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Aug 2015
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Most visited this week:

Refrigerator root cellar step 1...dig

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Refrigerator root cellar vent hole installation

Aug 2014

A year ago this week:

Horse manure banking

How many chickens will a black soldier fly bin feed?

Straw bale Tuesday

How to fix a stuck pulsating sprinkler

Aug 2013

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sunflower in bloom
This is our most vibrant Sunflower of 2015.
Posted Sun Aug 2 15:10:27 2015 Tags:
August homestead

In July, I outlaw all talk of winter. We don't have enough firewood in, the garden seems like it will require a time machine to get all of the requisite work done, and winter stores of all sorts seem inevitably poised to fall short.

Sunflower chicks

In August, I embrace the changing seasons. The light is subtly different, a spell of cool nights is bracing and revitalizing. I freeze a sixth of our winter stores in one week and our wood shed is a little fuller than last year's. I look forward to the harvest successes and accept the inevitable failures as a simple part of gardening.

What a difference a month can make!

Posted Sun Aug 2 06:56:07 2015 Tags:
wood shed

We got our wood shed past the half way mark this week.

There's still a lot more fallen tree material to cut up which has got us to consider building wood shed number two in the Fall.

Posted Sat Aug 1 13:11:48 2015 Tags:
Whitetop Band

I'm proud to report that I've so far met my New Year's resolution of taking one work day off per month in 2015. During the peak of weeding season, we did dodge a bit and take two Friday afternoons off per month instead of indulging in a full day all at once, but Mark said that counts. (He's easing me into taking time off gently.)

Kayla was my partner in crime during our most recent random holiday, providing moral support and acting as my dance partner at the square dancing class at Mountain Empire's Mountain Music School. We learned the (very) basics of both flatfooting and of the Virginia Reel and are all fired up to take another dance class soon. Next up: the classical Indian dance of Bharatha Natyam. Stay tuned!

Posted Sat Aug 1 06:43:07 2015 Tags:
oyster mushroom close up

One nice thing about Anna taking the goats out to graze is the bonus mushrooms they find and bring home.

Posted Fri Jul 31 15:42:47 2015 Tags:

With three more cockerels in the freezer, I'm ready to pass judgment on this year's round of experimental chicken breeds. I didn't raise the five varieties separately, so I can't tell you who cost the least to feed, but I do have data on foraging ability, rooster weight at roughly fifteen weeks, and survivability. I'll start with the last.

We had quite a few predator losses this year, mostly due to human error (we forgot to shut in the chicks a few nights) but also partly because our guard dog is getting on in years and sleeps more soundly than she used to. It could be entirely random which chicks got picked off, but I wanted to mention that the australorps came through unscathed, the orpingtons only lost one bird, and the three other varieties lost two birds apiece. This is interesting because I'd read that dominiques are very good free-range birds because they're less likely to get picked off --- that wasn't the case in our very small sample.

Heirloom chickens

Moving on to meat qualities of the birds, I don't have any data on dominiques or New Hampshire reds. It turns out we did end up with one dominique cockerel, but his comb was so small when we went to snatch birds off the roost by flashlight that I thought he was a girl! And all of our surviving New Hampshire reds turned out to be girls as well. So you'll have to wait for an update on meat qualities of these two breeds at a later date.

My all-around favorite (without tasting any of the meat) is definitely the Rhode Island red (the dark brown bird in the photo above). Australorps grew a little bigger (averaging 2 pounds 13.9 ounces dressed for the australorps versus 2 pounds 11.9 ounces dressed for the Rhode Island red), but the Rhode Island red had the brightest fat. This is a key indicator if you're looking for high-quality pastured meat since yellow fat comes from birds that forage the most, meaning you're getting more omega 3s and the birds are probably eating less feed.

In contrast, our orpington cockerels were big losers, having quite pale fat that almost looked like the fat on a cornish cross. The orpingtons were also the lightest birds at fifteen weeks, clocking in at 2 pounds 6.2 ounces. Although they'll likely catch up to the other breeds later, this slow growth probably also means they eat more feed for every pound of meat that ends up on the table (although I can't be positive of that fact). As a final nail in the breed's coffin, the orpingtons are the only birds in this flock who have been causing trouble, refusing to abide by my pasture rotation and returning time after time to the first pasture we started them out in. So while Kayla assures me that orpingtons are good pet chickens, I'm afraid I have to take them off my list of prime thrifty chicken breeds.

Posted Fri Jul 31 08:12:30 2015 Tags:
onions being dryed on the rack
We harvested all of our onions today just in time for soup season.
Posted Thu Jul 30 15:39:17 2015 Tags:
Song Sparrow chick

I was a little concerned that Mama Song Sparrow might have decided she'd settled in too much of a high-traffic area and abandoned her nest, because she seemed to be off more than she was on. But I guess in the heat of July, you don't have to hug your nest to hatch eggs. Because when I peered into the tomato patch Tuesday, I saw two baby sparrows already out of their shells and looking for lunch.

Now to leave Mama Sparrow alone for a few more days and hope she hatches two more. It's been a couple of years since we've incubated our own chickens, so it's fun to vicariously enjoy a successful hatch, albeit of a much smaller species. And it's always a joy to watch wildlife move into our long as they're not eating our crops.

Posted Thu Jul 30 06:57:16 2015 Tags:
june bug in a bucket

I found a June Bug in a bucket and thought the chickens might want it.

They seemed to enjoy watching it bounce around, but could'nt quite reach the bottom of the 2 gallon bucket.

The bug was snatched up by what I assume is the quickest hen when I dumped it.

Posted Wed Jul 29 15:20:36 2015 Tags:
Spotty corn germination

What's wrong with this picture?

(Guess before you peek!)

Spotty corn pollination

If you said that Artemesia was eating our sweet corn, you got tricked by the zoom-related flattening of the photograph. Our little doeling was actually about five feet beyond the corn in question when I clicked the shutter button on our camera.

On the other hand, if you noticed the large distance between the corn plants, you're on the right track. My germination test this past winter suggested that last year's corn seeds were fine. But in the real-world setting of our garden, those same seeds came up very spottily. That's a problem since corn is wind pollinated and relies on a relatively large stand to ensure the seeds develop well and the ears bulk up. In fact, I was expecting to see lots of cobs like the one pictured above when the time finally came to harvest our crop.

Sweet corn harvest

To my surprise, most of the seeds seem to have set even with less than a dozen plants to spread their pollen. While I'm glad the corn plants came through for us this time around, I've resolved to stick to buying corn seed every year rather than trying to eke out those packets for a second season. It appears that corn, like onions, is simply better planted during year one. Live and learn! At least we can still eat my mistakes.

Posted Wed Jul 29 05:59:10 2015 Tags:

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