Survival Skills: How to Build Your Own Damn Campfire

Rediscover Fire 

Full disclosure: we recently moved to a small farm with a wood burning fireplace. After many a cold morning waiting for my husband to start the fire it got me thinking, this is really dumb.

Changing a flat tire, home repairs, starting the campfire – why are girls being kept out of learning these skills growing up? Are we too busy learning to sew and paint our nails? The truth is we are probably just way too comfortable asking for help. These gender specific chores are ingrained in us from the beginning, and it's a little embarrassing. Especially might I add, coming from a woman raised by a single mom, too often am I asking for help when the skills are capable of possessing.

From the very beginning this website has been focused on getting our hands dirty and re-skilling ourselves. Because so much of our self sufficiency skills have been lost at the cost to our planet and well being. That goes beyond growing a vegetable or two in this post. Let us pass on mankind's greatest achievement, the ability to make fire! Never again will you call on the man in your life to build the fire, because really why should he?

illustrations by Ashley Mary

Ready to put your lady pants on and make a damn good fire? So are we. So here's what you need:


  • Tinder: Some news print, small dry twigs or a few pine cones work for excellent fire starters providing fuel to boost your fire.
  • Fuel: Eight dry medium size logs for building a log cabin. We love using a blend of birch and oak. Have a pile near by for maintaining your fire. 
  • Kindling: A good size pile of dry sticks/smaller branches. 
  • Ignitor: Lighter or matches (we'll cover rocks & flints later..)

STEP ONE: Build Your Foundation & Walls
Clear out a small trench into the ground, let's say 4"x10" and about an inch deep. 
Place two smaller logs across from each other and two other smaller logs on top of them in the other direction. Think Log Cabin or Tick Tack Toe board. Repeat this step once or twice more.

STEP TWO:  Teepee Fuel + Ignition
In the center of your log cabin create a teepee of smaller sticks and tinder. Make sure you have a nice pile or ball of tinder in the trench first. (see image below)
Place more sticks across the top of the cabin in the same configuration as your foundation, covering the tinder.
Start the fire by placing a lighted match down the trench into the tinder pile or by using your lighter to get a flame going in the trench. A dry pine cone will ignite immediately. 

And finally make sure you practice good campfire safety. Only you can prevent wildfires. 

Fall Project: Garlic Planting 101

Sometimes garlic is just garlic. And sometimes it is more. This fall, learning more about this wonder crop has been a fantastic distraction from the current political situation. Whenever I find myself despondent after further breaking news, I go where I always go to regroup--the garden.  
While the rest of the garden is dying back, brittle from the winds of autumn and blackened from the first frosts, garlic is just getting started. Plus, this fall it has the added bonus of staving off vampires, or perhaps certain presidential candidates....

Garlic is a reminder that we are stronger together. One small clove planted this fall will turn into a coven come spring. Tightly packed little "witches" of an underground secret society, plotting an uprising.

Photography & Words By  Amanda Eastvold

Photography & Words By Amanda Eastvold

Like most bulbs, garlic is planted in the fall.  Mid-October is the optimal time here in zone 4.  I always know it's time to plant garlic around MEA (if you're from Minnesota you know what I'm talking about). For all things frost related check our post, What the Frost?

Prepare the soil by tilling it, or loosening it with a hoe, shovel or a hand tool.  Add compost if you have it, or purchase organic compost or well-rotted manure.  

Garlic needs well-drained soil, it will rot if the soil is too wet.  

Adding compost and organic matter will help with drainage, but will not help enough if planted where the soil stays saturated.  

Don't forget to rotate your garlic rows if you've grown it in the past season.  You should not plant anything in the allium family  (onions, shallots, leeks or garlic) in an area used for these crops last year.  

Use only quality "seed garlic."  Garlic "seeds" are just individual cloves of garlic.  Do not use garlic from the grocery store for planting.  High quality "seed garlic" but can be purchased online or at local organic nurseries.  

Each garlic bulb contains 5-8 individual cloves.  Each clove is planted separately and will produce a full bulb or "head" of garlic.

If you are into saving seeds, you will save the biggest garlic heads from your harvest and plant only the healthiest and robust cloves.  They say that this is ideal as garlic "learns" about your unique soil and conditions and adjusts accordingly.

The garlic bulb should be broken apart by hand, don't use tools such as knives as you risk damaging the cloves.  

Leave the peels intact, as it protects the clove in the ground.  I think of it as it's winter coat, so don't plant "naked" garlic.

Garlic should be planted in rows 12 inches apart.  

Use string to create your rows or step it off with one "foot" length between each row.  Make a 2-3 inch deep furrow with a hoe or hand tool along the string line.  

Each clove should be planted 6 inches apart in the row. 

Plant the blunt end of the clove down (this is called the growth plate, where the roots emerge downward), pointy end up, approximately 2-3 inches deep.

Cover with soil and tap down firmly.

