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Oct 2014
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Most visited this week:

Smallest wood stoves

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Wood stove in a mobile home

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

Propagating persimmons: Germinating seeds, grafting, and transplanting


Oct 2013
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A year ago this week:

Why you might (not) choose to test your soil

Eggs on the floor

Wood stove pollution and health effects

Hauling gravel with an ATV

Oct 2012
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nest box crowding update
It's been a year since we upgraded to a nest box for two.

Every now and then we'll find an egg in the extra box, which makes it worth the effort in my book.

Posted Wed Oct 1 17:00:23 2014 Tags:
Mulching with fresh oats

One of my long-term goals is to make our mulching campaign more sustainable.  Buying in straw has really helped build our soil and make my weeding work easier, but it has Blooming oatscaused problems too.  First, there's the unique-to-us problem --- we can only haul in heavy materials a few days a year due to the muddiness of our driveway, so getting the straw back to our garden during wet times is difficult.  Then there are the more general problems --- price and the introduction of weed seeds (notably curly dock last year and the grains themselves this year).  All of those problems make me wonder if we wouldn't be better off growing the straw ourselves.

As a very basic experiment, I decided to try to mulch a bit more than we usually do with cover crops.  In the past, I've let the tops of cover crops break down on the beds I planted them into as a way of building soil, but when the oats I planted on August 1 began to bloom in mid-September, I had Mark cut them with the weedeater and then Kayla and I gathered the tops to mulch our strawberries.

Spreading oats

It took about six beds of oats to mulch one bed of strawberries, and even though we spread the leaves and stems pretty heavily, I'm not sure if that will be enough to suppress weeds once the oats dry down.  I also suspect that the C:N ratio of the oats will be relatively low at bloom stage (as opposed to post-fruiting, which is when straw is collected), so this oat mulch might not last as long as I'm accustomed to.  But it's worth a shot, especially since it's an ultra-easy way to start growing a bit more of our own mulch.  I'll keep you posted as the experimental bed goes into the winter, and as we try out cutting other cover crops for mulch.

Posted Wed Oct 1 07:00:11 2014 Tags:
starting the new Swisher trimmer mower

The new Swisher trimmer mower is very easy to start.

Not so easy if you try pulling the rope with the engagement bar pulled.

Our old mower needs the engagement bar pulled before starting, and my robot brain took over for the first few starts before I realized my error.

Posted Tue Sep 30 17:00:10 2014 Tags:
Leveling a rain gauge

I love collecting weather data --- not only is it good, geeky fun, the endeavor also helps me decide whether the garden needs to be watered and it helps me keep track of our specific frost-free period.  Unfortunately, weather-tracking kept falling by the wayside when the tools of the trade turned out to be shoddy and quickly bit the dust.

Heavy-duty rain gaugeA couple of years ago, I solved the temperature-tracking dilemma by going completely analog, and now I'm hoping I've found the rain gauge that will survive winter freezes.  The inner cylinder measures up to one inch of rain, then the outer container gives you an extra ten inches of wiggle room.  In the winter,  you remove the inner cylinder, bring the frozen precipitation indoors to thaw, and then pour it into the measurer.

My weather guru sent our new rain gauge along in exchange for using our farm as a weather station --- he's tracking the way a nearby mountain impacts microclimates in our region.  He's had to replace two rain gauges (not sure out of how many -- quite a few) over the last seven years due to freezing, but that's much better than my previous rate of losing a rain gauge every year.

Now, to see if I can remember to thank him by keeping track of which days begin with fog....

Posted Tue Sep 30 07:00:16 2014 Tags:
Swisher trimmer mower rope line

Today I tried putting a piece of nylon rope where the trimmer line usually goes.

It worked pretty good till it got frayed, and it still kept cutting, but not as fierce.

Maybe soaking the rope in some sort of adhesive would extend the amount of cutting each piece can do before it needs replacing?

Posted Mon Sep 29 15:44:05 2014 Tags:

My second paperback has a coNew coverver, a publication date (March 3) and a preorder page!  I'm not entirely sure whether I like the image, but then, I hated The Weekend Homesteader cover...until it slowly grew on me over the years so that I now find it delightful (yellow boots and all).  And Skyhorse has done a great job producing a full-color book priced at a steal (marked down to $11.55 at the moment), so grab one while they're hot!

