The forests have always had a crucial role in the Swedish economy. They have given us fuel, building materials, paper and chemicals, but also a habitat for a rich wildlife, and highly valued recreational areas.
In old times, cattle was often kept in the forest. Feeding on leaves, herbs and barch, the forest gave an addition to a scarce feedstock, but modern breeds are no longer able to both survive and give milk or meat on such frugal diet.
Goats on the other hand, has a much more efficient digestion, and is actually the only domesticated ruminator capable of digesting wood fibres and lignine into sugars. So when your goat heard browses the forests for brush, barch, sticks and spruce needles, and then returns to the barn in the evening to get milked, you actually conduct a refinement process where the input is cheap and abundant cellulose, and the output is exclusive and nutritious milk proteins. The production of proteins for the human diet through livestock handling is often referred to as unfriendly to the environment, with high water consumption and much larger areas needed than for the equivalent calories from vegetables and grain. The conversion of cellulose to go at milk proteins and buckling meat does not have the same problems, since the forest mostly grows on improductive soil, suitable for nothing else than forest. The forest does not need to be watered nor fertilized, neither does it suffer from pests and draught as easily as field crops.
One of the first things we did after buying the farm in 2015, was to get some root sprouts from three different kinds of hops and plant them in front of the house. They like to climb high so we used two thin birch trees to make giant props.
The first year they did not yield that much, and unfortunately one of the plants did not survive the winter. But the two that did made lots of little cones this year! We used a nifty little dryer to dry them (the dryer was of course DIY automated – maybe there will be more about that in a seperate blog-post…)
Finally we them packaged them into conspicuos-looking zip-loc baggies and they are now being stored in the freezer until it is time to brew some awesome beer with our very own hops!
What did this years version of the annual hacker convention in Las Vegas have to tell about small scale farming? Nothing directly, being that kind of happening where the participants and speakers seem to thrive in cellars and abandoned mines, rather than the open air. Indirectly, a lot.
The theme this year was Human vs Machines, and of course, the internet of things was among the most frequent topics. It’s always amusing to watch hackers exploit old gadgets that their manufacturers given a prolonged product cycle by connecting them to the internet, and pranking the neighbours by exposing their porn surfing habits through a vulnerable online toaster mostly raise the question: why did that guy buy a connected toaster?
So why should the small scale farmer be concerned about IoT security (except for the earlier mentioned reason)? The first link in the food supply chain is about to get more complex, as the demand for both locally produced and refined food grows. The specialized farmers that sells crop, meat or milk to industrialized facilities will have a hard time competing with producers that controls the complete value chain, from hay to cheese and steak, and understand to add ethical, esthetical and cultural value to their products.
There are two ways for the small scale farmer to accomplish a substancial increase in value, either by focusing on cultural and estethical factors, and become artisans, or by focusing on efficiency and interamplifying (is that a word?) processes. It’s with the interamplifying processes the internet of things makes its entrance. Automation, surveillance and statistics might not add the cultural value of a handmade cheese from Grannies recipe, but it ensures high food quality, and uniform products even in small batches, and that will allow you to make a larger variety of products, without being an master artisan in every field.
So the sensors and relays that will help you make the best food on the market, will they work for you, or for anyone that comes by digitally? Their information can be a great asset, as they provide the customer with unique data about their meal, but if you expose the controls, you also expose the possibility to replicate or sabotage your products. That’s the downside of shifting knowledge from human to machine.
In the great battle between man and machine, the machines are definitely winning. Knowledge is power, and we keep rely on the knowledge we stuff into machines, while we stress our brains back to the stoneage in our efforts to keep up with them. It’s when we taste the delicious cheese that where made with their help and without our efforts, that we realize who the real winner is. Just keep your networks segmented.
Even if we only milk one of our goats for the moment (and she is a low producer that give approximately half of her milk to a very hungry kid when they are together in the pasture), the milk bottles is filling up the fridge faster than we can consume it. We’ve already quit buying milk for drinking, coffee and cooking, so the next product to make ourselves will be yoghurt.
