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Naturalist with multiflora rose

Hidden teaJenn and I enjoyed an inspiring naturalist-led hike at Burr Oak State Park on the equinox. Our fearless leader not only brewed teas for us to taste, she also stashed jugs of the refreshing liquid along the trail so we could sample each type as we ambled along.

My favorite was spicebush, made from the berries, twigs, and leaves of the aforementioned bush. I hadn't known the berries were edible, but it turns out you can cook them up into jam. I sampled one on its lonesome and found it too strong for fresh eating, although the first bite had hints of avocado and was intriguing to me.

Wild tea hike

Jewelweed seedsRunner-up teas included sumac (from the berries), sassafras (from the roots --- too strong for my tastes), and multiflora rose (from the hips --- very mild and I would have liked to taste it without the sweetening).

We also sampled jewelweed seeds, which were nutty but had too much of an aftertaste for me and Jen. The green seeds weren't quite so strong and might be a better start. Perhaps that's what the chickens preferred too?

Posted Tue Sep 25 06:00:50 2018 Tags:
Nelsonville Ohio art gallery
Stanley Wrzyszczynski’s installation at the Majestic Gallery in Nelsonville.
Posted Mon Sep 24 06:00:46 2018 Tags:
Amish rainwater collection

Mark, Rose Nell, Jayne, and I dropped by an Amish-affiliated produce auction last week...and of course I was more interested in rainwater collection on the nearby buildings than in the products for sale.

IBC rain barrel

IBC tanks were very much the rain barrels of choice in the community. The builders didn't brace their tower nearly as much as we did ours though.

Gutter closeup

Gutters, on the other hand, looked to have serious longevity. I think those are stainless steel on heavy-duty hangers, then the downspout is clearly PVC.

Amish gutters

Here's a long view from the other direction. I'll bet the residents put every drop of that water to good use.

Posted Sun Sep 23 06:00:46 2018 Tags:
Trailer from the south

After deciding on the size of our eventual wood-stove alcove, the next question became --- how much do we want to overcomplicate the design for the sake of passive solar heating? Because this trailer isn't lined up as nicely north-south as our previous one. Instead, the photo above shows the view from due south.

Passive solar on a southeast facing building

One option is to stick to the easy square and put windows on both the southeast and southwest sides, coming up with some kind of shutters to cover the southwest ones during the summer months. Another option would be to use a rectangle and two triangles to cover the same surface area but make the addition face due south.

I'm still cogitating on whether the triangles would make floor joists and wall angles too difficult. What do you think?

Posted Fri Sep 21 06:00:35 2018 Tags:
Ramp seeds

I made a mental note of the location of the ramps patches this spring, planning to check them for seeds in the autumn. Luckily, the patches are on my usual weekly routes because I'd forgotten all about my good intentions when these clusters of hard seeds (not berries as they appear) showed up atop four-inch-high stalks.

Germinating ramp seeds

I gathered a few dozen to experiment with, then hit up the internet for more information. Most people, it seems, use hit-or-miss wild germination, spreading the seeds in their woods in late summer or early autumn. Using that method, seedlings usually show up in six to eighteen months.

Seed saucer

I decided to get more scientific about it however. Looking through the literature, it appears that ramp seeds don't require scarification (breaking through the seed coat using manual methods or acids). Instead, the deal is that they need four to ten weeks at room temperature to get the roots to emerge followed by who-knows-how-long in the fridge to get the shoots to pop out.

I made a sandwich out of four layers of damp toilet paper between two saucers and put the seeds on the counter to see how my own results match up to those found under more sterile conditions in the lab. I'll keep you posted about whether/how my ramps grow!

Posted Wed Sep 19 06:00:29 2018 Tags:
Four by four alcove

"We can at least plan the wood-stove alcove this month, right?" asked Mark.

"Sure," I replied. "But what size should it be? Four by four like our last one? Four by eight? Or eight by eight?"

"Eight by eight," Mark stated decisively.

That sounded pretty big to me, so I pulled out the graph paper and mocked up our options. Four by four turns out to be just barely big enough for the wood stove itself using heat shields to protect the walls. I should have known this since it's exactly what we made before.

Four by eight alcove

Four by eight would let me stuff my chair in there along with the wood stove to prevent obstructing the door.

Eight by eight alcove

While eight by eight provides a spacious alcove, especially if the wood stove is inserted at a diagonal.

As usual, Mark was right. I wonder if I should ask him the next question --- where the windows go for optimal winter sun intake --- or do the math myself? I'll probably do the math. That sounds a lot more fun!

Posted Mon Sep 17 06:00:36 2018 Tags:
September garden

Last weekend, we got 4.5 inches of rain in two days and the garden started growing like nuts. This confirmed what I'd already suspected --- despite my compost troubles, water was the primary limiting factor in this year's garden.