In other book news, the ebook version of Trailersteading is on sale today for $1.99.  I haven't uploaded the expanded and revised version yet (still waiting on print-quality photos from a few contributers --- you know who you are and will get email nudges next week).  But if you buy now, you'll automatically receive an updated edition this winter when the new version is available, and will have saved 50% off the cover price in the process.  Of course, you could also wait for the paperback, which will be coming out in fall 2016.

Thanks for putting up with a day of self-promotion.  I can hardly wait to see the interior of The Naturally Bug-Free Garden, and I suspect you'll have to bear with a glowing post about that too.  I promise that serious content will return shortly to a blog near you.

Posted Mon Sep 29 07:00:14 2014 Tags:
freezer vent hole

The old freezer we want to use for goat feed storage accumulates water.

I think it's functioning as a solar still when the sun hits it.

Hopefully this vent hole will help to keep it dryer.

Posted Sun Sep 28 15:16:59 2014 Tags:
Planting garlic

I stressed myself out last week by playing hooky from the garden for three days while a writing project consumed my attention.  When I came up for air, I realized that it was time to plant twelve beds of garlic and two beds of potato onions before the end of the week --- yikes!

Whenever I get overwhelmed by homesteading tasks, Mark reminds me that, together, he and I can do anything.  Add in Kayla, and we managed to get all of the winter alliums into the ground in about 9 man-hours.  Time to quit early and enjoy the fall weather!

Red dragonfly

I've avoided posting anything specific about garlic here because I've pretty much said it all before.  Type "garlic" into the search box on the sidebar and you'll learn far more than you ever wanted to know.

The only thing we're doing differently this year is to cut back to only growing Music garlic.  It seems a bit dicey to put all of our eggs in one basket, but over the last eight years, this variety has consistently done better than all the others, and the huge cloves make cooking a breeze.  Maybe next year we'll try a few other hardneck varieties...but maybe we'll say if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Posted Sun Sep 28 07:00:13 2014 Tags:
ATV with truck in the background

The truck is still where we last left it.

Turns out our neighbor with the tractor got a little nervous when he saw how much mud we were dealing with and wants to wait till it gets a little dryer.

Posted Sat Sep 27 15:10:36 2014 Tags:
Young pear tree"Anna, I think you've been doing some experimenting with pears on your homestead, but I couldn't find any recent updates in the archives.  Any luck with your disease-resistant rootstocks, etc.?"

--- Jake, whose excellent blog is currently one of my favorites.  His writing will definitely be enjoyed by those who love a combination of useful facts, zany humor, and unadulterated geekiness.


Good question, Jake!  I haven't posted much about our pear trees because they're mostly in the waiting stage at the moment.  We originally planted a Keiffer and an Orient pear (the latter of which shouldn't be confused with Asian pears), and they grew quite well...but produced fruits that weren't worth eating.  (Yes, we are snobs.  Yes, if you plan to cook with the fruit, these are probably still quite good varieties.)

Training branches on a pear tree

So, a year and a half ago, I topworked the young trees to change them over to new varieties --- Seckel, Comice, and an unknown variety that is supposed to be similar to Comice.  The two named varieties are reputed to be moderately susceptible to fireblight, and I have seen a small amount of damage from that bacteria, although not enough to really slow down the trees.  (The photo above shows the huge number of new branches the Seckel's central leader has produced during this growing season alone.)  Otherwise, the transformed trees seem to be immune to problems.  Like most pears, our trees grow a mile a minute and I'm kept busy ripping off watersprouts to ensure that the pears don't revert back to their original varieties, then training keeper branches closer to the horizontal so they don't all grow straight for the sky.

Pear fruiting spur

If all goes well, we should see several fruits on each tree next year, at which point I'll be able to tell you whether Seckel and Comice live up to their potential for producing delicious pears that are much less prone to diseases than apples are.  So far, except for the fireblight, our pear trees have been pristine.  Of course, there are apple varieties that are nearly as disease resistant, and we manage to grow several despite having cedar-apple rust coming in from all sides --- a focus on types that are able to fight off that particular fungus is a big help.  But, from a management standpoint, I'd say that pears have definitely been our easiest fruit tree, followed by apples, and then trailed further behind by peaches.  Of course, the peaches do shine in terms of producing soonest after planting, so it's all a tradeoff.  But, yes, plant those pears!

Posted Sat Sep 27 06:55:29 2014 Tags:

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