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archives for 01/2016

Jan 2016
S M T W T F S
         
           
Grafted plum

Grafting is an easy choice if you're trying to propagate a fruit-tree variety that's not available for sale, either because it's too rare or because you bred the variety yourself. On the other hand, if you're just trying to save money with grafting, then your success rate will determine whether or not you should pull out the knife.

Grafted apple treeWith apples, grafting is generally a no-brainer for me. Even when I set out my new graftees in too shady of spot this past spring, I still saw a 90% success rate, meaning I would've ended up paying only about $3.33 per tree even if I hadn't gotten the rootstocks ultra cheap as part of a grafting workshop. Usually, my apple grafts take closer to 100% of the time.

My pear success rate was considerably lower (40%) this year, mostly because I put a third of the baby trees too close to a rhubarb plant that promptly shaded them out and then forgot to weed the rest for half the summer. Even so, the resulting trees cost only $7.50 apiece, which isn't bad for an heirloom variety.

Plum graftI did considerably worse with my plums, though. I dormant-season grafted instead of using the recommended summer bud grafting on these stone fruit because I was trying to save two plum trees that were splintered by heavy snow falling off the barn roof last winter. The good news is --- the tree that entirely perished will remain on our farm after all since its grafted scionwood survived and thrived. The bad news is --- with a success rate of only one tree out of five, I probably would have been better off just buying a replacement tree.

Stooled plum

Plum stoolThat said, I love having useful skills, so I plan to persevere and try to get better at grafting stone fruits. And the second damaged plum tree told me she'd be glad to help fund the endeavor. While the top of the tree completely broke off after its snow deluge, the roots sent up copious new growth, which I then stooled over the course of the summer. And, sure enough, the buried portion of the new growth promptly grew roots, turning each sprout into a potential new rootstock for future trees.

Good thing too since the surviving plum tree wiggles when I push it with my hand --- not a good sign for its long-term prospects. I plan to try a few different grafting techniques this year with my copious plum rootstock and will hope I work the kinks out of the procedure in the process. No matter how I cut it, though, I might as well try. After all, any trees that result from this experiment will be 100% free.

Posted Fri Jan 1 07:38:34 2016 Tags:
firewood splitting slow motion
Splitting firewood on New Years Day to gear up for upcoming dip in temperature.
Posted Fri Jan 1 14:50:59 2016 Tags:
Goats in the woods

I finally sat down with our blog archive on New Year's Day to reflect upon the twelve months past. I was shocked at how much we'd accomplished when my memory of the year mostly consists of lounging in the summer woods with the goats, weeding with Kayla, and making huge pots of soup to freeze for winter. The blog doesn't lie, though. So, without further ado, here's the best of 2015 in case you missed it the first time around.

Goat and kid

Draining cheeseGoats top the list again for the second year running. In 2015, Abigail gave birth to our farm's first four-footed baby, Lamb Chop. We played with him and loved him...then ate him.

As a result of our first kidding, I also learned to milk and to make cheese --- chevre, ricotta, and mozzarella. The process was surprisingly easy (especially since I didn't try any aged cheeses).

Goats grazing

Despite all of that education and homegrown deliciousness, though, the most wonderful part of the goat year was simply remembering how to relax outside at the end of a long summer day without worrying about any of the items on my to-do list. It was truly a joyful season!

Mushroom station

Meanwhile, we plugged some new shiitake logs and (more importantly) created a better home for the fungi to live in. That project included an IBC-tank rain barrel, which not only provided water to the logs but also helped dry up an extremely soggy spot. And, speaking of mushrooms, we added a new wildcrafted fungal species to our repertoire as well --- chicken of the woods. Yum!

High raised beds

In the garden, Kayla and I redug the a very soggy area to create a series of very high raised beds, bringing the root zone up out of the groundwater. The results were so much better than I could have predicted! Years of soil-building that largely went to waste due to waterlogging paid off with huge cabbages, massive numbers of butternut squash, and a pretty good crop of tomatoes (despite our usual blights). An inspiring success that I wrote about in the book I spent much of the year researching and writing --- The Ultimate Guide to Soil.

Brussels sprouts

There are always positive and negative sides of the harvest, but this  year was a particularly fine one for brussels sprouts, hazelnuts, and the crops mentioned in the previous paragraph. That makes for a great 2015 since brussels sprouts are Mark's favorite vegetables and I'm a nut I love nuts!

Birch and maple syrup

It was also a pretty sweet year because we spent the late winter tapping box-elders, sugar maples, and black birches. In the process, we decided that the last species (although the most painstaking to boil down) provides by far the best product.

Solarization

The garden was mostly on an even keel in our ninth season of growing most or all of our own vegetables, so there's not much to say there. But I did try out solarization and fell in love with this no-till weed-control technique. I can tell solarization will be a major time saver in the future.

Range hood installation

When I let him loose from helping me keep the outdoors in line, Mark significantly improved our kitchen. He added a range hood (for safety and utility), better shelving, an oscillating fan on the ceiling, and a magnetic door latch. This winter, he plans to hit the opposite side of the room and continue bringing us closer to modern living here on the trailerstead.

Tractor pulling out a truck

Mark would also be the first to tell you that one of the year's highlights came almost twelve moths ago today when our movie-star neighbor helped us pull out the truck that had been stuck in our driveway for about half of the previous year. Such a huge relief!

Thanksgiving

I'll end by saying that (by my standards) this was also a very social year. Mom and I took a ride behind a steam locomotive and Mark and I hosted a big Thanksgiving celebration for the whole family. Mark took a film class that inspired and rejuvenated him and the two of us explored several fascinating local attractions with or without friends. Finally, the year's firewood harvest turned into a fun treat when we hired Kayla and Andy to join us in the task and Kayla and I enjoyed a grafting workshop, multiple dance workshops, and lots of wonderful days together on the farm.

I hope your 2015 was equally joyful and that 2016 is even better for all of us. Have a wonderful homesteading year!

Posted Sat Jan 2 07:46:30 2016 Tags:
Huckleberry catching a vol

To the untrained eye Huckleberry seems like a cat focused on napping.

Today I caught him in work mode removing a vole from the garden.

Lucy does the same thing but ends up destroying vegetables in the process.

 

Posted Sat Jan 2 13:13:05 2016 Tags:
Kitchen

I mentioned in yesterday's post that Mark put a lot of work into the south half of the kitchen last year. I very seldom post interior shots because housekeeping and I don't get along, but I thought you might like a rare glimpse into our home life. The photo certainly isn't going to grace the cover of a design magazine any time soon, but Mark's hanging pots always make me smile...and they're also very easy to keep track of and to use.

