Staying Warm- Heat Pad Comparisons: Corn, Walnut Shell, Cherry Pit, Clay Beads and Styrofoam

The absolute best option for microwavable heat is a corn bag if sustained heat is your only concern. You should know there is a problem with the smell though. The first time you heat a corn bag it will have a pleasant popcorn smell. The next time it won’t be so pleasant. Eventually the corn bag will take on an earthy smell that you will mostly become nose-blind to. Others will notice it and be too polite to say anything. I tried many DIY solutions, but I have to admit that in the end the best option was a purchase.

My husband keeps the house almost unbearably cold even in the summer, so this has been a long quest for me. I almost caught a cold on my honeymoon in the summer…in Cancún because hubby likes to sleep at 68 degrees in the summer, 66degrees in the winter. (Help! I married a Viking!) I didn’t know I should pack sweatpants and wool socks for my honeymoon! That’s what I sleep in now (we are such romantics). I’ve found I can shave lots of time off my ‘falling asleep’ winddown if I can get my feet warm.

I grew up in a really drafty house that relied on wood-burning stoves, a drafty crawl space under the house and constantly battling frozen pipes every winter. My mother-in-law had mercy on me and bought me a heated throw blanket in our first year of marriage which gave up the ghost before our 4th Wedding Anniversary. I still use a heated throw blanket in my office, but we began to worry about the safety of sleeping with electric blankets. The final straw was when I began to have hot flashes and I would wake up drenched in sweat unable to get away from the heated mattress pad…it’s not like you can just throw off the blanket. You’ll have dreams you are a hot-dog on a grill!

After my first pair of ‘corn bags’ began to leak burnt crumbs I asked my mom to sew me up a new pair. My angel mom upgraded my originals with cotton corn bags and perfectly sized fleece cases for washability! We still use them for injuries or if a child needs a heat bag for their bed. For nightly use though, they quickly began to have an unpleasant scent and I was beginning to battle with the hubby over the thermostat.

The Quest was on! I read about walnut shells and I tracked down a case of walnut hulls at a tool supply store. I filled this Holstein Cow bag with Walnut Hulls and it heated great! It really was hotter than blazes and stayed that way for hours and hours. However, something about the heat didn’t seem right. I grew up in logging country and down there we’ve had incidences of sawdust piles spontaneously combusting. After 3 uses I was done. It actually smelled like a brewing fire. I am not taking a chance of catching my microwave on fire. Anyone want to buy a box of walnut shells?

Next up was Cherry Pits. There is an actual business that sells cleaned, dried cherry pits. It sounded so perfect I figured my mom and sisters would want some to replace their corn bags. I bought the 40 pound bag. The shipping was almost as much as the price of the bag. Oh well, I had come that far. By the end it was over $60 which made this an expensive DIY experiment. Once the huge bag was in my dining room I filled a cloth bag, sewed it up and microwaved it. Just like with corn bags, the first heating smelled yummy. The cherry pits smelled like a cherry pie! I was excited and held the bag close enjoying the ‘aroma therapy’ but the heat dissipated far too quickly. I was in love with the scent and decided I would just use a lot more bags, but the sweet scent of cherry pie quickly fermented and was no longer pleasant. These do make good coldpacks though because they give up their cold quickly, don’t give you ‘frost bite’, conform to shape of the injury, have no fluid to leak and they don’t break down like my previous go-to frozen peas. These Made In America Hefty bags are all it takes to make a small cold-pack. They also make a nearly musical sound that is addictive to kneed with your hands, so they would be perfect for a kid’s stuffed animal. I don’t sew kids toys anymore, and I don’t need 40 pounds of ice packs, so if you want a small sample size of cherry pits to experiment with I’m happy to part with some.

In all this bustle I noticed I had an “Aromatherapy Spa Wrap” I had picked up at a garage sale. After a week of using it I noticed the baby blue velvet had developed some discoloring from nightly heating in the microwave and it didn’t hold heat as well as corn or walnut hulls, but it also didn’t have any odor. It was too small to wrap around my feet, and didn’t have enough volume to stay warm very long, but I discovered that ‘mineral beads’ would heat and not create any odors.

