The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

archives for 10/2008

The awe of living on a farm sometimes catches me so that I can barely breathe for a minute.  This morning was like that.

While walking Lucy, we ran across three wild animals in quick succession.  First, a fox squirrel sprinted out from under the van in the parking area, knocking both Lucy and me out of our meditative walk-trance. 

By the time we reached the bridge on the road (the one which has such low traffic that I usually walk down the middle and seldom see a car), we were back in the Zone, but we paused for a minute to peer over the side into the creek.  Down in the muddy water, a medium-sized snapping turtle slowly swam upstream, its metabolism lowered by the chilly morning temperature.

Finally, we walked back up the road and up our driveway to our wobbly footbridge.  About fifteen feet away from us, in a whirr of wings and slate-gray, a great blue heron pushed itself straight up out of the creek and into the air.

Although I stick to a purely rational belief in the world, sometimes I like to pretend a belief in spirit guides and similar occurrences.  If such were the case, what would a squirrel, a turtle, and a heron mean?
Posted Wed Oct 1 09:50:57 2008 Tags:
Daffodil flowerWhile wheel-barrowing a load of cushaws into the house yesterday, I remembered a fall chore I'd completely forgotten --- digging daffodils.  Daffodils are a fact of life here at Wetknee Farm, one of the few remants of the previous owner who left decades before we arrived.  When we first came to the farm, we discovered that daffodils had spread out from the old homeplace to cover nearly an acre of good garden ground.  I gave away hundreds, sold hundreds, and ended up transplanted another thousand or so out of the way. 

Now the garden is once again encroaching on my daffodil patch --- time for a daffodil giveaway!  Drop me an email by clicking on the "Ask a Question" link at the top of the page by Sunday night, and on Monday morning Mark and I will draw a name out of the hat to be the lucky winner of 50 daffodil bulbs.  Be sure to mention the daffodils, your email address, where you live, and how you heard about us in your email. Be aware that we can't send the bulbs out of the U.S.

The picture below shows 20 of the bulbs --- as you can see, they are all sizes.  To read more about them (or buy some if you lose the giveaway), visit our native plants website.  Thanks for playing, and good luck!

Daffodil bulbs
Posted Wed Oct 1 10:33:08 2008 Tags:
Okra seedsLast year's garden was a big success, but we started running out of various frozen veggies around Christmas time, and I vowed to do better this year.  In some ways I did --- the freezer is packed and I think we may manage to make it all the way through until spring without buying fresh produce.  But I also made a rookie mistake, allowing the garden to expand beyond our ability to care for it.  In the process, I let some things slide, saving seeds being foremost among the slippage.

With the frost approaching, I set out to collect some okra seeds.  Of course, once I slit the drying pods open with my thumb and flipped out the textured seeds, I realized that I couldn't save okra this year after all --- I planted two varieties together and okra readily cross-pollinates.  Still, I managed to gain a few intriguing pictures out of the process, so overall it was a success.

Varieties we loved:
  • Beans, Masai --- delectable!
  • Okra, Clemson Spineless --- also delectable! 
  • Onion, Copra Hybrid --- started them from seed and got a great harvest!
  • Onion, Egyptian --- perennials make stunning green onions which even folks who don't like green onions adore
  • Pea, Eclipse --- makes delicious shelling peas and lots of them!  Vastly better than the Little Marvels we tried last year
  • Pea, Mammoth Melting Sugar --- delectable snow peas, and heirlooms so if I'd gotten my act together the way I did last year I could have saved the seeds....
  • Squash, Butternut --- we tried all of the winter squash varieties we could think of this year, and plain old butternut is the tastiest and the lowest maintenance
  • Strawberries, Honeoye --- Wow, wow, wow!!!!!!!

And were disappointed by:

  • Cabbage, Jung "Babies" mix -- the plain big green ones (Early Flat Dutch and Jersey Wakefield) were tastier, though these were cute
  • Garlic --- don't plant the bulbs out of the grocery store.  I'm here to tell you it doesn't work.
  • Lettuce, Batavia --- on the advice of Mother Earth News, we tried the red and the green Batavia lettuces in hopes of getting non-bolting summer lettuce.  And they didn't bolt, but they did get bitter fast and, lettuce snobs that we are, we didn't like them enough to eat.
  • Okra, Red Velvet --- I'm sure if we hadn't been spoiled by Clemson Spineless, this would have been fine...
  • Strawberries, Fresca --- you can start them from seed and they bear constantly all year, but they just aren't tasty.  I pulled them out.

Okra pods

Read other posts about saving seeds:

Posted Thu Oct 2 19:59:22 2008 Tags:

Ford PostThe only thing I want to add to Anna's post about building the ford with cinder blocks would be a close up of one of the fence posts that we hammered in next to some of the blocks. These posts got sunk into the ground several feet, which is what anchors the whole structure and prevents any shifting of the blocks. If I had to build another one tomorrow I would use the slightly chipped discounted bricks as I'm sure now that you would get the same effect.

Here is a short video clip of a leaf crossing the ford just because it can. I think this leaf is proof that Autumn has established a firm foot hold back in the woods here.

Posted Thu Oct 2 20:32:01 2008 Tags:
root cellar holeThe best thing about working a part time job from home is that when Friday rolls around, you might have only one hour left on the clock.  You can read in bed until 10 am, feed the animals, and still be done working by noon.  Oh, glorious day!

After lunch, I dug about a third of the potatoes in preparation for the frost which keeps warning but never quite happening.  Despite all of the good advice on uses for those potatoes, I'm going with an entirely different option --- I'm trading them to my co-worker for winesap apples out of his orchard. 

Before long, though, my brother Joey showed up with his big pickup truck to help us haul some gravel for the driveway.  In the two years since we'd put gravel down last, some muddy spots had arisen, and gravel prices had also risen sharply.  Still, a pickup truck load of gravel cost less than $20 and filled in three trouble areas.  Mark went back to get a second load while I made us shitake-topped pizzas with homemade crust and homemade sauce (from tomatoes the neighbor traded us for two massive cushaws).  Joey got to work stringing an ethernet cable and extension cord to his yurt four hundred odd feet away from the trailer in the woods.

Types of Gravel
  • Crush and run (or crusher run) is commonly used on driveways.  This is a mixture of different sizes, all pretty small.
rip-rap pile
  • We opted for 2.5" rock, which is a better value for muddy, new driveway-type areas.  You get less sinkage into the mud, meaning that you don't have to put down gravel as often.  This might look odd on a city driveway.
  • Finally, for those really wet spots and near the creek where gravel would just wash away at the first flood, we recommend rip-rap which is bigger gravel up to a foot or two in diameter (as seen in the picture.)  You'll see rip-rap along the highway used for erosion control.

It's going to be an exciting week --- we're learning to kill chickens tomorrow at a friends' house, and then when we get a chance we'll plant the fancy garlic that came in the mail today.  The picture above is another preview of coming attractions --- Mark and I have been poking at digging a spot into the hillside for a little root cellar whenever we had a spare minute for the last few weeks.  We're nearly ready to start laying blocks! 

Posted Fri Oct 3 21:10:53 2008 Tags:

I made the mistake of telling a friend this morning that I was going to be killing chickens today, forgetting that she was a vegetarian.  So, fair warning --- vegetarians, you'd better move along.

First signs of fall on the Clinch
First signs of fall on the Clinch Mountain (and space to protect the weak of stomach.)

Today was my third lesson in chicken slaughter, and Mark's second.  We were both amazed by how our feelings have changed over the last few months, from "ew, yuck!" to "this makes sense and I'm ready to do it."  Chickens have become livestock to us --- animals which you take good care of but don't name for the obvious reason.

View into our chicken tractor Today, I slit three chickens' throats, dipped one chicken in boiling water to loosen its feathers, cut off one chicken's feet, watched as our friends threw them all in the automatic plucking machine, and (the hard part) disemboweled and cleaned three chickens.  There was blood --- an unbelievably bright red pooled in the wheelbarrow where we let the chickens hang for a few minutes and bleed dry before beginning to process them.  But the only part that really freaked me out was the second throat I cut which I don't think I did the best job on.  (And the dead chicken smell which lingered on me until I took a hot bath when I got home.)

