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Apr 2015

Most visited this week:

Refrigerator root cellar step 1...dig

Refrigerator root cellar chimney cap

How many batteries do I need for my solar panels?

Moth pupa in the soil

Building a bee waterer

Apr 2014

A year ago this week:

Late-blooming apple varieties

Nutritional benefits of maple syrup?

Cutting cattle panels

Chicken-proofing livestock panels

Apr 2013

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pulling up a young Zee star apple tree

We tried adding Zestar to our high density apple trees last year.

Not sure what went wrong. There was no signs of life during our Spring inspection and when I tried pulling on it there was almost zero root resistance.

Posted Sun Apr 26 15:47:08 2015 Tags:
Goat licking lips

Whoever suggested that Abigail wouldn't be as able to hold back her milk if I handmilked rather than using the machine was right. I wasn't able to test the hypothesis until I got my milking technique down, though.

Pint of milkBut Friday morning, after Abigail stopped letting down milk for the machine to suck up, I decided to just try handmilking a few squirts to see how much I'd get. The result? A full pint for the morning, 50% more than I'd gotten the day before.

Actually, I probably could have stripped out a little more milk, but I figured if Lamb Chop was used to a huge breakfast, I shouldn't take it all away immediately. Plus, Abigail wiggled and grumbled a lot more when I began squeezing her teats compared to when I simply let the machine gently suck out her production. I figure everyone will be a little more used to the new routine tomorrow, and hopefully I'll get yet more milk.

"But what about your problematic wrists?" you may be asking. Apparently, milking half of one goat (after the machine does the other half) is nothing compared to the weed-grasping I've been doing lately. I didn't feel a single twinge, so am quite comfortable squeezing again tomorrow. Such a pleasant surprise to be able to handmilk our goat and to enjoy extra milk for our nightly hot cocoa!

Posted Sun Apr 26 07:14:43 2015 Tags:
IBC rain barrel water junction

We added a 2nd tee to our IBC rain barrel to accommodate another gutter.

Posted Sat Apr 25 19:01:08 2015 Tags:

Hunting PenniesI accumulated so much book news that I have to take a break from my usual garden geekery and goat obsession to share. I hope you don't mind this commercial break....

The first piece of book news is a freebie today only, so I hope you'll consider snapping it up! My father has been writing poetry for roughly half a century, and I've spent a lot of the winter and now part of the spring sorting huge boxes of his poems. The result was five themes that threaded through his works, and Hunting Pennies showcases the first of those themes --- growing up poor in Appalachia in the 40s and 50s.

I generally figure that Appalachia is at least a decade behind the rest of the nation culturally, and Daddy's poems definitely showcase things most of us probably don't remember, like an era when housewives saved their rags to sell to the ragman and when boys ran nearly wild in the hills and rivers. I could write a lot more, but the book is free, so I'll only add --- I don't even like poetry and I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so give it a try!

TrailersteadingIn other news, the paper version of Trailersteading is up for preorder on Amazon...and, look, Artemesia made the front cover!

Look inside trailersteading
The interior is also looking good, and I'm very excited to get my hands on a copy of my third print book. Trailersteading isn't due to ship until the winter, but Amazon gives a preorder price guarantee. So if the book goes on sale anytime between now and when it ships, you'll get the lowest price available. I hope you'll consider taking a chance on a book that has inspired hundreds of homesteaders in ebook form already!

Finally, I have to close by begging for a few reviews. Most of all, I hope you'll consider leaving a review of my father's poetry book if you take a look and like what you read. Those early reviews make or break a book, and since poetry is already a very hard sell, I figure Hunting Pennies needs all of the momentum it can get.

Second, I've been a grumpy guss all week because my efforts to reach a wider audience by setting Farmstead Feast: Winter free last week backfired badly. Sure, I reached tens of thousands of new readers, but many seemed offended by the very idea of homesteading Bad review(and of eating meat), with the result that I received a flurry of negative reviews. So if you read and enjoyed the cookbook but didn't think it was worth taking the time to leave a review on Amazon, you'll improve my mood markedly if you take a minute to rate the book. Plus, Mark would like to thank you in advance for improving his standard of living since he's always the one in charge of talking me down off the the-world-hates-me ledge....

Posted Sat Apr 25 07:35:26 2015 Tags:
mark Coop scoop
scooping good dirt from bottom of coop

We scraped enough chicken dirt from the used pallet chicken coop to fill multiple wheel barrows.

It was the total from 4 years of accumulation, and it gave Anna the feeling of being at the beach.

Posted Fri Apr 24 16:17:44 2015 Tags:
Goat eating oats

Our next garden-experiment-that-I-may-live-to-regret is solarization. I'm trying all of these experiments for my upcoming soil book, but this one was also spurred on by my fall oats cover crop not dying as expected. I suspect the uncharacteristic overwintering ability of the oats came about because I grazed it repeatedly in the fall, which kept the plants at a vegetative state rather than ever getting close to flowering. No matter why the oats survived, I was left with a conundrum --- how to turn that area back into plantable ground without tilling up the oats or lots of hand weeding?

