archives for 04/2013
Chelsea Green sent me a
review copy of Holistic
Orcharding with Michael Phillips to peruse, and I enjoyed the
the video rounded out the information found in the companion
though I'm more of a reader than a watcher (and
thus probably wouldn't have spent $50 on the DVD), I was enthralled to
see a holistic apple orchard in action.
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free way to make chicken chores fun.
Earth-Sheltered Solar Greenhouse Book is similar to Mike Oehler's The
$50 Underground House Book, with all of the usual
self-published pros and cons. I was a bit more disappointed in
the greenhouse book than in the earlier text because I felt the former
used large print to extend the page count, and the typos were a little
excessive. But it was interesting to see how the author built a
greenhouse for $400 using the same techniques he uses to make
underground houses. (He estimates a greenhouse built using his
methods and new supplies would instead cost about $1,250 for a
32-square-foot grow area.) And I enjoyed the copious
illustrations and the anecdotes about happenings at Rainbow Gatherings.
Start your homesteading journey with easy projects in Weekend Homesteader.
Our first DIY
dog door didn't work out
I sent some Illinois
everbearing mulberry cuttings to a reader who wanted to experiment with
their propagation, and asked that he give me some details on how his
experiments panned out. Last week, Gary wrote back to tell me:
"On the rootings front, I tried two approaches. First approach was to just put the cuttings, dipped in rooting hormone, in rooting medium. I have propagated red mulberry this way in the past without much issue, although more summertime softwood cuttings than hardwood cuttings, but I have just stuck red mulberry hardwood cuttings in the soil and had success in the past. On the Illinois Everbearing, I had plenty of bud break and early leaf growth but no callus or rooting so far. I don't think any are going to root in time to survive.
"My second approach was to dip in rooting hormone, wrap in moist newspaper, roll in a black plastic bag and place over a furnace register. A similar approach that I use successfully for grape vine cuttings. On inspection last night I have callus starting to form on three of the four I.E. Mulberry cuttings using this method. [See photo above.] They are still a few days to a week away from planting in a rooting medium but I am encouraged by good callus formation.
"I'll share another update in a month or so with updates on rooting and with early results from my grafting efforts."
Our chicken waterer is safe for chicks from day 1.
I've written previously about
a couple of other insulated
greenhouses, so I
thought I'd focus here on what makes Oehler's
Trailersteading will inspire you to go back to the land on the cheap.
We got the new gate
with dog door finished
We're still getting
nights down in the low 20s, but spring decided it had better start
anyway. The buds on the peach trees are just barely starting to
show pink, and I finally saw the first spring beauty flowers in the
woods last weekend.
Meanwhile, surprises are
popping up around the yard. I tossed a bunch of red clover seeds
in the gully last year after the briars got
cleared away, but I
assumed they'd bitten the dust since I never saw hide nor hair of the
plants. But while walking through the gully to get to the
new dog door gate, I
noticed several big clumps of clover coming up in the damp soil of the
gully bottom. Maybe we'll do some soil building down there after
Along the western fence,
I'd planted three peonies Mom split from her own collection last
summer. I kill mulched around them, but didn't give them
much love, and the plants soon shriveled up and died. I let Mark
start mowing over the peony patch in mid summer, but while walking past
the mulched spot this spring, I saw shiny red leaves. Two of the
three peony plants have come back from the dead --- happy zombie peony
The Avian Aqua Miser keeps daily chicken chores to a minimum while providing fresh water for your flock.
the glazing for a greenhouse is one of the trickiest parts of the
design process. Most people choose thin sheets of
so-called greenhouse plastic, the cheapest of which you can often buy
locally at a hardware store. Unfortunately, Oehler reports that
this ultra-low-end plastic usually only lasts about a year. He
finds that the 6 mil, UV-treated plastic
available at greenhouse-specialty shops lasts a bit longer (up to four
years), but not
long enough to be worth the additional price.
Make your garden more productive with easy cover crops.
