If all goes as planned, you'll get to read Watermelon Summer, my first young-adult novel,
in about a week. The title is courtesy of my father, who also
talked me out of my last-minute jitters and told me the third draft was
ready to fly. (After it gets back from the copy-editor, that
I don't have a cover yet (although I'm starting to envision one based on
a heart-shaped piece of watermelon), but I did add a few "Excerpts from
Thia's Notebook" to the back, of which the image here is one
page. As you can tell, the protagonist deals with some of the same
issues Mark and I have, although her solutions are often different from
ours. In fact, even though young adult isn't everyone's genre, I
think most of our blog readers will get a kick out of this little book
because it captures many truths about our homesteading experience that
are too personal to make it to the blog.
I'm going to use Watermelon Summer
as my first experiment with print-on-demand paperbacks too, although I
suspect it might take an extra week or two after the ebook becomes
available before you can buy a paperback. I may be dreaming, but I
like to imagine actual young people ending up with a copy of this book
and deciding that they want to homestead and perhaps explore the idea of
intentional community. Thus a print copy that's easy to pass
around and turn up in a used book store.
I hope you're engrossed in fun projects as well! Thanks for reading my ramblings.
It's been a year since I
talked about problems
with one of our chicken coops.
The new double nesting box
has helped with egg access, but I think I could've got away with just
one nest because the days I've noticed both nest boxes being used was
"I can think of several ways to fix the problem
- what did you decide to
do? We recently put up a rain-catchment gutter on our cabin, and
discovered the roof edge isn't level - also in the wrong direction.
That meant the 'attaching blocks' had to be bigger to allow for the
difference - making the job take a lot longer than planned."
--- Rhonda from Baddeck
It turns out that Rhonda is on the right track --- the gutters on our
roof would have been installed correctly if the whole trailer didn't
toward the west. It started raining, so we haven't finished the
project yet, but I think we're going to first try taking out the screws
that attach the gutter to the side of the roof, then will give the
gutter more of a
tilt, if possible, so we can keep the downspout where it is.
Worst-case scenario, we'll move the downspout to the other end.
Interestingly, in a heavy rain Friday morning, I noticed that the
downspout seemed to be working pretty well despite the incorrect
tilt. Sure, a bit of water was drizzling out the other end, but
most of the roof runoff appeared to be going down the downspout and into
the greywater wetland, which seemed well able to handle the extra water.
On the downside, it turns out that the high groundwater in that spot
isn't entirely due to water pouring off the trailer roof right
there. Even with that rain being captured by the downspout, water
was pooling right at the surface, meaning I need to keep working if I
don't want the grape and kiwi I'll be installing there to drown.
I'm hoping the extra water comes from the other downspout twelve feet
uphill which spits out water falling on the front porch, but I haven't
quite decided if there's a solution short of channeling that water into
the greywater wetland too. I'd like to have a rain barrel at the
corner of the porch to make watering seedlings easier in the summer, but
we get so much rain that the barrel would do no good in the winter.
Finally, just for fun, I
piled up lots of rocks around the kiwi and grape mounds. Hopefully
these will act as thermal mass and they'll definitely make the plants
more visible so they won't accidentally get weedeaten. And we're
also thinking of taking Brian's advice
and making the trellis out of wire since he makes an excellent point
about the shade potential of lumber. I can't wait to see this area
in full greenery in summer 2014!
When we first got chickens
Lucy was a lot younger and very excited about these new feathered
friends we were introducing to the farm.
It took about 10 minutes to
train Lucy to leave all the chickens alone.
We put her on a leash, walked
her over to a chicken in a tractor and made her sit with her back
facing the tractor. She was excited and kept looking over at the
chicken, but each time I would bring her attention back to me while at
the same time saying with as much authority as I could muster "Our
chickens!.." This went on for about 10 minutes before she seemed to
figure it out and stopped being curious about the chickens.
I think walking her everyday
also helps to anchor the training, but the lesson was taken directly
out of Cesar Millan's book called "Cesar's Way", which might be the best
dog training book available at this time.