Garden solarization

Solarization might be the answer. The idea is that you prepare your beds (in my case by letting Abigail eat the oats as low as she could and then begging Mark come in with the weedwhacker to finish off the job), then you stretch a piece of clear plastic tight over the ground to bake what's left behind. Solarization only works during the sunny part of the year and can take anywhere from one to three months to kill weeds and pests in the earth. Of course, the biologist in me says --- what's to prevent solarization from killing all of the beneficial soil microorganisms too? And, since the plastic dropcloths often used for solarization aren't UV-stabilized, will we end up having to pick plastic out of our soil when the greenhouse layer disintegrates in the garden?

Weighing down garden plastic

Mark always rolls his eyes when I poke holes in techniques I haven't even tried, so I shrugged and decided to give solarization a whirl. Worst-case scenario, we'll have a biologically dead bed that I can perk back up with some well-behaved cover crops and compost. Best-case scenario, we'll have a bed ready to plant into in June with very little work on my part. Stay tuned for more details as the experiment progresses!

Posted Fri Apr 24 06:59:21 2015 Tags:
pulling up black berry roots

We deleted 3 more peach trees and our thorn less Blackberries today.

Posted Thu Apr 23 16:08:24 2015 Tags:
Goats in the garden

We finally hooked up the temporary electric fencing as a way of leaving the goats alone in the garden unattended. Okay, so I sat with the herd for an hour first while Lamb Chop learned that the fence bites (this took four tries and he finally ended up lying in the middle of the temporary pasture with a very glum  look on his face). And even after that, I checked in every five minutes just in case. But both Artemesia and Abigail came from electric-fence-friendly households and gave the netting a wide berth. No need to re-up any training there.

Fence charger

When Daddy "lent" us this electric fence system, he included a solar charger. I'm no sure if the battery had died in his charger while it had been sitting in his shed for a few years or what, but we had no luck getting the solar charger to work. A new plug-in charger won't let us fence the goats as far afield, but it worked like a charm (even though Mark had to test the wire with his fingers since our fence tester apparently doesn't work either).

Figuring out grounding rods was the other part of the endeavor that left us scratching our heads for a while. The instructions suggested pounding in three grounding rods six feet deep and ten feet apart. We instead settled for one grounding rod pushed about 18 inches into the ground so it will be easy to move to the next location, which seems to be quite sufficient in our wet ground.

Goat learning an electric fence

The electric fence will definitely have a niche in our goat-grazing campaign, but I have to admit that I find tethering simpler to set up and easier to manage. Sure, Lamb Chop can't nurse while he's tethered, and it would be tougher to tether goats in areas with high weeds or brush, but for grazing little corners of our core homestead, the tethers seem to be the way to go. After all, I don't trust our girls alone in the garden even with an electric shock standing between them and my cabbages, so I might as well just let them graze while I weed and keep my blood pressure low.

Posted Thu Apr 23 07:11:20 2015 Tags:
mounting fence charger to temporary pole

A scrap piece of 1x6 makes a good place to mount an electric fence charger.

Two small drywall screws poke out about 1/4 of an inch to hang the charger on.

Posted Wed Apr 22 16:05:55 2015 Tags:
Mulch paper

It feels a bit decadent to be trying out this store-bought mulch paper, even though the price per square foot is comparable to the cost of straw. On the up side, unlike other manufactured sheet mulches, this paper is reputed to be fully biodegradable, so we won't have the issue that black plastic causes, where you're picking your "mulch" out of the soil for years to come. On the down side, the paper won't add nearly as much organic matter to the soil as straw would, water penetration may or may not be an issue, and I'm not sure how the paper will fare once the areas beneath the weights begin to rot away. That's why we're only experimenting on a small scale.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have even tried it, but the last year has been so absurdly wet that I've finally ended up carrying in my mulch half a bale at a time on my shoulder. After daily mulch walks, the garden is starting to shape up and my stamina is much improved...but I know I won't be able to keep up with the weed pressure of a summer garden. One roll of mulch paper will take the place of several bales of straw and might serve as a stopgap measure while we're waiting for either the weather to dry out or for other people to find time in their busy schedules to work on our driveway.

Cardboard mulch

Of course, cardboard mulch is much preferable to any kind of paper, especially amid the perennials. The tree row above hasn't been weeded yet this year, but it's looking pretty good regardless due to cardboard laid down last fall. In a perfect world, I'd add mulch on top of the cardboard, but during this stopgap year, I've instead taken to weighing down the paper product with bits of prunings and other debris --- just enough to keep the mulch from blowing away in our non-windy climate. Cardboard is midway in carry-ability between the paper mulch and straw, the sticking point there usually being sourcing the waste product.

To cut a long story short, growing our own mulch has become much more of a priority this year. I'm actually cutting back on nonessential parts of the vegetable garden this year in order to have more room for cutting beds of oats, barley, sorghum-sudangrass, and pearl millet. There's nothing like a problem in the supply chain to make me want to become yet more self-sufficient in the garden!

Posted Wed Apr 22 07:30:13 2015 Tags:

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