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I usually use yogurt cups for pots since they can be individually removed with ease. With the cold I have been itching to get in the dirt so I decided to separate out the extra seedlings that germinated and plant them into unused cups. I ran out of cups and am using paper pots. Now I am running out of flats for the pots to into! It's nice that 9 cups of kale has turned into 63! I will probably be planting them everywhere and giving them to neighbors if I run out of space.
Comment by Brian Thu Feb 26 10:39:04 2015
Funny you should mention soaking the plastic flats in bleached water. Back about 10 years ago when a friend was running an organic gardening seminar out of Rural Resources in Greeneville, TN, she mentioned that one of the things you do to prepare for the season was to take the old plastic pots and flats and soak them in hot water with a bit of bleach to sterilize the pots. I had forgotten about that and just remembered a few days ago. So I did the same thing and between that and sterilizing the soil in the microwave for 5 minutes in an old ceramic pot about 7 inches wide by 6 inches deep, it seems to finally fixed the problem I was having with strange little flying soil gnats that had been attacking my plants.
Comment by Na Yan Thu Feb 26 09:15:20 2015

Hi Mark and Anna,

Yup. I went through one battery when I forgot to open the switch.

As long as I remember, the switch solution seems to work well :).

My truck has the battery off as I write.


Comment by John Thu Feb 26 09:05:15 2015
Actually, I think information on how much of what you plant to feed yourselves all year would be very helpful. I've had trouble getting a handle on this for us and have been searching for just this kind of information without satisfactory result. Based on what I've found (or more accurately, not found) may I suggest that you be consistent in your descriptions. For instance, what I've seen to date may talk about the number of seeds or plants for one vegetable, but the length of rows for another, and weight for yet another--too complicated. Glad to see the consensus is positive for adding this kind of section. Good luck.
Comment by Carole Wed Feb 25 23:08:09 2015

I'm exited about the new soil paperback, as Home Grown Humus is my favorite of your ebooks. It got my dad and me started with using buckwheat, and last year we began using it to rejuvenate his worn out garden soil-- the result of 5 seasons of conventional plow, rototill, 10-10-10 (cement would describe the texture well). We had considered starting with alfalfa, but your ebook helped us decide buckwheat was the way to go in beginning the process of putting organic matter back in the soil and filling the gaps where nothing was growing. Thanks!

In my own garden, the most important soil related thing I've learned from you (Weekend Homesteader) is the use of cardboard kill mulches. Two years ago I never would have imagined how much my gardening would change with this simple idea. I have discovered (from being lazy actually, and possibly having TOO MUCH cardboard laying around) that if I lay down a sheet of cardboard on a new garden area and leave it for a few weeks or a month, worms and other creatures do the work of tilling underneath, and generally nothing else is required to grow there. So naturally I'd like to see a section on the use of cardboard in the garden. Far too few people know about the benefits of this easy to find material.

Comment by Marc M Wed Feb 25 21:46:48 2015

Well, just sayin I'm excited about both new books coming out. i vote "yes" on the gardening part of the recipe book. For the soil book, maybe some climate specific practices would be helpful. I just know tht trying to get anything to compost in the high altitude dry climate of the mountain southwest seemed next to impossible.
happy writing!

Comment by deb Wed Feb 25 21:36:25 2015

Thanks to everyone for their handy thoughts --- keep them coming! From your comments, I've added a notation to add a section on soil in containers and one on wood chips.

Roland --- Good points! On the other hand, hugelkultur (lowercase with no accent) has been popularized into the American lexicon over the last decade or so (while hugelbeet would, presumably, leave most Americans scratching their heads). I think the Americanized version of the term is well enough known by now that translating it would confuse more people than it would help. (I wanted to use Google Ngram to see if my feeling on this topic is true, but they only seem to work through 2000, before the term hit the U.S.)

Comment by anna Wed Feb 25 18:58:22 2015

If you're going to use German words, please use correct spelling: Hügelkultur (IPA: ˈhyːɡl̩ kʊlˈtuːɐ̯) for the general principle, and Hügelbeet (IPA: hyːɡl̩ beːt) for a bed. And don't forget to use capitals.

On the other hand you might consider just translating it to raised bed cultivation or raised bed gardening because the number of readers that can make sense of the original term would probably be relatively small.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Feb 25 16:36:35 2015
Since wood chips are commonly available in large quantities it would be interesting to write about how they are best used in the garden.
Comment by Patrick Wed Feb 25 16:22:33 2015
I think it is a good idea to include gardening stuff in there, perhaps with numbers like how much land it takes to grow enough food for this many people, and what not. Kind of hard to make hard and fast because of different land types, but it would be nice to have a general idea to go off of.
Comment by Alice Wed Feb 25 15:14:06 2015
I like the idea of including a guide for how much you plant to carry you through the year. Most of us plant too little or too much, so having a starting point would be extremely helpful.
Comment by Rhonda from Baddeck Wed Feb 25 13:25:41 2015
I think adding how much you plant for the two of you would be good in the cookbook. It might not fit for me or someone else but it's a good starting guide. It would also be a different spin from other cookbooks.
Comment by Amy Arnold Wed Feb 25 11:03:10 2015


I would use and appreciate an appendix.