Mark's going to post a video summing up the chicken processing operation this weekend, so I won't go into the details here.  I was shocked, however, by the reactions to chicken killing videos I'd seen posted on YouTube --- a good half of the entries used a lot of profanity to tell the video-maker that they should die like the chicken did.  Is our society really so cut off from the food chain that we're willing to buy a chicken sandwich from McDonalds but aren't willing to even consider where the meat came from?

(The chickens pictured above are all still alive and kicking, by the way, in our tractor.)

Read other posts about killing and eating your own chickens:

Our chicken innovations have also included a homemade chicken waterer.

Posted Sat Oct 4 19:46:05 2008 Tags:

Yesterday was a very educational afternoon for me. It was the second time this year that I got to see first hand how a chicken goes from happy clucking to all plucked out in a matter of minutes. I had my trusty video camera going part of the time and managed to capture several of the steps in this rather detailed process.

I've decided to share two of those steps with you in this short video clip.Plymouth Rock

I really enjoy a good chicken dinner, and I already feel more connected to my personal link of the food chain thanks to this experience. I owe a debt of gratitude to our friends for sharing their clever set up and operation with us. I was especially impressed with the powerful chicken plucker they built which is featured in the video clip above.

We have talked about taking the rest of the chicken footage and putting together an instructional video for those who need to know more. Stayed tuned for more information on that.

The chicken pictured is one of our Plymouth Rock cousins, and she was not harmed during the making of this post and will most likely live out a life of leisure here on the farm with a few of her egg laying sisters.

Read other posts about killing and eating your own chickens:

Our chicken innovations have also included a homemade chicken waterer.

Posted Sun Oct 5 14:53:18 2008 Tags:

I started to write a lengthy manifesto about how even back-to-the-landers and other crunchy types get sucked into the consumerist trap.  I wrote about how Mark and I valiantly strive to steer clear of the consumerist world by dumping the TV, living in a trailer, and so on and so forth...and I could see every reader quickly clicking on an ad just to get away from the endless drivel. :-)
Bare ground So let's stick to specifics, why don't we?  You've probably seen raised bed kits promising you the ease of uncompacted soil which requires no tilling, prevents the spread of crabgrass and other rooting weeds, and protects the fertility of your garden for only $50, $200, or even $800.  This is one of my pet peeves since I can personally attest that you too can have the delight of raised beds for the all time low price of...drumroll please...$0!!! 
Chicken tractor
The first step in building a new raised bed is to break up the soil.  I'm getting ready to plant garlic in an area where I'd had potatoes this year, so after I dug the potatoes I ran the chicken tractor across the new ground for a week or two.  The chicken poop will fertilize the soil, providing phosphate which my soil is a little low on and which garlic loves. 

Begin to dig the aisles

Once the chickens have been moved on to their new location, I start to dig the aisles, mounding the dirt up onto the area where I want the bed to be.  I dig the very top layer of soil only since this is the good stuff full of organic matter.  Don't put clay in your raised bed!  The whole point is to get a double helping of top soil.

Lucy in the aisleIn my garden, I try to to keep beds running in perfect rows, but this bed will be at an angle to the other beds since it would otherwise bisect one of Lucy's paths.  I've learned the hard way that it's a lot easier to plan your beds around where the dog runs than to try to train the dog to run somewhere else!

The first year, my raised beds ended up too close together.  The more space you have in the aisles, the happier you'll be when it comes time to mow weeds.  The picture below shows my measuring system --- both the bed and the aisle should be as wide as the handle of the shovel is long.  (It's always handy to use your tools as measuring implements rather than running inside for a tape measurer.)

Measure the bed

Bed fully dugThe picture to the left shows the completely dug bed.  Notice that I've dug a bit of an aisle on all sides, even the sides which will butt up against lawn or other new beds.  Aisles prevent rooting weeds from wandering up onto the edge of your bed.  Whenever I got lazy at the edge of previous beds and let them run straight into the surrounding "yard", I was sorry!

Add wood ash

I added a light sprinkling of wood ashes to my dirt next since garlic likes neutral soil and my soil is slightly acidic.  Wood ashes will also add a bit more phosphate, which is a plus.

Rake the bed

Now it's time to rake your bed.  Pull the rake through the soil repeatedly, breaking up any clods of dirt and pulling out roots.  The more you rake, the fewer weeds you'll have coming up in your new bed --- rake as long as you can stand it!

Raked bed

The fully raked bed has all of the roots and debris removed and has the soil broken up into relatively fine particles. 

Dig trenchesNext, I use the hoe to dig trenches into the bed.  These can be very shallow if you're planting something like carrots, and can even be ignored altogether when broadcasting lettuce or greens seeds over the whole bed. 

Place bulbs

I use a trowel to dig a little deeper to plant each garlic bulb.  This is the same technique you might use to plant bulbs in your yard without digging up the grass. 

Always stay in the aisles

Notice that I never stand on the bed and always keep my weight on the aisles.  One of the major benefits of raised beds is that the soil doesn't become compacted because you never walk on it.

Hoe the trenches closed.

Once all the garlic bulbs are planted, I use my hoe to drag soil back in to close up each trench.  Then I tamp down the soil gently with the back of the hoe as seen below.

Pat the bed down with the hoe

The finished bed

Here is the finished garlic bed, made and planted in an hour or two at no expense.  I will add compost and mulch as needed, but won't till up this bed again so the soil microorganisms will build up to high levels. 

Two year old bed

The bed to the right is a two year old bed which I just pulled old corn stalks out of.  I'll rake it and mulch it well for the winter, then in the spring it'll be ready to rake and plant.

So there you have it --- a free raised bed made with simple hand tools!  I hope you'll give it a try.

Posted Sun Oct 5 18:24:54 2008 Tags:

A mile or two up the road and down a steep driveway live some of our favorite neighbors.  The farm is home to two couples, a movie star, and sometimes other folks who stay variable amounts of time in this intentional community, this farm land trust.  Due in part to our proximity and common ideals, but also because Mark's aunt and my parents moved in similar circles twenty or thirty years ago, they've taken us under their wing and often include us in their community events.

The neighbor's lemon tree
Our neighbor's lemon tree, which he told us is currently loaded down with 91 lemons.  We hope our tree will reach this stature someday!

PotatoesToday Mark and I played hookie in order to help the movie star harvest his sweet potatoes, setting me off on a mental tangent about community.  I asked him today what it was like to live on the farm, and he first told me it was "a pain in the ass" --- he is after all a movie star and thrives on making people laugh.

More seriously, though, he compared the intentional community to a marriage or business venture.  When two or more people work closely together in enforced proximity, he explained, they each have to compromise a little.  Living in a community helps you grow and become a more interesting person.

winesap applesIn the two years Mark and I have lived on the farm, we've started to put down roots, to build our own community.  Yesterday, I traded my unwanted potatoes (which turned out to be Kinnebecs --- I was confused about which variety we like and which we dislike) to my co-worker for a mass of winesap apples.  Today, we collected some honey from the movie star in exchange for helping with his bees a few months ago, and some Yukon Gold potatoes (the kind we actually like) in exchange for helping with his sweet potato harvest. 

In the farm world, it seems like communities are built on trades --- trades of labor, produce, or advice.  And despite the delicious tang of those winesap apples, it's not so much about what you get as about what you give.

Posted Mon Oct 6 18:19:07 2008 Tags:

I would like to thank everyone who entered our free raffle for 50 Daffodil bulbs. 

The lucky winner is Holly Dukes. I shot a 15 second video of the drawing you can see here.actual bloom

We still have some bulbs left and are willing to part with them while supplies last. You can get 20 shipped to you for 15 dollars, or for the more value minded out there we are offering 40 for 25 dollars. Go to our Native Plant website for more information.

Daffodil bulbs multiply very nicey when given the right conditions, and they keep popping up every year. They are deer and rodent resistant because all parts of the plant contain alkaloid chemicals that are very bitter and can be toxic if eaten.

Make sure to check back later in the week for another contest involving strawberry starts.

Posted Mon Oct 6 18:46:17 2008 Tags:

Chicken in the grassToday's experiment in simplicity was cooking an old rooster.  The neighbor of our chicken-slaughtering buddies asked them if they'd be willing to kill and dress two of his old roosters for him, but when the neighbor came back and saw what the dressed chickens looked like --- all legs and no breast --- he said no thanks and left the roosters behind.  Mark and I are always up for a challenge, so we took one home to cook.