Want other tips on living large in a small space (and creating a house out of junk for nearly nothing)? The expanded print edition of Trailersteading will be hitting bookstores and mailboxes within the next month! My publisher seems to send the books to Amazon before they send them even to me, so if you want the very first copy, you'll want to preorder now. (Yes, I did preorder a copy for myself so I wouldn't be blindsided when readers start talking about a book I haven't seen yet.) Thanks for considering giving it a try!

Posted Sun Jan 3 07:56:31 2016 Tags:
baby australorp chick

We decided to get our 2016 chick order in today based on how busy the hatchery was last year and how they run out of some breeds.

The order was for 15 black australorp hens and 1 rooster to be delivered in late March and we pushed up our broiler delivery date to August so they don't have to finish on weak November pastures.

We've tried refreshing the flock at 2 and a half years and decided 18 months is a better fit for us.

Posted Sun Jan 3 14:55:32 2016 Tags:
Firewood station

When we first started heating with wood, we sited our chopping station as close to the woodshed as possible. While that made intuitive sense at the time, our new location this year is a thousand times better. We have to pull the wood further the first time in the wagon, but after that it's just a matter of hand delivering split firewood over short distances. Step one --- stack the wood on the edge of the porch. Step two --- carry an armload through the back door and five steps to the wood stove.

Carrying firewoodIf you're currently siting your chopping station, you'll want to consider a couple of other factors as well. Unless your ground freezes solid over the winter and stays that way for months at a time, mud around the chopping block can turn into a major issue as you churn up the ground cover with your busy feet. Not only is the mud messy and annoying to work in, but your firewood also gets damp --- a no-no for optimal burning. So try to site your block high and dry.

My final admonition --- flying chunks of wood can also be a hazard to nearby plants, animals, and structures. I've knocked over whole raspberry bushes with badly placed firewood-chopping sessions. Don't repeat my mistake!

Mark's always improving the ergonomics of our daily life like this so we work smarter rather than harder. Of course, as our current chores get easier and easier, I start thinking of other things to add to our work load. Better be careful with the streamlining, Mark, or I may bring home a baby elephant!

Posted Mon Jan 4 07:21:18 2016 Tags:
Snow flurries
11:58 am

Sticking snow
12:04 pm

Snow on the ground
12:10 pm


Our first snow of the winter dropped not quite enough crystals to cover the ground. But the flakes definitely looked pretty in the air.
Posted Mon Jan 4 14:01:04 2016 Tags:
Goat in stanchion

Trimmed goat hoofWhen we first brought home our caprine herd fourteen months ago, trimming hooves sounded like a difficult hurdle I might not be able to surpass. Books make the procedure seem so complicated...but trimming my own fingernails would probably sound just as scary if I read a description having never seen the art done.

The hardest part turned out to be training our herd to be willing to separate from each other and then eat happily in the stanchion while I played with their legs. With that infrastructure in place, hoof trimming became simple, especially if I chose a damp day when their nails were soft.

Artemesia especially is a breeze because she barely eats any concentrates, so her hooves grow pretty slowly. Plus, she came to me at four months of age with perfect feet, so my monthly trimming sessions ever since have consisted of just keeping them the way they were. If I hadn't let our first freshener put her foot down in some manure between trimming and taking the photo to the right, in fact, you'd think her hooves were pretty pristine.


Trimming goat hooves

Abigail is a bit more complicated because her feet were never perfect. As a milker, she gets more concentrates, and that means her hooves grow faster and manure tends to get packed up inside the excess growth. So I spend a couple of extra seconds excavating any gunk, and I also tend to have to trim a bit of growth off the soft pad at the heel (which seldom needs cutting on Artemesia's feet).

Slightly more worrisome, Abigail's hooves tend to get jaggedy, almost like a person who bites her fingernails. There doesn't seem to be much I can do about this other than trim the long parts and let the jaggedy parts grow back. Still, I suspect these imperfect feet may be why Abigail won't step in even the slightest hint of water while Artemesia doesn't seem to mind foot dunkings.

All told, it probably took me longer to write this post than to trim both of our girls' feet. Hoof care is a fun activity for a snowy day, when I don't want to spend too much time outside but do want to enjoy my daily dose of caprine charm. And since the girls get extra alfalfa pellets at trimming time, they also look forward to this part of their month.

Posted Tue Jan 5 07:26:02 2016 Tags:
Lucy with nice phone repair guy

This post is to let people know that our phone is now working.

Turns out the trouble was a nest of lady bug beetles in the junction box.

Thumbs up to our Phone Cooperative for sending out a repair guy so fast based on an email Anna sent out last night. We both felt bad the guy had to get his feet wet, but we informed the office in Anna's email that a creek needed to be crossed to access the box.

Posted Tue Jan 5 14:52:54 2016 Tags:

I'm excited to announce that Personality Tests For Your Soil is now live on:

When I started writing this first quarter of my upcoming soil book, I challenged myself to stick to soil science that gardeners can see, feel, or easily sense in their own garden. Yes, knowing each stage of the nitrogen cycle can be interesting, as can reading about the various microscopic components of the soil food web. But there are lots of books out already with a factual, textbook approach to dirt. I wanted to provide just as much information as those other books, but to help gardeners learn in the way we feel most comfortable --- hands on.

If you try out a copy and think I lived up to the challenge, I hope you'll take a minute to leave a review on the retailer of your choice. Your purchase really helps keep our homesteading experiment afloat, but your early reviews actually help even more since they tempt readers who haven't heard of me to take a chance on an unknown author. So thank you in advance for reading, reviewing, and/or spreading the word!

What's coming down the pike next? The second installment ---
Small-Scale No-Till Gardening Basics --- delves even deeper into the hands-on tricks we use on our own farm to turn soil black and keep veggies happy. Once again, I'm giving you a chance to nab a copy during the first week of preorder for 99 cents:

Thanks for reading and for your support!

Posted Wed Jan 6 07:46:38 2016 Tags:
kitchen improvement

We found a discounted cabinet a few weeks ago and decided to upgrade our kitchen design around the new modern look.

Posted Wed Jan 6 16:44:24 2016 Tags:
Ramshackle kitchen

One of Mark's wish-list projects for the winter was remodeling the part of the kitchen shown above. This ramshackle conglomeration of warped counter, old sticks, and bookshelf came about when I proudly decided to tackle home repair on my own while Mark was busy elsewhere. It long ago became a part of the scenery that I didn't even notice, but it drove my poor husband crazy. So I gave him $60 and said, "Let's see what you can do with that!"

Tearing out the old

The first step was tearing apart all of the old kitchen area. I moved supplies elsewhere, then Mark made short work of the screws and brackets.

Rolling island

Before heading to Lowes, we measured the newly opened space, figuring we'd move one of our rolling islands in to fill part of the area. Mark took off the towel rod and hinged counter-extender, then the island fit perfectly as-is.

