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Aug 2014

Most visited this week:

Building a bee waterer

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

How to help chicks during hatching

Aug 2013

A year ago this week:

Polaris engine braking system

Heirloom apple tastings

Rabbit dinner

Best chicken nest box dimensions

Aug 2012

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Goldenrod leatherwing

Insects on echinaceaThis week, the world seems to be chock full of soldier beetles.  Specifically, these goldenrod leatherwings are in a mating frenzy --- I counted half a dozen on just a few echinacea flowers on Wednesday afternoon.

With nearly 500 species of soldier beetles in the U.S., gardeners aren't likely to learn them all by name.  But I'm pretty sure all of the soldier beetles are either innocuous or beneficial (although some of their larvae are minor problems on fall fruits).

Feeding soldier beetle

The beneficial species are handy because the larvae eat slugs and snails while the adults consume aphids.  Other species (like the goldenrod leatherwing) seem to fixate on nectar instead, but the world can't have too many pollinators!

(Yes, this post is just an excuse to share pretty bug photos.  What can I say --- they're cute!)

Posted Thu Aug 28 07:07:02 2014 Tags:
Chevy S-10 truck stuck in the mud with me and Frankie looking at it

Our neighbor with a tractor has agreed to help us get the truck unstuck.

Today we just looked it over and developed a plan.

With any luck it will continue to dry up and make things a little easier.

Posted Wed Aug 27 15:42:37 2014 Tags:
August lunch

August is probably the tastiest time of the year on our farm.  This week, we've enjoyed the first lettuce and red peppers, and the fall round of red raspberries are starting to be nearly as copious as the blueberries we've been enjoying for weeks.  Three cups of berries per day make perfect desserts.

Celeste figWe're still eating tomatoes and cucumbers and watermelons (although they're starting to decline), and have plenty of summer squash, green beans, and Swiss chard that will continue to go the distance.  We're nearly at the end of our spring cabbage and carrots (which currently live in the crisper drawer of the fridge), but fall crops are all growing like gangbusters and promise to replace the spring round soon.  In fact, I saw the first pea flower Monday!

What am I watching with an eagle eye?  Our fig bushes!  Last year, the first fig ripened up at the very beginning of September, and I'm looking forward to tasting the first few Celeste figs (along with bowlsful of Chicago Hardy) later this year.

What are you enjoying and looking forward to seeing soon in your own garden?

Posted Wed Aug 27 06:56:27 2014 Tags:
making a firewood guide for a garden wagon

I installed a firewood guide on our steel crate garden wagon today.

The small and medium slots will help us cut up all the fallen limbs we have.

Posted Tue Aug 26 15:47:30 2014 Tags:
Rocket stove

Our power was out for about 21 hours Sunday afternoon through Monday morning.  That seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out the new rocket stove that our neighbor gave us!

Stovetec rocket stove

I'd like to be able to tell you "I only needed two sticks of wood to scramble our breakfast eggs," but the truth is that this first iteration of rocket-stove cookery was a learning experience.  What I mostly learned is that damp wood doesn't fly in rocket stoves --- I didn't really get the fire blazing until I tracked down the piece of kindling in the middle of the photo above, which had been sitting in our woodshed for a couple of years and was bone dry.  The sticks that have been drying on the porch for a week mostly smoldered instead of burning.

Perhaps because I only ended up using one dry piece of wood, the temperature in the skillet on top of the rocket stove never got warmer than what equates to about medium on our electric range.  That's fine for scrambling eggs, and would be great for things like soups, but for my next experiment I look forward to trying out the skirt that fits around a pot to increase the stove's efficiency by 25%.  I also want to get a more solid handle on exactly how much wood the rocket stove consumes, although I have to say that I'm already impressed in that regard.

Rocket stove on cinderblock

What was the biggest surprise about making breakfast on the rocket stove?  How much I enjoyed the fire therapy!  Usually, I get a little cranky during power outages due to internet deprivation, but a dose of fire first thing in the morning instead set me singing happily as I weeded the garden.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that our Cyberpower Battery Backup combined with my laptop battery means I can enjoy about an hour and a half of blogging time even while the grid is down.

In case you're curious, everything in the freezer stayed frozen during the outage, despite highs that nearly reached 90.  If the juice had stayed off for more than 24 hours, though, we would have topped off the cold with our generator.

Posted Tue Aug 26 07:21:09 2014 Tags:
hauling 7.5 cubic feet freezer with ATV

Five years ago we hauled a freezer twice this size with the golf cart.

