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Refrigerator root cellar step 1...dig

Smallest wood stoves

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

Refrigerator root cellar vent hole installation

Refrigerator root cellar foundation

Dec 2013

A year ago this week:

Making up our own holidays

Unlearn, Rewild

Refrigerator root cellar power cost

Trellises for living shade on the porch

Testing an old can of fuel

Dec 2012

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Honeysuckle on an ironwood

For the last month or so, I've been taking the goats out for a half-hour honeysuckle walk after my own lunch. As a result, our woods are becoming considerably less green.

Not long ago, Mom emailed me to share her concern that I might denude our forest of honeysuckle. She's right --- I probably will. Whether that will actually be a bad thing, though, remains to be seen.

Japanese honeysuckle is an invasive species here in the U.S., and it can actually strangle trees when the vine's growth is particularly luxuriant. The photo at the top of this post shows an ironwood that was sturdy enough to handle several thick honeysuckle vines, but for every tree like this, there are two or three that I end up just cutting down rather than pulling the vines out of their canopies --- the tree is simply too mangled to survive.

Honeysuckle eater

Of course, that's just looking at the forest --- what about the goats? Our girls do seem to be thriving on a diet rich in honeysuckle (although, when given the choice, Abigail still makes a beeline for the garden to munch on half-dead oat stalks). In fact, when I look back at photos from two months ago, our girls look like entirely different goats, and I don't think all of their new bulk is due to their thick winter coats.

So what will we do once we run out of honeysuckle? I have various thoughts in mind for next winter, and they mostly revolve around cover crops. This fall, our girls liked oilseed radishes okay and loved oats, and they currently like rye pretty well. Since those cover crops have prime green periods that span October, November, and December, that would be a good start for providing our girls with some early to mid-winter fodder, as long as I plant quite a bit more of the last two. I suspect it would be thinking too big to say that I'll replace most or all of this winter's store-bought hay with homegrown cover crops for next year, but we should definitely be able to provide our goats with that essential half-hour nibble of green!

And, in the meantime, I'll keep pulling honeysuckle out of the trees. I suspect that both trees and goats will appreciate the gesture.

Posted Mon Dec 22 07:59:47 2014 Tags:
biochar sifter

Collecting charcoal from wood stove ashes is easy with a DIY charcoal sifter.

We've been using this simple design for 4 years with no problems.

Posted Sun Dec 21 13:04:14 2014 Tags:
Skirting the trailer

It's that time of year when homesteaders like me start to dream of new and crazy garden ideas. With the success of last year's shade trellis plantings under my belt, I'm considering two new planting beds encompassing the rest of the south-west side of the trailer and the entirety of the west side (where we have a big bay window at the edge of the kitchen). As usual, there are some restrictions and goals to keep in mind as I assess these areas:

  • I can't put any woody perennials right up against this side of the wood-stove alcove because that's where we set the ladder during Mark's annual chimney cleaning expedition. Perennials that die back to the ground or annuals are fine, though.
  • My main goal is to provide summer shade, which can be supported by an overhead trellis for the south-facing spot, but should be a vertical wall for the west-facing spot since light and heat from the setting sun streams in those windows during the summer.
  • Edibles are always top priority, but a few flowers would be nice.
New plantings

The photo above shows my current thoughts for filling in these two zones. Rather than building an overhead trellis along the south-facing wall (since I think Mark would hit his head on it while climbing the ladder), I'm thinking of a temporary trellis like we use for peas, perhaps populated with the scarlet runner beans that did so well for us this past summer. As an added color boost, maybe I'll scatter in some sunflowers or Jerusalem artichokes?

I'm still indecisive about the west-facing bed. On the one hand, I'd originally thought of putting grapes there like we have growing up to our first shade trellis, but we'd have to trellis these grapes vertically rather than horizontally in order to block the setting summer sun...and that much trellis might also block our winter views. Perhaps some closely-planted pear trees could provide that vertical growth just as quickly...but would the trees be leafy enough to block significant amounts of sun? Maybe bamboo would do better for speed of growth and sun blockage, although the species might keep its leaves during the cold season and reduce winter visibility even more than grapes would. What do you think?

Shade trellisAs for this past summer's experimental area, the bed now has a grape vine at each end, but I'll probably plant scarlet runner beans there for one more year as well while waiting for the grapes to fully colonize their overhead trellis. I'm starting to change this area over to a fully perennial bed, though, with the addition of sage, columbine, foxgloves, and some crocuses that I accidentally dug up while terraforming the forest garden. My goal is to have the bed become a profusion of blooms and fruits in a few years with little or no work on my part --- it's off to a good start!

Posted Sun Dec 21 07:57:19 2014 Tags:

close up of very cold water
Our Cinder Block stepping stones are a little over three years old now and starting to show signs of wear from the constant water pressure.

If we're smart we'll get around to securing the steps that have a wobble before Mother Nature resets that portion of the creek back to like it was before.

Posted Sat Dec 20 14:28:29 2014 Tags:
Winter hike

"Do you want me to come over this week?" Kayla asked on Monday.

"Of course," I replied. "How does Thursday sound?"

"But that's your birthday," Kayla rebutted. "Mark won't let you work on your birthday."

She was so right. In fact, after we came back home that day and Mark posted about our adventure, my father (who knows us both far too well), emailed to say: "Glad  Mark got you out."

Gee, how did everyone guess that I'd originally planned to split some wood and then spend a few hours writing as my birthday activities of choice?

As a thank-you for his fun-filled nudge, I told Mark that he's in charge of deciding what we do on Christmas. Any guesses what he'll come up with next?

I sure am lucky to have a husband who reminds me how to play!

Posted Sat Dec 20 08:12:18 2014 Tags:
new shade trellis area
Our first shade trellis turned out so well we decided to start version 2.0.
Posted Fri Dec 19 15:31:32 2014 Tags:
Greywater wetland in winter

One of our readers asked for an update on our greywater wetland and I'm glad she did. There are two kinds of projects that I seldom post followups about here on the blog --- ones that fail unspectacularly and ones that work so well I never have to think about them again. Our greywater wetland falls into the latter category.

Specifically, Kathleen asked:

"I wonder, do you ever get a foul smell from stagnant water? Do you send big chunks down the "drain" and do you do anything to winterize your system?"

We did have a short period the first summer when we smelled a bit of stagnant water wafting back up the pipes...but before we got around to fixing the problem, nature took over. I assume the right bacteria colonized the wetland and broke down the odor-causing problem, because we didn't notice a troubling smell again.

In terms of sending big chunks down the drain, we don't do so on purpose (like you might with a garbage disposal unit in a modern sink), but we also aren't careful when letting Looking down into the greywater wetlanddishwater drain out, so some pretty big chunks do get through. Due to our big pipes, and perhaps to the roof water I channeled in to flush out those pipes every time it rains, we haven't had any problems resulting from food chunks causing blockages.

Finally, no, we don't winterize our system in any way. Water is more likely to stand in the wetland over the winter, but it still sinks in pretty quickly, and we haven't noticed any problems. Overall, I'd say this is a system that you should feel free to replicate exactly as we built it --- it's an awesome addition to our farm, and the cattails are both pretty and (as we learned this fall) can be fed to goats when fresh and green. What's not to love?

Posted Fri Dec 19 07:39:22 2014 Tags:
St Paul Falls overlook
We hiked the St Paul Falls overlook trail this afternoon for Anna's Birthday.
Posted Thu Dec 18 16:59:36 2014 Tags:
Book giveaway

It's time for me to make a little extra space on my shelves...which means one lucky reader is going to have a very special Christmas present show up in their mailbox next week. The seven books and one DVD below have a value of $166, and if you enter this week's giveaway, you can win all eight:

In exchange, I hope you'll help me plug this week's sale --- I've marked the two books in my Permaculture Gardener series (Homegrown Humus and The Naturally Bug-Free Garden) down to 99 cents apiece this week. I'd like to move a lot of copies so the books move up the rankings and are more visible to folks unwrapping kindles this Christmas, so any word-spreading you do would be much appreciated.

Here's the giveaway widget --- thanks in advance for joining in the fun!

Posted Thu Dec 18 07:00:23 2014 Tags:
Lucy and the Chipmunks
Alvin will not be making it home for Christmas this year.
Posted Wed Dec 17 15:08:23 2014 Tags:

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