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archives for 07/2013

Jul 2013
Raspberry chocolate
almond torte

(Photo-shy) friends came over this weekend, so of course I wanted to feed them something special.  However, I realized the night before that our bountiful berries had 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.

Torte ingredients:

  • 0.5 cups of almonds
  • 2 ounces of dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 0.5 cups of sugar
  • 0.75 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 0.5 teaspoons of salt
  • 0.5 cups of raspberries

Topping ingredients:

  • 0.25 cups of heavy cream
  • 6 ounces of dark chocolate
  • 3.5 cups of raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter a 9-by-13-inch cake pan.

Toast the almonds until they're lightly brown, then grind them for about 5 minutes in a food processor until the nuts start to release their oils.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave.

At the same time, beat the two eggs until they're fluffy.  Add the sugar to the eggs and continue beating.  Then mix in the almond paste, butter-and-chocolate mixture, flour, baking powder, and salt.  Once the batter is thoroughly mixed, lightly fold in the raspberries, trying not to break them apart.

Pour the batter into the pan, spread to cover the whole bottom, then bake until a knife comes out clean.  (This won't take long since the batter is such a thin layer.  I didn't time it though; sorry.  Maybe 10 minutes?)

Raspberry barWhile the cake is baking, heat the cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it just boils.  Remove from the heat, stir in the chocolate, and continue stirring until the chocolate melts and mixes with the cream.

Once the cake is done, spread the chocolate-and-cream mixture over top, then sprinkle on fresh raspberries generously.  (We had a couple of blackberries and included them, and I'll be blueberries would be equally delicious.)  Cool for a few hours to set the chocolate. 

Serves about 10 and combines the taste of fresh and cooked raspberries with rich chocolate and nutty almonds, with none of the flavors overwhelming the others.  Definitely a favorite for fresh-fruit and dark-chocolate lovers like me!

(Based loosely on this recipe.)

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free way to make chickens a fun part of any backyard.
Posted Mon Jul 1 08:07:20 2013 Tags:
Square foot garden

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.

Mulched aislesIf 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.

Cattle panel
trellisYour 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.

Square foot kaleIn 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!

Square foot
tomatoesAs 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.

--- Ron

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.
Posted Mon Jul 1 12:00:29 2013 Tags:
Myers Lemon tree transfer

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 growing process.

We had some friends over recently and they happily agreed to give our Myers Lemon tree a good home.

Posted Mon Jul 1 17:26:08 2013 Tags:
Rye stubble

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.

Struggling buckwheat

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.

Thriving buckwheat

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 challenge, having planted about 4.5 gallons of seed so far this spring and summer.

Sunn hemp seeds

But our big experiment came into my inbox as a whim.  Harvey Ussery is 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.
Posted Tue Jul 2 07:32:32 2013 Tags:
using Stihl weed trimmer to clear fence line

We recently noticed our first deer damage of the year.

It's hard to know for sure, but we think she came in through our weakest fence line.

Weed eating around the fence and repairing the weak spot might help to make this deer think twice before coming in, but it might also be time to ask the local Game Warden for another deer killing permit.

Posted Tue Jul 2 16:20:31 2013 Tags:
Garden harvest

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.

Broccoli and pea season has come and gone.  For about a week in the middle of June, the broccoli heads became so full of southern cabbageworms that I barely wanted to cook them, but then the checkered white butterflies stopped laying eggs, and recent heads have been pristine.  (The more common cabbage worms from the cabbage white are still around in small numbers, but they're not nearly as big of a deal for us.)

These early crops were quickly replaced by cucumbers, which immediately began to overwhelm us to the point where we had to give extras away.  Although I could cut back on my planting next year, it's nice to have a quick, easy vegetable that scales up to feed an unlimited number of mouths on a moments' notice, so I probably won't scale down.

Eating cattail

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.

Song sparrow nest

Saving seedsWhile 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.

Ripening peach

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.

How's your garden doing now that summer is officially here?

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.
Posted Wed Jul 3 07:46:45 2013 Tags:
Power outage supper

Aerial line maintenance has caused two power outages this week.

A short summer power outage is no big deal, though.  Anna whipped up supper on the camp stove and we enjoyed an afternoon of quiet.

It does remind us to check back over our emergency preparedness goals.  We've come a long way, but still have several items to check off the list.

Posted Wed Jul 3 17:53:32 2013 Tags:
Silkworm cocoon

Due to some dieoff during our final silkworm week, 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.

One of our chicken blog readers wrote in to ask if she could have our cocoons after we're done with them, which made me realize it's far from common knowledge how silk is produced.  Unfortunately, you have to decide whether to use your cocoons to make silk or whether to let the moths escape and breed, so our cocoons will end up being useless from a fiber perspective.

Silkworm cocoon

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.

Mark and I are still on the fence about whether silkworm culture is an efficient use of time, but we're definitely going to breed our moths and start tweaking the procedure so it works better.  Stay tuned for round two, coming up next month.

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free waterer enjoyed by chickens (and their keepers) around the world.
Posted Thu Jul 4 06:58:16 2013 Tags:
using a hand grinder to cut off protruding screw heads

We celebrated Independence Day with some bucket hauler sparks.

I used 16 heavy duty exterior wood screws for a second attempt at plywood attachment.

They ended up protruding through the plywood side and needed to be grinded off to achieve a smooth surface. I also used 4 bolts with washers and nuts to be on the safe side. The nut side sticks out a bit, but I located each hole so it fits in a gap between buckets.

Posted Thu Jul 4 16:01:09 2013 Tags:
Green tomatoes

Fighting tomato
blight with a pennyThe 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.

My budget for the project was the $80 we've made in ad revenue from folks coming to check out our tomato blight post, but I tacked on another $10 so I could try two types of copper --- this expensive and high-quality copper screen and this ultra-cheap mesh.  Mark cut the screen into eight sections (each of which was a foot square with a Copper screen at base of a
tomatonotch to allow the screen to slide around the tomato stem), and I cut the mesh into four lengths that cover about the same area.  My test subjects consisted of a row of yellow romas, where I alternated control (no copper), mesh, and screen beneath subsequent plants.

The theory is that the anti-fungal properties of copper will prevent fungal spores from being splashed up from the soil line into the lower leaves (where blight usually first takes hold of a tomato plant).  Organic farmers sometimes Copper mesh
at the base of a tomatouse powdered copper on tomatoes for this purpose, but that technique is dicey from a permaculture standpoint since the powdered copper gets into the soil and kills beneficial fungi as well as disease-causing species.  Only time will tell whether a solid copper mesh will serve the same purpose without the harm to ecosystem life.

Our chicken waterer is a tried-and-true experiment that provides clean water to thousands of chickens around the world.
Posted Fri Jul 5 07:14:05 2013 Tags:
update on the repair work done last week

We got the ATV back from the shop last week and it's better, but not quite fixed.

The problem was no brakes. We had the back pads replaced and made sure the front pads had enough life in them.

It slows down, but I have to pump the brake handle and be careful not to hit anything. I think maybe the caliper got damaged and we may have to plan on having it replaced in the future, but for now we'll get by with half brakes so we can get caught up on manure hauling.

Posted Fri Jul 5 15:58:19 2013 Tags:
Warre and Langstroth hives

I hadn't really intended to get back into Langstroth beekeeping anytime soon, but when the bees speak, I listen.  I figured I might as well leave our new swarm in the boxes they chose...with a few modifications.

