"You know, my parents' house used to be a trailer," Kayla mentioned after I posted about looking for a few more trailersteaders to profile in the upcoming print edition of Trailersteading.
It turns out that her family home is an elegant example of turning a
mobile home into a beautiful and functional living space...but you'll
have to wait to read about that in the book.
Still, I can't resist
sharing some highlights from my tour. From a purely aesthetic
standpoint, I was taken by the canned goods that Kayla and her mother
have stocked away in their pantry (including lots of pickles from our
cucurbit overflow). And aren't ripening tomatoes always beautiful?
More functionally, some
of you might want to follow the family's lead and turn a yard-sale bed
into a beautiful bench like the one shown above. Just use the
headboard for the back and cut the footboard in two to create the
sides. Kayla's mom decided to make her own bench after seeing a
similar one selling for $150; in contrast, her version cost only about
$10 to produce.
On a similarly crafty note, I was so taken by the harmonious sound of Kayla's silverware wind chimes that I traded a chicken waterer
for a set to take home. When I first saw photos of these wind
chimes, I expected them to be a bit tinny like the cheap chimes you can
get from big box stores, but I was very wrong! Want a set of your
own? Kayla has four more already made and up for sale in her Etsy store.
Thanks so much for letting me invade your home and take photos, Kayla and Alice!
"Do you have problems with raccoons? My neighbor has tried chickens
for almost 10 years and every single time except this last time (when it
turns out the "hens" were roosters. Oy!) raccoons figured out how to
get into the chicken tractor (which is really very well built) and EAT
them. Got any suggestions?" --- Nayan
It's tough to make a chicken tractor light enough to pull and still strong enough to keep out predators.
The photo above shows how Kayla used movable screens to keep a hawk
from reaching through the mesh into her chicken tractor.
We recommend not trying to beef up your tractor to keep out raccoons. Instead, keep your chicken tractor very close to home (and get a good dog, if possible) to scare any potential predators away.
With raccoons, it's also handy
to make sure your birds eat any kitchen scraps very quickly. We
learned the hard way that raccoons will come for scraps and stay to eat
your chickens. Better a flock that only eats store-bought feed and
grass than birds with a more diverse diet who end up in a raccoon's
Brandy is the
original source of my kefir grains, and she's been experimenting with
wild fermentation for much longer than I have. So I was thrilled
when she offered to share a bit about her experiences...along with a
free starter culture for one lucky winner. Scroll to the bottom of
this post to enter the giveaway, but be sure to read Brandy's tips too. (And don't forget that you've still got a few hours left to enter our notecard giveaway!)
It's been more than five years since
my kefir grains arrived in the mail, packed in a small zippered bag
and looking all squished. I don't think I knew what was ahead then,
that it would be the one thing I'd keep up with through good times
and bad, through morning sickness and two new babies. My kefir
grains have traveled, too. After sharing them with dear local
friends, they've been packed up and shipped all over the country.
I'm still just as excited about kefir as I was when they arrived, so
I thought I'd compile some of my thoughts and favorite recipes.
I got the grains on a whim, thinking
it would be fun to try them out. I'd had some serious antibiotics a
few months before and I was not feeling all that great. I started by
making berry and peach smoothies and putting the kefir into biscuits.
I'm still doing that, and more. I haven't bought buttermilk in
years and I don't really buy much yogurt since Anna enlightened me on
differences. My stomach feels so much stronger, too.
Kefir makes a wonderful substitute
for buttermilk, even for those who enjoy buttermilk plain, and adds a
lovely leavening kick to quick breads. We put it in waffles,
pancakes, biscuits, smoothies, cobblers, coffee cakes, anywhere that
buttermilk would normally go. I've even used kefir cottage cheese in
place of ricotta in lasagna! My mother, who is gluten-free, enjoys
kefir as a way to add a yeasty taste to wheat-free baked goods. All
this is making me hungry, let's get to some recipes!
