The Walden Effect: Homesteading Year 5. Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Homestead Blog


Homesteading Tags

Recent Comments

Blog Archive

User Pages


About Us

Submission guidelines


Oct 2015

Most visited this week:

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Smallest wood stoves

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Automatic chicken door

Oct 2014

A year ago this week:

Trimmer mower line alternative

Cutting oat cover crops for mulch

When's the best time of year to take a soil sample

Best pruning shears

Oct 2013

Walden Effect Facebook page

To get updates by email, enter your email address below:

Cute goat

So, I've been tearing up the virtual pavement trying to find Artemesia just the right date. There was that nice Mini-Nubian buck who wanted her to come stay over for a month...but Abigail and I begged our darling doeling not to go since we would have missed her too much. A high-class Dwarf Nigerian offered to meet Artemesia for a quick hookup, but he never told us his phone number and didn't call back after he saw her online profile. (Poor Artie felt so jilted.) Then there was the blue-collar guy who I was trying to set her up with...until I took a closer look and decided maybe I needed to be thinking about another sort of date entirely.

Goat pooch test

Goat from aboveTwo weeks, ago, the pooch test appeared negative. But now, considering this lineup of goat butts, I'm suddenly 50% sure Lamb Chop actually managed to do the deed in June after all. Meanwhile, my post on a goat forum resulted in two expert opinions, both in favor of Artemesia being knocked up.

Artemesia is a lot rounder lately too, but she and Abigail have been eating more hay since the weather turned wet and I cleared the old stuff out of the manger. I'd say our doeling appears just as big on the right side as the left side at the moment --- inconclusive.

The biggest point in favor of a possible pregnancy is that Artemesia doesn't seem to have come into heat at all this fall. Abigail has --- our usually quiet goat yelled like crazy this week and sported mucous under her tail. But Artie --- usually the chatty one --- has been mild-mannered and quiet for months.

Goat friends

So maybe I have a first freshener on my hands, not a doeling after all? This would be wonderful news --- winter milk starting up just about the time Abigail dries off, plus a doeling who will kid while fat and happy on summer browse.

Depending on whether a Mini-Nubian counts as a standard breed or a miniature breed, Artemesia would be due between November 5 and November 10. Gulp. I'd better start training her to enjoy butternuts and carrots if I want to keep that healthy layer of fat on her back. And if the signs of pregnancy continue to look positive, we can buckle down for the next step --- guessing how many kids will pop out.

Posted Sun Oct 4 07:34:14 2015 Tags:
Anna holding pullet egg

Our new hens started laying two weeks after we installed Christmas lights.

Posted Sat Oct 3 15:44:12 2015 Tags:
Trail blaze

Before I started on my hike, Mark admonished me "You'll stay on the trail, right?"

"Of course I will," I promised. And I really did mean to. The trouble was the blazes.

Actually, I was highly impressed by how well the trail was marked at first. If you understand blazes --- pay attention to the color and look for double-blazes to alert you to an unexpected turn --- following the trail from the High Knob Tower to Edith Gap was child's play.

National forest

Okay, yes, I'll admit that as I got closer to Edith Gap, the trail got slightly trickier. Orange blazes joined the yellow as a horse trail cohabited with my walking trail. And, in some spots, only orange blazes existed to mark both avenues. But after I figured out what was going on, I was okay with that.


The trouble happened when my trail crossed the next forest-service road...and seemed to disappear. While the higher-elevation portions of the Chief Benge trail could just as well have been located in a National Park, this region shows the reality of trail-building in the National Forest --- clearcuts. Through some oversight, a clearcut had been smacked down right in the middle of the trail, meaning that I was suddenly walking through a thicket of five-year-old trees with no blazes in sight. Gulp.

Repaired backpack

Enter my handy, dandy map. When walking over new ground, I try to bring along a high-quality topo map at all times. And here's why --- the visual helped me figure out how to bushwhack in just the right direction so I could meet back up with the trail less than half a mile downstream. Success!

Board walk

I think I probably used more calories during my fifteen minutes being lost than I did during the whole rest of the hike. And since the blazes were suddenly scanty from there on out, I tired myself out yet more wondering if I'd actually found the right trail and was heading in the right direction. Boy was I glad to see this boardwalk at the upper end of Bark Camp Lake, proving that I'd not only guessed correctly, but was also on the home stretch.

Bark Camp Lake
All told, I figure I might have walked about 13 miles that day. There's the half mile round trip from home to car to tack on, plus another mile or so from accidentally going around the long side of both High Knob Lake and Bark Camp Lake. (Oops.)

I'll admit that I wouldn't have wanted to walk longer, and I did end up with tired muscles and sore feet. But I learned that a hike of that magnitude is definitely not beyond my means, which is an empowering feeling.

I do think I'll wait a while before hiking the other half of the Chief Benge trail, though....

Posted Sat Oct 3 07:40:21 2015 Tags:
Martian movie day

We went to see "The Martian" on our last day of staycation.

Science + space travel + humanure = an awesome movie adventure.

Posted Fri Oct 2 18:10:10 2015 Tags:
Benges Trail

Mark made the excellent point that if I was going to challenge myself to a long hike that might push my capabilities, it was best to start as early as possible. To that end, I milked Abigail by flashlight before dawn, and we hit the top of High Knob a bit after 8. The mists were very heavy, so I didn't get to enjoy sunrise from the tower. But I was too excited to care.

High elevation fungi

Instead I walked with a big grin on my face...and photographed fungi. We've had a relatively rainy week down in our valley, but I could tell that High Knob is much wetter than even our soggy farm. How can I tell? I measure overall precipitation for an area by fungal proliferation, and High Knob definitely won out in that department.

(The astute naturalist will notice that there are two lichens above...or at least I think that one in front of my hand is a lichen. But they're related to fungi, so I included them in the collage. Also, don't miss the high-elevation birch polypore in the top shot!)

Fallen tree leaves

I also enjoyed the fact that high-elevation trees are already starting to sport their fall foliage, making the hike particularly beautiful. In fact, I was able to measure my downhill progress by the leaves beneath my feet. Up high, sugar maple leaves coated the forest floor, but I eventually dropped down into the land of tulip-trees, and then walked up onto a drier ridge where blackgums dominated.

Red eft(And, hey, look --- a newt! I actually saw seven of these along the trail.)

My hike was going swimmingly. After a couple of miles, my can-I-do-it? jitters had washed away. My first lunch of two peanut butter apples and my second lunch of homemade mozzarella with peppers, tomatoes, and snow peas hit the spot...especially when washed down with a thawing quart of goat milk. And I could tell that my planned timing --- 2 miles per hour, plus a spare hour for wiggle room --- was going to get me to the destination just a little early. Perfect!

And then I got lost....

Posted Fri Oct 2 06:48:29 2015 Tags:

$10 Root CellarThis is just a quick post to alert you to two special deals. First the freebie --- we ended up with three more boxes of Egyptian onion top bulbs. The first three people to email their mailing address to me at will be the lucky winners of this delicious and easy perennial vegetable! (Unfortunately, we can only mail these within the U.S. --- sorry to our international readers.) The onions are now claimed!

In other news, my $10 Root Cellar ebook is marked down to half price today only. In addition to the project that led to the title, the book includes tips on growing roots, feeding roots to livestock, and much more. I hope you enjoy it!

Posted Thu Oct 1 12:19:04 2015 Tags:
Chief Benge scout trail

The Chief Benge Scout Trail has been calling my name for the better part of a decade. It's a 21ish-mile hike (if you tack on the optional addendums at each end) that begins on the top of a nearby knob and runs down nearly to the valley floor. A fascinating high-elevation ecosystem combined with the fact that you can easily divide the trip in half added to the appeal. So why haven't I hiked it yet?

West half of the Chief Benge Scout Trail

In the first place, the logistics have daunted me a bit in the past. While the trail is very close to our farm as the crow flies, it's at least a 40-minute drive up winding forest-service roads to get to any of the trailheads. And then I started figuring in the extra time it would take to leave a car at one trailhead while being dropped off at another, and the adventure suddenly seemed like less fun.

Long-suffering husband

Enter my long-suffering husband, who volunteered to not only drop me off, but to pick me up too. How could I refuse?

High Knob tower

Oh, yeah, there is the fact that I haven't gone on such a long hike in many years. Sure, I used to log about eight miles a day while carrying a 50-pound pack as a matter of course...when I was 22. But could I still go the distance? Tune in for tomorrow's post to find out.

(In the meantime, if you're local enough to want actual information about the Chief Benge Scout Trail, here's an excellent map and description of the west half.)

Posted Thu Oct 1 06:53:51 2015 Tags:
chicken in motion

Our flock of future layers have developed a bad habit of flying over fences.

It might be a side effect of having multiple breeds in the same coop?

The solution will most likely be a height extension on our 5 foot high fence.

Posted Wed Sep 30 13:55:37 2015 Tags:
Spoiled goat

Our goat pastures are flattish and dryish, but otherwise contain some of our farm's worst soil. Seriously, nothing but black locusts would grow there for the longest time. Even the ground was nearly bare of herbaceous growth (aka grasses and weeds). So I sent away a soil sample last fall, and the results confirmed my suspicions --- this area needs help. The CEC was 7 and the pH was 5.2. No wonder plants kicked the bucket before they had time to get their feet under them.

Deficient comfreyNow, I'd planned to use the fast, traditional approach to solving my acidic-soil problem --- adding lots of lime. But last winter was so wet I would have had to carry dozens of 50-pound bags back to our core homestead on my back. And our local feed stores suddenly only sold dolomitic limestone...which I don't want to apply because our soil is already overfull of magnesium. So I dropped the ball, ahem, decided to experiment with using ruminants to improve the soil.

My experimental protocol was simple --- use this pasture as a sacrifice area over the winter, letting the goats poop there with wild abandon. Then, this summer, I turned our herd of two into the same pasture at least a third of the time, even when the does were clearly too spoiled to eat the grass and weeds growing therein. In other words, I was taking hay from some other farmer along with weeds and tree leaves from our own woods and gardens, passing the plant matter through our goats' bellies, and using their manure to fertilize the pasture's poor soil.

Soil improvement with goatsThe results were astonishing. CEC increased by 30%, percent organic matter improved by 14%, and pH rose to 5.6. And plants also started to grow! Not lush, thriving jungles of weeds the way we see in other parts of our core homestead. But at least I stopped noticing comfrey so deficient in nutrients its leaves were pale yellow.

Meanwhile, calcium levels of the soil also rose, even though I applied no lime. If you're a proponent of remineralization, you want 60 to 70% of the cation exchange sites in your soil to be full of calcium. Pre-goats, our pasture soil was at a measly 33%; now the calcium percentage is 42%.

Maybe in another two or three years, this soil will have been entirely remineralized...all due to kelp-fed goats. Do you think then our darling does will then deign to dine on their own grasses?

Posted Wed Sep 30 06:08:59 2015 Tags:
Mark in the woods

What's the recipe for a perfect staycation? One part adventure, one part spending time with friends and family, and one part relaxation. As with everything else, the trick is finding just the right balance.

Fall leaves on the windshield

It's completely un-homesteading related, but in case you're curious, my goal is to find one interesting event for each day of our week off. To that end, we've visited Bristol Caverns, watched Star Wars episode 1 with Kayla and her husband (working toward my goal of watching all six of the first movies in order before the next comes out), missed the super eclipse due to clouds (oh well!), and had a fun picnic in the park. Today, Mom's coming over, we'll probably head to the movie theater to see The Martian later in the week, and I'm also hoping I'll be brave enough to hike an 11.5 mile trail I've been eying.

And then we'll hit the ground running with renewed vigor when our staycation is over. Already, I can tell that it was a good decision to stay home this year. Ten days of rest with minimal driving is just the ticket to make our homesteading goals and projects come back into focus. And it's fun too!

Posted Tue Sep 29 06:49:05 2015 Tags:

Didn't check back soon enough and unread posts ran off the bottom of the page?  See older posts in the archives.