New kitchen

The real score was the little cabinet Mark's looking at in the photo above. It was slightly chipped and was thus marked down to 50% off. Take away Mark's additional 10% veteran's discount and he was able to also include the quality counter-board he has his hand on within my proposed budget as well.

Measuring a counter

I believe the board was $15 before Mark's discount, and it's a nice, hefty piece of wood well worth the price. Real home remodellers would stain both the counter and the cabinet, I know, but Mark and I are pretty simple. We don't put use this particular counter for cooking --- more for utensil storage and dirty dishes stacking --- so it should be fine as untreated wood. We did, however, cut off a few inches so I wouldn't bang my hip into the corner every time I came in the door.

Bracket

Finally, Mark attached the board to the cabinet with a few brackets, then it was time to start putting kitchenware and food away. All told, phase one of the project only took us about two hours, and most of that time I was standing around twiddling my thumbs. (By the way, you can see the cosmetic damage to the cabinet that caused the price reduction in the photo above.)

We still need to find spots for a spice rack and a few pots that Mark had to move out of the way to install our new cabinets, but that's a project for another day. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the sight of fresh, clean cabinets...until they fade back into the scenery and I forget about them once again. I'm hoping Mark's hedonistic adaptation goes more slowly so he gets his full sixty dollars worth.

Posted Thu Jan 7 07:50:00 2016 Tags:
mark Mug hooks
hanging cast iron pots with mug hooks
We like to use mug hooks to hang our cast iron skillets.
Posted Thu Jan 7 15:41:38 2016 Tags:
Raking leaves with goats

Goat helperIf you've got some spare energy for the garden while the ground is frozen in January, there's one obvious solution --- harvest some biomass. With over 50 acres of woodland circling our core homestead, there's a nearly unlimited supply of leaves just waiting for my rake in the winter. Add a couple of goats and a trusty dog and a biomass-harvesting expedition turns into a winter treat.

Back home, the question becomes --- who could use those leaves most? Monday's harvest went into the chicken coop, and that's definitely the spot where I recommend utilizing high-carbon amendments first. With our deep bedding suitably refreshed, I next turned to our hazel bushes to use up leaf bags two and three.

Newspaper kill mulch

The ground is too frozen to weed before I mulch, but I still have plenty of newspaper stockpiled. So I laid down two-sheet thicknesses then used old logs to weigh down the edges and form a sort of moat to keep leaves from blowing around. Finally, I filled the container up with leaves.

If we get a good soaking rain or dense snow before our next windstorm (not a bad bet since we only see breezes down in our holler maybe once a month), the leaves will mat down and should keep our hazel bushes well mulched for the rest of the winter and spring. And the rotting biomass will slowly feed the bushes too, providing low-nutrient fertilizer that will simulate the leaf mold found in a woodland setting. Hopefully 2016 will be another good year for nuts!

Posted Fri Jan 8 07:08:05 2016 Tags:
door frame spice rack

What do you do with that wasted space above a door frame?

Attach a wooden dowl to 2 scrap pieces of 2x4 for a primitive spice rack.

Posted Fri Jan 8 15:49:55 2016 Tags:
Bathtub pondering

Mark and I work well together on building problems. I'm good at measuring the box, then Mark thinks outside it.

Case in point: next week's kitchen-renovation project. Our bathtub trials are a long story, but the short version is we've finally decided to put a conventional bathtub on one side of the kitchen right beside the hot-water heater. In a small space, though, you don't want to waste ten square feet with a one-use object. So we plan to make the bathtub convertible --- kitchen counter by day, bathtub by night.

I measured everything out and decided that, of the two bathtubs we possess, the smaller one that came with the trailer is the only one that will really fit the space. I figured we'd make some kind of hinged counter to go above it, but I didn't want the counter to fold up since it Convertible bathtubwould block my view while bathing. On the other hand, there's limited space for the counter to fold down, meaning the cooking work space would have to be less wide than the tub. Stubbed toes were bound to ensue.

So we cleared out the area in question and brought in the tub for Mark to look at. He poked and prodded for about half an hour, then came up with an ingenious solution. How about if the bathtub folds up when not in use? Stay tuned for next week's posts in which Mark (hopefully) turns that vision into a reality.

Posted Sat Jan 9 07:50:43 2016 Tags:

Mark as a kidSix years ago, Mark and I were both prime.

This year, Mark and I once again share prime ages.

And, in another six years, we'll be prime together for the last time until eighteen years hence.

Can you guess how old Mark turned today?

(I actually have no idea if this math problem is possible to solve using only the information presented here. But I'll be curious to see if Roland tries!)

Posted Sun Jan 10 07:42:38 2016 Tags:
mark 47
birthday cake plus cards


Special thanks to all the nice Happy Birthday wishes.

Anna makes the best chocolate Birthday cake.
Posted Sun Jan 10 15:33:50 2016 Tags:
Wood stove

Our darling Jotul has rivaled Artemesia for providing me with the most joy per hour during its stay on the farm. Unfortunately, this winter, our well-sealed wood stove seems to have sprung a leak. Now I can just barely smell a tinge of smoke in the air when the stove is running, which means it's time to reseal the stove.

Wood stove leakThe first step is searching for the leak. Since we haven't lit a huge fire in a stone cold stove, chances of there being a crack within the stove itself are slim. Instead, Mark pointed me toward the junction between stove pipe and stove. Sure enough, there appears to be a small gap where the pipe fits into the stove's sleeve.

Next up --- get some high-temperature caulk and seal that leak, then hope the smoky scent goes away. If that's all the repair our stove needs after five years of hard work, I'll be highly impressed!

Posted Mon Jan 11 07:21:25 2016 Tags:
Anna loading up garden wagon with firewood
Firewood seems to split a little bit easier on crisp days like today.
Posted Mon Jan 11 15:08:48 2016 Tags:
Frosted oats

I didn't realize until last year that there are not only many different varieties of oats, but there are actually whole different species to contend with. In addition to hullless oats (which tend to be grown for grain instead of pasture or biomass), there are two main types of oats you can find being grown in the U.S.

Common Oats (aka Spring Oats, Avena sativa) are the most widespread and are generally what you'll find if you buy seeds at the feed store that were meant to be fed to animals. On the other hand, Red Oats (aka Southern Oats, Avena byzantina) are often planted for pasture or hay in the southern United States.

Oats in winterThe question becomes --- is species or timing of planting and grazing responsible for the fact that some of my oat cover crops have failed to winterkill both last year and (so far) this year? Unfortunately, most of my oat seeds came from a feed store with no label, so I can't know for sure which species they belonged to. So I only have three real data points:

  • Ogle --- A. sativa --- not grazed, winterkilled
  • Noble --- A. sativa --- grazed, did not winterkill
  • Common --- A. sativa --- grazed, did winterkill
  • Unknown feed store oats --- ??? --- not grazed but planted late, didn't winterkill
  • Unknown feed store oats from a different year --- ??? --- not grazed and did winterkill

Perhaps some of you have kept more meticulous notes on the variety and/or species of oats you planted and on what happened in your own garden? If so, I hope you'll comment and share your wisdom since my results are thus far inconclusive.

