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archives for 04/2018

Worm bin workshop

Laura Diaco from Rural Action regaled a group of attendees with pro tips on making indoor worm bins pull their weight earlier in the week. Mark and I have played with composting worms quite a bit, but I still came away with a few excellent tips.

Springtail trap

First --- skip putting onions, garlic, and citrus in your worm bins. (This was one of my first beginner mistakes back in the day.) Second, freeze food scraps before use to kill fruit flies. (Yep, this was the second problem we had with our original bin.) And, third, you can apply a piece of bread dosed with milk to attract springtails if you experience a population boom, removing the "trap crop" along with the unwanted critters to cleanse the bin.

Laura had so much success with her bin that she had to use a starvation diet to slim her population down to the point where she could continue to bring the demonstration unit to events. Otherwise, it was starting to get too heavy for her to lift! Clearly, she has a way with the worms.

Posted Sun Apr 1 06:00:20 2018 Tags:
Film crew for Intense Excitement.

I've been doing more film making than homesteading these past few weeks.

This is a photo from an upcoming comedy titled "Intense Excitement".

My role on this film is Unit Production Manager.

Posted Mon Apr 2 06:00:21 2018 Tags:
Canary reedgrass field

Our new bales of straw were cut from a perennial --- canary reedgrass, which grows in soupy ground down by a creek. The farmer reports:

"It is a grass that regrows every year. And is more friendly to the environment than wheat straw. We do not harvest until late August early September; by that time all the seeds have fallen off and it is just like wheat straw except it is a little longer and does not have the golden color."


Self-serve straw kiosk

Clearly, the demand for his straw is high. The farmer has just about sold out, having moved 1,000 bales using a self-serve kiosk by the side of the road over the course of the winter and spring.

I'll try to remember to report back once I have more of an idea of the pros and cons of using this perennial straw in the garden. For now, I suspect it'll rot a little faster since it has more of a grass feel than a straw feel, but will otherwise work as expected. Stay tuned for further details!

Posted Tue Apr 3 06:00:16 2018 Tags:
mark Hay cats
Cats on a hay bale.

These handsome cats were photographed at our neighbor's house.

Not hard to figure out which one is the Alpha cat of the two.

Posted Wed Apr 4 07:32:56 2018 Tags:
Ramps

When I hiked past the first cluster of ramps (more specifically, Burdick's wild leeks) last week, I yearned to sample but didn't want to damage a wild population. Then, a few days later, I stumbled upon the motherlode --- over an acre in size, with evidence of last year's flower stalks promising a mature population. Time to finally taste some ramps!

Beech rock

I still only harvested a handful, not wanting to damage such a slow-growing plant. But they certainly made for deliciously flavored biscuits, and I have several more recipes I want to try. Good thing ramps seem to be overharvested much less in Ohio than they were in Virginia!

Posted Thu Apr 5 06:00:42 2018 Tags:
mark Girl power
Spreading grass seed with the neighbor kids.

Anna recruited some local girl power to help spread more grass seed and straw.

Posted Fri Apr 6 06:00:39 2018 Tags:
Rock shelter

I finally found the spring flower motherlode in the region --- the aptly named Rockhouse Trail at Sells Park. South-facing, mature forest, full of limestone, and quite damp adds up to the perfect habitat for early spring ephemerals.

White Trout Lily

I'm enjoying the fact that a new stomping grounds means new species to ID and enjoy. For example, the trout lilies here are white rather than yellow. (The yellows should live here too --- I'll keep my eyes open.)

Small white flower with fuzzy basal rosette

Cardamine douglassiiEven less familiar were the rock-loving Early Saxifrage above and the damp-loving Limestone Bittercress to the left. Given the ubiquitousness of the latter species on one of my other favorite trails, though, I suspect this will become a new spring favorite.


Rue anemone

Of course, my old friends are nearby too. Toothworts and spring beauties by the bucketload, hepatica nearly done already, and --- once I peered a little closer --- I even found a couple of bloodroot and rue anemones. Phew! Wouldn't want to miss out on the flowers I grew up with even as I add new ones to my mental roadmap of spring!

Posted Sat Apr 7 06:00:37 2018 Tags:
Mulching asparagus


Kayla recently asked what we miss most about our Virginia farm.

I miss the huge servings of asparagus that will be popping up there later this month.

Anna misses the composting toilet and creek.