I found these heat bags with clay beads that are large enough to wrap around my feet from ankle to toe. These really saved my bacon when I broke my leg because my cast had to be elevated high in the air every night and it was too painful to sleep with a heavy quilt pushing down my toes. I was able to prop my leg up above the blankets and wrap the heating pad around the ankle to add soothing heat that radiated all the way to my bare toes.

The grey color takes a beating well and the suede fabric is warm to the touch without being as bulky as fleece. By laying it flat in the microwave and propping up the ends it can fit on the turn table and expose the maximum surface area to microwaving. Mine is 11.5″ by 20″ and it weighs about 4.5 pounds. This is the closest thing currently available for sale. In my freezing house with my freezing toes it stays warm around an hour. If I haven’t gotten to sleep before they have cooled down I sometimes get up and zap them in the microwave again. Which brings me to one
other possible option.

These ‘bottom warmers‘ are popular with the hunting crowd. I don’t hunt, but when I camp I put two in my sleeping bag and hug them to bring my core body temperature up. As I get warmer and warmer at night I keep pushing it down in my sleep and wake up in the morning plenty warm with it at my feet. On ridiculously cold night I use these in addition to my heat bags to see if I can avoid re-heating in the night. It’s good to have a back-up if a winter storm takes out your electricity.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Perpetual Resource Cycling™©: A Big Idea Who’s Time Has Come

Let’s spend a little time on some ideas that are worth digging deep into. The idea of Perpetual Resource Cycling™© combines three innovative ideas into one lovely package. This idea can be applied to all sorts of businesses, social and household functions, but I love applying it to small farms because it offers solutions you can literally lay your hands on.

Perpetual Systems are systems that when set up properly need minimum maintenance. If you owned a perpetual motion toy as a kid you know that they don’t truly work forever without any intervention, but they do make amazing use of the natural forces around us that we don’t have to exert energy for. Gravity, centrifugal force, hens digging up the ground….these are all unstoppable facts of nature. Designing systems that not only account for these forces but count on these forces, adds efficiency. Having even one Perpetual System on a homestead or farm is a worthwhile investment of time and money.

A ‘Perpetual System’ example would be the old grain mill making use of the river’s water power. A smaller version would be throwing scratch grains inside the chicken coop in the winter to encourage the hens to fluff and turn the deep litter.

Everything is a Resource refers to anything you have (or know), not just the things the neighbor thinks of as valuable. Why nit-pick the distinction? If you’ve been reading about homesteading for a while you’ve probably come across ‘a weed is just a useful plant in the wrong place’. This mindset helps us see past what we currently don’t have and ask ourselves how we can get where we want to be using the resources we already have. One thing I know we all have a lot of is household waste. After we take our donations to the Salvation Army and flatten our milk jugs for the recycling bin, we still have quite a bit of waste coming out of our homes. From grey water to egg shells, a small farm offers opportunities to reuse these resources that city life makes impossible.

An ‘Everything is a Resource’ example is the humble dandelion. Although poisoned by homeowners all across America, the French adore them as salad fixings, with some European chefs eating petal to root. Horse manure is another example an organic gardener can appreciate. The stable owner is oppressed by so much poo…the gardener eagerly pays good money to have it delivered.

Cycling is just the process of going around…those outside of homesteading might first think of a bike. Recycling is perhaps the next most common word association. How about we leap frog our thinking out to the ‘Velocity of Money’? In the world of economics we find that the faster (velocity) money moves around an economy the more good it does. Don’t get me wrong, savings are great for individuals, but that dollar bill does more good for a community when it is put to work than when it is put under the mattress. With just a modest inflation of 2% a year, the value of your money is cut in half every 35 years. The same sort of effect happens to our resources that can rust, rot or spoil. Keeping the resource engaged means it does more good. The faster it moves, the better.

A ‘Cycling’ example is the simple compost bin where all spent plants, ‘weeds’ and grass clippings go into the compost bin. The contents of the bin are then added back to the garden. To increase the velocity of the compost, we could introduce chickens to the compost bin that will eat the food bits that interest them, returning them to ‘soil’ in less than 24 hours and constantly turn the compost causing it to break down faster.