Cover all the rows heavily with straw or a mixture of compost and leaves about 6 inches high.  Do not skimp!  I find that leaves tend to blow away so I first lay down a layer of leaves, then straw.
Mulch will compact over winter and keep the garlic from freezing.  The mulch will also hold in moisture, keep cloves from heaving out of the ground during frost/thaw and keep weeds down next spring and summer.

Although I said garlic does not like to be wet, it does need some moisture to start the rooting process.  I usually water on top of the mulch just after planting it.  You will not see any growth above ground in the fall, but it will be developing roots, so don't forget to water weekly if there is no rainfall before full frost.  

There are many varieties of garlic out there, and there really is no right or wrong here.  It is best to plant at least 2 varieties in case one variety doesn't do well.  Pests usually don't bother garlic, however, there are various diseases that can effect garlic crops.  

how do you plant garlic?
How to Plant Garlic

Preserving: Herb Garland

String/ twine for hanging herbs
Two small nails or tacks & a hammer
Fresh cut herbs

Herbs should be dried immediately after clipping from the garden.
To hang your cut herbs, simply tie ends together or use a clothespin to secure them to twine you have hung away from the sun in a well ventilated dry space. 

Give each herb bundle a little space, leaving about an inch between each set.
Many herbs take just 2-3 weeks to dry. Once dry, leaves will be crispy and are easily crushed between your fingers. Dried herbs can be stored and used for a full year after drying. 

*To substitute dried herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh herbs, use 1/4 to 1/3 of the amount listed in the recipe.


Our preferred  method of keeping tomatoes off the ground is string trellising. This is a great method for those that want to have multiple different varieties but have limited space availability. It requires a bit of maintenance but it does make for a well organized plant that is easy to work with.

The process involves training the tomato plants to a designated number of “leaders” - usually one to four. For the home garden, four would work quite well. “Leaders” are the main shoot of the plant (leader # 1) and then additional leaders are suckers. 

Tip - wait until a sucker presents that is close in size to the main leader.  In red, is the original leader and then, in the crotch of a leaf branch, a sucker grew and became the second leader. In this case, all other leaders will be removed. 

Tip - wait until a sucker presents that is close in size to the main leader.  In red, is the original leader and then, in the crotch of a leaf branch, a sucker grew and became the second leader. In this case, all other leaders will be removed. 

To tie them up, regular twine works great and can be bought at any garden center or hardware store. The knot used at the bottom is a bowline know. It forms a loop that won’t tighten even when pulled. Consult the internet to learn about a bowline. Other knots would certainly work too as long as they allow the stem to grow. The twine is then tied to something on the top such as a tall post, or a DIY structure of your choice. 


1. Bring home at least a dozen bamboo poles 6-7 foot lengths. (depending on how many plants you have)
2. Using a trowel, dig a hole. Drive the bamboo stake into the hole. Make another hole opposite the first, about 4-5 feet away, and drive a stake into it. 
3. The bamboo poles should come together like a teepee. Wrap twine around the two poles where they meet at the top. Repeat this process to create 2 more teepees. Leave about 4 feet between each teepee.
4. Then place the last bamboo pole across the top of the structure in the “V” created where the poles meet, connecting all the teepees together.
5. Tie twine from one pole to the next along each side. Leaving about 12 inches between each line, continue up the teepee structure. You should have about 3 or 4 lines strung up by the end. This reinforces the structure and adds support for the tomato plants as they grow and climb.

* Instructions adapted from the following article.
Many thanks to French Lake Farmer for their growing expertise and help with this post!

Recipe: Homemade Ricotta Cheese & multipurpose Whey

Now that you have this recipe you will never buy Ricotta again. It's that easy and delicious. Here are the Lemon Ricotta Pancakes you will make the next day. We've also included a few uses for the whey left over once your curds have separated.

Makes 2 cups of fresh Ricotta. 


  • Large sieve or mesh colander 
  • Fine-mesh cheesecloth
  • 6-quart heavy pot
  • Large bowl 


  • 2 quarts (8 cups) whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Have at the ready a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty cheesecloth placed over a large bowl.
2. Pour whole milk, cream and salt into a heavy pot at medium high heat and bring to a bowl slowly, stirring frequently to prevent the milk from scorching. 
3. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.
4. Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain for up to 60 minnutes.
5. Discard or set aside the liquid (whey) and chill the ricotta in an air tight container for up to three days. 

Whey has a ton of protein and can serve many purposes. Waste not want not!

  • Set aside in a jar in the fridge and add to your morning smoothie. 
  • Come summer time whey makes an excellent defense against powdery mildew. Spray leaves at the first sign of this gray whitish powder and hey! switch your waterings to the evening time to avoid this problem all together. 
  •  Does your soil need more acidity? Strain your whey incredibly well with doubled up cheese cloth then pour it into the soil this spring to lower the soil PH around blueberry, tomato or other plants that prefer more acidic soil.