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Apr 2014
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Most visited this week:

Building a bee waterer

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Square foot gardening rebuttal

How to help chicks during hatching

Moth pupa in the soil

Apr 2013

A year ago this week:

ATV trailer choice

Rye cover crop in the spring

Stihl FS-90R trimmer update

What are the tastiest strawberry varieties?

Apr 2012

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T-post driver

When we bought our t-post driver last year, I considered welding a weight on the top to give each stroke more oomph.

But it turns out Anna has become the primary pounder now that we don't use a sledge hammer.

The Tractor Supply Deluxe Post Driver is just the right weight for Anna as-is.  So we'll keep the driver weight-free.

Posted Thu Apr 24 15:42:22 2014 Tags:

Ancona ducksMy favorite part of The Resilient Gardener, by far, was Deppe's chapter on ducks.  She keeps her ducks the way we keep our chickens --- on pasture as part of a diverse homestead.  By the time you read her duck chapter, you'll want some waterfowl too.

Why the focus on ducks?  Deppe considers ducks to be the perfect livestock for the Pacific Northwest, and sings their praises in great depth.  She believes ducks forage better than chickens, lay better at an older age and in the winter, are easier to keep out of the garden with two-foot fences, and are happy even during cold, wet winters.  On the other hand, Deppe warns that ducks aren't for everyone.  Ducks are more vulnerable to predators than chickens are, the ducklings cost more and usually can't be sexed at hatching, they need water to dabble in, they don't do well in confinement and can't live in tractors, they can't stand frozen winters, and they require more coop space since they roost on the ground.  But if you have a larger homestead with plenty of room for the ducks to forage, Deppe believes ducks are the way to go.

I won't go into depth about Deppe's duck advice since you'll really want to read the whole chapter if you're interested in following her lead.  However, I did want to end with a few of her tips on making duck-care more sustainable.  During the proper seasons, Deppe feeds her ducks cooked potatoes and winter squash, the former of which cuts feed costs by 67%  if ducks are also given lots of space to forage.  (Winter squash is lower in protein, so Deppe finds that addition doesn't cut feed costs nearly as much.)  Deppe's ducks get the cull squash Feeding ducksthat are small or were harvested not quite ripe, and the ducks seem to enjoy Delicata and Sweet Meat especially.

Another hint Deppe gave for making your ducks homestead-worthy pertains to ducklings.  She notes that if you let ducklings swim in warm water during their first few days of life (carefully drying them in their brooder afterwards), the activity turns on the ducklings' wax glands so they quickly become waterproofed and able to forage in damp conditions.  On the other hand, if you skip that early swim, the wax glands won't activate until the ducks are eight weeks old, and you'll have to baby your ducklings that whole time so they don't get wet and chilled.

I love how passionate Deppe is on the subject of ducks, but Mark and I are equally passionate about chickens.  So even though we're trying ducks this spring on her advice, we'll be keeping careful records of which type of bird does best on our homestead.  Stay tuned for lots of number crunching (and cute photos) all season!

Posted Thu Apr 24 12:00:58 2014 Tags:
Laundry day

Late April is the perfect time to slip in some extra laundry days.  And Wednesday was a perfect late April drying day, with lots of sun and some gentle breezes to blow the sheets dry.

Comforter drying rack

I always come up upon a problem in my washing campaign at this time of year, though.  I like to wash some heavy things like comforters and winter coats right around now, but these items are too big to fit through the wringer.  And, un-wrung, the wet items are too heavy for me to carry to the line and too heavy for the line to hold up.  But I figured out last year that if I just wash one bulky item per day, I can drape it over the wringer washer, flip it over once and squeeze out some of the water collecting in the bottom edges, and have a clean, dry comforter in less than 24 hours.  That's right --- a wringer washer does double duty as a drying rack!

Posted Thu Apr 24 07:17:31 2014 Tags:
A box of new books

The thrill of picking up a box of Anna's newest paperback at the mailbox can only compare to when the first box of Weekend Homesteaders arrived.  A few of these books will be gifts, but most are earmarked for giveaways here on the blog.

Nearly as good was the smile on Anna's face when she saw that some of our readers had purchased paper volumes of Naturally Bug-Free.  If you're on the fence about getting your own copy of this beautiful and informative text, Amazon has marked down both the color and black-and-white versions another 5%.  Act now while they're on sale.

Posted Wed Apr 23 16:24:18 2014 Tags:

Winter squashCarol Deppe puts her advice on garden resiliency to work by growing different staples to feed herself at different times of the year.  Corn and dried beans fill her belly in the spring; she eats fruit all summer; potatoes, winter squash, and fruit feed her in the fall;  and potatoes and winter squash are on the menu in the winter.  To these garden staples, Deppe adds duck eggs (and a bit of meat) from her flock, along with some purchased pastured meat and canned tuna.