I did some extensive web searching last night, looking for some advice on how to cook old roosters.  Besides "Coq au vin", which looked like it'd take me hours of hard work to prepare, there didn't seem to be many choices except hints to cook it slow and long.  So I decided to make up my own chicken stew, basically pretending I was making chicken stock and then throwing in some extra veggies at the end. 

Peering henAt 8:30 am, I put the whole rooster in a pot of water with a few chopped onions and garlic and some parsley and thyme out of the garden.  (I've found that parsley can be substitued for celery to good effect in nearly all recipes and is much easier to grow!)  Then I slowly simmered the budding stew for about eight hours. 

By then, the meat was falling off the bones and I was able to strain out the solids and then remove the hard bits easily.  I threw all of the meat back into the juices, added carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes and simmered about half an hour until they were soft.  Then I turned off the heat and threw in some frozen corn and peas from this summer.  A bit of salt and pepper and the stew was done!  A delicious meal for eight out of free ingredients --- our girls wish we weren't quite so empowered.

Farmstead Feast

Read other posts about killing and eating your own chickens:

Our chicken innovations have also included a homemade chicken waterer.

Posted Tue Oct 7 19:56:35 2008 Tags:

I first subscribed to Sirius satellite radio a little over 3 years ago and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. I was doing a fair amount of traveling at the time and it filled an empty place I was having from the deletion of television from my entertainment diet. car

In addition to commercial free music Sirius has a nice selection of talk radio choices that allow the listener to participate in national discusions that sometimes involve callers from other countries. In my opinion the problem with these stations is the high level of commercials in between your entertainment.

The real end of my love affair with satellite radio was when we got high speed DSL internet back in the spring. It took me a couple of months to discover the magic of cyber radio, but once I did I was listening to the little Sirius box less and less until one day I decided it just was not worth 13 bucks a month. What really pushed me over the edge was when a friend told me about This site takes most of the guess work out of choosing between the many different shows. What I find especially convenient about this method of delivery is the multiple time zone choices.

sat cartoonThe real hero of my low budget entertainment world is the good people at Netflix. We spend 14 dollars and some change each month for the 2 movies unlimited option which usually works out to about 2 or 3 films per week. What I like most about their service is the easy to use website and impressive selection of titles.  They have a new on demand feature that lets you watch movies instantly over the internet. It works pretty good, but it only works with Windows XP or Vista and then you are required to use the Explorer web browser. I've heard they are working on a Mac option, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

Everybody knows how cheap your local library is, except when you rack up excessive late fees.

Posted Wed Oct 8 19:57:44 2008 Tags:

DeesThe last few weeks have had everybody wondering about the future of our economy. Common sense says that hard times will require a good deal of sacrifice. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to predict that one of the first areas most folks will feel the squeeze is in higher fuel costs. This post will be an attempt to share with you what I've learned about building your own electric powered vehicle.

I'm sure everybody has seen those futuristic looking hybrid cars on the road, and I'm also sure that only a small percentage of you have the extra cash to spend 40 thousand dollars in an effort to save a few dollars at the pump. There is a lot of information on the internet these day about home made electric transports, and a good place to begin is EV Here you can find an easy to navigate collection of projects including electric powered bikes, motorcycles, cars, and trucks. There's even a guy who managed to get a small tractor working with a golf cart motor.starter motor bike

The cheapest way to get moving with electric power is to convert one of your pedal powered bikes. There are some nifty kits available that use a small motor that attaches directly to the hub of your bike wheel. These packages start at around 300 dollars and can go up to a thousand and more depending on battery size and motor power. I've heard of several people adapting starter motors to power a bike chain, and if you're lucky you might be able to get a bike motorized for less than 50 bucks this way, but be prepared to walk home a few times before you get it perfected.

hondaThe next step up in electric mobility would be converting a motorcycle. The average low end cost seems to be about 1500 dollars with some people managing a bit under that and most going several thousand over. You can expect to get somewhere between a 10 and 50 mile range on each charge depending on road conditions and how good your batteries are.  

The holy grail of electric locomotion would be the elecrtic car/truck. Once you find the right car to convert and take out its gas powered engine you should be prepared to spend at least 10 thousand dollars and 100 or more man hours to get something reliable. The maximum range people seem to be reporting is around 50 miles, which will most likely improve as battery technology gets better. At the time of this writting the most popular vehicle for this type of conversion is the Chevy S-10 truck.

I considered what it would take to replace our old Isuzu farm truck's engine with an electric motor. Once I priced the motor, batteries, motor controller, battery charger, and other various items I concluded that it would be easier and cheaper to just buy a used golf cart. We found one on Craigs list a few months ago and have been pleasantly surprised at its performance crossing our creek and dealing with the muddy conditions here. Of course it doesn't have the same power as the four wheel drive truck, but it's a breeze to get unstuck if you have someone pushing from behind, and sometimes it just feels better to get by with less.

Posted Thu Oct 9 23:12:54 2008 Tags:

Foggy webIt seems that over the last three days, rainy cool weather has made the leaves start to turn and fall.  I couldn't resist snapping a few gratuitous nature shots as I walked Lucy this morning.

I've always loved the cup-shaped spiderwebs which show up at this time of year at the edges of fields, especially when they fill with dew and turn into sparkling white nets in the grass.

Katydid on SassafrasI also caught a dew-covered katydid perched on a brilliant sassafras leaf.  Although friends nearby had a frost last week, we never dropped below 33 F, and the crickets and katydids started calling again when the nights warmed up.

Posted Fri Oct 10 09:47:04 2008 Tags:

Leaves collecting on the fordIn one of my all-time favorite books --- Taran Wanderer --- our hero stumbles upon a family which provides for its members by stringing up a big net across a river and then collecting whatever the river provides every day.  The image really struck my fancy when I first read the book in middle school, and now as the leaves begin to catch in clotted masses along the edges of the ford I'm inspired to try my hand at the same thing.
Capturing leaves in a seine
Last night, I captured enough leaves by hand to fill five 5-gallon buckets, then spread them across the tops of my empty garden beds.  Last year, I covered a few beds in this manner and they produced the richest soil which resulted in beautiful onions.  I only covered a few beds, though, because I had to carry the wet leaves by hand a quarter of a mile from the ford to the house.  This year I resolved to collect more.  So after I scooped up the leaves which were already stuck to the ford, I strung up an old seine we had in the barn and left it overnight to steep in creek water.

Carting the leaves home
When I went back to check on my net this afternoon, it was bulging with its heavy load of leaves.  A tiny watersnake was resting in one of the net's folds, but I wasn't fast enough to catch it on film.  Once the snake safely slipped away into the center hole of an old cinderblock, I gathered the seine closed and lifted it into the golf cart, then zipped home to spread the leaves on my garden.  A few crawdads crawled out of the mulch and I fed them to our ever-appreciative chickens.

I really wanted to include a quote from Taran Wanderer here, but unfortunately I read the first part of the series to Mark's cousin when she was in grade school and she liked it so much that she stole the whole compilation from me.  So you'll just have to go look up the book for yourself....  And, if you'd rather read facts about using leaves as mulch, check out You Bet Your Garden's page on the subject.

Posted Fri Oct 10 19:16:53 2008 Tags:

This week's question comes from Laura in Cincinnati Ohio.

I wanted to ask you if you have a generator for your deep freeze?  I got to thinking about this after the storm a few weeks ago.  A lot of people in the tri-state area here would have lost their harvest without one.

I have had the same concern since I started seriously freezing food last year. A couple of months ago I started doing some research on how much a generator would cost us and what type we should get. carrier

We settled on a Champion 3000 watt generator from Home It sells for 349 dollars plus 40 bucks for shipping. I tried calling the local Home Depot store to see if I could order it and pick it up there. The woman informed me that they only carry Coleman generators in the store and online items had to be shipped to your house. We placed the order 10 days ago and if everything goes as scheduled it should show up sometime next week. Once it's here we will fully test it and post a review to let everyone know how it performed.

It is possible to make your own generator from an old lawn mower engine and a car or truck alternator. I found this site that provides some advanced tips on such a project. I considered giving it a try a few years back and decided it would cost just a bit more money to buy a new one.