Posted Tue Jan 12 07:26:00 2016 Tags:
carrot close up

This post is to remind us to harvest carrots a little earlier next year.

Turns out there was some sort of grub that got into a few, and then spread when we had them stored in the refrigerator root cellar.

A half hour of scrubbing and cleaning was needed to weed out the yuck.

Posted Tue Jan 12 15:31:14 2016 Tags:
Sealing a wood stove pipe

The good news is --- I'm pretty sure we defeated the smoky wood stove. I don't actually know if the problem was ashes building up on the baffle causing draft problems or smoke Cleaning out a wood stove baffleleaking out the gap in the stove pipe. But we dealt with both potential problems at once and one or the other (or both) did the trick.

The bad news is --- that awful scent you get when you fire up a brand new wood stove for the first time? It must come from the heat-resistant sealant. When we stoked up the fire Monday evening after Mark sealed the pipe for me, the trailer filled with such an awful odor that I opened the door and windows even though it was below freezing outside.

It took about twenty-four hours for the scent to burn off, but now we seem to have a tight, smoke-free wood stove once again. Moral of the story --- if your stove begins to smoke when you fire it up the first time in October...don't put off the problem until the weather is so bitter cold you can't keep the windows open for more than half an hour at a time. Instead, learn from our mistakes and seal your stove in warm weather so you can off-gas in safety.

Posted Wed Jan 13 07:36:03 2016 Tags:
chopper one with broken fulcrum pin

Our trusty Chopper 1 axe broke a fulcrum pin today while chopping firewood.

Luckily we ordered a set of pins back in 2009 when we discovered a Chopper 1 at a yard sale missing a pin and even luckier is me finding that extra pin in our hardware tub 6 years later.

If you have any doubts about the Chopper 1 read some of the comments people have left over the years on the original yard sale post. I'm not the only one who thinks this is worth the hassle of a few moving parts.

Posted Wed Jan 13 15:36:13 2016 Tags:
Goat on chicken tractor

Although Artemesia is (hopefully) six weeks into her first pregnancy, she's still a kid at heart. So while her herdmate munched on oats and honeysuckle, Artemesia jumped up on the tractor to take a gander at the chickens, then she wandered over to check out our Goat on woodsplit-wood supply.

Abigail, on the other hand, kept her head down and ate as fast as she could. Although dried off now, a summer and fall of milking took a lot of weight off our doe's bones and she's only started putting the fat back on in the last week or two.

So I guess each goat knows what she needs. Abigail needs fresh, undried nutrition, while Artemesia needs fun to refresh the sweetness lamp she shines so gracefully over our farm. Good thing a half an hour out of the pasture can easily provide both!

Posted Thu Jan 14 06:28:00 2016 Tags:
birthday 2016

Happy Birthday Adrianne....who is also starting a prime year on Saturday.

Posted Thu Jan 14 16:00:08 2016 Tags:
Standing dead tree

When you heat with homegrown firewood, you're perpetually on the lookout for dead trees close to home. This massive specimen is just at the bottom of our goat path, meaning we have to haul the wood home by hand but the journey is pretty short.

We'd been saving the snag for a particularly cold winter, but a freak windy spell knocked down one big branch and moved us along on our harvesting journey a bit prematurely. Before the nice, dry wood could become saturated in our swamp, we set out to cut it into haulable lengths and then turn it into firewood.

Cutting up a branch

Mark sawed and I carried, and soon we had the whole mass up at our chopping station. Our electric chainsaw is a perfect fit for this kind of project since you don't have to struggle to start a bear of a saw for a few cuts. We did only get one segment cut to length, though, before the battery hit the recharge point. I'd say one more charge will let us finish the job.

Posted Fri Jan 15 06:42:42 2016 Tags:
mark Cake tape
cake tape

We broke the bottom part of our cake carrier and had to use an old dehydrator tray and some packing tape to secure Adrianne's cake for travel.

Posted Fri Jan 15 13:28:26 2016 Tags:
Folding bathtub

We got bogged down in our bathtub project for a few different reasons. First, the weather turned cold, so we had more staying-alive issues to deal with (firewood, frozen water). Frozen waterlineSecond, home renovation doesn't involve living things, so I don't tend to prioritize it (lazy garden-obsessed homesteader!). And, finally, we had so many interesting comments on my planning post that I needed to digest for a while.

We plan to get back to work on the bathtub next week (weather permitting). But I thought I'd share the photos above of a 100+-year-old folding bathtub that proves our wacky idea is nothing new. (Thanks for the heads-up, Kris!)

"I was just thinking, what happened to the bathroom in your trailer? Was it converted or walls ripped out?" --- Eric in Japan


Speaking of dragging our heels, I guess I should give you at least the cliff notes version of why we don't currently have a working bathtub. One came with the trailer, of course, but when you start from scratch with untraditional home-plumbing, it simply makes more sense to concentrate all of the influent and effluent at a single location. In our case, the chosen location was the warmest spot in the winter trailer --- the kitchen, where we use water constantly for dishes, cooking, and washing. As a result, we ripped the entire bathroom out and turned that area into chicken-waterer-building central.

So how have we been bathing for the last decade? In the summer, a hose outdoors is top notch (says Anna --- Mark prefers his water to be more temperate). In the winter, though, I go for water heated on the stove and poured into a galvanized washtub while Mark prefers bird baths. As you can tell, anything we build will be a major step up.

Okay, now you're back up to date on the next building project. Time to start thinking of the newest bathing apparatus once again!

Posted Sat Jan 16 07:38:49 2016 Tags:
caulking a wood stove pipe

If I need to reapply caulk again in five years I'll remember to do it in the Summer to see if a few months of curing would reduce the caulking odor.

Posted Sat Jan 16 15:26:58 2016 Tags:
Garden planning

If you push the garden envelope with freeze protection and indoor seed-starting, then January is the time to plan out the growing year. After all, we'll be putting our first seeds in dirt on February 1!

Bean seedlingI keep a separate spreadsheet each year for my plan and for my actual garden plantings. This technique makes it easy to copy and paste last year's plan into next year's spreadsheet, at which point I take a good hard look at which plantings worked out and which didn't. If I'm smart, I also insert notes into the spreadsheet as the garden year progresses --- simple reminders like "Plant tomatoes inside 3/15 instead of 3/1 next year" make a huge difference nine months later when the time comes to get the my spreadsheet in order. But sometimes I just remember that succession planting summer squash every two weeks was really too much --- once a month would be quite sufficient.

