archives for 07/2013
came over this weekend, so of course I wanted to feed them
something special. However, I realized the night before that
just passed their peak and we only had about a quart on the
bushes. How do you make a quart of raspberries feed five
people? Stretch it with chocolate, of course.
Preheat the oven to
350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 9-by-13-inch cake pan.
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free way to make chickens a fun part of any backyard.
One of our most-read
posts is a reader's
rebuttal to my
square foot gardening lunchtime series. This weekend, Ron
sent me a followup detailing the next three years of his gardening
trials. I'll let him tell you about the seven-year-old,
square-foot garden in his own words.
If there is any interest, I would like to add some up-to-date information on my square foot garden and offer some answers to raised questions.
On this date, June 29, 2013, I now have 19 square foot garden beds (last reported was 13 - I've added six, 3' x 8' beds). This is so addicting!!! I am now in my seventh year.
In the garden area, the grass is now gone (covered by newspaper, cardboard, mulch and woodchips). I found the constant mowing, trimming and pulling of weeds a waste of time and a real pain. The most recent benefit is when the latest storms hit, my soil became a "mosh pit" of clay while the mulched area was well drained and workable.
Your readers have a real fascination with my bamboo trellis. It was made from a childhood memory of an old Italian gardener neighbor. Somewhat a testament to him. He truly loved his garden and would always go that extra mile to make things, just right, just so. This memory goes back to the 60's.
It took me hours to construct and was based on using 8 foot sections of bamboo, jute twine and a refamiliarization of an old Boy Scout handbook with lessons on "rope lashing." After a couple of hard Upstate New York winters, the jute rotted and had to be constantly maintained.
Needing something more beefy and multifunctional, I discovered cattle fencing with wood framing. Since my standard beds are 3' x 8', I can simply unbolt my frames from the beds and use elsewhere (crop rotation). I am also am a user of 24" Texas Tomato cages. With them, in a 4' x 4' bed, I can plant 16 each saladette or cherry tomato plants and not have them tumble over with the weight of hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes.
In one 3' x 8' bed, I have 24 cucumber plants started and growing totally vertical. That's one plant per square foot.
Yes, the elegant bamboo frame is now gone (not really, taken apart and repurposed). I still enjoy the memory of making it and the images of my old Italian neighbor in his garden who spent the majority of his day there tending it and feeding his family.
I constantly experiment. The cardboard boxes in the beds shown, were in fact, the mini planting areas for fingerling potatoes. The boxes allowed me to bury deep and by stacking another, I could hill the potatoes higher by adding another cardboard box. Did it work, yes, but not really a sure winner of an idea. Win some, lose
This year experiments include 3 full 3'x8' beds of fall planted hard neck rocambole garlic. I have added Azomite, kelp meal, and I just started spraying compost tea to this years' crop. Shortly, I hope to obtain rabbit manure, compost it, and then add red wigglers for their castings. All to add to the beds in the fall. It's all about building up the soil.
We are now deep into canning, freezing, and dehydrating. This year's garlic scape pesto is beyond belief!
As a reminder, I live in suburbia. My neighbors pray to the ChemLawn Gods. "Why grow your own when a grocery store is a half mile away?" So sayeth the neighbors. Frankly, trying to live a sustainable lifestyle up here is a hard sell with this bunch. Wait when they see the chickens in a few years!
I believe, loosely, with slight modifications, square foot gardening works and is legitimate method for all experience levels based on their available land, soil conditions and neighborhoods. I will also note and praise, I envy your lifestyle and your more rural conditions.
Would also like to add, in addition to the methods used by the Dervaes family, I would also recommend and make mention to your readers to watch the Youtube videos of Laszlo Horvath and GrowingYourGreens. They have taken suburban square foot gardening to new levels and demonstrate its viability.
Best wishes from Upstate New York.
If you're just getting started with gardening, my Weekend Homesteader ebooks are an easy way to figure out how not to bite off more than you can chew.
Anna and I have been talking
about the sunroom
addition and we both
realized at the same time that we don't eat as many lemons as we once
did. I gave up Iced Tea a couple of years ago when I discovered most black
teas have high amounts of Fluoride due to chemicals used in the
I haven't regaled you
with tales of cover crops in a while, but that
doesn't mean we haven't been experimenting. First of all, cutting
rye with the weedeater right at ground level was highly effective, although my
scything a little higher up resulted in some resprouting.
The plants we cut early, just as they were barely starting to
bloom, were also more likely to resprout. A final warning
--- the rye did hold onto nitrogen much harder than any other
cover crop I've grown, so a few broccoli sets I transplanted
directly into manure poured on top of the stubble took a week or
two to really start getting the nutrients they needed. But,
overall, we were very pleased with our rye experiment and will
definitely repeat it, especially in problematic soil areas where
the rye built masses of organic matter.
Most of the back
garden is fallow this year as I prepare
it for next year's tomato crop, so I broadcast buckwheat seeds into the rye before
Mark cut it. Mark and I both spread our pee on certain areas
for a week or so (until the buckwheat started sprouting) to add
nitrogen to the ground, but the buckwheat is struggling. It
definitely came up well through the rye stubble, but I've always
had a problem getting much growth out of buckwheat in areas with a
very high groundwater, and this year is no exception. We'll
get a bit of growth out of the back garden buckwheat, but I'm
thinking of trying some sunflowers next.