Deppe's staples are one one of the reasons I didn't get as much out of her book as I'd hoped to.  Although I like the lack of wheat in Deppe's diet (due to her struggles with celiac's disease), Mark and I strive for a higher protein diet, so Deppe's focus on potatoes and other high-carb staples didn't sit well with me.  I also don't really believe in the notion that you can stay healthy primarily based on supplements, so her use of cod liver oil to replace most meat in her diet doesn't seem like a nutritious long-term solution.

On the other hand, I was intrigued by how well Deppe seems to listen to her body.  She notes that she feels most full after eating foods high in water and fiber, and she used her own varying hunger levels to discover that she needed to eat animal-based omega 3s.  After noticing that plant-based sources of omega 3s didn't fulfill her cravings, she did some research and discovered that only some people are able to turn 18-carbon plant omega 3s into 20- and 22-carbon animal omega 3s.  Perhaps that's why some people crave meat much more than others do?

Posted Wed Apr 23 12:01:13 2014 Tags:
Cabbage seedling

There are a lot more gaps than usual to fill in the garden this spring.  The cold, wet winter killed two-thirds of our potato onions and softneck garlic (although our hardneck garlic, Music, is plugging right along unhindered).  A dry spell when I didn't think to water made for holey germination in the carrot and Swiss chard beds, and Huckleberry's hard work scratched up some peas and poppies.  Time to fill in the gaps!

For some crops, it's not too late to just replant.  I scattered another round of carrot seeds on the appropriate bed and popped Swiss chard seeds into hoed rows (after teasing apart the one seed cluster that had fully germinated, leading to three seedlings in one spot).  There were enough poppy seedlings clustered too close together that I could just transplant them to fill in the gaps, and then I slipped broccoli starts into the holes between garlic plants.

Spacing out poppies

PeasAfter that, I started getting whimsical.  How about a few carrots in the gaps in the pea beds?  Maybe some Red Russian kale in the spaces between potato onions?

The trick with filling in gaps is to add crops that will mature at about the same time as the vegetables that originally owned the bed.  You also don't want to plant something that's going to get too big, shading out the vegetables you really care about, and you definitely don't want to add anything that will need trellising.  So no cabbages, even though I have plenty more starts on hand, and nothing that will need more than two months to mature.  (The carrots are small hybrids, listed at 54 days to harvest.)

I seeded and transplanted Monday and Tuesday, knowing a rainy spell was due to blow in Tuesday afternoon.  Hopefully water from the sky will sprout my seeds and settle my transplants, filling the garden with life.

Posted Wed Apr 23 06:43:28 2014 Tags:
Bucket handle replacement

The handles seem to be the weakest link in our bucket brigade.  Anna made this replacement grip out of a feed sack and tape last year, and it has held up well.

Some buckets have lost their entire handle, though.  Maybe rope replacements will do the trick?

Posted Tue Apr 22 15:34:23 2014 Tags:

Carol DeppeAs the subtitle of her book attests, the primary theme of Carol Deppe's book is finding ways to grow food that will work even when times are tough.  If you can't afford store-bought groceries, break your leg and can't spend every minute in the garden, and have to deal with crazy weather, would you still be bringing in a harvest?  Carol Deppe would.

What's her secret?  Mark would sum it up in one word --- backups.  Deppe goes into more depth, recommending diverse plantings of multiple varieties and types of crops, no single main crop, succession planting, using short-season varieties to work around erratic weather, and including animals in your homestead.  Due to climate change, she recommends not counting on crops that are on the edge of their hardiness range in your area, and instead says you should focus on crops that are being grown commercially by your neighbors since these tend to be dependable.

Posted Tue Apr 22 12:00:23 2014 Tags:
Strawberry bloom

Frost-damaged strawberry flowerLess than a week after the hard freeze, I'm able to start assessing what got nipped.  The bad news is that the strawberries were harder hit than the numbers suggested --- lots of flowers are opening and most have black centers, meaning they aren't going to turn into fruits.  On the other hand, the first undamaged flowers are also starting to open, which means we only lost about the first four of five days worth of strawberry fruits.

Frost-damaged apple flower

Opening kiwi budThe apples are also starting to open flowers that were tightly closed last week.  Most are clearly damaged, with brown stamens, but a few look okay like the one above.  The big question will be whether the female parts of the flowers survived --- it doesn't take all that much pollen to fertilize every tree, but if the ovaries are damaged, there won't be any fruit.

I was also heartened to see that a few of the hardy kiwi buds were slowpokes and missed the freeze.  Maybe we'll still get a chance to taste homegrown kiwis this year?

Posted Tue Apr 22 07:26:04 2014 Tags:
Tomato seedlings

Two parts manure and one part stump dirt will keep these tomato seedlings bright green until they go into the ground. I wonder if hefty transplants will turn into extra early tomatoes?

Posted Mon Apr 21 16:29:47 2014 Tags:

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