I'm stealing Mark's spot
to hit up our readers for timely advice. This morning, I became
convinced that Abigail was going into labor, but now I'm not sure if
what I'm seeing counts as contractions. At intervals, I'll see a ripple
slide across her baby bump, often with a bulgy kid-part pushing out in
an ungainly fashion. Once, I put my hand there and felt a hard kid hoof.
Is this simply kids repositioning pre-labor, or do those movements
count as contractions?
Other signs of imminent
delivery abound. I caught Abigail arching her back like a cat once this
morning, she's been yawning frequently, and she seems intent upon
scratching the top of her head against the fence. Actually, our usually
standoffish goat even came over and lay down right in front of me, then
put her head in my lap asking for a head scratch. Meanwhile, Abigail has
also been adamantly chasing our little doeling out of her immediate
vicinity. Otherwise, though, she seems content to eat hay and chew her
cud as usual.
So, what do you think ---
should I be camping out in the starplate coop and locking our doe in
her kidding stall, or relaxing until tomorrow?
One of the soil additives
that I'm researching this year for my upcoming book is bokashi --- a
method of composting food scraps in a sealed five-gallon bucket at high
speeds with little or no smell. The jury's still out on whether this is a
trendy technique primarily of interest to apartment dwellers, or
whether land-based homesteaders should also give it a try. I suspect that after reading the book and doing a few experiments of my own, I'll be far more loquacious about my feelings on the topic.
In the meantime, I
followed some internet instructions to make a starter culture out of one
cup of whey drained from plain yogurt, one cup of molasses, and six
cups of warm water. Soaking newspaper in this mixture, letting the
excess water drain off, then sealing the wet newspaper in a ziplock bag
to ferment on top of the fridge for two weeks is supposed to create a
bokashi-like starter culture (although author Adam Footer believes that
this culture isn't as high quality as the store-bought cultures some
use). Mark's trying to talk me into buying some of the official starter
culture too as a side-by-side comparison, which does sound like a useful
way to dip into the advance from my publisher.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you. Have you tried bokashi? What
did you feel were the pros and cons of the composting technique?
Plate roof seems to handle snow a little better than the barn.
The steep angle produced
twice as much clearing when the barn roof tended to accumulate more
each snow episode we've had.
you don't want to destroy soil texture, burn up organic matter, and
decimate your microorganism population by plowing or tilling the soil,
what do you do to counteract compaction? Of course, your first step
should be not to allow compaction to begin in the first place. I've
trained everyone in our household (except Huckleberry) to only walk on
our permanent aisles, staying out of the growing beds in our garden, and
that goes a long way toward keeping soil compaction to a minimum. In
addition, if you're not tilling, you're unlikely to be working the soil
during wet weather --- another leading cause of compaction.
Still, who knows what
happened to your ground before you moved in? Our core homestead was
seriously overfarmed a few decades ago, and I can guess where permanent
pastures once existed based on barbed wire that we're still digging out
of the ground. Given the wetness of our homestead, I wouldn't be
surprised if cows (the most likely animals to have been grazed here)
seriously pugged winter soils, repeatedly treading the mud until all of
those essential pores between soil particles collapsed.
you suspect compaction, there are a variety of remedies available for
the no-till gardener. Adding lots of organic matter never hurts and can
greatly improve your soil structure when earthworms collect the compost
or mulch and bring it deep into the soil, leaving handy channels for air
and water in the worms' wake. Oilseed radishes
and some other cover crops (such as alfalfa) are often planted for
their tillage traits since the roots extend deep in the soil, then rot
and create organic-matter-lined pathways much like the ones earthworms
And then there's the
broadfork. Given my penchant for winter digging, I've always eyed this
tool speculatively, but the high price tag turned me off since I wasn't
certain that my soil really needed the help. Still, leaving broadforks
out of my upcoming soil book seemed like a major oversight, and when one of the bloggers I follow did all of the research for me and determined that Meadow Creature
offers the best model in the U.S., I was sold. When I learned that
Meadow Creature was willing to send me a review copy to try out, I was
even more thrilled.
big question then became --- which size broadfork should I choose?
Meadow Creature offers three versions, each of which is a little bit
bigger and heavier (and will also reach deeper into the soil) than the
last. Margot Boyer at Meadow Creature wrote, "The 14" is our best
seller; it weighs 20 pounds and provides deep cultivation in an
ergonomic design. The 12" is also popular, especially with people who
are 5'4" or under --- at 15 lbs it's easy for most folks to use and
still digs deeper than any other forks we're aware of. I'm not
suggesting the 16" size; it's a heftier tool and of interest mainly to
After talking it over
with Mark, I finally settled on the smaller size. Yes, I consider myself
to be pretty strong, but I'm also short and I know that the 17-pound t-post driver
is right at the upper limit of my strength for repeated use. Plus,
experience has proven that tools are much more likely to be used if
they're easy to handle and fun.
Which is all a long way
of saying that, once the snow melts and my new toy arrives, I'll be
improving the structure of my garden beds with a broadfork this spring!
I'll probably begin by hitting just half of most beds the first time
around so I'll be able to report how much of a difference the broadfork
action makes on this year's plant growth. Stay tuned for updates!
The extreme cold temperatures
have caused one of our doors to warp.
We fixed it with some foam
weatherstrip seals, but might have to upgrade the door if our Winters
get much more extreme.