Kefir Ice Cream
simple kefir tutorial
those recipes sound good, you can get started on kefir in your own
kitchen. Enter the giveaway using the widget below for a chance to
win a starter culture, or buy your own for just $10 (plus $5 shipping) in Brandy's etsy store. Enjoy!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Nuts are notorious for
taking a long time to bear. For most species, you probably
shouldn't expect a harvest for at least a decade, and during that time
nut trees may spread to cover an area fifty feet in diameter. So
it's no surprise that many homesteaders instead turn to the bush growth
habit and relatively fast bearing nature of the hazel.
Of course, "relatively fast" isn't exactly speedy. Almost five years after planting, our unnamed hybrid hazel variety from the Arbor Day Foundation is finally starting to take off, and I was excited to see both male and female flowers on the bush this spring. I'd thought the latter dropped off, but
closer inspection this week turned up a few developing fruits nearly
hidden amid the foliage. Since only one of the three bushes I
originally planted survived, this bush is either self-pollinated or
(more likely) the wild hazels about a hundred feet away in the woods
provided enough pollen for everybody. No matter who the nuts'
daddy is, I'm excited to think that we'll get to taste our first
homegrown hazels this year after all!
Despite our bush's slow
initial growth, it has proven itself able to handle waterlogged soil, as
is evidenced by the "pond" in the photo above, which is actually a pit I dug to gauge groundwater levels and to elevate the surrounding soil.
Unfortunately, the two named varieties I planted in the starplate
pasture this spring have been less resilient in the face of heavy deer
pressure. Only one of the two bushes has survived and I recently
decided that the hazel would probably do better if transplanted into the
safety of our core homestead close to its cousin. In fact, I
might even dig the little survivor up now rather than waiting for the
usual transplanting season (after the leaves fall) since I'm not sure
how much plant will be left after a few more months of deer grazing.
Rambling aside, the purpose of this post is really to tell my father to go check on his hazel bush. Yes, you think
it's never born fruit, but I had to look really, really close to see
the developing nuts on my bush, so yours might have them as well.
Or you can wait a few more weeks until the husks turn brown and look
less like leaves, at which point I suspect the nuts will be more
Our good spatula broke in
two. I tried gluing it once, but it didn't hold for long.
It works okay like this...but
we lost a pastured beef meatball last week due to it separating.
Today I got lucky with
drilling a hole through both the plastic and metal and securing it with
some found hardware. With any luck this will put an end to any future
It turns out that a
like-minded neighbor was living a mere half mile down the road from us
all this time, and we only learned the extent of our similarities when
she got ready to move away. For health reasons, our neighbor is
having to return to her home state, and she decided that much of her
homesteading gear wasn't worth shipping south. Did we want a rocket stove, hand-cranked generator, solar oven (with one broken pane), and much more? Definitely!
I'm most excited about
experimenting with the rocket stove and the solar oven, while the
Chinese military-issue generator from 1972 tops Mark's list.
However, what I actually
used first was an item I thought wouldn't be much use to us here.
A simple wooden rack of drying trays makes sense if you live in a
climate where the humidity doesn't often hover around 80%, but if we
tried to dry food in such a device without building a solar dehydrator around it, we'd just grow mold.
Still, when I realized
I'd picked too much basil for my current batch of pesto, I thought ---
maybe the simple drying setup would work for herbs? I filled the
four trays with basil, oregano, chives, and Egyptian onions and will
report back in a few weeks once I discover which, if any, dry quickly
enough to maintain their flavor in our wet climate.
A huge thank you to our soon-to-be-ex neighbor for sharing the bounty with us!
An old hand cranked Chinese
military generator found its way back to us recently. (More on those
It was designed to power Army
radios in the field. Cutting the 4 pin cable reveals black, red, and
white wires. The red and white wires equal 30 regulated volts at 1 amp
and the red and black outputs 25 regulated volts at 2 amps.
I'm surprised at how
little effort it takes to create 12 to 15 volts. The first experiment I
want to do is hook up an additional voltage
to try charging a golf cart battery.
When Mark's gas-powered
died after only a couple of years of use, I decided to see if there were
any battery-powered chainsaws out there. It turns out that quite a
saws are starting to look like possibilities for homesteaders who just
need to cut enough firewood to get them through the winter. Is a
battery-powered chainsaw a good option for us (and for homesteaders like
While attempting to
answer that question, I came across many pros and cons for
battery-powered versus gas chainsaws. The major disadvantage of
battery-powered chainsaws is that they're not quite up to handling the
same extreme cutting conditions that gas-powered saws are. Most
reviews of even the best battery-powered chainsaws suggest that cutting
trees more than 9 to 12 inches in diameter (depending on the hardness of
the wood) might stress your saw, and you'll need to be pretty careful
with maintaining chain sharpness to get even that level of
cutting. Similarly, you can't cut all day with a battery-powered
saw since the battery usually gives out after an hour or two, and, in
the long run, replacement batteries usually cost over a hundred bucks
once the cell stops accepting a charge. (Of course, Da Pimp might extend that battery life considerably.)
On the other hand,
battery-powered saws have a major appeal for folks like us who wouldn't
usually be cutting for more than a couple of hours at a time
anyway. There's the quietness factor --- not only are
battery-powered saws silent when not cutting, they're much quieter than a
gas-powered chainsaw even when zipping through wood. We'd never
have to fight those ornery pull starters (that always seem to get harder
and harder to pull as a gas-powered saw ages), and maintenance in
general is likely to be much simpler with a battery model.
Homesteaders who go for months without cutting won't need to be as
worried about their saws if they opt for battery-powered versions since
there's no fuel to go bad, and battery-powered saws probably cause less
overall pollution than a typical two-stroke gas saw. Finally, a
battery saw definitely feels safer since the motor isn't running at all
as you move between areas to cut.
Is the pleasantness factor worth the lack of power? We received a review saw from Oregon to see if we can answer that question. Stay tuned for a bunch of posts from Mark as he experiments with our trial saw,
and for a later post from me explaining how we narrowed down the
battery-powered chainsaw choices out there. In a few weeks, I hope
that we'll be able to tell you whether or not a battery-powered
chainsaw is worth the expense for homesteaders.
We tried out the new Oregon battery powered chainsaw today.
I was very impressed with the
power. We cut down a medium sized walnut tree with no problem. We also
cut up some small pieces for an upcoming Rocket Stove experiment
It's nice to not need ear protection.
Even though I'm quite happy with my current cover-crop campaign (explained in depth in Homegrown Humus), there are some gaps I want to fill in both the book and in my own protocols. Time for an experiment!
Part of this year's cover-crop experiment is going to take place off-farm. As with any gardening book, Homegrown Humus
is largely based on my own experiences, which means that people who
live far away may have slightly different results. So I tracked
down ten readers scattered across the U.S. who were willing to accept
free packs of cover-crop seeds in exchange for putting my experiments at
work in their own gardens. Seed packages went in the mail last
week for folks living in zone 5 and colder, while everyone else's seeds
will be mailed out tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to
learning how buckwheat and sunflowers do during "cold" months in the
Deep South and how oats, oilseed radishes, and fava beans fare all over.
"Fava beans?" you may be
saying. "You haven't mentioned that cover crop before." Very
astute of you! In fact, fava beans are the other part of this
year's cover-crop experiment --- trying out a new species for our farm.
I've read a lot about fava-bean cover crops on permaculture blogs, but
the legume seems to be hardy primarily in zones 7 and warmer.
Since we live in zone 6 (and sometimes have nearly zone-5 winters due to
our north-facing hillside), I figured fava beans were out of our
league. But why not push the envelope?
To that end, I soaked Windsor fava bean seeds for speedy germination,
then planted 0.625 pounds in several different locations around the
farm. Soon I'll know if fava beans are worth the high seed price
($12.75 per pound once you factor in shipping), whether they can handle
clayey soil, whether they will survive in waterlogged ground, and
whether they do well when mixed with oats and oilseed radishes.
Stay tuned for updates!
you want to be part of future experiments? I usually post this
type of opportunity to our facebook page, but even if you're already a
fan, facebook might not be showing you our updates. Be sure to
click the like button at the bottom of our posts when you notice them if
you want to be sure to see them on your news feed in the future!
Didn't check back soon
enough and unread posts ran off the bottom of the page? See older posts in the