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

archives for 11/2008

Nov 2008

bean blow outThe tall jar I used to soak the pinto beans in has been cracked for over a year now and I guess the pressure of the beans expanding was just too much for it to handle. I've switched over to soaking them in a bowl to avoid any further bean blow outs.

If you would like to learn more about the history of bean breeding in this country you might want to check out this informative Michigan State University article.

The modern high yield bean of today owes a lot to a couple of plant pathologists working for the USDA in the 1940's. They pioneered a program using X-ray mutation breeding that helped to bring about one of the first bush navy bean varieties.

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

Posted Sat Nov 1 17:03:56 2008 Tags:

Corn and teosinteI've noticed that many environmentally conscious eaters have a knee-jerk reaction against using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.  In my opinion, our food system is severely broken and the current GMO system is broken too.  But I think it's a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Humans have been selecting plants and animals which suit our needs for thousands of years.  Take a look at the teosinte ear on the left compared to the modern ear of corn (or "maize" as the plant is known in the rest of the world) on the right.  By simple selective breeding --- choosing the plants which produced the biggest ears and sweetest kernels --- Native Americans were able to develop something resembling the latter from the former seven thousand years ago.  In my opinion, producing GMOs is merely an acceleration of this process.  Read more...

Posted Sat Nov 1 19:51:51 2008

Wildcrafted pearsFirst, before I forget --- congratulations to Jill from Knoxville, the winner of our easy flower giveaway!  And thanks to everyone who entered too --- I always love to hear from you!  Now back to your regularly scheduled navel-gazing....

Lucy and I walked up the holler this morning to check out an old homestead just across the property line.  I'm terribly nosy and couldn't help myself from investigating the results of my neighbor's clearing operation up there --- he told me he was going to be opening up a bit of land to attract deer for his son (who hunts.)

True to his word, he'd rooted up a bunch of blackberries and sown grass over perhaps a half acre or acre.  As Lucy and I headed home, our curiosity satisfied, we nearly tripped over a  big pear at our feet.  My memory --- dubious at the best of times --- finally kicked into gear and reminded me that I'd seen a fruit tree blooming up here by the homestead this spring and had meant to come back and check on it.  Then I'd forgotten, of course.

Most of the pears had already fallen, but shaking the tree dislodged five more which thudded to the ground around us.  (I remembered, almost too late, that it's not such a bright idea to look up while shaking a fruit tree.)  The pears were sweet and gritty --- the old-fashioned kind you find growing around old homsteads in our area, pears which will mellow in the root cellar over the course of a few months into true ripeness.  I like them hard, though, so chomped my way through one, giving Lucy the core.

I love the idea of wildcrafting, but I like the taste of most cultivated fruits better.  Hunting down abandoned fruit trees by old homsteads is the best of both worlds!

Posted Sun Nov 2 11:07:41 2008 Tags:

Am I the only one who is still wondering why George Bush Jr. and the United States Congress decided in their infinite wisdom to increase daylight saving time by 4 weeks back in 2005? They claimed we would save more energy by starting it 3 weeks earlier and extending it by a week. Like usual, this piece of legislation was buried in a wide ranging bill that got attention for giving oil and gas companies nice fat tax breaks.

According to the Washington Post, candy manufacturers have lobbied for years to stretch daylight saving time to encompass Halloween. Now parents can rest easier knowing that kids will have more daylight to navigate the neighborhood streets on that frightful night, and an extra hour to consume even more candy.

I was surprised to learn that recent research from Carnegie Mellon University has found that you are 3 times more likely to be hit and killed by a car just after the time switch. They speculate that drivers go through a week of adjusting to the new schedule. It might be a good idea to use extra caution this week if you find yourself crossing the street even once.

Posted Sun Nov 2 14:19:13 2008 Tags:

Steuben grapesDid you ever want to start a vineyard?  I don't particularly want a vineyard, but I do want fruit of any and all sorts coming out my ears.  At $6 and up per plant, a vinyard doesn't really fit into our budget, though.  Luckily, there's a cheaper option.

Early this spring, one of Mark's friends gave us some vines he'd pruned out of his vineyard.  I did some reading and learned that grapes are easy to root from hardwood cuttings like these --- just cut dormant vines into pieces with four buds per piece in early spring, soak the cuttings in water for three days, poke them into the ground about a foot apart so that three of the buds are underground, and wait a while. 
Click here to read more (including a giveaway!)

Posted Mon Nov 3 07:30:43 2008 Tags:

white tailed eaglesAntoni Kasprzak snapped this amazing picture of two white-tailed eagles locked in a heated debate over which presidential candidate would be best for folks who earn less than 250 thousand dollars per year.

I feel like our current system of electing a president is broken and needs to be fixed. How can we call ourselves a true democracy when both parties go to extraordinary efforts to effectively silence any and all third party candidates from participating in the debates and getting any substantial media coverage?

With that said I think it's obvious to most people that tomorrow will be more of a multiple choice question than a real honest to goodness election.

  1. 4 more years of the country going down the same path we've been on these last 8 years.

  2. 4 new years on a slightly different path with a politicians promise of hope and change.
Posted Mon Nov 3 19:18:56 2008 Tags:

Wood chopping areaThis entry is intended for women.  Men, feel free to read along --- I'm not going to be talking about reusable sanitary pads (not in this entry, at least).  I'm only warning you because it might not be as relevant to you.

Why is this aimed at women?  Because I read somewhere that women tend to have stronger legs while men tend to have stronger arms --- and this has been very true when comparing me and Mark.  I watch us work and notice that I dig with my feet while he digs with his arms, I happily trot up hills while he happily lifts heavy weights, and so forth.  This post is also for women because up to 9% of women have carpal tunnel (like me) while only 2% of men have carpal tunnel. 

Both of these sets of statistics are very relevant when it comes to one of the major chores of winter --- chopping wood!  Wood chopping takes major upper body strength and can also really exacerbate your carpal tunnel.  Luckily, I've found that by chopping smarter, I can chop quite a bit of wood (though I don't compare to Mark's levels.)  So, how to chop smart?  Read more....