My first step in the modification process was to brainstorm the primary features of a Warre hive, and ways I might easily modify the Langstroth hive to serve the same purpose:

Warre hive feature
Possible retrofit to Langstroth
Insulation and winter drip prevention
Modify an extra super to become a quilt.  (Easy.)
Fancy roof
Air flow?
Built a similar roof.  (Hard.)
Small entrance
Not positive, but bees select for this in the wild, so it must be important, perhaps in guarding the hive and/or maintaining Nestduftwarmebindung.
Entrance reducer. (Easy.)
Thick hive walls
Rebuild boxes out of thicker boards.  (Hard.)
Top bars
Prevent varroa mites using small cell size.
Foundation strips.  (Easy.)
Smaller boxes
Winter temperature maintenance?
(I don't like the idea of using all supers instead of deeps, which would be easy, and am not sure this is actually an important feature of the Warre hive.)
Hive opened only once a year
Maintain Nestuftwarmebindung and don't make bees waste propolis.
Raise up base of hive so I can photograph underneath and monitor bees' progress that way.  (Moderate.)
A subset of the feature above.
Add larger handles on sides of the boxes so entire hive can be raised at once for nadiring.  (Easy.)
Allow swarming
Creates a break in disease cycle.
Don't use swarm prevention techniques.  (Easy.  But, this is one feature of a Warre hive I might consider ditching in the long run since it drastically reduces honey production.  The health of the bees is my first priority, though, so I'm keeping it for now.)
Queen works throughout hive.
Allows cycling of wax if you crush and strain, which prevents disease.
Don't use excluder, do nadir, and remove honey from top.  (Easy.)

Once we get a spare minute in the garden, I plan to apply the easiest of these features to our Warre hive, notably the quilt and raising the box up so I can slide my camera underneath.  (I already installed foundation strips so the bees will build most of their own wax.)  The bees shouldn't need to be nadired this year since they already have the equivalent of four Warre hive boxes, but Mark and I will plan to suit up (or wait until winter) and add handles to the boxes before next spring.  It will be interesting to see whether a Langstroth hive with a few simple modifications will be as effective as the more expensive and less common Warre equipment.

Our chicken waterer keeps your flock healthy so they can spend their energy hunting for bugs.
Posted Sat Jul 6 08:26:31 2013 Tags:
old deer deterrent still works

There's fuzzy evidence that a deer is still sneaking in at night...but the damage lately has been minimal.

I was happy to see one of the old mechanical deer deterrents start up with no problem, although it didn't seem to stop this one...but maybe the noise shortened her stay.

Posted Sat Jul 6 16:44:17 2013 Tags:
Pastured pork

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 heat.)

GrillI'd never tasted pastured pork before, but every other pastured meat I've tried has been ten times better than feedlot produce. So I shouldn't have been surprised that this pork was also phenomenal.  We'll definitely be making an order of our own soon.

Meanwhile, if you live in or near Rogersville, Johnson City, or Knoxville, Tennessee, J.E.M. Farm likely delivers to your town and even offers a CSA.  I'm looking forward to a field trip to tour their operation once our own garden slows down for the year.

Our chicken waterer makes it easy to grow your own pastured chickens for eggs or meat.

Posted Sun Jul 7 08:34:22 2013 Tags:
how to cut copper the safe way

We used some basic tin snips to cut the copper screen material into squares.

If I do this again I'll remember to wear gloves to avoid being cut from the sharp edges.

Posted Sun Jul 7 16:53:26 2013 Tags:

Ripening peachesEvery 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 fruits ripened.

Sure enough, Friday I noticed a rotting peach in the center of the tree.  I removed it, but by Sunday, five more peaches had come down with the fungal disease.  Unless the weather miraculously stops thinking we live in a rain forest, I suspect each fruit will succumb as it builds up enough sugars to feed the fungus.

Brown rotIn the meantime, I'm trying out some mitigating measures.  The first year we fought brown rot, I didn't know what it was and wasn't paying attention, with the result that we basically got no crop.  This time around, I'm using the same techniques I use on other fungal diseases --- an eagle eye and removal of infected tissue as quickly as possible.  The jury's still out on whether that will allow at least a few peaches to ripen to perfection on the tree.

Meanwhile, I'm also experimenting with ripening up peaches inside.  Granted, I've read that peaches don't really ripen off the tree, but merely soften.  Still, I suspect they'll be at least as good as storebought fruit, and will definitely be better than nothing.  The question is whether the brown-rotted fruits (with the bad spots cut out) will ripen in the fridge, or whether I need to pick fruits before they're infected.  I'm trying a few of each to see.

Our chicken waterer keeps damp where you want it --- in your hens' bellies, but not on the coop floor.
Posted Mon Jul 8 07:01:09 2013 Tags:

Introduction to PermacultureI have to confess that my grand plan of slowly working through both Gaia's Garden and Introduction to Permaculture 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 Permaculture before listening to more lectures or reading more of Gaia's Garden.

Which is all a long way of saying --- even though I didn't get into Mollison's book when I first tried it several years ago, I now consider Introduction to Permaculture to be the best way for those new to permaculture to get a sampling of dominant ideas in the field.  You'll be introduced to Salatin-style grazing, greywater management, no-till gardening, and much more, and will be inspired by line drawings that make you want to jump out there and put some of these ideas into action.  And while I'm usually dubious of books that contain no photos (is this all just philosophizing, or has the author actually tried it?), Mollison is clearly a doer who seasons his text with Permaculture illustratioinwarnings about when each project is likely to succeed or fail.  90% of the time, I even agree with him, even though Mollison gardens in dry Australia and I garden in wet Appalachia.

Stay tuned for some of the highlights of Bill Mollison's book later in this week's lunchtime series, and consider dropping by our chicken blog later in the week where I'll be relating Mollison's tips for grazers.  Or, if you're just tuning in, you might be interested in this post from a few weeks ago about Mollison's approach to forest gardening.

This post is part of our Mollison's Introduction to Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jul 8 12:00:34 2013 Tags:
using chicken wire to make 10 foot high deer fence

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.

It's a spot where we don't have a chicken moat.

Using two tall trees to attach to we were able to double the fence height on that section from 5 feet to 10 feet.

Posted Mon Jul 8 15:56:04 2013 Tags:
Peaches"Why not just give in and spray high risk crops with Neem Oil (or whatever fungicide you are comfortable with)?" --- Robert

I get this question a lot, or the related "Why don't you just spray an insecticide?"  Folks familiar with organic gardening are used to "safe" sprays like neem oil that do many of the same jobs as non-organic pesticides or fungicides.  But my philosophy is a little different.

No matter how specific you think your organic spray is, it's going to do damage to beneficials in the same category as the problem species you're trying to combat.  The question is, are you willing to harm the fungi in the soil that help your trees suck up micronutrients, resulting in a tree that's going to need more help every year?  How about if that also means the food from the tree is going to be less nutrient dense?  Basically, by spraying organic killers of any kind, I'd be going back to storebought-produce quality, and the goal of growing our own is to feed ourselves tastier and more nutritious food than we could buy in any store.

Spraying BtWithout chemicals, you have to be a bit smarter, willing to experiment, and able to handle failures.  In some cases, we've come up with systems that work perfectly for our climate.  For example, instead of spraying Bt to prevent the dastardly vine borers that pretty much kill all squash in our region, I now take a multi-prong (but chemical-free) approach.  First, I chose varieties that are less tasty to vine-borers (butternut squash and yellow crookneck squash), which solves the problem for the winter squash entirely.  With summer squash, even the crooknecks succumb to the vine borers eventually, but as long as I plant a new bed of squash every two weeks in the summer, we still end up giving bagsful away.

