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Aug 2014

Most visited this week:

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Plug and play grid tie inverters

Building a bee waterer

Aug 2013

A year ago this week:

Even better vegetable curing rack

ATV wooden dump bed

Poultry powered gardening

Annual chores for fruit trees

Aug 2012

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me using Stihl circular saw blade trimmer

Thanks for the comments on using a miter saw blade with a weed trimmer.

Most people are like my neighbor and report problems with it binding up when cutting small trees which could be a result of not keeping the blade exactly even during a cut.

Maybe in the future Stihl will invent some sort of LED indicator you could look at and know which way to tilt the blade to make the most level cut.

Posted Sat Aug 30 15:08:13 2014 Tags:

While we refer to our "lawn" only in parentheses since the grass is full of dandelions, clover, and whatnot and never gets fertilized (except with the chicken tractor), I do occasionally feel guilty about the grassy areas.  Granted, on our farm, grassy garden aisles make sense, but most like-minded people think all lawns are evil.  However, as I mowed Thursday, I started wondering whether the carbon dioxide coming from our mower might not be offset by the carbon being sequestered in the soil as grass blades and roots turn into humus.

Sure enough, independent scientists (in addition to the lawn-care "scientists" you might expect to feel this way) report that lawns do act as carbon sinks.  A minimal input lawn like ours that only gets mowed with no other treatment sequesters about 147 pounds of carbon per lawn per year (after you subtract out the carbon released by the mower).  The abstract I read didn't mention lawn size, but I'm assuming they're using the American average of a fifth of an acre, which matches up with another study that reports each acre of lawn sequesters a net of 760 pounds of carbon per year.

Of course, cover crops will put the puny carbon sequestration powers of a lawn to shame.  Sorghum-sudangrass will pump a massive 10,565 pounds of carbon per acre into the soil, and oilseed radishes don't do so bad either at 3,200 pounds of carbon per acre.  In fact, a 120-year-old northeastern woodland only clocks in around the carbon sequestration powers of oilseed radishes, and you can still grow tomatoes in the oilseed-radish ground during the summer.

Which is all a very long way of saying --- if you're considering making a patio or leaving that area as lawn, go for the lawn.  But if you really want to sequester carbon fast, plant some cover crops.

Posted Sat Aug 30 07:36:30 2014 Tags:
using a circular saw blade in a weed trimmer eater

Our neighbor mentioned that he uses a miter saw blade on his weed trimmer.

The arbor hole is the same diameter as the Ninja brush blade. Make sure the teeth point to the left to take advantage of the cutting teeth.

I only tried it on some rag weed and it was like a hot knife cutting through butter. Our neighbor reported when he tried it the blade would bind up on even medium sized trees. I think we don't need the little bit of extra cutting power for such a huge leap in danger.

Posted Fri Aug 29 14:50:53 2014 Tags:
Buggy beans

I appreciated all of the thoughtful comments on my scarlet runner bean post last weekend!  Several of you correctly pointed out that the species is actually a perennial, although the distinction won't make much of a difference for most of us since (like tomatoes) scarlet runner beans are perennials that act like annuals in temperate climates.  On the other hand, that reminder did point out that not only the green beans, shelled beans, and flowers, but also the tubers of scarlet runner beans are edible.

Bean beetle larvaHowever, what I wanted to share today is a downside I just discovered of my beautiful bean planting.  Unfortunately, scarlet runner beans seem to make awesome nurseries for Mexican bean beetles, as you can tell from the holey leaves in the photo above (and from the larva that was hiding in a photo in my previous post, repeated to the left).  We use the ultra-simple bean-beetle control method of succession planting bush beans (explained in more depth in The Naturally Bug-Free Garden), but adding scarlet runner beans to the mix means that this year's beetle population exploded and quickly colonized my bush bean plants.  Good thing I'd already frozen several gallons of the staple crop because the plants will probably soon bite the dust....  I might try scarlet runner beans again, but this piece of data suggests I should keep my for-food beans far away from my for-beauty beans in the future.

Fava bean seedling
On a semi-related note, our experimental fava beans have come up!  The seedlings look more like peas than like beans, which is probably because fava beans are really a vetch.  We hope to experiment with eating both the fava bean seeds and the scarlet runner bean seeds at lima bean stage...even though I don't think I've ever eaten lima beans before in my life.  For those of you who are more experienced --- what kind of introductory recipe would you recommend?

Posted Fri Aug 29 07:39:24 2014 Tags:
when is the best time to pick Mung beans?

When is the best time to pick mung beans?

We pick them once a week this time of year after they turn black.

They make yummy sprouts for greening up tuna salad during the Winter months.

Posted Thu Aug 28 15:19:43 2014 Tags:
Goldenrod leatherwing

Insects on echinaceaThis week, the world seems to be chock full of soldier beetles.  Specifically, these goldenrod leatherwings are in a mating frenzy --- I counted half a dozen on just a few echinacea flowers on Wednesday afternoon.

With nearly 500 species of soldier beetles in the U.S., gardeners aren't likely to learn them all by name.  But I'm pretty sure all of the soldier beetles are either innocuous or beneficial (although some of their larvae are minor problems on fall fruits).

Feeding soldier beetle

The beneficial species are handy because the larvae eat slugs and snails while the adults consume aphids.  Other species (like the goldenrod leatherwing) seem to fixate on nectar instead, but the world can't have too many pollinators!

(Yes, this post is just an excuse to share pretty bug photos.  What can I say --- they're cute!)

Posted Thu Aug 28 07:07:02 2014 Tags:
Chevy S-10 truck stuck in the mud with me and Frankie looking at it

Our neighbor with a tractor has agreed to help us get the truck unstuck.

Today we just looked it over and developed a plan.

With any luck it will continue to dry up and make things a little easier.

Posted Wed Aug 27 15:42:37 2014 Tags:
August lunch

August is probably the tastiest time of the year on our farm.  This week, we've enjoyed the first lettuce and red peppers, and the fall round of red raspberries are starting to be nearly as copious as the blueberries we've been enjoying for weeks.  Three cups of berries per day make perfect desserts.

Celeste figWe're still eating tomatoes and cucumbers and watermelons (although they're starting to decline), and have plenty of summer squash, green beans, and Swiss chard that will continue to go the distance.  We're nearly at the end of our spring cabbage and carrots (which currently live in the crisper drawer of the fridge), but fall crops are all growing like gangbusters and promise to replace the spring round soon.  In fact, I saw the first pea flower Monday!

What am I watching with an eagle eye?  Our fig bushes!  Last year, the first fig ripened up at the very beginning of September, and I'm looking forward to tasting the first few Celeste figs (along with bowlsful of Chicago Hardy) later this year.

What are you enjoying and looking forward to seeing soon in your own garden?

Posted Wed Aug 27 06:56:27 2014 Tags:
making a firewood guide for a garden wagon

I installed a firewood guide on our steel crate garden wagon today.

The small and medium slots will help us cut up all the fallen limbs we have.

Posted Tue Aug 26 15:47:30 2014 Tags:
Rocket stove

Our power was out for about 21 hours Sunday afternoon through Monday morning.  That seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out the new rocket stove that our neighbor gave us!

Stovetec rocket stove

I'd like to be able to tell you "I only needed two sticks of wood to scramble our breakfast eggs," but the truth is that this first iteration of rocket-stove cookery was a learning experience.  What I mostly learned is that damp wood doesn't fly in rocket stoves --- I didn't really get the fire blazing until I tracked down the piece of kindling in the middle of the photo above, which had been sitting in our woodshed for a couple of years and was bone dry.  The sticks that have been drying on the porch for a week mostly smoldered instead of burning.

Perhaps because I only ended up using one dry piece of wood, the temperature in the skillet on top of the rocket stove never got warmer than what equates to about medium on our electric range.  That's fine for scrambling eggs, and would be great for things like soups, but for my next experiment I look forward to trying out the skirt that fits around a pot to increase the stove's efficiency by 25%.  I also want to get a more solid handle on exactly how much wood the rocket stove consumes, although I have to say that I'm already impressed in that regard.

Rocket stove on cinderblock

What was the biggest surprise about making breakfast on the rocket stove?  How much I enjoyed the fire therapy!  Usually, I get a little cranky during power outages due to internet deprivation, but a dose of fire first thing in the morning instead set me singing happily as I weeded the garden.  Of course, it doesn't hurt that our Cyberpower Battery Backup combined with my laptop battery means I can enjoy about an hour and a half of blogging time even while the grid is down.

In case you're curious, everything in the freezer stayed frozen during the outage, despite highs that nearly reached 90.  If the juice had stayed off for more than 24 hours, though, we would have topped off the cold with our generator.

Posted Tue Aug 26 07:21:09 2014 Tags:

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