The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.
Homegrown Humus

To give folks an easier entrance point to self-sufficiency, I enrolled most of my books in Kindle Unlimited for the spring season. And one of them --- Homegrown Humus --- is free today!

This book, full of tips on improving your soil with cover crops, has sold over 10,000 copies since it launched in 2013. If you've been gardening for a while, you'll understand why. The idea of turning your garden soil black through the application of a few seeds is like magic. I hope you'll grab a copy and work some magic today.

Worm bin

Speaking of black gold, I finally delved into our two bathtub worm bins to see how they fared over the winter. The bin we'd left alone had a few large worms in it --- perhaps enough to recolonize the half-composted manure by summer. The bin in which Mark had installed an electric heat pad on low, though, was so full of worms of all ages that we could have seeded a dozen more bins!

Since we don't have that infrastructure in place at the moment, I instead raked the finished castings to one side and filled the other half of the bin with semi-fresh horse-stall leavings. Hopefully the worms will migrate over, leaving uninhabited castings for me to spread on the garden in a few weeks. (I also scooped some of the worms over into the other bin to get that composting process moving a bit faster. Experiment is complete --- time to make double the black gold!)

Cat with kale

March is the season when our garden really gets going, and this year's coronavirus outbreak has made me more serious about the task than I have been since our move. Luckily, the winter was mild, so a bit of overwintering lettuce and spinach plus masses of kale are all available to keep us healthy without hitting grocery stores.

Leafy greens do get boring after a while, though. That's why we have new lettuce and peas coming up, lots of seedlings inside, and are planting potatoes for the first time in quite a while.

Yep, potatoes. When I feel insecure, I stock up, and potatoes are an easy way to ensure we'll have calories in a few months no matter what. Plus, the more time I spend in the garden, the less I'm listening to the news. Win-win!

Posted Tue Mar 17 14:25:46 2020 Tags:

Effects of social distancing
It was a tough call given that there is only one community-spread case in our state as of yesterday. But deeper reading suggests what we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg. While I'm at very low risk from coronavirus, each person who contracts the disease spreads it to three other people and mortality rates skyrocket each decade for folks over 60. Between us, Mark and I could be responsible for a grandmother's death.

So we're going into social-distancing mode. We stocked up on a month's worth of non-perishables earlier in the week and voted early yesterday. The only reasons to leave home now are optional.

I'm keeping some of those optional outings. Hikes at the park seem very safe, playing in my garden safer yet. Letting the neighbor twins come down (with new, strict handwashing procedures they reluctantly agreed to comply with, plus new surface-cleaning protocols after they leave) seems like a worthwhile risk now that school is out and their worlds are smaller. I'll likely still go down the road to buy eggs from another neighbor, although we'll chat outdoors and keep our distance.

It feels a bit silly at this stage...but all of the experts I've heard in the last week explain that social distancing is most effective when it feels silly. If we wait until the ax looms, the health-care systems will be in danger of being overwhelmed. (Don't forget that 5+ day lag between getting sick and showing symptoms!)

Broccoli sets

So what am I telling you to do? All of the obvious stuff mentioned above...and maybe also hurry up planting your spring garden.

Don't know where to start? Take a look at your region on this soil-temperature map, then compare it to the minimum germination temperatures for crops here. Easy and fast crops at this time of year include lettuce, radishes, and most leafy greens.  These will be great for keeping the monotony of beans and rice at bay!

High-calorie crops that can be planted now --- in case your stored staples don't last the length of the outbreak --- include potatoes and carrots and peas. For us, now is also the time to start a lot of summer crops inside to jumpstart the frost-free date. Our broccoli sets are at the two-leaf stage and I'll be filling a flat with tomato, basil, and pepper seeds today.

I know that many of you can't simply hunker down in place. But if you can stay home, just think how much more fun it will be to social distance within a vibrant, food-filled garden.

And don't forget to wash your hands!

Posted Thu Mar 12 12:24:31 2020 Tags:
Gathering firewood

Every location has a few easy tree species to harvest for firewood. Here on the ridge, we have a massive pile of lumber that was pushed aside during the construction of our septic system. And just about all of it is either honey locust or osage orange. The question became --- are either or both good for firewood?