I am meeting a friend tomorrow (if we don't get too much snow) to discuss planting flowers and herbs in and around my garden to attract pollinators. How about a section providing information for small flower species to help soil building, pollination and add variety to the garden? I am thinking about creating new smaller beds outside my fenced areas. The areas would be accessible to wildlife. Last year I planted basil, sage and dill inside my fenced area. Possible topics to write about: Which flowering species are easy to grow from seed and reasonably priced? Which are more difficult to grow? Do you recommend annuals or perennials? Should the soil be turned in the fall? Which species are best to add nitrogen and improve soil? I would like to plant Echinacea. Have you successfully planted it from seed?

I do not want a high maintenance flower garden. I want a functional pollination attracting area with herbs and flowers. Some will be used for canning, freezing and dehydrating. I live near Charlottesville, Va.

I enjoy reading your blog. Linda

Comment by Linda Wed Feb 25 10:10:54 2015

I'd love to read what and how much you plant for the two of you! I'm currently expanding into a much larger garden space and I'm a bit at a loss as to how much I need to plant, and this would be a really handy reference.

Sorry I don't have any input on your second question; it sounds to me like you've included a good variety of mulching and fertilizing options already.

Can't wait for your next book!

Comment by Rae Wed Feb 25 09:46:17 2015

Hi Anna and Mark,

Both very good questions. I disagree with your idea that planting to feed will be much different for different people. Most people are about the same weight 100-200lbs.

I picked lots of apples from various abandoned trees. I still have plenty of apples. So a good mix for health as in how many pounds of which food groups is a very worthwhile subject to study.

All that said soils are MUCH different in their mineral profile. And for optimum health mineral balance says it ALL !!!!

The 'Ideal soil handbook' is a good beginning and your idea for a sequel book is IMHO also a VERY good idea and timely. A GOOD discussion of the origins of fertility would probably be MOST important to most of your readers. I have had amazing results with both seawater and granite dust. KNF also deserves some careful study and comment.

As would a discussion about the details (methods) used to measure what is in the soil, plant and animal tissues. Particularly regards 'nitrogen' which is mostly oversimplified and misunderstood.

Well, I don't mean to preach, but knowing how each element is measured seems to me to be a necessary beginning especially for real soil where results are VERY procedure dependent.

Maybe enough for now?

Nice ideas you have. Lots of fun.


p.s.- My real-time soil conductivity measurements show a continual rise in soil conductivity despite the VERY cold weather since the first week in January. It is fun to see what the soil is really doing under the snow :).

Comment by John Wed Feb 25 08:45:52 2015

Because you mention including some gardening tips in your cookbook, I'm wondering if you can focus more on your soil book and include types of soil in your woods, esp. the areas that had been extensively farmed (flood plain) or pastured; also the interplay with creeks, for ex problems with them, in gardening, for ex if good soil might be washed away, or if soil contaminates creeks.

About how to keep things simple with soil: the pH but also the good bugs, best temps for early Spring planting, also for Fall planting, and what happens in the soil at too cold or too hot (dry) times. How not to compact soil but also to rotate crops, in a small garden. (One thought I've had is to have planks down, to walk on, that can be lifted up, so the path area can then be used to grow in.And, how to have healthy soil in container gardens--that is, without being too technical, what good potting soil to use (for ex, is it nec. to sterilize home-made potting soil? Is it useful to put worms, etc into container pots? And how to actually improve soil around perennials and fruit trees... And, Using goose and duck droppings. thanks!

Comment by adrianne Wed Feb 25 08:43:16 2015
When will we have a peak at your trailer's interior design? :) Love to see the set up!
Comment by Suzi Tue Feb 24 17:26:19 2015
Just wanted to comment on the first comment regarding hot water heat. I've been reading up on this a lot, and it can be very dangerous if you don't use the right pressure valves. I saw a photograph where someone did not do it properly, and pretty much blew out their roof. It was lucky they weren't standing nearby. Just a FYI. Definitely not a do-it-yourself project. Blessings.
Comment by Heather Tue Feb 24 10:15:37 2015

Some of the most delicious blueberries I've had were growing wild in northern Minnesota, and the bramble fruits at my parents' house in Wisconsin are pretty good, too. Seed catalogs originating from the colder zones actually have a pretty good selection of berries and fruits, so don't despair!

I agree it will be interesting to see how the changing weather patterns (or variability [un-patterns?], I suppose) affect perennial plant survivability. Looking forward to your meticulous notes on the matter! :-)

Comment by Jake Mon Feb 23 23:01:44 2015
anna and mark, I would have thought you had temperature data for the past 8 years instead of just two. Subjectively speaking, would you say winters are getting colder for the past eight years vis-a-vis just the last two? do you feel the length of the season has changed too?
Comment by pedro Mon Feb 23 20:46:02 2015
Despite the Ag Dept's saying I live in zone 7A (ha!) my microclimate is probably closer to 6a or 6b with winds that try to take my porch roof off. My apple tree (Stayman Winesap) produces but I've had a lot of trouble with blueberries, mostly because the clay "soil" (read: bricks!) doesn't drain too well despite the fact I planted them next to the creek which is about 5 feet lower than the blueberries. I've tried O'Neal's which are supposed to be good for NE TN, but it died. On es like Elliot, Patriot, Northblue and other northern berries survived better than some of the "southern highbush" berries. I don't mulch them as the wind would simply blow everything away unless I lay a tarp or something down on top of them. Instead I cut 55 gallon barrels in half and planted them in that hoping that they would drain better than being planted in that cold wet clay. The perennial strawberries, on the other hand, that I have in pots hanging from my back porch actually had flowers on it in January! How weird is that? Not sure if they survived or not. Gonna keep trying with the blueberries as they are my favorite fruit. Have wild blackberries on the property but they taste like gritty gravel and so I am afraid to plant raspberries anywhere on the property since they'll probably cross-pollinate with the crappy blackberries and end up being inedible.
Comment by Na Yan Mon Feb 23 14:49:36 2015

Interesting post. I do hope your figs and other trees will survive this cold. Any you guys too. Our house stays around 55-58, but 40 degrees inside would be uncomfortable! I dont know what rabbiteye blueberries are, but blueberries grow wild here in zone 5, so maybe, even with colder winters, they would still be an option for you. I just finished shoveling and snowshoeing a path to three maples in more tnan thigh deep snow In preparation for tapping. Forecast next week looks good. This snow will definitely limit the number of taps we drill.... it is just too hard to get to the trees! (Its the reason of course why most of the old trees were planted along roadways)

Comment by deb Mon Feb 23 10:22:12 2015

I know that there are so many different kinds of berries that Scandinavians use--esp. blueberries! Also that gooseberries and currants are so often grown both in New England and in England, besides blueberries, which are so prevalent in Maine. Also Alpine strawberries must be hardy. I also read of a peach orchard in Ipswich, Mass.--tho that was in the 30s, I think. And, as you did mention earlier, the trick is to somehow keep the fruit trees from budding too soon, esp. in a mid-winter thaw. Maybe one trick with peaches wd be to plant them in shadier places, which, because seemingly colder, might hold them back, and might even protect them. As for blueberries, I think the "low-bush" are actually hardier, tho I haven't looked it up. As for apples: maybe New England types are better, to try.

Comment by adrianne Mon Feb 23 09:24:27 2015

Maggie's comments remind me of the old northwoods saying,"There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes."

Keeping paths passable and providing water are the only extraordinary challenges to the usual routine in winter.

Comment by doc Mon Feb 23 06:24:52 2015

Anna, Deb, Maggie: Thank you for your valuable insights! Very informative and encouraging. Cheers!

Comment by Karen B Sun Feb 22 17:07:41 2015
I meant to add that access to the animal pens, doors, etc. have to be kept shoveled out, lest they freeze shut. That is often the first thing, since sometimes the overnight snow has drifted and blocked the doors. One morning I couldnt even get out of the house on one side, so had to snowshoe around from the other side and shovel out the door!
Comment by deb Sun Feb 22 15:43:18 2015
The barrel is perfect type for a rain barrel. Where did you get that type? I've found blue double bung type.
Comment by jim Sun Feb 22 15:34:54 2015
Red truck is working?
Comment by jim Sun Feb 22 15:31:01 2015

Your day is very similar to mine. I have had to shovel out the chicken run... they cant free range with the almost 8 feet of snow we have had, but I have been able to keep a small area shoveled out, and then I take a hay fork and try to sift the straw to the top of the remaining snow, and then add more straw to both run and coop. The most effort goes to keeping clean unfrozen water available. Even the frost free hydrant froze this year, so I carry water by hand. Eggs freeze unless I get them before about 8am. Even in this weather, my young pullets are laying every day. I make sure they have plenty of food, and a treat in the late afternoon so they hit the roosts with a full crop at bedtime.

Comment by deb Sun Feb 22 15:12:33 2015
Maggie --- Not mentioning the bathroom trip was a polite omission. I started to write about how to stay warm when visiting the composting toilet at -22 F, but figured that most people either already know or never want to know! :-) Just tuck your bare hands into your knee pits, folks, and you'll be fine even at -22! Your residual body heat easily holds up to several minutes of a naked bum. But only do that once a day --- you can pee into the snow.
Comment by anna Sun Feb 22 11:40:24 2015

The weather in central Ontario, Canada is a lot colder, and the winter a lot longer, than your location. Homesteading here is completely different in its day-to-day manifestations. My partner works out of doors, away from home, at least eight hours a day, six days a week, and the proper clothing is essential to survival. The snow is too deep to walk through, and if one wants to travel far in the bush snowshoes are another essential bit of outerwear.

I grew up visiting my Grandparents, who lived a rural life in central Ontario. They did not have indoor plumbing until I was more than eighteen years old. The outhouse was a thrilling and memorable trip at -30C! I thought I remembered that you have a composting toilet on the homestead, but you don't mention it as one of your outdoor "visits". Just wondering if this was a polite omission, or if you have some cold weather alternative to nature's call?

Comment by Maggie Turner Sun Feb 22 10:35:36 2015
Hi Anna, Did you catch the recent article on npr's website about burying fig trees? Italian immigrants to the northeast area brought fig cuttings. They have a tradition of digging a big pit next to the fig tree and bending the whole tree over into the pit, then covering with sacks, boards, and then a mound of dirt. Like a temporary root cellar! I'd send you the link, but I think your site blocks it out. Just google for "burying fig trees", and it's the first link.
Comment by Rena Sat Feb 21 20:40:03 2015
Al Gore notwithstanding, the real scientists are telling us we're headed for 30 yrs of nasty winters like these last two. Karen's point is well taken: it may be wisest to plan on that by planting for one zone colder than you're listed at now.
Comment by doc Sat Feb 21 18:20:07 2015

I feel your pain! We didn't get as cold as you guys,,, but it was still crazy cold for us... I'm worried about my figs too... they are my favorite fruit. We wrapped the base up in wool this year left over from last year's dairy sheep raising experiment (which did not go well) to see if that would help! we lost power to the big ice storm and thank goodness we had carried in extra wood. We stayed pretty warm but more insulation would be nice! We trailerstead too :-)

Comment by angie silvera Sat Feb 21 12:35:16 2015

Also Anna/Mark - Hubby asked me yesterday "When it's THIS cold out, what ~has~ to be done outside, and how long do you think it will take?"

We ask as not-yet-Homesteaders. We will be following along a path very similar to yours, and would love to know what has to happen on the farm (similar to yours with size, gardens, animals and mechanical systems) when it is bitter outside.

I'd love to hear what you do on days like this. Thank you!

Comment by Karen B Sat Feb 21 11:10:19 2015
Anna - when I woke up this morning, one of my first thoughts was about your fruit trees too! This colder-than-normal cold snap has got to be hard on them - I hope they come through okay. I asked Hubby - "aren't you glad we haven't yet planted the $928 worth of trees and fruit bushes that I want to order?". For homesteaders, a deep freeze could mean an entire growing season and harvest failure. I keep wondering if I should only plant varieties that are much hardier than our zone (6) to combat these random weather swings in future.
Comment by Karen B Sat Feb 21 11:03:13 2015
A neighbor of mine did an experiment with solar water heating. He created a box, painted it black, ran some copper tubing through it, also painted black and somehow hooked it up inside his house to a water heater. The whole thing got so hot in the winter sun the water was almost boiling. I was thinking maybe I could do something like this to heat a greenhouse, by just running the pipes through the greenhouse bare and allowing the hot water to heat the area. Now I'm wondering if you can't do something similar. After all, that's the way radiators up north work. They have hot water heated by a furnace running through pipes.
Comment by Na Yan Sat Feb 21 09:49:04 2015
Why not just make a simple duckling waterer from a gatorade bottle and a milk jug? Google duckmanjoel duckling waterer and watch video.
Comment by Joel Fri Feb 20 18:50:31 2015
Well, this morning at 3:47 am when I went to have a discussion with Mother Nature my indoor/outdoor thermometer registered -11 degrees F. Luckily no electrical blackout however.
Comment by Na Yan Fri Feb 20 16:07:30 2015
i've dabbled in mushroom culture but have always wanted to go a bit farther with it. i hadn't heard about this book before---i will definitely check it out. thanks for sharing.
Comment by melina w staal Fri Feb 20 12:33:52 2015