I've uploaded my 2016 plan just in case you want to use it as a jumping-off point for your own garden. (One bed is approximately equal to 15 square feet in the spreadsheet linked to above.) This is for the ambitious gardener who wants to feed two humans on vegetables that nearly entirely come from  your own land for twelve months out of the year, so please Garden square footagedo scale back if you're a beginner. (The Weekend Homesteader gives tips on which crops are easy to start with if you've never grown a garden before and on designing a bite-size garden.)

Interestingly, you'll notice from the square footage chart to the left that we're slowly but surely scaling back our own garden's planting area. The blue lines are my winter dreams; the purple lines are that year's reality. Since 2013, we've been on a slow downward trend despite the fact that we grew masses of concentrates for the goats last year (meaning our actual harvest was much larger than ever before). That's the beauty of improving soil --- you can grow more food in less space with less elbow grease. On the flip side of the coin, though, if your dirt is impoverished and you haven't had time to bring it back to life yet, you might need to increase the square footage recommended on my chart to feed your own family of two.

Posted Sun Jan 17 07:48:18 2016 Tags:
two gallon buckets

We've only had to carry water from our tank once this Winter due to frozen pipes.

I think carrying 2 gallon buckets are easier and safer than their 5 gallon counterpart.

Posted Sun Jan 17 16:37:22 2016 Tags:
Butternut cabinet

If you grow a year's supply of storage vegetables --- potatoes, winter squash, carrots, and so forth --- your job isn't done when you haul them out of the ground, cure them properly, then pack them away under just the right temperature and humidity conditions. Instead, around midwinter, you've got one task left --- checking through your stores to make sure one bad apple doesn't spoil the barrel.

Even though the task is important, though, I don't mark storage-vegetable rotation time on my calendar. Instead, I just keep an eye out during harvest until I notice the first sign of spoilage. At that point, I go through the lot, pulling out fruits and roots that aren't quite 100%. Now that we have goats, those troubled vegetables are earmarked to turn into animal fodder ASAP, but in previous years I've relegated them to human soups.

Bad butternutsEither way, while you're poking through your stores, you might also decide to change the vegetables' location too. Our butternut closet did an awesome job in the fall and early winter. But now that serious cold weather is hitting, the closet is really a little too cold for optimal "warm vegetable" storage. So I moved the butternuts into our new cabinet in the kitchen and filled the closet up with the containers that recently held frozen food. Come summer, those containers will go back into the freezer, leaving the closet space free for the next round of butternuts.

I'll end with an obsessive Anna-count of our butternut stores. We started out the season with about 100 of them, and we certainly haven't been sparing in the interim. I think I've given away about a dozen, the goats have gorged, and we've eaten some too. (Although the warm fall means we haven't actually put many butternuts in our belly --- brussels sprouts and kale and lettuce just seemed more tasty at the time.)

Now that we've passed the inflection point and are heading into spring, how many squash are left? The photo above shows how I made my decisions --- only the bottom butternut passed the test since wrinkled skin is enough to put a squash in the goat category in my book. Using that measurement of quality, we ended up with 50 prime specimens plus another 10 that need to be fed to the goats in the next week or two. Not bad! Looks like we should grow about the same number next year, assuming Mom and Artemesia maintain their taste for the rich, orange flesh.

Posted Mon Jan 18 07:34:28 2016 Tags:
glued board as a kitchen table DIY

We picked up a nice glued board when we bought our new kitchen cabinet and fabricated a DIY dinning table to upgrade the old coffee table on cinder blocks we've been getting by with all this time.

Posted Mon Jan 18 16:00:27 2016 Tags:
Dabbling ducks"I came across your blog maybe a month ago, random link on reddit, but I was so intrigued by what you are doing that I have been nonstop reading for about a month, until I made it through the whole archive from start to finish....

There were a some loose ends that you haven't tied up yet, just a couple stuck with me that I wanted to ask you about, so thought I would email. What happened to your Osage oranges you planted a few years ago, did any germinate? Have you been cooking/eating the ducks or did I miss that?  How were they?"
--- Jeffry


I'm always impressed when I get these emails that start "Just read your whole blog." Thanks for diving in with two feet, Jeffry! I hope you don't mind that I excerpted part of your email here --- I figure others may be wondering about those loose threads too.

I'm afraid the osage-orange experiment was a dismal failure. Our world is just so rich and full of life here in southwest Virginia that the idea of planting seeds in the wild and expecting any Planting osage orange seedsto survive sounds much better on paper than it works out in reality. Unfortunately, native plant life took over so quickly that any seeds that did germinate didn't make it past the cotyledon stage. If I decide to try the idea out again, I'll instead start seedlings in pots or in a garden bed and then transplant into a well-mulched area once they're large enough to compete.

The ducks were a slightly more successful experiment. We have indeed been eating them and the consensus is...they're okay. I suspect we'd be singing the praises of duck meat from the rooftops if we'd gone for a meat-specific breed and then taken the time to pluck rather than skin. As it is, I consider duck to be a bit below the quality of an old hen --- with less impressive pastured fat and requiring long, slow cooking for ease of gnawing the meat off the bones. In other words, we won't be raising ducks as a meat animal again in the near future.

I also appreciated all of the comments I didn't include in this post. Specifically, I hope your family's adventure is exciting and smooth when you move onto your homestead in eighteen months. Good luck!

Posted Tue Jan 19 06:37:16 2016 Tags:
Rounding off a table's corners

I just wanted to give you a quick heads up to let you know that Mark's back in school and will be playing hookie from the blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays once again.

But, since you're here now, I thought you might enjoy the clever method he came up with yesterday for rounding off our new table's corners. Drawing a circle with a glass before cutting with the jigsaw provided near perfect results. Impressive!

Posted Tue Jan 19 13:22:08 2016 Tags:
Coffee table on blocks

One of our oldest eyesores is this "dining table" configuration --- a coffee table propped up on some cinderblocks so it's closer to the proper level. I have to admit that this one even annoyed me a little since you can't put your feet under the table when you eat. So when I asked Mark what bite-size project we could fit into a cold Monday afternoon and he begged to redesign the dining table, I gave in easily.

Cat inspection

After tearing out the old table, Huckleberry moved into the prime sunny real estate. "I've heard that some cat lackeys build their feline overlords extensive play palaces," he hinted.

"Sorry, Huckleberry. We need that space for eating," I replied. "But when Mark's not looking, you're welcome to jump up on the new table and nap in the sun."

"Hmph," said our feline overlord.

Chiseling

Ahem. Back to business, Mark chiseled off some siding that was still sticking to the repurposed two-by-twos we'd used to frame up this bay of south-facing windows.

Support board

With everything moderately flat, he made short work of mounting a two-by-four to hold up the back edge of the table top.

Bracket attachment

The front edge was supported by old branches that had spent the last five years holding up my ramshackle kitchen counter. The worst two branches were cut up into firewood, but Mark said these two were worth reusing. A couple of brackets on each one held them in place.

