The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.
Cucumber bloom

We ate as much as we safely could of our first-year asparagus, have gorged on lettuce and broccoli and kale, and now it's time for the summer crops to begin. An ultra-early last frost means ultra-early cucumber blooms. We should be adding these crunchy fruits to our salads starting next week.

May harvest

On a broccoli side note --- lowish nitrogen in the soil meant our heads were smaller, but also faster, than usual. Interestingly, we've also seen very few cabbageworms so far this spring. The moths have been quite visible, but seem to prefer the flowering kale at the moment. Could that be because of the lower-nitrogen plants?

Late May garden

Lower cabbageworm pressure means I've been able to leave the broccoli plants in place for side shoots to form. (I usually pull them out after first spring heading because otherwise they become a bad-bug nursery.) The result? Possibly more total pounds of harvest than previously, definitely spread over a longer time span. Despite not planning to preserve excess food this year, I ended up packing away about a gallon of broccoli in the freezer.

Garden expansion

On a less pleasant note, our strawberry harvest looks like it will be nonexistent. The berries started, a bird found them, I put bird netting on top...and someone strong and vigorous (probably a squirrel) snuck underneath and worked through the patch like a tornado. Every strawberry of any size was removed, discards were strewn around the garden, and Mark is now working on a berry enclosure to ensure this won't happen again next year.

You win some and you lose some.

Filling worm bins

Speaking of winning --- wow, the manure! We're stocking up on truckloads of this precious resource, in part because it disappeared midsummer last year but also because the organic matter is full of wood shavings and needs some rotting before it will be putting off much nitrogen for our plants. Our worm bins quickly filled up, so now we're starting a manure pile in the yard.

New tomatoes

I'm also laying manure down on beds I don't plan to use in the next several weeks, the time expanded from my initial plan of the next month. Why? Because the tomatoes I set out into one-month-old manure beds turned yellow and required chicken-manure topdressing to save them. Luckily, they've now bounced back and are setting fruit.

Building a cattle panel arbor

In our second year, we're also starting to have a bit of time for prettiness, like this grape trellis Mark made out of a cattle panel and four fence posts.

Cattle panel arbor

A few weeks after erecting it, the 18-month-old grape vines are already starting to fill their space. One plant has even begun to bloom!

Prelude raspberry

What's coming up? This is a Prelude raspberry, a new-to-us variety that's supposed to ripen before any other brambles in the patch. It didn't bloom any earlier than my other varieties, but fruits are starting to plump and blush. If the birds don't get them, we might have a replacement to my demolished strawberries!

Posted Wed May 29 16:13:23 2019 Tags:
Mushroom foray

The second Rural Action mushroom foray took to the woods amid pollen so severe my black shirt turned gray and my eyes began couldn't quite decide whether to itch or tear up. I don't even get allergies! I can't imagine how the more susceptible felt.

May mushrooms

Despite adverse conditions, we collected over twenty species in three short hours. While plucking fungi from the woods, many seemed very similar and I had a sinking suspicion I was bagging the same species over and over. But once we spread them out on the picnic table, differences became clear.

Violet-toothed polypore vs. turkey tails

I'm going to focus on the edibles again (although I've included a couple of inedible beauties at the end of this post). First, another turkey-tail lookalike --- violet-toothed polypore. My specimens of both species are old and faded, but you can still see a little purple around the rim of the polypore, the same color that is much more obvious underneath when the fungi are fresh.

Lacking that giveaway, you can distinguish violet-toothed polypores from turkey-tails by peering at the undersides with a hand lens. As the name suggests, the former has teeth while the latter boasts pores.

Fawn mushroom

Next, a new-to-me edible...that I never would have been brave enough to taste on my own. Fawn mushroom (aka deer mushroom or Pluteus cervinus) looks an awful lot like another hundred or so species of brown, gilled mushrooms. But if you peer closer, there are quite a few distinguishing features.

First pay attention to ecology --- fawn mushrooms grow on rotting wood. The gills are free, as you can see in the top photo. And (at least when they get a little age on them) the pink color underneath can be distinctive.

The real clincher, though, is the aroma. Fawn mushrooms smell just like lightning bugs! With that in mind, I was much more willing to cook them up to taste.

Flavor was good but not amazing. Worth eating if you stumble across them, but not worth an earmarked hunt.

Mushroom expert

A huge thank you to our fearless leader who helped us separate the wheat from the chaff.

Mushroom books for SE Ohio

Although she didn't appear to consult her library, Martha recommended the books above for mushroom-hunting in southeast Ohio.

Orange mycena

And now, eye candy! Orange mycena...

Split-gill mushroom

...and my very favorite, the split-gill mushroom.

I wonder what we'll find next month?

Posted Mon May 20 18:06:05 2019 Tags:
Dreaming of a Vetter World

Mark and I recently attended a showing of Dreaming of a Vetter World, with a Q&A by Donald Vetter afterwards. If you've never heard of him, Vetter is a farmer right up Joel Salatin's alley who uses long crop rotations combined with rotational grazing to improve his soil. After decades of this treatment, Vetter's soil can soak in up to eight inches of rain per hour while his neighbors' conventional fields start ponding and eroding after half an inch in a similar time period.

