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archives for 06/2012

Jun 2012
S M T W T F S
         
Beetle castings

I love using stump dirt as potting soil, and last year I concluded that this miraculous substance was probably mushroom compost.  Now I'm going to guess again --- maybe beetle castings?

Beetle in rotting woodThree weeks after Mark cut down a very decayed stump, I started piling the debris in my wheelbarrow to move to a new hugelkultur mound.  Imagine my surprise to find the rotting wood literally wiggling with life!

The most obvious living things in the stump were these impressive beetles.  At least half a dozen were present, which is typical of the Horned Passalus (Odontotaenius disjunctus) since the species is subsocial, with several adults sharing the duties of childcare.

The Horned Passalus eats "decaying wood and/or fungi" (according to Bugguide.net), and Sow bugI realized that the round pellets that make up stump dirt do look a lot like castings (aka poop).  I wonder if beetle castings have the same near-mythical properties as worm castings?

Of course, it's not really fair to assume the beetles are entirely responsible for creating stump dirt.  The log was also home to wolf spiders, slugs, sow bugs, wood cockroaches (hiding in galleries in the less decomposed wood), tiny snails, and much smaller inhabitants that I could barely make out with the naked eye.  So the jury's still out on who or what produces stump dirt.

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with POOP.
Posted Fri Jun 1 06:56:11 2012 Tags:
making a door frame for access into storage area


It's funny how an open space makes you think of possibilities.

Anna's first idea when she saw our new barn floor was how it would make a nice dance area. For me I saw enough elbow room for a pool table.

Posted Fri Jun 1 14:14:47 2012 Tags:
Anna Rain day
Playing on the porch

I'm not good at taking Mondays off, so we worked on Memorial Day.  But a rainy Friday?  Sounds like perfect weather for virtual homesteading.

The porch continues to be one of the best investments we've made since moving to the farm.  On a hot afternoon, surveying my domain from the porch makes me feel like I'm on a cruise.  And playing a board game with my brother while the rain pounds on the metal roof reminds me of several happy childhood (and young adult) experiences all rolled into one.

Clearing the gullyJust a couple of years ago, though, I don't think I would have enjoyed the porch so much.  We've been making an effort lately to spend a bit of energy and money deleting stressors around the farm, and the attention is really paying off.  First was the barn roof project, then Mark took the ninja blade to the sinkhole, and last week our helper and his stepson cleaned up the rest of the gully.  Mark's fences around our perimeter also remind me that nothing beyond the fenceline is my problem.

Now when I look out the window or off the porch, all I see is beauty and I can relax.  I'm glad Mark has mitigated my idealism enough that I can (mostly) quash my guilt at hiring in a bit of help and simply enjoy the results.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy waterers.
Posted Sat Jun 2 08:46:22 2012 Tags:
DeWalt Hammer drill close up


The new DeWalt hammer drill has a surprising amount of power.

Switch it to hammer mode and you'll get a pounding action that makes short work of concrete and other masonry material.

What I like better than the extra power is the addition of a handy work light just above the trigger. Why has it taken so long to come up with this obvious improvement?

Posted Sat Jun 2 14:27:43 2012 Tags:
Black raspberries

Every garden year is a little different, which keeps me from getting bored.  For example, during the last few springs and summers, I've been madly picking asparagus beetles, but Poppy budI've only seen a single asparagus nibbler in 2012.  I squashed it, looked ferociously for more, then shrugged and moved on to other tasks.

On the other hand, I usually plant seeds for the summer garden and forget about them for a few weeks until they're ready to be weeded and mulched.  Not this year.  Something or other is happily eating my seedlings as soon as they come out of the ground, not snipping the stems at the base the way cutworms do, but nibbling off the cotyledons so that sad little sticks are left behind with no energy with which to grow.  Despite three seedings, I have a total of two cucumber plants in the garden --- I guess we won't be awash in crisp cucumbers this year.  Other summer vegetables have also been affected, although less markedly.  Luckily, the unidentified nibbler seems to have gotten sated at last --- my most recent succession plantings are doing much better.

Trellised peas

Early June harvestMeanwhile, a hot spring has caused problems with early crops.  I try to get my broccoli into our bellies and freezer before the cabbage worms hatch, but that wasn't possible this year.  So I'm picking green caterpillars out of the broccoli heads (the latter of which are smaller than usual) and hoping Mark won't notice the missed insects that end up on his plate.  (Note to spouses of gardeners: it's very endearing to find a bug on your plate and shrug it off as "extra protein".)

Onion in the gardenBut the hot spring has a silver lining.  Mark and I enjoyed a bowlful of black raspberries Friday, a treat we usually don't partake of until the end of June.  We're gorging on sugar snap peas, crunching up baby carrots I thin out of the vibrant carrot bed, and watching onions plump up for later harvest.  And, of course, the tomato plants are growing like gangbusters --- one currant tomato is already the size of a pea.  Maybe this will be the year we eat our first tomato in June?

I've decided that the trick to a successful garden is to plant such a wide variety of vegetables that no single failure will leave you hungry.  That, plus learning to shrug off problems and to learn from your mistakes, turns every year into a good garden year.

Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy and chicks healthy.
Posted Sun Jun 3 08:38:27 2012 Tags:

solar powered deer deterrent?
The battery powered deer deterrent started slowing down yesterday, which prompted us to tinker with the idea of charging the battery with a solar cell.


If you take apart one of those solar powered garden lights you'll most likely find a AA battery with a circuit board.

I'm guessing the electronic parts prevent the battery from being over charged. I know the amps are different on a D cell compared to AA, but I thought it was worth a try due to the fact that both batteries put out the same 1.5 volts.


The modification was simple. Just pull out the metal battery connectors with pliers, strip the ends and thread each one through the hole where the screw usually fits. Snip off the plastic portion where the screw bites into and then you'll be able to put it back together with just one screw and the other two deleted.
details on making a solar powered deer deterrent


The other end of the wires get hooked up to the D cell battery. Drilling a 3/4 inch hole at an angle allows for easy mounting of the unit while optimizing the solar angle a bit better than just having it point straight up. I'm thinking the LED light that comes on at night might need to be bypassed to save more juice for deer deterring.

Posted Sun Jun 3 15:37:15 2012 Tags:
Potato onions

From the number of times I've posted about them, you'd think that potato onions are a mainstay of our diet.  To follow our adventures from the beginning, read the posts in this order:

As you can tell if you follow all those links, potato onions were a cool idea that didn't really pan out...until now!

Potato onion leavesThe new variety we planted last fall --- Yellow Potato Onions from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange --- are acting more like the books say they should.  About a quarter of the plants simply made one big bulb, and the other 75% have divided into clusters of four to ten smaller bulbs.  Most important, every bulb looks big enough to be worth peeling, even the smallest ones.

The great thing about perennial vegetables is that once you figure them out, they're much easier to grow than annuals.  Take our garlic, for example --- we'll be pulling the heads out of the ground this week, curing them, then planting the biggest cloves in the fall.  That's the sum total of the garlic workload for the year (except for occasional weeding and mulching, of course).  I want onions to be that simple!

So we won't eat a single potato onion in 2012.  They'll all go back in the ground, where the big bulbs will (hopefully) turn into lots of smaller bulbs and the small bulbs will (hopefully) turn into one or a few big bulbs.  Maybe next year (or the year after) there will be enough to eat and I can stop fiddling with transplanting tiny onion seedlings in the early spring.

Our chicken waterer simplifies life on the homestead by providing weeks' worth of clean water for your flock.
Posted Mon Jun 4 07:19:34 2012 Tags:
Anna Free books

Free Range Chicken GardensThere are three free book opportunities today, so be sure to skim all the way through this post, even if it's boring.

I never heard from Jason, the winner of last week's free book, so I'm moving on down the list.  Melissia, please email anna@kitenet.net with your mailing address and you be enjoying The Ultimate Guide to Permaculture by the end of the week!

Newer readers may not realize that I've written an ebook series with four fun and easy projects for each month of the year to guide you onto the path to self-sufficiency.  To get you started, I'm giving away the first book in the series today on Amazon.  If you don't want to jump through the hoops of making Amazon's kindle app work on your phone, computer, or other device, just drop me an email and I'll send you a free pdf copy.

Finally, another paperback is coming off my shelf this week to make room for new books.  Free-Range Chicken Gardens had some good ideas and lots of beautiful photos, but isn't a keeper.  Leave a comment on this post by midnight tonight and I'll select a winner tomorrow and notify you in yet one more comment on this post.  Be sure to check back so you don't miss your reward.

Happy reading!

Posted Mon Jun 4 12:01:25 2012 Tags:
close up of solar light powering a mechanical deer deterrent


Yesterday's experiment to power the mechanical deer deterrent with a small outdoor solar light only helped a little.

I measured an increase in voltage from 1.21 in the morning to 1.36 just before dinner.

Roland made a good point in the comment section concerning the danger in charging Alkaline batteries. The new plan is to try some rechargeable AA batteries we've got laying around. Eric in Japan suggested two in a parallel circuit and I think that's the direction I'll start out with.

Posted Mon Jun 4 14:59:51 2012 Tags:
Overmature garlic

Softneck garlicIf your garlic looks like the photos above, harvest it last week!

Don't have a time machine?  Right now will work.

Strange leaves poking out of the garlic plant's stalk are a sign that the cloves have already broken through their outer wrapping and sprouted, so the garlic won't store as well as you would have liked.

Sprouted garlic head

This year, the garlic harvest snuck up on me.  Usually, we don't dig our garlic until mid to late June, but a mild winter and hot spring matured the heads early.

Test garlicOnly the softneck varieties were precocious, though.  That's what really kept me from digging a test bulb two weeks ago when the garlic leaves started to look ratty.  We hadn't seen any garlic scapes, so no way the garlic could be ready, right?

Wrong.  Even though Music (hardneck) and Silverwhite Silverskin (softneck) usually mature at the same time in our garden, clearly the two varieties handle early springs differently.  So about a third of our softneck bulbs are going to have to be eaten soon after curing, rather than saved for the winter.

Hardneck garlic

Since I know someone's going to ask this in a comment --- yes, you can just leave the garlic in the ground to resprout and grow as a no-work perennial, but I don't recommend it.  If you don't split the cloves apart before replanting them, a dozen little plants will be Labeling garliccompeting with each other in the same spot and you won't get a good yield next year.

Plus, you can't just go out in the garden throughout the year and dig a head whenever you want it.  That spicy garlic flavor matures as the bulbs cure over the course of a month or so out of the ground.

Stay tuned for a later post about how well our new garlic curing racks worked!

Our chicken waterer makes care of your backyard flock quick, easy, and clean.
Posted Tue Jun 5 07:30:19 2012 Tags:
fixing a broken flywheel shaft key on a Craftsman mulching push mower


24 inch Pittsburgh pry bar:   $4.99

Bostitch AnitiVibe hammer:  $23.49

Bag of flywheel shaft keys:   $6.99

Knowing I can do this operation in the future instead of packing the mower to a local mechanic:   Priceless!

Posted Tue Jun 5 17:01:07 2012 Tags:
Anna Tall tales
Hector Horatio Hess

My oldest brother (not the one you've met here on the blog) is getting married in August, and he asked for a family geneology as a wedding gift.  So I've been engrossed in old photos and history for the last few weekends.

I'm struck by how everything is just a story with no clear line between fact and fiction.  Here's a typical tale from my father:

Boys playing in a pondMy great Uncle George, Grandad's brother, was a noted storyteller, and, some would say, liar. He told me once about visiting Grandmother Hess's relatives down at the Kentucky border, the patriarch of whom was Devil Anse Hatfield. I haven't a clue if what he said was true or not. He told of seeing sun glinting from rifle barrels as he traveled up the hollow to the homestead.

I always took Uncle George's stories with a big grain of salt. He said the Hatfields planted their potatoes in a row going straight up the hill. It was so steep that to harvest them they just dug at the bottom and held a basket when they came pouring out.

But George showed me bear tracks on the riverbank near where he had his garden and showed me how to bake corn in the husk in fire coals. And he told about visiting Devil Anse in front of Grandmother and she didn't deny it.


Horse drawn wagon

Daddy also told me about my great, great grandfather, Hector Horatio Hess, pictured in the first photo in this post.  Hector Horatio was a butcher, baker, and candle-stick-maker...I mean lawyer and restaraunteer.  He was reputed to be able to write two different letters at the same time, one with each hand, from dictation.

Easter clothesAre these larger than life characters actually real?  Perhaps because my grandfather on the other side was an engineer, my forays into geneology are giving me an uncontrollable urge to go measure something.

(For family members and anyone else interested, here are the photo credits:  Hector Horatio Hess is the one in the apron, pictured in front of his restaurant.  The second photo is Daddy as a child with some friends --- he's the one with the pole.  The third photo is my great grandfather John Hess (the driver on the right).  The last photo is Daddy, Aunt Joyce, and Aunt Jackie in their Easter clothes.)

Our chicken waterer cuts chore time by precisely 5 minutes and 22 seconds.  Okay, maybe I made those numbers up, but it does go faster.
Posted Wed Jun 6 07:26:40 2012 Tags:

Baker FarmIn the most relevant section of this week's Walden passage, Thoreau is caught out in the rain and takes shelter in what he thought was an uninhabited hut.  However, since he had last been there, "an Irishman, his wife, and several children" had moved in.  Rather than thanking them for their hospitality for letting him come in out of the rain, Thoreau proceeded to lecture them about simple living.

I've excerpted the most relevant portions below (adding in my own line breaks because Thoreau doesn't believe in short sentences or paragraphs, but I do):

"I tried to help [the Irishman] with my experience, telling him...that I too...was getting my living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own...

"...That I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system...." 

"I told him, that as he worked so hard at bogging, he required thick boots and stout clothing, which yet were soon soiled and worn out, but I wore light shoes and thin clothing, which cost not half so much, though he might think that I was dressed like a gentleman (which, however, was not the case), and in an hour or two, without labor, but as recreation, I could, if I wished, catch as many fish as I should want for two days, or earn enough money to support me for a week.

"If he and his family would live simply, they might all go a-huckleberrying in the summer for their amusement."

Baker woodI believe that this passage strikes to the heart of the problem with the voluntary simplicity movement.  The man whom Thoreau was lecturing had immigrated from Ireland not long before with his family and probably was in debt as a result.  He (presumably) had no nest egg that would allow him to buy a plot of land, nor did he have wealthy friends like Thoreau did who might let him squat on their land for free.  What he did have was several dependents, which added up to a lot more required fish than Thoreau was reckoning on.  (If you read the reviews on Amazon for Possum Living, you'll see similar complaints about this more modern day manual of simple living.)

Although Mark and I tightened our belts in a lot of ways most middle class Americans wouldn't consider (for example, choosing in favor of trailer life and not to have kids), we also got lucky.  I was about halfway through saving up the $10,000 I reckoned I'd need to buy ten Appalachian acres when a friend of mine came through with a no interest loan that allowed me to purchase a much larger acreage.  My friend didn't ask for regular payments while we were spending every penny getting the farm up and running, so we only paid off the last of our debt this year, by which time local land prices had risen precipitously.

So here's the thought question for this week.  Can you live simply if you're not at least culturally middle class?  Anyone who wants to do further reading might consider the very readable Nickel and Dimed, which explores how hard it really is to live on minimum wageWeekend Homesteader if you're starting from square one.  I'll be curious to learn what you all think.  (And, as usual, feel free to also comment on other aspects of the chapters not mentioned here.)

If you're new to the book club, you might want to check out the thought-provoking comments on chapter 1, chapter 2, chapters 3 and 4, chapters 5 and 6, and chapters 7 and 8.  We'll be discussing chapter 11 (Higher laws) and chapter 12 (Brute neighbors) next Wednesday, and anyone is welcome to join in.

The paperback edition of Weekend Homesteader is full of fun and easy projects that guide you onto the path of self-sufficiency.

Posted Wed Jun 6 12:01:06 2012 Tags:
Fabricating a door for the barn the easy and affordable way


It only took our hired helper about an hour to cut out and fabricate the above awesome barn door.

Now we can more easily store straw bales in the barn where they'll feel more comfortable.

Posted Wed Jun 6 16:16:54 2012 Tags:
Anna Straw door
Barn door

I love straw...

Door support

...and I love my new straw door.  I call it the Secret Door because our helper cut it straight out of the wall of the barn, so the boards line up and you can hardly tell a door's there.

Hinge support

He added a few screws, two hinges, a bit of a furring strip (for the latch), and a two by four (to add structure and give the hinges someting to bite into).

Straw in barn

Now I can stack my straw inside and access it easily for the garden.  (Or stockpile it for later.)

Hauling lumberIt's been dry enough to haul, so we're actually trying to stockpile all kinds of supplies.  Our helper told us about a straw opportunity that's presented a bit of a conundrum, though.

His friend has dozens of bales worth of loose straw in his barn to give away.  The cows got in and broke the bales apart and the friend just wants the biomass gone.  Sounds awesome, right?

The problem is that the straw was grown in rotation with tobacco, which means it's probably full of tomato blight.  I honestly don't know enough about the blight fungi to determine how much would be present on straw --- the fungi only live on members of the tomato family, but they also stick around in the soil and could have splashed up onto the straw during a rain.  I also don't know how far I'd need to keep the straw away from a tomato-growing area to prevent adding more blight to our mix, or how deep in a kill mulch I'd have to hide it.

So, do I want the free biomass or not?  I'm a bit too giddy with my straw door to think straight right now.  Maybe you can help me decide?

Our chicken waterer never spills or fills with poop.
Posted Thu Jun 7 08:12:44 2012 Tags:
The Cadilac of worm bins


Those green house tables will live on as the Cadillac of worm bins.

The above worm enclosure went together in about 3 hours.

We decided to put a layer of shower board on the bottom, and a slanted lid should help the water run off it better than our first version that had a flat top.

Posted Thu Jun 7 15:46:08 2012 Tags:
Garlic curing racks

Curing butternutsMark estimates that our new garlic curing racks might save us about a week of labor over the course of the next fifty years.  I figure he's not far off.

In previous seasons, I've spent a lot of time hunting around in search of an area to cure garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, and butternuts.  I generally rig something out of old screens my mom found by the side of the road, in which case the trouble is ensuring the vegetables don't get rained on.

Newly harvested garlic

Climbing ladder with garlicThe drying racks our helper built for us in the solar tower take all of the hunting and setup out of vegetable curing.  The hardware cloth bases are strong enough to hold quite a few heads of garlic, while still allowing for plenty of air circulation, and the roof keeps out the rain.  (We very rarely have blowing rain --- if you do, you might need to extend the roof.)

The only thing that didn't quite work as planned is the two by four rungs that I planned to climb up to put the vegetables in place.  It was much easier to simply lean a ladder against the side of the trailer and go up that way, which felt much less precarious when I had an armload of garlic.

Putting away garlic

I'm not yet sure whether we'll have enough surface area for all of our crops, though.  The garlic filled all six racks up to the brim, and I might need to cure onions before the garlic is ready to go into bags.  We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Our chicken waterer keeps our hens laying at full throttle with plenty of clean water.
Posted Fri Jun 8 07:38:19 2012 Tags:
mulching blueberry hill in 2012


It's a genuine thrill to have all our blueberry rows layered with cardboard and heavily mulched with 2 year old wood chips.

Posted Fri Jun 8 14:56:21 2012 Tags:
Honeybees on poppy

Back when we installed our package of bees, a reader admonished us to "FEED, FEED, FEED".  The biggest question with a package is...when to stop feeding.  Our reader (Mike) made the argument that you need to feed for at least seven weeks, since that's how long it may take for the newly laid eggs to hatch out, finish their duties as house bees, and then go out into the world to gather nectar.

Other potential stopping points some beekeepers use include:

  • When the bees stop taking sugar water.  This is dicey since some bees will keep sucking up sugar water even if there's a nectar flow.
  • When the bees start to produce capped honey.  I've used this guideline in the past, but it doesn't work so well for a Warre hive since I can't look inside to tell if there's capped honey.
  • When you see the first orientation flight of new worker bees.  Despite Mike's math, I started seeing new worker bees going out to forage about four weeks after package installation.
  • Bee gathering pollenWhen you're in the middle of a nectar flow.  Our area has a summer lull at this time of year, so if I used that standard, I might have to keep feeding until the asters begin to bloom, or at least until my planted buckwheat flowers.  As you can see from the photos in this post, our bees are currently going ga-ga over breadseed poppies, but the bees are only getting pollen from that source.

With so many contradictory opinions on when to stop feeding bees, I thought I'd submit the question to the internet hive mind.  When do you take away the sugar water and let your new package fend for itself?

Our chicken waterer keeps hens hydrated so they can focus on hunting bugs and laying eggs.
Posted Sat Jun 9 07:46:14 2012 Tags:

Hauling 4x8 feet plywood with a Club Car golf cart
In the past I've sometimes had 8 foot sheets of plywood cut in half to make for an easier haul back to our home.


Our new helper clued us into the side mount method. It only takes a minute to set up if you have the right bungee cords and scrap wood.

Posted Sat Jun 9 15:31:56 2012 Tags:
Worm bin

Yellow-billed CuckooOur readers are very kind not to call us cuckoo for overbuilding our worm bin when we intentionally underbuild so many other parts of our farm.  (Yes, that sentence is an excuse to include this bird photo I took while trying to tempt our more skittish cat out of a tree on Friday.)

The main incentive for building an elegant worm bin that will last a hundred years is that we had some hefty, free lumber lying around.  But we also decided to take the opportunity to correct the problems we've noticed in midscale worm bin version 1.0 over the last year.  That's the great thing about underbuilding the first time around --- you generally get a second stab at the problem a few years later once you've figured out exactly how you want to tweak the project to fit your own needs.

(Verison 1.0 is still in use, by the way --- the Cadillac is merely an expansion of the vermiculture operation.  I'll give you more details of what's going inside both bins in a later post.)

Showerboard worm bin bottomYou can see a supply list and construction notes for our first midscale worm bin here.  Version 1.0 was quick, dirty, and cheap and it (mostly) worked, but the design was clearly flawed.  I thought I'd be able to collect worm tea, but in reality, this large worm bin didn't make any liquid (or at least not enough to collect), so we ditched the false bottom when making our second bin.  Meanwhile, Mark got the bright idea of adding showerboard to the floor of version 2.0 in hopes of delaying wood rot in this dampest portion of the bin.  Since we didn't want to pierce the showerboard, that left us without aeration Gap in wall of worm binholes, so our helper suggested spacing the boards that make up the sides about a quarter of an inch apart to give lots of room for air movement.

From a purely ergonomic standpoint, I seldom opened version 1.0 because an 8 by 4 foot sheet of plywood was simply too heavy and ungainly for me to easily handle, even on hinges.  So our helper split the lid on this new worm bin into thirds, adding braces to the inside of the bin to prevent the second lid problem we'd noticed --- warping of the plywood.  (You can see the lids well in the top right photo in this post.)

Compost wormsSo far, the only slight problem I've had with the bin is opening the middle lid --- my arms aren't quite long enough to really open it all the way.  I suspect we'll find more flaws as we use the bin, and will make version 3.0 even more efficient.  For the moment, though, Mark and I are both so pleased with our Cadillac worm bin that we go visit it from time to time and I even dreamed about it Thursday night.  Quite a lot of excitement for our quiet farm!  Imagine how ecstatic we'll be when we actually seed the bin with worms.

Our chicken waterer takes advantage of years of improvements to make your chicken chores quick, easy, and fun.
Posted Sun Jun 10 07:29:41 2012 Tags:
Phillip Reed's elegant chicken door design

Automaticchickencoopdoor.com
Our pre-made automatic chicken coop door is coming up on its one year anniversary next month and is still going strong.

I noticed a new DIY approach this morning from Phillip Reed that captures my attention for multiple reasons.

1. Parts are common and low cost.
2. Design seems solid, safe, and long lasting.
3. He offers detailed instructions in Ebook or paperback.

In my opinion Jeremy at AutomaticChickenCoopDoor.com is still the best option for those who want an out of the box solution that is ready to go in minutes, but the above design might be a good place to start for those do it yourselfers who have a little extra time to tinker on such a project. I would imagine Phillip Reed's instructions could end up saving 4 or 5 hours of trial and error depending on building skills. 

Posted Sun Jun 10 15:27:41 2012 Tags:
Heather and me in the golf cart
"After they have taken up farming, many a city man and his wife --- particularly his wife! --- have run the gamut of emotions through all the descending scale of delight, gratification, pleasure, surprise, perplexity, annoyance, disgust and exasperation (a full octave!) to discover how popular they have become since moving to the country.  Not only do intimate friends drop in unannounced on fine Sundays but less and less intimate ones even down to people who just happened to live around the block arrive in auto loads and all expect to remain for dinner, perhaps supper also!"

--- Maurice Grenville Kains in Five Acres and Independence


We don't have this problem (except possibly during strawberry week).  Even the hungriest city dweller is generally deterred by the alligator swamp.

Luckily, I'm becoming better and better at tempting true friends to make the trek, bringing me closer to my goal of never leaving the farm but still keeping in touch.  Heather is one of our favorite visitors, and I totally lost track of time while chatting with her on Saturday.  (We both just thought it was getting cloudy...not dark.)

Thanks for coming, Heather!  And don't forget that guest post you promised me about books for the beginning gardener.

Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock easy, clean, and fun.
Posted Mon Jun 11 07:37:38 2012 Tags:
Egyptian onion top bulbs

It's that season again --- time to send Egyptian onion top bulbs out to take over the world!  I've already given away two brimming bagsful, but as you can tell, there are still plenty left.

(If you've never met these delightful perennial onions, you can read more about them here.  There are no purchase buttons on that page because I think I'm going to save all of Microbusiness Independencethe onion bulbs to give away this year, unless my readers get sated and stop taking them.  Speaking of which, if you're someone I see in person and would like some Egyptian onions for your garden, just drop me an email and I'll set aside some for you before I give the rest away.)

To be entered in our Egyptian onion giveaway, download Microbusiness Independence from Amazon today, then leave a comment on this post to let me know you've entered.  I've set it up so our oldest ebook is free today and tomorrow, so this is a great opportunity to learn our tips on becoming financially self-sufficient.

Box o top bulbsRather than selecting only one winner, I'll choose five commenters at random to win a small flat rate box full of Egyptian onion top bulbs.  This is enough to feed a large family all of the green onions they can eat, or to spread some starts around to your gardening buddies.

Be sure to comment by midnight on Tuesday, June 12, and then check the comments on Wednesday to see whether you won.  Our Egyptian onions are looking forward to exploring their new homes!

Posted Mon Jun 11 12:01:06 2012 Tags:
Stihl FS-90R trimmer weed eater one year check up update from last years review


The Stihl FS-90R trimmer/weed eater has been with us for about a year now and still starts on the first or second try. We made a bit more progress on reclaiming the gully today thanks to its power.

I recently considered upgrading the grip to what Stihl calls a "Bike handle". I heard there was a conversion kit, but our local Stihl dealer said that for an extra 40 dollars from what the kit cost you could buy a whole trimmer with the bike handle installed and ready to go.

She also told me that bike handle grips are good for level situations where you find yourself "mowing" for long stretches of time, but if you've got hills then the two handed grip tends to wear on your back more than the loop handle. We've got plenty of elevated weeds here, which is what convinced me to forget about the bike handle.

Posted Mon Jun 11 16:56:52 2012 Tags:

Scything ragweedA lot of people buy an Austrian scythe because they want to replace their weedeater and/or lawnmower with a hand tool.  Why use gasoline when you don't have to?

Although I agree with that logic to some extent, Mark has turned me into a realist when it comes to homesteading tools.  If a hand tool takes a significant amount more muscle than a power tool, I might choose the power tool.

On the other hand, I also factor in the long term effort involved.  If I'm afraid of the power tool, can't get it started easily, or can't fix common ailments myself, I might find it simpler in the long run to use a hand tool.  That's why our tool kit contains a mixture of power and hand tools, into which the scythe slid gracefully.

So which power tools does the scythe replace, and when?  Pros use their scythe to mow the lawn, but I have to admit that I find the lawnmower much easier in that respect.  On the other hand, the scythe is great on rough terrain or when cutting tall weeds that would bog down the mower.  There, Mark would turn to the weedeater, but that tool fails all three of my power tool tests, so I stick to the scythe.  (Despite being scared of the weedeater, I wouldn't try to use my scythe for the tasks Mark turns his ninja blade to --- really heavy duty brush is a job either for power tools or for slow and steady work with loppers and a hand saw.)

Scything clover

Closed hafting angleEven if you like your weedeater, you might find a scythe handy in certain situations.  Scythes cut right where you tell them to without shredding the severed plant to bits, so they're great for harvesting grain and cutting comfrey for mulch.  My scythe also makes it easy to mow with more discernment, a boon in my complicated forest gardens and pastures, where I might want to leave a berry plant to finish fruiting, mow red clover at six inches but ragweed right at the ground, and be able to feel that I'm hitting a fallen branch before damaging my tool.

(I can't say for sure that a weedeater can't do all those things --- I've hardly used one.  But I can tell you for sure that it's easier for me to scythe my complex pastures than to explain to Mark how I want them cut.)

Now for the downsides of the scythe.  You need to commit more time to learning the craft, paying special attention to sharpening the blade.  On the other hand, while you can just start a weedeater and let her rip, you'll still have to take the tool in for a tuneup from time to time if you can't figure out how to clean the air filter, change the spark plug, etc.  Austrian scytheIn the long run, I think that a scythe requires less knowledge to keep the tool running at its best than a weedeater does, unless you're already an expert at small engine repair.

I was also disappointed to discover that scything is very wrist intensive.  I'm prone to carpal tunnel flareups, which is why Mark splits all the wood around here.  While not nearly as bad for my tendons as splitting wood, half an hour of scything is really all my wrists can handle before they begin to protest.  This is a problem because scything is extremely addictive and fun, and it's hard to make myself stop once I've started!

I'm sure I'll discover additional pros and cons of the scythe as I use it more.  I haven't quite put in the eight hours required before I need to peen the blade yet, so take my advice with a grain of salt.  Maybe other scythe-users will chime in with the times they choose to (and not to) use their scythe.

Our chicken waterer keeps the coop dry and the chickens healthy.
Posted Tue Jun 12 07:01:57 2012 Tags:
Solar powered hat that powers fan when sun hits it


A small breeze on a hot day can sometimes feel like a gift from the wind gods.

I was a bit dubious of the clip on solar hat fan, but it looked so cool I decided to get two.

The fan is weak, but you do feel wind blowing right up close where it counts the most. The sound might annoy some folks, but a loud lawn mower and ear plugs can fix that. A wide brim hat allows for 360 degrees of placement choices, but it also works with a more conventional baseball cap.

Posted Tue Jun 12 16:45:07 2012 Tags:
Map of our homestead

Thanks to google planimeter (and some awesome new maps, updated this April!), I can answer Roland's question about how much land we use to grow our own food.  The map above shows our total footprint on the land (minus our driveway, hunting area, and woodlot, but including the house and barn) --- 1.118 acres.

Here's a breakdown of the purposes to which we put that land:

Use
Acres
Pastures:
0.1371
Vegetable gardens (including strawberries and potatoes):
  • Mule garden (and grapes) --- 0.09529 acres
  • Back garden (and fig) --- 0.03751 acres
  • Front garden (excluding sinkhole) --- 0.09995 acres
0.23275
Forest garden:
  • West --- 0.07511 acres
  • East --- 0.09024 acres
0.16535
Berries
  • Blueberries and gooseberries --- 0.02000 acres
  • Front berry patch --- 0.02779 acres
  • Back berry patch --- counted in forest garden figures instead because under eventual spread of fruit trees
0.04779

New barn roofThese numbers only add up to about half the total acreage of our core homestead because they don't include areas like the gully, trailer, barn,  woodshed, water tank, etc.  That said, I have included paths, both for people and for the golf cart.

I did some extra math, which I'll post on our chicken blog next week, and came to the conclusion that we outsource 0.36486 acres of growing land to the producers of our chicken feed, and perhaps that or a little more to the growers of our straw.  Since you get both straw and grain from the same field, I'm not counting the straw figures into our land area.  Nor am I counting the acreage on which the horses who give us our manure graze since manure is considered a waste product of their operation.

Bing mapWe still buy a lot of fruit, but that's because our orchard is young.  I think our current forest garden and berry patches will sate even my frugivorous appetite once everything is mature.  We will probably expand our berries a bit more to fill in gaps, though.

More relevantly, we buy red meat from a friend, and I don't have any data on how much land and grain she uses to produce that meat --- maybe another half acre?  I'm not going to factor in the small amount of dairy products, flour, peanut butter, nuts, cocoa, sugar, and spices we get from the store --- that's beyond my math skills and we could do without if need be.  (Except the chocolate -- can't do without that!)

So, to answer Roland's question, if we grew our own chicken feed but stopped eating everything else from the store, we'd be using just shy of half an acre (0.2 hectares) apiece to feed ourselves.  This is the exact amount of arable land per person Roland estimates the world currently contains.  I'm pretty sure whoever came up with those numbers didn't include steep grazing land in their arable land figures, so Mark could probably get away with adding in his red meat by raising sheep on the hillside.  (Actually, I'm not so sure that any part of our property was included in the arable land estimate.)

Powerline cut
Although this is just a thought problem, it does make me glad that Mark has been fencing me in, which forces me to fill up the gaps in our core homestead area rather than sprawling out across the back forty.  It also makes me ponder whether it might not be more economical (while feeding my control freak tendencies) to hire our helper to turn the quarter of an acre of powerline cut in the floodplain into grain and straw production.  I wonder if this crazy flight of fancy will scare Mark more or less than last year's dream of goats?

Our chicken waterer lets you go out of town for the weekend without worrying about your flock.

Posted Wed Jun 13 07:44:21 2012 Tags:

I was thrilled by the interest in our Egyptian onion giveaway!  Zoe, Charity, Jeff, Denise, and Jeremiah --- please drop an email to anna@kitenet.net and I'll put your onions in the mail to you Friday.

For everyone else who entered, I'll see how many onions are left once I box those up and will consider another giveaway.  My father has kindly offered me his top bulbs (from descendants of my onions, of course) to spread the species yet further, so we may have enough between us for another giveaway.  Stay tuned!

Posted Wed Jun 13 07:55:23 2012 Tags:

Woolly aphidThere's so much to talk about in chapters 11 and 12 of Walden that I'm not quite sure where to focus my energy.  I could take the easy way out and write about chapter 12, how the mouse that Thoreau befriended is like the tree frog that lives beside our spigot and the phoebes we watch heading into the barn with bugs for their chicks.  Or I could go in the opposite direction and tear apart Thoreau's belief that "all sensuality is one; all purity is one", by which he means that in order to be spiritually pure, we have to mortify our senses with plain food and drink and complete chastity.

But I'll instead take the middle road and write about a tangential topic that I found more interesting:

Butterflies on clover"...when some of my friends have asked me anxiously about their boys, whether they should let them hunt, I have answered, yes, --- remembering that it was one of the best parts of my education --- make them hunters..."

"We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected.  This was my answer with respect to those youths who were bent on this pursuit, trusting that they would soon outgrow it."

Honeybees on thymeIn fact, Thoreau believed that he owed his own deep appreciation of nature to a boyhood spent with a gun in his hands.  He wrote that hunting and fishing "early introduce us to, and detain us in a scenery with which otherwise, at that age, we should have little acquaintance."

Long-time readers of the blog will know that I've gone through an extensive series of thought processes about hunting.  When I was in elementary school and lived on my parents' farm, our closest neighbor would go out and kill turkeys and deer, and we kids would vilify him for it, calling him Gargamel.  (Gargamel is the evil enemy of the smurfs, in case you didn't watch the same cartoons I did as a child.)

Flea beetleSoon after college, I spent a few years wandering around peoples' land telling them what plants and animals they had, and I began to realize that the hunters I bumped into were (usually) more in tune with the wild areas than the city folks who came out to enjoy my interpretive hikes.  The latter liked the easy and fun ecological stories, but the hunters had a deeper appreciation for the entirety of the ecosystem, along with a vested interest in the land that made them want to protect it.  (I also decided that hunting was an excuse for macho men to spend time looking at butterflies and flowers without being deemed sissies, but that's not as relevant to this post.)

Honeybee on cloverYears later, I learned to kill, gut, and cook deer that wandered into our garden.  I slowly morphed from being a pure preservationist who believed that the best thing humans could do to nature is to fence it off and leave it alone, to a permaculturalist who believes that humans are a part of nature --- still bound to protect it, but from within, not from without.  In the process, I felt like I developed a deeper appreciation for wild things, and an acceptance that nature doesn't have to resemble a museum-perfect painting to be valid.

While those epiphanies probably would have come anyway if I'd never picked up a gun, I suspect that Thoreau is right that hunting can help speed the nature appreciation process along.  What do you think?  Would you rather have Junior playing video games on the weekend, or out hunting squirrels on the back forty?  Is nature better appreciated from within, or from without?
Weekend Homesteader
If you're new to the book club, you might want to check out the thought-provoking comments on chapter 1, chapter 2, chapters 3 and 4, chapters 5 and 6, chapters 7 and 8, and chapters 9 and 10.  We'll be discussing chapter 13 (House-warming) and chapter 14 (Former inhabitants; and winter visitors) next Wednesday, and anyone is welcome to join in.

The paperback edition of Weekend Homesteader is full of fun and easy projects that guide you onto the path of self-sufficiency.

Posted Wed Jun 13 12:04:32 2012 Tags:

The steepest pasture hill yet
The current chicken pasture I'm working on is a challenge due to 90 percent of it being on a steep hill.


It should make it harder for deer to find their way down to us. I would guess over half of all our deer incursions came from this direction.

We planted a cherry bush in this area which is looking good and should be an excellent source of protein for our flock once the cherries start dropping.

Posted Wed Jun 13 15:35:37 2012 Tags:
Golf cart load of weeds

Our farm grows wingstem and ragweed better than anything else.  Although our honeybees visit the flowers, we don't get any other products from these acres and acres of wildflowers...until now.

Weed-lined road

Cardboard mulchThe tall weeds that line our driveway have always looked like an opportunity, but I never could figure out what they were an opportunity for.  One winter, I gathered the dead stalks and sent them through our shredder/hammer mill, but the process took forever and I was worried that the seedy mulch would cause problems.

At this time of year, though, ragweed and wingstem are shooting up fast and have no flowers or seeds in sight.  Add in the scythe and a bed of raspberries that the chicks had scratched nearly bare, and I thought I might have figured out my opportunity.

It took me about an hour (and two big golfcart loads) to cover up the cardboard of my kill mulch with a new organic layer.  I mulched very thickly since I know the weed leaves will wilt down to nearly nothing, but I hope the stems will be enough to provide a long-lasting mulch.  That means it took just a bit longer to mulch the row than if we'd hauled buckets of composted wood chips from the parking area, but only about half as long as raking leaves out of the woods.

Driving mulch to the garden

Mulching with weedsThe trick to speedy weed gathering was to hit spots right along the driveway where partial shade keeps the vines down and allows the scythe to make short work of the weed stalks.  Actually, I spent a lot more time collecting the weeds off the ground than cutting them down, meaning that if I wanted to build a grain cradle for the scythe, I could probably become significantly more efficient.

I also suspect that I'd get more biomass for my effort if I waited another few weeks until the weeds were starting to bloom.  At that stage, they'd be higher in carbon, which would make the mulch last longer while encouraging beneficial fungi in the soil.  Right now, the shaded wingstem and ragweed in the woods are between three and five feet tall, but they'd be bigger at bloom time.

I'll try to remember to report back once I get an idea about how well the weeds work as mulch.  I'll probably repeat the experiment in a few other patches in the meantime --- scything combined with the golf cart is too much fun to pass up.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a wet, dirty chicken coop.
Posted Thu Jun 14 07:14:19 2012 Tags:
fencing on a steep hill with a Jackson sledge hammer


The chicken cherry pasture got a little bit more fenced in today.

I started out this morning using the solar clip on hat fans, but took them off because of the noise. It's not that the fan is really all that loud, but it's very close to your ear and it makes it hard to hear if someone is talking to you. It was also messing with my normal, tranquil, happy feeling by reminding me of a brief job where I worked at an extremely loud spring factory in Xenia Ohio.

My conclusion is that the solar clip on hat fans are awesome when mowing or running similar equipment where the fan noise gets drowned out by a louder machine.

Posted Thu Jun 14 16:52:04 2012 Tags:

The Pruning BookLee Reich's The Pruning Book is worthy of a lunchtime series, but it's summer, so you'll just get a review with a few choice tidbits.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, from the structure (30 pages on pruning basics, then sections on each type of plant you might want to prune) to the visuals (which include both informative drawings and photographs).  I've always liked Lee Reich's method of researching and presenting facts, but still inserting bits and pieces of personal experience, and this book was no exception.

None of the information in The Pruning Book is particularly earth-shattering, and you can find most or all of it on extension service websites.  In fact, that's how I've been garnering my pruning information so far --- in bits and pieces from short articles.  However, reading the same information in book form, I connected dots I hadn't realized needed to be connected, for example realizing that pruning a hedge follows many of the same rules as pruning a fruit tree.  In both cases, you need to start training the plants during the first year, and to prune so that light hits all parts of the plant.  (As a side note, The Pruning Book has more information on hedges, pollarding, and espaliers than I'd found anywhere else.)

Do you understand why a heading cut makes plants bush out while a thinning cut merely redirects energy to existing limbs?  Did you know that thinning young fruits not only ensures the remaining fruits are larger, but also that the tree doesn't decide to skip fruiting next year?  I'll regale you with more tidbits as I summer prune our orchard and berry patch over the course of the next week.

Although I suspect I'll outgrow this book in two or three years, at the moment it's found a place on my permanent bookshelf.  Now, if I could just find an equally good book about grafting....

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional filthy chicken waterers.
Posted Fri Jun 15 06:55:45 2012 Tags:
new chicken pasture long view


It felt good to finish up the fencing on the new chicken cherry pasture today.

I think I've got all the bottom gaps closed up, but the real test will be to let the flock forage through it to see if any of them get out.

Posted Fri Jun 15 15:44:11 2012 Tags:
Honeybee with pollen

Although we've only had it for a short while, I can tell the Warre hive is good for my beekeeping skills.  I never even considered taking photographs through the screened bottom of my Langstroth hives because I knew I could just take the boxes apart whenever I felt like it, but the camera and I have been making regular visits to the Warre hive to see what's going on inside.  Lately, I've taken to pressing my ear up against each box too, which gives me an indication of where the bees are actively working.  All of this data without bothering the bees at all!

Cluster of beesJust this week, the colony has finally moved down into the new box we gave them three weeks ago.  The slow movement downward tells me that my weight-based guess was right --- the bees hadn't worked on the top box yet at the time we nadired a new box underneath.

Listening at the hive Friday morning, the bottom box roared with bees building comb, the second box roared with bees feeding brood, and the top box produced more of a gentle growl.  I suspect that the bees are using their attic to dehydrate nectar into honey, thus the lower activity levels up top.

In other bee-related news, I never did make a decision about how long to feed our package of bees.  As a result, I'm splitting the difference between the two extremes by letting the colony wait a day or two after each infusion of sugar water.  The white clover is blooming pretty well, but it's been awfully dry here for the last couple of weeks, and I'm just not sure how much nectar the flowers are producing.  My first buckwheat cover crop will probably start blooming in a week or so, at which point, I might cut the bees off their sugar water.

Our chicken waterer keeps the hens happy with POOP-free water.
Posted Sat Jun 16 07:38:47 2012 Tags:
young chickens in new pasture


Our flock was a bit timid about exploring their new free range chicken pasture this morning, but after an hour of coming out and running back in it seems they've decided to make themselves at home.

Posted Sat Jun 16 14:38:45 2012 Tags:
Anna Deadlines
New England asters

External deadlines make me nervous, so I try to avoid them at all costs.  When I was in college, I was the one who wrote my paper the weekend before even though it wasn't due Squash and chamomileuntil Friday, and I now weed and topdress new garden beds the week before they're supposed to be planted so that the seasonal deadline doesn't creep up on me.

But sometimes you can't avoid deadlines, and this weekend is one of those times.  My editor emailed me the final draft of The Weekend Homesteader for corrections, due Monday.  Sure, I could have argued that I wrote into my contract that I had a month for this stage (mostly because I thought they'd mail proofs and I was afraid a flood might slow things down).  But I'd rather have the manuscript zip over to China ASAP so the presses will start rolling.

Mulched garden

Green tomatoesSo I've broken one of our farm's cardinal rules and am working during the weekend.  (Watering the forest garden by hand too, to give me a break between chapters.)  Now that I'm 75% of the way done, the stress of an external deadline is finally lifting off my shoulders, but I don't think I'll have any extra deep thought to spare once I get the book off my plate.

Which is all a long way of saying --- we're taking a week's vacation from Walden.  I hope you don't mind the extension.  Go enjoy your garden instead!

Our chicken waterer lets me ignore the flock when I don't have time for many chores.
Posted Sun Jun 17 07:46:21 2012 Tags:
updating the previous deer deterrent model from a D cell to two AA rechareables


Still no no signs of deer damage to the garden this year.

I finally got around to upgrading the solar powered deer deterrent from the Alkaline D cell to a pair of rechargeable AA batteries just in case we need a mechanical deer deterrent on short notice.

The batteries were a little undercharged at only 1.2 volts, but I'm trying a series circuit which will double that to 2.4 volts DC. My thinking is that the motor stops turning just under 1.3 volts, and even though it turns a bit faster with 2 batteries it's not too fast and the increase should help boost the longevity factor.

Posted Sun Jun 17 17:11:56 2012 Tags:

Compost wormsYou may recall that we've done several experiments with worm bins.  In 2009, we had a small, under-the-sink worm bin, which dwindled away because we gave all of the worm-worthy scraps to the chickens, except for the one thing chickens won't eat --- citrus peels.  Unfortunately, citrus peels also turned out to be the one fruit scrap that kills worms.

We started again last year with an ambitious project of collecting food scraps from a local school to feed a larger worm bin.  That project failed for various reasons, so we filled the bin back up with horse manure and Mouse in worm binbedding, which resulted in some great worm castings this spring.  (We got another ten buckets of castings between the time I wrote that post and the time I'm writing this one.)

But, once again, I made some mistakes.  We located our large worm bin out by the parking area --- perhaps a third of a mile from our core homestead --- because we wanted to be able to put food scraps into it from the school even when the driveway was impassable.  In permaculture terms, I think of the parking area as zone 3 or 4, and a worm bin is more of a zone 1 or 2 project.  Worms don't need as much care as your chickens or vegetables, but good vermiculturists probably open the lid at least once a week.

The result of placing the bin so far from home is that it got neglected.  I should have refilled the bin early this spring with fresh manure, which would have tempted the worms to reproduce and expand from their small winter population.  Instead, they were looking for food in their own waste, and the number of worms dwindled yet further.  There were still enough Storebought wormsworms present to seed the new manure we added to the bin a couple of weeks ago, but not enough worms to move some to our new Cadillac worm bin.

So we bought more worms.  We'd lost the contact information for our local supplier, so settled on buying two pounds of worm castings online.  That's not nearly enough worms for such a huge bin, but I don't really need the castings until next spring, so I figure they've got plenty of time to fill the space.  I also added some soaked, shredded paper since the horse manure smelled a bit like ammonia, a sign that it doesn't have enough carbon and is outgassing precious nitrogen into the air.  (I also figured the paper would give the worms a safe place to hide if the relatively fresh manure gets too hot for them.)

Meanwhile, Mark talked me into building more worm bins (with the number yet to be determined) as a way of stockpiling compost so that it improves with age.  We never Shredded paper in worm binknow when we'll be able to drive biomass in and when we won't, so it's a good idea to work ahead, but it's just sad to see last year's manure piles sink into the ground before they can feed the garden.

Even Mark blanched, though, when I told him it would take at least ten big worm bins to ensure I had enough compost for a solid year.  Maybe we'll just build another one or two for now....

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional filthy waterers.
Posted Mon Jun 18 07:12:26 2012 Tags:
worm bin with lid open


We had our helper build another worm bin today.

He took some initiative and improved the lid so it can easily be held up with the above side pieces.

It's the best worm bin yet, and we still plan to build more.

Posted Mon Jun 18 16:11:41 2012 Tags:
Phoebe and fireblight

My topworked pear trees were a spectacular failure.  The trees came down with fireblight, and I stuck my head in the sand so long they managed to pass the bacteria on to the apple trees.

I started out blaming the scionwood source since we'd never had fireblight on our farm previously.  However, some research made me rethink that and start pointing the finger back at myself.  It turns out that extremely heavy pruning makes it far more likely you'll get fireblight in your trees, and my topworking involved some very heavy pruning.  (I'm surprised the information I read on topworking pears didn't include that warning, but I guess the websites were geared at commercial orchards who spray antibiotics.)

Fireblight on applesMeanwhile, something about the spring weather also seems to have promoted fireblight.  My sister called me to say that her pear trees 90 miles away are so badly fireblighted, she might have to cut them down.  Like me, she'd never seen fireblight on her farm before, and she didn't do any crazy topworking.  So it's possible that the disease would have struck whether I pruned heavily or not.

Better late than never, I pruned out all of the damaged branches.  But I still might have to cut my pear trees down too since the trunks have lesions all the way to the ground.  I'd just assumed one of our cats was using the trunk as a scratching post, but closer examination suggests the wounds are more likely to be another symptom of fireblight.

The good news is that the phoebe pictured at the beginning of this post seems to be taking a major dent out of our Japanese beetle population this year.  A pair of the insect-eating birds is nesting in the barn, right next door to our grapes (also known as "Japanese beetle mecca").  In previous years, I've picked huge numbers of beetles off the row of grapes, but this year there only seem to be a few beetles...and lots of bird droppings.  If only the phoebes would head over to the raspberries and continue their good work!

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to leave town without worrying about your flock.
Posted Tue Jun 19 06:24:50 2012 Tags:
learning how to clean a gun the right way


Our helper Bradley was kind enough to bring his gun cleaning kit over today and gave us a crash course in proper cleaning procedures.

I've heard some folks say you can use WD-40 to clean a gun. Bradley says that will work in a pinch, but WD-40 tends to attract dust and lacks a teflon component that most gun oils have.

Posted Tue Jun 19 15:57:19 2012 Tags:

Cleaning a rifleAlthough I've killed two deer, I wasn't raised with guns and have a sinking feeling I'm missing some important safety points.  So I was thrilled when our new helper (who said we can start using his name: Bradley) brought his gun-cleaning kit and showed us how to keep our tools in good working order.

Except for needing some special lubricants and a $20 cleaning kit, the procedure didn't look all that daunting.  Bradley wiped the guns down, cleaned out the barrels (both with a soft swab and with a twisted wire brush that gets powder out of the grooves), and sprayed a bit of lubricant inside to sit overnight.  He told me that (with a plain old rifle, not a muzzle-loader), he cleans his guns twice a year when they're not in use, then quickly cleans the barrel after every tenth bullet or so.

Bradley had good advice for improving my marksman skills as well.  I hardly practice because the bullets for our 40 caliber rifle are expensive, so he recommends a 22 rifle for target Gun cleaning oilsshooting.  He also promised to come by the next time we shoot a deer and teach us the field dressing methods he learned at his father's knee, which get the meat in the freezer in 15 minutes flat.

In other blood-thirsty news, a couple of weeks ago, we saw a rabbit in the garden for the first time in years.  The rabbit got scared and ran into the chicken pasture, where the poor thing battered itself against the corner in vain.  I wanted to kill it and see what rabbit meat tastes like, but wasn't sure if that was legal out of season.

I emailed the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with my question, and they wrote back:

You, as a landowner, can kill rabbits on your own land at any time, with no restriction on method.


The issue of out-of-season rabbit hunting is actually up for interpretation in Virginia due to the complexity of the rule book, but if the officials say I can kill rabbits out of season on my land any way I want, I'm not going to look that gift rabbit in the mouth.  The next bunny in the garden will have to beware.  (We'll probably try to live trap it instead of shoot it, though.  I don't think I'm a good enough shot to kill a running rabbit.)

Our chicken waterer never spills in coops or tractors.
Posted Wed Jun 20 07:08:56 2012 Tags:
Sycamore and locust

LucyMy Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George was one of my favorite books twenty-some years ago.  Since I'm taking a quick vacation from Walden, I couldn't resist rereading this fictional account of a boy who follows in Thoreau's footsteps and carves a livelihood out of the woods.

With adult eyes, I see that the author was purposefully referencing Thoreau.  In fact, her book seems to capture many of the best parts of Walden without descending into long-winded philosophizing.  Creek poolAnd, unlike most kids books I reread, My Side of the Mountain seems to have improved with age.

So, if you're one of my many readers who started Walden and then gave up in disgust, here's a book I can whole-heartedly recommend to take its place.  Wild edibles, animal snares, hiding from authorities, and much more.  Just as inspiring now as when it was written over fifty years ago.  Plus, I just realized there's now a sequel!

My first paperback should be on its way to the printer as I type.  Don't forget to preorder The Weekend Homesteader today and receive one of the first available copies!
Posted Wed Jun 20 13:11:20 2012 Tags:
Regular golf cart battery brushing keeps the acid cavities away


Regular golf cart terminal brushing can prevent battery acid cavities.

We've been trying to brush off the gunk build up before it starts to weaken the metal.

I think it's going to help extend the life of the battery wires.

Posted Wed Jun 20 15:15:44 2012 Tags:
Potato onions

Curing garlicThey'll lose some weight once they cure and I cut off the leaves, but right now I'm very pleased with the yield from our potato onions.  I started out with 8 ounces...and ended up with 8 pounds.

All are going back in the ground this fall.  If they grow as well next year as this year, we should  harvest 128 pounds of onions and be able to stop starting the vegetables from seed.  Maybe in two years, I'll have potato onions to give away to my favorite blog readers.

The garlic isn't quite ready to bag, but is dry enough that I felt okay about doubling up two racks to give our potato onions a spot to cure.  Our seed onions need a few more weeks in the ground, so by the time that harvest comes in, our curing racks should be empty and ready to reuse.  Now I'm looking forward to the harvest rather than dreading the chore of finding curing areas!

Our chicken waterer makes care of the flock so easy, you have time to grow your own vegetables.
Posted Thu Jun 21 08:05:33 2012 Tags:
which gauge wire is best for building a trellis for black berries


In the beginning we used 12 gauge galvanized wire for trellis support because someone had given us what was left of a roll.

After several years of experimentation I'm ready to say 14 gauge wire is easier to work with and seems to be more than strong enough.

I might switch back to 12 gauge if our rows were longer, but we don't have any large scale orchard plans like that.

Posted Thu Jun 21 15:58:32 2012 Tags:
Tip-pruned blackberries

As you can see, we're working on getting our perennials back in good order this month.  The brambles quickly expand out of their allotted rows if we're not careful, but a bit of tip-pruning and tying up sets them straight.  I'm actually in awe of the effects of tip-pruning since the blackberry canes I snipped last year have turned into compact shrubs nearly solid with berries --- I'll try to remember to take another photo in a couple of weeks when the berries are ripe so you can get a better idea of what the plants look like.

Working with our trees in the summer still gives me fits, though.  The Pruning Book didn't present much information about summer pruning, and I haven't found many tips on the topic in The Holistic Orchard either.  (I've only poked through the index of the latter, though, not read the book from cover to cover.  I can tell it's an eye-opening book, but haven't had the brain power to settle in for a solid read this week.)

Twig damageOne thing I'm sure of --- I should prune out diseased or insect-ridden wood whenever I see it.  The dead peach twig tips from oriental fruit moth are easy to distinguish, but I got stuck on what to do with them after cutting.  I'm hoping that if I drop the twigs to the ground and cover them up with a healthy dose of wood chip mulch, the larvae inside will perish due to lack of nutrition.  I may regret taking this lazy way out, though.

Meanwhile, I'm second-guessing my diagnosis of fireblight.  Although the symptoms looked right on the pears and apples, I saw identical bark lesions on the peaches and noticed dead twigs and leaves that looked the same on the blueberries.  Since fireblight isn't supposed to hit those other species, I'm a bit stumped.  Could the issue be as simple as frost damage after all?  But if so, why did it spread?

Summer pruned peach

Then there are watersprouts.  I learned from The Pruning Book that it's best to yank out the entire watersprout, getting the base so that it doesn't regrow.  I couldn't seem to develop the knack for ripping the twigs without stripping the bark on the branches left behind, though, so I simply pruned watersprouts off as close as I could.  I do feel better about this method than about my previous crazy technique of cutting the watersprouts off a few inches above the branch --- that type of heading cut just makes one big watersprout turn into five small watersprouts. 

Developing figStill, my peach trees look awfully naked with their tops cut off.  I'm only about 45% sure I'm doing the right thing there, so please do your own research before following suit.  A few more years of trial and error may be necessary to figure out the best methods of summer pruning peaches.

(P.S.  Look!  It's the year of the first homegrown figs on our farm!  Assuming nothing happens to the cute little fruits before they ripen, that is.)

Our chicken waterer takes the guess-work out of keeping healthy chickens.
Posted Fri Jun 22 06:34:58 2012 Tags:
how to fabricate a front box for a golf cart


I've often felt like this front area space could be better utilized.

We had our helper Bradley fabricate the above front end box to further increase our hauling capacity.

He's also upgrading the springs to handle more weight and the home made golf cart dump box is getting some improvements. Stay tuned for a complete post on how that operation went.

Posted Fri Jun 22 14:46:35 2012 Tags:
Summer garden

OnionI celebrated the solstice with a Walden Effect shower.  Here's how to play along at home.

(Yes, I know this is a bad idea, so don't sue me if you get struck by lightning.  But it sure is fun!)

First, move to a farm out in the middle of nowhere so you have no neighbors.

Forest garden

Transplanted strawberriesNow wait until a thunderstorm is getting ready to roll in.  Grab those strawberry transplants you pulled out of a bed earlier and head out into the garden with a trowel and bucket of water.  As the wind picks up, stick strawberry plants in the ground and wet them well --- every gardener knows that watering your garden is a sure-fire way to make it rain.

Bee hive from belowOnce the skies open up, rush back to the porch.  Shed clothes and grab shampoo as water begins gushing off the roof and onto your head.

You might have to hop to the side a bit if a gust of rain moves your water supply.  It's always a good idea to egg on the storm at this point, too, and to tell it how good of a job it's doing (or to remind it that it can rain harder!)  Even your long-suffering husband won't hear your crazy hoots over the din of water hitting a metal roof.

Crookneck squash flower

If the rain stops before you're clean, hose off and head inside to listen as the thunder rolls away into the distance.  You should now be totally relaxed and ready to spend a blissful evening watching lightning bugs.

Cabbage

Since my mother would have a heart attack if I included any relevant photos, I've instead inserted shots of the summer garden before and after the storm.  We'll be eating summer squash, green beans, (caterpillar-nibbled) cabbage, and blackberries within the week, and are still enjoying Swiss chard, carrot thinnings, parsley, basil, thyme, cucumbers, red raspberries, and the last of the lettuce, snap peas, broccoli, and black raspberries.  The bounty doesn't quite feel like an overflowing summer feast yet, but it's getting close.

Our chicken waterer is the easy and clean way to water your backyard flock.
Posted Sat Jun 23 07:44:34 2012 Tags:
Lucy in front of wood shed project


We were trying to expand the size of our woodshed this week, but had to stop half way through due to several angry wasps.

Funny how an overdue summer Solstice storm decided to strike on the week we started this project.

Luckily we have all summer for the wood to dry back out.

Posted Sat Jun 23 15:31:23 2012 Tags:
Honeybee on white clover

I suspect my gut feeling about the white clover was right, specifically that dry weather made the plants slow down their nectar production.  My data is simple --- few bees on the Sourwood flowerclover last week, then a buzzing clover patch after four thunderstorms dampened the soil more recently.

Meanwhile, the first feeding frenzy for our Warre hive has begun.  I don't think most of the bees zipping in and out are going to clover, though --- sourwood petals on the path denote the bloom period of one of our bees' favorite plants.  With my buckwheat buds starting to burst open too, I finally feel confident I can stop feeding the bees, at least for a while.

Leave home for the weekend without worrying about your flock with our automatic chicken waterer.
Posted Sun Jun 24 07:00:54 2012 Tags:
Anna picking blueberries on a Sunday morning


Some friends of ours have harvested all they can handle from their blueberry crop and called us up to see if we could find a home for these tasty treats.

We picked and picked and then picked some more.

The current plan is to save some back for dessert through the week, share some, and make the rest into our first batch of blueberry fruit leather.

Posted Sun Jun 24 15:43:43 2012 Tags:

Morning shadeThey sell fancy gadgets to map the sun patterns in your yard, but it's not too tough to simply jot down shade outlines on a map a few times a day.  I opted to measure at 10:15 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:30 pm to get a good overview of the peak sun hours.  (Well, to be honest, I forgot I'd planned to make a sun map or I would have drafted an earlier morning map as well, and by supper-time, I wanted to be done with the project.)

My goal was to figure out which parts of the yard count as full sun, partial sun, or full shade around the summer solstice.  When gardeners talk about full sun, they mean an area that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight during the peak sun period (when you'd want to be wearing sunscreen): between about 10 or 11 am and 4 or 5 pm.  Partial shade/partial sun generally refers to 3 to 6 hours of sun, with less of an emphasis on getting that sun during peak hours.  (In fact, some partial shade plants Early afternoon shade mapmight burn to a crisp in bright afternoon sun.)  Full shade generally means that an area only gets light dappled through trees, perhaps with a couple of hours of direct sunlight.

When naming the type of sun in your garden, though, you also have to take your distance from the equator into account.  There's a reason that growers in equatorial areas came up with the concept of forest gardening and placed vegetables under their trees --- scorching sun in Mexico might be so extreme that "full sun" plants would prefer quite a bit of shade during the early afternoon.  On the other hand, if you live in Alaska, I'm not so sure that an hour of sun around noon would even count as half an hour of full sun.

Finally, there are more complex issues to consider.  Plants prone to fungal diseases (like tomatoes) really should get hit with sun early in the morning to dry off their leaves.  Late afternoon sunMeanwhile, I'm considering planting a peach or two in an area with only afternoon sun to slow the trees down in the spring so their flowers don't get nipped by frost.  And partial shade can be handy for eking spring crops out in the summer heat, especially if the vegetables are only bearing leaves.  (Leafy vegetables, in general, need less sun than vegetables who will be asked to produce fruit.)

If you have a graphics program that allows layering and transparency (I use the free program GIMP), it's simple to merge all of your day's maps together and decide which parts of your yard get what kind of sun.  As you can see from the composite image below, our clearing in the forest gets full sun only in the very center, with the east end shaded by trees in the morning and the west end shaded in the afternoon.  The powerline cut provides a bit more Sun map of the gardenof a full sun zone, and the spot behind the barn where we recently felled some trees to dry up the barn wall has a little pocket of full sun as well.

Of course, the patterns change dramatically throughout the year, so I'll make another map at the winter solstice, if I remember.  (Maybe at the equinoxes too.)  I know from the melting pattern of snow that the sunniest winter areas are quite different from the sunniest summer areas, with most of the warmth being concentrated in the mule garden.  (There's a big hill on the south side of our core homestead, so when the sun dips lower in the winter sky, it doesn't reach the southern parts of the yard much.  On the other hand, leaves are off the trees during the winter, so the forest giants edging our core area block less light.)

Hopefully getting a better handle on sun and shade patterns will help me fill in the gaps in our homestead most efficiently.  Already, I'm eying that area behind the barn for some kind of plant, and am realizing that the coop for the poor broilers is in the sun all day long.  Aren't maps fun?

Posted Mon Jun 25 07:00:53 2012 Tags:

Egyptian onionsThere was so much interest in our last Egyptian onion giveaway that I decided to do another one!  I'm not positive whether I'll be sending prizes to two, three, four, or five winners until I box up all of the top bulbs, but some of you will definitely be expanding your perennial collection.

Here's how to enter:

  • Spread the word about our blog, our chicken waterer, or my books (whatever you care about the most).  You can do this any way you want: emailing your friends, posting on your blog, tweeting or telling your facebook buddies, etc.
  • Count up how many ways you spread the word, then leave a comment on this post telling me how many times to enter you in the random drawing.  Deadline: Wednesday at midnight.
  • Be sure to check back Thursday at lunchtime to see if you won!


Thanks for spreading the word!  Our onion offspring are looking forward to taking over the world.

Posted Mon Jun 25 12:00:54 2012 Tags:
moving the electric dehydrator out onto the porch


The Excalibur food dehydrator is quickly becoming one of our favorite appliances, but it tends to put off a good deal of heat, which is why we decided to relocate ours to the new porch.

Posted Mon Jun 25 15:59:24 2012 Tags:
Harvesting kale seeds

Threshing crucifer seedsI've been learning to save a lot of different kinds of seeds over the last few years, and the most difficult part seems to be figuring out the best processing technique to get seeds out of their fruits or hulls.  With the first crucifer I processed (tokyo bekana), I gathered the whole top of the plant and pounded it with a big wooden pestle to break the seed cases apart.  My new method with kale seems to be even more streamlined.

Seed to Seed warned me that kale fruits ripen a few at a time over the course of a week or two.  If you rip up the whole plant, you'll either lose some seeds due to premature shattering (opening) of the early pods, or you'll harvest seeds that won't sprout since they're not fully mature.  So I set off to break the ripest-looking kale pods into a container, figuring I'd come back in a week to harvest the rest.

Winnowing kale seeds

Stripping kale seedsAs I worked, I realized that it was even easier to simply thresh the ripe pods directly into my container than to break off clusters of pods.  Running a fruiting head through my hand resulted in lots of seeds and some pod bits making their way into my box, which meant the threshing and winnowing stage was as simple as shaking the box so the seeds settled to the bottom, scooping out most of the pod bits, and then blowing the rest away.

This week was my second round of harvesting, and a few minutes' work netted half a pound of kale seeds!  Kale seeds are good for three to five years, so I shouldn't have to save seeds again for quite a while.  Now I just have to wait and see if the information I was given on kale hybridization is correct (meaning that I should end up with two unsullied varieties, the same as I grew last year) or if my Red Russian and Improved Dwarf Siberian interbred (meaning that these seeds will turn into the kale equivalent of an alley cat).

Our chicken waterer is perfect for chicks from day one.
Posted Tue Jun 26 07:12:57 2012 Tags:
mark Barn shelf
using Dewalt impact drill to secure shelf to barn wall


The barn is starting to feel more organized with today's new shelf.

It's amazing how a little horizontal space can improve a room.
Posted Tue Jun 26 16:44:57 2012 Tags:

Currant tomatoIt turns out, I've been begging the wrong tomato plant to ripen up.  In the past, Stupice has been our first ripe tomato of the year, but we're trying out a new variety --- Gold Rush Currant --- and the tommy-toe looks like it's going to win the prize this year.  Maybe by the end of the week?  It will be a delicious shock if we eat our first tomato before the end of June!

Meanwhile, we chowed down on the first new potatoes and green beans.  Mix up my favorite green bean and potato salad and add in some chickpeas, cucumbers, and a storebought avocado, and you'll have a nearly homegrown feast!

Our chicken waterer never spills in coops or tractors.
Posted Wed Jun 27 06:32:57 2012 Tags:

GroundnutsI wrote in a previous post that I thought Jean Craighead George was purposely referencing Walden during several parts of My Side of the Mountain.  So it was a pleasant surprise to open up the next chapter of Walden and find a description of Thoreau's wildcrafting experiences, which sounded a lot like Sam's.  Thoreau gathered wild grapes, feral apples, American chestnuts (which he considered a bread substitute), and rhapsodized at length about groundnuts:

"Digging one day for fishworms, I discovered the groundnut (Apios tuberosa) on its string, the potato of the aborigines, a sort of fabulous fruit, which I had begun to doubt if I had ever dug and eaten in childhood, as I had told, and had not dreamed it.  I had often since seen its crimpled red velvety blossom supported by the stems of other plants without knowing it to be the same.  Cultivation has well-nigh exterminated it.  It has a sweetish taste, much like that of a frost-bitten potato, and I found it better boiled than roasted.

Although I enjoyed the rest of chapter 13 (all about Thoreau's firewood experiences), I think wild-crafting makes a more fun thought-question for our readers.  What's your favorite wild-crafted food?  When do you look for it?  How do you harvest it, cook it, Gathering wild oyster mushroomsand/or preserve it?

If we're sticking to the plant and fungal world, my favorite would have to be oyster mushrooms (and see this post, and this post).  But I want to remember to check on the cattails at the right time of year to pluck their young flower stems, which one of our readers (Eric in Japan?) talked about last year in such a way that he made my mouth water.

I suspect some of you would rather talk about the woodpile that Thoreau looked at "with a kind of affection", or perhaps about the former inhabitants of his forest.  Feel free to comment with any thoughts you had when reading the most recent chapters, of course!

If you're new to the book club, you might want to check out the thought-provoking comments on chapter 1, chapter 2, chapters 3 and 4, chapters 5 and 6, chapters 7 and 8, chapters 9 and 10, and chapters 11 and 12.  We'll be discussing chapter 15 (Winter animals) and chapter 16 (The pond in winter) next Wednesday, and anyone is welcome to join in.

Weekend HomesteaderFinally, we're nearing the home stretch of Walden, and it's time to start thinking about whether or not we want to have another book club.  Gaia's Garden was in second place when we voted originally, but more recently a reader had suggested Rosemary Morrow's Earth User's Guide to Permaculture as an alternative introductory text.  Or maybe we should counteract Thoreau's stilted prose with a homesteading beach read like The Bucolic Plague, Coop, The Blueberry Years, or The Dirty Life.  Please leave a comment with your thoughts (including whether you're sick of our summer book club or would like it to contiue).  I've enjoyed bouncing literary ideas off my readers, but don't want to pretend I'm participating in a book club if everyone else has bowed out.

The paperback edition of Weekend Homesteader is full of fun and easy projects that guide you onto the path of self-sufficiency.

Posted Wed Jun 27 12:01:02 2012 Tags:
Club Car golf cart front box storage compartment DIY


The new golf cart front storage box is a great improvement with only one drawback.

Turns out the vision space got reduced to an uncomfortable level in the immediate front area.

It's not uncommon to see a toad jump in your path or a box turtle digging her annual egg laying hole in the middle of the road. We like to yield the right of way to these critters and the above wire shelf made for an easy upgrade that allows us to see a bit more of the ground.

Posted Wed Jun 27 15:30:41 2012 Tags:
Foundationless frame

Less than two weeks after the bees moved down into their third box, it's time to nadir again!  I suspect the fast progress is a result of the sourwood nectar flow.

Hundreds of beesI've actually been trying to snap a shot inside the hive for several days now, with no luck.  There are so many bees working in there that morning is no longer a good time to monitor hive activity --- the bees tend to be hanging out on the comb and floor waiting to go out, which obstructs the camera's view of the hive infrastructure.  This less than informative shot is from four days ago.

I finally got the bright idea to wait until the heat of the afternoon, when most workers are Through the cracks in a bee hivebusy outside the hive.  My new strategy allowed me to see that the third box is fully drawn except for three frames.  You can even see capped honey in the upper right hand corner of the first photo in this post!  When I zoomed in, I could also look up through the crack into the hive box above and tell that there's capped brood there.

Bees inside hive

I suspect I'm going to have to enlist the help of two strong men to nadir this time.  Mark and I had no problem lifting two Warre hive bodies between us a few weeks ago, but at that time, the top box was empty and the second box was only full of brood.  This week, I think weight is going to be more of an issue.

Luckily, our amazing helper Bradley has beekeeping experience along with his many, many other talents.  Hopefully when I ask him to help with nadiring, his response will be the same as always: "That's no problem."  He's already promised to build us some more boxes for a fraction of the cost of the online offerings.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional filthy waterers.
Posted Thu Jun 28 06:37:30 2012 Tags:
Dragonfly on rebar

Between them, Anna and Errol rustled up 9 boxes full of Egyptian onion top bulbs, so nearly everyone was a winner.

Paul, Heath, Vicki, Tracy, Barb, Monica, JT, Stan, and Rick, email anna@kitenet.net with your mailing address and we'll put your onions in the mail to you right away.

Thanks to everyone for spreading the word.  And a special thank you to Errol for saving his onions to share with our readers.

Posted Thu Jun 28 15:34:42 2012 Tags:
Effects of mulch on soil

A month ago, I laid down a kill mulch over an annual ryegrass cover crop that I wanted to turn into bare ground for this week's planting.  The results were inspiring.

We've had very little rain during that month, and even though I water most of the vegetable garden, I've opted to leave this plot unirrigated in 2012.  A nearby bed that wasn't kill mulched is dry as a bone when I dug into the top few inches, but the soil under my kill mulch had just the right moisture content for planting.

Decomposing ryegrassThe photo at the top of this post makes the kill-mulched soil look a little cloddy, but it's really not.  Instead, the dirt is held together with just enough fungal bonds that it keeps its shape, but when I pulled the hoe through to make a planting furrow, the earth split like the red sea.

Under the kill mulch, just about all of the ryegrass had died due to the absence of light, leaving a thin layer of dead leaves on the soil surface.  Lower down, the roots had rotted and created a loose, crumbly soil totally unlike what this awful area used to be like.

In case you're curious about what to do with the cardboard and straw from a temporary kill mulch like this --- it's all reusable.  I raked back the straw, carefully lifted the layers of cardboard off and transferred them to a new plot of ground, then put the straw back on top.  A few pieces of cardboard tore, but the layer is just blocking grass and clover in its new location, so I suspect it will do its job all over again.  (I wouldn't put secondhand kill mulch cardboard over serious weeds.)

Small mammal tunnels under kill mulch

The one potential problem amid all this glory of kill mulching is small mammals.  Burrows of voles, moles, or shrews are obvious as soon as I lift up the cardboard, and a few gardeners report these little guys harm their crops.  However, I've yet to see any damage from my furry kill mulch neighbors, which makes me think my garden may only be home to the insectivores (moles and shrews) rather than the herbivores (voles).  I'll let you know if I start seeing nibbled carrots and potatoes.

Protect your flock from heat exhaustion!  Our chicken waterer provides copious clean water so they don't run dry on hot days.
Posted Fri Jun 29 06:47:21 2012 Tags:

Playing in the creekAlthough the comments were divisive, I found our previous Walden discussion, about whether hunters appreciate nature more fully, very thought-provoking.   For those of you who don't obsessively read the comments like I do, I want to draw your attention to a few comments (both on the blog and off) that delved deeper into the issue. 

First, Chris L. started us off the right foot with his statement:

"We are part of the ecosystems in which we live whether we acknowledge it or not."


Ikwig retorted:

Abrams Falls"Personally, I spent my childhood pretending to be a pioneer woman, running barefoot through the fields, streams, and woods all around our home.  I got quite good at recognizing plants, insects, and birds, and could tell the time by the position of the sun.  No one needs a gun in order to learn about the natural world."


And my father sent me a thought-provoking email about his own experiences:

"I think the noble hunter thesis is a stereotype which needs balance.  I grew up among hunters, some of whom became close to nature in ways other than stalking game and killing it.  I did some of that myself when young.  Hunting can be a pathway for closeness to nature, but it is not the only way.

"I remember how my father introduced me to nature: picking berries, gathering hickory nuts, cracking beech nuts for their tiny fruit, hunting the perfect Christmas tree, fishing on the creek bank, walking thru woods to find paw paws and telling me about the great chestnut trees he knew as a boy, growing a garden, digging with a harness mule and picking up potatoes on shares when he was on strike."


SwingingAnd Everett gave us a vegetarian alternative for partnering with nature:

"I also think that wild edible foraging could easily fill that niche for people who don't like to hunt."

What I found most interesting is that the commenters who delved beyond their knee-jerk reaction to the issue were all suggesting ways of partnering with nature, not merely being a tourist in the woods.  Sure, we all got a lot of simple pleasure out of playing outside as kids, but the experiences that really changed us involved creative problem-solving in the outdoors --- figuring out how to build houses out of branches, herd minnows into a bucket, or collect delicious blackberries without getting scratched up or accidentally swallowing a stink bug.  I'll bet those are nature-appreciation experiences we can all agree on.

Our chicken waterer keeps the coop dry and hens happy.

Posted Fri Jun 29 12:00:51 2012 Tags:
Club Car golf cart back storage painting

old photo of 2 years ago
It's been over 2 years since we first modified the Club Car golf cart with a rear DIY hauling bed.

The original plywood crumbled away recently and our helper Bradley had some great ideas on improving the structure in addition to the front storage box.

We decided to go with a high quality paint and primer combination that was a little pricey at just over 30 dollars, but should be worth it if it's as good as the lady at the store claims.

Posted Fri Jun 29 15:47:34 2012 Tags:
Plantain for bee stings

Harvesting plantain leavesThe time has finally come for me to learn to make herbal salves.  I'll tell you the recipe below, but first I have to regale you with the reason for the treatment.

Bradley, Mark, and I set out to nadir the Warre hive Thursday, but I'm afraid I got cocky.  Last time, nadiring went so smoothly that I didn't smoke the hive and didn't even feel like we needed to wear veils.  Lazily, I decided to leave my veil off this time around, which meant that neither of my male helpers felt they could don a veil.  (Perhaps they were just lazy like me, but it makes a better story to say it was the testosterone speaking.)

Jar of herbsI really should have known better because bees are always getting caught in my braids, even when I'm just out weeding the garden.  Sure enough, as soon as Mark and Bradley had the hive off the ground and I bent down to slide a new hive body underneath, a confused worker tangled herself in my hair.  Her angry buzzing riled up the rest of the bees, and before we'd left the apiary, I had a sting on the bridge of my nose, Bradley had a sting on his lower eyelid, and the pasture fence was a bit bent down where our helper had hurdled the chicken wire to escape.  (Mark came through unscathed.  I can only conclude my husband's calm temperament warded off the bees.)

Stings on your face hurt more than ordinary stings, so I decided mine needed treatment.  No problem --- just snag a bit of broadleaf plantain out of the yard, chew it up, and dab the green goo on my face.

Steeping plantain leaves

Luckily, I realized just in time that you can't spit in the eye of your helper and then expect him to come back, so Bradley's sting went untreated (except for having the stinger removed).  The poor guy wandered around the farm in a daze all afternoon, favoring his wounded eye.  "It wouldn't be so bad," he told us, hamming it up for all he was worth, "Except this is my fishing eye, and I'd hoped to go to the river this evening."

Cloth lidEven though Bradley was only joking, I figured it couldn't hurt to have a salve on hand for similar situations in the future.  (Having this blog post show up in my RSS feed Friday morning helped make the decision for me too.)

I'm very new to making herbal salves, but from my early research, the project seems remarkably simple.  Cut up the leaves of the plants you're interested in, stick them in a jar full of olive oil, put a cloth on top, stir occasionally for six weeks or so (being prepared for your plantain concoction to start smelling like pepperoni), strain out the leaves, then add in a bit of melted beeswax.  (I included a bit of comfrey for long-term healing along with the plantain for short-term sting relief.)

Some people speed up the steeping process with heat, but I'm in no hurry.  After all, next time we work with the bees, we're all wearing veils.

Our chicken waterer keeps our flock well hydrated even when the temperature nears 100.
Posted Sat Jun 30 07:06:33 2012 Tags:


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