Interior design is one
of my worst subjects, mostly because all I really care about is being
able to look out windows. I also like small spaces --- I vividly
remember pit-stops during long family car trips where I closed the door
on the bathroom stall and just wished I could stay in that tiny space
for the rest of the day. So I was perfectly happy squeezing our
tiny table (a coffee table up on cinderblocks) into the spot in the
kitchen between the fridge and the sink. It drove Mark's
long-legged self a bit nutty, though, to fold into such a tiny space
for two meals a day, so last fall I rearranged everything and put a
kitchen island where the table was, moving the table to the bay of
More room made for a
happy Mark, and I liked the new view. The only real downside was
that I'd planted a mass of spring flowers under the kitchen peach tree
for us to enjoy at this time of year, and now the flowers are out of
then seed-starting time came and I realized the other flaw in my plan
--- our dining table is now located where I used to mass plants to
enjoy spring sunlight before they moved outside.
Our chicken waterer keeps brooders dry and chicks growing fast and furious.
So why am I writing a
whole lunchtime series about greenhouses when I've been adamantly
the past? Oehler's less-than-exciting results aside, Toensmeier
and others have shown that you can get more out of an unheated
greenhouse than I'd seen elsewhere. But, mostly, I'm just
trying to figure out how to keep our dwarf
lemon tree growing.
Two alternatives are
currently in the running. Option one is to build a little nook in
front of the trailer, just like the wood stove alcove but a hair bigger.
Since this area would open into the trailer right by a heat source, it
probably wouldn't be take much extra wood to keep the lemon tree above
freezing therein. As an added bonus, a second round of glazing
outside our south face of windows would insulate the glass and help
hold heat within the trailer itself. (As a side note, I had
written last summer about the possibility of turning our south-facing
porch into a
sunroom, but a winter of cogitation showed us that we really like that
area as a porch and that it feels too big to heat for our small family.)
Skip past all the beginner mistakes with my chicken ebooks.
I made another gate
with a dog door today.
The only thing
dependable about the weather this week has been its sheer
undependability. Yes, that's sleet in my hair on a morning that
was supposed to be warm and sunny according to Monday's forecast.
I rushed to seed carrots, parsley, lettuce (third planting), and
tomatoes (under a quick hoop) before the sleet turned into cold,
animals are more dependable than the spring weather. Lucy hasn't
seemed as interested in sitting on our newly seeded beds as she has in
past years, but the cats have been busy using the soft ground as a
toilet and the chickens have been breaking in to scratch new seedlings
out of the soil. I'm trying an ultra-simple scratch
deterrent this year
--- just a plastic trellis on each newly-seeded bed until the
plants are up enough to be mulched. Within a month, our animals
will have gotten sick of raising my blood pressure, and I won't have to
protect the new beds any longer.
Our chicken waterer keeps our hens in tip-top health, so they have plenty of brain power to spare figuring out how to get into the garden.
With any luck this will be
the last morning we wake up with chickens in the garden.
I'm always astonished by
my ability to think strongly sloping land is
flat. I just don't notice a slope unless it looks like the photo
Luckily, Mark is better
at geometry than I am. Taking a look at
the hillside above the pig
pronounced it too steep for easy
pasturing or orcharding. Sure, the top of the hill is
(semi) flat, but there's no way a wheeled vehicle could get up there
without a lot of work, so how did I plan to haul the apples home?
Honestly, I'm not sure I'd envisioned the trees getting all the way to
The good news is,
ditching the orchard dream up above will expedite the current pasture
project since we won't have to take down any more trees. We got
sidetracked by the garden, chicken incursions, and mushrooms this week,
but hopefully we'll be back on track with pasture building next week.
The Avian Aqua Miser is the POOP-free alternative to traditional, filthy chicken waterers.
chest waders have already
sprung a leak!
This is going to be spring
bonanza week --- I can feel it! I did see a mourning cloak
butterfly two weeks ago, but most of the spring insects started showing
up Friday when a greater
bee fly and eastern
tiger swallowtail both flitted across my field of view in a matter of
minutes. The eaters of the spring insects are also coming out in
force, like the spider waiting on the dead nettle to the right.
In the garden, we ate
the first spring lettuce last week. The second planting of peas
is up, and so are broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and arugula under quick
Comfrey leaves are
getting big and the Egyptian onions are vibrant with spring
vigor. It's been a late spring, but that just means we enjoy it
more after weeks of anticipation!
Our chicken waterer helps the flock enjoy spring weather with refreshing, clean water.
