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I find that to be true as well, weeding bothers my hands and wrists much more than milking. Or I should clarify weeding weeds that got away from me, tall grass etc. I don't have to weed but I do need to milk if I'm going to have a dairy cow. I'm glad she's giving you a little more milk!
Comment by Nita Sun Apr 26 09:26:42 2015

deb --- Yeah, Mark didn't get what I was talking about either. It's just that amazing relaxed, happy feeling you get after hauling so many loads of black gold...or sitting and watching the ocean for hours. :-)

Dave --- In the winter you would probably get away with it. But I wouldn't recommend it now that the growing season has commenced. I've mulched woody perennials with moderately fresh deep bedding for years, but I would always apply it in the winter, when roots were dormant and the bedding had a couple of months to compost on the soil surface before things started to grow again. As a result, I thought the bedding mixture was pretty innocuous...until I applied it directly under a perennial in the growing season last year and saw some burn! Now I figure, better safe than sorry.

On the other hand, if the trees are newly planted, you know exactly where their roots are. So you could presumably spread the manurey bedding in a donut a bit beyond the root zone. Then, when the roots get there, they'll have yummy compost to eat up.

Comment by anna Sun Apr 26 07:17:17 2015
I know it is recommended to ferment poultry manure for about a year for fertilizing edibles..but can you use fresh manure/leaves to mulch/fertilize trees or in my case sapplings? I just planted a bunch of 1 foot Black Hills Spruce/White Spruce and want to mulch them with an abundance of chicken/duck muck (leaves/manure) that I have. Would you recommend this or not?
Comment by Dave Sat Apr 25 22:22:31 2015
Just wanted to drop in and mention that I am constantly encouraged by your blog! I visit 5-6 times a week, ever since I first discovered your blog in college in 2011 (goggling "road kill" related articles) ;) I love your passion, great writing style, idealistic philosophy and the constant education you provide. My wife and I are applying the many principles we have gleaned from you and Mark, in our context. We are starting a small business called "The CityFarm Project" which will work with families to implement many of the ideas we have learned from your writing through Health Coaching and Urban Farm Contracting. I hope your day gets brighter. Greet Abigail for us. :)
Comment by Justus Sat Apr 25 16:28:06 2015
I'm sure you have already thought of this, but I would think that your Southern States would be able to order you 50lb bags of actual cover crop seeds from their main suppliers. And for the most part they can be ordered treated or untreated, so that you can feed excess/unused to your critters, if you wish. For a once or twice a year shopping adventure, if your local one doesn't, they might be able to track one down which would in a reasonable distance.
Comment by Charity Sat Apr 25 14:22:34 2015

I looked at the reviews you got and found 38 reviews altogether, 19 five star reviews, 11 four star reviews, 2 two star reviews and 1 one star review, which means altogether you got 4-1/2 stars. So don't feel badly. You did good!

BTW, I loved your father's book of short stories. I left a review and those stories remind me of Sharyn McCrumb's work. She's well known in this area for her novels based on incidents in this area as well.

Comment by NaYan Sat Apr 25 13:24:53 2015

In summary . . .

black works via light exclusion, similar to a kill mulch of cardboard or deep mulch.

clear works via high heat. It 'bakes' the top 6 inches of the soil. Interesting to hear about the Save the Bay use of hay/straw. I saw that mentioned somewhere else. The way it read (ensuring the hay/straw as wet), it sounded like the heat was ramped up with the process of composting. I'm wondering if a high nitrogen moisture under the clear would also help with temperature levels . . . i.e. hay/straw layer, possibly shredded to enable the plastic to be tight against it, soaked in a diluted urine solution. Just curious.

Comment by Charity Sat Apr 25 13:23:33 2015
I didn't make it clear, but the woven black plastic, which is permeable to air and water, is removed after the weeds and cover crops are killed. It simply takes the place of tilling it all in and waiting for it to decompose. The soil life does a nice job of incorporation and you've got a beautiful ready-to-plant no-till bed. True, the plastic is a petroleum product, but a one-shot purchase, and Fortier and I agree that hand tools are the most appropriate technology on a scale of less than 2 acres.
Comment by Jackie Sat Apr 25 10:53:06 2015

Nita -- Cover crops, unfortunately, haven't really made it to our region. So I'm pretty sure all the seeds I've been getting are meant for feed. (The store certainly doesn't stock any cover crop seeds that aren't also used for animal fodder.)

We do get the occasional weed seed in the oats, but it's some kind of forage turnip that doesn't cause any problems. I consider it a semi-intentional polyculture. :-)

Great to get your oat variety recommendation! I'll try to track that one down.

Comment by anna Sat Apr 25 10:39:31 2015
Maybe it's just the feed store employee knowledge...I buy my cover crops at the feed store, and it's in town actually. Cayuse is a dependable white oat and should be widely available. Just make sure you ask for seed oats not feed oats, because seed oats are much cleaner. There's always next year!
Comment by Nita Sat Apr 25 09:27:56 2015

jen g --- Thanks for posting! That kind of fascinating, firsthand information is what keeps me blogging. :-) I was actually wondering about using those clear-plastic roofing panels, or maybe the double-plastic-with-an-air-gap greenhouse panels --- both seemed like more of a long-term choice for solarization if I like what it does with the ground. Sounds like I might be on the right track!

In the meantime, any chance you'd like to email me a photo or two Save the Bay's experiment? I'd love to add it to the book (and am always willing to plug a nice non-profit. :-) ) My email address is if you're interested, but don't feel obliged!

Comment by anna Sat Apr 25 07:38:36 2015

I love how "lively" the conversation is on this post and how diplomatic Anna is with her responses. We love you, Anna! It's interesting to see how passionate people are about their black plastic for killing or preventing weeds. To the black-plastic passionate supporters: yes, black plastic does absorb more heat than does clear, but did you know that dark colors actually release heat more quickly when the sun goes down than do lighter colors? (thank you physics class) Solarization is a totally sound, documented technique that Anna is using in just the right circumstance. Black plastic is useful for other purposes. And so is cardboard. And deep wood mulch. And so is chocolate, but i digress...

I recently participated in a volunteer activity (again through my college bio/ecology class) with Save the Bay in Marin County (SF area). We were helping the coordinator experiment with killing non-native invasive Harding grass with solarization very similar to what you (Anna and Mark) are doing. In the case with Save the Bay, Harding grass is wicked-difficult to kill/remove, so they were solarizing after trying hoe and to whack down as much as we could of the vegetation, then covering with hay/straw, then with the plastic. The Harding grass is very pokey, so they are hoping the hay will cushion the pokes to the plastic. They've had a hard time with other experiments with various kinds of clear plastic that do break down in UV light. This round of experimentation was with UV-protected plastic. They also started a side experiment with a piece of sort-of thin acrylic (poke-proof and hardy to UV) held down by weights. It takes at least 7 weeks to kill the vegetation. Then they plant native species.

Comment by jen g Fri Apr 24 21:16:16 2015
well, I see I am not the only one who gets silly happy about great compost... but you must go to a totally different kind of beach than I am used to....😊
Comment by deb Fri Apr 24 19:51:20 2015
Jackie --- It seems that I must be being very unclear today.... I wasn't saying that black plastic mulch is inappropriate in the vegetable garden (although I do have reservations about its use from a sustainability perspective). What I was saying is that you wouldn't want to take weedy, problematic ground like I'm working with in this area, put down a black plastic mulch, then plant into it in the near future. Like a kill mulch, black plastic will prevent future weeds from growing and will eventually kill existing weeds, but it's not a quick fix for an area you want to plant into in the near future if that soil's not already in good shape. That's the potential niche of solarization --- you can reclaim weedy ground quickly without tilling if the technique works as advertised.
Comment by anna Fri Apr 24 19:31:26 2015
I don't understand why you would think black plastic would be inappropriate in the veg garden. You want to kill weeds and cover crops, right? Nothing does that better than excluding all light. Whatever tries to grow is killed by absence of light, helping diminish the weed seed bank and leaving excellent tilth. I use a double layer of woven landscape fabric with a 20+ year, uv-stable life. Huge labour saver, and no-till soil saver. Jean-Martin Fourtier of "The Market Gardener" fame has been using 6 mm black silage tarps for almost a decade and credits it as a major reason for the success of his micro-farm operation. Apparently the technique, called "occultation", is widely used by organic growers in Europe.
Comment by Jackie Fri Apr 24 19:02:36 2015
Nita --- I was wondering if it could be the variety! Probably proves Mark right, who tells me that it's not worth the savings to buy cover crop seeds from the feed store where varieties are unlabeled. But it's so much cheaper than online.... :-)
Comment by anna Fri Apr 24 16:22:40 2015
It may be that you planted fall oats...they will not winterkill as they are supposed to survive the winter and put on a grain crop in spring. For winterkill oat covercrop plant spring oats, usually known as white oats, fall oats are usually known as gray oats.
Comment by Nita Fri Apr 24 12:58:32 2015
I probably should have been more clear. Black plastic mulch and solarization are quite different technologies. The former works like a kill mulch, and is most appropriate either in weed-free ground or around perennials --- you wouldn't want to lay down a cardboard kill mulch or black plastic mulch and plan to plant vegetables into it into the near future. Solarization is a speedier endeavor that works by heating the soil, rather than by blocking the sun. Basically, you're cooking all the weeds (and microorganisms), and then you remove the layer and plant into the bare ground left behind. The extension service sites I researched the idea on recommend against black plastic for solarization because it actually doesn't get the ground as hot beneath as the mini-greenhouse created by the clear plastic gets.
Comment by anna Fri Apr 24 12:12:15 2015
My barley doesn't look like it is close to blooming either. Deer have nibbled some, but I don't think they grazed quite as diligently as your goats. I will wait another week, when we reach the 14 hour day mark, but will install a similar trial here. I will still try to mow kill half of it. I can do that in the part of the garden I plan for the fall garden . . . that way I can leave it in place until July 1st - ish.
Comment by Charity Fri Apr 24 11:57:47 2015

Yes Anna, I hate to say it but you really need to use black. Despite the heat, things will grow well under the clear plastic. Even worse, weeds might thrive more than the cover crop.

It's also true that you don't want to use the plastic for more than a couple of years. I have a friend with a yard full of crumbles. But you can watch it & catch it before it gets that bad.

Comment by Terry Fri Apr 24 11:47:05 2015

Although I haven't put clear plastic down for solarization I was always under the assumption that use of black plastic was better. I have used black plastic to attempt to kill off weeds, grass and especially that bane of my yard: Johnson grass. It does kill off the grass and weeds (Johnson grass not so much), and I found that the plastic lasts a few years (3 at the most) before it disintegrates enough to have to pick plastic pieces everywhere. Does it kill off beneficial bacteria? Well, this site says no:
And apparently clear plastic is better than black plastic. Hope this helps!

Comment by NaYan Fri Apr 24 09:15:33 2015
If you guys suddenly find yourself with a stack of peach wood sitting in a corner, I know a guy who's moving to Bristol in June, and who's a wizard with a smoker and a pork shoulder. I could put on a mean barbecue for y'all once we're settled in the house!
Comment by Dave marshall Thu Apr 23 22:40:16 2015

I am trying fuzzy kiwi, as one of my 'on the edge' perennials. I probably should have just gone with hardy, but am still new to my adventure and don't know any better! Ha!

Do you have red currants? They are lovely little jewels to put in a berry bowl. Mine come in before my gooseberries.

Comment by Charity Thu Apr 23 17:12:43 2015
...and then we promptly replaced those tender blackberries with the cultivated red and black raspberries that thrive in our climate. I know we probably could have put in hardy, thorny blackberry varieties, but the raspberries are free to transplant from elsewhere in the garden. And Mark considers most berries relatively equivalent --- as long as he has a bowl of berries with every meal in the summer, he's happy. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Apr 23 16:27:06 2015

Nita --- You're totally right. And I suspect we'll get to a stage where we have real pastures to fence the right way some day! In the meantime, I'm just feeding the goats grassy weeds in all the little corners of our core homestead amid trees, berries, and vegetable garden, which is why I like the tethers --- I can put Abigail in a tiny space, let her eat it all the way down, then move her in an hour to "mow" the next bit of lawn. My "pastures" so far are far too spotty to be worth using the electric fence on.

John --- Thanks for the tips!

Comment by anna Thu Apr 23 15:59:01 2015

Hi Anna and Mark and all,

Sometimes it can be helpful to connect the wires on a multiple wire portable electric fence alternately to the high voltage wire and to ground with the top wire the charged one.

That is carry two wires voltage and ground from the charger to the fence.

This is particularly helpful if the ground is not highly conductive or the animals have learned how to 'cheat' the fence.

Also quite useful are high voltage switches near remote portions of your fence system so you don't get zapped when working there and don't have to turn off the whole system :).

Comment by John Thu Apr 23 12:45:20 2015
Peace of mind (and lower blood pressure) with electric fencing comes with a dedicated "hub" with the two deep ground rods in a permanent location with a plug-in or battery powered energizer. Then you run a single wire to your temporary location for electrifying your net. If I had to move my energizer and a ground rod every time I moved fence I would not be using electric fence every day. In areas near the garden where we walk or need to move a wheelbarrow through I put the wire up in the highest tab in the step-in post, otherwise my electrifying wire is about 3' high so it doesn't keep the dogs from chasing the deer away from the garden. It does work...all these years of doing daily electric fence and I haven't bought a fence tester yet.
Comment by Nita Thu Apr 23 09:15:50 2015

Oh no! You've got a picture of the OLD book which teaches the ORIGINAL method. It's so much simpler if you use the All New Square Foot Gardening book - especially the 2nd Edition.

Now I haven't gotten this confirmed, so take it with a grain of salt, but author of Sustainable Food for the Globe: Everyday People Producing Food In Abundance, Norma Burnson said today that the UN mentioned Permaculture AND Square Foot Gardening specifically as sustainable methods.

BTW I'm a SFG Certified Instructor but I also teach a class on Small Veggie Gardening and feature Back to Eden, Hugelkulture, using squash arches as well as Square Foot Gardening. We all do what we can and anytime anyone grows any food themselves they are helping solve the problem.

Oh, and I love the rebuttal post.

Comment by Kim Roman Wed Apr 22 13:09:07 2015
I tried paper mulch for the first time last year. We had an unusually wet summer, and the paper didn't make it to the end of the season. The areas where I put grass clippings on top of the paper mulch did better than the exposed paper mulch. It was nice not having to remove plastic mulch debris.
Comment by W. Wed Apr 22 10:35:39 2015
Well, thanks for giving me an idea as to what to do with all this boxes that have had things like computers and kitchen appliances shipped in. Instead of schlepping them to the landfill, I'll use them as mulch around certain areas. Good idea!
Comment by NaYan Wed Apr 22 09:08:59 2015
Well that is pretty neat. Encouraged by you guys, and reading March Weekend Homesteader, I ordered some shitake plug spawn and we just cut down an oak to inoculate.. The four foot long pieces are so heavy I can barely move them. What about using smaller, shorter pieces of log?
Comment by deb Tue Apr 21 22:58:53 2015

I have been watching your fermented compost experiment. I was wondering what you did with your kitchen scraps before. And your advice, I normally let the chickens have at the compost pile with all the kitchen scraps. I have ample supply to carbon- saved dead leaves and newspaper, nitrogen from green grass clippings, but not so much fertilizer-manure. Would you save the kitchen scraps for the compost ability or let the chickens have at it?

Comment by Kathleen Tue Apr 21 21:28:44 2015
Mom --- I know, I loved her too! But there's a lot of potential to use that prime spot now. I'll probably kill mulch and grow some cover crops there this year, and think about future plantings.
Comment by anna Tue Apr 21 19:18:44 2015

Sorry! That was such a pretty spot, esp. from the kitchen window.

Maybe it was too exposed to an updraft there, tho. Actually, I wonder how a holly tree or other evergreen might do there? Or just leave it open for awhile, and take time to decide.

Comment by adrianne Tue Apr 21 18:22:27 2015
Anna, when I lived in cold climates, my few fruit trees did better on a cold site that stayed cold later into the spring; the ones in spots without wind, sheltered, always bloomed too soon...Maybe try the opposite strategy also? Best of luck to you, Laura
Comment by Laura Tue Apr 21 15:39:10 2015
Jim --- Mostly for the composting toilet, although we've also been known to use it in a black soldier fly bin and I'm thinking of mixing some with urine to see what happens. There's always a use for woody biomass!
Comment by anna Tue Apr 21 07:21:59 2015
What do you use the sawdust for?
Comment by jim Mon Apr 20 23:23:47 2015

Say, Anna, we're in Northwest Missouri (zone 5b) and our blackberries produced well even after the freakish winter of 2013 when we dipped into the negatives several times. Our plants were transplanted from a native thicket nearby, which also produced well despite the bitter cold. Do you think this is a different variety than any that you've tried? And would you be interested in me sending you some to try out in your area?

Comment by Roberta Mon Apr 20 20:13:31 2015
It's a bit early to tell whether your grafts will live or die. A vigorous scion can bud and even leaf out relying on its own stored energy. Once things start getting hot and dry you will know for sure.
Comment by Patrick Mon Apr 20 17:11:19 2015
I'm so sorry, Anna! It rots that the climate won't behave exactly the way we want. (Really, I'm being serious.) Losing fruit off of trees is particularly frustrating, I know.
Comment by Emily Mon Apr 20 16:01:11 2015