I realized Monday that
I'd never explored all the way up the holler behind our farm. When
we first moved here, I didn't want to trespass on someone else's
property, but a year or so ago, the owner of that property mentioned
that he didn't mind if I walked there since we let his son hunt down
onto the adjacent parts of our property. So I set off with the
camera to explore.
Long-time readers will
know that our farm seems to completely lack rocks --- not so up the
holler! Before long, I came across mossy boulder fields,
rock-loving ferns and liverworts, and even a pretty waterfall.
Granted, our main creek was at flood stage, so this waterfall on the
little spur creek might not exist in dry weather.
about half a mile climbing straight up, an old tire in the creek
suggested I was approaching civilization, so I looped back toward home,
this time walking on contour along the side of the hill. Along the
way, I discovered another perfect stump-dirt tree,
but I had nothing to collect the prime potting soil in (and doubt I'll
climb that high with a bucket). This tree is an ancient beech just
like my favorite stump-dirt tree, suggesting that something about that
species makes the best potting soil --- I've rooted around in the rotten
center of many other trees without finding such black gold. Maybe
rotting beech wood hosts a particularly good species of fungus or
I'm afraid that after the halfway point, though, I stopped taking photos and started writing the sequel to Watermelon Summer
in my head. Oops. I really meant to write a non-fiction
ebook or two before scratching that itch, but it'll probably be good for
me to at least start another fiction piece while all of the lessons of
the first are fresh in my mind. And if people like the fiction, the sequel will be ready to go that much sooner.
I hope you're taking advantage of the winter lull to explore the wider world!
Another wet and cold day
inspired me to move some furniture around.
There's a reason I loved flipping through Organic Orcharding
before we got our farm --- it's a great book to dream by. Or, if
you want to pretend you're being scientific, you can use the excellent
charts for variety selection. For example, Logsdon recommends
starting your orchard planning by learning which species do well in
your climate. The map above hits the highlights, making it clear
that you really want to live in zone 6 or 7 if you plan to grow all
sorts of temperate fruits. Zone 8 is pretty good too, although
you'll need to choose low-chill apples and peaches, and colder zones
start restricting your choices pretty quickly.
Your next stop should be
Logsdon's excellent ripening-order charts, which I won't recreate here,
but which you can find on pages 28 and 50. While you're thinking
you'll also want to consider adding some winter storers so you can
enjoy homegrown fruit after the snows fly. Logsdon doesn't list
storage times for pears (the other good storage fruit), but he does
include a handy chart of apple storage periods:
|Average storage months
|Maximum storage months
|Rhode Island Greening
should take into account how much fruit your family can really
eat. Logsdon includes the yield figures below, which seem to be on
the low side according to some sources (which I've added
parenthetically). However, his figures might be the most realistic
for a chemical-free backyard orchardist.
- up to 1 bushel
- 3 bushels
- 10 bushels (up to 18 according to some sources)
3 bushels (up to 8 according to some sources)
|Peach or nectarine
|3 bushels (up to 6 according to some sources)
|Plum or apricot
|2 bushels (up to 6 according to some sources)
|1 bushel (up to 3 according to some sources)
I hope these charts help
you out if you're still in the planning stages. You may also get
some handy information out of my 99 cent ebook, Weekend Homesteader: December. Meanwhile, if you're ready to choose varieties and put trees in the ground, stay tuned for tips in later posts.
"Why should only the outside world get time off for bad weather?" Mark asked Sunday. Before I knew it, I'd agreed to a one-hour delay on Monday morning.
And it was
a good day to sleep in. A full weekend of rain had filled my
wheelbarrow rain gauge and set the creek into moderate-flood mode.
(Moderate flood means we can't get out with hip waders, but I could
walk nearly all the way to the ford without being impacted by high
water.) Don't worry, rust-phobes, I flipped the wheelbarrow on its
side after taking this picture.
The flood reminds me that
winter is a season of tough choices for homesteaders. Do you
relax and soak up the peace and quiet in preparation for next year's
growing season? Or do you take advantage of days without pressing
plants and animals to get some big-picture projects done? Mark
leans toward the first option and I lean toward the second, so we meet
in the middle --- we slow down some, but also slip in projects
non-essential enough that they never make the cut during the growing
season. (And I get extra time to write.)
Winter is also a good
time to catch up on blog posts that didn't make it into the summer
queue. For example, I seem to have never mentioned how I
experimented with tempting our seven-year-old-but-not-yet-fruited dwarf
Yellow Transparent to make fruit buds. The problem tree was slated
for removal this spring since it sent up scads of watersprouts in 2012
after I pruned to remove extensive cicada damage.
But I decided to tie each long, vertical twig into a loop instead, and
the trickery does seem to have promoted the formation of fruiting
spurs! I'll keep you posted next year about whether actual flowers
What big-picture projects are you slipping in between snow storms?
We took part of the morning
off due to the rain soaked ground and cloudy skies.
It might take another day or
two for the creek to go down, but the chickens seem to be making up for
lost time after being cooped up most of the weekend.
"The decision to start an orchard
involves a decision to stay put. The first plant you want to get rooted
in the earth is yourself. That's what makes home orchards so valuable;
where they abound, they speak eloquently of a stable and responsible
community, the first necessity of a healthy civilization and a happy
--- Gene Logsdon
I've owned a copy of Gene Logsdon's Organic Orcharding
since I was in high school, but I don't think I ever read it until this
year. I do recall flipping through the book and dreaming about my
very own fruit trees, but am pretty sure I skipped the all-important
chapters on pest control and didn't read the other how-to chapters with a
very critical eye. So I figured it was time for a more thorough
At the time, I also
didn't realize that Gene Logsdon was one of the great homesteading
authors who writes from personal experience, but with a dash of
experimental optimism. In fact, having read at least half a dozen
of his books so far, I'd say that Organic Orcharding is possibly his best --- too bad it's out of print!
Luckily for you, I plan to sum up the highlights in this week's lunchtime series. Stay tuned!
A month ago, when I erected quick hoops two through four,
one of our readers asked why I was devoting a quarter of that protected
space to Brussels sprouts. After all, the vegetable is supremely
cold-hardy, right? So wouldn't it be fine out in the open?
The photo at the top of
this post shows what happens to unprotected Brussels sprouts when
temperatures drop into the teens. The leaves tend to be fine, but
the sprouts themselves get nipped. Frost-nipped sprouts are
edible, but aren't quite as tasty, and if you don't eat them right away,
they start to rot.
In contrast, the photo to
the right shows one of the plants under the quick hoops. Lots of
tasty sprouts, undamaged by frost, and just waiting to be Christmas
dinner! We're eating the unprotected sprouts pretty hard right
now, even plucking the not-quite-solid heads, because temperatures are
forecast to droop back into the teens (or at least low twenties) this
week. Since Brussels sprouts are among Mark's top-ten favorite
foods, I haven't heard any complaints, but maybe that's because my
favorite Brussels-sprouts recipe starts with four slices of bacon....
In other Brassica-oleracea
news, it's also time to finish eating up all of the cabbages that have
been stored in the bottom of the fridge for the last month or so.
Our spring cabbages all go into soup base, but fall cabbages have more
life choices, sometimes being eaten plain as a raw finger vegetable,
sometimes being mixed with meat to make potstickers, sometimes getting
roasted (although they never taste as good as roast Brussels sprouts),
and sometimes going into experimental dishes like the
non-mayonaisse-based cole slaw I'm making above.
I clearly need to step it
up a notch, though, because we've got three heads left with outer
leaves turning brown that need to get eaten soon. What cabbage
recipes would you recommend for people who don't like traditional cole
slaw and don't enjoy sauerkraut?
The rain paused enough today
for me to go out and take this cattail comparison photo.
It's a lot less green then it
was 90 days ago....but it will be back in about the same time.
If all goes as planned, you'll get to read Watermelon Summer, my first young-adult novel,
in about a week. The title is courtesy of my father, who also
talked me out of my last-minute jitters and told me the third draft was
ready to fly. (After it gets back from the copy-editor, that
I don't have a cover yet (although I'm starting to envision one based on
a heart-shaped piece of watermelon), but I did add a few "Excerpts from
Thia's Notebook" to the back, of which the image here is one
page. As you can tell, the protagonist deals with some of the same
issues Mark and I have, although her solutions are often different from
ours. In fact, even though young adult isn't everyone's genre, I
think most of our blog readers will get a kick out of this little book
because it captures many truths about our homesteading experience that
are too personal to make it to the blog.
I'm going to use Watermelon Summer
as my first experiment with print-on-demand paperbacks too, although I
suspect it might take an extra week or two after the ebook becomes
available before you can buy a paperback. I may be dreaming, but I
like to imagine actual young people ending up with a copy of this book
and deciding that they want to homestead and perhaps explore the idea of
intentional community. Thus a print copy that's easy to pass
around and turn up in a used book store.
I hope you're engrossed in fun projects as well! Thanks for reading my ramblings.
It's been a year since I
talked about problems
with one of our chicken coops.
The new double nesting box
has helped with egg access, but I think I could've got away with just
one nest because the days I've noticed both nest boxes being used was
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