Posted Tue Nov 4 07:38:49 2008 Tags:

I voted stickerMark's out working the polls --- 5 am to 7 pm.  I sent him to work with two breakfast burritos, two chicken salad sandwiches, two chocolate chip cookies, an orange, some crackers, and half a gallon of iced tea.  I hope he survives!

Left to my own devices, I waited until after lunch to vote.  (If you haven't already, please go vote!)  Beautiful yellow and orange oak leaves on the drive over, no line of course in our remote rural outpost. 

Now I'm home and seem to have acquired ADD --- I can't focus on anything except the election.  If your mind is stuck on the election too, here are the best places I've found to learn about current election results without resorting to the evils of television.

  • Public radio fan --- lets you choose between all of the public radio stations and programs to listen online.
  • Google's election results map --- shows presidential, house, and senate races (not relevant until polls close)
  • The Huffington Post has various widgest showing poll closing times and election results
  • On a lighter night, play with 270 to Win's map to figure out what combinations of states it would take for each candidate to win the election
  • And, if you live in a city, go get your free scoop of ice cream after you vote

Usually I don't like flashy things on our site, but just this once I'm making an exception.  After all, no one's focussing on anything else anyway...

So turn on your radio, open up some webpages, and settle in to wait for the results!

Posted Tue Nov 4 13:17:05 2008 Tags:

When I reviewed The Four Hour Workweek recently, altrdego from Livejournal suggested that I check out The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches.  Like the real cheapskate I am, I promptly requested the book through interlibrary loan, took it home, and was thrilled to learn that on a consumerist scale of 1-25, I score a 2.  (I lost points for tearing up during a Hallmark commercial a few years ago, and for remembering a billboard --- bad me!)  Read more....

Posted Wed Nov 5 08:49:58 2008 Tags:

A gift of leavesWhen the stars align, Mark and I like to try to make our day in the big city as busy as possible so that we don't have to go back for several weeks.  Today was that day --- I met with an elected representative and sold some grape vines while Mark recorded some voices for a video he's working on. 

Once our work was done, we met back up on the street where my mother, brother, and sister live for a bit of old fashioned entertainment.  Mom and Maggie had accumulated 31 bags of leaves before the trash folks could get them --- I'd begged and pleaded that they grab some for me to compost in lieu of a Christmas present this year.  We were only able to stuff about 25 bags in the minivan, so we'll have to come back to get another load on our next town trip.  I haven't anticipated a Christmas present with such prolonged excitement since I was in grade school!
Carcassonne: The Discovery
After Mark cleaned out Mom's gutters, Joey invited us up the street to try out a new European board game.  For those of you who were raised on American games like Monopoly and Shoots and Ladders, let me be the first to tell you that board games can make for a really entertaining adult gathering.  I like middle-of-the-road games like Settlers of Catan which have enough challenging strategy to keep you coming back for dozens of games but which don't take more than an hour or so to play.  The new game --- Carcassonne:  The Discovery --- met all of my criteria and I actually happily stayed in town after dark to play.  Looks like I've found a new favorite game!

Posted Wed Nov 5 20:56:18 2008 Tags:

jars of beansSince the sprouts need to be rinsed on a daily basis I decided to drill several holes in a couple of jar lids. This makes it easy to submerge your sprouts and empty the water out.

There is an automatic way to do this, but it will cost you over a hundred bucks, and I'm not sure how much easier this contraption would be to operate.

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

Posted Thu Nov 6 19:14:27 2008 Tags:

Meyer Lemon bloom buds Our lemon tree is at it again with two sets of bloom buds stretching open.  We just got it as a baby last Christmas,  but it has four large lemons starting to ripen, an inch long fruit that it set this summer, and now another two sets of buds.  I can't wait to try the fruit of our own lemon tree, though I suspect it'll be another couple of months before the biggest ones fully ripen.

Posted Fri Nov 7 08:15:12 2008 Tags:

transplanting a Golden Muscat grapeMy great aunt Ruth Tirrell wrote for Organic Gardening magazine long before I was born, and I often peruse her old articles (which I don't think can be found on the internet) when making decisions about my own garden.  In "Fall --- A Good Time to Transplant", she discusses the pros and cons of planting in the fall and spring.  She is all for planting strawberries, cherries, apples, and pears in the fall, though warns to plant peaches and blueberries in the spring.  (She wavers on raspberries and grapes.)

From everything I've read, planting in fall is a great idea in most cases.  You give the plant time to get its roots established and often don't need to do any watering right away --- many books will tell you that planting in fall gives you the equivalent of an extra season's growth.  Perusal of the internet finds varying opinions on whether even peaches, blueberries, raspberries, and grapes do better with fall transplanting.

I have a hard time waiting until spring, so I've been setting out my new grapes this afternoon.  I rationalize that my great aunt lived in Boston (although, in actuality, I'm in the same zone due to our mountains.)  As I dug, I was stunned by the root system on some of our grapes --- Mark took a photo of the biggest one.  This plant started as a ten inch cutting only 8 months ago!

Posted Fri Nov 7 15:21:55 2008 Tags:

"Could you post a picture of your chicken tractor?"

Here is the smallest of our two tractors. I added the carpet towards the bottom to keepchicken tractor the small chicks from escaping through the holes.

The skeletal frame is made of a material called remesh. It comes in a medium sized roll and is usually used to reinforce concrete structures and floors. We used an old metal milk crate turned on its side to function as a nest box. Most of the wooden frame is made from small trees and pieces of scrap.

The total weight is a big factor in making it easy to move. I recommend practice movements during construction.  Check back in the near future for a more detailed post on chicken tractors with construction tips, pictures, and short video clips.

Read other posts about chicken tractors:

We invented our homemade chicken waterer specifically for tractors.  Check it out to prevent spilling of water on uneven terrain.

Posted Fri Nov 7 17:31:23 2008 Tags:

Leaf in a spiderwebI submitted my resignation letter to work yesterday morning, thus ending months of agonizing decision-making.

Being unemployed in this uncertain economic climate scares me to death, but our needs are few and we have no debt (except for the last $5,000 of interest-free loan which I owe to a buddy who doesn't need it back any time soon.)  December 2 is my last day of work, though I'll get paid until the end of the month due to saved up vacation time.  And then Mark and I will press ahead, trying to make a living on our own terms outside the rat race --- writing grants, hosting websites, inventorying flora and fauna, making videos, and living off the land.

