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Jan 2015
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Most visited this week:

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

How to start a no-till garden from scratch

Water tower strength for an IBC tank

Wood stove in a mobile home

Jan 2014

A year ago this week:

Storage apples

Lollipops, Garlic, and Basement Salamanders

Making a fence taller

Assessing dead trees for firewood

Backup power for the modem

Jan 2013

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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:

plastic shed for storing hay
How many bales of hay can our little plastic shed hold?

We figure 9 with some space on top.

I think I might add some hinges to one of the doors that got a little wonky when the shed shifted.

Posted Tue Jan 27 15:44:46 2015 Tags:

Farmstead Feast: WinterOkay, so I could tease you with tantalizing tidbits from my newest ebook. I could tell you that it's got recipes that will help you tenderize the tougher cuts of pastured meat and to substitute wholesome vegetables for grains in delicious recipes.

Or I could just set the book free for one day only so you can pick up your own copy and give it a read. (And, maybe, if you want to make my day a little brighter, you'll leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads when you're done.)

Hmm, that second option sounds better for everybody involved. So, go download right now while it's free! Enjoy!

Posted Tue Jan 27 07:53:05 2015 Tags:
Jump starting

Our old farm truck is still limping along. Five months in the swamp and getting yanked out by a tractor necessitated repairing the gas tank and putting the universal joint back in after it fell out.

But we're still suffering from a short that drains the battery after a few days of disuse. That wouldn't be so bad if the hood latch didn't stick and require four hands every time we needed to open it.

Our mechanic repaired the sticking hood latch, but was left scratching his head over the short. I think I'll install a switch on the battery so I can turn it off when not in use.

Posted Mon Jan 26 14:57:35 2015 Tags:

Grazing goatsWhat's the best use for seedy manure? As I drooled over the combination of straw, dropped weedy hay, and goat manure and urine in our goat coop, these are the options I came up with:

  • Try to get a compost pile hot enough to kill all of the seeds in the goats' dropped hay. Pro: Much-needed compost for the vegetable garden. Con: Loss of a lot of nitrogen due to the contents sitting out in our rainy climate, plus a relatively long wait and quite a bit of pile-turning. And, to be honest, I don't really believe I'd kill all the seeds despite all the effort.
  • Turn in the chickens and hope they scratch through and eat up all the seeds. Pro: Maybe the compost would be weed-free enough for the garden afterwards, and the chickens would enjoy the adventure. Con: I'd either have to move all of the bedding from the goat coop to the chicken coop (at opposite ends of our core homestead), or I'd have to move the chickens to the bedding and hope our birds get along well with the goats. And, once again, I don't really believe the result would be weed-free.
  • Mangel definitionPut the weedy compost under a kill mulch. Pro: A very easy solution, and I do want to kill mulch a few new areas this spring. Con: I won't be getting compost where it's needed most --- in the main garden.
  • Deposit the kill mulch as a thin layer in the tree alleys, then use chickens to scratch up any sprouting seeds so I can plant goat-fodder crops there in the summer. Pros: This solution is even easier than the last since the bedding would be used close to the source, and I wouldn't even need masses of cardboard to cover everything over. Con: The chickens might not kill all the weed seeds, meaning that the area would stay unplantable (but would get some much-needed nutrition).

At the moment, I'm leaning toward the last option, especially since the whole point of my new kill mulches this spring was going to be to make some spots for the mangels and field corn I want to plant for next winter's goat feed. But I'm open to suggestions. What would you do with a mixture of straw, dropped hay, and goat urine and manure? I feel so rich having another source of organic matter to deposit into our farm's ecosystem!

Posted Mon Jan 26 07:40:46 2015 Tags:
drilling through a 4x4

How did we get a hole through a 4x4 next to a 2x6?

An extra long 5/8" drill bit with a medium sized electric drill.

It should come in handy if we need to use long carriage bolts again.

