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

archives for 03/2009

Mar 2009

March is the real beginning of the gardening season in zone 6 --- here's a rundown of our planting schedule.  Everything goes directly in the ground with no protection, unless otherwise noted.

  • Fallen bird's nestMarch 1-7: lettuce (in a cold frame), onions from seed, shelling peas, collards, kale, spinach, swiss chard
  • March 8-14: snow peas (second planting), shelling peas (second planting)
  • March 15-22: carrots, poppies, parsley
  • March 23-30: cabbage (set out seedlings), Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes (start indoors now to be set out in May)

In addition, now's a great time to finalize your garden plan for the year --- don't forget to rotate your families from last year!  Be sure to add some organic matter to your beds as you plant them.  And don't forget that March is the best time to prune your fruit trees, too.

Posted Sun Mar 1 07:17:29 2009 Tags:

ant vs henI rudely evicted what seemed like hundreds of ants from a cozy piece of firewood I was chopping today.

It was a Gulliver like moment where I felt briefly rotten for causing such a huge housing problem for this little colony of ants.

That feeling lasted about 10 seconds and was quickly deleted with the help of our roaming chicken and her appetite for all things small and insect like. The warm fire in the wood stove also went a long way in soothing my ant guilt.

Posted Sun Mar 1 21:14:02 2009 Tags:

Broccoli seedlingMarch dawned cold and wet --- I hope the month remembers to go out like a lamb.  We scrambled to come up with firewood, lucking upon a fallen Black Locust snag which was dry and burned hot, though split only with much effort.  Warmer weather had better come soon or we'll be out of seasoned wood!

I spent most of the weekend lounging on the couch with the cats, engrossed in my forest gardening book.  Sunday evening, I pulled my head out of the clouds long enough to walk Lucy, catching a glimpse of a sleek mink by the creek which slipped into a hole before I could get the camera out of its bag.  Back inside, I checked out my broccoli and cabbage seedlings, which are growing well (though a tad leggy).  Most have one true leaf and this one is already working on leaf number two.

Posted Mon Mar 2 07:46:46 2009 Tags:

The young orchard which we'll be turning into a forest garden.For this week's lunchtime series, I thought you all might enjoy seeing the initial planning stages for our new forest garden.  This photo shows the area we'll be working with --- the worst part of our garden, full of weeds and waterlogged clay soil.  The book recommends first articulating our broad goals and the specific factors we hope to use to achieve those goals, speaking in the present tense from five or ten years in the future when our goals have been met:

My barnside permaculture is primarily an orchard of fruit trees with a shrub and herb layer which rounds out the ecosystem and promotes the growth of the trees.  It is also a tranquil nook which tempts me to relax and enjoy the outdoors in summer and winter.  As the herbs and shrubs expand, I use their propagules to spread permaculture ideas into other garden areas, experimenting as I go.

The specifics...

This post is part of our Planning The Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Mar 2 10:27:25 2009 Tags:

train stuffToday required a trip into a nearby town for some tire repair, a spark plug purchase, and a library visit. I discovered a park down by the river which was jumping up and down while yelling "come and take some pictures of me".

I'm always intrigued by the waste material that can be found alongside the railroad tracks in this country. These heavy steel plates are what seem to hold the actual track in place and I guess they need to be replaced from time to time?  I wonder if they can be used for anything non railroad related?

Posted Mon Mar 2 17:05:11 2009 Tags:

Laying down cardboard for sheet mulchSheet mulching, lasagna gardening, and no-till farming are all related by the effort to grow crops without disturbing the soil.  They're trying to prevent the damage done by tilling, a common practice which mixes soil profiles, kills important soil organisms, and often causes erosion.  Instead, thick layers of organic matter are applied right on top of untouched soil, mimicking the leaf litter layer in a forest which prevents weed seeds from sprouting, holds in water, and provides a home for many soil organisms.

I would love to lasagna garden, but I just don't have the excess organic matter it requires.  I do intend to include some sheet mulching in my new forest garden, though, especially where the Japanese honeysuckle is so bad.  Monday afternoon, I tore up some old cardboard boxes I had in the barn to start the big golf cart path which will run through the north end of the forest garden.  For those of you without access to my new favorite book, here are the basic steps of a sheet mulch....

Posted Tue Mar 3 08:46:51 2009 Tags:
Current conditions

The next step is to create a base map showing the current conditions at the site.  The area I'll be working with is bounded by the driveway on the south, the barn on the north, and a major thoroughfare on the west.  Young fruit trees and grapevines are surrounded by clay soil which ponds during rains.  A three year old brush pile is slowly rotting down, but is still a major feature of the landscape.  The site is mostly sunny, though the hill on the south side shades it on winter mornings.  We don't get any wind to speak of back here in our holler.  Read more....

This post is part of our Planning The Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Mar 3 11:26:30 2009 Tags:

square root of JapanIf you can multiply the day by the month and it equals the last two digits of the year, then you are in the middle of Square Root Day.

This fantastic gift from the multiverse of numbers is a puzzle that's only offered nine times a century, and so far has only been realized by .09 percent of the population.

Is it a coincidence that it falls on the ninth year of this century...with .09 percent believing...and only nine times every 100 years? Will you be the next to solve this mathematical brain teaser and join the ranks of this shrinking population, or are you like me and have yet to discover the full problem much less even part of the solution?

Make your plans now for the next Square Root Day which will be April 4th 2016.

Posted Tue Mar 3 15:54:00 2009 Tags:
Hauling manure for the garden

We gathered another load of manure Tuesday afternoon.  Last winter at this time, our pickup truck was working and we hauled manure in the truck and on a trailer behind the truck. 
I shovelled a lot of that manure four times --- into the pickup, out of the pickup into a heap on the ground, into a wheelbarrow, and then from barrow to bed.  Phew!

This year, without a pickup truck, we're instead shovelling manure into five gallon buckets.  Given our ultra-fuel-efficient car and the one mile drive from farm to farm (8 cents per round trip), this method actually seems to work better.  We only shovel the manure once, into the buckets.  After that, we can lift the buckets into the golf cart, and then pour them individually onto our garden beds. 

But an even better way is on the horizon --- we ran into another neighbor who told us that if we help him shovel out his barn he'll drive a whole flatbed dump truck load to our garden.  If Mark had a more envious disposition, he would have been jealous at the lust which leapt into my eyes....

Posted Wed Mar 4 07:16:16 2009 Tags:
Eventual canopy coverage

My rough base map needed some on the ground measurement before I moved on to the next stage.  Here's my revised version, showing more accurate distances between fruit trees, an approximation of their eventual canopy cover, and a few more primary paths.  You'll notice that the brush pile miraculously disappeared --- I hope I'm able to make that happen.  I also decided to move the baby persimmon to a gap in the woods once I read that it can grow up to 50 feet in diameter!  Next, placing the wetlands....