Update: This opportunity is now closed!
If you have a copy of my book, you can read more about our neighbor on pages 3 and 135-137.
I feel a bit like a kid
who swears the dog ate her homework when year after year I have to
report trials and tribulations with our bulb onions.
Unfortunately, this year is no different.
The problems began on
February 1 when I
started onion seeds
saved from last year in the same plastic flats I've been using for
seven years now. Even though my germination
test said the onion seeds were pretty good, not very many came up,
and most of those that did sprout soon damped off.
I had been concerned
that a pot of onion seedlings would be trouble to transplant, and I did
have to gently tease each seedling apart, doubling my transplant
time. I don't mind the extra minutes, though, as long as these
I think next year I may
hedge my bets by planting a bed of onion seeds close together under a
quick hoop the same way I do broccoli
Planting directly into the ground avoids so many problems
with indoor seed-starting, with the only minor
inconvenience being that you have to wait on the weather. But
I'll also try to disinfect my flats and will plan to buy new onion
seeds every year, which might also solve the problem. Maybe 2014
will finally be the year of the onion?
Our chicken waterer is perfect for chicks from day 1.
I first started cutting these DIY plastic lattice dog doors with the miter saw, but figured out today that a jig saw makes the job smooth and easier.
Of course, the arrival
of warm weather also means the weeds are starting to grow a mile a
minute. Although quite pretty, I'm sure the dead nettle and
chickweed choking out my garlic plants were depriving the vegetables of
much-needed nutrients. So I roped B.J. into helping me weed, and
we made short work of about a third of the front garden beds.
Our chicken waterer is perfect for chickens, ducks, turkeys, and more.
I first started using plain old
hinges for the new plastic
lattice dog doors.
highs forecast to reach the 80s Wednesday, I figured I might as well
steal an hour away from the garden to start on winter laundry.
Sure enough, sheets dried by lunch, in time to fill the line up again!
Our chicken waterer keeps plenty of fresh water available to our flock on hot spring days.
Usually, a warre hive
wouldn't be opened at all in the spring, but
the last time I delved inside, I noticed that I can't
change the water-absorbent material in the quilt without bothering the
bees because workers have gnawed through the burlap bottom. So I
opted to upgrade the quilt to include a screen bottom, which meant
taking the current quilt off to swap. (I forgot, though, that the
real issue was the burlap layer beneath the quilt --- I'll have to upgrade
that layer later.)
Smokers are similarly
verboten in warre hives, but I was less than pleased at the bees'
reaction to their second nadiring last year, so I decided to
go ahead and smoke lightly. After all, I was only affecting the
bees directly under the quilt since I didn't open the rest of the hive
up. With the smoker in hand, the bees were so calm I omitted
gloves and could have
gotten away without any gear at all.
My final task at the hive was
to remove the board so that the screened bottom was once again
exposed. Quite a lot of debris had built up over the winter,
mostly bee legs, pollen clusters, and capping wax. The open
bottom will allow for much-needed ventilation over the summer, and will
also let debris like this fall to the ground, keeping diseases away
from our bees.
Our chicken waterer keeps chicks dry and hens happy.
We bought a used Polaris
Xplorer ATV today.
This is my favorite time
for strolling amid the perennials, supposedly checking up on how they
survived the winter, but really dreaming of fruits to come. (By
the way, the bird above is a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher who is hopefully
eating bad bugs on the kitchen peach tree.)
All four of our peaches
have bloomed prolifically this year. A heavy rain Thursday night
knocked off some petals and prompted leaves to start pushing out of the
buds, so the trees are now past their prime from a beauty
perspective. From a dreaming perspective, though, they're still
at their peak --- I'm working hard not to count any peaches until
Meanwhile, this may be the
year of our first homegrown apple! The Song Sparrow above is
pictured on our Early Transparent, which only has a few flower buds,
but the Virginia Beauty is loaded. I'm hoping we'll see fruit set
on the latter, and I wouldn't be shocked if we got one or two Early
Transparents and Liberties too.