In other cases, I hand pick and (impatiently) wait for the natural predators of pest insects to show up.  For example, we used to be overrun with asparagus beetles, but I nearly wiped out their population by thrice-weekly squashing sessions.  This year, I saw some show up Wheel bugagain for the first time in years, but after a round of squashing, I started noticing more wheel bugs and ladybug larvae on the asparagus and no more asparagus beetles.

Fungi don't seem to have natural enemies (or at least I can't see them with my naked eye.  Some sources suggest that good fungi build up on plant surfaces and battle the bad fungi for space.)  So I plant blight-resistant varieties, site fungal-prone plants in the sunniest part of our garden, pluck off fungal damage as soon as I see it, and trellis plants like cucumbers so they stay away from the damp ground.  And, if worst comes to worst, I rip out varieties (and sometimes whole species) that can't handle our damp.

Which is all a long way of explaining that our peaches are still on probation, and if I can't find a cultural control for brown rot, I'm willing to let them go.  Sure, they're one of my favorite fruits, but I could put the same space and energy into more dependable June apples, blueberries, blackberries, and late raspberries if I have to.  (Hear that peach trees --- either shape up or ship out!)  I'd rather eat healthier, tastier food of a second-favorite variety than throw chemicals into the ecosystem I live in and eat out of.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homestead problem.

Learn to keep bugs at bay

Posted Tue Jul 9 07:13:48 2013 Tags:

Lathe houseOne 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.

A search of the internet suggestions that Mollison's shadehouse may sometimes be known as a lathe house.  Regardless of the name, the structure is placed on the north side of the home in our hemisphere, has a partially covered top to provide shade, and is coated with vegetation inside and out.  Vines are often trellised up the sides, and the top may be made of trellis material to allow the vines to continue their growth there, or it might consist of multiple layers of snow fencing or one layer of reflective shade cloth.  Water tanks inside or around the structure can provide extra thermal mass.

The shade house produces a very cool environment to feed air into the house in the summer.  Opening a high window on the opposite side of the house (or a vent in the top of an attached greenhouse) lets hot air escape, then a vent low in the wall attached to the shade house pulls in cool air from that structure to replace the warm air.

Propagation at the porch edgeA shade house also provides other much-needed uses on the summer homestead as well.  You can add an outdoor bathing station, and should definitely consider raising mushrooms there and rooting cuttings in the shade.  We've yet to find the best environment for mushroom logs in the summer, and although my cuttings do pretty well in the semi-shade of the porch edge, I can see how a shade house would make propagation even easier.

The one thing I'm unsure of is whether a shade house would make the main house too moist in our wet climate.  Constant rain during summers like this one mean that fabrics left to dry over chairs in the house often mold before the water leaves them, and swamp coolers definitely won't work on our humid farm.  Part of the benefit of shade houses is supposed to be adding humidity to the air, so maybe they're not compatible with our area after all?

Trailersteading gives tips on turning a free or cheap singlewide into a passive solar home.

This post is part of our Mollison's Introduction to Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jul 9 12:01:09 2013 Tags:
mark Deer gate
new gate to keep deer from walking into garden

No deer damage last night, but we're still shoring up our perimeter.

This new gate will rule out the possibility of her walking in the way we enter.

Posted Tue Jul 9 16:06:03 2013 Tags:
Introducing Kayla

"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 wife's book.  The library wants it back, but she's not done with it.  Do you think she could buy a copy from you?"

"I've got a better idea," Mark answered.  "Would she like a job?"

Which is all a long way of explaining how Kayla showed up on our doorstep a month or so ago.  She's an industrious helper who doesn't get bored when I ask her to weed all morning, she's genuinely interested in all of my crazy garden experiments, she can handle slogging through the mud to get to work, and (best of all) she has a large enough extended family to eat all of our extra cucumbers and summer squash.

I've decided the paperback experiment was a total success.  If it takes writing a book to find a helper like Kayla, it's worth every minute at the keyboard.

Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock clean, easy, and fun.
Posted Wed Jul 10 06:48:00 2013 Tags:

Trellis for coolingOf 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.

Meanwhile, Mollison goes into depth about using plants to mitigate heating and cooling Trellis on south windowsissues around your home.  While deciduous shade trees are great, we just don't have room for such a large plant on the south side of our trailer --- a maple would take up half the garden (and would impact the powerline).  But I've been planning to trellis vines against the south side of the porch and trailer instead, and Mollison heartily approves of the idea.  My first attempt this spring with annual vines failed because it turns out that the soil there is very wet and clayey, so I'm dumping masses of weeds in the spot this summer to raise the soil up and increase the organic matter content in preparation for fall planting of some kind of perennial vine (probably home-propagated grapes).

On a related note, did you know that hanging plants are supposed to cool the surrounding area?  I'd always thought the pots of dangling ferns I notice in southern homes and porches are just for aesthetics, but I can see how the plants might do their part in keeping conditions comfortable nearby.  Similarly, all those fountains in Mediterranean countries are meant to add humidity (and thus coolness) to the air, while ivy growing over buildings is reputed to reduce heat Permaculture trailergain in the summer by 70% and heat loss in the winter by 30% --- homegrown insulation!  Finally, a courtyard pond can buffer heat both during the summer and the winter.

While I'm unlikely to put all of these ideas into action right away (or maybe ever), I couldn't help mocking up a design for the truly integrated permaculture trailer.  With the help of a few plants, we might make our singlewide even more livable over time.

Homegrown Humus provides easy tips for increasing organic matter leve;s in a no-till garden using cover crops.

This post is part of our Mollison's Introduction to Permaculture lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jul 10 12:00:51 2013 Tags:
using the bucket hauler to haul some straw and the new garden wagon

We hauled some straw in with the new and improved bucket hauler today.

Conditions are muddy, but it seemed to handle the uneven driveway just fine.

Four bales might be the limit for straw due to the load being top heavy.

Posted Wed Jul 10 16:07:23 2013 Tags:
Deer data

Wireless deer fenceWe 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.

So what have we done to improve the situation this time around?  Mark mentioned clearing tall weeds that shelter deer along the fencelines, putting two of our mechanical deer deterrents back into action, adding height to a troubled fence spot, and gating in a gap we often walk through.  We also put the wireless deer fence beside the most-nibbled spot and baited it with peanut butter.  I'm not sold on this little gadget actually doing anything, but this is the kind of situation where it might come in handy --- when a single deer is targeting one high-value spot.

Deer deterrents

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 camera and 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.

Deer mapBut those are really just stop-gap measures.  Our long-term goal is to moat the entire homestead, since moats seem to be close to 100% effective at deterring deer, even if the fences that make them up are only four or five feet tall.

Actually, we've already got most of the homestead moated if you count the precipice at the edge of our plateau as a moat.  (I do.)  I'd been considering leaving a deer path to let wildlife walk between the pastures-to-be around the starplate coop and our blueberry patch so I'd still be able to shoot deer out the living-room window, but now I'm thinking we'll hook those pastures directly into our existing perimeter fence to moat that area too.  I'm not quite sure what we use we could put to a moat above the well since we want to keep manure out of that area to protect our drinking-water quality, but I'm sure we'll think of something.

