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How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

How to help chicks during hatching

Plug and play grid tie inverter

Building a bee waterer

Jul 2013

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ATV hitch height adjustment

Low-cost presents for homesteaders

Experimental summer cover crops

Ethanol free scam

Jul 2012

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putting together third rack on porch

I put together this last storage rack in about 10 minutes.

Plenty of room for the upcoming onion harvest.

Posted Sat Jul 26 15:04:21 2014 Tags:
Cooking soup

It's now officially freezin' season!  The tomato crop is far smaller than I'd hoped for, but enough fruits are coming in to produce one or two big pots of soup per week, most of which ends up as winter meals.  And, as if to make up for the moderate tomato harvest, the green beans are extremely prolific this year, allowing me to freeze half a gallon at a time once or twice a week.  Add that on top of this spring's bountiful broccoli, plus the stir fry I'm experimentally freezing, and we've already got 8.5 gallons of winter vegetables socked away in the deep freeze (along with a bunch of homegrown and purchased meat).

Freezing green beans

Whenever I write about our winter stores, commenters always ask about our frozen-food goal for the year.  I'd post a link to my previously written answer, but we're constantly tweaking our diet to include more fresh produce even in the winter months, and are also streamlining non-fresh winter stores to include only the foods that taste best frozen and rethawed.  Last year, we had barely enough winter stores from 6.75 gallons of green beans, 11.25 gallons of vegetable soup, 0.6 gallons of sweet corn, and 0.25 gallons of tomatoes --- just shy of 19 gallons of vegetables total.  Since we plan to stock up on the same amount of storage vegetables (onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbages, and butternut squash) and to continue pushing the weather boundaries with brussels sprouts, kale, and lettuce under quick hoops, twenty gallons in the freezer should do us this year as well.

Posted Sat Jul 26 07:19:36 2014 Tags:
using cardboard in the garden

The last piece of big cardboard went to some brussel sprout transplants.

Posted Fri Jul 25 16:03:23 2014 Tags:
Mulching high density apples

"Guess what this is?" I said to Mark yesterday morning as he walked past.  My voice was full of the excitement of finding a new source of organic matter to mulch with, so he hit the nail on the head with his first try.  "Humanure," my long-suffering husband answered, a distinct lack of enthusiasm coloring his voice.

Cleaning out the composting toilet

We closed off the first bin of our composting toilet last November, and I wrote that I planned to wait a year...or maybe two...before breaking into the stash.  However, my standards always start slipping when I clean out the deep bedding in the chicken coops and still need more high-carbon materials to mulch the perennials.  I figured, as long as no chunks of poo were visible in last year's humanure bin, I could use it beneath plants that wouldn't be producing until this time next year.  Really, that gives the material almost 24 months between excretion and eating, right?

Mulching with humanure

HumanureWhen I opened up the composting toilet bin, I was surprised to see that the contents really just looked like slightly aged sawdust.  There were some chunks of toilet paper around the edges, where the contents were too dry for decomposition, but all other signs of human waste were gone.  I set aside most of the residual toilet paper as we went along and used the four wheelbarrows of organic matter that remained beneath our high-density apples, our hardy kiwis, and our black raspberries.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that despite a lack of odor in the composted humanure, it slightly grossed me out, especially early in my cleanout efforts.  As with slaughtering chickens, I immediately went and took a shower after finishing the cleanout, even though the biologist in me knows that nine-month-old humanure is probably less likely to make me sick than relatively fresh chicken manure and horse manure are.  I handle the latter with barely a sniff, but I definitely still have a hint of the fecophobia that made Mark lack his usual enthusiasm about my crazy experiments.

Berry patch

Mental issues aside, Mark and I have some thoughts for improving our composting-toilet before changing back over to the now-emptied bin this fall, but I'm pretty happy with version 1.0 as-is.  Human "waste" has become an asset to the farm rather than a hindrance --- just what I was looking for!

Posted Fri Jul 25 06:46:54 2014 Tags:
using big stove box for mulching

We used up that big box I stole last week.

I like to take a minute and remove all the tape and labels.

Maybe I'll return to the scene of the crime like a typical criminal?

Posted Thu Jul 24 15:48:03 2014 Tags:
Parasitized hornworm

In addition to watching a bush katydid top my grapevine, I've been enjoying a closeup view of life on the tomato plant right outside our front window.  Two weeks ago, a hornworm caterpillar showed up, and I left it alone, knowing that the leaf muncher would soon be munched in turn.  Hornworms are never a problem on our farm because parasitoid wasps kill them in short order, and this caterpillar was no exception.

Hatching parasitoid waspWhat was unique about this hornworm is that I noticed when the adult braconid wasps were ready to hatch from their cocoons.  Tiny black fliers on the immobilized caterpillar alerted me to the hatch, and I was able to watch as wasp after wasp pushed its way out of the top of each cocoon.

Just a few minutes later, I was treated to a viewing of a tiny gray treefrog on our hazel bush, and that afternoon, a female goldfinch visited our greywater wetland to gather cattail fluff for her nest.  When my eyes are open, I know that's a normal day in the life of our diverse homestead.

Posted Thu Jul 24 08:20:25 2014 Tags:
new recap mud tires for Chevy S-10

We decided to spend some of Anna's new book deal money on truck tires.

Four good sized mud tires cost us just under 300 dollars.

Posted Wed Jul 23 15:54:57 2014 Tags:
Potter wasp

Cannibal flySome of you may experience buyer's remorse.  I don't buy much, so I rarely feel that pang, but I do experience what I've come to call writer's remorse.  What am I talking about?  Imagine you polish a book to within an inch of its life, send it off to your publisher...and then a reader shares these astonishing pictures of beneficial insects from his yard.

The solution?  Posting those awesome images here on the blog so at least some of you will get to enjoy them.  The top photo shows a potter wasp storing a caterpillar to feed her young while the second photo is a cannibal fly getting ready to suck the juices out of a wasp.  Both are taken by Brian Cooper --- thank you so much for sharing, Brian!

Posted Wed Jul 23 07:48:45 2014 Tags:
Toyota Carolla wheel alignment front view

The big excitement for today was a wheel alignment in Weber city.

All 4 wheels for 59 dollars.

Posted Tue Jul 22 15:18:16 2014 Tags:

Grape and tomato raceWhen I strung up a simple piece of baling twine to guide our young grape vine to its trellis, Mark rolled his eyes.  Did I have to relentlessly reuse found material?, I could see him thinking.  What if the twine rotted out before the grape hit the wire?

Luckily for me, the grape vine took to its job with gusto.  Despite having been a mere unrooted twig only a little over a year ago, the plant settled in to grow like nuts.  I could watch the plant out the trailer window, and I just knew it was going to reach the trellis wire 7.5 feet above the ground in early July.

Then, one day, a bush katydid that I had written about in The Naturally Bug-Free Garden as mostly harmless nibbled the growing tip right off my grape vine!  I had warning too, having watched the same insect bite the end off a tendril just a few minutes before, but I wouldn't quite believe my eyes.  Could that sweet little insect have derailed my baling-twine experiment so quickly?

Bush katydidI snagged the katydid and fed it to our tractored hens (so there!), but the damage was done.  As with any plant that loses its top, apical dominance had fled and the vine began to branch out from lower buds rather than continuing its race for the sky.  But soon enough one shoot took the lead, and this weekend that grape finally reached the wire, proving my crazy reusing ways weren't flawed.

So much drama!  This is my favorite part about the growing area in front of the trailer --- since I can watch it out the window, I see every little bit of life that occurs, both good and bad.  I can hardly wait to discover whether, next year, I might get to watch grape fruits develop from tiny blooms right in front of my eyes.

Posted Tue Jul 22 07:35:05 2014 Tags:

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