The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.
Dreaming of a Vetter World

Mark and I recently attended a showing of Dreaming of a Vetter World, with a Q&A by Donald Vetter afterwards. If you've never heard of him, Vetter is a farmer right up Joel Salatin's alley who uses long crop rotations combined with rotational grazing to improve his soil. After decades of this treatment, Vetter's soil can soak in up to eight inches of rain per hour while his neighbors' conventional fields start ponding and eroding after half an inch in a similar time period.

So what does Vetter do to get such great results? He uses a nine-year rotation, a third of which involves cows and pigs on pasture. We'll start with that part --- the soil-building end of the spectrum. After planting a grass/legume/forb mixture, he utilizes rotational grazing for three years, then he tills the rich greenery in.

Next comes the cash crops --- soybeans in year one, corn in year two, then an Ethiopian land race of barley that his sister company (a small-scale, organic grain-processing operation) bags up to sell as bird seed. After a winter of cover cropping combined with fall and winter grazing, it's back to soybeans for a year followed by a final season of popcorn.

Using this rotation, Vetter has added no off-farm inputs for twenty years and sees annual improvement of his soil. He doesn't even buy animal feed --- the waste seeds from his grainary supplement his livestock's dependency on grass. The result is a beautiful permaculture system that runs smoothly...when combined with a lot of hard work.

Posted Thu May 16 15:54:26 2019 Tags:
Berry netting

I wrangled a tour of a 56-year-old garden this week --- such a treat! Shown here is bird netting atop the berry patch, which easily slides into place each season due to applesauce jugs on top of the posts.

Vole protection

Voles are a major issue in this good soil, which makes growing sweet potatoes a struggle. This gardener's solution? She drills lots of small holes in the bottom of big pots, sinks them in the ground, fills them with compost, then adds the sets.

Voles can't get in through the bottom or sides and the raised lip prevents them from running straight in the top. The result is tubers without nibbles --- a relief.

Mini quick hoop

My tour guide also developed her own version of quick hoops, these even quicker than mine since they're one structural piece and can be simply lifted off and set aside. For ultra-early tomatoes, she sets out a couple of plants under her covers and mitigates the temperature further with full jugs of water.

Bicycle wheel chicken tractor

The next innovation is on the chicken side of the property. A welder handy man made this two-part tractor easy to move with the addition of modified bicycle wheels.

Rolling woodbox

Meanwhile, a rolling wood bin keeps interior heating easy for older arms and backs.

Green frogs

"So what was your favorite part? Did any of it give you garden envy?" Mark asked when I got home.

The truth is, the only part of the tour that made me jealous was the darling water garden beside her screened-in summer kitchen. Now that my vegetable patch is smaller, maybe I have time for a little extracurricular gardening?

Posted Fri May 10 12:08:10 2019 Tags:
Early lettuce

We've been in Ohio for a year and a half, but took us six months (most of that winter) to get the fence going so we could safely plant inside. Which means our vegetable garden is just about a year old.

Truck by garden

During that year, I've been learning local biomass sources. Most are higher-carbon and less-aged than I'd prefer, but they make up for what they lack in quality in their quantity and ease of hauling. When the road-clearing crew dumped a huge pile of wood chips right by my garden gate last year, I decided I love being close to a road!

Young garden soil

At the same time, I'm remembering what it was like to plant into young garden soil. Between cover crops and copious additions of organic matter, I'd gotten my Virginia soil primed so growing there was nearly like planting into big mounds of potting soil. Up here, the clay subsoil is close to the surface and the biomass I'm adding is only gradually working its way down through no-till layers of cardboard and newspaper.

Side-dressing with manure

So I garden a little differently. Applying half-composting horse manure/wood chips is acceptable in most garden areas (although the combo did kill a barely-survived-the-winter thyme plant). The trick is to pull the mixture back a bit from the plants (sidedressing instead of topdressing). If possible, I also apply manure at least a month before my planting date.

Vegetable seedlings

I've also been starting more seedlings inside, potting them up into small cups and letting them grow for a few weeks before setting them out into the garden. The reason for this is twofold.

Pea seedlings

First, it's tougher to get seeds to sprout happily in subpar soil (especially since I'm irrigating less now that we're on city water). Second, voles have moved in and are nibbling up young sprouts (especially my peas!). As you can see in the photo above, the ornery rodents ate all of my direct-seeded plants (on the other side of the trellis), while they left older transplants alone.

Strawberry flower

Starting spring crops inside is also handy because the soil takes longer to warm up in Ohio. Our strawberries are just now starting to bloom, two or three weeks later then they tended to in Virginia. That means annuals would also be two or three weeks behind...if I hadn't jumped the gun with early seeding indoors.

Free garden biomass

Of course, that's all short-term fixes that will be in the rear-view mirror in a few short years. To boost our soil's fertility fast, I'm layering huge quantities of organic matter in areas I won't be planting into for several months.

First came the spoiled hay (left) from a local farmer --- she had more of it than I could handle, but I piled up as much as I could to start building the soil. Aisles of wood chips (middle) will feed fertility more slowly, while new beds made of deeply mounded horse bedding/manure (right) will rot down within a few months.

Bathtub worm bin

As if that's not enough, Mark is building me worm bins out of old bathtubs. We'll fill these up with horse manure as well (so easy to accumulate now that it can be scooped into our truck then unloaded directly into our garden on the other end!). By this time next year, we should be overflowing in good, rich compost to feed our dirt.

Posted Wed Apr 24 17:47:19 2019 Tags:
Windy fox

I've been on some pretty amazing adventures since I checked in last. The most inspiring was a five-day wolf-watching trip in Yellowstone National Park (which I blogged about on my werewolf site because, well, wolves).

Mushroom foray

More relevant to this blog is the mushroom foray I attended yesterday in Wildcat Hollow outside of Glouster. This was such a delightful adventure, like an Easter egg hunt in the woods searching for every kind of fungus we could find to be ID'ed by pros then uploaded to a website for inventory purposes.

Devil's urn mushroom

Most of the mushrooms we found were just pretty, like this Devil's Urn. Some weren't even pretty --- drab and dried fruiting bodies from last year. And then there were the medicinal/edibles, about which I took extensive notes.

Dryad's Saddle

I'll start with the Dryad's Saddle, which I'd seen many times before. But I'd never understood that the young ones are such choice edibles, identified both by their unique visuals and also by their even more unique cucumber scent. Chop up any that are tender into thin slices then saute for about ten minutes until well cooked,and I suspect you'll find them as complexly delicious as Mark and I did.

Wood ear mushroom

The Wood Ear is used widely in Asian cooking, so I might have actually eaten this one before without knowing it. It's a jelly-like fungus, growing on live wood. I haven't cooked my sample yet --- tomorrow's experiment!

Deadly Galerina

Do not, however, nibble on these Deadly Galerinas. Their orange-tan color is relatively distinctive and they grow in a similar habitat to the edible Honey Mushrooms. If in doubt, throw it out!

True and false turkeytails

Moving on to medicinals, I enjoyed a side-by-side comparison of False and True Turkeytails, finally wrapping my head around the differences. True Turkeytails are polypores, fuzzy on top and rough on the bottom. False Turkeytails are parchment mushrooms, smooth on both sides. These images are last year's fruits, so both species have faded a lot. But I now feel confident I could pick the True and not the False.

Mushroom identification

The image above is just a small sampling of our haul, shown in all its glory. Martha from the Ohio Mushroom Society rattled off scientific names so fast most went in one ear and out the other. But I joined up and will look forward to learning more during our next foray!

Slug and toadshade

I can't resist ending with at least one of the many stunning wildflowers that graced this trail. Go outside --- it's the most beautiful time of the year!

Posted Mon Apr 15 13:42:45 2019 Tags:

Bug-Free Organic GardeningIt's time to admit it --- I've been holding out on you! I have a new book coming out on April 2...or do I?

Bug-Free Organic Gardening is actually the third edition of The Naturally Bug-Free Garden, with 25% additional content rounding out the hands-on portion of the book. Which means that if you purchased one of the previous editions in ebook-form from Amazon, you should be able to get the updated version for free. I couldn't get Customer Service to push out the update automatically, but if you contact support they can hook you up with the new book file.

You can also nab a paperbook copy now to ship once the book goes live. (It's currently 31% off on Amazon!) Or you can borrow a copy for free via your Kindle Unlimited or Prime subscription.

And now, without further ado, one of the new sections, an interview of Ohio University's professor Arthur Trese:

Ohio University garden

While the permaculture technique of building a bug-resistant ecosystem is inherently appealing, most gardeners will occasionally be forced to lower their standards if they hope to harvest an abundant crop. Scientists have a name for this process of aiming for the stars but accepting reality when necessary—integrated pest management (or IPM for short). In a nutshell, IPM involves understanding how pest insects fit into the ecosystem, using preventative measures like row covers and hand-picking when possible, then hitting population explosions with the lowest levels of effective insecticides when all else fails.

Dr. Arthur Trese of Ohio University's Learning Garden in Athens, Ohio, is a farmer well versed in IPM. He and a small cadre of enthusiastic interns run this 1.5-acre fruit and vegetable plot using vast quantities of elbow grease. Still, there are only so many hours in the day. So they have to work smart to harvest sufficient produce for twice-weekly sales to students, faculty, and members of the broader community.

To that end, Trese and his interns utilize a vast variety of pest-control methods, beginning with smart plantings meant to overcome invasions before they start. For example, summer squashes are set out successionally throughout the season, with older plants quickly transitioning from productive members of the garden community into traps for squash vine borers. Insects lay their eggs on first-generation stems, those vines are removed, then younger plants are left pristine.

Cucumber wilt

Cucumber beetles are a bit trickier since this smaller pest hits the OU garden both hard and fast. To counteract the inevitable invasion, Trese begins with row covers when the plants are young, adding in the organic insecticide spinosad when pest populations start to soar. "We first used Bt in our garden," Trese notes. "But Bt only works on caterpillars. Spinosad is more broad-spectrum and is the only insecticide we currently use on our crops."

Trese has looked into chemical-free alternatives for the pesky cucumber beetles, mentioning pheromone traps that have recently come onto the market. "But traps are expensive," he notes as he pulls out a cucumber vine that succumbed to bacterial wilt borne by the small, yellow beetles. A pragmatist, he understands that sometimes it's better to accept a certain level of losses than to spend more than you earn battling bugs.

Spider flowers

Pragmatism doesn't prevent Trese from focusing on the ecosystem, however. His garden is full of flowers that attract pollinators and act as trap crops to condense problematic insects into one spot. Meanwhile, parasitic wasps are his slow-but-sure solution to cabbageworms on broccoli. "Wasp populations build naturally over the course of the season," Trese notes. "By fall, 80% of the caterpillars on broccoli are affected...but the cabbageworms keep eating anyway."

The caterpillars may eat, but the community does too. And after over a decade managing a garden that produces bags and barrels and bins of produce every week, Trese's integrated approach to pest control has clearly paid off. All it took was a few patches of flowers...and a lot of elbow grease.

Want more bug-free garden tips? Nab your copy of Bug-Free Organic Gardening now!
Posted Mon Mar 18 11:19:04 2019 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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