The process is rather simple, take some milk, pasteurize it if you don’t trust your hygiene, add bacterias and keep the temperature at the optimal level for as long as it takes for the bacterias to consume all accessible lactose and lower the pH to uncomfortable levels.
You can do this in your oven, but the temperature control will be crude, which results in runny and uneven yoghurt. There are yoghurt machines, not that expensive, that controls the temperature very well, but they don’t know when to turn themselves off, so you still have to watch it, or set the timer out of your best guesses.
Since my Diy wireless pH-sensor gives me the two variables I need to control the process (temperature and pH), I figured that I only needed a heat source. Then I found something even better at a second hand store; a portable 12V peltier cooler/heater from Waeco, made in the early 90’s, featuring such elegant solutions as switching between heat and cold by turning the electricity cord, thus switching polarity.
This makes the perfect completely automatic yoghurt maker, since it both keeps the heat at an even level, and when the right pH is achieved, cools the yoghurt down to fridge temperature. Just throw in some milk and culture in a jar (or a teapot) and leave.
The controller is very simple. Since the only functionality needed that the waeco box didn’t handle, was the ability to turn on and off and switch polarity remotely, I connected a L298b motor driver and a NRF24L radio to an Arduino nano. The L298b module is normally used to turn DC motors forward and backward, but that could be applied to the peltier element in the box to make it hot or cold as well. Unfortunately, the L298b was only capable of 4 amps in throughput, and the waeco transformer supplied more even though it was specified for 4, resulting in a very hot chip. The solution was to use 2 L298b in parallell. Power cables as well as signal cables to the arduino.
The chips were still hot, but with a cooling fan from a PC chassi, they are now cold and very cool. I connected the fan to the input side to let it consume some power and make it easier for the L298b. That means that the fan is always on, which might be unnecessary.
The Arduino code for the controller is also really simple. I used the mysensors.org sample code for relay and made two adjustments: increasing the numbers om relays to at least 3 (I actually enabled 6, as there might be need for using the second channel on the L298b in the future, but for this functionality, you only need 3) and enabling pwm on the pins that controls on/off. I haven’t used pwm for anything yet, but that will allow me to control the current from the L298b output (speed, heat etc.).
The logic is placed in the home automation system I have running on a Raspberry pi. It is currently Fhem, but any system with support for the Mysensors library will work. Fhem is a quite complex system with lot of forum material in german, but if you are comfortable with both German and Perl, there is no more powerful home automation system in my opinion.
The controller presents itself in Fhem when the gateway is in inclusion mode, and this is the fhem.cfg code that is generated (with som additions):
The yogurt culture I am using prefers a temperature of 43 C and I will let it work until it has reached a pH of 4.20. I’ve hardcoded those levels in my config file for now, but an improvement will be to create a device that changes these values.
I want the machine to:
Rise and hold the temperature on 43 C.
Do that until pH has dropped to 4.20
Then cool it down as much as possible
That is achieved with the following code in fhem.cfg:
Worth mentioning is that the pH-sensor is called MYSENSOR_118 and its temperature sensor reports as temperature, while its pH-sensor reports as temperature1.
So this is the result. The red line is temperature, starting at fridge temperature at 6C and rising steadily to 43C where it plans out. Meanwhile the green bars representing the pH goes from 6.5 to 4.4 (at the time of the screenshot).
Obviously, the Waeco box isn’t made for heating, rather than keeping a temperature. The slow rise of about 8-9 degrees/hour making it 5 hour until optimal temperature is reached, is not acceptable. Heating the milk before putting it in the box is one easy solution, another is to never cool it down and let it go directly from the udder to the box.
When you search the internet for information about goat milk, it’s easy to think that you’ve discovered a miracle food, that the rest of the stupid western world either know very little about, or has been taught by religiously induced habits and commercial efforts from “big dairy” to despise.
It’s also tempting to copy all these tributes to goat milk straight off, and tell all your friends to start drinking goat milk in order to cure some diseases, or at least lower the risk of catching them. I almost started doing that, when I realized that I had no clue if it really was true, so I decided to go to the sources. The trick is, when it comes to stories about functional food and other miracle products, nobody is citing any sources. Eventually a study is referred to, but there seems to always be discrepancies between the field of study, and the point of the article. Otherwise, anecdotal evidence is popular, people who drink goat milk report that they reap great benefits like not having cancer or completely stopped passing gas.