In contrast, the
buckwheat I've planted into good garden areas is over twice as
large and is thriving. I've already made inroads into my buckwheat
having planted about 4.5 gallons of seed so far this spring and
But our big
experiment came into my inbox as a whim. Harvey
testing out sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), and wanted to send out
samples to his readers for us to try in different parts of the
country. This legume gets up to eight feet tall and produces
huge amounts of biomass before frosts kill the plants in the
fall. You can cut the plants at 60 days as a high-nitrogen
addition to the garden or compost pile, or wait a bit longer, at
which point the carbon levels rise and sunn hemp becomes a quality
mulch. In addition, cutting the plants once at four feet
tall results in resprouting and even more biomass
production. I slipped the seeds into gaps in the forest
garden where broccoli was coming out, and I envision the
high-carbon stems at the end of the year will make good mulch
around fruit trees. I'll keep you posted about the results
of my experiment, and you'll be able to read how sunn hemp did for
us and other experimenters this fall or winter in an article by
Harvey Ussery in Mother Earth News.
Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy, chicks healthy, and roosters at the peak of their game.
We recently noticed our first
deer damage of the year.
It's been a while
since I've written a sumup of the garden, which is mostly because
both the produce and the weeds are growing like crazy.
We're also enjoying
yellow crookneck squash, green beans, and the first huge cabbage
heads. Monday, Mark and I sampled cattail flowers for the
first time, which you're supposed to pick when they're still
enclosed in their sheath, remove from their husk, boil for 3
minutes, then eat like corn on the cob. Although Eric in
Japan reported cattails taste like avocadoes (one of our favorite
storebought addictions), Mark and I were less than impressed by
the cattail heads and deemed them mere survival food.
While waiting for the tomatoes to ripen
(which will mark the beginning of major preservation season),
we're staying busy planting late crops, renovating
the strawberry beds, weeding, mowing, and saving
seeds (kale, tokyo bekana, and peas so far). The kale
plants I left to go to seed are so vigorous, I'm considering using
the vegetable as a cover crop in areas that don't need to be
planted until mid summer, and the dying plants are still doing
double duty by sheltering a song sparrow nest. Kale plants
that have already given me their quota of seed (and that aren't
housing wildlife) made good deep bedding in the chicken coop.
It continues to rain
nearly every day, but so far I haven't seen the fungal diseases
I've been dreading. Our first peaches (Redhaven) are already
thinking of ripening up, and despite insect damage to many fruits,
I suspect we'll enjoy a bountiful crop.
Our chicken waterer keeps chores to a minimum even if you've got three separate flocks the way we do at the moment --- broilers, a broody hen, and the layers.
Due to some dieoff
during our final
we ended up with only ten silkworm cocoons, but that should be
enough to carry our livestock on to the next generation. I
was amazed by the colors of the cocoons, especially the brilliant
orange one that almost looks fake. My understanding is that
commercial silkworm producers select for white cocoons so that
they don't have to bleach the silk before dying it.
If you're not trying to
breed the moths, though, it is quite feasible to make silk on the
backyard scale if you're up for some tedious labor. Just
boil the cocoons once they're fully formed, which kills the pupae
inside and dissolves the glues binding the silk together.
Each cocoon is made up of one extremely long strand, which you can
tease apart and wind up, then weave like any other thread.
The reason you can't raise the moths and still use the thread is
that the mature insect gnaws its way to freedom, breaking that
long thread into many smaller pieces that are much less useful.
The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free waterer enjoyed by chickens (and their keepers) around the world.
We celebrated Independence Day with some bucket
The interest in Mark's
post about fighting tomato blight with pennies has been
astounding. Even though I'm dubious about pocket change's
effect on fungal diseases, that post's popularity made me decide
to experiment with a slightly different form of copper.
Our chicken waterer is a tried-and-true experiment that provides clean water to thousands of chickens around the world.
We got the ATV back from the shop last week and
it's better, but not quite fixed.
I hadn't really
intended to get back into Langstroth beekeeping anytime soon, but
the bees speak,
I listen. I figured I might as well leave our new swarm in
the boxes they chose...with a few modifications.
Our chicken waterer keeps your flock healthy so they can spend their energy hunting for bugs.
There's fuzzy evidence that a
deer is still sneaking in at night...but the damage lately has been
Joey brought over
four pork chops and threw them on the grill, along with some of
our overabundant summer squash and some storebought corn.
The pork chops were pastured, brined overnight in an
herb-salt-and-water solution, then cooked a bit faster than we'd
planned. (In the photo above, Joey's letting them finish off
atop some ears of corn to get the meat further away from the
Our chicken waterer makes it easy to grow your own pastured chickens for eggs or meat.
We used some basic tin snips
to cut the copper
screen material into
Every time I looked at the
huge, red-blushed peaches on our Redhaven tree last week, I
reminded myself the chances of eating any were slim to none.
We'd seen the sun for about ten hours of that week and had enjoyed
rains at least once a day, so I knew brown rot would set in before the
Our chicken waterer keeps damp where you want it --- in your hens' bellies, but not on the coop floor.
I have to confess that my
grand plan of slowly working through both Gaia's
Garden and Introduction
in tandem with Will
Hooker's online permaculture course fell by the wayside. My edition of
Mollison's book didn't have the right page numbers, and it was
more interesting than either of the other information sources, so
I zipped ahead to finish Introduction to
before listening to more lectures or reading more of Gaia's Garden.
We noticed more deer damage
this morning but this time we were able to follow her trail to a spot
where we think she might be jumping over the fence.
"Why not just give in and spray high risk crops with Neem Oil (or whatever fungicide you are comfortable with)?" --- Robert
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homestead problem.
One of my favorite
chapters in Bill Mollison's Introduction
to Permaculture was the one on housing. In addition to
all of the mainstream information on passive solar (with or
without an attached greenhouse), closing and opening windows to
manage air temperature, thermal mass, and shade trees, he
introduced a concept I'd never heard of --- the shade house.
Trailersteading gives tips on turning a free or cheap singlewide into a passive solar home.
No deer damage last night,
but we're still shoring up our perimeter.
"Are you Anna Hess's
husband?" asked the clerk at one of the local hardware stores Mark
frequents. Mark admitted that he was, indeed. "My
daughter's been reading your
The library wants it back, but she's not done with it. Do
you think she could buy a copy from you?"
Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock clean, easy, and fun.
Of course, the tips from
Mollison's book that I'm most likely to put into action pertain to
plants and ecosystems. I especially enjoyed the way Mollison
suggested alternative uses for features I'd already
considered. For example, I tend to deal with my boggy ground
by building up so I can plant there, but perhaps I should instead
dig out some areas to create open water. (The swamp downhill
from the East Wing might be a good location for
bog-to-shallow-pond experimentation.) And Mollison suggests
considering hedges to be mulch sources and weed barriers as well
as animal barriers and producers of food.
Homegrown Humus provides easy tips for increasing organic matter leve;s in a no-till garden using cover crops.
We hauled some straw in with
and improved bucket hauler
We take our war against the deer very
seriously, with multiple lines of defense, obsessive
data-gathering, and a complete
willingness to shoot on sight. And we seem to be winning. As you can
see from my spreadsheet above, there hadn't been a deer in the
garden for 12 months before the most recent raid, and before that
was an eight month gap. I'm hopeful our most recent work
will keep the deer out for at least another year, maybe longer.
We didn't stop
there. We built a trellis barrier around the dwarf apples,
which seem to be one of the deer's favorite foods. Mark
hunted down the trail
installed it to start collecting more data, and I put more trellis
material over the strawberry and sweet potato beds that are
closest to the incursion spot.
Our chicken waterer is the perfect gift for the backyard poultry-keeper on your list.
The tomatoes are late
this year and the cabbages are copious. The pair of events
is merged in my thinking because my primary use for spring
cabbages is as part of the stock for tomato-based
that I want tomatoes and cabbages at the same time and in
proportion to each other. While we can definitely eat up
some of the cabbages without tomatoes, I don't want to run out of
cabbage during soup season. So this year I'm experimenting
with time-lapse soup.
The biggest flaw in
this plan is that I froze the initial broth, thawed it, then froze
it again with vegetables added. I had assumed that
refreezing was forbidden, but the internet explained that the
trouble with refreezing is that the freezer doesn't kill germs,
just puts them on hold. So the germs can multiply during the
thawing process, sit in the refrozen food, then multiply again
during the second thaw, resulting in high microorganism
populations and food that's a bit dicey. Luckily, the
intermediate boiling step sets the clock back, so my refreezing
shouldn't be a problem.
The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention that has brought clean water to thousands of backyard birds around the world.
These new heavy duty tie
downs were easy to install in a few minutes.
If you aren't buying
your apples from a store and are instead keeping them in a root
cellar, your storage apples are going to give out by February or
so, leaving you with a hankering for crisp pomes in early
summer. The first apples might ripen up as late as July (or
even August) if you live in New England (or have a particularly
cool, rainy year like this one), but around here they're often
called "June apples" and tend to come on in late June. June
apples have a less intense flavor than later apples and they tend
to keep only a few days once they're ripe, so you wouldn't want to
plan a whole orchard around them, but one or two trees in your
garden are a summer treat.
Tim Hensley, the source of several of our apples, posted the embedded youtube video this week
to highlight four other early apples he recommends (along with the
Yellow Transparent, which is the most popular and largest).
Henry Clay (a very small, ribbed apple introduced by Starks Bros.)
won his taste test, although the Red Astrachan was also noted to
be richly flavored. Lodi is an offspring of Yellow
Transparent that is more resistant to fire blight, but Hensley
notes that most people prefer the taste and texture of the parent
apple. Finally, Early Harvest is the very earliest apple he
reviewed, with apples sometimes ripening as soon as June 1, and
being sweeter than the other early apples.
Our chicken waterer keeps hens healthy with clean water.
Our first silk
worm moth showed up this
I reviewed Sharon Astyk's book Depletion
and Abundance a
couple of years ago, and since then I've fallen a bit out of love
with her blog. This often happens to me when a blogger
becomes repetitive, rehashing the same information over and over
--- it's interesting the first time, but not thereafter.
Still, I thought it was worth a shot to read her newest book, Making
Our chicken waterer makes the backyard poultry part of your preparedness campaign less time-consuming and more fun.
We recently upgraded our TC1840H
garden wagon with a Sandusky utility wagon.
"I'm using git-annex to make videos, pictures and music available on all my devices (windows, android, linux). It has saved me on trips with my 2yr daughter when she's had meltdowns; I have her favorite movie ready. I quickly exceeded the free dropbox quota and git-annex has replaced the need and gives me greater confidence and control over my data. Thank you!"
A week ago, I
posted about how this abnormally-wet summer has turned our peach
trees into a breeding ground for brown rot, and why
I don't want to use a fungicide to combat the infection. I decided to try
two different methods of getting edible peaches despite the rot
--- picking some when they were ripe enough to finish ripening
inside, and leaving others on the tree but plucking off any fruits
that came down with the disease.
How can you tell if a
peach has ripened enough on the tree to produce luscious fruit
inside? The trick is to ignore the red color (which tells
you how much sun the peach got, not how ripe it is) and to focus
on the yellowish ground color. If the ground color is
yellow-orange, your peach is ready...
...but if the ground
is a yellow-green, the fruit needs more days on the tree.
The internet suggests
several different ways to ripen peaches inside, ranging from paper
bags to cloth coverings. I've actually had good luck just
setting them on a counter or in a fruit basket. (You can see
that not all of my cabbages have yet made their way into time-lapse
Using this method, I suspect we'll end up with a pretty good crop
of peaches this year, despite the rain.
In the meantime,
summer does appear to be arriving at long last. The first
tomato started blushing Saturday, and the dog-day cicadas are
finally making a spotty start on their mating calls. We
enjoyed two or three rainless days last week, and hope for even
more this week. Wish us sun!
Our chicken waterer makes raising multiple batches of broilers easy and clean.
Despite getting carried away and finishing
up Mollison's book before moving on with Will
Hooker's video course, I didn't completely give up on the latter. Over
the last few weeks, I've worked my way through lectures 6, 7, and
8, along with the corresponding reading material about
permaculture as a design process, about patterns, and about
starting a vegetable garden.
"Every landscape design has two 'clients' with their own needs: the people who live there and the land itself."
--- Toby Hemenway in Gaia's Garden
If you've been
watching along with me, I'd be curious to hear if different parts
of these lectures caught your interest than caught mine.
Trailersteading is my best-selling ebook about dumpster-diving your housing.
The worst part of our
driveway is a section that turns and one of the ruts is deeper than the
other creating a situation where it causes the trailer to almost tip
"I'm told that around here in CA, commercially-produced hay has to be of a GMO variety that incorporates some sort of herbicide in it (obviously I don't know the details). This would mean that we can't get organic manure from anyone raising livestock unless that person feeds the livestock non-commercially-produced feed/hay. What concerns do you have, if any, about the feed source that goes into the manure you use, from the perspective of avoiding pesticides and herbicides and growing organically?"
--- jen g.
Some of the herbicides in the aminopyralid group can be long lasting and can survive the transit thru a horses GI tract. They're great for managing a horse pasture because they are long-lasting, but the resulting manure is supposed to be kept out of the compost heap, as the warning on the containers states. Some compost sold to gardeners has been know to contain these chemicals. I'd like to think they made it there inadvertently rather than thru motives of greed.
That's an excellent
question, and the answer will depend on how livestock are
kept near you. In our area, hay is a very low-impact crop
--- people simply let whatever's there grow up, mow it once,
twice, or thrice a year, and that's that. They do sometimes
spread chemical fertilizers on the ground to make up for the
nutrients they take away while haying, but I'm willing to put up
with the possible lack of micronutrients that might result once
the hay passes through a horse and ends up in my garden. I'd
be much more leery of the hay if it was raised in a different
manner, but I don't expect people in our economically depressed
region to have enough funding to improve their hayfields by
plowing and replanting any time soon.
The larger problem
with horse manure is pharmaceuticals that might have been fed to
the horses, specifically dewormers. A couple of years ago,
there were a spate of articles about home gardeners who lost crops
due to using compost that was based on horse manure with dewormers
in it. This is always a gamble, although the longer you age
the manure between horse and garden, the lower your risk is.
I've never seen any issues in our own garden, so I suspect if the
relevant horse owners use dewormers, their use is minimal enough
that the chemicals break down quickly in our biologically-rich
Our chicken waterer keeps coops dry by preventing spills.
One of the reasons I'm plugging along with Will
Hooker's permaculture videos even though I know most of the
information is that I want to fill in any obvious gaps in my
scattered, homeschooled education. So I was thrilled to have
sun angles finally explained to me in a manner I could understand
in lecture 6.
Permaculture Chicken: Pasture Basics walks you through rotational grazing from a chicken's perspective.
This drill powered
plucker is still our preferred tool for getting feathers off
My goal is always to get all of our firewood
into the shed to dry by early June...but that's never
happened. This year, the new
resulted in enough firewood for the winter, but we were too busy
to move most of that wood to the shed in a timely manner.
Luckily, Dillon was kind enough to come
lug firewood for two mornings and get it all under cover.
Our chicken waterer is an innovative way of keeping coops dry and chickens hydrated with clean water.
One of the assignments
associated with Will
Hooker's permaculture course is to watch The
End of Suburbia,
a documentary assessing the future of American suburbs post Peak
Oil. Since Sharon Astyk's Making Home covered the same
hypothetical (but with different imagined results), I thought it
would be interesting for me to sum up the differences between each
philosopher's take on the issue.
The Weekend Homesteader introduces one fun and easy project for each weekend of the year to guide you onto the path of self-sufficiency.
Our first silk moth showed up a few days too early
and had nobody to mate with.
This wet summer has
proven to me that tree
mounds are even
more essential than I'd thought in the high-groundwater area of
the forest garden. We have five baby
figs ready to
go in the ground...or, rather, above it...so I've been figuring
out the easiest way to produce good soil that will stay high and
The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free solution to chicken manure in your flock's drinking water.
Having the earliest tomato in my family comes with some pretty big bragging rights, because not only are tomatoes the trophy crop of the garden, but as Anna wrote here, they are necessary for a lot of preserving tasks to come together. Luckily, our farm has been harvesting vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes for 4 weeks now at about 50-60 lbs a week. So, today I want to share my experiences in my quest for the earliest tomato.
The first thing you need to determine is the variety of tomato you wish to use. It is no secret that early tomatoes are typically lacking in flavor, and leave a lot to be desired. So far in my search I have amassed a collection of over 200 varieties that I maintain seed for, and the absolute worse I have tasted is ‘Early Girl’. My notes from a tasting in 2009 (my last year growing it) say this:
“Absolutely no acidity. Overly sweet, reminiscent of refined sugar. Watered down flavor that lacks in all regards. Poor texture, mealy...no better than a grocery tomato.”
My very favorite early variety has been ‘Sasha Altai’, a determinate tomato from Siberia, that is listed as 55 DTM (days to maturity), but came in on day 47 this year. When you first bite into it, the acidity fills your mouth, and as you begin to chew the flesh releases an earthy, satisfying sweetness. It is balanced by a very pleasant texture, and plenty of flavorful juice. Adding salt brings out the sweetness, and really rounds everything out nicely. It is almost as good as many of my late season heirlooms.
The next important thing is your soil. Early tomatoes go through most of the fruiting period during heavy rains, which can quickly leach out nutrients from your soil resulting in cracks, cat facing, and blossom end rot. This is primarily from a lack of calcium and magnesium, which are necessary for strong cell walls that will resist the swelling from excess water uptake. I always recommend composted poultry litter for solanaceous crops as the feathers and such really provide some good levels of Ca and Mg. Average poultry litter has an N-P-K of 3-3-2, and about 2% calcium and .5% magnesium.
The biggest (and easiest) mistake to make is thinking that an early planting will result in earlier tomato harvests, when in fact it can really set you back. Rather than planting by your last frost date, try to wait until the soil is as close to 70 degrees as possible. This year I transplanted mine outdoors at the end of April when the soil was 67 degrees. Nighttime air temps should not drop below 45-50 degrees.
Tips & Tricks
Whether you have 2,000 tomato plants like us, or just 2, these tips should really help push your harvest a little earlier. Anyone have a favorite variety to share? Maybe a helpful trick? Feel free to share with everyone in the comments!
Robert, and partner Thomas, are the
owners of Crooked Row
Farm in Lexington, Ky. In addition to their CSA program,
they tend to about 600 acres of land and 100 head of angus cattle.
The homestead contains a flock of 40 chickens, 12 ducks, 16 berry
bushes, 10 fruit trees, and 2 acres of vegetable gardens. Robert
blogs about the adventures of life on the farm at www.crookedrowfarm.com.
cart is in a better place now.
Sudden summer temperatures (high in the mid
nineties) made the
peaches I picked on Monday ripen up fast. They turned out to be the most
delectable peaches I've ever eaten, and I spent hours with sticky
juices rolling down my chin. At long last, though, I admitted
that we couldn't consume every one --- time to process the bounty.
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free way to hydrate chicks, hens, roosters, quail, turkeys, ducks, and more.
I ended up getting an
adjustable ball mount for the Kolpin ATV hitch
receiver so the new bucket hauler
lawn wagon could ride on
a more even keel.
If you're looking for a very cheap-to-make present for the
homesteader on your list, you could do much worse than to follow
my mother's lead. She found a pretty tin (probably about
fifty cents at Goodwill), filled it with a box of matches (maybe
$4), then taped the striking papers to the inside of the
Our chicken waterer brings the gift of clean water to your flock.
This is the first year
we've been awash
in homegrown fruit, and one of the things I'm noticing is that small changes in
growing methods result in large changes in fruit flavor. For
example, we have two rows of Caroline red raspberries, one in full
sun in poor soil and one in partial sun in good soil. The
latter produced fewer berries, but their flavor was exceptionally
good, while the plants in poor soil churned out plenty of berries
with only good flavor.
Then there are the
apples. I specifically included one variety in my high-density
was also getting ready to bear in the forest garden so we could
see if the production method influenced flavor of the fruit.
The high-density Yellow
Transparent apples ripened about a week earlier than those in the forest garden
and were quite tasty. And then we sampled the forest garden
fruit --- wow! Such a rich flavor! It's still pretty
amazing to be able to eat homegrown apples in one year (and to try
out lots of different varieties in a small space), but over the
long haul, it's definitely also worth putting in larger trees with
complex soil management if you want the more intricate flavors.
My final observation came
with our peaches. Even though I
prune our trees hard and thin religiously, a few fruits still
ended up closer together or deep in the shade of the tree and
remained small. These small peaches ripened a little later
than the big, beautiful peaches, and they were only a fraction as
sweet. I'd actually be tempted to thin out the
partially-shaded peaches in later years to let the tree put all
its energy into the prime fruits in the outer canopy --- they were
that much better.
Our chicken waterer provides POOP-free refreshment to keep your hens from going thirsty during hot spells.
I've been trying out a new kind of flat bungee cord that seems better suited at securing containers like these baby fig trees than the round ones that tend to roll and sometimes shift out of place.
I've been trying lots
of cover crops this year, and even though the results aren't in, I
thought I'd write a midterm sum up. The image above is from
the forest garden, where I planted sunn
hemp (the tall
things in the foreground), sunflowers, and sweet potatoes as cover
crops in the last few weeks.
Even though I put it
in as a vegetable, I'm now considering this perennial
cucumber (sent to us by a kind reader) to be a cover
crop. Despite its name, the plant has yet to fruit for us,
probably because it doesn't like living in the land of all rain
and no sun. I won't repeat this experiment since it's not
worth keeping a cutting over the winter just for biomass
production, but the cucumber does seem to be covering bare soil
well (and also growing up into my trees).
Although not a cover
crop, I thought I'd show you my comfrey bed, turned flower
garden. Last winter, I
ripped out every single plant and root I could find to
transplant to a chicken pasture, but of course the comfrey
came back with a vengeance from the root fragments left
behind. I ripped the new plants back to the ground once this
spring and planted annual flowers in the gaps, then ripped the
comfrey back again to give those flowers a chance to bloom.
Looks like I'm due for another ripping job. The nearby plum
trees are enjoying their monthly doses of comfrey mulch.
In the main vegetable
garden, I'm playing it safe and just filling gaps with my trusty
standby --- buckwheat. The bees (wild and cultivated) adore
the flowers, and it's always a joy to pull up buckwheat just
before planting time. I end up with free mulch to cover
perhaps a quarter of the bed, along with nearly weed-free ground
for my seedlings to enjoy. While the other cover crops
mentioned in this post are experimental play, the buckwheat is tried
Our chicken waterer keeps even our troublesome trio hydrated as they make their rounds, scratching up the garden.
I know that some of you missed out on
Egyptian-onion giveaway this year and still wanted to try these perennial onions
in your garden, so I saved back a bunch of bottom bulbs and Daddy
harvested his top bulbs to prepare for another giveaway.
This giveaway is much different than our usual, so please read
through all of the rules below before entering. (And don't
skip this post if you aren't interested in Egyptian onions ---
I'll give you a signed copy of The
Weekend Homesteader instead if you win and aren't an onion
Thank you Roland, tee and
Eric for the corner
is far from our best garlic year, with the total harvest being a mere 17
pounds. Still, we'll have enough to plant and to eat,
although not the usual 10 pounds extra to give away. Unlike
most years, we're also eating down to the
dregs of the previous year's crop before starting on the 2013
garlic to make sure they stretch for the full season.
Our chicken waterer gives hens the clean water they need to produce lots of eggs.
I recently posted about a new
source of Ethanol free fuel at a nearby Kwik-Way station that has me wondering if
it was really Ethanol free. My only evidence is a bit of sputtering and
a few back-fires from the ATV.
Although the fruits
are delicious, my favorite part of adding high-density
apples to our
homestead is the way they prompt me to pay more attention to our
other perennials. Usually, I'm lucky to make one summer pruning pass through the
perennials each season, but since I have the high-density apples
on my monthly list, I've been going ahead and taking a look at
everyone else while I'm at it. Kayla's hard work weeding,
processing garlic, and generally being an energetic and pleasant
presence in the garden has also been essential in giving me time
to check on the perennials more. (Thank you, Kayla!)
Which is why I spent Tuesday following up on
month's raspberry pruning. The reds and blacks are
both done fruiting (although the former are already setting new
berries for fall), so this year's floricanes can come out.
Usually, I wait until winter to remove the used-up canes, but it
seems like acting sooner can only help by giving the new canes a
bit more light and air. Old, branched canes end up in our brush
pile, while the
smaller primocanes that I decided not to keep wilt down nicely
into mulch if placed along the sides of the beds.
Now's also a good time to
tie up those new, vigorous canes so we don't end up picking
berries from a sitting position the way I had to on some plants
this year. This will also keep the berries out of the way of
the lawnmower and out of the rot zone close to the damp ground.
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homesteading problem.
Our new helper Matt helped me
figure out today that the new flat bungee
strap is just the right
size and elasticity to hold the 7 extra buckets of manure I've been
stacking in the truck.
One of our resident song sparrows hasn't been
having a good year. It seems like every time she builds
a nest and fills it with eggs, I accidentally impact it
while gardening, then the mother bird abandons her offspring.
The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free chicken waterer enjoyed by poultry around the world.
think it's possible I may have caused some carburetor damage by not
shutting off the fuel switch when we stable her.
package we installed at the beginning of June consumed a lot of sugar
water at first, slowed down a bit, then a week or two ago began
taking nearly a quart a day again. Since the
swarm we captured a few weeks later didn't show the same trend of increasing
their sugar-water consumption recently, I figured that meant our
package was building new comb. Sure enough, a photo up
through the bottom of the hive on Monday showed bee activity in
the lower box for the first time.
On Thursday morning,
I noticed bees bearding on the outside of that hive.
Bearding can mean the hive is too hot, but since these bees were
bearding first thing on a cool morning, I suspected it was instead
a sign of congestion inside the hive. I'd go sit on the
porch too if I was sharing an apartment with tens of thousands of
Sure enough, a photo
up through the bottom on Thursday showed even more bees in the
lower box. When I take a photo up into a hive, I stick my
camera directly on the screen and don't zoom, so you can tell how
close the bees are to the camera by size. They look about
twice as big in the photo above compared to the one at the top of
this post, so I'm guessing the bees were nearly touching the
screen when this second photo was taken. While there are too
many bees to guess how much of the second box is now full of drawn
comb, I figured it was time to expand their living space.
I snuck a bit of
smoke under the quilt as well as in the entrance, and was then
able to lift the two boxes plus quilt to the side and add a new
box underneath without straining myself or bothering the
bees. Kayla came along to take the photo above (and to get a
bit of experience since she's considering embarking on
beekeeping), and was amazed at how calm the bees acted. This
set of bees is definitely my nicest hive --- I have to plop the
sugar water in the entrance feeder and run to prevent suiting up
when visiting our barn swarm.
Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock nearly as fast and easy as beekeeping.
There are small signs of
blight on a tomato plant near our wet gully, but all the other plants
copper mesh protection
are happy and blight free.
My publisher sent me a copy of The
Pocket Guide to Wild Mushrooms to review, and I'd highly recommend this book to
anyone hunting for edible mushrooms...as long as you live in the
right area. The authors, Pelle Holmberg and Hans Marklund, chose fifty of the best
edible species, then broke them down into categories based on how
easy they would be to confuse with poisonous mushrooms. Each
species description contains two photos, one of the mushroom in
the wild, and the other a very well-done studio shot containing
various stages of the mushroom's life cycle.
Our chicken waterer keeps your coop dry and your hens' drinking water clean.
The first pond turned out so well we decided to make another to deal with gutter runoff at the other end of the trailer.
This rainy summer has
been problematic in some ways, but handy in others. For
example, the tiny persimmon trees I set out in our pastures last
fall have been thriving despite my usual summer neglect of
anything not in the vegetable garden. June bugs have been
leaving our blackberries alone for the first time ever. And
the seeds of fall crops are sprouting with no extra effort on our
Actually, I dutifully
started a round of fall cabbages, broccoli, and brussels sprouts
on the porch, only to have a mouse come along and nibble off every
cotyledon. (That's what I get for storing cover crop seeds
in the open near my seed-starting area.) But then I realized
that the only reason I
started the fall crucifers in flats last summer is because it was too
hot and dry to sprout them in situ. So I poked a bunch of
little round seeds in the ground right where I wanted my crops to
grow and waited for the copious rain to make things sprout.
On the negative side,
we had an unexpected problem that was linked to the rain in a
roundabout way. I've read that you shouldn't water your
garden every day, because then the roots stay close to the surface
and your plants wilt if there's a drought. What I didn't
realize is that a sodden June and July had the same effect on our
crops, so when we actually spent a week at normally hot
temperatures with no rain, our watermelons nearly died. Good
thing I had one patch in a different spot where they were subirrigated
by the swamp resulting from roof runoff.
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free addition that brings clean water to pampered hens.
There are several ways to get
a dirt hole to retain water, but we usually like to start with the
least expensive methods and then work our way up if necessary.
While the honest
truth is that I just like digging holes and playing in the mud, I
do have a plan surrounding our newest
The photo above shows the swamp you have to wade through when
leaving the north side of the East Wing porch. The
groundwater is close to the surface there and all of the rain
pouring off the roof results in a waterlogged mess. My
general goal in our core homestead is to never have to slog
through the mud, so I need to channel that water somewhere out of
So what's my plan for
the excess water? Mark recently decided to make an ATV loop
around the forest garden so it would be easier to drop off manure
and straw by the barn, and I want to leave that driveway area open
(and hopefully dry). To that end, I plan to attach the
gutter downspout to a lightly buried pipe heading to our current
pond excavation, then I suspect I'll have to bury an overflow from
that pond leading to another little pond halfway down the
hill. From there, I'm prepared to channel extra overflow
into the gully.
Speaking of keeping
water away from steps, our greywater
wetland is serving that purpose admirably. Mark called
it a stellar success, and while there are a few things I want to
change in this second incarnation, I'm quite happy with the
complete absence of muck and smells. (The swamp gas wafting
up into our kitchen sink in June disappeared with no work on our
part a couple of weeks after appearing. My best guess is
that some kind of good microbial community came in to overrun the
bad one, but I don't really know what happened for sure.)
Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free addition to a clean, modern chicken coop.
most-watched Youtube video details the construction of our
first-generation fridge root cellar, and we posted about our
second-generation root cellar several times over the course of the
last year. People are constantly asking for more
information, so I decided to sum up everything we've learned in an
1/10 of an acre can feed you all year!
The easiest way to grow more of your own calories is to focus on roots like potatoes and carrots. With yields of up to 200 calories per square foot, you can break your reliance on the grocery store with just a few seeds or starts and a shovel. Most root crops are easy to store through the winter and require no special harvesting or processing equipment.
So why don't we all grow roots? To keep them happy after harvest, these crops need a cool, damp storage spot like a root cellar. This book walks you through building a root cellar out of a junked fridge for $10, and also presents some slightly-higher-cost options for winter storage. Other highlights include tips for growing storage vegetables and feeding those roots to your family or your livestock.
Self-sufficiency begins with the potato!
The driveway ruts have been
getting extreme enough to cause the bucket
hauler to tip over.
Although a little
frog moved into my pond
excavation overnight, I know the water level is currently
dependent on groundwater height. In other words, if it ever
stops raining constantly, our groundwater will drop and our "pond"
will dry up. Time to experiment with sealing the pond!
From what I've read,
the first step in making a liner-less pond that will stay wet is
to choose the right area where the soil is rich in clay and the
groundwater is high. That part's easy in our swamp. As
I dug my hole Saturday evening, I could tell I was hitting
groundwater because the mud on my shovel became nearly too heavy
for me to lift. An hour after stopping, water was already
trickling in to fill the hole.
By Sunday morning,
the pond had filled to a depth of nine inches. It did rain
in the night, but only lightly, and I'm sure the majority of this
water simply seeped into my pit through the walls.
Found water is
exciting, but I want my pit to hold water even during
droughts. And I'd prefer it to be fillable above the
groundwater level. In Earth
Matson reports that most liner-less ponds nowadays achieve their
water-holding abilities by compacting the soil with heavy
equipment. But before we had bulldozers, people were still
building ponds. As the water slowly seeped into the hole,
these old-timey farmers turned livestock into the pond area and
let them trample the mud with their hooves, sometimes adding hay
and/or manure to combine gleying action with the
compaction. They often had to repeat the procedure at
intervals as water levels rose.
...and jumped in to
trample the organic matter into the mud!
Here's my jewelweed
fermentation pit after trampling an armload of greenery into the
water-holding portion and another into the soggy tier closest to
the camera. If the water level continues to rise, I'll
repeat the endeavor with other parts of the pit.
The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention, bringing clean water to backyard birds around the world.
Since I'm assuming
you've all been following our fridge root cellar adventures here
on the blog, the excerpts from $10
Root Cellar that I plan to share this week are going to
cover other options for root storage. The simplest and
cheapest suggestion came from Aimee Leforte, who uses plastic
storage bins and sand to emulate root-cellar conditions.
I'll let her tell you about closet root storage in her own words:
"Even though my house was built in 1918, there is no formal root cellar or even the remnants of one. Instead I have experimented, with fantastic results, using a downstairs closet and totes of sand.
"This particular closet has two walls that are also outer walls, and two walls that are inner walls. I have found in the late fall and winter that this closet is fairly cold, but definitely above freezing. If I had to guess I would say its in the 40-45 degree range; I haven't actually measured it.
"With carrots, parsnips, and turnips, I have taken each and topped them. Then I will take a tote and layer the bottom with slightly-dampened sand. Layer in a layer of veggies so that they are not touching. Add sand to build up a layer, mist lightly with water, then add veggies again. I do this several times until the tote is 3/4-of-the-way full. I add the lid and store in the bottom of the closet.
"Every once in awhile, I'll check to see how they are doing. I've never had any go bad until at least late March, and have had farmer's market carrots from October clear until mid April.
"I think that this method, and a little experimentation, would work well for anyone who has a crawlspace, closet, or attached garage. Very simple to do. And I already had both the sand and totes, so for me it was free. But to buy these items you may have less that $15 to 20 dollars to set up one fair-size tote."
My first attempt at MIG
welding the ATV hitch
receiver didn't go so well.
Most of our
blueberries were a wedding present, and while I vastly appreciated
the fact that my friends knew that fruit plants are the best gift
for me, I was a bit dubious that rabbiteyes would fare well here in
zone 6. The three plants I'd ordered for myself were all
northern highbush, which is what another
friend is growing just down the road with great results. However, when I
rated each of our bushes on a scale of 0 (dead) to 10 (huge and
covered with berries), I discovered that rabbiteyes just about
topped the variety list.
Who actually topped
the list? Southern highbush, which I originally thought was
a variety of rabbiteye, but which turns out to be a hybrid between
rabbiteye and northern highbush. This hybrid not only
produced beautiful bushes that are loaded with berries this year,
it also seems to be less sensitive to improper soil pH since even
the ground I treated
with pine needle leaf mold rather than sulfur yielded up a beautiful
However, if you live
in our neck of the woods and are just looking for a couple of
top-producing blueberries to add to your garden, I'd heartily
recommend a southern highbush, followed by Climax and Delite among
the rabbiteyes. Plant now for 2017 crops!
Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy with clean water.
If you already have a basement, you may be able to convert a small section over to root-cellar conditions at a minimal cost. Emily Springfield spent $220 creating a root cellar in her Michigan (zone 5b) basement. By opening and closing the window to the outdoors, she could keep potatoes and other root vegetables in good shape all winter long.
The long version of Emily's renovation is detailed in $10 Root Cellar, but the short version is that she walled off and insulated a section of her basement. The trickiest part turned out to be ventilation, which she initially attempted using the pipe arrangement shown on the right. However, she soon found that the pipes weren't allowing cold air to flow in fast enough to keep the root cellar chilled. Emily's solution was to remove the pipes and simply open and close the whole window as needed. A thermometer in the root cellar with a remote readout in the kitchen made it easy to learn the way the root cellar responded to weather.
Emily's biggest trial with her in-basement root cellar was humidity. "I can't seem to get the humidity in the room to stay above 50% now that winter has set in, even with bins of damp sand on the floor, so instead I’m trying to keep the local humidity around the produce high," she wrote. She experimented with storing produce between layers of newspapers, straw, damp cedar shavings, damp peat moss, and damp sand.
Carrots and parsnips in straw didn't last long, beets did a bit better in damp cedar shavings, and potatoes seemed to prefer being stored between layers of newspaper in a basket. Cameo apples kept well under the same conditions as potatoes, with only a few on the edges going mealy by February. Rutabagas were more like beets (although a bit hardier), preferring the damp cedar shavings.
In February 2011, Emily concluded "Overall, I am very pleased with the root cellar I built last spring. It's keeping temperature well, not showing signs of mold or infestation, and most of the produce is in very good shape." She added that the root cellar was really far too big for a family of two (a 3-by-8-foot structure would have been sufficient), but that "it was actually easier to do it this way than to make it smaller."
Since that report, Emily and her husband have moved away from their homemade root cellar. She wrote: "I love our new house (lots of passive solar features!) but I'm having a hard time living without a root cellar now! Anything stored in the unfinished-basement utility room is sprouting or going bad (too warm). I'm having better luck with stuff hanging out in cardboard boxes in the workroom (unheated detached garage), but I'm afraid if we get a cold snap it'll all freeze. So I may have to rebuild this root cellar at the new place. It'll be a little more difficult because I'll need to make a hole to the outside somehow, and that makes me nervous. But a cold room is so awesome to have, I may just have to figure that out!"
Thank you Joe and David for
the comments on yesterday's
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