In a way, this blog has given me the courage to move on with my life and leave my job behind.  It has reminded me of the joy I've been foregoing while sinking into the job.  It tempted me to read books which show me there are other options.  I know the tenuous web of ideas and dreams will hold us up!

Posted Sat Nov 8 08:02:13 2008 Tags:

stickGive the gift that keeps on poking. One of my favorite toys of all time has finally been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. The stick.

Young and old alike can appreciate the simple joy in using a stick for hours at a time. Just the other day I used a stick to scratch my back, and then it made the perfect material for starting a fire in the wood stove.

It's a well known fact that once a toy becomes popular it all of a sudden becomes one of the most difficult things to find. That's why I've decided to make available some of our fine sticks to ease the shopping crunch. For 20 dollars I will send you a bundle of 50 sticks of various sizes that are sure to fit most folks on your shopping list. Shipping is included and I will even throw in a short length of string. Add an extra 5 bucks if you would like them gift wrapped.

Posted Sat Nov 8 17:45:18 2008 Tags:
Chicken killing bucket

The mean rooster has finally bitten the dust.  Graphic photo ahead --- beware!

After our last chicken-slaughtering day, Jan pointed me to a very useful chicken butchering blog.  Rather than re-creating that fine how-to guide, I'll just mention a few things we've found to facilitate the process.

First, it's well worth taking a little extra time to get all of your materials together before you start.  Here's my minimal checklist (which of course would be larger if I was doing dozens of chickens at a time).  Read more and re-enter the food chain....

Read other posts about killing and eating your own chickens:

Our chicken innovations have also included a homemade chicken waterer.

Posted Sun Nov 9 09:30:19 2008 Tags:

Last night's unprovoked attack on our innocent garden greens will directly affect thedeer damage amount of venison that goes into the freezer this year. This is not a threat, but a statement of my increased motivation.

I realize that our succulent plants must make a tasty treat when you and your buddies have eaten most of the good stuff out of the forest, but enough is enough.

I am prepared to stop at just one dead deer this year if you can agree as a herd to cease all future hostilities. If we notice any more nibbles past this day then all I can say is "I warned you".

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 Sun Nov 9 11:55:14 2008 Tags:

Steuben grapesCongratulations to Dennis from Florida for winning three grapevines!

We met Dennis through our blog last month, and were thrilled to learn that he and his wife would soon be moving up to our area to become our neighbors. 

Thank you to everyone who entered.  Stay tuned for another giveaway soon --- probably paw paw trees!

Posted Sun Nov 9 18:28:44 2008 Tags:

Cooking old chickens seems to be a nearly lost art --- or at least, the people who know how to cook old chickens don't use the internet.  We roasted the young chicken we killed last month, with great success, but old chickens are too tough to roast.

Chicken potstickersLast time we had an old chicken, we stewed it, which was tasty but stringy.  (I also didn't take out the carcass before the connective tissue deteriorated, so we had to pick out tiny bits of spine, which didn't seem very safe.)

This time, I vowed to do better --- and I did!  I remembered that sausages are the old-fashioned way to use up old meat and scraps, so I decided to turn our mean old rooster into potstickers (which are basically sausage inside pasta.)

First, I cut the meat off the bones (which were destined to be turned into stock), then whirred the meat in the food processor until it had the consistency of hamburger meat.  I had to pick out a few bits of connective tissue, but then moved on to my usual potsticker recipe

The result?  Mark and I deemed it delicious!  The meat had a few chewy bits, unlike the store-bought ground chicken and more like bratwurst, but none was tough and all was delicious.  Turning old chickens into sausage seems to be a winning proposition!

Posted Mon Nov 10 07:30:04 2008 Tags:

air tankI have discovered that a portable air tank is a must have tool for around the farm, especially if you don't have your own air compressor.

They usually start in price at around 20 dollars, and are easy to fill at your local gas station. Ours will hold up to 7 gallons of air, which is just enough to bring a low truck tire up to where it needs to be.

It's a very handy thing to have if you're on a long road trip in a well worn vehicle. A lot of gas stations these days have stopped providing free air, and if they do have one of those coin op machines, more often than not it's been vandalized and the hose connector is missing. Throw a bottle of tire sealant in the trunk and all of a sudden you have the ability to fix your own flat tire by the side of the road, which is a lot safer and more efficient than an old can of "Fix-a-Flat".

Posted Mon Nov 10 13:49:21 2008 Tags:

The buzz of the honeybee may soon be a thing of the past.  Colony collapse disorder (or CCD) is a fancy term to refer to the recent decline in honeybee populations, a decline which has been scientifically documented but which stems from causes that are less well understood.

Although scientists aren't quite sure what's causing this sudden decline in honeybee populations, they are united in the opinion that loss of the honeybees will have profound implications on our agricultural system.  Approximately a third of our food crops --- ranging from canteloupes to almonds --- depend on the honeybee for proper fruit set.  Without the bee, flowers will wither unpollinated on the stalk and the farmer will have nothing to harvest.

Change in American farm size over timeI am concerned about CCD, but I am more concerned that this disorder is a symptom of the failure of America's industrial agriculture system.  Our current system is built upon the pipe dream that we can have unlimited supplies of cheap food, that the finite capacity of the earth can be stretched with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to feed an ever growing number of people on a dwindling expanse of arable land.  Read more....

Posted Tue Nov 11 07:53:57 2008 Tags:

Ebay was once like a huge yard sale in cyberspace providing cheap prices and interesting items from people all over the country. We had some good luck selling small items like daffodil bulbs and baby paw paw trees in the past. That was before they mutated into a large corporate machine that only cares about "PowerSellers" and has left the little guy holdingebay cats the bag.

A recent encounter with a buyer(drk575) has soured the entire experience for us. He or she was unhappy with the daffodil bulbs we sent, even though I explained how the bulbs were leftover and varied in size from small, medium, and large. Well some of them were too small for their taste and they complained. We tried to offer a solution, and without even a rude reply they skipped right to sending negative feedback. Not giving us another chance to make it right.