What the field of goat milk research actually seems to boil down to, are some deductions that can be made from studies of the health effects of cow milk. We know what is bad in cow milk, and if goat milk doesn’t contain those components, we can assume that goat milk is better at least. Right?
Beta-casein and the correlation between cow milk consumption and severe diseases
The milk protein beta-casein, that is a key component in cheese, exist in two genetical variants, A1 and A2. The A1 variant seems to bee a relatively modern morph that accidentally has come to follow the trait of high milking ability in cow breeds like Holstein and Red cattle, and thus the dominant variant in industrialized milk and dairy products.
According to several studies, there is a correlation between high A1 consumption (like in Sweden and Finland), and diseases like diabetes (I), autism, schizophrenia, ischaemic heart disease and bowel inflammatory problems.
The room we now call the Japanese room is the first we’ve taken on renovating. It’s supposed to be used as a small guestroom, but the japanese influence kind of invented itself. When we found a wallpaper we really liked in Warszawa, we decided to continue on the asian track, and bought dark oak floortiles that would be a nice match.
The original interior was quite old and bore marks from the intrepid design choices of the 70s, as well as many years of service as a teenager’s room.
The first time we saw the room, in january 2015
We started by tearing everything down. Ceiling, wallpapers, floormat.
Our friends Filip and Yasmina came by to help us with the destruction. After a beerwalk.
The most exhaustive moment was the restoration of the horisontal bolts we found above the ceiling. Some bolts had a really rough finish. A few axe markings can be beautiful, but splinters and miscoloured spots had to be planed away.
The exposed planks that were to became the new ceiling was extremely hard to saturate with paint. It took several hours of stroking and splashing before we decided to cover the bolts and use the spray painter instead. Defenitely a good choice, and a lesson learned before we continue with the remaining rooms.
The bolts were oiled with brown tinted chinese wood oil.
The walls, wich we had to extend 15 cm to cover the space previously hidden between the bolts, got a layer of construction wallpaper to even out the seams. After that, the floortiles could be installed.
Did I lay the tiles, or did the tiles lay me?
Application of the final wallpaper made the whole difference.
A futon style sofa, rice lamp, and a remodeled coffee table with the remaining wallpaper under the glass, adds to the asian impression.
Good thing: the old ceiling lists could be reused as floor lists without any changes.
Bad thing: there will be a real hassle to cut out the new ceiling lists with all the joints and angles. A consecuence of solving any mismatching with the wallpaper edges with the comment: the list will cover it…
Anyway, if not finished to perfection, the room is inhabitable, and a few guests as well as ourselves, can verify that the sleep is formidable.
In cheese-making, the key to a tasty, and reproducable, cheese, is keeping track of the exact pH and the temperature in the active culture. You can do this with manual tools, such as a kitchen thermometer and pH-strips, but the measurements will be crude, and depend on your constant presence. That leading to inconsistencies between batches, and difficulties in tracking errors in the process.
A digital pH-meter is expensive. You can find some from €100, but you wont get built-in temperature correction for less than €250, and wireless goes beyond €350. For continous readings and the possibility to recalibrate your sensor yourself, instead of sending it to the manufacturer, add a lot more… I havn’t yet found a device capable of tweeting its readings 😉
My diy pH-sensor is not exactly cheap either. It ticks in at about €150 in material costs. I’ve seen people look pensive when they see the casing, and subconsiously push it closer to the recycling, so a slightly pricier casing than the pet bottle might be an investment. Otherwise, the bill of materials looks like:
Atlas pH meter kit $149 (EZO version)
Arduino mini pro 3.3v $1.90
NRF24L01 radio $1
DS18B20 waterproof temp sensor $1.63
Battery holder $3
With todays exchange rates, it translates to around €150.
If you’re setting up a new sensor network, you need a radio gateway and a computer to run the controller software on too
Arduino nano $6
NRF24L01 radio $1
Old computer or raspberry pi $25-$50
You can order everything from ebay or aliexpress through the Mysensors store, but the items listed there may not always be availible in singel packages. Anyway, you will need more of those radios.
