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How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

How to help chicks during hatching

Plug and play grid tie inverter

Building a bee waterer

Jul 2013

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ATV hitch height adjustment

Low-cost presents for homesteaders

Experimental summer cover crops

Ethanol free scam

Jul 2012

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Toyota Carolla wheel alignment front view

The big excitement for today was a wheel alignment in Weber city.

All 4 wheels for 59 dollars.

Posted Tue Jul 22 15:18:16 2014 Tags:

Grape and tomato raceWhen I strung up a simple piece of baling twine to guide our young grape vine to its trellis, Mark rolled his eyes.  Did I have to relentlessly reuse found material?, I could see him thinking.  What if the twine rotted out before the grape hit the wire?

Luckily for me, the grape vine took to its job with gusto.  Despite having been a mere unrooted twig only a little over a year ago, the plant settled in to grow like nuts.  I could watch the plant out the trailer window, and I just knew it was going to reach the trellis wire 7.5 feet above the ground in early July.

Then, one day, a bush katydid that I had written about in The Naturally Bug-Free Garden as mostly harmless nibbled the growing tip right off my grape vine!  I had warning too, having watched the same insect bite the end off a tendril just a few minutes before, but I wouldn't quite believe my eyes.  Could that sweet little insect have derailed my baling-twine experiment so quickly?

Bush katydidI snagged the katydid and fed it to our tractored hens (so there!), but the damage was done.  As with any plant that loses its top, apical dominance had fled and the vine began to branch out from lower buds rather than continuing its race for the sky.  But soon enough one shoot took the lead, and this weekend that grape finally reached the wire, proving my crazy reusing ways weren't flawed.

So much drama!  This is my favorite part about the growing area in front of the trailer --- since I can watch it out the window, I see every little bit of life that occurs, both good and bad.  I can hardly wait to discover whether, next year, I might get to watch grape fruits develop from tiny blooms right in front of my eyes.

Posted Tue Jul 22 07:35:05 2014 Tags:
Warre hive

Both of our hives are now three stories high, with an additional uninhabited attic.

This hive doesn't seem to mind being lost in the weeds on a seldom-visited part of the farm.  But we pulled a few of the larger plants in front of their runway while we were nadiring.

Posted Mon Jul 21 15:27:50 2014 Tags:
Partially drawn comb

Despite a week that felt more like September than July, our bees have been working astonishingly hard.  Every time I pass by both hives, workers are flying in and out like crazy.  In fact, the colonies have been so busy, they didn't even mind me weeding nearly on their doorstep last week, a sure sign a nectar flow is under way.

Sourwood has been blooming for a few weeks, and even though the trees I can see from my window seem to be nearly done, I'm still noticing new blossoms littering the forest floor in the woods.  But my movie-star neighbor tells me his bees are probably working basswood, which would explain the hive traffic jams even better.  Even though the lofty basswood at the edge of our yard isn't blooming this year, there are probably many more trees in the woods dripping with sweet nectar for our bees to partake of.

Honeybee hive

The last few times I've taken photos up underneath our hives, I haven't seen much new activity.  In fact, if anything, it seemed like the mother hive had eaten through some of their stores last time I checked, and the top photo in this post shows that they haven't made much headway since last month.  But on Sunday evening, I struggled to take a photo under the daughter hive and eventually realized the problem was that the bees had drawn comb nearly to the screened bottom board, and that the camera simply couldn't focus so close to the lens.  Looks like the feedings I've been giving that hive have paid off.  Time to add another box and proclaim our split a glowing success.  Maybe now I can take them off the dole...again?

Posted Mon Jul 21 07:25:43 2014 Tags:
barn lizard

I've always thought lizards are more adorable than most puppies.

Posted Sun Jul 20 14:52:41 2014 Tags:

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture TwistMichael Judd sent me a copy of his Edible Landscaping With a Permaculture Twist to review, and I gulped the book down the same day it arrived.  Too bad I couldn't taste the berries in those beautiful pictures!  More seriously, Judd's book is a fast and fun read, mostly geared toward newbie suburban homesteaders, but with tidbits that will suit even the established farmer on forty acres.

I'll discuss the one negative right away.  Most of the book's projects are clearly based on plantings Judd made as part of his edible landscaping business, so they focus on initial aesthetics and don't necessarily have the multi-year followup to see what does and doesn't work.  As a result, there are a few things included that I've seen in other books, but that have failed when I tried them on the ground.  For example, I wouldn't recommend planting comfrey right up to the base of young fruit trees (especially if your soil is poor), and I think it would be handy to note which of the unusual fruit species profiled are invasive in the U.S.  On the other hand, by keeping each section simple, Judd will probably inspire many more readers to take the plunge and try something, which is how we truly learn what suits our site.

Rain garden

That caveat aside, I found a lot to pique my interest in Edible Landscaping With a Permaculture Twist.  First, there's the story of the book itself, which is self-published based on a kickstarter campaign, but is distributed by Chelsea Green --- I wanted to hear more about how that came about!  Next, mixed amidst the most-popular permaculture techniques (hugelkultur, herb spirals, earthen ovens), Judd includes a fascinating section on rain gardens, which sound very much like my sky pond but for soil that actually drains.  In the same chapter, the author also explains how to make an A-frame level for easy keyline marking, a tool I definitely plan to try out.  Finally, those of you who imbibe will likely get a kick out of the various alcoholic recipes scattered throughout the text.