Posted Sun Jan 25 12:50:44 2015 Tags:

While scanning the hillside for other sugar maples along my usual morning walk, Mark and I discussed the possibility of planting some new maples for tapping later in our lives. The hillside I walk past daily is a perfect location for sugar maples --- a damp, north-facing spot --- and I suspect the only reason sugar maples aren't currently in residence is because the area was logged too recently for this semi-old-growth species to thrive in the young woods.

But when I got home and did some research, I discovered that planted sugar maples won't be ready to tap for at least forty years. I consider myself a long-term thinker...but that's really long term (especially given current climate fluctuations and our location at the southern extreme of the sugar maple's range). Instead, I started wondering whether the intriguing experiments carried out at the Proctor Maple Research Center might not be a better avenue to explore. The scientists in charge have been experimenting with a high-density, pollarded maple operation and have found that you can harvest up to ten times as much sap per acre using high-density trees, with the initial harvest only seven years after planting. Now that sounds like something I'd like to try!

Collecting sap from a pollarded treeThe big negative about this high-density maple system from a backyard standpoint is that you have to use a vacuum system to get the sap out of the trees. Timothy Perkins of the Proctor Maple Research Center kindly wrote back to me within hours with answers to my numerous questions, and he noted: "Vacuum is REQUIRED. You will get almost no sap without it. In addition, the 'sap caps' are not commercially available. We are working with maple equipment manufacturers now, and expect there will be a product available for the 2017 sap season." I'm not too worried about the lack of commercial sap caps --- it looks like something we can easily cobble together --- and Mark suspects that we could also come up with a backyard-style vacuum system using a breast pump (like we'll be using on our goats) or a shop vac. Plus, I don't have to figure that out until 2022, so why not go ahead and plant now?

Unfortunately, the system is very new, so Perkins had less concrete answers for my other questions. When asked how close together the trees should be planted, Perkins said that his experiments utilized an already-existing nursery, and thus he doesn't have solid data on optimal spacing. However, one news article suggested a trees-per-acre density that would come down to one sugar maple every three feet, which seems like a good start. In terms of frequency of harvest, Perkins said that after the first seven years of growth "you can harvest for several years prior to letting the saplings 'rest.'" (And, keep in mind that like with other pollarding systems, you'd also get firewood for energy and leaves for mulch out of the planting.)

So will we be planting high-density sugar maples this winter? I suspect Mark will talk me into setting aside at least one experimental row, but first I need to do some more research. "It would be best to plant high-sap sugar-content saplings," Perkins now I need to do a bit more research and track down a source.

Posted Sun Jan 25 08:08:14 2015 Tags:
lumber in back of car

We really appreciate all the helpful comments on the structual strength of our new IBC water tower.

The truck has been in the shop so we had to use the car to pick up some lumber to increase both support and bracing.

I could probably haul twice as much lumber if the back window could open and close.

Posted Sat Jan 24 15:17:28 2015 Tags:
Sapsucker holes

Large-scale maple-syrup operations in New England like to have all their taps in place around the first of March. But we southerners can get a head start on the season and tap earlier. As you can see, sapsucker holes in our favorite sugar maple are already bleeding sap, so why let the tree's sweet juices go to waste?

Drilling a hole for a spile

Interestingly, while I was researching the timing of maple tapping, I stumbled across a study in which researchers tapped some trees early (in late January or early February), some at the March 1 time most traditional farmers aim for, and some late. While late-tapped trees did produce lower yields, both early and midseason taps netted the same amount of liquid. Why? Early taps catch sap that midseason taps miss, but those early holes tend to close up before the flow is finished and thus miss the latest sap. So, it's really up to you when you want to tap, and for us, earlier is better --- there's much less to do on our farm in January and February than in March.

Maple spile

Mark and I had a lot of fun tapping our sugar maple last year, and we considered expanding beyond one measly spile in 2015. However, my usual morning walk goes past only this one sugar maple, and I'm not sure if I have the gumption to check on trees daily if they aren't on my normal route. Maybe if I get antsy waiting for Abigail to pop out some kids, though, I might expand my walks and our maple syruping operation.

Posted Sat Jan 24 08:15:47 2015 Tags:

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