Moving on to small fruits,
our brambles plug along with little need for concern, and are happily
leafing out. We had a lot of cicada
damage in the
blueberry patch, so only about half the plants have limbs old enough to
bear, but those seem to be heavy with flower buds. And the
gooseberries are also looking good, although I didn't notice any
flowers yet. Finally, one of our newly-planted honeyberries seems
to have come mature enough to flower --- I'll pick those blooms off
along with the dwarf apples', even though I'm itching to find out what
a honeyberry tastes like.
I also noticed that the two
baby pears I set out
during cold weather did get a little nipped, but are happily putting
out new leaves. Our bigger pears are now leafing out too, but I
haven't seen any sign of budbreak on the
scionwood I grafted onto their limbs. I'm not overly
concerned since buds on scionwood often don't open as quickly as the
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution that makes poultry easy and fun.
Yes...there's a clear warning
printed on the ATV seat about the dangers of riding with a passenger,
but we decided a quick trip across the creek with Anna's sister Dani
would be safe enough.
Yesterday, I posted
the woody perennials are coming along. Although less
riveting, the vegetable garden is definitely springing to life as well.
The most obvious feature
about the rest of the vegetable garden is the grain (probably rye) that
came along for the ride in last year's straw mulch. Mark will
have to mow the aisles next week simply to whack back the grain along
the bed edges, even though the grass isn't really tall enough to need
it. I've been pulling out grain plants in the beds themselves,
which is easy in moist soil.
And even though I probably
shouldn't find it exciting, I'm even happy to see the first summer
weeds sprouting. Jewelweed (above) will probably be nipped by a
late frost, but it clearly thinks the soil is warm enough to
gamble. My planted seeds (like the Swiss chard to the right)
agree and are popping up right and left.
The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention that has been enjoyed by chicken-keepers across the U.S. and around the world.
Dani brought me a bag of the
prettiest dried beans I'd ever seen. When she explained about
Jack beans on the phone ("they grow so fast and tall, it's like Jack
and the beanstalk"), I'd assumed the name was just another description
for lablab (aka hyacinth beans, Lablab
But it turns out Jack beans are completely different --- Canavalia
sp. --- although
they are edible and have also been used as a living mulch.
Ever since I saw photos
(which I included in Trailersteading) of a trailer shaded and
spiced up by an arbor covered with fast-growing plants, I've been
meaning to follow suit in front of our south-facing windows.
Originally, I'd thought of putting perennials there --- maybe hardy
kiwis or hops --- but since we're pondering using that space as a greenhouse
addition in the future, annuals look better for 2013. Mystery
beans it is!
Our chicken waterer is perfect for chicks from day 1.
It's difficult to describe how mechanically excited I get when the old Craftsman lawn mower begins the year by starting on the second pull.
I'm only willing to
carry so many pots in and out when the nights are still
cold. But now that we've got at least a week of above-40 nights
planned, I figure I can give our sad-looking seedlings a little more
space. The light will do them more good than the room, but both
will probably be appreciated for the next month before we can safely
set tender vegetables out in the ground.
The one plant that
thrived despite low light levels inside was the tindora (perennial
cucumber) from a reader. I had put all of the tubers in one pot
when they first came because I wasn't sure how well they'd do, and that
decision was fine for most of the winter when the cucumbers sulked
through chilly indoor nights. However, as soon as it started
warming up, the tindora took off and started vining across everyone
else. Time to give each plant its own pot.
It's a good thing the
tindora is thriving since it's one of the few inside plants that isn't
just an early gamble for which I have outdoor backups. If some of
my sad-looking tomato seedlings perk up, they'll probably mean
homegrown fruits about a week earlier, but that's not such a big deal
in the grand scheme of things since the quick-hoops starts will
definitely provide the majority of our harvest.
Our chicken waterer keeps all three of our current sets of chickens well-hydrated, from the day-olds to the month-olds to the laying hens.
How do we move the older
chicks from their outdoor brooder to a new coop?
We finally inoculated the
rest of our shiitake
logs Monday. I
didn't mean for it to go so late, but it turns out that one drill
battery only holds enough juice to prepare one log. Since we only
have two good batteries, that would have meant a lot of walking back
and forth between the logs (at the parking area) and the battery
charger. It seemed smarter to wait until Mark had his ATV, allowing us to haul the
logs back to the trailer and drill them with the plug-in drill on the
As a side note, if you'd
like to read more about how to grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms on
logs (the easiest method and varieties for backyard growers), check out
I didn't think I liked eating anything in the fungal kingdom before we
started growing our own mushrooms, and now oysters and shiitakes are
one of my favorite ways to turn a simple meal gourmet.
