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For sale: Your new homestead

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Smallest wood stoves

Treating bees with rhubarb

Sep 2014

A year ago this week:

Miter saw weed trimmer

Do it yourself PVC snake pole

Harvesting hazelnuts

Two ways to pluck a duck

Sep 2013

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Queen of the hay pile

Our goat-jumping problem all started when Abigail informed me that late August grass was far too wet for morning tethering.

Abigail: "Did you ever notice that the words DEW and DEVIL look awfully darn similar?"

Me: "Um, no?"

Abigail: "Well, look it up! I wouldn't be surprised if they had the same Latin root. And while you're at it, stop making me wade through damp leaves before my coffee. Ugh! I'm wet to the knees."

Goat eating hay

So, in my neverending quest to produce the world's most spoiled herd of two, I conceded to our queen's demand.

Me: "What would you rather eat in the morning, your majesty?"

Abigail: "Sweet corn leaves, hand delivered to my paddock at dawn!"

Me: "You do realize that I can only feed you sweet corn leaves on the days we harvest sweet corn ears, right? How about some field corn leaves?"

Abigail: "Hmmph!!"

Cleaning out the manger

So Abigail and Artemesia were left in their paddock with only last winter's old hay in their manger plus sub-par weeds in the pasture. No wonder they wanted to climb the hay mountain and harvest this year's sweet, dried grasses in the warm, dry comfort of their coop.

Which made me think that perhaps resolving the feed issue would resolve the jumping issue. So I hauled every bit of last winter's hay out of the manger and used it to refresh the goats' bedding. (This isn't as crazy as it sounds since we bought this batch of "hay" in early spring when the feed stores were out of real hay and were selling what they called "wheat grass" instead. In other words, straw with some seed heads in it. The girls weren't fans.

Acrobatic goat

Anyway, with the manger empty, I filled its cavernous depths with 2015 hay that our girls appeared to be so enamored with. Then I opened the door so our goats could explore their new breakfast bar.

Abigail: "Finally! This is the kind of red-carpet treatment I deserve."

Artemesia: "Oh boy! Oh boy! If I jump up onto the hay pile and streeeetch across, I can eat out of the manger over top of Abigail's head!"

Goat conversation

Sigh. It looks like I need to have a chat with our bad doeling and see what makes her tick next. Good thing she's so cute....

Posted Fri Sep 4 06:52:33 2015 Tags:
Cat in the garden

My dirty little secret is that I'm a workaholic...until you leave me alone on the farm. Then I have a tendency to curl up with a book and a cat and not emerge for hours.

Since I had several items on my to-do list to complete while Mark was away at school, I figured I'd instead take the cat to the garden and see if Huckleberry is as good at prompting me to work as he is at telling me to play hookie.

Box turtle

Of course, once I'm outside, the wonder of nature always sucks me in. Tuesday, I was clearing off the butternut beds in preparation for planting oats. The weeds had grown high in the aisles and the remaining butternut vines turned this zone into a wild area, so I wasn't entirely surprised to find a box turtle happily hanging out amid the greenery (along with seven overlooked squash).

The rings on this turtle's shell tell me that she's about seven years old (not quite fully grown), and I amused myself for a while imagining that my totem animal had hatched right here soon after Mark and I started reclaiming our core homestead from the wilds. After Huckleberry said hi, I moved the visitor over under the hazelnut bush, where she can find some peace and quiet amid the comfrey.

Young oat cover crop

Next door, the broilers were already hard at work dismantling my earlier planting of oats at the feet of failing tomato vines. Mark and I put the brooder in this area because I assumed tiny chicks wouldn't be able to scratch up the plants before their roots became fully established. Apparently I was wrong! At only one week old, the Red Rangers are already prime scratchers, so I may have to write off some of the cover crops in this zone. Oh well --- no huge loss since we'll get to eat the meat.

Stalking cat

"You're not paying attention to me," complained Huckleberry. "This is boring. I'm going to take a nap."

Good call, cat. I guess it is time for lunch.

Posted Thu Sep 3 06:08:21 2015 Tags:
goat being bad again

My quick tarp protection lasted a whopping 4 days.

Oh Artemesia.....why do you have to be so Bad.

Posted Wed Sep 2 15:10:24 2015 Tags:

It's always handy when delving into a bee hive to spend a couple of minutes beforehand thinking through your goals for the operation. This time around, my plan was simple --- I wanted to check on the state of our two hives' honey stores to determine how much sugar water (if any) they need to stock up for the winter.

Active bee hive

The mother hive is shown on the left in the first photo in this post, and you can see the hardware is a weird Langstroth-Warre mixture. As long-term readers know, I've been trying to convert this colony from Warre to Langstroth boxes all summer, but the queen seems to want to stay up in the Warre box. The top photo in this conglomeration shows that Warre attic --- still disappointingly full of brood.

The good news is that the queen has finally at least started to lay in the Langstroth hive, suggesting I may be able to finish the conversion eventually. The two photos in the middle show frames from the top Langstroth super, some of which contain honey (mostly uncapped) and some of which contain brood. Yes, there is a lot less honey present than there was earlier in the summer --- we always see that pattern with a spring nectar flow followed by a summer dearth.

The third box from the top is shown in the bottom photo. The bees are still working on drawing out comb here, and they haven't even reached the Langstroth basement (the fourth box from the top).

So, the in-use area of this hive is primarily two boxes, much of which is brood. Yep, I need to keep feeding despite the fall nectar flow, and I should probably increase their ration from once a week to every time they empty the jar.

Warre hive

I didn't take as many photos of the daughter hive since it's much harder to pull out Warre frames and look inside. Like the mother hive, this colony has four boxes, and here all of the comb is drawn. But the daughter's attic is pretty much empty and so is the basement, so the bees are primarily working in the middle two boxes (just like in the mother hive). Based on weight, I'd say this colony might survive without feeding, but if I can track down my second feeder lid I'll probably put these girls back on the dole too.

I'm always disappointed when I have to feed honeybees, but it's not a surprise after a split and a swarm in the same year. On the other hand, it's reassuring to see such large numbers of workers in both hives, suggesting that if the weather doesn't cool too quickly they may do well on all of the fall flowers that are currently in bloom. So I'll provide sugar water and they'll stock up on wild nectar and pollen, and we'll both dream about honey next year.

Posted Wed Sep 2 07:22:38 2015 Tags:
Beans and nuts

Another Monday, another big harvest push.

Dirty butternuts

Curing butternutsThis week, my primary goal was to completely clear out the main butternut patch to make way for planting an oat cover crop. To that end, I harvested every squash, whether it was ready or not. The few that were still greenish will go to the goats in the near future, so they won't be wasted.

With over sixty new fruits coming in, I had to stand up the previous harvests' butternuts to make way for this week's graduates. The photo at left shows about two-thirds of our butternut harvest to date...but I've still got at least a dozen growing in other parts of the garden.

The good news is that our spoiled goats adore butternuts. Both girls turned up their noses at fresh mangels, Abigail likes carrots while Artemesia is less sure, but chopped, raw butternuts disappear down the goat gullet immediately. I guess I now have about four months of goat concentrates figured out --- excellent!

Field corn

Speaking of goat concentrates, I also harvested my experimental field corn planting. I put in a couple of rows of Nothstine Dent corn this spring mostly because our goats enjoy sweet corn leaves so much. We can only consume so much sweet corn, but I figured a bit of field corn could either feed the goats (if I lower my standards), the chickens, or family members who consume grain. We'll see who these new ears go to and whether the not-quite-so-sugary leaves are as much like goat candy as those of sweet corn.

Newly hatched sparrows

Finally, in unrelated Monday news, Mama Song Sparrow's third hatch is now underway! Two babies grace her hidden nest, deep in the raspberry canes, and both are so tiny they have to be sparrows instead of cowbirds. Here's hoping she has better luck raising her own species this time around.

Posted Tue Sep 1 06:28:50 2015 Tags:
hay bales in the barn

We got our final set of 9 hay bales hauled in today.

The Star Plate barn is full to the brim so these bales will go in the barn.

Posted Mon Aug 31 15:58:21 2015 Tags:

Goat on a stepping stoolThe rallying cry among those of us who ascribe to voluntary simplicity is "Things don't make us happy." Why, then, are materialistic habits so hard to break?

In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky both challenges and supports that rallying cry. She explains that money and possessions do make us happier...for a little while. If you by a brand new car or whatever else you've been craving, then your happiness levels receive an immediate boost. But that boost only lasts for a short period of time, at which point you tend to drop down to your normal happiness level.

Why? Because humans are extremely adaptable. Lose a leg, and within a couple of years the majority of amputees are just as happy as they were pre-surgery. Win the lottery, and that immediate elation is long gone by the end of twelve months. Even getting married --- which I've seen in other studies linked to long-term increases in health and happiness --- is only supposed to raise you above your own average happiness level for about two years.

Chicks on a rampThese examples are all types of hedonistic adaptation --- the human tendency to get used to both positive and negative changes in our lives. The good news is, you can counteract hedonistic adaptation, drawing out the positive effects of everything from that new handbag to that new spouse.

It takes conscious effort to extend the honeymoon period so you can keep savoring and appreciating the wonder of having fun-loving goats and cute, cuddly chicks on your farm, but the project is definitely worth the time. Similarly, if you've got some money to spend and want to go out and buy something new to make you happy, try selecting experiences instead of physical objects, and do so in small doses spread throughout the year rather than in one big chunk.

Or just be aware of your own tendency toward hedonistic adaptation and ask yourself --- "how long will that new wardrobe make me happy, and is that short boost in mood worth the expense?" The awareness just might be enough to help you achieve your goal of voluntary simplicity.

Posted Mon Aug 31 07:13:08 2015 Tags:
Huckleberry love
Huckleberry and his favorite cousin.
Posted Sun Aug 30 14:03:35 2015 Tags:
August harvest

The mercury dropped to 49 this past week, scaring me into thinking fall may be coming along a little faster than usual. Time to double down on preserving basil (the tenderest summer crop) and time to make sure the bees are ready for the winter.

Varroa mite test

I'll delve into the hives to check on winter stores next week, but for now I started with a varroa mite test. I expected the news here to be good since splitting and swarming both lower mite populations dramatically. So I wasn't entirely surprised to find only 5 mites beneath the daughter hive and 11 beneath the mother hive after 48 hours. Looks like our high-class bees came through for us again! (Now, if they'd just make some honey....)

Posted Sun Aug 30 07:25:33 2015 Tags:
covering hay with tarp

The goats have been bad again.

Somehow they figured out how to pull down a hay bale and use it to jump up to the remaining pile of bales.

Maybe this tarp will keep them out?

Posted Sat Aug 29 15:29:03 2015 Tags:

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