Want to create homesteading memories of your own? All 58 acres are still for sale for one low price of $79,333.
Posted Sun Apr 8 06:00:29 2018 Tags:
Six months later

I can hardly believe we've been here six months! On the one hand, it feels like we arrived yesterday; on the other hand, it feels like we've been here forever. And, as the pictures prove, we have made a fair amount of progress over the last six months.

Fall to spring

First the property went from a bare tract of land to a liveable homestead complete with trailer, water, septic, and electricity.

Proto garden

Next comes the garden. We've laid out a bunch of beds and planted several. (The confusing bits in the foreground are where I laid down kill mulches then realized those areas were going to be asparagus and had to dig them right back up.)

Finger rock

And, most importantly, we've met an astonishing number of talented and interesting people, like the aspiring videographer, cupcake baker, and truck driver who helped me take the "after" photos in this series.

Posted Mon Apr 9 06:00:24 2018 Tags:
Ford F-150 rusted panel.

Our 1997 truck has quickly become a valuable part of our homesteading team.

I took this picture to document the worst section of rust.

Eventually I should try something that might help slow the rust from spreading but I guess I'm curious at what rate the hole will get bigger and if I'm okay putting it off for another year or so.

Posted Tue Apr 10 06:00:36 2018 Tags:
Eagle dance

Last week was a multicultural week on the campus of Ohio University. Even though the events were mostly for students, I insinuated myself into a couple anyway.

Dabke

The International Street Fair didn't require insinuation --- it's an open-to-the-public event in which you can try your hand at Chinese writing, sample delicious ethnic foods, and even watch and participate in a few dances. Can you find me in this rousing rendition of the Arabic dabke? (Thanks for snapping the shot, Jen!)

Native American dancers

Even more visually stimulating was the Native American Dance and Song Workshop, which was really just for students, faculty, and staff. They let me in, though, and I loved the drum beat, which we were told is meant to mimic the beating of the heart.

Okay, I'll admit it, there's nothing homesteading-related about this post. Except...don't forget to spend time expanding your horizons and feeding your mind as well as your belly!

Posted Wed Apr 11 06:00:41 2018 Tags:
Covington sweet potato starting.

We decided to expand our sweet potato family to include Covington.

Now is the time to start encouraging seedling activity.

Posted Thu Apr 12 06:00:49 2018 Tags:
Broccoli flat

With the spring garden, I plant by feel rather than by spreadsheet. So when the weather turned warm and wet for a week at the end of March, I set out a lot of things that likely shouldn't really have been planted then. Of course, then last week's cold spell hit (mid twenties and a couple of inches of snow), which left me scurrying to cover everything up and hope my babies would survive.

Broccoli comparison

Now's the moment of truth --- did I make a mistake? On the broccoli front, I probably would have been better off waiting. None of the outside plants were damaged badly enough to need to be replaced when I gave them a once-over yesterday, but they were also significantly smaller than the ones still in a flat inside. I set out another couple of beds with reserved plants and will be curious to see which planting date leads to the earliest and best heads.

Transplanted lettuce

On the other hand, lettuce, thyme, parsley, and peas also transplanted on March 27 passed the cold-weather test with flying colors (although the row-cover fabric I had over them until this week certainly helped).

Peas and lettuce

And how about the direct-seeded vegetables? They look pleased as punch now that their row cover is off and they're once again exposed to full sun. Soon we'll be rolling in lettuce and peas!

Posted Fri Apr 13 06:00:58 2018 Tags:
Saw Stop close up at the Maker Space in Athens Ohio.

We got to see a sneak preview of the new Athens Ohio Maker Space.

The wood shop has most of the big wood working tools.

A punch card is what we will start with where you pay per visit compared to 70 dollars a month for more serious Makers.

Posted Sat Apr 14 06:00:22 2018 Tags:
Hydroponic lettuce in soil
Do you ever get an urge to plant the remnants of vegetables from the grocery store? Many of them will grow...although it might not be worth your while to nurture them into producing a second crop.

Lettuce head with rootsI'd read about folks planting carrot tops and other detritus from their salad-making, but hadn't been buying enough grocery-store produce to even consider giving it a try. But when the lettuce head at the left ended up in our kitchen this winter with a big mass of roots still attached, I couldn't resist the urge to set it out in the garden.

I planted that lettuce under a quick hoop in the middle of February...and it sat there for weeks doing nothing at all. The photo at the top of this post shows the plant's current state nearly two months later. It's finally almost large enough to pick a few leaves from...although, for the sake of comparison, leaf lettuce direct-seeded on the same date is nearly as big:

Direct-seeded lettuce

What's with that lettuce root growing so slowly? I suspect that February lettuce from Krogers is hydroponic produce grown at the perfect temperature and nutrient levels. In the wild weather of an Ohio garden, hot-house varieties are going to lose the sprint to harvest to my hardy Black-seeded Simpson every time.

