For my birthday this year, my oldest son sent me a gift of Field Notes “County fair” Regional Edition notebooks.
These 48 page pocket notebooks are reminiscent of the pocket notebooks used by farmers, salesmen, preachers and others. Long before GTD, Palm Pilots, iPods, and the electronic organizers we’ve all come to use, a pocket notebook and pen were the best ways to keep information. On today’s small farm, the daily journal kept a small notebook such as these Field Notes serves two purposes.
The first is organization. Do this, do that, don’t forget the other thing.
The second, is creating a legacy and sustaining the culture of your family farm. The sustainability of your visions, challenges, sweat equity, and successes can be recorded for future generations to page through, reflect upon, and in some cases laugh. Imagine what will have changed in the world in 25 years. Or 50 years. Or more.
I’ve used a variety of sizes and styles of paper notebooks as I’ve built the cabins and planned projects at Two Mile Ranch. I’ve used calendar style journals to record weather, laying habits of chickens, garden plots, feed purchases, building and shelter plans, shopping lists, and the general diary of events.
Lined journal pages and grid pages work both for writing and for sketching ideas. The Moleskine Ruled Notebook Large journals – another favorite of mine – come in plain pages, lined, and grid along with specialty pages for music notation and film and video story-boarding. The Moleskine Storyboard Notebook Pocket story-board pages could also be used nicely for planning a raised be garden system.
I think there are two schools of thought about keeping a journal or a group of journals. If you keep two calendars, perhaps you’ve had the circumstance of the calendars not being in sync and as result being scheduled for two events at the same time. Likewise, it seems, writing things in two journals could lead to having the wrong journal at the right time.
The other school of thought appeals to those with distinctly separate kinds of journaling. Writing in two or more notebooks helps organize and group information – I suppose similar to the individual subject notebooks from our K-12 school years.
I keep three notebooks — which seems confusing at first, but works for me. A larger weekly planner records weather, planting, egg production, and significant farm events. This is my record system. This year I’m expanding it to track feed consumption and purchases. I do this currently on the computer, but adding a paper record to the bound journals will make a different kind of lasting record.
A smaller, pocket size planner carries my daily schedule, to do lists, and project ideas. In this book, I also write down what I need to complete a rainy day project — and I usually buy materials for those in advance and keep them in the barn. When I have a bad weather day that keeps me from doing regular work, I have both the material and the “to do” list for inside projects.
A third journal is a creative space — note taking , ideas, sketches, scribbles, outlines and so on. This third notebook is used off and on, some times, its used daily, other times, I’ll go a week or more without writing in it. I’ve not kept a daily narrative journal, although when I read the except below. I get tempted Not so much to write a journal for me, but for the young eyes of the future who might discover them, read them aloud to each other, and laugh at “the olden days” around the turn of the 21st century.
The Michigan DNR hosts a web page that features an August 1884 excerpt from Charles Estep’s “Farm Diary 1883-1886.” His farm on Musgrove Highway later became the Fred Bulling Farm in Sebewa Township, Ionia County, Michigan.
Saturday, 23rd. Foe was sick all night last night. After breakfast I went down and got Mrs. VanHouten to come and see her. She said we had better send for a doctor right away, so I went down home and started Bion after the doctor and got Mother. Then I went and got Mrs. D. Leak. In the meantime Mrs. Olry came. Dr. Smith came at two o’clock. At about four o’clock our baby was born, a bouncing healthy boy of 8 and 3/4 pounds. Foe was very sick, indeed. Mother stays all night.
It started with the simple idea for Thanksgiving dinner: a smoked, heritage breed, free range turkey. Adding fuel to the fire, the New York Times featured a well known, Texas turkey smoker in early November, showcasing Greenberg Smoked Turkey.
So I looked at buying a simple smoker, or making one. The original inspiration for a DIY smoker came from the late Jeff Smith, known to most as The Frugal Gourmet:
And multiple people have documented their own adaptation of the trash can smoker on websites. Searching “trash can smoker” on Google will lead you to several plans as well as passionate discussion and debate on BBQ BBS’s.
So I set out to build a simple, adaptable, back yard smoker. Older web sites suggest you can build one of these for $30 or less than $50. Perhaps. Off the shelf, retail prices for all the parts will be closer to $100, but if you have some parts, your final cost may be less. Or more.
The idea is simple: you need a container for the meat and smoke, you need a heat source, a smoke source, and some accessories, depending on your finesse and style.
This is a 30 gallon, off-the-shelf galvanized trash can. If you are concerned about zinc off gassing from the galvanized metal, do some research and make your own scientifically informed decision. Smoking is done at a much lower temperature than BarBQ or grilling. The internal temperature of a smoker is 225 degrees or less, some culinary writers suggest 180 degrees.
Some online designs cut a small hole to snake the power cord from an electric hot plate out the side Jeff Smith’s original Frugal Gourmet design had a small side access door and I’ve made a similar one in my smoker. The access door is a sliding piece of metal, I cut one from an old cookie sheet, but you may have scrap metal you can use. I wrapped the edge of the door and the door opening with duct tape to reduce the chance of cuts from the rough metal, since this would be a frequent access point to add more wood during the smoke.
I visited the local hardware, big-box store and found replacement grill grates for a large Weber grill. This is the off season in the Midwest, so supplies are limited. At this store, the meat grill was to large in diameter for the trash can, but the replacement charcoal grate was slightly smaller than the diameter, so I bought two, one to support the water pan or drip pan just above the heat source, and a second to support the meat. For placement, I measured the height of the electric burner with the smoke box for the wood chips and placed the rack supports about an inch above that.
For the meat rack, I measured small turkey, and then set the rack so that a future turkey could fit inside.
The Jeff Smith design uses metal rods across the diameter of the can. I borrowed from online designers and instead, use 4-3 inch bolts to support the racks. The racks can be taken out and replaced before, during, or after a smoke.
The heat source
The easiest heat source, especially for long smokes, is electric heat in the form of a single burner hot plate. I left the access door large enough so that this smoker can also be used with charcoal, or a propane burner. I found my hot plate at a local hardware store, a few dollars more than online, but buying local is important when ever possible. (UPDATE 2013: I now use a propane burner)
I added a replacement grill thermometer to the lid to monitor inside temperature. It’s placed in a hole drilled hear the handle. I also drilled a side hole above the level of the top rack, and fed the probe of a remote thermometer through a rolled , small diameter tube of duct tape to protect the probe cord. The sensing unit goes into the meat to tell the internal temperature without having to open the lid.