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Smallest wood stoves

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Pies in progress

I know, I know, pies are meant to be round. But this Thanksgiving, pies are squared (or at least rectangular). In the past, I've carefully carried pies out across our floodplain...only to find specks of mud atop my perfect crust or meringue once we reached our destination. Not this year! Instead, I've upgraded to lidded casserole dishes...which have the added benefit of making a very deep-dish pie.

I hope your pies are similarly mud-free! Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted Thu Nov 27 07:35:02 2014 Tags:
chainsaw sharpening stone in action

I was skeptical about how well the shapening stone on the Oregon battery powered chainsaw would work, but I've used it several times now and it really makes the chain sharper with just a short pull on the sharpening lever.

Posted Wed Nov 26 16:16:49 2014 Tags:
Fruiting high density pears

In an earlier post, I teased you by saying that next year's high-density experiment will veer off in an entirely new direction. But, really, it's the same experiment...just with a different species of tree.

High-density apple orchards have become big business in the U.S., but at this time, pears are mostly grown in a more traditional, spaced-out setting. However, one report I read mentioned that high-density pear plantings are already common in Europe, suggesting that close plantings can be appropriate for this other pome as well. Since I have several additional pear varieties that I want to try out but not enough space for several additional full-size trees, I figured --- why not experiment with a high-density planting for pears?

The best option for high-density pear trees appears to be a 4-foot spacing with the limbs tied down to 45 degrees below the horizontal. To make this work, the New York State Horticultural Society experimenters recommend using semidwarf rootstocks like OHF87, which appeared to be quite acceptable in high-density plantings during the eight years of their study (and, the author thought, most likely also for the entire life span of the orchard). I ended up buying OHF513 instead for my own planting since the nursery I wanted to order from uses this similarly-sized rootstock rather than OHF87, so I guess in a few years I'll be able to report on how well OHF513 does for high-density plantings.

High density pears

There are a few downsides to high-density pear plantings that aren't a factor when similar strategies are used on apples. First, the fruits on high-density pear trees tend to be on the small side, and pear rootstocks also aren't as precocious as those used to dwarf apples. As a result, the high-density pear researchers found that, even when planting feathered trees, you really shouldn't expect your first small pear crop until the third year after planting, and major production won't begin until the fourth year. If you're starting with rootstocks that you graft at home, you should add another year onto that figure, meaning that we probably won't see any pears from our planned row until about 2018.

But what could be more fun than grafting five little pear trees and setting aside another garden row for planting out the young trees at this time next year? Nothing! So, of course, I have to give it a shot.

Posted Wed Nov 26 08:05:38 2014 Tags:
Disgruntled quick hoop

Wind chimesWe live deep down in a valley (known locally as a holler) where we seldom feel breezes and even less seldom are faced with strong winds. So...I get lazy. I lay down cardboard kill mulches with just a rock or two to weigh the sheets down (if that), and this fall I minimized the number of bricks holding down the sides of our quick hoops to a mere six per 15-foot span.

But I've noticed recently that big changes in temperature do bring winds, even down here in our holler. And those roaring winds toss cardboard around the yard and whip right through lazily built quick hoops. The results are shown above.

When I went out to fix my quick hoops Monday afternoon, though, I still didn't increase the brick count. With one wind rushing through our valley already this winter, chances are we won't see another until March.

Posted Tue Nov 25 07:40:18 2014 Tags:
pulling honeysuckle vines from top of tall tree

The trick to pulling honeysuckle vines from tall trees is pressure.

Pull too quick and the leaves can strip off.

A slow and steady pace seems to yield the best results.

Posted Mon Nov 24 14:35:01 2014 Tags:

Chicken booksThe chicken-lovers among you will be thrilled to hear that I'm celebrating Thanksgiving early by putting my chicken books on sale! But before you go nodding off, you can get the first book without plunking down a cent --- The Working Chicken is currently free on Smashwords and at Barnes & Noble. Find out why hard-nosed homesteaders don't name their chickens and much more in this photo-rich introduction to backyard chicken care.

If that introduction tempts your appetite, my more in-depth series, Permaculture Chicken, includes three books bound to make your chicken-keeping adventure run more smoothly. And each ebook is marked down to 99 cents this week --- buy them all and save 74%! Here are the links: Permaculture Chicken: Incubation Handbook, Pasture Basics, and Thrifty Chicken Breeds. Maybe next year you can grow your own free-range chicken for Thanksgiving!

Thanks for reading! And if you like what you read, why not make my day by leaving a review?

Posted Mon Nov 24 07:00:07 2014 Tags:
mark New tricks
making a door to block cats from hallway

This is the first year we've trained Huckleberry and Strider to be good in the morning.

They've had to sleep on the porch at night due to Huckleberry's problem of waking everybody up at the crack of dawn.

With this new hallway door we block off his chance to be a morning cat.