Posted Sun Apr 15 06:00:22 2018 Tags:
Farmsteaders Documentary.

We watched a sweet and beautiful documentary about a local cheese making family Sunday at the 2018 Athens International Film Festival.

Farmsteaders is a unique glimpse into a small cheese making operation over the course of 5 years.

The cinematography is stellar and you really get drawn into the joy and struggles of what it takes to get the cheese made and sold.

Posted Mon Apr 16 06:00:21 2018 Tags:
Covering up the spring garden

I looked back through the blog and found that I seldom mentioned Redbud Winter in the past. I'm not sure whether that's because I was planting at a more reasonable time back in Virginia or whether we just tended to get cold spells a week or so later (at which point it becomes Dogwood Winter).

Strawberry flower
Whether this is the new Ohio normal or just a fluke, though, we had lots to cover up before the current cold spell hit. Broccoli and peas and lettuce of various ages. Newly transplanted parsley and thyme. And the first few strawberry flowers just beginning to bloom. Here's hoping it doesn't get cold enough to nip the flowers through the row cover!
Posted Tue Apr 17 06:00:23 2018 Tags:
Truck mirror image of me and my Mom.

Mirror image of my Mom and me talking about trading a cow for magic beans.

Posted Wed Apr 18 06:00:55 2018 Tags:
Tomato seedlings

Monday was potting-up day for the nightshade family. Tomatoes, of course...

Baby pepper plants

...our favorite lunchbox peppers...

Eggplant seedling

...and even a few eggplants. I'm not sure I'll be able to prevent flea beetle depredations organically (the reason I usually skip this crop), but I saw a guy selling heirloom seeds at the farmer's market and couldn't resist.

Double decker seed starting station

Aaaand now we need a fourth shop light.

Posted Thu Apr 19 06:00:19 2018 Tags:
Egyptian Onion leaf close up.

Spring close up of one of the few Egyptian Onions that made the trip North with us.

Posted Fri Apr 20 06:00:55 2018 Tags:
Planting asparagus

Rose Nell gave us five Purple Passion asparagus roots to join the 25 Jersey Knight we ordered online. The latter is what grew so wonderfully for us in Virginia, so we'll be very curious to see if this new purple variety is as tasty and productive.

Only after we both ordered and received our roots online did we drop by White's Mill...and find the exact same varieties available there for a lower price before we even factored in shipping. I guess I need to start checking out our local establishments before placing perennial orders from now on!

Posted Sat Apr 21 06:00:46 2018 Tags:
Roll out nest tray one year update.

It's been about a year since our first experiment with a roll out nest tray.

One thing I would do differently would be to mount the tray so the angle could be adjusted depending on how the chicken tractor was sitting on uneven ground.

It might be better suited for chicken coops that remain stationary all day.

I really like the idea of keeping eggs clean with the help of gravity and will continue to pursue this concept if we ever decide to get chickens again.

Posted Sun Apr 22 06:00:56 2018 Tags:
Chatting turtles

Did you know that box turtles are sociable? They sometimes hang out together without any apparent mating or territorial maneuvering going on.

Turtle ranges

Did you know that female box turtles have much larger home ranges than males do? (Up to 50 acres vs. 7 acres or less.) This may be because the females sometimes travel long distances pretty fast when the time comes to lay their eggs. Take a look at that long, skinny red polygon above as an example of beeline-to-the-nest-site behavior.

A male box turtle, on the other hand, might spend his entire summer under the same blackberry bush subsisting on fallen fruit, worms, and bugs. Perhaps this is why male turtles have lower levels of stress hormones in their blood than females do?

Box Turtle hunting dogs

Marcel Weigand discovered all this and more with the help of both human and canine field assistants who found, tagged, then revisited several test subjects over the course of last year. She shared her findings at the Athens Public Library Saturday and, impressively, one of four teenage neighbors willingly sat through the entire hour.

Posted Mon Apr 23 06:00:48 2018 Tags:
Super Winch update.

Did we bring the Super Winch with hitch mount with us on the move North?

We sold it to our neighbor James for a fair price before we left.

He would get more use out of it since our new land is more high and dry.

