A New Project…

A new project is in the midst of being started… stay tuned.

The three posts against the back side of the garage were put in the ground.  The three leaning posts are just there to hold them in place and to keep them from moving while the concrete hardens.

This side of the garage that is pretty much useless because there isn't any sunlight that gets to this area.  Therefore, the new project is going to be perfectly suited for this area.

A New Project...



December 1st Update

Two more posts have been set in the ground and cement poured.   Unfortunately, I hope this cement will cure correctly because it was poured while it was about 48 degrees outside for the two new posts.  Over the next couple of days, the temperatures will be dropping down into the lower 20's overnight and won't be much more than freezing during the daytime.  Concrete shouldn't be poured during cold times like this as it has a tendency to crack and not be as strong as concrete poured during warmer temperatures.  I did cover up the concerte with some plastic and then piled about six inches of soil over the top.  This was done a few hours after the concrete was pourted to allow it a little time to harden a bit so the plastic won't stick to the concrete.

Project Update

You can see that the posts are of different heights – but that is fine.  I'll have to cut them off to a shorter length anyways once all of the posts are in.  This will then allow me to ensure they are all the same height.

So, there is one more post to put in – but I can't start on that for quite some time – and I may not even be able to start on it this year!  With the way the weather is looking for the next week, I can get the hole dug but I don't want to take my chances with pouring concrete in cold temperatures.  This project will have about 2,500 pounds of weight sitting at the top once it is fully completed.


How to Make a Compost Bin

Because I had a 55 gallon drum that I picked up from someone locally that won't work for my rain barrel project, I figured I would put it to use by making a compost bin.

I have seen these kind of compost bins sell for over $100 on TV ads and even online.  Here you can make one for less than $20 if you can find a 55 gallon drum!

Let's get down to what you will need for this project:

  1. 55 Gallon Drum (Free)
  2. A pair of small hinges with screws ($1.68)
  3. A latch kit (barrel bolt) ($1.67)
  4.  ONE sawhorse kit ($4.99)
  5. 1" steel pipe (I had some already – so free for me)
  6. 1" drill bit (I also had this already – so free for me)
  7. Jigsaw
  8. Drill

Total cost for the project for me was a measly $8.97 after tax.

OK, so let's see some pictures of what is involved.  Below is the saw horse kit and the steel pipe propped up to give you an idea what it will look like.  As you can see, the saw horse kit I bought has two legs and it also had another wooden piece that goes across the top, but I didn't need it in this case.

Saw Horse Kit & Steel Pipe

Here is the 55-gallon drum that will be used:

55 Gallon Drum

Here are the hinges and the latch that I bought:

Hinges & Barrel Bolt Kit

 Now, let's get started.  The first thing you need to do is to take your 1" drill bit and cut out a 1" hole on both the top and bottom of the 55-gallon drum – right in the middle!

Drilling a Hole in the 55-gallon Drum

Drilling a hole in the 55-gallon drum

After you have the holes made, take your 1" steel pipe and put it into the hole.  It will be a very tight fit – so in order to allow it to rotate better, you should put the steel pipe into one hole and wiggle the pipe back and forth and in a circular motion to make the hole just a wee bit bigger (or just get maybe a 1 1/8" drill bit instead!).  Now turn the barrel over and do the same thing in that hole.

After doing that, the pipe should freely move into the hole without much problem.  Now comes the fun part!  You need to put the steel pipe through the 55-gallon drum and put it through both holes!  I had to have the wife help me because it wasn't something I could get just right!  Now get out your two saw horses and put one on either side of the drum and put the pipe onto them:

Composter with steel pipe

Wow, it is already starting to look like a compost tumbler!  The next step is to figure out how big of a hole you want to make in your bin.  I made mine about 10" long at the top and about 7" at the bottom.  If you'd like, you can make it just a big square, a triangle hole, or a trapezoid-like hole.  I chose to use a trapezoid-like hole since I had two hinges and only one latch.    Now, you need to make two four pilot holes (or three if a triangle-opening shape) on all the corners.  The hole needs to be big enough to allow your jigsaw blade down into the hole.  After this, take a sharpie marker and mark the area where you want to cut.  Oringally, I was going to make a triangle opening – but I didn't think this was big enough.  So you can see here I have some extra lines:

Compost Tumber Opening

Now take your jigsaw and cut across the line where you are going to place your hinges.  I placed mine at the top.  I HIGHLY recommend that you only cut this one line and then add your hinges.  If you cut the entire hole first, it may be more difficult to add your hinges on – and the plastic piece may fall through the bin as well!

After you get your hinges screwed on and attached, cut the line opposite of the one you just cut (the bottom line in the picture above).  Then add your latch that will allow you to open/close the lid.

After you have the latch added, now cut the two remaining lines (the ones on the left and right).  Below is a close-up picture of what mine looks like after adding the hinges, latch, and cutting all the lines.