A perfectly closed loop can be cost prohibitive, so I would argue that good Cycling can simply increase the number of uses before disposal. An example are the innovative sinks/toilet combinations that allow hand washing water to drain directly into a toilet tank that then becomes the water used to flush. There’s even a kit to add a sink to your existing toilet. There are other great water examples that really got my mind working in this grey water book.

When we put all three concepts together we can see how complimentary they are. If you are reading this, you probably do a few of them currently. The idea behind Perpetual Resource Cycling™© is to up level what we are doing to enjoy even more of the abundant life we’ve chosen.

The best way to see the distinction is to compare what we typically do in our farms and backyards with what we could be doing. A typical mindset might be: the chicken gives you an egg; you eat the egg; put the egg shell and other kitchen scraps in the compost bin; 6 months later put the compost bin contents on the pumpkin plant; 4 months later give the chicken the pumpkins that were too damaged to sell at market; chicken eats pumpkin; chicken gives you egg. In this long cycle you have continued to feed the chicken for the 10 months between the first egg they gave you and when you finally reward them back with a pumpkin.

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© would take this great start and up level it by digging into all three concepts. The end result might be: the chicken gives you an egg; you eat the egg; tomorrow the crushed egg shell and other kitchen scraps are fed as chicken treats; 1 day later the egg shell and kitchen scraps are fully broke down and ‘deposited’ in the chicken run (and the chicken gave you another egg and you gave it more eggshell and kitchen scraps….); a row of Amaranth and pumpkins are interplanted on either side of the chicken run (roots and young plants protected by hardware cloth); 3 months later seeds begin to fall into the run for chicken treats (Amaranth seeds continue to fall until early winter); chicken gives you an egg; 1 month later pumpkin matures and is fed to chicken; chicken gives you an egg. In this shorter cycle you have still continued to feed the chicken, but the eggshell itself was cycled back to the hen within 24 hours and the hen cycled that into plant nutrition within 24 hours. By skipping the step of moving the chicken poo, you save man hours, and all the nitrogen and other minerals that the chickens produce (a resource) are available nearly instantly to outstretched plant roots. You get your pumpkin 6 months earlier and your chickens get a treat of egg shell calcium the very next day. Less vitamins, minerals and nitrogen are lost to rain and sun exposure. You may not want to eat Amaranth and pumpkins growing so close to the coop, but your hen’s diet is supplemented and there is plenty of extra chicken poo to compost for human crops.

Hens supplementing their diet and speeding up home composting while entertaining themselves.

In this Perpetual Resource Cycling™© example we have expanded on all three areas. Perpetually we recognize that we can save energy/man hours by planting crops at the very edge of the source of nutrients, this proximity also allows it to capture extra moisture and nitrogen that would be lost in waiting for a move to the compost bin. Perpetually dropping seeds also allows us to extend the Amaranth harvest until every seed is mature (bonus entertainment for the hens). Resources are everywhere in the form of the edible egg, the calcium rich egg shell, the kitchen scraps, Amaranth seeds, pumpkins and yes, chicken poo. Cycling keeps it all moving as quickly as possible by allowing the chicken’s digestive system to speed up the break down of eggshells and food scraps. Cycling is naturally improved by the use of Perpetual systems because automatic is always faster than waiting on a human to find time to do something. Cycling is also sped up by recognizing Resources because we value Resources…if we have a well-designed system then putting that Resource to use is faster/easier than storing it.

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© on a industrial scale is displayed in Sweden’s ‘Waste To Power’ program that uses trash to power their electrical grid. Sweden has a long history of innovative ecology and they know that trash/waste is a perpetual issue. They have been quick to recognize that waste can be a Resource. They Cycle waste quickly by sorting out recyclables and converting everything else into electricity. It has become so successful that they actually import trash!

Perpetual Resource Cycling™© always works towards zero maintenance, waste and storage through smart design and integrating systems….not by adding machines or equipment. It looks at the bigger picture, and often finds innovative breakthroughs in our forgotten pasts.