We thought for sure an appeal to the powers that be at Ebay would help sort this out. Especially since drk575 threatened us with negative feedback, which is against one of their rules. No such luck. We got a form letter back from ebay proving that they don't care about small sellers even if they are in the right.

Craigslist: More cheap prices, less unfriendly buyers trying to get a free lunch.

Posted Tue Nov 11 11:07:10 2008 Tags:

Brandywine tomato (or something like that)Since I quit my job, we're trying to be even more frugal for a while.  So I'm going to stick to giveaway items which are cheaper to mail --- nix those paw paws and bring on the seeds!

This week's giveaway is a starter set of our favorite tomato varieties.  The winner will get a few seeds each of our favorite tommy-toes (Crazy, Yellow Pear, and Blondkopfchen), early fruiting slicers (Stupice and Early Pick), romas (Martino's, Italian San Rodorta, Russian Roma, and Yellow Roma), and normal slicers (Ken's red, Dagma's perfection, San Francisco Fog, a tomato that is labelled as a Brandywine but isn't the right shape (but is our 2007 taste test winner!), and an unlabelled Green Zebra type.)
2007 tomato tasting

I know that many of you think it's difficult to start tomatoes from seed, but I've found that there's no need to mess with indoors starting, grow lights, and transplanting to graduated pots.  Instead, start your tomatoes in a cold frame like this lettuce bed about a month before your frost free date, ignore them for a few weeks, then transplant them to your garden beds.  It's easy and fun --- and you get to try amazingly delicious heirloom varieties like the ones I'll be sending you!

As usual, check out our giveaway guidelines and enter!

Posted Tue Nov 11 15:22:20 2008 Tags:

Until we moved to the farm, I never considered cooking in season.  Sure, I'd pick some lettuce out of the garden to make some salad, but then I'd toss on a hodgepodge of vegetables from different times of the year which travelled to my grocery store from Florida, California, and South America.

Since then, I've been learning to cook in season.  It's a fun process as long as you have these required ingredients: Read more....

Posted Wed Nov 12 09:24:18 2008 Tags:

tools and partsIs your laptop running slow or occasionally freezing up on you? When is the last time you flipped it over to see if the little cooling fan is still turning? Even if it is spinning, is the bottom hot to the touch? All you might need is a laptop cooling pad, but maybe you're like me and you don't like any of the boring plastic models available and would rather make your own and save a handful of dollars in the process.

close upstep 3I found a piece of scrap plywood in the barn, cut it to size, lined up the cooling fan hole with the location of the laptop fan, secured the new fan which was scraped out of an old desktop computer power supply (Thanks Steve).final

Attach the legs, power up your fan and you should notice an increase in the smoothness of operations, and a decrease in the heat coming off the bottom. You might not even need the fan, just the increase in space could make enough difference.

Posted Wed Nov 12 17:09:42 2008 Tags:

Under constructionTake a peek at the sidebar and check out our new tags!  When we started this blog, we weren't quite sure what we were going to write about, so we started with a few broad categories.  Now we've expanded our tags to make it a bit easier to find what you're looking for.

I tried to backdate the changes, but don't be alarmed if your favorite post doesn't show up under the appropriate tag --- you can always click on the archives link at the bottom of the page to see every post we've ever made.  Enjoy!

Posted Wed Nov 12 20:50:48 2008 Tags:

Mark was talking about posting a profile of Lucy, so I figured I'd better beat him to the punch and tell you a bit more about Huckleberry.  (Can you tell that Lucy is more Mark's dog and Huckleberry is more my cat?)

Age: about 2.5-3 years
Huckleberry the cat

History: picked up by me at the dump when I went to offload some garbage about a year ago.  (Mark never sent me to the dump alone again...)

Favorite activities: sleeping on the futon, eating, scratching things to pieces, meowing incessantly, lying on my chest while I read and pet him, running up and down on the roof early in the morning, tricking Lucy into chasing him across the garden so that she'll get yelled at

Cuteness quotient: 10

Usefulness quotient: 2 (He did catch two mice in his early days.)

At least now he can't complain that 80% of our "pets"-tagged posts are about Lucy! :-)

Posted Thu Nov 13 08:11:14 2008 Tags:

Table of seed longevityDavid in Louisianna writes:

One question I have which may be silly, but how long are the seeds good for because the start of our growing season is quite a long way off?

As a budding seed-saver, I don't find that question silly at all!  Most seeds will last much longer than you might think --- check out this story about a 2,000 year old seed sprouting, for example.

Of course, I'm not advocating that you use thousand year old seeds in your garden, but your seeds will probably last longer than you think.  Take a look at the table to the right and consider using those old seed packets to plant your garden next year rather than buying a new set!

Okra seeds

Read other posts about saving seeds:

Posted Thu Nov 13 09:21:08 2008 Tags:

lucyThe chickens seem to enjoy eating the new pinto bean sprouts. No surprise there. I give them about a handful a day.

I didn't expect our dog, Lucy to be so enthusiastic about the new source of protein and vitamins. We have decided it makes a good supplement to her current dog food, which is mainly corn and other various dog food ingredients if you believe what's printed on the bag.

This experiment has caused me to seriously consider changing from store bought dog food to a home made mixture. There is way too much information on the internet to sort through it all on this topic, but it seems the only food items you should avoid are onions, grapes, and raisins.

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

Posted Thu Nov 13 18:11:21 2008 Tags:
Walking through the floodplain

Walking down the driveway this morning with Lucy to put out the mail, I was struck by the warmth which followed this week's rain.  Nevertheless, the creek bottom is following its natural late fall cycle --- squirrels are noisily chipping their way into tough black walnut shells and witch hazel has sent out its scraggly yellow blooms.

The warmth must have woken up the snakes as well.  Lucy didn't come immediately when I called since she was busy digging after her arch-nemesis in a junk pile.  She'd made me wait to begin the walk, so I had no compunction about making her wait in turn as I snapped photo after photo.  Our long-suffering Lucy quickly entered the routine, sinking into a sit as I found each new photo subject.