Our chicken waterer makes chicken care so simple you can branch out into other homesteading adventures.
Lucy has had no problems adjusting to the new DIY dog doors which is keeping the chickens out of the garden and in their pasture where they belong.
Wednesday was the kind of
rain day I remember from my visits to various jungles --- a steady,
endless shower. Mark and I were able to stay busy indoors, but
the wild birds were less lucky. This is the middle of spring
migration (wood thrushes arrived Tuesday!), and one confused teal
clearly figured the weather was too bad to keep flying. I can
just imagine the duck looking down and thinking it saw a pond, then
coming in for a landing...only to end up on our pile of cattle
Except for their role as
a duck decoy, our cattle panels haven't seen any use yet. Spring
is heating up in the garden and chicken world, and we've been spending
most of our energies there, which makes it less and less likely we'll
get the new
pasture done in time
to trial pigs this year. However, all is not lost --- I'm hopeful
we'll have the fencing and shelter ready for spillover chicken pasture
during the usual summer lull, and it'll definitely be ready for pigs
next spring. Slow but steady definitely wins the homesteading
Our chicken waterer keeps coops dry even when the whole flock is milling around inside all day.
It might be too early to get
our hopes up, but over the last week we've been trickle charging each
battery back to life and today I hooked them up for a test.
Good news from the frameworked
pear trees --- the
first of the scionwood has broken dormancy, with the rest hopefully
soon to follow. I'm not 100% positive, but I'm pretty sure if
scionwood breaks dormancy, that means the graft has taken. (As
opposed to hardwood cuttings where bud
break can actually be a bad sign if the cuttings wake up before they
manage to root.)
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution for poultry of all kinds and all ages.
The shiitakes aren't the
only mushrooms who have decided
to start fruiting.
I plucked the Blue Dolphin oyster mushroom below off one of our totems, and figured that was a good
excuse to go check out wild logs. It turns out none of the wild
oysters were fruiting, but I didn't mind since the wildflowers were in
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free treat for healthy chickens and happy chicken-keepers.
I first thought we might need
a more sturdy metal trailer to haul stuff with the ATV, but the Heavy Hauler seems to be doing fine.
Forecast low --- 37
degrees. Actual low -- 33 degrees at porch height, light frost in
the garden. Luckily, I know how to read our weather forecast, so
I took all of our
plants in to spend the weekend on the plant table (and dining
table) just in case. We also ate the first delectable asparagus
spears so they wouldn't be damaged by frost.
Our two older peach
trees are already setting fruit, which you can tell from a distance by
the color of the tree. Compare the tree above --- a hazy pink
from the sepals left behind after most of the petals fell --- to the
younger peach below.
This guy bloomed
profusely, but only a few of the flowers stuck. No wonder ---
this Cresthaven peach has only been in the ground for two years and
shouldn't really set fruit until 2014. I won't turn down an early
taste this year, though, if it wants to serve one up.
The strawberries are
also starting to bloom, at long last. I was really beginning to
worry about them, since at this time last year the plants had set
fruit, a few of which were already blushing pink. They're
probably smart to wait out the cold weather this year, but I'm itching
for homegrown strawberries.
Last year, we enjoyed a
few gooseberries from our Invicta gooseberry (planted in 2010), but
nothing from our Poorman gooseberry (planted at the same time).
This year, both seem to be blooming, so hopefully we'll harvest more of
these tangy fruits. Mark had never tasted a gooseberry before
last year, but they became an instant favorite.
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free addition to the classy chicken coop.
Turns out a medium sized wood screw with a washer biting into a block of wood holds up pretty good as an alternative hitch pin.
Around the beginning of
April, I started stressing about our rye
I'd seeded quite a few beds in rye last fall, figuring the plants would
have time to bloom and then be mowed down before vegetables needed to
be planted there in late May or early June. But the late-seeded
rye didn't get much more than three inches tall over the winter, and
despite other people's claims that the species grows on warm days, our
plants mostly sat there.