Short version: both burn hot and well. Of course, it's more complicated than that.

Honey locust turns out to be a pretty optimal firewood (as long as you're careful not to jab yourself with the thorns). At 26.7 million BTUs per cord, it burns nearly as hot as black locust (27.9) and is much easier to split. I'm so glad to have such an excellent keep-the-fire-going wood close at hand!

Only downside? Honey locust is not a kindling wood. If this was our only wood, we'd have a bear of a time getting a fire started.

Osage orange sawdust

Unlike honey locust, osage orange is impossible to confuse with anything else. As soon as we cut into our first log, we were wowed by the yellow sawdust. Then we brought some to the chopping block and started swearing --- despite what the internet says, our osage orange was pretty difficult to split. Luckily, most of the logs were small enough they could go into the fire whole.

Inside, I soon found that osage orange is great for starting fires. Even though the logs feel heavy (and do burn extremely hot, clocking in at 32.9 BTU), they have a chemistry that makes them spark heavily. I suspect that same chemistry makes kindling light fast.

One warning: do not leave an osage-orange fire unattended unless you completely close the stove air vent because the sparks travel far and wide. On the other hand, the same feature can be very entertaining if you're sitting in front of the stove with a cat and a book listening to the snap, crackle, pop.

Overall, I'd say we got very lucky with our first round of firewood species here on the ridge. High BTUs mean much less work per unit heat. I'd say we've put about half as much effort into our fire this winter compared to what we used to do when burning tulip poplar, box elder, and black walnut down by the creek.

Posted Wed Feb 5 14:59:50 2020 Tags:
Indoor lettuce

We've had so much kale under our quick hoops this winter that we're starting to get tired of it. But lettuce was nipped back by an early cold spell, which left us buying salad greens at the store.

"Why not try to grow some lettuce inside?" Mark asked.

"Okay," I said dubiously. "I'll try."

Cutting lettuce

I filled a flat with damp potting soil, sprinkled seeds on top, then put the lid on. Sure enough, sprouts happened, leaves grew, and in about four weeks we cut our first harvest!

Now, four weeks after that, we've enjoyed about eight servings from this one small flat. I haven't plugged in a kill-a-watt meter to be sure running the light 14 hours a day is worth the harvest, but it certainly is nice to have something green to look at, along with one meal a week of homegrown lettuce on our plates.

As usual, Mark was right!

Posted Fri Jan 24 14:43:50 2020 Tags:
Wood stove through-the-wall chimney

My greatest joy this winter has been getting our old wood stove into our "new" place! Yes, we dragged our darling Jotul from Virginia then let it sit in the corner for two years before installing. Instead of boring you with the vacillating in the middle, how about I skip to the happy ending?

Through the wall kit

Rather than building a new room or piercing a non-leaking roof, we opted for a through-the-wall kit. My top takeaways from this project:

  • Despite warnings on the internet, a horizontal stove pipe didn't mess with our draft all. The stove starts and runs just as delightfully as it did in Virginia.
  • Heat output with the wood stove in the middle of the room is even greater than we saw with the same stove in an alcove. Our little Jotul easily heats the open central half of our trailer (about 400 square feet) while burning on medium or low.
  • Creosote is more tricky. Make sure the horizontal part of the interior stovepipe isn't really horizontal and instead slants slightly down toward the stove so you don't end up leaking black goo in unwanted places.
  • The price tag was higher than expected because Amazon's through-the-wall kit requires triple-walled stovepipe once you get through the wall. It might be worth paying the higher price for Lowes' through-the-wall kit so you can use slightly cheaper double-walled stovepipe (available locally) instead.
  • On the other hand --- safety first! We're very pleased to find that the outside of the thimble (black part that goes through the wall) isn't even warm to the touch.

Are we glad we did it? The cats and I are basking in the radiant heat, our inside temperatures are 15 degrees higher than the minisplit managed, and the electric bill is $100 less per month. At that rate, it won't take too long for installation to pay for itself.

(Short answer: yes!)

Posted Fri Jan 17 13:25:49 2020 Tags:


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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.







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