Posted Sun Nov 23 15:15:21 2014 Tags:

Dwarf apple rootballAlthough it's a little premature to count our two-year-old high-density apple experiment as a success (since frost nipped all of the blooms this spring), I'm feeling very positive about the system. Planting the apple trees close together allows me to try out lots of different varieties, which in turn makes it easy to select varieties that resist cedar apple rust and our other local bugaboos. The high-density row doesn't take up much precious garden space, and the summer pruning (although frequent) is simple and fun. No wonder Mark and I chose to plant two more high-density apple rows this fall!

With this second planting, I'm experimenting in three different directions. Two years ago, I mostly chose trees grafted onto Bud 9, M26, and Geneva 11 rootstock, meaning that the trees are true dwarfs, but I also included two trees on a semi-dwarf (MM111) rootstock. The semidwarf trees grew very well...but they've already gotten quite a bit bigger than their neighbors. So, when I grafted Planting an apple treeonto MM111 for some of this year's new trees, I expanded the within-row spacing to 6 feet, hoping that the additional elbow room will help our semidwarf apples achieve their full potential while still toeing the high-density line. I also plan to train the MM111 trees' limbs down considerably below the horizontal this time around, which I was a bit more cautious about in previous years but which I've since decided is definitely a good option for high-density apples in the backyard.

I also opted to branch out and try yet another rootstock this year --- M7, which will produce trees midway in size between the true dwarfs on Bud 9 and the semidwarfs on MM111. My M7 trees went into the ground at 53-inch spacing but will otherwise be treated the same as the MM111 trees. I'll be curious to see, over the next few years, which rootstock turns out to be the best fit for high-density plantings on our farm. It's a bit of a tradeoff --- the more dwarfing the rootstock, the more precocious the tree, meaning that we'll get more fruits faster. But, at the same time, truly dwarf rootstocks have a hard time growing if you don't give them constant TLC, and a few of the trees in my original planting (on Geneva-11 or Bud 9 rootstock) did fail to thrive. Hopefully, either the M7 or MM111 trees (or both) will provide a happy middle ground --- apple trees that do pretty well without watering and other bonus attention, but that also produce within a few years after planting.

Espaliering an apple

I've read lots of good and bad about espaliers (my third high-density apple experiment), so I earmarked only one tree for this final endeavor. I settled on an informal design set against the south side of our front porch and began by bending the young tree so the top was nearly horizontal. As watersprouts inevitably pop up from the flattened trunk, I'll probably bend them at a 45-degree angle to create a type of lattice pattern...or whatever seems to make sense from the growth pattern of the tree. Since I'm far from confident that my espalier will thrive, though, I chose our Chestnut Crab for the experiment ---after all, I'm mostly growing this sweet crabapple variety out of sentimental attachment to a similar tree of my youth, so I won't feel too bad if I don't get high yields.

I'll keep you posted on all three new plantings in the years ahead...and hopefully will be able to report in summer 2015 about our first big crop from our older high-density planting. In the meantime, stay tuned for another post about next year's high-density experiment, which will veer off in yet another direction.

Posted Sun Nov 23 07:33:00 2014 Tags:
apple planting day

I was a little worried about having the goats grazing on oats so close to our new apple trees, but it seems like they're not interested in anything with bark yet.

Posted Sat Nov 22 15:15:08 2014 Tags:
Goats eating honeysuckle

So, my goats-in-the-woods experiment lasted all of about two hours. I let the girls loose, settled down to write...and soon heard Artemesia yelling at the top of her lungs. Abigail had circled around to the part of our boundary that has the lowest fence and had hopped right over, but our doeling's stubby little legs didn't allow her to follow. I guess it's a good thing that Artemesia is part Nubian since there was no missing her anguished yells as she was left Dwarf doelingbehind. Or maybe our doeling was just telling on her big sister? Either way, I pulled Abigail out of the garden before she could do any damage, then I stuffed both goats back into the pasture with the honeysuckle trees shown above.

For experiment number two, I decided to open the door on the far side of the starplate coop, meaning that our goats would have to walk through some rough terrain to circle around the fenced pastures and reach our core homestead. Sure enough, when I came back from walking Lucy, I discovered that our goats had decided to explore in the opposite direction. But Artemesia was yelling again, and I got worried (even though our doeling sometimes just likes to yell) and went to see what was up. No one was in trouble, but both goats followed me right home, negating that experiment.

Doe with horns

Next, I decided to try tethering Abigail on the far side of the starplate coop. I figured that Artemesia would stay close to her companion, and that everyone would be happy. So when I heard non-Nubian yelling I guessed that our doe must have gotten her chain hung up. Nope. Artemesia had decided to wander far afield in search of honeysuckle, and her big sister was having a fit at being left alone. So, once again, I stuffed the girls back into the pasture for safe keeping. I guess they're stuck eating hay now except when I take them out on monitored walks...unless I come up with another supposedly bright technique for letting them run wild in the woods.

Posted Sat Nov 22 08:06:06 2014 Tags:

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