Grit Blogs > Green Promise

Learning From Mistakes

RachelApple Cider Vinegar
Jars of apple cores and peels ready for fermentation.

Sometimes homesteading can feel like a giant blooper reel. At some point in your journey you are going to feel like a complete moron, it's an inescapable fact of this green-growing, furry, feathery life we live. I have taken some time to list a couple things that I have totally screwed up and learned from. Maybe it will take the sting out of some of your mistakes.

Apple Cider Vinegar
You may remember my post about making applesauce last year and how I rattled on about making apple cider vinegar from my peels and cores. After we made all that applesauce and prepared all the peels and cores that we could fit into our big 1/2 gallon jars I was feeling pretty high on life. ACV, after all, is pretty easy make. I researched different ways to make it and I was confident that I chose the route right for me. All I needed was peels and cores, water to top off the jars, cheesecloth, and a big ole rubber band, a warm dark place, and time. About a week after I got the process going I discovered that my ACV had bubbled over and made a mess on the floor; turns out the room was much too warm and also that I had filled up my jars too full of water. If a smelly sticky mess on the floor wasn't bad enough two weeks or so later I went down to do a taste test and possibly filter and bottle my ACV and discovered that the jars had become a nursery to roughly a bazillion fruit flies ... INSIDE the jars under the cheesecloth. Turns out I needed to layer my cheesecloth a little bit thicker than just two ply. Next time I plan on using a flour sack towel. All in all I ended up with 1 jar of usable vinegar. If you want a great book on things to do with apple cider check out Apple Cider Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson, it covers brewing hard apple cider, facts about cider and yes, even complete directions on making vinegar.

The Chicken Tractor
I could go on for days about how chicken tractors are not what they are cracked up to be. Don't get me wrong, they certainly have their place and I love the concept. Fresh grass! Safety! Super cute! We ordered a totally adorable fancy chicken tractor from some page we found on the internet. It's got a nice roofed detachable run and the floor has trays that you pull out to make cleaning easier and four nest boxes, and wheels to push it around the yard. Except this puppy is heavy and it is a total five-letter-word to move around the yard. The ramp going from the coop to the run was fixed, not hinged, so to move the tractor you had to have two people ... one holding the coop up while the other pulled the run out of the way. The handles to move the tractor are on the same side as the run attaches on so it's awkward to pick up and move out of the way. And you have no choice but to move it to a new location every day because the run is so small the birds eat and scratch the grass down within 12 hours. Now that we have our big coop our tractor is used as a maternity ward, broody breaker or integration pen depending on the need. But it serves as a constant (expensive) reminder that what looks good in theory is not always good in practice.

This year will make my 8th garden. In that time I have tried just about every single method of trellising that I could come up with. All of them were miserable failures. I love those photos in the gardening magazines with the plants neatly growing up string and bamboo posts. I quickly realized that while those string methods of trellising may work well for others they do not work for me. I lack the time, and patience. Any strong wind would knock over all my hard work. I ended up using a roll of fencing zip tied to T-posts for my peas to grow up. It ain't pretty but it's sturdy.

Crush and Strain
The first year that I harvested honey it's fair to say that I had no real idea what was involved. At that time my kitchen had brown shag carpet in it. I had the gist of it, you get the honey comb and you crush it, then you strain out the wax chunks. No big deal. No one told me that everything in the house would be sticky. Someone told me they used a big potato masher to crush their comb. I quickly learned how much of a pain that was and after I busted my potato masher I grabbed my lunch lady gloves and started crushing by hand. Turns out the gloves were the only thing I had right. I then used a flour sack towel to strain the honey because I could NOT find cheesecloth anywhere! And while it was effective it was painfully slow. That was 4 years ago. Crush and strain is a slow process anyhow, but these days the straining takes significantly less time. After that first year my husband made me a honey press and I found a reliable source for cheesecloth. This year I got a mesh strainer that fits over a 5 gallon bucket after my father-in-law got one, and dang, does that thing make quick work out of straining.  I highly recommend getting one. I had my highest honey yield yet because of the combination of the strainer and honey press.

The big benefit of crushing and straining your honey is that you get a lot more wax that way. The first time I processed wax from my honey I used my hot water bath canner. STUPID. I knew how to do it. What I didn't know how much of a pain it was to clean up. I got my job done and the wax was cooling in a bucket into a giant puck. Then I noticed that I had a nice lemon yellow ring inside the canner. Nothing, and I mean nothing, got it off. I scoured Google for an answer and failed. I chalked it up to a learning experience. Now I use an old garage sale crock-pot for wax processing. I also recommend using silicone measuring cups and molds when working with wax. You can peel the wax right off, making clean up a lot easier.

These are only a few. I hope that my mistakes maybe made you feel better about some of yours. I can say I don't regret them (except maybe the water bath canner ...) because I learned from my screw-ups and I do things a better way now and I always feel like my methods are improving. Bottom line! Don't give up just because you failed, or did something the hard way. No one is perfect.