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Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Automatic chicken door

Feb 2015

A year ago this week:

Why and how to estimate a goat's weight

Box-elder syrup comparison

Best battery disconnect switch

Keeping bugs out of a sap bucket

Feb 2014

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Snowy firewood

Assuming spring comes at least close to on schedule, it looks like this will be the first year ever when we didn't have to ration firewood toward the end of the winter. In fact, we're still burning wood marked for January and will likely continue to do so for another week. In other words --- there's quite a bit more fuel waiting in the shed.

Moving firewoodOne of my original plans for this winter was to build another woodshed so we could sock away the next year's firewood while burning the previous year's stores, allowing us to get a full twelve-plus month drying period in. But we've only been filling our shed about halfway full in the past, meaning we could actually keep two years' worth of wood under our existing roof if we rearranged the opening. So our new plan is to block off the current open side and open up one of the long sides, then divide the shed in two. Hopefully the result will be two stacking areas with very little extra expenditure of materials.

The only downside? We need to entirely empty this shed out before we can start refilling it since we'll be stacking wood in the opposite direction. Better start moving that extra wood to the back porch so we can clear our canvas and start reinvisioning our new shed.

Posted Sun Feb 14 07:53:49 2016 Tags:
Porch steps

These porch steps only lasted 3.5 years before one of the four screws holding the boards in place snapped.

I added a piece of lumber under each side of the step as a brace. Hopefully that fix will last another third of a decade.
Posted Sat Feb 13 13:23:34 2016 Tags:
Homemade mozzarella

While we dream about Artemesia's possible kids (and future milking habits), I'm slowly thawing out some of the cheese from Abigail's 2015 excess. The ricotta that I wasn't so sure would be interesting was quite a hit within a chicken parmesan recipe. And her mozzarella melts beautifully on top of homemade tomato soup. Thank you, Abigail! It's wonderful to have a little summer to brighten this winter day.

Posted Sat Feb 13 07:37:31 2016 Tags:
goat eating clementine peels in the snow
Artemesia is most gentle when she jumps on you wanting a treat.
Posted Fri Feb 12 14:39:38 2016 Tags:
Mini-dwarf goat

It seems like sacrilege to have such a cute, adorable goat and to waste a whole post looking at her hind end. So here's a starter photo of Artemesia cleaning up a fenceline for me. And now, on to the butts....

Goat buttsDuring Abigail's pregnancy last year, I tried a lot of home tests to figure out if she was pregnant. The only one that seemed at all diagnostic was peering at her vulva at intervals. The bottom photo in this series shows the marked change that occurred in Abigail's butt geography as she moved from her second to her fourth month of pregnancy. Notice how the wrinkles fled as the vulva widened in preparation for pushing a kid out a very small hole.

Looks diagnostic, right? Now peer at the first pair of photos to the right. Those pictures were taken in 2015 when I thought Artemesia might have been pregnant with Abigail's grandchild. The obvious change, though, turned out to be due to some combination of Artemesia maturing into her full sexuality (her first birthday was in June) and perhaps changes to her vulva as she went into heat. She wasn't pregnant after all.

Okay, now look at the middle photos. These are the ones I'm currently scratching my head over. We hope Artemesia is 2.5 months into her first pregnancy, assuming her post-Thanksgiving driveway date stuck. As a certified nervous nellie, I change my mind about whether Monte did the job every time our mini-Nubian (a cheerful, chatty girl) calls a hello to me from her pasture or wags her tail in greeting when I bring her breakfast. I haven't seen any mucous on her vulva since D-day, but wagging and talking can both be signs of heat...which would mean our first freshener hadn't freshened after all. And since we put all of our eggs (milk bottles?) in one basket this year, that would mean no homegrown dairy products in 2016.

Goat eating in the snow

Unfortunately, based on this series of butt shots, I have to conclude that I can't actually conclude anything for another month. A trip to the vet to utilize his ultrasound looks better and better, but I'll probably keep biting my fingernails and tough it out. After all, if we really wanted a summer kidding, the difference between a July and an August birth wouldn't be that great. Maybe I shouldn't have named Artemesia's hypothetical unborn daughter Aurora after all?

Posted Fri Feb 12 07:54:30 2016 Tags:
Goat in the snow

MEN postMark's in school today, which means you're supposed to not get an evening post. But I couldn't resist sharing this link to a piece I recently wrote for Mother Earth News about using a wood stove.

I'd be curious to hear what those of you well-versed in wood heat would add to the list. You can comment here, of course, but I'd love to see a few comments on the Mother Earth News post itself. Maybe if it gets enough traffic, they'll put it in the print magazine!

(And, no, the photo of Abigail has nothing to do with wood heat. But doesn't she look sweet against the snow?)

Posted Thu Feb 11 16:44:11 2016 Tags:
Soil cubes

What's a gardener to do when on a bitter February day? Plant seeds, of course!

Planting into a soil cubeI ran out of storebought potting soil to mix with my stump dirt, so I'm trying a flat straight and hoping the cubes hold together. Worst-case scenario, the soil cubes disintegrate and fuse into a flat of intermingled roots. Since I'm sprouting pea seeds with the hope of getting seedlings out in the garden in two weeks or less, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

The real issue is that, ever time a flat germinates and comes off the heating mats, I think of something else to fill a new tray with. Why not start some kale seeds to replace the plants that are pretty much dead in the garden for very early greens? And maybe some extra-early broccoli to set out under quick hoops? I'm going to run out of space fast at this rate....

Posted Thu Feb 11 07:21:19 2016 Tags:
daffodil in the snow
Daffodil leaves poking out of the snow.
Posted Wed Feb 10 16:01:54 2016 Tags:
Preheating the garden

During a warm winter, I'll start lettuce under quick hoops on February first and peas in the open on Valentine's Day. During a frigid winter like last year, I might not get anything out into the ground until the middle of March.

This year will likely fall somewhere in between with the determining factor being how Onion seedlingsmuch this week's cold snap chills the soil. I'm looking for soil temperatures that are at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit first thing in the morning to prevent seedlings from rotting in the ground. And to that end I'm preheating my pea/lettuce bed in three different ways.

Treatment one, in the foreground above, includes some solarization plastic from last summer weighed down with this and that. Treatment two, in the middle-ground, consists of solarization plastic under a quick hoop. And treatment three is the quick hoop alone. I'll check soil temperatures in a couple of weeks and see which, if any, area hit that critical 40-degree mark.

In the meantime, I'm starting more and more seeds inside. My first onion seedlings are already up, and I plan to play with broccoli and peas in soil blocks today. Maybe when the outdoor garden is warm enough, I'll have some starts ready to go and will end up with a harvest just as early as during warm winters in the past. Only time will tell.

Posted Wed Feb 10 07:25:38 2016 Tags:
Tax reassessment

I think property taxes are one of the most-overlooked items that should be considered before buying new land. I read all the time about homesteaders who settle in wealthy areas and end up paying a thousand bucks or more per month in property taxes. If quitting your job is on your homesteading agenda, that kind of tax burden will make it exceedingly difficult to simplify your life enough to become self-sufficient financially.

I have to admit I didn't think about property taxes when I bought our land either. Luckily, I couldn't afford much, and ugly-duckling properties with junked singlewides on them command very little value on the open market. Which is a good thing! It means that even after our most recent tax reassessment, our property taxes are likely to stay below $35 per month. Now that's a tax burden we can afford.

Posted Tue Feb 9 07:13:48 2016 Tags:

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