We will be offering training in Perpetual Resource Cycling™© with an over-all designation of Perpetual Resource Management™©. See the homepage under Services Offered for more information.

Horse Photo: Highsmith, C. M., photographer. (2014) Scene from the Cannon Quarter Horse ranch near the town of Venus in north-central Texas. United States Venus Texas, 2014. -09-02. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2015630743/ Bike Race Photo: Highsmith, C. M., photographer. Bike race on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. Washington D.C. United States, None. Between 1980 and 1990. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2011632658/.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Storing Seeds In Your Deep Freezer For Years

I tend to over-buy things that I like. I didn’t use to be like this, but after living in England for three years and discovering that Oreos are only sold in the store 3 weeks in the year I became a ‘stocking up’ kind of girl. When we came back to America and had the chance to garden I became fascinated with seeds and acquired far more than my tiny heavily shaded back yard could handle.

Add to this the desire to save my own seeds and I had to find a way to improve my seed storage technique. Mimicking nature becomes the secret here. Keeping the seeds cold can keep them in a hibernation state. In fact, when planting Rye Grass it was suggested to freeze the seeds before sowing them to improve the germination rate. Supposedly this would mimic nature’s winter/spring cycle and hopefully trigger a more vigorous response from the seed.

Freezing doesn’t work with many tubers or root stock (a few do great, but many don’t). Even professional seed collectors find that most tubers only last 18 months. I have not had good luck with saving bulbs and I have had asparagus struggles in the past, so I don’t know if my Mary Washington Asparagus will sprout next year, or if my daughter will be able to get the Ranunculus to bloom. If you want potatoes and you don’t want to study the different kinds, just grab the ones that sprout in your pantry this spring and plant them in your garden. Have yourself a fun surprise!

Stirring my Amaranth seed each day creates a puff of dust. There might be trapped moisture in the seeds that I can not fully release with just air drying in a climate-controlled house. For seed saving in particular I rely on freezing to get that little extra protection from moisture, tiny seed eating bugs and potential mold spores that turn into rot.

For the Amaranth, I stirred it one more time really well, then separated it into smaller paper bags. Labeled them with year, name of strain and seed company that parent seed came from and secured the tops. Here are all my saved seeds together. The Okra, Marigold, Lettuce and Cilantro regardless of year will be bundled with the Amaranth so I can find them quickly.

In the coming spring, saved seed and clearance hybrid seeds will be the first things planted as I try to convert the clay construction site into a thriving garden area. Having armor on the soil and a living root in the soil is tantamount to kick-starting good soil…so I will risk these cheaper seeds in hopes that a late frost won’t kill them. I also won’t kill weeds in the traditional sense because weeds can serve a purpose when the soil is this bad. Instead weeds will be bent over if they begin to overly shade the seedlings.

When there is truly no danger of frost the more expensive and curated seeds will be planted. Seed varieties that I know my family loves to eat like the buttery lettuce that Martha Stewart no longer sells. There is the Rosemary that we hold onto in case we can’t find a seedling or plant to buy. There are the seeds that come with a great story like the Mortgage Lifter Tomato that is said to have single-handedly paid off a farmer’s mortgage. And then there are the novelty seeds that our children beg for that will thrill the whole family.

A word about cheap seeds, clearance seeds and seeds when someone is empting out their garage. The cheap seeds at Dollar General are often hybrids, and there is nothing wrong with that, but you should be aware that saving seeds from the hybrid will result in a very different plant than the parent. Taking all seeds that are given you or even buying ones at steep discount (I got this stash at 90% off at the end of summer) gives you a huge variety to test out. Storage is the key here. If the seeds were for sale inside an air-conditioned space the clearance seeds should be fine (root stock and bulbs might not do so well). If someone gives you a box of seeds from their detached, moist garage just be careful. I would store all those seeds together away from my other seeds, wrap them in plastic and put them in the freezer. There may be all sorts of living things in those seeds from moths to weevils to mold spores. There may also be a seed in there from a nearly extinct strain of corn. If you like variety in your life, this is a huge opportunity. Store it effectively and buy yourself time to discover what works for you.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.