Cabin restoration project – Construction nears completion

For the past several weeks, the building contractor has been working hard to get the century-old brand-new cabin into shape and ready for occupancy. Since my last cabin update, all the windows have been installed and trimmed, the door has been installed, the floor insulation and flooring have been installed, the bathroom shell has been largely completed, the loft stairs have been built, some exterior insulation has been installed and covered and a lot of the front porch has been constructed. I imagine all the rest of the work by the contractor will be completed over the next week or two, and then it’ll be my turn to furnish the cabin, set up the kitchen and bathroom, paint the exterior etc.

Meanwhile, my friend Alex and I did some work of our own to the sauna, namely raising it up onto six concrete blocks left over from the cabin construction and digging out the area around and under the building for better ventilation underneath, to preserve the wooden beams the sauna is built on and to prevent mice from finding their way inside through the drain holes in the sauna (the beams/sauna used to rest directly on the ground).

I’ve spent just about every weekend for the last two months out at the future homestead site doing extremely uninteresting things like yard work (no yard work had been done there in 20 years, so you can imagine how much there is to do…), collecting all kinds of interesting garbage from around the property and throwing it onto the mountain of trash which has been accumulating and also fixing up the exterior of the old farm house to make it a little more presentable. After one or two more weekends of yard work, I think I’ll have the place the way I want it. Then I’ll start dismantling what’s left of the old storage building where the new cabin originally came from and sort through the wood to see what I can use for firewood and future building projects (chicken coop, greenhouse, firewood shelter etc.).

I’ll leave you with a picture of a stoat (mustela erminea) which seems to have made the old farm its home. Hope you enjoyed this update!

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Cabin restoration project – The rebuild has resumed!

After being on the back burner for several months due to other larger jobs, the building contractor has resumed work on the cabin! As you can see in the pictures, the windows are at varying stages of completion, the roof insulation and interior roof have been put in place, most of the exterior roof has been completed, most of the loft has been constructed (the ladder is temporary and will be replaced with stairs), floor construction is coming along and the old doorway on the front right side has been filled with logs taken from the interior partition wall, which has been removed. The contractor will be at the site again this week, so I am looking forward to going out there this weekend to see what has been done. We have finalized all the plans for the rest of the work, which should be finished over the next few weeks. Keep in mind that there is still a good amount of work to be done, so if something doesn’t look finished, it probably isn’t!

Stay tuned for a (belated) overnight camping trip report from late March!

Raspberry leaf tea

While on a recent trip to the Woodsbabe’s grandparents’ farm, I grabbed a handful of leaves from some of the many raspberry plants there so I could make raspberry leaf tea later on.

The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other health benefits provided by raspberry tea are so numerous that I’ll simply refer you to this excellent source-cited article at herbcyclopedia.

Some dry leaves:

A few seconds after adding hot water:

After steeping for a few minutes:

Leaves after steeping:

The tea had a refreshing taste similar to blackberry leaf tea (but a bit tangier), which is not surprising considering they’re related plants. I’ll definitely drink it again the next time I find wild raspberries growing in the forest!

Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum

In the past, I have brought your attention to a number of forums, blogs and YouTube channels focusing on outdoorsmanship, primarily in Finland, but also elsewhere in the boreal region. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a fine forum started by Ron from The Trying Woodsman Blog. He wanted to create a place where folks could discuss woodsmanship, bushcraft, primitive and traditional skills and anything else having to do with outdoor life in the north.

This primarily English-language forum is small, but growing (it has been experiencing a surge in activity lately). So far, there are members from Finland, Sweden, Norway, the northern US, throughout the British Isles, Germany and a host of other countries. As far as I know, this is the only north-centric forum of its type out there!

If you would like to learn from and contribute to a growing knowledge base on woodsmanship in the north in a relaxed and open atmosphere by sharing stories, projects, ideas and experiences and make friends in the process, be sure to visit the Northern Woodsmanship and Skills Forum!

Wild edible – Broadleaf plantain

Before I get to the meat (or vegetable, as it were) of this post, I wanted to update those of you who are interested in the LK-35 Swedish army rucksack (if you’re not, you might want to skip this paragraph). Being curious as to why I have been able to fit more gear inside this supposedly 35 L pack in comparison to other 35 L packs, I emptied it and took some measurements. I was happy to find that the maximum capacity is actually about 40.5 L. The reason for the discrepancy is the pack’s top flap, which has a range of positions to accommodate different amounts of gear inside. When the flap is at its lowest position, the volume is about 30 L, whereas at its highest position, the volume is about 40.5 L (2,470 cubic inches). Since I attach my bulky sleeping gear to the outside of the pack, 40+ L is plenty of room for my gear, food, extra clothes etc., so I plan to continue using and trialing it. While the pack was empty, I also weighed it using a bathroom scale, and it weighed in at 2.3 kg/5 pounds. Not lightweight, but I still think it’s a winner thanks to its extreme ruggedness.