This post is part of our Planning The Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Mar 4 11:52:34 2009 Tags:

panoramic maulepoxy closeup
The original super splitter repair managed to keep the maul head from flying off at the handle after several hours of repeated use, but the space in between the maul and the handle has increased along with a wiggle action that seems to be getting worse.

I used about half of each tube in a Devcon two part epoxy kit. This stuff is very strong, but I've never tested it on such extreme pressures as what it's about to go through once the chopping starts back up. Stay tuned to see if it's strong enough to hold up under real world conditions.

Posted Wed Mar 4 20:07:15 2009 Tags:

Adding wood chips onto the sheet mulchI took advantage of the last few hours of frozen ground yesterday to haul in a load of composted wood chips to add to the sheet mulch.  The wood chips have been sitting in our parking area for about three years now, I think, and as I shovelled them up I felt they were almost too good to lay down on a path.  Many of the chips had decomposed into rich brown dirt, and the nearby trees had begun to sneak their roots up to steal the bounty.

I suspect that may be our last trip in the golf cart for several days.  I'm thrilled by the forecast warm weather, but it's going to turn the driveway to goop before the ground starts to dry.  No driving for a while!

Posted Thu Mar 5 07:24:52 2009 Tags:
Primary habitats

Based on the wetland and eventual canopy locations, I filled in plant groupings on the map above.  This was a pretty complicated step, which I'll go into in far more detail than you'll care for.  First, I listed all of the plants I was interested in growing, focussing mainly on plants which will increase fertility of the soil but throwing in some nectary and edible plants as well.  Then I narrowed the plant list down to those which I can get my hands on for free (primarily on my own property), or which I'm willing to spend money on.

Next, I grouped the plants of interest into categories based on disturbance intensity, sun/shade, and moisture level.  The categories are as follows...

This post is part of our Planning The Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Mar 5 12:23:14 2009 Tags:

chicken tractor constructionToday was a good day for working outside and building the first stage of our newest chicken tractor or chicken ark if you live in the United Kingdom.

I feel it's important to build the nest box first once you have the frame together. Place it at least a foot above the ground with a big enough hatch for easy egg access.

I've found that the more comfortable and closed in your nest box is the less your hens are likely to lay an egg on the ground.

Read other posts about chicken tractors:

Posted Thu Mar 5 20:20:15 2009 Tags:
Using a hoe to open a seed trench.

Thursday was the first big planting day of the season (8 beds of lettuce, onions, and greens.)  I broadcast most seeds across the beds, filling my hand with the proper number of seeds then gently scattering them over the soil surface.  But for my onions, I've had better luck with rows, so I thought some of you might be interested in a quick tutorial in how to use a hoe to create rows.

2008 onionsTo make a shallow planting trench with your hoe, tilt the tool a bit to the side so that only one point of the hoe is in the ground, then drag the hoe toward you.  An even shallower trench can be made by putting the hoe handle down flat on the ground where you want the trench and lightly stepping on it.  In retrospect, maybe the latter is the technique I should have used since onions seeds are only supposed to be half an inch deep --- it's been a long time since I planted last year's onions!

A couple more notes before you rush out and plant your onions.  First of all, most people around here buy sets, but I've read that starting your onions from seed results in better storage onions (and seeds are much cheaper!)  When you're choosing your seeds, be sure to know the difference between long day onions for northern gardens and short day onions for southern gardens.  We're right smack on the dividing line, so we chose long day onions (Copra Hybrid, to be exact) and had great luck with them last year.
Posted Fri Mar 6 07:18:55 2009 Tags:
Keyhole bedsThe actual implementation of my plan will be a subject for another time.  For now, I wanted to give you a bit more information on two elements of my forest garden plan which I haven't explained yet.

The paths in my diagram look convoluted, but there is method to my madness.  I opted for a natural flow pattern based on nodes when laying out the main paths.  Since the garden won't require as much routine maintenance as my vegetable garden, I've decided to use keyhole beds off the sides of the main paths.  Keyhole beds provide the maximum surface area to path ratio, mimicking the blood vessels in our lungs.  Next, read about chicken moats....

This post is part of our Planning The Forest Garden lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:
Posted Fri Mar 6 13:34:20 2009 Tags:

roadside sawI've noticed a few different guys around here that regularly setup beside the road to sell a small collection of hand tools.

This guy is named Waren, and I stopped today to chat with him about prices.

He seems pretty fair. 15 bucks for a shovel, which might be worth the extra 5 from what the cheap ones go for at the big stores. The two man and one man saws are what caught my fancy. He wants 80 dollars for both. They might make a good back up to the chainsaw.

Posted Fri Mar 6 17:20:07 2009 Tags:
Shots of the garden

Friday afternoon on the farm --- swelling peach buds (go back to sleep!), the first near-blooming daffodil, dirty feet, and playing with permaculture.  No photos of the spring peepers who joined the floodplain chorus or the peas and greens I put in the ground.  We also put hen #6 in our bellies, a smooth operation which took only about an hour (not counting the eating.)  Such a perfect day to be outdoors!

Posted Sat Mar 7 08:06:51 2009 Tags:
Mark Sky saw

sawThis two person saw showed up today thanks to Anna's mom.

It took some considerable effort to cut half way through a small walnut limb, which was not too easy on the arms, but the design is very easy on the eyes.

Stay tuned to see how well it cuts once we get it sharpened.

Posted Sat Mar 7 17:45:42 2009 Tags:

Filling up the washtub with a hoseSpring has come --- if you forgot to Spring Ahead last night, now's the time to change your clocks!

Meanwhile, I'm revelling in the beautiful weather.  We're only about 80% through our water-line-burying project, but it's so warm that our frozen lines thawed out.  I was able to fill up the washtub and do laundry without hoisting five gallon buckets of water out of the tank!  Now that's spring!

Posted Sun Mar 8 09:37:34 2009 Tags:

EpoxifiedThe epoxy has firmed up nicely and looks like a solid super splitter once again.

I've only chopped a few logs since the repair, but I have a feeling our problem is solved for good this time.

Posted Sun Mar 8 18:37:09 2009 Tags:

First salad of the year!We had just enough lettuce and spinach to have our first salad of the year on Sunday!  I thawed out some of our last home grown strawberries to celebrate and we each scarfed down our half bowl in short order.

The weather continued to stun me, though I wasn't quite so thrilled to get my first mosquito bite....

Posted Mon Mar 9 08:10:00 2009 Tags:

Books and a DVD from GaiamEverett from Gaiam sent us a package of entertainment to review last week.  We were both thrilled --- all of the good parts of surprise Christmas presents with none of the more difficult aspects of the season.

Both of the books are about bees, which is perfect timing since our bees are slated to ship in approximately a month.  Stay tuned for a review of each (and of the DVD), but for now you can see more in Gaiam's organic gardening section.  Enjoy!

