I wrote my book, Made By Hand, to learn how to become a do-it-yourselfer. I focused on projects that could be described as “urban homesteading” — raising bees and chickens, growing vegetables, and preserving food. Below are some of the things I bought to help me with these projects.
Espresso Machine Temperature Control Kit
Pulling a great shot of espresso (known as a “godshot” in coffee geek circles) requires tight control over a number of variables: coffee bean quality and freshness, grind size and consistency, proper tamping, and water temperature. Unfortunately, most espresso machines don’t do a good job of controlling the temperature. The bi-metallic thermostat in a typical espresso machine can create a temperature swing of 40 degrees F, but a variation of over 1 degree can affect the flavor. The solution is to install a PID temperature controller ($290) on your machine. Here’s a video of me demonstrating my modded espresso machine on the Martha Stewart Show.
If you can buy baby chicks (or viable chicken eggs) locally, I recommend it. But if you can’t find a local source to populate your backyard coop, give My Pet Chicken a try. I ordered six Barred Plymouth Rocks ($2.50 each, plus shipping) and the day-old chicks arrived by mail in perfect health. All six grew up to be excellent egg layers. The site also sells everything you need to raise chickens.
After reading up on the benefits of probiotics I’ve started making my own yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut. It turns out that fermented foods contain plenty of healthy bacteria, along with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Most of of these probiotic foods require very little in the way of equipment, but I’ve heard good things about the Picklemeister, so I recently bought one for $20. It’s a one-gallon glass jar with an air lock to prevent contamination and to speed up the fermentation process. I bought mine from Simply Natural, a great source for fermentation crocks, too.
Waring Pro YM350 Professional Yogurt Maker
I’ve been making my own yogurt for the past couple of years, and not only is it much tastier than store bought, it’s also much cheaper. At my local supermarket, an 8-ounce cup of yogurt costs $1. That adds up to $16 for a gallon. At the same supermarket, one gallon of low fat organic milk costs $4. Because I’m a yogurt lover (and a believer in the power of probiotics: bacteria that is good for your immune system), I usually eat three cups of home-made yogurt a day. That translates to a savings of $2.25 a day, or $67.50 a month. That means my $70 yogurt maker (a Waring Pro YM350) paid for itself in a month. Even if you don’t eat as much yogurt as I do, I recommend that you try making it yourself, because it is so easy, and even fun, to make your own.
The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City
This book, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, is a delightfully readable and very useful guide to front- and back-yard vegetable gardening, food foraging, food preserving, chicken keeping, and other useful skills for anyone interested in taking a more active role in growing and preparing the food they eat. I learned a great deal about composting, self-watering containers, mulching, raised bed gardens, vermiculture (worm composting), and raising chickens by reading this info-dense book. Unlike many self-sufficiency books, this one isn’t preachy, unrealistic, or dogmatic. Instead, it’s honest and often humorous. Kelly and Erik (who run the Homegrown Evolution blog) are wonderfully lucid and accessible writers. They also walk the walk — I visited their Los Angeles home and spent a wonder couple of hours touring their abundant vegetable gardens and henhouse filled with clownishly entertaining chickens.
C.B. Gitty Crafter Supply
This is where I go to stock up on cigar box guitar supplies, such as tuners, pickups, string sets, resonators, and decorative hardware. C.B. Gitty offers a great price on fret wire, and also sells a guide to installing frets.
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In the Maker Shed:
Want more? Stop by the Maker Shed. We’ve got all sorts of great holiday gift ideas, Arduino & Arduino accessories, electronic kits, science kits, smart stuff for kids, back issues of MAKE & CRAFT, box sets, books, robots, kits from Japan and more.
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