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How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

How to help chicks during hatching

Plug and play grid tie inverter

Building a bee waterer


Jul 2013
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A year ago this week:

ATV hitch height adjustment

Low-cost presents for homesteaders

Experimental summer cover crops

Ethanol free scam


Jul 2012
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using big stove box for mulching

We used up that big box I stole last week.

I like to take a minute and remove all the tape and labels.

Maybe I'll return to the scene of the crime like a typical criminal?

Posted Thu Jul 24 15:48:03 2014 Tags:
Parasitized hornworm

In addition to watching a bush katydid top my grapevine, I've been enjoying a closeup view of life on the tomato plant right outside our front window.  Two weeks ago, a hornworm caterpillar showed up, and I left it alone, knowing that the leaf muncher would soon be munched in turn.  Hornworms are never a problem on our farm because parasitoid wasps kill them in short order, and this caterpillar was no exception.

Hatching parasitoid waspWhat was unique about this hornworm is that I noticed when the adult braconid wasps were ready to hatch from their cocoons.  Tiny black fliers on the immobilized caterpillar alerted me to the hatch, and I was able to watch as wasp after wasp pushed its way out of the top of each cocoon.

Just a few minutes later, I was treated to a viewing of a tiny gray treefrog on our hazel bush, and that afternoon, a female goldfinch visited our greywater wetland to gather cattail fluff for her nest.  When my eyes are open, I know that's a normal day in the life of our diverse homestead.

Posted Thu Jul 24 08:20:25 2014 Tags:
new recap mud tires for Chevy S-10

We decided to spend some of Anna's new book deal money on truck tires.

Four good sized mud tires cost us just under 300 dollars.

Posted Wed Jul 23 15:54:57 2014 Tags:
Potter wasp

Cannibal flySome of you may experience buyer's remorse.  I don't buy much, so I rarely feel that pang, but I do experience what I've come to call writer's remorse.  What am I talking about?  Imagine you polish a book to within an inch of its life, send it off to your publisher...and then a reader shares these astonishing pictures of beneficial insects from his yard.

The solution?  Posting those awesome images here on the blog so at least some of you will get to enjoy them.  The top photo shows a potter wasp storing a caterpillar to feed her young while the second photo is a cannibal fly getting ready to suck the juices out of a wasp.  Both are taken by Brian Cooper --- thank you so much for sharing, Brian!

Posted Wed Jul 23 07:48:45 2014 Tags:
Toyota Carolla wheel alignment front view

The big excitement for today was a wheel alignment in Weber city.

All 4 wheels for 59 dollars.

Posted Tue Jul 22 15:18:16 2014 Tags:

Grape and tomato raceWhen I strung up a simple piece of baling twine to guide our young grape vine to its trellis, Mark rolled his eyes.  Did I have to relentlessly reuse found material?, I could see him thinking.  What if the twine rotted out before the grape hit the wire?

Luckily for me, the grape vine took to its job with gusto.  Despite having been a mere unrooted twig only a little over a year ago, the plant settled in to grow like nuts.  I could watch the plant out the trailer window, and I just knew it was going to reach the trellis wire 7.5 feet above the ground in early July.

Then, one day, a bush katydid that I had written about in The Naturally Bug-Free Garden as mostly harmless nibbled the growing tip right off my grape vine!  I had warning too, having watched the same insect bite the end off a tendril just a few minutes before, but I wouldn't quite believe my eyes.  Could that sweet little insect have derailed my baling-twine experiment so quickly?

Bush katydidI snagged the katydid and fed it to our tractored hens (so there!), but the damage was done.  As with any plant that loses its top, apical dominance had fled and the vine began to branch out from lower buds rather than continuing its race for the sky.  But soon enough one shoot took the lead, and this weekend that grape finally reached the wire, proving my crazy reusing ways weren't flawed.

So much drama!  This is my favorite part about the growing area in front of the trailer --- since I can watch it out the window, I see every little bit of life that occurs, both good and bad.  I can hardly wait to discover whether, next year, I might get to watch grape fruits develop from tiny blooms right in front of my eyes.