Compost Tumbler

You are all done!  you now have a working compost tumbler.  Now just give it a spin and see how easily it moves!

Compost Tumbler Completed

I then added in some of my neighbors grass and leaves that he mulched up today while mowing his law (nice today for almost December – in the lower 60's in Central Illinois).

Enjoy your new tumbler!  You can add organic food scraps (not meat!), leaves, grass clippings, and any other organic matter to your composter.  Every few weeks just give it a little bit of a spin!  These compost tumblers work much better than just having a big compost pile because there isn't any shoveling and heavy labor required.

Frost & Rain Barrels

We had another good frost last Friday.  Since then, the temperatures have been very close – if not under – freezing during the night.  Low and behold, the lettuce just won't give up!  It is hard to see in this picture, but the lettuce has some frost on them.  Since then, the lettuce still seems to be growing very slowly – even though it has now frosted a few more times since this picture!

Frost and Lettuce

The strawberries have a pretty good coloration to them with the reds the leaves are turning.  You can see the white frost on the perimeter of the leaves.

Frosted Strawberries


Rain Barrel Update

This past weekend, we picked up two 55 gallon drums from a Speed Lube shop in a nearby town.  Thanks to a co-worker, he said his dad owns the place and has plenty of them to give out.  So, we went down to our family's house for Thanksgiving festivities this past weekend.  The little town was on the way there so we picked up two of the barrels.  It would have been funny to get a picture of the car.  We had one of the clear barrels lying down in the backseat and the other was put in the trunk.  The barrel wouldn't fit at all in the trunk and caused the trunk to be almost vertical in the air.  I had tied it down pretty good with some string and twine that I brought along – but it definitely looked like we were hillbillies with a huge blue drum in the trunk!

A guy on Freecycle also e-mailed and said that he had one.  So after work, I went down to pick the one he had up and brought them home.

Rain Barrels

Unfortunately, the barrel I received from him will not work for my purposes – unless I use it as a stand-alone barrel behind the garage.  The bung holes at the top of that barrel had very course threads and the holes were over 2"!  I was warned about this when reading others' experiences making rain barrels.  So, the 2" male-threaded PVC fittings I have fit the two barrels we picked up on the weekend, but not the other one.

So, I am debating what to do with the other barrel now – that makes two barrels we can't use for much (although one is holding mulched-up leaves in it currently).  I was thinking about using it as a compost bin.  That could be done by getting a saw-horse kit and then putting a very large dowel rod or steel pipe (I have a steel pipe!) and running it through the barrel.  The barrel would be lying down horzontally.  Then, just get a crank to put on one side of the pipe so it can be turned every now and then.  Pretty easy compost container for cheap!

Man, I am running out of land with all of these things I'm doing.  I'm not sure where I will even be able to keep the compost bin at right now.



How to Make Welch’s Grape Juice Wine

Well it is time to make our next batch of Welch’s Grape Juice Wine!  Well, it really isn’t Welch’s – it is the generic brand at the local store that sells for $2.29 for a two-quart bottle.

We should have actual grapes next year to make our own wine from the grapes, but this is the second year of using the grape juice.  Over the course of the year, we have been able to tell that the first batch we made has mellowed out and is very good wine!  When we bottled it in the gallon jugs back in May, it seemed very bitter and had a pretty big kick as an aftertaste.  Now that we are into our fourth gallon and six months later, there isn’t very much bitterness to the wine and not much of a kick.  However, the alcohol content is still quite high and will get you feeling good from just a glass of wine!

Here I will explain our sequence of events for making wine and will add on our progress as it continues.

November 15

Today we purchased the grape juice.  To fill a five gallon carboy, you only need about 9 to 9.5 bottles of 2-quart grape juice.  You do have to add a few items to the mix – especially sugar if you want to increase the achievable alcohol content.

Here are our emptied bottles of grape juice:

Wine Juice Bottles

Here is the equpiment that we use.  I will list what they are:

Wine Making Equipment

  • 5 Gallon Plastic Carboy – The “Better Bottle”
  • Mixing Rod (white pole in the carboy – can attach to an electric/cordless drill to make mixing faster)
  • Turkey Baster (piece lying down on the countertop – used to suck up wine out of the carboy to check Specific Gravity
  • Airplug and Airlock (front piece that will be added to the top of the carboy to keep the oxygen out).
  • Plastic “test tube” and Hydrometer (test tube will hold the juice taken out of the bottle by the turkey baster.  The Hydrometer will show the specific gravity of the juice mix)

Now, let’s go to the additives that we use.  Note that most of these you do not need with the Welch’s Grape Juice because it has already been pastuerized:

