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

archives for 01/2009

Jan 2009

TomatoI get so caught up in the flow of seasons, always joyously anticipating the next one along the chain.  Yesterday, I noticed that the darkness was already coming later --- 6 pm and Mark and I were still out preparing firewood for the night.  Walking Lucy, I found mole salamander tadpoles drifting under the ice in floodplain puddles, their feathery gills sucking oxygen out of the frigid water.  Signs of spring on the last day of the year!

Inside, we harvested the first tomato off the plant Daddy gave us at Thanksgiving.  I've had zero luck with growing tomatoes indoors in winter until this plant came along.  But this is a hybrid variety carefully bred for indoors life.  Daddy paid fifty cents per seed for his start, but quickly learned that he could keep the plants going indefinitely by taking cuttings (one of which he gave me.)  Our house is really too cold even for this little guy, and about 70% of the flowers don't manage to set fruit, but I'm curious to see how long I can keep it going.

Happy New Year, everybody!  I have a feeling that this year will be the best one yet!

Posted Thu Jan 1 08:42:30 2009 Tags:

lucy and henThis is a picture of hen number 6. Hen number 5 if you ask Anna. She's at the bottom of the pecking order and had to be isolated because it was just too sad watching her getting picked on by the other hens.

Now she gets to roam free on most days, adding a certain flare to the place that makes me feel like I'm on the set of a movie and she's been added at the last minute for additional atmosphere for whatever new and wild scene is coming up next.

2008 was filled with a generous portion of good and happy scenes that make me feel confident I'm exactly where I need to be and doing exactly what I need to be doing.  I offer everyone reading this a warm and happy toast for good tidings in 2009.

Posted Thu Jan 1 20:18:23 2009 Tags:

Bed spring shadowsInspired by Mike's 2008 summary photos, and by Mark's notion that we should take New Year's Day as a holiday, I set out Thursday afternoon with our camera in hand.  It's harder to find color in the winter, but the stark shapes and lines can make up for the lack of color.  First I got caught up in the shadows cast by the bed springs we'd dug out of the garden.  Spiralling circles --- I almost got lost right there.

But I really wanted to visit my favorite sycamore grove.  Down in the floodplain, several large sycamores grow in a ten foot in diameter ring.  They clearly mark the borders of Sycamorean ancient sycamore's root mass, and I can almost see the parent sycamore in my mind's eye.  I lay down between them and looked up, just in time to catch a photo of a sycamore turned human.

Holidays evade me sometimes.  Thanksgiving and the winter solstice I can wrap my mind around.  I'm so used to the family elements of Christmas that I follow through without giving it much thought.  But the other Maple wing sundialholidays that Mark named off when I dubiously asked him which ones he's used to celebrating --- New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day --- are blurs in my mind.  What do they mean?  How do you celebrate a holiday you don't understand?

I'm afraid I bickered with Mark before agreeing to take the day off.  Now I'm glad he perservered --- so I cooked him up a pound of bacon and a double recipe of the fluffiest white pancakes in my cookbook as an apology.  You're right, Mark!  No matter what the holiday means, it's worth it to spend time in the moment.

Posted Fri Jan 2 09:13:56 2009 Tags:

We had a small dusting of snow to wake up to this morning which makes our crude footbridge a bit too slippery to cross.

Option number two is a series of cinder block stepping stones just to the side of the ford. This 14 second video is how it looked about an hour ago.

Posted Fri Jan 2 18:31:47 2009 Tags:

panoramic creek curve
Here's a picture of Lucy with our footbridge in the background where the creek has a curve in it. The panoramic nature of the photo is thanks to the Fuji Finepix S1000fd. It has a pretty neat built in feature that allows you to stitch three pictures into one long image.

After you take the first shot you save it in the memory and the next frame has about a fifth of the last image in a ghost like form that allows you to line up the picture exactly where you need it.

Posted Sat Jan 3 17:38:16 2009 Tags:
Anna A new meow

New catYesterday, I jokingly told Mark that I'd gone to the dump (the source of our current cat) and found another cat, who I was now hiding in the barn.  No, no --- I changed my mind --- I'd stolen sweet little Bonnie from Mark's mom and had her hidden in the barn.  We both laughed and thought no more about it.

But this morning as I started to move the chicken tractors through winter mud, I heard a plaintive meow come from the barn.  I'd just left Huckleberry sleeping soundly on the sofa, but I thought it was possible he'd slipped out of the house and gotten his dainty paws wet or been chased by Lucy.  So I told the chickens to wait on me and went to check the noise out. 
New cat
Cowering behind our array of boxes and cast off belongings was...Bonnie???  The little cat had most of her markings, a white vest and white paws on an otherwise black fur coat.  But this little cat was smaller and oh so skinny when I finally tempted it to let me pick it up.  It was also a boy, just the same size Huckleberry was when I found him --- reaching that gawky adolescent stage where people tend to drop them off.  (Later, Mark found a towel on the road a mile from our house, one that hadn't been there yesterday, confirming our belief that the little cat got dumped.)

Just two weeks ago, Mark's mom asked us if we wanted another cat.  And without even checking with each other Mark and I both said "No!"  Huckleberry's a handful all by himself.  And yet --- if a cat walks a mile through the woods to find us, can we really tell it that we're going to renege on the contract humanity made with cats a few thousand years ago?  The truth is, I'm a sucker for strays.  Looks like we'll be taking the new cat to the vet tomorrow, and if it gets a clean bill of health introducing it to Huckleberry soon after.  I guess I should be a little more careful what I joke about!

Posted Sun Jan 4 11:20:59 2009 Tags:

Hunckleberry and AnnaHuckleberry is about to get a new friend as you may have read in the previous post.

I thought I would post this picture in an attempt to show him he was here first and we are not trying to replace him with the new cat, but to maybe add a bit of feline companionship to his already full and rich life of napping, meowing, eating, and reading on the couch with Anna.

Posted Sun Jan 4 16:43:12 2009 Tags:

BlueberryI hope my poor, malingering blueberries will malinger no more!  The little things haven't had much going for them in the two years they've been in the yard.  I bought them for a few bucks at Wal-Mart when they'd barely grown a root apiece, then I stuck them in sweet soil and mulched them with nitrogen-leaching wood chips.

I'm hoping to remedy the damage with a little TLC.  Yesterday I treated them to some soil acidifier, as well as a nice mulch of mixed pine needles and decidous leaf mould from the hill above the house.  I also used a gift certificate to order a few larger plants from a more reputable nursery.  The pullets are busy scratching up and fertilizing the new ground in preparation for our second round of blueberries' arrival this spring.
Grain seeds in Lucy's track
I also decided to experiment a bit with the mudhole between the nectarine and grapes.  The soil there is pure clay and in our recent wet spell the chickens churned it up into a mass of mud.  I found some old grain seeds hidden behind my desk and sowed them in the muddiest spots.  If I remember right, the grain is rye, meant to be planted in early fall as a cover crop.  But maybe it'll do something to hold the soil together and outcompete the Japanese honeysuckle which is what naturally grows in that area.  Only time will tell...

Posted Mon Jan 5 08:48:18 2009 Tags:

Joel Johnson over at Boing Boing posted this interesting net gun that you can build for around 50 bucks.

The net is 90 square feet and will travel 15 to 25 feet using compressed air.

This could make catching extra zippy chickens a bit easier, and it provides a non-lethal way of dealing with those neighborhood kids who keep jumping into your yard to retrieve their ball or frisbee.

Posted Mon Jan 5 20:24:30 2009 Tags:
Anna Vet visit

StriderThe vet says Strider has a four degree temperature and is eight months old.  For $86, we came home with dewormer, antibiotics, and a more impressive ear mite medicine for Huckleberry whose ear mites have been resisting all over the counter meds for months.  The two haven't met, and won't until Strider fights off his upper respiratory infection.  For now, he's holed up in a cozy nook in the barn.

The trip to the vet went pretty smoothly, all things considered.  Strider was a bit of a wiggler at first, but soon settled in and didn't make any sudden moves amid a waiting room full of canines.  The only small problem was a bit of projectile pooping on the walk back to the barn at the end of the day --- Strider really did try to warn me by wriggling and meowing, but I held on tight thinking that he wanted to get down and get lost in the floodplain.  As a last resort, he pooped into midair, barely soiling my coat.  I dropped him in a hurry to let him finish, just as Lucy came barreling down over the hill to greet us.  Mark tackled Lucy while Strider fled into the cave created by an upturned root mass, to be slowly wheedled out again with honeyed tones.  Back in the safety of his barn, he ate and drank ravenously before settling down to pur on my lap.

I have to admit that his manners are impeccable, all things considered.  Yesterday, I talked about trying to give him to my brother.  Today I know he's here to stay.

Posted Tue Jan 6 10:09:41 2009 Tags:

tank reflectionThis is the view looking down into our 1000 gallon tank we use for irrigation and other water related chores.

It's up on a hill so gravity can help the water along its path to our sink and various parts of the garden.

This addition was a huge improvement over our previous set up which used a 50 gallon barrel elevated in the air by 10 feet. We found our tank on Craigslist for 300 dollars, but they usually cost twice that if you need to buy a new one.

Posted Tue Jan 6 19:31:45 2009 Tags:

We've had nearly ten inches of rain in the last month, two and a half of which fell in the last twenty four hours.  Today was supposed to be a day of meetings in the big city, but no one's leaving the property anytime soon.  The video below is our driveway....

...and this is the creek where it's spilled out over the floodplain.

Posted Wed Jan 7 10:36:46 2009 Tags:

TomatoIt's snowy and cold now as the flood waters begin to recede.  Time to perk us all up with a giveaway!  Daddy has made a cutting of his Red Cherry Flavorita F1 tomato, a hybrid variety very well suited for indoors life.  By the time our giveaway ends Saturday night, it should have some roots and be ready to be poked into a pot in its new home.

Growing tomatoes indoors in the winter is the holy grail for a lot of folks.  It's hard to leave behind the sweet, juiciness of real tomatoes when the summer sun fades.  But it's equally hard to keep winter tomatoes going since they require lots of sun.  This variety is much hardier, able to thrive under a growlight on a windowsill.  But be aware that like any tomato it will not set fruit if your temperatures fall below 50 F!  (That's probably not a problem for those of you who don't heat with wood. :-)

Anyhow, I'd love to hear from you all and perk me up on this cold winter's day!  Check out our giveaway guidelines and enter.  Thanks, Daddy, for taking a cutting for our winner!

Posted Wed Jan 7 16:53:20 2009 Tags:

lucy near creek floodedToday was a day that begs one to surrender to the forces of nature.

The creek was transformed overnight into a mighty river that seemed to be making up for lost time in its haste to get where it's going.

Lucy likes to monitor the shoreline during heavy activity like this. She knows it will eventually yield something interesting enough to chew on and maybe bring back to us for closer inspection.

Posted Wed Jan 7 19:26:38 2009 Tags:

Reflections in the flood watersTwenty four hours later, the rain has stopped and the flood waters have begun to recede.  Every plant in the floodplain has been swept so that it faces downstream and a thin layer of sediment is being left behind to fertilize the ground.  The salamander tadpoles I found a few weeks ago have been washed to new puddles and I find them in unexpected places, making me take more care where I place my feet.

Our driveway crisscrosses three sections of the "alligator swamp" --- areas we call "baby fords" --- before it reaches the creek proper.  One of these baby fords is a drainage ditch which previous farmers dug in an attempt to farm the floodplain, but the other two are actually the original bed of the creek.  At some time in the last fifty years since our area's topo map was creat
Black walnuts floating in the flood watersed, the farmers got together and dug a new, straight channel to make more dry land for their fields on either side.  I can't help wondering if the channelizing of the creek is one of the causes of its frequent floods.

Yesterday, I could only reach baby ford number one before the flood waters turned me back.  This morning, I made it all the way to baby ford number three, just barely out of sight of the footbridge.  Maybe by this evening, we'll know if the footbridge survived the flood.

Posted Thu Jan 8 10:09:47 2009 Tags:

footbridge floodedI made it out to the mailbox this evening for the first time in 48 hours.

It's always a relief to see the footbridge make it through yet another beating by mother nature.

The next version will be wider, a bit longer, and elevated about 18 inches on concrete pillars.

Posted Thu Jan 8 17:59:27 2009 Tags:
I am very interested in organic gardening, but know nothing about it. I went to wal-mart yesterday and bought some seeds, but I don't know the first thing about gardening! Any tips?

--- Cassi from Indiana

On the small scale, organic gardening is actually pretty easy.  Here are a few tips to get you started:

Leaf lettucePick easy plants to start with.  Some plants are notoriously difficult to grow without chemicals, so skip the eggplant until you're more experienced.  You're bound to have good luck with greens (spinach, swiss chard, collards, kale, and mustard) no matter what you do and can't go far wrong with leaf lettuce either as long as you grow it in the cool season.  Try a summer squash (we like the hybrid straightneck yellow bush squashes which don't take over the garden) and a winter squash (butternut is our favorite for flavor and disease resistance.)  Throw in a few tomatoes and that's probably enough for your first garden.  Read more....

Posted Fri Jan 9 09:26:58 2009 Tags:

whizbang garden cartHerrick Kimball from the deliberate agrarian blog has put together a how to book on making your own heavy duty garden cart.

He says his version weighs less than the manufactured ones available, is lighter, and can be built cheaper.

This book is number 8 for Mr Kimball, and he shares some interesting tips in his latest post on the process of low budget self publishing.

Posted Fri Jan 9 20:21:49 2009 Tags:

Path made out of barkMud, mud, mud.  I know it's made an appearance in nearly every entry I've made for the last month.  That's because mud has been such a big presence in our life ever since the ground started to freeze and the rain turned the upper layer into a wet, goopy mess.  Try as I might (granted, not all that hard), I can't keep the trailer floor from acquiring a thick layer of dirt every few days as we track in boots covered with mud.

But for the last few days, the dirt on our floors has been a little less extreme.  We've been collecting the bark which falls away from the walnut logs as we split them for firewood and laying it out in a path outside our door.  I love it when we can solve a problem for free using discarded materials!

Posted Sat Jan 10 09:11:25 2009 Tags:
Mark 40

birthday cardI would like to send out a big thank you for everyone who sent me warm and happy birthday greetings.

It was an excellent year being 39, and I'm confident my 40th year will be filled with plenty of exciting and happy events.

The groovy picture is from a hand drawn card sent from Anna's mom which depicts Lucy, Huckleberry, and Strider.

Posted Sat Jan 10 17:59:04 2009 Tags:

Huckleberry hiding from StriderSaturday --- time for Strider to come play with the big cat.  I carry him inside through the rain and instantly both cats are terrified of each other.  Huckleberry hisses and flees to the top of the north futon.  Strider meows mournfully and flees to hide under the south futon.

I lie between them, reading about dragons and sailors.  But the cats' war wears me out, and I slide into sleep.  I wake to more standoff, and eventually I put Strider back out in the barn and coddle Huckleberry back into his usual slug-like state.

Sunday morning.  The creek has risen again and is lapping up against the bottom of the footbridge.  Huckleberry won't come to breakfast, so I bring Strider inside again and he settles into the nook between my arms and book.

I feel guilty, the way I've felt all week --- as if I'm sneaking off to tryst with a lover behind Huckleberry's back.  So I go out into the wet and holler his name.  "Huckleberry, Huckle-BER-ry!"  Eventually, as Mark and I start to chop wood, he shows up, wet and unwilling.  He won't raise his back to my stroking hand, and once he runs inside and sees Strider he instantly runs back out.

Over lunch, I lock Strider in the bathroom and pet Huckleberry.  Strider moans, seeming to throw his voice down the hall, but eventually Huckleberry subsides.  That afternoon, as I cuddle up with the last 150 pages of a 1800 page trilogy which has leaked into my life over the last week and a half, Strider falls soundly asleep beside my head and Huckleberry eventually leaps up to lie carefully at my feet.

The peace lasts only twenty minutes until --- with only ten pages remaining and my hero and heroine still at odds --- Strider loses control of his bowels and poops on the floor.  Who ever said it was easy sorting out the differences between two cats?  Only in fantasy worlds do massive differences resolve in the last ten pages leaving everyone to live happily ever after.

Posted Sun Jan 11 17:28:32 2009 Tags:

tomatoThe winner of our indoors tomato plant giveaway is Linda from Texas.  Congratulations, Linda!  I hope your plant showers you with winter tomatoes. :-)

Posted Sun Jan 11 17:32:19 2009 Tags:

solar ovenJohn Wells has an interesting website where he blogs about being off the grid completely somewhere in Texas.

He has a good sense of humor and I have enjoyed hearing his take on how off the grid living is working for him.

I would like to someday build a solar oven like the one he finished last year in this picture. It would be nice on really hot days not to add any more heat to the trailer and save a bit of electricity at the same time.

Posted Sun Jan 11 19:45:12 2009 Tags:

Time for a quick state of the farm report:
Trench for water line
Cat status: Two feet apart from each other and fifteen feet away from me.  No hissing!

Chicken status: Pullets are laying well.  Old girls are barely laying and may soon be destined for the pot.

Garden status: A deer snuck past our predator eyes just before the new year and ate up the last of our greens.  So the only fresh things we're eating out of our garden at the moment is Egyptian onions.  Luckily, our freezer is still two thirds full, so our weekly grocery bill is pretty low.  I'm already starting to think of spring planting --- just a month until I can put in peas!

Water trench: I gave up on the trench because it hurt my carpal tunnel too much, but Mark's been digging away at it.  As you can see, he's making major progress!

Weather: Gray.  I dream of sunshine....

Creek: Coming back down.

Freelance work: Tricking in nicely.

Book I'm supposed to be writing: I'm actually writing it!  Whipped off the rest of chapter two last week.

Posted Mon Jan 12 10:03:56 2009 Tags:

Lisbeth Longfrock

I dug up this open source children's story to spice up our journey through winter.  Stay tuned at lunch time every day (when I remember) for installments of this early twentieth century Norwegian tale.  If you just can't stand the suspense, you can read the whole thing at


Translated from the Norwegian of
Hans Aanrud


Illustrated by Othar Holmboe


style="font-family: Century Schoolbook L; font-weight: bold;">PREFACE

Hans Aanrud's short stories are considered by his own countrymen as belonging to the most original and artistically finished life pictures that have been produced by the younger literati of Norway. They are generally concerned with peasant character, and present in true balance the coarse and fine in peasant nature. The style of speech is occasionally over-concrete for sophisticated ears, but it is not unwholesome. Of weak or cloying sweetness—so abhorrent to Norwegian taste—there is never a trace.

Sidsel Sidsærk was dedicated to the author's daughter on her eighth birthday, and is doubtless largely reminiscent of Aanrud's own childhood. If I have been able to give a rendering at all worthy of the original, readers of Lisbeth Longfrock will find that the whole story breathes a spirit of unaffected poetry not inconsistent with the common life which it depicts. This fine blending of the poetic and commonplace is another characteristic of Aanrud's writings.

While translating the book I was living in the region where the scenes of the story are laid, and had the benefit of local knowledge concerning terms used, customs referred to, etc. No pains were spared in verifying particulars, especially through elderly people on the farms, who could best explain the old-fashioned terms and who had a clear remembrance of obsolescent details of sæter life. For this welcome help and for elucidations through other friends I wish here to offer my hearty thanks.

Being desirous of having the conditions of Norwegian farm life made as clear as possible to young English and American readers, I felt that several illustrations were necessary and that it would be well for these to be the work of a Norwegian. To understand how the sun can be already high in the heavens when it rises, and how, when it sets, the shadow of the western mountain can creep as quickly as it does from the bottom of the valley up the opposite slope, one must have some conception of the narrowness of Norwegian valleys, with steep mountain ridges on either side. I felt also that readers would be interested in pictures showing how the dooryard of a well-to-do Norwegian farm looks, how the open fireplace of the roomy kitchen differs from our fireplaces, how tall and slender a Norwegian stove is, built with alternating spaces and heat boxes, several stories high, and how Crookhorn and the billy goat appeared when about to begin their grand tussle up at Hoel Sæter.

Sidsel Sidsærk has given much pleasure to old and young. I hope that Lisbeth Longfrock may have the same good fortune.


Hopkinton, Massachusetts

Posted Mon Jan 12 11:53:17 2009 Tags:
Mark Winter sky

winter sky
Here's the view looking from above the wood stove just before sunset.

It was a good day for getting things done outside...a very good day.

Posted Mon Jan 12 18:08:24 2009 Tags:

Egyptian onions and thymeI know I wax eloquent about Egyptian onions far too much, but if you haven't grown any before, you must give them a shot!  Right now, they're the only thing (beyond thyme) which is actually green and growing in the garden.

I have three beds of Egyptian onions,  each one about three feet by six feet and full of about a hundred plants.  One bed is at the furthest north edge of our garden where the winter sun is able to peek up over the hill and warm the ground for nearly the full day --- this bed feeds us green onion tops all winter long.  The two beds on the south end of the garden sit in ground which stays frozen for weeks at a time due to shade from the hill --- these are onions I've been saving for when I'm desperate for a hint of freshness.

Today I decided I was desperate.  Out I went, trowel in hand, expecting only to get a crisp white bulb.  But once I peeled back the speckled brown nubbins poking up out of the ground, I found the most tender green shoots imaginable.  Winter delicacy --- new Egyptian onion shoots!  Good thing I planted two extra beds so that we can eat them whole and still have enough left to propagate come spring.

Posted Tue Jan 13 08:37:12 2009 Tags:

(Read the beginning of the story in the archives.  Note that several of the images were scavenged off the internet.  Click on the image to find its source.)


Lisbeth Longfrock

Bearhunter, the big, shaggy old dog at Hoel Farm, sat on the stone step in front of the house, looking soberly around the spacious dooryard.

It was a clear, cold winter's day toward the beginning of spring, and the sun shone brightly over the glittering snow. In spite of the bright sunshine, however, Bearhunter would have liked to be indoors much better than out, if his sense of responsibility had permitted; for his paws ached with the cold, and he had to keep holding them up one after another from the stone slab to keep from getting the "claw ache." Bearhunter did not wish to risk that, because "claw ache" is very painful, as every northern dog knows.

But to leave his post as watchman was not to be thought of just now, for the pigs and the goats were out to-day. At this moment they were busy with their separate affairs and behaving very well,—the pigs over on the sunny side of the dooryard scratching themselves against the corner of the cow house, and the goats gnawing bark from the big heap of pine branches that had been laid near the sheep barn for their special use. They looked as if they thought of nothing but their scratching and gnawing; but Bearhunter knew well, from previous experience, that no sooner would he go into the house than both pigs and goats would come rushing over to the doorway and do all the mischief they could. That big goat, Crookhorn,—the new one who had come to the farm last autumn and whom Bearhunter had not yet brought under discipline,—had already strayed in a roundabout way to the very corner of the farmhouse, and was looking at Bearhunter in a self-important manner, as if she did not fear him in the least. She was really an intolerable creature, that goat Crookhorn! But just let her dare—!

Read the rest of today's chapter.  To be continued tomorrow....

Posted Tue Jan 13 12:18:42 2009 Tags:

cart with barn
With the golf cart not working the old yellow TC1840H steel yard cart has been getting a serious work out these past few weeks helping with firewood gathering.

It seems about twice as easy to pull if you catch the ground while it's still frozen.

panoramic barn with cart and lucy

Posted Tue Jan 13 16:44:46 2009 Tags:

Compost tea from our worm binOur worms seem to be having a good time in their worm box, though the cold makes them a bit sluggish. 

We put the box under the sink where there's a bit of drip, so water slowly works its way through the composting leaves and organic matter to collect in our bottom container.  The drip keeps the worms nicely damp and has also made us quite a bit of delicious compost tea. 

Since I started watering our lemon tree and tomato with the compost tea, they've both been growing much faster.  Yay for compost tea!

Posted Wed Jan 14 06:36:35 2009 Tags:

(I'm posting this a bit early because we're going to be in town all day.  You can read the beginning of the story in the archives if you missed it.  Note that several of the images were scavenged off the internet.  Click on the image to find its source.)


Norwegian milk goatsWhen Lisbeth found herself in the farm dooryard, with the different buildings all about her, she really had to stand still and gaze around. Oh, how large everything was!—quite on another scale from things at home. Why, the barn door was so broad and high that Peerout Castle could easily go right through it, and each windowpane in the big house was as large as their own whole window. And such a goat!—for just then she caught sight of Crookhorn, who had come warily up to the doorway, and who only saw fit to draw back as Bearhunter approached. Not that Crookhorn was afraid of Bearhunter,—no, indeed!

The goat was larger than most goats,—about as large as a good-sized calf. If the cows belonging to Hoel Farm were as much larger than ordinary cows, thought Lisbeth, they would be able to eat grass from the roof of Peerout Castle while standing, just as usual, on the ground. She glanced searchingly at the cow-house door. No, it was not larger than such doors usually were, so the cows were evidently no bigger than other cows.

Read the rest of today's chapter.  To be continued tomorrow....

Posted Wed Jan 14 06:38:21 2009 Tags:

Dog or goat...which is more useful on a farm?
Lee Johnson, Topeka, Kansas
driveway Lucy
That's a tough question. If you want a loyal friend that will almost always be there watching your back and ready to lend a helping paw, then a dog might be your best choice.

A goat can come in handy when you want to clear some land, or if you need someone to drink a beer with, but they can be a real handful when they get hungry and bored.

Posted Wed Jan 14 19:02:58 2009 Tags:

StriderI have a hard time wrapping my head around winter on the farm.  I feel like it should be a time of hibernation, of catching up on tasks that fell by the wayside during the growing season, of contemplation.

But I find myself instead turning winter into a long anticipation of spring.  Two weeks until I can prune the apple trees!  Four weeks until I can plant the peas!  Two months until the first spring flowers will peek out of the leaf mould!

I often think that Mark would make a good Zen monk --- he has an enviable ability to live in the moment.  I catch only glimpses of such a mindset when I empty my head through a half hour of yoga, a long walk, or a sketch in the outdoors.  Strangely enough, I've also been finding that intensity of focus while browsing the web in search of images to include in the Lisbeth Longfrock posts.  For hours at a time, I feel like I'm transported to Norway, milking pesky goats into wooden buckets.  I'm sure there are much better uses of my time, but as we all know, books are my mind-altering drug of choice.

Posted Thu Jan 15 08:26:42 2009 Tags:

(You can read the beginning of the story in the archives if you missed it.  Note that several of the images were scavenged off the internet.  Click on the image to find its source.)


Hoen farmThe next time Lisbeth Longfrock came to Hoel Farm, she did not come alone; and she came—to stay!

All that had happened between that first visit and her second coming had been far, far different from anything Lisbeth had ever imagined. It seemed as if there had been no time for her to think about the strange events while they were taking place. She did not realize what their result would be until after she had lived through them and gone out of the gate of Peerout Castle when everything was over. So much had been going on in those last sad, solemn days,—so much that was new to see and to hear,—that although she had felt a lump in her throat the whole time, she had not had a real cry until at the very end. But when she had passed through the gate that last day, and had stopped and looked back, the picture that she then saw had brought the whole clearly before her, with all its sorrow. Something was gone that would never come again. She would never again go to Peerout Castle except as a stranger. She had no home—no home anywhere. And at that she had begun to weep so bitterly that those who had been thinking how wisely and quietly she was taking her trouble could but stand and look at her in wonder.

Read the rest of today's chapter.  To be continued tomorrow....

Posted Thu Jan 15 12:51:18 2009 Tags:

10 times 50 gallonsI like this creative daisy chain of 50 gallon barrels as a low budget solution for rain water collection in a suburban setting. This is a picture I found on Flickr.

We've found these types of barrels used for around 8 bucks at some of the local feed stores, which is most likely cheaper than buying a new 500 gallon container.

I guess the real question in a project like this is how much time and additional materials will it take in comparison to the easy way?

Posted Thu Jan 15 18:37:35 2009 Tags:

Winter sun setting behind the hillWe came home from a day in the big city Wednesday dragging our feet, worn out from shuttling between web clients and my family.  All I wanted was an easy, fast supper, which generally equates to pesto pasta with veggies and a fried egg on the side.

Imagine my dismay to open up the freezer and discover it was...frozen.  The gasket on our secondhand freezer has never been the best, and water does slip in now and then, but somehow in the most recent deluge gallons of water made its way into the body of the freezer.  A solid third of the produce was suspended in a block of ice.  All of the tomatoes, corn, and --- yup, you got it --- pesto, was locked away out of reach.  Read more....

Posted Fri Jan 16 08:42:26 2009 Tags:

(You can read the beginning of the story in the archives if you missed it.  Note that several of the images were scavenged off the internet.  Click on the image to find its source.)


Lisbeth's room under the stairs One morning, a few weeks after the sad departure from Peerout Castle, Lisbeth Longfrock awoke early in the small sleeping room built under the great staircase at Hoel. She opened her eyes wide at the moment of waking, and tried to gather her thoughts together. She was conscious of a delightful, quivering expectancy, and felt that she had awakened to something great and new,—something that she had waited for and been exceedingly glad over; but she could not at once remember just what it was.

The little room, whose only furniture consisted of a bed, a chair, a stove, and a small wooden shelf with a mirror over it, was filled with daylight in spite of the early hour. The sun fell slanting down through a window set high up in the wall directly over Lisbeth's bed, and the windowpanes were pictured in bright yellow squares on the floor near the tiny stove. The corner of one square spread itself against the stove, and Lisbeth traced it with her eyes as she lay in bed. At the tip of the corner glimmered something light-green and shiny. Was it from there that a fine, wonderful fragrance came floating toward her? She sniffed a little. Yes, indeed! now she remembered. The fragrance came from the fresh birch twigs she had decorated the room with yesterday. Out of doors it was spring,—the sprouting, bursting springtime. To-day the cattle were to be let out and the calves named. To-day she would begin work in earnest and be a responsible individual. In short, she would be the herd girl at Hoel Farm.

Read the rest of today's chapter.  To be continued next week....

Posted Fri Jan 16 13:01:47 2009 Tags:

small electric winchThis small electric winch was made to pull a 4000 pound boat up onto its trailer. It can run on a 12 volt battery and it has 20 feet of cable.

I'm thinking if it was mounted to a sturdy garden cart with a small lawn mower battery it might have enough power to pull a loaded cart of firewood up a steep hillside. Mystic Marine has them on sale for just over 12 bucks with only an extra 10 for shipping. 

Stay tuned to see if this idea makes it off the drawing board, or put one together yourself and send me a picture of how awesome it is.

Posted Fri Jan 16 18:27:31 2009 Tags:

Huckleberry and StriderWe've been making a bit of progress this week on the cat front.  In fact, Huckleberry has decided he wants to play with Strider --- the whole point of a new kitten!  Unfortunately for all concerned, Strider seems to speak another language and just ignores Huckleberry's advances. 

I'm hoping that the little cat will eventually start to feel a little bit less traumatized --- he'll sit with me and purr, but at the first sudden noise he leaps off my lap to run and hide under the futon.  He's terrified of Lucy and, when put outside, runs in a tail down slink for the old house to hide.

On the other hand, those high end ear meds seem to have whacked out most of Huckleberry's ear mites.  I still see a tiny bit of scratching, so I'm going to give him the second dose Monday.  I can't believe I let him scratch his ears until they bled for over a year, trying one after another over-the-counter meds, and never thought to take him to a vet!

Posted Sat Jan 17 09:00:59 2009 Tags:
Anna Ice world
Abstract Ice

Truck in floodplain

I proclaimed yesterday a "snow day" and decided we'd stay indoors except for the bare necessities.  It got even colder last night (-1 F), but I couldn't resist checking out the world of ice this morning. 

Ice on the creek

Ice on the ford

Sun doesn't hit much of our property until nearly noon at this time of year, so the photos lack sparkle.  But you can probably get the idea --- ice everywhere!

Posted Sat Jan 17 10:30:04 2009 Tags:
Mark Thick Ice

ice tank 2009
The top layer of ice in the irrigation tank has been thick enough to demand a heavy hammering in order to clear enough space to allow a 5 gallon bucket to be submerged.

This is what it must feel like to go ice fishing, although I hear one needs to use a heavy saw to cut through much thicker ice than what we have here.

Posted Sat Jan 17 20:39:25 2009 Tags:

Diet for a Poisoned PlanetI'm going to take a break from our lunchtime Lisbeth Longfrock series --- I've noticed that not many of you got into the story, and the tale is starting to veer into summertime.  You can read the ending over on the Project Gutenberg site.

Meanwhile, Daddy has pulled together some fascinating information about the connection between food and life.  David Steinman, author of Diet for a Poisoned Planet, has kindly given us permission to reprint excerpts from his book here.  Tomorrow through Friday, tune in for a daily dose of food wisdom, peppered with specific information about which conventionally grown vegetables are the safest to put in your belly.

In other completely unrelated news, Joey is working on a spam filter for the comments section of the website.  He says that the only downside is that there may be some false-positives.  So, if you try to leave a comment and it won't work, drop me an email!


Carrots are relatively low in pesticide saturation.  Sixty-three pesticide residues were detected in thirty six samples....  The pesticides DDE, iprodione and linuron were frequently detected.  Organic carrots are widely available....  They are reasonably priced.

--Diet for a Poisoned Planet, David Steinman, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2007

Posted Sun Jan 18 09:59:52 2009 Tags:

steam chargerThe guys over at have done an excellent job documenting their advanced projects in home power generation with a series of easy to understand images.

The picture to the right is a steam powered engine they use as a back up battery charger if their solar and wind systems fail.

It must be a good feeling to know you can make your own electricity with fire. This set up cost them less than 500 hundred dollars thanks to being in the right place at the right time.

I'm sure building something this big and heavy from scratch would require some advanced skills and expensive tools and materials. I wonder if it's possible to design a smaller version that would still be strong enough to turn a small generator?

Posted Sun Jan 18 15:49:33 2009 Tags:

In the winter, I find myself drawn to yoga.  There's not much I can do in the garden when the ground is frozen solid, and when it's 10 degrees outside I just don't want to be out there.  The perfect time to clear my mind and stretch some muscles with yoga.

Although I love yoga when I do it, I've had less luck finding a way to incorporate yoga into my weekly routine.  A few years ago, I took a class, which was useful for learning the basics but quickly turned into a pain in the butt --- I hated driving half an hour to feel uncomfortable about exercising around other people.  Read more....

Posted Mon Jan 19 08:59:53 2009 Tags:

Food from our gardenDavid Steinman grew up eating fish he and his family caught in Santa Monica Bay, California. Much later, as a journalist, he learned that all fish in that bay were polluted with industrial chemicals, and portions of the bay became federal superfund sites. In 1990, using information he gained from federal agencies, Steinman wrote Diet for a Poisoned Planet, the result of years of research studying the food America buys in our supermarkets. He updated the book in 2007.

Steinman tells us how to avoid consuming the poisons which fill many of our foods. Those which are highest on dangerous chemicals contain animal fats.  Read more....

This post is part of our Food and Health lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jan 19 11:56:55 2009 Tags:

golf cart towingThe golf cart stopped working and I have not been able to diagnose the exact problem. I found a guy in town that is willing to work on it, but we have to get it there first.

We made some good progress today with me pulling and Anna pushing and steering. Hopefully we can get it up the hill and loaded onto the trailer tomorrow. is quite a workout pulling a full size golf cart through the snow and mud and there's no way I could have made it as far as we did without Anna pushing, which I guess is a pretty good metaphor for a happy relationship where lots of exciting things get accomplished with the combined effort of two people who work well together.

Posted Mon Jan 19 17:10:16 2009 Tags:

Snow on the farmOperation golf cart went a lot more smoothly than I'd thought it would yesterday.  Until, that is, we reached the ford.

Mark gave a push and I hopped in to steer as the golf cart rolled down the steep side of the ford.  Then he rushed around across the footbridge to pull it up the other side.

We only made it halfway up the other side of the ford before we gave up.  Mark was pulling with all his might and I was pushing with all of mine, but the cart wouldn't budge.  So we drove my little blue Festiva down across snowy, ungravelled ground to try to pull it out.  Read more....

Posted Tue Jan 20 08:14:06 2009 Tags:

Anticancer: A New Way of LifeDavid Servan-Schreiber was a medical researcher in his early thirties when he learned he had brain cancer. After surgery, he searched for a way of life which would reduce his chances of his cancer recurring. His book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life, tells what he learned, scientifically, about how diet affects cancer.

Dr. Servan-Schreiber's experience with cancer changed him from a research career-driven scientist to one interested in the practical application of science, particularly the drawing together of divergent knowledge to find out what prevents cancer and, once it has been treated, what prevents it from recurring. He learned that healthy immune cells fight cancer in its beginning, so it doesn't take over a body.  Read more....

This post is part of our Food and Health lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jan 20 12:03:12 2009 Tags:

wheelThe ground was just too frozen today to get any traction for pulling the golf cart and we decided it can wait till things thaws out a bit.

The TC1840 garden cart has been limping along with a flat tire and today was the day we finally got around to replacing the inner tube.

We found the right size at a tire store in St Paul, and with a little effort and some help from the portable air tank we managed to get it back to full health which made hauling tonight's load of firewood feel like a walk in the park.

Posted Tue Jan 20 17:00:38 2009 Tags:

Walnut and Box Elder woodCutting, gathering, and splitting wood are nearly daily chores without the aid of the golf cart.  Most of the trees in our young forest are Black Walnut and Box-Elder, which together seem to make a nearly perfect firewood. 

The Black Walnut weighs about twice as much as the Box-Elder, and the weight difference equates to a slower burning wood which keeps us going all through the night.  The Box-Elder, on the other hand, is full of air and ignites quickly, perfect for a nice hot morning fire to take the chill off the house.

Unfortunately, the Box-Elder also rots much faster.  We're still working on cleaning up trees chopped down by the power company three years ago, but the three year old Box-Elders are now too punky to split and burn --- the maul sinks right into the decaying wood and we have a devil of a time getting it back out.  The three year old walnuts, on the other hand, are still crisp and hard.  I can't quite describe the satisfaction of whipping your maul through a hard walnut, hearing the deep thud echo against the hills as the two log halves fly off in each direction.

Posted Wed Jan 21 07:43:30 2009 Tags:

Inflammation is key to cancer formation. Cancer cells utilize our body's response to inflammation to feed themselves. There are many anti-inflammatory drugs available. However, each has bad side effects. Because drug companies cannot make money off them, medical science has ignored the many anti-inflammatory foods which are available. A diet rich in these foods can help prevent cancers from developing or recurring.

A neighbor's Meyer Lemon tree

Foods which aggravate inflammation include:  refined sugars, white flour, red meats from industrially raised animals (see the documentary King Korn), oils rich in omega-6 (such as corn, sunflower, safflower, soy), dairy products from industrially raised livestock (especially if full fat), eggs from industrially raised hens fed corn and soybeans, persistent anger or despair, less than twenty minutes of physical activity a day, cigarette smoke, atmospheric pollution, domestic pollutants.  Read more....

This post is part of our Food and Health lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jan 21 11:26:05 2009 Tags:

first aidThe steering on the garden cart started going a little hay wire on us during the afternoon hauling today. It turns out the metal bar that connects the front wheel unit to the main body decided to break in two pieces causing a jack knife effect when we needed to take a turn.

We managed to create a quick fix with a standard shelf bracket bent back just enough to line up with the screw holes which were the same size as the holes in the bracket.

The new piece is three times thicker than the original part that came from somewhere in China, and it held up perfectly on the next trip. I would even dare say it's an improvement over the original design because it seems like it's more solid and rattles a bit less.

Posted Wed Jan 21 18:11:19 2009 Tags:
I am a Unix sysadmin/security guy, so my job tends to be stressful with long hours.  I currently dream of homesteading on 10-20 acres in the Ozarks in northern Arkansas.  How easy do you find it to provide various necessities that can't be earned through sweat equity by freelancing?  Are you able to maintain enough income to provide the store-bought things that you need?

--- Shannon

Wood pileSome homesteaders have gotten their lives simplified to the point where they barely buy anything from the store.  We're in a sort of halfway house --- we do buy flour, cocoa, sugar, dairy, tea, and some meat; keep two cars running; and pay for high speed internet and electricity.  On the other hand, we're extremelly minimal in most respects and can live well on the poverty line income for two people.  If you're obsessed with clothes, sports cars, or all of the latest electronic gadgets, you're obviously going to have to make a lot more money.  Read more....

Posted Thu Jan 22 08:24:18 2009 Tags:

PearsDiet for a Poisoned Planet has a different approach, identifying high-energy low-toxin foods which not only fight cancer but also help prevent a host of other diseases, from heart disease to Parkinsons to attention deficit disorder.

Eating plenty of plant food is a key to eating healthy.  Plants are low on the food chain, and, the higher up that chain you eat, the more concentrated are pollutants.  "Cows, pigs, and other animals raised for slaughter have concentrations in their flesh of chemical residues and biological toxins from all the food they eat--thousands of plants laced with chemical pesticides or fungal contaminants and microorganisms in their feed.  And the pesticides that accumulate in animal flesh are the same ones that can accumulate in human flesh.  The higher up the food web you eat, the greater concentration of toxins you are likely to consume.  Humans, not surprisingly, are among the most poisoned creatures on earth."  Read more....

This post is part of our Food and Health lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Jan 22 12:06:35 2009 Tags:

golf cart winchingThe ground thawed out enough today to get some traction for pulling the golf cart up the hill. Once we got it up the hill it took a while to figure out how to load it onto the trailer.

We decided to use the hand winch to pull it up another smaller hill to take advantage of the slant. Then we used the winch again to secure one side of the trailer to a tree and tied down the other side with a tow strap. At that point it only took a carefully guided roll backwards to seat it snuggly into place.

The trip into town will have to wait till tomorrow. It might seem like a small problem to solve, but when I saw everything loaded up and tied down I took a deep breath and felt like we had climbed a large mountain and jumped a significant hurdle. The fact that we struggled through it together made the victory even sweeter.

Posted Thu Jan 22 18:23:08 2009 Tags:

Bread doughBy lunchtime yesterday, I had a grant proposal in the mail and a client's website updated.  Time to go out and play with Mark and the golf cart!

After the cut, I've included a bunch of photos about the process since I figure it might be useful to other folks who need to get a large piece of machinery up onto a trailer.  The trick is to back your trailer up to a steep enough hill so that the rear end of the trailer ends up level with the ground.

Here you see the only party injured by the afternoon's activity.  I forgot about my bread dough and let it rise for four hours instead of one.  Oops.  Luckily, the yeast still had plenty of gumption left to rise again in the pan.

The photos....

Posted Fri Jan 23 07:52:06 2009 Tags:

Cherry tomatoDid you know that studies showed, in thirty-six market basket samples, potato chips had 207 residues of toxic pesticides and industrial chemicals?  But organic chips didn't.  Now I know why organic costs more--and why it's worth it!  

Unfortunately, many of us can't afford organic foods or we live in areas where they are not available.  Diet for a Poisoned Planet looks at non-organic commercial foods and lists them in three categories.  Green light foods are the safest.  Eat plenty of them.  Yellow light foods have higher levels of pesticides, but should still be eaten if organics are not available.  Red light listed foods should be replaced by organics.  Still, the worst vegetable foods are better for us than the worst animal foods.  Read more....

This post is part of our Food and Health lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Jan 23 11:42:40 2009 Tags:

Chocolate chip cookieWe got the golf cart to the mechanic this morning.  Yay!

Now Mark's at a board retreat until Sunday afternoon.

So it's just me...and the cats...and the dog...and the chickens.

Keeping the fire going (I hope.)

And eating chocolate chip cookies with nuts (that Mark hates) baked so that the center is nearly raw (which Mark hates.)

Sometimes it's good to have a weekend all my own. :-)

Posted Fri Jan 23 20:33:21 2009 Tags:

Time for the big test --- can I keep a fire going overnight?

In pre-modern days (according to all the fiction I read, anyhow), if you were in charge of the fire and let it go out, you were in big trouble.  Chances are you'd have to walk miles to your nearest neighbor to borrow a coal from them.  Luckily, we now have matches, scrap paper, and fire starter logs, but I've never quite developed the knack of getting a good fire going.

Mark usually wakes up once in the night to throw more logs on the fire and I've started to consider our woodstove a lot like a linux-box --- it never needs to be rebooted.  I didn't plan to, but I ended up following suit, loading up a mass of box-elder as the first hint of light entered the sky.  When I opened the stove up again a few hours later --- success!

(To be honest, though, I have to admit that it never got below freezing last night and my fire gave off nearly too much heat!)

Posted Sat Jan 24 08:39:28 2009 Tags:
Ice covered moss

A mossy rock amidst iciclesI should be taking advantage of this warm spell to chip away at the freezer, but instead I took Lucy and the camera up into the national forest to explore.  There is a trailhead for a National Scenic Trail about 15 minutes from my house and I'd never taken the time to check it out --- shame on me!

The sun was hidden, but I still managed to capture some interesting ice photos.  When I reached the magnificent waterfall at the end of the trail, though, I put the camera away and simply sat on a ledge over the falls, letting the crashing water block out the rest of the world.  On the walk back to the car, a raven circled us repeatedly, croaking out some message I was too dull to decipher but which left me soaring on winter woods endorphins.

Six miles later, I'm back home.  The trailer is warm, the sun is beginning to come out, and two cats are cuddled up beside me.  A perfect Saturday.

winter fungus
Posted Sat Jan 24 13:46:29 2009 Tags:
Anna Cat Peace
Cats on the futon
I know you're probably sick and tired of hearing about the cats by now.  But --- look!  No hissing, no sulking, just plain old snuggling. 

There was some licking going on too.  And even a bit of tentative play.  Now, if Huckleberry will just learn that playing doesn't involve biting through Strider's jugular.  And if Strider learns not to eat my breakfast out of my hand....
Posted Sun Jan 25 09:15:50 2009 Tags:

My great aunt Ruth Tirrell wrote for Organic Gardening and for the New York Times during the '60s and '70s, and I've inherited my Egyptian onions (and perhaps my green thumb) from her.  I got permission from Organic Gardening Magazine to reprint some of my Aunt Ruth's articles here in my blog. 

Stay tuned Monday through Friday for the next two weeks for sections from her article "Planting for a 4-Season Harvest."  For those of you who enjoyed Daddy's posts this past week, don't despair --- he'll return in a few weeks with another series.  Enjoy!

Planting for a 4-Season Harvest

BasilPlanting time in suburban Boston begins in the house in late February.  That's when I sow eggplant, lettuce, and the first tomatoes in a small flat, to be set out early under protection.  A few weeks later, I start cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower along with peppers and the main tomato crop, Big Boy.  Once in a while I sow leeks inside, but there's no real need.  Read more....

This post is part of our Planting for a Four Season Harvest lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Sun Jan 25 13:25:20 2009 Tags:

sparrowsCory over at Boing Boing has a nice book review which pointed me to Rick Lieder's amazing nature photographs.

I've been really enjoying his collection online and feel a bit inspired by the fact that he doesn't use high speed film or any fancy tricks to capture moments like in the picture here.

I spent a busy weekend as a new board member of Appalachian Community Fund sifting through applications and deciding as a group which ones best fit the vision of social change by encouraging grassroots networking in the Appalachia area. I'll speak more about this in the future as I become more experienced with the organization and the grant making process.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a good cause that's serious about working to overcome the underlying causes of poverty and injustice in Central Appalachia then I suggest you consider ACF for your next charitable donation. I can personally vouch for this group and assure you that it's on the complete up and up. It's a no frills way of getting much needed money to groups in this area that have always struggled with unusually high levels of poverty.

Posted Sun Jan 25 20:04:59 2009 Tags:
The bolf cart is not an ATV

We're going to pick up the golf cart this morning --- problem solved!  The diagnosis is that I ripped a bunch of wires loose from the underside while running over branches, and the mechanic charged us $100 to fix it.  Gulp.  I hope I learned my lesson!
Posted Mon Jan 26 09:09:17 2009 Tags:

A Window "Greenhouse"

EggplantA sunny window is my "greenhouse."  Eggplant, pepper, and tomato go in a heated room; the others, more hardy, in a cool bedroom.  The tender seedlings are removed from the sill at night, but the room itself is cooler than in daytime.  Except on very cold nights, I merely draw the shade between the glass and the comparatively hardy crops.  These methods give good results (I admit a greenhouse would give better); if there are failures, it is my fault.  Once I forgot to take flats of eggplant and tomato out of the window at night.  Read more....

This post is part of our Planting for a Four Season Harvest lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Jan 26 12:33:20 2009 Tags:

lucyThe golf cart is now safe and sound back on the farm.

I didn't get the technical details of what exactly was wrong due to the mechanic not being in the shop, but hopefully we'll find out from him later what the major malfunction was.

I'll put the traction straps back on the wheels tomorrow and that should put us back in business for navigating the muddy driveway.

Posted Mon Jan 26 20:22:38 2009 Tags:

I'm thinking of printing notecards using some of my recent photographs.  It's hard to choose photos that will look good small since I've seen them all large, though, so I'm hoping to get some advice from those of you who can see the images with fresh eyes.  Thanks in advance for your input!

Please choose your top three favorite images:

View Results
Free poll from Free Website Polls

Leaf Web


Shelf fungus

Icy moss

(Wrapped around both the front and back of the notecard.)


Fall washing



Dancing Rootmass
(Wrapped around both the front and back of the notecard.)

Posted Tue Jan 27 09:18:05 2009 Tags:

Peas First Row Crop

June garden

Long before tomato seedlings get into the garden, I sow my first row crop --- peas.  If ground has thawed by mid-March, peas go in.  A few days before, winter mulch is raked aside temporarily to let soil warm up.  From then on, I make sowings of peas every week until May first.  The aim is: peas every day during June and the first week or so of July.  The early sowings --- but not the earliest, for peas may rot in the cold, wet ground --- make the best crops.  Read more....

This post is part of our Planting for a Four Season Harvest lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Jan 27 14:18:47 2009 Tags:

Van Gogh hang glidingI found out recently that you can listen to the Writer's Almanac for free at their website and catch up on past shows that you've missed.

It's a five minute gem of a radio show that always seems to educate, entertain, and inspire me with its style and content.

I love the way he weaves in yummy slices of historical trivia, for example, "On this day in 1978, the Commerce Department, which oversees the National Weather Service, announced that hurricanes would no longer be named exclusively for women."