Shipping is usually free from China (who is paying that?), but the pH-kit comes from the US, so add a few euros for shipping and customs.
Measures pH-level in fluids and semi-solid compounds.
Calculates the correct pH from the latest temperature reading.
30 seconds between samples.
Continous measuring, just leave the probe in the milk and watch the readings.
Wireless transfer of data to the raspberry pi based controller unit
Presents the readings as a datastream or in nice graphs in a web interface. Use your phone or tablet to monitor the process from anywhere.
FTDI USB programmer, to program the arduino mini pro and perform calibration. If you use arduino nano instead, you can skip this, but the nano is more expensive and power consuming.
Soldering iron, lead, soldering paste.
Computer with arduino ide or codebender running.
Pliers, knives, screwdrivers and that kind of stuff.
Basic soldering. The only soldering done in my prototype is on the on/off switch. For a sturdy and reliable device to use in a kitchen environment, I recommend soldering the connections rather than using Dupont cables.
Basic programming. You can clone my code from codebender and hope it will work out of the box, but since things changed quickly on the internets of things, you will probably need to change some code to adapt to new version etc. So some understanding of coding will be helpful.
Arduino/MCU experiences. I wouldn’t recommend to make this your first microcontroller or Mysensors project. Start out with a simple blinking light and then a temperature sensor to make sure you get the IDE and Mysensors API.
Raspberry pi/Linux experiences. You could use a Windows computer as controller and user interface server, but if you’re up to arduino hacking, you might as well use an embedded device right away.
Since we have quite much old straw occupying the hay loft, and the maple on the frontyard is producing a great amount of compost material each fall, we decided to try to grow some potatoes in that biomass.
The straw and leaves where put directly on the Ground in early april, as the potatoes where put to germinate inside the house. Four weeks later, when the risk for nightfrost had diminished, the potatoes where scattered on the strawbed, covered with more straw and leaves, and watered.
As comparison, a few potatoes where planted using the traditional methodologies of digging them into the ground.
The first harvest was expected 8-10 weeks after germination (middle of june), but a chilly period in may delayed it with two weeks. Maybe the cover crops method is more suspectible to cold weather since it lacks the isolating features from a thick layer of soil? We don’t know, since the soilgrown potatoes is a later kind. That’s a parameter to keep track of next year.
Potatoes can be harvested continuously. You don’t dig up the plant, just follow the stem and roots in the straw and collect the right sized potatoes. Smaller ones are left to grow some more.
The potatoes are very clean, and probably free from contamination from soil bacterias.
No digging required.
Vandalizing snails was a great concern, but turned out to be a minor problem. They seem to prefer occuring weeds like dandelions to the potato leaves. The patches with less weed were more affected by snails than wilder ones. However, young plants attacked by snails had a tougher time reaching full growth, but the harvest from them was only delayed, not diminished. Leaving mature potatoes in the ground for too long made them a decent meal for the snails, so the advice would to pick the big ones continuously.
Some kind of radar device would be handy in finding mature potatoes in big scale cultivation.
Since the potatoes where left in the soil to let more of them grow big before harvest, more potatoes were damaged by snails.
Manual labour is tougher with the soilbed. Breaking the ground (well, we did some of it with tractor and harrow), covering with soil, digging up the harvest.
The potatoes are dirty, but the dirt may work as protection and keep humidity in the storage. We’ll see.
Smaller harvest, since the plant gets damaged when the potatoes are dug up.
The need for watering seems to be the same with both methods. The strawbed was very moist in the lower layers, even after several weeks of draught. We watered both patches quite much after putting out the potatoes.
Neither patch has shown any signs of leaf rot. An hypothesis yet untested is that growing mushrooms among the potatoes would make it harder for leaf rot to establish. The mushrooms didn’t thrive in the heat, so we’ve prepared a mycelium to mix in the strawbed in the autumn.
DIY GPR (ground penetrating radar) Doesn’t seem that hard to build a raspberry pi based potato locator. Even easier since it only need to be an SPR (straw penetrating radar).