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Sep 2015

Most visited this week:

For sale: Your new homestead

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Treating bees with rhubarb

Sep 2014

A year ago this week:

Miter saw weed trimmer

Do it yourself PVC snake pole

Harvesting hazelnuts

Two ways to pluck a duck

Sep 2013

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Beans and nuts

Another Monday, another big harvest push.

Dirty butternuts

Curing butternutsThis week, my primary goal was to completely clear out the main butternut patch to make way for planting an oat cover crop. To that end, I harvested every squash, whether it was ready or not. The few that were still greenish will go to the goats in the near future, so they won't be wasted.

With over sixty new fruits coming in, I had to stand up the previous harvests' butternuts to make way for this week's graduates. The photo at left shows about two-thirds of our butternut harvest to date...but I've still got at least a dozen growing in other parts of the garden.

The good news is that our spoiled goats adore butternuts. Both girls turned up their noses at fresh mangels, Abigail likes carrots while Artemesia is less sure, but chopped, raw butternuts disappear down the goat gullet immediately. I guess I now have about four months of goat concentrates figured out --- excellent!

Field corn

Speaking of goat concentrates, I also harvested my experimental field corn planting. I put in a couple of rows of Nothstine Dent corn this spring mostly because our goats enjoy sweet corn leaves so much. We can only consume so much sweet corn, but I figured a bit of field corn could either feed the goats (if I lower my standards), the chickens, or family members who consume grain. We'll see who these new ears go to and whether the not-quite-so-sugary leaves are as much like goat candy as those of sweet corn.

Newly hatched sparrows

Finally, in unrelated Monday news, Mama Song Sparrow's third hatch is now underway! Two babies grace her hidden nest, deep in the raspberry canes, and both are so tiny they have to be sparrows instead of cowbirds. Here's hoping she has better luck raising her own species this time around.

Posted Tue Sep 1 06:28:50 2015 Tags:
hay bales in the barn

We got our final set of 9 hay bales hauled in today.

The Star Plate barn is full to the brim so these bales will go in the barn.

Posted Mon Aug 31 15:58:21 2015 Tags:

Goat on a stepping stoolThe rallying cry among those of us who ascribe to voluntary simplicity is "Things don't make us happy." Why, then, are materialistic habits so hard to break?

In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky both challenges and supports that rallying cry. She explains that money and possessions do make us happier...for a little while. If you by a brand new car or whatever else you've been craving, then your happiness levels receive an immediate boost. But that boost only lasts for a short period of time, at which point you tend to drop down to your normal happiness level.

Why? Because humans are extremely adaptable. Lose a leg, and within a couple of years the majority of amputees are just as happy as they were pre-surgery. Win the lottery, and that immediate elation is long gone by the end of twelve months. Even getting married --- which I've seen in other studies linked to long-term increases in health and happiness --- is only supposed to raise you above your own average happiness level for about two years.

Chicks on a rampThese examples are all types of hedonistic adaptation --- the human tendency to get used to both positive and negative changes in our lives. The good news is, you can counteract hedonistic adaptation, drawing out the positive effects of everything from that new handbag to that new spouse.

It takes conscious effort to extend the honeymoon period so you can keep savoring and appreciating the wonder of having fun-loving goats and cute, cuddly chicks on your farm, but the project is definitely worth the time. Similarly, if you've got some money to spend and want to go out and buy something new to make you happy, try selecting experiences instead of physical objects, and do so in small doses spread throughout the year rather than in one big chunk.

Or just be aware of your own tendency toward hedonistic adaptation and ask yourself --- "how long will that new wardrobe make me happy, and is that short boost in mood worth the expense?" The awareness just might be enough to help you achieve your goal of voluntary simplicity.

Posted Mon Aug 31 07:13:08 2015 Tags:
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:

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