So what does Vetter do to get such great results? He uses a nine-year rotation, a third of which involves cows and pigs on pasture. We'll start with that part --- the soil-building end of the spectrum. After planting a grass/legume/forb mixture, he utilizes rotational grazing for three years, then he tills the rich greenery in.

Next comes the cash crops --- soybeans in year one, corn in year two, then an Ethiopian land race of barley that his sister company (a small-scale, organic grain-processing operation) bags up to sell as bird seed. After a winter of cover cropping combined with fall and winter grazing, it's back to soybeans for a year followed by a final season of popcorn.

Using this rotation, Vetter has added no off-farm inputs for twenty years and sees annual improvement of his soil. He doesn't even buy animal feed --- the waste seeds from his grainary supplement his livestock's dependency on grass. The result is a beautiful permaculture system that runs smoothly...when combined with a lot of hard work.

Posted Thu May 16 15:54:26 2019 Tags:
Berry netting

I wrangled a tour of a 56-year-old garden this week --- such a treat! Shown here is bird netting atop the berry patch, which easily slides into place each season due to applesauce jugs on top of the posts.

Vole protection

Voles are a major issue in this good soil, which makes growing sweet potatoes a struggle. This gardener's solution? She drills lots of small holes in the bottom of big pots, sinks them in the ground, fills them with compost, then adds the sets.

Voles can't get in through the bottom or sides and the raised lip prevents them from running straight in the top. The result is tubers without nibbles --- a relief.

Mini quick hoop

My tour guide also developed her own version of quick hoops, these even quicker than mine since they're one structural piece and can be simply lifted off and set aside. For ultra-early tomatoes, she sets out a couple of plants under her covers and mitigates the temperature further with full jugs of water.

Bicycle wheel chicken tractor

The next innovation is on the chicken side of the property. A welder handy man made this two-part tractor easy to move with the addition of modified bicycle wheels.

Rolling woodbox

Meanwhile, a rolling wood bin keeps interior heating easy for older arms and backs.

Green frogs

"So what was your favorite part? Did any of it give you garden envy?" Mark asked when I got home.

The truth is, the only part of the tour that made me jealous was the darling water garden beside her screened-in summer kitchen. Now that my vegetable patch is smaller, maybe I have time for a little extracurricular gardening?

Posted Fri May 10 12:08:10 2019 Tags:
Early lettuce

We've been in Ohio for a year and a half, but took us six months (most of that winter) to get the fence going so we could safely plant inside. Which means our vegetable garden is just about a year old.

Truck by garden

During that year, I've been learning local biomass sources. Most are higher-carbon and less-aged than I'd prefer, but they make up for what they lack in quality in their quantity and ease of hauling. When the road-clearing crew dumped a huge pile of wood chips right by my garden gate last year, I decided I love being close to a road!

Young garden soil

At the same time, I'm remembering what it was like to plant into young garden soil. Between cover crops and copious additions of organic matter, I'd gotten my Virginia soil primed so growing there was nearly like planting into big mounds of potting soil. Up here, the clay subsoil is close to the surface and the biomass I'm adding is only gradually working its way down through no-till layers of cardboard and newspaper.

Side-dressing with manure

So I garden a little differently. Applying half-composting horse manure/wood chips is acceptable in most garden areas (although the combo did kill a barely-survived-the-winter thyme plant). The trick is to pull the mixture back a bit from the plants (sidedressing instead of topdressing). If possible, I also apply manure at least a month before my planting date.

Vegetable seedlings

I've also been starting more seedlings inside, potting them up into small cups and letting them grow for a few weeks before setting them out into the garden. The reason for this is twofold.

Pea seedlings

First, it's tougher to get seeds to sprout happily in subpar soil (especially since I'm irrigating less now that we're on city water). Second, voles have moved in and are nibbling up young sprouts (especially my peas!). As you can see in the photo above, the ornery rodents ate all of my direct-seeded plants (on the other side of the trellis), while they left older transplants alone.

Strawberry flower

Starting spring crops inside is also handy because the soil takes longer to warm up in Ohio. Our strawberries are just now starting to bloom, two or three weeks later then they tended to in Virginia. That means annuals would also be two or three weeks behind...if I hadn't jumped the gun with early seeding indoors.

Free garden biomass

Of course, that's all short-term fixes that will be in the rear-view mirror in a few short years. To boost our soil's fertility fast, I'm layering huge quantities of organic matter in areas I won't be planting into for several months.

First came the spoiled hay (left) from a local farmer --- she had more of it than I could handle, but I piled up as much as I could to start building the soil. Aisles of wood chips (middle) will feed fertility more slowly, while new beds made of deeply mounded horse bedding/manure (right) will rot down within a few months.

Bathtub worm bin

As if that's not enough, Mark is building me worm bins out of old bathtubs. We'll fill these up with horse manure as well (so easy to accumulate now that it can be scooped into our truck then unloaded directly into our garden on the other end!). By this time next year, we should be overflowing in good, rich compost to feed our dirt.

Posted Wed Apr 24 17:47:19 2019 Tags:


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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.







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