Bales of hay
Posted Fri Nov 14 09:31:06 2008 Tags:

heavy hauler club carThrowing logs into the Heavy Hauler is much easier compared to the pick-up truck due to its lower profile. We can usually squeeze about 2 or 3 nights' worth of wood into one load.

We picked up this mini-trailer for just under 100 dollars. It can be moved by hand, but once it has a full load the pulling can be painful due to the tow bar banging against the back of your ankles.

hitch pinIt has a handy dump feature that we have yet to utilize. I'm not sure I would pay extra for this ability because the wheels make it easy to tilt back and with just a bit of effort you can flip the whole unit over, which is what needs to be done when it fills up with rain water.

Posted Fri Nov 14 19:28:35 2008 Tags:

Moulting chickenI've been ashamed to post any photos of our older hens for quite a while.  The mean rooster (who we've been eating all week) did a number on them before we took him out of the tractor, and they're only just now starting to regain their feathers.

I'm thrilled that they're moulting since it means they won't have to brave the cold of winter with bare backs.  But I miss the double dose of extra large eggs the older girls produce.  I guess we'll have to make do with pullet eggs for a few weeks!

As a side note, I also feel that I have to reassure you that we didn't de-beak our hens.  We bought them as adults from folks who didn't know any better --- which is a shame since it makes it harder for them to peck up rotten peppers and zucchinis.  These poor old hens have had a hard life!

In completely unrelated news, check out my article over at OnEarth.  And check out news about the EPA ruling that coal-fired power plants have to limit their carbon dioxide emissions!

Posted Sat Nov 15 08:09:24 2008 Tags:

Bandaid on the earthFor the last two months, Mark's been inventing a pretty cool chicken waterer.  (More on that in a couple of weeks.)  Since I was raised on the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle", I wanted to make the main portion of the waterers out of reused plastic containers.  This worked great in the planning stages, with leftover dish detergent and squeeze honey bottles which we'd squirreled away in the barn making great test models.

But as the time nears for us to introduce Mark's waterer to the general public, we realized that we needed a larger and more consistent source of plastic bottles.  "Let's call the closest recycling centers and ask if we can pick through their plastic and take some bottles home," I suggested.  Read more....

Posted Sat Nov 15 21:36:54 2008 Tags:

Brandywine tomatoCongratulations to David from Louisianna for winning our tomato seed giveaway!  For those of you who didn't win --- I'll probably give away another set of tomato seeds in a few weeks, so don't give up hope.  Happy eating!

Posted Sun Nov 16 09:50:07 2008 Tags:

lucygateThe total cost of this garden gate was about 4 dollars thanks to some lucky salvage finds. The support posts are some fresh cedar trees and the frame for the gate was once a large window. I found it with most of the glass broken out.

The hinges came from an old door in the barn. I used medium sized lag bolts for both hinges, which accounted for almost all of the 4 dollar budget.

I decided to use a top support post because the post closest to the tree is only down in the ground about 10 inches due to some large roots being in the way. The support post is held to the tree by a common lumber bracket which was another salvaged item. It all comes together at the top with a piece of scrap tin cut to the right size and held in place with some dry wall screws.
hingescrap brackethinge 2

Posted Sun Nov 16 15:23:59 2008 Tags:

The first pullet eggI've never been a vegetarian --- not quite --- though for the first twenty odd years of my life I ate meat sparingly and mostly under duress. 

I blame my budding vegetarianism on pacifist parents who looked on in amusement the summer that I decided it was immoral to kill anything.  Soon thereafter, I spent a week in the Outer Banks of North Carolina stoically and gently brushing mosquitoes from my skin.

And now I'm a chicken killer and soon to become a deer killer.  What happened?  Read more....

Read other posts about killing and eating your own chickens:

Posted Mon Nov 17 08:06:17 2008 Tags:

work glovesA good set of work gloves can make a hard job go a bit smoother and safer by maximizing your grip and decreasing unwanted vibrations.

Most stores have several styles and materials to choose from. I have found the basic yellow Palomino grain cow hide to be the best choice for me. They can usually be found for less than 10 dollars and will often last longer than pig skin, heavy cloth, or even the new fancy synthetic type.

It's always a good idea to keep an extra set laying around for surprise guest workers. You'll get more wood chopped that way.

Posted Mon Nov 17 18:41:50 2008 Tags:

PizzaWith colder weather comes the craving for soups and hot meals of every type.  One of my favorite quick, hot meals is pizza and I've spent the last two years in a quest for the perfect recipe.  I tried out half a dozen sauce and crust variations before settling on recipes I like.

I've put up a pizza recipe on the recipes page which includes all of the tips I've been learning --- like cooking the pizza in a hot oven, using cornmeal on the pan instead of oil, and tossing the crust instead of patting it out.  I'm always learning, though, and would love to hear any tips you've developed to make the world's best pizza!

Posted Tue Nov 18 08:15:02 2008 Tags:

Basswood in the strawberriesWe are what we repeatedly do.

I wandered across the web this morning in search of simple living quotes to put inside some notecards I'm working on, and the line above stuck with me all day.  This is the time of year when repeated mundane tasks can challenge or delight you.

In many ways, it is the repeated tasks which fulfill me --- fixing home-cooked meals, pulling the chicken tractor to a new spot in the garden, splitting and stacking wood, winding down at the end of the day with Mark and a good book.  American society wants us to believe that we can do away with repetitious chores by spending money on frozen dinners and heat pumps, but what do we lose in the process? 

A rich person is not one who has the most, but is one who needs the least.
                     --- "Interview with God" (author unknown)

Posted Tue Nov 18 18:40:25 2008 Tags:

wood stove fire
The EPA has a semi-interesting list of practical tips for building a fire in a wood stove. Mostly common sense stuff that seems obvious, except for the part that instructs us not to spread the coals flat. According to them you should rake the coals into a mound towards the door. I have been guilty of raking my coals flat lately, but now I can see the light of an even more effecient fire.

Another suggestion is to reload your stove with at least 3 pieces of wood each time, placing them on and behind the mound of hot coals.

If you need a little extra warmth try this short video of tonight's fire.

