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Feb 2015

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How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Wood stove in a mobile home

How to help chicks during hatching

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

Feb 2014

A year ago this week:

Cattle panel underground greenhouse

How to keep deer out of the garden

The World Until Yesterday

Identifying a chicken predator

Mailing out scionwood

Feb 2013

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water tower update 2015

We staged some materials to finish our IBC water tower project but had to use a few 2x4's for the new kidding stall.

Posted Sun Feb 1 15:36:50 2015 Tags:
Goat bedding

In Natural Goat Care, Pat Coleby says in no uncertain terms that deep bedding is a bad idea with goats. Unfortunately, she doesn't give any information on why deep bedding is such a terrible idea. So I went ahead and used my usual methods with our girls, and they haven't seemed to have any problems.

Cleaning out the boat barn

Goat helperHowever, a timely post on Throwback at Trapper Creek's blog suggests that the issue could have to do with bacteria affecting newborn kids. So I figured I might as well clean out all the deep bedding in preparation for Mark separating the coop into two stalls for kidding season. That way, we can keep the kidding stall manure-free just to be on the safe side.

The girls had different reactions to me invading their home for the afternoon. Abigail promptly settled in to eat more hay, refusing to move her feet when the time came to scoop beneath her. Artemesia, on the other hand, asked if she could help me out. Maybe standing in the doorway would help? How about if she jumped up in the wheelbarrow? "You lifted me out? Oh, great, I can jump back in --- that's the fun part!"

Tossing bedding over the fence

I'm tossing all of the used bedding over the fence into the tree alley in hopes it will build the soil and maybe kill back some of the weeds. I'll lay down some cardboard on top, if necessary, to turn this into a zone to plant fodder crops for next fall. On the menu are field corn (with the grain being earmarked for the chickens and the stalks for the goats), sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes, mangels, and carrots. The last two on the list will probably go in the main garden, though, since this rough kill mulch won't make soil good enough for carrot-like least not for this year.

I'd be curious to hear from other goat keepers. What do you grow for your goats? Have you had any trouble keeping your herd on deep bedding?

Posted Sun Feb 1 07:50:15 2015 Tags:
new manger design

The first manger we built was flawed because the goats could jump up on the lid and it only took a few days of that behavior before they broke the lid.

Adding this fencing material prevents any more activity where they can stand on the hay and has the added bonus of holding a lot more.

Posted Sat Jan 31 15:51:28 2015 Tags:
Shiitakes fruiting on sycamore logs

The word "shiitake" literally means "oak mushroom," so it's no surprise that red and white oaks are widely considered to be the best American trees to cut for shiitake production. But what if you live in a low and wet area with few oaks present? We've successfully fruited shiitakes on sycamores in the past (as you can see above), but with another set of plugs arriving in the middle of February, I wanted to expand our host trees. Based on about a dozen websites, here's an analysis of the best to worst eastern U.S. trees for shiitake production.


  • White oak --- a bit slower to produce the first harvest than red oak, but widely considered to be the best species for shiitake production
  • Red oak --- a close second

Nearly as good:

  • Sweetgum --- Logs only last two to three years, but very productive
  • Ironwood --- Logs only last two to three years, and are slow to fruit in the first place, but produce good harvests in the interim
  • Sugar maple --- Bark can damage easily when logs are moved, but otherwise a good species
  • Beech --- Same caveat as sugar maple

Some sites list these as excellent, some as only fair:

  • Chestnut
  • Hop hornbeam
  • Black willow

Good to fair:

  • Cherry --- Specifically good for warm-weather strains and Night Velvet
  • Bitternut hickory (and possibly other hickories, but several sites list bitternut as good and all other hickories as bad)
  • Black birch --- The mushrooms in early flushes are small, but the logs improve with age. Good for Double Jewel and Native Harvest.
  • Black gum --- Logs don't last long.
  • Red maple --- Some say to avoid, but Field and Forest says to use with warm-weather strains, Double Jewel, and Native Harvest
  • Live oak
  • Alder
  • Eucalyptus
  • Sycamore
  • Basswood
  • Yellow birch
  • Butternut
  • River birch
  • Silver maple

Possibly to be avoided (although some sites list these as fair to good):

  • Ash
  • Sassafras (Field and Forest says these logs are okay and have the benefit of being drought tolerant)
  • Tulip poplar
  • Aspen
  • Paper birch
  • Elm

Definitely to be avoided:

  • Conifers
  • Fruit trees
  • Hackberry
  • Sourwood
  • Dogwood
  • Black locust
  • Walnut

In addition to species, you should consider the growth habit and location of the tree. Fertile sites produce good mushroom logs, probably because the trees grow quickly and have little of the inedible-to-shiitakes heartwood and lots of sapwood instead. Similarly, rocky hillsides and wet places tend to produce logs lower in nutrients from a mushroom point of view.

Mark and I need about eighteen logs for our upcoming mushroom-plugging day, and I'm thinking of trying at least three or four species from the top of this list to get an idea for which species work best here. I can definitely come up with some ironwood and beech, and maybe even an oak within carrying distance of our core homestead. Time to explore the woods with shiitakes in mind!

Posted Sat Jan 31 08:03:28 2015 Tags:
kidding stall hardware fence barrier

We got the fence portion of our kidding stall finished today.

Posted Fri Jan 30 15:46:23 2015 Tags:

Red maple flowerHave any of you planted super-sweet sugar maples? Apparently, a scientist went around and tested the sugar levels in the sap of a lot of maples, gathered seeds from the sweetest individuals, tested the sap of those seedlings, then cloned the ones that showed the most potential. Unfortunately, Forest Keeling is the only definitive source I've found for the super-sweet sugar maples, and they don't sell to individuals online (although you can drop by their garden center if you live in Missouri). On the internet, the Improved Sugar Maples at Garden Delights may or may not be the same type of sugar maple, and there are also supposedly high-sugar Silver Maples available from St. Lawrence Nurseries (although the price tag for the latter gave me a bit of a shock).

I'm leaning more and more toward just planting locally-adapted seedlings out of my own woods after checking out those prices, but Dave Marshall's comment about tapping silver maples did make me wonder whether these wet-loving, fast-growing maples might be a better choice for our farm. Of course, if we're going in that direction, maybe we should just tap our ubiquitous box elder. Has anyone tried syrup-making from these less-popular maple species? I know you'd have to cook the sap down further and be more careful not to collect buddy sap, but what I'd really like to know is --- what did you think of the flavor? I guess we really should just tap a box elder and see for ourselves!

Posted Fri Jan 30 07:34:55 2015 Tags:
goat divider construction

We made some modifications to the Star Plate goat barn today.

Once it's finished we'll be able to manage the future baby goats better.

Posted Thu Jan 29 15:45:57 2015 Tags:
Goat in wheelbarrow
"I must say, you've made selling my girlfriend on the benefits of having a small farm both easier, and more difficult. She is obsessed with having goats, and when she found out that they're about the only thing that eats Japanese honeysuckle and kudzu, she seized on that as her justification for having a couple, 'since you wanted a farm anyway.' You've been absolutely no help at all in that battle, what with all the pictures of your ridiculously cute and well-behaved goats. Couldn't you vilify them just a *little*? I dunno, maybe make a post saying how they broke out and committed arson or something?

"Otherwise, I swear, I'm going to come home from work one of these days and there's going to be a goat in my apartment..."

--- Dave

Blue-eyed goatWell, Dave, let me tell you about how Artemesia broke out this week and committed arson....

Okay, maybe she really just jumped up into the wheelbarrow while I was cleaning out the coop and ensured that her picture would be found in the next edition of the dictionary under "adorable."

More seriously, I have to admit that after four months with goats, I wouldn't recommend them for 90% of homesteaders. Artemesia is like a delightful hybrid between a loyal dog and a rainbow, but I'd feel terribly guilty if I didn't give our goats at least half an hour of attention per day.

And boy do they eat! We're currently giving our duo lots of hay and are letting them graze down several decades' worth of honeysuckle, but we'll be scrambling pretty hard this summer to get enough pasture areas established to ensure that Gardening with a goatour goats don't eat us out of house and home. And I'll also be putting more effort into gardening so we can grow enough fodder crops to make up for the honeysuckle, which won't be here next year if our goats' current appetites are any indication.

Then there's the expense. We actually haven't had any real escapes, but that's because we're paying top dollar by fencing with cattle panels (and because we chose half-miniature goats and keep them quite happy). That makes goats a very pricey endeavor (although the fencing should last for a lifetime and can be used with any other livestock we end up acquiring). Yes, you can fence with cheaper materials...but I suspect I'd love Artemesia much less if she ended up gnawing on my dwarf apple trees.

Goat with pitchfork

I lobbied hard for goats nearly from the beginning, and even though I pouted at the time when Mark said no, I can see now that we weren't ready for goats until the last year or two. A new homestead is a huge time- and money-sink, and we just wouldn't have had the ability to truly enjoy goats at that time. So, I have to admit that I'm probably on Dave's side on this issue and would recommend that he and his girlfriend not get goats quite yet.

On the other hand, if you don't want any goats in your apartment, you might want to pry the computer out of your girlfriend's hands right now. Because once Abigail's kids show up, the goat pictures are going to get even cuter.... You've been warned!

Posted Thu Jan 29 07:44:58 2015 Tags:
hay shortage

Do you guys make your own hay? --- Alice

No, but we plan to plant more oats and Sunflowers this year.

A few Feed Stores around us have already run out of hay so I had to drive all the way to Abingdon to get these 9 bales.

Posted Wed Jan 28 16:22:20 2015 Tags:
Goat soap

People keep giving me soap. Do you think it's a hint?

Happy goatsMore seriously, Donna and Jessica from Happy Goats Soap Company recently sent us a sampler pack of their homemade products to try out. I'm a hard woman to please when it comes to beauty products since I don't like scented anything, but the duo came through with a special-order bar of unscented soap (which you can buy on their website by clicking the "Request Special Order" button). The soap does the trick, providing a good lather but washing off clean while also providing the gentle moisturizing action that goat-milk soap is known for.

Although mildly scented, I also immediately fell in love with their Minty Man No Shine Lip Salve. I once had an awesome tube of lip balm from Aveeno, but everything I've tried to replace it with (primarily Burt's Bees) has turned my lips white and my husband off. Happy Goats' lip balm is even better than I recall the Aveeno stick being, providing an invisible coating that helps dry winter lips return to a happy state in short order.

Do you want to try your own Happy Goats skin-care products? Donna and Jessica have a bar of rose soap and a tube of lip balm with one lucky reader's name on it. Enter the giveaway below to win!

Posted Wed Jan 28 08:02:16 2015 Tags:

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