Homemade table

We haven't actually attached the top board to its supports yet since, after the external temperature rises above freezing, we plan to stain the board for easy spill removal. And the photo above doesn't show the rounded corners we added on at the last minute.

But it does show how Mark's legs can actually fit under the new table --- amazing! And, since the chairs can also slide underneath when not in use, this table takes up less square footage than the previous iteration despite having a larger surface area. Success! And all for about $25 --- not too shabby.

Posted Wed Jan 20 07:42:07 2016 Tags:
Atlas gloves being worn by wood chopper

These new Atlas gloves do a great job keeping my hands warm and dry.

The double dipped coating decreases dexterity a little, but it's a nice trade off compared to days like today when I would normally get regular gloves wet.

Thanks Jayne.

Posted Wed Jan 20 15:49:53 2016 Tags:
DIY shelves

The weakest link in our current gardening year is seed starting. We often lose seedlings to damping off or just to general legginess, to the extent that I sometimes miss whole planting windows due to lack of transplants.

The crazy part is that I've known the source of the problem for years; I've just been too stubborn to use electricity to fix it. Here's the deal: even right up against our south-facing bank of windows, seedlings just don't get enough light inside in the winter months due to cloudiness and short days. And without enough light, they fail to thrive.

Attaching a shelfAbout five years after figuring this out, I told my husband. Within two days, Mark had determined just the right spot to place a plant shelf while leaving space above to mount shop lights and a fan for optimal results.

I suspect once he reads this post and finds out that I'd get even better results if I expanded beyond the single heating pad grudgingly purchased a few years ago for jumpstarting sweet potato sprouts, I'll wind up with even more electricity use in my seed-starting area.

Yes, it feels not-quite-sustainable to be using electricity to start seeds. On the other hand, given the huge quantities of food we grow and the small addition we'll likely be adding to our monthly electric bill, I think this compromise probably makes sense.

And now I'm dying to sprout some seeds!

Posted Thu Jan 21 07:26:31 2016 Tags:
Margot Boyer, Meadow Creature Broadforks for everyone

Broadforking kidsOur broadfork business began on a beautiful July evening at our neighbors’ place, Plum Forest Farm. About fifty people gathered around farmer Rob, who stood on a sunny slope, surrounded by flowers, explaining his approach to growing produce. It’s not easy to raise robust vegetables in our glacial till. Rob is a soil expert; he understands soil biota, organic matter, and building fertility over time. “I always use a broadfork to loosen the soil and let the organic matter circulate,” he said.

Where can I get one of those?” asked a class participant. “Bob Powell makes them,” said Rob. Fifty people turned their heads to look at my husband Bob. He looked around at their expectant faces. “Sure, I could make a few more,” he said.

Omax machine
Bob with his Omax machine.

Bob’s an inventor. A computer engineer by training, he’s always loved making things out of metal. His lifelong hobby became a business in 2007, when he acquired a water-jet cutting machine and started fabricating tools and making parts for artists and builders.
Broadforking
We live on Vashon Island, near Seattle. Farms here are extremely small-scale, and local growers do a lot of work by hand. One neighbor asked Bob to fix a broadfork, then he built a couple for our neighbors who needed one that wouldn’t break, and after this class we had nine orders. So he refined the design, and made some broadforks, and we sold them to people that we knew, for cash or barter for vegetables. I used mine to cultivate the raspberries and prep a squash bed. It made it easy to weed, and helped the manure get down to the roots, and the plants did great.

We got some feedback on the design. Could the tines be curved? The original tool was a bit heavy. Bob realized he could cut the parts more efficiently, too. He changed the pattern, made it lighter and easier to use, and put them up on his web page. As it turned out, plenty of people want a sturdy broadfork. Different-size people need different-size forks; we ended up with three models, the smallest weighing just 15 pounds.

Order fulfillment
Jared with broadforks ready to ship.

 
So then we had a business. We got busy designing packaging, logo, web page, advertising – it never ends. If you’re starting a manufacturing business, my advice is to hire professionals for the parts you don’t know about, and expect to spend a lot of time negotiating with your shipper.

InventorWe still build our Meadow Creature broadforks on Vashon Island, paint them by hand, and ship them all over the US. They’re made of steel, remarkably easy to use, and will break up the hardest hard pan and loosen the rockiest soil. We also make the Avalon cider press, and soon we’ll have a farmstand cash box ready to go.

One of my favorite parts of our business is our broadfork donation program. All over the country, people are learning to grow their own food, teaching each other to garden, and raising food for people who need it. We’ve donated over 100 broadforks to school gardens, community gardens, food banks, and congregations. I love hearing from the people who are growing food in cities, on old ballfields, in suburban neighborhoods, next to small town libraries, and in remote hamlets. It’s empowering, practical, and fun; one of the sanest things going in our country right now. To request a donation, see our MeadowCreature.com FAQ page for details.

I use my broadfork to cultivate the blueberries and raspberries, pull out broom and other invasives, turn grass turf into garden beds, dig out dock, loosen the beds in spring so the compost will get into the soil, and harvest garlic and carrots. If you’d like one of your own, find us online at MeadowCreature.com, or give us a call (360-329-2250).

Posted Thu Jan 21 13:44:12 2016 Tags:
Trailersteading cat

Trailersteading is here! Actually, there's another story that goes along with the first copies of the book, involving Kayla, an ill-fated zumba class, ice cream, hostage negotiations, three lighters, way too many flashlights, a trio of tired, freezing menfolk, and law enforcement with a blood-pressure cuff. But rather than going there, I thought I'd ask our feline overlords for their first impressions of my newest paperback.

Reading cat

"Hmm," said Huckleberry. "Let's see. I count one, two, three, a billion photos of Mark, a couple of toddlers, a bulldozer, a goat, a chicken, a bug for crying out loud, and zero shots of what really matters --- cats. I'd give this one two thumbs down. You really coulda done better, Anna."

And here I'd been excited about how well the profiles of the other eight trailersteaders looked in print and how engagingly the book was laid out. Oh well --- everyone's a critic. "Thanks for your opinion, Huckleberry," I answered. "Let's see what Strider thinks."

Cat book

Our younger cat gave his analysis the good old college try. He sniffed and poked and watched as I turned the pages. Then Strider stated his opinion.

"Well, I don't really understand what all those little black squiggly things are --- ants? But the pictures are bright and pretty. And Huckleberry's wrong --- I saw a cat. So I'd say it's okay."

So there you have it --- Strider says my newest book is...okay. For $11.38 on Amazon, how could you go wrong? I hope you'll give it a try and let me know how your feline overlords rate this overview of an alternative approach to voluntary simplicity. Thanks in advance for giving it a try!