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My favorite of the leafy wild edibles growing here in Finland is the broadleaf plantain (plantago major).

Young broadleaf plantain leaves.

It’s one of about 200 species of plaintain (not to be confused with the fruit of the same name) growing around the world. Native to most of Europe and Northern/Central Asia, broadleaf plantain is commonly considered a weed, as it is often found growing in grassy areas in populated places.

Mature plant (linked image, not my photo)

When I see this plant, I don’t see a weed at all. I see a nutritious leafy vegetable high in vitamins A, C and K and in calcium which can be picked and eaten raw or cooked. I see a plant that can be made into a poultice which aids in healing wounds and insect bites thanks to its anti-toxic, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties (the leaves contain aucubin, allantoin and several soothing agents). Fever and respiratory infections were traditionally treated with the plant’s root. Tea made from the leaves is said to be good for treating diarrhea due to the inherent astringent properties.

So the next time you’re getting rid of “weeds” around your house, check to see if any of them are broadleaf plantain. You might have a nutritious snack and mini-pharmacy right nearby without knowing it!

Disclaimer: Consuming wild edible plants and/or using them for medical purposes is done at your own risk. Always be 100% certain of what you are eating/doing. If unsure, contact an expert.

Another hot day in the sub-Arctic, plus a few poncho shelter setups

The plan was to spend from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon in the woods, so I packed my Swedish LK-35 rucksack with my gear load-out for summer overnight trips:

Without food and water, the pack weighs about 20 pounds/9 kg. Not ultralight, but not ultraheavy either. If I swapped out each item with a lighter equivalent, I’m sure I could cut the weight in half (though I have no need or interest to do so).

Anyway, on Saturday I ended up having such a nice time at the cabin with the family and in-laws (except the part where I accidentally fell in the lake…fully clothed…while trying to fish out one of the Woodsboy’s toys) that I decided to stay at the cabin for the rest of the day and night instead. Sometimes after a long work week, it’s nice to just relax and hang around the lake, sauna and grill with the family. 🙂

The following day, I hoisted my pack upon my shoulders and hiked 10 minutes up and down the rocky terrain to my campsite, which is located elsewhere on the 35-acre property. Once again, the black flies were horrendous, as were the horse flies (and a few mosquitoes), so I donned my net hat. Stylish, eh? By the way, that’s a black fly on my chin. 🙂

A few shots of the camp area. This spot had been cleared several years back and only now can be considered to be forest-ish again. One of the interesting things about having a spot like this as a campsite is that I get to watch the new forest grow up quickly around me over the years.

Local insect life:

Rhododendron tomentosum, aka marsh Labrador tea/northern Labrador tea in bloom:

Another flower:

Late-spring bilberry blooms:

Can you spot the lizard?:

Funky lichens:

As usual, I brought my thermometer along. I got this reading in direct sun (over 110*F):

And this one in the shade (84*F):

Yes, it can and does get pretty warm in the sub-Arctic. 🙂

After taking pictures of fauna, flora etc., it was time to get down to business. As I mentioned, I didn’t sleep in the forest the night before, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t set up a shelter or seven. For a while I’ve been meaning to show you guys a few of the poncho shelter setups I’ve learned over the years, and I thought this would be a good opportunity. The poncho is the very rugged Bundeswehr German army poncho (220 x 160 cm/7’4″ x 5’4″) which weighs about 900 g/2 pounds (I know, it’s on the heavy side as ponchos go, but it’s extremely rugged, which is more important to me than weight). I scavenged the three-section tent poles, guy lines and tent stakes from another tent. The following poncho setups use only one poncho. In the future, I’ll show setups using two ponchos snapped together.

The steep lean-to:

For more protection, you can lower one of the corners:

You can lower both corners for even greater protection:

If that’s still not enough, drop one corner to the ground (apparently I picked a spot with a lot of shrubbery, as evidenced here. :)):

The next setup is completely enclosed, but is so small that it would only be suitable for the Woodsboy, a pet or as a gear shelter (it does work well as a full-sized tent when you use a larger tarp to make it, however):

My second-favorite single-poncho shelter uses only one pole, one guy line, the poncho and five tent stakes. I can almost stretch out inside it, there is room for my gear in there and it provides good protection from the elements. I believe I once saw it referred to as a “brew shelter”:

I removed the guy line, and it still stayed up perfectly:

And saving the best (in my opinion) single-poncho shelter for last, may I present the brew shelter with one corner up off the ground on a pole. This provides good protection under the lowered side, plus better air flow and a bit more room for myself and gear under the open side. This is the configuration I would have used if I had stayed overnight.

Here’s what it looks like with my bivy bag and sleeping bag liner inside:

I have to mention that none of these ideas are mine and that this is by no means an exhaustive display of single-poncho shelters. A few years back, I set up several other configurations which might interest you as well:

Simple A-frame:

A-frame with one end snapped up:

A fully enclosed, close-to-the-ground setup:

As you can see, there’s a lot you can do with a poncho or tarp! Here’s a little tip for using tent pegs in soft/shallow/rocky soil: Using more than one tent peg, angled in different directions, will improve the anchor strength.

Hope someone finds this info useful!

The Woodsboy’s first visit to my campsite

I’ve been visiting the same campsite on my mother-in-law’s property since 2009, back when the Woodsboy was a mere “Woodsinfant”. Having decided that the boy is now old enough to safely visit that area with me, I brought him along on my latest visit last Sunday. But before I tell you about that, I’ll share some pictures from the area around the cabin, since we hung around there first.

As you can see, spring has solidly sprung (actually, it’s pretty much full-on summer here):

Rowan/European mountain ash:

Alder (not sure if it’s black or gray):

Downy birch:

The Woodsbabe asked me to get the muurikka (Finnish wok) ready and start a fire in the fireplace so we could fry some pork chops, so I split some wood with my diminutive Wetterlings Mini Axe (not to be confused with their Small Axe). It’s a fantastic tool for chopping and splitting smaller-diameter wood and rough carving.

I also made some wood shavings with it to get the fire started:

The muurikka was put in place, and then the fire was started. The muurikka spends all of its time exposed to the elements, so it has to be prepped first by throwing some water on it when it’s hot, scraping it with a metal spatula, getting rid of the water and then wiping it down with olive oil. Here’s the boiling water cleaning the surface:

After it was fully cleaned, the Woodsbabe threw on the marinated chops:

We also grilled some sausages. This cooking area has been around for a long time and its days are numbered. You can see the beginnings of the new and improved cooking area in the background.

We ate a nice lunch with my in-laws and then, after letting our food settle, the Woodsboy and I got ourselves ready for our hike. His little backpack has a stool integrated into it. We picked it up at a consignment shop for 2 Euros.

Can you tell he’s excited to go?

I threw on my pack, and we headed out. The terrain proved a bit too rough for the little tyke, so I ended up carrying him most of the way. When we arrived, we had a little tree and plant identification quiz. He identified spruce:

Pine:

And birch:

Next, I introduced him to fireweed:

Then he spent some time checking out the campsite:

It had been promised to the Woodsboy that we’d roast sausages, so I started that process going. I set him up with a forked stick and two small sausages.

On that day, I was carrying my refurbished leuku/puukko knife duo and used it for the cutting and splitting tasks of the day.

Leuku (larger knife)

Puukko (smaller knife)

Then I got the fire materials set up. It had to be a small fire due to the relative dryness and heat of the forest. Speaking of heat, I brought along my thermometer as usual, and although I don’t quite trust the reading of 111*F/44*C (in direct sun), it was without a doubt hot that afternoon.

We ate our sausages and then some small pastries and drank juice and water, which the boy doled out.

By this time, both the Woodsboy and I were getting sick of the heat, so I made him a shelter out of dead spruce branches and my poncho after very thoroughly soaking the fire pit and surrounding area with water. I realized then that I should have made the shelter right after we arrived so he could have a place to get out of the sun, although I did keep him in the shade of trees most of the time. Lesson learned.

Chillin’ with a juice box.

Our trip lasted about 2 1/2 hours, and I was very proud of how the boy held up, especially considering the heat and the swarms of blackflies which pestered us the entire time (fortunately, they didn’t bother the Woodsboy as much as they did me.). By the way, we did bring a net hat along to keep the bugs at bay, but he didn’t want to wear it. After a while, he asked if we could go back to the cabin, so I packed up our stuff and we headed out. He enjoyed telling mommy, grandma and grandpa about what we did and is looking forward to going again soon. So am I. 🙂

On another note, a little while back I mentioned that we were hoping to be able to make use of an old house, farm and forest (belonging to the Woodsbabe’s extended family) in the country after our move. It turns out that the house, which is 120 years old, has been abandoned for 40 years and is in poor condition, isn’t quite up to snuff for use (earlier, we didn’t know what kind of condition it would be in). So unfortunately, we won’t be able to use the house, but we are still planning on reviving the garden plot and using the forest for camping, bushcraft, berry/mushroom picking etc. There’s also an easy access point to one of the large lakes of the Lakeland District about 150 yards/135 meters from one edge of the property, so we’ll be able to make use of that as well. My first trip exploring that property will probably take place over the next few weeks, and I’m really looking forward to it!