Wine Additives

  • Campden Tablets (these will help to kill off any wild yeast/bacteria in the juice mixture.  It aids in allowing the yeast to set up shop without any competition – this is definitely needed)
  • Bentonite (This is a clay-like substance that will help to clear the wine by ‘grabbing’ onto free-floating particles in the wine – this is not required but will make your wine less murky)
  • Yeast Nutrient (This provides some needed nutrients that will help the yeast grow quickly and do their job better – this is not required but does help the yeast)
  • Acid Blend (This will add additional acidity to the wine if not acidic enough – this one is not required). 
  • Pectic Enzyme (This will break down naturally-occurring pectin which is made in fruits.  pectin can cause globs of juice to form – much like a jelly substance.  In the case of using the grape juice, Pectic Enzyme is not required – but would be required if you used fresh fruit and crushed your own to get your juice)
  • Premier Curve Yeast (This is the yeast that will convert your sugar to alcohol. Last time we used Montrachet yeast – but I’m trying a different variety of yeast this time)

You will also need a funnel, a sanitizing solution (we use Star San sanitizer) and A LOT lot of sugar!

Now, let’s get started.  Below is what we use for a five-gallon batch:

  1. Mix in 3 teaspoons of Bentonite into 2.5 cups of very warm water and stir.  It is then best to let this cool down to room temperature (at least wait 12 hours before adding it into your carboy).  It will look like this:
    Bentonite Mix
  2. Sanitize EVERYTHING very well!  You can use a solution of bleach but you will have to use many rinses to get the smell and residue off of your materials.  The Star San solution we use is makes about 1 gallon with using only 1/4 ounce.  It will be foamy and clean things very well.  You need to leave the sanitizer in contact for at least 30 – 45 seconds in ALL AREAS of your carboy and materials needed.  If you fail to sanitize, you may end up with a bacteria-filled juice that will be like vinegar!
  3. Pour in your grape juice into your carboy.  You will notice below the foam that is at the top of the carboy – this is the left-overs of using Star San.  But, it is just fine for adding your juice in and will not give any kind of flavor to it.  In addition, below we are just using the top half of a milk jug as a funnel:
    Pour Juice Into Carboy
  4. After you add two or three bottles (between 1 gallon and 1.5 gallons) of grape juice, add in four cups of sugar (yes, four cups – it sounds like a lot, but you definitely need it! Welch’s grape juice is not made from the extremely sweet wine grapes – so it is needed in order to get your alcohol content up).
  5. After adding in some sugar, add in the other additives.
    1. Crush up one Campden Tablet per gallon of juice (five for five gallons of wine) and add to the mix – required
    2. Add in 1 tsp of Yeast Nutrient for each gallon of juice (five tsp for five gallons of wine) – Recommended
    3. Add in 1 tsp of Acid Blend (Others say you should add about 1/2 tsp per gallon, but I only did 1 tsp since this isn’t really needed) – not required
    4. Add in 3 tsp pectic enzyme (again, about 1 tsp per gallon is indicated from other posts, but this grape juice is already pasteurized) – not required
  6. Continue to add in your grape juice.  After you have put in eight bottles of grape juice, add in another two cups of sugar.
  7. Mix the juice mixture up very vigorously for a couple of minutes.  You need to get all of that sugar and all of the additives to dissolve into the wine if you are to get an accurate measurement in our next step.
    Mixing the Grape Juice Wine
  8. Now it is time to check your Specific Gravity.  You need Specific Gravity ideally to be around 1.10 SG.
    1. Use the Turkey Baster to draw up some wine and put it into the plastic test tube.  Ensure your Hydrometer is in the test-tube before hand.
    2. Add the juice into the turkey baster until a little after the hydrometer begins to float.
    3. Here you can see ours is right at 1.10.  Specific gravity starting at 1.10 will allow up to about 12.5% alcohol by volume if you allow the femerntation to stop at a reading of 1.00 or below (more on this when the process is completed).  To find your alcohol by volume:
      (Starting Specific Gravity – Ending Specific Gravity) / 0.8 = % alcohol content
      Wine Specific Gravity at 1.10
    4. If you are lower than 1.10 SG, (say 1.095), add another cup of sugar and try again.  If you are over 1.10 SG, dont do anything.  however, if you are over 1.11 SG, you need to add a little bit of water.  Add water in 1/4 cup increments, stir well again, and re-check and get below this number.
  9. Put your airlock over the top of your carboy and set aside until your Bentonite solution you made above (recommended but not required) has cooled down

Because of the amount of foam, we had to actually take our juice mixture out of the five-gallon carboy and put it into a six-gallon plastic bucket.  This gives a lot more head-room and this is considered the best container to use for your ‘primary fermenter’.

6 Gallon Ale Pail with Airlock

November 16

Alright, we waited about 23 hours before continuing on.  Now we added in the bentonite solution we made earlier and really gave it a good mixing with our mixing tool that attaches to a drill.