Posted Fri Jan 22 07:07:58 2016 Tags:
snow shoveling chicken tractor fun

This post is designed to help me not forget to put a tarp over the chicken tractor when serious snowfall is predicted.

Posted Fri Jan 22 15:52:34 2016 Tags:
Snowy hay field

I know it's a bit childish to love the snow as much as I do. After all, heavy snowfalls often make the power go out. Ordinary people have to drive to work, risking life and limb on icy roadways in the process. And everything outdoors takes three times as much energy when there's snow on the ground.

Beech leaf
But walking through a snowy landscape makes me feel like I've invaded an artist's pen-and-ink canvas. Tree trunks rise out of nothingness, lonely blades of grass look like quick strokes of a pen, and even the ordinary appears extraordinary when viewed against the blank slate of a good coat of snow.

Snowy footbridge

Surprising layers of light and dark appear, like this wave pattern beneath our footbridge.

Snow dog
And the truly important parts of our landscape --- the living beings who usually blend in with brown winter leaves --- stand out exactly the way they ought.

So I'm afraid you're due for a few more pretty-snow-picture posts in the days ahead. This series is from Friday morning, after Wednesday's two inches had mostly melted and been replaced by another 4.6 inches Thursday night. I hope you're enjoying the beauty of your snow (if you have any) as well!

Posted Sat Jan 23 07:37:59 2016 Tags:
Lucy on porch with heating mat

Lucy's heated kennel pad stopped working in the middle of this cold snap.

It lasted for about three years....maybe I can fix whatever went wrong?

A regular heating pad sandwiched between a blanket on Lucy's porch couch seems to be a good solution for now.

Posted Sat Jan 23 15:30:06 2016 Tags:
Goat browsing

Goats in the snow

Is it cruel and unusual to take your goats out for a walk in the snow? I asked our pampered darlings to give me the lowdown on whether frozen water is as nasty as liquid water and here's what they said:


Abigail: Really? You want me to go out in that. Really?

Artemesia: Sounds like fun! Let's go!

Abigail: Oh, whatever. But you break trail this time.

Goat beggar

On the downside, there's not as much to eat in the snowy woods as usual, so the girls beg a bit more. I swear Artemesia sucks in her stomach and lays her hair completely flat when she wants a clementine peel, making her look about a third as wide as previously.

Goat footing

On the plus side, a few inches of snow actually makes it easier to walk on our steep hillsides. Your foot doesn't slide downhill as easily when it's encased by a boot of snow.

Snowy goats

I guess I can add snow days to the long list of goat-friendly weather. Thanks for deigning to come on a walk with me, girls!

Posted Sun Jan 24 07:40:36 2016 Tags:

shop light
We decided to go with a 20 dollar fluorescent shop light for the new plant shelf.

It might be interesting to line up a similar LED shop light to see which is better?

Posted Sun Jan 24 13:38:41 2016 Tags:
Chickens eating in the snow
"Do you actually have chickens in the tractor during the winter or do you have a non-portable chicken house where they reside until spring? If they're in a tractor, do you move them every day or periodically despite the snow, sleet, wind and gloom of night?"
--- NaYan


We have both a stationary coop and a chicken tractor. The former houses the majority of our birds, while the latter gets the mavericks who like to fly over fences and scratch in the garden. If we didn't have a tractor, these ladies wouldn't be back in the coop...they'd be in the pot.

I used to worry about tractored hens in the winter, but as long as you manage them carefully they don't seem to suffer at all from their more exposed conditions. Our lay rates are actually superior in the winter tractor despite having no lights, perhaps because the tractored hens eat about 40% more laying pellets than the coop birds do. (Other possibilities --- higher-laying hens are more likely to fly fences; tractored hens just don't have much to do other than lay eggs. It's hard to tease out the reasons on such a small scale.)

Shoveling a spot to move the chicken tractor

All of that said, tractoring chickens in the winter is a bit more work. If we had snow cover all winter, we wouldn't do it since there's be no point --- the tractor would just be a small stationary coop. Even in our zone 6 climate, we still have to change out waterers daily in freezing weather in the tractor rather than using a heated waterer, which adds to the daily work load. So, no, tractors aren't quite as easy as cooped up birds.

Pulling a chicken tractor

On the other hand, it's handy to be able to fertilize the garden directly with a tractor during the fallow season. As I mentioned earlier, it's nice to be able to ground bad birds slightly less permanently than if we ate them. And Lucy thinks it's particularly nice to get her daily dose of chicken manure when I move the tractor. (Yes, I move the tractor every day, unless it's snowing.)

Covering a chicken tractor

Just remember to put a tarp over the tractor before it snows rather than afterwards and you'll be all set. And if you're going to have to leave your tractor in one place for more than a few days, treat the hens to some leaf bedding. Oh, and do be sure to keep them on dry ground if at all possible.

Do all of those things and you'll have happy, healthy hens even in January.

Posted Mon Jan 25 07:38:01 2016 Tags:
bathtub hole drill

Our new bathtub will fold up flat against the wall when not in use.

We bored out one of the mounting holes to attach a small section of chain.

Posted Mon Jan 25 15:42:00 2016 Tags:

Blue-eyed goatIt's completely irrelevant to anything functional, but I started wondering what Artie's kid(s) will look like. It turns out that goat color genetics is pretty darn complicated. And since I only know what Artemesia, her mother, her father, and Monte look like, I'm stuck with guesses.

Eyes are the easy part. So-called blue eyes (which really look almost white on Artemesia) are dominant in goats. Artemesia is heterozygous in this trait and Monte is either heterozygous or homozygous, so 75% to 100% of her kids will have blue eyes.

Phaeomelanin goatIn terms of coat color, there are two proteins that determine color (while lack of either protein makes a white goat). Eumelanin can be black (like Artemesia's primary color), chocolate, or red, and phaeomelanin can be almost white, gold (like Artie's father and her mate), or all the way up to a dark reddish-brown.

There are various pattern possibilities that show where on the body the eumelanin and phaeomelanin turn up. It's likely that both Artie's father and Monte are heterozygous for Awt , which produces goats solid in the phaeomelanin color (gold in their case). In contrast, Artemesia and her mother have the At phenotype, which produces orange on the belly and on parts of the legs with a eumelanin-based color everywhere else. The recessive alleles carried by Artemesia's father and mate, though, are unknown.

Black and tan goat with white frostingWhat does this mean for Artemesia and Monte's kids? Since Artemesia can't be carrying the more dominant Awt (or she wouldn't be black), 50% of her kids will likely have her pattern (or the pattern of her father's father or one of her mate's parents). The other 50% will likely inherit Monte's solid, pale-gold coloration.

Finally, there's the issue of true white, which can be found on Artemesia's "frosted" muzzle and ears. This is a dominant trait, but I don't think Artemesia's mother had this phenotype and I'm pretty sure Monte doesn't, so our goat is heterozygous and will likely only pass the frosting on to 50% of her kids.