The smooth voice of Garrison Keillor is the host of the show and he always signs off with the warm greeting "Be well, do good work, and stay in touch." It's like hearing from your favorite English teacher on what's got him or her excited that day without the annoying kid in the back throwing spit balls.

Posted Tue Jan 27 16:32:27 2009 Tags:

USGS drought mapAnother inch and a quarter of rain fell Tuesday, sending me scurrying to the USGS website to check in on our drought conditions.  Here in southwest Virginia, we're still in a moderate drought --- I dream of downgrading to abnormally dry.

We just need 6 to 9 inches of rain in the next month to end this drought.  If drought amelioration were a fundraising campaign, I could totally work with those numbers, but I'm afraid that my pep talks will hold little sway over the weather.

Posted Wed Jan 28 07:29:50 2009 Tags:

Mulch Replaced After Soil Heats Up

Staking tomatoesAs with the peas, the leaf mulch is raked aside before planting and afterwards, when the ground heats up, is raked back again.  This mulch is also necessary over the winter to keep my clay soil from compacting and getting water-logged; it makes early planting possible.  Using mulch year after year also loosens and lightens the soil.

No special preparation for planting may be needed; often I just make a furrow and plant.  But for long-rooted crops in clay soil, better results will be obtained when a two-foot strip along the row is loosed with a spading fork.  This applies particularly to beets, carrots, parsnips --- all your crops, if there's time.  It's not too much work, and the whole garden can be done in a few years by alternating rows --- in any one year I never spade up the entire garden.  Read more....

This post is part of our Planting for a Four Season Harvest lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Jan 28 12:38:50 2009 Tags:

hanunted bridge Dungannon
I took this picture today in the middle of my evening walk with Lucy.

I've heard from four separate people around here that this bridge is haunted by an older lady wearing a long night gown, although I have yet to speak to anybody who's actually seen anything ghost like.

Maybe someday I'll get lucky and snap a picture of said ghost in the future, if there is actually any such thing?

Posted Wed Jan 28 17:28:38 2009 Tags:
Anna Parsnips

ParsnipsYou may not believe it now, but until I started gardening I was a massively picky eater.  I didn't like leafy greens, garlic, onions (just cut them on the same cutting board with something I liked and I wouldn't eat any of it!), winter squash, summer squash --- the list goes on and on.

Now I find myself excited to try new vegetables and unable to name any I don't like.  (Maybe canned olives?)  The few I no longer grow are simply because they require too much babying and aren't my very favorites.

So I was thrilled when Mom gave me a parsnip to taste test.  I cooked it up with some free range turkey and dumplings today (and onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and thyme.)  The verdict --- delicious!  Sweet as a carrot!

Information on growing parsnips is a bit scanty.  From what I understand, it needs to be in the ground quite a bit longer than a carrot, so should be planted about 100 days before your first fall frost.  I plan to hunt down some seeds then plant my first parsnips June 30.

Posted Thu Jan 29 08:35:29 2009 Tags:

Exempts Eggplant and Peppers from Early Transplanting

CornEggplant and peppers are not subjected to early transplanting because they're more tender, especially eggplant.  It may seem harsh treatment in cold, raw weather for the tomatoes, and I do delay planting in some years.  Remember: Tomatoes must be well-protected when set out before their regular time.

...When all danger of even light frost is over, the tender crops go in.  In my area, that means about May 30; in northern New England, even later.  In areas of short summers, most gardeners risk a few plantings ahead of the "safe" date.  I sow a few bush beans in early May, and perhaps a hill or two of summer squash, protected under a hotcap, glass jug, or loose mulch of leaves or straw.  Last May I planted Spring Gold, an early corn that starts well in cool weather.

To be continued....

Tirrell, R.  1966, February.  Planting for a 4-Season Harvest.  Organic Gardening and Farming.

Reprinted by permission of Organic Gardening magazine.  Copyright Rodale, Inc., U.S.A.  All rights reserved.

This post is part of our Planting for a Four Season Harvest lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Jan 29 11:57:34 2009 Tags:

stihl chainsawThis larger than normal Stihl  chainsaw has been one of the most reliable gas powered tools I've ever had the pleasure of operating. It gets a bit heavy sometimes to carry, but the extra power really comes in handy.

Last week it started to sputter and stall and seemed to be functioning at barely half power.

My first guess was right, it had some bad gas. I poured out the old stuff and put a fresh new gas oil mixture in and it zipped back to 100 percent. I made the mistake of buying two 5 gallon containers of gas back in the summer when it seemed like the price was going through the roof. Now I know how long is too long for storing fuel for our machines.

Posted Thu Jan 29 18:22:42 2009 Tags:

Spud barWhen we got the golf cart back Monday, we started to drive it back to the house and promptly bottomed out.  We were tired, cold, and wet, so decided to leave it for the time being.

Then it poured down rain for two days, and we got sidetracked with other important chores (including taking Strider to be snipped!)  Finally, yesterday afternoon, I headed out to poke at the golf cart again.  I brought Mark's favorite hand tool --- the spud bar (more commonly known as a tamping bar.)  I can barely lift the thing, but it's extremely useful for breaking up soil when digging, then compacting the soil when putting it back in place around a fencepost.  I figured it might also work well as a lever to pry the golf cart up off the ground.

I slipped the spud bar under the grounded portion of the cart and lifted.  Whee! --- the cart slid down the tilted spud bar and up the hill.  The rainy weather and endless grant proposal I've been working on had me a bit down in the dumps, but the satisfaction of pulling the cart loose jolted me back into a good mood.  The spud bar --- mother's little helper.

Posted Fri Jan 30 08:26:26 2009 Tags:

Starts Tomatoes Outdoors

ZucchiniTomato seed can be sown now directly in the ground, novelty varieties such as Cherry or Yellow Pear, which don't take so long to mature.  Or more "early" tomatoes which grow more quickly than the main crop and will be ready to take over when the first lot of tomatoes is petering out in late summer.

For most tender crops, though, wait until the environment is thoroughly warm for the second big planting period of the gardener's year.  The following go in: lots of bush beans, cucumber, summer squash.  I plant 3 kinds of this favorite vegetable: White Bush Scallop; some form of the dark-green Italian zucchinni; a Yellow Summer.  Last year I grew two: Early Prolific Straightneck and Seneca Butterbar Hybrid; the first pale yellow, the second, buttery, and both good.  Read more....

This post is part of our Planting for a Four Season Harvest lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Jan 30 11:55:02 2009 Tags:

lucy at footbridgeHere's another view of our homemade footbridge taken this evening.

I'm going through a phase lately where I want to replace it with a set of ziplines, although I'm not sure if Lucy would be up for such a ride?

Posted Fri Jan 30 17:50:50 2009 Tags:
Patterns in rotten firewood

Mark tells me that his head is full of useless bits of trivia from his TV-watching days --- like the plotlines of Gilligan's Island episodes.  My head is instead full of a different kind of useless trivia.  Like how rotting box-elder turns pink with delicate black lines but rotting walnut turns turquoise....
Posted Sat Jan 31 09:27:26 2009 Tags:

man dog shadowIt was a slow Saturday on the farm today. We try to make time for rest and relaxation on the weekends if at all possible. The photo above was taken just before sunset today out by a curve in the driveway with the Fuji S1000 fd, which is only getting more valuable to me as I delve deeper into it's many cool features. If you're in the market for a digital camera in the 150-200 dollar range you might want to give it a look.

Posted Sat Jan 31 18:03:30 2009 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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