Now you need to check your specific gravity (sugar contents) again and see what the additional 2.5 cups of water with bentonite solution did.  Follow the steps above with using a turkey baster to pull the juice out and check.  ***Make sure that you SANITIZE the plastic test tube, turkey baster, and hydrometer again before allowing it to contact your juice mix.***  We discovered that the specific gravity dropped down to about 1.096 after adding in just two cups of water!  We added one cup of sugar and this brought it back to 1.10.

It is time to “pitch the yeast”!  Open your package of yeast and then spread evenly over the surface of your juice.  Ours looks like this (you can barely see the little particles in the top of the foamy juice):

Adding Yeast to Grape Juice

Now cover your container again, fit the airlock, and leave it alone for about a week!  it should stay in a ‘primary fermenter’ for 5 – 7 days to allow more surface area for the yeast to multiply and get a good head start on their work.

After 5 – 7 days, it will be time to “rack up” – or to take the juice mix from the ‘primary fermenter’ to the ‘secondary fermenter’ – which will be our 5-gallon plastic carboy that is shown above.  There it will stay until the airlock no longer bubbles.  When the airlock bubbles, this indicates that the yeast is converting the sugar to alochol – and it is releasing the by-product – carbon dioxide – through the airlock – which causes the bubbles.

November 17

Nothing new to report yet.  This morning there wasn’t any bubbling from the airlock.  After arriving home from work, there isn’t any bubbling as of yet.  The yeast is still multiplying and the current sugar-to-alcohol process is negligible.

 Update @ 8:15 PM:

I checked on the airlock and it was raised up from the bottom!  The airlock consists of three portions – the top lid (just the  lid that comes on and off), a round cylinder inside the airlock with rectangles cut out, and the outer portion that has a pipe that goes into the fermenter.

The round cylnder inside the airlock has now been lifted off the pipe – which means carbon dioxide is now being produce.  You can see below that there is a bubbly substance in the top (caused by the Star San sanitizing solution that was put in the airlock).  You can also see that the inner cylinder is how bumping up against lid of the airlock.

Currently, it is bubbling at about two bubbles per minute.

 Airlock Bubbling

November 18 

 Update @ 7:20 AM:

Airlock is now bubbling at about 11.5 bubbles per minute – up quite substantially from two per minute about 11 hours ago.

Update @ 4:30 PM:

Airlock is now bubbling at about 42 bubbles per minute – almost quadrupling the previous measurement.

Update @ 9:10 PM:

Airlock is now bubbling at about 65 per minute – over one per second on average!  With the last amount of wine that we made, the most I counted was 40 per minute.  At this rate, the wine will be done much quicker than the two months it took last time.  This will give the wine a bit more time to age before we start drinking it to allow it to mellow down in taste.

November 19

Update @ 7:30 AM:

Airlock is bubbling between 91 – 96 bubbles per minute now.  It is almost a continuous bubble flow which makes it hard to manually count the number of bubbles.

Update @ 4:20 PM:

Airlock bubbles are beginning to slow down their exponential growth.  I cannot keep count with the bubbler anymore because there will be 5 – 10 bubbles that come in spurts then it stops for a few seconds followed by another 5  – 10 bubble spurts.  I would peg the bubbles per minute somewhere between 105 – 120 at this point.

November 20

Update @ 4:20 PM:

Airlock is begnning to slow down.  It seems yesterday was the peak.  This morning the bubble count was down to around 90 – 100 bubbles per minute.  At 4:20 PM today, the count was down to around 70 – 75 bubbles per minute.

 November 22

Update @ 7:30 PM:

Airlock is now around 60 – 65 bubbles per minute – so it is slowing down even a little more.  Tomorrow the wine will be ‘racked’ into the 5-gallon Better Bottle and removed from the 6-gallon bucket – where it will remain until the fermentation is completed.

November 23

Update @ 6:00 PM:

Today was the big day for moving the wine into the secondary fermenter.  Before doing so, I checked the bubble count – and it slowed down again to about 56 bubbles per minute – about 10 bubbles per minute slower than yesterday.

I took the lid off and was greeted with this sight.  The wine looks pretty dark and murky.  There was some bubbles at the top and the whole container was bubbling like a soda from the yeast still working away:

Wine Fermenting

Before opening the lid, I made sure to start the sanitizing process of the hydrometer, plastic ‘test tube’, the 5-gallon Better Bottle, and everything else that would come in contact with the wine.  Again, sanitizing everything is very important – so make sure you do this if anything comes into contact with the inside container where the wine will be held or comes in contact with the wine itself.

Wine Sanitizing

After this, i got the plastic ‘test tube’ out along with the turkey baster and hydrometer.  I pulled up some wine with the turkey baster to put in the plastic ‘test tube’ and the hydrometer.  Amazing!  Within a week, the yeast has converted this to about 8 – 9% alcohol already!  When we first started, the Specific Gravity was at 1.10.  Now, it is at 1.02.  That is a pretty big difference in such a short period of time.   At this rate, the wine will be done by the end of next week!  So much for having to wait two months.