Ever since I read the apple chapter in The Botany of Desire,
I've wanted to plant some apple seeds and see if my toss of the dice
turns up a new variety worth keeping. What held me back then was
that I didn't have any land to plant on. And after we got our farm,
I figured I'd have to set aside an absurd amount of space for the
experiment since each tree would be a standard apple, meaning they'd
need to be planted at least 30 feet apart.
But then I started playing with high-density methods,
and learned that judicious pruning and training can make even large
trees small. So I started pondering --- could I plant seeds three
feet apart as if I were making a high-density apple planting, then use
that test orchard to try out seedling genetics? Presumably, it
might still be five or more years before I'd get a taste of these
experimental trees, but that still gives me time for many apple
generations in my lifetime. And if any of the seedling apples are
worth experimenting with further, I can either transplant the tree or
graft its scionwood onto a smaller rootstock. Worst case scenario,
I get a lot of firewood out of the deal.
pros tend to plant somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 seeds to get one
variety worth keeping, and I'd definitely plant many, many fewer.
But it's more fun that going to Vegas --- my kind of gambling.
Want to play?
I'm looking for some
interesting seeds to start my planting, and I promise to name the new
variety after you if you're the source of the seeds. Drop me an email
if you're interested with the name of the mother variety and the
possible fathers (other apple trees close to your tree). I'm
less interested in store-bought apples because the father in that case
is often a crabapple, included in the planting to fertilize the named
varieties, and I'm most interested in off-spring of these disease-resistant apple varieties.
Or you can play along at
home! Here's what I plan to do --- put each batch of cleaned apple
seeds in a labeled ziplock bag surrounded by a damp rag (or paper towel
if you roll that way). Apple seeds need at least a month of cold stratification, so the bag will go in the fridge,
and I'll start checking on it weekly after the month is up. Once I
start to see sprouts, I'll transfer the seeds to a pot, and then,
eventually, to a nursery row.
Alternatively, you can get the same stratification effect by planting
your seeds directly in the ground right now, allowing them to go through
a normal winter. Either way, expect only about 30% germination,
so plant lots of seeds.
As a final side note, if
you've got the space for standard trees, you might plant seeds for
another reason --- to serve as rootstocks to be grafted onto. Many
people will plant a dozen or more seeds where they want the eventual
tree to grow, then will weed out all but the most vigorous specimen a
year later. After grafting, these experimenters get a tree with no
transplant shock. Although I've never heard anyone else say this,
it seems to me you could also get at least a little bit of dwarfing
action from seedling rootstocks if you choose seeds from less vigorous
varieties (like crabapples, self-pollinated Cox's Orange Pippin, Lady, and spur-type Winter Banana and York), or if you choose the least
vigorous seedling when it comes time to weed out your planting.
I'd be very curious to hear from anyone who's used seedlings as
rootstocks --- how did your trees turn out?
(As a final note, these photos aren't mine --- as usual, click to see the source.)
Our White Leghorn hen
who likes to eat crayfish
had a close call this week.
A hawk tried to swoop down
and take her away, but once Lucy heard the noise our rooster was making
from the other side of the fence she ran to the scene with enough
aggressive barking to scare the predator away.
The spot where the old farmhouse
used to sit has been earmarked for years as the future site of an
experimental nursery, but this was the first year we planted into the
area. Mark started reclaiming the spot about a year ago, a process
that involved of lots of weedeating to kill off blackberries and
honeysuckle, plus digging out huge poke stumps. Last fall, I
kill-mulched one bed on the side closest to the trailer, using double my
usual thickness of cardboard (two layers instead of one), and that bed
still came up in blackberries and was a problem over the summer.
So I decided to lower my standards and dig out all the roots in that and
another new bed instead of kill mulching for next year.
And I'm glad I did! After a week of Thanksgiving eating and writing, shoveling
really hit the spot. I've decided the biggest problem with
no-till gardening is that you don't get to dig often, and I love to dig,
so projects like this make my day.