Posted Fri Oct 10 20:29:00 2008 Tags:

Honeoye StrawberriesI was thrilled by the number of you who dropped your name in the hat for last week's daffodil giveway!  Mark thought I should add a note before this week's giveaway, though --- just in case you're worried, we don't sell your contact information, and actually don't use it for anything except for emailing you if you're the winner.

With that out of the way, let's move on to this week's giveway --- strawberry sets!  Email me your name, email address, general location, and how you heard about this giveaway by Friday night and we'll put your name in the hat.  The lucky winner will be announced on Saturday, and on Monday we'll mail you 50 strawberry sets, enough to start a wonderful home strawberry operation.  Unfortunately, we can't send plants out of the U.S. (though I've been reading the stats about the people who visit our site and am excited to see so many international visitors.  Now I know where Moldova is! :-) )

Jewel strawberriesI won't know for sure the proportions I have of each variety until I dig them, but I'll include Honeoye Strawberries (the absolutely most delicious strawberry you'll ever taste), Jewel Strawberries (my CSA customers told me this was the most delicious strawberry they'd ever tasted, but that's only because I kept the Honeoyes for myself), and a few Ozark Beauty Strawberries.  Honeoye are early June strawberries, Jewel are later but still spring-bearing, and Ozark Beauties are ever-bearing.  The picture of the berries above is stolen off the internet because my strawberries very seldom even made it into the house.  (Poor Mark needs to learn to wake up earlier if he wants to get any strawberries....)

Although many people plant strawberries in the spring, fall planting has definite advantages as long as you get the plants out before your frost and give them a little care during the winter.  If they get well established this winter, you can eat the strawberries next spring rather than having to go through a heart-wrenching season of picking off blooms so that your strawberries will grow roots rather than set a few berries and then keel over.  Read more about planting fall strawberries...

Posted Sat Oct 11 13:48:35 2008 Tags:

Newly harvested peanutsOne of the many reasons I could never move away from the farm is that I can be misanthropic at times and need absolute peoplelessness around me.  This has been one of those weeks, so today when Mark went over to help the neighbors harvest the rest of the potatoes, I stayed home and finished off Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale (which is one of the best books I've read in months, though I'm not sure if it would appeal to men.)

Having savored the last page, read every word of the acknowledgements, and pored over the author's biography, I had to give up and re-enter the real world.  Luckily, there's always something that needs to be done on the farm.  I still haven't finished planting all of my garlic, so I built and planted two more beds, then harvested the first peanuts I've ever grown in my life.

For those of you who don't know, the nuts on peanuts start aboveground as flowers, then burrow their way down into the dirt to develop into underground fruits.  Despite what some folks think, if your soil is soft enough there's no need to mound dirt up around them --- I did no mounding and my peanut plants produced very well.  Now I have to be patient and wait a few days for the nuts to dry since newly harvested peanuts have a mild toxin in the nuts.  Assuming the flavor is good, I'll be adding peanuts to my usual crop roster --- they were effortless to grow, survived relatively severe deer nibbling, and were a breeze to harvest.  Stay tuned in a few days for news of my first attempt to make peanut butter!

Posted Sun Oct 12 20:03:13 2008 Tags:

June CSA

I've been wanting to write a post about what we've learned from a summer experimenting with CSAs, but the taboo against speaking honestly about money has held me back.  Every time I start the post, I realize I need to go check on the chickens, or sweep the floor, or wash my hair.  :-) 

What is a CSA?

CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  Basically, customers pay a certain fee for a weekly basket of produce with the understanding that they will share the eccentricities of the harvest --- if the cucumbers all die of bacterial wilt (they did), then there won't be any cucumbers; and if the winter squash produce enough fruits to feed an army (they did too), then the customers will eat a lot of winter squash.  Customers get the benefit of fresh (organic in many cases) produce from a farmer they know and trust and farmers get the benefit of cutting out the middleman and being able to depend on a definite income in a risk-prone industry.

Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA near you.  Or, as a first step toward learning to eat local, visit our What's in Season? page to learn what's farm fresh right now.

So let's get the money out of the way --- we've made $533 this year on our CSA and eggs, which is vastly less than the $3,260 we've spent on the farm this year.  (Though, that last number is not really a valid comparison since it includes everything from chicken feed and seeds to fence materials and the generator we just bought.  Gotta keep more detailed records next year.)  We would have made more, but two of our three customers spent several months out of town.

What have we learned? 

  1. CSAs are cost-efficient when you have one nearby customer, become a pain in the butt when you have 2-5 CSA customers scattered across the region, and presumably become cost effective again at a certain number above that (though we never tried to get that high.)
  2. Our rural customers are not interested in paying a lump sum up front to be a member of a CSA.  But they are willing to pay $25 a week to get a basket of whatever goodies are in season.  They understand that the basket will be bigger some weeks than others.
  3. July CSA
  4. It's a waste of time and energy to ask your customers what they like and dislike.  Chances are, the things they "dislike" will actually be eaten quite readily if you give them some useful cooking hints and minutes-old produce.  That said, on our very small scale it's good to ask them the next week what they liked the most from last week's basket.

What will we do next year?  We'll stick to our one nearby customer --- having an extra $100 every month makes everything nicer and is really no more work than gardening for ourselves.  Mark wants to try out a cash crop next year (maybe pumpkins or sweet potatoes) to bring in a bit more "egg money" instead.

Posted Mon Oct 13 18:53:36 2008 Tags:

foamhengeIt's almost been a year since I first discovered Foamhenge, and I look forward to the day when I can return. It's a good low budget day trip if you live semi-close to Lexington, Virginia. The admission price is zero and it's just a mile north of Natural Bridge Park with a very pleasing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the back drop.


Foamhenge has been around since 2004 when Mark Cline partnered with the people at Natural Bridge Park to bring his vision to life. Out of all the stonehenge replicas in this country Foamhenge is rumored to be the most accurate when compared to the condition of the modern day original in England. reports that Mr Cline even went so far as to fact check his measurements and design with the man who gives tours at the original stonehenge.

zuzaWe have already decided to add next year's Renaissance festival at Foamhenge to our social calender. It's going to be mid September and the admission price will be 5 dollars. Enchantment Faire is the name it's going by and it looks like a lot of medieval fun complete with maypoles, human chess, and one thing I'm really looking forward to seeing close up...a trebuchet. You may even be given the opportunity to learn the secrets of casting a Gypsy love spell if you are able to capture the attention of Madam Zuza, but I urge caution when dealing with Mystics you've just meet.

Posted Mon Oct 13 19:30:02 2008 Tags:

bankerThe stock market is making everybody nervous these days, and what's most unsettling for me is the multi level explanations that are being offered up on the radio and web.  I wished I had paid more attention in Mrs Lane's Economics class back in high school. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is a bit fuzzy on all the details of last week's stock market crash.

Not too many people out there are using the "crash" word to describe last week's events, butroubini Nouriel Roubini is. He points out that the combined equity loss of last week equals the equity loss of the two day 1929 crash. He is also well known for predicting our current collapse within financial circles...but he was off by two years. He was predicting this to happen back in 2006, and when it didn't his credibility suffered, but now everyone is paying attention to what he has to say. I like his views on using some of the bailout money for infrastructure building in an effort to create jobs, and his new blog is my new first stop when I want to get up to date information on the economy that's not sugar coated.


Posted Tue Oct 14 16:32:45 2008 Tags:

Pullets (and a young rooster)I woke at dawn yesterday to a rooster...duet?!?

That's right --- one of our white cochin "pullets" isn't quite a pullet.  Actually, I wasn't shocked --- two days before, I'd noticed that one of the "pullets" was significantly bigger than "her" sisters.  The young rooster is already growing a much bigger comb than his siblings.  And yesterday morning he started to crow in a choppy little squawk, mimicking the adult rooster in the next tractor over.

Guess that means our weekend plans will be a bit bloody....

Posted Wed Oct 15 08:46:15 2008 Tags:

Apple ciderAfter giving away, saucing, and drying two thirds of our traded apples, I've been pondering making cider out of the rest.  Mark suggested seeing what the juicer would do with them, but I creased my brow and denied its utility for all I was worth.  "We'll have to cut them up and it'll take hours!" I moaned, thinking of the cider press a friend has offered to lend us.

But, in the end, Mark's reasoning prevailed.  He reminded me that another friend had tried out a similar press recently and found it to be more trouble than it was worth.  Add to that the fact that the presses weigh a ton (not quite literally), and it suddenly looked more interesting to try home juicing.

