorrow

IFTTT Recipe: Frost Alert connects weather to email

If you're like me, and have trouble keeping up with the news, you might miss one of those ever so important frost warnings. This IFTTT will email you a warning the day before the predicted frost. This should give you enough time to muster the sheets and tarps, or do some last ditch harvesting before it's too late.

Need free woodchips? Looking for pullets for sale? Notify me about Craigslist posts!

IFTTT Recipe: Free Wood Chips! connects craigslist to sms

The possibilities are endless with the Craigslist IF. You can set up a search for any posts in the free section mentioning "wood chips", or find yourself a cheap piece of furniture, or equipment for around the home stead. It might take a month before you find the right deal, but IFTTT is doing all the work for you, so it pays to play the long game if you've got time on your side. I published the above IFTTT as example, but you'll have to make your own for it to be useful. That is, unless you live in Western Massachusetts, in which case hands-off my free wood chips!

These recipes just scratch the surface.  Has IFTTT made a whittled down life more possible for you? Share your thoughts, and show us your recipes.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Drawing the Wagon Blueprints

We're drawing up plans for the tiny house caravan we designed and built from reclaimed materials. The unique 54 square foot design provides seasonal shelter that's towable by a four cylinder sedan. Over the years, many people have asked us to make plans, so they too could build their own inexpensive and portable tiny home.

After much deliberation we have settled on using Blender for making the drawings. We want the plans to be accessible and free, not just in cost, but in their freedom as information. This way the design could be modified and adapted by anyone, to fit their own needs and available materials. Blender is available for download to run in Windows, OS X, and Gnu/Linux, and is certain to stay viable for many years to come, because of its vibrant community of developers and users.

If you're interested in receiving an announcement when the plans are complete, please sign up below. Your email address will be used for nothing else.

Whittled Down Caravan Blueprints Updates

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mid-week Tweets

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Backyard Meals: Kale & Wild Foraged Oyster Mushrooms

A kale and oyster mushroom stir fry with garlic and chiffonade dried mild red chilis
It is decidedly fall in New England! Temperatures are dropping, leaves are falling, and the annual fall mushroom hunt is well under way. Last week we found a gorgeous flush of oyster mushrooms, so it's high time for a kale and mushroom stir fry.

A flush of Oyster Mushrooms found growing wild
While most of the garden is brown and dead, occasional frosts have been sweetening the leaves of our cold weather crops such as kale and collards.

Marvelous kale, going strong after several frosts
Kale is a nutritious and delicious wonder vegetable that grows almost all growing season, with highly productive stalks of leafy green vegetables perfect for stir fries, casseroles, smoothies and anywhere where spinach is called for. It has even been known to hazard a winter here in New England, if there's enough snow to protect it.

We also have garlic, from this summer's harvest, and mild dried red chilis, also grown in our garden. Enough ingredients for a complete dish!

Kale and oyster mushroom stir fry with garlic and chiffonade dried mild red chilis

  • A bunch of about 7 kale stocks, de-stemmed
  • A handful of oyster mushrooms chopped
  • Two large cloves of garlic crushed
  • One shallot sliced thinly
  • A splash of rice wine
  • A few dashes of soy sauce
  • One mild dried red chili chiffonade
In a wok or large saute pan, heat a couple table spoons of cooking oil. When hot throw in garlic and shallots. Immediately after, dump in chopped oyster mushrooms. Stir well. Cover to allow mushrooms to cook, stirring occasionally. When mushrooms are lightly browned, toss in kale. Toss kale regularly for even cooking. When kale is dark green pull greens to side of pan and deglaze with rice wine and soy sauce. Serve, and sprinkle with chiffonade dried mild red peppers.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Valley Food Swap: The sharing economy at its tastiest

We just returned from another fantastic installment of Valley Food Swap. Valley Food Swap is a volunteer-run event, held quarterly in different locations around the Pioneer Valley. The way it works is simple: bring your own homemade goodies, check out other peoples' homemade goodies, and then make trades and go home with buckets of new and exciting foods!

We've been to the swap before, and so we had some idea what to expect today. This time, we brought: Root beer syrup, red onion marmalade, kimchi, kale, and elderberry syrup.

We came home with a whole bunch of amazing stuff, including: home cured bacon, champagne currant jam, eggs, locally grown soy beans, local honey, rosemary, thyme, pears, hickory bitters, beets, and several kinds of cookies and jams.

Home cured bacon made from local pork.
Honey made right in town!

Eggs, pears, and jam, oh my!

Thanks to Corrin and Claire for organizing another great swap, and to everyone who brought food to trade today. You all are incredibly talented, creative, and generous. We had a blast, and we can't wait to devour all these goodies!

Swap in action

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Homemade Root Beer Soda with Sassafras and Sweet Birch

Root Beer Ingrdients

Making root beer will bring out the kid in anyone. You take handfuls of sticks and seeds, make a witch's brew with them, and in the end what do you have? Soda!

It's seriously the best.

I became obsessed with sassafras after we watched this video by Blanche Derby. I've mentioned Blanche on this blog before--she's amazing, and she happens to be local.

As Blanche will tell you, sassafras is easy to identify, and while it's slightly less easy to collect (pro tip: bring a shovel), it's worth it. She'll also tell you that sassafras comes with a warning--a compound in the root called safrole was shown to cause cancer in rats in a lab study. Personally, I think you'd have to drink a LOT of the stuff before it would become a problem. Nonetheless, I'll be a responsible blogger and pass the information along to you.

There is no standard recipe for root beer, and I've experimented with a few recipes so far.
Root Tea Steeping

Here's what I put in the last batch, which I think was good enough to share:

  • Sassafras root (a handful) 
  • Sweet (aka black) birch (a handful) Oh look--there's a Blanche Derby video for that too!?
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick

I brought these ingredients to a boil in about 2 cups of water, and boiled for around 15 minutes.
I've been making mine as a syrup, so that it will keep in the refrigerator for months. This syrup is too sweet for my tastes, so next time I will make it as a tea, freeze it, and add sweetener to taste when serving. For the caramel syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 c. water

I browned the sugar with about 1/3 c. water in it, until it was a nice caramel color. Then i added the root tea mixture, slowly, until fully combined. Let cool, and voila! You've got a syrup that's ready to be turned into root beer with the addition of some sparkling water. 
Yum! Finished Root Beer

PS. A lot of root beer recipes you'll find online call for molasses. I put molasses in my first batch, and I didn't care for it. I thought it overpowered the great flavors of the other ingredients.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mid-week Tweets