But it was also good to
dig that area for more serious reasons. There were lots of big
roots, including one blackberry root mass about the size of a
four-year-old fruit tree, so I suspect it would have taken at least two
more years of mowing before a kill mulch in that area would take.
Plus, the Appalachian foundation of piled up rocks means Kayla and I
disinterred more stones during our digging project than Mark and I have
found during the entire rest of our time on the farm. The timing was perfect since I want rocks to use around my new grape and didn't have any on hand.
And then there's the pure
pleasure of finding ancient possessions in the soil around an old home
site. Sure, most of what we found was broken window glass and
rusty nails, but Kayla went home with two nice marbles and a little
ceramic container that looked like it might have held makeup or
ointment. And I found a rusty coin from 1951, probably not worth
much, but fascinating for the notion that it was being held in someone's
hand sixty years ago. I think the second picture from the top
might be an old whetstone too?
If I get industrious
again, we've got about three more beds we could dig out in the old house
area, but since I've got other digging projects on the front burner, I
might let Mark mow those areas for another year first. Either way,
it's exciting to have two long beds to fill with experimental
perennials --- more on that in a later post.
We installed a downspout, but
realized afterward that it's on the wrong side.
I left you hanging in yesterday's post
about our skirting decision, and while your thoughtful comments were
pouring in, I went outside to start experimenting. Mark had bought
me a four-foot-by-eight-foot-by-two-inch sheet of rigid-foam
insulation, unfaced because we wanted to buy from our local hardware
store (even though the options there are rather limited) rather than
driving an hour to Lowes. It turned out to be simple to cut the
insulation sheet to size with our hand saw
(much easier than using the utility knife I tried first). Digging
out a little bit of dirt where the insulation was going to go made it
relatively easy to slide the cut pieces into place.
my perusal of the internet before beginning, I'd thought I'd need to
make a bottom rail for the insulation to attach to and to use button
nails to attach the top of the insulation to the underside of the
trailer. But once I got the insulation wedged into place, it
became clear it wasn't going anywhere, so I skipped that step. I
did use a bit of scrap wood to push one piece back so it lined up with
the other, though.
The corrugated pipe we're using to send water from our (as-yet-hypothetical) downspout to our greywater wetland
goes under the trailer, and I'd originally planned to cut a hole in the
insulation to let the pipe through. But as I worked, I figured it
would be simpler to dig down a bit and send the pipe underneath (as you
can see in the photo below). As I type this, though, I'm
wondering if that's a good idea, since the pipe will go down and then
slightly up, meaning a bit of water will pool in the lowest point and
will probably freeze in the winter. I guess we'll wait and see if
that's an issue, or maybe I'll fix the problem before Mark installs the
You'll notice there are a
few small cracks between the sheets of foam in the photo above. I
went back and forth on these, at first thinking I'd seal them with
reflective tape, but then realizing that the flashing I planned on
putting on the outside would do the same job. When I finally crawl
underneath to deal with the problematic insulation under the floor (one
of these days...), I may use some spray-foam insulation to fill in
isn't supposed to deal well with either UV damage or water, so it needs
some kind of outer layer. We could have bought skirting made for
trailers, but flashing is so easy to work with (and is always on hand),
so I decided to give that a try instead. After I took this photo, I
backfilled some earth around the base (and will add even more dirt
later to increase the height of the planting bed), so the gap at the
bottom shown in the photo above is already long gone.
This small part of the
skirting project was so fun and easy, it made me wonder why we've been
putting off skirting for so long. Then I remembered that I want to
replace the disintegrating insulation under the trailer floor before we
make it even harder to work under there by closing the space in.
We may need to bite the bullet and do that before summer, though, since
the back of the insulation sheets I installed this week are currently
exposed under the trailer, and free-range chicks adore pecking at
You would have thought Anna was playing Agricola from the big smile on her face when she got to try out our neighbor's corn sheller.
She explained that she grew up shelling corn by grabbing a cob with two hands and twisting in opposite directions.
The sheller made short work of this weevily corn, which will give our chickens supplemental carbs this winter.
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