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I've come up with a pretty successful and inexpensive setup that seems to have eliminated most of my seed starting issues.

I got a couple of four foot fluorescent "shop" lights and put one warm and one cool bulb in each (which gives full spectrum light but is way a way cheaper setup than "grow" lights), and hang them on lightweight chains from the ceiling. This lets me adjust the height so I can keep the light just a few inches above the tops of my seeds, which helps prevent them from getting leggy. This setup cost less than $40 total.

Next, I set up my oscillating fan to blow across the seed trays. This helps keep the soil at the top of the trays dry (thus decreasing damping off issues), mostly eliminates those annoying gnats that seem to love hanging out in the dirt around indoor plants, and the breeze encourages the seedlings to grow sturdier stems.

Lastly I always water my seedlings by pouring water into the tray my seed flats rest in, then after 20 minutes to an hour (whenever I get back to it) I dump the excess water. The soil will absorb as much water as it needs but won't get water-logged and can drain any extra, which is a huge help in preventing damping off.

This year I also got a heat mat, which did increase my germination rate a fair amount, but I'm not 100% sold on whether it was worth the cost. If it lasts more than 5 years I think it will be worth it, but I'm holding off on buying another for now.

Comment by Rae Mon Aug 3 16:54:26 2015

Good post! I am so caught up in preserving our harvest and trying to transition garden beds to get ready for fall planting..but I already have a list of 'research' subjects in my farm notebook for winter! I'm also a seed starting newbie..... its hard!!! I managed to start all my own seeds (well over 200 plants) this year.. only had to buy banana peppers.. because I forgot to buy seed!! Love The new seed-starters handbook! Our fruit trees are so sad... I don't know if they'll ever amount to anything..our most productive fruits are asian melons, blackberries, ground cherries ,and muscadines. I discovered a huge elberberry bush this! they are great! Our neighbors who hate their pears and let us gather them...and a local orchard that sells seconds $10 a bushel! Pretty much does it for our fruits here!

Comment by angie Mon Aug 3 12:34:48 2015

My very best garden year included a drip system for watering, and starting seeds indoors. We don't get rain from April until October usually. No matter how much I want to hand water, making use of warm-up-the-shower water or veggie-washwater, my plants tell me my efforts aren't the same as drip irrigation. I intend to buy/get a rain barrel so I can still conserve, while giving the plants more of what they want. Our water company also offers free non-potable water that's ok for edible plants, but doesn't strain the drinking water reservoirs. Our spring/summer warms slowly. So tomatoes, peppers, and melons take until July or August to ripen. Starting seeds made that best garden sing in late June.

Comment by Jennifer Mon Aug 3 09:47:18 2015
Wow, is that ever true! This year my tomatoes are in an area that gets sun from 1 PM - 4PM, and the result is half-grown fruit that never ripens. Last year, they got sun from 10 AM until 2 PM and fruit grew to full size AND ripened. So it appears that timing df sunlight exposure has a bearing too.
Comment by Lucy Gray Mon Aug 3 08:30:52 2015
Beautiful pics! I never tire of seeing sunflowers. Here in New Hampshire, we say that the four seasons are: almost winter, winter, still winter, and July. Well, its Auguest, so we are in almost winter. Once we start hearing crickets, its all over but the winter cover crops! 😊
Comment by Deb Sun Aug 2 19:26:11 2015

Very timely post since yesterday was first culling for me. I managed six cockrell and two pullets before my back demanded that I call it a day. After reading your post I decided to do a 5 AM sorting rather than chase them in the tractor; much easier thanks! The birds are huge but still smaller than hormone filled store birds. They eat a lot though averaging 1/2 pound per week. They forage fairly well with nice yellow fat.

I kept two cockerells and six pullets for breeding. I'm interested in seeing how they lay althought they are reported to be good layers with large eggs. I currently have 12 Dominique and six Sexlet hens that lay very well until it got over 90F. The Sexlets give good extra large eggs plus a dozed jumbo-plus eggs that I sell for $4 vs $3/dozen. I won't be retiring to Jamaica but I get enough to pay for aĺl my feed meaning free eggs and now meat. Hopefully the cockerells will 'man up' and quit being pushed around by my mature hens

Comment by Tom Sun Aug 2 06:40:21 2015
I've enjoyed hearing everyone's experiences here in the comments! BW --- I don't think dominiques have feathered feet. But the very similar cuckoo marans sometimes can.
Comment by anna Sat Aug 1 13:19:23 2015

NaYan --- I hadn't mentioned corn varieties before, because we hadn't really settled on a favorite. But I think the variety we've been growing last and this year is a winner --- Vision. Keep in mind that we have simple tastes when it comes to corn --- the sweeter the better. And I'm willing to eschew seed-saving in favor of super-sweet hybrids as a result.

Eric --- I'm sorry to hear that! It seems like every change we make to our gardens requires a few years of learning, so I can only imagine how hard a couple of thousand miles change in location would make it!

Comment by anna Sat Aug 1 13:12:54 2015

We're finished with Buff Orpingtons as well. We've had ours for going on four years and they are indeed notorious for not staying where you want them. Our Buff rooster was a real rabble-rouser and we don't miss him! They're only plus is that they were good at going broody and mothering. The last of the Buff hens are slated for canned chicken come cooler weather.

This year we've got Black Australorps and hope they are "it." They have grown quickly and I've never had a rooster try to crow at such a young age! I've had mixed reports on broodiness, which I need for sustainable chickens, so we'll see!

Comment by Leigh Sat Aug 1 05:09:55 2015
I raised Australorps for the first time this year, along with NH reds, Plymouth Rocks, and light Brahmas. The Australorps were the first to mature and begin laying, followed by the plymouth Rocks and NH Reds. So far, I do t think the Brahmas have started laying, though both my roosters are Brahmas and they seemed to mature faster than the pullets. I really like the Australorps, even though they are flighty and have escaped our electric fence a few times. As an aside, so far,the Brahma roosters ha e been mild mannered.
Comment by Deb Fri Jul 31 18:44:31 2015
Someone commented above about how the road was the lowest point and often got waterlogged. The only true solution to this, short of raising and banking the road surface is to install a drainage system on the sides. This will ensure the water does not form ponds. On the other hand, the rocks should partially solve the water logging issue as I am assuming they will be smoothed out so that the surface is even.
Comment by Eric Blaise Fri Jul 31 15:38:21 2015
Just wondering do your Dominique Chickens have feathers on their feet? I have one chicken (unknown variety) that has the same color feathers but has some feathers on it's feet.
Comment by BW Fri Jul 31 11:06:41 2015
Mine would have loved it for sure. On the other hand, the gross potato bugs had them staring in uncertainty, when i gathered a whole jar lid full of them and set it in the chicken fence. It wasnt until I offered them one at a time that the hens finally decided they were (sort of)edible.
Comment by Deb Thu Jul 30 07:35:23 2015

I had that problem too, since I only plant a 4' x 20' patch with three rows, I had seed left over from a previous year. Very spotty germination.

This year I bought new seed (Golden Queen) and due to last years poor germination I over planted, and should have thinned but did not. My result was very thin, weak stalks that produced little 3 and 4" cobs.

Grew up in MN and can garden there but despite years of living in coastal GA and consulting local gardeners I still can't garden like I used to!

Comment by Eric Wed Jul 29 17:21:22 2015
I laughed when I saw your heading for this blog entry. What a good book. What do we end up in our pockets after a day of cleaning, working, and carrying on of our days. Life is good.
Comment by hilary Wed Jul 29 11:48:15 2015
What variety(ies) of corn do you plant?
Comment by NaYan Wed Jul 29 08:49:27 2015
Thanks for the data. On the fence about getting a little doeling.,.. this will give me time before having to think about breeding and kidding and milking!
Comment by Deb Tue Jul 28 19:18:06 2015

As a farmer and orchard manager, I have cleared weeds, brush and small standing timber in orchards and meadows up to 50 acres+. Used both Stihl FS90 with a loop handle and FS130 with bike bars. I've spent hundreds of hours, 8-12 hours a day brush cutting every type of terrain possible. The bike bars and harness are.... hands down, bar none the only way to go if you value your body. Recently spent 2 months straight clearing brush from an orchard 6 days a week with little to no fatigue....considering. Slopes to 60 degrees. Choose your cutter head type wisely, it makes a big difference.

Comment by Scott G. Tue Jul 28 02:01:03 2015
Mitakeet --- We have lots of wild buckeyes in our woods. They often produce little patches of red leaves throughout the summer, but now that you mention it, I can't actually remember what color the overall trees turn in the fall. It's possible that they do end up yellowish then instead of red. Sorry I can't be more helpful!
Comment by anna Mon Jul 27 15:28:25 2015
Deb --- You can read about the pros and cons of duck eggs here.
Comment by anna Mon Jul 27 15:26:42 2015
Lucy --- You can read about our first goat taste test here. He was delicious!
Comment by anna Mon Jul 27 15:24:36 2015

What will he taste like? Do you have a particular way to process the buck to maximize tenderness, etc.? Thanks, just curious :)

Comment by Lucy in Virginia Mon Jul 27 14:45:50 2015
just please make sure you don't use white bleach sugar use only raw sugar if you have to ...I'm giving them honey and they seem to be very happy☺
Comment by margaret Mon Jul 27 12:43:14 2015
You dont talk alot about the ducks. I sometimes forget they are there. That half egg must be something to see!😊 how do you like the eggs compared to chicken? Did they take some getting used to?
Comment by Deb Mon Jul 27 06:44:07 2015

Can you provide details on your buckeye? I love the red contrast with the green leaves and would plant some to get that effect, but Googleing on buckeye and later Aesculus and 'color' got me yellow instead of red.


Comment by Mitakeet Mon Jul 27 05:44:25 2015
I planted these for the first time this year. They are crawling up the old silo foundation and along the north side of the garden. Even if they didnt produce beans I would plant them because they are so darn pretty.
Comment by Deb Sun Jul 26 21:18:38 2015
Man that corn looks good! Unfortunately, the one time I tried growing sweet corn (Peaches and Cream if I remember correctly), I had every raccoon in a 4-county area making a bee-line to my small patch. Did they eat only a few ears? No! They took a bite out of every single ear and then left it there on the stalk! I chopped off the eaten part then cooked and canned the rest. Blasted raccoons. ::grumble grumble grumble::
Comment by NaYan Sun Jul 26 09:18:59 2015

Try this web site for cheeses Has worked for me

Comment by alan Sat Jul 25 22:37:48 2015

I have also had some CAR troubles but not as bad this year. I'm not sure if it was due to the dry spring, tge cutting down of two large nearby red cedar trees or some of both. I have been spraying neem the last two years and my Goldrush trees are much better this year than last so maybe the neem helps a bit too. For resistant types, I have Liberty, William's Pride, Redfree, Roxbury Russet, Baldwin, LindaMac, and some others that aren't affected much. Most were planted in 2014 so no apples yet. I would do your research as to which varieties are resistant, and then find some orchards to go taste them before you buy trees. We have several orchards nearby and the trouble isn't deciding which to plant, but what not to plant.

Comment by Anonymous Fri Jul 24 22:46:23 2015

It looks fantastic. You are fast becoming an expert cheese maker! How long can you milk Abigail? Will you breed them both this fall?

Comment by Deb Fri Jul 24 18:53:15 2015
Grant --- Great question! In general with legumes, you get the most nitrogen in the soil by killing the plants before they set seed. As soon as they start to develop fruits, the plants start socking away nitrogen there (as protein), so they pull it out of their leaves to do so. Of course, in some cases it's worthwhile to get a lower nitrogen harvest for the soil if you get a human-food harvest too! But I wanted to see what the soybeans would do at their peak.
Comment by anna Fri Jul 24 15:51:23 2015

Hi Anna,

We have been growing soy for years now as edamame, to eat. I'm curious why you do not grow the soy until the pods are edible. Does it take too long? Are the plants not as effective at adding nitrogen once they fruit? I'm new to cover crops so please excuse me if my questions seem dumb. I was just surprised tha you did not mention harvesting before you cut down the plants- edamame is so delicious, and a great source of protein, excellent both lightly steamed with a little salt, or frozen and then mixed into winter soups. Thank you!


Comment by Grant Fri Jul 24 14:46:14 2015
Look at all that is going on in this photo...very cool and nice layering.
Comment by Doug in Savannah Thu Jul 23 22:56:24 2015
Great photo!
Comment by Deb Thu Jul 23 21:33:39 2015
I was wondering how this new roof was attached to the mobile home roof? I am going to be doing this next year and I would like to know how it is done.
Comment by Ray Thu Jul 23 15:24:44 2015

I totally agree: working with the perennials, and particularly trees, is totally rewarding. We've been chopping and dropping for a few years now and the soil and fruit trees thrive on it. It never feels like work... and the rewards are sweet. Love that turtle, too. We've got a gopher tortoise in our yard - check him out:

The wildlife reveals the health of your homestead - great work.

Comment by David The Good Thu Jul 23 10:09:25 2015
Congrats - that's longer than I've ever managed to continuously seed-save.
Comment by David The Good Wed Jul 22 23:56:04 2015

I've had luck with broadcasting southern peas during the rainy summer. They can take the heat and seem to fix a lot of nitrogen.

I've also been messing around with really complicated mixes of every kind of seed I can find - photo evidence here:

Some things really pop, some don't. The asjwain has been impressive, as has the sorghum. The castor beans barely managed to pop up a few plants here and there. Keep experimenting!

Comment by David The Good Wed Jul 22 23:11:57 2015
We actually have a post from a couple years ago on that very topic. Since then, we've lowered our dairy purchases considerably (although we're still buying a few cheeses as I learn cheesemaking) and are slowly lowering our purchased meat as well due to our new goat source. We haven't reduced our purchased fruit as much as I'd like --- still working on beating our late spring freezes!
Comment by anna Wed Jul 22 10:32:21 2015
I've been reading your blog for a couple years now, and I always wonder just how much of your food you produce, and what do you eat that you don't produce? Do you go to the grocery store regularly? What sorts of things do you buy? Pasta, bread, oranges, bananas, salt, flour? Or do you basically forgo these things that can't be produced at home? I'd really like to know. Maybe you could do a post sometime on how/when you go grocery shopping, and what you buy to supplement your self-sufficiency. Thanks!
Comment by hennybenny Wed Jul 22 09:29:25 2015