Posted Mon Mar 9 11:37:34 2009 Tags:

chicken tractor stage 2
I managed to get the main roost mounted today during stage 2 of project chicken tractor.

It might not look like it now, but it's really starting to take shape.

The next step is to finish the frame around the main roost area and then cover it to give our girls a nice shelter from the wind and rain.

Read other posts about chicken tractors:

Posted Mon Mar 9 19:03:40 2009 Tags:

Egyptian onionsMonday was so warm that if I lay down in front of the Egytian onion bed and looked through the green toward the sky, I could almost believe it was summer.  The chickens --- who have been craving every iota of sun for the last few months --- begged me to turn their tractors around so that they'd have shade.  Lucy and her doggie buddy (who's visiting for the week) slipped up into the cool at the edge of the hillside.

Meanwhile, I chained myself to the computer for four hours, then could bear it no more.  Many people are greedy for more money, but I'm greedy for more time in the outdoors --- once I've paid the bills, I'm far more likely to be found in the garden than hammering down someone's door in search of more clients.  After all, don't I get more enjoyment out of an hour in the sun than I would out of working an hour and then taking us out to dinner or some other frivolity?  I prepared more garden beds to be planted today and pondered the careful balance we walk between enough time and enough money.

Posted Tue Mar 10 08:34:29 2009 Tags:

The Backyard BeekeeperYou can probably guess which book I went for first --- the one subtitled "An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden."  I'd been vaguely considering trying to take a beekeeping course before our bees arrived, and I'm thrilled to be able to feed my antisocial side and instead read a book chock full of photos.

The only downside of the book is that its subtitle is accurate --- it's pretty simple and doesn't introduce more contentious topics I've read about on the internet (like whether to use a queen excluder or not).  But after reading The Backyard Beekeeper, I still felt like I had spent a week walking around with an expert.  Cut for racy bee sex scenes....

Posted Tue Mar 10 12:16:04 2009 Tags:

chicken tractor montage
The main roost is now enclosed on three sides with a roof. I used aluminum flashing for the first layer which will keep it sealed and reflect some of the hen body heat back. Flashing is cheap and a joy to work with. It can be easily cut with a common pair of scissors.

The outer layer is some scrap carpet that worked out really well on the other two tractors. It seems to provide a nice layer of insulation. If you don't have any scrap carpet handy and you're not the type to scrounge for some at the dump then I recommend a section of that astro turf carpet they use on miniature golf courses.

Read other posts about chicken tractors:

Posted Tue Mar 10 20:07:42 2009 Tags:
Eastern Phoebe on the pea trellis
The books say that Eastern Phoebes don't live in our area over the winter, but birders will tell you that a lot of them do hang about.  I'm not quite sure what these insectivores eat in the dead of winter, but even I could see the bugs coming out of the woodwork in the last couple of days.  So I guess it's no wonder that the phoebes also made an appearance, with one hunting from an old pea trellis yesterday morning and two more serenading us as we ate supper outside.

I even saw the season's first butterfly Tuesday --- a comma (or maybe a question mark --- I need a book to distinguish the two.)  This time the book told me that the sighting wasn't too far out of the ordinary, but I couldn't help being a bit fearful of the big G.W. (global warming, that is) as we dip down from zone 6 and into zone 7 (according to the National Arbor Day Foundation's revised zone map.)  One of my gardening friends plants everything a couple of weeks earlier than she used to, and says that we definitely have dipped into a warmer zone.
Posted Wed Mar 11 08:48:46 2009 Tags:

While Mark finishes up King Corn and I finish up Letters from the Hive, I thought I'd take this chance to get to know all of our new readers.  Time for a poll!  Feel free to add any additional thoughts in the comments section.

My Ballot Box
I read Walden Effect because...

I found Walden Effect....

What do you think about the frequency of our posts?

I check your blog...

How about the length of our posts?

What would you like to hear more about?

What do you think about our various lunchtime series?

View Results

Posted Wed Mar 11 12:05:50 2009 Tags:

                 chicken tractor gif
I finished covering the top area with flashing and completed the carpet enclosure for the main sleeping roost. Got some barks of approval from Lucy and her friend Curly. They recommended I make an over sized access door and I'm glad they did. Now we have a big enough opening to stand inside the tractor once it's open.

At this pace I should have it ready for a chicken test drive sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Read other posts about chicken tractors:

Posted Wed Mar 11 19:32:27 2009 Tags:
Finishing the bee box lid

Cut corner of flashing to make a bee box lidMark had all the tools laid out around the chicken tractor, so I decided to finish up my bee box exterior covers.  The result is very serviceable, but I wish I'd taken the time to measure and bend the flashing a bit more carefully --- the picture on the lower left shows what happens when you bend your flashing wrong and have to rebend it....

You can probably guess what I did from the photos, but if you can't --- first, I cut two pieces of flashing a bit longer than the length of the exterior cover.  I made a small cut in two of the corners (shown at right) and then bent the flaps over to make a corner (top left).  As I went along, I realized that the sharp corners were potentially hazardous, so I folded them under a bit.  Then I screwed the flashing onto the top of the cover, and repeated with another piece on the other side.  Our bee box is nearly ready for bees!
Posted Thu Mar 12 08:44:50 2009 Tags:

Cave painting showing bee hive being harvestedDid you know that the lives of bees and man have been intricately intertwined for thousands of years?  That cave paintings on several continents (like the one reproduced here) depict epic journeys to rob honey from wild bees?

Did you know that a species of giant bee in Asia builds unprotected combs on the undersides of tree branches --- combs that are six feet long (shown below)?  People harvest these massive combs in the wild with rope ladders, woven buckets, and knives carved from bone since mythology suggests that the bees are angered by metal.

Giant Asian beesIn Mexico, the Maya took care of stingless bees.  They carted home inhabited logs then reached in with their unprotected hand to yank the honey out at intervals.  These stingless bees are still cultivated, though they have lost ground to the introduced honey bee which has the downside of stinging but the upside of producing more honey per colony.

As you can tell, Letters from the Hive was right up my alley --- a field entomologist's rivetting tale of the relationship between people and bees.  Really good non-fiction like this is a lot like really good science fiction --- it takes you to a world beyond your imagination.

Posted Thu Mar 12 12:21:02 2009 Tags:

chicken tractor plastic nettingThe new chicken tractor only got an hour of my attention today, but it was a good hour.

Green plastic netting is my new favorite material for covering these things. It's easier to cut and manage than traditional poultry wire and I think it looks better. Small dry wall screws seem to be the perfect choice for attaching the larger corner sections of the netting to a wooden surface.

It's always a good feeling to see a rough design in my imagination go from mental chalkboard to reality. I'm tossing around an idea of maybe building another tractor after this one and offering it for sale on Craig's list complete with hens. Of course that would depend on how broody our new hens will be once we get a rooster. The first generation of Golden Comet girls just refused to go down that road. Maybe it was something last year's rooster said or did?

Read other posts about chicken tractors:

Posted Thu Mar 12 18:02:25 2009 Tags:

StriderToday was one of those farm days where an emergency crops up and you have to spend all day treading water just to catch back up.  Overnight, Strider had climbed 30 feet up a box elder to escape the dogs, and he refused to come down. 

I tried coaxing him from our seven foot ladder, to no avail.  Next try was throwing a rope over the branch and hoisting up a bucket with tuna in the bottom in the vain hope that he might be tempted to jump in and be gently lowered to the ground.  Hah!

We figured that if we made him a ramp, he might be willing to walk down a gentler incline.  But by this time (after lunch), he had hunkered down and wasn't willing to try to walk down our carefully rigged up ramp.  Read more....

Posted Fri Mar 13 08:52:27 2009 Tags:

King CornIt's been a while, so --- time for a giveaway!  We're passing on the Letters from the Hive book and King Corn DVD that Gaiam so kindly sent us to review.  (I try to keep our bookshelves pared down to the bare minimum, so if we're not going to read or watch something a second time, on it goes to a new home.)

We're trying out a new giveaway method because we like to hear from our readers and we don't hear from you all enough.  To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on any post by April 13.  I'll throw your name in the hat (multiple times if you make multiple posts) then contact the winner through the blog in April.  That way you have an incentive to leave us lots of comments. :-)  I look forward to hearing from you!

Edited to add: Mark's decided to throw in some daffodil bulbs and a chamomile plant to get your flower/herb garden started too!

The astute reader will notice that we never posted a review for King Corn.  We're at a bit of a loss because we didn't really like it, but some of our friends recommended it highly.  It takes quite an awesome movie to make it through my anti-documentary mentality, so don't

be turned off by my negative feedback here!

Posted Fri Mar 13 12:56:26 2009 Tags:

panoramic barn
Plymouth Rock close upThe new chicken tractor had its first voyage today across the garden to a new location near the berries.

We discovered that a well placed furniture dolly under the heavier nest box end made pulling it long distances downright easy.

I installed a couple of lawn mower wheels on the last tractor and it just didn't seem to be worth it. The furniture dolly is a good compromise because it can be taken away or switched to another end or side without much effort. The new occupants seem to be happy with their new home.

Read other posts about chicken tractors:

Posted Fri Mar 13 19:25:41 2009 Tags:

Blooming hazelThe weather has cooled back down, which is probably a good thing since spring was starting to feel a bit like a runaway mule.  I haven't pruned the rest of my fruit trees yet, but the peach buds are already starting to swell and show their first signs of color (green, not pink yet.)  As you can see, the wild hazels I plan to transplant into my forest garden are already in full bloom.  Whoa, whoa, whoa!

For those of you with fruit trees already starting to bloom (Mom, Daddy), here's a very useful chart to show you which temperatures can harm them.  It's worth watching the weather forecast and your fruit tree buds very carefully at this time of year, since you can often protect trees in an emergency by covering them with
sheets or even turning on a sprinkler.  We can't have a repeat of last year's fruitless summer!

Posted Sat Mar 14 08:55:51 2009 Tags:

peak oil imageDmitry Orlov came out with a book last year titled "Reinventing  Collapse" where he compares the collapse of the Soviet Union with what's going on now in the United States.

His attitude towards this bleak version of our future has a surprising upbeat tone to it. He points out some simple things we can change now to be better prepared for what he envisions as a tough ride.

I got attracted to his way of thinking by watching this  very informative interview on Russian television. His blog has even deeper articles he's written on the subject, including a radical way of using sail boats to solve some of the problems he predicts are already unavoidable.

Posted Sat Mar 14 21:46:51 2009 Tags:
Blueberry twig in the rain

A mass of blueberry bushes arrived in the mail on Friday afternoon --- thank you Heather and Kira!  They've been heeled in while Mark and I prepare their new homes, a process that may take a few days since some box-elders have to come down to provide light and I have to acidify the soil, which is currently too wet to work.

Soil acidification appears to be a more contentious topic than I knew.  Most people add sulfur to lower soil pH before planting blueberries, but I've read a few reports that the sulfur gives the berries a bitter taste (and I'm always leery of chemicals.)  Other people suggest modifying the soil with tea bags and citrus peels, both of which we have in profusion.  Or peat moss (which I'm morally opposed to, so won't use) and/or decayed pine needles (which we have plenty of up on the hill.)

Luckily, my friends picked out two plants of each variety, so the solution is obvious --- a paired experiment where I acidify the soil for one set of plants chemically and for the other naturally....

Posted Sun Mar 15 10:44:45 2009 Tags:

aqua miser gif
Since the ceiling in this chicken tractor is so low I couldn't hang our automatic chicken waterer from the top the way I usually do. Instead I cut a hole the size of the container in a piece of plywood and mounted it at the appropriate height.

It seems to be working out very well, and is even easier to service due to the fact that you don't need to open the door to access the water.

aquamiser still

Posted Sun Mar 15 21:27:21 2009 Tags:
Pruning the peach

I'm such a novice pruner, having only dabbled in it for the last three years and only really seen the results of my pruning this year.  I figure in about a decade, I'll feel like I've got my feet under me.  In the meantime, I cut and hope.

I'm pruning all of my fruit trees to one of two forms --- the central leader system (apples, pears, cherry) or the open center system (peaches, nectarines.)  Since I pruned most of my apple trees in February, I'm focusing on the open center system here, which is a lot more difficult for the novice, in my opinion.  The purpose is to keep the tree short and spreading so that the maximum amount of sunlight reaches the leaves and fruit (and the fruit is easy to pick.)  Unfortunately, this pruning technique goes directly counter to a tree's natural growth system --- straight up.  Read more....

Posted Mon Mar 16 08:01:10 2009 Tags:

Mycelium Running CoverI've been on a quest over the last few months to find a way to produce my own edible mushrooms.  The obvious answer --- what we did --- is to buy commercially developed spawn to start cultures in our logs.  But once we have shiitake and oyster mushroom logs fruiting, it seems like we shouldn't need to keep buying the pricey spawn.  Can't we save our own "seeds" and start mushrooms from scratch?

The internet gives a pretty resounding "no."  Most discussions tell you that you need sterile laboratory conditions to produce your own spawn, at an estimated cost of at least $1,000 to get started.  Way out of our price range.

Then I stumbled across a reference to Paul Stamets' Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.  Through the wonders of interlibrary loan, I now have this enticing book in my grubby little hands.  The book tells me "yes we can!" --- it's quite possible to reproduce your edible mushrooms on the cheap. 

I might try the ancient technique of cutting new logs for our shiitakes and placing them underneath our existing fruiting logs, hoping that spores will fall off the shiitake mushrooms and grow on the new logs.  For our oyster mushrooms (and the wild morels we find in the woods), though, there are some more exact options.
  This week's lunchtime series will cover the most interesting techniques, the ones I hope to try this year.  Stay tuned!

This post is part of our How to Cultivate Mushrooms for Free lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Mar 16 11:54:49 2009 Tags:

lucy panoramic flood plain
This picture illustrates how our little creek has grown up to be a mighty river in the last couple of days. With a bit of luck we'll mount a salvage operation tomorrow morning to reclaim a rather large wooden beam that seems to have floated our way and lodged itself nicely against a Box Elder tree by the footbridge.

Posted Mon Mar 16 20:16:32 2009 Tags:
Spring scene

When March begins, the speedwells and dead nettle and bittercress start to bloom in the yard.  Then come the first tree flowers --- elm and maple twigs with little blooms you would hardly notice unless you were looking for them.  But for me, spring isn't really here until the first early spring ephemerals pop up in the woods.  Monday was the day!  I found a grand total of two hepaticas, each semi-closed in the rain, but I know that by next week at this time the woods will be brimming with life!

Posted Tue Mar 17 07:33:52 2009 Tags:

Taking a spore printTechnique 1: Producing spawn from spores

The biology is a bit complicated, and I won't go into it here, but spores can be used to start new mushroom colonies a bit like seeds are used to start new veggie gardens.  The trick is to get the spores to grow, and Paul Stamets suggests two options.....

This post is part of our How to Cultivate Mushrooms for Free lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Mar 17 08:34:24 2009 Tags:

tree cut montage
It was a perfect day for cutting down trees, and appreciating the springlike weather.

Posted Tue Mar 17 16:51:43 2009 Tags:

Dewy spiderwebSpring is in the garden --- we've eaten our third salad of the season, are eying the asparagus shoots we're not allowed to eat this year, and are watching the first peas twine up out of the ground.  Meanwhile, I transplanted the broccoli and cabbage seedlings we started indoors into a cold frame, wishing I'd started them there from the beginning.

Results of our sunken cold frame experiment

Our sunken cold frame experiment is ready to analyze --- no hard data, but these photographs speak for themselves.  The lettuce in the normal height part of the bed is about a week ahead of the lettuce in the sunken portion.  I guess that light, not temperature, is the limiting factor for lettuce in the early spring.

Posted Wed Mar 18 08:27:10 2009 Tags:

Stem butt of a morelTechnique 2: Producing spawn from stem butts

An alternative to starting with spores is to start with stem butts.  This technique works well for morels and oyster mushrooms and allows you to clone a mushroom strain.  (Using spores allows "cross-pollination" (not really, but close enough) similar to how gathering seeds from butternut squash grown near a pumpkin would result in a new variety.)

First, gather your mushroom carefully, being sure to pull up the bulbous base and a bit of the root/hair-like growth branching out from the base of the mushroom --- this area is called the stem butt.  Cut the stem where it begins to narrow above the butt and discard the top (aka, eat it).  The stem butt can then be used to make spawn in several ways, the ones I'm most interested in being....

This post is part of our How to Cultivate Mushrooms for Free lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Mar 18 11:48:44 2009 Tags:

well pump
The hand dug well now has a small access port two feet below the surface.

I'm installing a short section of water hose to make raising and lowering of the pump trouble free.

Posted Wed Mar 18 17:38:46 2009 Tags:

Blueberry by a decaying pine trunkWith the overshadowing trees down and the ground dry, I finally put our wedding blueberries into the ground Wednesday afternoon.  Their new home is on a bit of a slant, so I dragged some decaying pine trunks out of the woods to form an erosion barrier on the downhill side of each row.  I'm hoping that the rotting wood will provide nutrients for the blueberries and acidify the soil a bit, too.  Since pines and blueberries are often partners in nature, it's possible that some helpful fungi will come along for the ride and pep our little bushes up.

With my last few gasps of energy, I planted parsley, carrots, and poppies in the garden.  My various clients all need computer work done ASAP, so I guess it's a good thing it's supposed to rain tomorrow and keep me indoors....

Posted Thu Mar 19 08:53:32 2009 Tags:

Pounding shiitake plugs into a logTwo methods of inoculation

So now you've got spawn in some form or another.  What do you do with it?  This stage is called inoculation --- getting the spawn into its new growing medium.

The dowel spawn can be pounded into logs and stumps just like we did in February.  I suspect that cardboard or broth spawn could be turned into dowel spawn by mixing the two and waiting a while.

Another inoculation method which looks like fun is the spore oil technique....

This post is part of our How to Cultivate Mushrooms for Free lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Mar 19 11:59:29 2009 Tags:

Lucy latchSometimes the latch mechanism that holds a hood down can get sticky, not allowing it to close all the way.

The easy fix is to use a screw driver to activate each of the two springs while dropping a few drips of oil where the metal moves. It's also a good idea to lubricate each end of the control cable.

Open and close the hood several times to let the oil work its way back into the grooves.

Posted Thu Mar 19 19:16:18 2009 Tags:

Those of you with long memories will recall that I was thinking of printing up some notecards with Walden Effect images on them a few weeks ago.  That got bogged down in my native distaste for marketing --- I love making art, but the matting, framing, and selling sides of it drive me nuts.

Then the internet came to my rescue!  Imagekind lets me upload my images, then they turn them into prints of various sizes or notecards whenever someone asks for them.  It's a win-win situation --- I get to share my art and bring in a little spending money without having to find a clean, dry place in our tiny trailer to store boxes of prints and notecards.  (Be forewarned that I never physically touch the art, so I obviously can't sign the prints.)  Best of all, you can set up a free account as long as you don't want more than 24 images up there.

So, if you'd like to send a little Walden Effect to your friends, check out our Imagekind page.  And that's it for our monthly dose of advertising. :-)

Posted Fri Mar 20 07:58:38 2009 Tags:

Shiitake mushroomsSo there you have it --- several cheap or free techniques to reproduce your edible mushrooms.  I'll keep you posted on how our various experiments go, but I'd also love to hear from some of you who try these (or other) techniques.

As a final note, Paul Stamets warns that different species of mushrooms respond better to different techniques.  It sounds like it's hard to go wrong with creating new logs of oyster mushrooms, but shiitakes might take a bit more trial and error.  The book notes that shiitake spores must be dried and then rehydrated in order to grow and shiitakes aren't listed as good candidates for stem butt reproduction.  Sounds like a good challenge!

This post is part of our How to Cultivate Mushrooms for Free lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Mar 20 12:08:36 2009 Tags:

Lucy creek beamThat massive wooden beam the creek delivered last week is now on dry land thanks to a bit of help from Lucy.

I'm not sure what we'll use it for..maybe the creek knows something I don't know?

Posted Fri Mar 20 18:24:10 2009 Tags:
How to make a hardwood grape cutting.

It's that time again --- time to expand your vineyard.  Don't have much cash?  Don't worry.  It's free.

Grapes are perhaps the easiest and cheapest fruit (after strawberries) to propagate.  First,
Six month old grape plant.find someone in your area who grows grapes and offer to help them prune in exchange for taking some of the prunings home.  Trim the prunings into pencil-thick sections with four buds apiece, cutting each one just below the lowest bud (see above.)

Next, soak the cuttings for three days --- this step is very important and will at least double your success rate.  Finally, push each cutting into the ground so that two of the buds are submerged, making sure the buds are all pointing up.

Weed and water just as you would the rest of your garden all summer, then in the fall dig up your new grape plants and put them in your vineyard.  The photo to the right is a seven month old plant I started from a hardwood cutting --- granted, it was the biggest of the batch, but they all looked pretty darn good!
Posted Sat Mar 21 07:58:59 2009 Tags:

daffodilWe've decided to add 5 medium daffodil bulbs and some chamomile plants to this month's giveaway.

With any luck your 5 flower bulbs will multiply into a small daffodil army within 10 years if you take the time to separate them out once they get big enough to reproduce.

Posted Sat Mar 21 19:31:51 2009 Tags:

HepaticaI  had two people ask me why I was morally opposed to peat moss, so I figured I'd do a little exposé here for those of you who aren't in the know.  Peat moss comes from peat bogs where the moss layers on top of its parents, forming a soggy, acidic environment which prevents decay.  As a result, the accumulated layers of moss may end up several feet thick after a thousand years or so, creating a unique environment full of rare plants and animals (like wild cranberries, but not including the plant shown here which is just a pretty hepatica I found in the woods yesterday.)

Harvesting peat moss to use in gardening is a lot like cutting down old growth forests to make raised beds --- in a matter of hours, we can wipe out an ecosystem which will take centuries to regrow.  For those who don't mind transporting materials over distances, coir (coconut husk fibers) is a good replacement for peat moss in the garden.  Personally, I prefer to build up my soil with compost, manure, and leaf mold.

Posted Sun Mar 22 09:03:32 2009 Tags:

220 volt pumpThis is a standard 220 volt well pump. It pushes a very healthy flow of water from our creek to a holding tank about 400 feet uphill.

Last summer we managed to hook it directly up to a set of heavy duty sprinklers for the garden, which seemed to work pretty well.

A guy at Home Depot gave me a half hearted warning on how a pump like that wasn't designed for operation in a creek and it might be a problem if it sucks up too much sand.

I carved out a hole in the creek bottom and secured a large plastic box for the pump to sit in to minimize the particle intake. It seems to be mostly free of sand, so I'm hoping this work horse of a pump can handle what little grit is going through it.

Posted Sun Mar 22 17:30:36 2009 Tags:

Using a twist tie to train berries.The raspberry buds are already starting to disgorge their first tiny leaves --- time to prune and train them before it's too late!

Two years ago, I just let my brambles (blackberries and raspberries) run wild.  But once I put them on simple trellises, my life became a lot easier --- no more carefully lifting up thorny vines as I pushed the mower under them, accidentally cutting through a stem here and there.

Now I use leftover twist ties to attach the bramble vines onto the trellis wires.  As I pruned out old canes on Sunday, I realized that the twist ties were even more utilitarian than I thought --- I easily untwisted ties from canes I was pruning out and then reused the twist ties to attach new canes to the trellis.  A definite training time-saver!

Posted Mon Mar 23 07:54:47 2009 Tags:

Cloth napkinsWhen I was young in the mountains, I sewed cloth napkins on my 1946 Singer sewing machine.  I made red plaid ones for Italian meals and fun butterflies for Summer feasts.  I carefully packed them away. . .

Now that I am married and we have our own home, the napkins are being well used and I've added quite a few more to the collection.  Three years in, do cloth napkins have a practical use in the home?  You bet!  We love using cloth napkins and our guests feel extra special when they stay for meals.  They're a simple, frugal solution to multi-napkin meals (like ribs and fried chicken) and at-the-table spills.  We're not tired of folding them and when we ate meals away from home, I packed them in lunches.  They're also a great way to entertain babies honing their fine motor skills.

How do you get started?  Here's a few tips....

This post is part of our Drop the Disposables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Mon Mar 23 11:56:43 2009 Tags:
Mark Timber!

tree cut
This picture is a perfect illustration of exactly the best way to properly fall a large tree. I wished I had seen it before I cut my first one down.

The notch helps guide the tree where you want it to fall, and prevents it from sandwiching your chain saw, which is a bad thing and can be very dangerous.

Chainsaws are louder than most power tools and require adequate ear protection if you want to avoid long term hearing damage.

Posted Mon Mar 23 17:09:01 2009 Tags:

No Bees: No CropsHave you chatted with your extension agent lately?  I think that extension agents are one of the biggest untapped resources for back-to-the-landers and homesteaders.  The extension agent is your one stop source for free soil tests, bug identification, farming advice, and much more.

In our area, we just found out that "much more" includes $400 of free beekeeping equipment!  If you live in southwest Virginia (and I understand there are similar programs in many other parts of the U.S.), you can get reimbursed for spending up to $400 on hives, bees, and other equipment --- the grant estimates it's enough to get you started with two hives.  We had been scrounging around, getting used boxes and scrimping to buy one package of bees for this year, but if both of our applications are accepted, we're now thinking we might be able to get four free, brand new hives going this year!

Lest you be scared by the word "application", let me add that it consisted of putting our contact information on a sheet of paper and signing it.  So, check your phone book or the online listings and give your extension agent a holler!

Posted Tue Mar 24 08:06:24 2009 Tags:

Mark's three year old paper towel roll.Is there life after paper towels?

When I first suggested to Mike that we stop using paper towels, he was skeptical.  It's easy to see why--they're the go-to fix for almost any mess.  Tear one off to clean up a spill on the floor or use them to drain our beloved bacon.  It was a hard sell, harder in fact than any other green switch we made.  But really, it's so easy and inexpensive to replace your paper towels with more sustainable options....

This post is part of our Drop the Disposables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Tue Mar 24 12:10:44 2009 Tags:

When I was growing up comic book advertisementsxray vision seemed more entertaining than the super hero adventures or Richie Rich chuckles that the medium was intended for. I felt like the fascinating world of Sea monkeys and magic trick gadgets held more promise than an imaginary story line that never seemed to prove itself to be even close to believable in my real world.

I had a long list of favorites, but the one that remained on top was the mythical x-ray glasses. I know what you're thinking...male puberty plus x-ray glasses equal a pretty generic boyhood dream, but my motivation for such a high functioning device was purely scientific, back when the very thought of girls mysteriously caused me to freeze up and hide.

click here to learn the secret of x-ray vision.

Posted Tue Mar 24 20:00:25 2009 Tags:

Snow pea seedling coming upWhen the peas start poking their heads out of the ground, it's time to hurry up and put in a trellis.  Over the past few years, we've explored a few different trellising techniques, and I feel like we've finally settled on the best option.

Peas need to be rotated like most other crops --- I tried to grow them in the same spot two seasons in a row and yields went way down.  So your trellis needs to be easy to assemble and disassemble --- permanent posts in the ground are a pain in the butt.

I bought a bunch of light, three foot metal fence posts for about $2 apiece a few years ago, and they work great for my shorter, shelling peas.  Just pound them in the ground and string up the trellis material (more on that in a minute) and you're good to go.  Read more....

Posted Wed Mar 25 08:32:09 2009 Tags:

Cloth sanitary padsHave a happy period.

If you've got television, you've most likely seen the Always commercial telling you how their plastic pads are going to make your life easier, fresher, and yes, happier.  The truth is, plastic disposable pads aren't all that great--they're full of all sorts of chemicals, very pricey and make weird noises in public restrooms.  They're also totally not breathable and they're boring.  Yup, I said boring. 

Cloth pads make sense in many ways.  They're a much greener choice--no weird gels to soak up exponential amounts of Aunty Flo, no pads piling up in your local landfill.  They're highly breathable and I no longer experience the grown-up diaper rash that I had with plastic pads.  Some women find their periods are shorter and lighter with cloth pads, and this has been true for me.  Like other cloth items such as napkins and diapers, you buy or make them once and use them for years.  You can even use them postpartum.  For less than $200, you can have menstrual protection to last five years or more. 

Now to the unboring part....

This post is part of our Drop the Disposables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Wed Mar 25 11:18:41 2009 Tags:

hose coil helperThe hose I installed going to the well pump needed some help making it around the curve towards the water. The problem was a slight kinking in the hose as it angled downward, resulting in a decrease in water pressure.

The solution was a product called a kink-free flex hose adapter. It's basically a small section of hose with a heavy duty coil secured to the outside. I imagine a person could fabricate one by wrapping some heavy gauge trellis wire around the section of hose needing protection, but since I already had one of these I went for the easy fix.

Posted Wed Mar 25 16:14:20 2009 Tags:

Blooming dandelion and nectarine, onion seedlings, and new pear and blackberry leaves.It's been a while since I made an obsessive spring post.  I hope I'm not boring you to tears, but spring is just so exciting that I can't help myself!

Yesterday, everything popped.  I found the first wild violets and dandelions blooming, and the nectarine tree and one of the peaches unfurled their first pink blossoms.  A young pear tree which I could have sworn was just a stick yesterday suddenly had glossy green leaves all up and down its stem, while  nearby, purplish blackberry leaves had popped up.

In the garden, the first onion seedlings showed their heads (center picture.)  Last year, I pulled up a couple of onion seedlings before I realized they weren't young weeds --- they do look very different from all of the other seedlings in the garden!

In other news, Huckleberry --- who has been going walkabout a lot lately --- graced us with his presence yesterday for the first time in nearly four days.  My abandonment complex can be put to sleep for a few days!

Posted Thu Mar 26 09:09:05 2009 Tags:

Brandy's daughter, Willow(Editor's note from Anna --- the sanitary pad article yesterday was by Brandy too, of course.  I just put my name on it accidentally!)

Tell folks you use cloth diapers and immediately get looks of surprise, horror and disgust.  Yes, I use cloth, but these are not your mother's diapers.  They're much more absorbent, especially for night-time --- the only leaks I've had have been from disposables.  There's nothing creepier in the morning than pulling off a diaper heavy with the cellulose gel that disposables are filled with.  Cloth diapers can easily pay for themselves in a year or less, depending on the type you use, and there are few things more gratifying than knowing you will
never run out. 

Everything you ever needed to know about diapers....

This post is part of our Drop the Disposables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Thu Mar 26 11:15:12 2009 Tags:

bee chartThere's no shortage of speculation on the internet about colony collapse disorder, which is the name given to the recent decrease in honey bee populations.

I'll share with you two things I've discovered that may or may not be connected --- you be the judge.

In the May, 1988 Journal of Comparative Physiology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology a group of German scientist confirmed that magnetic field bursts at a frequency of 250 Hz induced unequivocal "jumps" of misdirection in honey bee navigation of up to 10 degrees.

The Ground Wave Emergency Network (GWEN) is an array of 300 transceivers distributed across the continental United States with a spacing of about 250 miles. GWEN was designed to transmit critical warning and response messages that would be immune to the effects of electromagnetic pulses, which would be generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion. The system was supposedly replaced by the Milstar satellite system, but it seems to me a satellite might be vulnerable and they might want to keep GWEN on the back burner. The Wikipedia entry on GWEN proves the system has a wide range of frequencies and might be capable of producing signals within the 250 Hz range.

Every year we add some kind of new gadgetry to make cell phones work better and internet's to run faster, all the while polluting the air with electromagnetic frequencies. It's not such a bad thing to live in a hilly area that seems to be mostly blocked from cell phone signals and TV stations. Maybe our bees will avoid this problem thanks to our unique geography.

Posted Thu Mar 26 19:58:36 2009 Tags:

Unassembled bee hiveWe got into the free bees program!  It's almost too late to order bees for this year, but we'll have three more groups of bees ("packages") arriving May 7 to join our previously ordered package arriving in mid April.

Meanwhile, we picked up all of the parts we'll need to get four new hives going.  Rather than ordering online, we found a local father-son operation an hour and a half down the road and spent a very pleasant 45 minutes bantering with the duo and soaking up their combined knowledge.

I'm so excited to have all of this new equipment.  Partly, it lays my mind at rest because now I won't have to worry that whatever killed the bees in our old equipment will kill our new bees.  Mostly, though, I think my joy stems from a childhood of hand-me-downs --- lunchboxes with cartoon characters I didn't care for and discarded library books under the Christmas tree.  I've grown up to believe in frugality and reusing, but something about the hand-me-down bee boxes hit an old nerve.  I wanted a fancy modern box with a screened bottom board so that I could monitor varroa mite populations!  Now that I have it, maybe I should paint Papa Smurf on it and lay all of those old anguishs to rest?

Posted Fri Mar 27 08:14:34 2009 Tags:

Cloth grocery bagIn addition to the napkins Brandy made us, we also bought a slew of very sturdy cloth grocery bags from her a few months ago.  Mark, like Mike, had a really hard time taking the leap away from paper towels, but for me the grocery bags are the largest challenge.

People do look at you funny when you bring your own grocery bags to the store in rural America, but the really hard part is remembering to bring in the bags in the first place.  We've figured out a few simple tricks which help us steer clear of plastic:

  • Keep the cloth grocery bags in the car.  When you live a ten minute walk from your car and a fifteen minute drive from the grocery store, chances are you won't go back to pick up forgotten bags stashed under the kitchen sink.
  • Put "cloth bags" on the grocery list and circle it.  Nothing like a reminder when you get to the store.
  • Put Mark in charge of the grocery shopping --- he has the memory and is far more likely to remember the bags!

Good luck --- and remember that every little step you make away from disposables is one step toward self-sufficiency!

This post is part of our Drop the Disposables lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

Posted Fri Mar 27 12:03:44 2009 Tags:

bee drawingI got some interesting feedback from a friend of a friend today regarding yesterday's post on CCD. Thanks, Shelia.

Shelia's friend has been working with bees for years and is up to date on the latest research.

He points to the fact that CCD has affected beehives as far away as Alberta, Canada, which is pretty rural and presumably out of reach of the GWEN warning system.

On a slightly different subject, he shared with me some fascinating lab work he was doing for the State Department to investigate the effects of microwave radiation on rats. The grant was awarded because the Russians were bombarding the US embassy with microwaves back during the Cold War. They zapped pregnant rats with 100 times the dose measured at the embassy and tested the offspring. Turns out the zapped rats were able to learn to navigate through mazes faster than the normal rats. Insert rat race joke here.

Posted Fri Mar 27 19:47:45 2009 Tags:

Blueberry rootsAfter putting our dozen wedding present blueberries in the ground last week, I was surprised to learn that they are rabbiteye blueberries, which might be either a pro or a con.  Rabbiteye blueberries are on the edge of their hardiness region here in zone 6, which might mean we'll lose fruits to late frosts.  On the other hand, internet reports suggest that rabbiteye blueberries are easier to propagate and care for and are more vigorous than northern highbush.

Meanwhile, I had already ordered three northern highbush blueberries earlier in the year.  Those three arrived this week and I hurried to add them to the blueberry patch.  The photo above shows the root mass of one of the northern highbush blueberries --- looks good, huh?  I didn't take a photo, but the roots of the rabbiteye blueberries were easily three times that size (and cost $2 less per plant), bearing out the idea that if they can survive the frost, the rabbiteye blueberries might have a heyday in our garden.  After all, we are probably in zone 7 now, where rabbiteye blueberries are known to thrive.  With both southern and northern blueberries established in our garden, we should be ready for anything the climate has to throw at us.

Posted Sat Mar 28 08:51:39 2009 Tags:

honey beeI thought I would end my little series on colony collapse disorder with some conclusions that Sheila's friend shared with me.

"The current consensus is that CCD does not exist by itself.  There is no one cause.  Rather, hive vitality is compromised by all kinds of insults, with chemicals, physical stress, and environment being the main categories.  So the thrust of research now is aimed at teasing out the various contributors. Synthetic neoniccotinoid-based pesticides are getting a lot of attention and that work looks promising."

Posted Sat Mar 28 22:25:46 2009 Tags:

Mark mailing Avian Aqua MisersIn November when I quit my salaried job with health insurance and retirement benefits, I was terrified.  Everyone was already saying that the economy was going to hell in a handbasket, and folks were clinging to their jobs like life rafts.  Four months later, our income is nearly as high as it was last year (granted, never very high working for a nonprofit) and my stress level has gone down by about 80%.

Mark and I now firmly believe that the way to sail through uncertain financial times is to work for yourself, diversify your income base, and become more self sufficient so that your expenses go down over time.  As a result, we have a finger in a bunch of pies --- web design, graphic design, videography, photography, grant-writing, ecological consulting, and our beloved Avian Aqua Miser.  (The photo here is Mark mailing a premade unit and a bunch of do it yourself kits.)

Read what we've learned about advertising and freelancing....

Posted Sun Mar 29 09:17:09 2009 Tags:

rainy sunday montage   The rain filled puddles, and the wind whispered winter's retreat.

Posted Sun Mar 29 19:06:09 2009 Tags:
Anna Gluten

100% whole wheat bunEver since I discovered the world's fluffiest 100% whole wheat bread, white flour has seen little use in our house.  Every week or two, I'd put in an hour or so of effort and then serve up bread which was nutritious and delicious.  Until the inevitable day of reckoning came --- the day we ran out of gluten.

Gluten was discovered by 7th century Buddhist monks, who mixed flour with water and kneaded until they extracted the protein (gluten) from the starch.  Their goal was to use the gluten as a meat substitute, but other folks discovered that if you add the gluten back into some other flour when making bread, you increase the protein content of the bread and also increase the fluff by an order of magnitude.

Of course, you can't just pour gluten into your bread dough and expect to get the world's fluffiest bread....

Posted Mon Mar 30 07:55:06 2009 Tags:

I got so excited by the marvelous world of gluten that I forgot to mention that there will be no lunchtime series this week.  Mark and I are hitting the road tomorrow for a trip to the "north" (Pennsylvania) to visit a bunch of friends.  Blogging will be sporadic until Sunday when we are home again.

Luckily, my brother is able to come babysit the farm --- thanks, Joey!  The one problem with having 13 animals depending on you is that you can't just run off on a whim, even if you plan your life so that you otherwise could.  Be forewarned!

Posted Mon Mar 30 08:06:49 2009 Tags:

hen gifWhy did you choose a half gallon size for the Avian Aqua Miser?

Abe, New Mexico

I was trying to solve the freezing issue without running an extension cord to each chicken tractor.

The half gallon size is easy to carry and hang up once you've carried it inside for the night. Let it hang next to your coat and it'll be ready to go first thing in the morning. A full gallon would be bulky, especially if you're carrying more than one at a time.

A half gallon in the Avian Aqua Miser can give up to 5 hens all the water they need for the day. We make do it yourself kits for those with bigger flocks. Coming soon is a version for 5 gallon buckets that can service up to 50 birds in a day!<br

Posted Mon Mar 30 20:26:49 2009 Tags:

Placing seed potatoes in a row.Mounding dirt over the seed potatoes.If you've got a small garden and want to cut back on food bills, potatoes are a must.  A potato is a staple starch which requires no processing (unlike the more difficult grains which must be threshed, etc.) and you get an astounding amount of nutrients in a small space.

Potatoes are also one of the easiest
plants to grow.  Cut your seed potatoes into sections with at least a couple of eyes (I leave small potatoes whole and usually cut medium Seed potato section.potatoes in half), space the sections about a foot apart on bare soil, then mound more soil on top of the sections so that they're completely covered.  If you want, you can weed them later, but I've had great luck simply ignoring my potato rows until their tops die back and they need to be dug.  (You may need to mound additional dirt up over your potato roots if rain washes some away --- exposed tubers turn green and are inedible.)  In an hour of labor (which included spading up all of the soil by hand), I planted 10 pounds of seed potatoes, which will turn into about 100 pounds of potatoes to fill our bellies.

Posted Tue Mar 31 07:42:54 2009 Tags:

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our 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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