The Avian Aqua Miser makes chicken-keeping fun and easy.
Today our 2nd round of
incubated chicks graduated to the outdoor brooder.
"I'm confused about rye and buckwheat. I have used them before and tilled them in, but, with the no-till method, how does just cutting them down allow you to plant something else in their place? Would the cut areas not resemble cut grass (for the rye) with the root mass still present? How do you plant in this?"
--- Heather W.
Every year, I'm
astonished at how well the broccoli sets do when I start them directly
in the ground under
These guys are about 5 weeks old and are in perfect shape for
Despite a cold spring,
the broccoli and cabbage sprouted and grew quickly outside. The
quick hoop provided just enough protection to keep heavy frosts from
nipping the leaves, and it's easy to pry up a large hunk of dirt with
each seedling so they barely notice being transplanted.
In contrast, the
seedlings I started indoors and planted out into the garden two weeks
ago are only in so-so condition. This is one of the better ones
--- still off-color and about half the size of the quick-hoop
specimens. Other of the early-planted seedlings were killed by
last weekend's heaviest frost (29 degrees), which wouldn't have been
enough to harm a healthy seedling.
The Avian Aqua Miser is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homestead problem.
sweeping day always reminds me of my first day on a ship in the
We've tried six
strawberry varieties so far, two of which I wholeheartedly recommend,
two of which were okay, and two of which were duds. Here's the
rundown (from best to worst) in case you're looking for excellent
strawberries for your own garden:
I'd be curious to hear
about strawberry varieties you've tried and loved. We hope to
trial yet another late, June-bearing variety this year, but haven't
chosen which kind yet. Meanwhile, you might be interested in
reading about other
factors that influence flavor of the strawberry patch if you're trying to grow the
tastiest berries you've ever eaten.
Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock easier than a housecat.
We did some research on ATV
trailers and settled on the Haul-Master
from Harbor Freight.
though I'm now spending most of my work time in the garden, the output
is only barely increasing over winter production levels. We're
swimming in lettuce and leafy greens, of course, but the freezer is
nearly empty so I'm glad to have some new additions to round out our
Now's also the time to
We've only had one mini-meal of asparagus so far, but are looking
forward to more sweet spears. In the meantime, I harvested
rhubarb (even though Mark won't eat it) and roasted some up with sugar,
orange peel, and a hint of cinnamon --- delicious with yogurt!
(No, we're not eating
Lucy, but I liked this picture too much to let it disappear into my
Our chicken waterer provides refreshing drinks of clean water between foraging expeditions.
We took the morning off to
drive Huckleberry to our favorite vet Dr Redwine.
As I suspected would happen,
the main garden got going before I really finished our greywater
wetland and mini-pond. One of these days,
I'll come back to the project --- channeling roof water into the
wetland, putting rocks around the pond as edging so it's less obvious
the liner is a hunk of plastic, painting the washing machine so it
doesn't rust away, and making another cobbled area for a bathtub.
Luckily, nature has been busy smoothing out the rough edges of the
project despite neglect on my part.
Meanwhile, the little
pond is coming to life very quickly now that we're getting some warm
days. I know at least two of the three goldfish are still alive,
and my various inoculants have done a good job of
introducing more pond life, like the tadpole snail above, a
subterranean striped beetle, and some nearly microscopic
something-or-others. Plus, the water is no longer crystal clear,
but is instead teeming with algae, and the surface is becoming covered
with duckweed. If we do decide to play with aquaponics, the pond is definitely
strong enough now to get a system going.
Keep your hens cool this summer with a POOP-free waterer.
Thanks to Mak and Marco for the
useful comments on my ATV
trailer research post.
We fell in love with
homegrown figs last year, so I put a bit of extra effort into
protecting our tree from winter's cold. We live on the edge of
even the hardiest figs' survival zone, and in the past, a lot of our
tree's top growth has died back over the winter despite various forms
of protection. The more top growth that makes it through the
winter, the more figs we get to enjoy, so last fall I
built a cage out of plastic trellis material, stuffed the cage full of
leaves, and topped it off with a tarp to prevent rain from beating the
time, the leaves settled just like the contents of a cereal box.
Since I didn't notice the problem until after some very cold snaps, I
figured the damage was already done and left it alone. I was
expecting to have to cut back dead wood this spring, but as I was
walking by, I noticed buds breaking dormancy in the uncovered wood!
It's not entirely
surprising that the tops of the fig survived the winter
unprotected. We did choose one of the hardiest fig
Chicago Hardy --- and I've also read that figs become more cold hardy
with age. But it's still very heartening to think that our figs
will need less winter protection as they age...because that one fig
tree spawned two babies last fall, Mark picked up a Celeste on a whim over the summer,
and this winter I've been having great results propagating
hardwood cuttings of three more varieties. If all goes as
planned, we may have a dozen or more figs in the ground this time next
year. The only question is, how will I fit them all into our core
homestead? Eating the fruits shouldn't be a problem.
Our chicken waterer makes it easy to go out of town for the weekend without worrying about your flock.
We had fun in the big city visiting with Sheila, but we're always glad to come home to roost.
The apple blossoms are
so beautiful, they've been tempting me to take lots of extra strolls
through the forest garden. It's inspiring to see how this waterlogged,
terrible soil has
turned from a weed
pit into a budding
forest garden in just a few years.
vegetable beds beyond the trees' canopies is the real root of the
current success. Last year, we grew tomatoes and butternuts in
these extra spaces, with broccoli and cabbage taking their place this
spring. My usual pre-crop topdressing of composted manure is
helping build soil that tree roots will eventually fill, and the
immediate gratification of vegetables prevents the forest garden from
All of my trees and shrubs
are planted on mounds so they don't perish during
the winter, when lower parts of the forest garden turn into a
swamp. The unkillable comfrey gets to live at ground level,
Since the soil is terrible,
one of my top forest-gardening priorities is to add humus to areas
where tree roots will soon reach. Piles of prunings from fruit
trees, berry bushes, and brush clearing are rotting down and creating
eventual spots of raised, rich soil. Rye is doing a similar job
in the short term.
Of course, the forest
garden still has issues. For example, the old tin off the barn
roof is still sitting in a pile waiting to go to the scrap yard.
If I were a true permaculturalist, I'd say the tin is a protected
habitat for snakes that eat the voles that inevitably spring up in
heavy-mulch situations, but since Lucy kills snakes on sight, that
theory doesn't hold much water. Instead, I can only say that the
floodplain allows hauling only a few times a year, and junk tin has yet
to reach the top priority list. Maybe in 2013....
The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention that brings clean water to backyard flocks.
We purchased a new post
driver recently for the new pig
Mark and I are focusing
in on the idea of a small
greenhouse addition on the south side of our trailer to keep our dwarf citrus
happy next winter, so I was thrilled when Daddy sent me an envelope of
clippings. Back when I was in diapers, Daddy was working for a
non-profit (Scott County Rural Areas Develoment Association, or RADA)
that helped low-income residents of southwest Virginia build greenhouse
additions to lower heating bills.
"The $400 greenhouse is well built and well insulated. Railroad ties or treated four-by-fours are used for the foundation, which is insulated with two-inch polystyrene at a depth of two feet. Walls are standard framed, with four to six inches of insulation. The tin roof is supported by site built trusses which allow for 12 inches of insulation and a well ventilated air space. Costs are kept down by using sawmill lumber or used lumber for framing, leaving more of the $400 for insulation and glazing. The glazing consists of an outer layer of kalwall or similar material and an inner layer of six mil UV plastic. A movable shutter of foam board cut to fit the spaces between the two-by-four uprights is used for night insulation."
--- "Solar a 'steal' in Virginia." August 1981. A.T. Times.
Another article provided
data on how well one of the greenhouses functioned:
"Only on January 11 when the mercury dropped to zero did Pauline [Bishop] turn on a small electric heater to protect her plants. On this particular occasion, the thermometer inside the greenhouse registered 38 degrees."
--- "Greenhouses Provide Heat." June 9, 1982. Scott County Herald-Virginian.
Our chicken waterer decreases farm angst by 25% with POOP-free water.
The DeWalt reciprocating saw seems to do a better job with a metal blade cutting through a thick chain compared to using the wood blade for tree limbs.
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