Despite what other folks will tell you, there's no need to cut out bad spots, cores, or stems before making cider.  Just cut your apples up enough that they'll fit in the juicer (quarters in our case), mash them in, and cider will come pouring out the other end.  Wait a little bit and skim off the foam and your cider is ready to drink.  (Don't fall for the government's line that you risk dying a horrible death if you drink unpasteurized cider --- cooking the cider makes it taste like apple juice and my stomach at least can handle a few germs in the pursuit of good flavor.) 

The end result --- both of us were right.  It took me about 45 minutes to turn a fourth of a bushel of apples into a little less than half a gallon of juice, but that's probably about the same amount of time (or less) than it would have taken to use the press.  I still had time to crack out a bunch of raw Chinese chestnuts to make pesto for supper (a pesto that Mark and I agreed tasted much better than pesto made with walnuts!)  Even though the garden has slowed down, it looks like we'll be busy squirreling away apples and chestnuts from friends for another few weeks yet.

Farmstead Feast

Posted Wed Oct 15 20:06:14 2008 Tags:

Darth BaneDarth Bane: Path of Destruction and its recently released sequel Darth Bane: Rule of Two are adventures into the very depths of the dark side of the force that will give the reader a fresh new perspective on the age old battle between good and evil. The evolution of Darth Bane from hard working cortosis miner to Sith Lord unfolds in a way that gives you some true empathy towards our anti-hero's path of trechery and deception. I actually found myself cheering for the dark side as our hero/anti-hero struggles to understand the true potential of this awesome power.

The story is set in a time three thousand years before Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. A period of time when the Sith numbers are many and the rule of two is somehow lost to the ages. A rule that allows only one Sith Lord to exist at a time with one apprentice. One to embody the power, the other to crave it. It's pure Star Wars excitement as you get to see the Sith Army deal with a genuine misfit and troublemaker within their ranks. Drew Karpyshyn has a real talent for weaving intergalactic characters together in a way that feels natural and intoxicating at the same time.Darth Bane 2

The sequel begins the story of Darth Bane's new apprentice, a spunky 10 year old girl who has had some tough breaks in her short life. This is the character that gives the series its balance and provides a fantastic perspective on the dark side from a female point of view.  I would guess if George Lucas made this story into a movie as it is the people at the ratings board would have to give it an R rating just for the brilliant manner in which the dark side gets depicted and glorified. I wonder if my own personal allegience to the Jedi order would be as strong if I had experienced this story when I was nine years old instead of the first Star Wars movie back in 1978?

This is my first book review, and the above links will take you to an page if you're interested in buying a new or used copy of this story. Amazon is a solid company that has never given me any trouble when I've ordered from them. We get a small percent of your purchase as one of their new affliates, so thanks in advance if you choose to support us in that way.

Posted Thu Oct 16 10:13:42 2008 Tags:

We have a hen that was nearly killed by the other hens and our rooster a couple of months back. Anna was ablerooster 1 to separate her, and we nursed her back to health. She usually gets let out during the day after she lays her egg because she is all cooped up by herself and we figure she can use the company.

Today we thought she was ready to go back in the main tractor and decided to switch her out with the rooster who has been increasingly aggressive lately. It took about 2 minutes for the group to recognize and remember the new hen before they began attacking her. We got her out of there before any major damage could be done and decided she would be okay roaming around with the rooster.

henIt took the rooster about 20 minutes before he decided that our free range hen needed to be eliminated. He started chasing her across the garden and cornered her by the collapsed old house. He then started attacking with a vengeance. We quickly returned her to the lone coop for an afternoon of recooperation.

I think we've decided to delete the rooster from our flock. He causes more trouble than he's worth, and we can always find another one when we get ready to incubate some more eggs. In the meantime we'll let him roam around and enjoy his last few days of freedom before his judgment day.

Posted Thu Oct 16 16:18:11 2008 Tags:

Take a look at Mark's post below and then tell me what you think.  So far, I agree with Mark that we should eat the aggressive rooster --- when he tore the inch in diameter gash out of the back of our lone hen's head a few months ago, I just about whacked him then and there.  But then we'd be roosterless! 

So, time for a poll!

What should we do with our roosters?

View Results
Free web poll from Free Website Polls

Posted Thu Oct 16 16:36:47 2008 Tags:

Proposed Virginia City power plantThis morning, Mark and I followed coal trucks up the highway to go to court in Wise.  We weren't in trouble, but some friends of ours were --- young people who had chained themselves to barrels last month to protest the construction of a coal-fired power plant which is being built about ten miles from our farm, and about two miles from another coal-fired power plant.  (The picture to the left is the power company's idea of what the plant will look like, with a little smoke photoshopped in by me to make it more realistic.)

Unfortunately, prevailing public sentiment in our region runs pro-plant.  We passed a massive yard sign a few miles up the road from the power plant site which proclaimed "Elect McCain-Palin --- they support coal!"  Although our region (in my biased opinion) is one of the most beautiful spots in the world, Wise County is also the most economically depressed county in Virginia and its residents are quick to believe the full page ads Dominion has taken out in the local newspapers proclaiming the riches which will flow into our region once their power plant is built.
CCAN photo
Those of us who submitted comments to the DEQ, spoke up at public hearings, begged our elected leaders, and pummeled the local papers with letters to the editor made no headway in preventing the plant from receiving its permits (though we did reduce the permitted mercury emissions from 72 to 4 ppm.)  Eventually, hot, young heads cooked up an act of civil disobedience.  And even though I don't really approve of civil disobedience in non life-or-death situations, I ended up driving to the courthouse to show my opposition --- again --- for the power plant.

In the end, the judge agreed to give the young people fines, community service, and probation instead of the threatened jail time.  Most of them were taking time off college to come to the hearing, and they had travelled from across the U.S. both to chain themselves to barrels and, now, to pay for their "crime."  The county ended up taking in over $4,000 in fines and fees --- I always did say that tourism would be our region's saving grace. :-)

"I know what I did was illegal, but I do not think it was wrong," said one of the young women in her prepared statement.  Personally, I know that building a dirty power plant in a region with the highest asthma rates in the state and some of the lowest levels of healthcare infrastructure is wrong --- I just wish it was illegal.

If you want to read more, or help out, check out some of the major players in the battle:

Posted Fri Oct 17 16:50:49 2008 Tags:

DinnerWhile starting on supper this evening, I realized that I could only barely read the recipe for Butternut Squash and Egyptian Onion Soup in my recipe book because of an oil spill.  As I pondered recopying the recipe, I realized that others might like to try some of our favorite meals.

So I put together a page with some of our favorite recipes.  It's lacking photos right now, but I'll add them in (along with more recipes) as we cycle through the meals.  For now, wave hello to Huckleberry the cat who finally wiggled his way into a picture --- he's been miffed ever since he noticed that he didn't make it into the banner at the top of the page. :-)

Posted Fri Oct 17 21:36:13 2008 Tags:


White cochin rooster

And after....

Roast chicken

Our first home-made chicken dinner on the farm.  We feel self-sufficient!

Posted Sat Oct 18 20:55:49 2008 Tags:

I almost forgot to pull a name out of the hat for our strawberry giveaway!  The lucky winner is ---

Allyson Green

Congratulations, Allyson! 

We only had six entries this time --- Mark tells me that not everyone likes strawberries, which astounds me. :-)  Anyway, I'll put together a package of assorted easy flower seeds soon for our next giveaway, which should draw all of you flower lovers back to the fold.  Thanks to everyone who entered!

Posted Sat Oct 18 21:27:32 2008 Tags:

Dynamite Farming
I have often fantasized about using the destructive power of dynamite on a troublesome tree stump or two, always to be brought back to planet earth by comments like "That would be dangerous!" and "Where are we going to get dynamite from around here?" Thanks to the good people at Dupont you can educate yourself on the facts about farming with dynamite by reading this very informative and well written booklet.

Turns out it wasn't all that dangerous after all, and there's a lot more you can do on the farm then just blow up tree stumps. I won't spoil your fun by listing those goodies here, instead I want to direct you to the place where I found this valuable information. The home site of John Walker. This guy has been on the web since 1994! and has just earned a spot on my top 100 sites of all time. Eclectic would be a big understatement in attempting to explain all the wonderful information he shares.