I give myself about a
week of wiggle room in my planting calendar, figuring that a few days
early or late won't impact the seedlings much and can allow me to fit
each planting into a much more favorable weather period. On the other
hand, I sometimes use that week of wiggle room for the sake of my own
sanity instead. For example, I planted a flat of tomatoes, borage, and
cabbage a little earlier than I'm supposed to as a way of keeping the
is-it-really-still-white-outside? blues away. Huckleberry was less than
impressed at the way I continue to fill up the sunniest spots with
seedling flats, but I reminded him that he's not really supposed to sit
on the table anyway.
The previous round of seedlings
are doing well, with only the fennel yet to sprout. Age might be a
factor, but it's also possible that the fennel are just taking longer
than the members of the mint family --- after all, my lovage seedlings
only started poking out of the ground a day or two ago.
I did go through and thin the faster sprouters, slaughtering hundreds of
baby seedlings in one fell swoop. I hadn't expected to have such
near-perfect germination rates!
I've also been pleased to
see absolutely no damping off, which could be due to a number of
factors. Honestly, I think the most relevant is the time of year and
weather --- my earliest plantings often tend to skip that problematic
fungus, presumably because it hasn't woken up in the wild yet. But it
can't hurt that I've been soaking the seedling flats in bleach water before planting,
and that I've been more careful about taking off the clear lids as soon
as I notice the first sign of germination. The latter technique lets
the surface of the soil dry out just enough to keep seedlings happy but
fungi out of the picture.
I've still got a flat of broccoli to plant, but I finally ran out of non-frozen stump dirt.
I'll probably break down and buy a bag of potting soil from the store,
but that's a slippery slope --- with unlimited soil, I go a little
crazy, and there are only so many sunny windows to go around. In fact,
Huckleberry thinks I'm already past quota! Maybe I'll have to pull out
the seedling card table sooner rather than later.
We ended up damaging our
truck battery with all the recent draining and jumping and had to
replace it with a new one..
disconnect switch is
working out nicely as long as I remember to turn the knob each time I
After a warm weekend that
began to thaw our accumulated snow, another couple of inches of snow
fell Tuesday and set back my belief that spring will actually come. The
solution? Ignore the outdoors and write!
I'm working on two
different projects at the moment, and am hoping to pick our readers'
hive mind about both. The first project is the sequel to Farmstead Feast: Winter, imaginatively titled Farmstead Feast: Spring.
Even though this is supposed to be a cookbook, spring is also the time
to be planting to ensure that you have something to cook with, so I was
considering throwing in a quick section on how much area we devote to
each vegetable variety and when we plant in order to feed the two of us
all year. But, of course, that information will be only moderately
useful to people with different diets and who live in different climates
than us. Would you find that a handy appendix at the end of the spring
cookbook, or should I stick to recipes?
Second, I'm excited to announce that my fourth paperback,
The Ultimate Guide to Soil: A Gardener's Tips and Tricks for Organic, Nutrient-Rich, DIY Humus will be hitting bookstores in spring or summer 2016! I originally tried to sell Homegrown Humus
to my publisher, but they felt like cover crops were a little too much
of a niche subject. And when my editor came up with that alternative
title, I couldn't resist saying that I'd expand the book to include much
more than the topic I'd written about so far.
I'm planning on keeping The Ultimate Guide to Soil
much more hands-on than all of the soil books I've been perusing in
order to educate myself about the topic, so I'm devoting perhaps half of
the book to less mainstream methods home gardeners use to build the
soil. In addition to cover crops, I've planned sections on
remineralization, traditional compost, manure, bokashi, worm bins, black
soldier flies, compost tea, hugelkultur, biochar, humanure and urine,
leaf mould, and chop and drop. But I feel like there are more
soil-building techniques that I'm not thinking of at the moment. Maybe
you've got some ideas I should incorporate into the expanded book?
Please consider leaving me a comment and brightening this snowy day with
How are the goats coping with
all this snow?
Anna has started adding some
dried kelp to their morning snacks after she noticed Abigail eating
most of the kelp
in the free choice bins.
They do bounce the tether
ball from time to time, but mostly look out the door and yearn for a
snow free pasture.
Oyster mushrooms are easy to propagate on the home scale using cardboard,
so I spent quite a few years pushing oysters. But the truth is that,
while Mark thinks oyster mushrooms are good, he thinks shiitakes are
Unfortunately, shiitake mushroom spawn is less malleable than oysters
and won't thrive on cardboard. Enter the mini-mushroom-log propagation
I call it an experiment, but the truth is that Tradd Cotter lists this as a viable technique in his book.
Granted, he uses logs that are much larger in diameter than the little
rounds I had Mark cut up and drill for me to plug Monday. But I'm hoping
that as long as I keep them moist, logs 8 inches long and 3.5 inches in
diameter will be sufficient for getting the shiitake mycelium running.
Eventually, we can stack multiple rounds together, allow the mycelium to
fuse, and thus have enough fungal body to produce a good mushroom
other thing I'm adding to give this experiment my own personal twist is
to bag each log loosely and let the spawn run through the logs at room
temperature. This is pure winter-doldrums thinking on my part --- I want
something to play with now!
Once I start seeing
mycelium on the ends of the logs, I'll put a piece of wet cardboard on
top of each log and a fresh, unplugged log above that. Tradd promises
that the original spawn will pass through the cardboard and into the new
wood, expanding my planting without buying new plugs.
Total cost for this experiment: $3 worth of plugs, plus a bit of electricity to run the chainsaw and drill. I can only peer at my seedlings
so many times a day, so having three mushroom logs to pore over while
the ground is snow covered is worth the price of admission already.
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