In the end, though, my favorite part of Judd's book was the photos and diagrams.  If you're a magazine reader, you should track down a copy of his book just for the eye candy, and I guarantee you'll end up inspired to try at least one of project on your own homestead.  Judd's beautiful and inspiring read is just the nudge you might need to stop dreaming and start doing.

Posted Sun Jul 20 07:18:51 2014 Tags:
bags of leaves in the trunk of a car

We went to the big city for a funeral and brought home some bags of leaves.

Posted Sat Jul 19 15:34:41 2014 Tags:
Collecting seeds

The last vestiges of spring are coming out of the garden this week and next.  A few small cabbages are lingering in unneeded corners, and I just pulled out the kale, arugula, and poppy plants after harvesting their seeds.  I probably should harvest all of the spring carrots, too, but there's not really room for them in the fridge due to the dozen cabbages currently chilling and waiting to be souped, so I've just been pulling orange roots as needed for the last few weeks.

Summer garden

Of course, the summer crops fill most of my attention at this time of year, both in the garden and in the kitchen.  But we've already started on fall crops, too, setting out broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts and direct-seeding carrots and peas.  Since fall crops often germinate poorly during hot, dry weather, one of my most important tasks at this time of year is remembering to drop back by the fall beds a week or two after planting, reseeding as necessary.

Basket of cucumbers

The other thing I try (and often fail) to remember in the height of summer is to make notes on my gardening spreadsheet about what we planted too much of.  For example, we've had so many excess cucumbers and summer squash for the last few years that I've had to give them away by the basketload, and yet I keep planting the same amount.  Maybe I'll remember to only plant half as many cucurbits in 2015?

Posted Sat Jul 19 06:52:19 2014 Tags:
details on chicken tractor repair

Once I installed the new decking board I bevelled each edge.

Without the bevel the edge wants to dig into the dirt when you pull it.

Posted Fri Jul 18 15:46:46 2014 Tags:

Onie Clark"Onie Mae Cresong Clark, age 79, of Bristol, VA, went to be with the Lord on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at the NHC Healthcare of Bristol.  Onie was born April 8, 1935 in Washington County, Virginia, a daughter of the late Ward Christopher Cresong and Elvie Smith Cresong.  She was a lifelong resident of Scott County and Washington County, Virginia, where she was a homemaker and was of the Baptist faith.  She was preceded in death by her husband, Silas Clark..."

Back when I was knee high to a grasshopper, Onie and Silas lived up the creek from my childhood farm.  I would run down to visit, barefoot and clad only in underpants, until Onie finally put her foot down and required me to don a shirt.  Despite that one act of tough love, our neighbor was always ready to enfold me in her arms, where I was riveted by her neon orange chewing gum, a color I'd never seen before in my life, and by her southern makeup, so different from the appearance of my clean-faced Yankee mother.

Graduation photoBut appearances weren't important to me at that age.  I was on a mission, and once inside, I headed straight for the bathroom.  No, I didn't need to go, but our family's farm only boasted an outhouse, so the concept of peeing in a toilet was remarkable to my young mind.  Plus, Onie's bathroom had real green carpeting on top of the closed toilet lid, so soft I wanted to run my hands through the pile.  In fact, I probably hid out there for several minutes, drawing pictures in the deep yarn.

Onie with pot-bellied stoveBack in the kitchen, I entered Onie's domain, decorated with big ceramic bins in the shape of mushrooms.  Our country neighbor was most likely cooking soup beans and biscuits, but hers was a version remarkably dissimilar to the type my health-conscious parents set out on our table.  Grownup Anna knows that the difference was copious butter and salt, plus a healthy hunk of bacon in the beans, but child-Anna only knew that Onie could cook like no one else.  There would be yellow tomatoes with red centers, so juicy they oozed across the plate, and perhaps an ear of sweet corn on the side.  I definitely wanted to be invited to dinner.

At the time when Onie was part of my village, my nuclear family was so dirt poor that all of us were fed free lunches at school.  In fact, I remember my kindergarten teacher giving me a red, hooded cape that I cherished, not realizing she felt me a charity case.  And I remember how much I yearned for the big, beautiful boxes of crayons that the other kids brought out to color with, complete with metallic hues and a sharpener in the back.

Me dreamingLater, I would become saddened by Christmases where the presents were never quite what I asked for.  One year, I yearned for Archie Carr's Handbook of Turtles, and was instead gifted with the larger and more colorful (but harder to read) Encyclopedia of Turtles.  I'm not even sure the issue was so much money as a difficulty deciphering the dreams of a complicated child, but to Onie, I wasn't so complex.  My neighbor saw the silver and gold crayons dancing through my dreams and she gave me the best gift I'd ever received in my young life --- a box of crayons so big the sticks were arranged in stadium seating.  My brother Joey and I would later melt a few crayons on our tin roof, molding them into shapes as glorious as the drawings I made when the crayons were first sharp and new.  That gift may well be the reason I majored in art (as well as biology) when the time came to go to college.


As with her husband, I never really knew Onie as an adult.  When she passed away this week, I hadn't truly visited with her in years.  But my memories of sitting on the ground by her porch and gently massaging sedum leaves into balloons while Onie and Mom visited together will last forever.  And whenever I walk by my touch-me-not flowers that descended from Onie's seeds, I'll think of the colorful woman who once made my dreams come true.  Thank you for the crayons, Onie, and for spreading color and love through my young world.

Posted Fri Jul 18 07:21:56 2014 Tags:

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