Wine Specific Gravity at 1.02

Welp, the last step was to take the wine and “rack it” into the secondary fermenter.  The primary fermenter did a great job in aiding the yeast in reproduction and getting the wine off to a good start.  Right now, we could add in some Potassium Sorbate and five Campden Tablets (one for each gallon of wine) to kill off the yeast and have 8 – 9% alcohol.  The wine is quite sweet and pretty good, but we like to have the extra kick.  So, here you can see the process of the wine transferring from the primary fermenter to the secondary five-gallon carboy.

Racking Wine

Yes, it is in our downstairs bathroom.  We don’t want to get grape juice all over the carpet or good floors!  Wine/grape juice surely stains.

And there it is for the next couple of weeks – until the airlock fully stops bubbling.

Wine in 5-Gallon Better Bottle

November 24

Update @ 4:15 PM:

Airlock is bubbling at about 54 bubbles per minute – down a negligible difference from yesterday.

 November 25

Update @ 5:45 PM:

Airlock has dropped off considerably and is now down to 34 – 35 bubbles per minute.

November 26

Update @ 9:45 AM:

Airlock bubbles dropped by a factor of two from yesterday.  There are now only about 17 bubbles per minute.

Update @ 6:00 PM:

Airlock is  now down to 13 bubbles per minute.  In addition, I took the top off the carboy and used the turkey baster to pull out some wine to put in the plastic ‘test tube’ to check the Specific Gravity.  The Specific Gravity is now at exactly 1.00.  So the wine has went from 1.02 on Monday down to 1.00 Thursday night.  Once the Specific Gravity gets to 0.999, fermenting is complete.

Wine Specific Gravity

We also took a taste of the wine and it actually tastes pretty foul at this point.  There is still a little bit of residual sugar but it is almost like an alcoholic soda pop – because of all of the carbon dioxide dilluted in the wine plus the yeast.  I hope that it will get better otherwise these five gallons of wine will be a bust.  It still is way too early to throw in the towel though – because the wine has to be de-gassed (carbon dioxide mixed out), the yeast-killing additives put into the container, and then let to sit a week or to in order to allow the wine to drop all of the heavy debris to the bottom of the container.

November 27

Update @ 7:30 AM:

Airlock is now at 8 bubbles per minute.

 Update @ 5:00 PM:

Airlock is now at 6 bubbles per minute.

November 28

Update @ 10:00 AM:

Airlock is at 3 bubbles per minute.  Soon we will stop the fermenting process and allow the wine to stabilize and clear.

Update @ 4:55 PM:

Airlock is at almost 2 bubbles per minute (2 in 63 seconds).  I decided that it is time to go ahead and stop the fermentation process.  It could wait a few more days, but where it is at seems fine.

First thing first – let your items that will touch the wine sanitize:

Sanitizing Wine Equipment

Next, you need to add two additives to kill any remaining yeast, kill any other bacteria, and help preserve the wine.  For this you need to add in one campden tablet per gallon (so a total of five campden tablets for five gallons).  In addition, Potassium Sorbate is needed in a dose of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.  So I added in 2 1/2 teaspoons of Potassium Sorbate for the 5 gallons:

Wine Additives

To crush the tablets, my wife has a little crushing bowl and crusher that I used:

Crushing Campden Tablets

After adding the additives into the batch, it is time to mix everything very well.  BE CAREFUL with this!  You have to start mixing very slowly otherwise the foam will come up well over the top like a volcano exploded (had it happen to me this time)!

Wine Mixing

After spending a good 30 minutes mixing on and off to get the diffused carbon dioxide out, I put the airlock back on and will let it sit for at least another week – maybe two (no rush since we still have a gallon).

I checked the specific gravity again and it was just below 1.0 – so it is probably around 0.998.  Now, let’s see how much alochol this will contain:

( (Starting Specific Gravity)  – (Ending Specific Gravity) ) / 0.8
(1.10 – 0.998) / 0.8
0.102 / 0.8 = 0.1275

So, it contains about 12.75% alochol content.  We took a sip of the wine that was in the plastic “test tube” and it is much better than it was before.   This is because the carbon dioxide didn’t make it like a soda.

Well, until next time – I won’t be posting any updates for a week or two – until it is time to actually start putting the wine into our jugs!

November 30

Nothing has changed much with the wine.  The wine is clearing up though and looks like the purple grape juice that was originally used to make the wine.  In all of the photos above, it looks like the wine is a magenta-like opaque color that you cannot see through.  Now, it has returned back to the dark purple color and is becoming more translucent.

December 13

It has now been two weeks since the fermentation was stopped on the Welch’s grape fruit juice wine.  At this point, I wanted to go ahead and “rack” the wine.  Racking the wine simply means moving the wine from one container to another.  Again, it is very important to sanitize all equipment that will come into contact with the wine.  I did this again – by using our Star San Sanitizing solution.

After everything was sanitized down, the wine was moved from the Better Bottle to another bottle I have on hand.  The reason to rack the wine is to remove all of the sediment from the wine – you don’t want to put any of this in your bottles!  The siphon hose I have has a black tip on the end – this is the lift the siphon off of the bottom of the bottle and this helps to keep from getting the sediment in your second container.  If I had an “auto-siphon”, there is a little pump at the top of the siphon.  You just pump it a couple of times and the wine starts the siphoned gravity flow automatically.  Since I don’t have one of those, I have to suck on the end of the other end of the siphon to get the flow of wine started.

After the wine has been moved to the other container, I refit the stopper and airlock and then I will let this sit for another two weeks.  After that two weeks, I will do this process again, wait another two weeks, and then bottle it up!  We aren’t in a rush to get the wine out since we still have about a gallon of wine left from our previous batch.

Here is the second YouTube video I made with a Samsung SL30 camera.   The first video I made yesterday was a bit better as I had a hard time controlling the camera when performing some actions in the video.


December 24

I opted to not wait the full two weeks to rack the wine again. The same process for racking the wine was done today as done in the previous entry and video – everything was sanitized well and the wine moved back into the Better Bottle with the air lock fit over the top. There was much less sediment at the bottom this time. Next time we will begin bottling the wine.

January 9

Today we put the wine into the bottles. We first tried to use a submersible fish pump to push the wine through a coffee filter at the end of a food-grade tube, but the force was too great and caused a mess! So, because we racked up the wine three times (twice before and once including today with moving the wine from the Better Bottle to the Ale Pail), we figured this probably is filtered enough.

Last year we used five one-gallon jugs to put the wine in. This year, we have accumulated quite a few wine bottles. Most of them are a 1.5 liter size – but we do have two that are 750 mL (half the size of a 1.5 liter).
Wine Bottling
Again, before we do anything, we must sanitize everything down. Beforehand, we washed the outside of all of the jugs and wine bottles in hot, soapy water to clean the outsides. Then, they were put in the Ale Pail and the sanitizing solution was fed into each of the bottles.

After those were done, we sanitized the Ale Pail itself along with the full siphon hose.
Now, let’s begin the filling! One thing I wanted to show you that I have on the siphon hose is a shut-off clamp. This shut off clamp has several notches in it – so as you push down, it stays in place. This helps to regulate the flow of the wine going into the bottles – and allows you to shut off the flow when you need to get another bottle.

Now it is just a matter of taking the wine out of the Ale Pail using the siphon hose to fill up each bottle!

Finally after we managed to get them all filled up, we have a good five gallons of wine ready for storage and “aging”. Our “aging” simply is keeping them stored until we need them. So, the very last bottle will be “aged” for about one year before we open it.

Lastly, here is a picture of the wine in the plastic test tube and hydrometer. The hydrometer is still sitting right at 1.00 for specific gravity. You can see just how well this batch of wine has cleared up!

Below is the YouTube video that was created during the process. I had to do quite a bit of editing to remove all of the footage of us trying to use the submersible fish pump to filter the wine through a coffee filter. That just didn’t work!

Blanching Vegetables Before Freezing

I think I have learned my lesson for not boiling vegetables before freezing.

Earlier this year when the broccoli and cauliflower were harvested, I opted to just cut them and store them in ZipLock freezer bags.  I read online that the proper way to preserve and freeze vegetables were to blanch them before freezing.

I have discovered why.

The other day I pulled out some broccoli and cauliflower from the freezer and placed in some plastic containers and put them in the fridge to unthaw.  I was going to just use them with some vegetable dip for a quick snack.  Today I pulled some the container out and noticed an off-smell.

Since I am a bit stubborn, I still opted to try one to see what it was like.  Pretty gross.  The broccoli and cauliflower both taste like they are spoiled and leaves a sewage-like aftertaste.

Unfortunately, we only blanched maybe one or two bags of sugar snap peas with the pods.  After freezing them, we found out that they hardened up and all stuck to one another – and they fell apart extremely easily after re-cooking.  So, after seeing this, we did not boil and of the other vegetables before freezing (except the corn).

So far we've used about two bags of peas and a few bags of green beans in dishes.  They still taste just fine without any problem.  So, it may not be necessary to blanch or boil green beans and peas before freezing – but we'll see later this year.

The odd thing is – I used some of the cauliflower in a veggie dish a few days ago – and the cauliflower tasted fine in the dish.  It was cooked up with some carrots and peas, however – so that may have helped to mask the taste.

I didn't get sick from eating the dish with the cauliflower in it that was cooked directly after they were pulled from the freezer.  So maybe it is something with wait to unthaw the cauliflower and broccoli that it seems to go bad.

Either way, there won't be any broccoli or cauliflower in the garden next year – as it takes up too much space for the amount of produce it makes.  We don't really use the broccoli or cauliflower while cooking anyways – like we do corn, green beans, peppers, and carrots.

Unveiling of 2010 Garden Plans

Today I worked on the garden plans for 2010.  This year I am placing emphasis on the items that we eat more often than those that we don't.

As an example, I have discovered that we are not eating many of the sugar peas that were grown.  We grew over 10 pounds of sugar peas and we haven't used many of them at all.  I made a dish last night that had peas in them – but still that was maybe only about a pound of peas.  So the peas will be reduced by about 60%.

In addition, the cauliflower didn't produce well this year and was a waste of space.  The bag of cauliflower is still in the freezer and hasn't been opened!  Same is the case with the broccoli – just not used very often although the yield was fairly well (although not worth the pound-per-square-foot of garden space).

I am also having to rotate some of the items this year.  The tomatoes have always been grown behind the garage (for the past three years now) – so I am moving them to another location.  I will be planting one more tomato this year as we have been going through the sala mix we made very quickly!  This year two each of the Best Boy, Roma, and Cherry Tomatoes were planted.  Next year there will be an additional Best Boy tomato planted instead of two Cherry Tomatoes (I would plant maybe two more, but I don't have the space in this bed).

Potatoes will be grown much more heavily than before.  I was quite happy with the amount of potatoes that grew – although I wasn't happy with the potato bin.  I plan to put in about 40 potatoes whereas only about 13 were planted this year.

The corn will be seeded in the spring instead of half way through the year.  I will then grow pole beans on the corn stalks to make use of the space.  Corn and pole beans work well together – especially since the beans are 'nitrogen-fixing' – which will allow the corn to make use of the nitrogen the beans unlock.

Peppers will be cut back by two – only six will be planted next year instead of eight.  We have quite the load of peppers that we may not use fully.  We also gave at least 15 pounds of peppers away to the neighbor as well.

Lettuce will be planted in succession.  I will plant one row (one row is six plants) every three weeks.  Hopefully this will give us a more plentiful supply throughout the year.  I have also been debating about planting Buttercrunch lettuce in with the Black Simpson Elite lettuce for a little bit of variety for next year.

I planted out six cucumbers this year but only two came up.  For that reason, next year I will be starting almost everything indoors to ensure that all of the garden space is used instead of having holes here and there (had only about 50% germination rate with the green beans even!).  Carrots, onions, and potatoes will be the exception to this.  By starting them indoors, I will use about 150% more seed than I need to reach what I will plant outside to ensure that I have enough seedlings to transplant.  I may have several that I will have to add to the compost pile afterwards or maybe give to my parents for them to try – but I want to ensure I maximize all of the space used this year.  Most of the garage garden (garden behind the garage) wasn't used this year since the cucumbers didn't come up as expected.

So, here will be the setup for next year – at least as it stands now.  I may change up some items.  Here is a full picture of the previews below to get the whole picture.

Color chart to show what is planted where:

2010 Garden Legend


Below is the picture of the front garden, the newest driveway garden, and the potato patch (which is directly in the ground next to the house garden).  The front garden is 4 feet wide by 20 feet long and this driveway garden is 4 feet wide by 8 feet long.  The potato patch is approximately 2 feet wide by 5 feet long.

Front/Driveway Garden and Potato Patch

Below is the other portions of the garden.  The driveway garden was the one built early in the spring and it has the potato bin in this raised bed.  Next year I believe that the potato bin is going to be full right from the start.  The bottom will have one foot of regular soil and the other 1.5 feet will be leaves that I have set aside from mulching this year.

The house garden will have the tomatoes (this is where the onions and peas were this year) and the peas in them.  The garage garden will continue to have the cucumbers like they did this year – but will also have bush beans and potatoes planted in this area.

2010 Garden Plans

Lettuce, Potato, and Making a Rain Barrel

This weekend was cleanup weekend.  Because of the forrest behind the house, the back yard was 100% covered with leaves.  The neighbor is very religious about blowing the leaves off of his yard everyday – and unfortunately he stops right at the property line in the back so there is a nice mound of leaves where he sorta just pushes them off his property for me to cleanup.  Oh well – that is fine because I spent at least six hours raking and mulching up all of the leaves in the yard yesterday.

Even after doing this, I still don't have enough leaves to cover the gardens!  I got the garden next to the house fully covered:

Garden with Mulched Leaves

And I also got about 2/3 of the garden behind the garage filled in (not shown).  Before filling in the areas, I filled up two garbage containers full of leaves and this new addition:

Leaves in 55 Gallon Drum

I purchased this 55 gallon drum at a local car wash.  They get the car soap in the big 55 gallon drums.  These are well known for their use in collecting rain water from your downspouts – which is what my plan was.  I got the drum and was quite excited so I went up to Menards and purchased some PVC pipe and fittings to get this going.  My neighbor purchased one of these at a Master Gardener seminar a few years back for $25.  After getting it home, I cut a hole in the top and a hole in the side (as shown above).  The hole in the side is for the overflow  – so when the container gets full, it would overflow the rest down into the drain where the water originally went in the yard.

Well, originally this 55 gallon drum had two bung holes in the top of the lid.  The bung holes have a female screw-in built right into the lid.  So, I bought 2" PVC for the overflow – with both a male and female connector to attach to the side of the barrel.  I took the male part of the 2" PVC pipe and it fit PERFECTLY into the female bung hole.  Well, unfortunately, I had already put a hole in the top.

A guy at work says his dad owns an oil changing shop in a town close by – and they have a lot of these 55 gallon drums that were filled with windshield wiper fluid.  So, I asked him to get me three of them.  I went back to Menards and bought a 2" PVC T-connector and a couple of 2" PVC 90-degree elbows.  I then drilled a hole through one of the 90-degree elbows and placed a 1/2" male-threaded piece into the hole and used some PVC cement and put on several coats of it to make sure the hole was completely filled.  The goal is to use each of the 2" bung holes in the new 55 gallon drums I'll receive and tie them all together.  The bung holes will be at the bottom and then I'll drill a small 1" hole at the top of each of the barrels to release the water pressure as the water comes into the barrels.  By tieing all of the barrels together with the 2" PVC pipe,  the water will come into one barrel and all three barrels will even out as the water comes in.  Then, by tieing all of them together with the 2" PVC pipe and placing the 1" pipe right into the elbow, this will increase the water pressure for the hose attached with the 1/2" piece coming out of the elbow.  Below is a picture to show the top part of the barrel (contains the two bung holes and this is the piece I cut off of the current barrel).  This shows how the 2" PVC fits snugly into the drum's bung hole and the elbow with 1/2" PVC pipe attached – which will then run to a garden hose and to the garden:

2" PVC Pipe and 1/2" PVC Pipe for Hose Connection

The yellow piece on the end is just a simple valve for closing the pipe or opening the pipe up.  It is connected to a 3/4" PVC to 3/4" male threaded garden host connector – which was the most expensive part of the setup ($5 for it!).

I should get the three barrles – hopefully tomorrow (Monday) and I will begin the actual setup of the whole system of three barrels used to hold rain water and to water the garden with next year.

Meanwhile, back to the garden.  I was digging up the strawberries in the back of the house to relocate them to the front garden bed.  The deer got in and did some damage to the strawberries that were transplanted last week so I also dug them up and relocated them to the part of the garden that is enclosed with deer netting:

Front Garden

You can see the strawberries covering the right part of the garden – there are probably about 30 in there now after the deer really tore up the other ones that were not protected.

While digging up the strawberries in the back, I came across another potato!  This weight 1/2 an ounce less than a pound!

Kennebec Potato found wihle digging strawberries

In addition to this potato, I took a look at the potato bin that was cleared out and was surpirsed to see that this little potato is trying to grow!  This is in the same exact spot as the only potato that lived to grow all the way to the top:

Kennebec Potato Growing

After digging up the potato and transplanting the strawberries, I opted to pick some more lettuce.  I got just a little above 3 ounces.  I then spread some fertilizer over the area where the lettuce is – thinking maybe the area isn't rich in nitrogen or some other nutrient is missing.

Lettuce Pickings

Pretty amazing that I'm still getting just a little bit of produce from the garden.  We had two nights where it frosted this week – and the lettuce still seems to be growing just as it was.  The pepper plants didn't do so well and many of the leaves withered down.

Lastly, a picture of the Flame Bunch grape vine.  Both the Flame Bunch and Concord grew very well this season.  The leaves are beginning to turn on them (even though almost all of the leaves from the other trees are gone).

Flame Bunch Grapevine

The two columnar apple trees (you can see one of them in the background – looks like a little stick out of the ground almost right in the middle of the picture on the bottom) didn't do well at all this season – and I don't think they grew at all.  This is all blamed on the deer that pulled all of the leaves off of them over and over as they set leaves.  I tried to put some deer netting over them to allow them to grow, but it just didn't work very well.  Really a shame since these were about $27 each at an online nursery.  But, I have been debating now whether to actually plant two dwarf apple trees in place of these.  Unfortunately, the dwarf apple trees would cost about $80 each because I would want a tree that would be a few years old so we would get fruit farily quickly.  But, I would have the same problem as I do with the columnar apples and the Granny Smith apple tree we already have – the deer.  I'm simply at a loss on how to get the deer to leave the trees alone.  At least the Granny Smith tree still has a few leaves on them – but the deer netting is smorthering the tree and is causing the branches to curl inwards a bit.