Our chicken waterer is the perfect gift for the backyard poultry-keeper on your list.
Posted Thu Jul 11 06:39:31 2013 Tags:
using a modified Haul Master lawn trailer to haul 5 gallon buckets of horse manure

The new lawn trailer bucket hauler had its first horse manure run today.

My new method of stacking and strapping 7 buckets near the cab brings the capacity to 28...add one bucket to the nearby worm bin and then 3 trips with the bucket hauler and that equals a serious amount of organic matter.

Posted Thu Jul 11 16:41:09 2013 Tags:
Cabbage harvest

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 soups, meaning 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.

What's time-lapse soup?  It's simple --- I process each ingredient when it's on hand, freeze it, then thaw out various bits to compile into soup later.  For example, I had more chicken carcasses this winter than I needed right away, so I made broth out of the bones and froze that.  Now I'm thawing the chicken broth and using it with cabbages, potato onions, parsley, and the end of last year's garlic to make a denser stock.  When the tomatoes come in, I'm thinking I'll just turn them into paste, then in the winter I'll thaw containers of paste, stock, green beans, and sweet corn, add in some carrots, and make my soup that way.

Thawing broth

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 jury's still out on whether the winter-compiled soup will taste as good as a soup made all at once during the summer months.  I guess we'll have to wait and see....

The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention that has brought clean water to thousands of backyard birds around the world.
Posted Fri Jul 12 07:20:52 2013 Tags:
new tie down installation photos

These new heavy duty tie downs were easy to install in a few minutes.

I was going to use an eye bolt, but these looked better suited for ratchet straps.

You get a package of four for 5 dollars and they're rated at 400 pounds.

Posted Fri Jul 12 16:27:57 2013 Tags:
Early Transparent apple

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.

Yellow Transparent is the standby June apple in our area, and we've got a dwarf in our high-density planting and a semi-dwarf in the forest garden.  Thursday, Mark and I tasted the first ripe sample (from the high-density planting) and gave it top marks.  Yellow Transparent (also known as White Transparent, Russian Transparent, and Grand Sultan) wouldn't stand up against really flavorful fall apples, but it beats the kind you get in the store at this time of year and makes an excellent sauce and pie.  The trick with Yellow Transparent is to wait until the flesh turns very yellow-green, and then to pick the fruit right away before it gets mealy.

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.

We may try another early apple in our high density planting next year since it looks like the Pristine (a new, hybrid early apple) can't take the fungi in our climate.  The trick will be determining which of these early apples is as disease resistant as the Early Transparent, which seems to thrive despite our cedar apple rust and general dampness.

Is there a preferred early-apple variety in your neck of the woods?  When do the first apples near you ripen?  I'd be curious to hear if Yellow Transparent is a standby in other areas, or just around here.

Our chicken waterer keeps hens healthy with clean water.
Posted Sat Jul 13 07:40:45 2013 Tags:
first image of ou silk worm turning into a moth!

Our first silk worm moth showed up this week!

There will be no flight for these wings due to generations of domestic breeding.

No food or drink either. The only job this moth has to do is hope one of the other cocoons changes into a moth and ask her out on a date.

Posted Sat Jul 13 14:50:33 2013 Tags:

Making HomeI 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 Home

Astyk's thesis is that Peak Oil will result in a very different world from the one we now know.  The book revolves around the idea of adapting in place --- choosing a spot where you want to put down roots, then making changes immediately so you won't be so hard hit when the consequences of Peak Oil begin to be felt more widely.  As you might expect, the book gets a bit Doomy, especially in the second half, but if you don't mind wading through that, you'll find some handy information on emergency preparedness and homesteading, especially from a social perspective.

On the other hand, much of the information would be hard for us to put into practice.  Astyk is part of a relatively tightly-knit Jewish community, and she and her husband have four kids plus an ever-shifting number of foster kids.  If you don't have a faith-based community to fall back on, and don't have children, you might as well skip about a third of the book and likely won't find any community-building information that will appeal to you.

AstykOn the other hand, Astyk's housing advice is more spot-on from our Trailersteading perspective.  When she and her husband were house-hunting, Astyk considered moving into an Amish-built house (with the lack of electricity and other facilities that you'd expect).  She felt (as I do) that it's much easier to start with nothing and slowly built more sustainable workarounds than to move into a modern American house and try to go backward.  Her husband rebelled against the Amish house, but they both seem content with living in what Astyk calls a "working home" instead of a "show home," one that produces rather than consumes.  "[American] standards of cleanliness and perfection can be so high," she wrote, "precisely because homes are expensive spaces in which we do not ordinarily live."

Astyk's take on finances was also interesting.  Of course, she recommended that you prioritize getting out of debt, hypothesizing that debt will be harder to deal with in the future than it is now.  But what if you have money to invest for retirement?  Astyk believes that gold and silver will actually lose value, and she (not entirely tongue-in-cheek) recommends investing in alcohol, prescription sedatives, porn, and escapist videos instead.  More seriously, she recommends that we try not to look at money as the only means to an end, and to focus on the end itself.  What will we need in the future, and what can we spend time or money on now to prepare for that?

In the end, I felt Making Home was a thought-provoking read, but I was thrown off by the internetisms that popped up (smileys in a print book?) and by the word-for-word reprints of articles I'd already seen on her blog.  I'm also a bit leery of the whole premise of the book --- yes, I believe in Peak Oil, but I don't really believe we can predict what the future looks like, and I also don't like the idea of planning your life out of fear.  Why not focus on being more sustainable and self-sufficient for the joys it brings now, rather than because it may or may not make your future easier than your neighbors'?  Despite my complaints, though, the book is well worth a read, and is light enough to make fast summer reading.

Our chicken waterer makes the backyard poultry part of your preparedness campaign less time-consuming and more fun.
Posted Sun Jul 14 08:13:34 2013 Tags:
a garden wagon upgrade

We recently upgraded our TC1840H garden wagon with a Sandusky utility wagon.

It's a little heavier duty but about the same size. Cost was just under 150 with shipping.

Some of the reviews talk about it being too heavy to pull, but it seems fine to us. Our helper Dillon had no problem pulling it by himself loaded with firewood on Friday.

Posted Sun Jul 14 14:24:51 2013 Tags:

JoeyA little over a year ago,
I posted about my brother Joey's Kickstarter project to fund his free software development project.  I explained that, even though git-annex isn't all that homesteading related, Joey's hard work in the free software community is what keeps the backend of this blog afloat.

Completely unrelated to my blog post, Joey's Kickstarter was funded in the first day, and he went on to rake in enough cash to pay his (very basic) living expenses for a full year of coding.  Everyone who donated got their money's worth and much more.  My only complaint is that Joey hasn't been over to visit nearly enough in the last year because he's been burning the midnight oil coding, paying himself roughly minimum wage from the Kickstarter funds.  And the results have been helping scores of people, like Joe who wrote in to say:

"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!"

At long last, the Kickstarter money ran out, but Joey's project keeps attracting new users with new needs.  So he's launching a second-generation campaign, with the tiny goal of $3,000 to fund three more months of coding.  If all of Walden Effect's loyal readers donate at the virtual hug level (a mere $5), we could fund Joey for a year and a half.  What do you say we help him reach his goal in less than 24 hours again?

Posted Sun Jul 14 20:26:11 2013 Tags:
Harvesting peaches

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. 

