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Aug 2015

Most visited this week:

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

Electric Club Car trouble

Aug 2014

A year ago this week:

Chicken tractor predator protection

Scarlet runner beans

Slanted roof ceiling fan installation

Learning to cook on a rocket stove

Aug 2013

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Huckleberry love
Huckleberry and his favorite cousin.
Posted Sun Aug 30 14:03:35 2015 Tags:
August harvest

The mercury dropped to 49 this past week, scaring me into thinking fall may be coming along a little faster than usual. Time to double down on preserving basil (the tenderest summer crop) and time to make sure the bees are ready for the winter.

Varroa mite test

I'll delve into the hives to check on winter stores next week, but for now I started with a varroa mite test. I expected the news here to be good since splitting and swarming both lower mite populations dramatically. So I wasn't entirely surprised to find only 5 mites beneath the daughter hive and 11 beneath the mother hive after 48 hours. Looks like our high-class bees came through for us again! (Now, if they'd just make some honey....)

Posted Sun Aug 30 07:25:33 2015 Tags:
covering hay with tarp

The goats have been bad again.

Somehow they figured out how to pull down a hay bale and use it to jump up to the remaining pile of bales.

Maybe this tarp will keep them out?

Posted Sat Aug 29 15:29:03 2015 Tags:
Homegrown roast chicken
"Meat birds, I assume? I am contemplating a small batch, but not sure I want those cornish cross due to all the problems common for them, but is it economical to feed other breeds for a longer time before processing? Red Rangers look good, but the hatchery is out."
--- Deb

It sounds like you and I are on the same wavelength, Deb. Mark and I weren't very impressed with the Cornish Cross we raised last year. Yes, they were economical, but they barely foraged and I felt their meat was only slightly superior to store-bought.

Day one chicks

We've raised Australorps as broilers in the past and felt like their meat was extremely nutritious. But dogs and ducks and other problems meant we didn't have a large enough flock to hatch our own eggs this year. And when I pondered the hatchery catalog, I decided that if I was buying broilers, I might as well try something that would be a bit meatier and (hopefully) more economical. So, like you, we chose Red Rangers, which we reserved in midsummer for a fall broiler run.

Day three chicks

The previous photo showed the chicks the day we brought them home from the post office --- they already looked pretty big and spunky! But the comparison to the photo above, taken two days later, shows that the baby broilers are also growing fast. I plan to let them out on pasture this weekend and will keep you posted on how they fare.

Posted Sat Aug 29 07:36:01 2015 Tags:
ATv lumber

We got the lumber needed for wood shed 2.0 staged today.

Having trouble finding roofing tin in our local area for some unknown reason.

Posted Fri Aug 28 15:27:54 2015 Tags:
Your new homestead

Do you want a beautiful, isolated homestead with the world's best neighbors? Two friends of mine --- Steve and Maxine --- are selling 90 acres and a house for $225,000. If that's too much for you to handle, they're also willing to split the land apart into two parcels, like so:

  • House + 5.4 acres --- $123,000 (Includes fields, woods, pond, spring and fenced yard)
  • 85 forested acres --- $102,000 (Heavily forested land above house to top of Clinch Mountain)
Property closeup

This property belonged to Maxine's mother and is a quarter of a mile from Steve and Maxine's beautiful homestead. Having neighbors who've homesteaded for as long as I've been alive is an invaluable resource that should really be factored into the already low price tag. And even though I can't promise they'll teach you everything they know, I have a feeling the couple would quickly take anyone with an interest in farming under their wings. (They're some of the nicest people I know, are very interested in folks of all shapes, colors, and creeds, and are much less introverted than I am.)

Clinch Mountain

The location is on the Clinch Mountain in Snowflake, Scott County, Virginia, a ten or fifteen minute drive from Gate City and less than half an hour from Kingsport (one of the towns we consider "the big city"). If you're planning on working in the area, chances are you'll be looking in Kingsport or Johnson City, and these towns are also good spots for shopping and entertainment.

Hiking in the fall forest

Land features:

  • Land extends to the top of the Clinch Mountain
  • Pristine forest with old-growth trees, abundant birds and wildlife, rare and endangered plant species. (Editorial note from me: This is a truly beautiful forest! Very steep, though, so you'll be in good shape if you go walking.)
  • Conservation easement on forested acres – protecting forest, mountain springs & reservoir (water supply for the house). This covers Steve and Maxine's property as well, so you won't suddenly be next door to a subdivision or a clearcut no matter how the land changes hands. The easement agreement is available upon request.
  • Three mown fields totaling about 1 acre in combined size – could be grazed or converted to garden space
  • Pond & dock
  • Private road
  • Fenced yard w/electric gate
House for sale

House features:

  • 6 rooms, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths  (1,164 sq. ft.)
  • Custom-built manufactured home (standard building materials)
  • Contractor-built large front porch and one-car garage
  • Red cedar siding
  • Hand-laid field stone over permanent block foundation
  • 30/yr shingles on roof (reroofed about 10 years ago)
  • 10” fiberglass insulation overhead; 4” fiberglass in walls and under floors
  • Heat Pump – relatively new Carrier w/digital thermostat
  • Windows – double glazed w/tilt-in feature for cleaning
  • Handicap assessable 36” doorways
  • Vaulted ceilings w/ceiling fans
  • Sheetrock walls/ceilings throughout
  • Hardwood floors in living room, dining room, hall and closets
  • High-end major appliances – stack washer/dryer, glass-top stove, large refrigerator
  • Tiled kitchen counter; oak cabinets
  • Bathroom #1 - Tiled floor w/ large tile and glass walk-in shower
  • Bathroom #2 – bathtub and stall shower
  • Porcelain sinks & commodes in bathrooms
  • High-speed internet access
Mountain stream

At only $1,200 per acre for the non-house portion, this property is a great deal (and if you get the house, it's move-in ready). So if you're looking for an inexpensive homestead in an area that I consider one of the most beautiful in the world, this might just be it! Contact Steve and Maxine for more information:

Posted Fri Aug 28 07:54:27 2015 Tags:
Manurey straw

This year, our garden has subsisted on 95% homegrown manure. This was more of an access issue than a planned experiment, so I ended up behind and unable to compost the bedding before application. I needed that fertility now rather than later.

As you might expect, my results have been affected by that shortcut --- I figure we're at about 75% productivity compared to previous years when I fed the garden well-composted horse manure. But we're finally caught up, so winter bedding will be composted and hopefully next year we'll be back up to speed. And, just think, homegrown manure means 70% less hauling work, 80% fewer weed invasions, and 100% more control --- a definite long-term plus for our farm!

Germination comparison

Interestingly, there have been some areas in which the uncomposted goat bedding trumped well-composted horse manure. My plan over the summer has been to apply the goat bedding two weeks to one month before planting to ensure there wouldn't be any seedling burn from fresh urine and goat berries. Then, if I was planting something large (like sweet corn), I raked back the manurey straw when I was ready to make planting furrows. If I was planting something smaller like carrots, I raked all of the bedding to the side of the bed, to be pulled back up around seedlings once they sprouted.

The photo above shows two beds planted with carrots on the same day. The bed on the right was topdressed with the last of my stockpiled, well-rotted horse manure. The bed on the left was treated as explained in the last paragraph with goat bedding. I had almost zero germination in the horse manure bed, which has been a common problem in previous years when getting the fall garden going --- small seeds fail to sprout during dry spells, despite what seems to be sufficient irrigation. So perhaps putting horse-manure compost on the surface was the issue all along. I assume the compost sucked up water and made the beds drier on the surface since the bed next door sprouted quite well. In contrast, goat manure on top of the soil kept the ground moist until planting day, then didn't get in the way of seedling germination since I raked the straw to one side.

Mulching asparagus

For new annuals, it's pretty easy to incorporate a waiting step between bedding application and plant growth. But what about when fertilizing perennials who are already in place? I was a bit leery when topdressing fresh goat bedding around our strawberries and asparagus, but I ended up seeing fewer issues than expected. The strawberries, actually had no complaints, presumably since there was already a layer of straw beneath the goat bedding to sop up any high-nitrogen effluent that floated down toward the ground. The asparagus was a bit less pleased, with the youngest fronts showing wilting of the top four inches or so, a clear sign of nitrogen burn.

Since my test asparagus beds showed issues with the straight goat bedding, I'm now trying out plan B on my other asparagus planting. I laid down a section of newspaper (for weed control), then a healthy layer of fresh straw (to buffer the nitrogen), then Mark and I scattered chicken manure from the spring brooder lightly over top. Hopefully the nitrogen will be more asparagus-friendly by the time it reaches the asparagus root zone this time around.

Bowl of beans

The other good news on the manure front is that most of our garden soil is now so good that we're moving out of the renovation stage and into the maintenance stage, meaning that some crops don't need pre-planting doses of manure at all. We no longer feed our beans or peas, and in certain beds I also skip feeding before planting leafy greens. I'm actually starting to imagine a time when the composted manure from two goats, a flock of layers and an annual round of broilers, plus the contributions of our composting toilet will provide more fertility than our farm needs. What a change from the eroded soil that required truckloads of manure before anything would grow at all!

Posted Thu Aug 27 07:40:12 2015 Tags:
new chicks

We picked up our new Fall chicks today.

The Post Office always calls us as soon as they arrive off the truck.

Lucy never gets tired of smelling a new poop filled box.

Posted Wed Aug 26 15:49:24 2015 Tags:
Song sparrow nest in raspberries

It's not as if I go hunting song sparrow nests throughout our yard. But I seem to have found each of our resident pair's nurseries this year.

The newest eggs are secreted away amid the raspberry canes, which I think will be a safer location than round two in the tomatoes. Because I'm pretty sure that my tomato-leaf pruning opened up the former nest too much and allowed a cowbird to lay one or more parasite eggs, which is probably one I found a chick pushed out of the nest and another disappeared days later.

Here's hoping three's the charm for our sparrows and Mama Bird will have a more successful hatch this time around.

Posted Wed Aug 26 07:18:07 2015 Tags:
going back to school with Lucy

I started a Film and Video class at ETSU today and will not be making a blog post on Tuesdays and Thursdays till December.

Posted Tue Aug 25 14:11:43 2015 Tags:

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