I've only been hand watering enough to get new transplants and Sprouting oat seedsseedlings up and running. And, honestly, I hadn't even really been doing a good job of the latter.

The stumbling block was twofold. I don't want to use too much water on the garden before we installed rain barrles. And I was actually a bit glad to use water as a limiting factor keeping garden work (aka weeding) down to a dull roar during year one.

Excuses aside, irrigation will definitely be on the agenda before next summer. Because now that we're a bit more established, I don't mind weeding if it means harvesting three times as much delicious, homegrown vegetables and fruit!

Posted Sat Sep 15 06:00:43 2018 Tags:
Cooking tomato sauce

Mark has been feeling a lot better. So much so, in fact, that he wanted to dive into a wood-stove-alcove project immediately. I, on the other hand, want his innards to heal a little more before he starts hefting heavy lumber. So we compromised on a new project --- learning how to cook!

Eggplant parmesan

One of Mark's favorite foods is eggplant parmesan. And, at the moment, our two plants are ripening up at least three fruits per week. Time to let Mark put his creative juices to work creating an even better recipe to use up these purple vegetables.

Layering eggplant parmesan

He opted for an eggplant parmesan/lasagna combo. Fried, breaded eggplants, then homemade tomato sauce, then one layer of lasagna noodles, one pound of cooked hamburger meat, a sprinkling of parmesan combined with rather a hefty helping of shredded swiss, then another layer of eggplant, another layer of sauce, and another layer of cheese.

Eggplant lasagna

Conclusion? Delicious! I can hardly wait to see what he comes up with next week.

Posted Thu Sep 13 07:41:20 2018 Tags:
Big broccoli plant

What's the biggest lesson I've learned from year one in a new garden spot? Don't put all of your soil fertility/amendment eggs in one basket!

Broccoli shows this best. The plant above was set out into a newly kill mulched bed using half-composted horse manure. Not an optimal soil environment by a long shot. But I planted the broccoli sets pretty deep, down into the native soil. And one month later they're huge and thriving, ready to start forming big, beautiful heads.

Puny broccoli plant

In contrast, the image above shows a broccoli plant of the same variety started inside at the same time and set out at the same time. This one went into a more mature no-till bed too...except the "compost" I'd put on top of that kill mulch was very low-nitrogen municipal compost. I won't be buying that stuff again.

Puny flowers

Lest you think I was just cherry picking those broccoli photos, take a look at some flowers in two different parts of the garden. Above, a sunflower that bloomed at knee high plus cock's comb flowers barely as big as a dime. I'll bet you can guess what they were growing in --- municipal compost.

Cock's comb

And a much more satisfying cock's comb growing in a mixture of very well-composted cow manure and topsoil. The sunflowers in this part of the garden are towering over my head.

In a few years, cover crops plus regular manure/compost additions will have built up a buffer of nitrogen and organic matter that will make it harder to tell when amendments are hindering instead of helping. So I'm glad we spread our net widely this year to try out most of the local offerings when the ground is hungry and shows results fast!

Posted Tue Sep 11 06:00:54 2018 Tags:
Homestead

If you've read Trailersteading, you'll know what I mean when I say that our Virginia homestead is an ugly duckling property. This type of unique real estate is often economical to purchase, can be wonderful to live on...but isn't particularly easy to sell.

We've tried out three different methods of finding our farm a new owner and have opinions on each. If you're selling a similar property, perhaps our ideas will help!

Mobile home with grapes

Option 1: Sell it to your neighbors. They say that the number one rule of real estate is location, location, location. Which means your neighbors --- who've already put down roots right there --- are an obvious audience to sell to. We actually had some interest from one of our neighbors (plus a low-ball offer from a local timber baron), but ended up running through this avenue pretty quickly. It's still worth a try, though!

Option 2: Go traditional with a realtor. With a conventional property, I suspect this is the way to go. Ugly duckling properties, however, are often hard to finance through a bank and mainstream realtors don't really know what to do with them. Plus, realtors take a hefty percentage, so the price has to remain high.

If I had to do it over again, I might have moved this option further down the list and waited until we gave up on selling the property on our lonesome. On the plus side, most realtor contracts are time-limited, so if it's not working you can just wait until the contract expires.


Wading a flooded creek

Option 3: Go unconventional with owner financing. This seems to be the more realistic option since you're likely to be attracting most potential buyers yourself if your property doesn't fit the conventional mold. We're currently giving this option a try and may have found someone just crazy enough enjoy our floodplain.

No money has yet changed hands, however. So you can still
peek at our listing if you want to throw your hat into the ring.

Posted Sun Sep 9 06:00:28 2018 Tags:

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