The second method was a big loser --- the tree-ripened fruits tended to start rotting when they were still apple-hard, and my secondary experiment of cutting out the bad spots and letting the peaches ripen in the fridge was a total failure.  On the other hand, plucking beautiful peaches off the tree and ripening them inside worked well, producing fruits at least as tasty as the best I've found at roadside stands and produce patches.  So, this week, I'm taking a preemptive approach and picking all of the peaches that are old enough to ripen inside right away.

Ripe enough peach

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...

Unripe peach

...but if the ground is a yellow-green, the fruit needs more days on the tree.

Ripening peaches

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 soup.)  Using this method, I suspect we'll end up with a pretty good crop of peaches this year, despite the rain.

Ripening tomato

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.
Posted Mon Jul 15 07:20:52 2013 Tags:

Sector analysisDespite 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.

All three lectures were pretty basic, and lecture 7, especially didn't contain much of value.  (I felt Will Hooker got a bit caught up in what I consider New Age math.)  On the other hand, gems jumped out at me from the other two videos.

In addition to the sun angle information that I'm going to devote a later post to, my favorite part of lecture 6 was the notion of beginning the design process with a sector analysis.  The image at the top of this post charts where forces of nature (and other elements beyond our control) enter the farm.  Although we already know our farm well enough that we didn't receive any new information from the sector analysis, those of you new an area might use the information in a sector analysis to conclude you shouldn't plant your fruit trees where they'll block the winter sun, that you should plant a dense barrier where the wind comes gusting in off the prairie, and that you might consider either making an edible garden where the neighbor's children encroach, or keeping them out with thorny bushes (depending on how you feel about the kids in question).

Herb spiralShifting gears, Lecture 8 contained a good introduction to permaculture gardening techniques --- I recommend that video for beginners.  I enjoyed Hooker's reiteration of the admonition to start gardening wherever you are, even if you're renting; your first garden will be far from perfect, so you might as well begin the trial and error process now rather than putting it off until you have the perfect plot.  He also scavenges biomass just like I do, and has an excellent piece of advice there --- steer clear of bags of clippings and leaves from beautiful lawns, since those are more likely to be dosed in herbicides.

"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

As usual, I had mixed feelings about the reading in Gaia's Garden.  Even though I tried out keyhole beds when I was new to permaculture, I believe both keyhole beds and herb spirals are trendy techniques that create much more work than old-school straight lines and rectangles.  On the other hand, I do like the concept of designing from patterns to details, looking at the flows and patterns already present in your landscape, and optimizing them.  For example, Hemenway explains that a tree's branch design is a useful pattern to mimic in drip irrigation systems, and that people tend to flow like water.

I've got a bit more to say about this trio of lectures in later posts, but for now, here's the reading material for the next set of lectures:

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.
Posted Mon Jul 15 12:01:32 2013 Tags:
new load limit for ATV when carrying straw bales

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 over.

Until I fix that part of the driveway the bucket hauler trailer limit for straw bales will be 3...with a couple of bales bungee strapped to the ATV.

Posted Mon Jul 15 15:58:55 2013 Tags:
Topdressing with manure
"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.
--- doc

Drying hay

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.

While herbicide use on the pasture is slightly more likely in our area, it also seems to be far from widespread.  Most of the surrounding pastures are what's known as "unimproved," meaning that they're produced by mowing whatever's there repeatedly until only grasses and low weeds remain.  If our manure-producers were using herbicides on their pastures, we'd likely know right away since our crops would fail, then we'd find another source of manure.


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 soil.

Although not a chemical issue, everyone will have to deal with the problem of weed seeds in their horse manure.  In a perfect world, we'd compost the manure well enough to kill the seeds, but in this real world, I just hand-pull and mulch, which deals with any weeds that might otherwise pop up.

In the end, I'm not an organic purist from a labeling standpoint --- I'm sure the horse manure we use wouldn't fly if we wanted to jump through the hoops to sell our produce as organic.  We're more interested in our own health and the quality of our soil than in the word "organic," though, and the horse manure we use seems to be the best option there, given our location.

Our chicken waterer keeps coops dry by preventing spills.
Posted Tue Jul 16 07:20:24 2013 Tags:

Calculating your sun
angleOne 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.

I've posted previously about the science behind sun angles, but the math has always eluded me.  Luckily, Hooker broke it down into simple arithmetic.  All you have to do to find the height of the sun above the horizon at the equinoxes is to subtract your latitude from 90 degrees --- so, the equinox sun is 54 degrees above the horizon at a latitude of 36 degrees.  Since the sun angle at the equinox splits the difference between summer and winter sun angles, people often use this figure to calculate the tilt of their solar panels.  If you want to have the sun's rays striking a solar panel perpendicularly at the equinox, just tilt the panel the same number of degrees as your latitude --- 36.8 degrees here.  If you want a bit more efficiency from your panels in the winter, tilt the panel a bit steeper; for a bit more energy in the summer, tilt the panel more shallowly.

Sun angle and overhang depthIn order to figure out the sun angle at the summer and winter solstice, you need to understand that the earth is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees.  (This is what gives us seasons.)  At the summer solstice, you add the earth's tilt to the equinox's angle --- so Will Hooker's sun angle at the summer solstice is 77.5 degrees (and ours is 76.7).  At the winter solstice, you subtract the tilt of the earth, so for us the sun angle at the winter solstice is 29.7 degrees.  These two sun angles are what you need to determine overhang depths for passive-solar structures.

This information is just what we needed as we plan more energy-saving trailer retrofits!

Permaculture Chicken: Pasture Basics walks you through rotational grazing from a chicken's perspective.
Posted Tue Jul 16 12:02:00 2013 Tags:
power plucker update

This drill powered plucker is still our preferred tool for getting feathers off chickens.

We retired 6 chickens today which equals about a half hour of time saved according to last year's estimations.

Posted Tue Jul 16 16:30:31 2013 Tags:

Moving firewoodMy 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 pasture project 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.

Last year, I stacked the shed a little differently.  I separated out the harder woods to one side March woodshedand the softer, kindling-woods to the other, which made it easy to manage my burns.  But that meant I had to leave an aisle down the middle, which took up a lot of space.  Since we have a vast array of different kinds of wood this year, I let Dillon stack it all together, with the result that I think we currently have as much wood in the shed as last year, but have room for more if we track some down.

Burning prolifically like I did last winter, I figure one row of wood will last through a warm month (like November or March), while the cold months take up two rows of wood.  It looks like we've got a bit of extra wiggle room already, so maybe we won't run out in March.  As I've typed before, every year gets a little better here on the farm!

Our chicken waterer is an innovative way of keeping coops dry and chickens hydrated with clean water.
Posted Wed Jul 17 07:00:48 2013 Tags:

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.

James Howard Kunstler (and other speakers) spend the majority of the video explaining how suburbs came about.  I won't rehash all of this information, but the major factors leading to the rise of suburbia seem to have been the ubiquity of the automobile, cheap oil allowing us to drive everywhere we want to go, and a post-World-War-II push for non-urban housing.  Kunstler suspects that transportation will become much more expensive in the future, making suburbs unsustainable as they're currently laid out.  His solution is to relocalize our suburbs so basic needs can be met within walking distance --- otherwise, he sees the suburban experiment failing.

Fifties familySharon Astyk considered the issue more broadly by looking at the impact of Peak Oil on the three places you can live (cities, suburbia, and farms).  She believes that each area has a future, but that the future is different for each one (and, in each, is different from the way we live now). 

Astyk wrote that rural areas will suffer in many of the ways they already do, only more so.  Jobs will become even scarcer, and transportation costs will make it increasingly difficult to get from place to place.  People who currently live in bedroom communities (enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside while commuting into jobs in the city) will have to make a choice between the rural and urban life, and will likely choose the latter.  The resulting lower tax base will force rural governments to make tough decisions about what to pay for --- schools or snowplows? --- so those of us remaining behind will need to fend for ourselves.  On the plus side, ungentrification will result in lower land prices, meaning that people may be able to afford better housing (or at least to scavenge building materials from abandoned McMansions), while people with subsistence skills will be able to take advantage of the open space to grow or hunt their food.

Future cityAstyk thinks cities of the future will have lower populations, but many people will be able to maintain an urban life if they're able to change rapidly from business to business to fill shifting niches.  Close-knit communities are one of the characteristics Astyk thinks all post-peak-oil people will need to focus on, but this will be even more true in the cities.  There won't be as much deterioration of public infrastructure as in the country, but when power outages and other events occur, the results will be more severe in urban areas.  Astyk recommends making your home in an urban area only if you think you could live in the worst part of town as it is now; in essence, she envisions the future there being much like life currently is for the urban poor.

Astyk believes some suburbs will survive Peak Oil, but those that do will become similar to nineteenth-century towns, able to meet most of their needs by containing farmland interspersed with homes and businesses.  The problems and opportunities offered by post-Peak-Oil suburbia will be a halfway house between urban and rural areas, with suburban inhabitants also taking a dual approach of becoming partly self-sufficient while also taking part in the larger economy, at least part-time.  Success in suburbia will depend on maintaining a small income while minimizing expenses, and Astyk suspects that will involve extended family groups living together in consolidated housing.

As with Sharon Astyk's book, I feel like this type of philosophizing has limited utility (although it can be a fun thought problem).  On the other hand, envisioning a post-Peak-Oil future can lead into the always-interesting discussion of which type of home is more sustainable right now, a farmhouse, a city apartment, or a McMansion in suburbia.  What do you think?

The Weekend Homesteader introduces one fun and easy project for each weekend of the year to guide you onto the path of self-sufficiency.
Posted Wed Jul 17 12:01:07 2013 Tags:
atractive silk moth laying eggs in a box

Our first silk moth showed up a few days too early and had nobody to mate with.

Turns out the dating window is only 2 or 3 days.

Luckily the next party was a bit more livelier with at least one female coupling with one of the males...and then one of the other males. Not long after that came the egg laying.

Posted Wed Jul 17 14:40:25 2013 Tags:
Fig mound

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 I've been figuring out the easiest way to produce good soil that will stay high and dry.

Tree moundMy current method is a modified kill-mulch/hugelkultur mound.  I lay down a sheet of cardboard as a weed barrier, layer on three or four wheelbarrow-loads of weeds from the garden, and toss in any punky firewood I find lying around.  In a year or so, I could plant into that as-is, but since I want to plant sooner, I make a depression in the middle, pour a baby tree out of its pot with all of the soil intact around its root ball, then add a bucket of horse manure around the edges of the potting soil.  I top it all off with a straw mulch, and I'm done...for now.

Ripening figThe trees will be able to grow into the partially-composted manure nearly right away, and will reach the woodier organic matter around the time it starts to decompose.  I suspect the weeds will rot down to become just an inch or two of humus, but hopefully the addition of punky wood will keep figs out of the groundwater longer.  I'll continue adding either hugelkultur or weed donuts around the plants, though, to give the plants dryish ground to grow into over the years.

Last year, figs proved themselves to be one of our easiest and most productive fruit trees, so it's good to have some new varieties join the club.  I'll let you know if Black Mission and Dwarf can survive our winters with protection like Chicago Hardy and Celeste did.  Stay tuned for details next spring (and for ripe figs in a month or so --- the photo above is from last August).

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free solution to chicken manure in your flock's drinking water.
Posted Thu Jul 18 06:18:28 2013 Tags:
Basket of tomatoes

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, 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.

Chicken litter

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.

Early tomatoes

Tips & Tricks

  • Determinate varieties set and ripen in cooler weather.

  • Plant when soil is at least above 55 degrees, and air temps at night no lower than 45 degrees.

  • When planting, bury at least half of the tomato plant.

  • Prune suckers from plants at least once when about a foot tall.

  • Cut the bottom branches off once well established to help prevent fungal infections.

  • Make sure plants get early morning sunlight to dry the leaves as quickly as possible.

  • Amend soil with chicken litter or other high quality compost.

  • Save seeds from the earliest ripe tomato to plant next year. Continue this indefinitely.

RobertWhether 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

Posted Thu Jul 18 12:00:32 2013 Tags:
using ATV to tow the golf cart to a better place

The golf cart is in a better place now.

I finally got around to towing it out of our way to a spot near the barn today.

It might need to be re-built in the future if gas prices become too high or I might cannibalize parts off it to build a 10 foot tall robotic rooster to scare away deer.

Posted Thu Jul 18 15:31:06 2013 Tags:

Cutting up peachesSudden 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.

Earlier in the week, I had figured out the best thing to do with peaches that develop a rotten spot while still too hard to gnaw on.  I cut off the good flesh and cooked it up in water over gentle heat, producing the most richly-flavored peach sauce ever.  It turns out that those peaches were plenty ripe to eat without additional sweetening --- it was just the rock-hard flesh that was turning us away.

With ripe peaches, though, we prefer the flavor of uncooked fruit, so I made fruit leather.  Previously, I've skinned our peaches during the preparation stage, but that doesn't seem to be necessary, although it's (obviously) essential to hack away any rotten bits and to remove the maggots in the center of two-thirds of our peaches.  (No, chickens under the trees didn't seem to lower our Oriental fruit moth pressure this spring.  If anything, the tree our chicks spent the most time under had the most moths.)

Despite ripening our peaches inside, perhaps 10% of them still came down with brown rot before they softened, so I experimented with adding the good parts of these unripe peaches into the leather mix.  Although the result is a little chunkier than when using ripe peaches, at a ratio of about 20% unripe flesh to 80% ripe flesh, the resulting leather is even tastier than without.  (I understand this is how people make peach jam too, by including a certain percent of unripe fruit.)

Ripening peachesAll of the peaches that were ripe by Wednesday afternoon filled up the dehydrator to capacity, but more were ready to go Thursday, and yet more will ripen over the weekend.  I'm carefully managing my peach stores, segregating each day's pickings in one zone on the table so they're easy to tell apart from their cohorts, then plucking out fruits that develop the least sign of rot.  Oh, and breathing in the astonishing scent of a bushel of ripening peaches.  Delectable!

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free way to hydrate chicks, hens, roosters, quail, turkeys, ducks, and more.
Posted Fri Jul 19 07:03:05 2013 Tags:
ATV hitch height adjuster

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.

It was too long to fit, but once I mounted it to the top of our work bench it only took a minute to saw what I think is the thickest metal I've ever cut through.

The height of the trailer still tilts back a little, but it's a huge improvement.

Posted Fri Jul 19 15:34:14 2013 Tags:

CookoutIf 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 lid. 

Despite the low cost, this has been my favorite present in a long time.  I used my tin of matches to light all of our fires last winter, and this summer pulled it out for a barbecue.  I can't say for sure which is more sustainable --- matches or a lighter --- but matches produce no non-burnable waste, and keep my fingers further from the flames, which keeps me happy.  The metal container keeps the matches dry even if I accidentally leave them on the porch after a cookout, looks pretty, and also makes it safe to store the matches right by the kindling wood.

Thanks for the great present, Mom!  For everyone else --- what's your favorite, low-cost, homemade present that you've received recently?

Our chicken waterer brings the gift of clean water to your flock.
Posted Sat Jul 20 07:17:05 2013 Tags:
showing the stress point on the new modified Haul Master lawn trailer also known as the Bucket Hauler

The new modified Haul Master lawn trailer I've been calling the Bucket Hauler is holding up nicely to some serious muddy conditions.

One of the corners started busting loose, but I think the above bracket will hold it in place.

Posted Sat Jul 20 15:46:18 2013 Tags:
Early Transparent

Bowl of berriesThis 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.

Virginia Beauty

Then there are the apples.  I specifically included one variety in my high-density planting that 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.

Liberty apple

Basket of peachesMy 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.

All of that said, even the worst of our fruit this year has tasted much better than store bought.  Still, if we can produce yet more delicious fruit with just a few management changes, why not do it?

Our chicken waterer provides POOP-free refreshment to keep your hens from going thirsty during hot spells.
Posted Sun Jul 21 08:02:42 2013 Tags:
using the new flat style bungee cords to hold down a baby fig tree potted in a plastic pot

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.

Posted Sun Jul 21 13:49:01 2013 Tags:
Sunn hemp

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.

The sunn hemp is growing great in good soil, but is struggling (as most things do) in poor soil with high groundwater.  The sweet potatoes seem to be doing well everywhere, and have the major bonus that I can plant a single set and then expect it to grow exponentially despite the troublesome trio of chicks who have been roaming the garden lately.  The sunflower seeds, I'm sad to say, all went down those chicks' gullets.  (More on the drama of the chicks coming up over on our chicken blog.)

Perennial cucumber

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).

Flower bed

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 and true.

Our chicken waterer keeps even our troublesome trio hydrated as they make their rounds, scratching up the garden.
Posted Mon Jul 22 07:17:00 2013 Tags:

Egyptian onion giveawayI know that some of you missed out on our lightning-fast 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 person.)

Comfrey flowerBackground
A couple of months ago, I started thinking about how so much of the permaculture-education material I read and watch is theoretical, which really bogs down the beginner.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a resource showing permaculture techniques that have succeeded or failed in real, hands-on applications?  I can come up with lots of examples in my own garden, but I'd love to hear from the larger permaculture community. 

How to enter
Your entry in this giveaway will consist of an email to with a concise but complete explanation of a permaculture technique you've tried out and why it did or didn't work for you.  If you don't want to write about a specific technique, you can instead write about how your homestead exemplifies one of the twelve permaculture principles

In either case, please include your location, your gardening zone, at least one photo (more is better), and anything else you consider relevant.  I'll want to be able to use your information on this blog and perhaps in an ebook, so by entering, you'll be agreeing to allow me to make use of your text and images with no further compensation.  (I don't mind if you use the same information elsewhere, though, which I think means you're licensing your intellectual property under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.)  Please let me know if you'd rather remain anonymous or whether I can use your first and/or last name when attributing your work as well.

Stacking chickens and
All entries must hit my email inbox by July 31 at midnight, and once they're in, I'll pick my favorites.  Depending on how many boxes of onions we have (at least six and probably quite a lot more), everyone may win, or only the best entries may get prizes.  And, as I mentioned above, I'll mail you a signed copy of my book instead if you win and would rather read than plant.

I'm looking forward to hearing about your permaculture experiments!

Posted Mon Jul 22 13:54:38 2013 Tags:
using a second corner bracket to shore up new bucket hauler lawn trailer

Thank you Roland, tee and Eric for the corner bracket feedback.

It only took a minute to add this outer bracket.

The wood is just under an inch, so I installed the one inch screws at a slight angle to prevent them from poking out on the other side.

Posted Mon Jul 22 16:16:24 2013 Tags:
Seed garlic

This 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 Garlic datamost 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.

Since I think weather was the main reason our harvest was mediocre, we're not changing anything for next year's planting, although I did think of one minor innovation.  Writing the name of each variety on my seed garlic makes the heads easy to store all together rather than in individually-labeled bags, and should make management during planting a breeze.  These seed heads --- the largest and best-looking ones of the crop --- will sit in a mesh bag for two months, then will go in the ground in late September as one of our last crops of the year.

Our chicken waterer gives hens the clean water they need to produce lots of eggs.
Posted Tue Jul 23 07:26:05 2013 Tags:
combating the effects of ethanol "enhanced" fuel with Stabil additive

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.

The new plan is to use Sta-Bil in fuel that sits in the tank for longer than a week.

A friend of mine suggested that some stations advertise Ethanol free fuel just to bring in people like me. He claims it all comes from the same place in Knoxville no matter what company name is on the side of the tanker.

Posted Tue Jul 23 15:46:18 2013 Tags:
High density apple

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!)

Prune black

PrimocanesWhich is why I spent Tuesday following up on last 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.

Tie up red

Training a plumNow'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.

As you can see in the foreground of the photo above, the blackberries are in full production mode, so I left them alone.  Next month during our apple-training day, I'll prune out the old blackberry canes and tidy up the beds like I did for the raspberries this week.  But for now, it's time to move on to training our new plums and our frameworked pears.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a filthy homesteading problem.
Posted Wed Jul 24 07:08:09 2013 Tags:
using flat bungee cord to secure bonus buckets of manure being stacked upon other buckets

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.

The ratchet strap tended to come loose after the short drive back and has a bit of a learning curve for new users like Matt.

Posted Wed Jul 24 15:32:29 2013 Tags:

Song sparrow nestOne 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.

As much as we'd like to allow her to hatch some chicks, Mark pointed out that there's no reason to let abandoned sparrow eggs go to waste.  So when the third nest came out with some raspberry primocanes, I decided to add the sole egg to our lunch. 

I boiled the sparrow egg up while cooking sweet corn, let the egg cool slightly, then shelled it out and put the tiny morsel on top of our Swiss chard.  The egg was nearly entirely yolk and tasted delicious...perhaps because of the garlic butter it soaked up.

Granted, sparrow eggs will remain in our survival-food category despite the flavor.  After all, it would take about a dozen of them to make one chicken egg, and who wants to negatively impact the local song-bird population?  But if I find more abandoned nests around, I'll definitely cook up the bounty.

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free chicken waterer enjoyed by poultry around the world.
Posted Thu Jul 25 06:51:30 2013 Tags:

close up of ATV fuel switchI think it's possible I may have caused some carburetor damage by not shutting off the fuel switch when we stable her.

Someone once told me you only needed to do that when transporting, but several comments on an ATV forum says shutting it off can avoid needle damage.

Posted Thu Jul 25 16:20:50 2013 Tags:
Mass of honeybees

The 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.

Bee bearding

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 roommates.

Honeybee colony

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.

Smoking a Warre hive

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.
Posted Fri Jul 26 06:45:45 2013 Tags:
update on copper mesh experiment to prevent tomato blight

There are small signs of blight on a tomato plant near our wet gully, but all the other plants with experimental copper mesh protection are happy and blight free.

It's been a very wet summer, and maybe without the copper we would be seeing more blight spots?

I'll post an update to this experiment in a few weeks.

Posted Fri Jul 26 15:10:42 2013 Tags:

Pocket Guide to Wild
MushroomsMy 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 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.

The down-side of the field guide is that it's probably not useful to most of my readers.  The authors don't come out and say this, but I'm guessing from context that they're from Sweden, and most of the mushrooms Pelle Holmbergare listed as living in coniferous northern forests of North America and Europe.  In other words, if you live far enough south that your dominant trees have broad leaves instead of needles, you're mostly out of luck.

While The Pocket Guide to Wild Mushrooms won't be finding a permanent spot on my bookshelf, the book did provide a bit of interesting information.  Did you know that most of the flavors in mushrooms are fat soluble, so your mushrooms will taste much better if you saute them in butter than if you boil them in water?  And that, in the era before farmers provided mineral blocks, cows used to rush into the woods at certain times of the year to consume large quantities of mushrooms, presumably as a mineral boost?

I'm still hunting for the best guide for foraging edible mushrooms in our area, and am open to suggestions.  Mushrooms Demystified and the Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms are good, but the former has a western focus and both are general field guides without an emphasis on edibility.  Do you have a better field guide for finding edible mushrooms in the wild?

Our chicken waterer keeps your coop dry and your hens' drinking water clean.
Posted Sat Jul 27 08:14:45 2013 Tags:
Anna digging new pond with shovel and wheel barrow

The first pond turned out so well we decided to make another to deal with gutter runoff at the other end of the trailer.

Posted Sat Jul 27 18:22:34 2013 Tags:
Pea sprout

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 part.

Baby Brussels

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.

Watermelon and

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.

I hope your fall crops are up and running like (most of) ours are.  Autumn is looming on the horizon and pretty soon, it'll be too late to plant anything except leafy greens and winter cover crops.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free addition that brings clean water to pampered hens.
Posted Sun Jul 28 07:00:31 2013 Tags:
How to make the bottom of a pond retain water

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.

Anna's first attempt includes a layer of jewel weed and generous foot stomping to compact the future pond floor.

Posted Sun Jul 28 15:22:31 2013 Tags:
Unintentional swamp

While the honest truth is that I just like digging holes and playing in the mud, I do have a plan surrounding our newest pond experiment.  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 the way.

(Gerry asked why we don't just install a rain barrel under that gutter.  While his idea has merit for the dry season, we'd still have to deal with overflow from the rain barrel when we don't have a use for the water.  So it makes sense to figure out where that overflow will go now.)


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.

The jury's still out on whether my ponds will hold water.  (More on my experiments with sealing in a later post.)  And I'm curious to see whether they'll make the surrounding soil more or less soggy.  But I'm planning the pond locations carefully to keep them away from major thoroughfares, so at worst they'll serve their primary purpose of getting the mud away from the steps.


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.)

Building up soilWhat don't I like about version 1.0?  I mounded up the excavated soil to make big walls around the wetland, which makes it tough to mow (Mark uses a weedeater) and makes the whole thing stick out of the landscape a bit.  For version 2.0, I'm instead using the dug-out earth to raise up garden beds in the waterlogged back garden.

And while I didn't want standing water in the greywater wetland, I'm hoping to make version 2.0 into a pond instead of a marsh.  The cleaner water coming off the roof won't be problematic in the form of open water, and my lotus has sent out a runner that needs a new home.  So now it's time to think of step two --- sealing my clay pit.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free addition to a clean, modern chicken coop.
Posted Mon Jul 29 07:22:19 2013 Tags:

$10 Root CellarOur 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 ebook.

I'll post highlights here over the course of the week, or you can buy your own copy on Amazon (which
can be read on nearly any device.)  I apologize for the higher price --- this ebook is very photo-rich, so Amazon wouldn't let me sell it for less than $1.99.

Here's the blurb:

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.

69 photos.

Self-sufficiency begins with the potato!

As usual, I'll also make the ebook free on Amazon on Friday for those who want to wait for a free copy, and you can email me Friday for a free pdf copy as well.  Thanks for reading (and double thanks if you find the time to leave a review on Amazon)!

This post is part of our $10 Root Cellar lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jul 29 12:01:57 2013 Tags:
How we have been doing rut repair today

The driveway ruts have been getting extreme enough to cause the bucket hauler to tip over.

It took two of us to tip it back fully loaded with buckets of horse manure.

Luckily it's still Summer break around here which lets us take advantage of some hard working teenage labor to get some cinder blocks placed in the old ruts.

Posted Mon Jul 29 16:13:46 2013 Tags:
Green frog

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!

Pond excavation

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.

Pond filling in

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.

Jewelweed in the pit

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 Ponds, Tim 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.

We don't have a handy herd of cattle (and I don't think you could fit even one cow in my little hole), so I decided to mimic their action myself.  Rather than hay, I tossed in an armload of jewelweed...

Compacting clay

...and jumped in to trample the organic matter into the mud!

Here's where I realized one flaw in my pond design.  I wanted to make the bottom deep and to provide a shallower ledge around that center for emergent plants, but my pond is too small to provide a gentle slope between the two levels.  As I trampled, I realized I'd be able to seal the bottom of each tier, but not the steep walls in between.  We'll see if this dooms my project to leaky failure.

Gleying a pond

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.

I'm having fun experimenting with small-scale pond sealing, but I'm also prepared to change over to a liner if necessary.  In my mind, this pond is already full of lotuses, arrowheads, and goldfish, and I'm prepared to drop $100 to make that happen.

The Avian Aqua Miser is Mark's invention, bringing clean water to backyard birds around the world.
Posted Tue Jul 30 07:17:23 2013 Tags:
Storing food in a closet

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. 

Storing carrots in

$10 Root Cellar"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."

This post is part of our $10 Root Cellar lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jul 30 12:00:38 2013 Tags:
welding the ATV hitch receiver to the frame

My first attempt at MIG welding the ATV hitch receiver didn't go so well.

It broke loose after the second horse manure delivery.

Posted Tue Jul 30 16:16:53 2013 Tags:
Southern highbush blueberries

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.

Pine needles
Avg. health score
Southern highbush
n. highbush
n. highbush
n. highbush
Average health score:

Southern highbush

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 bush.

Granted, this comparison is a bit unfair to our northern highbush blueberries since the northern species is supposed to be smaller than rabbiteyes even when fully grown.  For all I know, our northern highbushes will shoot up in the next decade and meet or beat the rabbiteyes.  And it's also worth noting that our northern highbushes produced their first berries a couple of weeks before the southern highbush, who then beat out the rabbiteyes by another week or so.  So we might add more northern highbush after all to help fill in fruiting gaps.

Blueberry patch

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.
Posted Wed Jul 31 07:11:46 2013 Tags:
Turning a
basement into a root cellar
Root-cellar ventilationIf 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.

vegetable storage
Basement root cellarEmily'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 $10 Root Cellarmost 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!"

This post is part of our $10 Root Cellar lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jul 31 12:00:13 2013 Tags:
folow up to yesterdays welding post

Thank you Joe and David for the comments on yesterday's welding post.

More cleaning and grinding of the surface area along with a bump up in the amp setting might get me closer to a stronger weld, but I think my main issue is lack of practice.

Having Anna flip down the welding mask window when I'm ready might help.  I feel like each time I closed the window my placement would shift.

Grounding the frame of the ATV sounds like a good precaution to prevent stray currents from doing any electrical damage. I can't believe I forgot that detail!

Posted Wed Jul 31 15:50:50 2013 Tags: