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Draining the rain barrelYour first frost has come, or it's due any day, and you're probably ready for winter's slowdown. But taking a few hours now to get your homestead in order will save a few days in the spring. Here are the items at the top of our winterizing list this fall:

  • Drain and put away hoses.
  • Drain rain barrels and return gutter water to the ground.
  • Run your mower and any other summer-only motorized equipment dry. This will make engines start much better come spring!
  • Pull up and put away tomato stakes and other garden supports. Discard those old, blighted tomato plants somewhere far away from the garden.
  • Wait until the leaves drop, then wrap fig trees and other plants you're trying to grow beyond their usual hardiness range.

Cover crops

  • Plant any bare ground with cover crops if you've got time. (I'll plant rye for another week or so, but only in areas that I won't want to plant into until late May 2015.) If it's too late in the year for cover crops, mulch heavily, preferably with deep bedding from the chicken coop so the manure will have time to mellow before spring.
  • Kill mulch new garden areas for next year.

Overgrazed pasture

  • Cull excess animals and move chickens off pasture. We let ours run in the woods during the down season, but others move their poultry into greenhouses. Tractored chickens can be kept on pasture over the winter, but you'll tear up the ground a bit. Four-legged livestock can be put on stockpiled pasture, or can be moved inside onto deep bedding. The photo above shows what will happen if you skip this step...and that's after the ducks were only on an overused pasture for one extra week!
  • Reward yourself for all this extra effort by ordering any new perennials you have planned for fall planting. Ah, dreams of apples and hazels....

I'm sure I'm forgetting some essential winterizing elements, but that should get you started. What else is top of the list at this time of year on your homestead?

Posted Sat Oct 25 07:54:37 2014 Tags:
hose collection

We got one step closer to being ready for Winter with today's hose collection.

Posted Fri Oct 24 15:20:40 2014 Tags:

Bad dog(Don't worry, no animals were actually harmed during the creation of this post.  I know I just ruined the dramatic impact of the story, but I couldn't have kept reading without that warning, so there you have it.)

Wednesday morning, Mark and I were supposed to go to the big city to get our teeth cleaned. Instead, we had to wrap our minds around the possibility of killing a dog.

Over the eight years we've lived way back in the woods, we've had only a handful of uninvited human visitors (good job, moat!), but nearly an equal number uninvited hunting dogs.  It seems like when hunting dogs get lost, they can feel Mark's good dog energy, and they come wagging their tails at our door.

Unfortunately, the two dogs I found beside the chicken coop Wednesday morning weren't wagging their tails.  One was sweet and submissive, but when I went to put a leash on her, the other dog growled and rushed at me with bared teeth.  Only standing tall and yelling with my voice in its deepest possible register prevented me from getting bitten, and I quickly retreated out of harm's way.

Good dogLuckily, the sweet dog had an owner's number on the collar, and I was able to catch his girlfriend on the phone.  She said her boyfriend was unreachable on a construction site, but she and her father would be right over.  We tied up Lucy just to be on the safe side, called the dentist to say we would be late, then settled down to wait.

When I finally heard the voices, father and daughter were fleeing up the floodplain away from the dog.  "He's never acted like that before," the girlfriend said, tears slipping out of her eyes.  Her father explained that he'd gone to put a leash on the dog, but had gotten bit for his trouble.  The teeth hadn't broken his skin, but the father still told us: "If you have to do something to protect yourselves or your animals, we'll understand."

We knew what he meant --- shoot the dog.  The trouble is, while we can be hard-hearted about chickens, dogs are people to us.  Did I ever mention that my brother once turned off Old Yeller partway through, telling me that was the end, because he knew what was coming and didn't want to have to soothe a grief-stricken sister?  Killing a dog in real life seems nearly unthinkable.

Preparing guns

But, as Mark pointed out after the dog's owners left, we also have a responsibility to our own chickens, goats, cats, and dog.  The biting dog had been lost in the woods for two days, and whether that was long enough for something like rabies to turn up or not, we had to protect the farm.  So we called the dentist once again to cancel, and then Mark went around checking on the state of our guns.  We didn't plan to do anything drastic while the dogs were simply resting at the edge of our core perimeter, but if they went after something, Mark resolved to shoot first and ask questions later.

Luckily, as I mentioned above, this story has a happy ending.  The dog's real owner couldn't be tracked down, but his hunting buddy could.  The young man showed up with a heavy stick, which he thrust into the dog's jaws as it came after him.  And as soon as the man snapped a leash onto the dog's collar, the canine calmed right down.  It turned out that the submissive dog was in heat, and the other dog was merely guarding his territory, but a calm, familiar face was enough to defuse the situation.  In the end, both dogs went home safely.

The moral of the story?  Have friends good enough to face down a possibly rabid dog to save man's best friend.  Or, maybe, have guns on hand to protect your homestead from four-footed beasts.  I'm not sure what I took away from the experience, actually, except for an overwhelming urge to sit in front of a fire with a cat on my lap, sipping some hot chocolate.  But I will be more cautious the next time I approach a strange dog...because hunting dogs sometimes bite.

Posted Fri Oct 24 08:00:56 2014 Tags:
goats on the porch

Today makes the 2nd goat escape so far.

How bad are they when they get out?

Not that bad...Artemesia yells a bit, but they seem fine once we tuck them back in.