That was during a rare dry spell. The golf cart wouldn't have made it on a day like today and I think we maxed out our ATV carrying capacity with this 7 cubic foot IDYLIS.

A 10 percent discount for veterans along with free delivery made this a sweet deal.

Posted Mon Aug 25 15:24:11 2014 Tags:
Honeybee on Joe Pye Weed

The bees haven't managed to do any extra comb-building this week, as evidenced by a photo up through the bottom of the daughter hive.  Sure, there are scads of flowers available at the moment, but bees can't fly when it's raining every day.  Luckily, both of Worker beesour colonies have socked away so much honey that they could probably coast until winter if they had to.

Honey is on my mind because this is the time of year to start thinking about the hives' winter survival.  But survival through the cold months doesn't just mean honey stores.  Varroa mites can be a huge drain on a hive's resources in the winter, and the populations sometimes balloon in late summer and early fall.  So I like to do a mite check in August, another in September, and one more in October just to make sure the colonies are on track.  Our two hives passed with flying colors during this first round --- the daughter hive dropped two mites per day while the mother hive dropped 1.3 mites per day, far below the worrisome threshold.

What will we do if mite levels rise over time?  We already use a lot of the methods of varroa-mite treatment/prevention listed here.  Last year, we tried out treating bees with powdered sugar as well, but I don't think I'd do that again --- it could be just a coincidence, but the hive dosed with sugar is the only one where I've ever had a colony abscond in the fall.  Instead, I might try the rhubarb trick that an old-timer recently shared with me.  Better yet, here's hoping our hygenic bees will groom off so many varroa mites that I won't have to do anything at all.

Posted Mon Aug 25 07:01:22 2014 Tags:
how to mount a ceiling fan on a slanted roof

We recently decided our front porch would be a good place for a small ceiling fan.

How do you install a ceiling fan on a slanted roof?

Level the ceiling fan mounting kit at the opposite angle before securing it.

Posted Sun Aug 24 16:21:16 2014 Tags:
Scarlet runner beans

I'm intrigued by the potential of the scarlet runner beans I'm growing for the first time this year.  I planted them for quick shade along the south face of the trailer while the perennial vines get established, but I was soon taken by the way the orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds (plus bumblebees, butterflies, and other insects).  And now I'm wondering whether biomass production might not really be scarlet runner beans' primary selling point.

Seven weeks ago"Those plants are like annual kudzu!" I told Mark at lunch yesterday, and he asked me why I was being so mean to the beans.  But, the truth is, I was paying them a compliment.  If the species wasn't the scourge of the South, kudzu would have a lot going for it from a permaculture perspective due to its ability to fix nitrogen, to thrive in poor soil, and to grow extremely quickly.  Scarlet runner beans seem to share many of the same traits, as you can see by comparing the two photos above --- the top picture was taken this weekend while the second photo is from only seven weeks earlier.  Since scarlet runner beans are annuals instead of perennials, they can put out this crazy amount of weekly growth with much less risk of the beans taking over the world.

Cover crop polyculture

Since our soil is getting richer by the year, meaning we can grow more food in less space, I've been tossing around ideas for what to do with the freed up growing room.  One big goal is to grow more of our own compost and mulch.  To that end, I'm experimenting with some plants that I wouldn't quite call cover crops since they don't out-compete weeds, but which might mix together to make a prime compost pile.

Insects on bean flowersThe photo above shows this summer's experiment of sunflowers and sorghum, with oilseed radish planted around the roots of the left-hand bed for weed control.  Perhaps the relatively woody stems of sunflowers will combine with the high-nitrogen vines of scarlet runner beans to create good compost?  As a lazy gardener, I'd love it if the compost could be made in place --- just toss the plant carcasses on top of a garden bed in the fall and let them rot into compost by spring while shading out weeds in the process.

It seems like I've always got exciting cover crop experiments in the works.  That's the sign of a geeky gardener --- she's drawn to the buckwheat being grown for soil improvement before she takes a look at your tomatoes.

Posted Sun Aug 24 08:02:01 2014 Tags:
goats from chicken cam

I've looked at a lot of chicken cam set ups over the years and have not been impressed with any until I found Terry Golson's

What's it take to keep 4 live streaming cameras going in a barnyard environment
? Terry's husband does an excellent job explaining the not so easy IT details that make such a project possible.

They've also got goats to keep their flock of over a dozen chickens entertained.

Posted Sat Aug 23 16:23:26 2014 Tags:

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