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Most visited this week:

Building a bee waterer

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Square foot gardening rebuttal

How to help chicks during hatching

Moth pupa in the soil


Apr 2013
S M T W T F S
 
       


A year ago this week:

Spring in the Warre hive

Brood coop escape

Choosing the right drill for mushroom inoculation

DIY dog door update


Apr 2012
S M T W T F S
         


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Huckleberry sitting on Swiss Chard seedlings

A crushed Swiss Chard seedling is a small price to pay for the help Huckleberry provides in the garden at this time of year.

Posted Sat Apr 19 17:39:16 2014 Tags:
Paperback interior

Readers of my book blog will know that I considered signing back on with my old publisher to make Naturally Bug-Free available as a print book, but decided to self-publish this paperback instead so I could maintain the e-rights.

Naturally Bug-FreeWhile making that decision, I spent a couple of weeks turning the interior into a work of art, with big color pictures that should really suck you in (even though the paper isn't glossy).  And then I decided to also make a black-and-white edition for those of you who can't afford the high price tag of the color version.

The black-and-white copies are on sale for only $4.99 on Amazon, and the full color version is on sale for $16.62.  Both are eligible for Amazon's usual free shipping offers.  Plus, you get a free copy of the ebook through Amazon's matchbook program with the purchase of either paper edition, so you can see those color pictures even if you buy the cheaper black and white edition on paper.


To celebrate (and spread the word), I'm running a giveaway --- one lucky reader will win a signed color paperback copy of Naturally Bug-Free, a starter culture of kefir, a Walden Effect t-shirt (only sizes medium, large, or 2XL are now available), and a seed starter pack (containing some of our favorite vegetable varieties).  That's a $72.49 value just for spending a minute plugging my new paperback.  Use the form below to enter, and thanks for your help!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted Sat Apr 19 06:14:20 2014 Tags:
installing swarm trap on back of Star Plate chicken coop

Once we moved the new chicks in to the Star Plate coop Anna decided the back wall would be a good place to mount the swarm trap we built last year.

Posted Fri Apr 18 16:14:20 2014 Tags:

Leafing out rootstockOne of my favorite parts of homesteading is the daily surprises.  Sunday, the hummingbirds showed up and I learned that the tiny birds sustain themselves in the early spring on peach blossoms and the like.  Monday, I harvested our first two asparagus spears in preparation for the hard freeze.  And Tuesday I noticed that my baby apple trees were starting to leaf out.

Most of the trees' action so far is on the rootstock, which is normal but which requires a little care.  With newly grafted trees, you don't want the rootstock to put its energy into growing leaves and branches.  Instead, you'd like the plant to focus on healing up that junction between rootstock and scionwood, then to start feeding energy into the scionwood above.  To keep the baby trees in line, I went through and carefully picked off the sprouts coming off the rootstocks, and will repeat the task as needed until the scionwood is growing strong.

Like many aspects of homesteading, care of a baby tree doesn't take much time, but should be timely.  I think the biggest difference between someone with a green thumb and someone who kills every plant they try to raise is the willingness to spend a few minutes a day with their eyes wide open, then a few more minutes tending to whatever needs their care.  Just walking through our core homestead with my senses wide open is another of my favorite parts about homesteading.

Posted Fri Apr 18 07:17:12 2014 Tags:
Star Plate exit door number 2

We installed another chicken door in the Star Plate coop today along with sealing up the front door to keep any small chicks from squeezing through the crack.

Tomorrow is their move in date.

Posted Thu Apr 17 16:13:22 2014 Tags:
Frozen apple blossom

Forecast low: 26.  Actual low: 23.  Fruit damage: high.

I've tried protecting tree blooms in the past, but haven't had any luck with wrapping trees and don't want to try to run sprinklers all night.  So we just roll with the weather, some years not getting any tree fruits at all.

I had hoped that this year's slow spring meant our trees would bloom late enough to miss the hard freezes, and the blooms were slow, but the freeze still came.  The question is --- did it kill everything?  It's hard to say how low the temperature actually got at various levels above the ground and in different parts of the yard.  The apple blossom above was clearly nipped, but many of the dwarf apples closer to the hillside are running slower and are at first pink or even tight cluster stage --- some of them might have made it.  (Here's a chart of critical temperatures in case you're dealing with a similar late freeze and want to guess which of your trees are in danger.)

Freeze protection in the garden

Strawberry flowers at popcorn stageLow-lying plants are much easier to protect.  I pulled out all of my old pieces of row-cover fabric to shelter tender vegetable seedlings like lettuce, broccoli, and cabbages.

At this time of year, I often cover up strawberries too, but only a few had even opened as far as the flowers shown to the right --- "popcorn stage."  The popcorn flowers will have gotten nipped, since they can be damaged when the temperature drops to 26.5, but tight flower buds are okay down to 22.  I figured it was better to miss five or ten of the earliest strawberries than to lose whole beds of broccoli.

Protecting lettuce seedlings

Under their covers, all of the seedlings came through with flying colors, even though the freeze was so hard that weeds in the yard like clover and dock were nipped back.  I usually don't cover peas, but I was a little concerned about them and carefully laid a row cover over half of the beds.  Interestingly, of the uncovered beds, one (in front of the trailer) was moderately nipped and one (in the mule garden beside quick hoops) looked just fine.  A few pea seedlings elsewhere in the mule garden came out from under their cover and those were nipped, so it seems like microclimate effects are hard at work in the garden.

The good news is that, even if we don't get any tree fruits this year, we should have plenty of berries to go around.  Our blueberry flowers are in what's called a tight cluster, safe down to 20 to 23 degrees, so most should be okay.  Blackberries and raspberries haven't enough thought about blooming, and their leaves came through the freeze just fine.  Add in strawberries and figs and we'll definitely enjoy fruits this summer --- yet another reason to grow berries even though they take a bit more work day to day than fruit trees do.

Posted Thu Apr 17 07:55:39 2014 Tags:
hitch pin substitute

What do you do if your hitch pin is lost somewhere along a muddy driveway?

Poke around the barn till you find an old, rusty socket wrench.

Posted Wed Apr 16 15:19:37 2014 Tags:

Swarm trap baitsLast year, I started researching swarm traps just as the garden was heating up, so we didn't really manage to get anything going in time to catch a swarm (although a swarm did end up in the barn anyway).  But now that we have all of our ducks in a row, it's simple to bait a few hives with lemongrass oil and hope we'll catch free bees.

This is a bit early in the year to be setting up swarm traps, but Mark noticed some honeybees nosing around the porch over the weekend, and we wondered if they were looking for a new hive cavity.  The colony in our Warre hive still hasn't started building comb in the empty third box, but bees don't always read books, so it's possible the bees figured it would be easier to swarm than to build down the way they're supposed to.  I could know for sure what's going on if I opened up the hive and looked for developing queen cells, but I'd rather toe the Warre line and leave the hive closed, then hedge my bets with swarm traps.

I baited three different hives, and need to put in an hour to finish building last year's real swarm trap and install it as well.  It will be interesting to see which of the following a swarm of honeybees prefers:

  • A Langstroth hive made up of two shallows, one box with fully drawn comb and one box empty.
  • A Warre hive made up of two boxes, both with fully drawn comb.
  • A top bar hive with no comb and smelling of mouse.  (Over the winter, a pesky rodent nested under the lid, and even though I brushed away the nest, the scent remains.)

While this experiment is far from scientific, I'm always curious which of the main beekeeping methods the bees themselves would prefer, and this should give me some indication.  Here's hoping we catch a swarm early enough that it makes it through the winter!

Posted Wed Apr 16 07:27:20 2014 Tags:
poking fun at fig protection

We've been having a problem with our young fig tree "accidentally" exposing herself.

I've tried to explain to her how "good" fig trees stay buttoned up, but the only response I get is the classic rolling of the eyes with some lame excuse about how other fig trees are dressed these days.

Posted Tue Apr 15 15:58:29 2014 Tags:
Small-scale chinampas

Baby snapping turtleAs one of our readers commented, my terraforming project created tiny chinampas.  All winter, the rye I sowed on the raised parts of the beds thrived despite the soggy aisles, and come spring, wildlife moved into the little ponds between the beds.  I found two baby snapping turtles hanging out in the shallow water this weekend, and plenty of tadpoles are escaping their eggs to join in the fun.

As long-time readers will realize, we struggle to deal with the wet ground in certain parts of our garden, so seeing how well these little chinampas do has been an eye-opening experience.  I decided to go ahead and dig the back garden into similar raised beds to ensure that this year's tomatoes don't suffer from wet feet.

Building a raised bed

You'll know if your soil is wet enough to need small-scale chinampas because rushes and sedges will be growing in the mown aisles along with grass.  To confirm that the groundwater is too high for the soil to be planted into as-is, dig around a clump of earth, then grab the grass on top as if lifting the clump up by its hair.  If the soil is well-drained, the whole clump will stay together since roots go straight down into the subsoil.  If the soil is waterlogged, the top will peel off since the plant roots stayed in the inch or two of soil above the water.

Raking a bed flat

I dug one long chinampa Monday, which is about all my wrists can take before they start to complain.  I mostly tried to place the sod grass-side down so it will rot quickly, but I wasn't all that particular about it, knowing that I can always lay down some cardboard over top before transplanting in my tomato sets.

Of course, the down-side of turning the garden into chinampas is that I may be walking through an inch or two of water in the aisles if the summer is wet.  But better my feet get wet than my tomatoes complain!  Plus, if the aisles turn into ponds, they won't have to be mowed, right?

Posted Tue Apr 15 08:02:38 2014 Tags:

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