Posted Tue Nov 18 19:24:38 2008 Tags:

Home made dogfoodRemember Mark's bean sprout experiment?  I was intrigued by the idea of feeding beans to Lucy too, but wanted to get a bit more information before I headed straight into the world of dog cookery.  So I ordered Earl Mindell's Nutrition & Health for Dogs through interlibrary loan --- yesterday it arrived and I tried out Lucy's first home made meal.

The result?  Lucy was head over heels in love with her dinner of overcooked oatmeal, raw ground turkey, blended sweet potatoes and mustard greens, and raw egg.  She continued licking the bowl long after it was bare. 

Here is the basic formula for home made dog food:  (Note that some sources say that the meat component should add up to 25% rather than 50%.  There's also debate about raw vs. cooked.)  Read more....

Posted Wed Nov 19 09:10:31 2008 Tags:

hoe'sI'm not sure I could justify a 300 dollar hoe around here, but I sure like the curves on that wheel. I would imagine you could get more weeds at a faster rate, which is usually a good thing.

I have a weakness for farm gadgets. If you like learning about the latest gizmo designed for gardeners and farms under 5 acres then you might want to check out the gear section of Tiny Farm Blog.

I just recently discovered Tiny Farm Blog and have been enjoying the informative posts on small organic farming in Canada. It's fun to learn how other folks solve problems on the farm, but I don't approve of the Canadian past time of onion tossing, mostly because we are already running low on onions and the thought of buying some in the store will be a step backwards on the food chain.

Posted Wed Nov 19 14:20:41 2008 Tags:

From know I shouldn't preach the merits of books --- if you're a believer, you know in your bones that an armful of good books has immeasurable worth, while if you're a disbeliever there's no way I'll change your mind.  So I'll just assume you're a believer.

Being a bibliophile on a budget takes a bit of getting used to.  I went through a book-buying phase, but now I've returned to the (cheap) joys of the library.  I challenge you to try out some of my tips before buying your next book (but if you must buy a book, buy it from Amazon by clicking here and give us a little kickback to keep our "doors" open.)  Read more....

Posted Thu Nov 20 08:23:01 2008 Tags:

coperheadI snapped this picture of a copperhead just before sunset this past summer. Our dog Lucy has an unhealthy obsession with snakes and I had to eventually tie her up on that day so the snake would have time to get away.

If you are bitten by a venomous snake there is a 20 to 30 percent chance it decided you were not worth a dose of poison and all you have is 2 puncture wounds. You should calmly start making your way to an emergency room, although if you go 30 to 60 minutes without any swelling or discoloration then you will most likely be fine.

It seems like things have changed a bit since I was a Cub scout. The old Lone Ranger trick of cutting the wound and sucking the venom out can actually make matters a lot worse. A cold compress should be avoided because it will cause the venom to stay in that one area which will make skin damage more likely. Do not use a tourniquet for the same reason. First aid kits often have little suction devices, but some experts question how effective they actually are.

The best thing you can do is stay calm and avoid exerting yourself. Keep the bite area below your heart and get help as soon as possible. If it's possible, bring the dead or captured snake to the hospital, but don't risk another bite or waste too much precious time.<br

Posted Thu Nov 20 21:04:31 2008 Tags:

First, a completely unrelated picture because --- SNOW!!!  Now back to your regular programming....Snow on the mailbox

I cooked up a big pot of pinto beans yesterday and tried out a new, cheaper dog food recipe on Lucy:

  • 25% pinto beans
  • 25% raw catfish (reduced price of course)
  • 25% rice
  • 25% sweet potato and mustard greens
  • a drizzle of bacon grease and a pinch of salt

I whirred it all up in the food processor and gave it to Lucy to test.  Delectable!, her body language exclaimed as she spun the bowl in circles with her tongue.

Mark and I ate the "leftovers" for lunch and supper --- turned some pinto beans into refried beans for quesadillas, steamed the rest of the mustard greens to eat with balsamic vinegar, stewed up some Spanish rice, and breaded and fried the catfish.

I wonder what it says about us that we're eating Lucy's leftovers?

Posted Fri Nov 21 09:30:53 2008 Tags:

hammer tool
I found this by the Powell river a few months ago. It's still a mystery to me what it might actually be.

My best guess is some sort of crude hammer tool. It seems like a groove has been worn where a good size handle could be inserted.

Does anybody out there have a guess as what else it could be?<br

Posted Fri Nov 21 18:02:02 2008 Tags:

Did you know that the retail industry studies people like me?  Listen to this (emphasis mine):

In the twenty-first century, ritualized holidays (e.g., Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day) are annual events associated with excess and heightened consumption. As a consequence, consumers may sometimes avoid, minimize, or adapt consumption traditions during such events....

Anti-consumption research traditionally focuses on why individuals fail to consume or why they actively choose not to consume.  --- Close and Zinkhan, 2008

How could I even consider failing to consume?!  And, listen to this, my affliction even has a fancy name:

Gift-resistance often occurs via non-gift exchange (i.e., informants do not exchange gifts with their partner) or by modifying traditional gift exchanges associated with the event. Various degrees of gift-resistance, range, for example, from setting a five-dollar limit (despite having expendable funds) to encouraging others not to exchange gift. --- Close and Zinkhan, 2008

Image by Austin ClineI can just hear the retailers gritting their teeth --- if you've got expendable funds, it's your patriotic duty to spend them, for crying out loud!  Luckily, the article gives a bunch of suggestions to get us gift-resisters back on track.

But until they suck me back in by making me sit in front of four hours of television commercials, I'm still left with a dilemma.  I feel so phenomenally gift-resistant that I'd love to beg my friends and family to skip the gift-giving this holiday.  But how can that be done without hurting people's feelings? 

Gifts have an obvious role in cementing relationships, and none of the gift-resistant alternatives I've seen have similar force.  I'm sure someone out there has the solution --- please comment with your ideas for being gift-resistant but bonded to your friends and family.

And now, off to kill some turkeys!

Posted Sat Nov 22 06:23:48 2008 Tags:

You've sent me some great ideas for overcoming my gift-resistance, but tonight I'm too tired to think of anything but turkeys.  Thirty-eight turkeys met their maker today, and it was so cold that all I thought about was how nice it felt to thrust my cold hands into their hot entrails.

There's so much more to say, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow.  For now, please amuse yourself with a three second video of the hardest part of the project --- catching the turkeys.  (If the youtube link doesn't work, try this link to a smaller version in mpg format.)

Posted Sat Nov 22 19:53:34 2008 Tags:

Does it matter how you put a log that has been split in half into the stove - round side up or down?

--- Shelia, WV

I guess that would depend on what kind of fire you need. I have found that barkside down seems to burn slower, maybe due to moisture in the bark. This can be a good thing if you're ready to turn in for the night.Napeyok in Uganda

The intriguing photo was taken by Brian Jones on his trip to Uganda. The woman's name is Napeyok and I've always been fascinated by how much weight can be carried on one's head.

It seems like only women have this skill, and some can carry up to 70 percent of their body mass without burning too many extra calories. This article suggests that the secret is in the pendulum motion of one's head and body.

Posted Sun Nov 23 12:37:09 2008 Tags:

Free range chickens
The farm we visited yesterday was intriguing --- I always find visits to other people's farms intriguing.  The family has a milk cow, a bull, two heifers, two calves, some number of sheep, a llama, the chickens you see above, and the turkeys of course.

Livestock is, in my opinion, the hardest part of a back-to-the-lander's journey.  Hard not because the animals themselves are difficult --- some are, while others are joys.  Hard because it's so easy to take on far more than you can handle until you spend every minute of free time caring for your livestock.  (Some day I'll tell you the tale of our ill-fated mule episode.)

I've come to the conclusion that just about anyone with a little will and spare time can take on chickens, but larger livestock are a much more serious commitment.  Although Mark and I talk at intervals about sheep for meat or a miniature cow for milk, we're just not yet ready to commit.  I was in awe of the farm we visited yesterday, but decided to stick to my vegetable garden --- if I overcommit there, I can just let a few beds go to weeds without causing anyone harm!

Posted Sun Nov 23 18:10:11 2008 Tags:
I got a mass of great emails on the subject of gift-resistance.  Here are a few of my favorite points:

You might suggest to people that if they really want to give you something, they can send a donation in your name to your or their favorite charity. --- Sheila

I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have practiced the art of "regifting" some unwanted gift just because I was expected to give a purchased gift of some kind. --- Dennis

People are sometimes moved to give gifts because they care about others and see a particular useful or interesting thing the other might need or enjoy.  This kind of spontaneous gifting is very different from obligatory gifting for holidays, birthdays, etc. --- Daddy

Over the years as we have moved toward a simpler lifestyle my wife and I have become more gift resistant as the term was defined in the blog. However, we probably give more now than we ever have. The difference is that we now give much more of ourselves through gifts of foods made at home, preserves, home-grown vegetables and fruits, time given to assist others with projects at their homes and other such gifts. --- Dennis

My visiting you is, in my eyes, a gift from you! I think you, too, feel that, even if I have a weird meal, my being happy to see you is, actually, a gift from me...tho it would be you who had to travel and vice versa.... --- Mom

From my own experience of near poverty and poverty, it is very difficult to accept a gift when one cannot reciprocate. --- Daddy

All of these are great ideas!  But it struck me as I read through the emails that Daddy's last point is key --- while the materialism of gift-giving does bother me a lot, the unspoken assumption that I will reciprocate at a similar dollar value has been even more of a drain in my recent state of voluntary simplicity.

Maybe the solution --- while taking more work --- is to talk to each person who usually gives me a gift and come up with non-material gifts we can exchange so that I'm not stuck in the uncomfortable situation of giving a jar of honey and receiving a $50 storebought gift.  Needs more thought...
Posted Mon Nov 24 09:26:14 2008 Tags:

golf cart front hubIf you have a tire on your golf cart that develops a slow leak, you might want to consider an inner tube.

You don't need to replace the tire, especially if it still has plenty of good tread left. I took a trip into the big city this afternoon and found a tire store that installed new tubes for just under 15 dollars.

If you have a problem with getting your hands dirty and you have money to burn you might not find this tire condom as funny as I did. If you use this product in public you will most likely provoke some uncontrollable laughter by anyone who might pass by.

Posted Mon Nov 24 21:10:43 2008 Tags:

Turkey pot pieSunday, I chopped up the two massive turkeys Mark and I had been given for our labors the day before.  Each turkey will make four big meals --- one meal of the drumsticks, two more from the two halves of the breast, and a fourth meal from making soup out of the back.

I have a lot of poultry recipes to choose from, but with nice young birds I tend to fall back on my roast chicken recipe.  I roasted the drumsticks, then on Monday turned some of the copious leftovers into Curry Chicken Pot Pie.  Until I tasted this recipe, I didn't think I liked curry, but the curry is a perfect match for lightly steamed vegetables and fresh chicken or turkey --- and it makes the dish a beautiful brilliant yellow!  I highly recommend you check it out as a post-Thanksgiving use for leftover turkey.

Posted Tue Nov 25 10:52:40 2008 Tags:

ice and easy float heaterWe bought the ice and easy floating tank heater last year at a local feed store for about 25 dollars and it has proven itself to be a very practical and affordable way to keep outside water from freezing.

It has a built in thermostat that only kicks on when the temperature goes below 32.

It might be the most clever name given to a farm product. I'm using ours to keep the chicken water warm tonight so they can have something non frozen to wake up to tomorrow.

Posted Tue Nov 25 20:28:20 2008 Tags:

Bodhi tree

Today is my last day of work!  Beginning tomorrow, I will be seeking enlightenment, remembering how to be in addition to do.  Wish me luck!

Posted Wed Nov 26 08:44:19 2008 Tags:

"I thought you guys had two chicken tractors? How can you make one Ice and Easy serve both tractors?"

Jack, Houston TX
crock pot
I have not figured out a way to do that, but an alternative to the Ice and Easy might be a simple Crock Pot.

I tried it last night in the other tractor and it worked fine. It seems that if you keep the cover off and the setting on low the water stays close to luke warm. Be sure to switch it off during the day if it gets hotter than 40. Our hens even seemed to enjoy the warm water in the morning, but that could be just my imagination.

Posted Wed Nov 26 20:06:04 2008 Tags:

Vertical FarmMark and I will be doing a lot of family stuff in the next few days, so we probably won't be posting much (or at all) until the weekend.   Postings will probably be a bit sparse until the weekend when we're home again.  So I'll leave you with some food for thought.

I've been reading about vertical farms --- skyscrapers full of hydroponic gardens in the midst of the city.  Their proponents promise that vertical farms will end world hunger, allow traditional farms to be turned back into forest, and will finally put an end to shipping food thousands of miles.

While the pictures are pretty and the idea is intriguing, I have to admit that I'm not a fan of hydroponics of any sort since I wonder if they're able to supply micronutrients and produce truly nourishing food. 

But most of all, I'm turned off by the vertical farm website's explanation that vertical farms will be mandatory within 50 years to feed our vastly expanded population.  Is more food really the solution to the human overpopulation problem?  Wouldn't a better solution be better access to birth control and people making a conscious decision to have fewer (or no) kids?

On that inflammatory note --- Happy Thanksgiving! :-)

Posted Thu Nov 27 07:31:29 2008 Tags:

George jrThe last Bush regime turkey was pardoned yesterday and I believe I can see the light at the end of an 8 year old dark and damp tunnel of lies, greed, and non-stop embarrassment.

I'm looking forward to having a more appropriate leader for our beautiful melting pot of a country. 

I feel like we can all take that wad of hope and optimism we've had buried in our pockets and put it on the table for everyone to see. I give thanks for that and really believe that day is only weeks away.

Posted Fri Nov 28 17:56:19 2008 Tags:

Deer repellant lightWe just got back from a quick trip down to South Carolina to visit Daddy and explore all of his gadgets!

Here he is showing off his solar-powered deer repellent light.  (He built the stand himself.)  Despite my gift-resistance, I thanked him profusely when he offered to give me a set for Christmas to try in my own garden.  According to Daddy, as long as you move the lights every few days, the blinking lights scare away deer, who think the lights are predator eyes.  I'm willing to try anything to keep our deer away!

Automatic chicken feederThen there's the automatic chicken feeder he built for his Golden Comets and Rhode Island Reds.  This one I'm less likely to emulate (though I'm including it since I thought others might be interested.)  The automatic feeder is obviously best in a stationary coop and I figure it would be too heavy for our tractors.  Daddy told me that his pullets got in the habit of picking all of the corn out of their mash and leaving the rest of it behind!  Darn teenagers and their junkfood.

Finally, I'll leave you with an eight second video of Daddy and his dog --- low budget entertainment at its best.  More soon on a couple of other highlights of the trip.

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 Fri Nov 28 18:14:15 2008 Tags:

Crock pot watererBefore we left to go to South Carolina, Mark set up a crock pot in one chicken tractor and the ice and easy in the other.  He also put some backup waterers in each tractor just in case.

Turns out that the ice and easy won the contest by a long shot.  When we got home, the crock pot had pretty much evaporated dry while the ice and easy's trough was still halfway full of water.  It looks like the crockpot will only work in sustained cold weather.  (We left during a warm spell and the daytime temperature reached 50 F.)Ice n easy waterer

I'm sure Mark will be playing with his design over the next few weeks, maybe figuring out some way to make a crockpot turn itself off when the water temperature rises above freezing.  But for now, my advice is to stick to the ice and easy!

Posted Sat Nov 29 11:41:07 2008 Tags:

Cushaw and catI'm ashamed by how lax I've been on giveaways over the last few weeks while finishing up my job.  To make up for lost time, I'm giving away masses of seeds --- enough to fill up your garden and your neighbor's too!

These seeds are leftovers from last year or the year before (but all are young enough that they should germinate fine.)  I've got lots of winter squashes (Howden and Jack-o-lite and Baby Bear Pumpkins, unnamed and Royal and Table Queen Acorn Squashes, and Cushaw (a local variety pictured here)) which I'm giving away because after tasting them all Mark and I decided butternut is the best of the best and plan to only grow it next year.  Read about the other varieties and enter our giveaway!

Posted Sat Nov 29 16:40:12 2008 Tags:
Now that I've cleaned out my old seeds, it's time to buy seeds for next year!  You'll get the cheapest seed prices at Wal-Mart or the Dollar Store, but I've been burned by old seeds from these stores in the past (and by their lack of variety), so now I stick to the feed store and online companies.

Park SeedThe feed store is perfect for seeds you use lots of like collards and lettuce and for tubers like potatoes which are expensive to ship.  But when it comes to an extensive selection of varieties to try out, I turn to Jung Seed and Park Seed.

I used to think that Park Seed was the cheaper of the two, but when I perused their seeds yesterday it seemed like Jung was cheaper!  Still, I ended up ordering from both sites so that I could get all of the varieties I wanted --- usually, shipping costs keep me from making two orders like that, but if you order by clicking on the banner here by Monday, you'll get free shipping from Park.

Every year, I allow myself to splurge and get a variety or two from a more expensive site.  This year, it was Mexican Sour Gherkins from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I'll keep you posted this summer to let you know if this ancient American species solves our bacterial wilt problem.

Finally, one last piece of seedy advice --- buy heirloom and/or open pollinated varieties, if possible.  That way, once you settle on a variety you like, you can just save the seeds rather than buying them year after year.  Our expenditures on catalog seeds have dropped from $100 two years ago to $35 this year by saving seed, and by buying larger packets than we need of seeds which last several years.  But don't buy heirloom sweet corn --- you'll miss the supersweet taste of the newfangled hybrids!

Read other posts about saving seeds:

Posted Sun Nov 30 08:33:41 2008 Tags:

mud tractionOne good way to increase the traction on your golf cart is to add some ice chains.

The last few days have been wetter than usual and the extra mud presents a small navigation challenge.

I discovered today that it's best to remove the entire wheel in order to loop the connectors around and weave the whole thing together. Snug it up as tight as it will allow to minimize the extra bits from rubbing on the mud shield.

We used a few feet of synthetic rope for some additional holding power.  The whole operation took less than an hour and increased the mud pulling factor by at least 50 percent.

Posted Sun Nov 30 20:46:29 2008 Tags:

Anna Hess's books
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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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