The Walden Effect: Homesteading Year 5. Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Homestead Blog


Homesteading Tags

Recent Comments

Blog Archive

User Pages


About Us

Submission guidelines


Sep 2014

Most visited this week:

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Plug and play grid tie inverters

Building a bee waterer

Sep 2013

A year ago this week:

Even better vegetable curing rack

ATV wooden dump bed

Poultry powered gardening

Annual chores for fruit trees

Sep 2012

Walden Effect Facebook page

To get updates by email, enter your email address below:

Ground ivy

Weeds and what they tell usThe hypothesis I often see put forth by the permaculture community is that you can use weeds to discover imbalances in your soil.  When I finally tracked down the best book on the subject, though, I was disappointed.  Since then, I've come to my own conclusions --- problematic weeds are an indicator of issues with your management strategy, not necessarily of problems with the ground underfoot.

Since I tweak my gardening techniques every year, it's no surprise that our worst weeds change with the times.  This year's doozy is a plant that I used to consider barely noticeable --- ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), which is pictured above.  My mother enjoys this plant in her garden for its bee-friendly spring flowers, its pleasant aroma, and the way it quickly covers the ground.  Unfortunately, ground ivy wreaks havoc with the mulched areas since it quickly grows amid straw and makes you lose most of your mulch when you rip it out.

Why is ground ivy suddenly a big problem for us?  I only see the weed in the shadier parts of my garden, and primarily during wet years, making me think that there's something about cool, wet conditions that gives ground ivy a foothold over the grass that's supposed to be colonizing the garden aisles.  I can't do anything about the weather, but I can change a management technique that I think has been giving the ground ivy a foothold in the front garden aisles --- weedeating.  Until this summer, Mark was in charge of cutting our "lawn," and he generally opted to weedeat the front garden rather than mow it since the aisles aren't very linear.  However, close cutting can promote ground ivy over grass, especially in shady areas.  Time to commit to mowing instead of whacking the front garden grass!


When I first identified our second troublesome weed of 2014, the book I looked it up in gave it the appellation "devil's racehorse."  I haven't been able to track down the source of that name, and now call the weed by its more common names (quickweed, shaggy soldier, Galinsoga quadriradiata).  But the colorful name that originally made me scratch my head makes so much sense now that I garden --- quickweed will take over a garden lickety split.

While ground ivy is the bane of my existence in the shady front garden, quickweed makes its annoying presence known in the sunny mule garden.  I made the mistake about three years ago of letting a single plant go to seed in a garden bed there, and the result has been nearly endless handweeding of every crop I've grown in that spot thereafter.  The solution here is pretty simple --- whatever you do, don't let quickweed go to seed in your garden!

Have you learned from your garden weeds?  If so, which ones taught you memorable lessons?

Posted Tue Sep 2 07:15:54 2014 Tags:
storing onion harvest for the upcoming year

What's the best way to store a year's worth of harvested onions?

We like to use old citrus bags and sort out the damaged ones to be used first.

Posted Mon Sep 1 15:43:02 2014 Tags:

New apple branchesMost folks will tell you to leave a grafted apple alone for its first year of life.  The goal is for it to grow straight and tall, into a one-year-old whip that is hopefully four feet tall (for an apple on MM111).

That makes a lot of sense if you want a tree to achieve its full height potential, but what if you plan to use high-density methods to fit more apples into a smaller space?  As our grafted trees surpassed waist height, it occurred to me that if I want branching to begin relatively close to the ground, I might as well break the apical dominance now rather than waiting until this winter to begin pruning.  The photo to the left shows what happens a couple of weeks after snipping the top off one of the whips --- new branches begin to form in the leaf axils of the top three leaves or so.

Branching apple

What next?  The photos above show an apple on MM111 rootstock that is several years older, and also several weeks further along in its top-snipping adventure.  As you can see, I've tied down all but one of the new branches so the tree will once again enjoy apical dominance while turning the horizontal twigs into scaffolds.  On a vigorous tree like this one, I've managed to snip the top off the tree twice this year (if I recall correctly), building two whorls of scaffolds in one summer.

I doubt our little grafted trees will put out much more growth this summer, but hopefully they'll sink at least a little energy into the new branches.  If all goes as planned, when I transplant them to their new homes this winter, they'll be a bit further along than the typical one-year-old whip.

Posted Mon Sep 1 07:14:11 2014 Tags:
how to make a diy snare pole or critter catcher or animal grabber

We didn't get the snake today, but now we're ready.

If you need to do a lot of animal grabbing then maybe the deluxe critter catcher for 140 dollars could be justified, but threading the right size rope through a PVC pipe is a lot cheaper.

Posted Sun Aug 31 15:05:44 2014 Tags:
Snake eating egg

A few weeks ago, we noticed a drastic decline in the number of eggs coming out of our coop.  As day length decreases, it's normal to notice fewer eggs, but a hen's lay usually drops off gradually rather than all at once.  Added to the mystery, some days our egg haul was back to normal, followed by a series of days with only one or two eggs in the nest box.  What was going on?

Mark solved the mystery when he found a black rat snake sunning itself outside the coop in the middle of August.  For a while, we gathered eggs earlier in the day, and the snake seemed to have moved on, but numbers once again declined this past week.  Sure enough, this time Mark caught the snake in the act, its body swollen around an egg.

Hunting a snakeBlack rat snakes are completely non-poisonous, and from my days as a naturalist, I know most are actually pretty friendly too.  But I still didn't feel comfortable just picking up the snake (which I planned to relocate to the other side of the hill).  Instead, I tried pushing the snake into a bucket, then I ended up chasing it across the coop where the reptile kept trying to slither out holes which no longer fit its body due to the addition of the egg lump.  Eventually, the snake regurgitated its egg and disappeared into the weeds...just as Mark appeared with a homemade tool to make snake handling easier.  Stay tuned for Mark's post on that topic later (and, maybe, a successful catch this afternoon?).

Posted Sun Aug 31 07:11:29 2014 Tags:
me using Stihl circular saw blade trimmer

Thanks for the comments on using a miter saw blade with a weed trimmer.

Most people are like my neighbor and report problems with it binding up when cutting small trees which could be a result of not keeping the blade exactly even during a cut.

Maybe in the future Stihl will invent some sort of LED indicator you could look at and know which way to tilt the blade to make the most level cut.

Posted Sat Aug 30 15:08:13 2014 Tags:

While we refer to our "lawn" only in parentheses since the grass is full of dandelions, clover, and whatnot and never gets fertilized (except with the chicken tractor), I do occasionally feel guilty about the grassy areas.  Granted, on our farm, grassy garden aisles make sense, but most like-minded people think all lawns are evil.  However, as I mowed Thursday, I started wondering whether the carbon dioxide coming from our mower might not be offset by the carbon being sequestered in the soil as grass blades and roots turn into humus.

Sure enough, independent scientists (in addition to the lawn-care "scientists" you might expect to feel this way) report that lawns do act as carbon sinks.  A minimal input lawn like ours that only gets mowed with no other treatment sequesters about 147 pounds of carbon per lawn per year (after you subtract out the carbon released by the mower).  The abstract I read didn't mention lawn size, but I'm assuming they're using the American average of a fifth of an acre, which matches up with another study that reports each acre of lawn sequesters a net of 760 pounds of carbon per year.

Of course, cover crops will put the puny carbon sequestration powers of a lawn to shame.  Sorghum-sudangrass will pump a massive 10,565 pounds of carbon per acre into the soil, and oilseed radishes don't do so bad either at 3,200 pounds of carbon per acre.  In fact, a 120-year-old northeastern woodland only clocks in around the carbon sequestration powers of oilseed radishes, and you can still grow tomatoes in the oilseed-radish ground during the summer.

Which is all a very long way of saying --- if you're considering making a patio or leaving that area as lawn, go for the lawn.  But if you really want to sequester carbon fast, plant some cover crops.

Posted Sat Aug 30 07:36:30 2014 Tags:
using a circular saw blade in a weed trimmer eater

Our neighbor mentioned that he uses a miter saw blade on his weed trimmer.

The arbor hole is the same diameter as the Ninja brush blade. Make sure the teeth point to the left to take advantage of the cutting teeth.

I only tried it on some rag weed and it was like a hot knife cutting through butter. Our neighbor reported when he tried it the blade would bind up on even medium sized trees. I think we don't need the little bit of extra cutting power for such a huge leap in danger.

Posted Fri Aug 29 14:50:53 2014 Tags:
Buggy beans

I appreciated all of the thoughtful comments on my scarlet runner bean post last weekend!  Several of you correctly pointed out that the species is actually a perennial, although the distinction won't make much of a difference for most of us since (like tomatoes) scarlet runner beans are perennials that act like annuals in temperate climates.  On the other hand, that reminder did point out that not only the green beans, shelled beans, and flowers, but also the tubers of scarlet runner beans are edible.

Bean beetle larvaHowever, what I wanted to share today is a downside I just discovered of my beautiful bean planting.  Unfortunately, scarlet runner beans seem to make awesome nurseries for Mexican bean beetles, as you can tell from the holey leaves in the photo above (and from the larva that was hiding in a photo in my previous post, repeated to the left).  We use the ultra-simple bean-beetle control method of succession planting bush beans (explained in more depth in The Naturally Bug-Free Garden), but adding scarlet runner beans to the mix means that this year's beetle population exploded and quickly colonized my bush bean plants.  Good thing I'd already frozen several gallons of the staple crop because the plants will probably soon bite the dust....  I might try scarlet runner beans again, but this piece of data suggests I should keep my for-food beans far away from my for-beauty beans in the future.

Fava bean seedling
On a semi-related note, our experimental fava beans have come up!  The seedlings look more like peas than like beans, which is probably because fava beans are really a vetch.  We hope to experiment with eating both the fava bean seeds and the scarlet runner bean seeds at lima bean stage...even though I don't think I've ever eaten lima beans before in my life.  For those of you who are more experienced --- what kind of introductory recipe would you recommend?

Posted Fri Aug 29 07:39:24 2014 Tags:
when is the best time to pick Mung beans?

When is the best time to pick mung beans?

We pick them once a week this time of year after they turn black.

They make yummy sprouts for greening up tuna salad during the Winter months.

Posted Thu Aug 28 15:19:43 2014 Tags:

Didn't check back soon enough and unread posts ran off the bottom of the page?  See older posts in the archives.