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How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Rocket-stove bathtub

Wood stove in a mobile home

Sep 2013

A year ago this week:

Slug control in the garden

How to make a berry apron

Moving chicks

ATV garbage hauler

Sep 2012

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moving old freezer with Lucy

Why are we moving this ancient freezer?

To have a rodent proof container to store goat feed near the Star Plate coop.

Yes...Anna helped push once she finished taking pictures.

Posted Wed Sep 17 15:49:24 2014 Tags:
Grasshopper on sunflower

Autumn weather arrived this past weekend and the long-range forecast suggests it may stick around.  Luckily, we're mostly in gravy mode in the garden --- we've packed away enough vegetables to last us for the winter, and are just enjoying eating the rest of the harvest (with occasional bouts of tomato drying or pepper freezing for variety later in the Sorghum flowersyear).  The figs are still dragging their feet and refusing to ripen, but the blueberries are winding down and the red raspberries are in full swing.

Mom asked what I planned to do if we get an early frost and I said that, really, we're ready.  Not that I want summer to end, but when freezing temperatures are forecast, we'll just let them happen.

One experiment hasn't quite reached it conclusion --- the sorghum plants I seeded at the beginning of July.  Just as our current cool spell came in, the plants shot up even higher and pushed out flower heads, which may or may not have time to turn into seeds before the frost.  I took the photo to the left with the zoom feature since these heads are way out of my reach, making our tall sunflowers look like midgets in comparison.

Honeybee in wingstem

Cooler weather also reminds me that it's time to pay attention to the bees.  I did a second varroa-mite count last weekend and was extremely pleased with the results --- 2.5 mites per day in the daughter hive and 3.5 mites per day in the mother hive.  Our Texas bees continue to be worth their weight in gold.

But are they worth their weight in honey?  Now that the humidity has dropped below 90%, I'm hoping for a sunny and moderately warm afternoon to harvest honey from the mother hive.  (The daughter will have the empty bottom box removed but will otherwise be left alone.)  Maybe Friday?

Posted Wed Sep 17 07:12:22 2014 Tags:
Swisher trimmer mower doing an extreme uphill mowing

How is the new Swisher trimmer mower on very steep hills?

Like a dream!

The above hill took a lot of effort with our blade mower, but today was easy once I got the hang of letting the machine drive it up the hill. Gravity takes over when you release the engagement lever for the downward portion.

Posted Tue Sep 16 15:57:17 2014 Tags:

Rooted fig cuttingI don't usually cross-promote books here if we publish them but they're written by someone else.  But our publishing wing has become the majority of our bread and butter lately, so I hope you don't mind the occasional plug...especially if it comes with a homesteading-related giveaway!

I'll start with the part you're probably most interested in --- the free stuff!  I rooted a cutting from my father's Brown Turkey fig this year, and the sapling is looking for a zone-7 or warmer home.  Daddy is picking a gallon of figs a day from this little tree's mother, and says that fig pie is his current favorite way to consume the fruit.  As long as you don't live in a cold climate, fig trees require nearly no care, and can be fit into an area about eight feet in diameter (although I hear they get much larger in California).  Why not enter to win your own no-work fruit tree?

What if you live up north?  Don't worry, I'll swap out your prize for something more appropriate.  You might prefer cuttings from my Chicago hardy fig --- these are easy to root and will produce fruit (with a little care) up through zone 6.  However, if even that is Burgling the Dragontoo tropical for your tastes, you can choose either a medley of our favorite seeds, or a signed copy of one of my (or Aimee's) books.  And, if a northerner wins the prize, I'll pick a second winner to give the fig tree to!

How do you enter the giveaway?  Just plug our books using the widget below.  Aimee has several new books out now or soon --- you've probably heard me mention Shiftless, which has already sold over 3,000 copies and will be an audio book within a few weeks; Burgling the Dragon is available at a special preorder price of 99 cents through September 30; and Aimee's short story Flight of the Billionaire's Sister will make you itch to read her newest novel, slated to release in November or December.  Oh, and did I mention that her short-story collection is free on Amazon today?  Once books are out of the preorder period, you can also borrow nearly all of her books (and mine too!) using Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited, so why not check some out?  Thanks in advance for reading and for spreading the word!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted Tue Sep 16 07:12:28 2014 Tags:
Swisher trimmer mower in action

We put together the new Swisher trimmer mower today.

It feels like more than twice the cutting power of our previous mower.

I'm still learning how to use it. When the self propelled mechanism is engaged I found myself struggling to keep up with its pace. It's better to just pump the engagement lever a few seconds at a time to let the machine do most of the work.