Posted Tue Apr 24 06:00:44 2018 Tags:
The Last Honeyhunter

While I enjoyed the Farmsteaders movie that Mark posted about, my favorite viewing from the recent film festival was The Last Honey Hunter. I went into it expecting a documentary and instead got a visual yet symphony-like experience, as if I'd actually been in Nepal climbing massively high cliffs in search of taboo and at the same time medicinal honey (an overdose of which can easily kill you).

The film is just over half an hour long, and if you get a chance I highly recommend indulging in the experience.

Posted Wed Apr 25 06:00:22 2018 Tags:
Turkey Mating season courtship dance.

We get a fair amount of turkey traffic patrolling our garden area.

I wonder if the Ozark turkey trap would work if we got really hungry?


Good thing we have the big garden fence next on the list of things to do.

We learned at the recent Maker Space tour that their Tool Library has one of those motorized Earth augers for digging deep post holes which I think we'll experiment with and see if it's good enough for the dirt we are dealing with.

Posted Thu Apr 26 06:01:11 2018 Tags:
Hitching a trailer

You know you're fully moved in when you finally return the moving trailer you borrowed to haul your possessions north.

Extra trailer wheel

Before we sent the trailer home, though, we had to fix the bolt-on jack wheel which had bent during previous usage. These handy devices swivel down to form a fifth wheel for easy repositioning of an unloaded trailer. Be sure you don't exceed the weight limit, though, or you may bend bolts and have to replace the entire attachment mechanism!

Posted Fri Apr 27 06:00:51 2018 Tags:
Catering for film crew.

I've been volunteering on some local student film crews this month.

One thing I've learned is how important it is to serve a good meal to a crew of film makers working for free.

The catering I did this week helped me to understand how much work is involved in preparing food for a medium group of people.

Posted Sat Apr 28 06:00:53 2018 Tags:
Wild clay

Jenn and I attended a fascinating workshop at the Dairy Barn Saturday about digging clay out of the earth and turning it into pottery. I was surprised to learn how simple it is to process wild clay...although the techniques can be quite time-consuming.

Dry clay

The first step is to collect your clay. For best results, gather clay from within twenty inches of the surface since this weathered clay will do better. You're likely to find gray clays under coal seams and red clays elsewhere. Both are good pottery clays if you live in our area.

Clay map

In fact, I was surprised to learn that southeast Ohio is the clay capital of the world! Over half the pottery made worldwide in the last one hundred years began as clay in Ohio soil.

Clay and limestone

Okay, geography lesson over. What do you do with your wild-sourced clay?

First, let it dry out thoroughly. Then break the big lumps into smaller pieces, removing pebbles and roots in the process. The most important pieces to take out are small inclusions of limestone (the paler lump on the left in the photo above) since limestone messes with the moisture content of clay and can cause explosions in the kiln.

Breaking up the clay can be done with your hands or with a hammer on the small scale. On a larger scale, you'll want to use a hammermill of some sort.

Wetting dry clay

Next, you'll have to choose whether to wet-screen or to dry-screen your clay. Wet screening is safer --- inhaling clay dust can make you very sick. But dry screening is much easier to mechanize and perform in bulk using a 20-mesh screen shaken by an off-balance motor.

We wet-screened in our workshop. First, add water...

Wild slip

Then mix with a spoon or by hand. By hand is messy but much more effective.

Milkshake consistency

Your goal is to achieve milkshake consistency, working all of the little lumps into the main mass of clay. On a medium scale, you can do this mixing in a bucket with a dry-wall mixer drill attachment a bit like this. Or just squeeze it through your fist over and over on the small scale.

As a side note, if your clay isn't very dry, it's actually much harder to moisten thoroughly. In this case, drop the clay in a bucket of water and leave it for a few days to soak up the liquid rather than trying to force water in quickly.

Screening wild clay

Now it's time to pass the wet clay through a screen to pull out the last of the rocks and roots. I found that it's easiest to press the wet slip through the sieve with my fingers.

Then put the screened clay on a board to dry somewhat (as in the photo at the top of this post) and it's ready to use in hand-building, brick-making, or thrown pottery. Our teacher suggested firing at cone 04 for most clays in our area.

How about you? Have you ever processed wild clay?

Posted Sun Apr 29 06:00:24 2018 Tags:
Cat with walking onions


Is it possible to overharvest Egyptian onion leaves?

We've always had so many plants it wasn't a problem...until this spring.

To play it safe, we make sure each plant has one large and one small leaf on it at all times. That's enough to keep the bulb alive.
Posted Mon Apr 30 06:00:22 2018 Tags:


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