Posted Sat Oct 18 21:43:42 2008 Tags:

Frosty leavesThree weeks ago, I thought for sure the frost was going to come early.  I scurried, I picked, I covered, I mulched.  But the temperature only dropped to 33 that night, and then warm days set in until I forgot all about the frost. 

Then, last night, the frost snuck up on me and took me by surprise.  I woke up to a sparkling white "lawn", the okra plants drooping, the last few tomatoes nipped back.  Now I scurried again --- this time to hurry up and get the rest of my garlic in the ground.  I'd been waiting on a new garden spot to dry out from a recent rain, but decided to save that spot for something else and instead planted in existing raised beds (with much drier soil) which were suddenly empty since the watermelons, green beans, and okra that used to live there bit the dust last night. 

While I planted, I was surprised to hear a steady rustling in the driveway which materialized into two men in camouflage.  I ran inside to get Mark (and don a bra) --- it's an unusual occurrence that we see uninvited visitors since the half mile walk to our house deters most.  These two guys were neighbors who we let hunt deer on our property last year, coming out to see if they could hunt again.  Since the deer are vastly overpopulated in our region (and eat my garden like crazy), we were glad to see them and quickly assented.

Frosty leavesOne of the men mentioned that he'd lost his second job, and was also battling cancer, and has two kids to feed.  I asked if I could send him home with some produce.  Sweet potatoes?  No, his kids wouldn't eat them.  Greens?  He had plenty in his own garden.  Green peppers?  There I hit the jackpot, since I have dozens of green peppers which must be eaten ASAP and don't really like them.  So I picked him a couple dozen, wishing I could do more.  It seems like he should be able to get a special hunting license which allows him to hunt out of season due to his need and the deer overpopulation....

The visitors told us that another neighbor whose property begins where our property ends recently killed a bear and a "black panther" on his land.  I'm glad to hear that they're really here --- I know that a real farmer would consider them a threat, but I'd rather share my property with any large predators who can survive here.  On the other hand, I'm a bit devastated that they got shot, especially the bear since I wonder if it was the mother of the cub Lucy (our dog) treed this summer.

Hunting season and frost --- I guess summer is really over.

Posted Sun Oct 19 16:55:56 2008 Tags:
I would appreciate any information you could send me -weblinks, etc., on the filtration and the treatment system you use for your well.
                                                --- Dennis, Florida

Maggie floating in the creekOur property is rich in water, but none of it is safe to drink.  We have two creeks which work great for irrigating the garden and a hand-dug well which people presumably drank from decades ago.  Unfortunately, the well tested positive for coliform bacteria.

Coliform bacteria, while not necessarily dangerous by themselves, are a sign that the water has come in contact with the fecal matter of a mammal at some point, and thus mean the water isn't safe to drink.  Many people who drink from shallow wells or springs build up an immunity to the problematic bacteria, but we didn't want to risk it, especially since it would mean that guests might get sick drinking our water.  So, for the first year and a half, we carried our drinking water into the property a gallon at a time from a friend's house a mile down the road.

Then came the economic stimilus checks this spring.  We decided to see if we could get our drinking water system up and running for a couple of hundred bucks, and sure enough we did! 

After researching all of the options, I quickly decided that a UV light is the best treatment system for home drinking water --- actually, a lot of municipal water treatment plants are moving toward UV treatment and away from chlorine since UV is completely safe and leaves no nasty aftertaste.  The cheapest UV system I came across was the Omnipure Pacific from  We opted for the 1 gpm 6 watts sytem with ballast, and bought an extra light since the light has to be changed about once a year.

Our water treatment systemThe one thing you have to be aware of when installing a UV treatment system is that the water needs to be very clear for the system to be effective.  Any tiny grains of dirt suspended in the water will act as a shield, protecting bacteria from the light and making the "treated" water unsafe.  The bare minimum is to install a 5 micron sediment filter upstream of the UV light system so that the water runs through the sediment filter and is cleaned before running through the UV system.  You can get sediment filters just about anywhere, but we got ours from the same place to save on shipping.  In the end, our treatment system cost under $200.

Another thing you should consider when installing a water treatment system is your water source.  The system I've outlined here (and also the systems used to treat most municipal drinking water) are designed to remove only sediment and microorganisms.  If you pump water from a creek which gets pesticide runoff, the pesticides will still be in the water after you treat it!  So you're far better off starting off with groundwater (from a well or spring) and preferably also using water from a watershed which is completely forested.

We made one change from the normal installation procedure.  While most people would install a pressure tank which automatically kicks on the well pump whenever it gets low and leave the UV light plugged in at all times, we opted for a cheaper and lower power system.  Mark rigged up a reservoir above the kitchen sink to hold our drinking water.  Once a day or so, we flip the switch on the power strip which turns on the UV light and well pump and lets the water rush through the sediment filter and UV system to fill up the reservoir.  Then we turn off the power strip until the next day.  Used this way, we suspect our UV light will last for several years instead of just the one promised by the manufacturer.  And now we have clean, running, drinking water piped to our kitchen sink!  No more carrying frozen jugs of water for half a mile to the house in the winter.

Posted Sun Oct 19 20:12:02 2008 Tags:

Praying mantis on an onionI know I promised you all flowers for the next giveaway.  But...I lied.

Well, actually, I realized that I had some spare Egyptian onion sets, and that they would have to go in the ground very soon if anyone was going to use them.  It seemed a shame to waste them, so this week's giveaway is 10 Egyptian onion sets --- the bottom bulbs rather than the top bulbs (which means they should bear a lot more greens a lot faster.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Egyptian onions, these are some of my favorite garden plants.  The onions are perennials, and while you can eat the small bulbs most people grow them for the greens --- my CSA customers unanimously told me that even people who don't like green onions like these greens.  If you play your cards right, you can have green onions just about all year, and after the first year the onions will produce little bulbs at the top of the plant, each of which can be planted and will turn into a new onion.  Soon you'll have starts to give away to your friends!

Egyptian onionEgyptian onions are the base of one of our favorite recipes --- Butternut Squash and Egyptian Onion Soup.  I cut them up with parsley to go in the world's best egg salad (which I need to add to the recipe page once I do some measuring.)  They're also a great addition to a winter salad --- basically, you can't go wrong with Egyptian Onions. 

So, same drill as always. 
Email me your name, email address, general location, and how you heard about this giveaway by Saturday night and we'll put your name in the hat.  The lucky winner will be announced on Sunday, and on Monday we'll mail out your onions.  Good luck!

Posted Mon Oct 20 19:43:34 2008 Tags:

If you want a little reading to go with your breakfast this morning, check out Michael Pollan's most recent article in the New York Times: Farmer in Chief.  Or, as we did yesterday at lunch, listen to his interview on Fresh Air

Some of what Pollan says is old news, but he also has some really cool ideas, like a program which requires mitigation when prime farmland is turned into subdivisions just like wetland mitigation.  Or redefining "food" so that "junk food" no longer fits the definition and can't be served in school lunches, bought with food stamps, etc.  Check it out --- especially the specifics which start on page 7.

Posted Tue Oct 21 08:38:44 2008 Tags:

Maggie's veggiesMy mother and sister live in town, but manage to grow quite a bit of food in their backyard.  Maggie (my sister) sent me this photo today showing some of the peppers and tomatoes they harvested just before their first frost.

There's been a lot of talk lately (or maybe I've just started to listen) about urban gardening --- in the article I read this morning, Michael Pollan wrote about ripping out part of the White House lawn to grow organic veggies; the Freedom Gardens website brings the idea of the victory garden into the twenty first century; and urban homesteading has suddenly become a household word thanks to Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen's book The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City.

So, in the spirit of learning more about people who don't happen to have 58 acres to grow in, I thought I'd put together a little poll....

Survey Results -

Posted Tue Oct 21 21:36:48 2008 Tags:

We were invited last year to split a large order of shitake mushroom plugs by some friends and it turned out to be a very productive project. You need to cut some hard wood logs into 3 or 4 feet sections and then drill about 50 holes in each log. The next step is to hammer each shitake plug into one of the holes, pushing it in just below the surface of the wood. Then you pour some hot wax over the hole to seal it up and wait 6 to 9 months. We use a small kiddie swimming pool to soak the logs in water which stimulates fruiting. Our total number of plugs was around 500, which was a nice amount, but since they taste so good as a pizza topping I think we might double that when we get ready for the next round of plugging.
shitake mushroom
According to the Shitake Center some researchers have reported that a daily diet of 9 grams or 10 medium sized mushrooms can lower blood cholesterol levels as much as 45 percent. A highly purified polysaccharide fraction is being extracted from shitake mushrooms in Japan and is being used in conventional cancer therapy. Mushroom extracts have become the leading prescription treatment for cancer in Japan and parts of China.  Lentinan is what the shitake extract is called and it is generally administered by injection and has been used as an agent to prolong survival of patients in conventional cancer therapy.

Shitake mushrooms are listed as having antifungal, anti-tumor, and antiviral effects (The Biology and Cultivation of Edible Mushrooms) and are known to contain all eight essential amino acids in better proportions than soy beans, milk, or even eggs. Top that off with a good blend of vitamins A, B, B12, C, D, and Niacin and you have one heck of a food staple that's easy to cultivate and delicious to consume.

Posted Wed Oct 22 20:34:39 2008 Tags:

No deerFirst we're sacraficing roosters, now I find myself walking widdershins around the garden sprinkling a foul-smelling fluid on the ground.  I haven't resorted to witchcraft, though, in my attempts to repel the deer --- it just looks like it.

We're trying a new technique in our ongoing battle against the deer --- sprinkling aftershave where the deer are entering our garden.  We got the idea from a landscaper who told us to go to the dollar store and buy three different kinds of cheap cologne, aftershave, soap, etc.  The trick seems to be variety, so we plan to use a different kind every week or so. 
Today I circled the whole garden with the foulest aftershave I've ever smelled, and I was certainly repelled.  Now we'll just have to wait and see what the deer think of it!

Rather than turning this into one of those massive blog posts I'm guilty of, I'm putting a rundown of all of the deer repellant techniques we've tried on our new resources page.  Check it out!

We finally solved the deer in the garden problem, and the solution was so elegant we gave it a new website.  Check out our deer deterrent website for free plans!

Posted Thu Oct 23 11:15:19 2008 Tags:

First pullet egg!As I finished up my assignment for class, Mark came in with a big smile on his face.  I looked up, questions in my eyes.

Then I jumped to my feet, pulling the speaker cables off the desk in my haste.  There in his hand was....

...our first pullet egg! 

That's right, the little girls have started to lay.  The first eggs are always a bit small, but we know they'll get bigger and more numerous.  Soon we'll be swimming in eggs!

Posted Thu Oct 23 19:03:34 2008 Tags:

First garlic shootsThe first garlic shoots have slipped up through the leaves 19 days after going into the ground.  Already I can see a difference between the chunky shoots on this year's garlic and the spindly leaves which came up from the grocery store garlic I planted last year.

After my garlic failure this summer, I did some reading and learned that it's imperative to pick a garlic which is suited to your climate.  Not only that --- you should choose bulbs which were raised as close to you as possible since it can take multiple years for a variety which can grow in your region to acclimate if your specific bulbs were raised a few thousand miles away. 

So this time we covered our bases, choosing five varieties from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange which is at least in state, even if it is 300 miles away.  So far the results are promising, though as Mark noted we'll have to wait until we taste them all this summer to see if our experiment was a success.  For now, I'm enjoying watching fat garlic shoots reaching for the sky.

Posted Fri Oct 24 11:35:09 2008 Tags:
Anna Homecoming

silhouetted pokeYou know you're living in paradise when you go on vacation but leave early to go straight home.... 

Mark and I spent the last day and a half sharing a cabin with some friends on a mountaintop a few hours away.  We relaxed in front of a warm fire while fog encircled us and wind roared across the roof.  Brilliant yellow and orange leaves spun outside the windows as we shared a homemade feast derived from each of our farms.

And then Mark and I, by mutual consent, scurried home early.  Lucy bounded out to meet us with her whole hindquarters flapping from side to side, the rooster crowed a welcome, the chicken coops yielded up six eggs, and Huckleberry jumped into my lap and hasn't moved far since.

It's good to be home!

Posted Sat Oct 25 19:05:25 2008 Tags:

We have a four ton hand winch that really pulls more than its own weight around here. Some folks refer to them as a "come along", I call ours an essential tool for pulling a truck out of the mud, stretching barb wire tight, or bringing down an old house as you can see in this short video clip.  There are several varieties to choose from. The ones rated for two tons can be had for 10 or 15 dollars; we got lucky and found a four ton model for only 20 bucks at the Bluff City flea market. You should expect to pay somewhere between 35 and 50 bucks for the four ton if you want to order it online.

I have a designated gear bag for our winch that includes a heavy duty tow strap, a ten foot stretch of cable with loops onAnna with winch each end, and a good old fashioned chain. These items are needed to attach your winch to a tree, heavy duty vehicle, boulder, etc. Extreme care should be taken when operating any type of winch where several hundred or thousand pounds are being held. The cable can end up holding a tremendous amount of potential energy, and if there is a break or slip then that energy needs to go somewhere, and if you're in its way it might be the last mistake you make. I try to imagine the path the cable might take if it did break, and stay clear and make sure any bystanders are plenty out of the way.

Simon Faure invented a new kind of hand winch during World War 2. He named it the Tirfor and due to its unique design these winches are capable of working in any position, horizontal, vertical, or angled.  What really sets the Faure winch apart from a simple come along is its shear pin. When the machine reaches 125% of it's capacity a metal pin inside the winch breaks, alerting the operator that any more pulling would be dangerous. Replacement pins are stored in a compartment on the handle. Be ready to pay between 300 to over 1000 dollars for such a tool. More details can be found at this website.

Posted Sat Oct 25 20:38:56 2008 Tags:
Egyptian onionsCongratulations to Sherilyn in California for winning our Egyptian Onion giveaway!  I'm always intrigued to hear about other people's gardens, so was thrilled that Sherilyn gave me a rundown on her urban homestead:

We're here in So. Cal., land of earthquakes, wild fires and horrible train wrecks ~ we've survived them all. I have a small garden where I used to have the lawn. I plan to expand it and only buying edibles to plant in my front yard from now on. We also have snuck some ducklings on our property hoping for eggs in the spring.

I'm inspired by Sherilyn's hard work at rooting out the environmental catastrophe which is the American lawn!  Stay tuned for another giveaway soon....

Posted Sun Oct 26 14:17:10 2008 Tags:
Egg saladA week of heavy frosts later, our garden is pretty much barren.  We've got plenty of greens and lettuce, a few carrots, and not much else.

Luckily we spent the summer filling the freezer up with gallons of produce --- we hope enough to feed us until next year's garden overflows again.  All summer as I frantically harvested goodies, I looked forward to the ease of freezer cooking.  Thaw out a package of beans, nuke it, and eat five minutes later.  So restful....

What I'd forgotten in my dreams is that winter cooking has its own challenges.  Even though frozen produce is tastier than canned produce, it still loses that aura of garden which allows me to steam it and serve it plain.  Instead, my first batch of thawed green beans was a bit bland and disappointing.

Time to pull out the winter recipe book!  The next batch of thawed green beans, --- sauteed with garlic --- was heavenly.  No leftovers from that meal!

To get you all started on delicious winter eating, I've posted several new recipes, including the beans pictured above, parsley and egyptian onion egg salad, and baked sweet and white potato fries.  Enjoy!
Posted Sun Oct 26 14:50:39 2008 Tags:

Jim from Michigan wrote in to ask "Do you hunt?"

I have recently come to the conclusion that hunting around here makes good economic sense if you're a meat eater in this region and you have a freezer. We are in the process of shopping for a more suitable gun and have come to a bit of a fork in the road. 40 caliber or 9 mm? Any feedback from our readers would be appreciated.

The main factor in choosing to hunt is wanting to take an active part in the deer management problem in theseCat Gun parts. Another big reason is the self sufficient element of not relying on the grocery store for all your protein needs and having a desire for a more pure meat experience. I guess one more reason would be to someday enjoy a wild turkey dinner since all the hunters I talk to keep going on and on about how juicy and tasty a wild turkey is compared to the farm raised ones you get at the store.