Posted Tue Jul 22 07:35:05 2014 Tags:
Warre hive


Both of our hives are now three stories high, with an additional uninhabited attic.

This hive doesn't seem to mind being lost in the weeds on a seldom-visited part of the farm.  But we pulled a few of the larger plants in front of their runway while we were nadiring.

Posted Mon Jul 21 15:27:50 2014 Tags:
Partially drawn comb

Despite a week that felt more like September than July, our bees have been working astonishingly hard.  Every time I pass by both hives, workers are flying in and out like crazy.  In fact, the colonies have been so busy, they didn't even mind me weeding nearly on their doorstep last week, a sure sign a nectar flow is under way.

Sourwood has been blooming for a few weeks, and even though the trees I can see from my window seem to be nearly done, I'm still noticing new blossoms littering the forest floor in the woods.  But my movie-star neighbor tells me his bees are probably working basswood, which would explain the hive traffic jams even better.  Even though the lofty basswood at the edge of our yard isn't blooming this year, there are probably many more trees in the woods dripping with sweet nectar for our bees to partake of.

Honeybee hive

The last few times I've taken photos up underneath our hives, I haven't seen much new activity.  In fact, if anything, it seemed like the mother hive had eaten through some of their stores last time I checked, and the top photo in this post shows that they haven't made much headway since last month.  But on Sunday evening, I struggled to take a photo under the daughter hive and eventually realized the problem was that the bees had drawn comb nearly to the screened bottom board, and that the camera simply couldn't focus so close to the lens.  Looks like the feedings I've been giving that hive have paid off.  Time to add another box and proclaim our split a glowing success.  Maybe now I can take them off the dole...again?

Posted Mon Jul 21 07:25:43 2014 Tags:
barn lizard

I've always thought lizards are more adorable than most puppies.

Posted Sun Jul 20 14:52:41 2014 Tags:

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture TwistMichael Judd sent me a copy of his Edible Landscaping With a Permaculture Twist to review, and I gulped the book down the same day it arrived.  Too bad I couldn't taste the berries in those beautiful pictures!  More seriously, Judd's book is a fast and fun read, mostly geared toward newbie suburban homesteaders, but with tidbits that will suit even the established farmer on forty acres.

I'll discuss the one negative right away.  Most of the book's projects are clearly based on plantings Judd made as part of his edible landscaping business, so they focus on initial aesthetics and don't necessarily have the multi-year followup to see what does and doesn't work.  As a result, there are a few things included that I've seen in other books, but that have failed when I tried them on the ground.  For example, I wouldn't recommend planting comfrey right up to the base of young fruit trees (especially if your soil is poor), and I think it would be handy to note which of the unusual fruit species profiled are invasive in the U.S.  On the other hand, by keeping each section simple, Judd will probably inspire many more readers to take the plunge and try something, which is how we truly learn what suits our site.

Rain garden

That caveat aside, I found a lot to pique my interest in Edible Landscaping With a Permaculture Twist.  First, there's the story of the book itself, which is self-published based on a kickstarter campaign, but is distributed by Chelsea Green --- I wanted to hear more about how that came about!  Next, mixed amidst the most-popular permaculture techniques (hugelkultur, herb spirals, earthen ovens), Judd includes a fascinating section on rain gardens, which sound very much like my sky pond but for soil that actually drains.  In the same chapter, the author also explains how to make an A-frame level for easy keyline marking, a tool I definitely plan to try out.  Finally, those of you who imbibe will likely get a kick out of the various alcoholic recipes scattered throughout the text.

In the end, though, my favorite part of Judd's book was the photos and diagrams.  If you're a magazine reader, you should track down a copy of his book just for the eye candy, and I guarantee you'll end up inspired to try at least one of project on your own homestead.  Judd's beautiful and inspiring read is just the nudge you might need to stop dreaming and start doing.

Posted Sun Jul 20 07:18:51 2014 Tags:

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