Posted Thu Oct 23 15:42:34 2014 Tags:

Goats cleaning up a fencelineI was a bit disappointed by our goats' inability to eat a thicket of weeds to the ground, but I've been thrilled at how well they do at cleaning honeysuckle off our fencelines.  Every evening, after walking the girls back to their coop, I move five cattle panels into a new arrangement to prepare for the next day.  Two panels lean up against the honeysuckle-covered fence, and the other three (and two fence posts and a bit of rope) complete the enclosure.

The next morning when I bring the goats to their new pasture, Abigail runs right for the honeysuckle and Artemesia soon follows suit.  They gorge for a couple of hours, then chew their cuds, then gorge again.  By dinnertime, that side of the fence is bare of honeysuckle leaves (although some stems remain, proving that the goats will have to regraze the same areas next year).

Honeysuckle on the fence

For the sake of comparison, the photos above show yesterday's fenceline (left) and the edge of tomorrow's fenceline (right).  After reading that honeysuckle leaves are equivalent in protein and total digestible nutrients to alfalfa hay, I can understand why our girls do such a good job removing the wily vine.

Goat eating cattails

Back when I was just reading about goats, I hadn't planned to let our new livestock within our core homestead.  In fact, I was going to keep them at least two fences away just in case the tame deer (which is how I thought of them) escaped and headed for my precious apple trees.  Now I'm thinking that maybe I overreacted.  The only goat escape from my cattle-panel tractors has been when I didn't tie one panel securely and our little doeling slid out through the gap...then grazed right beside the fence until I put her back in.

Now I'm thinking that goats are like chickens --- they don't want to put in the energy to escape as long as you keep them fat and happy.  The big question becomes: Can we keep the honysuckle buffet coming all winter?  Only time will tell!

Posted Thu Oct 23 07:34:55 2014 Tags:
close up of cute newt

We used a kiddie pool for the ducks when we first got them, but it mostly got used as a place for frogs to meet and mate this year.

Dumping the pool was bad news for a bunch of late tadpoles, but we managed to transfer the above cute newt to the Sky Pond for his new Winter home.

Posted Wed Oct 22 15:29:13 2014 Tags:

Opening a fridge root cellar

"Would you mind putting up an article about the pros and cons of making and using your Fridge Root Cellar?" --- John

This is a very timely comment because many of you are probably trying to figure out what to do with all of those root crops (and fall fruits).  I'll hit the highlights in this post, but if you want to dig deeper, I've also set my ebook version on sale to $1.99 this week so you can learn the rest of the story for very little cash.  (I guess that would turn your replica into a $12 root cellar?)  And while you're over there, you'll probably want to snap up Low-Cost Sunroom, which is free today!

Humid conditions within a root cellar
Anyhow, back to the point.  The advantages of our fridge root cellar are pretty obvious.  It was cheap and easy to build and it really works.  I particularly love how accessible the contents are --- the cook in your family will be thrilled to be able to just pop open the door like you would in a powered refrigerator and remove a few carrots or a head of cabbage.  And the dampness of the earth means that your roots stay crisp and delicious for months after harvest.

Keeping a root cellar from freezing with a light bulb
$10 Root CellarThe downsides are relatively minor, but they are present.  We use a very small amount of electricity to ensure that the contents of our fridge root cellar don't freeze when outside temperatures drop below the mid-teens Fahrenheit.  If you lived in Alaska, you'd probably have to do a lot more.  And a fridge root cellar won't do much during the summer months, so you'll need a different storage method for your spring carrots.  (I just stick them in the real fridge inside.)  Finally, youtube viewers will call you white trash if you post a video showing how to build a fridge root cellar, and your neighbors might feel the same way, so this project is not for the thin-skinned.

I hope that helps you make your fridge-root-cellaring decision!  And I'd love to see some reader photos of your own incarnations of the cheap root-storage device if anyone's given our method (or something related) a try.  Email me at and I'll share your root cellars with our readers (and maybe even add them to the next edition of the book if they're unique enough!).

Posted Wed Oct 22 07:12:26 2014 Tags:
how to improve on the isolation coop design

We retired some old hens today.

They made it to the ripe age of 1.5.

We had some escapes during the process. I think that could be fixed by making the top of the kill coop so we could open only one half at a time.

Posted Tue Oct 21 15:42:11 2014 Tags:
Yellow jackets on fava beans

I've been noticing little snippets of cover-crop observations lately, none of which is quite enough to make its own post.  But maybe you won't mind a hodge podge.

The photo above shows how the yellow jackets are swarming around unopened fava-bean buds.  I assume they're stealing nectar somehow, a bit like the ants I noticed on okra flowers a few years ago.  Presumably unrelated to the yellow jackets, our fava beans have been blooming for weeks, but keep dropping the ovaries without setting fruit, so they might not be a good edible in our location after all.

Cutting oats for goats

Then there's the observation two of you made in comments, that the puny fava beans between my sunflowers are due to allelopathy.  I hadn't realized that sunflowers were allelopathic, but the internet suggests that is indeed the case, and that water dripping off sunflower leaves can carry chemicals that make surrounding plants do poorly.  I guess sunflowers aren't the best candidate for multi-species cover-cropping campaigns!

My last observation is four-footed.  Goats love oat leaves so much that I've been earmarking a large proportion of that cover crop for goat treats.  I can't help it!  I know the soil loves oat biomass too, but when Artemesia blats at me, I give in and provide any treat I can think of.  In case you're curious, my ability to spoil animals is nearly unparalleled....

Posted Tue Oct 21 07:28:10 2014 Tags:
shitake mushroom drying

I found several shitake mushrooms hiding in the weeds today.

They were a little too damp, but a couple of hours in the Excalibur fixed that.

Posted Mon Oct 20 16:18:59 2014 Tags:

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