Mini-nubian kids

So, that's my analysis --- mostly blue eyes, half with pale-colored hair like Monte, the other half with who-knows-what darker pattern, and half with white frosting.

If you're not confused yet, go read the article I linked to above and I promise you will be 100% confused by the end. Then look at the photo above of Artemesia and her cousins and figure most of her kids will probably look at least a little bit like them. I guess that was the easy answer to my question....

Posted Tue Jan 26 06:12:32 2016 Tags:
Snow-covered quick hoops

In years past, we've had some problems with quick hoops in the snow. Eliot Coleman recommends covering the hoops with clear plastic if you live in a snowy climate, and he's not wrong. Row-cover fabric can tear under heavy snow loads. And since the snow sticks rather than sliding off, the PVC hoops can bend and break as well.

Brushing off a quick hoop

If your snow doesn't come down in bucketloads all at once, though, it's pretty easy to just brush off the top of the fabric every three to five inches. Don't use a broom, though --- I tried that last year and it tore through the row-cover fabric. Gloves are soft enough to be safe as long as you're gentle.

Quick hoops dug out of the snow

9.4 inches of snow in the last week and no broken fabric or hoops yet. Success!

Posted Wed Jan 27 07:31:43 2016 Tags:
Anna turning compost with a smile on her face
Checking on one of the compost piles gives Anna a Winter boost of Joy.
Posted Wed Jan 27 16:06:53 2016 Tags:

Hybrid seedsI love saving seeds from heirloom vegetable varieties. But when it comes down to a choice between saving free seeds from potentially problematic plants or annually purchasing seeds of dependable hybrids, I always choose the latter. It's just a better use of time and money to spend five bucks on seeds and know I'm going to harvest a bountiful crop rather than ending up spending fifty or a hundred bucks over the course of the year buying that vegetable at the grocery store.

Our annual seed order went in this week, about $90 spread across two companies (Johnny's and Jung) to get the exact varieties I know have done well here in the past. Hybrids I felt were worth paying for included Pontiac onions, Lunchbox Red peppers, Bolero carrots, Metro butternut squash, Vision corn, Harmonie cucumbers, and Diablo brussels sprouts. The other dozen vegetable varieties will be planted with either home-grown seeds or leftover packets from last year where I ordered too much but know from experience the seeds will still sprout.

Now it's your turn to chime in. Which hybrid varieties do so well in your garden that you're willing to order the seeds every year?

Posted Thu Jan 28 07:24:51 2016 Tags:
Hanging counter

Homemade countertopWe've been having fun with amateur furniture-making this winter and are learning a lot in the process. For example, what's the optimal board thickness for a table- or countertop? The answer seems to depend on how the board will be supported. Atop our marked-down cabinet, we easily got away with a 3/4-inch-thick board because the thin countertop is supported over nearly its entire lower surface with the cabinet edges. Even a half-inch board might have worked as well.

On the other hand, a 3/4" board wasn't good enough for our bathtub counter project (pictured at the top of this post). We got the whole thing pretty much assembled, then had to take it back apart when we realized that a board hung from chains (for easy removal when the tub flips down) needs to be considerably thicker than three-quarters of an inch. I didn't even go so far as to test the countertop with our heavy stand mixer --- just Mark pressing down in the middle proved we'd either need a thicker board or would have to build a frame underneath to prevent bowing.

Homemade tableHow about our 1-inch-thick tabletop? That board has done very well supported on the back edge plus on two legs along the front edge despite being a full four feet long by two feet wide. So that's definitely a thick board that will go the distance. Here's hoping using a similar product for our hanging counter will do the trick as well.

Posted Fri Jan 29 06:39:32 2016 Tags:
blue heron at oxbow lake

We spotted this handsome Blue Heron at Oxbow lake today during a Winter hike.

Posted Fri Jan 29 15:15:56 2016 Tags:
Lettuce seedlings

In an un-Anna-like fit of passion, I sprinkled some lettuce seeds into gaps within our cold frame sometime in (maybe?) early January. The planting wasn't on my list and I didn't mark it on my spreadsheet. But the weather was warm enough that I had a feeling the seedlings would sprout.

Butternut soupFast forward ahead to Friday. The cold frame had been under a thick coat of snow for the last week plus, first due to the actual snowfall, then to thick mounds of snow that slid down and plopped off the nearby roof throughout the last three days.

Finally, the glass was clear, and I wanted to pick a few baby kale leaves to add to a butternut-squash soup.
But, oh, wait --- what is that? Baby lettuce seedlings! Hope for spring.

Plus, excellent arugula and kale for the soup too. Mark noted that the cold frame was worth it just for the homegrown salad harvested from the protected zone in early January, but I'm going to add these lettuce seedlings and soup seasoning to the gratitude list too. One cold frame tucked up against the sunniest side of the house a thin wall distant from the wood stove is definitely a good move.

Posted Sat Jan 30 08:02:32 2016 Tags:
tapping a sugar maple tree with a drill

We started tapping one of our easier to get to Sugar Maples this time last year but learned from our Black Birch and Box Elder experiments that we prefer Black Birch and have a few closer to home than the Sugar Maples.

Posted Sat Jan 30 14:42:12 2016 Tags:
Anna Sun day
Melting snow

I reveled in the snow. I enjoyed walking through the untrammeled surface during the first couple of days, knowing that no one and nothing had set foot on that patch of earth except me since the snow fell. I loved watching the way tree shadows on the hillside made stark bands of black against the snow. And, later, I enjoyed seeing how the first episodes of melt changed the texture and color of the snow, how tiny bird and mammal tracks began to mar each surface until it was no longer a blank canvas but one marked upon by all the wild and not-so-wild inhabitants of our little farm.

But after about a week, I was ready for the snow to melt.

Snowy compost pile

Obediently, the sun came out and began carving the frozen water away. South-facing surfaces thawed first while everything closer to our north-facing hillside maintained a heavy coating of snow much longer.

Winter garden

The mule garden --- our sunniest patch --- was nearly snow-free by Saturday afternoon when I set out with the camera to take these photos. Our cooped chickens live in this same zone and had finally come out of their house for the first time in over a week that morning. But when I got to this point later in the day, I heard yet another sign of life...bees.

Snowy bee hives

Both hives were very busy, with workers flying in and out to release a month worth of poop onto the snow. I'm glad to see such active colonies in the middle of the winter and am seriously considering giving each hive a new box and a bit of sugar water in February to get them moving. It sure would be nice to get some homegrown honey this year....

Posted Sun Jan 31 07:33:00 2016 Tags:
Snowy turnip


Anna found this patch of turnips growing along the trail on Friday.

I wonder who planted root crops in our little city park?
Posted Sun Jan 31 15:54:04 2016 Tags: