Experts recommend that you take your soil samples
in the fall if you're likely to need to add lime (or, presumably,
sulfur) to change the pH of your soil since the addition requires time
to react. Personally, I prefer to take soil samples in the winter
because the ground is very easy to dig into at that time of year (and
since our soil is already sweet). But, in reality, the best time
to take a soil sample is whenever you think about it and need some data.
is a long explanation of why I was filling a flower pot with dirt from
several spots in our starplate pastures, mixing it up, and then tossing a
representative sample in a ziploc bag to go in the mail. Although
the texture of the earth in that area is excellent, there's clearly a major deficiency at play since very few plants felt like growing over the summer.
When the primary trees in an area are black locust and sassafras and
when even comfrey fails to thrive, you know you need a soil test.
Why did I feel the soil
test was so critical that it couldn't wait a few more months? I've
been itching to add a ruminant to our farm because they can get most or
all of their nutrition from pasture, but there's a flip side to that
coin. If your soil is deficient in a mineral and you expect
animals to get all of their food from that plot of earth, they'll end up
deficient in the same mineral. Starved soil could mean starved goats, and I don't want to risk it. So soil-testing in September it is.
It's been a year since we
upgraded to a nest box
Every now and then we'll find
an egg in the extra box, which makes it worth the effort in my book.
One of my long-term goals
is to make our mulching campaign more sustainable. Buying in
straw has really helped build our soil and make my weeding work easier,
but it has caused
problems too. First, there's the unique-to-us problem --- we can
only haul in heavy materials a few days a year due to the muddiness of
our driveway, so getting the straw back to our garden during wet times
is difficult. Then there are the more general problems --- price
and the introduction of weed seeds (notably curly dock last year and the grains themselves this year). All of those problems make me wonder if we wouldn't be better off growing the straw ourselves.
As a very basic experiment, I decided to try to mulch a bit more than we usually do with cover crops.
In the past, I've let the tops of cover crops break down on the beds I
planted them into as a way of building soil, but when the oats I planted
on August 1 began to bloom in mid-September, I had Mark cut them with
the weedeater and then Kayla and I gathered the tops to mulch our
It took about six beds of
oats to mulch one bed of strawberries, and even though we spread the
leaves and stems pretty heavily, I'm not sure if that will be enough to
suppress weeds once the oats dry down. I also suspect that the C:N ratio
of the oats will be relatively low at bloom stage (as opposed to
post-fruiting, which is when straw is collected), so this oat mulch
might not last as long as I'm accustomed to. But it's worth a
shot, especially since it's an ultra-easy way to start growing a bit
more of our own mulch. I'll keep you posted as the experimental
bed goes into the winter, and as we try out cutting other cover crops
The new Swisher
trimmer mower is very
easy to start.
Not so easy if you try
pulling the rope with the engagement bar pulled.
Our old mower needs the
engagement bar pulled before starting, and my robot brain took over for
the first few starts before I realized my error.
I love collecting weather
data --- not only is it good, geeky fun, the endeavor also helps me
decide whether the garden needs to be watered and it helps me keep track
of our specific frost-free period. Unfortunately,
weather-tracking kept falling by the wayside when the tools of the trade
turned out to be shoddy and quickly bit the dust.
A couple of years ago, I solved the temperature-tracking dilemma by going completely analog, and now I'm hoping I've found the rain gauge that will survive winter freezes.
The inner cylinder measures up to one inch of rain, then the outer
container gives you an extra ten inches of wiggle room. In the
winter, you remove the inner cylinder, bring the frozen
precipitation indoors to thaw, and then pour it into the measurer.
My weather guru sent our
new rain gauge along in exchange for using our farm as a weather station
--- he's tracking the way a nearby mountain impacts microclimates in
our region. He's had to replace two rain gauges (not sure out of
how many -- quite a few) over the last seven years due to freezing, but
that's much better than my previous rate of losing a rain gauge every
Now, to see if I can remember to thank him by keeping track of which days begin with fog....
Today I tried putting a piece
of nylon rope
where the trimmer
line usually goes.
It worked pretty good till it
got frayed, and it still kept cutting, but not as fierce.
Maybe soaking the rope in
some sort of adhesive would extend the amount of cutting each piece can
do before it needs replacing?
My second paperback has a cover, a publication date (March 3) and a preorder page! I'm not entirely sure whether I like the image, but then, I hated The Weekend Homesteader cover...until it slowly grew on me over the years so that I now find it delightful (yellow boots and all).
And Skyhorse has done a great job producing a full-color book priced at
a steal (marked down to $11.55 at the moment), so grab one while
In other book news, the ebook version of Trailersteading
is on sale today for $1.99. I haven't uploaded the expanded and
revised version yet (still waiting on print-quality photos from a few
contributers --- you know who you are and will get email nudges next
week). But if you buy now, you'll automatically receive an updated
edition this winter when the new version is available, and will have
saved 50% off the cover price in the process. Of course, you could
also wait for the paperback, which will be coming out in fall 2016.
Thanks for putting up with a day of self-promotion. I can hardly wait to see the interior of The Naturally Bug-Free Garden,
and I suspect you'll have to bear with a glowing post about that
too. I promise that serious content will return shortly to a blog
The old freezer
we want to use for goat feed storage accumulates water.
I think it's functioning as a
solar still when the sun hits it.
Hopefully this vent hole will
help to keep it dryer.
I stressed myself out
last week by playing hooky from the garden for three days while a
writing project consumed my attention. When I came up for air, I
realized that it was time to plant twelve beds of garlic and two beds of
potato onions before the end of the week --- yikes!
Whenever I get overwhelmed by homesteading tasks, Mark reminds me that, together, he and I can do anything. Add in Kayla,
and we managed to get all of the winter alliums into the ground in
about 9 man-hours. Time to quit early and enjoy the fall weather!
I've avoided posting
anything specific about garlic here because I've pretty much said it all
before. Type "garlic" into the search box on the sidebar and
you'll learn far more than you ever wanted to know.
The only thing we're doing differently this year is to cut back to only growing Music garlic.
It seems a bit dicey to put all of our eggs in one basket, but over the
last eight years, this variety has consistently done better than all
the others, and the huge cloves make cooking a breeze. Maybe next
year we'll try a few other hardneck varieties...but maybe we'll say if
it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The truck is still where we last left it.
Turns out our neighbor with the
tractor got a little
nervous when he saw how much mud we were dealing with and wants to wait
till it gets a little dryer.
Didn't check back soon
enough and unread posts ran off the bottom of the page? See older posts in the