I know everybody has heard this before, but I'm going to say it again. Keep all firearms well out of reach from any cats you may have hanging around your place. A cat cannot be trusted with a gun of any type. It's a well known fact that a dog would never even think of shooting its master...but a cat...well let's just say that a cat's loyalty is sometimes shaky at best.

Posted Sun Oct 26 21:17:03 2008 Tags:

The 4-hour workweekLast week, I posted a quiz asking our readers about the size of their vegetable garden.  I wasn't really surprised that 75% of the respondants use less than 40% of their potential growing area as a garden of any kind.  I was surprised by the reason, though --- time.

 In retrospect, I shouldn't have been so shocked.  Even Mark and I become starved for time, despite the fact that we strive to live as minimally as possible and only work 25 hours per week outside the home between the two of us.  So I couldn't resist checking out one of last year's New York Times bestselling books --- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.  As the blurb on the back says, "This step-by-step guide to luxury lifestyle design teaches how Tim went from $40,000 per year and 80 hours per week to $40,000 per MONTH and 4 hours per week."

I found this book revolting, edifying, and inspiring.  Nice combination, eh?  Read more...

Posted Mon Oct 27 08:25:58 2008 Tags:

HuckleberryFour days before Halloween and it's snowing!  Already, tiny flakes are sticking to the strawberries (and to Huckleberry's back before I let him in at the kitchen window.) 

In my world, good things happen when it snows, and since the flurries started yesterday afternoon the good has been piling up.

First came Brandy and Mike's  baby, Willow Anne, born early yesterday morning...

Then I got my first-ever freelance grant-writing gig at a board meeting last night.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Posted Tue Oct 28 09:10:35 2008 Tags:

FireA red letter day --- off with the space heaters and on with the fire!  With the temperature hovering around 40 all day, Mark decided to fire up the wood stove this afternoon.  Now it's warm as toast inside. 

This was another one of those gargantuan entries, so instead I've posted the complete how-to (and why) on installing an exterior wood furnace over on the resources page.  Check it out --- and stay warm!

Posted Tue Oct 28 19:24:41 2008 Tags:

Old Farmers AlmanacThe editor of the 1902 Old Farmers Almanac was kind enough to share an energy saving tip that was sure to save the average home a fortune in home heating costs. The trick was to toss your log out a two story window, run to get said log, quickly make your way back up the stairs and repeat the procedure. If you're the type that enjoys this kind of twisted humor then perhaps you might want to check out the new online version of this famous almanac.

This year's version of the Old Farmers Almanac is predicting cooler than normal temperatures for this winter and suggests we are in for a 50 year cycle of colder winters.

Predictions are made at the almanac from a complex and secret formula devised by Robert B. Thomas in 1792 that takes into account sun spot activity and other solar events. Their results are almost always close to 80 percent accurate, which makes it worth checking out in my opinion.

Posted Wed Oct 29 02:17:51 2008 Tags:
Flower giveaway

In the last week, the world has turned gray --- time to start visualizing summer flowers!  For this week's giveaway, I've put together a packet of each of our easiest annual flowers --- Mexican sunflowers, marigolds, pink and white cosmos, zinnias, and fennel.  To plant them in the spring, just rake the soil a bit and toss the seeds on the ground, then ignore them until the beautiful blooms start attracting butterflies and beneficial insects.  (It's best to put the fennel, Mexican sunflowers, and cosmos where you want them to stay since they'll self-seed from year to year.)

So, same drill as always. 
Email me your name, email address, general location, and how you heard about this giveaway by Saturday night and we'll put your name in the hat.  The lucky winner will be announced on Sunday, and on Monday we'll mail out your flower seeds.  We promise not to do anything with your contact information except email you if you're the winner.  Good luck!

Posted Wed Oct 29 15:17:32 2008 Tags:

mon comWhy should we grow our own rice? It's one of the cheapest food staples at the store and it's never out of season. I have not given small scale grain production much serious thought until I ran across a group called Amberwaves. They have started a small movement of citizens, gardeners, and farmers who speculate on a not too distant future where pure organic grains are no longer available. They fear many heirloom varieties will be squeezed out of our delicate ecosystem in favor of stronger, higher yielding, genetically modified products that promise a bright future if you believe the latest corporate machine promises.

There are a few places on the internet that will take you through the steps you need to get your rice started. You will need plenty of sunsine, and plan to do it during warm weather. Expect to wait 90 to 120 days before harvest. It seems the most difficult part of rice cultivation is keeping a constant level of water on your

You might not be able to grow enough to meet all your grain needs, but you can feel good about doing your part to keep that specific variety of organic rice alive and kicking and pure. That is unless you have a neighbor within a few miles growing a genetically modified product. Then you run the likely risk of having your back yard rice contaminated by its stronger and more popular rival.  If this does happen you might want to make sure that same neighbor isn't one of those "Mad Scientist" types we keep reading about in the newspapers. If you do live next door to a crazy scientist then you might want to consider moving before your vegetables start re-thinking their position on the food chain.
                                          Mon humor

Posted Wed Oct 29 20:25:03 2008 Tags:

Lettuce in a cold frameIf late summer got away from you and you never managed to plant a fall garden --- join the club.  Luckily, you've got one more chance at planting something easy and delicious that will feed you well into December. 

I finally got around to planting my last lettuce bed of the year yesterday, using the cold frame technique I learned from my father.  In-season saladCheck out my easy lettuce planting page to learn how to plant your own winter lettuce. 

Or, if you don't have time to grow lettuce this fall, check out my in-season salad ideas (and suggest your own.)  Either way, now's the time for lettuce!

Posted Thu Oct 30 08:36:03 2008 Tags:

One question I have had since I started my journey into the chicken world is how can a guy supplement the laying pellets we get from the feed store. A 50 pound bag usually costs about 11 dollars, which is a good deal if you're a small time poultry person. You seem to only get a price break if you buy the individual ingredients by the ton, and that's way out of our league. pintp huckleberry

Today's experiment will attempt to find out if it's cost effective to sprout some pinto beans from the store at 35 cents a pound and use them to supplement the laying pellet mixture. Sprouts are a good source of amino acids, vitamins, and calories, which according to a Backyard Poultry article will increase our winter egg yields and boost our flock's immune abilities. The picture is step 1. Soak beans for about 8 hours. I will post more about this when the beans make it past step 2, which is to rinse daily and wait for sprouts.

This post is part of our Sprouting Beans for Chickens series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Oct 30 21:11:59 2008 Tags:

Katrina Van Tassel sends us a question from Sleepy Hollow, Connecticut:

Gary Larson Is it possible for chickens to "turn bad" and possibly cause harm to the farmer?

Good question, Katrina. Most people don't know this, but chickens can be especially hazardous during the Halloween season.  The danger is caused by a freak astronomical event that somehow temporarily increases the intelligence factor of every 7th hen. This alone is nothing to worry about, but if that super hen is allowed to cackle out commands to her sisters, then you're in can be seen in the picture provided. Please keep all cutting tools well away from the chicken coop for at least the next few days. Expert opinions vary on exactly how long this effect will last.

Posted Fri Oct 31 11:41:22 2008 Tags:

Peanut butterUnlike most of you, I wasn't raised on peanut butter.  I can remember when I first tasted peanut butter as a child --- freshly ground in the machines at the GNC in the mall.  The gunky paste quickly became one of my favorite foods and I was thrilled to eat peanut butter sandwiches in my lunch box for years.

Here in rural Virginia, though, real peanut butter is hard to come by.  Instead, the shelves in the grocery store are full of jars of hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, masses of salt --- oh, and a few peanuts.

Today was the first time I tasted real peanut butter in years.  Yum!  It was worth every minute of shelling those wiley nuts.  Check out my guide on how to make peanut butter (from raised bed to bread) on the resources page.  Also, if any of you have any bright ideas on how to shell peanuts fast, I'd love to hear them!

Posted Fri Oct 31 17:23:01 2008 Tags:

We don't get trick-or-treaters back here in the woods, but we do have a young visitor.  Curly is a neighbor's dog who's spending the weekend with us while his owners are out of town.  As Mark and I ate supper, we watched Lucy and Curly dive into the compost pile in search of a shrew.  I'd been meaning to turn that compost pile!

Please let me know if this video doesn't play for you.  I'm new to the world of video!  You might try right-clicking on this link and down-loading the video, if necessary.

Posted Fri Oct 31 19:54:04 2008 Tags:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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