Posted Mon Sep 15 15:47:33 2014 Tags:
Passionflower fruit

MaypopOne of Mom's friends gave her this unripe passionflower fruit, which she then passed along to me.  Since the maypop is edible and the vine is often included in permaculture texts, I might see if the fruit had gotten far enough along on the vine to produce viable seeds.

I'm always up for growing an experimental species, even though I have a feeling that, if maypops tasted all that good, I would have eaten one before since they're native to our region and since I grew up amid foragers.
  In the meantime, I'd be curious to hear from those of you who have grown passionflowers in your garden.  I know the blossoms are beautiful, but is the fruit worth eating?

Posted Mon Sep 15 07:33:52 2014 Tags:
ziploc ratchet strap

Our old ratchet straps are 5 years old and rusty.

My new method is to store the new one in a ziploc bag to protect it from the elements.

Posted Sun Sep 14 16:00:54 2014 Tags:
Permaculture tacos

I wish I could give you a solid recipe for the paste I made Saturday because it's based on beans but even Mark found it delicious.  (Plus, all of the ingredients except the olive oil, salt, pepper, and walnuts are ripe on the farm right now).  But I mostly just put in some of this and some of that until the paste tasted right.  Here's my best guess on proportions:

Scarlet runner beans
  • 1 heaping cup of scarlet runner beans in the lima-bean stage, pods removed
  • 1 cup of homemade chicken broth
  • 2 small red peppers, minced
  • 4 small sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil (about 0.25 cups, enough to get the consistency hummusy)
  • 1 large handful of dried tomatoes, on the soft side rather than thoroughly dried
  • 1 small handful of walnuts

Pureeing beansCook the beans, broth, peppers, thyme, and garlic in the chicken broth for about 20 minutes, until the beans are soft.  (Unfortunately, the brilliant color goes away and the beans turn gray at this point.)  Cool, then puree the mixture in the food processor with the other ingredients.  If you're smart, you'll blend up the tomatoes and walnuts first, but they worked out okay added in later.

Serving suggestion: Make little tacos out of Malabar spinach leaves filled with bean paste, chopped arugula, and thinly sliced tomatoes, red peppers, and edible-pod peas.  These can be eaten with one hand like a soft taco if you're careful not to overfill.  While this serving method is a bit time-consuming to prepare, it's pretty and fun for a special occasion!  Happy birthday, farm!

Posted Sun Sep 14 07:44:01 2014 Tags:
securing the swisher mower to ATV rack for transport back to farm

The new self propelled trimmer mower showed up a week early.

Her first day on the job will be Monday if it doesn't rain.

Posted Sat Sep 13 14:17:43 2014 Tags:

Larvae crawling offI suspect we'll be making our own upgraded black-soldier-fly bin next year.  The bin we bought is an awesome introduction...but I keep overfilling it since I have 50 pounds of moldy chicken feed to work my way through.  Last week, the mass of decomposing chicken feed heated up so much that white larvae crawled off, and even when I'm more careful, I feel like the bin is getting waterlogged and full of castings when I add half a gallon of chicken feed (soaked to become about a gallon) per week.

Black soldier fly harvest
The photo above shows the kind of crawl-off I'd rather see --- just the black pupae.  This type of heavy harvest comes about once a week, when I add more chicken feed and soak the bin contents in the process.  On other days, I instead get perhaps a couple dozen pupae, still enough to make our tractored hens happy.  But more pupae is definitely better, and I now understand why you might want to have a 10- or 20-gallon bin.  Or perhaps to have several smaller bins (although I'd still want them all to be located right outside the back door where it's easy to put in scraps and to take out pupae for the chickens).

Escaping pupae

Meanwhile, there's at least one feature of our current bin that I don't feel is working as it should.  The velcro strip around the top of the bin, meant to keep pupae from escaping without crawling into the collection bin, has a gap in each corner just big enough for pupae to wriggle through.  I keep finding drowned pupae in the ant-trap moat around the bin, which makes me sad.

While I'm writing a wish list of future changes, I'd like to drill holes in the top of the collection jar just large enough for an adult fly to escape, but too small for a pupa to get Black soldier fly eggsthrough.  Three times now, I've seen adult flies trapped in the collection bin, once because I left a pupa inside too long and it hatched, but twice because the flies went to lay their eggs in the main bin and ended up exiting in a different direction.

That said, our bin is providing a healthy dose of animal protein for our flock nearly every day, and the number of larvae inside seems to keep growing.  I caught one fly laying eggs inside the handle of the drainpipe last week (which I transferred to the bin), but I suspect there have been many other sets of eggs laid without my notice.  I'm definitely ready to say that Mark is right --- black soldier flies are a good fit for our farm.  Now we just need to work the kinks out of the operation.

Posted Sat Sep 13 07:13:13 2014 Tags:

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